In my links of the day I try to find the links under the wire, articles all the top blogs miss. I'm not afraid to go to Al Jazeera, Kurd Media or to the Pakistan student movement page to bring the real daily news to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Links of the Day 4/10/2008 Pelosi Stands Up To George and Protects Our Jobs!

BIG News Day!

Watching the Bush league on C-Span this morning acting outraged about Nancy Pelosi for not bringing the Colombia Free Trade agreement to the floor. All I can say if it bring out the whole pack of Bush minion’s then we don’t want it.

I saw Labor Secretary, Elaine Choa smiling like a combination of a psycho Chucky doll/stepford wife and at 5 am sitting in the dark at my keyboard it was downright creepy. She looked nothing like her picture, I think she’s has some kind of weird plastic surgery on her mouth to make her look like she has a painted on Geisha smile.

The AFL-CIO even says we don’t want it (posted below). It will mean more job losses for American’s >.<

Colombian workers are against the agreement too.

Nancy Pelosi is doing the right thing. These so called free trade agreements must stop. George Bush does not care about American’s losing their homes or jobs.

George Bush only cares about helping corporations make money and damn the American Workers!

Pelosi Statement on House Removing Timetable from Consideration of Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel held a news conference immediately following their Democratic Caucus meeting this morning. Below are the Speaker’s opening remarks, on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement:

“Good morning. On Monday, I received a call from the President saying that he would be sending over the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to the Congress. I recommended against that course of action to the President, because I think we needed more time. I told the President that in light of the economic uncertainty in our country which has been going on for awhile, that the downturn is becoming more serious as evidenced by the jobless numbers on Friday and the statements by Fed Chairman Bernanke and now as recently as today, former Fed Chairman Greenspan.

“I was speaking on Monday that before we proceeded, we really had to continue our conversation about addressing the economic concerns of America’s working families. That many people were concerned about losing their jobs, many were concerned about losing their homes. But that was not most people. Almost everybody, though, was concerned about losing their standard of living. That their income, purchasing power, their income has gone down, while the cost of everything, all the necessities and the staples – groceries, gasoline, education, health care, housing costs, etc. – had gone up. It was about the cost of things. And I thought it would be important for us to continue conversations related to how we bring some balance to this issue.

“I thought there was a risk, the President sending it to the Congress now. If brought to the floor immediately, it would lose. And what message would that send? And so I thought there was everything to be gained about continuing our conversation. The President disagreed and sent it over yesterday. Today, I discussed with my caucus the prospect of a rule change that we will bring to the floor tomorrow.

“It’s not really a rule change; it’s sort of in keeping with the rules of the House. And that rule will say that we will remove the timetable from the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It’s keeping with how the rules of the House have governed how trade agreements have traditionally been brought to the floor under TPA.

“And what the President said Monday, and by his actions yesterday, was that he wanted to abandon any discussion protocols about how this could properly be brought to the floor. That’s one thing, but more importantly, was how we could properly address the concerns of America’s working families.

“We have the bills ready – there a number of things we could do – but the President chose not to do that. So we will choose tomorrow to remove the timeline from the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

“We’re first and foremost here to look out for the concerns of America’s working families. I take this action with deep respect to the people of Colombia and will be sure that any message they receive is one of respect for their country, and the importance of the friendship between our two countries.

“But the President took his action. I will take mine tomorrow.”

House Set to Vote on Removing Fast Track Timetable from Colombia Trade Deal

by Mike Hall, Apr 9, 2008

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that tomorrow the House will vote to lift the 90-day Fast Track time limit for the House to vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that President Bush sent to Congress yesterday.

Pelosi said Congress and the president should be focusing their energy on the needs of America's working families during these precarious economic times, not on the flawed trade deal. She told reporters she told Bush on Monday that:

we really had to continue our conversation about addressing the economic concerns of America's working families.

Act Now to Stop Colombia Free Trade Deal

by James Parks, Mar 24, 2008

With the U.S. economy in near free fall, President Bush has said he will send the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to Capitol Hill and demand a vote before he leaves office next January. Bush has made passing this agreement, which will do next to nothing for the failing U.S. economy, a priority.

Despite objections by the Democratic congressional leadership, the administration may formally send the agreement to Congress as early as next week when Congress returns from its Easter recess on March 31. Under Fast Track trade authority rules, the House of Representatives would likely face an up-or-down vote on the Colombia deal before the end of July.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is calling for an all-out nationwide mobilization to let members of Congress know that working Americans oppose this deal because it is wrong for workers in both countries. (Click here to tell your representative to oppose a trade deal with Colombia until their government makes real progress in protecting the lives and rights of union members.)

Says Sweeney:

The Colombia FTA represents a continuation of the Bush administration’s failed trade policies, an agenda that has contributed to the loss of over 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, skyrocketing trade deficits and paychecks that are shrinking at an accelerating rate.

Meanwhile, Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a union member—39 trade unionists were murdered in 2007, and another 11 to date in 2008. Of the more than 2,500 murders of trade unionists since 1986, only about 70 cases—around 3 percent—have resulted in convictions.

The Colombian government also has repeatedly failed to bring its labor laws into compliance with international norms, has in many cases failed to enforce its laws protecting workers from anti-union discrimination and has erected bureaucratic and legal obstacles to union registration and collective bargaining rights.

The violence, intimidation and unfair labor laws have resulted in plummeting union membership in Colombia, which today is less than 5 percent—down from 15 percent 20 years ago. Mass firings and privatization of large segments of the public sector also have put bargaining rights out of reach for most workers.

