Friday, December 30, 2005

Another nail in the coffin...

US intelligence service bugged website visitors despite ban

· Agency apologises for use of 'cookie' tracking files
· Exposure adds to pressure over White House powers

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Friday December 30, 2005
The Guardian

The intelligence service at the centre of the row over eavesdropping tracked visitors to its website, despite US government regulations. Monitoring files, known as "cookies", were discovered by a privacy activist at a time when the White House is on the defensive about its use of the National Security Agency to monitor the communications of US citizens.
Although the cookies were dismantled this week and the NSA issued an apology on Wednesday, the episode will add to pressure on the White House to engage in a national debate about its use of the agency, and its interpretation of the constitutional limits on George Bush's presidential powers.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Monarchical Power: A President Above the Law

Published on Thursday, December 22, 2005 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Bush and Wiretaps: Congress, Citizens, This Means War
by Jay Bookman

In asserting his right to ignore the law, President Bush has slapped Congress right across the face and told them they better like it.

Congress can now mutter "Yes, sir" and cower in its corner like a whipped dog, as it has for most of the past five years, or it can fight back to defend its institutional authority. Either choice will mark a turning point in U.S. history.

At immediate issue is the president's decision four years ago to allow the National Security Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, to spy on phone conversations and e-mails of U.S. civilians without court-approved warrants. President Bush insists the program is legal, but it's important to understand what he means by that term.

Bush and his advisers do not claim that his actions are legal because they abide by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA; they quite clearly violate that law. Instead, they claim his actions are legal because as commander in chief, he can violate the law if he chooses and still be acting legally.

It is, in other words, his royal prerogative.

That is an extraordinary assertion of executive power, particularly since the president claims this authority will last "so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens," which is pretty much forever.

Conservatives rushing to support Bush's position out of personal loyalty might want to think about that. If allowed to stand, the president's claim will fundamentally alter the balance of power not just between Congress and the presidency, but between our government and its citizens, and it will do so regardless of who occupies the Oval Office in the future.

Bush grounds his argument on need, claiming that current law gives him too little leeway to fight the war on terror effectively. That argument has at least four basic flaws.

First, it ought to alarm anyone who is truly serious about preserving personal liberty in the face of government power. "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom," British statesman William Pitt warned in 1783. "It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

Second, the claim that Bush has had to violate FISA to protect our security is false. Under FISA, the government has explicit authority to begin wiretapping whenever it deems necessary, without seeking prior approval from a judge. The law merely requires the executive to seek after-the-fact approval from a top-secret special court within 72 hours. Since 1978 that FISA court has rejected just five of 18,748 warrants sought by the government.

Third, even if the law were defective, as Bush claims, no president has the power to make that determination on his own. This is a democracy; if there's a problem with a law, the Constitution gives us a process for fixing it. In this case, FISA was a carefully calibrated, thoroughly debated effort to find the right balance between security and liberty; Bush does not have the authority to simply toss that work out the window because he disagrees with it. That's the power of a dictator, not of a president.

Fourth, and most fundamentally, this argument of necessity calls into question who we have become as a people.

More than 160,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq this holiday season, putting their lives, bodies, souls and futures on the line. Thousands more are on duty in Afghanistan. And while those of us here at home celebrate their bravery, for the most part we are not required to share in it. We let them do the fighting and dying for us; we do the applauding and burying.

We do, however, run an infinitesimally small chance of falling victim to a terrorist attack. It happened once; it could certainly happen again, and we should do everything within reason to prevent a recurrence.

But it does not seem too much to ask that in facing down that danger, we demonstrate just a fraction of the bravery and resolution that our soldiers show. Osama bin Laden, after all, is not Adolf Hitler or imperial Japan or the Soviet Union.

If we civilians quake at the comparatively minor danger that he and his followers pose, if we rush to offer up our civil liberties in hopes of a little more safety, we prove ourselves unworthy of the sacrifice that our men and women in uniform are prepared to make.

