Saturday, June 25, 2005
The Progress Report
by Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Mipe Okunseinde and Christy Harvey
On October 26, 2001, President Bush said, "The elected branches of our
government, and both political parties, are united in our resolve
fight and stop and punish those who would do harm to the American
people." That was before the administration's unwise, unfocused and
unsuccessful approach to combating terrorism helped push Bush's approval ratings
to historic lows (http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob.htm) . Out of
answers, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove went back to his biggest
strength, political mudslinging
. On Wednesday, Rove said that "[l]iberals saw the savagery of the 9/11
attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and
understanding for our attackers (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8324598/) ." We
don't need an apology, we need a new anti-terrorism strategy.
1,382 DAYS AFTER 9/11 -- TERRORIST ATTACKS AT AN ALL TIME HIGH: By
objective measures, the Bush administration's approach to combating
terrorism is an abject failure. Last year "[t]he number of serious
international terrorist incidents more than tripled.
" According to State Department data, "attacks grew to about 655 last
year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003." How did the
administration respond? By halting the publication of the State Department report.
The year before, "the State Department retracted its annual terrorism
report and admitted that its initial version vastly understated the
number of incidents."
1,382 DAYS AFTER 9/11 -- OSAMA BIN LADEN STILL AT LARGE: More than
three and a half years ago Bush vowed to capture terrorist mastermind Osama
bin Laden " dead or alive
." He's failed. The administration wants you to think we are hot on his
tracks. CIA Director Porter Goss said he had " an excellent idea
(http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,160039,00.html) " where bin Laden
is hiding. Vice President Cheney said he had " a pretty good idea
(http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/06/20050623-8.html) of a
general area that he's in." Note to the Bush administration: close
doesn't count in terrorist manhunts.
1,382 DAYS AFTER 9/11 -- IRAQ WAR MAKING THINGS WORSE: According to the
CIA, "[t]he war in Iraq is creating a training and recruitment ground
for a new generation of "professionalized" Islamic terrorists
(http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0114-01.htm) ." An in-house CIA
think tank concluded that, since the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq has served
as " a training ground, a recruitment ground
In the poorly planned aftermath of the invasion "hundreds of foreign
terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders." There is a
serious risk Iraq is now " creating newly radicalized and experienced
jihadis (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0208/p06s01-wome.html) who return
home to cause trouble in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere."
1382 DAYS AFTER 9/11 - LOOSE NUKES: The Bush administration has
repeatedly asserted that nuclear weapons in the hands of our enemies is the
greatest threat to America
. Yet administration efforts to stop nuclear proliferation have been
lackluster. In May, " a monthlong conference to review the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty ended in complete failure.
(http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/05/28/news/nations.php) " U.S.
diplomacy was so anemic the parties "never engaged in a detailed discussion of
how to fix the gaping loopholes that many experts say have allowed a
resurgence in the spread of the most dangerous nuclear technologies." And
the pace at which we secured fissile materials -- the "gunpowder" used
to spark nuclear explosions -- in the former Soviet Union did not
accelerate after 9/11, according to a May 2005 study by scholars at Harvard
AN INDEFENSIBLE PHILOSOPHY: Rove said that after 9/11 conservatives "
prepared for war
." He's right. Immediately after the attacks Paul Wolfowitz and others
in the Bush administration prepared for war in Iraq
-- a country that, by the president's own admission, had nothing to do
with the 9/11 attacks (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3118262.stm)
. After years of deception, more Americans understand what happened.
That's why now most people think the war in Iraq wasn't worth it
(http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq.htm) and hasn't made us safer
. Now, Rove is desperate to create distractions.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:54 PM
Friday, June 24, 2005
A Painful Omission
Granted, covering annual meetings of big organizations is a big, boring job, and pretty much everything that happens is already in the presskit, just awaiting a few more quotes and a quick rewrite. But, by golly, there was some actual news percolating at the American Medical Association's annual meeting in Chicago, and practically everybody missed it. (Thanks to The News Blog.)
While the AP headlined "AMA to Seek Limits on Tanning, Video Games," The Chicago Tribune did a little better by telling its readers: "The American Medical Association voted Monday to put its weight behind legislative initiatives around the United States that would require pharmacies to fill legally valid prescriptions in the wake of recently publicized refusals by pharmacists opposed to dispensing the morning-after contraceptive."
But the problem actually goes well beyond that, reports MedPage Today in its story "AMA: Physicians Charge Pharmacists With Interference in Medical Care":
"It's not just contraceptives," said Mary Frank, M.D., a family physician from Mill Valley, Calif., during a discussion of the issue. "It's pain medications and psychotropics. And not only are the patients not getting prescriptions filled, but pharmacists are refusing to return the prescriptions and they are lecturing the patients about the drugs."
Excuse me? Pharmacists are denying patients needed pain relief and mental-health medication prescribed by their doctors? And nobody is covering this? Well, NPR did have a brief item, but I've been unable to find any followup coverage on either the veracity or the depth of the problem. Sure, chronic pain is significantly less sexy than contraception -- or tanning beds and video games, for that matter -- but it might actually be a little bit newsworthy. Ya think?
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:00 AM
Karl Rove's "Understanding of 9/11"
Mr. Rove, the first thing that I would like to address is Afghanistan - the place that anyone with a true “understanding of 9/11” knows is a nation that actually has a connection to the 9/11 attacks. One month after 9/11, we invaded Afghanistan, took down the Taliban, and left without capturing Usama Bin Laden - the alleged perpetrator of the September 11th attacks. In the meantime, Afghanistan has carried out democratic elections, but continues to suffer from extreme violence and unrest. Poppy production (yes, Karl, the drug trade) is at an all time high, thus flooding the world market with heroin. And of course, the oil pipeline (a.k.a. the Caspian Sea pipeline) is better protected by U.S. troops who now have a “legitimate” excuse to be in that part of Afghanistan. Interesting isn't it Karl that the drug “rat line” parallels the oil pipeline. (Yet, with all those troops guarding that same sliver of land, can you please explain how those drugs keep getting through?)
Now Karl, a question for you, since you seem to be the nation's self-styled sensei with regard to 9/11: Is Usama Bin Laden still important? Lately, your coterie of friends seems to be giving out mixed messages. Recall that in the early days, Bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive.” Then when Bin Laden slipped through your fingertips in Tora Bora, you downgraded his importance. We were told that Bin Laden was a "desperate man on the run,” and a person that President Bush was not "too worried about". Yet, whenever I saw Bin Laden's videos, he looked much too comfortable to actually be a man on the run. He looked tan, rested, and calm. He certainly didn't look the way I wanted the murderer of almost 3,000 innocent people to look: unkempt, panicked, and cowering in a corner.
Karl, I mention Bin Laden because recently Director of the CIA, Porter Goss, has mentioned that he knows exactly where Bin Laden is located but that he cannot capture him for fear of offending sovereign nations. Which frankly, I find ironic because of Iraq--and let's just leave it at that. But, when you say that “moderation and restraint” don't work in fighting terrorists, maybe you should share those comments with Mr. Goss because he doesn't seem to be on the same page as you. Unless of course, Porter is holding out to announce that Bin Laden is in Iran. (Karl, I want Bin Laden brought to justice, but not if it means starting a war with Iran - a country that possesses nuclear weaponry. The idea of nuclear fallout in any quadrant of the world is just not an acceptable means to any ends, be it capturing Bin Laden, oil or drugs. But, Afghanistan and Bin Laden are old news. Iraq is the story of today. And of course, it appears that Iran will be the story of next month. But, I digress.)
More to the point, Karl when you say, “Conservatives saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and prepared for war,” what exactly did you do to prepare for your war? Did your preparations include: sound intelligence to warrant your actions; a reasonable entry and exit strategy coupled with a coherent plan to carry out that strategy; the proper training and equipment for the troops you were sending in to fight your war? Did you follow the advice of experts such as General Shinseki who correctly advised you about the troop levels needed to actually succeed in Iraq? No, you didn't.
It has always been America's policy that you only place soldiers' lives in harm's way when it is absolutely necessary and the absolute last resort. When you send troops into combat you support those troops by providing them with proper equipment and training. Why didn't you do that with the troops that you sent into Iraq? Why weren't their vehicles armored? Why didn't they have protective vests? Why weren't they properly trained about the rules of interrogation? And Karl, when our troops come home – be it tragically in body bags or with missing limbs – you should honor and acknowledge their service to their country. You shouldn't hide them by bringing them home in the dark of night. Most importantly, you should take care of them for the long haul by giving them substantial veteran's benefits and care. To me, that is being patriotic. To me, that is how you support our troops. To me, that is how you show that you know the value of a human life given for its country.
For the record Karl, does Iraq have any connection to the 9/11 attacks? Because, you and your friends with your collective “understanding of 9/11” seem to be contradicting yourselves about the Iraq-9/11 connection, too. First, we were told that we went to war with Iraq because it was linked to the 9/11 attacks. Then, your rationale was changed to "Iraq has WMD". Then you told us that we needed to invade Iraq because Saddam was a "bad man". And now it turns out that we are in Iraq to bring them "democracy."
Of course, the Downing Street memo clarifies many of these things, but for the record Karl: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; there were few terrorists in Iraq before our invasion, but now Iraq is a terrorist hot-bed. America had the sympathy and support of the whole world before Iraq. Now, thanks to your actions, we find ourselves hated and alienated by the rest of the world. Al Qaeda's recruitment took a nose-dive after the 9/11 attacks, but has now skyrocketed since your invasion of Iraq; and most importantly, nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed because of your war in Iraq. These facts speak for themselves. (And, they speak very little about effectively winning any war on terror.)
