Monthly Archives: June 2005

Bush Speech Scorecard

My brother offers what is in effect a scorecard for Bush's speech this evening.

White House Briefing: Beware the cut-and-run straw man tonight, when President Bush delivers a prime-time speech about Iraq with troops from the nation's largest army base as his backdrop.

To the extent that Bush acknowledges the growing public opposition to his leadership of the war at all tonight, it may well be to disparage those who would “cut and run” rather than “stay the course.”

According to the latest polls, Americans are not saying that U.S. troops should leave instantly. They're saying they feel the country is bogged down in a war that was a mistake in the first place, they're saying they feel misled by the president and have lost confidence in him, and they're saying they want to know the way out.

They're not saying abandon the troops; they're saying support the troops. They're not saying dishonor the dead, they're saying stop the dying. They're not saying let the terrorists win; they're saying they don't think that victory in Iraq will have a major impact on terrorism elsewhere.

[Press Secretary Scott] McClellan said Bush will not announce any change in course, but he did offer that the president would “talk in a very specific way about the way forward.”

Or, if you ask me, it could just be a media event, devoid of substance…

Of course, even if Bush does not engage the growing unease about the war and just rephrases his previous assertions, he will still come out ahead if the press coverage highlights the new sound bites — rather than explaining that he failed to address the mounting concerns of the American public.

Incidentally, tomorrow at 1pm you can chat with Dan about how it all went as he'll be Live Online at the Washington Post site. His chats are fun to watch.

Posted in Dan Froomkin | 2 Comments

False Alarm

Remember that rise to “orange alert” back in in the 2003 holiday season? The one that disrupted international flights? The one based on well-hyped “credible” threats and “credible sources” (Official: Credible threats pushed terror alert higher)? The one where Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the information suggested “an attack on the United States and the United States' interests — both within the United States and outside — is imminent”?

Well, it turns out that the whole thing was just a big mistake.

All that “chatter” that caused the Bush Keystone Kops to panic was actually just … a fantasy:

senior U.S. officials now tell NBC News that the key piece of information that triggered the holiday alert was a bizarre CIA analysis, which turned out to be all wrong.

CIA analysts mistakenly thought they'd discovered a mother lode of secret al-Qaida messages. They thought they had found secret messages on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television news channel, hidden in the moving text at the bottom of the screen, known as the “crawl,” where news headlines are summarized.

But of course, in fact it was no such thing. And even Ridge himself now admits that it was pretty nutty. (His exact words are “Bizarre, unique, unorthodox, unprecedented.”)

You can't make this stuff up. Not sober, anyway.

PS. Why are we still on “yellow alert”? Not to mention that the whole concept is moronic.

Terror Alert Level

Meanwhile get your parody terror alert systems here

Posted in 9/11 & Aftermath | 1 Comment

Halliburton Accused of Stealing $1 Billion from USA

Halliburton's Iraq deals described as contract abuse:

A top U.S. Army procurement official said on Monday Halliburton's deals in Iraq were the worst example of contract abuse she had seen as Pentagon auditors flagged over $1 billion of potential overcharges by the Texas-based firm.

Bunny Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' top contracting official-turned whistle-blower, said in testimony at a hearing by Democrats on Capitol Hill that “every aspect” of Halliburton's oil contract in Iraq had been under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root) represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career,” said Greenhouse, a procurement veteran of more than 20 years.

$1 billion in (alleged) fraud? How could that possibly happen?

Pressed by lawmakers whether she thought the defense secretary's office was involved in the handout and running of contracts to KBR, Greenhouse replied: “That is true.”

“I observed, first hand, that essentially every aspect of the RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil) contract remained under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This troubled me and was wrong,” said Greenhouse.

Oh. Motive, opportunity, method…. For the record, all is denied and pooh-poohed by Kellog, Brown & Root (now part of the Halliburton group, and itself one of the great influence-peddling companies of all time).

If, however, this is true, it means Halliburton is in the same league as Saddam Hussein's family, also thought to have ripped off about $1 billion, although it would leave Halliburton still well behind the multiple billions siphoned off by the US's own CPA and its Iraqi henchmen:

A report by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, said in the week before the hand-over on June 28, 2004, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority ordered the urgent delivery of more than $4 billion in Iraqi funds from the U.S. Federal Reserve in New York.

