Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senator Leahy Just Ripped Alberto Gonzales a new hole over torturing suspected terrorists. Haw haw. Guess Alberto didn't get the memo that it's not Republican Patty-Cake Land up on Capitol Hill any longer...

Thank goodness that we have a guy with a spine like Senator Leahy in that job now. Where's Hilary Clinton's outrage? Or Barack Obama's angry statement about the fact that our President is a willy-nilly torturer?

Expect Your Taxes To DOUBLE

US Comptroller Testifies That US Taxes Will Have To Double

Only Reuters covered this story:

WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Tax increases are essential to avoiding long-term fiscal ruin and overcoming a "demographic tsunami" that would eventually swamp the U.S. budget with senior citizen health care and retirement costs, Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Thursday.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on America's long-term budget outlook, Walker urged Congress to waste no time in cutting spending on massive government programs, many of which will grow significantly as large numbers of "baby boomers" retire.

But Walker also warned the new Democrat-controlled committee that cutting spending will not be enough.

Tax revenues at the current 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product "won't get the job done," said Walker, who heads the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Republicans have been steadfast against any federal tax increases and are hoping to make permanent a series of President George W. Bush's tax cuts that expire after 2010, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenues.

Asked what level U.S. taxes revenues should be at, Walker said, "I can't tell you an exact number ... but more than 18.2 percent (of GDP), but below 25 percent."

Since nearly the beginning of Bush's presidency, the U.S. has suffered chronic budget deficits caused by a combination of a then-slowing economy, huge new domestic security costs, the war in Iraq, tax cuts and rapidly growing government health care costs for senior citizens.

Those deficits peaked at a record $412.7 billion in fiscal 2004 before falling to $247.7 billion by fiscal 2006.

They would be significantly higher, however, when taking into account government programs paid with annual Social Security surpluses, which will last for only 10 more years. Without this diversion of retirement money, the fiscal 2006 budget deficit would have been about $434 billion, Walker noted.

"The picture I will lay out for you today is not a pretty one and it's getting worse with the passage of time," Walker said.

For example, in 2000, the government's major future liabilities, including publicly-held debt, Social Security and Medicare and other pension-related costs, totaled about $20 trillion, Walker said. By 2006, he said that figure had grown to about $50 trillion.

Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said he would spearhead a bipartisan effort this year to rein in long-term government spending. That effort, he said, would include input from the White House and would require a "supermajority" of negotiators and the entire Congress to approve. Tax code changes are likely to be part of that review.
Hmmm... I wonder why neither the Mainstream Media nor either political party wants to talk about what's going to HAVE to happen soon? That is, of course, broadly raising taxes to pay for Bush's idiotic $2 trillion dollar war and the old Republican congresses additional $2 Trillion in profligate spending combined with their regressive tax cuts for the rich.

Could it be no one wants to discuss tax raises because the Presidential Primaries are already heating up, and that everyone wants to pretend that there isn't a problem until the 2008 elections are over? There's precedent for just such a "conspiracy theory" to be put forth... in 1988 the Republicans and Democrats agreed to hide the scope and nature of the Savings & Loan Crisis until after the '88 Presidential Election. Both parties knew that the winner would be left holding the bag for the tax raises, tax raises which proceeded to be a partial cause of the early 90's recession that cost George Herbert Walker Bush the Third his Presidency in 1992. The most amazing part? That economy-hobbling scandal ONLY cost $150 Billion. Billion with a B. Bush & the Republicans have increased the Federal Debt by more than $4 TRILLION over the last six years. Imagine what the tax raises to pay for THAT is going to do to the economy.

I mean, Bush won't care... he'll be out earning cash for giving speeches to his Chinese and Saudi overlords by that point, but the rest of us are going to feel it, and how.

Walker's full statement can be accessed at the GAO website. Go read it... it's terrifying.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another Gitmo Innocent Speaks Out

Go read the story of Gholam Ruhani in the Washington Post. Ruhani is the third Gitmo prisoner whose story has been broken in the papers, and once more, it's particularly compelling because he's been held at the naval station for five years despite the lack of evidence against him, and in spite of the fact that all evidence points at him having simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time... but he is still being held indefinitely. Because he's the "worst of the worst."

The 23-year-old Afghan shopkeeper, who spoke a little English, was seized near his hometown of Ghazni when he agreed to translate for a Taliban government official seeking a meeting with a U.S. soldier.

Ruhani is still at Guantanamo, marking the fifth anniversary of the prison and his own captivity. He remains as stunned about his fate, according to transcripts of his conversations with military officers, as he was when U.S. military police led him inside the razor wire on Jan. 11, 2002, and accused him of being America's enemy.

"I never had a war against the United States, and I am surprised I'm here," Ruhani told his captors during his first chance to hear the military's reasons for holding him, three years after he arrived at Guantanamo. "I tried to cooperate with Americans. I am no enemy of yours."

Now prison and prisoner are forever linked, joined by hasty decisions made in war and trapped by that fateful beginning.