Last month, a delegation of AFL-CIO leaders to Colombia wound up a two-day fact-finding trip today by telling Colombian President Alvaro Uribe the U.S. union movement cannot support the U.S.-Colombia FTA until real progress is made to protect the lives and rights of trade union members. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Emerita Linda Chavez-Thompson, Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen and United Steelworkers (USW) counsel Dan Kovalik met with Colombian union leaders, International Labor Organization representatives in Colombia and elected leaders.

Leaders of the major Colombian labor federations told the delegation they oppose any free trade deal between the United States and Colombia until the government takes strong action to stop the violence against trade union members and ends assaults on union rights. They emphasized that the trade agreement in its current form will create more economic insecurity in their country and hurt workers more.

The Colombian union leaders also detailed a government policy of “busting unions.” As an example, they pointed to the Uribe government’s refusal to follow a court order to reinstate and give back pay to members of the oil workers union who struck recently.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council recently affirmed the union movement’s strong opposition to a deal with Colombia. In the statement, the council says:

The AFL-CIO stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Colombia in opposition to violence against trade unionists, for justice and for the rights of workers in both Colombia and the United States to organize and bargain collectively without fear of firing, without fear of retribution and certainly without fear for our safety.

The AFL-CIO remains strongly opposed to the Colombia FTA. Should it come up for a vote this year, we will mobilize the unions and the resources of the federation to defeat it.

Click here to read the Executive Council’s entire statement, “No Free Trade With Colombia Until Workers’ Rights Are Respected.”

Just some background on Mrs. Mitch McConnell. That’s right she is married to the Republican Senate minority leader.

Elaine Chao

Madame Chao: Okay, Now We'll Call Her A Dragon Lady

Yesterday we did a little blogging about Labor Secretary Elaine Chao — a.k.a. Mrs. Mitch McConnell (address her that way, she loves it). We asked you for a little scuttlebutt about Secretary Chao. And then the floodgates opened.

After the jump, your catty comments and unverified gossip about our beloved Secretary of Labor.

Here are some of the things you had to say about Madam Chao. We’ll start with this one, ‘coz it’s our favorite:

When Elaine Chao was (briefly, thank god) director of the Peace Corps, she had a big problem with the concept of tinkling amongst other staff in the restrooms. So she tried to get her own installed in her office. A queen must have her throne. (P.S. I heard United Way practically PAID her to leave, she did so much damage.)

We’re not going to fault Secretary Chao for wanting a toilette priv ; it’s quite understandable. We get a little gun-shy sometimes too.

If the toilet story is true, it wouldn’t be the first time Chao has had money management issues:

During her first term as Secretary she blew threw her discretionary funds (her “tea party fund”) in months, and when she was told she’d run out of money for parties and receptions, she tried to get her mitts on ODEP funds which the public can contribute to. How she spends her discretionary funds would make an interesting

FOIA request…

Ah, Elaine… an Imelda after our own heart! Anyone know what kind of shoe collection she has? Is she as much of a shopaholic as Secretary Albright?

Here’s a little more about the make-up people:

I’m always wondering if her hair and makeup people are on staff. I’m sure I’ve seen them with badges.

By the way… I’ve seen the stylists in the Francis Perkins Building. Not at home. At work. There’s some sort of room on the 6th floor near the cafeteria.

This is pretty awesome. Maybe Secretary Chao can bring a Hollywood make-up trailer onto the grounds at the DoL, with a big star on the door. She certainly thinks of herself as a star:

I’ve heard that it’s hard to be around her for more than short periods of time without hearing how she got her MBA at Harvard. Apparently she’s fairly proud of it. She also started some “MBA Fellows” program at DoL because she thinks an MBA makes you an incredibly better person.

Doesn’t President Bush have a Harvard MBA? QED.

Despite the Harvard pedigree, no one would mistake Secretary Chao for the Administration genius:

Elaine Chao is not only a diva but also the dumbest person in this administration — by far! If you have a minute, check out this March 4, 2004 House Ways and Means Committee hearing (transcript here), especially the Q&A between Charlie Rangel and Chao and Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Chao. Their questions relate to a report, which Chao claims the President did not sign (although his signature is on one of the first pages and it is the report of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers). As congressional hearings go, this one was as funny as they come.

Check out this exchange:

Mr. CARDIN. So, let me get to the most recent numbers that we have, and that is, in the second half of 2003 the Administration said that we would create 1.9 million jobs, and you feel 1.8 million short. Now, I don’t remember anything extraordinary happening in the second half of 2003, but do you have a justification as to why we fell so short in the second half of 2003? Ms. CHAO. Let me go back to your question about the two surveys.
Mr. CARDIN. I didn’t ask a question about the two surveys, and I really——
Ms. CHAO. Let me make a comment anyway, then. There are two surveys that the Bureau of Labor Statistics——
Mr. CARDIN. I am not interested in that.

Good strategy, Secretary Chao! Keep on talking about stuff they’re not interested in, and they’ll let you go eventually.

When it comes to congressional testimony, non-sequiturs are the name of the game. Perhaps Chao’s smarter than we thought.

Interview with Bush Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao [Yahoo! Message Boards (satire)]
Hearing Before the Committee on Ways and Means [GPO]

Earlier: Madame Chao: Don’t Be Fooled By Her Cuteness

This link has a must see video of Elaine.

Elaine: What, Me Worry?

