January Week 1, 2006

Home Up January Week 2, 2006 January Week 3, 2006 January Week 4, 2006 January Week 5, 2006

Home Up January Week 1, 2006 February Week 1, 2006 March Week 1, 2006 April Week 1, 2006 May Week 1, 2006 June Week 1, 2006 July Week 1, 2006 August Week 1, 2006 September Week 1, 2006 October Week 1, 2006 November Week 1, 2006 December Week 1, 2006

Monday  January 1 , 2006

Luke 1: 79: In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Not feeling well today, we worked on the house the best we could. Christy's back is trashed again and mine isn't much better. The garage door quit working again... not sure what is wrong with it now.

Pretty uneventful day.

Christy is in Spokane with Calie... she promised Calie a trip to the Mall with just her... no other kids. A promise is a promise.

I am taking a break from cleaning my room... it has become the catch-all for all the stuff we haven't put away yet... so far the kitchen is about the way we want it, so is the dining room. one of the bathroom is close... the rest is a work in progress or a work awaiting furniture.

The weather is alternating between thick fog, heavy rain and heavy snow... very strange stuff.


Tuesday  January 2 , 2006

I'll tell you how the sun rose,

A ribbon at a time.

Emily Dickinson, poet (1830-1886)


School starts up again today... a small reprieve.

Wednesday  January 3 , 2006

An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart.

Robert M. Sapolsky, neuroscientist and author (1957- )

Drove to Colville with Christy to get some presents for Monica and Christian...

Christy discovered another leak, it's in our bathroom this time

Thursday  January 4 , 2006

I see that sensible men and conscientious men all over the world were of one religion.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Jackets came in from Robert today... very nice. I was introduced to a fella named John Young, he helped me fix the leak in the bathroom... I enjoyed the company, he is an almanac of recent town history. Autumn and I got the mail, she wore her jacket which is about 4 sizes too big for her... she looked adorable.

Friday  January 5 , 2006

The man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.


Jeff [Christy's son] and his wife Debbie are buying a house in Texas and we spent the day working around getting them some money to to use temporarily till they get their 401k's cashed in...

Christian has a game in Northport and won't be back till about 01:30 tomorrow morning... damn...

(Christian got in about 12:30... he walked up from the Mini Mart/Gas Station... little less than a mile)

I can't find my car keys again...

Sharon and the Rapture Cult
Will Israel's Sharon's medical problems push the Mideast balance further towards chaos and Palestinian suffering. Probably yes, if hawk Netanyahu grabs power. That should be making the fundie rapture nuts ... rapturous. Let's hope reason and balance allow cooler, less warlike heads to prevail.

Saturday  January 6 , 2006

I don't think happiness is necessarily the reason we're here. I think we're here to learn and evolve, and the pursuit of knowledge is what alleviates the pain of being human.


Mike didn't come home last night. He left the house at 2230 to take is girlfriend, Lexi, home... I drove all over the place this morning and was about 15 minutes from calling the cops when I got a call from Christy saying that he had made it home. He apparently spent the night at a friends house. Christy really laid into him for not calling, he said, "I'm 18 you don't have to worry about me.", We said, if you want us to stop worrying then you keep us informed or move the hell out of here... I was really mad.

Sunday  January 7 , 2006

Our new product line is the Plexiglas bird feeder. Due to its closeness to the ground it also doubles as a cat feeder.

Christian is 16

We drove to Colville to get Christian, Monica and Calie some pants for snow boarding... they are going to Canada to Ski... Christian did not behave well.  

Home Up January Week 2, 2006 January Week 3, 2006 January Week 4, 2006 January Week 5, 2006

He-Said, He-Said, and a 2006 Prediction

Karen Kwiatkowski

Sat Jan 7, 12:04 AM ET

Green Zone commander General George Casey and his predecessor, 5th Corps Commander in Germany, Lt General Ricardo Sanchez are both Most Excellent Yes Men on Iraq. Yet, they publicly disagreed this week. Sanchez told troops on their way to a tour in Iraq that "Iraq was on the verge of civil war."

Within hours, Casey, speaking to CNN in Washington, said specifically that Iraq was NOT on the verge of civil war.

In Washington, the President and his advisors, dreaming and then prosecuting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, still live in a fantasy world of their own making. It is a happy place. In this world, General Casey may positively say that Iraq is not on the verge of civil war, and that we are have won, are winning, and are going to keep on winning for as long as it takes. In this world, we have a great big strategy for all that endless winning in Iraq.

In the other world, people like Sanchez have to send young men and women back into the stupid deadly maelstrom of Iraq, and in this world soldiers are getting wise to their idiot masters in Washington. Sanchez tells these soldiers something closer to the truth.

Of course, the real truth is uglier than simple civil war. The destruction of a sovereign Iraq was the primary objective of this war - and that mission has in fact been accomplished. Bush was and remains correct from the moment he famously landed on an aircraft carrier and announced, "Mission Accomplished." Subsequent presidential medals, awards and profuse praise for his Iraq war planners and leaders are consistent and just in this regard. The cost in human lives, spirit, and hope on all sides, as well as the financial cost may not have been worth it for those "piling on" and going "defeatist" in the reality based world, but who cares?

The reality-based world is an ugly place. The Casey-said, Sanchez-said debate prefigures a year ahead that may be remembered as the year the reality-based world rudely intruded on the Potomac, shattering what is left of the façade and completely exploding the myth that Bush-Cheney policies have made either the Middle East more democratic, or America safer.

You Can't Go Home Again . . .
by Sheila Samples
January 7, 2006

January 5th was the bloodiest day in Iraq since Bush's illegal invasion. As many as 140 were killed, including 11 US servicemen, and many more injured. Bush responded by suddenly summoning all living secretaries of state and defense to the White House for a skull session and photo op on what to do in the Middle East before he is completely overtaken by even more catastrophic success. He's willing to share the glory, and said he would “listen and take to heart” any suggestions offered, even from Democrats.

Except an exit plan, of course, and any suggestions of how to better equip or protect the “troops” who are thrown into an exploding nightmare where it's every man for himself. Good luck, soldier. Get out there and make us proud that you died for a noble cause . . . .  

Those of us who know that Bush is raving mad, destructively impulsive and totally incompetent suspect he was lining up former heavyweights to take the blame when the meltdown comes. The good news is this is Alexander Haig's last chance to be “in charge.”

Haig will probably jump at it, even though he knows that he and his renowned counterparts are being set up as “patsies” for Bush's great madcap adventure in Iraq. This mess is so big, it's going to take more than a “few bad apples” to cover it up. I can just hear Bush now – “I asked them what we should do, and they all agreed that I was doing a heckuva job, and we should stay the course. Hey, don't blame me. They had the same information I had...”

This “meeting” was nothing but another PR trick in Bush's announced campaign to whip the public back into line behind his “strategery” for winning the war and to con people into believing he plans to eventually bring what is left of our ground troops home. As soon as the cameras were turned off, the meeting was over and Bush, Rice, Cheney and Rumsfeld fled, leaving the former VIPs to find their own way out. It was a pitiful sight, and I can't help thinking it served them right for allowing themselves to be used in such a shoddy way.

But the media loved it. Associated Press writer Jennifer Loven crowed, “He (Bush) gambled that one-time high-level public officials, when personally summoned by the president, would resist temptation to be too critical. He was right.” Loven assured us that Bush got support for his mission -- along with a few concerns -- and the right to claim that he was “reaching out.”

Yeah. This guy is a real uniter, not a divider.

