Thursday, January 5

Snoopgate starts to spread...

I've long been saying that there was a strong likelyhood that Bush's political rivals, rather than Americans involved in al Qaeda activities, were the target of the NSA Spying...and it appears that one of those targets was Christiane Amanpour of CNN.

At least Andrea Mitchell as NBC seems to think so - as she asked this question to New York Times Report Joe Risen when interviewing him about his book "State of War".

From Americablog

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn't heard that.

What is also quite interesting is that Democratic Underground reports that the CNN Transcript of this interview was altered to remove the Amanpour question. When originally posted it was mere speculation, but apparently the salient details have been confirmed by NBC (regarding the question, investigation and it's subsequent scrubbing...)
NBC confirms it's investigating whether Bush spied on CNN's Christiane Amanpour
by John in DC - 1/04/2006 10:27:00 PM

That is the only way to read NBC's just-issued statement on why they deleted key portions of Andrea Mitchell's interview after we reported on it here earlier today. (snip)
Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.
This is quite big. Note exactly what NBC said.

- NBC did not say it pulled the references to Bush spying on Amanpour because it was inappropriate conjecture about something which Andrea Mitchell had no evidence.

- No, NBC said it pulled the references because it was still investigating the accusation and didn't want to scoop itself before it was finished investigating. And make no mistake, NBC is "continuing their inquiry."

So NBC isn't ready to go public yet on this story...but if their investigation shows that reporters such as Christine Amanpour was caught up in the NSA Wiretap...

Why would Bush do this? Because, as I reported a few weeks ago, journalists have some of the best contacts out there and it's not unusual for journalists to talk to both sides of the story, or in this case, the good guys and the "evil doers." What a better, if not illegal, way to find the terrorists and their associates?

But before you say "yeah, go for it," consider the implications of tapping Christiane Amanpour's phones:

1. Such a wiretap would likely include her home, office, and cell phones, and email correspondence, at the very least.

2. That means anyone Christiane has conversed with in the past four years, at least by phone or email, could have had their conversation taped by the US government.

3. That also means that anyone who uses any of Christiane's telephones or computers (work or home) could also have had their conversation bugged.

4. This includes Christiane's husband, former Clinton administration senior official Jamie Rubin, who was spokesman for the State Department.

5. Jamie Rubin was also chief foreign policy adviser to General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, and then worked as a senior national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

6. Did Jamie Rubin ever use his home phone, his wife's work phone, his wife's cell phone, her home computer or her work computer to communicate with John Kerry or Wesley Clark? If so, those conversations would have been bugged if Bush was tapping Amanpour.

7. Did Jamie Rubin ever in the past four years communicate with any elected officials in Washington, DC - any Senators or members of the US House? Any senior members of the Democratic party?

8. Has Rubin spoken with Bill Clinton, his former boss, in the past 4 years?

What would any of this have to do with Al-Qaeda? And further, even if Amanpour were talking to people associated with al-Qeada - so what? She's a reporter, of course they want to talk to her in order to put out their spin of events -- that communication doesn't make her a co-conspirator or is it likely to reveal any vital security infomation that CNN wouldn't also reveal on their own.

Just what is going on here?


Wednesday, January 4

Mining Accident or Inevitability?

Yesterday's Mining Tragedy, where 12 men were killed in a West Virginia Mine with only one survivor - has mostly played as a story the incredible premature mistake of announcing that 12 of them men had survived.

But I think the real story is the one discussed by Randi Rhodes today and the Washington Post, which points out that this accident may have been anything but...

THE MERE THOUGHT of being trapped at the bottom of a coal mine is horrible enough to send shivers down most people's backs. But after the explosion that trapped 13 men in a West Virginia coal mine early Monday, an equally chilling story of safety neglect may be emerging as well. According to Ellen Smith, editor of Mine Safety and Health News, the Sago coal mine, where the accident occurred, had an accident rate in 2004 that was three times higher than the national average. That record has since worsened: Last year, the mine's operators received 205 orders and citations for health and safety violations, 96 of which carried a "significant and substantial" risk of death or injury. In 2005 the mine was forced to halt operations 16 times after failing to comply with safety rules. Eight of those citations, which were among the most serious a mine can receive, occurred in the final quarter of the year.