Numbers released Friday confirm what we already knew: it’s bleak out there for America’s workers:

The economy shed 80,000 jobs in March, the third consecutive month of rising unemployment…The unemployment rate ticked up to 5.1 percent from 4.8 percent, its highest level since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.

And where’s Elaine? Denying that we’re in a recession, and pointing out that average hourly wages have risen—never mind that:

Wage increases continue to fall behind inflation, meaning many employees are actually earning less than a year earlier.

Elaine is out of touch, again. Watch an interview with Elaine, and get more info on unemployment, after the jump.

Read more…

Pelosi Plays Hardball on Trade: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by David Sirota, Open Left at 4:28 PM on April 9, 2008.

Mostly the ugly...

Jane Hamsher Firedoglake

This just off the Reuters wire:

The House of Representatives will decide on Thursday whether to put off indefinitely a vote on the Colombia free-trade agreement that President George W. Bush submitted to Congress this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. Pelosi, announcing the move to reporters on Wednesday, would not give a time frame for when the trade pact might be debated and put up for a vote on passage in the House. The vote on Thursday would change rules for considering the deal by eliminating a 90-day deadline for Congress to approve the Colombia trade deal.

This is good news, bad news and potentially ugly news.

The good news: Finally, a Democratic leader is trying to use some modicum of legislative power to halt our economically destructive and wildly unpopular trade policies. It's a start.

The bad news: Pelosi has yet to say she will work to kill the pact outright. In fact, she issued a press release earlier this week merely worrying that Bush's tactics jeopardize the final passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Meanwhile, other top Democrats like Jim Clyburn have gone on record saying they want this deal to pass (Clyburn has since amended his statement - but sometimes the truth is in the first reaction).

The potentially ugly news:

Is Pelosi throwing America's fair trade majority a meaningless bone that ends up helping lobbyists pass this deal?

While it certainly is good in the short-term that Congress is postponing passage of the Colombia deal, if Democrats are ultimately aiming to pass it anyway, then the delay may actually be a bad thing, in that it would serve to give K Street lobbyists more time to pressure Congress to pass it. It's quite possible (probable, really, based on the Democrats willingness to sell out on this issue) that this postponement (if it passes) will let them cut a deal with Bush to modestly increase Trade Adjustment Assistance funding in exchange for the free trade deal. That would be a terrible bargain for workers, giving them a few crumbs while robbing yet another loaf of bread out of their hands.

In fact, Pelosi's press release this morning seems to suggest she still wants this bill to pass:

"I thought there was a risk, the President sending it to the Congress now.If brought to the floor immediately, it would lose. And what message would that send?"

See that? Her big fear is not the deal passing, thus hurting American workers and validating the murderous Colombian government. No, her big fear is that the deal would NOT pass right now.

If Pelosi is successful in engineering this rejection of fast track - rather than the rejection of the Colombia FTA- it puts the timetable for the vote firmly in her hands. She will be able to engineer the vote's timing so that it passes (imagine, for instance, Pelosi calling a vote on this bill in the post-election lame-duck session, in a wink-and-nod deal with corporate campaign contributors). And rest assured, that if this bill does not get outright rejected, the lobbying pressure to pass it will only increase over time.

This issue is obviously a moving target. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Well, it seems like that ugly side could be coming true. Here's CongressDaily:

House Democratic leaders are seriously considering delaying a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement until after the November elections, thereby providing needed cover for vulnerable rank-and-file members, according to senior Democratic leadership sources.

CongressDaily says the lame-duck plan is gaining momentum, and that - despite polls showing the vast majority of Americans opposing this NAFTA-style trade policy - Democrats say killing the deal "is not seen as a viable political option."

Thom Hartman was right, it’s the U.S. attorneys not fired we should be worried about.

This is a MUST READ!

Republican effort jails largest Democratic donor in Mississippi, helps put ex-RNC chairman in governor's chair

The Permanent Republican Majority Part V

In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, a former Mississippi Republican state legislator who was later backed by Democrats to win a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court discussed political prosecutions and what he sees as the corruption and politicization of the Department of Justice.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. was indicted in 2003 on charges relating to his receipt of a loan guarantee from trial lawyer Paul Minor – a personal friend and the largest Democratic donor in Mississippi – to help defray campaign debts. A Bush-appointed US Attorney, Dunnica Lampton, brought charges of bribery against Diaz, Minor and two other Mississippi judges.

Diaz was acquitted of all those charges. A jury acquitted Minor of the charges related to Diaz, but was unable to reach a verdict on other charges. Within days of his acquittal, Diaz was indicted a second time. He was again acquitted.

“Normally, a criminal investigation begins after a crime is committed,” Diaz told me. “Investigators are sent out to gather evidence and a list of suspects is drawn up. Sometimes an investigation is begun after a complaint is made about suspicious activity. In our case neither of these things occurred.”

“In other words,” he continued. “An individual was singled out for examination from the federal government and prosecutors then attempted to make his conduct fit into some criminal statute. This is not how our system of justice is supposed to operate.”

Diaz first contacted me after having read Raw Story’s “Part One – The Political Prisoner” in this series, which reported on the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Our interview was conducted over a period of several months in telephone conversations and email exchanges.

"The Permanent Republican Majority Part V: Interview with Diaz," is part of our ongoing investigation into the undermining of both the electoral process and the US legal system by corporate interests, their lobbyists and elected and appointed government officials aligned with them.

