Saturday, August 07, 2004

Karl Rove asks: "Doesn't this make you feel safer?"

Once again the Bush White House has decided that their political interests outweigh the security of US residents. In an effort to prove they are doing a good job in the "war on terror," they've gone public with the name of the operative who provided the latest al Quaeda intelligence.

We've been told since 9/11 that our intelligence in the Muslim world is poor because we lack on-the-ground operatives there. Despite that, as with the Plame affair, in both leaks AND subsequent public statements, the administration seems to go out of its way both to reveal AND TO ENDANGER both those operatives and their networks. So Joe Wilson can be discredited. So Tom Ridge can be bolstered.

It's like their performance with the economy - the corner we're turning will take us southbound on the northbound truck-lane of the Jersey Turnpike. In a Mini. In the dark. With no lights on. Doesn't that make you feel safe?

A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in Lahore secretly last month, had been actively cooperating with intelligence agents to help catch al Qaeda operatives when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

"After his capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," a Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters.


The New York Times published a story on Monday saying U.S. officials had disclosed that a man arrested secretly in Pakistan was the source of the bulk of information leading to the security alerts.

The newspaper named him as Khan, although it did not say how it had learned his name. U.S. officials subsequently confirmed the name to other news organizations on Monday morning. None of the reports mentioned that Khan was working under cover at the time, helping to catch al Qaeda suspects.


Friday, August 06, 2004

Conventional Wisdom

is that the economy (and, consequently, our personal prosperity) is better under Republican administrations. Michael Kinsley has analyzed the economic numbers published by the Bush Administration, and the data (40 years worth) tell a different story. In pretty much every category, Americans do better when there's a Democrat in the White House. No surpise to me (I did a similar analysis for a statistics class in college), but maybe someone should tell the "NASCAR Dads"...
It turns out that Democratic presidents have a much better record than Republicans. They win in a head-to-head comparison in almost every category. Real growth averaged 4.09% in Democratic years, 2.75% in Republican years. Unemployment was 6.44%, on average, under Republican presidents, and 5.33% under Democrats. The federal government spent more under Republicans than Democrats (20.87% of GDP, compared with 19.58%), and that remains true even if you exclude defense (13.76% for the Democrats, 14.97% for the Republicans).

What else? Inflation was lower under Democratic presidents (3.81% on average, compared with 4.85%). And annual deficits took more than twice as much of GDP under Republicans than Democrats (2.74% of GDP versus 1.21%). Republicans won by a nose on government revenue (i.e., taxes), taking 18.12% of GDP, compared with 18.39%. That, of course, is why they lost on the size of the deficit.

Personal income per capita was also a bit higher in Republican years ($16,061 in year- 2000 dollars) than in Democratic ones ($15,565). But that is because more of the Republican years came later, when the country was more prosperous already.

Somebody get the smelling salts for Sean Hannity
Some 200 business leaders endorsed Kerry yesterday, including executives from Oracle, Bank of America, and three other companies who flew here to attend the round-table. They decried rising US deficits and what several said was a chilly international business climate under Bush. Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, said that the Bush administration's "isolationist" and "occasionally bellicose" rhetoric was bad for US financial interests and trading abroad.


Which corner is the economy turning?

The one leading us all to Hooverville?
The number of non-farm jobs added to the economy in July was 32,000, according to the department's payroll figures. Analysts had projected the numbers to be in the range of 215,000 to 240,000.


It was the second straight month of sub-par job growth. On top of today's news, the Labor Department revised June's payroll increase downward from 112,000 to 78,000.

Remember, it takes 150,000 new jobs per month just to stay even ... so in the last two months we've LOST 190,000 jobs.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

"Hilton Village"? What the heck is "Hilton Village"?

Reading the local rag, I come across this item about Mapleberry's very own befuddled town government and the currently empty Verizon building:

"The Verizon building is located in an industrial area along Burnett Avenue North of DeHart Park and is considered by some to be the centerpiece of a possible 14-acre redevelopment zone that Mayor Fred Profeta has heralded as a possible 'Hilton Village' and a $50 million rateable."

Has anybody else heard of this "Hilton Village" before? Seen models? Mock-ups? Anybody like to try to calculate the value of a '$50 million' rateable to the average property taxpayer in Maplewood? (My guess is a measly $145 per year.)