Mining has never been a pristine or perfectly safe business. But there are mines in this country that operate safely and that receive no health and safety citations at all. At the very least, the safety problems at Sago should have caused officials at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for mine inspections, to take notice. Did they? We may never know. At the moment, a spokesman for the MSHA says it is "hard to say" whether the mine's record was unusual. Ms. Smith says the MSHA, which used to publish the results of its accident investigations, no longer does so. The Bush administration's preference for concealing formerly public information has, it seems, penetrated the mine safety inspection world, too.

Another question worth asking in the wake of this event is whether the culture of the MSHA has changed in the past six years. Once purely an enforcement agency, set up to make sure that mines followed safety regulations, the MSHA has in the past several years formed a series of "partnerships" with mining industry groups. In principle, such partnerships might help make mines safer. In practice, they might have allowed the agency to become too friendly with the businesses it regulates. When Congress comes back to town, we'd like to hear some open discussion about the health of the nation's mine inspections.

The lack of oversight by government agencies charged with protecting the workers such as these miners, is far from an isolated incident. According to Randi's broadcast, key administration personel with MSHA have been recruited from former mining industry lobbyists and those within the agency who dared to speak out have been threatened with being fired..

It's Brownie from FEMA all over again.

This same "fox guarding the hen house" strategy has been seen before with a buddy-buddy relationship between Ken Lay, Ralph Reed and Karl Rove which gave the impression of "no holds barred" to corporations such as Enron and Tyco and allowed them to play Russian Roulette with their stock prices destroying the 401k's and pension plans of their employees. But another more on salient example has been discussed by Molly Ivins in her book "Bushwacked" as well an article in Mother Jones titled Uncompassionate Conservative.

That Bush's administration is salted with the sons of somebody-or-other should come as no surprise. I doubt it has ever even occurred to Bush that there is anything wrong with a class-driven good-ol'-boy system. That would explain why he surrounds himself with people like Eugene Scalia (son of Justice Antonin Scalia), whom he named solicitor of the Department of Labor -- apparently as a cruel joke. Before taking that job, the younger Scalia was a handsomely paid lobbyist working against ergonomic regulations designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries. His favorite technique was sarcastic invective against workers who supposedly faked injuries when the biggest hazard they faced was "dissatisfaction with co-workers and supervisors." More than 5 million Americans are injured on the job every year, and more die annually from work-related causes than were killed on September 11. Neither Scalia nor Bush has ever held a job requiring physical labor.

What is the disconnect? One can see it from the other side -- people's lives are being horribly affected by the Bush administration's policies, but they make no connection between what happens to them and the decisions made in Washington. I think I understand why so many people who are getting screwed do not know who is screwing them. What I don't get is the disconnect at the top. Is it that Bush doesn't want to see? No one brought it to his attention? He doesn't care?

Ivins has also written about the Bush Administrations impact on the FDA - the agency that seeks to protect the quality of our food and pharmacuticals noting how food inspectors were given new and far less strigent guidlines for shutting down a production line as a result of bacterial and fecal contamination of chicken and beef. And then there's the entire Vioxx situation...

In September, Merck & Co., the huge drug manufacturer, pulled Vioxx off the market. Vioxx was a popular pain-killing, anti-arthritis drug, but Merck said it was putting patients' safety first. A new study from the Federal Drug Administration showed high doses of Vioxx triple the risk of heart attack and sudden cardiac death.

From there, the story bifurcates – it takes two directions. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa revealed that the FDA had tried to silence the author of the study, Dr. David Graham, associate director of science in the Office of Drug Safety. Grassley said the FDA first sat on Graham's study and that then he was "ostracized" and "subjected to veiled threats and intimidation."

The Wall Street Journal followed the other fork, finding internal memos from Merck showing that company officials may have been aware of the dangers of Vioxx as long ago as 1996, including a memo apparently instructing its sales reps to "dodge" the question when doctors asked about the cardiac record of Vioxx.

In short, we have a toothless regulatory agency in the pocket of the industry it is supposed to patrol. We have an administration-wide contempt for science and plain facts. And the allegation against the folks at Merck is that they were making such enormous profits on a drug that killed people that when they knew or suspected it was killing people, they kept right on selling it. When the information that Merck had known for a long time about Vioxx and heart attacks became public, the company's stock fell by 9.6 percent.