One single shipment amounted to $2.4 billion — the largest movement of cash in the bank's history, said Waxman.

Most of these funds came from frozen and seized assets and from the Development Fund for Iraq, which succeeded the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. After the U.S. invasion, the U.N. directed this money should be used by the CPA for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Cash was loaded onto giant pallets for shipment by plane to Iraq, and paid out to contractors who carried it away in duffel bags.

The report, released at a House of Representatives committee hearing, said despite the huge amount of money, there was little U.S. scrutiny in how these assets were managed.

“The disbursement of these funds was characterized by significant waste, fraud and abuse,” said Waxman.

An audit by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said U.S. auditors could not account for nearly $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds and the United States had not provided adequate controls for this money..

As a famous Senator once said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you are talking about real money.”

[Headline corrected]

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 7 Comments

OPIC and the Mafia???

At best, really lousy managmeent of federal assets by the GOP. At best. The Globe and Mail: Agency funding raises 'red flag'

A government agency that helps U.S. businesses investing in developing countries has approved millions of dollars of loans to companies whose owners did business with Mafia figures and rebels in a bloody African conflict, records show.

I like CNN's headline: OPIC: Offers it should've refused?

Posted in Politics: US: GW Bush Scandals | Comments Off on OPIC and the Mafia???

Grokster Loses (But Sony Rule Lives On)

The Supreme Court handed down the Grokster decision this morning. Full background at EFF's MGM v. Grokster page.

The Court remanded for trial on Grokster's infringing intent. The key passages of the unanimous opinion seem to be these. First, the court says that it holds

that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties. We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technologies with lawful and unlawful potential. Accordingly, just as Sony did not find intentional inducement despite the knowledge of the VCR manufacturer that its device could be used to infringe, 464 U. S., at 439, n. 19, mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct,

Yes, footnote 12 does say that,

Of course, in the absence of other evidence of intent, a court would be unable to find contributory infringement liability merely based on a failure to take affirmative steps to prevent infringement, if the device otherwise was capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Such a holding would tread too close to the Sony safe harbor.

But the text finds the evidence against Grokster developed so far to be quite strong. So while this isn't a disaster for copyright law, it's not good news for Grokster.

Note that the Ginsburg concurrence, for herself and two other Justices, would set a much tougher standard that would mean you get in trouble for making a popular product regardless of your own conduct:

Even if the absolute number of noninfringing files copied using the Grokster and StreamCast software is large, it does not follow that the products are therefore put to substantial noninfringing uses and are thus immune from liability. The number of noninfringing copies may be reflective of, and dwarfed by, the huge total volume of files shared.

The Breyer concurrence, also for two others, leans the other way, emphasizing the endurance of the Sony standard.

My bottom line: Grokster loses, but the grounds are narrow enough that — in my best guess — Bittorrent survives.

You can compare this to what the real experts will be saying at the SCOTUSBlog Grokster discussion page.

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | 2 Comments

Back to Normal at the VA

I missed the news that Anthony Principi, the only member of the Bush cabinet I respected, had resigned as VA Secretary. It seems he went on to chair the base closure commission.

Meanwhile, it's back to the bad old days at the VA. Last week they revealed they are facing a $1 billion health funding shorfall, which you would think is something of crisis — two months after the new Secretary, Jim Nicholson, told Congress “I can assure you that VA does not need [additional funds] to continue to provide timely, quality service….” Now, the Washington Post reports that the VA Deputy Undersecretary told VA hospitals and clinics that their “highest priority” should be…wait for it…to make sure that Principi's picture is replaced with Nicholson's. (spotted via The Carpetbagger Report)

The Post's Al Kamen serves up the irony:

… we hear some officials disagreed that the photos should be their “highest priority.”

“And here we're trying to figure out where our next patient meal is coming from and what furniture to sell to buy drugs next year,” one VA official said.

Posted in Politics: US | 2 Comments