Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Jennings loses court appeal


Christine Jennings' push for a new congressional election suffered another major setback in court Monday, increasing her need for Congress to step in.The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee denied Jennings' latest effort to get access to voting machine computer source code that her attorneys deem critical to her legal challenge of Republican Vern Buchanan's 369-vote margin of victory in the 13th Congressional District election.Without the source code, Jennings' legal team said they would be "crippled" in trying to prove touch-screen voting machines malfunctioned in last November's elections, costing her the victory.

Hayden Dempsey, an attorney for Buchanan, said the ruling is "devastating" for Jennings, and in all likelihood ends her legal case in Florida.But Jennings, a Democrat, dismissed the significance of the latest ruling, instead saying she was already more focused in pursuing her challenge in Congress, which has the final say on whether there will be a new election.A House panel on

Thursday approved a plan to review the 2006 election. The Government Accountability Office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, said it would submit a report in September after analyzing prior state audits of electronic voting machines and related data to determine what, if any, additional tests should be conducted.

Jennings is disputing the election results because about 13 percent of the voters who went to the polls in Sarasota County did not have a vote tallied for them in the congressional contest.Monday's setback is not the first snag Jennings has encountered in the courts.In January, a lower court ruled against her initial attempt to get access to the computer source code, saying her arguments were nothing more than "speculation and conjecture."Jennings appealed, but grew frustrated waiting for the appeals court to issue a ruling. Jennings said the wait has been the most troubling aspect of her legal case.She said, given the fact that there are questions about people's votes, she expected the courts to move much quicker."What surprises me most is how many months it has been," Jennings said.It has been so long that, in May, Jennings asked the court to put the brakes on her court challenge while she instead focused on Congress.Despite the court ruling, Congress will continue with its inquiry into the dispute. U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzales, the Texas Democrat leading the investigation, has said his panel is working independent of the courts in Florida and needs to run its own probe.

Jennings has refused to say if she would run for Congress again in 2008, insisting she is holding out hope that Congress will rule in her favor and make her the congresswoman or set a special election."

Clinton issues warning to Iraq

"Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton on Tuesday warned Iraqis must decide if they want to stop killing one another, and pledged to bring US troops home.

Clinton had harsh words for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as she called on President George W. Bush to begin withdrawing US troops from the country immediately.

"The Iraqis have to decide whether they want to continue killing each other," Clinton told a forum organized by AFSCME, America's largest public employee and healthcare union in Washington.

"It is not just one group against another group, it is multiple groups," she said referring to raging sectarian violence in Iraq.

"When our young men and women are on the street in Baghdad they often don't know what is happening, they don't know who's side they are supposed to be on," said Clinton, in remarks tailored to rampant anti-war sentiment among grass roots Democrats.
"I think it is time that we start bringing our troops home."

Clinton has faced tough questions over her stance on the war after voting in 2002 to authorize Bush to wage the conflict, and has refused to apologize for her vote.

Last year, at the "Take Back America" conference of liberal activists which she is due to address again on Wednesday, Clinton was booed, after declining to endorse a date for withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

Last month, Clinton voted against Bush's new 100 billion dollar emergency war budget in the Senate, after the president forced Democrats to remove troop withdrawal timelines."

'Signing statements' add presidential powers

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration sometimes fails to follow all provisions of laws after President Bush attaches "signing statements" meant to interpret or restrict the legislation, congressional examiners say.

Signing statements, in which the president appends bills he is signing into law with statements reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard provisions on national security and constitutional grounds, have become a major sticking point in the power struggle between Congress and the White House.

Lawmakers who asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct the study said it was further proof that the Bush White House oversteps constitutional bounds in ignoring the will of Congress.

"Too often, the Bush administration does what it wants, no matter the law. It says what it wants, no matter the facts," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, said Monday. Byrd and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Michigan, requested the report.

The White House, in issuing the statements, has argued that the president has a right to control executive branch employees and officers, that he has authority to withhold from Congress information sometimes considered privileged or that Congress should not interfere with his constitutional role as commander in chief.

