Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bush breeds global terrorism

During a press conference in April of this year, President George W. Bush said, "Iraq has — have got people there that are willing to kill, and they're hard-nosed killers. And we will work with the Iraqis to secure their future." His comments turned out to be prophetic; Bush has secured the future of hard-nosed killers in Iraq. A CSIS study released less than a week ago found that 90- to 96-percent of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqi nationals, not foreign elements.

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist, quashing any insurgent uprising before it could take hold. Bush's invasion of Iraq unseated the government, opened the borders, and created the perfect breeding grounds for an insurgency, now some 30,000 strong. However, Bush's invasion has not only spawned well over 25,000 Iraqi insurgents, it is also recruiting foreign fighters into the jihad against the US.

There are only approximately 352 Saudi insurgents in Iraq. However, they are the most sought-after militants because of their contributions of cash to the Iraqi insurgency and because when they are "martyred," it brings great media attention in the Middle East to the Iraqis' cause. The CSIS study cites Saudi intelligence analysis that leads to the conclusion that the Saudi militants were "radicalized almost exclusively by the Coalition invasion."

In the aforementioned press conference, Bush also claimed that "we've made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home. And when you engage the terrorists abroad, it causes activity and action." Studies from the state departments of both the US and Britain show terrorist "activity and action" have grown to unprecedented levels around the globe since Bush has been engaging them abroad, so Bush got that part right. However, his logic that engaging them abroad prevents you from having to face terrorists at home is flawed.

First of all, this post already ascertains that most of the insurgents in Iraq are home-grown in less than the past three years, so they were of no threat to the US until Bush "engaged" them (his polite term for "invading their homeland"). Furthermore, the insurgents Bush created in Iraq are attacking fellow Iraqis more than they do Americans. The bigger problem is the foreign militants that have been able to infiltrate Iraq since the invasion.

Thomas Sanderson of CSIS said these foreign militants are:
exposed to international networks from around the world [in Iraq, and] returning with bomb-making skills, perhaps stolen explosives, vastly increased knowledge. If they are succeeding in a hostile environment, avoiding … US Special Forces, then to go back to Europe, my God, it's kid's play.
Sanderson's concerns are shared by US counter-terrorism officials. They fear that Islamic militants are fighting in Iraq so they can return to Europe with battle training and a passion to harm the West. There's no reason to believe the threat is limited to Europe. With American security forces spread across the globe, US ports and borders are left almost entirely unguarded. Considering American citizens comprise some of those Islamic militants trained abroad, it won't be long before America has to face more terrorists here at home.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Frist under fire

So what if both the SEC and the DoJ are investigating Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist? This should come as no surprise since his position makes him a lightning rod attracting strikes by the minority party. These investigations must be as inconsequential as all the other attacks against Senator Frist have been, right?

Perhaps if you look at just the latest developments, it might appear that way. However, if you start by looking back as far as Frist's first days in the Senate, the picture begins to look very different.

Frist came to the Senate in 1995, holding a blind trust with HCA shares in it. This should come as no surprise because HCA was founded by Frist's father, and his brother is a Director. Since Frist is not supposed to make decisions to purchase or sell securities in his blind trust, his claim was that there was no conflict of interest between his position in the Senate and his holdings in the trust because, "It is illegal right now for me to know what the composition of those trusts are. So I have no idea."

Nonetheless, Frist came under immediate criticism for holding HCA stock while directing legislation on patient issues and Medicare reform. Senate rules permit legislators to divest their shares in a company from a blind trust, but only if they assume new duties and find that their ownership presents the appearance of a conflict of interest. However, according to Frist, "So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock."

Now let's take look at more recent activities surrounding this issue. It seems that the SEC and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan are (independently) contacting Senator Frist regarding the sale of HCA stock in June when it was near its 52-week high. The sale came just two weeks before the corporation issued a poor earnings forecast that drove its stock price down over fifteen percent. The hospital conglomerate is also under subpoena by the same attorney's office for documents related to the sale.

