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...get the "IE Tab" extension. This allows you to view problem pages with the IE rendering engine. Very cool!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Pre-Certification Swearing in by Hastert Terminates All State Legal Authority Over Elections

OK. Democracy as we have known it is officially dead. We now live in a dictatorship by a single party. This has been growing since the stolen presidential election of 2000. If they think they can do this, they must believe that they will never be handing over power to the Democrats or this precedent would come back to haunt them. All future 'elections' will fall for the the GOP. If they don't win by manipulating the tallies via machines, they can just nullify them like this anytime they want to. Hell, why bother with "rigging" the elections at all?

If you aren't upset by this decision you are "unserious" about politics and deserve all the injustice that will come down on your heads. Your children and grandchildren will be so proud of you for giving up their Constitional rights. Break out the champagne, the "Greatest Generation" is spinning in their graves.

Pre-Certification Swearing in by Hastert
Terminates All State Legal Authority Over Elections

The People’s House is now the Speaker’s House.
“If they can do that, they can do anything. Why even have an election? They could just swear in whoever they want because the election need not be final.”
- Paul Lehto, Attorney for Plaintiffs Aug. 25, 2006

By Michael Collins
Scoop Independent News
Washington, DC
Parts 1 & 2 of this "Scoop" Exclusive

San Diego Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann rendered his decision in the election challenge in California’s 50th Congressional District. He dismissed the request for a recount and for discovery of the facts of the Busby-Bilbray election stating specifically that "Once the House asserts exclusive jurisdiction and selects a candidate, the court no longer has jurisdiction" (emphasis added). The judge argued that the June 13 swearing in alone was sufficient to establish Bilbray’s “election.” The event had the power to take away any and all citizen rights and immediately rescind authority over their own elections.

Requests for a recount resulting from major problems with the election were deemed insufficient and the rights of voters to due process were cast aside in deference to Speaker Hastert or any future Speaker. The induction of Republican Bilbray was just seven days after the election and a full 17 days before the election was officially certified by the San Diego Registrar. link below >>>


The plaintiffs lost their suit for an election contest and recount in this one congressional district. However, by bringing suit, they achieved an outcome that clearly proves the arguments expressed across the political spectrum from conservative legal scholar Bruce Fein to former Vice President Al Gore. In unambiguous terms, they and others decry the rapid descent of the United States into a state of tyranny which only affirms our long nightmare for democracy. Politicians can now manipulate, alter, and nullify elections if those politicians are the Speaker of the House or capable of influencing the Speaker. Arbitrary, centralized rule starts with the control of vote counting. It is now clear who controls vote counting and it is not the citizens of the United States of America. The People’s House is now the Speaker’s House.

Speaker Dennis Hastert swore in Republican Brian Bilbray even though there were requests for a recount and numerous public protests about the legitimacy of the outcome. According to the San Diego Registrar of Voters, as of June 15th, there were in fact still 2,500 votes to be counted. Evidence reportedly captured from the Registrar’s internet site indicates that on June 13, induction day, there were 12,500 votes uncounted. The San Diego Registrar did not officially certify this election until June 30th. Even when the election was certified, nearly 50% of the votes had not been assigned to the appropriate precincts.

The information on uncounted and misallocated ballots was followed by the discovery that the California Secretary of State’s office, headed by Republican Bruce McPherson, allegedly provided confirmation that Bilbray had in fact been “elected.”

Chamber Action (Digest) U.S. House of Representatives: Page H3798
Oath of Office--Fiftieth Congressional District of California: Representative-elect Brian P. Bilbray presented himself in the well of the House and was administered the Oath of Office by the Speaker. Earlier the Clerk of the House transmitted a facsimile copy of the unofficial returns of the Special Election held on June 6, 2006 from Ms. Susan Lapsley, Assistant Secretary of State for Elections, California Secretary of State Office, indicating that the Honorable Brian P. Bilbray was elected Representative in Congress for the Fiftieth Congressional District of California. (June 13, 2006)

If this official did in fact provide such confirmation, a key question must be answered. On what basis was an official stamp of approval given to the election by McPherson’s office since results were not made official until June 30? Does the California Secretary of State now have the ultimate power to deem elections final, regardless of the status of those elections? To be more precise, does the Secretary of State now have the power to override citizen protests, challenges and strongly expressed concerns for purely partisan benefit? McPherson is a Republican appointed to this office by the current Governor of California.

The special election generated immediate controversy when it was discovered that election officials had taken home voting machines for overnight stays. The supposed rationale or pretense for these maneuverings was to expedite the convenient delivery of the machines to precincts on election day.

Citizens were furious for a number of reasons. To begin with, these machines have documented security problems which render them vulnerable to hacking and thereby enable the possibility that “malicious code” can be introduced to alter vote counting. In addition, the voting machines were not supervised in the homes nor were they clearly signed in and out. Remarkably, some voting machines even failed to make it from poll worker homes to the precincts on election day.

This obvious breach of security rendered the election void, it was argued. In addition, plaintiffs pointed out that the vote counting was done in secret since the computerized vote tabulation is not open to serious inspection by citizens or even election officials. The innermost workings are controlled by computer code that by agreement cannot be reviewed by election officials or citizens. Thus, the ability to view vote counting was in no way available. This is a right preferred by 92% of voters according to a new Zogby Survey.

Yesterday, attorney Lehto took an optimistic stance when he commented on the role of the public in taking back control of their elections.

The shutdown of any possibility of a court based investigation of the CA50 race could not be in more stark contrast to the 92% support for election transparency in the Zogby poll. The contrast between the two sides now could not be clearer. The question of the moment is whether and to what extent the 92% can discover its own supermajority status, or to what extent they continue to be deceived, deluded and distracted by illusions of their own powerlessness.

By dismissing this case, the judge leaves a legacy which sets a precedent for the surrender of responsibility for free, fair, and clean elections at the state and local levels by deferring to the arbitrary decisions of any Speaker of the House of Representatives. Using the judge’s logic, even cases of verified miscounts or election fraud would have no weight once the Speaker invokes his or her customary power of induction.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 marks the day when every county in Californian lost the certain ability to monitor and manage elections. That function has been out-sourced to Washington, DC. It provides an unfortunate example for the rest of the country regarding the true conduct of elections and election law.

N.B. Court Decision and Attorney Paul Lehto comments on the decision ,
Collection of Filings and Documents on CA 50th District Challenge


Copyright: This material may be reproduce in part or whole with attribution to the author and a link to “Scoop” Independent News. Special thanks to Stella Black for her editorial assistance.

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Election Nullification II: Speaker of House had Special Source for Election “Certification

Election Nullification II: Speaker of House
had Special Source for Election

California Assistant
Secretary of State for Elections Tells House Clerk, it’s
all good!
By Michael

“Scoop” Independent Media

What would you think if you heard
that a Member of Congress was sworn in prior to the official
certification of his hotly contested and controversial

Would it matter to which political party the
Member of Congress belonged?

On August 25, 2006,
"Scoop" revealed that there was something
very wrong with Brian Bilbray’s swearing in as a member of
the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican Bilbray
allegedly defeated Francine Busby in a close and
controversial special election in California’s 50th
Congressional District. There were immediate cries
of foul
and demands for both an investigation and a
recount. The problems were well publicized before the
swearing in.

Nevertheless, this sequence
June 6 - unofficial results announced
with Bilbray over Busby by a few thousand votes, followed by
immediate public protests;
June 13 - Speaker
Hastert swears in Republican Bilbray on the House floor and
Bilbray becomes a Member of Congress; and,
June 30,
- 17 days after Bilbray was sworn in as a member
of the House, Mikel Haas, Registrar of San Diego County,
officially completed the audit of election results required
for certification, and officially certifies the election of
Bilbray over Busby based on 163,931 total votes.

problem with the sequence is simple to spot. The swearing
in of Bilbray occurred a full 17 days before the election
became official as a result of the San Diego Registrar’s
certification of results. The question raised in the
previous article was, how could Speaker Hastert swear in
Bilbray without notification that the election results were
official? We have an answer. link below >>>


Speaker Hastert’s
Source on “Certification”

The swearing
in ceremony for Republican Brian Bilbray, alleged winner of
the California 50th District special election on June 6,
2006, was tucked in between actions to commend Canada for
its renewed commitment to the war on terror. The
Congressional Digest
for that day contains a remarkable
revelation; the source that the Speaker of the House used to
justify the official induction of Bilbray.

Oath of Office--Fiftieth Congressional
District of California: Representative-elect Brian P.
Bilbray presented himself in the well of the House and
was administered the Oath of Office by the Speaker. Earlier
the Clerk of the House transmitted a facsimile
copy of
the unofficial returns of the Special Election held
on June 6, 2006 from Ms. Susan Lapsley, Assistant
Secretary of State for Elections, California Secretary of
State Office, indicating that the Honorable Brian P. Bilbray
was elected Representative in Congress for the Fiftieth
Congressional District of California
Here (statement only) or here (full record)

Bilbray, it would now seem, was not sworn in
without forethought, as though there were no issues
involved. Somehow, the Clerk of the U.S. House of
Representatives received notification from Republican Bruce
McPherson’s Assistant Secretary that Bilbray “was
elected Representative in Congress.”