The GAO report, which did not assess the merits of the president's arguments, said signing statements go back at least to President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, while citing other congressional studies that such statements have become increasingly common since the Reagan administration.

Conyers made signing statements the topic of his committee's first oversight hearing after Democrats took over control of Congress in January.

The limited GAO study examined signing statements concerning 19 provisions in fiscal year 2006 spending bills. It found that in six of those cases the provisions were not executed as written.

In one case the Pentagon did not include separate budget justification documents explaining how the Iraq War funding was to be spent in its 2007 budget request. In another, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not submit a proposal and spending plan for housing, as Congress directed.

Byrd and Conyers said Bush has issued 149 signing statements, 127 of which raised some objection. They said the statements often raise multiple objections, resulting in more than 700 challenges to distinct provisions of law.

The GAO said signing statements accompanied 11 of the 12 spending bills in 2006, singling out 160 specific provisions in those bills.

The issue gained attention last year after Bush -- after lengthy negotiations on renewal of the Patriot Act with language backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, that banned the torture of detainees -- attached a signing statement in which he reserved the right to interpret that provision.

The White House defends the statements, saying presidents have the prerogative to address matters of national security and express reservations about the constitutionality of legislation.
"We expect to continue to use statements where appropriate, on a bill-by-bill basis," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "The opportunities in this Congress have been limited since we've mostly only received bills to name post offices and federal buildings."

The American Bar Association, at an annual meeting last year, approved a resolution condemning use of signing statements, saying presidents should not resort to diluting or changing laws passed by Congress rather than using their veto powers."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another Official close to Gonzalez resigns

"By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Jun 15, 7:21 PM ET

WASHINGTON - A senior Justice Department official who helped carry out the dismissals of federal prosecutors said Friday he is resigning. Mike Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, is the fifth Justice official to leave after being linked to the dismissals of the prosecutors.

Elston was accused of threatening at least four of the eight fired U.S. attorneys to keep quiet about their ousters. In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said Elston was leaving voluntarily to take a job with an unnamed Washington-area law firm.

The firings have led to congressional investigations, an internal Justice Department inquiry and calls on Capitol Hill for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Reached Friday afternoon, Elston confirmed his plans to leave but declined further comment. His departure is effective at the end of next week and was widely anticipated since McNulty announced his own resignation last month.
In a statement, McNulty said Elston served the Justice Department "with distinction for nearly eight years."

"With his breadth of trial and appellate service, I have no doubt he will continue to enjoy an outstanding legal career," McNulty said.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers said the resignation raises a red flag for investigators.
"When yet another significant player resigns in the U.S. attorney scandal, it only deepens the mystery of who targeted U.S. attorneys for firing, why they did it, and what exactly is going on in the highest reaches of the Justice Department and who is filling the vacuum of leadership that has developed there," said Conyers, D-Mich.

As McNulty's top aide, Elston's duties included overseeing the government's 93 U.S. attorneys nationwide. Elston helped plan and carry out the firings of seven of the eight prosecutors who were dismissed in 2006 — firings which were orchestrated by two of Gonzales' top aides beginning shortly after the 2004 elections. Elston also called several of the U.S. attorneys afterward trying to quell the growing outcry.
At least four of the prosecutors Elston contacted said they felt threatened by his calls, which they interpreted as demands to stay quiet about why they were fired. Congress is investigating the firings, which Democrats believe were politically motivated.
Elston and his attorney, Bob Driscoll, said the phone calls were never meant to be threatening.
Statements released from the

House Judiciary Committee painted a different picture.

"I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general's," wrote Paul Charlton, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada.
John McKay, former top prosecutor in Seattle, said he perceived a threat from Elston during his call. And Carol Lam, who was U.S. attorney in San Diego, said that "during one phone call, Michael Elston erroneously accused me of 'leaking' my dismissal to the press, and criticized me for talking to other dismissed U.S. attorneys."

A fourth former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., had made a similar accusation in an e-mail released in March. At the time, Elston said he was "shocked and baffled" that his Feb. 20 conversation with Cummins could be interpreted as threatening.
"I do not understand how anything that I said to him in our last conversation in mid-February could be construed as a threat of any kind, and I certainly had no intention leaving him with that impression," Elston in a two-page letter to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who had questioned the call.

