Filtered news 8/2

CIA follies This is
surely not the most important part of Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes, a
history of the CIA, but it's unquestionably the funniest part of

Perhaps the most comical of all CIA clandestine activities — unfortunately
all too typical of its covert operations over the last 60 years — was the spying
it did in 1994 on the newly appointed American ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn
McAfee, who sought to promote policies of human rights and justice in that
country. Loyal to the murderous Guatemalan intelligence service, the CIA had
bugged her bedroom and picked up sounds that led their agents to conclude that
the ambassador was having a lesbian love affair with her secretary, Carol
Murphy. The CIA station chief "recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy." The
agency spread the word in Washington that the liberal ambassador was a lesbian
without realizing that "Murphy" was also the name of her two-year-old black
standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog. She
was actually a married woman from a conservative family.

 
As divers look for more casualties, the White House acknowledges that they've
known the bridge had problems since 2005.  As any good reporter with a few years
on a city, county or state government beat will tell you that events like the
tragic collapse of the 35W bridge over the Mississippi River between Minneapolis
and St. Paul are inevitable. Not that anybody knows for certain which
bridges will fail. Only that some will.

As media reports and Diarists , , , ,
,
, , , , , , ,
and mmcintee in the seminal are showing, the 35W bridge collapse was, as the cliché has it,
an accident waiting to happen. A tragedy courtesy of politicians who, in their
own ways, follow Grover Norquist's dictum of reducing government until it's
small enough to drown in the bathtub. And of passing out massive tax cuts,
mostly to people who need them least.

It's not just bridges. As the American Society of Civil Engineers points out, we're $1.6 trillion behind in
infrastructure investment. That, by the way, is the amount of tax cuts Mister
Bush tried to get passed in 2001, before he had the Global War on Terrorism™
with which to shape his legacy. Congress "compromised" and gave him only $1.35
trillion, tax cuts that writer Robert Freeman once labeled a "national form of
insanity."

What the ASCE's report points out is that bridges aren't our only
problem:

Dams (D+) Since 1998, the number of unsafe dams has risen by
33% to more than 3,500. While federally owned dams are in good condition, and
there have been modest gains in repair, the number of dams identified as unsafe
is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired. $10.1 billion is
needed over the next 12 years to address all critical non-federal dams--dams
which pose a direct risk to human life should they fail. ...

Drinking Water (D-) America faces a shortfall of $11 billion
annually to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water
regulations. Federal funding for drinking water in 2005 remained level at $850
million, less than 10% of the total national requirement. The Bush
administration has proposed the same level of funding for FY06. ...

Schools (D) The Federal government has not assessed the
condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 billion
was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since
reported a need as high as $268 billion. Despite public support of bond
initiatives to provide funding for school facilities, without a clear
understanding of the need, it is uncertain whether schools can meet increasing
enrollment demands and the smaller class sizes mandated by the No Child Left
Behind Act. ...

Transit (D+)Transit use increased faster than any other mode
of transportation--up 21%--between 1993 and 2002. Federal investment during this
period stemmed the decline in the condition of existing transit infrastructure.
The reduction in federal investment in real dollars since 2001 threatens this
turnaround. In 2002, total capital outlays for transit were $12.3 billion. The
Federal Transit Administration estimates $14.8 billion is needed annually to
maintain conditions, and $20.6 billion is needed to improve to "good"
conditions. Meanwhile, many major transit properties are borrowing funds to
maintain operations, even as they are significantly raising fares and cutting
back service. ...

Wastewater (D-) Aging wastewater management systems
discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. surface waters each
year. The EPA estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over the next
20 years to replace existing systems and build new ones to meet increasing
demands. Yet, in 2005, Congress cut funding for wastewater management for the
first time in eight years. The Bush administration has proposed a further 33%
reduction, to $730 million, for FY06.

This ought to be a no-brainer.