Not to worry: a statement from Frist's office made it clear that the Senator, "had no information about the company or its performance that was not available to the public when he directed the trustees to sell the HCA stock. His only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest."

But this begs a couple of questions. First of all, why would he suddenly be concerned about a "conflict of interest" when he wasn't in prior years? Even more curious, didn't Frist claim no knowledge of owning the stock? It turns out that two weeks before disclaiming the knowledge, the trustee, M. Kirk Scobey Jr., notified Frist of HCA stock being contributed to the trust. Even as far back as 2002, the trustee notified Frist of separate HCA investments to his trust in the amounts of $15,000, $50,000, $250,000, $500,000, and $1-million.

Democrats were quick to fire on Frist. According to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), "Bill Frist has this all upside down. He thought Terri Schiavo could see and his trust was blind." And, in classic Howard Dean style, the Chairman of the DNC said of the issue that, "Republicans in Washington have made their culture of corruption the norm."

Dean's comment is right on target, and the GOP has the power in both the legislative and the executive branches of government. This makes one question whether or not we'll see Frist take a fall for this. But if we do, it's sure to have repurcussions throughout the Republican party and maybe in the 2006 elections.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fight to the last drop of other people's blood

He's "ready to fight to the last drop of other people's blood." Surely that must be a reference to George W. Bush, right? Wrong! It's MP George Galloway refering to Christopher Hitchens.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear an American representative say such a thing about the President? Unfortunately, you'll never hear them speaking truth to power. Nowadays, if you want to hear someone speak the unvarnished truth about American leadership, ironically, you have to look to Scotland for those words.

Last Friday, a Scotsman squared off against a fellow Brit in a no-holds-barred grudge match. Meeting at Baruch College in New York, they debated the war in Iraq. Besides the above-referenced quote, the audience was privy to ad hominem remarks like, "What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history — the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug," when Galloway inferred about Hitchens that, "the one thing a slug leaves behind it is a trail of slime." Not to be undone, Hitchens claimed of Galloway that, "The man's hunt for a tyrannical fatherland never ends. The Soviet Union let him down, Albania's gone. Saddam's been overthrown. But on to the next, in Damascus."

Such pearls are rarely heard spoken by Americans. But Galloway honed his oratory in the British Parliament, and Hitchens is a socialist turned neo-conservative who is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair and a political analyst oft-featured in American periodicals & TV. shows. Hitchens challenged Galloway to a debate after his testimony before a Senate committee accusing him of complicity in the oil-for-food controversy.

The normally unflappable Hitchens showed up at the debate looking unkempt with his tousled hair and unbuttoned shirt. On the other side of the stage, Galloway showed up in a perfectly tailored suit. However, betraying appearances, Hitchens went barb for barb with Galloway, giving away little ground. Nonetheless, Galloway got the better of Hitchens, as one would expect from someone competing from the high ground.

Regardless of which side of the Iraq War argument you're on, you're bound to find the debate at once entertaining and enlightening. For those who prefer listening to reading, you can hear a recording of the debate online. Alternatively, you can read the transcript. Those who were fortunate enough to catch it on CSPAN, you witnessed the first time the network could compete with reality TV villains like Omarosa and Jerri.

Monday, September 19, 2005

To infinity and beyond

Buzz Lightyear demonstrated more vision in Toy Story than President George W. Bush could. However, at least Bush is looking partway to infinity. He has called on NASA to take an astronaut to our moon and Mars. NASA's plans are spectacular, reading like a science fiction novel. It would make America feel great to accomplish all of this.

Unfortunately, these grand plans leave out one small detail: what tangible benefit they will bring America. As usual, Bush has no qualms about constantly increasing spending of our tax dollars (in contradiction to one of the basic principles upon which his GOP is based). Also true to form, he plans to pay for it by ... cutting taxes?!? National debt be damned!

