Friday, February 25, 2005


Privatizing Social Security = Deregulating S&L's

If the Charles Keating Memorial Social Security Reformation Act goes through, we can expect to see lots more stories like this one from the Washington Post:
Washington merchant banker C. Gregory Earls was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison today and ordered to pay $21 million in restitution for stealing $13.8 million from investors who thought they were buying into an Internet venture.
"It never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong. I had all of my friends in this transaction," Earls said. Earls's attorney told the court his client would surrender in 45 days.

Ken Jones, who invested his retirement savings of nearly $300,000 with Earls, spoke at the sentencing. "I should have listened to my wife. There's not a day that goes by that I don't hope he gets what's coming to him."
Source: Washington Post Banker Earls Sentenced Feb 25, 2005. (Emphasis Added.)
Charles Keating didn't believe he did anything wrong, either. Interesting how Tom DeLay doesn't think he did anything wrong by accepting free airfare to London and a stay in one of London's finest hotels - and then never asking how much it all cost.


Tom Delay's New "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

Atrios just brightened up my weekend with a story of Tom Delay's values:

The National Journal’s Peter Stone tore open the DeLay fundraising scandal in a Saturday exclusive printed Friday, RAW STORY has learned.

The prominent lawyer and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is being investigated by federal authorities for his lobbying efforts of an Indian tribe and his relations with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), paid for DeLay and DeLay’s staff’s stay in an expensive London hotel in mid-2000.
“Among the big-ticket expenses that Abramoff listed for reimbursement was a bill for the DeLays at the Four Seasons Hotel in London in the amount of $4,285.35,” Stone writes. “The voucher shows that the total reimbursement for expenses was $13,318.50
The Journal will also report that a little known conservative thinktank on whose board Abramoff served paid for another facet of the same trip. The Center for National Publicy Policy research picked up a hefty $70,000 tab–including $28,000 for DeLay and his wife, and $28,000 for DeLay’s then-chief of staff.

Stone hammers out a damning quote from a former senior Republican aide.

“To the casual observer, it was a pretty simple deal,” a former House leadership aide told the Journal. “Jack raised money for the pet projects of DeLay and took care of his top staff. In turn, they granted him tremendous access and allowed him to freely trade on DeLay’s name.”

DeLay’s press secretary, Dan Allen, told the Journal the congressman had done nothing improper.
Source: The Raw Story (Emphasis added)

It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out before the House Ethics (Or Lack Thereof) Committee. Mr. DeLay's initial defense seems to be a version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": Mr. DeLay never ASKED how much it was costing to be flown to London and housed in a luxury hotel, and the lobbist didn't TELL him how much it cost - so no duty to report.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Prosecution or Persecution?

Allegations of a "plot to assasinate President Bush" seem at best overblown when the accused isn't charged under US anti-assination laws - but when one considers the allegations of torture, this one is starting to smell like it will be dismissed after it has been milked for headline value:
American Accused in a Plot to Assassinate Bush
Published: February 23, 2005

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 - An American student who was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for the last 20 months was returned to the United States and accused by the Justice Department on Tuesday of plotting with members of Al Qaeda in 2003 to assassinate President Bush.
While American officials said they took the threat seriously, the indictment suggests that any plot to assassinate Mr. Bush did not move beyond the discussion stages among extremists in Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Abu Ali was not charged under the federal statute on assassinations.

Friends of Mr. Abu Ali and defense lawyers denied that he was part of any terrorist plot and accused the Justice Department of an overzealous prosecution. They said that Mr. Abu Ali, a valedictorian at an Islamic high school in suburban Washington, was the victim of torture at the hands of the Saudis after his arrest there in June 2003, an assertion that a federal judge in Washington appeared to validate in a recent ruling in a lawsuit brought by Mr. Abu Ali's family to force his release.
The family sued to force Mr. Abu Ali's release from Saudi custody, saying American officials threatened to declare him an enemy combatant and send him to a detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, if he did not cooperate. Judge John D. Bates has not issued a ruling on Mr. Abu Ali's detention, but he has expressed support for many of the family's central contentions and skepticism toward those of the government.

