Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ground control to Major Dick

by Eric Alterman

 Last month, when President Bush signed the FISA compromise bill into law, the Nation joined a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union over the spying program. The new laws secure for the federal government "sweeping and virtually unregulated authority to monitor the international communications," and so naturally the Nation, which frequently reports from conflict zones, was concerned that their communication might not be private.

This should be a concern for all U.S. news outlets that do international reporting, although sadly the lawsuit didn't get much coverage from any of them. But one would think this should change things:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the newspapers' Indonesia bureaus in 2004.

Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., disclosed the episode in a phone call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, and apologized for it. He also spoke with Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, to apologize.

F.B.I. officials said the incident came to light as part of the continuing review by the Justice Department inspector general's office into the bureau's improper collection of telephone records through "emergency" records demands issued to phone providers.

The records were apparently sought as part of a terrorism investigation, but the F.B.I. did not explain what was being investigated or why the reporters' phone records were considered relevant.

This proves that the government monitoring the overseas communications of news organizations is not a theoretical concern -- though it would be no less important even then. They've done it at least once recently, we now know. But why? What reporters, and what phone records? Have they done it any other time? To whom? What safeguards are in place, if any, to keep this from happening again?

Really Lame Duck

McCain - Obama taxcut chart

Fox News suffers another debate snub; bloggers take a bow

by Eric Boehlert

BoehlertCoveted assignments for presidential debate moderators were handed out last week, and guess who was left off the list ... again.

After suffering the bitter, and unprecedented, blow during the Democratic primary season of having candidates refuse -- twice -- to appear in Fox News-sponsored forums when bloggers raised hell about the news organization's lack of legitimacy, Rupert Murdoch's news channel was again left off the list of news anchors tapped to moderate the must-see TV events in the fall.

Instead, the questions during the three presidential forums and one vice presidential debate will be posed by PBS' Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill, as well as NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS' Bob Schieffer.

Unlike the primaries, Fox News this time won't be locked out entirely; all the networks will be able to broadcast the debates. But the snub means that once again Fox News will be denied the chance to leave its imprint on the all-important debates. It won't be able to build its brand on the back of Democrats who have injected extraordinary passion and interest into the White House run.

That passion and interest has helped boost ratings for Fox News' cable competitors, while Fox's numbers have remained stagnant. Meaning, the unfolding presidential campaign has been a ratings dud so far for Fox News and its unofficial year of woe.

Flying piece of art causes museum chaos in Switzerland

A giant inflatable dog turd by American artist Paul McCarthy blew away from an exhibition in the garden of a Swiss museum, bringing down a power line and breaking a greenhouse window before it landed again, the museum said Monday.

The art work, titled "Complex S(expletive..)", is the size of a house. The wind carried it 200 metres (yards) from the Paul Klee Centre in Berne before it fell back to Earth in the grounds of a children's home, said museum director Juri Steiner.

The inflatable turd broke the window at the children's home when it blew away on the night of July 31, Steiner said. The art work has a safety system which normally makes it deflate when there is a storm, but this did not work when it blew away.

Steiner said McCarthy had not yet been contacted and the museum was not sure if the piece would be put back on display.

Assisted Living Firm Rejects Medicaid, Evicts Elderly

by Joseph Shapiro

An image from an investor presentation by Assisted Living Concepts Inc."To provide the best care for residents and to remain a solvent business, there are limits on the number of Medicaid residents any assisted living facility can serve."

Assisted Living Concepts statement
All Things Considered · A nationwide chain of assisted living facilities promised elderly residents that if money ran out, they could pay for services with Medicaid. A change in policy by the company, Assisted Living Concepts, means Medicaid is no longer accepted and those who cannot pay are being evicted.

Older people often say one of their biggest fears is to wind up in a nursing home. That is one reason the assisted living industry has boomed. It offers a comfortable alternative, where people get to live in their own private apartments and leave the cooking and cleaning to the staff. But assisted living is expensive. And when people run out of money, there are few government rules to protect them.

Evicted At Age 99

Cordelia Robertson turned 99 in May. Two days later, she got the eviction notice.

Her son, Gene Robertson, says even though his mother is confused and doesn't understand what's going on, she would be devastated if she had to leave the home outside Seattle she has lived in for nearly 10 years.

Obama is too smart to be president

Warrior John McCain: Far More Dangerous Than Bush


    During the hottest days of the Cold War, Gen. Thomas Power headed the Strategic Air Command, whose nuclear-armed B-52s were meant to deter the Soviet Union. General Power, like many of the Air Force brass at the time, believed that nuclear war with the Soviets was inevitable. He thought the United States would do better to fight that war sooner rather than later and believed we could emerge victorious. "At the end of the war," he argued in 1960, "if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!"

    Listening to John McCain talk about Iraq and Iran, I keep thinking of Power. Counter-insurgency and nuclear obliteration are poles apart, I know. But McCain's insistence on "winning in Iraq," remaining there "until Iraq is secure," and "bomb-bomb-bombing Iran" reveal the same mindset that made General Power so dangerous. Caught up in his fear that a military failure would encourage America's enemies, McCain can see no alternative to military victory, no matter what the cost. This might be a laudable spirit to drum into raw military recruits, but could prove extremely self-destructive in a commander in chief.