Karl, you say you “understand” 9/11. Then why did you and your friends so vehemently oppose the creation of a 9/11 Independent Commission? Once the commission was established, why did you refuse to properly fund the Commission by allotting it only a $3 million budget? Why did you refuse to allow access to documents and witnesses for the 9/11 Commissioners? Why did we have to fight so hard for an extension when the Commissioners told us that they needed more time due to your footdragging and stonewalling? Why didn't you want to cooperate so that all Americans could “understand” what happened on 9/11?
Since the release of the 9/11 Commission's Final Report, have you helped bring to fruition any of the commission's recommendations? Have you truly made our homeland safer by hardening/eliminating soft targets? Because, to me rebuilding a tower that is 1,776 feet tall where the World Trade Center once stood seems to be only providing more soft targets for the terrorists to hit. Moreover, your support for the use of nuclear energy seems to be providing even more soft targets. Tell me, while you write your nifty little speeches about nuclear power, do you explain to your audience how our nuclear plants will be protected against terrorist attack or infiltration? What assurances do you give that nuclear waste will not find its way into terrorist's dirty bombs and onto our city streets? And, how do you assure your audience that the shipment of radioactive material will not become a terrorist target as it rolls through their own backyards?
To date, you have done practically nothing to secure our ports, nuclear power plants, and mass transportation systems. Imagine if the billions of dollars you spent in Iraq were spent more wisely on those things here at home. Imagine what sort of alternative energy resources (bio-diesel, wind power, solar power, and hybrid automobiles) could have been researched and funded in the past three years. Talk about regaining the respect and support of the world, that is the one way to do it.
Karl, if you “understand 9/11”, then why don't you understand that until we have a more environmentally friendly energy policy, we cannot effectively fight the war on terrorism. By being dependent on foreign oil, we have no choice but to cozy up to nations that sponsor terrorists. Moreover, because of oil, we may end up placing our troops and our nation at greater risk by having to invade certain oil-rich countries. Our invasion of these countries merely serves to inflame would-be terrorists by reinforcing their notion that we are gluttonous and self-centered -- invading sovereign nations solely to steal their oil. Forgive me Karl, but is that how you think you "win hearts and minds"? Does that help in any way to "spread democracy"?
Finally Karl, please “understand” that the reason we have not suffered a repeat attack on our homeland is because Bin Laden no longer needs to attack us. Those of us with a pure and comprehensive “understanding of 9/11” know that Bin Laden committed the 9/11 attacks so he could increase recruitment for al Qaeda and increase worldwide hatred of America. That didn't happen. Because after 9/11, the world united with Americans and al Qaeda's recruitment levels never increased.
It was only after your invasion of Iraq, that Bin Laden's goals were met. Because of your war in Iraq two things happened that helped Bin Laden and the terrorists: al Qaeda recruitment soared and the United States is now alienated from and hated by the rest of the world. In effect, what Bin Laden could not achieve by murdering my husband and 3,000 others on 9/11, you handed to him on a silver platter with your invasion of Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
Which leads me to my final questions for you Karl: What are your motives when it comes to 9/11 and are you really sure that you understand 9/11?
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:49 AM
ABC vs. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The Huffington Post
Last week ABC canceled a story about a dangerous chemical in child inoculations. Last night, the network broadcast a recut version of its original story that had been edited into a piece of industry propaganda.
ABC’s original program showed how the vaccine industry, working with public health officials from the CDC and the federal government’s Institute of Medicine (IOM), may have poisoned a generation of American children with the mercury-laced vaccine preservative thimerosal. ABC had made an exclusive agreement to air the story after reading early drafts of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s article on the thimerosal scandal which appeared simultaneously in Salon.com and Rolling Stone last Wednesday. ABC was to air pre-taped stories on Kennedy’s piece on ABC Nightly News and Good Morning America. The shows were reportedly “in the can,” having been thoroughly edited by “several layers” of ABC staff. The night before the scheduled airing, the shows were cancelled by high-level ABC officials. After a news item on the incident ran, ABC received hundreds of angry emails from the parents of autistic children demanding the show be aired. The network re-edited the show into an "industry" piece, trotting out a parade of scientists from IOM and CDC to denounce Kennedy and defend thimerosal. The most vocal of these, Steve Goodman, participated in the controversial IOM panel that exonerated thimerosal. ABC failed to identify his bias in the piece. ABC produced its in-house doctor, Tim Johnson, who used entire phrases pulled directly from an IOM press release. He ended by pronouncing IOM “impeccable.” ABC bracketed the Kennedy story with two advertisements from pharmaceutical industry sponsors.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:41 AM
BeNow All You Can Be
This week the Pentagon began working with a private company called BeNow to create a marketing database of Americans 16- to 18- years old. According to the Washington Post, the product being marketed to these kids, you will not be shocked to learn, is enlistment in the military.
It’s bad enough that the data that the No Child Left Behind Act requires high schools to compile are being provided to military recruiters, so that they can call kids at home and pitch them a swell career in the armed forces.
But this new database will contain even more information: birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, even what subjects the kids are taking.
So just as Amazon.com can send you an email saying that you might want to buy the new Anne Coulter book because you bought Mussolini’s memoirs in the past, now the Pentagon can pick off kids whose grades aren’t scholarship material and whose zip codes aren’t high-income, and paint a rosy picture of their future in uniform.
And that’s not to mention the identity theft issues. Imagine what a treasure-trove the BeNow database will be to hackers in Uzbekistan. The Pentagon, of course, assures us that all this information will be secure. But coming within days of our learning that 16 million American credit-card holders can kiss their privacy goodbye, the Defense Department’s promises aren’t very comforting.
Serving our country in the armed forces is a courageous and patriotic choice. But that’s not what this new Big Brother offensive is about. It’s about military recruiters failing to make their quotas, because kids don’t want to serve in a war they don’t believe in. It’s about none of the children of the chickenhawks and of the right-wing pundits in Washington enlisting, because war’s fine as long as someone else's kids fight it for them.
At the height of the Vietnam War, a raging issue was whether to permit military recruiters and reserve programs on campus. Today, the battle has moved to the high schools, and in a virtual world, no one can be kept out of our homes and our lives. Before we offer up the next generation on a silver platter to the war machine, shouldn't we be demanding that Jenna and Barbara Bush put in their time in Iraq?
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
China 'is more popular' than US
America's image is still so tattered abroad after the Iraq war that China is viewed more favourably than the US in many countries, a global poll finds.
Its image has not recovered in Western European countries, the US-based Pew Research Center found.
In none of the 16 countries surveyed, the US included, does a majority of the public think the war leading to Saddam Hussein's removal made the world safer.
But hostility towards the US has eased in some parts of the Muslim world.
"It's amazing when you see the European public rating the United States so poorly, especially in comparison with China," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which carried out the survey.
China is well considered in Europe and Asia, although there is considerable wariness about its growing economic and military power.
Solid majorities in every European nation except Turkey would not like to see China rival the US as a military superpower, the survey said.
A majority of the public in 10 of the 15 countries surveyed holds unfavourable opinions of the US.
President George W Bush's calls for greater democracy in the Middle East and US aid to tsunami victims in Asia have been welcomed in many countries.
"We should keep plugging away on democracy," said former Senator John C Danforth, who co-chairs the Pew Global Attitudes Project with former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
"But we need to do a better job of communicating what we're trying to do."
However, the survey finds that America continues to be viewed as largely indifferent to the interests of other countries in setting its foreign policies.
The US image remains relatively poor in Muslim countries like Jordan and Pakistan, but has bounced back in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.
In most countries surveyed, Americans are seen as "inventive" and "hardworking", but they are also seen by many in both Western and predominately Muslim countries as "violent" and "greedy" - a judgement with which many Americans agree.
The survey was conducted among nearly 17,000 people from 20 April to 31 May with samples of about 1,000 in most countries, with more interviews in India and China and slightly fewer than 1,000 in the European countries.
The margin of sampling error ranged from two percentage points to four percentage points, depending on the sample size.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:32 AM
The Sun exposes UK ID theft racket at Indian call centre
By John Leyden
An undercover reporter was able to buy the details of thousands of UK banking accounts, password particulars and credit cards numbers from crooked call centre workers in India, The Sun reports.
The paper says one of its journalists bought details of 1,000 UK banking customers from an IT worker in Delhi for £4.25 each. He was also able to buy the numbers of credit cards and account passwords. An unnamed security expert hired by the paper verified that the details were genuine. The information sold could be readily exploited by ID thieves to apply for credit cards or loans under assumed identities or to simply loot compromised accounts. The call centre worker bragged that he could sell up to 200,000 account details each month.
The Sun handed over a dossier on its investigation to the City of London Police. In a statement, the City of London Police said: "Unfortunately we have no jurisdiction to prosecute this in the UK. However we have passed information through Interpol to the Indian authorities and will be working with them to secure the prosecution of this individual.".
Amicus, the union, said the case highlighted possible data protection risks about moving financial services overseas. "Companies that have offshore jobs need to reflect on their decision and the assumption that cost savings benefiting them and their shareholders outweigh consumer confidentiality and confidence," Dave Fleming, senior finance officer, told the BBC
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 AM
Pro-Bush group's ad faults Democrats for criticisms they haven't yet made, about a Supreme Court nominee who hasn't been named, to . . .
A Premature Attack
Pro-Bush group's ad faults Democrats for criticisms they haven't yet made, about a Supreme Court nominee who hasn't been named, to a vacancy that doesn't yet exist.