This may come as
news to the legal team fighting the recount in San Diego
Superior Court. They have asserted that the recount is
irrelevant because Federal authority supersedes state
authority as a result of the June 13th swearing in of
Bilbray. This logic was confirmed in a letter to San Diego
Superior Court by Paul Vonivich , counsel for the House
Committee on Administration. In that letter, he
acknowledges the sequence of events and asserts that the
swearing in makes moot any recount based on superior federal
authority in congressional elections.

Now we find
out that that swearing in was based on the confirmation
provided by a state government official. This strongly
implies that the Congress actually recognized state
authority to determine that the election outcome was

A careful look at the statement in the
Congressional Digest reveals some interesting assumptions
and perhaps careful planning. The Speaker, Hastert,
administered the oath based on word from California’s
Assistant Secretary of State for Elections that Bilbray
“was elected Representative in Congress.” Several
assumptions are embedded in this statement. First, Hastert
knew that he needed an authority to justify the election as
official. Second, he relied on state authority, Susan
Lapsley specifically. Third, Hastert knew that there were
only “unofficial results,” because those are clearly
referenced yet he accepted the word of the Clerk that
Lapsley had made the call that Bilbray “was elected
Representative in Congress.” Finally, Lapsley, who has no
official status in San Diego County where the election was
held, used “unofficial results” to convey to the court
that Bilbray was elected.

The “Scoop” August 25th
article generated significant public outcry. There is now a
campaign to challenge Speaker Hastert’s role in the San
Diego election. This web page provides a rationale based on
the premature swearing in and a recent Zogby Poll that showed 92% of Americans
insist on the right view election results and raise
questions. The site, Say No To Another Election
Before Fall Midterms: Recall House Speaker
Hastert For Interfering With Local Elections
, went up
today and is reportedly receiving significant activity. The
site quoted the initial “Scoop” article, noted the
disregard for procedure and law, and linked the struggle
against election fraud in the United States with protests in
Mexico, the, site of a highly questionable presidential


According to the official
record of the U.S. House of Representatives, we had a
Speaker of the House swearing in a new Member of Congress
from San Diego based on the word of an Assistant Secretary
of State in Sacramento. That state of California official
reportedly verified the San Diego election as official in a
communication to which the “unofficial results” were

At the same time, we have a legal team
representing the Registrar of San Diego County challenging a
suit by citizens which seeks to open up the election records
and perform a recount. The San Diego Registrar is refusing
to conduct a recount based on the supremacy of federal
authority, namely the House’s prerogative to swear in new
members. The Registrar argues that the June 13 swearing
shows federal supremacy.

Now, from the actual record of
the swearing in, we discover that the Speaker and Congress
actually relied on a politically appointed California state
official whose authority was used to determine that the
election results were official. That state official has no
authority for elections in San Diego County.

The only
consistent thread that runs through the entire affair, the
swearing in of a candidate before an electron controversy
was settled, is that each and every point in the decision
making process, the decisions are dominated by Republicans
or officials under the control of Republicans. The process
is not flawed because of this particular partisan label,
it’s flawed because it violates the expectations of a free
people to have their elections taken seriously by those it
elects, regardless of their


Copyright: This article may be used in whole or in part with
attribution to the author and a link to “Scoop”

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Roy Buchanan - Sweet Dreams

The late geat Roy Buchanan - blues guitar master non pareil. I had the great pleasure of seeing him at Portland City Hall in 1977 or thereabouts. He was just a mesmerizing player on slow blues numbers. Country flavored blues were his specialty. --pseudolus

YouTube - Roy Buchanan - Sweet Dreams

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Editorial: Loose talk / The Bush rhetoric on Iraq is sounding desperate

Friday, September 01, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There are at least three pieces of falsely based rhetoric that are beginning to emerge in the fall political campaign that need to be put into context now, early in the game.

All three are being put forward by senior U.S. government officials or Republican candidates, notably Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Pennsylvania's own nonresident peddler of nontruths, Sen. Rick Santorum.

The first of these is that any American who does not believe that the United States should stay in Iraq, to pursue President Bush's vanity war to the end and continue to lose young fighting Americans as well as burn up formidable amounts of cash, is somehow not only wrongheaded but also a traitor who does not really love freedom.

This is a scurrilous lie, insulting and a disgusting slur on good Americans -- Democrats, Republicans or independents -- who believe that it is time the nation found a way to bring an end to a war that is now more than 3 years old. "Read More" click link below


A second, very misleading, line that, notably, Republican Senate candidate Santorum is using, most recently at a talk in Harrisburg on Monday, is that America's current war is against "Islamic fascism." This concept is inaccurate and unhelpful to the United States in both of its words. Anyone with half a brain can see that Islam is by no means unified or unanimous in its support of al-Qaida, terrorism or even Hezbollah and Hamas. Think of the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Or think of Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia, majority Islamic countries that have offered troops to the United Nations to stand between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces in defending the integrity of southern Lebanon.

In addition, what is going on in the Middle East does not meet the definition of fascism. Fascism is a political philosophy, albeit a scrofulous one, and is generally a national phenomenon, not cross-national and religious in its scope.

Mr. Santorum has given no previous indication of any knowledge of foreign affairs, but waving around the words "Islamic fascism" may take the cake.

The third falsely based line that some Republicans are throwing around is an effort to draw a link between the situation in Europe in the 1930s -- Hitler, British Prime Minister A. Neville Chamberlain's 1938 Munich deal, the Holocaust carried out by Germany and other nations against the Jews of Europe -- and some Americans' advocacy of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The two situations have nothing whatsoever in common -- even the fact that Mr. Chamberlain saw himself as trying to preserve peace in Europe, whereas the Bush administration is trying to find a way to say it's been successful in Iraq despite the fact that none of its stated invasion objectives (apart from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) have been achieved.

What would be most useful for America at this point is that its 2006 electoral campaign be waged on the basis of truths -- about its economic situation, of primary importance, as well as the current position of the United States in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Feeding lies into the system -- with claims that advocacy of withdrawal is disloyalty, "Islamic fascism" is the problem or the situation in the Middle East is like that in 1930s Europe -- is stupid and counterproductive to useful debate among competing candidates. It needs to stop now before it goes any further.

Editorial: Loose talk / The Bush rhetoric on Iraq is sounding desperate

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Another good reason to promote oral sex...maybe Clinton had it right!

Published: 01 September 2006

Semen can speed up the progression of cervical cancer and cancer of the uterus, according to research out today.

Women suffering either cancer are being urged to ask their partners to wear condoms during sex.

A team of scientists led by Dr Henry Jabbour at the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit found that tumours grew in the presence of the compound prostaglandin.

It occurs naturally in the cells of the female reproductive organs but is 1,000 times more highly concentrated in semen. "Read More" click link below


Dr Jabbour and his team examined the effects of prostaglandins on the growth of tumour tissue.

He said: "What we have demonstrated is that the levels of the receptors for prostaglandins are elevated in these cancers.

"That elevated level of the receptor drives the growth of the tumour.

"What is unique about reproductive cancers is that, even if we blocked the synthesis of prostaglandins in the reproductive organs, it would not have any effect on the cancer if the woman was sexually active."

Therefore, he said, it was shown that it was the prostaglandins in the semen that were driving the tumour growth forward.

He added: "Sexually active women who are at risk of cervical or uterine cancer should encourage their partners to wear a condom to prevent increased exposure to the prostaglandins that may make their condition worse.

"This research also highlights the potential for a new therapeutic approach that will tackle both possible sources of prostaglandin, those produced naturally by women and those introduced to the body by sperm."

Cervical cancer, the first signs of which can be picked up during smear tests, is usually triggered by the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Professor John Toy, medical director at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting piece of laboratory research but it has little relevance to women already diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK because they will already be receiving appropriate anti-cancer treatment.

"The likelihood of any unprotected sex affecting the successful outcome of their treatment is considered slight.

"The most important thing that women can do at this time to prevent cervical cancer from developing is to go for regular cervical smear tests."

The MRC findings have been published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Human Reproduction.
Independent Online Edition > Health Medical

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Ahh...Reality! on picture to "embiggen" view.

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The 3 on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Let's not inform the public, we'll be on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Spreading on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Problem on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Student can wear Bush-mocking T-shirt [says Court]

A US student who sued school officials after he was made to censor his T-shirt that labelled President George W Bush "Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief" and a former alcohol and cocaine abuser won an appeal yesterday to wear the shirt to school.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of Zachery Guiles, who through his parents claimed his free speech rights had been violated.