Yes, the president has told us we should be fearful, encouraging us to compromise not just our freedom but our constitutional system of government. But if this is still the country we claim it to be, we will tell him no.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why we can kiss the constitution goodbye

From the Daou Report:

The Dynamic of a Bush Scandal: How the Spying Story Will Unfold (and Fade) - The third button on the Daou Report's navigation bar links to the U.S. Constitution, a Constitution many Americans believe is on life support - if not already dead. The cause of its demise is the corrosive interplay between the Bush administration, a bevy of blind apologists, a politically apathetic public, a well-oiled rightwing message machine, lapdog reporters, and a disorganized opposition. The domestic spying case perfectly illuminates the workings of that system. And the unfolding of this story augurs poorly for those who expect it to yield different results from other administration scandals.

Here's why: the dynamic of a typical Bush scandal follows familiar contours...

1. POTUS circumvents the law - an impeachable offense.

2. The story breaks (in this case after having been concealed by a news organization until well after Election 2004).

3. The Bush crew floats a number of pushback strategies, settling on one that becomes the mantra of virtually every Republican surrogate. These Republicans face down poorly prepped Dem surrogates and shred them on cable news shows.

4. Rightwing attack dogs on talk radio, blogs, cable nets, and conservative editorial pages maul Bush's critics as traitors for questioning the CIC.

5. The Republican leadership plays defense for Bush, no matter how flagrant the Bush over-reach, no matter how damaging the administration's actions to America's reputation and to the Constitution. A few 'mavericks' like Hagel or Specter risk the inevitable rightwing backlash and meekly suggest that the president should obey the law. John McCain, always the Bush apologist when it really comes down to it, minimizes the scandal.

6. Left-leaning bloggers and online activists go ballistic, expressing their all-too-familiar combination of outrage at Bush and frustration that nothing ever seems to happen with these scandals. Several newspaper editorials echo these sentiments but quickly move on to other issues.

7. A few reliable Dems, Conyers, Boxer, et al, take a stand on principle, giving momentary hope to the progressive grassroots/netroots community. The rest of the Dem leadership is temporarily outraged (adding to that hope), but is chronically incapable of maintaining the sense of high indignation and focus required to reach critical mass and create a wholesale shift in public opinion. For example, just as this mother of all scandals hits Washington, Democrats are still putting out press releases on Iraq, ANWR and a range of other topics, diluting the story and signaling that they have little intention of following through. This allows Bush to use his three favorite weapons: time, America's political apathy, and make-believe 'journalists' who yuck it up with him and ask fluff questions at his frat-boy pressers.

8. Reporters and media outlets obfuscate and equivocate, pretending to ask tough questions but essentially pushing the same narratives they've developed and perfected over the past five years, namely, some variation of "Bush firm, Dems soft." A range of Bush-protecting tactics are put into play, one being to ask ridiculously misleading questions such as "Should Bush have the right to protect Americans or should he cave in to Democratic political pressure?" All the while, the right assaults the "liberal" media for daring to tell anything resembling the truth.

9. Polls will emerge with 'proof' that half the public agrees that Bush should have the right to "protect Americans against terrorists." Again, the issue will be framed to mask the true nature of the malfeasance. The media will use these polls to create a self-fulfilling loop and convince the public that it isn't that bad after all. The president breaks the law. Life goes on.

10. The story starts blending into a long string of administration scandals, and through skillful use of scandal fatigue, Bush weathers the storm and moves on, further demoralizing his opponents and cementing the press narrative about his 'resolve' and toughness. Congressional hearings might revive the issue momentarily, and bloggers will hammer away at it, but the initial hype is all the Democratic leadership and the media can muster, and anyway, it's never as juicy the second time around...

Rinse and repeat.

It's a battle of attrition that Bush and his team have mastered. Short of a major Dem initiative to alter the cycle, to throw a wrench into the system, to go after the media institutionally, this cycle will continue for the foreseeable future.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia

Christmas was not celebrated until 200 years after Jesus's death. The first to observe it did so in April and May.

The date of Dec. 25th was not assigned until over 300 years after the fact.

As you can see, the date comes from the birth of the sun-god (who was worshipped by Emperor Constantine) in Rome.

Natalis Invicti. The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont's epoch-making "Textes et Monuments" etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 12, p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus' Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Chrisian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355).