In his statement to the media, Bush said, “Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq. I fully understand that. But these are good solid Americans who understand that we've got to succeed now that we're there. I'm most grateful for the suggestions they've given.”

One “constructive idea” the secretaries broached, according to the White House, was to make sure that the military, not politicians in Washington, are determining troop levels in Iraq and making other on-the-ground calls.

Does anybody doubt that the secretary who came up with this bleak plan was none other than Donald Rumsfeld himself? Which, of course, means that it's business as usual, and the troops won't begin to come home until Rumsfeld says they can...

Meanwhile, the Green Zone in Baghdad finally has all the theaters, restaurants, hotels, swimming pools and golf courses it needs, so Bush is cutting off the promised reconstruction money for Iraq.

Except, of course, for the new billion-dollar embassy that will be more secure than the Pentagon. According to the UK Mirror, “The embassy will be guarded by 15ft blast walls and ground-to-air missiles and the main building will have bunkers for use during air offensives.”

It gets better. “The grounds will include as many as 300 houses for consular and military officials. And a large-scale barracks will be built for Marines who will protect what will be Washington's biggest and most secure overseas building.”

The source also said that the Bush administration has plans for four super bases across the country.

It doesn't matter if the crusty old New World Order patsies knew Bush has no intention of leaving Iraq until the last drop of oil is sucked from the region when they wandered out of the White House. Bush doesn't care what they think, so it also doesn't matter whether they advised against it if they did know.

That old adage must be true -- when you're in as deep as every single one of them is -- you can't go home again.

Mission Accomplished.

Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at: rsamples@sirinet.net.


2006: A Year of Living Dangerously

by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis


This has always been one of my three favorite American cities – along with my native New York and San Francisco. In the early 1970’s, I ran a line of West Indies freighters out of here when this port was known as the Casablanca of North America.

Back in those days, Miami was a very raffish place, filled with Cuban exiles plotting to overthrow Fidel Castro, drug runners, Haitian voodoo cults, assorted Latin revolutionaries, big-time money launderers, elderly Jewish retirees playing gin rummy, and shady property developers.

Today, Miami has settled down quite a bit, but remains one of America’s most interesting and peppery cities. English is a vanishing language here. Yesterday, I saw the first tri-lingual sign: in Spanish, English and Haitian Creole.

In this downtime between holidays, I’m reflecting on what we learned this past year and what major developments next year holds.

bulletThe world responds to natural disaster when TV cameras are present. We began 2005 with the frightful Asian tsunami that devastated Indonesian Sumatra, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Thanks to TV crews, the world’s heart went out to the victims, and billions of aid were promised. As usual, only about 25% of the money pledged ever materialized.

The year ended with Pakistan’s calamitous earthquake. There were few TV teams covering this disaster and so the world largely ignored the tragedy. The oil-producing states of the Muslim World were notable in their incredibly stingy response, preferring to waste billions on war planes they can’t even fly and white elephant building projects while needy Pakistanis shivered in the cold. India and Pakistan, presented with a golden opportunity to begin resolving the Kashmir dispute, played childish games of tit for tat with one another instead of taking constructive action.

bulletMany Americans finally began to understand that their government had cooked up war with Iraq based on a flood of outrageous lies, ably assisted by a compliant media that acted as a conduit for propaganda worthy of the old Soviet Union. Towards the end of 2005, Americans also began to realize that a cabal of far rightists had not only hijacked the government, but were hell-bent on sneaking in totalitarian controls designed to stifle dissent, institutionalize the politics of fear, and curtail constitutional rights.

In the fall, signs of rebellion against these Mussolini-like policies became evident in Congress and the courts. But the special interests and rightist ideologues who drove America to war were still in control, and the American media continued to pump out deceptive reporting and act as a megaphone for the war party.

bulletEurope’s vote on a new constitution turned into a huge fiasco that gravely undermined the cause of continental unity and left many of its political leaders fatally weakened. Anti-American sentiment in Europe surged to unprecedented levels. European leaders proved unable to convince their voters to cut back on their unsustainable welfare states in order to boost competition with Asia. Britain continued acting as an American Trojan Horse in the EU.

In sum, a lamentable year for Europe and very bad news for all the little states of Eastern Europe – and for Turkey – that hope to gain admission to the EU. Riots in France by unemployed hooligans of third-world origin underlined the growing problem of unwanted immigrants in Europe.

bulletBig trouble was brewing up in Asia. China, its new colossus, chose to adopt a policy of confrontation with its other powerhouse, Japan, that bodes ill for the future of the region. Sino-Japanese tensions are now so bad that senior officials of the two great nations are not even on speaking terms. China’s decision to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment at home has raised tensions across North Asia and is drawing the US into the confrontation. Add the worsening Taiwan dispute into this equation, and North Asia looks headed for some serious trouble in 2006.

For the first time in modern history, both China and Japan are strong: each is determined to be sole master of the region. Meanwhile, the US cannot decide how to handle China’s growing power. The far right of the Republican Party seems determined to put the US on a military confrontation with China, a potential conflict that the US cannot possibly win.

bulletAnti-American and pro-leftist sentiment is surging across Latin America. To most Latin Americans, the Bush Administration epitomizes everything that they detest about stereotypical Yankees: arrogance and bullying, coupled with deep ignorance. Watch Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez lead an anti-American crusade, aided by his new comrade in arms, Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Call them the heirs of Che Guevara, and the sons of Fidel Castro. Watch also for the possible demise of Fidel Castro, whose passing will throw Cuba into chaos and likely bring US intervention.
bulletThe Mideast will continue a dangerous mess, with intensification of efforts by anti-American groups (`terrorists’ in Washington-talk) to overthrow the medieval and military rulers that make the region a hallmark of terrible, repressive governments and foreign exploitation.

Watch for the possible collapse of Syria’s isolated regime, possibly producing chaos and civil war. Iraq will go from very bad to worse as its US-installed puppet regime turns out to be a cat’s paw for Iran. And watch for possible US and/or Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Such an attack would bring deadly retaliation against over-stretched US forces in Iraq.

The Bush administration’s attempt to grab Iraq’s oil and turn it into a military base from which to rule the Mideast appears doomed. The big question is how soon the US will manage to cut its losses and abandon this stupid and totally unnecessary war. Afghanistan will also continue to fester, as the US-installed puppet regime there proves unable to command popular support and anti-US forces gain strength.

bullet2005 saw the opening salvos of the world struggle for energy. As this writer predicted five years ago in his book `War at the Top of the World,’ the advent of South Korea, China and India as major oil importers is producing serious new tensions and a struggle for mastery of Central Asia’s oil and gas. China and India will increasingly find themselves as competitors while Russia plays an increasingly important strategic role as a major energy supplier to Europe, Japan and China.

So it seems that 2006 will be a year of rising international political and economic tensions, played against the backdrop of a surging China and a weakening United States. In short, a year of living dangerously.

January 4, 2006

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

Copyright © 2006 Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis Archives

Go to the Light!

January 4, 2006
By Sheila Samples

Folks at the White House stay pretty busy these days just trying to untangle the lies George Bush keeps telling every time he opens his mouth. For example, back in April 2004, Bush explained to a cheering audience and an unchallenging press corps in Buffalo about "eavesdropping" on Americans: "When you think 'Patriot Act,' constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because..." he said earnestly while leaning over the podium, his hand on his heart "...because we value the Constitution."

Bush? I think not. From his actions and manner of speech, it is doubtful that Bush has read either the U.S. Constitution or the holy book upon which he placed his hand twice and swore to preserve, protect and defend it.