This week the Mayor surprised us with the unexpected announcement that taking a "scientific" poll would now replace representative democracy in Maplewood. I wonder when we get to see Hilton Village -- or even more importantly, meet the developer who is going to build this place for us. Fortunately, unlike his decision to relocate the police station on the advice of hand-picked community "representatives," Da Mayor has promised us full public hearings before re-making a chunk of the town as "Hilton Village."

I can hardly wait.

Liberal Media my ass

The lead story on the front page of today's Star-Ledger (dead-tree edition) is headlined 'Duel In Davenport' - about Goerge Bush and John Kerry campaigning in Iowa within blocks of each other. Pictures of the candidates take up much of the front page.

I can't imagine anyone making a serious claim that the Star-Ledger is a "conservative" paper, but nonetheless their front page demonstrates the kind of subliminal pro-Bush bias that most of the So Called Liberal Media has. Bush's picture is above the fold, while Kerry's is below. Sitting in a pile at a newstand, or in a vending machine, you see only George Bush's face. A small point, to be sure, but it would have been more balanced, and more honest, to put the candidates' pictures side-by-side.

I'll admit that, had Kerry's picture been above Bush's I either wouldn't have noticed or, if I had, I would have been happy about it, but that's the point - I AM biased. I'm NOT a journalist. The staff at the Star-Ledger are supposed to be professional reporters, not partisan shills. They rig the game in small and often not-so-small ways, and then protest their innocence.

It's little, but it pisses me off.

Not to mention dumb as a stump

At least Dubya sounds that way. Or maybe it was a freudian slip:
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

Bush and Rove - hateful people

I won't dignify the Bush campaign's "SWIFT Boat" attack ad by providing a link. I'll just include John McCain's response to his candidate's ad:
Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, called an ad criticizing John Kerry's military service "dishonest and dishonorable" and urged the White House on Thursday to condemn it as well.

"It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me," McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press, referring to his bitter Republican primary fight with President Bush.

The 60-second ad features Vietnam veterans who accuse the Democratic presidential nominee of lying about his decorated Vietnam War record and betraying his fellow veterans by later opposing the conflict [...]

"I wish they hadn't done it," McCain said of his former advisers. "I don't know if they knew all the facts."

Asked if the White House knew about the ad or helped find financing for it, McCain said, "I hope not, but I don't know. But I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."
via The Daily Kos.

Why do Republicans hate America?

As is obvious from the Valerie Plame case, Republicans in Washington don't seem to think that keeping America's secrets secret is very important. We don't yet know who leaked Plame's name (other than that it's a "senior administration official") , but the source of another security leak was revealed today - Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).
Federal investigators concluded that Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) divulged classified intercepted messages to the media when he was on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, according to sources familiar with the probe.

Specifically, Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that Shelby verbally divulged the information to him during a June 19, 2002, interview, minutes after Shelby's committee had been given the information in a classified briefing, according to the sources, who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case.

Cameron did not air the material. Moments after Shelby spoke with Cameron, he met with CNN reporter Dana Bash, and about half an hour after that, CNN broadcast the material, the sources said. CNN cited "two congressional sources" in its report.
John Ashcroft's Justice Department, incredibly, isn't particularly interested -
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office pursued the case, and a grand jury was empaneled, but nobody has been charged with any crime. Last month it was revealed that the Justice Department had decided to forgo a criminal prosecution, at least for now, and turned the matter over to the Senate Ethics Committee.

The Justice Department declined to comment on why it was no longer pursuing the matter criminally. The Senate ethics panel also declined to comment on its investigation.
Explain it to me again - how are the Republicans supposed be better guardians of our security and safety??? And why was the Sandy Berger story all over the TV and newspaper front-pages, while this story, about a REAL security breach, is buried on page A17?


...for a NJ-based blog. Bruce Springsteen's NY Times Op-Ed piece today:
Chords for Change

A nation's artists and musicians have a particular place in its social and political life. Over the years I've tried to think long and hard about what it means to be American: about the distinctive identity and position we have in the world, and how that position is best carried. I've tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures.

These questions are at the heart of this election: who we are, what we stand for, why we fight. Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

Through my work, I've always tried to ask hard questions. Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfillment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?

I don't think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America's citizens, courage and faith.

People have different notions of these values, and they live them out in different ways. I've tried to sing about some of them in my songs. But I have my own ideas about what they mean, too. That is why I plan to join with many fellow artists, including the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Jurassic 5, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, in touring the country this October. We will be performing under the umbrella of a new group called Vote for Change. Our goal is to change the direction of the government and change the current administration come November.

