Saturday, November 05, 2005

Aurora over Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. photo by S. Bangerjee. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"The absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it, does not relieve one of live through it as bravely and as generously as possible."

Peter Matthiessen
When You Care Enough to Send the Very Worst: Halliburton Steals From Everyone

from "U.S. Should Repay Millions to Iraq, a U.N. Audit Finds"

An auditing board sponsored by the United Nations recommended yesterday that the United States repay as much as $208 million to the Iraqi government for contracting work in 2003 and 2004 assigned to Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary.

The work was paid for with Iraqi oil proceeds, but the board said it was either carried out at inflated prices or done poorly.
Some of the work involved postwar fuel imports carried out by K.B.R. that previous audits had criticized as grossly overpriced. But this is the first time that an international auditing group has suggested that the United States repay some of that money to Iraq. The group, known as the International Advisory and Monitoring Board of the Development Fund for Iraq, compiled reports from an array of Pentagon, United States government and private auditors to carry out its analysis.

The monitoring board authority extends only to making recommendations on any reimbursement. It would be up to the United States government to decide whether to make the payments, and who should make them. But Louay Bahry, a former Iraqi academic who is now at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the board's findings would stoke suspicions on the street in Iraq, where there had always been fears that the United States invaded the country to control its oil resources.

"Something like this will be caught in the Iraqi press and be discussed by the Iraqi general public and will leave a very bad taste in the mouth of the Iraqis," Mr. Bahry said. "It will increase the hostility towards the United States."

The audits may also come at a bad time for the Bush administration, since Vice President Dick Cheney's former role as chief executive of Halliburton has led to charges, uniformly dismissed by Mr. Cheney and the company, that it received preferential treatment in receiving the contracts. The early Kellogg, Brown & Root contracts in Iraq were "sole sourced," or bid noncompetitively.

"The Bush administration repeatedly gave Halliburton special treatment and allowed the company to gouge both U.S. taxpayers and the Iraqi people," Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, said in a statement on the new audits. "The international auditors have every right to expect a full refund of Halliburton's egregious overcharges."

Some of those contracts were paid for with American taxpayer money, but others were financed by Iraqi oil proceeds. Because the monitoring board was created to oversee those proceeds, its audits focus only on the work that was financed with Iraqi money.
Other entries suggest the existence of $600,000 in ghost payrolling in the Electricity Ministry and additional evidence of bribes.

The K.P.M.G. audits also show ample evidence of the chaos that permeated the early reconstruction effort in Iraq, with paperwork on hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts won by firms other than K.B.R. that were lost or never completed, making it difficult or impossible to tell if the work was carried out properly.
Fractured Fairy Tale

from Defending Imperial Nudity By Paul Krugman The New York Times

Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. "The Emperor's New Suit" doesn't end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to admit their mistake.

I've laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was over.

The talk-show host Bill O'Reilly yelled, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" at the little boy. Calling the boy a nut, he threatened to go to the boy's house and "surprise" him.

Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing, then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.

Imperial officials eventually admitted that they couldn't find any evidence that the suit ever existed, or that there had even been an effort to produce a suit. They insisted, however, that they had found evidence of wardrobe-manufacturing-and-distribution-related program activities.

After the naked procession, pro-wardrobe pundits denied that the emperor was at fault. The blame, they said, rested with the C.I.A., which had provided the emperor with bad intelligence about the potential for a suit. Even a quick Web search shows that before the procession, those same pundits had written articles attacking C.I.A. analysts because those analysts had refused to support strong administration assertions about the invisible suit.

Helen Thomas, the veteran palace correspondent, opposed the suit project from the beginning. When she pointed out that the emperor's clothes had turned out not to exist, the imperial press secretary accused her of being "opposed to the broader war on nakedness."

Even though skeptics about the emperor's suit had been vindicated, TV news programs continued to portray those skeptics as crazy people. For example, the news networks showed, over and over, a clip of the little boy shouting at a party. The clip was deeply misleading: he had been shouting to be heard over background noise, which the ambient microphone didn't pick up. Nonetheless, "the scream" became a staple of political discourse.

The emperor gave many speeches in which he declared that his wardrobe was the "central front" in the war on nakedness.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee oversaw an inquiry into how the government had come to believe in a nonexistent suit. The first part focused on the mistakes made by career government tailors. But the second part of the inquiry, on the role of the imperial administration in promoting faulty tailoring, appeared to vanish from the agenda.

Two and a half years after the emperor's naked procession, a majority of citizens believed that the imperial administration had deliberately misled the country. Several former officials had gone public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe from Day 1.

And they all lived happily ever after - in the story. Here in reality, a large and growing number are being killed by roadside bombs.

Captain Future's Log

Notes At Weak End

I saw the road show of Capitol Steps Friday night, and had a peculiar reaction. Based in DC, they do mostly political parody with wicked lyrics set to familiar songs. Most of what they did Friday I'd heard on their latest CD, though they did have a Sam Alito song (set to "Mona Lisa.") But even when I knew the material, it was pretty funny in performance. Some of it was downright hilarious.

But as it turned out, the release of laughter also released other emotions. I felt like crying. I don't mean laughing until I was in tears. I mean just plain tears. I got little sense of the righteousness I may have felt when I was younger when political idiots were skewered with effective satire, the kind that just tells the truth. I felt the sadness, the grief, or what San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll called anguish in his Friday piece. The kind you have to hold back with the assault of such appalling news day after day.

And the tragedy keeps unfolding, or maybe the accurate metaphor is metastasizing. Now we learn from Lawrence Wilkerson that when he was in Colin Powell's State Department he followed the paper trail on prisoner abuse back to the vice president's office. Having such suspicions confirmed doesn't inspire feelings of vindication, it just layers on more dismay and shame, and anguish, and grief.

Meanwhile, the Republicant Congress ignores the astounding polls and keeps on the path of their relentless destruction, ramming through legislation that not only despoils the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but enacts deep cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, other programs for the poor, and cuts student loans, all in the Republicant class war on Americans. Laughing at dumb old G.W. is a necessary release, but let's face it, when you need a doctor, or a house payment, or a future, or a burial plot for your son or daughter, it's not funny anymore.