The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for Elston's testimony about his role in the firings but never issued it because he voluntarily met with congressional investigators to answer more than seven hours of questions behind closed doors.

Other aides who have resigned in the wake of the firings include former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson and White House liaison Monica M. Goodling. A fifth official, Mike Battle, who ran the Justice office that oversees the U.S. attorneys, left in March.
Elston has worked for the Justice Department since 1999, winning its highest award for attorneys in 2006 for his legal performance.

He started as a trial prosecutor in Illinois, and moved to the U.S. attorney's office in northern Virginia in 2002. There, Elston worked for McNulty, then the U.S. attorney whom he followed to Justice Department headquarters in late 2005."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Florida Faces Vanishing Water Supply

"Drought has hit many parts of the country, including Florida, where the giant Lake Okeechobee became so dry and so low, dry grasses on the lake floor caught fire. But the weather isn't the only reason for the state's water woes, the author of a new book says.

"Florida's groundwater has been overallocated — not just in South Florida, but all over the state," says Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern United States. "In addition, we just haven't taken conservation as seriously as other parts of the country."
Much like Las Vegas in the early 1990s, Florida seems to be in denial about the need to conserve water, she tells Renee Montagne.

"Many homeowners associations in Florida not only require sod, but they have guys in golf carts driving around measuring the shade of green," Barnett says. And if you don't have the right shade, you get a nasty letter from the homeowners association and a fine."

Farmers are also big water consumers, using nearly half of Florida's public supply, Barnett says.

In some parts of the state, city wells have been closed because of saltwater intrusion — sea water creeps in when freshwater aquifers drop too low.
That problem isn't limited to Florida. Several cities along the East Coast are struggling with it, too.

"Water-rich states are beginning to really worry about water supply and water conflict," Barnett says. "Several of these conflicts are headed for the Supreme Court.""

Monday, June 11, 2007

Brown vows to clean up intelligence

Taking the politics out of intelligence. Who would have thought? Will the British once again take leadership in an area President G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney have missed?

"Brown vows to make intelligence independent of politics
Source: Guardian Unlimited 06/11/2007

Prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown used a surprise trip to Iraq today to pledge that in future security and intelligence would be kept independent of the political process.
Prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown used a surprise trip to Iraq today to pledge that in future security and intelligence would be kept "independent" of the political process.

In an attempt to draw a line under the erroneous weapons of mass destruction claims and the "dodgy dossier", Mr Brown said he had appointed the cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, to make sure that in future any intelligence material put in the public domain was properly verified and validated.

Mr Brown's trip came as the Tories used an opposition day debate to call for an independent inquiry into the Iraq war - a bid which may attract some support from anti-war MPs on Labour's backbenches.

As Mr Brown arrived in Baghdad for talks with the British military and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, he pledged to "learn the lessons" of the run-up to the conflict.
He said he had asked Sir Gus to set in train a process to make sure security and intelligence analysis was kept "independent of the political process".

The chancellor - who will take over at No 10 on June 27 - said he wanted a bigger role for parliament's intelligence and security committee, and confirmed that MPs would get to vote on whether the country should go to war, except in the most exceptional circumstances.
But he pointedly refused to backtrack on the original decision to go to war with Iraq, saying it was a collective cabinet decision.
"We made the decision. I take responsibility for that decision," he told reporters.
Mr Brown had talks with Mr Maliki and met leading British and American military commanders.
The prime minister-in-waiting told reporters: "I'm here to listen, to learn, to assess what's happening, to see what's happening with al-Qaida, to see what's happening in relation to Iran, to see what's happening to the sectarian conflicts, to see all the people on the ground and make an assessment of what's happening so I'm better informed.

"We have got armed forces who are doing an absolutely brilliant job. My first impressions are meeting people who just show a tremendous dedication and duty."
But he added: "What I'm saying is: we have lessons to be learned for the future.
"I have already said parliament should have a more formal role in issues of war and peace but I think we can go further and learn from what's happened over the last few years.
"I would like to see all security and intelligence analysis independent of the political process and I have asked the cabinet secretary to do that."