A pro-Bush group fired the opening salvo - they call it "a warning shot" - in what threatens to become a multi-million dollar advertising and public relations campaign over a possible Bush appointment to the Supreme Court. The ad predicts "Democrats will attack anyone the President nominates," saying that " a Supreme Court nominee deserves real consideration, instead of instant attacks."
But this ad itself is an attack that goes beyond "instant" - it was launched without waiting for Bush to name a replacement for the ailing Justice William Rehnquist, or even for Rehnquist to say publicly whether or not he will retire as he is reported to be considering. And whether or not Democrats will criticize "anyone" Bush names can't be known for sure at this point - it may or may not turn out to be true.
To support its case, the ad cites editorial blurbs from Republican newspapers criticizing Democrats over their treatment of Supreme Court nominees in the past. But the ad fails to note that the blurbs were about the Robert Bork nomination fight that happened nearly 18 years ago.
The Republican group Progress for America released the television ad "Get Ready" on June 22. In a news release, the group reports that the ad will run through July 1 as part of a $700,000 effort to "warn opinion leaders in Washington, DC and beyond that some Democrats will soon unleash a fury of dishonest and ugly attacks about any Justice that President Bush nominates to the Supreme Court should a vacancy occur."
The group will air the television ad nationally on CNN and the Fox News Channel. In the Washington, D.C. area, the group plans to air the spot on MSNBC, CNBC, a number of Sunday morning political talk shows like NBC's "Meet the Press," and a local news channel. The group will sponsor banner ads linking to its www.UporDownVote.org site on the websites of several newspapers, including The New York Times and Washington Post, and blogs, including the Drudge Report and Instapundit.
What They Said
The ad begins by recounting some controversial statements from a pair of prominent Democrats. The quotes are accurate and only slightly out of context.
Howard Dean is pictured as the narrator says, "Republicans 'never made an honest living in their lives.'"
Dean's actual comments referred to "a lot of" Republicans and not, as the ad implies, all Republicans. Dean was speaking to the Campaign for America 's Future about election reform, arguing that long waits at the polls might discourage voters who can't take much time away from their jobs:
Howard Dean, June 2:The idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida , there's something the matter with that. You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or whatever and get home and still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote?
Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives. But for ordinary working people who have to work eight hours a day, they have kids, they've got to get home to those kids--the idea of making them stand for eight hours to cast their ballot for democracy is wrong . . .
That remark was too much even for some fellow Democrats. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said June 5 on ABC's "This Week" that Dean "doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric, and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats." And the party's 2004 vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, called Dean "a voice" that "I don't agree with."
The ad also shows a picture of Senate Minority leader Harry Reid while the announcer quotes him as calling President Bush both a "loser" and a "liar."
Reid originally called Bush a "liar" in 2002 after a speech that Bush gave about storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, saying, " President Bush is a liar. He betrayed Nevada and the betrayed the country."
Reid questioned Bush's truthfulness again in late April of 2005 in the midst of the battle over judicial filibusters in the Senate. In a press release, Reid said:
Harry Reid, April 5: Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.
Reid made another personal attack on Bush at Del Sol High School in Nevada on May 6, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Reid, May 6: The man's father is a wonderful human being. I think this guy is a loser.
Later, in an interview with Rolling Stone from June 2, Reid confirmed that he had called Bush both a "liar" and a "loser":
Q: You've called Bush a loser.
Reid: And a liar.
Q: You've apologized for the loser comment.
Reid: But never for the liar, have I.
The ad invites viewers to conclude that "the liberals" will make similar comments about a future Bush nominee to the Supreme Court. That, however, may or may not turn out to be the case.
The ad then turns to Democratic attacks on nominees of "past Presidents," while briefly showing images of Ronald Reagan and of Bush's father: "Some Democrats instantly attacked. Newspapers called some of these liberal attacks a 'smear,' 'dishonest,' 'ugly.'" The articles that the ad cites are editorials that ran in September and October of 1987 about then-President Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
It is true that the newspaper opinion pieces cited were extremely critical of liberal interest groups who were accusing Bork of being an extremist and a judicial radical. The Chicago Tribune lamented that "the campaign to smear him has become, quite simply, a disgrace." The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page similarly bemoaned that "none of Judge Bork's friends, including us, could believe that this dishonest, despicably anti-intellectual campaign could succeed against the nation's outstanding jurist." The Chicago Tribune said the Bork fight "has sunk to an ugly level."
Worth noting, however, is that the Tribune - a newspaper that habitually endorses Republican presidential candidates - also stated that the Bork fight wasn't the first such "ugly" nomination battle. It observed that Democratic President Jimmy Carter's nominee to the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Abner Mikva, "had a hard time with conservatives."
It has been almost 18 years since the uncommonly contentious and bruising fight over Bork's nomination. He was rejected by the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, by a vote of 58 to 42. Since Bork's ill- fated nomination, five other justices have been nominated and confirmed - Anthony Kennedy in 1988, David Souter in 1990, Clarence Thomas in 1991, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, and Stephen Breyer in 1994 - under both Republican Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The ad predicts that "Democrats will attack anyone the president nominates." Perhaps so. But that is, of course, an opinion. Democrats have criticized Supreme Court nominees in the past, but it remains to be seen whether - when there is actually a vacancy to fill - President Bush will nominate someone who Democrats might at least tolerate.
-by Matthew Barge
Howard Dean, Remarks to the Campaign for America's Future, FDCH Political Transcripts, 2 June 2005.
Greg Pierce, "Inside Politics , Washington Times, 6 June 2005.
Erin Neff, "Political rift could hurt state's Yucca fight ," Las Vegas Sun , 5 March 2002.
"Meet the Press," trans cript , 05 December 2004.
Harry Reid, "Bush Goes Back on Word and Encourages Irresponsible Abuse of Power," press release , 22 April 2005.
Erin Neff, "Del Sol High School Appearance: Reid Calls Bush 'A Loser,'" Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7 May 2005.
Eric Bates, "The Gunslinger ," Rolling Stone, 2 June 2005.
"The Disfigured Debate Over Bork," editorial, Chicago Tribune, 6 September 1987.
"Nuts," editorial, Wall Street Journal, 8 October 1987.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:21 AM
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Downing Street Is For Liars
Why aren't the media screaming about the latest proofs of Bush's
war scams? Don't you know?
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
This is the white-hot question right now gushing forth from many
on the Left, from progressive blogs and liberal patriots and blue
staters and angry anti-Bushers alike, and it is like a plea, a
rallying call, an indignant stomp of deep frustration. It is this:
Why are major American media not swarming all over the Downing
Street Memos thing? Why is the entire nation not just appalled and
disgusted and aghast at finding seemingly irrefutable proofs about
what we all already knew, which is that BushCo planned to invade Iraq
long before 9/11 and needed to find a way to justify it?
And, we now know, he was even willing to go so far as to rig the
intelligence and "fix the facts" and screw the U.S. economy and screw
any sort of exit strategy and screw the potential for lost lives and
let's just blindly stomp on in there and bomb the living crap outta
Saddam despite the undeniable pre-Iraq evidence that Saddam had zero
WMDs and that his nuclear program was "effectively frozen," and
despite how BushCo and the CIA and FBI and DOD and the Clinton
administration and your grandma all knew it?
This is what the infamous Downing Street Memos allegedly contain,
more undeniable proofs in the form of meeting notes with higher-ups in
Britain and the U.S., talking about the supposedly "dire" threat of
WMDs and nailing Iraq well before Bush was handed the tragic and
morose political gift of 9/11 to leverage and whore and turn into his
own personal Jesus.
And to be sure, the outcry from the Left is healthy and good and
appropriate and only now are a handful of newspapers and magazines
(you go, Newsweek) taking up the Downing Street Memo debacle, asking
slightly more inflamed questions of BushCo.
So then, why aren't U.S. media roaring more angrily about this?
Why aren't the major players up in arms and trumpeting banner
headlines and screaming for Bush to answer for his obvious and
plentiful crimes against the nation and the Earth and peace?
Answer: Because it's not really news. Not anymore.
Because, to be honest, what the memos actually reveal is not quite
as much as the Left wishes they did, and while they certainly do
reveal that Bush is a noted liar and distorter of fact and that we can
easily deduce that his snarling war hawks torqued the Brits into
complicity and mangled the U.N. laws and misled the American people
into war perhaps more deviously and violently than any administration
in recent American history, well, there is not a single thing in the
words you just read that most of us did not already know.
It's true. There is, unfortunately, nothing here that not already
been trumpeted to death by the Left, and therefore to try to trumpet
it all again as some sort of irrefutable revelation that should change
the face and temperament of the nation is sort of like beating a dead
horse we all knew was already dead but that is only now taking on a
new dimension of stink.
Look at it this way: The majority of the nation knows Bush lied
like a dog to drive us into an unwinnable (but, for his cronies,
incredibly profitable) war. The rest either refuse to believe it, or
they claim, with equal parts ignorance and blind jingoism, that the
ends (ousting a pip-squeak dictator who was no real threat to anyone
and who had been successfully contained for 20 years) justify the
means ($200 billion, 1,700 dead Americans, over 10,000 wounded and
disabled U.S. soldiers, countless tens of thousands of dead innocent
Iraqis, staggering economic debt, the open disrespect -- if not
outright contempt -- of the entire international community).
Here is the American cynic's view: It is almost too late to care
about the lies. It is almost pointless to scream and rant and point
fingers of blame. We all know who is to blame, and it ain't Saddam,
and it ain't Osama, and it ain't "terror," and it ain't our
"freedoms." Bush has driven us so deep into the Iraq hellhole it
serves almost no purpose to whine about the obvious deceptions and
blatant whorelike pre-9/11 machinations that got us here.