While we're on the subject of political comment, why is there more intelligence, eloquence and wisdom in James Spader's lines as a fictional lawyer in Boston Legal trying a fictional case about a National Guardsman forced to remain past his enlistment and is killed in Iraq---or Jimmy Smits as the fictional presidential candidate talking about abortion on The West Wing---than out of anyone's mouth in Washington, or any of the pundits, talking heads, and wise scribes I hear or read?

Blognotes: In the past week or so, one of the Captain's commentaries (a version of "Investing in Ourselves" (that appeared here) made the front page at the European Tribune, and "This is a Dangerous Moment" (that appeared here ) stayed on the Daily Kos recommended list for an entire day, and got about 300 comments (though mostly people talking to each other on issues they brought up.)

And it's been a busy few days at Soul of Star Trek, with links from TrekWeb and Trek Today. But my favorite was a reader from India who got sent to the site by asking Google this question: can a civilization prosper without human values?

As for Dreaming Up Daily, it's getting modest hits, many of which are apparently random, but I was happiest on the day with a relatively small number of visitors, but the returning readers were about equal to the new ones. Thanks and keep coming back.

San Francisco Chronicle; click image to enlarge. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 04, 2005

spiral blu fractal. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"The law of chaos is the law of idea,
of improvizations and seasons of belief."

Wallace Stevens

Captain Future's Log


It's Friday and I'm home to grab some dinner and set the VCR before going over to campus to see Capitol Steps perform. Our Friday night TV show is "Numbers," and here are some to absorb in this creepy moment for the Republic (not to mention the Republicants.)

From Zogby:

By a margin of 53% to 42%, Americans want Congress to impeach President Bush if he lied about the war in Iraq, according to a new poll commissioned by, a grassroots coalition that supports a Congressional investigation of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
The poll was conducted by Zogby International, the highly-regarded non-partisan polling company. The poll interviewed 1,200 U.S. adults from October 29 through November 2.

The poll found that 53% agreed with the statement: "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

From the Washington Post:

The intensity of Bush's support has changed since his reelection a year ago, with opponents deepening their hostility toward the administration. In the latest survey, 47 percent said they strongly disapprove of the way he was performing in office, compared with 35 percent who expressed strong disapproval in January. At the same time, the percentage who say they strongly approve of his performance has fallen from 33 percent last January to 20 percent today.

Iraq remains a significant drag on Bush's presidency, with dissatisfaction over the situation there continuing to grow and with suspicion rising over whether administration officials misled the country in the run-up to the invasion more than two years ago.

Nearly two-thirds disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation there, while barely a third approve, a new low. Six in 10 now believe the United States was wrong to invade Iraq, a seven-point increase in just over two months, with almost half the country saying they strongly believe it was wrong.

About 3 in 4 -- 73 percent -- say there have been an unacceptable level of casualties in Iraq. More than half -- 52 percent -- say the war with Iraq has not contributed to the long-term security of the United States.

The same percentage -- 52 percent -- says the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored, and only about 1 in 5 -- 18 percent -- say the United States should withdraw its forces immediately. In the week after U.S. deaths in Iraq passed the 2,000 mark, a majority of those surveyed -- 55 percent -- said the United States is not making significant progress toward stabilizing the country.

The war has taken a toll on the administration's credibility: A clear majority -- 55 percent -- now says the administration deliberately misled the country in making its case for war with Iraq -- a conflict that an even larger majority say is not worth the cost.

The president's handling of terrorism was widely regarded among strategists as the key to his winning a second term last year. But questions about Bush's effectiveness on other fronts have also depreciated this asset. His 48 percent approval now compares with 61 percent approval on this issue at the time of his second inauguration, down from a 2004 high of 66 percent.

Bush also set new lows in the latest Post-ABC News poll for his management of the economy, where disapproval topped 60 percent for the first time in his presidency. And 6 in 10 are critical of the way Bush is dealing with health care -- a double-digit increase since March. On gasoline prices, Bush's numbers have increased slightly over the past two months but still remain highly negative, with just 26 percent rating him positively.

The survey suggests a rapidly widening gulf between Bush and the American people. Two in 3 say Bush does not understand the problems of people like them, a 10 percentage point increase since January.

Nearly 6 in 10 -- 58 percent -- doubt Bush shares their values, while 40 percent say he does, another new low for this president. For the first time since he took office, fewer than half -- 47 percent -- said Bush is a strong leader, and Americans divided equally over whether Bush can be trusted in a crisis.
The Big Sell-Out (We Have Searched for the People Who Hate Our Freedom, and They Are Us)

from DCCC Stakeholder:

President George W. Bush and the current Administration have now borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 U.S. presidents combined.

Throughout the first 224 years (1776-2000) of our nation's history, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a combined $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In the past four years alone (2001-2005), the Bush Administration has borrowed a staggering $1.05 trillion.

"The seriousness of this rapid and increasing financial vulnerability of our country can hardly be overstated," said Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition and member of the House Ways and Means Committee. "The financial mismanagement of our country by the Bush Administration should be of concern to all Americans, regardless of political persuasion."

"No American political leadership has ever willfully and deliberately mortgaged our country to foreign interests in the manner we have witnessed over the past four years," continued Rep. Tanner. "If this recklessness is not stopped, I truly believe our economic freedom as American citizens is in great jeopardy."
BLITZER: Because on the basis of that intelligence that the president was provided and that you were provided as a member of the U.S. Senate, you voted to authorize the use of force to go to war. Do you feel you were duped?

(Senator Dianne) FEINSTEIN: Yes. And had I known then what I know now, I never would have cast that vote, not in 1,000 years. I read, re-read the intelligence, read the classified versions, tried to get briefings, read open source, listened to the speeches, did everything I could to inform myself, and when I cast that vote, I was convinced that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to this nation, with respect to biological weapons, with respect to an unmanned aerial vehicle that was capable of being launched with chemical or biological weapons aboard.

None of that turned out to be true. And that's what bothers many of us, because we now believe that the impetus for the American use of force essentially was regime change, pure and simple. Not the cause that was sold to us, which was weapons of mass destruction, and their immediate threat our country.