Mr Brown, like Downing Street, refused the Tory calls for an inquiry, saying: "The wrong time to even consider an inquiry is when you have to give all your effort to consider your troops on the ground."

He added: "I think it's important to learn all the lessons, just as Tony Blair has said he acted in good faith but mistakes were made. I think it's important to learn the lessons to look forward now."
In fact, the Tory debate in the Commons does not put a timetable on an inquiry, it merely commits to one in principle.
Mr Brown also refused to speculate on any timescale for the withdrawal of the remaining 5,500 UK troops in Iraq. He said in his talks with Mr Maliki that he had also discussed rebuilding Iraq's economy, saying: "I think the issue in Iraq is this: how can we help the Iraqi people not only run their own security and build a democracy but offer a prosperity they are perfectly capable of doing?"

Mr Brown stressed the UK had made commitments and promises both to the Iraqi people and the United Nations, adding: "This is not the right time to talk about [troop] numbers. I don't want to get into talking about timetables or numbers."

Mr Brown is also having talks today with the Iraqi president, the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, and the American commander of the multinational force in Iraq, General David Petraeus.
In London, Downing Street rejected Tory calls for a postmortem into the war, along the lines of the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war 25 years ago, saying: "Anything that diverts from the energy, the commitment, the focus in trying to get the situation right we believe is a distraction."
There has already been an inquiry by the foreign affairs select committee, an inquiry by the security and intelligence committee, Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of David Kelly and Lord Butler's inquiry into intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction.
In November 2006, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru tabled a motion for an immediate inquiry. But MPs rejected the move after a vote.

Both nationalist parties also backed a campaign for Mr Blair to be impeached, over accusations that he agreed with George Bush at a summit in Crawford, Texas to back the Iraq war, well before putting the case to the British public in two dossiers. "



Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel 06/11/2007

No longer willing to write off Hispanics on the assumption that they're automatically Republican voters, Florida Democrats are increasingly courting them as a promising source of support.
"We're not going to cede one Hispanic vote," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, one of dozens of elected officials at a weekend Democratic Party conference at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa.

Invigorating the party's efforts to court Hispanic voters could yield a powerful advantage for Democrats, but Wasserman Schultz said Hispanic voters often get too little attention in South Florida campaigns.

"People automatically think Republican and they're totally wrong," she said. "In election after election in South Florida, Hispanics are the swing vote that makes the difference."
State Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, agreed. "They will go `Viva Bush' one year and they will go viva someone else another year."

Soto was one of two first-term state legislators -- along with state Rep. Luis Garcia Jr., D-Miami Beach -- who energized a gathering of the party's Hispanic Caucus.
Last fall, Garcia won the previously Republican seat that includes the Little Havana section of Miami. Garcia, who was appointed a vice chairman of the state party over the weekend, is starting a Democratic Club in Little Havana.

Soto became the fourth Hispanic Democrat in the House by winning a special election this spring. But the party is still far behind the Republicans, who have a large contingent of Hispanic lawmakers from Miami-Dade County.
Still, Garcia, Soto and Wasserman Schultz said several factors put the Hispanic vote in play. Among them: Non-Cubans aren't as likely to have historical ties to the Republican Party as Cuban-Americans.

"Living in Weston, I see it just walking around the neighborhood. There are people from Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. They don't have the same preconditioning to vote Republican," said Weston resident Andrew Torres, president of the new Broward chapter of the state Democratic Party's Hispanic Caucus.

Garcia said Fidel Castro's grip on power has helped the Republicans, especially with older Cuban-Americans, "because he's the boogeyman." Democrats said younger Cuban-Americans, born in this country, don't have the same intensity of feelings toward Castro and don't have the same ties to the Republican Party as their parents.
Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said once Castro is gone, "you will see Cuban-Americans shift to the Democratic Party."

Nelson said that's happening already, citing his own re-election last year, in which he won more than 40 percent of the vote in Hialeah precincts.

