Monthly Archives: April 2004

Don’t drink too much celebrating end of the work week …

Sometimes the best beer is root beer…

(Feel free to take it off, Mick, if I’ve been a bad boy and posted something inappropriate, but I thought it was pretty funny!)

11 Questions for Mr. Bush

Mark Morford has a few simple questions he’d like George W to answer. Should only take a few minutes.

3) You are called by God. You believe you are the chosen one. The Lord Himself has happily green-lighted your decisions to bomb the living crap out of pip-squeak and nearly defenseless nations for decreasingly justifiable reasons. You are born-again, re-sobered, a former hardcore binge drinker and rumored huge fan of various illegal substances back in college, and you had at least one DUI arrest and went AWOL from the National Guard, and you’ve stashed away from public view all records of both your tenure as Texas governor, and those SEC investigations into your alleged insider trading. You are a failed oilman and a failed businessman and have been spoon-fed your entire career.So then: Do you sleep peacefully at night, or do your dreams involve small armies of angry sharp-toothed fairies, tearing you limb from limb and sucking the pith from your withered soul while they casually erase your entire portfolio as you scream, silently, unable to move due to all the leeches? Don’t bother answering. Your expression says it all.


Go read the rest.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!


NYT Exclusive!

The New York Times has just discovered that rich people’s kids do better in school!

What startling new information will America’s plucky little “Paper of Record” dig up next?


Does the sun really rise in the east?

Can birds really fly?

Do Republicans hate democracy?

Are Bobby and Whitney fighting again?

Do the poor have inadequate dental plans?

Don’t miss these ground-breaking NY TIMES EXCLUSIVES!


Bush Charms Panel With 9/11 Quips– Astoundingly, Manages to Walk and Chew Gum At the Same Time

The headline on this NYT article should have read, “Nation’s President Manages to Walk Without Falling Down”, sub-head, “America Proud of President Who Gets 100 On Pop-Quiz, Speaks For Self Without Usual Rambling, Mumbling, and Incoherence.” You think I’m kidding?

After a meeting that both the White House and the commission had billed as historic, Mr. Bush appeared before reporters in the Rose Garden and described the question-and-answer session with the 10 members of the bipartisan commission as “very cordial.” He said he “answered every question that they asked.”

“Look, Mommy, I answered evewy kestion aw by myse’f.”

“That’s Mommy’s big, grown-up boy. Tell Mommy-Barb all about it.”

The setting for the panel’s long-awaited interview of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who insisted on talking with the commission together, was orchestrated to take advantage of all of the symbolic power of the Oval Office while making clear that the White House did not consider the meeting to be adversarial. [Yeah, right.–M]Administration officials said the president and vice president were seated in wing-back chairs in front of the Oval Office fireplace, with the commission members seated on a pair of couches and several wooden chairs in an informal semicircle around them, the day’s strong sunlight streaming in from the windows behind them.

“We bwot all the teachers into my Big Woom and made ’em all sit wight in fwont of the window so the sun was in their eyes, and then me ‘n Dick sat down in the BIGGEST chairs so we was lookin’ down at ’em–”

“Very good, dear. What a good trick! And who taught you that?”

“My fwiend Karl, Mommy. He knows a lot of good stuff like that.”

“And then what happened, precious?”

“We just tol’ ’em evewything we tol’ ’em before, thass all.”

… they were aware of intelligence warnings but believed them to refer to threats overseas…the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, intelligence briefing about domestic terrorist threats was mostly historical…[that it] did not recommend that the White House step up security…”There were no surprises,” said the panel’s chairman, Thomas H. Kean.

Really? I’m shocked. In these uncomfortable circumstances, faced with tough questioning, I’m sure (of course there’s no way to know since THEY DIDN’T ALLOW IT TO BE RECORDED), The Prez didn’t crack like a blanched walnut, huh? (Clinton reference–see Guidebook) Sorry for the interruption, now back to our regularly scheduled program, Dick & Georgie’s Excellent Adventure.

He said in an interview that the questioning was “very sharp but very fair — by sharp, I mean in the sense of intellectually sharp.”