After the New York Times reported last week that Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to cast a wide net to spy on American citizens' e-mail and phone calls without seeking warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, Bush went on the offense, saying yeah, he did it, and he was gonna keep on doing it, cause he was the president and - like he told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward - that means he doesn't have to explain to anybody why he does anything.

That apparently includes the FISA court, which has the audacity to require "probable cause" before approving wiretaps on American citizens. In Bush's defense, when you're huntin' and chasin' and smokin' out evil lurkers and plotters and planners, you don't have time to stop and fill out two or three million pieces of paper. Like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, the Constitution is a quaint little thing, but we live in a new world order now, and any constraints on "this president" are just too cumbersome.

In an October speech, Bush said, "Our country is at war, and the executive branch has an obligation to protect the 'Merican people. We are aggressively doing that. We are finding the terrorists and bringing them to justice." Bush paused for effect, then added, "and anything we do is within the law."

Vice President Dick Cheney agrees. He says they must have complete control and flexibility and unlimited power, even if this means they have to make up the law as they go along. While speeding home from the Middle East in time to break a Senate tie on a bill that raises Medicaid payments for the poor and elderly (while at the same time allowing states to cut their Medicaid services) and cuts child-care payments for social bottom-feeders, Cheney snarled that there "is a hell of a threat" out there, and the president's authority under the Constitution must be "unimpaired."

Cheney says "the vast majority" of Americans support Bush spying on them, and warned that any "backlash" would not be against Bush, but against the critics who dared question Bush's illegal and quite possibly treasonous bits of derring-do. Cheney is adamant that he - er, Bush - is above any court and outside any law. Those who disagree can just go (insert word depicting doing sexual "wild thaing") themselves.

Besides, Cheney might have added, they've been doing it for four years - collecting information on American citizens by tapping directly into the U.S. telecommunication system's main arteries without first getting warrants - and nobody seemed to care. According to the Times, these corporate behemoths supported and assisted the spying operation, storing information on citizens' calling patterns and giving it to Bush since 9-11.

Got that, sports fans? Since 9-11. And the NSA is not the only one. According to Capital Hill Blue's Doug Thompson, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and "dozens of private contractors are spying on millions of Americans 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

It got so blatant that a former NSA agent who quit in disgust over use of the agency to spy on Americans, told Thompson, "We're no longer in the business of tracking our enemies. We're spying on everyday Americans."

And, when there's treason afoot, one can hardly leave out the vicious and wacky Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. A couple of years ago, Rumsfeld had this great idea for not only spying on Americans, but building a profile on every citizen who travels, uses credit cards, talks on the telephone or works or plays on a computer.

He called his new toy the "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) Program, and put the disgraced Iran-Contra felon John Poindexter in charge of it. When a furious Congress killed the program, Rumsfeld said, "Fine. They can have the name." He then moved it to the Pentagon's covert "black bag" program, out of Congressional sight or oversight, and renamed it the "Terrorist Information Awareness" (TIA) system. Thompson says the program is "alive and well and collecting data in real time on Americans at a computer center located at 3801 Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia."

It's difficult to gauge either the height of awareness or the depth of outrage of the American public because the corporate media steadfastly refuses to shed even a glimmer of light on the myriad of scandals this administration is hiding out there in plain sight.

The shock of 9-11 thrust the people of this country into a depressing twilight zone, a "loyalty-oath" atmosphere where they stumble around in the dark, afraid to speak - afraid to think. Any anger they feel about the president of the United States committing an impeachable offense by covertly spying on them and openly admitting it will fade as the media psycho-flogs them into believing the criminal here is the whistleblower who shone the light on the illegal surveillance, not the traitor who broke the law.

The irony of Bush, the NSA and Gonzales whipping up a criminal investigation into who dared tell the public that they were breaking the law will be lost on far too many Americans. Those who do understand, yet choose to stand mute and hope for the best should weigh the loss of their civil liberties against the violence, murder, vicious lies, and especially the sheer animosity Bush feels toward all but the wealthiest Americans.

They should take a look at the backgrounds and goals of the beady-eyed war vultures who control Bush; who are urging him to destroy everything in his path - not the least of which is the U.S. Constitution. They should ask themselves what they would do if they woke up in the middle of the night to find an invader in their bedrooms, pawing through their personal belongings. Would they silently bow their heads, or would they turn on the light and scream bloody murder at the top of their lungs?

Truth doesn't just radiate light - it IS light. If Americans would raise their heads and look around, they would see there are flashes of light everywhere - especially on the Internet.

Americans have come to a fork in the road and, like the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, they need to take it. They need to go to the light.

Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at: rsamples@sirinet.net.

Abramoff cash and Bush-Cheney '04: Now who's living in a "glass house"?

As we noted earlier today, Jack Abramoff wasn't exactly the "equal money dispenser" the president and the Republican spin machine would like to make him out to be. As Bloomberg News does the math, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees between 2001 and 2004. His contributions to Democrats and their committees during those years: Zilch.

In order to make the case that Democrats share the taint of the disgraced lobbyist and former College Republicans president, you've got to argue that contributions from Abramoff's associates and clients carry the same sort of smell as contributions from Abramoff himself. There may be some truth to that: If the allegations against and admissions by Abramoff are to be believed, he bought off Republican Rep. Bob Ney using his clients' money as well as his own. But if that's the argument GOP spinners want to make -- that money from Abramoff's associates and clients is just as dirty as money from Abramoff himself -- then somebody had better tell the White House and the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. As the Associated Press is reporting, Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for Bush-Cheney '04, but the campaign is giving up only $6,000 of it -- money contributed by Abramoff, his wife and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.

What about the rest of the money -- somewhere around $100,000 that Abramoff raised for the Bush-Cheney campaign but didn't contribute himself? "At this point, there is nothing to indicate that contributions from those individual donors represents anything other than enthusiastic support for the BC-04 reelection campaign," says Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

-- Tim Grieve

When checks and balances are quaint

Shortly after the New York Times broke the news that the Bush administration has been engaged in warrantless spying on American citizens, the White House assured us all that we had nothing to worry about: Although the National Security Agency was spying on Americans in violation of an act of Congress and without a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, no eavesdropping ever occurred unless somebody got approval from a "shift supervisor" at the NSA first.

We didn't find that entirely comforting: With all due respect to the middle managers of the federal government, a shift supervisor at the NSA isn't exactly a disinterested party and isn't much at all like the impartial federal judges who are supposed to be signing off on such things. But even if we had been able to get our minds around the idea of the NSA as some sort of one-stop shopping for the checks and balances required by the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we'd have some additional cause for concern now: As the New York Times reports today, officials at the NSA may have launched at least some aspects of their secret domestic spying program even before they got approval from George W. Bush.

The revelation is hinted at in some previously classified and highly redacted correspondence between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former head of the NSA who is now Bush's No. 2 intelligence official. In a letter to Hayden written exactly one month after the attacks of 9/11, Pelosi asked "whether and to what extent the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting." Hayden's response: The NSA was acting on its own. "I used my authorities to adjust NSA's collection and reporting," he said.

Bush did not sign his executive order authorizing the spying program until early 2002. In the interim, Congress adopted the Patriot Act, a measure that, as former NSA chief Bobby Inman notes, would have been the logical home for congressional authorization for the domestic spying program if the Bush administration had bothered to ask Congress for the power it assumed for itself.

-- Tim Grieve

Torture ban? What torture ban?