We are now, instead, focused on endurance. On gritting teeth and
getting through and getting the hell out of this new Vietnam Bush has
imbecilically driven us into, all while surviving 3.5 more years of
one of the most abusive, secretive cadres of warmongering leadership
in American history.
Oh, and rest assured, Iraq is indeed a new Vietnam. The parallels
are undeniable and mounting -- all the elements are in place:
staggering civilian death tolls, inmate abuse and torture,
international embarrassment, economic pillaging, executive impudence,
a vicious drive toward empire and power, a false sense of "victory"
and the overpowering sense we are so deeply entrenched in this
violent, chaotic quagmire, it will take many more years and many
thousands of more U.S. dead and countless more billions before we are
anywhere near stabilization.
But oh, you might cry (and this column might regularly wail),
shouldn't Bush be held accountable? Shouldn't he be made to answer for
these lies, these obvious abuses of power?
Answer: You're goddamn right he should. He should also be strapped
to an incredibly uncomfortable chair and made to look at the smoking
bones of ten thousand dead Iraqi children. But that's just me.
The lies that led us into this war are indeed staggering,
appalling, make Clinton's lies about his stupid little affair sound
like, well, a stupid little affair. As Dubya's tanking poll ratings
prove, even many moderate Republicans are backing away from calling
Iraq a success, or even a necessary action. And Dems have recently
begun demanding that BushCo develop some kind of exit strategy to
begin pulling out U.S. troops within a year.
BushCo's answer? No way in hell, bucko. Impossible. And why?
Because we are in way too deep. The violence is escalating, not dying
down. Every major U.S. general, strategist, policy wonk says we are
far too screwed to leave anytime soon. And "Mission accomplished" has
become perhaps the most tragic punch line to one of the most bitter
jokes ever told in your lifetime.
Let's just say it outright: Of course Bush deserves to be
impeached. But of course Bush will not be impeached, because
impeachment requires a massive federal investigation and an act of
Congress and the support of countless senators and representatives,
and right now the GOP controls Congress with a little iron penis, and
therefore any sort of uprising or scandal or suggestion of punishment
gets immediately slammed down or scoffed away or buried under an
avalanche of shrugs and yawns and neoconservative smugness. Isn't that
right, Mr. Gannon? Mr. DeLay? Abu Ghraib? Gitmo? Saddam? Et al.
BushCo survived the illegal sanctioning of inhumane torture. They
survived a gay male prostitute acting as a journalist. They survived
Enron and Diebold and the rigging of the first election and they will
survive Downing Street simply because all the people who should be on
the attack about these atrocities all work for the guys who committed
So then, the question is not merely when will the stack of lies,
of abuses become so high, so unstable, so inexcusable that the entire
nation finally takes notice and the whole house of cards comes
crashing to the ground in a big nasty soul-jarring spirit-cleansing
patriotism-redefining whoomp and smothers the whole lot of them, but
rather, can it be soon enough?
And to that question, we all know the answer.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 PM
Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
A divided Supreme Court ruled that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth conflicts with individual property rights.
Thursday's 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.
As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.
Local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community, justices said.
"The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including — but by no means limited to — new jobs and increased tax revenue," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.
He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
At issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for "public use."
Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.
New London officials countered that the private development plans served a public purpose of boosting economic growth that outweighed the homeowners' property rights, even if the area wasn't blighted.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.
The lower courts had been divided on the issue, with many allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.
"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," O'Connor wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."
She was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned in recent years, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the New London homeowners.
New London, a town of less than 26,000, once was a center of the whaling industry and later became a manufacturing hub. More recently the city has suffered the kind of economic woes afflicting urban areas across the country, with losses of residents and jobs.
The New London neighborhood that will be swept away includes Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances have been owned by several generations of families. Among the New London residents in the case is a couple in their 80s who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years.
City officials envision a commercial development that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.
New London was backed in its appeal by the National League of Cities, which argued that a city's eminent domain power was critical to spurring urban renewal with development projects such Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Kansas City's Kansas Speedway.
Under the ruling, residents still will be entitled to "just compensation" for their homes as provided under the Fifth Amendment. However, Kelo and the other homeowners had refused to move at any price, calling it an unjustified taking of their property.
The case is Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:04 AM
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
House Approves Flag-Burning Amendment
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
The House on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to ban desecration of the American flag, a measure that for the first time stands a chance of passing the Senate as well.
By a 286-130 vote — eight more than needed — House members approved the amendment after a debate over whether such a ban would uphold or run afoul of the Constitution's free-speech protections.
Approval of two-thirds of the lawmakers present was required to send the bill on to the Senate, where activists on both sides say it stands the best chance of passage in years. If the amendment is approved in that chamber by a two-thirds vote, it would then move to the states for ratification.
Supporters said the measure reflected patriotism that deepened after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and they accused detractors of being out of touch with public sentiment.
"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., said, "If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents."
The measure was designed to overturn a 1989 decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that flag burning was a protected free-speech right. That ruling threw out a 1968 federal statute and flag-protection laws in 48 states. The law was a response to anti-Vietnam war protesters setting fire to the American flag at their demonstrations.
The proposed one-line amendment to the Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." For the language to be added to the Constitution, it must be approved not only by two-thirds of each chamber but also by 38 states within seven years.
Each time the proposed amendment has come to the House floor, it has reached the required two-thirds majority. But the measure has always died in the Senate, falling short of the 67 votes needed. The last time the Senate took up the amendment was in 2000, when it failed 63-37.
But last year's elections gave Republicans a four-seat pickup in the Senate, and now proponents and critics alike say the amendment stands within a vote or two of reaching the two-thirds requirement in that chamber.
By most counts, 65 current senators have voted for or said they intend to support the amendment, two shy of the crucial tally. More than a quarter of current senators were not members of that chamber during the last vote.
The Senate is expected to consider the measure after the July 4th holiday.
The amendment is H.J. Res 10.
On the Net:
House of Representatives: http://www.house.gov
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:54 PM
Tribe Told to Reroute DeLay Checks
By ADAM NOSSITER
Associated Press Writer
ELTON, La. (AP) -- A casino-rich tribe wrote checks for at least $55,000 to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political groups, but the donations were never publicly disclosed and the tribe was directed to divert the money to other groups that helped Republicans, tribal documents show.
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now under criminal investigation, told the Coushatta Indian tribe, a client, to cancel its checks to the DeLay groups in 2001 and 2002 and route the money to more obscure groups that helped Republicans on Medicare prescription drug legislation and Christian voter outreach.
DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority and Americans for a Republican Majority never reported receiving any checks from the Louisiana tribe to federal or state regulators, their reports show. The donations, however, are recorded in memos and ledgers kept by the tribe.
"Enclosed please find a check for $10,000 to the Texans for a Republican Majority. This check needs to be reissued to America 21," Abramoff wrote the Coushattas in a May 2002 letter obtained by The Associated Press.
America 21 is a Nashville, Tenn.-based Christian group focused on voter turnout that helped Republican candidates in the pivotal 2002 elections that kept DeLay's party in control of the House.
Several months earlier, the tribe was asked to cancel a $25,000 check to Americans for a Republican Majority and to send that money instead in August 2001 to a group called Sixty Plus that helped Republicans in their two-year effort to get a Medicare prescription drug benefit through Congress.
People familiar with Abramoff's transactions with the Coushattas, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of ongoing grand jury and Senate probes, said Abramoff re-directed the checks at the request of one of DeLay's assistants.
The aide asked Abramoff to get the checks changed, expressing concern that donations from tribal casinos shouldn't appear on the rolls of DeLay's conservative political groups, the sources told the AP.
Don McGahn, a lawyer who represents one of DeLay's groups, said he had no immediate comment Tuesday. Andrew Blum, a spokesman for Abramoff, declined to comment.
Abramoff is currently under investigation by the Senate and a federal grand jury over allegations he and a colleague overcharged Indian tribes for their lobbying. Abramoff, whose ties to President Bush and DeLay are also under scrutiny, denies wrongdoing.
Kent Cooper, a former federal election regulator, said the transactions show how powerful leaders and special interests can hide money from a system that relies on public disclosure as its ethical safeguard.
"This shows how easy it is for interest groups, lobbyists or politicians to manipulate or redirect money into whatever avenue is dark and free of roadblocks, and the average person never sees any of it," Cooper said.
Tribal leaders who watched $32 million of their casino profits go to Abramoff's lobbying efforts now question why money they intended to benefit DeLay causes was often disguised or routed elsewhere.
"There's a pattern of trying to keep high profile entities out of the picture," Coushatta council member David Sickey said. "To me it tells me there's some effort at concealment."
The Coushatta tribe had hired Abramoff, a well-connected Republican lobbyist and fundraiser for Bush, to lobby in Washington on various pieces of legislation affecting their casinos such as the Indian Gaming Act, labor provisions and efforts to make it tougher to approve new gambling facilities, according to lobbying reports filed on Capitol Hill.
The tribe was flush with cash at the time from its booming casino.
Internal memos show Abramoff specifically advised the tribes when to send political donations and to whom.
Invoices show that among the charges was a $185,000 payment for use of a Washington arena skybox Abramoff leased. The AP reported earlier this year that DeLay treated some of his donors to a May 2000 performance of the Three Tenors opera singers in Abramoff's skybox.
A few weeks later, DeLay took a trip to Europe arranged by Abramoff. The House leader reported that the trip was paid for by an interest group, when in fact it was underwritten in part by Indian tribes.