“It’s OK, Mommy.”

“You mean Dickie answered all the questions?”

“Naw. I did.”

“Oh dear, dear.”

…the president had handled nearly three-quarters of the questions raised by the commissioners. If the public had been allowed to witness the meeting, he said, “I think they would have had a lot more confidence in our government.”

Because he may have shown he can answer a few friendly questions by giving answers he’s rehearsed without tripping over his own tongue? Oh, yes, that would have made me feel a LOT better.

Another of the panel’s Republicans, John F. Lehman, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said Mr. Bush had answered the panel’s questions with little hesitation or need for assistance from Mr. Cheney or Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel.

“They said they wewe vewy pwoud of me.”

“They did, dear? Really?”


[Note the absence–and we are 2/3 of the way through the story–of any quote from Democratic panel members. Oh, look, here comes one now:]

“He answered directly and completely and in a very cordial and respectful way,” Mr. Kerrey said.

“I was a perfeck gen’leman.”

“I’m proud of you, dear. You didn’t spit at them?”


“You didn’t squirm in your chair and burp like you usually do?”


“And you called them all ‘Sir’?”

“Yup. Even that Jamie guy, excep’ I think he’s a girl.”

Despite what both sides agreed was the polite, even friendly tone of the meeting, the commissioners were treated as outsiders by the White House. They were seen being searched by hand for weapons before they stepped into the Oval Office….

“Well, you had to do that, dear. Some of them were..Democrats!*shudders, gasps, gives her boy a hug* “I’m so glad you’re alright. That must have been a terrible ordeal.”

“Naw. I din’t like the test questions so I just took ’em and tossed ’em.”

Their notebooks were taken from them before they left the session….

“But what good will that do, dear?”

“I jus’ take my widdle black pen and scrrrr-itch! Anythin’ I don’ like is ‘national security’, ‘classified.'”

“Oh, very, very good, George.”

“I can say ‘redacted’, can you?”

“Yes, dear. Yes, I can.”

In an appearance before reporters after the session, the president offered his first public explanation for why the White House had wanted him and Mr. Cheney to be interviewed together. Mr. Bush said he had wanted the commission to understand how he and Mr. Cheney operated as a team — both on Sept. 11 and in its aftermath.”I wanted them to know how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats,” Mr. Bush said. “The vice president answered a lot of their questions — answered all their questions. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together.”

Body language? Body language? He wanted them to see his body language? He wasn’t wearing his flight-suit again, was he? So he went hand-in-hand with Cheney so they could see his *gagging sound* “body…language…” Give the guy credit–it’s original. Stupid, but original. [“Body language”! Sheesh….]

Asked if the commission had questioned Mr. Bush about the possibility that Qaeda terrorists were still in the United States, Mr. Bush said, “No, they didn’t.”

Why would they? As their investigation showed conclusively, he’d be the last to know.

“The president was very forthcoming and answered all of our questions”…there was frequent laughter during the questioning…the former Republican governor of Illinois…praised Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney for “five-star performances.”…Mr. Bush would sometimes get a “twinkle in his eye” [You know, he could have that surgically removed, now–M]…”The president got off a couple of good shots.”

Of bourbon, or so I hear. They might as well have pinned a medal for bravery on him just for showing up, planted a gold star on his forehead for having his answers ready, given him the lead in the school play for being so convincing in his “performance”, and handed him the award as “Most Popular Kid in Class” because he was just so dang charming.

I fink I gonna fwow up.

Am I wrong or is everybody just relieved he didn’t self-destruct right in front of them?

Pinochet Clement Defends Gitmo

Paul D Clement, Deputy Solicitor-General, is arguing the Administration’s case against applying standard judicial procedures to the Gitmo prisoners. In the process, he is proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the BA is distinctly undemocratic in outlook and instinctively authoritarian in nature.

This conclusion doesn’t arise just because they’re defending a basically indefensible concept; what is far more damning are the arguments they’re using to do it. In a court of law–the highest court in the land, no less, Clement began by saying that it was “remarkable that we have to confront this question when our troops are still on the ground in Afghanistan,” an argument that pre-supposes the SCOTUS has no role during a war. But that was only the beginning.