Prior to being appointed to the judiciary, Diaz served in the Mississippi House of Representatives as a Republican for seven years, representing Biloxi and D'Iberville. Diaz was elected to the Mississippi court of appeals in 1994, and in 2000 he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Democratic governor Ronnie Musgrove.

What emerges during our interview are allegations of even more aggressive prosecutorial tactics and intimidation than has previously been reported. The allegations seem to fit the pattern of prosecution in Alabama, where another Bush-appointed US Attorney successfully prosecuted a popular democratic governor for bribery. As in Alabama, Diaz was indicted a second time after the first set of charges failed to hold up in court. Diaz was ultimately acquitted and still retains his state Supreme Court seat.

House broken into, wife 'threatened'

“After I was indicted and before my trial, my home was also broken into,” Diaz tells RAW STORY. “Our door was kicked in and our documents were rummaged. Televisions, computers and other valuables were not taken, despite the fact that we were out of town for several days and the home was left open by the burglars. We could not figure out a motive for the burglary and reported it to the Biloxi Police Department. The crime was never solved.”

As previously reported in “The Permanent Republican Majority Part II” in our investigative series, Governor Siegelman’s home was broken into twice during the trial, and his attorney’s office was broken into at least once during the tortuous process of his case.

In another eerie parallel, Mississippi judge John Whitfield, who was tried along with Diaz and Minor, had his office set on fire. The Alabama Republican whistleblower, Dana Jill Simpson – who alleges White House involvement in the Siegelman case – had her home set on fire and her car run off the road after she came forward.

An FBI agent was also reassigned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba after he voiced his concerns about the way Lampton was running his investigations. Agent Michael Campbell’s specialty is forensic accounting; so it’s unclear what his role might be at the prison.

Diaz’s wife, Jennifer, was indicted along with her husband. According to Diaz, the US Attorney’s office offered a veiled threat when discussing a plea agreement, making her an offer she could not refuse.

“Just before our trial, federal prosecutors spoke to Jennifer’s attorney and told him that they were willing to make a deal,” Diaz told me. “They explained that she and I were each facing many years in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines. They told her that it would be a shame if both she and I were convicted because they knew that we had two small children.”

“They said that if she would agree to plead guilty to a single count of tax evasion they would guarantee her that she would serve no time and would pay no fine,” Diaz added. “All she would have to do is fully cooperate with investigators by telling them everything she knows and to truthfully testify if they called her to the stand. Not being able to risk the loss of our children, Jennifer accepted this deal.”

Ultimately, Diaz notes, prosecutors did not call Jennifer to testify, as she was not able to add anything to their case.

Timing of indictments helps elect GOP governor

Diaz’s prosecutions – and those of the largest state Democratic donor and other Democrat- supported judges also seem to be part of a larger pattern to use flimsy criminal indictments for political gain.

Diaz was indicted three months prior the Mississippi’s gubernatorial elections. Because he’d been appointment by the incumbent Democratic governor, Republicans used his name as part of a smear campaign to bolster their candidate, Haley Barbour.

Barbour was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.

“The indictment was used prominently in the Republican campaign,” Diaz said. “The Haley Barbour campaign used the indictments of Paul Minor and me to taint Governor Musgrove. Minor had been one of Musgrove's largest contributors, and I was his appointee to the Supreme Court.

“Minor was also a large contributor to Democratic candidates across the country,” Diaz. “In fact, at the time he was one of John Edwards’ top ten largest contributors. The indictments would also serve to embarrass Edwards, who was considered at that time to be one of the most serious challengers to George Bush in the 2004 Presidential election. A political operative could not have picked a better time to issue the indictments in order to influence the upcoming elections.”

The Interview: Corporate interests target Diaz

Now go read the explosive interview!

Wow You can find your states death toll at the bottom of this article

For my state, Families USA estimates that nearly 10 working-age Missourians die each week due to lack of health insurance (approximately 500 people in 2006)

Between 2000 and 2006, the estimated number of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in Missouri who died because they did not have health insurance was nearly 2,800.

Across the United States, in 2006, twice as many people died from lack of health

insurance as died from homicide.

More people died from lack of health care than homicide!

I suggest you email your House Rep and Senator with the link to the PDF file for your state.

The time has come to for Single payer Universal Health Care in America.

Health care is a right not a luxury!

Death by Lack of Health Insurance

Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet at 2:56 PM on April 9, 2008.

New Families USA reports crunch numbers state-by-state.

Families USA has been crunching numbers compiled by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and the findings are quite eye-opening.

I'm a bit too lazy to add a lot of analysis right now, so here's the press release:

In 2002, a groundbreaking national study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated the direct link between a lack of health coverage and deaths from health-related causes. Drawing on that study, Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers, has today made available reports for all 50 states that show how many people are expected to die in each state each week because they don’t have health coverage. A separate report is also available for the District of Columbia.

The individual reports, available on the Families USA Web site, provide eye-opening numbers for every state. Among the figures cited is the fact that more than seven working-age Texans die each day due to a lack of health insurance. Other reports reveal that, on average, approximately 960 people in Illinois died in 2006 because they had no health coverage, and nearly 9,900 uninsured New Yorkers between the ages of 25 and 64 died in the years 2000 to 2006.

“Our report highlights how our inadequate system of health coverage condemns a great number of people to an early death simply because they don’t have the same access to health care as their insured neighbors,” Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA, said today. “The conclusions are sadly clear—a lack of health coverage is a matter of life and death for many people.