Snow geese in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by Subhankar Bangerjee. Posted by Picasa
SUV for Victory: Arctic National Wildlife Refuse

San Francisco Chronicle

The Senate rejected a last-ditch effort by Democrats on Thursday to stop plans to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, moving closer to ending one of the most heated environmental disputes of the past quarter century.

By a 51-48 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have stripped a provision allowing drilling in the Alaskan refuge from the huge budget reconciliation bill. "It's the beginning of the end of the opposition" to drilling, said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "I think we're going to get it -- finally. This giant resource is going to be developed."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a longtime opponent of drilling, said of the vote: "The Republican Senate has shown its true colors -- it is clear by their overwhelming support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that they have no respect for the environment."

The Senate voted 52-47 Thursday to approve the budget bill. If the bill wins final passage in Congress in the next few weeks, the Interior Department could begin selling oil and gas leases next year in the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the refuge, which is home to caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds.

Republican leaders added the drilling provision to the budget reconciliation bill to avoid a filibuster, which can't be used against budget bills. Proponents say oil lease sales in the refuge would raise $2.5 billion over five years for the federal Treasury -- and a similar amount for the state of Alaska.

But Democrats criticized the effort as a stealth strategy to avoid major debate on an important environmental issue. "This isn't the way to make policy relating to energy," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said in debate over the measure Wednesday. "Drilling in the arctic refuge is something that has been, and should continue to be, discussed in an open debate instead of as part of a backdoor maneuver."

Environmentalists are still clinging to the hope that drilling in the refuge could be blocked if the bill is derailed during Congress' complex budget process. The House takes up its budget bill next week, and the two chambers will have to combine their separate bills in a joint conference committee.

Some GOP leaders are anxious that the arctic drilling provision could complicate the passage of the budget bill. Already some Republican moderates are balking at significant proposed cuts to popular programs -- such as Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and food stamps -- as the House seeks to find $50 billion to pay for hurricane relief.

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, told the New York Times Wednesday that he feared the drilling provision could kill the bill. But other proponents say House leaders have lined up the votes they need, even though the vote is likely to be close.

Proponents have sought to open the Alaskan refuge to drilling for almost three decades, and President Bush made it a centerpiece of his 2001 energy plan. But for the last four years, the Senate blocked the effort. The 2004 election, which added four new Republican senators and ousted several anti-drilling Democrats, changed the political dynamic.

"In Thursday's vote, six Republicans -- John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Gordon Smith of Oregon -- joined most Democrats in opposing drilling. But Republicans, with a 55-vote majority, were able to defeat the bill with support from three Democrats: Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Both of California's Democratic senators voted to oppose drilling.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the battle against drilling on the Senate floor, offering the amendment to strip the right to sell oil and gas leases in the refuge from the budget bill.
Cantwell cited new data by the Energy Information Administration, a branch of the Energy Department, which found that tapping the oil from the refuge, at peak production in 2025, would only reduce gas prices by one penny a gallon.

"Drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge will not translate into savings at the gas pump," Cantwell said. "We are going to open a pristine wildlife refuge for a penny a gallon 10 to 15 years from now?"

The Energy Information Administration has estimated that drilling in the refuge would reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil from 70 percent to 66 percent in 2025.

Bush and Alito. AP. Posted by Picasa
Getting Enlightened on Alito

So what's all the fuss about Sam Alito for the Supreme Court? Isn't he qualified and judicious, a respecter of precedent, a judicial conservative--isn't this just partisan posturing, his views on abortion aside?

Apparently that's not what some other judges think---judges who know his decisions and who find him less than judicious. They call him a dangerous reactionary who ignores precedent and is a judicial activist---in turning back the past thirty years of law on civil rights in particular. And there he was, at Rosa Park's coffin.

In Think Progress

During his tenure on 3rd Circuit many of Samuel Alito’s opinions have been roundly criticized by other judges. This is particularly true in civil rights cases. In such cases Alito has been repeatedly criticized, not for being conservative, but for being unfaithful to the law. Here’s a sample:

“What [Judge Alito] proposes to do in [his] holding is effectively have courts take a back seat to bureaucratic agencies in protecting constitutional liberties. This . . . is a radical and unwise redefinition of the relationship between federal courts and federal agencies . . . .” (Grant v. Shalala, 1993) (Judge Leon Higginbotham)

“We suggest that to read [as Judge Alito does] the ‘no reasonable adjudicator’ standard in a way that does away with the need for ‘substantial evidence’ not only guts the statutory standard, but ignores our precedent.” (Dia v. Ashcroft, 2003) (Judge Marjorie Rendell)

“I disagree with [Judge Alito’s] holding that a union has ‘actual authority’ to waive its members’ Fourth Amendment rights bound only by the fair representation doctrine. . . . This sweeping assertion divests all public sector employees of their Fourth Amendment rights and strains to make legitimate that which clearly is not.” (Bolden v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority, 1991) (Judge Richard Nygaard)

“[Judge Alito’s] position would immunize an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer’s belief that it had selected the ‘best’ candidate, was the result of conscious racial bias. . . . Title VII would be eviscerated if our analysis were to halt where [Judge Alito’s] dissent suggests.” (Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997) (Judge Theodore McKee)

“[Judge Alito] gives no reason why a plaintiff alleging discrimination is not entitled to the real reason for the personnel decision, no matter how uncomfortable the truth may be to the employer. Surely, the judicial system has little to gain by [Judge Alito’s] approach.” (Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., 1996) (Judge Dolores Sloviter)

“[Judge Alito’s] attempt to analogize the statistical evidence of the use of peremptory challenges to strike black jurors to the percent of left-handed presidents requires some comment. [Judge Alito] has overlooked the obvious fact that there is no provision in the Constitution that protects persons from discrimination based on whether they are right-handed or left-handed. To suggest any comparability to the striking of jurors based on their race is to minimize the history of discrimination against prospective black jurors and black defendants . . . .” (Riley v. Taylor, 2001) (Judge Dolores Sloviter)

“[Judge Alito’s] decision overturning the District Court’s grant of a writ of habeas corpus and rejecting [the defendant’s] claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is inexplicable in light of the Supreme Court’s most recent application of Strickland in Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003), under circumstances remarkably similar to those presented here.” (Rompilla v. Horn, 2004) (Judge Dolores Sloviter)

In any case (or cases), everyone will have plenty of time to check out the judge. Hearings aren't scheduled until January.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

painting by Gino Severini. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"It is just that failure, that neglect to see the sacredness of the constructed world, too, made with human hands and human imagination and love--what we have been doing on this earth for thousands of years--that makes the world out there disposable, obsolescent, trash."