Like many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the country's unity. I don't remember anything quite like it. I supported the decision to enter Afghanistan and I hoped that the seriousness of the times would bring forth strength, humility and wisdom in our leaders. Instead, we dived headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq, offering up the lives of our young men and women under circumstances that are now discredited. We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of "one nation indivisible."

It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities - respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals - that we come to life in God's eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Alan Keyes is the new Jack Ryan

The Illinois Republican Party has chosen former Presidential candidate Alan Keyes as the designated loser in the Senate race against Barack Obama. Keyes hasn't yet accepted - he says he'll think it over and respond by Sunday. Keyes is a long-time, and current, resident of Maryland. Guess he'd have to move to Chicago sometime between now and election day. His own words might bite him on the ass, though - when Hillary Clinton decided to run for the open NY Senate seat in 2000, Keyes was extremely critical:

On ABC 7 in Chicago (via ArchPundit):

Kevin Roy: When Pat Buchanan suggested on fox news channel in march of 2000 that he run for senate in New York, Keyes responded "I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton’s willingness go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it." That is from Alan Keyes three years ago. Now, he is scheduled to meet with the republican central committee at 2:00 this afternoon. They are expected to announce the final decision sometime later today.
There's lots more to say about Keyes (his extreme anti-gay positions, for example), but for now it should suffice to say that he's as dramatically different from Obama as it is possible for two Americans to be.

State of compassionate conservatism

Back home in in Dubya's Texas, just like in Iraq, it doesn't seem to matter whether there's any actual evidence of a crime ... the state just has to SAY there is.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An independent panel of U.S. forensic scientists has called for a comprehensive audit of tests performed by Houston's police crime laboratory, potentially putting thousands of criminal convictions in doubt, the New York Times said Thursday.

The scientists, in a report to be filed Thursday in a Texas court in Houston, said crime lab officials might have offered "false and scientifically unsound" reports and testimony in various cases. The scientists are urging the re-examination of results from tests on blood, sperm and other bodily fluids spanning decades.


"A conservative number would probably be 5,000 to 10,000 cases," Elizabeth Johnson, a former DNA lab director at the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston, said.

Bit by bit, row by row

from Reuters:
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A trial judge in Washington state ruled on Wednesday that same-sex marriages were legal, but he stayed his decision so the issue could be decided by the state's Supreme Court.

Gay marriage advocates hailed the decision as a big step toward wider acceptance of legally recognized unions between couples of the same sex, both in the state and the country.

Lambda Legal senior attorney Jennifer Pizer, who led the lawsuit on behalf of eight gay couples, applauded the decision by King County Superior Court Judge William Downing, which declared that a state law limiting marriage to men and women was unconstitutional.

"We all knew when this case began that the trial court is the first step," Pizer told reporters.

In his ruling, Judge Downing said state law was unconstitutional because "the privilege of civil marriage and the various privileges conferred by that status are not being made equally available to all citizens."

Equal Protection challenges - the key that'll unlock that marriage door.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Bette White update

I was told that, unbelievable as it seems, the TC did NOT table the Bette White eminent domain ordinance. Neither did they extend the debate so they could could continue to discuss it and then vote on it at a later date. Instead, they voted it down completely, so they could wait for the results of their poll.

I don't know how else to describe this other than as idiocy. Now, even if they decide Bette White IS the right location, they'll have to go through the entire cycle for voting on a new ordinance - a process that takes several months. And, as I noted in the previous entry, no poll is going to give them any better information than they have now - it's just going to waste more taxpayer money.

What it sounds like now is simply that the Mayor decided he didn't want to take the political heat, and grabbed an easy way to put the kibosh on the deal without appearing to be running away. Unfortunately for Maplewood, the way he did it was to set a dangerous new precedent for the TC ... any future vote before the Township Committe that carries even a whiff of controversy will be dogged by calls for another opinion poll - and what justification can they use to deny the demands?

I'll be the first to admit that I can be a pain in the ass with criticism of elected officials - usually (I hope) with some semblance of common sense. I also understand that I'm not often likely to get my way. If I'm really good at arguing a point, I might change a mind or two. But if I don't, I'll be unsurprised. I'll not be likely to vote for those people in the future - but that's how the system works. That's how it's SUPPOSED to work. If the TC members who voted for this silly poll notion are unable or unwilling to make their own decisions, on the CERTAINTY that someone will be disgruntled about it, they're in the wrong position. Mr. Pettis and Mr. Huemer, to their great credit, seem to understand this.

update 6:45 AM Aug. 5
Here's another "poll" story from the Star-Ledger

Petitions, bad...Polls, good?