The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the sun is in Cypr., "De pasch. Comp.", xix, "O quam præclare providentia ut illo die quo natus est Sol . . . nasceretur Christus." - "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born." - In the fourth century, Chrysostom, "del Solst. Et Æquin." (II, p. 118, ed. 1588), says: "Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiæ." - "But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice." Already Tertullian (Apol., 16; cf. Ad. Nat., I, 13; Orig. c. Cels., VIII, 67, etc) had to assert that Sol was not the Christians' God; Augustine (Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P. L., XXXV, 1652) denounces the heretical indentification of Christ with Sol. Pope Leo I (Serm. xxxvii in nat. dom., VII, 4; xxii, II, 6 in P. L., LIV, 218 and 198) bitterly reproves solar survivals -- Christians, on the very doorstep of the Apostles' basilica, turn to adore the rising sun. Sun-worship has bequeathed features to modern popular worship in Armenia, where Chistians had once temporarily and externally conformed to the cult of the material sun (Cumont, op. cit., p. 356).

But even should a deliberate and legitimate "baptism" of a pagan feast be seen here no more than the transference of the date need be supposed. The "mountain-birth" of Mithra and Christ's in the "grotto" have nothing in common: Mithra's adoring shepherds (Cumont, op. cit., I, ii, 4, p. 304 sqq.) are rather borrowed from Christian sources than vice versa.

Shut up and have a merry Christmas, or else


Bah, Humbug
The horrors of December in a one-party state.
By Christopher Hitchens

I used to harbor the quiet but fierce ambition to write just one definitive, annihilating anti-Christmas column and then find an editor sufficiently indulgent to run it every December. My model was the Thanksgiving pastiche knocked off by Art Buchwald several decades ago and recycled annually in a serious ongoing test of reader tolerance. But I have slowly come to appreciate that this hope was in vain. The thing must be done annually and afresh. Partly this is because the whole business becomes more vile and insufferable—and in new and worse ways—every 12 months. It also starts to kick in earlier each year: It was at Thanksgiving this year that, making my way through an airport, I was confronted by the leering and antlered visage of what to my disordered senses appeared to be a bloody great moose. Only as reason regained her throne did I realize that the reindeer—that plague species—were back.

Not long after I'd swallowed this bitter pill, I was invited onto Scarborough Country on MSNBC to debate the proposition that reindeer were an ancient symbol of Christianity and thus deserving of First Amendment protection, if not indeed of mandatory display at every mall in the land. I am told that nobody watches that show anymore—certainly I heard from almost nobody who had seen it—so I must tell you that the view taken by the host was that coniferous trees were also a symbol of Christianity, and that the Founding Fathers had endorsed this proposition. From his cue cards, he even quoted a few vaguely deistic sentences from Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, neither of them remotely Christian in tone. When I pointed out the latter, and added that Christmas trees, yule logs, and all the rest were symbols of the winter solstice "holidays" before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area, I was greeted by a storm of abuse, as if I had broken into the studio instead of having been entreated to come by Scarborough's increasingly desperate staff. And when I added that it wasn't very Tiny Tim-like to invite a seasonal guest and then tell him to shut up, I was told that I was henceforth stricken from the Scarborough Rolodex. The ultimate threat: no room at the Bigmouth Inn.

This was a useful demonstration of what I have always hated about the month of December: the atmosphere of a one-party state. On all media and in all newspapers, endless invocations of the same repetitive theme. In all public places, from train stations to department stores, an insistent din of identical propaganda and identical music. The collectivization of gaiety and the compulsory infliction of joy. Time wasted on foolishness at one's children's schools. Vapid ecumenical messages from the president, who has more pressing things to do and who is constitutionally required to avoid any religious endorsements.

And yet none of this party-line unanimity is enough for the party's true hard-liners. The slogans must be exactly right. No "Happy Holidays" or even "Cool Yule" or a cheery Dickensian "Compliments of the season." No, all banners and chants must be specifically designated in honor of the birth of the Dear Leader and the authority of the Great Leader. By chance, the New York Times on Dec. 19 ran a story about the difficulties encountered by Christian missionaries working among North Korean defectors, including a certain Mr. Park. One missionary was quoted as saying ruefully that "he knew he had not won over Mr. Park. He knew that Christianity reminded Mr. Park, as well as other defectors, of 'North Korean ideology.' " An interesting admission, if a bit of a stretch. Let's just say that the birth of the Dear Leader is indeed celebrated as a miraculous one—accompanied, among other things, by heavenly portents and by birds singing in Korean—and that compulsory worship and compulsory adoration can indeed become a touch wearying to the spirit.