James Hillman
Secrets and Shame By Bob Herbert The New York Times
Thursday 03 November 2005
Ultimately the whole truth will come out and historians will have their say, and Americans will look in the mirror and be ashamed.
Abraham Lincoln spoke of the "better angels" of our nature. George W. Bush will have none of that. He's set his sights much, much lower.
The latest story from the Dante-esque depths of this administration was front-page news in The Washington Post yesterday. The reporter, Dana Priest, gave us the best glimpse yet of the extent of the secret network of prisons in which the CIA has been hiding and interrogating terror suspects. The network includes a facility at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.
"The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism," wrote Ms. Priest. "It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions."
The individuals held in these prisons have been deprived of all rights. They don't even have the basic minimum safeguards of prisoners of war. If they are being tortured or otherwise abused, there is no way for the outside world to know about it. If some mistake has been made and they are, in fact, innocent of wrongdoing - too bad.
As Ms. Priest wrote, "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."
This is the border along which democracy bleeds into tyranny.
Some of the prisoners being held by the CIA are no doubt murderous individuals who, given the opportunity, would do tremendous harm. There are others, however, whose links to terrorist activities are dubious at best, and perhaps nonexistent.
The CIA's original plan was to hide and interrogate maybe two or three dozen top leaders of Al Qaeda who were directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or were believed to pose an imminent threat. It turned out that many more people were corralled by the CIA for one reason or another. Their terror ties and intelligence value were less certain. But they were thrown into the secret prisons, nevertheless.
A number of current and former officials told The Washington Post that "the original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored."
The secret CIA prisons are just one link in the long chain of abominations that the Bush administration has unrolled in its so-called fight against terrorism. Rendition, the outsourcing of torture to places like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, is another. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is little, if any, legal oversight of these detainees, or effective monitoring of the conditions in which they are being held.
Terrible instances of torture and other forms of abuse of detainees have come to light. The Pentagon has listed the deaths of at least 27 prisoners in American custody as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides.
None of this has given the administration pause. It continues to go out of its way to block a legislative effort by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to ban the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any prisoner in US custody.
I had a conversation yesterday with Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, about the secret CIA prisons. "We're a nation founded on laws and rules that say you treat people humanely," he said, "and among the safeguards is that people in detention should be formally recognized; they should have access, at a minimum, to the Red Cross; and somebody should be accountable for their treatment.
"What we've done is essentially to throw away the rule book and say that there are some people who are beyond the law, beyond scrutiny, and that the people doing the detentions and interrogations are totally unaccountable. It's a secret process that almost inevitably leads to abuse."
Worse stories are still to come - stories of murder, torture and abuse. We'll watch them unfold the way people watch the aftermath of terrible accidents. And then we'll ask, "How could this have happened?"
"I wish I could share with you the misleading information I personally was provided in September and October of 2002."

-- Former Sen. Tom Dashle (D-SD), quoted by the Chicago Tribune, in a speech that called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As Senate Democratic Leader, Daschle supported the war.

Aretha Franklin singing at the
funeral of Rosa Parks Wednesday.
AP photo. Posted by Picasa
Bush Plunges to 35%, Cheney to 19%


Most Americans believe someone in the Bush Administration did leak Valerie Plame's name to reporters – even though Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicted no one for doing that. Half of the public describes the matter as something of great importance to the country, and this poll finds low assessments of both the President and the Vice President – with the President's overall approval rating dropping again to its lowest point ever, at 35%. Vice President Cheney's approval was 19%.

The indictments handed down last week against former Vice-Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby included perjury — but they did not charge Libby or anyone else with actually leaking the name of agent Valerie Plame. However, six in ten Americans believe that someone in the Bush Administration did leak her name. This is up from July, when 52 percent thought so. One-quarter today, as in July, aren't sure.
Five Years Too Many

(Reuters) - Thousands of protesters staged rallies on Wednesday across the United States against the policies of President George W. Bush, including the war in Iraq and response to Hurricane Katrina.

The World Can't Wait organization, a coalition of groups formed recently to stage the rallies, used the anniversary of Bush's re-election to call for his resignation in protests that took place in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.

In New York, students walked out of schools and colleges and joined other supporters as thousands rallied in Union Square before marching nearly 2 miles to Times Square along avenues lined with police on motorbikes.

"The Bush regime is out to remake the world with its policies," said organizer Sunsara Taylor. "From the war in Iraq to environmental policies to the remaking of the Supreme Court ... we are staring down the barrel of fascism in this country."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

To mark one year since the 2004 election. Posted by Picasa
"As people of faith, we raise our voice in protest against the tragedy of the unjust war in Iraq. Thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in a war the United States initiated and should never have fought."

from a resolution passed by the United Methodist Church, to which President Bush and Vice President Cheney belong. This resolution called for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. The church board also called on Congress to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate U.S. treatment of detainees overseas
Torturer in Chief: Secret Prisons Revealed

With this news, exactly one year after his "re-election," and added to what is already known, President George Bush is revealed to be as morally corrupt a leader as the Iraqi dictator U.S. forces toppled from power. These policies are as much of an affront to international law and standards as those of Saddam. Remind us, please, of what we are fighting for, besides the twisted vision of liars in the White House, and the inalienable right of Halliburton to steal from the U.S. treasury?

"CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons" [excerpts]
By Dana PriestWashington Post

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

The CIA program's original scope was to hide and interrogate the two dozen or so al Qaeda leaders believed to be directly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or who posed an imminent threat, or had knowledge of the larger al Qaeda network. But as the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.

The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.


Worse Than Watergate

Seattle Post Intelligencer editorial

There is a cancer on the presidency, and it cannot be exorcised by the resignation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby, assistant to the president and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, has been indicted on five federal counts, including obstruction of justice, making false statement and perjury. The charges stem from the investigation into a leak disclosing that Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a covert CIA operative.

