Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 27th, 2007

Excellent point by Kos: the problem isn’t Bush, it’s conservatism

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Via AmericaBlog, this post by Kos:

Bob Novak is the latest Republican to try and excise the Bush disaster from the Republican Party.

With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress — not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment […]

The I-word (incompetence) is also used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to cited a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI’s misuse of the USA Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. “We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,” one House leader told me. “How can we claim that anymore?”.

The problem, of course, is that they never claimed they were the party of better management. They claimed they were the party that hated government, the one that would shrink it small enough that it could then be drowned in a bathtub.

Republicans are in a bind — they want to disown Bush and throw him to the wolves. They want to blame him for all the problems they’ve had the past few years governing the country and save their own hides, but they still can’t find the strength to oppose his Iraq efforts. They are attached to his hip, yet they want to pretend that Bush is the cause of all the nation’s problems. Complicating things, they’ve had a governmental trifecta, so they don’t have their usual Democratic Party foils to blame. They’re on their own and isolated on this one.

But ultimately, Bush is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. The cause is conservatism. How can an ideology that holds as a truism that government can’t work, work? If Republicans ran the country smoothly and ably, it would lay waste to their claims that government is the enemy and can’t make people’s lives better. In that regards, Bush hasn’t been incompetent. He’s been wildly successful.

So yes, what we have just witnessed is the logical conclusion of effective conservative governance, and things would look the same way today whether we had President McCain, President Lott, President Jeb, President Romney, President Thompson, or whichever other anti-government Republican we slotted in.

This is what conservatives want for America. We’re seeing it in the most vivid of colors. Blaming Bush for doing exactly what conservatives wanted to the country would be like, well, blaming Gonzales for doing exactly what Bush ordered him to do.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 5:04 pm

“They didn’t mean to break the law”

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So if you ever go to trial, try that line as a defense:

The FBI didn’t deliberately break the law by improperly obtaining thousands of Americans’ phone, e-mail and financial records, Bureau Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

That was the good news. But then came the bad:

It happened, Mueller said, because of “mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance and lack of adequate oversight.”

Then came this line, which senators didn’t find reassuring either:

The FBI’s use of inaccurate information to obtain secret search warrants? The problem was “very lengthy documents . . . with thousands of facts.”

Mueller didn’t mention how the bureau also managed to lose weapons and laptop computers.

He was addressing a series of recent reports of FBI bungling – making the agency seem sort of like Homer Simpson, but with guns – notably an inspector general’s conclusion that the bureau had improperly used so-called “national security letters” that allow investigators to obtain private information without a judge’s approval.

Reports of those abuses – which the inspector general said could number as many as 3,000 – caused an uproar several weeks ago that’s since been eclipsed by another issue that has, for administration critics, far juicier political implications: the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

The FBI’s problems came, Mueller said, at a time of “significant internal transformation and unprecedented worldwide threats.” He added that that wasn’t an excuse but rather “overarching context.”

Committee members didn’t appreciate the context.

“I’m not impressed by your assertion that there are thousands of facts,” scoffed Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. “That’s the FBI agent’s job. . . . And if they’re wrong on the facts, they’re subjecting someone to an invasion of privacy, to a national security letter or to a search warrant that ought not to be issued.”

Even reliable administration ally Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Mueller that “any manager could say that if you don’t set up a compliance system, you’re going to have a problem.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 4:05 pm

Reasons why Carol Lam’s firing is suspicious

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TPMmuckraker lays them out:

Having spent some time digging into the administration’s stated reason for U.S. Attorney Carol Lam’s firing, it’s time to cleanse the palate with the reasons why we’re so suspicious.

So here we go.

— Lam was never confronted over her approach to immigration prosecutions, the given reason for her dismissal.

— In November, shortly before Lam was fired, a Justice Department official brainstormed about how to explain firing several U.S. attorneys: “The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DoJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts.”

— Lam was fired midway into a historic, wide-reaching public corruption investigation that targeted a number of Republican members of Congress and the executive director of the CIA. Even Karl Rove has acknowledged the reasonableness of not dismissing U.S. attorneys who are leading “high profile cases, important investigations” — though for some reason, this one didn’t qualify.

— Despite the fact that it was one of the highest profile federal investigations being undertaken at the Department, Lam’s investigation into Duke Cunningham and others is never mentioned in the Justice Department emails that have been released. Not once. This must have been discussed at the highest levels, but we’ve seen no record of those communications.

— The FBI’s bureau chief in San Diego has said, “I guarantee politics is involved” in Lam’s firing. When asked about the given rationales for her ouster (that she pursued corruption cases to the detriment of gun and border prosecutions), he responded “What do you expect her to do? Let corruption exist?”