A majority of the justices expressed some degree of concern over the breadth of the administration’s position. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor asked Mr. Clement why “a neutral decision maker of some kind” could not be provided to determine whether a detainee is being properly held. “Is that so extreme that it should not be required?” she asked.Mr. Clement said the potential detainees’ initial screening, sorting those to be held from those who need not be, met that requirement. “For all intents and purposes, that is a neutral decision maker,” he said.

Um, what initial screening would that be? Is Mr Clement talking about the confab on the battlefield where the detainees were picked up? Or the kangaroo court in Gitmo run by the military–oh, darn. THERE WASN’T ONE.

Wait, it gets better. When Justice Ginsberg didn’t see why the detainees shouldn’t have “a forum” during which they could “explain themselves”, Clement answered that they already had one: their interrogation. “The interrogation process itself provides an opportunity for an individual to explain that this has all been a mistake.”

Is that right? Doggone, we done been wastin’ a awful lot o’ money on lawyers an’ judges and courts iffen that’s true. Hell, why, we could just say a police interrogation gives a suspect every chance to state his case to the cops an’ iffen they don’t buy it, then he’s guilty, pure an’ simple. Wham! Off he goes to jail for the rest o’ his life, and we’re done. No damn dumb “appeals” or even a tee-rial to appeal about. We could save $Billions$. We don’t need all that junk. Screw it. We got our justice system–the police.

This argument has been the justification and rationalization of every dictator of the past 100 years; the Soviets even enshrined it in law. Pinochet, accused of executing prisoners without a trial, pointed to the secret police interrogation as the only “trial” that was needed. He even used the same excuse–that these people were dangerous “anti-social terrorists” (he was talking about journalists, students, labor leaders, playwrights, teachers, and priests, by the way) and that the State was in a war for its survival and couldn’t afford little luxuries, like, say, a judicial system that might decide that some of his political the State’s enemies were innocent. In the Soviet Union, Stalin argued that his pogroms were necessary for “the security of the people and the people’s state”, and used the fear of the late 30’s when Hitler and Europe were readying for war to dismantle what was left of the old Czarist legal system (not much) and embark on the greatest murder spree in history in 1938.

What’s going on here? The virulently anti-Communist Republican right takes control and turns out to be exactly like the Soviets they hated? Aping their policies, mimicking their rationalizations, copying their techniques? But Mr Clement doesn’t have any problem with that.

“Doesn’t the court have some business intervening at some point if it’s the Hundred Years’ War or something?” Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked.Mr. Clement replied, “I’m not quite sure what you have in mind that they would intervene on.”

Golly, Paul, I dunno. Maybe BEING RAILROADED BY AN ADMINISTRATION THAT WANTS TO MAINTAIN AN UNPOPULAR WAR BY SHOWING US HOW ENDANGERED WE ARE? How about the possibility that the Administration’s designation was just WRONG? How about that? Over 100 of the Gitmo prisoners were released after almost two years of confinement because of lack of evidence. The Gitmo authorities arrested Capt Jimmy Yee for sedition and espionage and then had to drop the charges when his lawyers proved there was NO evidence to back them up. How about that? I mean, a trial is asking too much?

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose position appeared most in doubt, pressed Mr. Clement at one point for some sign of a concession. “I’m taking away from the argument the impression, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you think there is a continuing role for the courts to examine the reasonableness of the period of detention,” he said in a hopeful tone.Mr. Clement was quick to correct him. “Well, I wouldn’t take that away, Justice Kennedy,” he said.

Translation: The Bush Admin does think that there is NO “continuing role for the courts”. As fas as they’re concerned, the Commissar-in-Chief is the one and only authority and everybody else ought to just shut up and go home like good little comrades.

Put this insane argument against the re-writing of history Seattle called our attention to, and this Admin isn’t just Orwell-like, it is Orwell brought to life. 1984 has Officially Arrived in the US, courtesy of George W Bush, First Emperor of America. Rove admires Imperial Rome? Well, Karl, your dreams have just come true. Enjoy it while you can because in November–pffffft!

