Tuesday, January 31, 2006

NBC/WSJ Poll: Bush At 39% Approval Rating

These numbers in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll are just as bad as the numbers in the previous seven polls released by ARG, FOX News, Washington Post/ABC News, NY Times, TIME Magazine, Bloomberg/LA Times, and Gallup in the past few days:

WASHINGTON - Heading into Tuesday's State of the Union address and the beginning of the 2006 political season, President Bush faces an electorate that continues to be dissatisfied with his job performance, increasingly wants U.S. soldiers to come home from Iraq, and believes the Republican Party is associated more with special interests and lobbyists, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The overall political climate for Bush is “gray and gloomy,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “In general, people are just not in a happy mood.”

The poll, however, contains a slice of good news for the Bush administration: A small majority approves of the administration’s controversial use of domestic wiretaps without a court order to track calls between terrorist suspects and U.S. residents. But a majority also believes that these wiretaps could be misused.

The survey, which was conducted from Jan. 26-29 of 1,011 adults and which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, shows Bush’s approval rating at 39 percent, which is unchanged from last month’s NBC/Journal poll. (Other recent national surveys have shown his approval rating to be slightly higher, in the low 40s.) In addition, only 25 percent say they want to see Bush take the lead role in setting policy for the country, while 49 percent say they prefer Congress.

“He’s off track,” says Hart, who wonders if Bush will use his State of the Union address to strike a more conciliatory tone with his political opponents. “If it is ‘our way or the highway,’ it will be a very long year for the president.”
39% approval for the preznit, 49% of the public want Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country while 25% want the preznit to take the lead role in setting policy.

Can you say extremely unpopular preznit?

Can you say most unpopular second term preznit since Nixon?

Apparently many on the TV and in the papers can't. Ever since the Washington Post/ABC poll in December had Bush rising to 47% approval (an outlier, btw - the rest of the polls at the time had Bush in the low 40's still), the meme has been Bush is on the comeback.

But as we can all see from the numbers, people don't trust this preznit to set policy or guide the country.

In fact, according to the NBC/WSJ poll, 53% of the public believe Preznit Bush is dishonest and untrustworthy. And according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 76% of the public want the preznit to disclose Jack Abramoff's meetings with people in the White House.

They don't trust him anymore.

The seeds are definitely being set for a GOP rout in November. The public is "gray and gloomy," they don't trust the preznit, they believe the ruling GOP party is too tied to special interests and lobbyists, and they want a change in direction for the country.

And this is all before Tom Delay and Bob Ney are indicted in the Abramoff scandal and Karl Rove is indicted in the CIA leak case.

Can you sense the seismic shift in the electorate?

I can.

And I know the Democrats will attempt to fuck things up with their own special brand of magic, and I also know Karl Rove will try to Diebold as many elections as he can this November to keep the Dems from taking back either the House or the Senate or both.

But things feel pretty bad for the GOP and the White House right now and if the Democratic Party gets subpoena power next November, things are going to get really bad for the GOP and the White House.

Why An Economic Slowdown Is Coming No Matter What They Say On CNBC

From Reuters:

The U.S. economy expanded at a meager 1.1 percent rate in the fourth quarter of last year, but inflation aside from volatile food and energy prices was running a bit faster than Fed policy-makers would like to see.

However, so-called core prices edged up just 0.1 percent in December and have gained only 1.9 percent over the past 12 months, just within the Fed's perceived comfort zone.

While most economists expect the economy to rebound sharply this quarter from its surprisingly sluggish pace at the end of 2005, some expect a softening housing market to eventually take the wind out of the expansion's sales.

Merrill Lynch chief economist David Rosenberg points to declining prices for new homes as foreshadowing the weakening that may lie ahead.

"New home prices are deflating -- bye-bye mortgage equity withdrawal boom, which, by the way, helped underwrite almost 40 percent of the growth in consumer spending in the past three years," he said in a research note.

If the mortgage equity piggy banks close and people are already carrying massive amounts of debt and in negative savings territory, common sense would tell you the American consumer can no longer "underwrite" the world economy (note the trade debt) nor corporate profits.

Which means a slowdown unless something else takes the place of consumer spending.

I know that the talking point on CNBC is that business spending will replace consumer spending in the next year to keep the U.S. economy out of recession.

But why would business spend money if the American consumer can't afford to buy anymore?

I mean, I'm not economist and I admit to being a novitiate about this stuff, but common sense tells you the economy is in serious trouble in the months ahead.

Monday, January 30, 2006

More Reasons To Worry About The Economy

Yikes, don't you get scared when the year 1933 comes up in a story comparing today's personal savings rate to the past?

I know I do. Here's the story from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Americans' personal savings rate dipped into negative territory in 2005, something that hasn't happened since the Great Depression. Consumers depleted their savings to finance the purchases of cars and other big-ticket items.

The Commerce Department reported Monday that the savings rate fell into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent, meaning that Americans not only spent all of their after-tax income last year but had to dip into previous savings or increase borrowing.

The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only twice before _ in 1932 and 1933 _ two years when the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression, a time of massive business failures and job layoffs.

With employment growth strong now, analysts said that different factors are at play. Americans feel they can spend more, given that the value of their homes, the biggest asset for most families, has been rising sharply in recent years.

But analysts cautioned that this behavior was risky at a time when 78 million Americans are on the verge of retirement.

"Americans seem to have the feeling that it is wimpish to save," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York. "The idea is to put away money for old age and we are just not doing that."

The Commerce report said that consumer spending for December rose by 0.9 percent, more than double the 0.4 percent increase in incomes last month.

A price gauge that excludes food and energy rose by a tiny 0.1 percent in December, down from a 0.2 percent rise in November. This inflation index linked to consumer spending is closely watched by officials at the Federal Reserve.


A negative savings rate means that Americans spent all their disposable income, the amount left over after paying taxes, and dipped into their past savings to finance their purchases. For the month, the savings rate fell to 0.7 percent, the largest one-month decline since a 3.4 percent drop in August.

The 0.5 percent negative savings rate for 2005 followed a 1.8 percent rate of savings in 2004. The last negative rates occurred in 1932, a drop of 0.9 percent, and a record 1.5 percent decline in 1933. In those years Americans exhausted their savings to try to meet expenses in the wake of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.

One major reason that consumers felt confident in spending all of their disposable incomes and dipping into savings last year was that a booming housing market made them feel more wealthy. As their home prices surged at double-digit rates, that created what economists call a "wealth effect" that supported greater spending.

The concern, however, is that the housing boom of the past five years is beginning to quiet down with the rise in mortgage rates. Analysts are closing watching to see whether consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity, falters in 2006 as Americans, already carrying heavy debt loads, don't feel as wealthy as the price appreciation of their homes would seem to indicate.

Debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt...

And the bubble is bursting in the housing market with foreclosures up, interest rates are still rising, inflation is starting to rear its ugly head (core price index, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, was up 2.2% last quarter), wages remain stagnant, oil finished the trading day at $68.35 a barrel and it's been a mild winter so far, the trade deficit remains at record levels, personal household debt remains at record levels, bankruptcies were up sharply last year (though they probably was due to the new Bankruptcy Law), we're spending billions of dollars on a war in Iraq that was supposed to pay for itself and the first baby boomers will start retiring and drawing Social Security from a depleted system in just two years.

We're all in debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt...

And now the government reports Americans had a negative savings rate last year for the first time since 1933.

So what happens if and when the economy tanks again and people have to draw on something?

They don't have any savings to fall back on. They can't borrow any more money because most people are in debt up to their hairlines. And housing prices are falling, not rising, so more equity tapping is out of the question too.

Not a good situation, is it?

Exxon Mobil Pulls In Record Profits For An American Corporation EVER!!!!

Holy shit, look at the amount of money those fuckers at Exxon Mobil made in the last quarter of 2005. According to the NY Times, Exxon Mobile made more money than some oil-producing nations, like Indonesia:

HOUSTON, Jan. 30 — Exxon Mobil, the nation's largest energy company, today reported a 27 percent surge in profits for the fourth quarter as elevated fuel prices gave rise to the most lucrative year ever for an American company, with profits in 2005 reaching $36.13 billion and revenue $371 billion.

Exxon's profits are expected to generate new scrutiny of the company's operations in Washington, where legislators have recently expressed concern over Big Oil's good fortune as soaring oil and natural gas prices pressure consumers. Exxon said its profits climbed more than 40 percent last year, while its tax bill rose only 14 percent.

"This might be the best macroeconomic environment ever for oil," said Dave Pursell, a partner at Pickering Energy Partners, Houston-based research firm. "More than any of its peers, Exxon knocked the cover off the ball with its long, disciplined view of global projects."

