Saturday, April 29, 2006

Gimme a break!

As a hard-working, middle-class, single renter with no children, I have not qualified for the bulk of the tax breaks that Bush has carved out for the rich these past few years. My tax burden is pretty much the same now as it was when Clinton was in office -- actually, it's probably higher because my income has gone up a bit since then. Those of you who have enjoyed the good fortune of tax cuts courtesy of president Bush, don't make the mistake of thinking that they have in any way been distributed evenly among American taxpayers.

Now the Democrats are proposing some tax breaks. Again: I'm spurned! Senator Wyden and representative Blumenauer, both Democrats from Oregon, are introducing bills in their respective houses of congress which would give commuters who ride bikes to work between $40 and $100 per month in tax breaks.

I'll be the first to say that it's a good idea to ride a bike to work -- especially in these days of skyrocketing gas prices. In fact, I used to ride my bike 150 to 200 miles a week just to stay fit. That's less than the miles I commute every week for work. I love riding a bike!

However, now that I'm quadriplegic, it's simply not feasible for me to ride a bike to work. Even if it were possible to fix a wheelchair lift to a tandem bicycle, I'm certain the federal government would not provide me with someone to pedal it for me. Of course, that last statement was silly but there's a serious point behind it. The federal government must, by law, make all programs and services they provide equally accessible to citizens with disabilities. That includes tax breaks.

So here we are in times of record deficits and out-of-control government spending with the government trying to give Americans yet another tax break. Unfortunately, I would not get to participate in this one either. As long as the government is handing them out, I wish at least once they'd give me a tax break!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

From bad to worse

Have the failures of the Bush administration become so commonplace that they don't even make the major news nowadays? A year ago, I wrote about the war president Bush loses. No, not the Iraq war -- the war on terror.

Earlier reports by the State Department showed that terrorism had reached its highest point in decades. That was a colossal failure considering Bush had been waging his war against it for a couple of years. Surely things could not get worse, right?

As incredible as it seems, they have. The latest report shows that terrorism has reached an all-time high. In 2005, more than 10,000 terrorist attacks occurred for the first time ever. Bush's war on terror is only making things worse.

Don't buy his story that the fact that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on American soil for over four years shows that we're safer. After all, we had not been attacked on our soil for twice as long before the 9/11 attack. Although the first attempt to take down a World Trade Center tower in 1993 didn't bring it down, it did kill six people. More importantly, it showed that terrorists have been intent on attacking us on our shores for much longer than the eight "safe" years before 9/11.

It's clear that America was much safer from terrorism under president Clinton than it is now.

Friday, April 14, 2006

General disapproval

There has been general disapproval of President Bush lately. No, that's not a reference to his approval rating dropping into the low-30s. The Commander in Chief's generals have been publicly disapproving of his administration, of late.

Although he supported Bush for president in 2000, it's not news that General Anthony Zinni has been highly critical of him invading Iraq. Even before the invasion, General Eric Shinseki publicly disagreed with Rumsfeld plans for war in Iraq. However, these generals' brothers in arms have begun coming out of the woodwork the past week, expressing their own discontent for the Iraq war.

On Sunday, Time magazine published an essay called Why Iraq Was a Mistake. Written by General Greg Newbold, the essay expresses outrage at Secretary Condoleezza Rice's statement that the military has made thousands of tactical errors. The General was the Pentagon's top operations officer. His contention was that the errors were not tactical -- they were strategic, made at the very top by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. His harsh words included:
What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures. Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results.
On Wednesday, General John Batiste joined the chorus of criticism. The General commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Interviewed on the Today show, Batiste said that the administration's conduct of the war violated fundamental military principles. His position is that, "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork." He also made it clear that the timing of so many generals speaking out against the war now is not a coordinated campaign.

The latest general to speak out was the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq near the beginning of the war. General Charles Swannack Jr. even went so far as to lay the blame for the detainee abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison right at the feet of Secretary Rumsfeld. The General called for Rumsfeld's ouster in a CNN interview.

There is clearly widespread disapproval of the war in Iraq among the leadership of the military fighting the war. As you would expect, most of those still in active duty are keeping quiet with their opposition. Like good soldiers, after privately expressing their disagreement, they salute and follow orders in the end. However, many are becoming so disillusioned with the war that they're retiring and speaking out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It's official: George W. Bush is a liar

lie: to present false information with the intention of deceiving
The Progressive Zone is full of posts flat out calling president George W. Bush a liar. I regularly correspond with a circle of friends about political matters. As you might expect, I have also referred to Bush as a liar a number of times in those email discussions.