Now, it may seem trendy to simply Blame Bush for just another act of nature that he had no ability to control like the Mine failure, but the fact is -- he does have the ability to impact these situations through his regulator agencies. He has a responsibility to be attentive to issues of safety, issues of how people lives can be damaged and destroyed by greedy, lazy and irresponsible corporations - yet time and time again, he doesn't act responsibly. People - Americans - Die, and he doesn't care. He's a contributory partner to this negligence, too busy genuflecting to the only diety he truly believes in...

The Lords of Profit.

Updated: Now I know that comment could be considered harsh and unwarranted "Bush-Bashing" -- but just look at this revelation from David Sirota

The tragic news about the death of 12 mine workers this week has brought up all sorts of questions about the Bush administration's record protecting mine workers. Back in 2002, I was working for the House Appropriations Committee. At the time, you may recall there was a big mining accident in Western Pennsylvania. President Bush held a big photo-op to pretend like he cared - but he never responded to the fact sheet that House Democrats put out questioning why he had made so many cuts to mine safety programs. You can view this fact sheet in Microsoft Word right here (I still have it from my time at the Appropriations Committee) It was released to the media and the administration on August 5, 2002 - the same day Bush did his big photo-op.

In case the administration claims it didn't remember being warned, check out this excerpt from the big Chicago Tribune story from 8/6/02:

"We call on the Bush administration to fully fund the Mine Safety and Health Administration to ensure that coal mines are inspected more thoroughly and that the mine act is enforced more stringently," Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers Association, said in a statement.

"It would be cynical to portray himself as the hero of mine safety by simply doing photo ops," said David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats also released a report from the Labor Department's inspector general--the agency's in-house watchdog--concluding that the Mine Safety and Health Administration was "unable to complete statutorily mandated inspections of ... mine operations," in part because of a lack of inspectors.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing last month, lawmakers were told that the Jim Walters Resources mine in Brookwood, Ala., where 13 miners died last September, had 31 outstanding safety violations that went unchecked because of a lack of government inspectors.

The mine workers union also has criticized Bush's choice of Stanley Suboleski, an executive at coal operator Massey Energy, to serve on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. That agency judges disputes over alleged safety violations.

Now, after another bad accident, we find out that since the last accident in 2002, not only did the President ignore calls by Democrats to address the situation seriously, but he actually enacted more cuts to mine safety programs and weakened mine safety regulations.

The 2002 fact sheet and the Chicago Tribune article shows that Bush knew full well that mine safety was suffering - and now we know he didn't do anything about it, to tragic consequences. They can put out GOP hacks and administration spokespeople to deny this reality - but the facts are there.

Fact Sheet Contents:
INSPECTOR GENERAL IDENTIFIES MAJOR PROBLEMS – Report Urges More Resources: The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General indicated in its Semiannual Report to the Congress, October 1, 2001 – March 31, 2002 that “MSHA is unable to complete statutorily mandated inspections of Metal/Nonmetal mine operations because of the rapid growth in mine operations, reductions in the numbers of inspectors, and shifts toward compliance assistance.” Ironically, the Administration has not requested additional inspectors for Metal/Nonmetal Mines.

BUSH FIRST BUDGET CUTS – Ignoring IG Report, Bush Slashes Enforcement: President Bush proposed an overall cut to MSHA staffing levels for the FY 2002 budget. That proposal included a shift of some enforcement resources from Coal Mine to Metal/Non-Metal safety and health activities. The Congress restored the proposed cuts. However, as was the case with OSHA, the Department of Labor neglected to fill many vacant positions throughout 2001, thus reducing the overall enforcement activities.

BUSH SECOND BUDGET CUTS – Continuing to Slash: The President’s FY 2003 Budget proposed an overall 6 percent cut of MSHA resources and a shift of enforcement resources from Coal to Metal/Non-Metal Mine safety and health activities.

BUSH ENFORCEMENT RECORD – Ignoring Repeated Violations: At the “Jim Walters Resources mine in Brookwood, Ala., 55 miles southwest of Birmingham, 13 miners died last September in an explosion. At the time, the mine had 31 outstanding violations, and government inspectors had not returned to determine whether they had been corrected.” [New York Times, 7/26/2002]

BUSH ADMINISTRATION JUSTIFICATION – Resorts to Citing Statistics From 100 Years Ago: To justify its massive budget cuts, the Bush Administration resorted to comparing the mine fatality rate with rates all the way back to 1900 – when the common cold could kill someone. “The Bush administration's chief official on mine safety, David D. Lauriski, defended the administration's enforcement record and noted that the number of coal deaths was far lower than in decades past. The 42 deaths in 2001 were far below the 153 in 1981 and 294 in 1961. In fact, in every year from 1900 to 1945, the number of coal mining deaths exceeded 1,000, and in many years there were more than 2,000.” [New York Times, 7/26/2002]
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that my gut instincts on this just might have been correct.