But after five years and more than $600 million, Gitmo has failed to quickly and fairly handle the cases of hundreds of people such as Ruhani, against whom the government has no clear evidence of a role in attacks against the United States, according to current and former government officials and attorneys for detainees.

"We of course had to make snap judgments in the battlefield," said one administration official involved in reviewing Guantanamo cases, who spoke anonymously to avoid angering superiors. "Where we had problems was that once we had individuals in custody, no one along the layers of review wanted to take a risk. So they would take a shred of evidence that a detainee was associated with another bad person and say that's a reason to keep them."

That policy, and persistent reports of detainee abuse inside Guantanamo's walls, have provided rallying points for Islamic radicals, undermined international support for U.S. efforts to track down terrorists and ignited a legal effort that has repeatedly embarrassed the administration.

"Guantanamo took on a life of its own," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former U.S. ambassador at large for war crime issues. "What started as a solution to an immediate problem became both a more permanent place and a cause celebre internationally."

President Bush, relying on advisers' untested legal theories, declared a week after the prison opened that the captives were not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections or prisoner-of-war status and could be held in Cuba, without charges, indefinitely.

Between its opening and Feb. 14, 2002, the number of prisoners at Guantanamo swelled to 300. In late January of that year, Vice President Cheney said the detainees were "the worst of a very bad lot" and added: "They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans."

But of the 773 detainees who have spent time in Guantanamo, the government has released roughly half, most because they had no information and no role in any fighting. The majority were sent home after the evidence against each was formally reviewed at military hearings required in 2004 by the Supreme Court, which rejected the Bush administration's claim that it could detain foreign nationals indefinitely without such sessions.

Of the 393 prisoners who remain today, the military has determined that 85 pose so little threat, they should be transferred to their home countries. Officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because some evidence about the prisoners is classified, estimate that about 200 pose a danger to Americans.

One major obstacle for Ruhani and dozens of others still at the prison is nationality. The U.S. government has determined that Afghanistan, and a few other countries, cannot keep track of released detainees who the United States believes are low-risk but need monitoring.

Afghans make up the largest group of current detainees. Yemenis and Saudis, whose countries either cannot handle released detainees or do not want them, also remain in large numbers.

The detainees in that first group of 20 are emblematic of Guantanamo's prisoners. Half have been released. Of the remaining 10, one is David Hicks -- prisoner No. 2 -- an Australian who fought in the Kosovo Liberation Army, then converted to Islam and was captured in Afghanistan. Two are admitted Taliban commanders.

Three others are more like Ruhani, with public files that appear to make them unlikely enemies of the United States.

One is Shakhrukh Hamiduva, an 18-year-old Uzbek refugee who fled his country after the government there killed one of his uncles and jailed other relatives. He tried to cross the border from Afghanistan when U.S. bombs started falling but was captured by a tribal leader and sold to U.S. forces for a bounty. He said soldiers told him he would be released, but instead he ended up in Cuba.

"We went after small fries at every turn," said Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University law professor who helped argue the Supreme Court case last June that struck down the government's original plan for military trials. "Gitmo blew our credibility. And it's going to take a long time to get it back."
When is someone in the Bush White House going to realize that Donald Rumsfeld has been fired for a reason, and that ALL of his ideas were stupid, especially the one about opening a prison on foreign soil and holding innocent people there indefinitely? Oh, right, that would require a bit of thinking about the matter, instead of reflexively defending stupid decisions that have already been made.

Hanging Saddam, Attempt #2

The New York Times leads with news that the head of Saddam Hussein's half-brother was severed from his body during yesterday's early morning execution. Although Iraqi government officials insist the decapitation was accidental, it sparked protests among Sunni loyalists who said it was a deliberate act of revenge by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

Iraqi officials say the decapitation happened because they made a mistake when they calculated how high the drop had to be in order to snap the prisoner's neck. The NYT notes that at least one United States Army manual reveals that Iraqis used too much rope. It's a tricky business... too much rope and the head pops off, too little rope and the guy chokes to death for 5 minutes, gurgling and struggling all the while, instead of breaking his neck.

By all accounts it seems the Iraqi government took extra measures yesterday to prevent a repeat of the sectarian taunts that met Saddam Hussein before his execution. A video shown to a small group of journalists seems to back the government's assertion that there were no outbursts from those who witnessed these hangings ("Moqtada Moqtada Moqtada!"), but the fact that officials waited almost 13 hours to show the video seems to suggest they were trying to figure out how to deal with the decapitation. The LAT says the video that was shown to Iraqi journalists did not have the entire execution and some have expressed doubts of what actually took place. The NYT, on the other hand, says, "The video showed his head being snapped off as the rope went taut."

Either way, it's gross. And capital punishment is still merely state-sanctioned revenge killing. But, hopefully we'll never have to think about this again.

"Moqtada Moqtada Moqtada!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

We -Removed- Instability?

Bush on "60 Minutes": The war was justified because Saddam Hussein "was a significant source of instability" that needed to be removed, adding: "Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude."

Oh... for their stability?