“Health insurance really matters in how people make their health care decisions,” Pollack said. “We know that people without insurance often forgo checkups, screenings, and other preventive care.”

As a result, he said, uninsured adults are more likely to be diagnosed with a disease, such as cancer, in an advanced stage, which greatly reduces their chance of survival. The Institute of Medicine found that uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than adults with private health insurance.

Another recent academic study found that uninsured adults between the ages of 55 and 64 are even more likely to die prematurely. For this group, a lack of health insurance is the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer.

In its 2002 report, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 adults nationwide died in 2000 because they did not have health insurance. That estimate was later updated by the Urban Institute, which reported that at least 22,000 adults died in 2006 due to a lack of health insurance.

Although 50 state reports were released by Families USA today, Pollack cautioned against trying to make state-to-state comparisons. The variables of population size, mortality rates, and uninsured rates for people ages 25-64 have made each state report unique.

Find your state's death-toll.

All I can say is WTF?

Pentagon issues pocket lie detector to troops

David Edwards and Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday April 9, 2008

The Pentagon is planning to give US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan "hand-held lie detectors" aimed at rooting out potential insurgents and terrorists. But polygraph experts doubt the system's accuracy and Defense Department memos show results of the few tests that were run were manipulated to demonstrate more success with them than was achieved, according to an MSNBC investigative reporter.

"The Defense Department says the portable device isn't perfect, but is accurate enough to save American lives by screening local police officers, interpreters and allied forces for access to U.S. military bases, and by helping narrow the list of suspects after a roadside bombing," MSNBC's Bill Dedman reports. "The device has already been tried in Iraq and is expected to be deployed there as well."

The Pentagon argues the portable polygraphs have accuracy rates up to 90 percent, but Dedman reports the military arrived at those figures by omitting some results from the tests. The Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, or PCASS, uses a hand-held computer that analyzes readings from censors attached to an interviewees hand and wrist. The computer displays "Green" if it believes the person is honest, "Red" if they are being deceptive and "Yellow" if it is unsure.

The Pentagon, in a PowerPoint presentation released to through a Freedom of Information Act request, says the PCASS is 82 to 90 percent accurate. Those are the only accuracy numbers that were sent up the chain of command at the Pentagon before the device was approved.

But Pentagon studies obtained by show a more complicated picture: In calculating its accuracy, the scientists conducting the tests discarded the yellow screens, or inconclusive readings.

That practice was criticized in the 2003 National Academy study, which said the "inconclusives" have to be included to measure accuracy. If you take into account the yellow screens, the PCASS accuracy rate in the three Pentagon-funded tests drops to the level of 63 to 79 percent.

The portable lie-detectors are far less accurate than a typical polygraph, and the Pentagon documents Dedman cites show they are much less likely to give a definitive yes-or-no answer as to whether someone is being truthful. (A traditional polygraph gave uncertain responses 7.2 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent and 16 percent in tests with the PCASS.)

The Pentagon argues that the PCASS is better than nothing, but an expert on lie detector tests calls their approach wrong-headed.

"I don't understand how anybody could think that this is ready for deployment," statistics professor Stephen E. Fienberg, who headed a 2003 study by the National Academy of Sciences that found insufficient scientific evidence to support using polygraphs for national security, told MSNBC. "Sending these instruments into the field in Iraq and Afghanistan without serious scientific assessment, and for use by untrained personnel, is a mockery of what we advocated in our report."

This video is from MSNBC, broadcast April 9, 2008

Now go watch the video

Capital Hill Blue has several great articles today.

Is the next President being set up?

April 10, 2008 -

Anti-war Democrats accused the White House of plotting to saddle the next president with a "quagmire" in Iraq, as General David Petraeus, the head of the US-led forces in the country, faced a second day of scrutiny in Congress.

Welcome back to the war that never ends

April 10, 2008 -

After two days of testimony by the top U.S. officials in Iraq, the situation seems to be this: Security is somewhat better but large parts of the country and even Baghdad are not safe; the Iraqi government is improving but still unable to govern effectively; and the Iraqi army, while getting better, is still not really combat capable.

The General and a bush league war

April 9, 2008 -

I usually keep one of the two cable news stations on in the background of my office, mostly to see if our Armageddon-starting, rapture-based invasion of Iran has begun.

Colonel killed in Green Zone

Wednesday, April 09, 2008By NIKI DOYLE Times Staff Writer

Sister says Stephen Scott on treadmill in U.S. Embassy

When Col. Stephen Scott left for the Pentagon and later for Iraq, he never put a "For Sale" sign in the yard of his New Market home.

Scott, 54, seemed to be on the fast-track to becoming a general with his recent assignment to train and arm the Iraqi troops, said his sister, Kathleen King.

Now, his home sits empty, and his family members - all St. Louis natives - are planning his funeral after military officials told them Sunday that Scott had been killed in a mortar attack on Baghdad's Green Zone.

"He loved Alabama," King said. "That's why he never sold the house there. He fully intended to go back."

Scott, a member of the Huntsville Track Club and an avid runner, was on a treadmill in the U.S. Embassy's fitness facility Sunday when a mortar round crashed into the building, killing him and two other soldiers, King said.

"He loved to run marathons," King said. "He ran 5, 10 miles every day. If it had to be, at least he was doing something he loved and was somewhere he wanted to be."

Scott moved to Huntsville about 12 years ago when the St. Louis-based Aviation and Troop Command closed, King said. He worked with the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center on Redstone Arsenal, said his longtime friend Al Reed.