Based on the allegations special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald laid out in the indictments Friday, it's increasingly evident that officials within the Bush administration disclosed Plame's identity as part of an effort to discredit Wilson's criticism of one of the pretexts for war against Iraq.
Fitzgerald said that the investigation remained open, and the indictments make intriguing reference to the conversation another senior White House official, identified only as "Official A," had with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson's wife was "discussed as a CIA employee."

No matter where the investigation goes from here, the question is why President Bush didn't fire Libby long ago if his role in outing Plame was as clear as the indictments indicate. It raises the uncomfortable and inevitable question: What did the president know and when did he know it?

The larger, more important context goes beyond palace intrigue: the lengths to which the Bush administration was willing to go to protect its trumped-up justifications for an unjustifiable war.

Samuel Alito and Harry Reid. Not likely to be
seen together very often. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Gotcha Day in the Senate

On Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid organized and carried out a successful sneak attack on the Republican leadership. He used a parliamentary maneuver to force a closed session of the Senate to discuss why the Republicans won't investigate the breach in national security at high levels of the executive branch, namely the outing of a CIA operative.

They came away with a commitment on the next steps in holding just such an investigation.

While it's silly to hold out much hope that Senate Republicans---particularly this integrity-challenged bunch--are going to really investigate their fellow GOPers, this manuever was a big win for Reid, Democrats and the nation that must know how and why it's ability to defend itself against terrorists with WMDs was compromised by the President's men.

I can't say I was a big Reid supporter when he was announced as the new leader, but he's shown some impressive moves. He's been out front and outspoken on important issues, more so than recent Senate leaders. He's a congressional pro, something the Dems have lacked perhaps since Tip O'Neill was running things in the House. That became clear with this manuever, in a couple of ways.

The context is important: it's the day after Rovebush announced a Supreme pick that the rabid right loved, a transparent attempt to change the subject from the White House inner circle indictment, and the whole subject of political corruption there. In the process, as Reid mentioned yesterday with a seemingly casual attitude, the usual consultation with Reid and other leaders didn't happen. Bushrove talked only to rabid rightists before naming Alito.

With his secret session manuever today, Reid served notice that he knows what he's doing in the Senate, and he'll find a way to make things very difficult there for Alito's confirmation. And that he understand payback. This might have been a little inside the Senate nudge, except that Repub leader Bill Frist announced it to the world, whining that he wasn't consulted about this, contrary to the usual procedure. What a dope.

It took Reid about 24 hours to get his. Not only that, but he has placed the Plame Game back on the big agenda, no matter what else Fitzgerald does or doesn't do.

There are other benefits, too, enumerated in this dkos post by hunter.

Tens of thousands of corroding barrels like these
filled with highly toxic chemicals underwater
off American shores. So that's where the WMD is... Posted by Picasa
Well, They're Not the Only WMDs in the Sea

From Democracy Now!
U.S. Army Dumped 64 Million Pounds of WMDs into Ocean'

The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia has revealed that the U.S. military has dumped millions of pounds of unused chemical weapons between World War II and 1970. According to newly released Army records, the military dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, landmines and rockets. In addition 500 tons of radioactive water has been dumped. According to press accounts the military has been unable to identify where all of the weapons of mass destruction were dumped though it is known they were dumped off the coasts of at least 11 states.

From The Morning Call, Lehigh Valley PA

A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled up an old artillery shell.

The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance. Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large, pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand.

The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.

What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States.

While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been suspected.

The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.

A Daily Press investigation also found:

These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off the coasts of at least 11 states: six on the East Coast, including New Jersey and Maryland, two on the Gulf Coast, and in California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.

The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined only a few of its 26 dump zones, and none in 30 years.

The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.

More dump sites probably exist.

A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. When released in the ocean it lasts up to six weeks, killing every organism it touches before breaking down into its nonlethal chemical components.

Mustard gas can be fatal. When exposed to seawater it forms a concentrated, encrusted gel that lasts for at least five years, rolling around on the ocean floor, killing or contaminating sea life.

Sea-dumped chemical weapons may be slowly leaking from decades of saltwater corrosion, resulting in a time-delayed release of deadly chemicals over the next 100 years and an unforeseeable environmental impact. Steel corrodes at different rates depending on the water depth, ocean temperature and thickness of the shells.

That was the conclusion of Norwegian scientists who in 2002 examined chemical weapons dumped off Norway's coast after World War II by the U.S. and British military.Overseas, more than 200 fishermen over the years have been burned by mustard gas pulled on deck. A fisherman in Hawaii was burned in 1976 when he brought up an Army-dumped mortar round full of mustard gas.

The reports reveal that the Army created at least 26 chemical weapons dump sites off the coastlines of at least 11 states, but knows the rough nautical coordinates of only half the sites.

At least 64 million pounds of liquid mustard gas and nerve agent in one-ton steel canisters were dumped into the sea, along with at least 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, grenades, land mines and rockets as well as radioactive waste, according to the reports.

The Army's documents are incomplete or vague. Years of records are missing or were destroyed to clear office space at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a longtime chemical weapon research and testing base.And the Army has not reviewed its records of chemical weapons dumping before World War II, when it was common to just throw the weapons into the ocean in relatively shallow water, Brankowitz said.

As a result, more dump sites probably exist, he conceded.The environmental impact of chemical weapons dump sites is unknown, but potentially disastrous.

Summary: Dumped at Sea

The Army secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent off U.S. coast, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and 500 tons of radioactive waste.

There are at least 26 dump sites off the coasts of 11 states: Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Weapons dumped include:
Nerve gas: Incredibly deadly; a drop can kill a person within a minute.
Mustard gas: Lethal in small quantities; causes huge blisters.
Lewisite: Deadly gas penetrates rubber; causes arsenic poisoning.
Hydrogen cyanide: Used by Nazis in gas chambers

Terrible Towels in action at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh.
That's Myron Cope on the scoreboard, surrounded
by some Pittsburgh commercial icons.
Photo from Posted by Picasa
The Terrible Towel: an Origin Story

I missed the first half of the Steelers game on Monday Night Football, but even so I doubt I would have seen much of the pre-game ceremonies at Heinz Field honoring the broadcaster Myron Cope on his official retirement.