In an opinion in December, Judge Bates wrote, "There has been at least some circumstantial evidence that Abu Ali has been tortured during interrogations with the knowledge of the United States." He added that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were present for Saudi interrogations, "have despaired at his continued detention, and more than one United States official has stated that Abu Ali is no longer a threat to the United States and there is no active interrogation."
"I suspect it's no coincidence that this man sat in detention for 20 months until a federal judge in the United States was threatening to require the American government to disclose its arrangements with the Saudi government for holding him," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who is representing Mr. Abu Ali's family in the case. "The lawsuit gave the government a tremendous incentive to bring some charges."
(Source: New York Times)

So, when it looked as though the "Justice" Department was going to lose a lawsuit filed by the accused's family to force his release, prosecutors suddenly decide to make serious allegations against him. Given the Justice Department's past history, I expect this prosecution will be quietly dismissed after a few months.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


WMD - Delivered to a Port Near You

Terrorists are apparently targeting big freighters these days. In addition to the more mundane threats like blocking a major seaport or sea lane by sinking a big oil tanker at just the right (wrong) place, think about how easy it would be to, say, fill up half the tanker with bleach and the other half with ammonia, waiting until upwind from a big seaport, and then blowing out the interior dividers to generate chlorine gas. (It is also much easier to make an atomic bomb that can fit on a large ship than one light enough to fit on an airplane of missile.)

Real piracy isn't limited to the history books and movies any more, either:
Piracy did not disappear with the killing of Blackbeard. (John Burnett) found this out the hard way in 1992 when pirates boarded (his) sloop as (he) was crossing the South China Sea. After suffering a beating, (he) was able to escape. But many others have not been so lucky. Last year, according to the maritime bureau, some 400 crew members and passengers were killed, injured, held hostage or remain missing as a result of attacks. Every year the pirates are better organized, ambushing ships with military precision and firepower.

Merchant vessels are the lowest-hanging fruit of global commerce, slow and vulnerable to attack. Hauling 90 percent of world trade, these lumbering beasts file through the world's choke points - the Suez and Panama Canals, the Bab el Mandeb (the entrance to the Red Sea), the Straits of Gibraltar and the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia.
In 2002, the Free Aceh Movement announced that vessels moving through the strait were to seek its "permission for safe passage," a classic protection scam. It has also admitted to attacking Exxon-Mobil natural-gas plants in Aceh. In March 2003, the chemical tanker Dewi Madrim was attacked by heavily armed pirates in speedboats in the Malacca Strait. According to the crew, the pirates, speaking Indonesian, seemed less interested in robbery than in taking turns steering the ship down the congested waterway. They took two officers hostage and a satchel full of technical documents. Singapore's defense minister, Tony Tan, said that he was concerned that this incident and others like it were practice runs for a terrorist attack.
Source: John S. Burnett, New York Times The Next 9/11 Could Happen at Sea Feb 22, 2005.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is distributing Homeland Security funding based on politics rather than the national interest:

...An audit of the Homeland Security Department's (greatly inadequate) program to protect ports found that much of the money went to unlikely locations, including six sites in landlocked Arkansas, where the department's recently resigned chief of border and transportation security is reported to be considering a run for governor.
Source: Paul Krugman, New York Times, Wag-the-Dog Protection Feb. 22, 2005.

Meanwhile, we can expect news of Syria and Iran to mask Mr. Bush's "Charles Keating Memorial Social Security Reformation" plan's lack of public acceptance. And Mr. Bush's "friend" seems to have released those tapes just when Mr. Bush really wanted to distract everyone from the mounting public rejection of his domestic policies...

Monday, February 21, 2005


Bush Breaks More Promises

Remember when Bush promised we were going to help rebuild Afganistan? He apparently got sidetracked:
While landmark October elections showed Afghanistan's political progress, the report urged President Hamid Karzai and his international backers to redouble their efforts to tackle miserable health and education standards, as well as growing inequality which could fuel fresh conflict.