Torres said the increasing numbers of younger voters and people from countries other than Cuba make this a good time to capitalize on trends favoring Democrats.
"There's a fantastic opportunity to attract more Hispanics to the Democratic Party," he said. "We want to provide a vehicle where more Hispanics, especially younger Hispanics, are involved."
Soto warned that such factors wouldn't produce results on their own. Candidates must craft their campaigns carefully.
Overwhelmingly Catholic, Hispanic voters might be more conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights than many in the Democratic Party, Soto and Torres said.
Garcia and Soto said their successful campaigns showed that common campaign techniques need to be finessed.

For example, Soto said, many Hispanic people work two or three jobs and are less likely to have the time and energy to pay attention to traditional political advertising. Personal contact is vital.
Soto said it is important to make voting easy. Garcia credits his victory to an effective effort to get voters to use absentee ballots, a strategy long dominated by the Republicans.
And Soto said it is a good idea to reach out to voters with at least some use of Spanish, "even it it's a sentence here or there." That can greatly increase a voter's comfort level with a candidate. "A lot of people who only speak Spanish are still eligible to vote."
Millie Herrera, past president of the state Hispanic Democratic Caucus who has run for office in Miami-Dade County and served as a party official, said Democrats must do a better job than in the past.

"If the Democratic Party has not reached out to the Hispanic community, and the Republican Party has, they will go with the Republican Party or register non-partisan," she said. "

Impeach Alberto Gonzales

"Source: Orlando Sentinel 06/11/2007

WASHINGTON -- By his own admission, he might have misled the public in describing his role in firing eight U.S. attorneys.

A top aide likely violated civil-service laws by injecting politics into hiring career prosecutors at the Justice Department.

And his bedside manner leaves something to be desired.
But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales nonetheless is expected to survive today when the Senate takes up a no-confidence vote on his performance.
Now, the questions are where a Democratic-led investigation of Gonzales' two-year tenure at the department goes from here and whether it is losing steam.
"Purely a symbolic vote," White House press secretary Tony Snow said on Fox News Sunday. "What you've got here [is] a Senate that's had a great deal of difficulty delivering on any of its promises."

The vote marks a critical juncture in a congressional probe that has raised questions about whether the mission of the Justice Department has been politicized under Gonzales.
The investigation began with the testimony of a group of U.S. attorneys fired last year -- and evidence suggesting the White House and Justice Department conspired to replace them to affect public-corruption and voting cases that would benefit Republicans.
Some Republicans called for Gonzales to resign, but he has retained the support of President Bush, his political mentor from Texas.

Gonzales has sought to put himself above the fray, appearing to go about the daily business of the department and law enforcement. He is to be in Miami today, giving a speech at a conference on nuclear terrorism, and later in Mobile, Ala., addressing a child-protection task force.
The Republican leadership appears to be falling in line behind Gonzales.

As concerned as some in the GOP are about the job that he has done at the department, they are approaching today's vote more as an opportunity to make a statement about the Democratic leadership. Fresh from the collapse of immigration-reform legislation, the nonbinding no-confidence resolution shows how Democrats are failing to lead on issues of importance to Americans, they say.

Even some Republicans who have called for Gonzales to resign, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, plan to vote against the measure.

"This vote is irrelevant," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "If I were them, I'd worry about the public's no-confidence vote in this Congress, which specializes in doing nothing and complaining about everything. The Senate should go back to work on serious business instead of playing these games."
Even a leader of the Democratic effort to oust Gonzales, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who a month ago said he thought there was a good chance the resolution would win the necessary 60 votes, was trying to lower expectations.

"If all senators who have actually lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales voted their conscience, this vote would be unanimous," Schumer said. "However, the president will certainly exert pressure to support the attorney general, his longtime friend. We will soon see where people's loyalties lie." "

Humanity In Iraq

Far too often notions of peace, justice, humanity, and universal human rights are deemed radical ideas by war hawks. I discuss these issues as they relate to the War in Iraq because we must never forget the 2 primary justifications that sparked this war.