Today’s Toons

Tom Toles: Cheney Lays Down the Rules

Get Your War On: Complicated times call for simple language!

Tom Meyers: Kerry’s War Record v That Other Guy

John Branch: Bush Makes a Decision

Mike Keefe: Kerry Attack!

Ben Sargent: In the Pocket

C-TEG Plays At Being Spies

A while ago, I promised a series on intelligence agencies and how they work. This isn’t it. I’m still wading through a ton of material, finding whatever I can of it that’s online (I’m trying to emulate Seattle, which is bloody hard, and source as much as I can), and organizing my notes. But after reading a piece in today’s NYT on Doug Feith and his Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (C-TEG), there are a few comments I wanted to make that you can consider a lead-up to the Intelligence series. Call it a “Preface”. Or “An Extended Preliminary Note”. Or a “Watermelon.” Whatever floats your boat.

Most of this material was originally unearthed by Sy Hersh and published in The New Yorker (I’ll be quoting a LOT of it in the series) over several issues of the mag some months ago, so the NYT is, as usual, a little late getting on the bus. Nevertheless, reporter James Risen’s portrait of C-TEG and the controversy that swirled around it inside the IC is reasonably accurate. You should go read it. However, I’m not going to deconstruct this article now. What I want to do is call your attention to a few fundamental facts of intelligence-gathering before you read it so you have a context in which to put it.

C-TEG consisted of only two men–Michael Maloof and David Wurmser–and they were charged by Feith, Def-Undersec for Policy, with “re-evaluating” raw intelligence data. Feith, one of Newt Gingrich’s cadre of neocon altar boys, was convinced that the standard intelligence services were hiding or downgrading important information about Saddam’s links with Mid-East terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, and the strength and sophistication of his WMD program either because they were filled with Democratic holdovers or because they were, as Gingrich said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in the fall of 2002, simply and irretrievably incompetent.

Gingrich has no experience in intelligence; neither has Feith; neither have Maloof and Wurmser, two more Gingrich accolytes. So how did they know all this “vital information” was being withheld by the IC? They “knew it” because they were all devotees of and True Believers in Laurie Mylroie’s conspiracy theory that Hussein was the Professor Moriarty of terrorism–that he was the planner, motivator, and funder of every Islamic terrorist group in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and AQ, and that he was even behind the bombing of the Murra Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Here’s Maloof showcasing a classic example of neocon naivete in action:

“We discovered tons of raw intelligence,” said Michael Maloof, one of the pair. “We were stunned that we couldn’t find any mention of it in the C.I.A.’s finished reports.”

Stunned. “Raw intelligence” consists of unconfirmed reports, unsubstatiated rumors, gossip, and outright lies told by informers to gain some desired advantage. It isn’t included in finished reports because most of it–as much as 95%–is plain, unadulterated garbage, inaccurate and meaningless. But Mr Malloof clearly didn’t know that. What’s worse, he didn’t care.

“I don’t have any problem with them bringing in a couple of people to take another look at the intelligence and challenge the assessments,” said Patrick Lang, a former Middle East analyst for the D.I.A. “But the problem is that they brought in people who were not intelligence professionals, people brought in because they thought like them. They knew what answers they were going to get.”

Feith responds to the charges with a challenge:

“I would be happy to have anybody come in and examine the quality of the work, whether it is supported by the data, whether it is logical, whether it is well-reasoned,” he said.

Here’s the problem: that “anybody” needs to be qualified and Feith doesn’t know that. “Anybody with intellegence experience” who looks at that data is going to be searching for confirmation and corroboration; when they don’t find it, they’re going to do what the IC has already done: label the C-TEG analysis worthless and throw it in the circular file. But if “anybody without intelligence experience” looks at that data, it might on the surface seem to be relevant, even significant, and they’ll wonder why it wasn’t in the reports.