Exxon's revenue last year allowed it to surpass Wal-Mart as the largest company in the United States, and by some measures Exxon became richer than some of world's largest oil-producing nations. For instance, its revenue of $371 billion surpassed the gross domestic product of $245 billion for Indonesia, an OPEC member and the world's fourth most populous country with 242 million people.

According to Rawstory, Exxon Mobil made $1,073 dollars a second in the fourth quarter of 2005 and yet they're still fighting the damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska!!! The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Saturday that Exxon Mobile Corp. asked a federal court last week to reduce the $5 billion dollars in damages that were levied against them for the oil spill to $25 million dollars.

Can you imagine? Exxon Mobil made $1,073 dollars a second in the fourth quarter, amounting to $36 billion dollars or so, yet they don't want to pay damages for an environmental disaster they caused!!!

And of course we have a government in Washington and four fuckers on the Supreme Court qho agree with them.

It is time for a change in this country.

We need to get some of the power out of the hands of the oil companies and the banks and credit card companies and Walmart and their elected minions in the government and put it back in the hands of men and women who work for a living.

Boston Globe: Housing Slowdown Is "Squeezing" Borrowers

Uh, oh - this story from the Boston Globe about skyrocketing foreclosures in the Massachusettes housing market doesn't sound good:

The number of foreclosure notices filed against Massachusetts homeowners last year reached their highest level since the housing bust of the early 1990s, as homeowners fell behind on their mortgages and lenders began the process of taking back the properties.

Paradoxically, the sudden halt to sharply rising home prices put a squeeze on many borrowers, analysts said. Homeowners who stretched their finances to the limit to buy a home found it more difficult to make their payments on variable-rate mortgages as interest rates rose, but they were less able to refinance their loans at more attractive rates -- or sell and pay off their debts -- because the value of their homes fell or remained flat.

''When prices are skyrocketing, you have the option" of selling the house for a gain or refinancing, said Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

''In an economy where price appreciation is more modest or doesn't exist, what option do you have left?" he said. ''Sadly, one of those options is foreclosure."

Last year, there were almost 11,500 foreclosure filings in Massachusetts Land Court, where most notices are filed by banks and mortgage companies against the homeowners, according to ForeclosuresMass Corp., which compiles and tracks filings. That is a 32 percent increase from 2004, pushing the number of filings on record to its highest level since 1993, when a once-booming housing market was in a tailspin. The biggest increases were in Eastern Massachusetts.

During the housing boom of 1999 to 2004, the average price of Massachusetts houses and condominiums surged by at least 10 percent every year except one, putting the state's home-price appreciation among the nation's highest. But last year, price gains slowed to 5 percent, and single-family home prices were flat or even declined in some Boston and suburban neighborhoods.

''There's an epidemic of foreclosures," said Boston lawyer Gary Klein, who represents borrowers in lawsuits against lenders. ''We're getting a steady stream of referrals of people who are looking for any option to save their home."

Jeremy Shapiro, president of ForeclosuresMass, predicted filings would rise again this year, because many homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages will see their monthly payments begin to rise along with interest rates.

''As we get into '06, '07, '08 and beyond, we're going to see more folks whose rates adjust," he said.


Divorce, separation, and job losses are the main reasons people lose their homes. While high-income individuals in divorce proceedings or spending beyond their means are vulnerable, working-class cities including Lynn and Worcester, where residents are more likely to live on a tight budget, were hardest hit last year. Also, people with poor credit ratings who qualify for mortgages from lenders charging high interest rates are also concentrated in these neighborhoods.

''People can't pay their mortgage," said Juan Ortega, a real estate agent in Lawrence in Essex County. ''They're up to the top. They bought very high, and now they can't make the mortgages."

Lawrence's housing market surged with the rest of the state. But lately, said Ortega, a Century 21 agent, he is spending his time helping clients facing foreclosures, which seem particularly acute in one predominantly Latino neighborhood north of downtown Lawrence.

A rash of foreclosures can drive down property values in a neighborhood, as lending institutions that do not want to hold onto the houses drop the prices to sell them quickly.


In the Boston area, house prices are so high, Klein said, that mortgages consume a growing share of monthly take-home pay. ''It used to be, if you lost a job you'd be at risk of losing the house," he said. ''Now, if you lose overtime, many families are so close to the brink, and that can create problems."

The Federal Reserve is meeting tomorrow to give Alan Greenspan a "Happy Retirement" party and raise rates to 4.5%.

People with adjustable rates are going to get killed if the Fed continues to raise rates.

Because the GDP for the fourth quarter came in at 1.1%, some analysts and traders believe the Fed's interest rate raising campaign will end after tomorow's meeting or perhaps one more rate raise to 4.75%

But also note that inside the GDP numbers, the "core" price index, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, was up to 2.2% in the fourth quarter. Greenspan believes 2.5% is the safety ceiling for the core price index, so if the index continues to rise in the first quarter of 2006, you can expect the Fed to continue to raise rates even if the economy continues to slowdown.

Which means higher interest rates for all of us.

Which means more foreclosures in the housing market for those with adjustable rate mortgages who can't make the 9% or 10% mortgage payments they're suddenly required to make.

Which means trouble in the housing market overall.

Which means big-time trouble for the economy as a whole, unless the Fed creates a new bubble to replace the bursting housing bubble.

Lots of "ifs" in this nightmare economic scenario, but there is enough data to show this economy is being held up by Scotch tape and Elmer's glue and it won't take much to bring it all down.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chuck Hagel Hammers Karl Rove For Politicizing Terrorism Issue

Unlike the media darling, John McCain, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) really is willing to thumb his nose at his own party and speak truth on the morning talk shows (as opposed to the truthiness we usually get from the talking heads and guests.)

This morning on This Week, Hagel was asked about Karl Rove's speech last week in which he said Democrats have a pre-9/11 mindset while Republicans have a post-9/11 mindset that is better equipped to keep the nation safe from terrorists.

Hagel's response (video link via Crooks and Liars):

The fact is, national security should never be held hostage to a political party or a political issue or to an election. The American people expect more, they deserve better...I didn't like what Mr. Rove said because it frames terrorism and the issue of terrorism and everything that goes with it, whether it's renewal of the Patriot Act or the NSA wiretapping in a political context. And if we are going to come together in this country to try to resolve the issues that must be resolved...Senator Obama talked about some of them and I hope the president will talk about the same issues, energy and health care and deficit spending, then you can't take an issue like national security and make it a political issue because that just fractures who we are as a nation...national security is more important than the Republican Party or the Democratic Party and to use it to try and get someone elected will ultimately end up in defeat and disaster for that political party.

Hagel went on to say he didn't think the preznit had the right to unilaterally decide to violate the 1978 FISA law in order to engage in warrantless, domestic spying. Hagel said the preznit should have come to the Congress, explained why the FISA law needed to be amended and weork with the Congress to change the law in order to keep the nation safe from terrorists.

Hagel also noted the executive branch and the legislative branch are co-equal branches of government and the legislative branch has as much responsibility in the area of national security as the executive branch does.

Gee, what a novel thing to see and hear on the morning talk shows - an honest conservative who puts nation above party.

Are you listening, Senator "Now that I need Rove's help in 2008, I've stopped causing trouble for 'em" McCain?

Republican Lawmakers Call For Bush To Come Clean On Abramoff Meetings

Proving that members of the GOP can read polls as well as anyone, three members of the Republican Party called for Preznit Bush to disclose his ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This comes on the heels of a Washington Post/ABC News poll showing 76% of Americans want to see the White House come clean on the Abramoff matter. Here are the details from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - Republican lawmakers said Sunday that President Bush should publicly disclose White House contacts with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.

Releasing the records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, a top fundraiser for Bush’s re-election campaign, had undue influence on the White House, the Republicans said.

“I’m one who believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “And so I’d be a big advocate for making records that are out there available.”

The president has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff’s contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on “Fox News Sunday,”, said all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff “absolutely” should be released.


Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., played down the notion that Bush was beholden to Abramoff because of a few donations. But Hagel said Bush should release the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.

“Get it out. Get it out. Come on,” Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.

“I mean, disclosure is the real issue. Whether it’s campaign finance issues, whether it’s ethics issues, whether it’s lobbying issues, disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these things,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Thune said pictures should not be released because it is clear that Democrats would use any pictures of Bush with Abramoff for political purposes.

“But I do think it’s important that everybody understand what this guy’s level of involvement was,” Thune said.