Scott served as a battalion commander in 2002 and worked with the Secretary of Defense staff to provide immediate response to soldiers' needs.

It was an ideal assignment for Scott because he loved helping fellow soldiers and their families, Reed said.

"He just ate it up," he said. "The more he helped the soldiers, the better off he was."

Scott grew up in a military family - his father, Kenneth Scott, was a command warrant officer.

He received a Bronze Star in 2003 and has received dozens of other awards. His latest deployment came in early December and he was scheduled to return home in June, King said.

Scott spoke to his family - including his mother, Patricia, and his two daughters, 25-year-old Rachel and 22-year-old Rebecca - almost every day, telling them how much he loved his work there, King said.

"He had made so many friends in the Iraqi government, and he was so impressed with their willingness to do this on their own," she said.

Scott's funeral will be at the First Baptist Church Harvester in St. Charles, Mo. He will be buried in Jefferson Barracks, but King said the family has not yet set a date for the services.

King said the response from the community has been overwhelming. The Patriot Guard has asked to escort the casket, and local fire departments have offered to fly American flags on their ladder trucks during the funeral.

"People are coming from everywhere," she said. "It's the most incredible thing.

"I'm sure my brother's looking down, and he's smiling at this."


Shays Fights to Save New England's Republicans From Extinction

By Laura Litvan

April 9 (Bloomberg) -- There's never a seating problem when New England's House Republicans meet. That's because after the 2006 elections, the party has just one representative left in the six northeastern states: Chris Shays of Connecticut.

Come next year, there could be none. Shays, one of the last ``Rockefeller Republicans'' in Congress, is in another tight contest after winning just 51 percent of the vote two years ago. His support for the Iraq War is again a central issue and he is blunt about his chances.

``I could lose the election,'' Shays, 62, said in an interview. ``If I lose the election telling people what I think the truth is, and the truth is uncomfortable or they disagree with my solutions, then I accept that. With no regrets, none, zero.''

Former New Hampshire Republican Senator Warren Rudman said the outlook for the party is ``critical.'' The outcome of Shays's race, he said, could signal whether Republicans have a chance to make a comeback in the years ahead in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

``New England is being transformed'' into ``essentially a one-party region,'' said Rudman, who served in the Senate from 1980 to 1992 and was considered a model of the socially liberal and fiscally conservative New England Republican.

Eroding Support

In the first half of the last century, New England was the most reliably Republican region of the country. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut were among the six states Franklin Roosevelt lost in his landslide 1932 victory over Herbert Hoover. In 1936, only two states -- Maine and Vermont -- voted against Roosevelt.

More recently, though, the six New England states have shifted toward the Democrats, even as the previously solidly Democratic South turned Republican. The erosion of Republican support has tracked the party's shift toward increasingly conservative policies, especially on social issues.

In 1973, 18 of New England's 25 House members -- and five senators -- were Republicans. When President George W. Bush came into office in 2001, Republicans held five House seats and six of 12 Senate seats. In 2006, four Republican House members lost their seats; in the Senate, the party was left with four seats.

Bush Effect

``Bush is one of those presidents who accelerated a lot of trends in American politics,'' said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University.

Matters may get worse for Republicans this fall, with just one House Democrat from New England -- Representative Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire -- facing a competitive race, said Dave Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

In addition to Shays, the two New England Republican senators up for re-election this year, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine, are in close races. A March 14-17 American Research Group poll found Democrat Jeanne Shaheen leading Sununu, 47 percent to 33 percent.

Shays managed to survive in 2006 against Democrat Diane Farrell thanks to his record of voting with Democrats on stem- cell research, abortion rights, campaign-finance overhaul and the environment, said Gary Rose, a professor of politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

`Moderate Positions'

``He has survived because of his moderate positions on everything other than Iraq,'' Rose said.

Shays de-emphasizes his Republicanism. At a town hall meeting in Wilton on April 5, he handed out statistics showing him voting with Bush in 2007 only 33 percent of the time.

``One of my strengths is that I am not a partisan politician,'' Shays said.

He also took on constituents who questioned his record. He told one woman she was ``dead wrong'' for asking him why he had never pushed for universal health care, because he has drafted legislation.

He defended his support for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, saying later that voters there must ``come to grips'' with how the conflict relates to the fight against terrorism.

The 10th-term lawmaker's race against Democrat Jim Himes in November pits him against a former investment banker who has as much money in his campaign war chest, about $800,000. Himes, 41, said the war is the central issue, and strong turnout for the Democratic presidential nominee could yield new congressional voters.

Presidential Coattails

Presidential coattails ``could be the single largest factor in the race,'' Himes said in an interview.

In Bridgeport, which has a sizable black population, it is easy to find voters who are registering to vote Democratic.

Italio Raucci, 43, whose parents were black and Italian, said he wants to cast a ballot for Illinois Senator Barack Obama in November, and would back Shays' opponent while he's at it.

``It's the first time I ever felt compelled to vote,'' said Raucci, who is unemployed.

Still, Shays retains strong support among many Republicans and independents, and his party's presumptive nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, has appeal in the state.

``Everyone is a little Republican-tired,'' said Robert Atkinson, 26, a Stamford Republican who works as a waiter. ``Shays has survived because he plays it in the middle.''