Our Christian enthusiasts are evidently too stupid, as well as too insecure, to appreciate this. A revealing mark of their insecurity is their rage when public places are not annually given over to religious symbolism, and now, their fresh rage when palaces of private consumption do not follow suit. The Fox News campaign against Wal-Mart and other outlets—whose observance of the official feast-day is otherwise fanatical and punctilious to a degree, but a degree that falls short of unswerving orthodoxy—is one of the most sinister as well as one of the most laughable campaigns on record. If these dolts knew anything about the real Protestant tradition, they would know that it was exactly this paganism and corruption that led Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist—to ban the celebration of Christmas altogether.

No believer in the First Amendment could go that far. But there are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go at any time and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as "churches," and they can also force passersby to look at the displays and billboards they erect and to give ear to the bells that they ring. In addition, they can count on numberless radio and TV stations to beam their stuff all through the ether. If this is not sufficient, then god damn them. God damn them everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Show me your papers, Ohio

Bill Would Allow Arrests For No Reason In Public Place: "A bill on Gov. Bob Taft's desk right now is drawing a lot of criticism, NewsChannel5 reported.

One state representative said it resembles Gestapo-style tactics of government, and there could be changes coming on the streets of Ohio's small towns and big cities.

The Ohio Patriot Act has made it to the Taft's desk, and with the stroke of a pen, it would most likely become the toughest terrorism bill in the country. The lengthy piece of legislation would let police arrest people in public places who will not give their names, address and birth dates, even if they are not doing anything wrong."

Any guesses as to which party Gov. Taft is in? Anybody seeing a pattern emerging here?

Friday, December 16, 2005

And a Happy New Year!

Oh yeah, and the Orwellian 'PATRIOT' (yes, it is actually an acronym) Act looks to be stonewalled in the Senate.

The Christian Defense Coalition and the National Rifle Association are just two of the groups opposed to renewing the sweeping legislation.

"Folks, when we're dealing with civil liberties, you don't compromise them," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, an NRA board member.

Progressionsession's man of the year - Russ Feingold.

Christmas coming early this year?

Look at all the good news!

The government is doubling the amount it is to spend on New Orleans' flood defenses.

and here.

Bush backs down on torture bill. Good triumphs!

and here.

Republicans rounding on Bush over Iraq.

And, of course, the Wimberley Texans won the state title.

And the UT Longhorns are going to the Rose Bowl.

Merry Christmas!

and Happy Festivus from the rest of us...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tyranny and Terror in Nepal (continues)

Nepalese Protest Shooting of Villagers
By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA, Associated Press Writer

KATMANDU, Nepal - A Nepalese soldier ended an argument with a group of villagers by spraying them with bullets, killing at least 11 people, officials and witnesses said Thursday.

Another 19 civilians were injured in the shooting late Wednesday, the Royal Nepalese Army said in a statement.

The killings in Nagarkot, about 15 miles northeast of Katmandu, drew about 200 protesters Thursday to the hospital where the injured were taken.

Hours later, about 15,000 protesters led by an alliance of seven political parties marched through Katmandu demanding that King Gyanendra restore democracy and condemning the killings.

Well, slap my Yule Log and call it Christmas!

That's right kids, and this year's Secret Santa is Bob Novak.

Well, slap my Yule Log and call it Christmas!

Bob Novak Says President Knows Leak Source
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
Thu Dec 15, 5:36 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Columnist Bob Novak, who first published the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, says he is confident that President Bush knows who leaked Plame's name.

Novak said that "I'd be amazed" if the president didn't know the source's identity and that the public should "bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is."

Novak's remarks, reported in the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer, came during a question and answer session Tuesday after a speech sponsored by the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) urged Bush to identify Novak's source or to say that he does not know who it is.

In 2003, Novak exposed Plame's identity eight days after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat. In the column disclosing Plame's CIA status, Novak said the sources for his column were two administration officials.