What we have here is the worst possible combination of weaknesses for intelligence analysts: a pre-ordained agenda, a startling degree of naivete, a total lack of experience or training in the field, zero knowledge of how intelligence-gathering works–they didn’t even know as much as you would know if you read a couple of books–and a level of gullibility that strains belief. These guys were prepared to believe virtually anything that seemed to fit or confirm Mylroie’s wacked-out fantasies and to pass it on as if it were the Gospel. Which is, in fact, exactly what they did.

Mr. Feith said his group was not set up as a rival to the C.I.A. “This is what policy people do all the time, they read the existing intelligence,” he said. “We were not bypassing, we were not being secretive, we were not cutting the intel community out of this.” (emphasis added)

But you weren’t reading “the existing intelligence”, Mr Feith. You were reading the existing gossip, rumors, innuendos, and lies in a raw data file. Not quite the same thing.

But you didn’t understand that, did you, Mr Feith? And you still don’t.

These are the nincompoops, the naifs, the extraordinarily gullible James Bond wanna-be’s who justified this war for Junior. These are kids playing at being spies in the backyard, adolescents whose only knowledge of the grown-up intelligence world came from Ian Fleming, Matt Helm, and–gawd help us–Newt Gingrich.

No wonder they made such a mess.

Quotes of the Day

No matter how you measure it, the economy is the best it’s been in ten years.–Tom DeLay

What is it with you guys? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?–Joe Turner (Robert Redford, Three Days of the Condor)

Recession means that people’s incomes, at the employer level, are going down, basically, relative to costs, people are getting laid off.–George W Bush

He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.— T. S. Eliot

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.–Douglas Adams

Path to Pandemonium

Stan Goff, a former member of the special forces, has written an excellent timeline of the mess our government has gotten us into in Iraq. From the first sentence, you can see Goff’s attitude toward understanding the problem: “It is always important to ask why we start history when.”

When our government has played a less than honorable role in history, whether in recent events or in events of the distant past, most pundits in the mainstream press take one of three approaches:

1. Ignore the history all together.

2. Distort the history into portraying our government as having played an honorable role.

3. Reluctantly acknowledge the mistake, but then invoke the doctrine of “change of course” – well yes, we did make a mistake back then, but it was innocent and we meant well and it surely has no predictive value for the future and we wouldn’t do that again, etc.

This attitude toward history leads to absurdities like W going on and on about how Saddam used chemical weapons without ever mentioning the fact that his dad and members of his administration helped Saddam acquire and use those weapons. Entirely predictably, the American press doesn’t have the integrity to point out this gaping hole in Bush’s logic, so most Americans end up ignorant of these inconvenient facts. Anyway, Goff doesn’t take this dishonest and counterproductive approach to political analysis. He logically lays out cause and effect in this historically accurate timeline. It takes a long time to read the whole thing, but it’s well worth it. You’ll be left thinking that we better get the hell out of Iraq ASAP. And you’ll be right.

Thanks to Kryton over at the Christopher Lydon site for calling this timeline to my attention.

Boondocks, Racism, and Stereotypes

Phaedrus’ two weeks off seems to have kinetically re-charged his batteries. In a brilliant essay on Aaron MacGruder and Boondocks, he takes on the definitions of racism and political correctness in America, and argues that left-wing stereotypes are just as damaging as those from the right.

Not to be missed. Go. Read. Think.

Kerry Fights Back, But Is It Enough?

In a post called “Is the Kerry Campaign On Vacation, Or What?”, I questioned their failure to take advantage of Junior’s voluminous troubles during the whole month of April. While Bush was squirming over Fallujah, the 9/11 Commission hearings, and Bob Woodward’s book, among other body-blows, Kerry and his staff were sitting it out, giving Karl time to regroup. I thought that was a BAD tactical mistake. ThatColoredFellasweblog took issue with that (our discussion in Comments is here), and while he made some good points, I think he’s underestimating the danger of letting opportunities like this slip by. Assuming that Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett are going to go on making mistakes for the rest of the campaign, or that voters are seeing through the pervasive lies and constant deception of the Bushies at long last, is a high-risk gamble at best, the kind of laissez-faire strategy that blows up in your face more often than not.

So it was with some relief that I noted he is at least re-active if not pro-active, though it’s worrying that it took a nasty personal assault on his military service to get him to move off the dime.