From BuzzFlash about AAR host Randi Rhodes

LTR (Left Talk Radio) Website Reports Rumor: "Rhodes coming back, with or without Air America" on April 14th. Also, story refutes that the event for which she was suspended was in anyway sponsored or officially sanctioned by the Obama campaign. But anyway, it would be great to have Randi back. The odd thing is that she was neutral on her show until a few weeks back, but the underhanded tactics of the Clinton campaign finally got to her and she took a position out of outrage. 4/10

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All eyes on al-Sadr as Iraq violence swells

By Charles Levinson, USA TODAY BAGHDAD —

As a young seminary student, his nickname was Mulla Atari, because he preferred video games to studying the Quran. Now, Muqtada al-Sadr is a radical cleric revered by millions of poor Shiites as a modern-day Robin Hood. He also may be the most powerful man in Iraq.

The recent spike in violence here has shown that the enigmatic Shiite cleric and his Mahdi Army militia continue to have the muscle to plunge Iraq into warfare — and essentially reverse recent security gains made by the U.S. military that the Bush administration cites as a key sign of progress. Or as he did in August, al-Sadr can stop much of the bloodshed by ordering a cease-fire — and win some credit from the U.S. military for the resulting calm.

MORE CLASHES: U.S. airstrikes target militants in Sadr City

Al-Sadr appears to be headed for a military and political showdown with the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over who will hold sway in Iraq.

The outcome could determine whether Iraq is run by a reliable U.S. ally, a staunch anti-American cleric who backs armed resistance against the "occupiers," or a combination that fuels chaos.

"If this isn't resolved peacefully, the results will be disastrous. The government could fall, and the Americans and the Iraqis will pay a huge price," says Hossam al-Azzawi, a Sunni lawmaker whose Accordance Party has opposed al-Maliki but supports him in his standoff with al-Sadr.

The relationship between al-Maliki and the cleric is complex: Al-Sadr's support initially helped put al-Maliki in power, and al-Maliki's go-slow approach in cracking down on al-Sadr's militia as it targeted and killed rival Sunnis has long frustrated the U.S. military.

In recent months, al-Sadr has tried to transform his following into a political force that would compete in local elections this year. He called a cease-fire for his militia — Iraq's strongest — eight months ago, but he has continued to train and arm it.

Al-Maliki, citing rising concern about violence in the southern city of Basra, launched an offensive against the cleric's strongholds there two weeks ago. That fighting spread to Baghdad, where gun battles continue between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and Shiite militants.

After al-Sadr mobilized his militia in late March, attacks in Baghdad jumped from 13 a day to more than 100, the highest level since August. Although al-Sadr ordered his militia to stand down on March 30 and says the cease-fire remains in effect, sporadic fighting between Mahdi splinter groups and U.S. and Iraqi security forces continues.

In Sadr City, the Baghdad slum of 2.5 million people that is al-Sadr's base, more than 50 people have been killed since Sunday, according to the U.S. military. Mortars fired from Sadr City by Shiite militias pound the heavily fortified Green Zone, where U.S. workers have to wear body armor and helmets whenever they go outside and sleep on cots in their offices instead of in their tin-roofed trailers.

The shelling persisted Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad. And the U.S. military announced the deaths of five more soldiers, for a total of 17 troop deaths since Sunday.

The U.S. military has said the Mahdi splinter groups are backed by Iran and that it's unclear whether they have direct links to al-Sadr.

That raises questions about al-Sadr's ability to control his entire militia, but al-Maliki treats the situation as if al-Sadr is at the helm: The prime minister warns the cleric's followers that they will be banned from running for office if al-Sadr does not disband his militia. Al-Maliki is rallying Iraq's other parties to support his ultimatum.

In response this week, al-Sadr threatened to lift his cease-fire if the Iraqi government does not halt attacks on his Mahdi Army or set a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.

Analysts say such a move could escalate the violence in Iraq — and cast significant doubt on the Bush administration's claims that the situation in Iraq is improving.

"The fact that we seem to be sitting on this powder keg suggests to me that we haven't gotten as far as the (Bush) administration would suggest," says Steven Cook, an Iraq specialist at the Council of Foreign Relations. "It was like al-Sadr flipped on the switch and all of a sudden there was widespread violence, and I felt like I was instantly transformed back to the days before the 'surge' " of increased U.S. troops last summer.

Cook and other analysts say the recent fighting indicates that if al-Sadr chooses to fight, he could drag Iraq into a new round of bloody sectarian battles and doom U.S. hopes for an early withdrawal. On the other hand, if he stands down and disarms his militia, one of the biggest obstacles to the U.S. military in Iraq could be neutralized.

'Big questions' to be answered

Even in Iraq's Byzantine politics of tangled alliances, decades-old grudges and myriad religious, political and regional players, al-Sadr stands out as tough to read.

He appeared in public last month for the first time in more than a year in an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel. His public statements are ambiguous; his actions often contradictory.

He is currently in Iran, having spent the past year there studying under a hard-line cleric who was an early proponent of the Iranian revolution in which Ayatollah Khomeini assumed dictatorial control, but al-Sadr said last month that religious leaders should not play politics.

He says defeating the United States in Iraq is his top priority, but his cease-fire and other political maneuvering helped the U.S. military accomplish some of its key objectives, such as reducing violence and passing benchmark legislation.

"It's hard to tell whether al-Sadr is the key to progress in Iraq, or America's sworn enemy," says Rick Barton, an adviser to the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission set up by Congress that recommended withdrawing from Iraq last year. "These are big questions that remain unanswered."