School officials made him put duct tape over parts of his T-shirt that showed a Bush image surrounded by cocaine, a razor blade, a straw and a martini.

Guiles, who as a seventh grader in 2004 wore the T-shirt to Williamstown Middle High School in Vermont once a week for two months after purchasing it at an anti-war rally, appealed the case after a lower court ruled in favour of the school.

The school argued the images were offensive because they undermined the school's anti-drug message.

The T-shirt read "George W Bush" and "Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief" with a picture of the president's face wearing a helmet superimposed on the body of a chicken.

The back of the T-shirt showed lines of cocaine, a martini glass and smaller print that accused Bush of being a "Crook", "Cocaine Addict", AWOL", "Draft Dodger" and "Lying Drunk Driver".

The appeals court said while the T-shirt "uses harsh rhetoric and imagery to express disagreement with the president's policies and to impugn his character", the images depicted "are not plainly offensive as a matter of law".

The court agreed with the lower court that ruled Guiles' suspension from school should be expunged from his record. source: click here

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Rumsfeld's Misuse Of History - by John Prados

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, said the philosopher George Santayana a century ago. Knowing the facts of history is crucial to much of what we do as a nation and a people, but so is how it is used. And the Bush administration’s use of history—and specifically its use of “appeasement”—requires comment because it is both dangerous and misleading. "Read More" click link below


In the past week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has twice invoked the historical analogy to appeasement—referring to the years just before World War II, culminating in the Munich conference of March 1939—to frame the globe’s current struggle with terrorism in apocalyptic terms. Vice President Dick Cheney has used the same analogy, without even gracing it with a name, to defend what he calls the “battle for the future of civilization.”

Both sought friendly audiences, confident they would not be challenged. Rumsfeld, most recently, spoke before the American Legion (interesting, isn’t it, how the Legion and the VFW have been treated to so many key public manipulations in the past few years) and Cheney at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska, famous as the home of the Strategic Air Command and today the center of the United States Strategic Command.

Cheney’s line, which he has used before also, was that today’s jihadists are “not an enemy that can be ignored, or negotiated with, or appeased.” Cheney speaks of the enemy as a “totalitarian empire,” Rummy refers to it as “the rising threat of a new type of fascism.”

At least Rumsfeld acknowledges his resort to historical analogy, recounting his little portion of the Munich story and adding that “once again, we face similar challenges.” His history is directly tied to Munich, where Britain and France negotiated with Adolf Hitler a “settlement” that skewered Czechoslovakia but succeeded only in gaining the Allies a few months before Hitler invaded Poland, igniting global conflict.

The Bushies clearly intend to evoke an atmosphere of shattering events, but their history is fractured and misleading, and their use of this analogy is a throwback to the methods that led America into Vietnam, among the nation’s greatest errors of the last century. In invoking Munich, Secretary Rumsfeld claims that the Western approach was based upon “a sentiment that took root that contended that if only the growing threats . . . could be accommodated, then the carnage . . . could be avoided.” He further presents this as “cynicism and moral confusion” and “a strange innocence” about the world.

None of this is true. There was no mass political movement demanding appeasement of Germany. Rather there was a specific policy choice—made primarily by Sir Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister of the time—to mollify Hitler and gain time for rearmament. In fact, the French wanted to stand on their alliance with the Czechs and fight Hitler, but were persuaded to back down. The British might even have been right within a certain narrow framework: For years they had restricted defense spending and were just starting to correct that, while Hitler’s promises—both to his military and his Italian allies—envisioned no war before 1942, which could have enabled an allied military buildup to bear fruit. The widely accepted charge that the Allies were wrong to “appease” Hitler stemmed in part from Neville Chamberlain’s extravagant declaration that Munich had brought “peace for our time”—when only a short time later World War II broke out.

That was the lesson of Munich, at least until Vietnam. There the Munich analogy was used repeatedly to justify intervention and escalation. Here is President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, writing to Sir Winston Churchill: “We failed to halt . . . Hitler by not acting in unity and in time . . . the beginning of many years of stark tragedy and desperate peril.” Eisenhower wanted support to jump into the Vietnam War at the time of Dien Bien Phu. Ironically, Churchill, whom Rummy today makes the hero of his Munich triptych, turned Ike down.

In February 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson invoked Munich in his reasoning for responding to a terrorist incident in the Central Highlands by beginning the bombing of North Vietnam. That summer, when LBJ sent U.S. armies to fight in Vietnam, he invoked Munich again. As Johnson’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk repeatedly mentioned the dangers of appeasement. It was the effort to avoid another Munich that led to years of stark tragedy and desperate peril in Vietnam.

The correct lesson to be drawn from Munich today is that when presidents and their administrations raise its specter, it is a sure sign they want to pursue extravagant policies, usually of violence, based on narrow grounds with shaky public support. Today the Munich analogy functions as a provocation, a red flag before a bull. It is dangerous because it claims that the only solution to any situation is to fight—Cheney’s point exactly. Having done nothing beyond silly propaganda—despite its own claims—to undermine the jihadists by eliminating the economic and political oppression that form the basis of jihadist appeal, the Bush people counsel that the fight is everything and that talking is “appeasement.” We have seen in Lebanon lately just how misguided is that approach.

Bush administration history is like their reality—faith-based. President Bush himself, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, characterized those who saw and spoke the truth about the run-up to the Iraq war as “revisionists”—historians who try to change the conventional wisdom about the past. Cheney not long ago declared it was “inexcusable” to repeat that truth. The same speeches that contain the Munich claims portray the Iraqi and Afghan people as “awakening to a future of hope and freedom” (Cheney) and say the U.S. strategy in Iraq “has not changed” (Rumsfeld).

The faith is that if you repeat falsehoods enough times the public will believe them. There is another historical analogy there—a real one—to Adolf Hitler’s henchman, Josef Goebbels. He called it the “Big Lie.” No wonder the administration’s flacks need friendly audiences.

John Prados is a senior analyst with the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. His forthcoming book is Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan Dee Publisher).

© Copyright 2006 Daily News, L.P
Rumsfeld's Misuse Of History

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On Rumsfeld and “Appeasement” - by Matthew Rothschild

For Rumsfeld, name-calling is a substitute for solving the mess he’s made.

In his speech to the annual convention of the American Legion on August 28, the Secretary of Defense wheeled out the hoary old charge that critics of the Bush Administration are appeasers.

He explicitly mentioned Nazism, and he did so to draw a parallel. “Once again we face the same kind of challenges in efforts to confront the rising of a new type of fascism,” he said, adding: “But it is apparent that many have still not learned history’s lessons.”

Rumsfeld’s analogy is inapt. "Read More" click link below


As Katha Pollitt has pointed out in The Nation, “Italian Fascism, German Nazism, and other European fascist movements of the 1920s and '30s were nationalist and secular, closely allied with international capital and aimed at creating powerful, up-to-date, all-encompassing states.”

That’s not exactly what Al Qaeda is about.

What’s more, the threat to the United States from terrorism is in no way comparable to the threat we faced from Hitler, who presided over one of the most powerful militaries of the day.

Hitler, if he had not been stopped in the Battle of Britain, or if he had not opened up the Eastern front, or if he had gotten the bomb first, might very well have conquered America.

Al Qaeda does not have the power to conquer America.

Nor do other undefined “fascists,” a term Rumsfeld uses so loosely that it appears to encompass anyone from Osama bin Laden to the insurgents in Iraq.

Finally, today’s terrorists cannot be fought the same way as fascist states like Germany and Italy. Yes, bin Laden and Zawahiri must be captured or killed, but that will not end terrorism, because it’s an ideology that attracts recruits depending, in part, on world events.

(Its backward, anti-Semitic, misogynistic yearning for the great lost empire of the caliphate is a constant. Political developments are the variables that swell or shrink is ranks.) When the United States invades one Muslim country after another and engages in torture, when the United States supports (and eggs on) Israel’s use of disproportionate force and fails to settle the Palestinian conflict in a just manner, these actions all serve to swell the ranks of the terrorists.

This Rumsfeld will not admit. He responds to any hint of this criticism with the slander that this is the mentality of “Blame America First.”

Logically, he must accuse the CIA of having that mentality, too, since it has acknowledged that the Iraq War has served as a recruiting call for Al Qaeda.

Amazingly, in this same speech, Rumsfeld ridiculed the amount of press attention paid to Abu Ghraib and called Guantanamo Bay “arguably the best run” detention center “in the history of warfare.”

This is moral obtuseness and political deafness of the highest order.

Much as he tries to minimize the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, they have besmirched America’s reputation and have incited terrorism.

And they are his responsibility, which to this day he has not owned up to. Nor has he owned up to hoodwinking the American public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or lowballing the number of troops and displaying a careless attitude about the occupation.