The identity of Novak's sources has been one of the secrets in the CIA leak investigation.

Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, is one of Novak's sources, according to people close to the investigation, but his other source is not publicly known.

Novak apparently is cooperating with the criminal investigation of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, though the journalist has never said so.

The prosecutor has aggressively pursued contempt of court orders against reporters who have refused to cooperate and Novak is not among those who have become embroiled in court battles in the probe.

Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Bush to share the identity of Novak's sources if the president knows.

"You are in a position to clear this matter up quickly," Schumer said in a letter to the president on Wednesday.

"Unlike Mr. Novak, who can claim an interest in maintaining the confidentiality of his sources, there is no similar privilege arguably preventing you from sharing this information," Schumer wrote.

"You have repeatedly suggested that you would like to get to the bottom of this affair," Schumer reminded Bush. "At one point, in 2004, you suggested that anyone who was involved in leaking the name of the covert CIA operative would be fired."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Proud of my congressman for making a stand!

Rep. Lloyd Doggett: Reject the so-called Patriot Act
"Authoritarianism is not born full-bodied."
December 14, 2005

True patriots need not hide behind the flag nor apply phony titles to
cover the misguided purposes of their legislation. From its origin, the
grossly misnamed Patriot Act has cloaked its weakness by implying is
opponents are "un-patriots" - as in "unpatriotic."

This is all part of a troubling pattern: Secret prisons, sneak-and
peak searches, gag orders, redefining torture to exclude cruel and
degrading punishment, extraordinary rendition, combing through library
records, and even attempting to involve our military in spying on religious
groups -- these actions debase our values.

This bill should be rejected because it fails to strike the proper
balance between the security we demand and the liberties that we cherish.

Yes, Vice President Cheney emerged from his undisclosed, secure
location and took a brief pause from his campaign to preserve torture, in
order to enthusiastically embrace today's bill.

Intrusive, invasive powers in the hands of a few, with little oversight
and no accountability, is a formula for wrongdoing.

We should not surrender our civil liberties to any Administration.
Retreating to such abusive tactics is weakness, not strength.

We should not add even more powers to an Administration that has so
often been willing to abuse its existing powers.

We should not add more authority to an Administration that has acted in
authoritarian ways.

Real patriots understand: An all-powerful government can undermine
our security just as surely as a dangerous religious fanatic.

All this is occurring when the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, the
citizens' commission that this Administration fought at every step, has graded
the Administration and Republican-controlled Congress with an "F' for
failing to take the real steps that would protect our families. Instead
we get this kind of legislation.

Authoritarianism is not born full-bodied, it is conceived in small
injustices, which tolerated over time, become irreversible.

Benjamin Franklin understood when he said over 200 years ago that
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary
safety deserve neither their liberty nor safety."

This much is certain: Each day of this Administration brings more news
of both deaths of true patriots abroad and more abuses to our values by
those who claim to be patriots at home.

This is an Administration where the ends always seem to justify the
means, and the ends are too often misguided. But their "ends" betray our
safety, and their "means" betray our values.

To those who promote this misguided Act, pull down your false colors;
raise the American flag of freedom. Reject this bill.


Wallace leads liberal Christian protest against cuts for poor

A Religious Protest Largely From the Left
Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority

By Jonathan Weisman and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 14, 2005; A08

When hundreds of religious activists try to get arrested today to protest cutting programs for the poor, prominent conservatives such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will not be among them.

That is a great relief to Republican leaders, who have dismissed the burgeoning protests as the work of liberals. But it raises the question: Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?

Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.

"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor.

At the same time, House and Senate negotiators are hashing out their differences on a tax-cutting measure that is likely to include an extension of cuts in the tax rate on dividends and capital gains.

To mainline Protestant groups and some evangelical activists, the twin measures are an affront, especially during the Christmas season. Leaders of five denominations -- the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA and United Church of Christ -- issued a joint statement last week calling on Congress to go back to the drawing board and come up with a budget that brings "good news to the poor."

Around 300 religious activists have vowed to kneel in prayer this morning at the Cannon House Office Building and remain there until they are arrested. Wallis said that as they are led off, they will chant a phrase from Isaiah: "Woe to you legislators of infamous laws . . . who refuse justice to the unfortunate, who cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan."