— May 11, 2006, the day after Lam informed the Justice Department that she planned to execute a search warrant on CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo and the same day that it was reported that her investigation had spread to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Alberto Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote to a White House official: “The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

— On January 5th, 2007, less than a month after Lam had been told she was fired, but before it had been made public, Sampson wrote to his Justice Department colleagues, “… we granted 1-month extensions for [U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden] and [Western Michigan’s Margaret Chiara], but not Carol — right?” Lam was widely known to be leading a grand jury investigation into Foggo and others. Ultimately, she was granted a fifteen day extension, from January 31 until February 15; she ordered her office to bring the indictment against Foggo before she stepped down, and she succeeded.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 1:19 pm

Cheapest, healthiest staples to have on hand

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The Eldest passes along this list, with items to be purchased from bulk food bins when possible:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Potatoes
  • Canned spaghetti sauce (such as Del Monte canned spaghetti sauce; cheaper than sauce in jars, same taste)
  • Brown rice
  • Dried beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornmeal
  • Unpackaged greens (collard, mustard, beet, kale, spinach)

I would add blackstrap molasses (great source of iron), whole-grain cereal (rye, oat groats, kamut, spelt, and/or wheat) in lieu of rice, olive oil (both for cooking and salads), tofu, onions, garlic.

Because of my personal reactions (diabetes), I omit potatoes, rice, oatmeal (whole-grain better), and cornmeal (frozen whole kernels instead).

What do you favor?

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 11:27 am

Posted in Food, Health

Kevin Drum makes a very solid point

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The post that led me to the article below:

NATIONAL HEALTHCARE….A few days ago, during an email exchange with a friend, I mentioned that I don’t usually tout cost savings as a big argument in favor of universal healthcare. It’s true that a national healthcare plan would almost certainly save money compared to our current Rube Goldberg system, but I suspect the savings would be modest. Rather, the real advantages of national healthcare are related to things like access (getting everyone covered), efficiency (cutting down on useless — or even deliberately counterproductive — administrative bureaucracies), choice (allowing people to choose and keep a family doctor instead of being jerked around everytime their employer decides to switch health providers), and social justice (providing decent, hassle-free healthcare for the poor).

Today, the LA Times has a story that sits at the intersection of several of these issues:

Health plans offered by professional associations were once havens for millions of people who couldn’t get coverage anywhere else. But as medical costs have soared, groups representing professions as varied as law and golf have been forced to stop offering the benefit or been dropped by insurers.

….Although no one tracks association coverage to know how many plans have disappeared, the experience of Marsh Affinity Services is telling. A decade ago, Marsh, which brokers and administers the health plans, had 142 such clients. Today, all but three have shut down.

….Over the same period, the nation’s uninsured population, now estimated at 45 million, rose dramatically, fueled in part by the dearth of affordable options for the self-employed, experts say. Among uninsured workers, nearly 63% are self-employed or work in small firms, Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, told Congress recently.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. For obvious reasons, health insurers have never been eager to write individual policies, and even in most group policies it’s the employer who bears most of the risk. (If their claim rate goes up during the year, their premiums get bumped the next.) Even worse off are groups that allow its members the option of whether or not to join: they inevitably attract the sickest members in disproportionate numbers, leading to a “death spiral” that’s explained well in the article.

So today, with healthcare costs rising and the population getting older, policies for professional groups are becoming a thing of the past — and individual policies are disappearing along with them. And without that, a lot of people simply can’t afford to start up a company, work for a small business, or become self-employed. They’re stuck.

This is nuts, of course, but it’s inevitable in any system of private healthcare. It’s not that insurance companies are evil, it’s just that they’re in business to make money and you don’t make any money insuring sick people. The fact that these are the people most in need of insurance doesn’t matter.

But it’s still nuts. And that’s why we need national healthcare.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 10:39 am

No health insurance for the self-employed

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Via Kevin Drum, this LA Times story:

A major source of health insurance for people who work for themselves is disappearing, casting thousands of contractors, freelancers and solo practitioners into the ranks of the uninsured with little hope of obtaining new coverage.

Health plans offered by professional associations were once havens for millions of people who couldn’t get coverage anywhere else. But as medical costs have soared, groups representing professions as varied as law and golf have been forced to stop offering the benefit or been dropped by insurers.

More than 8,000 people with coverage through the California Assn. of Realtors could be next if Blue Shield of California succeeds with its plan to cancel the group’s health coverage.

“It’s a real stab in the heart,” said Marcy Garber, 62, an Encino real estate agent whose history of breast cancer makes her an almost-certain reject if she seeks similar coverage on her own.

Although no one tracks association coverage to know how many plans have disappeared, the experience of Marsh Affinity Services is telling. A decade ago, Marsh, which brokers and administers the health plans, had 142 such clients. Today, all but three have shut down.