At last night's Township Committee meeting (according to the Star-Ledger), Mayor Profeta called for a poll to see what the community thinks about the Bette White site as the location for Maplewood Police Headquarters. "I would never advocate reversing a township committee decision based on a petition," Profeta said, after a citizen's group presented a petition asking that the site proposals be put on the November ballot as a referendum. Instead he proposed a poll of around 1000 Maplewood residents, saying that a poll would be more timely and cost-effective. In the meantime, the TC has tabled the Bette White site condemnation resolution.

I don't understand Profeta's reasoning. If 1500 interested residents have already expressed, in a petition, their belief that the TC should at least revisit the decision, how will a poll of 1000 people, most of whom probably aren't even aware of the issue let alone have an opinion about it, give the TC any useful new information? Taking such an opinion poll will cost the township $1000 and leave the issue no clearer than before. In any case, I don't think government ought to run on the basis of opinion polls OR petition drives. Elected officials absolutely have an obligation to listen to their consituents and to reconsider decisions when constituents don't think they're right - but what ought to drive those decisions is maximal benefit for the community as a whole. If the TC really believes it made the right decision in the first place, neither petitions nor polls should sway them.

It seems as if last night's decision was a purely political "let's try to keep everyone happy" move. If the sense of the TC is that the original choice of Bette White might have been faulty, they should say so, convene a new group to re-evaluate the proposed sites, and make a new decision. Since no decision will keep everyone happy, the question at hand is, or ought simply to be, "Which site will produce the best result for Maplewood?"

If the TC members think they've already correctly made that decision, then they should stick with it. Say to the petitioners, the Hilton Neighborhood Association, and the Springfield Ave. Partnership "Thanks for your input. We respect your opinions, and understand that you disagree with ours, but we believe, based on all the available information, that selecting this location will best benefit all of Maplewood." If, on the other hand, they're not sure if they were right on the first go-round, then they should gather more data and re-examine the whole thing.

TC member Ken Pettis summed it up best.
"If you think you made the wrong decision, admit to it," he said. "Change it. Don't throw it back and shade it."

Okay, so yes, I AM an idealist

and this guy seems to know how to push all my starry-eyed optimist buttons. At a campaign event in Illinois a couple of days ago Barack Obama said:
"I need your help. Everybody here has to believe in our government. The most important office in the land is the office of citizen. If you aren't involved, then politicians will misbehave on both sides. They get sloppy, they get lazy, special interests start making advances. Only when you decide not only to register, not only to vote, but to stay informed, get your neighbors involved, focus on the issues that all of us face, will we be able not only to inherit this world from our parents, but also understand that we're borrowing it from our children. And we've got a committment to give them a world that's just a little bit better than the one we've got."
via Xan at Corrente.

If you're not registered to vote in NJ, here's the registration form . You have until October 4, 2004 to get the form in. The address is on the form - all you need is a pen, an envelope, and a stamp. Don't delay - do it today.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

At least Jon Corzine is on the case

Atrios points out that our Senator Jon Corzine has introduced the "Chemical Security Act," which would provide safeguards for chemical plants across the country. Actually he re-introduced the bill, after it died in the last Congress. Let's hope it doesn't die again before this Congress adjourns too.

Homeland Security?

I may have been too charitable to Dubya's proposals for new intelligence/counter-terrorsim infrastructure. I haven't examined the proposals in detail yet (being just another guy who has to work at something other than blogging for a living) - but neither the NYT nor WaPo think much of the initiatives - at least in copmparison to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Looks like, once again, the administration is putting optics ahead of substance.

Washington Post:
A rush to reform driven by the election calendar could yield an ill-considered system that would take years to fix. Better to go more slowly and get it right -- especially considering that the changes will be made in the heat of battle, as the latest warnings serve to remind.

But just the opposite seems to be happening.
New York Times:
At a time when Americans need strong leadership and bold action, President Bush offered tired nostrums and bureaucratic half-measures yesterday. He wanted to appear to be embracing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, but he actually rejected the panel's most significant ideas, and thus missed a chance to confront the twin burdens he faces at this late point in his term: the need to get intelligence reform moving whether he's re-elected or not, and the equally urgent need to repair the government's credibility on national security.