Although Cope was a local TV and radio broadcaster and civic character, he had an impact on anybody who has seen a Pittsburgh Steelers game in the past thirty years. Because Myron Cope invented The Terrible Towel.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rosa Parks, lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the first
woman in American history to be given this honor. Posted by Picasa
"We're not there yet. Let's not act like this is some memory of when we had problems. We still have problems. We are still doubly unemployed. We still have a nation that has health care for some and not others. We still have disparity in the criminal justice system. We still have a government that can gear up quicker to go abroad for weapons that are not there than a hurricane down south that is there. We still got work to do, and Miss Parks, we're committed to continue the work. We will not disgrace the fact that you wouldn't move, because you wouldn't move, we won't move. And we won't be flattered into forgetting what you did, and we won't be forgetful of what you expect out of us. "

Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking in Montgomery, Alabama, at the memorial service of civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks on Monday.
Once Again, It Pays To Be Red

from the New York Times, excerpts (emphasis added) of this story on Wal-Mart, a big donor to Republican party and the Bush campaign. The OUTRAGEOUS CORRUPTION of this administration continues.

The Labor Department's inspector general strongly criticized department officials yesterday for "serious breakdowns" in procedures involving an agreement promising Wal-Mart Stores 15 days' notice before labor investigators would inspect its stores for child labor violations.

The report by the inspector general faulted department officials for making "significant concessions" to Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, without obtaining anything in return. The report also criticized department officials for letting Wal-Mart lawyers write substantial parts of the settlement and for leaving the department's own legal division out of the settlement process.

The report said that in granting Wal-Mart the 15-day notice, the Wage and Hour Division violated its own handbook. It added that agreeing to let Wal-Mart jointly develop news releases about the settlement with the department violated Labor Department policies.

The Labor Department reached the settlement in January after finding 85 child labor violations at Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Arkansas, involving workers under 18 who operated dangerous machinery, including cardboard balers and chain saws.

Wal-Mart settled the investigation by agreeing to pay $135,540, but it continued to deny any wrongdoing.

In addition to allowing the 15-day notice, the agreement lets Wal-Mart avoid civil citations and fines if it brings a store into compliance within 10 days of when the department notifies it of a violation.

In exchange for these concessions, the inspector general wrote, there was "little commitment from the employer beyond what it was already doing or required to do by law."

Even though department officials asserted that the agreement was much like that with other companies, Mr. Heddell found that the agreement between Wal-Mart and the Wage and Hour Division "was significantly different from other agreements entered into by W.H.D." and "had the most far-reaching restriction on W.H.D.'s authority to conduct investigations and assess" fines.

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who asked the inspector general to investigate the settlement, said the report showed that the Bush administration was seeking to do favors for a powerful friend and a major Republican contributor in Wal-Mart.

"The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws, including child labor laws," Mr. Miller said. "The sweetheart deal put Wal-Mart employees at risk, undermined government effectiveness, and further undermined public confidence that the government is acting on its behalf."

Mr. Heddell said he did not find that the agreement resulted from improper pressures. "Nothing came to our attention indicating evidence of influence or pressure from internal or external sources," he wrote.

Martin Heires, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said, "We think it's important to note that the inspector general's office found that the agreement is in compliance with federal law."

Karl Rove: still in the driver's seat? Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

The Big One

It's a Rove move, likely the first consequence of Official A's escape from indictment Friday. President Bush appointed Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, a move that is at once bold and weak, outrageous and predictable, skillful and desperate, confrontational and a flanking maneuver.

Because Alito redefines the extreme right, he energizes the rabid right base that harried the Harriet back to the White House, where she is already busy instructing the press secretary not to talk to the press about anything having remotely to do with She Who Must Not Be Plamed.

Because Alito is such an extreme and divisive choice, the resulting cacaphony is supposed to drown out any residual echoes from the indictments of White House honcho Scooted Libby, along with drowning out Democrats' calls for Rove's resignation heard Monday (but barely).

That this is an essential part of the strategy is clear from vp Cheney's actions in response to Libby being indicted for lying and obstructing justice in the Plame Game. As
Think Progress among others point out, he replaced Libby with another staffer who is named in Libby's indictment as essentially a co-conspirator. He elevated a second staffer who is also named, and even more directly involved in the orchestrated campaign to publicize the name of a covert CIA agent. This is not exactly evidence of contrition and reform.

Diverting attention may or may not work, but clearly this appointment is not just a little misdirection. Alito can be seen as the payoff of the Bush administration, from the moment that Justices Scalia and Thomas ignored their conflicts of interest and their own judicial records to appoint George Bush, the loser of the 2000 election, as President.

Scalia gets paid off, as do all the rabid right faithful, who outed themselves in the Miers mire as insisting on an unconstitutional religious test for one of the twelve judges charged with the ultimate interpretation and defense of the Constitution.

The stage is now set, and this is The Big One. If the Bushies prevail and Alito takes the oath, this long national nightmare will echo through the law for generations. If the Democrats can rouse themselves and fight a solid and judicious fight, they will not only defeat the antiConstitution but give voters the beginning of a rationale to return them to congressional majority in 06.

Monday, October 31, 2005

G-Men: Protecting America from little masked
terrorists since comics were a dime.
(But keep some candy handy, just in case). Posted by Picasa

Threat Level ORANGE!

G-Men Take Threat Seriously of Extortionist Goblins Who Hate Our Freedom

From the Onion

WASHINGTON, DC—Responding to "a possible threat of terror and fright," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Monday that trick-or-treaters will be subject to random bag searches this Halloween season.

"Individuals concealing their identities through clever disguise, and under cover of night, may attempt to use the unspecified threat of 'tricks' to extort 'treats' from unsuspecting victims," Chertoff said. "Such scare tactics may have been tolerated in the past, but they will not be allowed to continue this Halloween."

While he would not elaborate on the specific threat, Chertoff said his office had "heard a couple spooky tales," and indicated that there was good reason to believe that Americans face "a very ghoulish scenario" this October.

"We have done and will continue to do everything we can to protect citizens from those who would play on our fears," a haunted Chertoff said. "Nevertheless, Americans are advised to be in a state of readiness."

National Guard troops and local police are being stationed at checkpoints in residential neighborhoods to seize the contents of any paper bags, pillowcases, plastic pumpkins, or other receptacles. Additionally, candy-sniffing dogs will be posted at regular intervals to locate and devour suspicious items.