Over the same period, the nation’s uninsured population, now estimated at 45 million, rose dramatically, fueled in part by the dearth of affordable options for the self-employed, experts say. Among uninsured workers, nearly 63% are self-employed or work in small firms, Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, told Congress recently.

Fewer than a quarter of 1,020 professional and small-business associations surveyed in February offer medical coverage, even though a majority of the groups said they would like to. The American Society of Association Executives, which commissioned the survey, views the issue as a crisis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 10:37 am

Posted in Government, Medical

Distorting the science on climate change

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Yet more evidence of the conservative fight against science:

Bush administration officials throughout the government have engaged in White House-directed efforts to stifle, delay or dampen the release of climate change research that casts the White House or its policies in a bad light, says a new report that purports to be the most comprehensive assessment to date of the subject.

Researchers for the non-profit watchdog Government Accountability Project reviewed thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from government whistle-blowers and conducted dozens of interviews with public affairs staff, scientists, reporters and others.

The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists’ efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.

The report is slated to be released tomorrow at a hearing before the House Science Committee, which is investigating the issue.

“The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration,” the group says in its report.

Some of the alleged interference — including restricting scientists’ ability to talk with the press and Congress — may have violated federal laws protecting their right to speak, the group concludes.

“Directives and signals” from White House offices, like the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, are handed down to political appointees and politically-aligned civil servants through off-the-record conversations, the report says. Frequently, those giving the direction have little or no scientific background, according to the report.

The alleged interference took the form of “delaying, monitoring, screening, and denying interviews” between government scientists and media outlets, as well as delaying, denying or “inappropriate[ly] editing” press releases conveying scientific findings to the public.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 10:26 am

Secret plan to gut the Endangered Species Act

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The GOP really hates this country. Now they’re taking steps that will wipe out endangered species:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

“The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act,” says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. “This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America’s most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction.”

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: “Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation.”

Many Fish and Wildlife Service employees believe the draft is not based on “defensible science,” says a federal employee who asked to remain anonymous. Yet “there is genuine fear of retaliation for communicating that to the media. People are afraid for their jobs.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 7:23 am

Yo ho ho for a Bay Rum morning!

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I used the Classic Shaving Bay Rum shaving soap this morning, lathering up with the Simpsons Persian Jar 2 Super. Great lather, and then went to work with the gold Merkur Progress. Fine shave. Wonder what blade is in there? Either a Swedish Gillette or a Feather, that’s for sure. Then alum bar and Dominica Bay Rum, at the suggestion of a commenter—and I will change the recommendations for the beginner kit based on that.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 7:11 am

Posted in Shaving

Who is this Monica Goodling?

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McClatchy provides the answer:

Monica Goodling, the Department of Justice official who said Monday that she’ll invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than talk to lawmakers, is a frequent figure in department e-mails released so far as part of the congressional investigation into the firings and hirings of U.S. attorneys.

Goodling, 33, is a 1995 graduate Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., an institution that describes itself as “committed to embracing an evangelical spirit.”

She received her law degree at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. Regent, founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, says its mission is “to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world.”

E-mails show that Goodling was involved in planning the dismissals and in later efforts to limit the negative reaction. As the Justice Department’s liaison to the White House, she could shed light on the extent of White House involvement in the dismissals.

Goodling took a leading role in making sure that Tim Griffin, a protege of presidential adviser Karl Rove, replaced H.E. “Bud” Cummins as the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Documents released to Congress include communications between Goodling and Scott Jennings, Rove’s deputy.

In an Aug. 18, 2006, e-mail to Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales’ chief of staff, Goodling warned of potential political problems with Griffin’s appointment and underscored White House interest in getting it done.

“We have a senator prob, so while wh is intent on nominating, scott thinks we may have a confirmation issue,” Goodling wrote.

At Jennings’ request, documents show, Goodling agreed to meet last summer with two Republican activists from New Mexico who felt that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias wasn’t doing enough to pursue allegations of voter fraud by Democrats. Iglesias believes the issue was a key factor in his firing.

In a June 20 e-mail, Jennings asked Goodling to arrange a Justice Department meeting for New Mexico Republican Mickey Barnett, who came to Washington with Paul Rogers, another GOP activist.

“It is sensitive – perhaps you should do it,” Jennings suggested.

“Happy to do so,” Goodling replied. A copy of her daily planner, which was provided to congressional investigators, shows that she met with the two the next day.

Goodling also appears to have been influential in preventing the ouster of U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert in western North Carolina. When Shappert’s name appeared on a list of targeted prosecutors in September 2006, Goodling recommended that she be left alone.

“There are plenty of others there to start with,” Goodling wrote, “and I don’t think she merits being included in that group at this time.”

Shappert kept her job.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2007 at 7:09 am

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