CANONSBURG, Pa. — Senator John F. Kerry moved yesterday to shield his own war hero image from new doubts about whether he threw his Vietnam War medals away at a 1971 antiwar protest, while sharply questioning President Bush’s National Guard record in the 1970s.Kerry angrily accused ABC News and the Republican National Committee of creating ”a phony controversy” by portraying him as both unpatriotic for throwing away US medals and inconsistent because his details of the event have changed over time.

The senator has long said that he threw away his war ribbons — but kept his medals — at the rally on April 23, 1971.

In response to this typical RNC slime job, he hit back by finally raising the issue of the questions surrounding Bush’s “military service”–or lack of it.

Then Kerry turned the issue against the president, saying for the first time that Bush was far more vulnerable on matters of Vietnam-era choices because of questions about whether he completed his service in the Texas Air National Guard. ”He owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it,” Kerry told NBC.

‘This comes from a president and a Republican Party that can’t even answer whether or not [Bush] showed up for duty in the National Guard,” Kerry said on ABC’s ”Good Morning America,” the first of three assaults on Bush directly. ”I’m not going to stand for it.”

Better late than never, I suppose. But as glad as I am to see he’s still at least semi-awake, it continues to bother me that he made no attempt to capitalize on Junior’s April floundering. I’ve said before–and it bears repeating–that the Bushies are bullies and bullies only respect opponents who attack as fiercely and unrelentingly as they do. Bert at TCF responded by saying that there was no reason for the Democrats to sink to the RNC level of “lies and deceptions”. But there’s no need to do that. What Kerry needs to do is tell the truth, pound away at the lies and deceptions of BushCo unceasingly until it’s part of the air we breathe.

I live in Central Mass (Kerry’s state, mind you), miles and miles from the liberal Hub, and I can say without reservation that most people have no idea how much or how often the BA lies. About as far as they’ve got is the understanding that Bush lied about the WMD’s in Iraq, and it troubles them. But they’re just about willing to let him get away with blaming “intelligence” (meaning the CIA) and give him a pass. Between now and November, Kerry has got to make it clear to the average voter that BushCo lies about everything, that they can’t be trusted on taxes, the economy, the war, the occupation, the environment, or even science. He had a golden opportunity this month to make major gains in that effort–Junior was handing him material on a platter–and he blew it.

It’s not like it would have been hard. All Kerry had to say about the uprising, for example, was something like this: “When you lie about everything as often as this Administration does, you’re bound to provoke a reaction. The President promised the Iraqis a free press for the first time in decades–and then shut down an Arab newspaper. He promised them a democratic govt in which they could control their own country–and then refused to agree to any compromise that would allow any future Iraqi govt to make meaningful decisions about its own destiny. The Iraqi people have been betrayed by this Administration over and over again, one broken promise after another, one lie following another in a long line. The first thing we need to do to calm this situation is to stop lying to the Iraqi people and honor our promises. America’s word used to be her bond. Under this President, it means nothing. That has to change.”

That was easy, wasn’t it?

As I said at TCF: This is not encouraging. Not encouraging at all.

The Weekly Best-Of List

Best Name for a Security Company Supplying Mercenaries to Iraq: Custer Battles.

Best Quote of the Week on Fallujah:

[A]s another senior officer put it, “We have the potential to turn this into the Alamo if we get it wrong.”

Clearest Explanation of the Bushian World View: Grover Norquist

“Americans don’t care about the rest of the world. If they mess with us, go blow them up, and don’t bother me, y’know—don’t sit and talk about it all day. You went out and blew up the nice Taliban. Good. O.K. Next. What are you doing for me?”

Best Bonehead Political Move of the Week: Dick Cheney’s attack on Kerry’s military record. (Kerry promptly released 120 pages of glowing recommendations from his superiors and began to question–finally!–Chicken George’s non-service).

Most Orwellian Moment: The White House “Presidents” webpage. (see Seattle’s post just below)

Best Example of the Way the PATRIOT Act Is Being Used: The trial of an Islamic grad student because he maintained websites the govt didn’t care for.