"Sustained peace in Afghanistan is not guaranteed despite the early successes in state-building," it said. "The price the international community would pay to protect itself from Afghanistan would be far greater than what it will pay to help develop the country."

Karzai wrote the forward for the study, saying it would help craft better policy.

"Curbing corruption, bringing reconstruction gains to all regions of Afghanistan, drawing in foreign investment in a secure involvement and opening up the political process to participation remain the top priorities," Karzai wrote. "As the country now turns a new leaf, our ambition is to give hope to each and every Afghan."
...most of the country's income is being mopped up by warlords with strong political and military connections, creating a dangerous gap between rich and poor and between the cities and the countryside. Half of all Afghans are poor, it said.
The report was also critical of the U.S.-led military engagement in Afghanistan, saying it helped produce a climate of ``fear, intimidation, terror and lawlessness'' and neglected the longer-term threat to security posed by inequality and injustice.

It also described reconstruction projects sponsored by the U.S. military as "inadequate and dangerous," echoing concern from some relief groups that they have blurred the lines between soldiers and civilians, and made aid workers into militant targets.
Source: New York Times/AP UN: Afghanistan Could Become Terror Haven Feb 21, 2005

Interesting how George W. "Values" Bush can't seem to keep any of his promises...must be Bill Clinton's fault.


Bush's Track Record

Mr. Bush is using the same methods to "sell" his "Charles Keating Memorial Social Security Reformation Policy" that he used to "sell" the Iraq War "product." The Iraq War didn't work out as planned, as the New York Times' Bob Herbert notes:
The Times ran a front-page article on Sunday March 16 (2003), in which a senior counterintelligence official said: "An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by Al Qaeda and other groups. And it is a very effective tool."

On the same day The Washington Post reported that "specialists inside and outside the government question whether a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would deliver a significant blow against international terrorism. Experts warn that war and occupation could also have the opposite effect by emboldening radical Islamic groups and adding to their grievances."

All warnings were given the back of the administration's hand. Mr. Bush launched his invasion and many thousands died. Now fast-forward to last week's testimony of top administration officials before the Senate Intelligence Committee. If the war in Iraq was supposed to stem the terrorist tide, the comments of these officials made it clear that it hasn't worked.

Porter Goss, the C.I.A. director, told the committee, "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists." He added, "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focus on acts of urban terrorism."

The war, said Mr. Goss, "has become a cause for extremists." In his view, "It may only be a matter of time before Al Qaeda or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons."

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said: "Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment. Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world."
Source: Bob Herbert, New York Times Iraq, Then and Now Feb 21, 2005. (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Bush is currently ignoring all warnings about the disasterous side-effects of privatizing "personalizing" Social Security. We must do all we can to ensure Mr. Bush's track record on the consequences of his Iraq war promises are kept in mind by folks evaluating his "Charles Keating-style" Social Security Reformation package.

(Charles Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan talked retirees into moving their retirement savings from FDIC-secured accounts into high-risk market investments. Many of these retirees lost their life's savings and had nothing to live on except their Social Security checks. Bush now wants to attack this last program keeping the elderly from living under bridges.)


Fear and Loathing in the Afterlife

Author Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) -- Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism in books like ``Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,'' fatally shot himself Sunday night at his home, his son said. He was 67.

``Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family,'' Juan Thompson said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News.

Well, maybe he'll meet up with Oscar Ocosta in the great beyond...

Sunday, February 20, 2005


National Health Care Isn't For the Birds

Reason 12,569,421 as to why we need single-payer National Health Care:

Bird flu 'has pandemic potential'
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News Health reporter, Washington DC
The bird flu virus could mutate to pass from human to human and trigger a pandemic, latest scientific evidence suggests, scientists say.
Although H5N1 has only killed 42 people so far in comparison, its death to infection rate is 76%.

"It is very frightening to see such a high case fatality rate," said Dr Cox, but she said it might be that less serious or ambiguous cases had not been picked up, which would mean the real rate could be lower than this.

I guess we won't see National Health Care until rich people start getting it from their gardeners...

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