Rather than lash out at his critics, Rumsfeld for once ought to accept responsibility for his own blunders, which themselves have made us more vulnerable to the very terrorists he talks so much about.

© Copyright 2006 The Progressive
On Rumsfeld and “Appeasement”: "© Copyright 2006 The Progressive"

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On 'Ownership Society' Leaves Most Behind - by Marie Cocco

The "ownership society" looks like this: The owners are doing quite well, thank you.

Wealth — the value of assets such as houses, stocks and cash that an individual holds, after debts are subtracted — has become more concentrated over the past four decades, and more intensely so since 1998. Middle-income families who, in contemporary political mythology, are socking away money in mutual funds and soon will see their net worth rise with their stocks are, in truth, holding a steadily shrinking proportion of the nation's wealth.

For all the popular fascination with Wall Street greed and glory, investment wealth is still a distant dream on Main Street: In 2004, more than half of all U.S. households held no stock at all. That includes stocks held indirectly in mutual funds and in 401(k) retirement accounts. And almost two out of three households that did own stock held portfolios valued at less than $5,000. "Read More" click link below


Meanwhile, households with incomes in the top 10 percent owned close to 80 percent of all stock. The net worth of the wealthiest Americans has climbed consistently since 1962, when the top holders of wealth held 125 times what the median household did. By 2004 the best-off had wealth amounting to 190 times that of a typical household.

"The fallacy that all or even most American households are greatly invested in the stock market — either directly or indirectly through pension plans — is exposed," says the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute in its annual study of the State of Working America.

The study, published every Labor Day, hasn't been released in its entirety. The book's chapter on wealth was released in advance. The analysis is based on Federal Reserve and other government data.

The excerpt's value is not in telling us what we already know: that wages are stagnant or shrinking; that the fruits of American workers' increased productivity have fed corporate profits, to an extent unprecedented in the post-World War II era; that even as wages fall and benefits such as guaranteed pensions are discarded as an extravagant "legacy" cost that drags down profits, corporate chieftains reward themselves with eye-popping pay packages and retirement benefits.

This concentrated look at concentrated wealth shows that the "ownership society" of conservative dreams is a silly slogan. It shouldn't entice a credulous media into pretending that do-it-yourself schemes for financing such basics as retirement are workable. "It's going to be much tougher for middle-class families and certainly poor families to do this kind of thing," says Edward N. Wolff, a New York University economics professor who parsed the numbers. "They don't have too much wealth outside their home."

The selling of the so-called "ownership society" has been the political conservatives' answer to all that ails middle-class America. Lost your health insurance? No matter. If you "own" your own health savings account, you'll control what you spend on medical care — and get to keep whatever's left over at year's end. Company cut out your pension? Retirement riches can be yours with a 401(k) savings account, or an alphabet soup of other tax-preferred retirement accounts.

Who needs company benefits — or more to the point, government programs — when you can have a savings account and a tax break to shelter the profits? Right-leaning think tanks and the politicians in league with them convinced themselves that mutual-fund mania had such a hold on the American imagination that average people were ready to give up the guarantee of Social Security benefits for glowing stock market returns. The public recoiled: It's awfully hard to imagine living off stock market returns when you don't own any stock.

You can round up the usual suspects to explain the scary level of inequality that's a hallmark of our new gilded age. Blame the long-term decline of manufacturing and unions, a global labor market that depresses wages, and technological advances that drive up economic growth but drive down the pay of those who are displaced.

What's obvious is that government shouldn't make things worse by, say, enacting tax cuts on investment income — a hallmark of the Bush administration's tax policy. And it shouldn't keep trying to hoodwink people into believing that what's good for the "investor class" is good for the middle class. They aren't the same. And their bank statements prove it.

© Copyright 2006 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC
On 'Ownership Society' Leaves Most Behind

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The True Iraq Appeasers - by Peter W. Galbraith

In his most recent justification of his Pentagon stewardship, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reached back to the 1930s, comparing the Bush administration's critics to those who, like US Ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, favored appeasing Adolf Hitler. Rumsfeld avoided a more recent comparison: the appeasement of Saddam Hussein by the Reagan and first Bush administrations. The reasons for selectivity are obvious, since so many of Hussein's appeasers in the 1980s were principals in the 2003 Iraq war, including Rumsfeld.

In 1983, President Reagan initiated a strategic opening to Iraq, then in the third year of a war of attrition with neighboring Iran. Although Iraq had started the war with a blitzkrieg attack in 1980, the tide had turned by 1982 in favor of much larger Iran, and the Reagan administration was afraid Iraq might actually lose. Reagan chose Rumsfeld as his emissary to Hussein, whom he visited in December 1983 and March 1984. Inconveniently, Iraq had begun to use chemical weapons against Iran in November 1983, the first sustained use of poison gas since a 1925 treaty banning that. "Read More" click link below


Rumsfeld never mentioned this blatant violation of international law to Hussein, instead focusing on shared hostility toward Iran and an oil pipeline through Jordan. Rumsfeld apparently did mention it to Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, but by not raising the issue with the paramount leader he signaled that good relations were more important to the United States than the use of poison gas.

This message was reinforced by US conduct after the Rumsfeld missions. The Reagan administration offered Hussein financial credits that eventually made Iraq the third-largest recipient of US assistance. It normalized diplomatic relations and, most significantly, began providing Iraq with battlefield intelligence. Iraq used this information to target Iranian troops with chemical weapons. And when Iraq turned its chemical weapons on the Kurds in 1988, killing 5,000 in the town of Halabja, the Reagan administration sought to obscure responsibility by falsely suggesting Iran was also responsible.

On Aug. 25, 1988 -- five days after the Iran-Iraq War ended -- Iraq attacked 48 Kurdish villages more than 100 miles from Iran. Within days, the US Senate passed legislation, sponsored by Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, to end US financial support for Hussein and to impose trade sanctions. To enhance the prospects that Reagan would sign his legislation, Pell sent me to Eastern Turkey to interview Kurdish survivors who had fled across the border. As it turned out, the Reagan administration agreed that Iraq had gassed the Kurds, but strongly opposed sanctions, or even cutting off financial assistance. Colin Powell, then the national security adviser, coordinated the Reagan administration's opposition.

The Pell bill died at the end of the congressional session in 1988, in spite of heroic efforts by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to force it through by holding up a raft of administration nominations.

The next year, President George H.W. Bush's administration actually doubled US financial credits for Iraq. A week before Hussein invaded Kuwait, the administration vociferously opposed legislation that would have conditioned US assistance to Iraq on a commitment not to use chemical weapons and to stop the genocide against the Kurds. At the time, Dick Cheney, now vice president, was secretary of defense and a statutory member of the National Security Council that reviewed Iraq policy. By all accounts, he supported the administration's appeasement policy.

In 2003, Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld all cited Hussein's use of chemical weapons 15 years before as a rationale for war. But at the time Hussein was actually doing the gassing -- including of his own people -- they considered his use of chemical weapons a second-tier issue.

The Reagan and first Bush administrations believed that Hussein could be a strategic partner to the United States, a counterweight to Iran, a force for moderation in the region, and possibly help in the Arab-Israel peace process. That was, of course, an illusion. A ruthless dictator who launched an attack on his neighbor, Iran, who used chemical weapons, and who committed genocide against his own Kurds was never likely to be a reliable American ally. Hussein, having watched the United States gloss over his crimes in the Iran war and at home, concluded he could get away with invading Kuwait.

It was a costly error for him, for his country, and eventually for the United States, which now has the largest part of its military bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. Meanwhile the architects of the earlier appeasement policy now maintain the illusion that they have a path to victory, if only their critics would shut up.

Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia, is author of ``The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End."

Copyright 2006 Boston Globe
The True Iraq Appeasers

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Nightmare Mortgages

They promise the American Dream: A home of your own -- with ultra-low rates and payments anyone can afford. Now, the trap has sprung

For cash-strapped homeowners, it was a pitch they couldn't refuse: Refinance your mortgage at a bargain rate and cut your payments in half. New home buyers, stretching to afford something in a super-heated market, didn't even need to produce documentation, much less a downpayment.

Those who took the bait are in for a nasty surprise. While many Americans have started to worry about falling home prices, borrowers who jumped into so-called option ARM loans have another, more urgent problem: payments that are about to skyrocket. "Read More" click link below


The option adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) might be the riskiest and most complicated home loan product ever created. With its temptingly low minimum payments, the option ARM brought a whole new group of buyers into the housing market, extending the boom longer than it could have otherwise lasted, especially in the hottest markets. Suddenly, almost anyone could afford a home -- or so they thought. The option ARM's low payments are only temporary. And the less a borrower chooses to pay now, the more is tacked onto the balance.