Talking to Randi about Abramoff

I had my first chance to talk to Randi Rhodes on air yesterday (Jan 3rd) about the Abramoff Scandal and how the GOP is likely to try and spin (or ignore) what is going on. (I was "Frank from LA")

The discussion was fun, interesting and free wheeling... but mostly ranged from the Abramoff Guilty Plea and it's implications within to GOP to Protection of the Voting Rights act and Campaign Reform.

Details on the flip

Several weeks ago I noticed that when "Duke" Cunningham took a guilty plea for accepting bribes, Fox News was silent. In fact, that was the day that Bill O'Lielly started "Campaign to Save Christmas". Operation: Pay no Attention to the Grown Crying man and LOOK OVER HERE... was in full swing. So when I spoke with Randi, this was my main hook.

The same thing is likely to happen with the Abramoff Scandal, at least until the the Propoganda wing of the GOP (Faux News,, Freepers) can come up with some healthy way to spin this into nothing more than punative partisan prosecution.

As it turned out, Both O'Lielly and Hannity and Colmes spent their programs talking about the Miners - not Abramoff... what a coincidence?

What I said to Randy was that the Abramoff situation plus the NSA Wiretap scandal may have a lot of people saying the "I" word - even Bob Barr and William Safire are "with the critics" on the Wiretap thing - but even so, there is absoluately no way that this Congress is going to impeach this President, not with John Sensenbrener as Chairmen of the Judiciary Committee.

We have to do first things first - we have to take back Congress, but we can't do that until we defeat Diebold on a state by state basis, uphold and reaffirm the voting rights act -- and most important reform our campaigns.

What I suggested to Randi is an idea that I call the "Blue Curtain Spots". This idea is actually a couple years old - and I blogged about it last September.

(It's called "Blue Curtain" because the idea is very similar to what West Wing Democratic Presidential hopeful Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) pledged during his campaign - that he would not use expensive and flashy ads with graphics and voice-overs, he was make all statements to the public himself while looking into the camera in front of a plain backdrop - like a "Blue Curtain". I didn't get the idea from West Wing, I had it first -- but it's nice to see that they recognize it's power and simplicity)

The idea requires restabliment of the fairness doctrine (for equal time), followed by an FCC mandate that requires that broadcast stations provide free time for political purposes to all qualified parties.

Randi correctly pointed out that radio and tv stations depend heavily on the ad revenue that comes from political ads -- and I countered that this can be solved by making the ad revenue that would be lost by broadcasting these ads - completely tax deductable, or better yet making it a tax credit. So instead of only being shown at 3:23 am, these ads would appear in Prime-time just like anything else -- the key difference is that the candidates don't have to pay for it anymore. And if they don't have to spend all this money to be on Television, they don't have to spend half their time in office trying to raise money for their next campaign -- they might actually have time to govern, and actually Read the bills - like say, um...the Patriot Act - before they vote.

So, before we try and get Congress to Impeach the President -- IMO we should use the political leverage created by the Abramoff bribery scandal to push forward Campaign reforms -- not finance reforms - CAMPAIGN reforms that will genuinely level the playing field and not just protect Democrats, but even Republicans from the temptations of the lobbyists.

Frank (Vyan) Walton

Monday, January 2

NSA and the Poisoned Tree

ReddHedd at FireDogLake has an excellent peice up on the rarely talked about "fruits of the poison tree" -- an issue which has crossed my mind regarding Bush's illegal tactics more than once.

The legal doctrine of "fruit of the poisonous tree" is fairly basic in its premise: if the information being used in a case was obtained through illegal means, then any other information gathered via that illegal action is also tainted by the poison from the initial illegal action.


In the case of the Administration having the NSA do domestic spying without first getting warrants as required by FISA, the question becomes whether or not a particular defendant was identified via an illegal wiretap. If that is the case, then any subsequent surveillance of that defendant could be declared tainted as "fruit of the poisonous tree" by the Federal courts. Any investigative work that stems from an illegal warrantless surveillance can be tainted.