Local, county, and state officials have been placed on orange alert, with strict orders to confiscate and investigate bags containing Bit-O-Honey, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Twix, Butterfingers, Mr. Goodbar, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, gum, and any and all forms of taffy.

Chertoff asked Washington citizens for their assistance, and he outlined steps that the average citizen should take to aid in the war on fright. The DHS guidelines encourage parents to report any suspicious neighbors who create potentially spooky yard displays, especially those that include candle-illuminated pumpkin faces, skeletons in windows or doorways, or repeating tape loops of werewolf howling.

Chertoff recommended that law-enforcement authorities be granted sweeping new powers to ensure security, including mandatory street-corner identity checks for suspects wearing clothing designed to conceal facial features or otherwise obscure ready personal identification. Additionally, local police have been ordered to detain any individuals appearing to be ghosts, goblins, witches, or other characters designed to evoke fear.

The suspects pictured below are already on their way to Pakistan for "questioning."

Americans can be assured that suspicious characters such
as these won't be seen on our streets by Tuesday. Posted by Picasa
Monster Horror Chiller Theatre Presents

From "Bernanke and the Bubble"
By Paul Krugman in The New York Times [emphasis added]

By Bush administration standards, the choice of Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve was just weird.

For one thing, Mr. Bernanke is actually an expert in monetary policy, as opposed to, say, Arabian horses.

Beyond that, Mr. Bernanke's partisanship, if it exists, is so low-key that his co-author on a textbook didn't know he was a registered Republican. The academic work on which his professional reputation rests is apolitical. Moreover, that work is all about how the Fed can influence demand - there's not a hint in his work of support for the right-wing supply-side doctrine.

Nor is he a laissez-faire purist who believes that government governs best when it governs least. On the contrary, he's a policy activist who advocates aggressive government moves to jump-start stalled economies.

For example, a few years back Mr. Bernanke called on Japan to show "Rooseveltian resolve" in fighting its long slump. He even supported a proposal by yours truly that the Bank of Japan try to get Japan's economy moving by, among other things, announcing its intention to push inflation up to 3 or 4 percent per year.

Last but not least, Mr. Bernanke has no personal ties to the Bush family.

It's hard to imagine him doing something indictable to support his masters. It's even hard to imagine him doing what Mr. Greenspan did: throwing his prestige as Fed chairman behind irresponsible tax cuts.

All of this raises a frightening prospect. Has President Bush been so damaged by scandals and public disapproval that he has no choice but to appoint qualified, principled people to important positions?

The naming of Mr. Bernanke was a sign of Mr. Bush's weakness, and it brought a collective sigh of relief. Obviously I'm pleased, too. Full disclosure: Mr. Bernanke was chairman of the Princeton economics department before moving to Washington, and he made the job offer that brought me to Princeton.

So should we all feel confident about the economic future, assuming that Mr. Bernanke is confirmed? Alas, no.

This isn't a comment on Mr. Bernanke's qualifications, although there is one talent, important in a Fed chairman, that Mr. Bernanke has yet to demonstrate (though he may have it). Mr. Greenspan, for all his flaws, has repeatedly shown his ability to divine from fragmentary and sometimes contradictory data which way the economic wind is blowing. As an academic, Mr. Bernanke never had the occasion to make that kind of judgment. We'll just have to see whether he can develop an economic weather sense on the job.

No, my main concern is that the economy may well face a day of reckoning soon after Mr. Bernanke takes office. And while he is surely the best politically possible man for the job (all the other candidates I would have been happy with are independents or Democrats), coping with that day of reckoning without some nasty shocks may be beyond anyone's talents.

The fact is that the U.S. economy's growth over the past few years has depended on two unsustainable trends: a huge surge in house prices and a vast inflow of funds from Asia. Sooner or later, both trends will end, possibly abruptly.

It's true that Mr. Bernanke has given speeches suggesting both that a "global savings glut" will continue to provide the United States with lots of capital inflows, and that housing prices don't reflect a bubble. Well, soothing words are expected from a Fed chairman. He must know that he may be wrong.

If he is, the U.S. economy will find itself in need of the "Rooseveltian resolve" Mr. Bernanke advocated for Japan. We can safely predict that Mr. Bernanke will show that resolve. In fact, Bill Gross of the giant bond fund Pimco has already predicted that next year Mr. Bernanke will start cutting interest rates.

But that may not be enough. When all is said and done, the Fed controls only one thing: the short-term interest rate. And it will be a long time before we have competent, public-spirited people controlling taxes, spending and other instruments of economic policy.
STILL Not Scared? Here's More Horror

from "US ‘had no policy’ in place to rebuild Iraq"
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner
Financial Times

The US government had “no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines” in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a “general lack of co-ordination” between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday.

His 110-page quarterly report, delivered to Congress at the weekend, has underscored how a “reconstruction gap” is emerging that threatens to leave many projects planned by the US on the drawing board.

“Nearly two years ago, the US developed a reconstruction plan that specified a target number of projects that would be executed using the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.

“That number was revised downward [last year]. Now it appears that the actual number of projects completed will be even lower,” Mr Bowen says in his report.

Increasing security costs were “the most salient” reason behind the shortfall, he concluded. While 93 per cent of the nearly $30bn (€25bn, £17bn) the US has appropriated for reconstruction has been committed to programmes and projects, more than 25 per cent of the funds have been spent on security costs related to the insurgency.

The largest expected increase in costs to complete planned projects had occurred in the Project and Contracting Office (PCO), which manages projects in the oil, electrical, security and water sectors and has been allocated $4.6bn in reconstruction funds.

While in most sectors PCO data indicated that project costs would not exceed initial estimates, Mr Bowen found that oil sector-related costs had been under-estimated by about $790m. Conflicting data also showed “possible funding anomalies”, because although the PCO reported that more than 85 per cent of oil projects were on or ahead of schedule, other data showed that the cost of completing the tasks was increasing beyond initial estimates.

The report said a separate agency given the job of assisting the Iraqi government in training and equipping security forces – a job for which it was allocated $835m – had spent 14 per cent more than originally estimated.