When George W. Bush and John McCain went before the TV cameras last month to say that they'd worked out a deal on the torture ban McCain had proposed and the White House had long resisted, Bush said that, together, they had "made it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad."

But as the Boston Globe reports this morning, the president seems to have undone that rather unequivocal stand when he signed the McCain measure into law late last week. In his signing statement, Bush said that he shall "construe" the ban "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president ... as commander in chief." That's the same "constitutional authority," you may recall, that the White House has cited in justifying Bush's decision to authorize warrantless spying on American citizens in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

A senior administration official tells the Globe that the White House considers itself bound by the torture ban but that a situation could arise in which Bush might decide to disregard it in the interests of national security. It's an exception that swallows the rule, of course: Unless U.S. personnel are mistreating detainees solely for sport, isn't there always a "national security" justification that could be offered for torturing someone believed to be connected to terrorist activites?

"The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole," Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor and former Justice Department lawyer, tells the Globe. "The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism." NYU law professor David Golove puts its more bluntly: "The signing statement is saying, 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.'"

Abramoff an "equal money dispenser"? Not exactly

When George W. Bush was asked about Jack Abramoff a couple of weeks ago, he said: "It seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."

It might have seemed that way to the president because that's the spin his party, and more than a few members of the press, continue to lay out for the public. In a section of its Web site called "Glass Houses," the National Republican Senatorial Committee claims that 40 of the 45 Senate Democrats have "taken money from Abramoff, his associates or his Indian tribe clients." Appearing on "Hardball" -- where host Chris Matthews has portrayed corruption as a bipartisan problem -- the New York Times' Anne Kornblut said last month that Abramoff "donated to Democrats." The Times reports today that while Abramoff is "most closely linked to Republicans," "many" Democrats "benefited from his largesse." And while the Washington Post focuses today on the way in which Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the disgraced lobbyist, it warns that "Democrats could be ensnared by the Abramoff case, as well."

So what's the truth?

So far as anyone can tell -- and the anyones here include the National Journal, Bloomberg News and Media Matters, among others -- Jack Abramoff himself hasn't given a dime to any Democrat in Congress. That said, Abramoff's associates and clients have given money to politicians from both parties. Greenberg Traurig, the law firm for which Abramoff worked, has doled out money on both sides of the aisle, as have the Indian tribes Abramoff represented. But as Bloomberg noted, Greenberg Traurig is a big firm with interests beyond those involving Abramoff. And some of the political contributions Abramoff's Indian clients made to Democrats came before Abramoff was representing them; once Abramoff began lobbying on their behalf, Bloomberg found, the Indian tribes gave a smaller percentage of their contributions to Democratic lawmakers.

What does it mean? As a political matter, the Abramoff scandal lives in the heart of the GOP. Abramoff is a Republican through and through -- a former president of the College Republicans, a Bush-Cheney Pioneer, a close, personal friend of Tom DeLay's -- and his own campaign contributions reflect that fact. As a legal matter, the scandal could indeed hurt members of Congress from both parties. As Abramoff's admissions about his dealings with Ohio Rep. Bob Ney seem to suggest, you can buy yourself a politician with someone else's money just as easily as you can buy one with your own.

-- Tim Grieve


By the way, the president has some truth issues

Lefty bloggers have been making hay for days on the apparent gross contradiction between what President Bush said on April 20, 2004 -- "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order" -- and what he actually did: authorize a secret NSA wiretapping program that required no court review whatsoever.

Today's New York Times article on the ongoing scandal reports Bush's attempt to explain himself: "I was talking about roving wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from the N.S.A. program."

Roving wiretaps authorize law enforcement to listen in on all the different phones a particular suspect might employ. And they do require court orders. And a review of the 2004 speech in question does reveal that Bush made his remarks in the context of a discussion of the Patriot Act. But as everyone from Andrew Sullivan to scores of bloggers noted immediately, the clear import of the president's statement, prefaced with a "by the way" that seems to flag the words to follow as particularly deserving of the public's atention, is to reassure his listeners that the United States government does not operate without following the proper checks and balances.

We now know this to be indisputably false. But it's hard to believe that anyone could be surprised that the president has been caught in the middle of another whopper. The same man who said in November that "we do not torture" heads an administration that has done everything in its power to ensure that we can torture if and when we please.

Once upon a time, much ink was spilled and much political warfare was waged over the question of whether a certain president lied about getting a blow job. Today's new, improved model of president lies about torture and the secret surveillance of American citizens. That's quite the upgrade.

-- Andrew Leonard

Dave Barry's year in review

Tribune Media Services

It was the Year of the Woman. But not in a good way.

Oh, I'm not saying that men did nothing stupid or despicable in 2005. Of course they did! That's why we call them ``men.''

But women are supposed to be better than men. Women are the backbone of civilization: They keep families together, nurture relationships, uphold basic standards of morality and go to the bathroom without making noise. Women traditionally shun the kinds of pointless, brutal, destructive activities that so often involve men, such as mass murder and fantasy football.

But not this year. Women got CRAZY this year. Consider some of the more disturbing stories from 2005, and look at the names connected with them: Martha Stewart. Judith Miller. Valerie Plame. Jennifer ``Runaway Bride'' Wilbanks. Paris Hilton. Greta ``All Natalee Holloway, All the Time'' Van Susteren. Harriet Miers. Katrina. Rita. Wilma. Michael Jackson.

Of course, not all the alarming stories from 2005 involved women. Some of them involved men, and at least one of those men was named ``Scooter.'' I'll be honest: I don't really know who ``Scooter'' is, or what he allegedly did. He's involved in one of those Washington-D.C.-style scandals that are very, very important, but way too complicated for regular non-Beltway humans to comprehend.

But whatever Scooter allegedly did, it was bad. We know this because pretty much all the news this year was bad. Oh, sure, there were some positive developments. Here is a complete list:

• In some areas, the price of gasoline, much of the time, remained below $5 a gallon.

• Nobody you know caught avian flu. Yet.

• The Yankees once again failed to win the World Series.

• Cher actually ended her farewell tour.

That was it for the good news. The rest of 2005 was a steady diet of misery, horror and despair, leavened occasionally by deep anxiety. So just for fun, let's take a look back, starting with . . .

. . . JANUARY . . . when President George W. Bush is sworn in for a second term, pledging in his inauguration speech that, over the next four years, he will continue, to the best of his ability, trying to pronounce big words. In a strongly worded rebuttal, the Democratic leadership points out that, when you get right down to it, there IS no Democratic leadership.

In other government news, President Bush's nominee to be U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, undergoes a grueling Senate hearing in which Democrats probe him repeatedly about his views on torture. At one point the Democrats threaten that, if Gonzales does not give them the information they want, they will force him to listen, without ear protection, to a question from Sen. Joe Biden. ``No!'' screams Gonzales. ``Anything but that!''

Johnny Carson, an oasis of wit in the wasteland, signs off for good.

In sports, the winner of the Orange Bowl -- and thus the national college football championship -- is Lance Armstrong, who is once again suspected of being on something.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the first free elections in half a century are held under tense but generally scary conditions, with more than 8 million Iraqis turning out to elect a National Assembly, whose idealistic goal, in the coming months, will be to not get blown up.

But the mood is more upbeat in . . .

. . . FEBRUARY . . . which dawns on a hopeful note in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians, after decades of bitter violence and short-lived truces, are finally able to . . .

Never mind.

In other hopeful news, President Bush, seeking to patch up the troubled relationship between the United States and its European allies, embarks on a four-nation tour. When critics note that two of the nations are not actually located in Europe, the White House responds that the president was ``acting on the best intelligence available at the time.''