Al-Sadr, 34, is beloved by poor Shiites who live in run-down areas such as Sadr City, which is named for his father, a popular cleric with control over an extensive network of social services in poor Shiite neighborhoods. The typical household there has 12 people; sewage flows down muddy alleys.

Al-Sadr claims to be a descendant of the prophet Mohammed and hails from a family of respected Shiite clerics who challenged the ruling political and religious leaders.

His uncle and father were opponents of Saddam Hussein, and both were killed by the Iraqi dictator.

Al-Sadr's older brothers had been his father's close aides, while Muqtada was given lesser jobs in his father's organization, according to author Patrick Cockburn in his new book Muqtada.

After his father and two brothers were killed in 1999, al-Sadr remained a relatively unknown seminary dropout until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Al-Sadr inherited his father's following and control over various health services.

Al-Sadr was considered an ill-educated populist and rabble-rouser, Cockburn says, and he clashed with his family's traditional rivals, the aristocratic Shiite religious parties that shied away from politics and wanted al-Sadr to do the same.

"The al-Sadr movement is basically a class struggle against those Shiite parties in government that have no idea of the poverty in the heart of Shiite neighborhoods," says Ibrahim Sumydai, a former Iraqi intelligence officer and political analyst. "When al-Sadr comes like a Robin Hood revolutionary defending the rights of the poor, the people believe him. … He may not have the political skills and he may not have the religious credentials, but the people still follow him."

Al-Sadr emerged from his father's shadow by challenging American authority with a radical brand of politics mixing Islam, nationalism and armed resistance.

He made driving U.S. troops out of Iraq his top priority. He established his Mahdi Army, battled U.S. forces in 2004 and helped send Iraq into sectarian civil war in 2006 after Sunni insurgents blew up a Shiite shrine. Then last August, the fiery cleric declared the cease-fire and violence across Iraq plummeted.

Al-Sadr had retreated to the Iranian city of Qom in early 2007 to burnish his religious credentials in hopes of returning to politics with the authority of a senior cleric. His followers largely have abided by the cease-fire, opened a political office and declared their intent to run in the provincial elections.

"We want to compete for power in elections, and we have proven this with our actions, but the government attacked us saying we are terrorists," says Baghdad's deputy mayor, Naeem Abaob al-Kaabi, a leader in al-Sadr's movement.

Al-Kaabi says fears that al-Sadr could oust the ruling parties in open elections prompted the Iraqi government crackdown on Mahdi Army strongholds.

"The government knows they will lose a lot of power if there are elections, and so they try to make a crisis now and then as an excuse to delay the elections," al-Kaabi says.

Mixed signals from cleric

Reidar Visser, a specialist on Shiite politics and editor of the Iraq-focused website, warns that the United States is jeopardizing al-Sadr's decision to participate in peaceful politics by supporting al-Maliki's campaign against the Mahdi Army.

"For the past months, the Sadrist leaders have consistently signaled that they are committed to Iraq's political process," Visser says. "That is why it is so alarming that the U.S. continues to give its full support to al-Maliki against al-Sadr."

Al-Maliki's offensive, instead of weakening al-Sadr, has shown that the cleric's militia is better organized and better armed than ever, Visser says. In two weeks of fighting, Iraq's fledgling security forces have struggled to gain ground.

Al-Sadr remains one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. military.

"The Iraqi people are suffering just as if they were still under Saddam," al-Sadr told Al-Jazeera. "The small Satan left and the great Satan came. God willing, the occupation forces will be driven out as happened in Vietnam."

The U.S. military still credits al-Sadr for much of the recent progress. His support helped parliament pass a law calling for the provincial elections — one of the pillars of the U.S. reconciliation strategy.

"The Sadrists actually helped this administration achieve one of its benchmarks," Visser says.

The United States has responded to al-Sadr's mixed messages at various times by either confronting the cleric or appeasing him. In 2004, U.S. troops shut down al-Sadr's newspaper for 60 days and arrested his top lieutenant on murder charges. That set off six months of pitched battles between al-Sadr's gunmen and U.S. soldiers.

Today, U.S. officials appear to be reaching out by not identifying al-Sadr's Mahdi Army as the enemy and instead saying American troops are battling criminals and rogue elements that splintered from his militia.

"The increase we've seen in attacks the last couple of weeks are the work of criminal elements," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond said.

When al-Maliki launched the offensive against Shiite militias in Basra last month, the prime minister barely consulted with U.S. officials beforehand, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said. The offensive put the U.S. military into a potentially explosive battle just before Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus testified before Congress this week.

"The (Iraqi) government keeps saying it is not going after the Sadrists and it is only going after terrorists, but the reality is very different," al-Kaabi says. "Their goal is to distance the Sadrists from the political process, and that's what is happening."

Sumydai, the former Iraqi intelligence officer, says the government decided to crack down on al-Sadr to shore up its relationship with the United States after seeing Iraq's Sunnis regain American trust by going after al-Qaeda.

"The Shiite parties saw the growing cooperation between the Sunnis and the Americans and started to fear that maybe the Americans will turn and give power back to the Sunnis," Sumydai says. "The other Shiite parties wanted to prove that they are still America's closest allies in Iraq, so they attacked the Mahdi Army."

Al-Sadr realized what was happening and declared his cease-fire so the government wouldn't have an excuse to attack, Sumydai says.

"Al-Sadr is someone we have to deal with," he says. "We have to try to attract him gradually to our mission of rebuilding a new Iraq."

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