The special inspector-general also highlighted a stark increase in non-military deaths in connection to Iraq’s reconstruction. The number of non-Iraqi contractor deaths from all countries rose to 412 for the period of March 2003 to September 2005. That compared to 120 deaths up until Sptember last year.

While the most successful post-conflict reconstruction effort in US history – the reconstruction of Japan and Germany following the second world war – began being planned in the months after the US entered the war, Mr Bowen found that “systematic planning” for the post-hostilities period in Iraq was “insufficient in both scope and implementation”.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Great Pumpkin? Sort of.
Mars is close enough this
Halloween for backyard astronomers
with decent telescopes to see
sandstorms on the Martian surface. Posted by Picasa
Are You Scared Yet? This Should Do It

Free Press

From "Powerful Government Accounting Office report confirms key 2004 stolen election findings" by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman [excerpts; emphasis added]

As a legal noose appears to be tightening around the Bush/Cheney/Rove inner circle, a shocking government report shows the floor under the legitimacy of their alleged election to the White House is crumbling.

The latest critical confirmation of key indicators that the election of 2004 was stolen comes in an extremely powerful, penetrating report from the General Accounting Office that has gotten virtually no mainstream media coverage.

The government's lead investigative agency is known for its general incorruptibility and its through, in-depth analyses. Its concurrence with assertions widely dismissed as "conspiracy theories" adds crucial new weight to the case that Team Bush has no legitimate business being in the White House.

Among other things, the GAO confirms that:

1. Some electronic voting machines "did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected." In other words, the GAO now confirms that electronic voting machines provided an open door to flip an entire vote count. More than 800,000 votes were cast in Ohio on electronic voting machines, some seven times Bush's official margin of victory.

2. "It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate."Numerous sworn statements and affidavits assert that this did happen in Ohio 2004.

3. Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards can easily be done, according to the GAO.

4. The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network. This critical finding confirms that rigging the 2004 vote did not require a "widespread conspiracy" but rather the cooperation of a very small number of operatives with the power to tap into the networked machines and thus change large numbers of votes at will.

With 800,000 votes cast on electronic machines in Ohio, flipping the number needed to give Bush 118,775 could be easily done by just one programmer.

5. Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords. So even relatively amateur hackers could have gained access to and altered the Ohio vote tallies.

6. The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.

7. One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail, re-emphasizing the fragility of the system on which the Presidency of the United States was decided.

8. GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel, confirming still more easy access to the system.

In essence, the GAO study makes it clear that no bank, grocery store or mom & pop chop shop would dare operate its business on a computer system as flimsy, fragile and easily manipulated as the one on which the 2004 election turned.

The GAO findings are particularly damning when set in the context of an election run in Ohio by a Secretary of State simultaneously working as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Far from what election theft skeptics have long asserted, the GAO findings confirm that the electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software.

The GAO documentation flows alongside other crucial realities surrounding the 2004 vote count. For example:

The exit polls showed Kerry winning in Ohio, until an unexplained last minute shift gave the election to Bush. Similar definitive shifts also occurred in Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, a virtual statistical impossibility.

A few weeks prior to the election, an unauthorized former ES&S voting machine company employee, was caught on the ballot-making machine in Auglaize County.

Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long. Officials claim the problems were quickly solved, but sworn statements and affidavits say otherwise. They confirm similar problems in Franklin County (Columbus). Kerry's margins in both counties were suspiciously low.

A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. The problem was allegedly fixed.

In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4000 extra votes when only 638 people voted at that polling place. The tally was allegedly corrected, but remains infamous as the "loaves and fishes" vote count.

In Franklin County, dozens of voters swore under oath that their vote for Kerry faded away on the DRE without a paper trail.

In Miami County, at 1:43am after Election Day, with the county's central tabulator reporting 100% of the vote - 19,000 more votes mysteriously arrived; 13,000 were for Bush at the same percentage as prior to the additional votes, a virtual statistical impossibility.

In Cleveland, large, entirely implausible vote totals turned up for obscure third party candidates in traditional Democratic African-American wards. Vote counts in neighboring wards showed virtually no votes for those candidates, with 90% going instead for Kerry.

Prior to one of Blackwell's illegitimate "show recounts," technicians from Triad voting machine company showed up unannounced at the Hocking County Board of Elections and removed the computer hard drive.

In response to official information requests, Shelby and other counties admit to having discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.

In a conference call with Rev. Jackson, Attorney Cliff Arnebeck, Attorney Bob Fitrakis and others, John Kerry confirmed that he lost every precinct in New Mexico that had a touchscreen voting machine. The losses had no correlation with ethnicity, social class or traditional party affiliation---only with the fact that touchscreen machines were used.

In a public letter, Rep. Conyers has stated that "by and large, when it comes to a voting machine, the average voter is getting a lemon - the Ford Pinto of voting technology. We must demand better."
Nearly a year ago, senior Judiciary Committee Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) asked the GAO to investigate electronic voting machines as they were used during the November 2, 2004 presidential election. The request came amidst widespread complaints in Ohio and elsewhere that often shocking irregularities defined their performance.

According to CNN, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee received "more than 57,000 complaints" following Bush's alleged re-election. Many such concerns were memorialized under oath in a series of sworn statements and affidavits in public hearings and investigations conducted in Ohio by the Free Press and other election protection organizations.

The non-partisan GAO report has now found that, "some of [the] concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes.

" The United States is the only major democracy that allows private partisan corporations to secretly count and tabulate the votes with proprietary non-transparent software. Rev. Jesse Jackson, among others, has asserted that "public elections must not be conducted on privately-owned machines."

The CEO of one of the most crucial suppliers of electronic voting machines, Warren O'Dell of Diebold, pledged before the 2004 campaign to deliver Ohio and thus the presidency to George W. Bush.

Bush's official margin of victory in Ohio was just 118,775 votes out of more than 5.6 million cast. Election protection advocates argue that O'Dell's statement still stands as a clear sign of an effort, apparently successful, to steal the White House.

But the GAO report now confirms that electronic voting machines as deployed in 2004 were in fact perfectly engineered to allow a very small number of partisans with minimal computer skills and equipment to shift enough votes to put George W. Bush back in the White House. Given the growing body of evidence, it appears increasingly clear that's exactly what happened.