The American people and the World were told Saddam Hussein’s gassing of thousands of Kurds and the prevention of the development of weapons of mass destruction were the reasons behind this conflict.

In all practicality the above reasons are humanitarian, for the purpose of saving lives. However, this war has killed 100 times more innocent civilians and children than Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds. In addition this war has resulted in the death of Iraqi civilians to trump any WMD ever deployed.

Recent reports also discuss the matter of “insurgency”. “Chessani's defense team called Dinsmore as a witness to describe what was happening around Al-Hadithah in the months leading up to the killings. He said insurgents regularly used hospitals and mosques to launch attacks. Men pretending to be asleep in a house shot and killed a Marine when he entered. ''They would exploit any hesitation in order to gain an advantage,'' Dinsmore said. “

In my opinion let me explain to you what I see as an insurgent. Hypothetically picture the USA being invaded by a superpower as a result American patriots fight the invaders in the streets. Back in this superpowers homeland these patriots are labeled “insurgents”. This is precisely what has happened in Iraq. This definition of an “insurgent” is a crucial topic that will lead to an end of this War. Are these Iraqi citizens, civilians fighting for their land, political decedents, or members of Al Queda?

In its on this topic alone that I hold this position, the War in Iraq must be ended immediately.

Source: Source: San Jose Mercury News 06/08/2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Shooting in Sarasota

"Jacquelyn Ferguson knew she was going to be fired when she walked into work at the cardiologist's office Friday morning, deputies say.Whether that ever happened, no one knows.While the two spoke in private, Ferguson, 51, took out a gun and shot and killed her manager, 45-year-old Denise Keyworth.Then, less than three hours later, the woman described as "peaceful" and "against guns" by her neighbors shot herself.A Herald-Tribune editor found Ferguson at her home in Palm-Aire, lying in a lounge chair with a head wound, a black revolver in her lap and a pool of blood on the floor.The two women met last fall, when Ferguson started working for Dr. Jeffrey Sack.But the office environment was troubled. Sack was arrested on drug charges in October, and the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the office.A neighbor said Ferguson was depressed about work and taking medication. Ferguson told a co-worker she could not afford to lose her job.The murder-suicide began unfolding before 9 a.m. at Sack's office on Bee Ridge Road.When Ferguson walked in, the two other employees in the room left to give her privacy to speak with Keyworth. They, too, had heard that Ferguson would be fired.Moments later, they heard gunshots. They ran to a neighboring office."They heard bumping noises, multiple gunshots and one short scream," said Dave Jones, the manager of the adjacent Center for Angiography. "They were seeking refuge."They called the police. They called Dr. Sack.Fearing the shooter would come to his office next, Jones locked patients and nurses in rooms in his office.Outside, police crouched on cars and rooftops. They closed off heavily traveled Bee Ridge Road between Tuttle Avenue and Lockwood Ridge Road. The nearby Church of the Palms preschool on Bee Ridge went into lockdown.Working on the assumption that Ferguson would be in the back of the building, deputies asked everyone in Jones' office to huddle in a big group and shuffle out the front door."It was a little bit shaky," Jones said of the moment when they had to leave the locked office, unsure if the shooter was still next door. "We had to pass by the SWAT team with our arms in the air."Before the building was evacuated, there were about a dozen people inside. Emergency and law enforcement officials rushed Sack's office.Keyworth was dead. And Ferguson was gone.Killer described as quietDeputies from Manatee and Sarasota counties were stationed in Ferguson's neighborhood waiting for a warrant to search her home, and waiting for her return to the one-story gray house and pool.They did not realize she was already inside, dead on the lanai.Friends and neighbors said Ferguson was calm, with a penchant for exotic pet birds and holistic medicine."She was always ready to help out when you go on vacation or anything," said Jessie Laiken, who lived across the street.Ferguson was unmarried and did not have a boyfriend, friends said. She did not want a relationship."She really keeps to herself," said Shyla Roberts.Ferguson was from Maryland and had two sons living in the Washington, D.C., area, Roberts said.A few months after she started at Sack's office, Ferguson accepted an invitation to eat Christmas dinner at Keyworth's home in Sarasota.Family members of Keyworth gathered there Friday afternoon. They said they were not ready to talk to the media.Keyworth worked for Sack for a "number of years," according to court documents, but left in February of 2005.She started a business called Making Dollars & Sense Inc. in October 2005, and filed an annual report with the state for the business in April. The number for the business has been disconnected.She was rehired to work for Sack in May of 2006.Police say Sack illegally ordered a medicine used to treat drug dependency. Because the medicine can be abused, doctors need a special authorization from the DEA to order and dispense it.Sack lacked that authorization, according to case documents.He was arrested last year after a federal sting.Reached this morning at his Tampa office, Sack's attorney, John M. Fitzgibbons, said he expected the trial to clear Sack's record.Sack also has a previous conviction in federal court for prescription drug fraud, stemming from the 1996 purchase of a painkiller under a false identity. He was sentenced to three years' probation and fined $7,000.Wearing cut-off jeans and driving a Mercedes-Benz, Sack arrived at the scene just after 9 a.m. Friday and was escorted to the command center.Attempts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful."