It's understandable in impoverished Chad or Haiti or East Timor or the
back-country of the People's Republic of China. But there is no excuse for
lethal tumbledown infrastructure in this country. Congress gave Mister Bush
$1.35 trillion in tax cuts. Congress has appropriated $600 billion (so far, with
more to come) for a war that should never have happened. Congress enables the
military-industrial complex to vacuum up additional hundreds of billions in
taxpayer dollars annually. Congress just approved $25 billion in annual farm
subsidies, the vast majority of which go to rich farmers.

And on, and on. It's not just the Feds, obviously. In state after state, the
bathtub drowners argue for tax cuts which ensure that this shameful
deterioration of American infrastructure will continue. Every old bridge that
falls down is, symbolically and actually, a testament to their vision.

I am slightly dazed at the
notion
that out there in the MSM a over Barack Obama saying he could rule out the idea of using
nuclear weapons to fight al-Qaeda. Hillary Clinton, it seems, disagrees. But why
on earth would you use nuclear weapons to fight al-Qaeda? You use nukes to
destroy large portions of cities. Remember ?

Corruption watch From
...

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has used a Senate employee as his
personal bookkeeper but does not appear to have paid her for those services out
of his own funds, even as the aide collected more than a quarter-million dollars
in federal pay, according to Senate records and the aide’s financial disclosure
forms.

Barbara Flanders, who has worked for Stevens since at least 2004, has been
paid as an employee of the Senate, first as a staff assistant on the
Appropriations Committee and in Stevens’ personal office and, since October
2005, as a “financial clerk” on the Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee.

Rudy and Fox Noose  A new
report details Rudy's politically useful two-decade friendship with Fox News
chief Roger Ailes. That and other political news of the day in today's .

Back to the 1920s  Just
back from his chat with President Bush, Neal Boortz
how Democrats are "praying" for America's defeat.

My Senator Russ Feingold
has apparently been given a classified briefing by DNI McConnell on the FISA
issue, and released :

"We need to wiretap terrorists, and we should address the problem that has
been identified with FISA with respect to foreign-to-foreign communications. But
the administration’s overly broad proposal goes far beyond that and would leave
critical decisions related to surveillance involving Americans entirely up to
the Attorney General. The proposal from the Democratic leadership is better and
involves FISA court review from the start. But it does not have adequate
safeguards to protect Americans’ privacy. The bill should also include a 90-day
sunset to ensure Congress has the chance to identify and fix any problems with
this new proposal."

Feingold's proposals are a good compromise on this issue, which apparently
every Democratic Senator who has been briefed by McConnell believes is valid.
First and foremost, there is no way the Senate can give the decision-making on
surveillance to Gonzales, even on a very short-term basis. If the Congress caves
on giving Gonzales this power, they will not be able to revoke it, even with a
90-day sunset. The bottom line on any proposal that Congress passes must keep
authority for these programs with the FISA court.

Sometimes our use of the law is painfully
stupid
  Check out the a story about a teenage girl getting
arrested for filming a 20 second clip of Transformers in order to
encourage her brother to go see the movie. I almost didn't believe it, or at
least felt like the anecdote must have been exaggerated in some way, but Dave
Weigel
and it all : "Sejas faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 when she
goes to trial this month in the July 17 incident."

Rudy's Potemkin candidacy 
I know this isn't an original observation or anything, but it struck me yet
again that Giuliani might be the first presidential candidate whose entire
candidacy is based literally on optics and nothing else. I don't think he's
offered one single substantive proposal in the entire time since he announced
his candidacy. Rather, he's marketed himself exclusively as a tough guy who
knows how to kick butt and put liberals in their place. That's it. There really
isn't anything more to the man. Like I said, nothing original about this. But
still. The purity of his persona-based candidacy is almost majestic.

Gridlocking it Democracy
Corps reports (
via ) that the public, unlike some pundits, understands what's happening
in the country just fine and combines a dislike of gridlock with an appreciation
that the cause of gridlock is that the Republican Party is obstructing popular
elements of the Democratic majority's agenda: "Right now, Republicans own
everything, including the gridlock, the direction of the country and Iraq. There
is no other way to understand the rock solid stability of the Democrats’ current
leads."