When I do, a friend of mine always responds that it's unfair to call the president a liar. It's not that my friend is a Bush supporter -- he concedes that many inaccuracies have come from the administration. My friend just believes that I cannot be sure that the president's deception was intentional.

Of course, I respond by saying that my friend is just not connecting the dots. There's a mountain of evidence that Bush is a liar. But even I have to concede that all that evidence was circumstantial. There was no smoking gun, so to speak -- until recently.

The Washington Post reports today that the Pentagon sponsored a secret fact-finding mission to Iraq
in early 2003. The mission was to investigate two trailers captured by US troops shortly after the invasion of Iraq that Bush claimed were "biological laboratories" and "weapons of mass destruction." The pentagon sent a technical team on this mission to validate that claim so Bush would be vindicated for the war.

The mission yielded a 122-page report that was quickly stamped "secret." The technical team reported conclusively that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons. Even though they had communicated their unanimous findings to Washington before the aforementioned statement by Bush, the administration continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories for almost a year. This is unequivocally a lie on the part of the president.

That wasn't the first smoking gun. During a discussion on the USA PATRIOT Act in 2004, Bush told America:
"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
There's no way this statement can be reconciled with Bush's now infamous NSA espionage program. Of course, Bush now claims he approved of the NSA spying on US citizens without a court order because it protected the American people. He asserts that the NSA only conducts warrantless wiretaps on conversations held by international terrorists. But that still directly contradicts his 2004 statement. Regardless, the latest news out just this month is the real picture of the scope of Bush's espionage program. It turns out that the NSA is doing wholesale spying on communications where both parties are domestically-based Americans.

No matter what contortion of logic you make, there's no way that either of these two statements by Bush could be construed as unintentionally misleading. These are unquestionably bald-faced lies.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The scope of Bush's espionage program

In 2004 during a discusion on the USA PATRIOT Act, president George W. Bush told America:
"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
After making that assurance, it must have been incredibly difficult for Bush to have to belie his word and approve the NSA to spy on American citizens. The mitigating factor was that the espionage was also being conducted over foreign terrorists. Therefore, even though he promised to get a court order before doing so, he decided that national security trumped his reputation for honesty. Any American chatting with al Qaeda operatives overseas deserves to be spied on anyway.

That said, Bush would never approve of spying on a phone call or email without a warrant when both parties in the communication are Americans, would he? Who better to ask than Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez. It turns out that Gonzalez was asked about that very issue during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee Friday. His response: "I'm not going to rule it out" that Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the US. Apparently, Gonzalez must have missed Bush's statement referred to above and was simply misinformed.

The best way to get to the bottom of this is to consider the wires that could be tapped. Let's look at the public statement made by former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, last week. He states that at the beginning of 2003, the NSA tapped in to AT&T's Internet backbone. From five different American cities, the NSA began "conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data." Based on his technological knowledge of the AT&T network, Klein does not believe that the NSA's spying program is limited to foreign communications.

How can we reconcile this new information with the statement Bush made in 2004? I'm afraid no amount of double-talk, diversion, and spin could possibly explain that away.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Talking out of both sides of the mouth

Everyone surprised by "Scooter" Libby's testimony to the Grand Jury please stand up. Now that everyone is seated, let's discuss the implications of that testimony. Libby claims that "the President specifically had authorized" him to disclose information in the (previously classified) National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to Judith Miller.

When the president authorizes disclosure of information, it is no longer classified. Does that exonerate the president of criminal activity? Perhaps it does on this one matter. However, it does not exonerate the president of extreme hypocrisy. Don't forget Bush's statement in September 2003: "if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."

With this clear stance against leaks from the White House, Bush should be declaring mea culpa and apologizing to the American people. Of course, after five years with this administration, America knows better. Instead, Bush trotted out his official liar, Scott McClellan, to hold a press briefing.

True to form, he diverted blame to those making "irresponsible and unfounded accusations ... against the administration, suggesting that we had manipulated or misused that intelligence." McClellan stated that declassifying the NIE "was very much in the public interest." That's right, he's claiming that disclosing sensitive intelligence to the press is the right way to combat public debate about the administration's shaping of intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

Under Bush logic, exposing a sensitive NIE to the press is the right way to respond to certain facets of the public discovering his perpetration of fraud against the American people. Yet, when someone in his administration leaks the existence of NSA espionage of American's phone lines and email that he approved, Bush claims that national security was put at risk, as if al Qaeda operatives would never have otherwise suspected that intelligence agents might be eavesdropping on their communications.