Democrats have complained about Bush’s refusal to disclose White House dealings with Abramoff, who represented six Indian tribes with casinos and several other clients.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, made it clear that Abramoff’s relationship with Republicans will be an issue in this year’s congressional campaign.

“If the American people will put us back in power in ‘06, we will have on the president’s desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behavior,” Dean said on Fox.

But the comments from the Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, show that it’s not just Democrats who would like to see Bush come clean.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday, 76 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration should provide a list of all meetings any White House officials have had with Abramoff. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.

It's amazing how politicians are suddenly ready to turn against their preznit when a poll shows 76% of the country them to.

Although to be fair, Chuck Hagel is often a thorn in the side of both Preznit Bush and karl Rove, so I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

But as for Pence and Thune...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wash Post: Bush Has Lower Approval Ratings Than Any Post-War President Except Nixon

Back in December right before Christmas, the Washington Post and ABC News touted a joint poll that measured Preznit Bush's approval rating at 47% as his post-Katrina comeback.

Never mind that as those poll results were being publicized, other polls from Gallup, Zogby, Pew, ARG and CBS showed the preznit mired in the low 40's: the new meme for the end of 2005 was that Bush was having a comeback.

Now we've gotten five polls out in the last week that all measure Bush's approval at 43% or below and his disapproval at 53% or above. A Fox News poll has Bush's approval at 41%, an LA Times/Bloomberg poll has Bush at 43%, a NY Times poll has Bush at 42%, a TIME Magazine poll has Bush at 41%, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll has Bush at 43% approval (it also has 58% of the public calling the Bush presidency a "failure"), and an ARG poll pegs Bush's approval rating bottoming out at 36%.

Now a new Washington Post/ABC News as written up by Dan Balz in the Post measures Bush's approval rating among the public at 42%. Here are the details:

President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday night marks the opening of a midterm election year eagerly anticipated by Democrats and fraught with worries for Republicans, whose hopes in November may depend in large part on how successfully Bush can turn around his troubled presidency.

After his reelection victory in 2004, Bush often pointed out that he would never again be on a ballot as a candidate. But the coming year in many ways represents another national campaign for the president, aimed at preserving the gains his party has made in the past five years, as well as rehabilitating a reputation that has come under brutal assault from the opposition in recent months.

There is no doubt that Bush intends to run this campaign as forcefully as if he were on the ballot himself. He ended 2005, the worst year of his presidency, with an aggressive defense of his Iraq policies, and he has begun the new year with an uncompromising justification of his policy of warrantless domestic surveillance.

Tuesday's speech, with its massive prime-time audience, may be the most important forum Bush has all year to try to seize the initiative from the Democrats and frame the election season on his terms. But he will be standing in the House as a far less formidable politician than when he stood on the same podium a year ago. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Bush with a lower approval rating than any postwar president at the start of his sixth year in office -- with the exception of Richard M. Nixon, who was crippled by Watergate.

Bush's approval rating now stands at 42 percent, down from 46 percent at the beginning of the year, although still three percentage points higher than the low point of his presidency last November.

The poll also shows that the public prefers the direction Democrats in Congress would take the country as opposed to the path set by the president, that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans to address the country's biggest problems and that they strongly favor Democrats over Republicans in their vote for the House.

The political stakes this year are especially high. What happens will affect not only the final years of Bush's presidency, but also will shape what is likely to be an even bigger election for his successor in 2008. Republicans have been on the ascendancy throughout the Bush presidency, but they begin the year not only resigned to some losses in Congress but also fearful that, under a worst-case scenario, an eruption of voter dissatisfaction could cost them control of the House or Senate or both.

I guess the post-Katrina comeback phase of the Bush presidency is now officially over, eh?

Even if we take the ARG poll with a grain of salt and call it an outlier, the other poll numbers all peg Bush's approval rating between 41% and 43%.

Not good for the GOP or the White House with the midterms just 10 months away.

But the numbers in the Post/ABC poll are very good for the Democrats:

Democrats see the political landscape as the most favorable to them since Bush took office. They view the war in Iraq as a continuing political burden for the administration, and hope to reap gains on the corruption issue, epitomized by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. "Any reasonable reading of the trends would suggest that Democrats can expect significant gains this November," said Paul Harstad, a Democratic pollster. "That includes historical patterns, Republican scandals and a growing realization of the insidious cost of unchallenged Republican rule."


The Post-ABC News poll offers a revealing portrait of a restless electorate at the start of the campaign year. By 51 percent to 35 percent, Americans said they preferred to go in the direction outlined by congressional Democrats rather than the direction established by the president. On the eve of last year's State of the Union address, 45 percent said they preferred to follow the path of the president, compared with 39 percent who said they favored the Democrats' course.

By 54 percent to 38 percent, voters surveyed said they would vote for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate for the House in November. That is one of the largest margins favoring the Democrats in two decades, although the gerrymandered House districts mean that incumbents are safer today than they were in the past.

By 51 percent to 37 percent, Americans said they trust the Democrats more than the Republicans with the main problems facing the country over the next few years, the first time since spring 1992 that Democrats have gained more than 50 percent support on that question.


Democrats have gained ground in the past two months on two other measures. The public sees Democrats as more likely to stand up to lobbyists and special-interest groups, 46 percent to 27 percent. In December, Democrats held a lead of eight percentage points. Republicans still are viewed as having stronger leaders, but Democrats have narrowed that gap by more than half.

A total of 1,002 randomly selected adults were interviewed nationally Jan. 23-26 for the Post-ABC News survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.


In the latest poll, Bush received negative marks for his handling of Iraq, the federal budget deficit, ethics in government, prescription drugs for the elderly, the economy, immigration, health care and taxes. Only on terrorism did the poll find that more than 50 percent of Americans approved of his performance.

Where Bush has dropped significantly is among independent voters. His approval rating in the latest Post-ABC poll among independents is 37 percent. The Post-ABC News poll showed that Americans remain far from optimistic about the economy, despite steady growth. Forty percent called the economy good or excellent, down from 45 percent in December.

Democrats believe events on the ground, at home and abroad, will override political strategy and tactics this year. "If the economy behaves on the upside of the range and things go better than expected in Iraq, then Republicans have a fighting chance to limit their losses," said William A. Galston, a Clinton administration official now at the Brookings Institution. "If not, it's going to be a long, grim fall for the Republican Party."

Wow. These numbers are pretty incredible if you've just been getting your news from the cable channels where the Tweety Birds and the Joe Scarboroughs are all talking about how the preznit has got his mojo back now that he's defending his Iraq and domestic spying policies. If you only listened to those guys, you'd think the country was split 50/50 on the preznit's policies.

But the Post/ABC News poll numbers show just how unpopular this preznit is and just how much of a change many people want in the next few years away from the Bush administration's way of doing things.

51% to 37% trust Democrats to deal with the main issues facing the country in the next few years.

51% to 35% would prefer to go in the direction that Democratics in Congress have outlined rather than the direction outlined by the preznit (a 16 point gain for Democrats over last year when 45% of the public preferred to go in the direction the preznit was outlining while 39% wanted to go in the direction outlined by Bush.)

46% to 27% believe Democrats will stand-up better to lobbyists and special interest groups than Republicans will.

And 54% said they plan on voting for a Democratic candidate for Congress over 38% who say they plan on voting for a Republican.

Again, wow.

Obviously things could change before the midterm elections or Karl Rovwe could engineer a Diebold revolution across the country (if you know what I mean.)

But the way things stand right now, no matter what Tweety Bird and Murderer Joe on MSNBC think, things are shaping up pretty well for the Democratic Party this year.

And we haven't even had the frogmarching parties for Tom Delay, Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, Karl Rove, et al. in the Abramoff and CIA leak cases yet.

I bet the frogmarching parties won't help the GOP come November either.

Wash Post Editorial Board Repeats Call For Full White House Disclosure On Abramoff Matter

Just days after they first demanded the preznit come clean on who in the White House met with Jack Abramoff and/or his associates and what exactly transpired at these meetings, the Washington Post editorial page again demands full disclosure on the matter:

Mr. Abramoff's Meetings, Again

Saturday, January 28, 2006; A20

IF A TYPICAL picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of President Bush with Jack Abramoff, we suppose, might be worth about 10,000. And so we understand the desire of our more visually inclined colleagues to obtain photos of the president and the criminal. But the focus on the photos distracts from a more important question that the president managed to duck in his news conference Thursday: Who in the White House and administration met with Mr. Abramoff, and what were those meetings about?

It is no answer to this question to say, as Mr. Bush did, that "there is a serious investigation going on by federal prosecutors" and "if they believe something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and look, and they're welcome to do so." It is no answer to dismiss questions about Mr. Abramoff and the White House, as press secretary Scott McClellan has, by calling them a "fishing expedition." If there is one thing that is now clear, anything involving Mr. Abramoff is, by definition, fishy.