Thursday, June 07, 2007


The Oil Industry must be regulated. Congress should debate setting price caps at the pump.

Blank Checks for Defense Spending

"By Robert Dreyfuss, Tomdispatch.com. Posted June 6, 2007.

Defense spending has nearly doubled since the mid-1990s, and Democrats willing to challenge the bloated Pentagon budget are essentially nonexistent.

War critics are rightly disappointed over the inability of congressional Democrats to mount an effective challenge to President Bush's Iraq adventure. What began as a frontal assault on the war, with tough talk about deadlines and timetables, has settled into something like a guerrilla-style campaign to chip away at war policy until the edifice crumbles.
Still, Democratic criticism of administration policy in Iraq looks muscle-bound when compared with the Party's readiness to go along with the President's massive military buildup, domestically and globally. Nothing underlines the tacit alliance between so-called foreign-policy realists and hard-line exponents of neoconservative-style empire-building more than the Washington consensus that the United States needs to expand the budget of the Defense Department without end, while increasing the size of the U.S. Armed Forces. In addition, spending on the 16 agencies and other organizations that make up the official U.S. "intelligence community" or IC -- including the CIA -- and on homeland security is going through the roof.

The numbers are astonishing and, except for a hardy band of progressives in the House of Representatives, Democrats willing to call for shrinking the bloated Pentagon or intelligence budgets are essentially nonexistent. Among presidential candidates, only Rep. Dennis Kucinich and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson even mention the possibility of cutting the defense budget. Indeed, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, at present, competing with each other in their calls for the expansion of the Armed Forces. Both are supporting manpower increases in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 troops, mostly for the Army and the Marines. (The current, Bush-backed authorization for fiscal year 2008 calls for the addition of 65,000 more Army recruits and 27,000 Marines by 2012.)
How astonishing are the budgetary numbers? Consider the trajectory of U.S. defense spending over the last nearly two decades. From the end of the Cold War into the mid-1990s, defense spending actually fell significantly. In constant 1996 dollars, the Pentagon's budget dropped from a peacetime high of $376 billion, at the end of President Ronald Reagan's military buildup in 1989, to a low of $265 billion in 1996. (That compares to post-World War II wartime highs of $437 billion in 1953, during the Korean War, and $388 billion in 1968, at the peak of the War in Vietnam.) After the Soviet empire peacefully disintegrated, the 1990s decline wasn't exactly the hoped-for "peace dividend," but it wasn't peanuts either.
However, since September 12th, 2001, defense spending has simply exploded. For 2008, the Bush administration is requesting a staggering $650 billion, compared to the already staggering $400 billion the Pentagon collected in 2001. Even subtracting the costs of the ongoing "Global War on Terrorism" -- which is what the White House likes to call its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- for FY 2008, the Pentagon will still spend $510 billion. In other words, even without the President's two wars, defense spending will have nearly doubled since the mid-1990s. Given that the United States has literally no significant enemy state to fight anywhere on the planet, this represents a remarkable, if perverse, achievement. As a famous Democratic politician once asked: Where is the outrage?
Neocons, war profiteers, and hardliners of all stripes still argue that the "enemy" we face is a nonexistent bugaboo called "Islamofascism." It's easy to imagine them laughing into their sleeves while they continue to claim that the way to battle low-tech, rag-tag bands of leftover Al Qaeda crazies is by spending billions of dollars on massively expensive, massively powerful, futuristic weapons systems.
As always, a significant part of the defense bill is eaten up by these big-ticket items. According to the reputable Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there are at least 28 pricey weapons systems that, just by themselves, will rack up a whopping $44 billion in 2008. The projected cost of these 28 systems -- which include fighter jets, the B-2 bomber, the V-22 Osprey, various advanced naval vessels, cruise-missile systems, and the ultra-expensive aircraft carriers the Navy always demands -- will, in the end, be more than $1 trillion. And that's not even including the Star Wars missile-defense system, which at the moment soaks up about $11 billion a year.

