Friday, December 31, 2004
Happier New Year
Oh, and I've posted some links to charity sites on the links section. I have the awful feeling they'll be needing donations throughout 2005.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Exploiting the Troops For a Quick Buck
In exchange for $19,980 after fees and insurance, Mr. Jones (a retired Army veteran) signed over his $1,000-a-month military pension for the next five years, a total of $60,000. That is the equivalent of paying interest at a rate of 56 percent a year.
Federal law prohibits retired military people from signing over their future pension payments to others. The companies offering these deals say they are arranged to avoid that restriction. But two federal bankruptcy judges ruled this year that deals like Mr. Jones's, in which veterans in need of quick cash give up their future pensions for a small fraction of their value, do in fact violate that law.
But the law has not been enforced or consistently interpreted. Indeed, the Defense Department's payroll centers routinely handle the paperwork that diverts the pension payments, even though veterans are warned "to exercise caution in these arrangements," a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
As a result, a small but persistent band of financial companies using military-sounding names continue to offer these so-called pension advances to retired military people over the Internet and in military newspapers.
Source: New York Times (Emphasis added)
Pop quiz: how many of these sleazy financial companies do you think will start handling privatized Social Security Accounts if Mr. Bush gets his way?
New York Times Covers Up Coverup
The New York Times reports that the Director of Analysis Branch at the C.I.A. Is Being Removed
Ms. Miscik has headed analysis at the agency since 2002, a period in which prewar assessments of Iraq and its illicit weapons, which drew heavily on C.I.A. analysis, proved to be mistaken. Even before taking charge of the C.I.A., Mr. Goss, who was a (partisan Republican) congressman, and his closest associates had been openly critical of the directorate of intelligence...What the Times reports is perfectly reasonable. However, the New York Times fails miserably to add some much needed context. For example, why is there no mention of the fact that this occured while George Tenet was in charge? Why did Mr. Tenet deserve a Medal of Freedom for doing such a great job if his immediate subordinates should have been fired for doing a poor job?
Among those who have criticized the C.I.A.'s analytical unit for its mistakes on Iraq and that country's supposed unconventional weapons, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a scathing report last summer, and a C.I.A. panel, the Iraq W.M.D. Review Group, completed a 10-month internal review last May.
That review...concluded that the assertion that Iraq possessed illicit weapons had been reasonable based on the information available at the time. But the August document also showed that the review found a pattern of "imprecise language," "insufficient follow-up" and "sourcing problems," including "numerous cases" in which analysts "misrepresented the meaning" of intelligence reports about Iraq's weapons.
Source: New York Times (Notation added)
Additionally, the CIA's distortions took place at the time when Mr. Cheney sent a picked band of political pals under Douglas Feith to distort intelligence regarding Iraq - something all the CIA analysts and their superiors knew. Why didn't the Times article mention Doug Feith's Pentagon-based distortion operation?
Fury over Pentagon cell that briefed White House on Iraq's 'imaginary' al-Qaeda links
By Julian Coman in Washington
A Senior Pentagon policy maker created an unofficial "Iraqi intelligence cell" in the summer of 2002 to circumvent the CIA and secretly brief the White House on links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'eda, according to the Senate intelligence committee.
The cell appears to have been set up by Mr Feith as an adjunct to the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon intelligence-gathering operation established in the wake of 9/11 with the authority of Paul Wolfowitz. Its focus quickly became the al-Qa'eda-Saddam link.
On occasion, without informing the then head of the CIA, George Tenet, the group gave counter-briefings in the White House. Sen Jay Rockefeller, the most senior Democrat on the committee, said that Mr Feith's cell may even have undertaken "unlawful" intelligence-gathering initiatives.
This piece of the puzzle makes it quite clear the CIA was competing in a race to the bottom with Mr. Feith's special Intelligence-distortion group to make the case for war with Iraq at the ideal time for influencing the mid-term elections.
Interestingly, neither Mr Wolfowitz not Mr. Feith face any punishment for their far worse distortion of intelligence.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
Big Farms Harvest Big Government Checks
So, the Republicans use embattled small family farmers in ads promoting corporate welfare schemes. Sounds awfully immoral to this blue stater.
For despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal subsidies have also gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period - projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.
Even those deeply steeped in the system acknowledge it seems counterintuitive. "I struggle with the same question: how the hell can you have such high government payments if farmers had such a great year?" said Keith Collins, the chief economist for the Agriculture Department.
The answer lies in the quirks of the federal farm subsidy system as well as in the way savvy farmers sell their crops. Mr. Collins said farmers use the peculiar world of agriculture market timing to get both high commodity prices and high subsidies.
"The biggest reason is with record crops, prices have fallen," he said. "And farmers are taking advantage of that."
A farmer can sell his crop early at a high price, say, in a futures contract, and still collect a subsidy check after the harvest from the government if prices are down over all. The money is not tied to what the farmer actually received for his crop. The farmer does not even have to sell the crop to get the check, only prove that the market has dropped below a certain set rate.
But because nearly 70 percent of the subsidies go to the top 10 percent of agricultural producers, the recent prosperity is not seen or felt among many small to medium-size growers who keep the struggling counties of the Great Plains alive.
Source: NY Times