To GOP leaders and their supporters in the Christian community, it is not that simple. Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday that the activists' position is not "intellectually right."

The "right tax policy," such as keeping tax rates low on business investment, "grows the economy, increases federal revenue -- and increased federal revenue makes it easier for us to pursue policies that we all can agree have social benefit," he said.

Dobson also has praised what he calls "pro-family tax cuts." And Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Christian group Concerned Women for America, said religious conservatives "know that the government is not really capable of love."

"You look to the government for justice, and you look to the church and individuals for mercy. I think Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that. FEMA just failed, and the church and the Salvation Army and corporations stepped in and met the need," she said.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts.

"There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact," he said. "But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility."

The Family Research Council is involved in efforts to stop the bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan as well as sex trafficking and slavery abroad. But Perkins said those issues are far different from the budget cuts now under protest. "The difference there is enforcing laws to keep people from being enslaved, to be sold as sex slaves," he said. "We're talking here about massive welfare programs."

The Rev. Richard Cizik, a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, returned yesterday from the Montreal conference on global climate change, another issue of interest to evangelicals. "Frankly, I don't hear a lot of conversation among evangelicals" about budget cuts in anti-poverty programs, he said. "What I hear our people asking is, why are we spending $231 million on a bridge to nowhere in Alaska and can't find $50 million for African Union forces to stop genocide in Darfur?"

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Friday, December 09, 2005

Was the shooting in Miami 'by the book', or was it Menezes all over again?

Hard to say, but one eyewitness says that the disturbed man was just trying to get off the plane, and did not actually use the word 'bomb'.

After the misinformation that spread after the Menezes shooting, with claims that he was running away from police turning out to be false, we should take everything said about this new incident with a big grain of salt.

I am glad that air marshals are there, but if I had bipolar disorder, I'd take the train.

By the way, the couple were returning from a missionary trip in South America to their home in Maitland, Florida. Oddly, my grandparents live in Maitland, Florida, and recently went on a missionary trip to South America. Weird.

This from the NY Times
Fretful Passenger, Turmoil on Jet and Fatal Shots
MIAMI, Dec. 8 - Lingering near his departure gate at Miami International Airport on Wednesday, Rigoberto Alpizar appeared flustered and loath to make the last, brief leg of his long journey home.

"He was standing up against the wall with his wife," said Alan Tirpak, a fellow passenger on American Airlines Flight 924 to Orlando, who spotted Mr. Alpizar next to the passageway leading to their plane around 2 p.m. "He looked agitated - had a very nervous, agitated look to him. As I walked past them, his wife told him, 'Let's let these people get on first. It will be O.K.' "

Minutes later, after the couple had found their seats at the back of the aircraft and Mr. Tirpak had settled into his seat near first class, Mr. Alpizar ran through the aisle toward the front of the plane, almost knocking over a flight attendant, "trying desperately" to get off with his wife at his heels, recalled another passenger, Natalia Cayon.

When he ignored calls from two federal marshals to stop, he was gunned down in the passageway.

The marshals said Mr. Alpizar had said he had a bomb.

Relatives said the couple had been returning from a stressful vacation. Mr. Alpizar's wife, Anne Buechner, had been robbed in Peru, losing her wallet, passport, laptop computer and cellphone, said her sister-in-law, Kelley Buechner of Milwaukee.

"That really upset Rigo," Ms. Buechner said in an interview at her home, using the family's nickname for Mr. Alpizar, a Costa Rica native who became an American citizen a few years ago. "Anne was robbed in Peru, and it was very unsettling to them both."

Mr. Tirpak, flying home from a business trip, said that as the couple waited to board Mr. Alpizar had begun singing the refrain from the old spiritual, "Let My People Go."

The Miami-Dade Police Department, which is investigating whether the shooting was justified, said it had interviewed more than 100 passengers and crew members from Flight 924 and that preliminary evidence suggested Mr. Alpizar had repeatedly refused to surrender. The White House, meanwhile, defended the actions of the air marshals.