In sports, the Super Bowl is held for the first time in Jacksonville, Fla. Defying critics who mocked it as a backwater hick town, Jacksonville manages to host a fine event, marred only by the 143 spectators killed or wounded during the halftime raccoon shoot.

On the social front, Prince Charles gets formally engaged to Camilla Parker Bowles. The British public responds with sincere and heartfelt wishes that the happy couple will not reproduce.

A study by researchers at the University of Utah proves what many people have long suspected: Everybody talking on a cell phone, except you, is a moron.

Meanwhile, as the nationwide identity-theft epidemic worsens, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III pledges that he will make it the top priority of the Bureau to find, and prosecute, the individuals charging stuff to his American Express card.

Speaking of financial hanky-panky, in . . .

. . . MARCH . . . a federal jury convicts former WorldCom executive Bernie Ebbers in connection with an $11 billion fraud that led to the bankruptcy of the telecom giant. Upon Ebbers' arrival at the federal prison, nearly $7 billion is recovered during what shaken guards later describe as ``the cavity search from hell.''

In economic news, financially troubled Delta Airlines announces that it will no longer offer pillows on its flights, because passengers keep eating them. But the economy gets a boost when the jobless rate plummets, as hundreds of thousands of unemployed cable-TV legal experts are hired to comment on the trial of Michael Jackson. Jackson is charged with 10 counts of being a space-alien freakadelic weirdo. Everybody agrees this will be very difficult to prove in California.

In a related story, a California jury finds that actor Robert Blake did not kill his wife. The jury also rules that John Wilkes Booth had nothing to do with the Lincoln assassination, and that bears do not poop in the woods. In other celebrity legal news, Martha Stewart is released from prison. The next morning, in a chilling coincidence, all of the witnesses who testified against Martha wake up and discover, to their utter horror, that their sheets no longer match their pillowcases.

Meanwhile in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives takes time out from jacking up the deficit to look into the baffling mystery of whether professional baseball players suddenly develop gigantic muscles because they use steroids, or what. Former St. Louis Cardinals star Mark McGwire, who broke the major-league record for most home runs in a single season, arouses suspicions when he repeatedly denies, under oath, that he ever played professional baseball. Slugger Sammy Sosa also heatedly denies allegations of steroid use, emphasizing his point by pounding the witness table into tiny splinters. There are no questions.

But the major issue facing our elected leaders in March clearly is not whether a bunch of overpaid athletes cheated. No, at a time when the nation is beset by serious problems in so many critical areas -- including Iraq, terrorism, the economy, energy, education and health care -- the issue that obsesses our elected leaders to the point of paralyzing government at the federal, state and local levels for weeks, is: Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. This, unfortunately, is not a joke.

In entertainment news, controversial anchorman Dan Rather retires from CBS News with a poignant farewell speech, cut short when Dan is felled by a tranquilizer dart fired by his producer.

Speaking of people who read from TelePrompTers, in . . .

. . . APRIL . . . President Bush, in a decisive response to sharply rising gasoline prices, delivers a major speech proposing that Americans switch to nuclear-powered cars. In a strongly worded rebuttal, angry Congressional Democrats state that, because of a scheduling mix-up, they missed the president's speech, but whatever he said, they totally disagree with it, and if they once voted in favor of it, they did so only because the president lied to them.

In other Washington news, the U.S. Senate approves the appointment of John Negroponte to become the nation's first intelligence czar. His immediate task is to locate his office, which, according to a dossier compiled by the CIA, FBI, NSA and military intelligence, is, quote, ``probably somewhere in the United States or Belgium.''

In Rome, the College of Cardinals gathers following the death of beloved Pope John Paul II. As the world waits breathlessly, the cardinals, after two days of secret deliberations, order white smoke to be sent up the Sistine Chapel chimney, signaling that they have made their decision: Robert Blake is definitely guilty.

In sports, Tiger Woods claims his fourth Masters title with a dramatic playoff win over a surprisingly dogged Lance Armstrong.

As April draws to a close, the nation focuses its eyeballs on bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks, whose claim that she was abducted just before her wedding is undermined by a widely circulated photo of her in which her pupils appear to be the size of dinner plates. When it becomes clear that nothing actually happened -- that there was no abduction, and that Wilbanks is basically just a troubled person -- the news media drop the story and move on to more important matters.

Ha ha! Seriously, as April morphs into . . .

. . . MAY . . . the Runaway Bride story totally dominates the news, becoming so gigantically huge that some cable-TV news shows are forced to divert precious resources from the Michael Jackson trial. But in the end sanity prevails, and Wilbanks is forced to accept responsibility for the trouble she has caused, ultimately selling media rights to her story for a reported $500,000.

In other show-business news, millions of middle-aged people without dates wet their Luke-Skywalker-model underpants with joy as they view the final installment of the beloved Star Wars series, ``Star Wars: Episode MXCVII: Enough Already.'' Fans hail it as the least tedious Star Wars in decades; many are stunned by the surprise ending, when it turns out that Darth Vader is actually Robert Blake.

Tom Cruise, seeking to counter the increasingly widespread view that he is an orbiting space module, jumps up and down on Oprah's couch.

Elsewhere abroad, European Union leaders are stunned when the proposed EU constitution is overwhelmingly rejected by French voters, who apparently do not care for the Deodorant Clause. President Bush visits Russia for an important photo opportunity, after which he describes Russia as ``a foreign country where they speak Russian,'' an assertion that is immediately challenged by Congressional Democrats.

In media news, the editor of Newsweek magazine retracts a report that guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison flushed a Koran down a toilet in front of a Muslim detainee. ``It turns out,'' the editor states, ``that it was actually the detainee who was flushed down the toilet. Boy is our face red!''

But the biggest media shocker occurs when ``Deep Throat,'' the Watergate-scandal source whose identity has been a tantalizing secret for more than 30 years, is finally revealed -- in a stunning and unforgettable development that sends shock waves of shock throughout the world -- to be . . . Let me just check Google here . . . OK, it was some guy nobody ever heard of. But it was totally unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected, in . . .

. . . JUNE . . . a California jury acquits Michael Jackson on all charges of everything, including any crimes he may or may not commit in the future. ``We simply felt that the prosecution did not prove its case,'' states the jury foreman, Robert Blake. Jackson announces that he no longer feels welcome in the United States and will move to another dimension.

In disturbing medical news, a new study of 1,000 Americans finds that obesity in the United States has gotten so bad that there actually were, upon closer scrutiny, only 600 Americans involved in the study.

Meanwhile, the U.S. film industry, in the midst of the worst box-office slump in 20 years, looks for possible explanations as to why Americans are not flocking to movie theaters. In a totally unrelated development, ``The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl'' opens nationwide, to be followed in coming months by ``The Dukes of Hazzard'' and ``Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo.''

Israeli and Palestinian leaders reach an agreement under which Israel will withdraw its settlers from the Gaza strip, arousing peace hopes in amnesia victims everywhere. In response to this historic development, Fox News Person Greta Van Susteren heads for Aruba to report personally on the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

Hurricane season officially begins, with a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center warning that, quote, ``This could be one of the most active sEEEEEEEEE. . . '' His body is never found.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a Solomonic ruling on a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas Capitol, allows the display to remain, but orders the state to correct all 137 spelling errors. The Supreme Court remains in the news in . . .