This means that any information or evidence against a defendant which was found to be linked to an illegal wiretap - can be excluded and thrown out. This also applies to information gathered via coercian and torture - all can be considered "fruits of the poison tree" and would be inadmissable in court. The cases would fail and the defendants would go free, guity or not.

What a great way to "Protect the Homeland", no?

With the recent New York Times Report that numerous criminal defendants are planning to file motions to determine if illegal NSA evidence was used against them... exactly what the hell is the Bush Administration Thinking when they try to bypass our own Federal Laws by permitting torture (stress positions, waterboarding) and bypassing the FISA court?

If they're thinking at all, they clearly not planning to prosecute any of these defendants in a standard court -- the clear goal is to detain them nearly indefinately, and possibly place them before military tribunals where the impact of "fruits of the poisoned tree" is considerably lessened. According to Council on Foreign Terrorism, Military Tribunals give the prosecution far more leway in persuing their case and...

  • will admit evidence--including secondhand evidence and hearsay, which are banned from traditional courts--so long as it would have "probative value to a reasonable person";
  • will not require prosecutors to establish the "chain of custody" of evidence--that is, to account for how the evidence was transported from where it was found to the courtroom;
  • will provide defendants with military lawyers but allow them to hire civilian attorneys at their own expense;
  • will not allow defendants to appeal decisions in federal courts, but instead petition a panel of review, which may include civilians as well as military officers, to review decisions. The president, as commander in chief, will have final review.
The key element here is that the final review of these decisions will not be made by the Supreme Court, but instead by the President himself as "Supreme" Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. This power is to being held by a President who signed more than 160 death warrants as Governor of Texas, including against children and retarded defendants (which violates international standards of human rights). In the mind of the Bush Administation the secret non-FISA taps and their potential damage to a case would never occur - because these defendants would never see the inside of a normal courtroom and their cases would never go before a judge required to apply constitutional judgements to them.

It's interesting to note that when other countries have used the same kinds of Military Tribunals, the U.S. State Dept has criticized them...

Have other countries convened military courts to fight terrorism?
Yes. But the State Department has condemned the use of military tribunals to try terrorists in many of these countries, including China, Colombia, Egypt, Peru, and Turkey, because they violate defendants' rights, according to Human Rights Watch. In one well-publicized 1996 case, a Peruvian military court convicted a New York woman, Lori Berenson, of treason and sentenced her to life in prison for her ties to a Marxist rebel group known for violent attacks and kidnappings. The State Department and both houses of Congress condemned the ruling and called on Peru to give Berenson a fair and open trial, noting that thousands of Peruvians were unjustly tried and jailed in the military courts of the beleaguered Peruvian government. In June 2001, after years of appeals and U.S. pressure, Berenson was retried in a Peruvian civilian court and sentenced to 20 years in prison for collaborating with Marxist terrorists.

Bush and his supporters have claimed that "only members of al-qaeda" have been targeted by the secret wiretaps, but the likelyhood of that being true -- of Bush and the NSA refraining from using this unchecked power to snoop on their political rivals is highly unlikely.

Even William Safire thinks so.

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported today that NSA wiretap information was given to several other agencies (which makes sense with the removal of the FISA-wall via the Patriot Act).

Information captured by the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping on communications between the United States and overseas has been passed on to other government agencies, which cross-check the information with tips and information collected in other databases, current and former administration officials said.

The NSA has turned such information over to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and to other government entities, said three current and former senior administration officials, although it could not be determined which agencies received what types of information. Information from intercepts -- which typically includes records of telephone or e-mail communications -- would be made available by request to agencies that are allowed to have it, including the FBI, DIA, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, one former official said.

At least one of those organizations, the DIA, has used NSA information as the basis for carrying out surveillance of people in the country suspected of posing a threat, according to two sources. A DIA spokesman said the agency does not conduct such domestic surveillance but would not comment further. Spokesmen for the FBI, the CIA and the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, declined to comment on the use of NSA data.

Once people begin to realize that in all reasonable probability we aren't just talking about al-Qaeda supporters, but groups such as Greenpeace, PETA, anti-War protestors, Gays and quite likely the ACLU... then the Fit will truly hit the Shan!

You know this NSA spying thing had to be squirelly when it made even John Ashcroft blanche

We aint seen nothing yet.