A World-Around-Us News-Quiz

“Guess Who?”–A World-Around-Us News-Quiz

There are countries besides Iraq?

Thomas Jefferson as Dubya Prototype

by Seattle

The White House is recasting Thomas Jefferson as sort of an early version of W. For example, they’ve changed him from being a Democratic proponent of separation of church and state to a Republican fundamentalist Christian. They’ve taken similar liberties with the biographies of John Adams and James Madison. The degree to which this administration will politicize everything is remarkable – but no longer surprising.

An HHS Crackdown on States? Or Kids?

The NY Times reports today that Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has initiated–or appears to have initiated; when dealing with “good news” coming out of the Bush Admin, I’ve learned to be very cautious–a crackdown, finally, on the scandalous treatment of child welfare programs in a number of states, including Florida, which gained national attention several times last year when children who were supposed to be in the care of the state due to abusive parents either died unaccountably or simply disappeared from the system altogether. Similar, if less drastic, faults exist in a number of states.

The federal report was based on a review of state data and case files, as well as interviews with children, their biological parents, foster and adoptive parents, social workers and juvenile and family court judges.Federal officials repeatedly cited states for certain deficiencies: significant numbers of children suffering abuse or neglect more than once in a six-month period; caseworkers not visiting children often enough to assess their needs; and not providing promised medical and mental health services.


Federal officials said 16 states did not meet any of the seven standards. These states were Alaska, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The sad truth is that child welfare funds have been cut by a LOT of states in an effort to reduce debt. Federal money to support such programs was one of the first items to be cut in the new Republican govt’s budget, cuts which, along with cuts in state budgets, helped pauperize child welfare programs all over the country. Bob Herbert pointed out in one of his columns a while back attacking the tragedies in Florida (no longer available online) that child welfare workers there were responsible for as many as 400 cases apiece because of cuts in personnel–ten times as many as the maximum suggested by Federal guidelines.

Every one of the flaws mentioned in the HHS report is directly traceable to Federal or state funding cuts, yet the HHS-Sec isn’t proposing new money to cover the shortfalls–not in Junior’s corporate-owned Admin, he’s not–but penalties that will make the money crunch even worse.

The federal government provides $7 billion a year to states for foster care, adoption assistance and other child welfare programs. If states do not correct the deficiencies, they stand to lose some of the money.Penalties are estimated at $18.2 million for California, $3.6 million for Florida, $3.5 million for Texas, $3 million for Pennsylvania, $2.5 million each for Ohio and Michigan, and $2.3 million for New York.

The penalties, if enacted, will require yet more program and personnel cuts and weaken already tenuous state systems possibly to the breaking point. On the other hand, who wants to see the dangerously sloppy and inattentive way states have shoveled the problems of at-risk children onto the back burner continue?

I suspect that Tommy, who had, shall we say, a “mixed” record while Gov of Wisconsin, is going for an easy political kill here, like his so-called “Children First” program in Wisconsin which used the hot “deadbeat Dads” controversy to shift some of the state’s responsibilities for the care and protection of children from indigent families onto the backs of fathers who couldn’t pay their child support.

On the other hand, there was Tommy’s showpiece, “Wisconsin Works”, his version of the 1996 Congressional mandate to reform Welfare. Unlike the lazy, not to say mean, “make-’em-go-to-work-and-damn-everything-else” approach taken by many states’ govs, Tommy actually crafted an intelligent program that provided job training and financial and educational support to families on welfare (a model, incidentally, that was developed and tested in a small way in pilot programs in the early and mid-80’s right here in MA and then promptly defunded and totally ignored when it worked; I know–I was there). W2, as it was called, successfully put some 90% of welfare families into real jobs and off the state welfare rolls, many of them for good.

So that’s my problem: Is this a shot-across-the-bow in a war against the budget-cutters who are doing all the damage? Tommy’s way of announcing that he wants HHS’ funds restored? Or is it an s-across-the-b in a new war on children by the BA, infamous for its bait-and-switch tactics?

I know which way I’m leaning, but then I’m a cynic.