Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Bush administration is backing off its initial proposal to reorganize overtime pay. While the administration has said that the timing has nothing to do with the election, the new proposal increases from the previous proposal the number of workers elligible for overtime pay.

While it may seem like a good policy for the administration, something guaranteed to get some votes, there is a passage in the New York Times story that seems to run counter to the administrations arguments about taxation and wealth.

The revisions, made after the Labor Department received more than 75,000 comments, would deny overtime pay to white-collar workers who earn more than $100,000 annually and perform some professional, administrative or executive duties, the department said. The initial plan put the salary ceiling at $65,000 annually.

The changes also would guarantee premium pay to about 1.3 million white-collar workers earning less than $23,660 a year at a cost to employers of $375 million annually, the department said. The salary tests in the regulations will not be adjusted for inflation.

So, if a worker makes too much money, because he works too many hours, he is suddenly no longer elligible for the fruits of his labor. A principle that would seem to run counter to many Republican and conservative arguments that company executives who make 250 times what the average worker make, earned every penny. In addition, by not allowing the salary test to adjust with inflation, they will be unable to ask for more if inflation causes the value of their salary to drop down the road. While this may not seem like much, the last major revision of overtime standards was in 1949. At that point, the dollar bought a lot more than it does now.

There are also worries that employers will attempt to reclassify workers as performing administrative, professional or executive duties. Such classifications could serve as grounds to deny overtime pay.

Much of the late-90's boom rode on the backs of rapidly increasing productivity. Commentators and administration officials have constantly pointed to increased productivity as both a sign of a recovering economy and as one of the driving forces. Much of that productivity has been the result of layoffs forcing the remaining workers to take up a great deal of slack. In addition, the simple act of layoffs is seen by investors as being a positive sign, often leading to an uptick in their stock prices.

The slow squeeze of these workers is being used to prop up an image of a recovering economy. The administration tempts a backlash by first forcing workers to work more and work harder, and then to attmept to deny them adequete compensation.
The Associated Press reported today that the 2000 Bush campaign paid a $90,000 fine for not disclosing fundraising and spending during the Florida recount:

WASHINGTON April 20 — Democrats have scored one small, belated victory in the 2000 presidential recount. President Bush's 2000 campaign has agreed to pay a $90,000 civil fine for failing to disclose fund raising and spending to the Federal Election Commission for its effort to win the Florida recount, the FEC said Tuesday.

The campaign paid the fine to settle the case, which resulted from a complaint by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Bush raised nearly $14 million for his effort to win the Florida ballot dispute, compared to about $3.2 million in recount spending by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore.

The Bush campaign disclosed details of its recount spending in a report to the Internal Revenue Service in July 2002. The FEC said the campaign should have reported the fund raising to the commission.

Story here.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The New York Times has a story today about the role an Iranian delegation has had in getting Sadr to back off his attacks in the city of Najaf.

The house-to-house fighting that has gone on in Najaf has has been bloody. A several day cease-fire allowed the Iranians to help negotiate an end to the hostilities.

According to Juan Cole, Sadr will apparently be temporarily exiled to Iran until a stable government can be established. Once that happens, he would return to Najaf to face trial for the murder charge that prompted the U.S. action to apprehend him.

The Iranian involvement is something that has received little attention, despite appearing to be very essential in finding a negotiated solution to the fighting in Najaf.

Hopefully, this stepping down of hostilities can influence some of the other hotspots in Iraq. Some are dedicated foreign fighters, and others are former Bathists, but the more moderate elements may hopefully see this as a positive step. If the Great Satan (the U.S.) is willing to allow Iranians to mediate a solution that will benefit everyone, perhaps others will be willing to work with the U.S. and U.N. in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

In April and May 2001, for example, the intelligence community headlined some of those reports "Bin Laden planning multiple operations," "Bin Laden network's plans advancing" and "Bin Laden threats are real."

That's from Dana Priest's story in the Washington Post. Now, the August 6th PDF has been repeatedly classified as a "historical" document (which makes little sense, especially if you read the PDB), but it seems that a string of warnings such as the memos Priest refers to, should be a clear sign to anyone that this was not simply a fact-finding summary as the President contends.

There was a concerted effort to bring this danger to the attention of the administration. The author of the August 6th PDB wrote that memo because she wanted to bring attention to the issue (The Washington Post article is here) as well.

The more and more this issue gets looked at, and the more the White House tries to spin, the worse the administration looks. It is one thing to acknowledge an intelligence failure, it is another spin and shift blame in a thousand directions. Certainly Ashcroft, Tenet, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the President can not be held responsible for particular individual mistakes or mis-communications. Yet someone should take responsibility for the failure of the system.