I'll be the first to admit that it would be "kewl" to do all this space exploration. But unless NASA can tell us how everyday Americans will benefit from it, I'd prefer we all stay on this planet. Furthermore, until we could explore space and still run a budget surplus, my tax dollars would be better spent here in America, feeding the poor who go hungry in Appalachia and providing medical care to children across this country without insurance.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Brownie points for 'Brownie'

Speaking to the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, about his response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." That, in spite of a concurrent overwhelming din of criticism regarding FEMA's performance in the rescue of the residents of New Orleans and aide to recovery of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Certainly with his unmatched access to the finest intelligence, W. must have known about the numerous discrepancies in Brown's resume, and that his background in "emergency services" was wildly exaggerated. In fact, Brown's performance in the aftermath to Katrina led to his dismissal from the management of the disaster and sent him packing back to Washington, D.C. However, that lasted only a couple of days before piling on his questionable experience led to his subsequent resignation from FEMA.

W. has a long, storied track record of rewarding abject failure and promoting those whose incompetence rises above the rest, so it might come as no surprise to hear him giving "Brownie" points to the (former) Director. Nonetheless, could there be more to this commendation in the face of Brown's very public blunders than meets the eye? A look back to the last hurricane season exposes why W. expresses such loyalty to Brown.

In 2004, the state of Florida was struck by three hurricanes in one season. They happened to coincide with the forthcoming presidential election. A FEMA consultant noted in a three-page memo on the topic that the hurricanes could cause a "huge mess" that would negatively impact W.'s campaign, considering that Florida was a "battleground state."

How did FEMA, directed at the time by Brown, respond? A Florida official reported that FEMA began distributing funds in Florida "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind." Widespread mismanagement of disaster relief funds was uncovered in hundreds of Governor Jeb Bush's emails.

Not surprisingly, the nation heard nothing about this from the President's brother. The Sun-Sentinel had to threaten a lawsuit against the Governor's office to get them. Additionally, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Richard Skinner, conducted a four-month audit of FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) in the Miami area following Hurricane Frances. What did the audit find?

It found that the Miami-Dade County area did not experience hurricane-force winds from Frances, and it questioned whether the area warranted the FEMA assistance it received at Jeb Bush's request. It found waste and poor controls in every level of FEMA's assistance program. For example, the report said FEMA paid $10-million to replace hundreds of household items even though only a bed was reported to be damaged. "Millions of individuals and households became eligible to apply for [money], straining FEMA's limited inspection resources to verify damages and making the program more susceptible to potential fraud, waste, and abuse."

Were these criticisms partisan? The chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, Senator Susan Collins, is a Republican. In reference to Brown, she said during a committee hearing that he:
"...approved massive payouts to replace thousands of televisions, air conditioners, beds, and other furniture, as well as a number of cars, without receipts, or proof of ownership or damage, and based solely on verbal statements by the residents, sometimes made in fleeting encounters at fast-food restaurants.

"It was a pay first, ask questions later approach. The inspector general's report identifies a number of significant control weaknesses that create a potential for widespread fraud, erroneous payments, and wasteful practices."
Why the uproar? Because with the impending presidential election, the DHS report on the IHP audit found that FEMA suddenly abandoned its controls it had previously used to ensure its emergency funding went to people who needed it. Instead, it wastefully distributed money to Miami-Dade County residents without the standard verifications, leading to incidents like the following:
  • FEMA awarded $13.1-million to Miami-Dade applicants for rental assistance and home repair and replacement. However, the implementation of the Housing Assistance component of the IHP was hampered by several procedural omissions and generally weak guidelines for performing inspections and documenting results.
  • FEMA provided $82,764 in expedited assistance to 114 applicants who were not, or may not have been, eligible. Those applicants reportedly had insurance, did not report a need for housing, or reported that their homes were not damaged.
  • Sufficient criteria were not in place to reasonably assure that the $9-million of rental assistance provided to 4,985 Miami-Dade County residents was made to eligible applicants.
  • FEMA caseworkers authorized payments of $15,743 for three funerals, which were insufficiently documented to establish the deaths as disaster-related.
  • FEMA awarded $192,592 for miscellaneous items to applicants in Miami-Dade County based only upon the verification that such items were purchased — not whether a disaster-related need existed.
  • The amount authorized for automobile replacement, particularly for older vehicles, was generally far in excess of the market replacement costs or an amount needed to acquire comparable transportation.
W. went on to win re-election, as well as the state of Florida (although many question the validity of the results in that state). Can Brown be credited with the 'W' (pun intended)? Probably not, but it's clear that he made sure that Hurricane Frances would not cause a loss for W. For that, Bush gives him "Brownie" points.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Too little, too late