DeLay has said he was never told that tribes bankrolled his trip.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Republican John McCain is set to examine the relationships between Abramoff and the tribes further at a hearing Wednesday in Washington.
In August 2001, more than a year after the skybox and European trip, the Coushatta tribe was told that a $25,000 check to DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority should be "voided and reissued" to Sixty Plus, the memos show.
Sixty Plus, based in Arlington, Va., says it is "often viewed as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)" and played a key role in advocating the GOP Medicare precription drug plan.
Later, one of Abramoff's assistants would ask the tribe to void and reissue a second check to ARMPAC, this time for $20,000.
"Jack Abramoff asked me to forward these checks to you that have been returned from the various groups because they need to be re-issued with either different addresses or names," the assistant wrote in April 2002.
A month later, the request came in to reroute the $10,000 donation from Texans for a Republican Majority to America 21, the Christian organization that works on voter turnout.
America 21 calls on Americans to "repent" and says September 11, 2001, showed "America has lost the full measure of God's hedge of protection."
A ledger entitled "Coushatta Requests" shows thousands of dollars next to the names of dozens of congressmen and political action committees, Democrat and Republican alike - though mostly Republicans. A tribal official said the "requests" were actually demands made by Abramoff.
Around a long wooden table, the Coushattas' new leaders are going through each invoice and memo, trying to get a grip on a financial disaster for their tribe.
The men who signed the invoices for Abramoff and his colleague Michael Scanlon are not at the table. They were thrown out of office in tribal elections over the last several weeks.
Hundreds turned out for the new leaders' swearing-in two weeks ago, and some Indians here say they look forward to a thorough housecleaning.
"We still haven't gotten to the bottom of it," said Verlis Williams, on his first day on the job at the tribal council office. "We have no idea of the extent of it."
Associated Press writers John Solomon and Sharon Theimer in Washington contributed to this report.
On the Net:
The documents cited in this story can be viewed at: http://wid.ap.org/inv/050621tribaldonations.html
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:14 AM
U.S. troops to stay in Iraq despite 'progress'
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite reported successes against the insurgency in Iraq, a top U.S. military commander said on Tuesday the United States was unlikely to reduce its 135,000 troops there before elections late this year.
"At this point, I would not be prepared to recommend a draw-down prior to the election, certainly not any significant numbers," Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters.
But Vines said significant reductions could begin early next year following a referendum on a planned constitution this October and a subsequent national election on a new Iraqi government in December.
Vines spoke a day after President Bush acknowledged the Iraq war was "tough" going. But Bush refused to back down from assertions that progress was being made.
With his popularity falling amid mounting casualties, Bush will spend the next few weeks defending the war and will make a speech to mark next Tuesday's anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty.
Since the United States formally turned over power to Iraq on June 28, 2004, more than 860 U.S. troops have been killed.
Vines said, "Since that time, there's been significant progress throughout the country."
More than 1,720 U.S. troops have died in Iraq and with 80 deaths, May was the deadliest month for American forces since January. The continued deployment of 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq also is putting strains on the U.S. military and the Army has fallen far behind in its recruiting.
Vines said the insurgency was fueled by foreign fighters from such nations as Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and was "driven in large measure by money." Ordinary Iraqis were paid from $150 to several hundred to plant bombs.
Bush has come under fire for an overly optimistic view of the war. Many have urged him to make a public acknowledgment of the difficulties facing the United States.
'AS BAD AS IT WAS'
The Democrats' leading foreign policy spokesman, Sen. Joseph Biden, warned on Tuesday that Iraq's disintegration is a "real possibility" and proposed a plan to try and salvage the U.S. military intervention.
In a speech, Biden said the insurgency "remains as bad as it was a year ago."
An influential Republican lawmaker, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, however, said the U.S. effort in Iraq ranked as a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being disaster.
"The key to it is telling the American people it's going to be long and it's going to be hard," McCain told NBC's "Today" show.
Vines warned that polls in the United States showing a majority of Americans now oppose the U.S. military presence in Iraq suggested "they don't have a good perception of what is at stake here."
"There is a bit of a complacency with elements of our population," he said.
Speaking as U.S. and Iraq troops moved against insurgents in Iraq, Vines said the insurgency currently appeared to be "static," neither shrinking nor growing.
"I don't have any reason to believe there is going to be a significant change in four months, absent a political breakthrough," Vines said. "I suspect we will probably draw down capability after the elections because Iraqi security forces are more capable."
He said U.S. forces could be cut by four or five brigades early next year. An average American brigade numbers about 3,000 troops.
Some U.S. lawmakers, including a few from Bush's own Republican Party, have called for a deadline to begin withdrawing American troops.
But the White House and Pentagon have rejected that saying insurgents would simply wait for a withdrawal and then renew their violence.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "much progress" had been made in Iraq in the past year.
"There will no doubt be frustrating delays and difficult setbacks. But let us not lose sight of the fact that all over Iraq today, Iraqis are debating nearly every aspect of their political future."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:12 AM
U.S. was big spender in days before Iraq handover
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States handed out nearly $20 billion of Iraq's funds, with a rush to spend billions in the final days before transferring power to the Iraqis nearly a year ago, a report said on Tuesday.
A report by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, said in the week before the hand-over on June 28, 2004, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority ordered the urgent delivery of more than $4 billion in Iraqi funds from the U.S. Federal Reserve in New York.
One single shipment amounted to $2.4 billion -- the largest movement of cash in the bank's history, said Waxman.
Most of these funds came from frozen and seized assets and from the Development Fund for Iraq, which succeeded the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. After the U.S. invasion, the U.N. directed this money should be used by the CPA for the benefit of the Iraqi people.
Cash was loaded onto giant pallets for shipment by plane to Iraq, and paid out to contractors who carried it away in duffel bags.
The report, released at a House of Representatives committee hearing, said despite the huge amount of money, there was little U.S. scrutiny in how these assets were managed.
"The disbursement of these funds was characterized by significant waste, fraud and abuse," said Waxman.
An audit by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said U.S. auditors could not account for nearly $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds and the United States had not provided adequate controls for this money.
"The CPA's management of Iraqi money was an important responsibility that, in my view, required more diligent accountability, pursuant to its assigned mandate, than we found," said chief inspector Stuart Bowen in testimony.
CASES OF ABUSE
Auditors found problems safeguarding funds including one instance where a CPA comptroller did not have access to a field safe as the key was located in an unsecured backpack.
Bowen's office has referred three criminal cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the past two weeks for misuse of funds. Bowen declined to provide details at the hearing.
In one e-mail released in Waxman's report with the subject line "Pocket Change," a CPA official stressed the need to get money flowing fast before the handover.
Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, a Democrat, questioned why so much money had to be transferred so fast.
Senior defense official Joseph Benkert said an infusion of funds was needed to address a wide variety of needs before the new Iraqi government took over.
Part of the challenge in tracking how money was spent was the cash environment and lack of electronic transfers.
Contractors were told to turn up with big duffel bags to pick up their payments and some were paid from the back of pick-up trucks.
One picture shows grinning CPA officials standing in front of a pile of cash said to be worth $2 million to be paid to a security contractor.
Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, a Republican, said the photograph disturbed him. "It looks a little loose to me," he said, of the smiling officials.
"I share your concern," said Bowen.
Citing documents from the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in New York, Waxman said the United States flew in nearly $12 billion overall in U.S. currency to Iraq from the United States between May 2003 and June 2004.
This money was used to pay for Iraqi salaries, fund Iraqi ministries and also to pay some U.S. contractors.
In total, more than 281 million individual bills, including more than 107 million $100 bills, were shipped to Iraq on giant pallets loaded onto C-130 planes, the report said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:10 AM
W. House rebuffs independent probe of Guantanamo
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday rebuffed Democratic calls for creation of an independent commission to investigate treatment of foreign terror suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
And Assistant U.S. Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin yielded to a drumbeat of largely Republican criticism and apologized for comparing U.S. interrogation methods at Guantanamo to those used by the Nazis and other repressive regimes.
"I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings," Durbin said in the Senate. "Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."
On the other side of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Democrats in the House of Representatives said an independent commission to investigate treatment of detainees was needed because of questions about the integrity of the Pentagon's probes and to prove to the Muslim world the United States had nothing to hide.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan countered that "the Department of Defense has taken these issues head-on and addressed them."
"They continue to look into allegations of abuse. People are being held to account, and we think that's the way to go about this," McClellan said when asked whether the White House would support creation of an independent commission.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California had earlier on Tuesday described Republican criticism of Durbin as an attempt to divert attention from sinking public support for the Iraq war.
Yet Durbin decided to try to end the controversy, saying, "I offer my apology for those offended by my words."
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and among those who had criticized Durbin, thanked the Illinois Democrat for the "heartfelt statement, one of apology."
"All of us, I believe, who have had the opportunity to serve in public life, from time to time have said things we deeply regret," said McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I believe we can put this issue behind us."
House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, among those who had criticized Durbin, said there was no need for an independent commission to investigate treatment of detainees. "This is strictly politics," DeLay said.
The military detention camp at Guantanamo has been criticized as a modern "gulag" by Amnesty International and it has become a hated symbol for many Muslims.
Earlier this month, President Bush left the door open to an eventual closing of the prison. Other top officials argued it should remain open.
Bush on Monday defended the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and challenged reporters to go and see for themselves.
Pelosi announced legislation on Tuesday that would create an independent commission to investigate. Advocates said the commission could be modeled after the one created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Democrats said they had 170 sponsors for the legislation, all House Democrats. Pelosi said she believed enough House Republicans would cross the aisle to pass the measure if the Republican leadership allowed a vote.