By one count, U.S. defense spending in 2008 will amount to 29 times the combined military spending of all six so-called rogue states: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The United States accounts for almost half -- approximately 48% -- of the entire world's spending on what we like to call "defense." Again, according to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, U.S. defense spending this year amounts to exactly twice the combined military spending of the next six biggest military powers: China, Russia, the U.K., France, Japan, and Germany. "

The Federalist Society, the U.S. Attorneys Scandal

"Harpers.org by Scott Horton

The Federalist Society bills itself as “a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order.” It sponsors debates and public information functions at law schools around the country. I have participated in Federalist Society functions for more than a decade myself, and I always enjoy them. But there is another, darker side of the Federalist Society which doesn’t show up on its website, but it making increasing appearances on documents turnover in the current probe of the U.S. Attorneys scandal. It serves as a means by which “loyal Bushies” identify themselves to one another, prove their absolute ideological loyalty, and it operates as an express elevator to high government office. Recall, for instance, that in the list of qualifications that

Kyle Sampson prepared, one column was headed “Federalist Society?”
Now evidence has surfaced suggesting that the Federalist Society was deeply enmeshed in the plot to purge the Justice Department of those who were unwilling to fulfill Karl Rove’s political plans, and in identifying new candidates who would. McClatchy reports:

A leader of an influential conservative legal group recommended a replacement candidate for the U.S. attorney in San Diego just days after the sitting prosecutor’s name was secretly placed on a Justice Department firing list, according to a document released Wednesday. The recommendation by the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo, came before anyone outside of a tight group in the White House and Justice Department knew about a nascent strategy that ultimately led to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

It could not be determined whether a short e-mail, sent on March 7, 2005, making the recommendation meant that Leo knew of the plan to fire Carol Lam or whether his message was unsolicited and coincidental. The subject line of Leo’s e-mail to Mary Beth Buchanan, then-director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, says, “USA San Diego,” indicating the top prosecutor job for the Southern District of California. Lam was on the job at the time and had no plans to step down.

What is most revealing here is both that Leo knew that Lam was being fired before she did, and that he was busy identifying replacements. And the candidate he suggested is telling:

The text of the note reads, “You guys need a good candidate?” Leo goes on to say he would “strongly recommend” the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker. Walker led a Pentagon working group in 2003, which critics said helped provide the administration with a rationale to circumvent the international Geneva Conventions banning torture in the interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Mary Walker, who is close to a number of Religious Right groups, was a principal architect of legal efforts to justify torture and other war crimes. She also played a suspicious role, apparently attempting to suppress an independent investigation of misconduct by religious evangelical groups at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Walker is also widely believed to be involved in efforts to harass and intimidate Air Force JAGs she considered to be politically disloyal. She appears to have launched a vendetta against the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General, who had, together with his deputy, opposed her torture initiatives. She has been one of the most widely disliked figures in the Rumsfeld Pentagon.

On its website, the Federalist Society claims that it was “founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom [and] that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution.” It would apparently be incorrect to suppose that the “separation of powers” they have in mind here would in any way limit political control over the prosecutorial functions. "