It seems the horror stories were
true
  Remember Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the soldier in Iraq who
wrote a piece for the New Republic in which he recounted stories of (a)
mocking a disfigured woman, (b) a fellow soldier who wore a piece of a child's
skull he had found, and (c) another fellow soldier who ran over dogs with his
Bradley fighting vehicle? Well, which included talking
with "current and former soldiers, forensic experts, and other journalists who
have covered the war extensively, [and] five other members of Beauchamp's
company."

The result? They "all corroborated Beauchamp's anecdotes, which they
witnessed or, in the case of one solider, heard about contemporaneously." The
only error they uncovered was that one of the incidents apparently took place at
an Army base in Kuwait, not Iraq.

Reaction from the right, which has been loudly insisting for a couple of
weeks that the whole thing was a fake? Stay tuned. I expect that they'll find
reasons to hold both Beauchamp and TNR to blame for the whole thing anyway.

  "Like a Kabuki story, though, you can
already see how this is going to play out....Eventually some small part of
Thomas's account will turn out to be slightly exaggerated and the right will
erupt in righteous fervor. They were right all along! Thomas did make
up his stories! The left does hate the troops!" 
does turn
to be so
on the

MuckNacht?  Sen. Larry
Craig (R-ID) says that the tactics the FBI are using against fellow Senator Ted
Stevens (R-AK) are .   Here's the not completely coherent
The Politico got from the senator ...

"I think some people say, 'Ah, but for the grace of God go I.'
Especially when you have the allegatiatons, you have the judicial segment of our
government, the executive branch, out raiding the homes of senators, that is a
very frightening propostion. It is a bit Gestapo-like in its style and tactics
... When the FBI was offered a key and invited into the home, they chose
publicize it to make sure the media was there first, and they broke in. That is
gamesmanship. That makes senators very, very angry when they attempt to
cooperate when for reason they are caught in these webs and yet they are denied
that for the sake of the jduciary’s publicity. That is wrong.’’

Ahhh, there but for the grace of God goes my house renovated by fatcat CEOs
who've now pled guilty to bribing my son and other pols ...

Yesterday we that a person
identified as Sen. Stevens (R-AK) 'bookkeeper' had testified before a federal
grand jury investigating Stevens. Later we learned that this 'bookkeeper' was
also a senate staffer who was apparently managing Stevens' personal
finances.

Now, whenever we get into a situation like this it is always helpful to know
not just what the rules are and what is (by whatever standard)
appropriate, but also what the common practices are. In this case, I think it's
probably not that uncommon for certain congressional staffers to do the
occasional task that is probably personal in nature. And I would not be at all
surprised if some of the older and long-serving members of the House and Senate
are still operating by 'old school' rules in which one or two staffers help the
member out a lot with personal stuff. That's not saying it's okay. I think it's
just important context. I think if you look at some members that have been there
since like the 60s or even 70s you'll probably find some workplace norms that
wouldn't stand a lot of scrutiny today.

One other point is worth noting. There are some members who have a staffer
who they also pay personally because some of their work bleeds into personal
stuff.

So with all that context, let's look at Sen. Stevens and staffer Barbara
Flanders. Roll Call has a on this
in today's paper. The reporter doesn't say so explicitly. But the article
suggests that not only does Flanders do Stevens' bookkeeping but that she may
also not have any actual senate duties. In addition, her job title at the
Commerce Committee, 'financial clerk', doesn't exist anywhere else in the
senate.

And what else probably won't surprise you, she makes a pretty decent salary
-- about a $150,000 per annum.

I don't think it was terribly surprising to people on the hill that Stevens
might have a staffer who helped him make sure his bills got paid on time and his
check book stayed balanced. But if it's true that Flanders actually had no
senate duties
, I think that's going to be another real problem for
Stevens.

Mitt stumbles
again
Did Mitt Romney actually make a video in which his family
pretends to counsel him on whether to run for president? The result
is either hilarious or nausea inducing, depending on your mood at the
moment.