Surely the man standing next to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the East Room of the White House two days ago must have been an imposter. President George W. Bush would never say, "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

Then today the nation saw a man who claimed to be the President of the USA say, "When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as President, am responsible for the problem, and for the solution." That sounds more like President Harry Truman than it does like President George W. Bush. It turns out President Bush is now claiming responsibility for mistakes at every turn.

However, this is the same man who never admitted a single mistake in the first five years of his presidency. This blog widely documents the incessant mistakes, errors, and bad decisions of George W. Bush. To claim that he made no mistakes is simply disingenuous. Yet, George W. Bush instead rewards failure and gives promotions to the most incompetent in his administration. For example, after former CIA Director George Tenet insisted that it was a "slam dunk" that Hussein possessed WMDs and former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer "misplaced" $9-billion dollars that were supposed to go to rebuilding Iraq, Bush awarded both men the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor).

Also last year, a reporter asked George W. Bush, "After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be?" But the closest he could come to an admission of guilt was the following eloquent statement:
"You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet...

I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."
I agree that it's rare that anything pops into the President's head, and there's no question that he's not as quick on his feet as he should be, but being "under the spot" is no excuse for not being able to think of at least one minor error out of a career of countless monumental blunders.

Has the President suddenly turned over a new leaf and subscribed to the adage, "The buck stops here"? I doubt it, and I think the world doubts it. His sudden non-stop claims of responsibility and admissions of failures in his administration are falling on deaf ears. The words will ring hollow until responsibility is followed up with accountability -- something that is never accepted in this administration.

Mr President, all your apologies this week are too little, too late.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Relatively Sophisticated Syndication

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) -- what a misnomer! I'm a Microsoft Certified System Engineer and a Cisco Certified Design Associate. I've built and managed e-business for seven years, including both corporate websites and personal websites. I still didn't find RSS to be at all simple.

L.S. Butts finally got me motivated to learn about it. He has a pretty kewl blog, Justice E.R. Butts told me about how he uses RSS on his blog and gave me a little primer. He suggested I use it for some site feeds on The Progressive Zone. So I did. A tip of the hat to him :-)

First of all, I have the FeedBurner going now, and I added a chicklet in the sidebar. Then I published my Atom site feed in a couple of places. Among others, I thought The Progressive Blog Alliance was a particularly apropos place.

I still have a lot to learn about RSS, but at least I finally got started. Just don't tell me it's "really simple."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fascism lives in the USA

Many have used the word "fascism" to describe the Bush administration. However, when they do, others write off such references as inflammatory rhetoric that is not based on fact. Let's take a closer look and see which position can be best supported.

First of all, look at the definition of the word. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
fas·cism: 2 a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control
The key words are "a tendency toward." This means a state does not have to be ruled by a dictator to be fascist. If the administration of the state tends to be autocratic, that's fascism.

Does the Bush administration tend to be autocratic? The 1,760 people detained in New York during Bush's convention recognize the GOP as being autocratic. Crowded into a filthy pier, the detainees were exposed to the frigid New York nights common in the autumn, some without needed medical care, and many without ever being charged with a crime. The conditions were so bad, a judge finally ordered the release of those held over 24 hours, although the police department refused to obey the order.

If that doesn't sound fascist to you, watch the video of a recent event in Utah. You'll see camouflaged "troops" trespass into a licensed and insured party and show. Dropping in from helicopters, armed with assault rifles, and firing tear gas, the police began kicking women and siccing their dogs on the men. The one thing the police failed to bring was a warrant permitting them onto the private property where the peaceful event was being held.