The bill is coming due. Many of the option ARMs taken out in 2004 and 2005 are resetting at much higher payment schedules -- often to the astonishment of people who thought the low installments were fixed for at least five years. And because home prices have leveled off, borrowers can't count on rising equity to bail them out. What's more, steep penalties prevent them from refinancing. The most diligent home buyers asked enough questions to know that option ARMs can be fraught with risk. But others, caught up in real estate mania, ignored or failed to appreciate the risk.

There was plenty more going on behind the scenes they didn't know about, either: that their broker was paid more to sell option ARMs than other mortgages; that their lender is allowed to claim the full monthly payment as revenue on its books even when borrowers choose to pay much less; that the loan's interest rates and up-front fees might not have been set by their bank but rather by a hedge fund; and that they'll soon be confronted with the choice of coughing up higher payments or coughing up their home. The option ARM is "like the neutron bomb," says George McCarthy, a housing economist at New York's Ford Foundation. "It's going to kill all the people but leave the houses standing."

Because banks don't have to report how many option ARMs they underwrite, few choose to do so. But the best available estimates show that option ARMs have soared in popularity. They accounted for as little as 0.5% of all mortgages written in 2003, but that shot up to at least 12.3% through the first five months of this year, according to FirstAmerican LoanPerformance, an industry tracker. And while they made up at least 40% of mortgages in Salinas, Calif., and 26% in Naples, Fla., they're not just found in overheated coastal markets: Through Mar. 31 of this year, at least 51% of mortgages in West Virginia and 26% in Wyoming were option ARMs. Stock and bond analysts estimate that as many as 1.3 million borrowers took out as much as $389 billion in option ARMs in 2004 and 2005. And it's not letting up. Despite the housing slump, option ARMs totaling $77.2 billion were written in the second quarter of this year, according to investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

The First Wave
After prolonging the boom, these exotic mortgages could worsen the bust. They also betray such a lack of due diligence on the part of lenders and borrowers that it raises questions of what other problems may be lurking. And most of the pain will be borne by ordinary people, not the lenders, brokers, or financiers who created the problem.

Gordon Burger is among the first wave of option ARM casualties. The 42-year-old police officer from a suburb of Sacramento, Calif., is stuck in a new mortgage that's making him poorer by the month. Burger, a solid earner with clean credit, has bought and sold several houses in the past. In February he got a flyer from a broker advertising an interest rate of 2.2%. It was an unbeatable opportunity, he thought. If he refinanced the mortgage on his $500,000 home into an option ARM, he could save $14,000 in interest payments over three years. Burger quickly pulled the trigger, switching out of his 5.1% fixed-rate loan. "The payment schedule looked like what we talked about, so I just started signing away," says Burger. He didn't read the fine print.

After two months Burger noticed that the minimum payment of $1,697 was actually adding $1,000 to his balance every month. "I'm not making any ground on this house; it's a loss every month," he says. He says he was told by his lender, Minneapolis-based Homecoming Financial, a unit of Residential Capital, the nation's fifth-largest mortgage shop, that he'd have to pay more than $10,000 in prepayment penalties to refinance out of the loan. If he's unhappy, he should take it up with his broker, the bank said. "They know they're selling crap, and they're doing it in a way that's very deceiving," he says. "Unfortunately, I got sucked into it." In a written statement, Residential said it couldn't comment on Burger's loan but that "each mortgage is designed to meet the specific financial needs of a consumer."

The loans certainly meet the needs of banks. Option ARMs offer several payment choices each month. Among Burger's alternatives were one for $2,524, about what a standard fixed-rate mortgage would be on the new amount, and the $1,697 he pays. Why would his bank make the minimum so low? Thanks to a perfectly legal accounting practice, no matter how little Burger pays each month, the bank gets to record the full amount.

Option ARMs were created in 1981 and for years were marketed to well-heeled home buyers who wanted the option of making low payments most months and then paying off a big chunk all at once. For them, option ARMs offered flexibility.

So how did these unusual loans get into the hands of so many ordinary folks? The sequence of events was orderly and even rational, at least within a flawed system. In the early years of the housing boom, falling interest rates made safe fixed-rate loans attractive to borrowers. As home prices soared, banks pushed adjustable-rate loans with lower initial payments. When those got too pricey, banks hawked loans that required only interest payments for the first few years. And then they flogged option ARMs -- not as financial-planning tools for the wealthy but as affordability tools for the masses. Banks tapped an army of unregulated mortgage brokers to do what needed to be done to keep the money flowing, even if it meant putting dangerous loans in the hands of people who couldn't handle or didn't understand the risk. And Wall Street greased the skids by taking on much of the new risk banks were creating.

Now the signs of excess are crystal clear. Up to 80% of all option ARM borrowers make only the minimum payment each month, according to Fitch Ratings. The rest of the money gets added to the balance of the mortgage, a situation known as negative amortization. And once balances grow to a certain amount, the loans automatically reset at far higher payments. Most of these borrowers aren't paying down their loans; they're underpaying them up.

Yet the banking system has insulated itself reasonably well from the thousands of personal catastrophes to come. For one thing, banks can sell some of their option ARMs off to Wall Street, where they're packaged with other, better loans and re-sold in chunks to investors. Some $182 billion of the option ARMs written in 2004 and 2005 and an additional $83 billion this year have been sold, repackaged, rated by debt-rating agencies, and marketed to investors as mortgage-backed securities, says Bear, Stearns & Co. (BSC )Banks also sell an unknown amount of them directly to hedge funds and other big investors with appetites for risk.

The rest of the option ARMs remain on lenders' books, where for now they're generating huge phantom profits for some lenders. That's because, according to generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, banks can count as revenue the highest amount of an option ARM payment -- the so-called fully amortized amount -- even when borrowers make only the minimum payment. In other words, banks can claim future revenue now, inflating earnings per share.

For many industries, so-called accrual accounting, which lets companies book sales when they contract for them rather than when they receive the cash, makes sense. The revenues will eventually come. But accrual accounting doesn't apply well to option ARMs, since it's more difficult to know if unpaid interest will ever cross a banker's desk. "This is basically an IOU that may never get paid," says Robert Lacoursiere, an analyst at Banc of America Securities. James Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer recently wrote that negative-amortization accounting is "frankly a fraudulent gambit. But what it lacks in morality, it compensates for in ingenuity." The Financial Accounting Standards Board, which is responsible for keeping GAAP up to date, stands by its standard but told BusinessWeek in a written statement that it is "concerned that the disclosures associated with these types of loans [are] not providing enough transparency relative to their associated risks."

Camouflaged Losses
Risks or not, the accounting treatment is boosting reported profits sharply. At Santa Monica (Calif.)-based FirstFed Financial Corp. (FED ), "deferred interest" -- what an outsider might call phantom income -- made up 67% of second-quarter pretax profits. FirstFed did not respond to requests for comment. At Oakland (Calif.)-based Golden West Financial Corp. (GDW ), which has been selling option ARMs for two decades, deferred interest made up about 59.6% of the bank's earnings in the first half of 2006. "It's not the loan that's the problem," says Herbert M. Sandler, CEO of World Savings Bank, parent of Golden West. "The problem is with the quality of the underwriting."

In the middle of one of the hottest U.S. markets, Coral Gables (Fla.)-based BankUnited Financial Corp. (BKUNA ) posted a $14.8 million loss for the quarter ended June, 2005. Yet it reported record profits of $23.8 million for the quarter ended in June of this year -- $20.9 million of which was earned in deferred interest. Some 92% of its new loans were option ARMs. Humberto L. Lopez, chief financial officer, insists the bank underwrites carefully. "The option ARMs have gotten a bit of a raised eyebrow because we generate and book noncash earnings.'s our money, and we do feel comfortable we'll get it back."

Even the loans that blow up can be hidden with fancy bookkeeping. David Hendler of New York-based CreditSights, a bond research shop, predicts that banks in coming quarters will increasingly move weak loans into so-called held-for-sale accounts. There the loans will sit, sequestered from the rest of the portfolio, until they're sold to collection agencies or to investors. In the latter case, a transaction on an ailing loan registers on the books as a trading loss, gets mixed up with other trading activities and -- presto! -- it vanishes from shareholders' sight. "There are a lot of ways to camouflage the actual experience," says Hendler.

There's no way to camouflage what Harold, a former computer technician who asked BusinessWeek not to publish his last name, is about to face. He's disabled and has one source of income: the $1,600 per month he receives in Social Security disability payments. In September, 2005, Harold refinanced out of a fixed-rate mortgage and into an option ARM for his $150,000 home in Chicago. The minimum monthly payment for the first year is $899, which he can afford. The interest-only payment is $1,329, which he can't. The fully amortized payment is $1,454, which his lender, Washington Mutual (WM ), gets to count on its books. WaMu, no fly-by-night operation, said it couldn't comment on Harold's case, citing confidentiality issues. A spokesman says the bank "accounts for its option ARM product in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles." WaMu has about $12 billion in loans negatively amortizing right now, up from $2.5 billion in 2005, estimates CreditSights' Hendler. In a written statement, WaMu said "borrowers who request an adjustable loan with payment options should understand those options and potential adjustments throughout the life of the loan. We make detailed disclosures to customers that are designed to develop a more informed consumer of mortgage products and ensure that our customers are comfortable with the loan products they select."