Of course, taking responsibility for actions is not in great supply in Washington or the administration in particular.
Their absolute refusal to take this issue by the horns will hurt them in the long run. By tearing into former administration officials, or trying to take shots at commission members (like Ashcroft did today), they give the appearance of being unhelpful and possibly trying to conceal something. As the President put it last night, "A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught." In a politically charged country like the United States, even the appearance of guilt can sink a politician.

The maniacal devotion to secrecy, the speed with which they close ranks, and their instant and harsh attacks against anyone who criticizes them has put them in a position in which they may be incapable of functioning in the public view. They release statements and make carefully scripted public appearances, and woe to the reporter who tries to get off the talking points. If their public face reflects the reality of the inner workings of the administration, then it is doubtful that they would be able to shift with the changing realities. Their continued push to deploy a missile defense may be most symbolic of this lock-step mindset.

The administration came in with a fixed view of the world. They saw the greatest threat as coming from states, rogue nations. They believed that diplomacy was the way of the weak and that existing treaties bound the hands of the U.S. Despite making the correct move in invading Afghanistan following 9/11, they quickly reverted to their previous mindset and decided to invade Iraq. Now the Afghans are disappointed, there are still upper echelon members running around along the Afghan/Pakistan border and we have yet to find anything to verify the Administrations pre-war claims except that Saddam was as cruel as we said he was.

These difficulties have driven the majority of the criticism directed at the administration; the administration does not communicate with those who disagree with their beliefs (CIA, Military planners, experiences officers, the U.N. inspectors they sent in), they refuse to cooperate with congress unless absolutely necessary, their focus on Iraq has distracted them from the war on terror as well as drained valuable resources.

The criticism will continue as long as they continue to refuse to deal with the issues at hand. They simply close the door, take the phone off the hook and continue as before.
It looks like the new liberal network Air America is off the air in Los Angeles and Chicago. Apparently they bounced a check. They are supposedly in negotiations with the station owners trying to work out a deal.
Full Story Here.

The fledgling network is getting off the ground slowly, but they are on the air on ten stations including XM satelite radio.
The reviews so far have been mixed. Franken is not as funny as some hoped, and the tone is more strident than what many were expecting. Of course, what must be remembered is that this is talk radio, entertainment with a political bent, not Capital Beat.

Those who can't get Air America on the air, can pick up the stream on the internet from their website.
The only option Bush had, was the one he chose last night.

In a way, I think Rove, Card, and Hughes all got a little too cute last night.

They played the best card they could, and it fell flat.

Or did it?
* Any new initiative would have raised questions about changing focus distracting from Iraq.
* News about Negroponte could raise Iran/Contra questions that Bush couldn't handle
* Military initiatives would have emphasized the escalating problems in Iraq.

By not making waves, by only picking those reporters who will toss him the obvious softball (his "must calls") questions, he avoids drawing attention to the major issues.

The administration hates these briefings and anything that forces Bush to be on his toes and respond to policy questions.
This way they handled the briefing, they responded to calls for a public Q&A, and, perhaps more important, *no major policy questions end up on Wednesday's front pages*.

Wednesday turns into, "how did he do?", instead of focusing on the policy failures. Most people won't pick on his demeanor and delivery, that will fall to us wonks.

I think he got too cute because it can backfire. There is growing anger among military families and the military itself. There are growing questions on the economy. Neither were really dealt with last night.

Bush keeps his head off the block while his reps will spin his performance for the next day or two until it slides off the front page.

Last night was a political holding maneuver. I don't think this is a cynical viewpoint, but between his dodging of questions and lack of any new ideas or plans, he was able to do something and nothing at the same time.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Washington Post is reporting today that other sources have backed up Clarke's basic criticisms. The paper cites sources who were present at the 2002 hearing that the White House has argued contradicts Clarke's March 24th appearance.

The classified hearing in 2002 has been the one stick they could swing at Clarke, and it turns out to be a pretty small stick. The administration, and their attack dog Frist, have backed off heated comments teasing the press with ideas of perjury. The perjury attack was a last ditch attempt.

When they couldn't threaten former Treasury Secretary O'Neill to keep quiet, they threatened to investigate the records he provided to Suskind, who wrote a book about O'Neill's criticisms. Recently, they tossed around threats of investigating Clarke for perjury.

When the going gets rough, the White House goes legal. Well, they try until they realize that no one is buying it and that the charges could barely stick. The administration has passed Nixonian levels and is on its way down.

Friday, April 02, 2004

There's an article in The New York Times about the expanding scope of the Plame investigation. The FBI is apparently looking into a possible cover-up of the leak. But the graf in the article that really got my attention was this...
Republican lawyers worried that the leak case, in the hands of an aggressive prosecutor, might grow into an unwieldy, time-consuming and politically charged inquiry, like the sprawling independent counsel inquiries of the 1990's, which distracted and damaged the Clinton administration.