"Our national interest demands a thorough independent review of the detention system," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. "We need answers to basic questions. What happened? Who is responsible? And how do we move forward?"
"The Pentagon's internal investigations certainly do not meet this standard," Waxman said. "The resulting reports have contained conflicting conclusions and some have been little more than whitewashes."
McClellan said the detainees were "treated humanely" at Guantanamo. He called them "dangerous enemy combatants," sent to Guantanamo because "they are individuals who seek to do harm to the American people."
(Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:08 AM
Senate Republican balks at Bush's private accounts
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate Republican said on Tuesday President Bush had encouraged him to introduce Social Security legislation that omits Bush's signature proposal for private retirement accounts in a bid to break the legislative logjam.
Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah said Bush's preference was to have private accounts included in Social Security legislation. But the senator quoted the president as telling him: "I like your bill."
"The president is on top of this and is fully aware of what we are doing and is encouraging me to go forward," Bennett told reporters after a closed-door session with Bush and other Senate Republicans at the White House.
Bennett's comments suggested that Bush might be willing -- for now -- to move legislation that does not include private accounts in order to overcome Senate opposition to overhauling the Social Security system.
Bush proposed letting workers divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into individual accounts that would be invested in stocks and bonds.
Bennett said private accounts would be proposed in separate legislation that would be considered later.
The White House said Bush was not abandoning his private-account plan and urged Democrats to negotiate.
Polls put Bush's approval ratings at the lowest levels of his presidency, in part because of skepticism over his private-account plan, his top legislative priority. Bush has been shifting his focus increasingly to other issues, including the war in Iraq, the economy and Medicare.
Bennett said he hoped to introduce his Social Security bill as early as next week, and asserted that some Democrats had privately expressed an interest in supporting it.
"We have a lot of hope that we can use this bill to break the logjam and move forward on Social Security," Bennett said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said private accounts were a nonstarter. "Until the president and the Republican leadership agree that their misguided attempt to privatize Social Security is over..., Democrats will continue to refuse to enter negotiations," he said.
'NOTHING HAS CHANGED'
White House spokesman Scott McClellan played down Bush's comments to Bennett.
"Nothing has changed in terms of the president's belief that personal accounts are an important part of any solution," McClellan said.
"I think we need to deal with it all at once (private accounts and Social Security's solvency), and that's still our strategy and our goal," White House communications director Nicolle Devenish told CNN.
Another Senate Republican, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, plans to introduce his own alternative Social Security legislation that would avoid politically unpopular benefit cuts and tax increases but retain a private-account provision.
Congressional aides said House Republicans may unveil a plan on Wednesday similar to DeMint's.
The White House has shown increasing flexibility on its Social Security plan in a bid to attract support in Congress. The private-accounts plan faces stiff opposition from Democrats, and some Republicans are reluctant to support it for fear of a backlash in the 2006 elections.
"I've decided that the Democrats have made it clear they will not back personal accounts. And in response to the president's position that 'let's try to get something done,' I will be proposing a bill that does not include personal accounts," Bennett said. "The president is aware of that and he indicated that I should go forward and do that."
After the White House comment, Bennett said on CNN he did not want to "over stress the president's kind words as being a signal that he was more than willing to jettison personal accounts, because he never said that."
But Bennett said: "Let's see how many supporters we can get for a bill without personal accounts, and then we'll have the discussion about personal accounts later."
Although private accounts are not included, Bennett's legislation incorporates a proposal -- backed by Bush -- to slow the growth of benefits for middle- and upper-income workers by linking them to prices rather than wages. (Additional reporting by Steve Holland)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:03 AM
Lawmakers chide Pentagon over U.N. treatment
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers took aim at the Pentagon on Tuesday for hiding information from U.N.-mandated auditors about U.S contractor Halliburton, with Republicans calling it an embarrassment.
"This is a self-inflicted wound, a needless failure to meet transparency obligations," Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, told a U.S. House of Representatives panel.
The hearing was called to look at U.S. management of Iraqi funds after the 2003 invasion. An audit by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found the U.S.-led authority there could not properly account for $8.8 billion of Iraq's money.
Texas-based Halliburton -- run by Vice President Dick Cheney until the 2000 race for the White House -- was paid about $1.7 billion out of these funds to bring in fuel for Iraqis under a sole source deal its unit Kellogg Brown and Root had with the U.S. military.
U.N. auditors asked for a full accounting of Iraqi money given to KBR and documents were finally handed over after much wrangling but portions detailing potential overcharges by KBR were blocked out.
"It hid almost every meaningful number or reference to question an unsupported contract cost, the very matters of most concern to them and, frankly, to us," said Shays.
U.S. congressional committees, including Shay's Government Reform Committee, are investigating the U.N.'s now-defunct oil-for-food program and Shays said moves to hide or edit U.S. documents undermined the U.S. credibility in these probes.
Such moves also made it look as if the Defense Department had something to hide. "Sometimes, lawyers can get you out of jail but can make you look as guilty as hell in the process."
He added: "It really ticks me off. It seems senseless."
David Norquist, under deputy secretary of defense, said his department tried to be as transparent as possible in its dealings with U.N.-mandated auditors.
"It was our intent to see that (U.N. auditors) received as full an answer as possible, consistent with the law," said Norquist.
Defense Department officials at the hearing, who were chastised for not preparing written testimony, said lawyers had advised them the KBR information was proprietary and could not be released to the public.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which was in charge of the KBR contract, said KBR made all the redactions and all of these were accepted by the Defense Department.
KBR spokeswoman Cathy Mann said the criticism of the company was unfounded, adding any claims that figures in these audit reports were overcharges are "flat-out wrong."
"These redactions were ultimately reviewed and evaluated by KBR's customer and some were accepted and some were over-ruled. KBR plays no role in this decision-making process," she said.
The Democrats asked the Republican-run committee to subpoena the Pentagon to hand over all records relating to who made the decision to redact the documents and why.
Democrats have in the past accused Halliburton of being given favorable treatment in Iraq because of the company's former ties to Cheney.
Shays, who chaired the hearing, gave the Pentagon until Monday to hand over the documents or face a subpoena.
Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich from Ohio said the United States should look at its own record.
"Through systematic mismanagement, a lack of transparency, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has discredited the United States," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:02 AM
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
A Flicker Away From a Blackout
Canadian Engineers Say Rare Glitch Suggests Ongoing Threat to Power
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 21, 2005; A15
TORONTO -- At 4:15 p.m. on May 27, the lights flickered across Ontario.
Subway cars in Toronto rolled to a stop while safety signals were
reset. Pizza oven doors flew open on the ground floor of the city's
landmark CN Tower. Cement and steel plants paused while machinery was
restarted. Tens of thousands of computers automatically shut down and
Hydro One, the Toronto-based electric utility, quickly issued a press
statement seeking to reassure the public that the utility's
"equipment protection worked as designed to isolate the fault."
In fact, the situation was much more tenuous. The power blip involved
an extremely rare, still unexplained failure of two protection
systems, according to internal documents of the utility, reports to
oversight agencies and eight engineers. The eight are part of a group
that has been on strike since June 6. By their accounts, the failure
brought the region's power grid to the verge of a blackout like the
one that struck on Aug. 14, 2003, plunging 50 million people in the
United States and Canada into darkness.
"It was very bizarre, very disconcerting. And we may have a major
problem on our hands," said engineer Aaron Cooperberg.
He and other engineers said that because they are striking, the
precise cause of the malfunction has not been identified, and they
say it could happen again. "Fundamentally, we had a very close call,
and we don't know why," said another engineer, one of three who asked
not to be identified, saying they feared retaliation by the company.
The electrical grid handled by Hydro One, which has 17,000 miles of
high-power electric transmission lines throughout Ontario, managed
the blip "very well," said Peter Gregg, vice president for corporate
communications at the utility. Much of its cause is still not
understood and under investigation, he said, and "we continue to be
disappointed with the striking staff who seem to want to scaremonger
on this incident."
Striking engineers said they were not seeking to pressure the company
as part of their labor dispute. They said they were speaking out
because they were worried that a threat remains to a power system
they care about. "We're not pointing fingers," said one. "This isn't
about a strike. It's about reliability of the system."
The May 27 incident set power generators in New York, Massachusetts,
New Brunswick and Ontario swinging in wild oscillation, fighting one
another to try to cope, according to official reports filed with
oversight authorities in Canada and the United States.
The competition among generators produced what experts call a "ring"
on the grid. According to an internal company document submitted to
regulators, "the ringing lasted about 12 seconds." Computer
simulations showed that "the oscillations can grow with time and
result in the breakup of the power system in about 30 seconds," the
internal document noted.
The industry oversight agencies have not yet publicly drawn any
conclusions from the event. Edward Schwerdt, head of the Northeast
Power Coordinating Council, which reviews the system's grids in New
York, New England and eastern Canada, said the May 27 event was an
"extreme contingency" but that no additional precautions to prevent a
recurrence are being taken until an inquiry is complete.
An official of the U.S.-Canada oversight agency, called the North
American Electric Reliability Council, also said they are awaiting a
report. "We could see a change in the system frequency on the
continent. We knew that something big had happened," said Glenn
Brown, who heads a disturbance analysis group for the council. He
compared the irregularity to one that blacked out all of
Jacksonville, Fla., in April 2002.
Two outside experts cited by the strikers confirmed their concerns.
"This had the potential of cascading into a big blackout," said
Puttaveeraiah Prabhakara, an electrical engineering expert in Toronto
who has written standards for electrical grid protection that have
been adopted worldwide.