Hard Sell
To get the deals done, banks have turned increasingly to unregulated mortgage brokers, who now account for 80% of all mortgage originations, double what it was 10 years ago, according to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. In 2004 banks began offering fatter sales commissions on option ARMs to encourage brokers to push them, says Gail McKenzie, assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta, who is investigating mortgage brokers for improper practices.

The problem, of course, is that many brokers care more about commissions than customers. They use aggressive sales tactics, harping on the minimum payment on an option ARM and neglecting to mention the future implications. Some even imply verbally that temporary teaser rates of 1% to 2% are permanent, even though the fine print says otherwise. It's easy to confuse borrowers with option ARM numbers. A recent Federal Reserve study showed that one in four homeowners is mystified by basic adjustable-rate loans. Add multiple payment options into the mix, and the mortgage game can be utterly baffling.

Billy and Carolyn Shaw are among the growing ranks of borrowers who have taken out loans they say they didn't understand. The retired couple from the Salinas (Calif.) area needed to tap about $50,000 in equity from their $385,000 home to cover mounting expenses. Billy, 66, a retired mechanic, has diabetes. Carolyn, 61, has been caring for her grandchildren, 10-year-old twins, since her daughter's death in 2000. The Shaws have a fixed income of $3,000 a month that will fall by about $1,000 in November after Billy's disability benefits run out. Their new loan's minimum payment of about $1,413 is manageable so far, but the fully amortized amount of about $3,329 is out of the question. In a little over a year, they've added some $8,500 to their loan balance and now face a big reset if they continue to pay only the minimum. "We didn't totally understand what was taking place," says Carolyn. "You have to pay attention. We didn't, and we're really stuck here." The Shaws' lender, Golden West, says it routinely calls customers to ask them if they are happy and understand their mortgage loan.

Then there's the illegal stuff. Mortgage fraud is one of the fastest-growing white-collar crimes in the nation, costing $1 billion in 2005, double the year before. A slower housing market could foster more wrongdoing. "With a tighter market, you are going to find there is more incentive to manipulate," says Tim Irvin of Irvin Investigations & Research Services in Spring, Texas. "Brokers are having a harder time getting business, so they're getting creative."

Concerns like these haven't curbed Wall Street's hunger for option ARMS. "At a price, you can originate or sell anything," says Thomas F. Marano, global head of mortgage and asset-backed securities at Bear Stearns. Hedge funds have been particularly active, buying risky loans directly from banks and cutting out the bundlers in the middle. Kathleen C. Engel, an associate professor of law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, says Wall Street and hedge fund money has helped to finance widespread lending abuses, particularly among the most vulnerable borrowers.

Pros Go Unscathed
Why are hedge funds willing to buy risky loans directly? Because they can demand terms that help insulate them from losses. And banks, knowing what the hedge funds want in advance, simply take it out of the hides of borrowers, many of whom qualify for lower rates based on their credit histories. "Even if the loan goes bad, [the hedge funds are] still making money hand over fist," says Engel.

Eventually, some of it will go sour. But the Wall Street pros who buy option ARMs are in the business of managing risk, and no one expects widespread losses. They've taken on billons in iffy option ARMs, but the loans are no shakier than the billions in emerging market debt or derivatives they buy and sell all the time. Blowups are factored into the investing decision.

Banks that hold lots of option ARMs on their books will surely be hit by loan defaults in coming years. "It's certainly reasonable to expect to see some excesses wrung out," says Brad A. Morrice, president and CEO of New Century Financial Corp. But even here the damage will likely be limited. Banks use insurance and other financial instruments to protect their portfolios, and they hold real assets -- homes -- as collateral. Christopher L. Cagan, director of research and analytics at First American Real Estate Solutions, a researcher and unit of title insurer First American, forecasts total defaults of $300 billion across all types of loans, not just option ARMs, over the next five years -- less than 1% of total homeowner equity. (In comparison, JPMorgan Chase & Co. alone has a mortgage portfolio of $182.8 billion.) Cagan estimates that banks will end up losing only $100 billion of it all told.

Most of the pain will be born by ordinary people. And it's already happening. More than a fifth of option ARM loans in 2004 and 2005 are upside down -- meaning borrowers' homes are worth less than their debt. If home prices fall 10%, that number would double. "The number of houses for sale is tripling in some markets, so people are not going to get out of their debt," says the Ford Foundation's McCarthy. "A lot are going to walk."

Jennifer and Eric Hinz of Somerset, Wis., are feeling the squeeze. They refinanced out of a 5.25% fixed-rate, 30-year loan in June, 2005, and into an option ARM with a 1% teaser rate from Indymac Bank. The $1,483 payment for their original mortgage dropped to as low as $747 with the new option ARM. They say they had no idea when they signed up, however, that the low payment adds $600 in deferred interest to their balance every month. Worse, they thought the 1% would last three years, but they're already paying 7.68%. "What reasonable human being would ever knowingly give up a 5.25% fixed-rate for what we're getting now?" says Eric, 36, who works in commercial construction. Refinancing is out because they can't afford the $15,000 or so in fees. "I'm paying more, and the interest is just going up and up and up," says Jennifer, 34, a stay-at-home mom. "I feel like we got totally screwed." They say their mortgage broker has stopped returning their phone calls. Indymac declined to comment on the loan's specifics.

Stories like these can be found across the socioeconomic spectrum, says Allen J. Fishbein, director of Housing & Credit Policy for the Consumer Federation of America. In a May focus group, the CFA found that option ARM customers at all income levels said the loans were the only way they could afford their homes. While many recognized that their mortgages could increase, "they professed complete surprise that they could increase as much as they could," says Fishbein. That lack of diligence will cost them over time.

Not that all option ARM holders go in blindly. While the loans are marketed aggressively, plenty of holders know exactly what they're getting into. Jon and Meghan Bachman of Portland, Ore., consider them wealth-building tools. "We want to own a bunch of houses," says Meghan. "We're hoping for early retirement."

So far they have stayed out of the fire. The couple, who are in their 30s, bought their first home, a 100-year-old farm house in Portland, Ore., in October, 2005, with a no-money-down loan for $200,000 from GreenPoint Mortgage, a unit of NorthFork Bancorporation Inc. By May, the value of the house had soared to $275,000. Rather than sit tight as their grandparents might have, the Bachmans, with an annual household income of $70,000, took out a home equity loan to put a $30,000 downpayment on an investment property in an up-and-coming neighborhood nearby. They pay a minimum of just $825 on their new $191,000 mortgage, and rent the house out for $100 more than that. Sooner or later, the payment will rise. Then they'll have to raise the rent to stay in the black. If the still-strong Portland housing market tanks, they could find themselves in deep trouble. It's a risk they say they're willing to take.

Public policy has yet to catch up with the new complexities of the lending industry. Comptroller of the Currency John C. Dugan, the banking industry's main regulator, wants banks to clean up their act. A source inside the federal Office of the Comptroller says Dugan intends to raise lending standards, as he did last year on credit cards, where super-low minimum payments made it improbable that cardholders would ever pay down debts. New guidelines are expected this fall.

Fair-housing pundits suggest that mortgage lenders follow the lead of the securities industry and require that mortgage borrowers be not only eligible for a product but also suitable -- meaning the loan won't impose hardship. Says Consumer Federation of America's Fishbein: Buyers have to have a "reasonable prospect of being able to handle the payments, not at the initial rate, but [assuming] the worst-case scenario."

So far, banks have shown little desire to raise their standards. In February, Golden West announced it would raise its minimum option ARM payment to 2.6% of the loan. In March, Golden West's Sandler wrote a nine-page letter to the Office of Thrift Supervision decrying the lax lending standards he was seeing. "Foolish lenders who eventually stumble under the weight of their missteps will bring down innocent borrowers with them and leave the rest of us to clean up the mess," he wrote. But on May 7, Golden West announced it was selling out to Charlotte (N.C.)-based Wachovia Corp. (WB ). By June it had dropped its option ARM rate back down to 1.50%. Sandler says the rates were changed according to the bank's interest rate outlook.

Analyst Frederick Cannon of Keefe Bruyette & Woods says most banks don't apologize for their option ARM businesses. "Almost without exception everyone says [the option ARM] is a great loan, it's plenty regulated, and don't bug us," he says. In an April letter to regulators, Cindy Manzettie, chief credit officer for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, said it's not the "lender's responsibility to help the consumer determine the appropriate payment option each month.... Paternalistic regulations that underestimate the intelligence of the American public do not work."