. . . JULY . . . when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announces her retirement, setting off a heated debate between right-wing groups, who think the president should appoint a conservative to replace her, and left-wing groups, who think the president should drop dead. Eventually Bush nominates a man going by the moniker of ``John Roberts,'' who, in the tradition of recent Supreme Court nominees, refuses to reveal anything about himself, and wears a Zorro-style mask to protect his secret identity. In response, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Joe Biden, vow to, quote, ``get on television a LOT.''

But the juiciest story by far in Washington is the riveting scandal involving New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who is jailed for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury called by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is trying to find out whether the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by an administration source such as presidential confidants Karl Rove or Ari Fleischer, or Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, chief of staff to vice president Dick ``Dick'' Cheney, in an effort to discredit Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, in connection with the use of allegedly unreliable documents concerning . . . Hey! Wake up! This is important!

The troubled U.S. manned-space flight program hits yet another snag when, moments before the ``return to space'' launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, a technician notices that the shuttle and its booster rockets are pointed at the ground, instead of space. The launch is delayed for several days while workers repaint the ``THIS SIDE UP'' arrows.

In weather news, the formation of Hurricane Dennis is followed closely by the formation of Hurricane Emily, arousing suspicions among some staffers at headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that hurricane season might be going on. It is agreed that somebody probably should look into this and write a report no later than Halloween.

Abroad, the news from London is grim as four terrorist bombs wreak deadly havoc on the city's transit systems, prompting Greta Van Susteren to do a series of urgent personal reports from Aruba on how these attacks could affect the investigation into the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

In sports, Lance Armstrong rides down the Champs-Elysees, raising his arms in a triumphant gesture, which causes the French army to surrender instantly.

No, sorry; that was a cheap shot. One unit held out for nearly an hour.

In book news, millions of youngsters snap up the latest in the Harry Potter series, ``Harry Potter Must Be Like 32 Years Old By Now.'' The book has a surprise plot twist that upsets some fans: Beloved Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is killed by Severus Snape, who, moments later, is acquitted by a California jury.

Speaking of surprises that nobody could have predicted, in . . .

. . . AUGUST . . . Baltimore Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro, who vigorously denied steroid use when he testified before Congress in March, is forced to change his story when, in the seventh inning of a game against Cleveland, both of his forearms explode.

In other news, South Korean scientists -- I am not making this item up -- clone a dog. This one is too easy.

In Washington, President Bush bypasses Congress with a recess appointment of his controversial nominee John Bolton, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton immediately signals a new tone in American diplomacy by punching out the ambassador from Yemen in a dispute involving the U.N. cafeteria salad bar.

In other foreign-policy news, the Rev. Pat Robertson states on his Christian Broadcasting Network show that the U.S. should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Responding to harsh criticism, the Rev. Robertson retracts this statement several days later with the explanation, ``Evidently I am a raving lunatic.''

On the economic front, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is, gasoline prices are reaching $3 a gallon. The good news is, with the manufacturer's rebate, you can buy a new Hummer for $167.

But by far the biggest story in August is Hurricane Katrina, a massive, deadly storm that thrashes Florida, then heads into the Gulf of Mexico. For decades, experts have been warning that such a storm, if it were to hit New Orleans, would devastate the city; now it becomes clear that this is exactly what is about to happen. For days, meteorologists are on television warning, dozens of times per hour, that Katrina will, in fact, hit New Orleans with devastating results. Armed with this advance knowledge, government officials at the local, state and federal levels are in a position to be totally, utterly shocked when Katrina -- of all things -- devastates New Orleans. For several days, chaos reigns, with most of the relief effort taking the form of Geraldo Rivera, who, by his own estimate, saves more than 170,000 people.

FEMA director Michael Brown, after conducting an aerial survey, reports that ``the situation is improving,'' only to be informed that the area he surveyed was actually Phoenix. For her part, Greta Van Susteren personally broadcasts many timely reports from Aruba on how the Katrina devastation will affect the ongoing Natalee Holloway investigation.

It is not until . . .

. . . SEPTEMBER . . . that the full magnitude of the New Orleans devastation sinks in, and local, state and federal officials manage to get their act together and begin the difficult, painstaking work of blaming each other for screwing up. Urged on by President Bush, Congress votes to spend what could wind up being more than $200 billion to repair the Gulf Coast and fix up New Orleans, so that it will be just as good as new when the next devastating hurricane devastates it.

With the horror of Katrina fresh in everyone's mind, a new hurricane, Rita, draws a bead on the Gulf Coast, causing millions of panicky Texans to get into their cars and flee an average distance of 150 feet before they become stuck in a monster traffic jam, where some remain for more than 12 hours. ``It was hell,'' reports one traumatized victim. ``The classic rock station played `Daydream Believer' like 53 freaking times.''

President Bush, after an aerial tour of the devastated region, tells reporters that he always kind of liked ``Daydream Believer.''

In non-hurricane news, the Senate confirms the Supreme Court nominee known as ``John Roberts'' after the Judiciary Committee spends several fruitless days trying to trick him into expressing an opinion by asking such trap questions as ``Can you tell us the capital of Vermont and your views on abortion?'' The only moment of drama comes when Sen. Joe Biden launches into his opening remarks, thus causing several committee members, who forgot to insert earplugs, to lapse into comas.

In international news, North Korea, following months of negotiations with the United States and other concerned nations, agrees to stop producing nuclear weapons, in exchange for one of those new iPods. The United Nations Security Council censures John Bolton for giving noogies to the ambassador from Sweden.

Speaking of appointees, in . . .

. . . OCTOBER . . . President Bush, needing to make another appointment to the Supreme Court, conducts a thorough and painstaking investigation of every single woman lawyer within an 8-foot radius of his desk. He concludes that the best person for the job is White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who, in the tradition of such legendary justices as Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, is a carbon-based life form.

Ultimately Miers withdraws her name. The president, after conducting another exhaustive search, decides to appoint ```John Roberts'' again, because it worked out so well the first time. Informed by his aides that there could be some legal problem with this tactic, the president finally decides to nominate Samuel Alito. Democrats immediately announce that they strongly oppose Alito and intend to do some research soon to find out why.

In Congress, Tom DeLay's ethical woes worsen as he is indicted on additional charges of hijacking a train.

As fears of a worldwide avian flu epidemic mount, the surgeon general warns Americans against having unprotected sex with birds. Fortunately there is no sign yet of the deadly disease on Aruba, thus allowing the Natalee Holloway investigation to continue unimpeded, according to on-the-scene reporter Greta Van Susteren.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein goes on trial, facing charges of genocide, human-rights violations, and failure to pay more than $173 billion in parking tickets. In his opening statement, the defiant former dictator tells the court he intends to prove that these crimes were actually committed by Tom DeLay.

In sports, the National Hockey League, amid much hoopla, resumes play, fueling rumors that the league must have, at some point, stopped playing. Immediately dozens of fights break out, all of them won by Lance Armstrong.

Speaking of conflict, in . . .

. . . NOVEMBER . . . Americans find themselves heatedly debating a difficult question: Is it truly in the nation's best interests for its citizens to be fighting, and suffering heavy casualties, to achieve the elusive -- some say, impossible -- goal of buying a laptop computer marked down to $300 at Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving? For many Americans, the answer is a resounding ``yes,'' as they observe the official start of the Christmas shopping season at 5 a.m. on Nov. 25 with the traditional Trampling of the Elderly Slow-Moving Shoppers, while the mall p.a. system interrupts ``O Come, All Ye Faithful'' with urgent requests for paramedics. The season's hottest gift is the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming system, which is in big demand because (a) it's really cool, and (b) Microsoft apparently made, like, three of them.