There are any number of matters of legitimate inquiry and public concern involving Mr. Abramoff and his White House dealings that might not rise to the level of a criminal prosecution. Mr. Abramoff has admitted bribing public officials. He collected at least $100,000 for Mr. Bush's reelection. He took David H. Safavian, then the chief of staff at the General Services Administration and later the administration's top procurement official, on a luxury golfing trip to Scotland; it was, as Mr. Abramoff said in an e-mail, a "total business angle."

The president himself attended a White House meeting with some of Mr. Abramoff's clients. How did that get set up? The White House acknowledges that Mr. Abramoff had some "staff-level meetings" there. With whom, and about what?

Republicans didn't tolerate this kind of behavior from the Clinton White House in the midst of its fundraising scandal. "At every turn, they are stonewalling, covering up and hiding," Haley Barbour, then the head of the Republican National Committee, said as the Clinton administration tried to brush off questions about its fundraising before the 1996 election. Mr. Barbour complained of the administration's "utter contempt . . . for the public's right to know."

Such obstructionism is no more acceptable now. The public understands this: Three-fourths of those surveyed in a new Washington Post/ABC poll said the White House should disclose the contacts. "This needs to be cleared up so the people have confidence in the system," Mr. Bush said. Our point exactly.

The White House is going to continue to stonewall/obfuscate/muddy the waters/divert on this issue because that's what they do best.

And wankers like the Washington Post editorial page have allowed them to stonewall/obfuscate/muddy the waters/divert on so many issues, from the Iraq lead-up to the katrina aftermath to the CIA leak investigation to their ties to the Kerry swift-boaters, that the White House and its associates know that they can get away with making the matter go away by just going about business as usual.

So while I applaud the Washington Post editorial page for demanding the White House come clean on the matter twice in one week, the truth of the matter is that they along with many others in the Traditional press have allowed the administration to kill truth and replace it with truthiness for so long now that ultimately we'll probably never learn what the preznit knew about Abramoff or how often he met with him.

Now if there had been a penis, a thong, or a stained dress involved, then we would have learned about the whole matter right away.

Which says more about the current state of our national culture than anything else I can think of.

FOX News Cares For Its Employees

The talking heads on FOX News always have one meta-narrarative whenever they talk about government - namely that private enterprise can always do things more efficiently and more professionally than government. In the FOX News/Bush administration/RNC/Wall Street view of the world, business just works better than government.

So what do you make of this story from the NY Daily News?

There's something noxious at Fox News that's making people sick - and it's not Bill O'Reilly.

Two Fox News employees are suing the cable news channel for allegedly ignoring a toxic stew of mold and pesticides in its Manhattan headquarters.

But Fox News said the charges are bogus, claiming its studios at 1211 Sixth Ave. have a clean bill of health from federal and state regulators.

Veteran employees Laurette DeRosairo and Madronicia Clarke said they became seriously ill after being exposed to mold and pesticides in the basement studios and control rooms starting in 2004. They also claim their bosses used unlicensed workers to spray an insecticide that had been banned for use indoors.

The fumes got so bad last April that it sickened three anchors on the morning newscast "Fox and Friends," and sent a cameraman to the hospital after he fell unconscious, according to court papers filed Thursday in state Supreme Court.

But a Fox News executive familiar with the incident said the cameraman came to work that day with flulike symptoms, and that his fainting spell had nothing to do with fumes.

DeRosairo and Clarke said the studios suffered from water leakage whenever it rained, forcing workers to put blue tarps near the ceilings to catch runoff and divert it to garbage cans. The moisture created a haven for mold and mildew.

"My lungs took a beating, and I don't know if they'll ever recover," said DeRosairo, a graphics operator who was recently diagnosed with severe asthma. "We're just really concerned about the long-term affect and what's going to happen to our co-workers."

Fox News honcho Roger Ailes himself spoke to employees on June 21 to allay their fears but downplayed the risk, the plaintiffs claim.

Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti said the allegations in the lawsuit "are baseless and lack merit."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration "has since declined to investigate this further and the [state Department of Environmental Conservation] did an on-site investigation after which the matter was fully resolved. Fox News is in full compliance with both OSHA and DEC guidelines."

Clarke, a makeup artist who joined Fox News when it started up in 1996, said she rarely called in sick until recently, when her autoimmune illness forced her to work three days a week.

"I'm not so much worried about my job as about my health," she said of her decision to sue her longtime employer.

I know what I think about the toxic mold story at FOX News - Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes don't give a shit about their employees and care only about making money.

But I can't say I feel too sorry for the sick employees at FOX News either. When you work for a corporation that consistently spreads the meta-narrative that "what's good for business is good for all of us," you shouldn't be too surprised when the corporation you work for cares more about making money than keeping you healthy.

And my favorite part of the FOX/Toxic Mold story?

FOX hired unlicensed workers to spray pesticides in a studio already infected by toxic mold!

Welcome to Rupert Murdoch's "Ownership Society," folks. He owns you, he owns News Corp., and he does whatever the fuck he likes whether it makes you sick or not.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Politician Cuts Salary In Order To Hire More Public School Teachers

This is a novelty:

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- President Evo Morales cut his salary by more than half and declared no Cabinet minister can collect a higher wage than his own, with the savings to be used to hire more public school teachers.

The move followed a campaign pledge to tackle political corruption and restore honesty to the government of South America's poorest country. But critics called it a propaganda ploy that will do little to help the needy.

Five days into his leftist government, Morales announced Thursday his salary would be $1,875 a month -- a 57 percent cut from the previous president's earnings -- and that his Cabinet would also have their salaries capped at that figure.

''I ask for (the ministers') understanding and efforts to try to meet this demand, not for Evo but for the people,'' Morales said.

He said the savings would be used to hire more teachers, adding: ''We need 6,000 new teachers and there is only money for 2,200.''

Morales' predecessor earned $4,362 a month. The yearly savings of more than $31,340 on the president's income -- including expenses and Christmas bonuses -- is about enough in Bolivia to rent an upper-middle class apartment, buy one new Ford Focus or pay the annual salaries of 10 veteran teachers.

The average Bolivian teacher with 10 years of accumulated service earns about $250 a month.

Street protests by teachers, miners, and Indians ousted two of Morales' predecessors since 2003, uprisings fueled by indignation against wealthy elites.

In December, voters elected Morales by a landslide after he promised to tackle corruption and poverty. He was inaugurated Sunday.

Restaurant waiter Jose Maria Oropeza applauded the cuts. ''It's a good sign that he's putting his salary on the line so that the country can begin improving, and not only his salary, but all the Cabinet ministers,'' Oropeza said Friday.

But he said daunting problems remain.

''The poverty rate here is high and no one can deny that. But with this government, I hope that things will start improving,'' he said.

Critics said the salary cuts were a superficial gesture that would not begin to address Bolivia's deep-seated poverty.

Ruben Costas, governor of Santa Cruz in the country's eastern business hub, called the cuts ''demagoguery,'' saying good leadership and social programs matter more than the president's paycheck.

In addition, some officials complained they might not be able to maintain homes in far-flung districts while working in La Paz.


''Morales is acutely aware of the symbols, both in terms of the indigenous identity of the country and by setting the standard for cutting salaries,'' said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

''But now the test is, 'Can he follow through?' ... Ultimately, he will face real decisions,'' Shifter added.

Other leaders have introduced salary cuts. In January 2002, Ecuador's President Lucio Gutierrez took a 20 percent voluntary pay cut to $5,120 monthly. A year earlier, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo announced he would cut his pay to $12,000 a month after critics denounced a plan for an $18,000 monthly salary. Protests were so loud he had to cut it again to $8,400.

No wonder the Bush administration and FOX News hate Morales and think he's a Castro-loving, commie, pinko lefist Sandanista. He's for cutting the salaries of preznits and maybe even heads of big companies when the rest of the country (or company) isn't doing so well.

Commie bastard. How the hell does he expect his Bolivian cabinet ministers to live on $1,875 dollars a month?

And for what? To hire more teachers?

Jesus Christ, I bet Pat Robertson will be publicly praying for the assassination of this guy any day now.

And with good reason.

We wouldn't want this cutting of executive salaries in order to hire more workers to spread north of the border, would we?

Wash Post/ABC News poll: 76% Want Bush To Come Clean About Ties To Abramoff

Yikes - more bad news for the preznit, courtesy of the Washington Post:

A strong bipartisan majority of the public believes President Bush should disclose contacts between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and White House staff members despite administration assertions that media requests for details about those contacts amount to a "fishing expedition," according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that three in four -- 76 percent -- of Americans said Bush should release lists of all meetings between aides and Abramoff; 18 percent disagreed. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.