"I don't think anyone wants to see it come to a situation like this," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "But these marshals appear to have acted in a way that's consistent with the extensive training that they have received. And we'll see what the investigation shows, and lessons learned from that will be applied to future training and protocol."

Chief Willie Marshall, who leads the Miami-Dade criminal investigations unit, said Mr. Alpizar had run off the plane and, while on the passageway, reached into a bag that was "strapped to his chest." That was when both air marshals opened fire with multiple shots, he said.

Chief Marshall said that homicide detectives had interviewed Ms. Buechner throughout the night and that she had told them her husband had received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder roughly a decade ago. "She provided us some very valuable information and insight about what was going on with her husband," he said. "She told us he had not taken his medication recently."

Though Chief Marshall said the couple had been on a vacation, a neighbor described it as a missionary trip and said both were frequent churchgoers.

Both marshals aboard Flight 924 were hired in 2002, said David M. Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service. One was a four-year veteran of the Border Patrol and spoke fluent Spanish, he said, and the other had worked for two years as a customs inspector.

Mr. Adams said he did not know what language the air marshals had used to address Mr. Alpizar. But another marshal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because air marshals have been threatened with dismissal for speaking to the news media, said he understood that instructions had been given in both Spanish and English.

One marshal said that air marshals are typically the first to board planes, even before the disabled and travelers with young children, and that Wednesday's incident had occurred before the plane door was closed. He theorized that the marshals had probably not had a chance to observe Mr. Alpizar in the boarding lounge.

Chief Marshall would not reveal the specifics of his agency's interviews with people who were on the aircraft, including whether any had said they heard Mr. Alpizar threaten that he had a bomb. But Mark Raynor, an American Airlines pilot and local union official in Miami, said an account he heard from the plane's captain had supported law enforcement accounts of the shooting.

Mr. Raynor said the captain had been outside the cockpit at the time of the shooting and witnessed it, but the first officer had been inside the cockpit and had seen nothing.

Chief Marshall said detectives were waiting to interview the two air marshals and hoped to do so on Thursday. The marshals were placed on paid leave on Thursday, pending the outcome of an internal investigation, officials said.

Ms. Buechner returned Thursday to the white ranch home she had shared with her husband of 18 years in Maitland, outside Orlando. Relatives who had flown to Miami drove her the roughly four hours home after she had finished talking to detectives, Chief Marshall said.

Ms. Buechner did not speak to reporters who had gathered outside the home on a bleak, rainy day, but her brother, Steven Buechner of Milwaukee, and her sister, Jeanne Jentsch, of Sheboygan, Wis., emerged to read a short statement and ask the news media to leave the family alone.

"Rigo Alpizar was a loving, gentle and caring husband, uncle, brother, son and friend," Ms. Buechner said. "He was born in Costa Rica and became a proud American citizen several years ago. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Kelley Buechner was more forthcoming as she talked to a reporter while drinking coffee in her Milwaukee living room, the television news droning in the background.

She said Mr. Alpizar had learned English after moving to Florida from Costa Rica. She described him as a joyous, playful man who enjoyed working in his garden and taking his niece to Disney World and the beach when she visited every summer.

"It's not the Rigo we knew," she said. "This person who you are seeing is not our Rigo."

Until now, Kelley Buechner said, she had never heard that her brother-in-law was bipolar, only that he had had "a chemical imbalance" for which he took vitamins. She said she had never known Mr. Alpizar to stop taking his medication.

If he was bipolar, she said, it was fitting of Anne Buechner not to discuss it with family. "She's the type who doesn't want to burden people with her problems," Kelley Buechner said.

Her daughter, Ciara, 11, described Mr. Alpizar as a gentle uncle whom she could not imagine hurting anyone. "If I caught lizards and accidentally killed one, he would almost be kind of sad," Ciara said of her annual visits to Florida. "He would say, 'What if that happened to you?' "

Reporting for this article was contributed byTerry Aguayo in Miami, Jeff Bailey in Chicago, Christine Blank in Maitland, Fla., Dennis Blank in Orlando and Barbara Miner in Milwaukee.

Let the Campaign Begin!


Kinky Friedman files papers to run for governor

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Humorist Kinky Friedman took his first formal step toward the governor's office today, promising, on a bitterly cold day, to work hard at putting "a chill up the spine of every politician."