Lady Justice

The Pundits Speak: Keith Olbermann and other traditional journalists on gay issues

As part of the research for our Gay-Baiting '08 article, interviewed various television commentators about their opinion on the role of gay issues in the upcoming election. These are their responses. How much have things changed since the 2004 election when the Republicans used anti-gay sentiments to increase turnout for their party?
Keith Olbermann, Host, Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
When nobody can afford to go to a gay wedding, a straight wedding or a protest of a gay wedding, [the issue] is not going to make any difference. This is the danger of values, if you will, and that's used as a facetious term, values politics – when that's all you've got, when reality intervenes, like nobody can afford to keep their home or put gasoline or home winter heating oil in it this winter, people are going to say, "You're serious? You want me to vote for you when you've ruined the economy, ruined our place in the world, haven't stopped terrorism, made us kind of the bullies of the world, and I'm supposed to vote for you because you have some phony baloney belief that gay people shouldn't have the right to be just as miserable as all the straight married people?" Really, I sense in the country a strong sense of incredulity to a lot of this and it's not just gender or sexual orientation issues, but all these other things are just being trotted out and thrown out and nobody's responding to them.

Joe Scarborough, Host, Morning Joe: Well, Karl Rove's job was to get George Bush elected. I'm sure Rove looked at it and people who worked for Bush looked at it as a wedge issue to drive evangelicals out. And if you look at the results of 2004, it was an Evangelical base that ended up making the difference to George Bush in Florida and Ohio and in a lot of other states that really mattered. As far as the strategy they employed, it worked. But the world has changed, I think, at least, when it comes to social issues like gay marriage being used as a wedge issue.

Iraq Should Use Its Oil Sales to Pay for Rebuilding, Levin Says

By Aliza Marcus

The U.S. should stop paying for reconstruction projects in Iraq because the Baghdad government can fund the rebuilding from its sales of crude oil, two U.S. senators said.

Proposed legislation in the Senate would stop the U.S. from using any more taxpayer money to fund reconstruction projects in Iraq, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a Michigan Democrat, said today on CNN's ``Late Edition'' program.

``It is an outrage. It is absolutely offensive that American taxpayers who are paying $130 a barrel for Iraqi oil, $4 a gallon at the pump for Iraqi gasoline, are also spending taxpayers' dollars to reconstruct Iraq,'' Levin said.

U.S. agencies spent $23.2 billion on security, oil, electricity generation and water projects since the ouster of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his regime in 2003, according to an Aug. 5 report by Congress's investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office. The Iraqi government spent $3.9 billion on those needs in the past three years, the report said.

``We need to put a limitation on the use of building -- rebuilding of infrastructure in Iraq using American taxpayer funds,'' Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said on the show.

President George W. Bush also should demand that Iraq reimburse the U.S. for continuing reconstruction costs, Levin said. ``We're spending money to build hotels in the economic reconstruction zone at the Baghdad Airport. Those hotels will be owned by the Iraqi government. It is an outrage. It should end.''

Let's hear it for 'em

President Bush: The Clockwatcher-in-Chief?

I'm still on vacation--lucky me--but I've managed to watch a bit of the Olympics. The opening ceremony was rather impressive. Talk about organization and competence: two thousand and eight Tai Chi practitioners forming a perfect circle and maintaining it through a series of elaborate moves.

That was some counterpoint to George W. Bush. Later that night, during the parade of nations, he was practically slumped in his seat, toting a small American flag--was it made in China?--with a bored expression on his face. Prior to the games, there was a debate over whether he should attend and further legitimize the repressive Chinese regime. But as he sat there, that debate no longer seemed so relevant, for he looked irrelevant. There was no one next to him but his wife. And the question was, didn't he have anything better to do with his time? The apparent answer: no.

War was breaking out between Russia and Georgia. The economy in the United States was continuing a downward slide. Negotiations between Washington and Iraq over an agreement governing U.S. troops had seemingly failed. And his presidency was running out of time. Yet he seemed like not such a busy guy. He even stayed in China to watch events. I, too, would have enjoyed witnessing Michael Phelps first gold-medal victory of these Olympics, but, then again, I don't have a superpower to run. At least, Bush was able to hobnob with Henry Kissinger at that event. (He did meet with Chinese President Hu on Sunday for what he described, of course, as a "constructive" conversation.)

This all raised the question in my mind: what does Bush want to get done before the W. years are over. Not much, it seems.

Oil fight could trigger a federal shutdown

by Zachary Coile

House Republicans, who've been hounding Speaker Nancy Pelosi for weeks over her refusal to allow a vote on new domestic oil drilling, are plotting a high-stakes confrontation this fall that could spark a shutdown of the federal government.

Republicans see an opportunity when Congress returns Sept. 8 and will have to pass a temporary measure to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30. Democrats are likely to include in the measure an extension of the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling, which would otherwise expire at the end of September. GOP lawmakers warn they may try to block the measure - or pressure President Bush to veto it - if Democrats won't relent and allow the drilling ban to lapse. If neither side gives in, it would force at least a temporary shutdown of the government.


Bend over