At a news conference Thursday, the president declined to discuss those meetings but said federal investigators are "welcome" to look into them if they suspect wrongdoing. Last week, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, asked by reporters to explain Abramoff's contacts with the Bush administration, said, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition."

Earlier this month, Abramoff pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy and fraud charges. A plea agreement said Abramoff bribed public officials, including a member of Congress.

Questions about White House contact with Abramoff came as special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald continues an unrelated investigation to determine who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to reporters. That investigation has produced charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney. Libby is accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury.

The twin scandals have done little to help the battered public image of the Bush White House and Congress. The new poll found that 56 percent of the public disapproved of the way that Bush is handling ethics in government, up seven percentage points in the past five weeks. An equally large majority says the type of wrongdoing admitted by Abramoff is "widespread" in Washington.

No wonder Karl Rove trotted out the "Dems are weak on national security" meme for the 2006 midterm election campaign.

With 56% of the public disapproving of the way the administration is handling ethics, it is quickly becoming clear that the "culture of corruption" meme the Democrats plan to push in 2006 is going to have legs - especially if more members of the GOP get frogmarched in either the Abramoff scandal or the CIA leak case.

Wouldn't it be better for Bush to come clean now on Abramoff instead of stonewalling for a bunch of months when the story is most likely going to break anyway?

Reuters Says Cooling Economy Adds To Preznit's Woes

Just in time for next Tuesday's State of the Union address from the preznit, some really bad economic numbers came out today that bode badly for the future of both the nation and the administration:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A surprisingly tepid report on the U.S. economy brought new perils to President George W. Bush as he prepared to unveil his 2006 agenda and struggled to help vulnerable Republicans in a congressional election year.

The meager 1.1 percent gain in U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product, reported by the Commerce Department, threatened to undercut Bush's argument his tax-cutting policies had set the stage for a thriving economy.

The GDP growth was the weakest in three years and marked an abrupt slowdown from the third quarter's 4.1 percent pace.

"If the first quarter is weak as well, this could pose some problems for Republicans," said Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin. "There's a lot of latent unhappiness out there."

"The Republicans, because they have unified control of the White House and Congress, are the ones the public would blame," Mayer said.

Bush's approval rating stood at 43 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken last Friday to Monday. His approval ratings, which are also in the mid-40s in several other recent polls, have steadied from two months ago, when they dipped into the high 30s.

But Republicans, facing midterm elections in November, have been anxious about both the spillover effect from Bush's poll numbers and about surveys showing voter dissatisfaction with the party generally.

The GDP report landed just days before Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday evening in which he plans to lay out proposals to rein in health care costs and to extend his tax cuts.

Bush also hoped in the speech to add momentum to an all-out White House campaign to talk up the economy and dispel pessimism created by headlines about high energy costs and layoffs at auto industry giants General Motors and Ford.

Administration officials rushed to play down the latest GDP number, with Treasury Secretary John Snow and White House economic adviser Al Hubbard hitting the airwaves to insist the expansion was solid, job growth was strong and businesses were healthy.

1.1% GDP in the fourth quarter is pretty paltrygrowth - especially since analysts had been expecting 3.2% or higher growth. But the inflation numbers inside the GDP data are even scarier:

There were some signs of increased price pressures in the GDP report. The so-called "core" price index, a favorite of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that strips out volatile food and energy costs, picked up to a 2.2 percent rate of increase from 1.4 percent in the third quarter.

That will be enough to keep the Fed on edge, especially with energy costs heading up.

The GDP report surprised analysts, partly because it implied such widespread softness in key drivers of economic activity. Consumer spending, which fuels two-thirds of the economy, grew at only a 1.1 percent rate, sharply below the third-quarter rate and the weakest since a 1 percent gain in second quarter of 2001.

Geez - weak growth and inflation.

Not good news for the preznit.

Not good news for the rest of us either.

But you know what? Maybe a recession and/or stagflation is just what the doctor is ordering for the body politic.

Maybe widespread economic woes across economic classes will finally wake people up to the fact that the ruling GOP party has wrecked this nation through record deficit spending, low interest rates that encouraged consumers to take on shitloads of personal debt, an artificially created housing bubble, and economic policies that favor the wealthy over other classes.

New Poll Numbers For The Prez Not So Good

Three new polls to sort through in the last few days, almost all bad for the preznit. First from the official wing of the RNC, the latest FOX News poll:

Today, 41 percent of Americans approve of the job President Bush is doing and 51 percent disapprove. From late November through mid-January the president's approval rating has been 42 percent and disapproval has ranged between 48 percent and 51 percent.


On the issues, as has been the case in the past, the president receives his highest job rating on the issue of terrorism: 51 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove. Approval is down from 53 percent in the two previous surveys (August 2005 and October 2004).

On the economy, 41 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing, a slight 3-percentage point improvement from last summer. A year ago, opinion was evenly divided at 46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove (January 2005).

Four in 10 approve of how the president is handling the situation with Iraq and 55 percent disapprove. Last January 44 percent approved and 51 percent disapproved.

Taking a moment to review the overall trends, President Bush's first-term average was 61 percent approve and 29 percent disapprove. For 2005, the first year of his second term, his average rating was 46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove.

Now the latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll, as written up by Ron Brownstein at the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — As President Bush prepares for next week's State of the Union address, he faces widespread discontent over his job performance and the nation's direction that could threaten his party in the 2006 election, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

In the survey, 43% of Americans said they approved of Bush's performance as president — his weakest showing ever in a Times poll.

He received even lower marks for his handling of the economy, healthcare and Iraq — especially from women, who the poll found had turned against him on several fronts. And by a 2-1 ratio, those surveyed said the nation needed to change direction from the overall course Bush had set.

But most of those surveyed believed Bush's policies had made the nation more secure. And a plurality say they trusted him more than they did Democrats to protect the country against terrorism — advantages that could help Republicans defend their House and Senate majorities in November.


The poll is crowded with warning signs for Bush and his fellow Republicans.

Countering the 43% who approved of Bush's performance, 54% disapproved — figures in line with results from other national polls in the last two weeks.

The Times/Bloomberg poll found that 31% agreed the country was "better off because of … Bush's policies and should proceed in the direction that he set out," whereas 62% said the nation needed "to move in a new direction."

Among voting blocs, two-thirds of women and independents — as well as 71% of moderates — said the nation needed to change course.

Just 35% of respondents said they approved of Congress' performance; 55% disapproved. And Democrats were favored, 46% to 37%, when registered voters were asked which party they intended to support for Congress in November.

That finding underscored the extent to which the GOP's fate this year may be linked to Bush's standing. About 7 of every 10 registered voters who approved of Bush's performance said they intended to vote for GOP candidates this fall, whereas 7 in 10 of those who disapproved said they planned to vote for Democrats.


The poll found that attitudes toward Bush remained polarized along party lines. About 4 in 5 Republicans said they approved of his performance, whereas 4 of every 5 Democrats disapproved.

Tilting the balance away from Bush, nearly 3 in 5 independents disapproved; in the 2004 election, Bush ran almost even with Kerry among these voters.

Also in 2004, Bush narrowed the gender gap — the tendency for women to lean toward Democrats. But it reopened in the new survey — 36% of women said they approved of his performance, compared with 50% of men.

Under Bush, the Republican electoral strategy has focused on generating a large turnout from strong supporters. But in the survey, significantly more Americans (39%) said they strongly disapproved of Bush's performance than strongly approved of it (25%). Among women, 43% strongly disapproved.

And finally the NY Times poll:

Beyond surveillance, the poll found that Americans hold unfavorable views of the president and the Republican-controlled Congress as Mr. Bush prepares to give his State of the Union speech. Americans, while declaring themselves generally optimistic about the next three years under Mr. Bush, do not expect him to accomplish very much in that time.

When Mr. Bush leaves office, respondents said, the deficit will be larger than it is today, the elderly will be being paying more for prescription drugs, and the economy and the health care system will be the same as today, or worse.

Mr. Bush is viewed favorably by 42 percent of the respondents, statistically the same as in the last Times/CBS News poll, in early December, a lackluster rating that could hamper his ability to rally public opinion behind his agenda and push legislation through a divided Congress. Beyond that, nearly two-thirds of the country thinks the nation is on the wrong track, a level that has historically proved to be a matter of concern for a party in power.