The 9/11 panel's most important recommendation was to create the post of national intelligence director. Such a director would be confirmed by the Senate and have real power to supervise the 15 disparate intelligence agencies. The director of central intelligence has that charge now, without the power to do it. The commission said the new official should be part of the White House Executive Office, not a cabinet member, to ensure access to the president.

There are a variety of credible ways to construct the job, whether in the cabinet or not, but what Mr. Bush proposed is not one of them.

Seventh son of a seventh son?

Remember when the shelf-life of science fiction was at least a few decades? Speculation must age faster these days, because Gov. Howard Dean's speculations have become reality in just a couple of days. Only two days ago, Howard Dean was being portrayed as a shrill, partisan dope after hitting the talking-head shows and gaving voice to what many people were thinking - that the new Orange Alert might be as much a political act as a public-safety one. Not that he denied that there was a potential danger ... despite how it was painted in much of the press, Dean didn't dismiss the warning as bogus or unwarranted, he only stated that it was explicitly political.

In the lead front-page stories in today's Washington Post and New York Times, the details behind the new al-Quaeda intelligence comes out, and it once again calls into question the motivations for raising the terrorism alert level. Most, if not all of the "new" information dates from before the 9/11 attacks.

From WaPo:
Most of the al Qaeda surveillance of five financial institutions that led to a new terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the buildings has continued, numerous intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

More than half a dozen government officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that."
Here's the real problem: we have no idea when, if ever, to take a Homeland Security alert seriously. When they talk about "chatter," is there really a threat? It seems more likely that when the alert level is raised it's less to prepare us than to frighten us into a cowed malleability.

Last month in The New Republic, John Judis and Spencer Ackerman predicted a "July Surprise" - the Pakistani government would, as a favor to President Bush, produce a new "high value target" al Quaeda arrest during the Democratic Convention. Sure enough, Pakistan did indeed announce the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian Al Qaeda operative.

The Pakistan al-Q story didn't do much to distract the public's attention, but Sunday's terror alerts seem to have done a better job. I guess it wouldn't do to let John Kerry dominate the headlines when sowing fear (and the public's concomitant resistance to leadership change) works so much better for the Bush administration's plans to retain office.

In a related story (again on both papers' front pages) Mr. Bush says that he'll create both a new post for national intelligence chief and a new federal counter-terrorism agency. These are both from the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, and come only after Senator Kerry said he'd create them immediately on entering office. These announcements, like raising the alert level, seem designed explicitly to both get the President back to the top of Page 1 and to associate both threat and response to threat in the public mind with George W Bush. One need only read Tom Ridge's statement to the press on Sunday to see where the motivation for all of this lies:
But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror, the reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan.
(empahsis mine)
If there had been any doubt that politics is a primary motivation for the Bush Administration's alerts and homeland security initiatives, I think Gov. Ridge's statement lays them pretty well to rest.

Howard Dean has gone in just two days from goat to genius. All I can say to Gov. Dean, John Judis, and Spencer Ackerman is this - watch your asses, guys. Cassandra didn't exactly prosper after being given the gift of foretelling the future.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The bestest campaign ad ...

... that Dubya never made. Will Ferrell stars as GWB at White House West.

from ACT -Americans Coming Together

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Niger-Iraq - still bogus, but weirder than ever

Josh Marshall reports this morning in Talking Points Memo about a Times Of London article that covers some of the same ground he's been plowing for an upcoming article in The Washington Monthly - one he's been working on for the last 6 months. He gives some of the details from his upcoming article. This gist is that, contrary to the recent Financial Times articles that implied that the Iraq-Niger uranium connection was real(despite the bogosity of the documents), both the documents AND the Iraq-Niger business itself were fabrications of SISMI - Italian Military Intelligence.

What Marshall's blog entry doesn't go into (yet - presumably the magazine article will) is why?. Why was Italian intelligence planting evidence against Iraq? Who in the Italian government authorized it? And to what end? I'm sure there's plenty of plausible deniability to go around, but might the tracks lead straight back to Washington?

In case you're planning on sending a postcard from Vienna this summer:

The Schwarzenegger stamp will be issued by the Austrian postal service on July 30.

Let's hope it's not a trend.

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