The symptoms "were indications of a weak system," said Claudio
Canizares, a power systems specialist at the University of Waterloo
in Ontario. "This is a serious concern."
Sixty-six striking engineers sent a petition to Parliament expressing
their concerns. Their affiliated union, the International Federation
of Professional and Technical Engineers, said it would appeal to
lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday to investigate dangers to the
The system was "a mere 20 seconds from reaching the proportion of the
August, 2003 blackout," Gregory J. Junemann, the union president,
said in a letter to members of Congress.
The problem began after routine maintenance of a huge circuit breaker
at switching substation in Milton, Ontario, 30 miles west of Toronto.
The company, engineers and regulators agree that when the work was
completed, the breaker was inadvertently left switched to a grounded
"test" position. When an operator at the Ontario Grid Control Center
in Barrie threw the switch to resume flow of electricity, it was
diverted into the ground, causing a massive short circuit in a line
carrying 500,000 volts.
Immediately, the protection systems -- high-tech, computerized
circuit breakers -- stopped power to the line that was erroneously
grounded at Milton. That is supposed to happen within 50
milliseconds. Instead, it took about 150 milliseconds -- three times
as long -- leaving massive strain on the system, according to David
McGinn, 54, a senior protection and control specialist for the
utility who has joined the strike.
"We don't design the system for that," said McGinn. "It did survive,
but just by good luck."
It was a "significant shock to the system," said Schwerdt of the
Northeast Power Coordinating Council.
Then, the protection systems for two other massive power-carrying
lines, stretching eight miles to the Trafalgar substation and 20
miles to the Claireville substation, inexplicably tripped, causing
both those 500,000-volt superhighways for power transmission to shut
down, according to the engineers.
Within milliseconds, generators across New York, Massachusetts and
eastern Canada reacted, first accelerating due to the loss of load,
then automatically decelerating to compensate. There were four major
swings before the system stabilized, according to reports filed with
the Northeast Power Coordinating Council.
"We were lucky," said Emeka Okongwu, 61, an operating engineer. Had
the weather been hot that day, said Okongwu, who is also on strike,
the additional strain on the system would likely have produced a
domino effect of failing lines.
This type of cascading from an initial local problem at a power plant
in Ohio caused the huge 2003 blackout in just nine seconds, according
to a U.S.-Canada Task Force report. That failure stranded millions of
office workers and commuters from Pennsylvania to Boston and Toronto.
It left Cleveland without water, shut down 22 nuclear plants, caused
60 fires, required 800 elevator rescues in New York City and cost
businesses billions of dollars.
The May 27 glitch, Cooperberg said, has left him nervous. "If another
line had failed, we would have been in the soup."
"Obviously, that did not happen," said Gregg, of Hydro One. "The
system is robust and resilient and managed this fault very well. An
investigation certainly will give us and all interested parties a
more fulsome answer."
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:33 PM
Is this how we support the troops?
Memo to supporters of George W. Bush: Before you slap another red,
white and blue magnetic ribbon on the rear end of your SUV, why not
take a moment to read a new report from the Marine Corps' inspector
general? It might give you a whole new sense of what it means to
"support the troops" -- and how the current administration isn't doing
According to today's Boston Globe
that U.S. Marines assigned to fight in some of the most dangerous parts
of Iraq haven't been provided the weapons, communications gear or
vehicles they need. The inspector general says that "all" Marine units
currently fighting in Iraq "require ground equipment that exceeds" what
they've got, "particularly in mobility, engineering, communications and
The Humvee problem is apparently particularly acute. According to the
Globe, the inspector general found that a quarter of the Humvees
assigned to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force lack the armor needed
to protect against roadside bombs. And the Humvees that have been
retrofitted with armor are wearing out faster than they should because
they weren't designed to carry so much weight.
But it's not just Humvees. The Globe says that the inspector general
found that all -- all -- of the tanks the Marines are using in Iraq
have "passed the normal criteria for replacing them." The Marines need
more .50-caliber machine guns, more M240G machine guns, more MK19
machine guns and more and better communications equipment, too, the
inspector general found.
The report will be the subject of a House Armed Services Committee
hearing today, but its contents are probably old news for parents of
some Marines -- people who have come to understand that "supporting the
troops" sometimes means ponying up the money themselves for military
equipment their kids will need in Iraq.
The Arizona Republic
the weekend: As Marine Pfc. Jeremy Tod prepared to ship out to Iraq
recently, he called home to tell his folks that his superiors were
urging him and his fellow Marines to buy their own armor-plated flak
jackets, knee and elbow pads, special ballistic goggles, a "drop pouch"
to hold ammunition, a load-bearing vest and a Camelbak water carrier.
"We're supposed to have a professional army, the best in the world,"
Tod's father told the newspaper. "And we're not providing them with the
type of gear they need to protect themselves as they do their jobs."
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:32 PM
Public Broadcasting Monitor Had Worked at Center Founded by Conservatives
By STEPHEN LABATON
WASHINGTON, June 20 - A researcher retained secretly by the chairman of
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to monitor the "Now" program
with Bill Moyers for political objectivity last year, worked for 20
years at a journalism center founded by the American Conservative Union
and a conservative columnist, an official at the journalism center said
The decision by the chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, to retain the
researcher, Fred Mann, without the knowledge of the corporation's
board, to report on the political leanings of the guests of "Now" is
one of several issues under investigation by the corporation's
At the request of two Democratic lawmakers, investigators are examining
whether Mr. Tomlinson has violated any rules as he has sought, he says,
to ensure that public television and radio provide greater program
His critics, including some lawmakers and executives of public
broadcasting, say he has sought to tilt the corporation, which provides
$400 million to radio and television stations and producers, toward a
One of Mr. Tomlinson's Democratic critics, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
of New Jersey, called on him to resign on Monday.
"As a result of your recent attempts to inject partisan politics into
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I am writing to urge you to
step down as chairman," Mr. Lautenberg wrote. "Your conduct has
undermined the C.P.B. and its mission of quality public broadcasting
free of political interference. Under current circumstances, with
investigations of your conduct pending, it is hardly possible for you
to effectively carry out your duties as chairman of the C.P.B."
Mr. Tomlinson issued a statement saying he would not resign. "While I
respect Senator Lautenberg's strongly held views on this subject, I see
no reason to step down from the chairmanship," he said. "I am confident
that the inspector general's report will conclude that all of my
actions were taken in accordance with the relevant rules and
On Monday the board interviewed candidates for the position of
president. The vacancy was created by the resignation of Kathleen Cox,
who stepped down in April after the board did not renew her contract.
Mr. Tomlinson has said his top choice for the job is Patricia Harrison,
an assistant secretary of state and a former co-chairwoman of the
Republican National Committee. He has said that Ms. Harrison would have
strong credibility with the White House and with Republicans in
Congress, some of whom are threatening to cut the corporation's budget
Public television and radio stations have opposed that choice, saying
it would further inject politics into public broadcasting at precisely
the wrong time. The three Democratic and independent members of the
board oppose her selection, board members said, as do some
Until last year, Mr. Mann worked at the National Journalism Center,
which for the last few years has been run by the Young America's
Foundation. The foundation describes itself on its Web site as "the
principal outreach organization of the conservative movement" and as
being committed to the ideas of "individual freedom, a strong national
defense, free enterprise and traditional values."
The Young America's Foundation shares some top officials with its
politically active counterpart, Young Americans for Freedom, although
the two are separate entities.
The National Journalism Center was founded in 1977 by the American
Conservative Union and M. Stanton Evans, a syndicated columnist.
Mark LaRochelle, a top official at the National Journalism Center, said
Mr. Mann told him last year that he was working on the Moyers project
for the broadcasting corporation. He said Mr. Mann had run the alumni
relations, job bank and internship program at the center, where he got
to know Mr. Tomlinson. While Mr. Mann worked at the National Journalism
Center, he helped place interns in the Washington bureau of Reader's
The editor in chief of Reader's Digest at the time was Mr. Tomlinson,
and its top editor in its Washington bureau was a friend of Mr.
Tomlinson's, William Schulz. In April, Mr. Tomlinson persuaded the
board of the corporation to appoint Mr. Schulz to be one of two
ombudsmen to monitor public radio and television for objectivity.
There was no response on Monday to voice messages and e-mail messages
left for Mr. Mann.
Mr. Moyers has been a source of agitation for Mr. Tomlinson and other
conservatives. They say that "Now" under Mr. Moyers (who left the show
last year and was replaced by David Brancaccio) was consistently
critical of Republicans and the Bush administration.
Last week Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said that
in response to a request, Mr. Tomlinson sent data from Mr. Mann's
Mr. Dorgan said that data concluded in one episode of "Now" that
Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, was a "liberal" because he
questioned the White House policy on Iraq and that a second "Now"
segment on financial waste at the Pentagon was "anti-Defense." Mr.
Hagel is known as a mainstream conservative member of the Senate and a
maverick who has at times been critical of the Bush administration.
The inspector general at the corporation is now looking at steps taken
by Mr. Tomlinson to ensure what he calls greater balance in
programming, including his decision to approve $14,170 in payments to
Mr. Mann without the knowledge of the corporation's board.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:00 PM
The New York Times
June 21, 2005
Black Market in Stolen Credit Card Data Thrives on Internet
By TOM ZELLER Jr.
"Want drive fast cars?" asks an advertisement, in broken English, atop the Web site iaaca.com. "Want live in premium hotels? Want own beautiful girls? It's possible with dumps from Zo0mer." A "dump," in the blunt vernacular of a relentlessly flourishing online black market, is a credit card number. And what Zo0mer is peddling is stolen account information - name, billing address, phone - for Gold Visa cards and MasterCards at $100 apiece.