I'm sure Cyrus Kar considers the administration to be fascist. Iranians considered what happened to him so outrageous that they reported it in their newspaper. After all, this American citizen was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib for 55 days without being given his day in court. He was finally released without being charged for any crime (because the FBI cleared him of any suspicion). Even this former Navy Seal, known as being decidedly right-wing, was not exempt from the Bush administration's autocracy.

If you still think Bush believes in freedom, then scrutinize his idea of "free speech." Before any public appearance, Bush sends his Secret Service to set up a "designated free speech zone." What are these zones? They are the only place where peaceful protestors against Bush's administration are permitted to "publicly" express their discontent. While Americans are permitted to cheer him anywhere they please, those who want to jeer him are caged and roped off into small areas well away from Bush's -- and the media's -- view. Don't naively assume that all of the United States is a free speech zone anymore.

Sadly, the examples of fascism in our great nation these past five years could go on and on. However, it's not necessary to cite them all. The above events are sufficient to show that there is now a tendency toward strong autocratic control of Americans by our government. So, the next time someone tries to tell you we don't live in a fascist state, break out the dictionary.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


On Wednesday, Speaker of the House, Congressman Dennis Hastert (R-IL), said of New Orleans that, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Reinforcing that comment, when asked about spending billions of dollars to rebuild a city that sits below sea level, he replied, "That doesn't make sense to me."

Apparently, Hastert wanted to leave no doubt about his position on the issue. His statements are unambiguous, right? Wrong! Just a day later, Hastert issued a statement saying, "I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated." He added that his earlier comments were "not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt."

This begs the question: how does Hastert manage to stand upright without a backbone? His statements on one day clearly directly contradict his statements on the next. Hastert immediately buckled under political pressure. This is a perfect example of the classic political "flip-flop."

This weakness is shameful considering Hastert's original statements showed the marks of fiscal responsibility that his party used to stand for, but is conspicuously absent in the GOP the past five years. America is saddened by the tragedy in New Orleans, but why should it be compounded by spending countless billions of dollars to rebuild it in a location where it would be virtually guaranteed to suffer the same consequences all over again some time in the future?

Misplaced priorities

Even a major critic of the Bush administration like me is hard-pressed to directly blame the administration for the catastrophe on the Gulf Coast precipitated by Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, there's one aspect of this tragedy for which the administration can definitely be blamed.

The administration has its priorities all wrong. The costs for the Iraq War are approaching $300-billion. That's enough money to completely rebuild every bit of damage wreaked by Katrina and fully reimburse every American impacted by it for their financial losses. However, the Federal government won't be taking anywhere near this comprehensive a scope of the burden for the recovery of the Gulf Coast. It will say it doesn't fit in the budget. Yet, the costs for the Iraq War -- an elective war undertaken only because the president wanted it to happen -- are no problem for the Federal budget to bear?

Furthermore, money is not the only issue. Other resources are diverted away from the Gulf Coast by the Iraq War. We have 150,000 troops in Iraq, not to mention millions of pieces of equipment. Many of the troops are Louisiana's Nation Guard, which should be stationed in Louisiana to respond to homeland threats just like Hurricane Katrina -- that was the intended purpose of the states' National Guard programs, not to fight foreign wars. If they were not on the other side of the planet fighting an unnecessary war, there's no question that vast rescue resources could have been deployed to the Gulf Coast in much shorter order, saving thousands of lives which have since been lost.

Meanwhile, people are still stranded in attics in New Orleans, entire cities are completely flattened in Mississippi, and thousands of American refugees are without food, water, & medicine for nearly a week now. It wasn't until today that the situation in the Gulf Coast has turned from getting progressively worse each day to finally making some headway towards improving the situation, although the situation is still a dire catastrophe. And the major reason why help took so long is because the Bush administration's priority is the Iraq War, diverting vast resources away from the calamity here on our own shores and distracting Federal agencies' attention away from where it should have been focused this past week.