Also heating up in November is the debate over Iraq, with even Vice President Dick Cheney joining in, fueling rumors that he is still alive. President Bush makes a series of strong speeches, stating that while he ``will not impugn the patriotism'' of those who oppose his administration's policies, they are ``traitor scum.'' This outrages congressional Democrats, who respond with a two-pronged strategy of ¹ demanding that the troops be brought home, and ² voting overwhelmingly against a resolution to bring the troops home.

TRUE ITEM: During the debate on Iraq, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) calls U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) ``a Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.''

Tom DeLay is indicted for cattle rustling.

Abroad, unemployed ghetto youths in France go on a weeks-long rampage, burning thousands of cars to express their view that being an unemployed French ghetto youth sucks. Outraged, French President Jacques Chirac announces that, as a precautionary move, he is relocating the army to Belgium.

In one of the month's more bizarre stories, a luxury cruise ship off the coast of Somalia is attacked by pirates in inflatable boats. The pirates are armed with machine guns and grenade launchers; unfortunately for them, the passengers are armed with cruise-ship food. The pirates barely escape with their lives under a deadly hail of falling entrees, including slabs of prime rib the size of queen mattresses.

ABSOLUTELY TRUE NOVEMBER ITEM: Michael ``Heckuva Job'' Brown, who resigned after being harshly criticized for his performance as FEMA director following Katrina, announces that he is starting a consulting business that will -- you are going to think I am making this up, but I am not -- advise clients on preparing for disasters.

And ``disaster'' is clearly the word for . . .

. . . DECEMBER . . . which begins on a troubling economic note, as General Motors, the world's largest auto maker, announces that, despite a massive program of rebates, zero-interest financing, employee discounts, lifetime mechanical warranties and dealer incentives, it has not actually sold a car since March of 1998. ````We're in real trouble,'' states troubled CEO Rick Wagoner, adding, ``Even I drive a Kia.''

In other troubling financial news, Delta Air Lines announces a plan to convert its entire fleet of planes to condominiums. Within hours, the housing bubble bursts.

The hurricane season, which has produced so many storms that the National Weather Service is now naming them after fraternities, fails to end as scheduled, as yet another hurricane, Epsilon, forms in the Atlantic. The good news is that Epsilon poses no threat whatsoever to land. The bad news is, it still manages to knock out power to most of South Florida.

In politics, Republicans and Democrats debate the war in Iraq with increasing bitterness, although both sides agree on the critical importance, with American troops in harm's way, of continuing to jack up the deficit. Tom DeLay flees to California, where a friendly jury agrees to hide him in the barn until things cool off.

Abroad, Western nations become increasingly suspicious that Iran is developing nuclear weapons when a giant mushroom cloud rises over the Iranian desert. The Iranian government quickly issues a statement explaining that the cloud was caused by, quote, ``mushrooms.'' As a precautionary measure, France surrenders anyway.

Greta Van Susteren is elected prime minister of Aruba.

As the troubled year draws to a troubling close, yet another hurricane, Kappa Sigma Gamma, forms in the South Atlantic, threatening to blast the U.S. mainland with a load of energy that, according to the National Hurricane Center, is the equivalent of 17 trillion six packs of Bud Light. On an even more ominous note, officials of the World Health Organization reveal that -- in what disease researchers have been calling ``the nightmare scenario'' -- a mad cow has become infected with bird flu. ``We don't want to cause panic,'' state the officials, ``but we give the human race six weeks, tops.''

So, OK, we're doomed. But look at the upside: If humanity becomes extinct, there's a chance that Paris Hilton will, too. So put on your party hat, raise your champagne glass, and join with me in this festive toast: Happy New Year!

Or however long it lasts.

January 7, 2006

Heck of a Job, Hayden!

by Ray McGovern

The eavesdropping-on-Americans scandal came as shock and betrayal to most employees of the National Security Agency – and to other intelligence officers, active and retired.

The idea that the once highly respected former director of NSA, Gen. Mike Hayden, had allowed himself to be seduced into sinning against NSA's first commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Spy on Americans," was initially met with incredulity. Sadly, no other conclusion became possible as we watched Hayden and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spin and squirm before the press on December 19 in their transparent attempt to square a circle.

For many of us veteran intelligence officers, the press conference put a damper on the Christmas spirit. The Gonzales-Hayden pas de deux should trouble other Americans as well, because the malleable Gen. Hayden, now bedecked with a fourth star, is Deputy Director of National Intelligence – the second highest official in the US intelligence community. Only time will tell what other extralegal activities he will condone.

The framers of the US Constitution must have been turning in their graves on December 19 as they watched Gonzales and Hayden defend the eavesdropping – especially as the two grappled with the $64 million question: Instead of simply flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), why didn't the administration ask Congress to change it, if the law really needed to be made less restrictive? (And that remains a big "if.")

Well-briefed by executive branch lawyers, Gonzales recited "our legal analysis – our position" that Congress's authorization of force in the wake of 9/11 gave the president the right to disregard FISA's prohibition, absent a court order, against using NSA to eavesdrop on Americans. This "position," of course, is quite a stretch; even the regime-friendly Washington Post has termed it "impossible to believe" the government's contention. While reading from his script, the Attorney General presented his case as well as it could be argued, but twice he slipped while answering a question as to why the administration decided to disregard the FISA law rather than try to amend it.

Letting the Cat out of the Bag

Asked why the administration had decided to take a "backdoor approach," Gonzales twice let the cat out of the bag:

"We have had discussions with Congress – as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible."

They went ahead and did it anyway.

Gen. Hayden's remarks were equally intriguing, as he repeatedly emphasized the need for "speed and agility." Describing the current eavesdropping effort as a "more aggressive program than would be traditionally available under FISA," he seemed equally at pains to stress that the program deals only with international calls for short periods of time. He is saying, in other words, that US citizens are monitored only sometimes – and just a little, so we're dealing with only tiny incompatibilities with the FISA law – and, anyhow, the president has said he has the authority anyway. New York Times reporter James Risen, who broke the story on NSA eavesdropping on Americans, says the communications of "roughly 500 people in the US have been intercepted every day over the past three or four years," which hardly jibes with the impression that Hayden seems to be trying to foster.

As for speed and flexibility, Hayden knows, better than virtually anyone else, that both are already built into the FISA law, which allows the government to begin eavesdropping immediately, as long as it sends catch-up paperwork to the FISA court within 72 hours. His acquiescence in administration instructions to make an end-run around FISA is a serious blow to the morale of those thousands who once worked for Hayden – and had admired him – as director of NSA, as well as to thousands of other intelligence officers, past and present, hoping against hope for more integrity at senior levels.

NSA Alumni

Appearing Tuesday on Democracy Now!, former NSA officer Russell Tice talked about NSA's ethos regarding eavesdropping on US citizens:

"A SIGINT [signals intelligence] officer [is] taught from very early on in their careers that you just do not do this. This is probably the number one commandment – you do not spy on Americans. It is drilled into our head over and over again in security briefings at least twice a year, where you ultimately have to sign a paper that says you have gotten the briefing. Everyone at NSA, who's a SIGINT officer knows that you do not do this – Apparently the leaders of NSA have decided that they were just going to go against the tenets of something that's gospel to a SIGINT officer – Hayden knew that this was illegal."

Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (ret.) was assigned to NSA headquarters in the late nineties while working for Gen. Hayden, who was then head of the Air Force Intelligence Agency. At that time she – like others – had a favorable impression of Hayden and was therefore stunned upon learning of his acquiescence in, and rationalization of, eavesdropping on Americans. In a recent conversation, Karen used as an analogy what Gen. Brent Scowcroft said recently about Dick Cheney, with whom he had worked for many years – "I don't know Dick Cheney." As for her, said Karen, "I don't know Gen. Hayden."

Cancer Metastasizes at the Top

It does not seem so very long ago that John Dean saw fit to warn President Richard Nixon that there was a "cancer on the presidency." Now prevalent among top Bush administration officials is a two-fold malady. One – GAGA (Go-Along-to-Get-Along) – has been around a long time. The other might be called "Colin Cancer," after former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell.

At Christmas, the still unrepentant Powell came out of limbo, just before the Vatican closed it down. Once again he was feted in the indiscriminate mainstream media, which has decided to forgive and forget his unconscionable role in spreading a trumped-up justification for what he well knew was an unprovoked war (not to mention the media's complicity in that same deceit). Powell's claims that he had no information that there were doubts regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are demonstrable lies.

Has he forgotten the strong doubt expressed by chief UN inspector Hans Blix and his people on the ground in Iraq, who enjoyed virtually unfettered access in the months immediately before the US/UK attack on March 19, 2003, and who pleaded in vain to be allowed to continue their search for WMD? Does he not remember that his own intelligence analysts at State had warned him time and time again of the bogus "intelligence" reports being manufactured at the Pentagon and the aiming-to-please analysis being served up at CIA? (Much of this is documented in the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee of July 2004.) Heck of a job, Colin!

And is it not curious that Powell "forgot" to take his own intelligence analysts along with him to CIA headquarters for those (in)famous four days and nights of preparation for his shameful performance at the UN on February 5, 2003, and that he neglected to heed his analysts' warnings about the falsehoods and hyperbole they had seen in early drafts of that speech?

Sorry, but I find it impossible to feel sorry for Colin Powell as he laments the fact that his UN speech left a "blot" on his record. What about the blot it put on the reputation of the United States? What about the 2,200 US servicemen and women who have died in Iraq – not to mention the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed because he, and those like him, lacked to guts to shake off the GAGA syndrome and try to halt the march of folly? Powell was one of the very few who might have stopped it.

True to character, Powell continues to march in lockstep with the president, telling ABC last week that he saw "nothing wrong with the president authorizing" warrant-less eavesdropping, which, Powell added, "should continue." As for the missing weapons of mass destruction, Powell insisted to George Stephanopoulos: "Some of the intelligence was right. There's no question that Saddam Hussein had the intention of having such weapons." It is a very old, tiresome chestnut; but George just smiled sweetly, not willing to challenge the matinee idol.

Suffice it to say that Powell's chutzpah and the continued lionization of him in the media give very poor example for younger generals, most of whom lack antibodies for GAGA – which, in turn, makes them all the more susceptible to Colin cancer. What the Haydens of this world need is positive example, but Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has assembled a coterie of star-studded sycophants. Joint Chiefs chair Marine Gen. Peter Pace did summon the courage recently to correct Rumsfeld and insist that our troops are required to stop the torture they witness, not simply to "report" it. We shall have to see how long Pace lasts in the job.

Hope in Whistleblowers

The good news is that truth tellers (also known as leakers) have stopped being intimidated and are doing their patriotic duty. The New York Times's James Risen, who first revealed the program allowing eavesdropping on Americans, has emphasized that this is the "purest case of whistleblowers coming forward" that he has encountered in his 25 years as a reporter. According to Risen, many of then were "tormented by their knowledge" of the way the Bush administration was "skirting the law." "Something was wrong – and they came forward, I believe, simply to make the public aware of this," said Risen who, appropriately, calls the truth tellers "patriots."

Risen pointed out that these are people involved in the day-to-day struggle to defeat terrorism and who have intimate knowledge of the issues. "They came to us because they thought you have to follow the rules and you have to follow the law."

Risen's sources, of course, are the very people the Justice Department has launched a major investigation to apprehend and, as the saying goes, "bring to justice."

January 05, 2006

Security doesn’t require snooping

By: Molly Ivins

MY THEORY is that they don’t tell him anything, that’s why the president keeps sounding like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

There he was at Brooke Army Medical Center over the weekend, once again getting it wrong: “I can say that if somebody from al-Qaida’s calling you, we’d like to know why. In the meantime, this program is conscious of people’s civil liberties, as am I. This is a limited program ... I repeat, limited. And it’s limited to calls from outside the United States, to calls within the United States.”

So then the White House had to go back and explain that, well, no, actually, the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program is not limited to calls from outside the United States, or to calls from people known or even suspected of being with al-Qaida. Turns out thousands of Americans and resident foreigners have been or are being monitored and recorded by the NSA. It’s more like information-mining, which is what, you may recall, the administration said it would not do. But now Bush has to investigate The New York Times because Bush has been breaking the law, you see?

I really don’t think he’d sound like an idiot if they kept him informed. He would, however, still sound like a kid trying to get out of trouble by tattling on something Billy did: “My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program [the NSA surveillance program] in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.”

There he goes again. He is being deceitful and insincere. Bush and Co. have broken the law, and furthermore, it was completely unnecessary to do so. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is not a hindrance to tracking down al-Qaida — every objection to its requirements is easily refuted.

So Bush breaks a law he didn’t remotely need to and then denounces anyone who discusses this as helping the enemy. Come on. It’s so stupid. The choice is not between a police state and another al-Qaida attack. (Speaking of disingenuous, if you wanted to make this country safer from terrorist attack, you’d do a lot better to trade in the NSA spy program for some sensible precautions at chemical plants, or making the Department of Homeland Security into something resembling an effective agency.)

I love the way we always start secret spy programs with great vows that the information shall be guarded and the innocent protected — and it turns out one of the first to make use of the NSA program for his own purposes was that parfait, gentil soul of discretion John Bolton, the Godzilla diplomat. Came out during his confirmation hearings: Bolton — no one’s idea of a judicious, reticent man — called on the NSA 10 times to identify sources he wanted the names of, presumably in connection with NSA’s shamelessly undercover spying on the United Nations just before the Iraq War started.

Now, look at how this stuff spreads. We’re only talking about the NSA, a top-security spy agency, super-secret — surely it can hang onto information without having it leak all over hell and gone, right? Wrong. Also in the business of spying on American citizens are the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and dozens of private contractors.

Do you remember a parlor game that was popular a few years ago called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? The game was to name any actor and then see who could connect him to the actor Kevin Bacon in the least number of moves. For example, Elvis Presley: Presley once appeared in a film with Ed Asner, Ed Asner later appeared in a film with Kevin Bacon, therefore Presley has a Bacon score of two.

How long do you think it would take to connect you to Osama bin Laden?

Another reason to be deeply worried about a huge domestic spying operation is that it will inevitably be manned by nincompoops. Just take, for example, this lovely 2003 memo from an FBI agent railing at what he perceived as the dreadful restraints by John Ashcroft’s Justice Department: “While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from [Justice’s] failure to let us use the tools given to us.”

Yep, time after time, it’s those radical militant librarians impeding those pitiful, helpless agents at the FBI.

Speaking of helpless FBI agents, in a recent column I misattributed the FBI’s fine program of spying on vegans and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to the NSA. I’m sure both agencies would appreciate a correction.

P.S. — You can always suggest to the radical militant librarians that instead of saying, “Shhhh!’ they yell, “Shut up!”

Ivins is a syndicated columnist.