The musician-turned-mystery writer officially filed his declaration of intent to run as an independent candidate for governor with the secretary of state.

But to get on the ballot next November, he needs to collect at least 45,540 voters' signatures — or 1 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election — from people next spring who don't cast ballots in any party primary or runoff.

Friedman told a few dozen supporters and reporters huddled for a brief, sidewalk announcement that his real opponent was not Gov. Rick Perry, but voter apathy.

Only 29 percent of Texas' voting age population cast ballots in the 2002 gubernatorial general election.

"If we can get the 29 percent who voted last time up to 39 percent, it'll all be over, and there will be a whole new spirit blowing through Texas," he said. "There will be a smile on everybody's face and a chill up the spine of every politician."

Wearing his trademark, black cowboy hat and puffing on a cigar, Friedman said his heroes were the legendary American humorists Will Rogers and Mark Twain, who often used their humor and satire to critique the culture and politics of their times.

"They were truth-tellers," he said.

"The point of humor and the point of fiction that I write is to sail as close to the truth as you can without sinking the ship."

Friedman, who has been campaigning for months after announcing his candidacy in front of the Alamo, said his campaign has about 20 staffers, thousands of volunteers and offices in Austin and Fort Worth.

Chris Bell, a former congressman and city councilman from Houston, plans to file for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination today . Felix Alvarado, an educator from Fort Worth, also has said he will run for governor as a Democrat.

Democrat Bob Gammage, a former Houston-area congressman and state legislator and former Texas Supreme Court justice, also is considering a gubernatorial race.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is challenging Perry in the March Republican primary.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Voters take back elections

Print Story: Voters take back elections on Yahoo! News:

Tue Dec 6, 7:42 AM ET

While Congress wallows in the ethical swamp where money and politics meet, one more state just found a way out. Voters there will pay for campaigns, which might be the bargain of the century. They'll save countless dollars doled from public coffers to the favor seekers who fund campaigns now.

Connecticut's Legislature voted last week to create a public financing option for candidates who run for state office. Seven other states and two cities have done the same over the past decade - a movement that hasn't been spotted on the national radar but might auger a seismic shift in attitudes.

In Connecticut, an embarrassing run of state and local scandals, including the jailing of a corrupt governor and several others, finally forced action. But the experience of states like Maine and Arizona that pioneered the "clean money" alternative should encourage others to do the same.

The idea is simple: Candidates for the Connecticut Legislature or a statewide office who raise a modest amount of seed money from small donors to prove their legitimacy can qualify for public funds, which range from $25,000 for a state House race to $3 million for a gubernatorial campaign. In return, they must pledge to spurn private donations:

• In Maine, where the movement started, more than 80% of last year's legislative candidates rejected private money, freeing them to spend more time talking to voters about the issues instead of having to hustle the state's political big spenders.

• In Arizona, 56% of all candidates last year ran with "clean money."

• In North Carolina, a dozen judicial candidates accepted public money, avoiding the ethical quagmire of taking donations from those likely to have issues before the courts.

Experience suggests that public financing is creating more competition and encouraging more women and other first-time candidates to get involved. No wonder, then, that many incumbents and the special interests behind them don't like the idea, since it could threaten their hold on power. (In Massachusetts, the Legislature sabotaged a public financing plan that voters adopted overwhelmingly in a referendum.)

Connecticut's lawmakers had been avoiding reform for years, many of them comfortable with the too-cozy system of hitting up lobbyists and state contractors for campaign cash. But enough finally got weary of being ridiculed as "Corrupticut" to pass the reforms by comfortable margins.

Vermont, New Jersey and New Mexico have also adopted public financing on a limited basis, as have Albuquerque and Portland, Ore. - where it's called "voter-owned elections."

Defenders of the status quo ridicule public financing as welfare for politicians and warn of potential abuses. But while hundreds of candidates have used the option, the few cases of misuse or disputes about overspending are a small price for taking ownership of elections away from interests that want to manipulate them for their own benefit.

Whether it's the statehouse or Congress, if the public doesn't claim ownership of elections by paying for them, plenty of others are willing to do so - at the public's expense.