A majority said they were dissatisfied with the way Mr. Bush was managing the economy and the war in Iraq. Public approval for his handling of the campaign against terrorism, once one of his greatest political strengths, has rebounded somewhat from last fall, but remains well below where it was for the first two years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Most strikingly, the poll found abundant evidence of public unhappiness with Congress. While it is risky to draw conclusions about Congressional elections from national measurements of discontent — for example, more than half of all Americans said they were satisfied with the job their member of Congress was doing — the findings underscored the tough electoral environment that has led some analysts to predict significant Republican losses this fall.

The corruption investigations appear to account for a lot of the dissatisfaction. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said that the kind of influence-peddling revelations that have emerged in the investigation of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff reflected the "way things work in Congress" and were not isolated incidents. More than 50 percent said most members of Congress "accept bribes or gifts that affect their votes."

Adam Nags, btw, buries the Bush approval number in graf 172, leading instead with how Americans remain torn over Bush's warrantless domestic spying program and respond differently to questions about the program, depending upon how the questions are asked.

So I have to ask myself, if FOX News can lead with the 41% approval number for the preznit in its story and the LA Times can lead with the 43% approval number for the preznit in its story, why does Adam Nags bury the 42% approval rating for the preznit in graf 172?

I mean, isn't it also important for Times readers to know that only 42% of Americans approve of the job this preznit is doing?

Couple of other things: do Republicans really think that the "culture of corruption" campaign theme isn't going to hurt the GOP this November in the midterm elections or are they just hoping out loud when they say things like," the corruption is bipartisan and Americans are going to hold both parties accountable"?

When you start to look at the various poll numbers on corruption and how people feel about the party in power, you can see it's taking a toll on the GOP.

While the LA Times/Bloomberg survey has 68% of Americans saying they see no difference in integrity between the political parties, the survey also has 46% planning to support Democrats in November and 62% wanting the country to "move in a different direction." Clearly most Americans are unhappy with the current status quo and are planning to take some action come November. Clearly the Abramoff and CIA leak cases are not going to help the GOP come November with those numbers, especially when Bob Ney, Tom Delay and other GOP members are indicted in the Abramoff probe and if Karl Rove is indicted in the CIA leak case on false statement and/or perjury charges, as many Plamegate experts expect will happen soon.

The NY Times also has some favorable numbers for the Dems and unfavorable numbers for the GOP on the corruption issue:

The poll also signaled concern for Republicans as they prepare to defend their control of the House and the Senate in midterm elections this November. Investigations into Congressional corruption are taking a toll as the elections approach: 61 percent of Americans now hold an unfavorable view of Congress, the highest in 10 years.

This finding holds particular peril for Republicans as the party that has been in charge. More than half of the respondents said they believed that most members of Congress would exchange votes for money or favors.

Republicans were seen as more likely to be unduly influenced by lobbyists. And the Republican Party is now viewed unfavorably by 51 percent of the nation, its worst rating since Mr. Bush took office. By contrast, 53 percent said they held a favorable view of Democrats.

Democrats need to keep hammering the ruling party on the corruption issue and keep repeating to Americans that one-party government in Washington has allowed this culture of corruption and lack of oversight to thrive.

Dems also need to trot out a positive agenda for November, as they started to do yesterday when Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin gave separate speeches to pre-but the preznit's SOTU address and to outline their agenda for the year.

But success will come in November by reminding people over and over that the Republican Party, which took power as a reformist movement, has now become an entrenched, corrupt elite whose sole purpose is to maintain power and enrich its members.

And Democrats also need to get out the message that in this new Times poll, 53% of Americans hold a favorable view of Democrats while 51% hold an unfavorable view of Republicans.

That number is significant and will go a long way toward countering the GOP meme that both parties will be held accountable for the troubles in Washington come November.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

White House Rejected 2002 Senate Proposal To Change FISA

The White House keeps telling us they have to engage in warrantless surveillance because the FISA court process for getting warrants is too cumbersome at a time of war and they must keep us safe from terrorism.

Only one problem with this rationale.

Even if the process of getting a warrant from the FISA court to surveill somebody really is cumbersome, which is highly disputable, the Senate offered to change the process back in 2002.

Here's the story from the Washington Post (first broken by blogger Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory):

The Bush administration rejected a 2002 Senate proposal that would have made it easier for FBI agents to obtain surveillance warrants in terrorism cases, concluding that the system was working well and that it would likely be unconstitutional to lower the legal standard.

The proposed legislation by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) would have allowed the FBI to obtain surveillance warrants for non-U.S. citizens if they had a "reasonable suspicion" they were connected to terrorism -- a lower standard than the "probable cause" requirement in the statute that governs the warrants.

The administration has contended that it launched a secret program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency in part because of the time it takes to obtain such secret warrants from federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The wiretapping program, ordered by President Bush in 2001, is used when intelligence agents have a "reasonable basis to believe" that a target is tied to al Qaeda or related groups, according to recent statements by administration officials. It can be used on U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals, without court oversight.

Democrats and national security law experts who oppose the NSA program say the Justice Department's opposition to the DeWine legislation seriously undermines arguments by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, who have said the NSA spying is constitutional and that surveillance warrants are often too cumbersome to obtain.

"It's entirely inconsistent with their current position," said Philip B. Heymann, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration who teaches law at Harvard University. "The only reason to do what they've been doing is because they wanted a lower standard than 'probable cause.' A member of Congress offered that to them, but they turned it down."


The DeWine amendment -- first highlighted this week by Internet blogger Glenn Greenwald and widely publicized yesterday by the Project on Government Secrecy, an arm of the Federation of American Scientists -- is the latest point of contention in a fierce political and legal battle over the NSA monitoring program.

Many Democrats and some Republicans, along with legal experts from both sides, have criticized the program as a clear violation of the 1978 FISA law, which makes it a crime to conduct domestic surveillance without a criminal or intelligence warrant. The administration argues that Bush acted legally under the congressional authorization to use military force against al Qaeda, and that FISA would be unconstitutional if it constrains his power as commander in chief.

During separate appearances this week, Gonzales and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the deputy intelligence chief, also said the legal requirements under FISA made it difficult for intelligence agents to act quickly enough in many cases.

Under the NSA program, Hayden said, "the trigger is quicker and a bit softer than it is for a FISA warrant."

During Senate debate over DeWine's amendment in July 2002, James A. Baker, the Justice Department's counsel for intelligence policy, said in a statement that the Bush administration did not support the proposal "because the proposed change raises both significant legal and practical issues."

Baker said it was "not clear cut" whether the proposal would "pass constitutional muster," and "we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions" if the amendment was later struck down by the courts. He also said Justice had been using FISA aggressively and played down the notion that the probable cause standard was too high.

I don't get it. Why does the Bush administration insist they have to engage in warrantless surveillance when they could go to the FISA court up to 72 hours after they start surveilling a "terror suspect" for "probable cause" or could have had the Senate and Congress change the standard from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion" back in 2002?

Maybe cuz' they're full of shit?

Maybe cuz' they like breaking the fucking law and expanding presidential power and executive perogative?

I mean it makes no sense. I know Karl Rove and Kenny "Confirmed Bachelor" Mehlman believe this domestic spying story is a winner in the 2006 midterm elections, but as more is revealed about the story and Americans come to realize that the administration's rationale for the warrantless domestic spying is beyond crazy, the poll numbers are going to turn on this. And there are enough Democrats and Republicans who are disturbed by the administration's insistence that it has the right to break the law and engage in warrantless, domestic spying that the Bush administration is going to have answer some real tough questions about the program.

Especially if Arlen Specter shows some guts and holds real hearings instead of some kind of Pat Roberts Potemkin hearings.

And dopuble especially because the Bush Justice Department itself decided in 2002 that changing the standard for domestic surveillance on terrorism cases from probable cause to reasonable suspicion might not "pass constitutional muster."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wash Post Editorial Page Demands Information About White House/Jack Abramoff Meetings

Can you imagine if an admitted felon had met nearly 200 times with members of the Clinton Administration in the first ten months of the Clinton Presidency but the Clinton White House refused to give out any information about the meetings?

The right wing would have been screaming cover-up and many of the editorial pages would have been yelling for an official investigation into the matter.

But so far the Bush White House has managed to deflect the controversy over disgraced GOP lobbyist and admitted felon Jack Abramoff.

Today, the rather conservative editorial page of the Washington Post demands some info about the Abramoff meetings with the Bush White House:

HERE ARE SOME things we know about Jack Abramoff and the White House: The disgraced lobbyist raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's reelection campaign. He had long-standing ties to Karl Rove, a key presidential adviser. He had extensive dealings with executive branch officials and departments -- one of whom, former procurement chief David H. Safavian, has been charged by federal prosecutors with lying to investigators about his involvement with Mr. Abramoff.