It is not clear whether any data stolen from CardSystems Solutions, the payment processor reported on Friday to have exposed 40 million credit card accounts to possible theft, has entered this black market. But law enforcement officials and security experts say it is a safe bet that the data will eventually be peddled at sites like iaaca.com - its very name a swaggering shorthand for International Association for the Advancement of Criminal Activity.
For despite years of security improvements and tougher, more coordinated law enforcement efforts, the information that criminals siphon - credit card and bank account numbers, and whole buckets of raw consumer information - is boldly hawked on the Internet. The data's value arises from its ready conversion into online purchases, counterfeit card manufacture, or more elaborate identity-theft schemes.
The online trade in credit card and bank account numbers, as well as other raw consumer information, is highly structured. There are buyers and sellers, intermediaries and even service industries. The players come from all over the world, but most of the Web sites where they meet are run from computer servers in the former Soviet Union, making them difficult to police.
Traders quickly earn titles, ratings and reputations for the quality of the goods they deliver - quality that also determines prices. And a wealth of institutional knowledge and shared wisdom is doled out to newcomers seeking entry into the market, like how to move payments and the best time of month to crack an account.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that roughly 10 million Americans have their personal information pilfered and misused in some way or another every year, costing consumers $5 billion and businesses $48 billion annually.
"There's so much to this," said Jim Melnick, a former Russian affairs analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now the director of threat development at iDefense, a company in Reston, Va., that tracks cybercrime. "The story that needs to be told is the larger, long-term threat to the American financial industry. It's a cancer. It's not going to kill you now, but slowly, over time."
No one is willing to estimate how many cards and account numbers actually make it to the Internet auction block, but law enforcement agents consistently describe the market as huge. Every day, at sites like iaaca.com and carderportal.org, pseudonymous vendors do business in an arcane slurry of acronyms.
"Cobs," or changes of billings, are a hot commodity. Typically, a peddler of cobs is offering fresh bank or credit card accounts, along with the ability to change the billing address through a pilfered PIN. In other cases, a vendor selling cobs is offering to change billing addresses himself, as a service. Sometimes the address is changed to a safe "drop," which might be an empty apartment in a local building, or some other scouted locale where goods can be delivered. (Information on reliable drops is also bought and sold.)
Lengthy tutorials posted at online "carding" forums indicate that the cob art form is highly developed. A patient criminal will wait until the day a victim receives a billing statement. "That way you have a full 30 days" before the victim is likely to look over his account again, explained one frank tutorial collected by the F.B.I.
A user going by the name "mindtrip" had cobs for sale recently: "I'm selling cobs from at this time only banks Discover and American Express t'ill further notice," he wrote in brusque English. "The cobs come with full info including MMN" (mother's maiden name). Discover Card cobs with any balance were on special: $50. American Express, a more exclusive and potentially more lucrative account, commanded $85.
Alongside advertisements for cobs are pitches from malicious-code writers, who sell their services to the con artists, known as phishers, who contract with spammers to send out millions of increasingly sophisticated phony e-mails designed to lure victims into revealing their account information.
A successful phishing operation might bring in thousands of fresh account numbers, along with other identifying details: names, addresses, phone numbers, passwords, PIN's, and mothers' maiden names. The richer the detail (and the higher the account balance), the better the asking price.
A user by the nickname Sirota is peddling account information so detailed, and so formatted, that it clearly came from a credit report. He is asking $200 per dump on accounts with available balances above $10,000, with a minimum order of five if the buyer wants accounts associated with a particular bank. "Also, I can provide dumps with online access," he wrote. "The price of such dumps is 5% of available credit."
Every day brings more. "These things have a short shelf life," said Dan Larkin, the unit chief at the F.B.I.'s Internet Crime Complaint Center in West Virginia. "The criminal value of a compromised credit card is very short term, so there's a constant need to keep backfilling their resources."
A Full-Service Black Market
Those buying fresh batches of account numbers may try to make purchases online, having goods delivered to a drop and then fencing them through online auctions.
More sophisticated thieves will seek out a vendor of encoding devices, and others who sell "plastic," or blank credit cards, and "algos," algorithms that are needed to properly encode the magnetic strip and produce a usable card. And "cash out" services can be arranged with those offering to take the encoded plastic to a cash machine and make daily withdrawals until the account is depleted. (The cash-out risk commands a premium - often 50 percent or more of the total balance.)
Traders - whether they deal in plastic, algos, cobs or other booty - build reputations first by earning the right to advertise, and then, in a black-market version of eBay buyer feedback, augment their status by receiving published kudos from other members. No one is permitted to post product or service offers at most of these Web sites without first having their wares vetted by site administrators, or by those who have been selected as trusted "reviewers."
At iaaca.com, for example, those wishing to sell cobs or cob services "will be required to provide ten (10) change of addresses, to be distributed to two reviewers," who "will test this service by either phone or Internet." New vendors of credit card numbers "will be required to furnish 20 VALID dumps (5 Classics, 5 business, 5 platinums, 5 corporate; 50 percent Visa, 50 percent MasterCard)," according to the site administrators. "The testers will determine the quality, in a percentage of valid numbers."
Once the wares are vetted, a vendor might then pay a fee to peddle them on a site's message boards. Banner ads can also be purchased.
Contacts among deal makers almost always move off the boards and onto ICQ, the instant-messaging program of choice among cyberthieves because of its easy anonymity (no names, no registration, no e-mail required). Payments often change hands in relative anonymity (and with little regulation) by e-gold, an electronic currency that purports to be backed by gold bullion and issued by e-gold Ltd., a company incorporated on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. (Secret Service agents have expressed skepticism over the gold backing.)
Transactions might also be made in WMZ's, electronic monetary units equivalent to American dollars and issued by WebMoney Transfer, a company based in Moscow.
Plenty of noncriminal entities use such services to move money, Secret Service analysts said - although they added that the agency had conversations with some of the e-currency issuers to discuss ways to address the problem.
Thefts at Data Aggregators
Mark Rasch, the former head of cyberinvestigations for the Justice Department and now the senior vice president of Solutionary, a computer security company, said the numbers taken in the CardSystems breach - at least 200,000 are said to have been in stolen files - are almost certain to end up in one of these trading posts.
CardSystems represented a vital hub through which millions of account numbers passed. ChoicePoint, a data aggregator, was another gold mine; it announced in February that thousands of records had been downloaded from its databases by thieves posing as legitimate business clients (no hacking required).
"The pattern in the last six months is going after aggregators," Mr. Rasch said. "It used to be you'd get a few numbers from a few merchants and aggregate them yourself - a few numbers from a lot of people. But at some point they said, 'Wait a minute, there are other people who aggregate this stuff.' "
And, Mr. Rasch pointed out, it is nearly impossible to stop. For all the information that law enforcement and security experts can glean from sites like iaaca.com, "there are whole marketplaces of bulletin board systems and chats that are invisible," he said.
Still, law enforcement has made inroads. In October, the Justice Department and the Secret Service announced the internationally coordinated arrest of 28 individuals in eight states and several countries, including Sweden, Britain, Poland, Belarus and Bulgaria.
Among those arrested were Andrew Mantovani of Scottsdale, Ariz., David Appleyard of Linwood, N.J., and Anatoly Tyukanov of Moscow. The Justice Department says they are the ringleaders of Shadowcrew.com, the largest English-language Web bazaar trading in everything from stolen credit card, debit card and bank account numbers to counterfeit drivers' licenses, passports and Social Security cards.
The investigation, called Operation Firewall, broke up a 4,000-member underground that, according to the Justice Department, bought and sold nearly two million credit card account numbers in two years and caused over $4 million in losses to merchants, banks and individuals.
But eight months later, the traders have adapted and resumed business. They are a bit more skittish now, said John Watters, the chief executive of iDefense, which generates cybercrime intelligence for government and financial industry clients. Operation Firewall did take out some of the "low-hanging fruit," Mr. Watters said. But that has only caused the pricing models to become more refined, and the characters in this black-market economy to become more sophisticated.
A New Market for New Identities
Mr. Watters said there was also a small but growing market for the type of raw consumer information that has been pilfered from ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and other general data aggregators.
"We've observed people paying for identities," Mr. Watters said, describing Web forms where criminals could tick off the fields they had to sell or wanted to buy: address, date of birth, Social Security number, driver's license number, mother's maiden name. And as the traders slip deeper underground - or onto servers in regions with lax laws, overburdened or uninterested law enforcement and no real working relationship with American authorities - the odds of pulling off another Operation Firewall get worse.
"The next battle will be substantially harder," Mr. Watters said. "It's getting harder for us to do our job."
Asked at a symposium on cybercrime late last month if law enforcement was losing the battle against cybercriminals, Brian Nagel, assistant director for investigations at the Secret Service, said no, according to published reports.
But another panel member, Jody Westby, the managing director of security and privacy practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, disagreed, insisting that based on Federal Trade Commission statistics on identity and credit card theft, only about 5 percent of cybercriminals are ever caught.
In an interview, Ms. Westby offered an assessment no less bleak. "We're not making an impact," she said. "The criminals are too hard to track and trace, too hard to prosecute, and the information they steal is too easy to use."
At one Russian-language site over the weekend, a user called Lexus celebrated the CardSystems breach, saying that "judgment day has come for the bourgeoisie." Another, Zer0, suggested on the site that the hacked numbers might represent new opportunities in the underground.
"It is a good occasion for us," Zer0 said. "Happy hunting."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:23 AM