Big Brother has a
budget!
The government’s “black budget” — which covers
classified programs — “is expected to , roughly on par with spending from the past
two years,” according to a new analysis. The budget also includes the CIA’s
black prison sites and the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance
Program. 

Oh that silly
surge
Michael Crowley reports on a lunch he attended with an

On Iraq, this senator said he expects that, come September and the
Petraeus-Crocker report, the White House will announce "a transition to a new
approach." He thinks that will involve a non-trivial drawdown of troops, and a
returned emphasis to training Iraqi forces, though he wasn't too clear beyond
that. He also said such a shift would head off any possible collapse in
congressional GOP support for the war.

Obviously this has to be taken with a grain of salt since there's no telling
how much this unnamed senator is actually privy to. If he's right, however,
it's a pretty stunning example of just how unseriously the Republican
Party takes national security these days.

Think about it. When September rolls around Petraeus and Crocker plainly
won't be able to report any political progress in Iraq. After all, there hasn't
been any yet, and the Iraqi parliament is on vacation for the next month. What's
more, even on the military front Petraeus will be unable to claim anything but
the slimmest progress. There's simply no credible way in which anyone will be
able to claim that the surge has made enough progress on any front that
its job is done and it can start to be wound down. And yet, not only does our
unnamed senator think that's what the White House will announce, he also thinks
this "new approach" charade will successfully pacify the brewing Republican
revolt against the war.

Now, this senator may or may not know what Bush is intending to do. But
presumably he knows Senate Republicans pretty well, and his assessment of his
colleagues is damning. Elaborate rationales aside (and I'm sure we'll hear them
by the bucketload), for anyone who cares about the actual reality of Iraq
there's simply no coherent argument for supporting the surge in March and then,
six months later, supporting its end even though it plainly hasn't accomplished
its goals. You can only do that if you consider Iraq a political game rather
than a serious foreign policy problem. Apparently they do.

Rudy's empty health care
"plan"
  Ezra Klein correctly analyzes the laughable health care
"plan"

Just about all you need to know about Giuliani's thoughtfulness on the issue
can be summed up by the following: In the speech introducing and detailing his
new health care proposal, Giuliani refers to the "Democrats" six times.
"Single-payer" is said eight times. "Socialized medicine," or some variant
thereof, makes nine appearances. "Uninsured" is never uttered — not
once.

If you're interested in more, Ezra also provides a technical explanation of
why Rudy's plan is meaningless (tax deductions don't help the poor, who don't
pay taxes in the first place, and the incentives are too small to make much
difference to middle class taxpayers who do pay taxes). For another
perspective, Jon Cohn offers his take

However, I thought the (unintentionally) funniest take came from though I didn't get around to blogging about it. Klein writes
that a tax-credit-based system might be OK but that Giuliani's plan fails
because it doesn't require insurance companies to cover everyone, doesn't
require universal participation, and isn't progressive enough to benefit the
poor. Aside from the fact that Giuliani's plan doesn't involve tax
credits anyway, that's sort of like saying a car is OK except that it
doesn't have a transmission, doesn't steer properly, and has to be pushed
whenever there's a headwind.

Basically, though, Ezra has the right take on this. The remarkable thing
about Giuliani's plan isn't in the details anyway. It's that it doesn't even
make a serious pretense of being an actual solution to any of our current health
care problems. Even taken on its own terms, it wouldn't expand coverage, it
wouldn't help the poor, it wouldn't contain costs, and it wouldn't improve care.
It literally wouldn't do anything except provide a tax break for the wealthy,
the only people who would benefit from an increased tax deduction.

Funny how that works.

Is it a crime or not? 
Looks like young basketball Wizards forward Andray Blatche Thursday on sexual solicitation charges." This is what I
feel like went mysteriously missing from the Beltway conversation about David
Vitter showing up on the DC madam's list. We don't know exactly what went down,
but it certainly appears that Vitter did things that get people arrested. I
don't, personally, think people should be arrested for what Vitter and Blatche
both seem to have done. But one way or another, the only way to have any kind of
sensible vice laws is for the laws to applied with a modicum of fairness.