By Mara Der Hovanesian
Nightmare Mortgages

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Defense CEOs see pay double since 9/11 - U.S. Business -

Average pay has doubled, compared with slight gains at other companies
The Associated Press

Updated: 3:46 p.m. ET Aug 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - The chief executives of corporations making big profits from the war on terror are enjoying far bigger pay increases than CEOs of nondefense companies, according to a study by two liberal groups.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, found that, on average, CEOs of corporations with extensive defense contracts are getting paid about double what they made before Sept. 11, 2001.

CEOs of other large corporations — without big stakes in the war — have averaged pay gains of 6 percent during the same period, the study said. "Read More" click link below


The highest paid defense CEO, George David of United Technologies Corp. — which makes Black Hawk helicopters and jet engines — took in $31.9 million in 2005. That actually represented a big cut in pay from the $88.3 million he made in 2004.

Halliburton Co.’s CEO, David Lesar, saw his compensation more than double last year to $26.6 million. Halliburton has been the top provider of logistical services in Iraq such as transportation and feeding U.S. troops but has come under fire for no-bid contracts and allegations it overcharged the government.

The study focused on the pay of the CEOs of the 34 publicly traded U.S. corporations that were among the top 100 defense contractors in 2005 and for which defense contracts made up more than 10 percent of revenues.

The two groups calculated the CEOs’ pay packages based on salary, bonuses, stock awards, long-term incentives and the value of stock options exercised in any given year. The information is publicly available from Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Among the companies surveyed were defense titans Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., and lesser-known companies such as Oshkosh Truck Corp., supplier of heavy trucks, and Edo Corp., which makes cell phone jammers that can block roadside bomb explosions.

Between 2001 and 2005, the profits for the 34 companies have climbed 189 percent. Profits for U.S. corporations as a whole rose 76 percent.

Stock price gains for defense contractors have averaged 48 percent while the overall stock market has remained flat. Stock market gains translate into higher pay for executives, who often reap windfalls from stock options.

Spokesmen for two companies highlighted in the report noted that defense contracts represent just a modest fraction of their business. They also said it’s unfair to criticize CEOs for success in lifting a company’s stock price.

“This report is nonsense,” said United Technologies spokesman Paul Jackson, who said defense contracts represent just 14 percent of 2005 revenues. “More than 80 percent of CEO George David’s compensation is performance-based. The record shows UTC’s shareowner return under his tenure totals 1,252 percent vs. 350 percent for the Dow and 275 percent for the S&P 500.”

Another highly paid CEO is Jay Gellert, CEO of Health Net Inc., which provides managed health care to dependents of military personnel as well as Pentagon retirees. In the years immediately before Sept. 11, 2001, Gellert didn’t break $1 million in compensation.

Gellert made $11.6 million last year after a big jump in military contracts that the company said in its SEC filings resulted from “a rise in demand for private sector services as a direct result of continued and heightened military activity.”

Health Net spokesman David Olson said partial privatization of military health care has saved taxpayers money. Olson said Pentagon contracts comprise 17 percent of Health Net’s business.

“He’s the CEO of a public company and his incentive compensation is linked to increases in shareholder value, and that’s the way it works,” Olson said. “And Health Net’s stock in 2005 was the seventh best performer in the Fortune 500.”

Still, to the liberal groups sponsoring the study, the taxpayer-funded war shouldn’t help drive up CEO pay.

“Why not say that if it’s a contract with taxpayer dollars, they can’t go to excessive CEO pay,” said Betsy Leondar-Wright of United for a Fair Economy. “In past wars, there were efforts to limit war profiteering. We’re having the reverse here. We’re having people treating it as their own little bonanza.”
© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Defense CEOs see pay double since 9/11 - U.S. Business -

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from Jesus' General: Flat Daddies [in Maine]

Sometimes 3-year-old Meagan wants to get a big hug from Daddy and sit on his lap. Her brother, Josh, age 8, wants to go fishing with Dad to show him how far he can cast his line these days. Unfortunately, Meagan and Josh have to wait, because Daddy is in Iraq defending America from Godless Islamofacism.

It's too bad their daddy isn't isn't serving in the Maine National Guard. If he was, Meagan could cuddle with a cardboard cut-out of her father, and Josh, after carefully wrapping him in Saran Wrap could take his "flat daddy" to his favorite fishing hole just like the children of Maine guardsmen do:

Maine National Guard members in Iraq and Afghanistan are never far from the thoughts of their loved ones.

But now, thanks to a popular family-support program, they're even closer.

Welcome to the "Flat Daddy" and "Flat Mommy" phenomenon, in which life-size cutouts of deployed service members are given by the Maine National Guard to spouses, children, and relatives back home.

The Flat Daddies ride in cars, sit at the dinner table, visit the dentist, and even are brought to confession, according to their significant others on the home front.

"I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket," said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. "The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I've tricked several people by that. They think he's home again."

At the request of relatives, about 200 Flat Daddy and Flat Mommy photos have been enlarged and printed at the state National Guard headquarters in Augusta. The families cut out the photos, which show the Guard members from the waist up, and glue them to a $2 piece of foam board.

Sergeant First Class Barbara Claudel, the state family-support director who began the program, said the response from Guard families has been giddily enthusiastic.

I think it's a great idea. Sure, Flat Daddy and Flat Mommy may be unresponsive, but children miss a parent desperately when he or she is gone. The same is true of spouses. Any form of contact, even if it's with a battered old piece of cardboard, helps to fill the painful emptiness. More importantly, it helps younger children to remember the parent, so that when mommy or daddy returns, she or he doesn't seem so much like a stranger.

I'm wondering if Our Leader should consider doing something similar. A lot of people think he doesn't care about the men and women who are defending us against Islamic enslavement. They wonder why he has time for vacations (a whole year's worth of vacation time in the first five years of his presidency) but is unable to free himself for a few hours to attend a soldier's funeral a stones's throw across the Potomac at Arlington.

It doesn't have to be that way. With a dozen or so Flat Deciders™, he could attend nearly every soldier's funeral. I doubt most people would even notice that he's only a cardboard cut-out. Indeed, the fact that the Flat Decider™ is merely a cold, heartless, two-dimensional rendition of a real human being is what makes it so realistic. Add the optional Pull-My-Finger™ fun kit, and no one will be able to tell the difference. posted by Gen. JC Christian, Patriot | 1:36 AM  

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zeitgeist (The Reivers) on 'MTV's IRS The Cutting Edge' 1985

Hot stuff! on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Just move along, nothing to see here, Lookie on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Such a firm foundation to build on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Terrorist breeding on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Just peachy keen! on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Ship of on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Hey! I just got one of those and boy do I need on picture to "embiggen" view.

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Beyond the Living Wage: A New Challenge for Progressives - by Sam Pizzigati

Over the past dozen years, probably no grassroots campaign has excited progressives more‹and generated more real victories‹than the living wage movement.

Over 120 communities, big and small alike, have now enacted ordinances that require businesses that win government contracts to pay a living wage. These victories have made an undeniable impact. Low-wage workers from Baltimore to Los Angeles have seen their annual take-home pay rise by hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Yet, as a sobering new report reminds us, the pay gap in America's workplaces‹ between workers and top executives - has actually widened, and significantly so. Last year, notes "Executive Excess 2006," a just-released report from the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, top executives at major U.S. corporations took home 411 times more than average workers. "Read More" click link below


In 1994, at the birth of the living wage movement, chief executive pay outpaced pay for average workers by only 142 times.

All this concentrating of wealth at the top of our corporate ladder has become America's single biggest engine of inequality. Between 1993 and 2003, according to researchers at Harvard and Cornell, the top five executives at America's 1,500 biggest companies more than doubled their share of corporate earnings. These top execs took home $290 billion, over a quarter of a trillion dollars. .

The impact of executive pay jackpots on our great divide actually goes far beyond the sheer immensity of this $290 billion. To fatten corporate bottom lines and hit those jackpots, executives have downsized workers, outsourced jobs, gutted pensions, trimmed benefits, and slashed R & D. These executive decisions, taken together, have left American workers appreciably poorer ‹ and American companies considerably less competitive.

How have progressives responded? Trade union and activist religious groups have taken the lead. They've pressed resolutions against CEO pay excess at annual corporate shareholder meetings. And they've lobbied for new rules that could help shareholders challenge corporate boards that wink at executive pay outrages.

But organizing against executive pay excess remains, by and large, a low-priority concern for most progressives. And that's a shame. The struggle against greed in the suites could become, with a strategic approach imaginative enough, a wonderful opportunity to shove corporate behavior and power back onto America's political radar screen.

And what might that approach be? The new "Executive Excess 2006" report offers a provocative suggestion: Let's build on the successes of the living wage movement.

Living wage campaigns all start from the same basic assumption. Our public tax dollars should not, as activists from ACORN put it, "be subsidizing poverty-wage work."