We also know that Mr. Abramoff is an admitted crook who was willing to bribe members of Congress and their staffs to get what he (or his clients) wanted. In addition to attending a few White House Hanukkah parties and other events at which he had his picture snapped with the president, Mr. Abramoff had, according to the White House, "a few staff-level meetings" with White House aides.

Here is what we don't know about Jack Abramoff and the White House: whom he met with and what was discussed. Nor, if the White House sticks to its current position, will we learn that anytime soon. Press secretary Scott McClellan told the White House press corps: "If you've got some specific issue that you need to bring to my attention, fine. But what we're not going to do is engage in a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation."

This is not a tenable position. It's undisputed that Mr. Abramoff tried to use his influence, and his restaurant and his skyboxes and his chartered jets, to sway lawmakers and their staffs. Information uncovered by Mr. Bush's own Justice Department shows that Mr. Abramoff tried to do the same inside the executive branch.

Under these circumstances, asking about Mr. Abramoff's White House meetings is no mere exercise in reportorial curiosity but a legitimate inquiry about what an admitted felon might have been seeking at the highest levels of government. Whatever White House officials did or didn't do, there is every reason to believe that Mr. Abramoff was up to no good and therefore every reason the public ought to know with whom he was meeting.

Mr. McClellan dismisses requests for the information as an effort to play "partisan politics," and no doubt there is more than an element of partisanship in Democrats' efforts to extract this information. But Republicans wouldn't stand for this kind of stonewalling if the situation were reversed. We can say that with confidence because history proves it. During the 1996 scandal over foreign fundraising in the Clinton White House, Republicans demanded -- and obtained, though not without a fight -- extensive information about White House coffees and other meetings, including photos and videotapes.

"Any suggestion by critics or anybody else to suggest that the president was doing something nefarious with Jack Abramoff is absolutely wrong, and it's absurd," presidential adviser Dan Bartlett said on NBC's "Today" show. The best way to refute such "absurd" suggestions is to get all of Mr. Abramoff's dealings with the Bush White House and the Bush administration out in the open -- now.

Yup - Republicans wouldn't stand for this kind of stonewalling if the situation were reversed.

Which is why it is paramount that Democrats hang these scandals on the Bush administration during the next year.

Karl Rove wants to make the 2006 elections about national security? Fine.

Democrats should make the 2006 election about competence and trust.

The message is simple: in a government that is completely controlled by one party, there is no accountability for incompetence and no penalty for abuses.

Then trot out a bunch of pictures of the GOP incompetents and/or crooks from the last few years: Scooter Libby, Tom Delay, Bill Frist, Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, Ralph Reed, Halliburton, FEMA, etc.

And keep demanding information about the Abramoff meetings. Keep asking, "Why won't the White House release the photos of admittted felon Jack Abramoff and George W. Bush? What does the White House have to hide about its ties to Abramoff?"

Maybe Karl Rove and the GOP can go to the national security well one more time in 2006. But after Iraq and after Katrina and after Abramoff, Democrats at least should have an answer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How Corrupt Can these People Be?

While the Congress and senate was happily cutting $35 billion dollars from student loan programs and other social programs, they were busy saving the private health insurance industry $22 billion dollars:

Closed-Door Deal Makes $22 Billion Difference
GOP Negotiators Criticized for Change In Measure on HMOs

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 24, 2006; A01

House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate version would have targeted private HMOs participating in Medicare by changing the formula that governs their reimbursement, lowering payments $26 billion over the next decade. But after lobbying by the health insurance industry, the final version made a critical change that had the effect of eliminating all but $4 billion of the projected savings, according to CBO and other health policy experts.

That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting. The Senate gave final approval to the budget-cutting measure on Dec. 21, but the House must give it final consideration early next month.

The change in the Medicare provision underscores a practice that growing numbers of lawmakers from both parties want addressed. More than ever, Republican congressional lawmakers and leaders are making vital decisions, involving far-reaching policies and billions of dollars, without the public -- or even congressional Democrats -- present.

The corruption scandal involving Republican former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the bribery plea of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) have prompted calls for a restructuring of lobbying rules and congressional practices that make lobbying easier.

A prime target for changes are the closed-door negotiations known as conference committees, where members of the House and Senate hash out their differences over competing versions of legislation. House and Senate Democrats last week proposed that all such conference committees meet in the open and that any changes be made by a vote of all conferees.

"It happens in the dead of night when lobbyists get a [Republican lawmaker] in the corner and say, 'We've got to have this,' " said Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (Calif.), the Democrats' point man on Medicare issues. "It's a pattern that just goes on and on, and at some point the public's going to rise up."

Sure, the public's going to rise up. As soon as they turn off American Idol and stop reading People Magazine and start paying attention to how much they're getting screwed by the ruling party in power.

Which is most likely never.

We should change the name of the country to "Bread and Circuses".

Because that's exactly where we're at. The boys and girls reunning the country in Washington and on Wall Street do whatever the fuck they want (including breaking the law) and keep the rest of us fat and apathetic with our bread and circuses.

UFT Prez Hypocritically Criticizes Raises For DOE Brass

In the words of Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the king!" From the NY Daily News:

Just a month before Schools Chancellor Joel Klein promised to trim bureaucratic blubber at the Tweed Courthouse, he plumped up the salary of bigwigs, the Daily News has learned.

Education Department brass got 5% pay hikes in 2004-05, boosting the salary of deputy chancellors to between $177,000 to $210,000, according to documents obtained by The News. The bulk of that raise - 4.15% - came in December.

Last Thursday, Klein vowed to redirect $200 million from bloated administrative offices into lackluster schools over the next four years. He didn't rule out layoffs for middle managers but his senior staff would remain intact - a testament to the success of his team, he said.

"They hack away at middle managers while the budget for upper management goes up," said Noreen Connell, executive director of the Educational Priorities Panel, a school watchdog.

Among those getting raises were Deputy Chancellor for Instruction Carmen Fariña, who was bumped to $210,000, and Deputy Chancellor of Finance Kathleen Grimm and Deputy Chancellor of Operations Laverne Srinivasan, who now each earn $177,236.

The raises for all school managers are in line with the 4.15% cost-of-living salary hikes Mayor Bloomberg doled out to city managers soon after he secured a second term, educrats said.

Principals were not included. They are in a contract war with City Hall and have gone more than two years without a raise.

And teachers, who recently agreed to work longer days and more of them for a 15% raise over 52 months, asked what educrats are sacrificing.

"What is their extra productivity in exchange for 5%," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

What Randi Weingarten fails to mention in the Daily News article is that she and her Unity hacks also voted themselves a 5.5% pay raise without any productivity givebacks for the first two years of the new 52 month teachers contract. In the second two years and four months of the contract, UFT officers salaries will rise contingent upon some undefined productivity giveback. I guarantee you that the union hacks will receive a raise those last two years and four months of the contract, but I'd bet a dollar of my union membership dues that the productivity giveback provision will disappear. No potty patrol, lunchroom duty, extra time or days for Randi and her cohorts - no sir!

That's our Randi for you - always ready to point a finger at Uncle Joel for his alleged crimes without noting she herself is a similar felon.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Nation Of Debtors

How much money can one nation borrow before its whole economic house of cards comes tumbling down? Here's the Washington Post with some analysis:

Greenspan and his Fed colleagues agree that part of the growth in household debt and the trade gap is the side effect of policies that helped steady the U.S. economy after the stock bubble burst in 2000. The Fed's low interest rates encouraged consumers to borrow and spend on houses, autos and other goods, spurring economic growth for several years when businesses were cutting jobs and reluctant to invest. And it was no surprise that consumers spent much of their borrowed money on imports, causing the trade deficit to swell. But in the view of central bank policymakers, the alternative would have been worse -- a longer and more painful downturn.

Greenspan's Fed didn't do it alone, economists agree. Other factors helped fuel the borrowing binge, including global financial trends that have helped keep mortgage rates low and prompted lenders to extend more credit to more people.

The result is a prosperity built on borrowing, say many economists, pointing to a string of recent records and firsts:

· U.S. household debt hit a record $11.4 trillion in last year's third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, after shooting up at the fastest rate since 1985, according to Fed data.

· U.S. households spent a record 13.75 percent of their after-tax, or disposable, income on servicing their debts in the third quarter, the Fed reported.

· The trade deficit for last year is estimated to have swollen to another record high, above $700 billion, increasing America's indebtedness to foreigners.