Dems show respect and class; Repugs not so
much
Dem Minnesota Senate candidates Al Franken and Mike Ciresi
suspend campaign activity in wake of bridge collapse -- while the RNC continues
on with its Minneapolis summer meeting. That and other political news of the day
in today's .

Al Qaeda Web Ad   Is there
some internet Should I be mad at Blogads for not being very
successful in getting the lucrative al Qaeda account?  Obviously I'm kidding,
but what does it mean to call it a "web ad" and say it was "posted on the
internet?" Strange lack of specificity.

New York as yet another nutcase
mayor
  So, if the new regulations Mayor Bloomberg wants go
through, we'll have to get a permit to take our little TPMtv video camera out to
shoot the intro to one of our shows. I guess we'll have to be in-door only from
now on. It sounds silly and like it's a joke but it's not. We'd have to get one
just like Spielberg if he showed up filming Godzilla 9.  Here's a site where you
can find out more and sign a to
help to stop this silliness.

Congress as terror
target?
   Just out from (sub.req.) ...

Capitol Police officials have stepped up the department’s security
presence on Capitol Hill in response to intelligence indicating the increased
possibility of an al-Qaida terrorist attack on Congress sometime between now and
Sept. 11.

The August-to-Sept. 11 time frame was confirmed by a Capitol Police source
who said Congressional security officials were recently made aware of the
potential threat by federal anti-terrorism authorities. The Capitol Police
department has a liaison from the Homeland Security Department working in its
Capitol Hill command center.

On Thursday afternoon, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who currently
serves as chairman of the Capitol Police Board, acknowledged the noticeable
increase in Capitol Police presence on the Hill but declined to discuss any
specific threat or dates.

Hey! Members of Congress can
learn!
   On Sunday, we found out that Ellen Tauscher had a of the Constitution:

The Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the president in a
non-impeachable office. Unless convicted of an illegal act, the Attorney General
cannot be removed from office without the president asking for or accepting his
resignation. However, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts and
concerns in mind as I review the circumstances surrounding recent allegations of
impropriety within the Justice Department.

She got a well-deserved heap of scorn. Now, she not only updated her
Constitutional interpretations, but she also signed on as a co-sponsor of Rep.
Jay Inslee's impeachment resolution. A constituent of hers passed on this email
from her office:

Thank you for contacting me about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  I have
reviewed your comments and welcome this opportunity to share my views.

I have long been concerned about Attorney General Gonzales' role in crafting
the Bush administration's policies that deny prisoners captured in the War on
Terror protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions, including the right to
protection from torture. I am deeply troubled by evidence that he orchestrated
the firing of U.S. Attorneys for political purposes, as well as his continued
refusal to testify candidly and truthfully about it before Congress.
Furthermore, an audit of the FBI's use of national security letters revealed
multiple breaches of FBI and Justice Department regulation, and provides further
cause for grave concern.

I believe that Attorney General Gonzales is incompetent, and that it has
become clear he is no longer capable of serving the American people or our
system of justice.

I apologize for inaccuracies contained in any earlier correspondence. I want
to set the record straight on my actions. I am a co-sponsor of two bills to
remove Gonzales from office. On May 22, I co-sponsored H. Res. 417, which
declares that the House of Representatives and the American people have lost
confidence in Attorney General Gonzales. It calls on the President to nominate a
new candidate capable of serving as the head of the Department of Justice.
Additionally, I am a co-sponsor of H. Res. 589, introduced yesterday by Rep. Jay
Inslee of Washington, which directs the House Judiciary Committee to initiate an
impeachment investigation of the Attorney General. The resolution requests a
formal investigation of the facts surrounding the Attorney General's actions in
order to allow Congress to determine whether articles of impeachment are
appropriate [...]

A nice recovery from her embarrassing flub.

Published

August 3, 2007 - 9:15am

Author

randomness