Our public tax dollars should not be subsidizing executive jackpots either. But right now they are. Corporations routinely pocket government contracts and subsidies that translate into mega-paydays for their top executives.

Just one example: CEOs at the nation's top 34 defense industry companies, the new "Executive Excess" report documents, have seen their average pay double since the "War on Terror" began.

This sort of profiteering is going on throughout the U.S. economy. Nearly every major corporation in the United States today is taking in substantial revenue from government contracts, subsidies, tax breaks, or grants.

The living wage movement, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, is organizing to place strings on these contracts and subsidies. No tax dollars, the living wage movement demands, to companies that pay poverty wages! Why not ratchet up that demand? No tax dollars for companies that pay plutocrat wages!

One member of Congress is already moving in this direction. Rep. Martin Sabo from Minnesota has proposed legislation that would deny corporations tax deductions on any executive compensation that runs over 25 times what a company's lowest-paid workers receive. Under current law, the more corporations lavish on their executives in "incentives," the more they can deduct off their corporate income taxes.

Sabo's Income Equity Act offers a precedent that could be extended to any situation that involves the transfer of tax dollars to private corporate entities. In a jurisdiction that has already enacted a living wage ordinance, for instance, progressives could insist that no government contracts ought to go to companies that pay their top executives over 25 times that jurisdiction's living wage.

With a rule like this in place, top corporate executives would suddenly find themselves with an incredibly powerful personal incentive to advocate for a higher living wage.

As a nation, we already deny our tax dollars to companies that discriminate, in their employment policies, against women and people of color. We've determined that our tax dollars must not subsidize corporate practices that widen racial and gender inequality.

So why should we let our tax dollars widen economic inequality?

That doesn't make sense. Then again, excessive inequality never does.

Sam Pizzigati, a contributor to Executive Excess 2006, edits Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality. His email:


Beyond the Living Wage: A New Challenge for Progressives

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The Warrant's Out On Judges

by Aziz Huq and James Sample

Within hours of her decision to hold the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program unconstitutional, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was subjected to relentless personal criticism. Even in the mainstream press, she has been accused of “pos[ing] for the cameras” (the Wall Street Journal), charged with “blithely ignoring [her] own obligations” (The New York Times) and dismissed as having produced merely unscholarly “angry rhetoric” (The Washington Post). Such deeply personal invective directed at Judge Taylor drowned out commentary either applauding or disputing the merits of the decision.

The attack on Judge Taylor is not an isolated incident, but stands at the confluence of two different trends. First, it is the latest ad hominem, partisan attack on judges for the substance of their decisions. Second, it is a further step in a perilous flirtation with the idea that we are better off without independent judges to ensure the rule of law applies, not only to average citizens, but equally to those in power. "Read More" click link below


The first trend—assailing individual judges for their rulings—is most visible in America’s state courts. Take by way of example a ballot initiative campaign in South Dakota known as “JAIL4Judges” which would remove judges’ immunity from prosecution based on the substance of their decisions. The idea is so absurd that South Dakota’s entire legislature voted unanimously to oppose the initiative. Yet, substantial damage is done whenever extremists dictate the terms of debate by even placing this issue on the ballot. Similarly, in Alabama, recent primaries for the state’s Supreme Court featured a sitting justice who literally took to the opinion pages and television airwaves to chastise his colleagues on the bench for expressly following binding United States Supreme Court precedent. At least since the desegregation of Little Rock in 1957, it has been abundantly clear that following the law meant following the decisions of the nation’s High Court. Even when such attacks fail—as they generally have to date—they still damage the national dialogue. The result? Public debate about difficult legal questions is routinely reduced to a grossly simplified and misleading binary: liberal or conservative. If only the intersections between executive powers and individual liberties were so simple.

This trend is not confined to state courts. Even U.S. Supreme Court justices are subjected to a barrage of increasingly ad hominem attacks. After a controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision involving an unexceptional interpretation of the Takings Clause, property rights advocates, sensing a rallying moment, went on the offensive. A member of the Court’s majority, Justice David Souter suddenly found his New Hampshire home under attack by property rights advocates, seeking to seize it and build the “Lost Liberty Hotel.” Whatever the merits of the Court’s decision, it provided an ironic flashpoint for unsophisticated hostility toward a member of the Court’s majority—as the decision rested heavily on deference to democratic, legislative judgments.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes contends that "[b]esides national security, the issue that most energizes conservatives and Republicans is judges." On the religious right, for example, Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson's April 2004 newsletter described Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as "the most dangerous man in America." The good news is that if Dobson is correct, we're much safer than previously thought; the bad news is that while such hyperbolic comments may serve the short-term interests of particular groups, in the long-term they hurt us all. Perhaps that is why, in 2005, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist—hardly a "liberal" by any definition—wrote of the "mounting criticism of judges" and the need for courts “to survive basic attacks on the judicial independence that has made our judicial system a model for much of the world."

The second trend—an increasing ambivalence toward the rule of law—finds its most recent champion in Chicago federal circuit court Judge Richard Posner. Last week, Judge Posner wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about Judge Taylor’s decision. As an initial matter, it is generally thought improper for judges to comment on pending cases. And while Judge Taylor’s decision could not be appealed to Judge Posner’s tribunal, it is not impossible that cases raising the same questions could come before him (for example, if a convicted criminal defendant in Judge Posner’s jurisdiction challenged the propriety of evidence gathered as a result of an NSA warrantless search). Judge Posner disclaimed any view of the merits of Judge Taylor’s decision, but ended his article by stating that: “Monitoring … need not be conducted under a warrant.” It requires creative hermeneutics of the kind usually condemned by conservatives to make this commentary out to be something other than a view of the merits of the case.

But more striking was Judge Posner’s view of the proper role of the courts in an age of terrorist threats. He noted the “strangeness” of assigning decisions related to national security to one of the hundreds of federal district court judges in the country, and the “further strangeness” that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is tasked solely with hearing warrant applications, did not hear the case. At heart, Judge Posner took issue with the idea that surveillance had anything to do with either judges or the Constitution at all. Judges, he argued, “have no expertise in national security,” and the “18th-Century Constitution … needs to be revived” rather than rigidly applied by a “bare majority” of the Supreme Court.

Judge Posner is hardly alone in tolling the bell for judicial competence—former Justice Department lawyer and author of the infamous August 2002 torture memo John Yoo makes a similar argument about the “institutional disadvantage” of courts when it comes to security matters. The Yoo/Posner notion that courts have no proper role when government seeks to infringe on human liberties in the name of national security is an extravagantly dangerous one.

Start with Judge Posner’s idea that national security decisions ought to be made by a cadre of seasoned officials with substantial security experience. Any honest assessment of the past five years casts much doubt on the ability of the executive to assess wisely the balance of fundamental individual liberties and security. From the ongoing detention of dozens of innocent men in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib to a Middle East grand strategy that has principally served to empower Iran, the record is marked by serial incompetence.

There is good reason to be skeptical about decisions made by small groups of so-called experts. At high levels, national security decision-making in Administrations of both parties has been often driven by partisan concerns. As Judge Taylor’s decision noted, every Administration since FDR’s has employed the nation’s intelligence services and surveillance powers to improper, often partisan, ends.

Nor are decisions made by small groups of experts necessarily better than decisions exposed to the disinfectant of independent scrutiny. Some of the most serious factual errors in national security—such as the mistaken belief that Iraq either had WMDs or supported al-Qaida—flowed from closed-group deliberations, unchecked by broader debate. As Judge Posner’s colleague at the Chicago Law School Cass Sunstein has shown, members of small groups, operating in a bubble, become sounding boards for their own prejudices, drowning out doubts, and reinforcing errors.

As a practical matter, there is no reason why the political branches alone, and not judges, should see the classified information needed to assess a national security power. Courts have mechanisms—often as secure as those available to Congress—to view classified information. And when was the last time a federal judge leaked a piece of classified information? We know of no such example.

Federal judges must constantly decide technical matters that they are not specialists in: from the nature and effect of tobacco advertising, to complex securities and energy market manipulations, to the monopolistic effects of bundling software products. National security matters are likewise susceptible to rational review to ensure compliance with our Constitution. Indeed, if America’s traditionally strong and independent judiciary has one core competence, it is guaranteeing that the enduring American values distilled into the Bill of Rights are not relegated to the dustbin of history by transient political majorities caught in the panic of the day.

The task of the judge is simple to state, but difficult to execute: It is to follow the rules laid down. In particular, it is to make sure that officials vested with the awesome powers of the federal government also follow the rules laid down, that they do not carelessly sacrifice privacy and liberty for the sake of ideological hobbyhorses or partial gain. Today, no less than in 1789, it’s a task that needs doing.

Aziz Huq and James Sample are attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Huq is the co-author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror (March ’07).

© 2006 (A Project of The Institute for America's Future)


The Warrant's Out On Judges

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