"The economy's increasing reliance on unprecedented levels of debt is clearly unsustainable and extremely troubling," said Charles W. McMillion, chief economist with MBG Information Services, a financial analysis firm. "The only serious questions are when and how will current imbalances be addressed and what will be the consequences."

Greenspan didn't define "excess," but economists see troubling possibilities: A sudden reversal in housing prices could trigger a recession if consumers cut back on spending and households have trouble paying their mortgages. The trade gap could swell to a point that forces a sharp fall in the dollar and surge in interest rates, also causing a recession.

Even without a crisis, the debt load will weigh on the economy simply because of the interest to be paid on it, which leaves less money to spend on other things and prevents living standards from rising as fast as they would otherwise, some analysts believe.

And just in case you forgot how and why so many Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt:

From his office at the Fed's marble headquarters on Constitution Avenue NW, Greenspan saw that the economy was sputtering. Stock prices had been sliding for nearly a year after peaking in early 2000 at the height of the tech boom. Retail sales had soured. Businesses were throttling back on production and investment.

On Jan. 3, 2001, Greenspan convened a conference call meeting of the central bank's top policymakers. They agreed to cut the Fed's benchmark short-term interest rate for the first time in more than two years, to 6 percent from 6.5 percent.

That action marked the beginning of an aggressive campaign by Greenspan and his colleagues to prevent the bursting of the stock market bubble from devastating the U.S. economy.

Greenspan had studied the Great Depression of the 1930s and believed it resulted largely from the Fed's mistakes in tightening credit after the 1929 stock market crash. He also had seen Japan's central bank ease credit too cautiously after that country's property bubble burst in the early 1990s, triggering a decade-long economic slump. He would do the opposite, dramatically easing credit -- by cutting interest rates -- to cushion the economy's landing.

The Greenspan Fed lowered its benchmark rate another 12 times over the next 2 1/2 years as the economy struggled to regain its footing, cutting the rate to 1 percent by June 2003, the lowest level since 1959.

The benchmark federal funds rate, the overnight rate on loans between banks, influences many other longer-term rates in the economy, including those on mortgages, car loans and business loans. Low interest rates encourage consumers and businesses to borrow and spend, stimulating economic growth.

The Fed's rate cuts had little effect on corporate America, which had overinvested in equipment, software and factories during the late 1990s boom; businesses retrenched, slashing both payrolls and spending plans, tipping the economy into recession from March through November of 2001.

But low interest rates worked like an intoxicant on consumers, who snapped up new cars and trucks with no-interest loans and seized on low mortgage rates to buy new homes and refinance old home loans. Those sales and refinancings freed up more cash to spend. Households used much of that extra money to pay off credit cards, student loans and other, higher-interest rate debt -- "cleaning up their balance sheets," in economists' terms. They also kept shopping through the recession, the terrorist attacks and the rocky economic recovery that followed.

The tonic worked. Household spending rose in 2001, 2002, and 2004, even as the wealth and income of the typical household fell or remained flat in the same period, according to an analysis by Moody's Economy.com. The recession was one of the mildest on record. The economy has been growing since November 2001 and was strong enough by mid-2004 for the Fed to start raising the benchmark rate.

Fed officials expected then that longer-term rates, such as mortgages, would rise as well, causing consumers to borrow less and save more.

But it didn't work out that way. For several reasons -- low inflation, economic stability and foreign investors pouring their savings into U.S. stocks, bonds and other assets -- long-term interest rates fell for a year after the Fed started raising the benchmark rate and have stayed relatively low.

Mortgage rates also fell, prompting homeowners to refinance repeatedly. Changes in the financial industry made it easier for homeowners to tap their home equity through refinancing. Lenders provided adjustable-rate mortgages that enabled home buyers to pay higher prices while temporarily making low monthly loan payments.

The housing market kept booming. Consumer debt and spending kept climbing.

Many households are happy with the results. Homeownership climbed above 69 percent in late 2004, which means millions more people gained a store of wealth that can grow and be available in hard times.

And home values have skyrocketed, pumping up household wealth to a record $51 trillion in the third quarter, according to Fed data.

But household debt rose faster in recent years than wealth or disposable income, reaching an unprecedented 126.1 percent of after-tax income in the third quarter, double its 1980 level.

All this debt isn't straining households so far. Late payments on credit card loans and other forms of consumer debt declined in the third quarter, the American Bankers Association reports. Although delinquency rates probably rose in the last three months of the year because of the delayed effects of the hurricanes, those rates are likely to fall this year because of the strong economy, said ABA chief economist James Chessen. "I think it will be a pretty good year for consumer debt and the ability to pay your loans," he said

These national figures combine all U.S. households, but debt tends to weigh most heavily on low-income families, other analysts note.

Many households with incomes below $50,000 a year, the bottom half of the income distribution, have mortgages at higher interest rates, plus car loans, student loans and credit card debt, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "Their balance sheets are a mess," and they will have a harder time as interest rates rise, he said.

These national figures combine all U.S. households, but debt tends to weigh most heavily on low-income families, other analysts note.

Many households with incomes below $50,000 a year, the bottom half of the income distribution, have mortgages at higher interest rates, plus car loans, student loans and credit card debt, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "Their balance sheets are a mess," and they will have a harder time as interest rates rise, he said.

Indeed, U.S. households collectively spent more than their combined income in the second and third quarters of last year. The only way to do that is by selling assets, dipping into savings or borrowing.

When questioned on Capitol Hill in June about criticism that the Fed's strategy had helped inflate a housing bubble, Greenspan suggested that such imbalances were an acceptable price for avoiding another depression or a Japan-like economic stagnation.

"We knew that in the process of what we were doing -- that is, addressing the consequence of a very severe deflation of a [stock] bubble -- carried with it potential side effects," Greenspan said. "As best we can judge, things have turned out reasonably as we had expected, both positively and negatively, but in our judgment, the positive effects of the policy far exceeded the negative ones."

Yup. it's worked out great for the banks. But as for the rest of us who have seen our salaries inch along under inflation while we live off live off credit, it's not going so great. Americans may still be spending at a tremendous rate, but as the Post article notes, much of that spending is coming from borrowing. How much longer can that go on before the bill comes due?

And note some of the stories in the paper these days that point to some uncertaintimes ahead for the American economy. The Dow fell over 200 points last Friday, Ford Motors has announced it will cut 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants in the next six years, oil remains near $70 dollars a barrel, and inflation continues to rise faster than people's salaries.

Couple these stories about the American economy along with the enormous national trade debt and consumer debt and then ask yourself: is this really a booming economy?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

TIME: At Least Five Photos of George and Jack Exist

Uh, oh - it's only a matter of time before somebody publishes these:

As details poured out about the illegal and unseemly activities of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, White House officials sought to portray the scandal as a Capitol Hill affair with little relevance to them. Peppered for days with questions about Abramoff's visits to the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the now disgraced lobbyist had attended two huge holiday receptions and a few "staff-level meetings" that were not worth describing further. "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said.

The President's memory may soon be unhappily refreshed. TIME has seen five photographs of Abramoff and the President that suggest a level of contact between them that Bush's aides have downplayed. While TIME's source refused to provide the pictures for publication, they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. And that has been a fear of the Bush team's for the past several months: that a picture of the President with the admitted felon could become the iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal—like the shots of President Bill Clinton at White House coffees for campaign contributors in the mid-1990s.

In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas. Garza, who is wearing jeans and a bolo tie in the picture, told TIME that Bush greeted him as "Jefe," or "chief" in Spanish. Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape. The shot bears Bush's signature, perhaps made by a machine. Three other photos are of Bush, Abramoff and, in each view, one of the lobbyist's sons (three of his five children are boys). A sixth picture shows several Abramoff children with Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is now pushing to tighten lobbying laws after declining to do so last year when the scandal was in its early stages.


The White House describes the number of Abramoff's meetings with staff members only as "a few," even though senior Bush aides have precise data about them. McClellan will not give details, saying he doesn't "get into discussing staff-level meetings." During a televised briefing, he added, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition." Pressed for particulars about Abramoff's White House contacts, McClellan said with brio, "People are insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever." But he said he cannot "say with absolute certainty that (Abramoff) did not have any other visits" apart from those disclosed. Another White House official said, "The decision was made—don't put out any additional information." That reticence has been eagerly seized upon by some Democrats. Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote to Bush last week to demand details, saying Abramoff "may have had undue and improper influence within your Administration."

I can't wait to hear the spin from the White House when the photos surface. Remember, they say they're innocent of any wrongdoing in the Abramoff case, they believe it's an isolated incident perpetrated by just a few bad apples on the nightshift and they want to -

Oh, wait - that was another scandal. Sorry.

But you get the idea, right?

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