There is nothing like a bit of turnabout. The Republicans have been up in arms about resisting independent investigators, that there is no conflict of interest in a sitting justice refusing to remove himself from a case dealing with a good friend. When the Republicans have the ball, there is no problem with investigation after investigation weighing down a sitting administration to the extent that it can not enact any policy without more accusations. The Republicans have no problem hog-tying the Clinton administration, but to do it to the Bush administration is an attack on America, tantamount to treason.

The Republican's attacks against Clinton hamstrung an administration that was actively seeking out the terrorist groups we are now ignoring. The Republican's were more than happy to prevent the Clinton administration from enacting its policy in order to further their own political aims. Its impossible to know what the actual ramifications of their continuous attacks in the 1990's.

Now, of course, the administration is selectively releasing files from the Clinton archive dealing with the war on terrorism. As the Political Animal notes, perhaps they are worried that they might release information that shows that the Clinton administration was "on the ball". One of the commentators on Washington Week commented that one of the former Clinton officials who was notorious for keeping documents under lock and key has been asking for the complete release of all relevant files.

No one is going to blame the Bush administration for not stopping the 9/11 attack. Even though there was a great deal of information, including the names and locations of some of the individuals involved, the organization was problematic enough that the information was never put together in time.
As I noted before, this is not a blame game, this is an investigation to make sure this won't happen again. Yet the administration reacts to every comment and question like a kid who just nabbed a cookie from the cookie jar.

The administration needs to come clean. They need to say, mistakes were made and we were not prepared. Then say we have worked hard to fix that and we continue to do so. That would be the best play...but not the one they have chosen.
LSD use is down according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Apparently, the death of Jerry Garcia caused the LSD market to take a big hit (pun intended).

The LSD market took an earlier blow in 1995, when Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia died and the band stopped touring. For 30 years, Dead tours were essential in keeping many LSD users and dealers connected, a correlation confirmed by the DEA in a divisional field assessment from the mid-'90s. The spring following Garcia's death (the season the MTF surveys are administered), annual LSD use among 12 th -graders peaked at 8.8 percent and began their slide. Phish picked up part of the Dead's fan base—and presumably vestiges of the LSD delivery system. At the end of 2000, Phish stopped touring as well, and perhaps not coincidentally, the MTF numbers for LSD began to plummet.

Maybe this will also lead to a reduction in patchouli oil and guys saying, "'sup brah!"
Krauthammer Clarke is self-serving, manipulative and was ultimately responsible because he was the counter-terror chief.
What he convieniently forgets is that while Clarke can recommend all the policy he wants, he is an advisor. The President is ultimately responsible for enacting policy. If the administration is focused on missile defense and rogue nations and treating the terrorism threat as important but not urgent, then no matter how many excellent plans the Counterterrorism Strategy Group came up with they don't get put in place. Clarke's argument has never been that the specific attack on 9/11 was preventable, but that overall the administration did not rank terrorism as an urgent priority.

The second half of his argument is that the administration immediately looked in the wrong direction, at Iraq, instead of the dissasociated network that is Al Qaeda.

There have been a number of other government officials coming out and saying the same thing Clarke has been asserting including Clarke's successor, Rand Beers, who resigned a month after taking over.

Frontline did href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/knew/">a report on FBI Deputy Director John O'neill who had gathered together a great deal of evidence that Al Qaeda was going to attack the U.S. and very soon. O'neill understood the immense threat Al Qaeda presented and had spent years tracking down the links between the disparate groups and individuals that made up the nexus of the network. Unfortunately, O'neill was too much of a maverick and made a number of enemies, including the Director of the FBI, and they stopped listening.
O'neil left the FBI in the summer of 2001 and went to work at the World Trade Center as head of security. He died in the attack.

There was plenty of evidence, and many experienced individuals working on tracking down Al Qaeda. But the Bush administration was more concerned with missile defense and Iraq.

The point of the 9/11 commission is not to assign blame, but to understand how to improve our attempts to take down the Al Qaeda network.
Jerry Berger penned his last column today. Although he was gossipy and at times corny...Berger picked up on more news than many of the reporters he worked with over the past couple decades.
His column was always worth a scan to see what news didn't make it into the rest of the paper. He covered things that were too trivial or too sensitive to go in depth on. Sensitive in the sense that he could get a story on background that other reporters couldn't.
It was a mix of hard and soft news in a tradition that stretches back to the beginnings of newswritting and Berger was an excellent purveyor of the craft.