Thursday, May 11, 2006

More NSA snooping

Wow! Remember when Bush said that they were only tapping international phone calls and that all our domestic phone calls were safe? Well, he forgot to mention that the NSA was compiling data on all our domestic calls too.

In a hastily arranged appearance before reporters at the White House, Bush reacted to a USA Today report that says the National Security Agency has been secretly using records provided by the three largest American telephone companies to build a massive database of foreign and domestic phone calls. The program was launched shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the aim of analyzing calling patterns to detect terrorist activity, the paper reported. The effort involves collecting phone numbers but does not entail recording or eavesdropping on phone conversations, it said.
The NSA declined comment, saying only that it "operates within the law."
In his statement, Bush denied that the government listens to domestic phone calls without court approval and maintained that "the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities."
"We are not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said. "Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaeda and their known affiliates."

Is that supposed to make me feel better? Bush says you don’t have anything to worry about unless you are a terrorist or maybe a terrorist sympathizer (i.e. anyone opposed to the Bush administration’s so called “War on Terror”).

I like the lead from this story from

The allegations that the federal government has been secretly tracking the calls of millions of Americans, aided by three major telephone companies, will doubtless inflame privacy advocates and Democrats.

Got that? Privacy advocates and Democrats will be upset. Republicans are apparently OK with this. The phone companies turn over all your personal phone records to the feds and the Republicans don’t even bat an eye. Amazing!

Well, some Republicans are batting their eyes like Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who says he will call executives of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon "to see if we can learn some of the underlying facts."
But it remains to be seen if he will follow through with anything other than a whitewash investigation.

Texas Blogs Left and Right

I was flattered the other day to find that my humble blog was included in a wrapup piece on Texas blogs entitled "A Guide To Texas Blogs Left and Right" that Vince Liebowitz of Capitol Annex put together for Dallas Blogs.
Liebowitz did yeoman's work pulling together his list which includes brief descriptions and background info on most of the sites. It is one of the best roundups I have seen and it is clear that Liebowitz is well versed on the Texas blogosphere. He highlights many excellent sites that I had been unfamiliar with.

While no one can pull together a completely comprehensive list of Texas political blogs, I would just point out a few sites that were overlooked in his list. Most prominently in my view is my friend Bill Crawford's excellent All Things Conservative based here in San Antonio which has become a popular hangout for conservatives looking for good news about the war in Iraq. Bill has even landed a regular gig at National Review Online writing a weekly column on that topic. While the site is decidedly conservative, Bill's open-minded tolerance of dissenting views makes it a good place for folks on the right and left to go and debate the issues of the day.
Also on the right-side of the spectrum is my friend Ranten Raven's The View From The Nest? also based here in the Alamo City.
And another Texas Lefty blog that got overlooked is Peter Bryant's excellent B and B with its focus on progressive politics, science and environmental issues.
Also missed was my friend Libertas who blogs at The Price of Liberty is Vigilance His eclectic libertarianism makes him hard to pigeonhole on either the right or left side of the political spectrum, but he is definitely a must read for people on both sides.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Privatization debacle

The Express-News has a lead story today about a state privatization deal gone sour.

Effective immediately, state workers again will be responsible for processing applications for assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid after myriad problems resulted with the private company hired to do the job.
Bermuda-based Accenture LLP won an $899 million, five-year contract early last year to take over the state's public assistance eligibility system.

Bermuda-based??? That should have been the first clue that something was seriously wrong with this deal. Companies base themselves in Bermuda to avoid paying U.S. taxes, so why would any government entity think that such a company would have the best interests of its citizens in mind?

The story does not give you a clear idea of who should be held responsible for this debacle, but it’s no secret that the Republicans who have taken charge of the state government have always insisted that privatization is the miracle cure for all that ails us. Unfortunately, we are now finding out what a bitter aftertaste that snake oil really has:

State eligibility offices are understaffed because of the departure of thousands of state workers who feared they would lose their jobs when Accenture took over.
Those understaffed state offices now will be required to deal with thousands of cases that are to be transferred out of Accenture's control.

Then there are the workers who were hired by the Bermuda-based company to staff their call centers who are now in limbo:

The system operated by Accenture includes four privately run call centers around the state that eventually will replace hundreds of local offices staffed by state workers. Already, the San Antonio call center, which is to serve a large swath of South Texas, has become the largest in the state, employing more than 500 workers.
It is not clear what other tasks the private workers will be performing because the jobs they were supposed to do will now be done by public employees.

I wonder how much money Texas taxpayers are going to be out as a result of this mess.

The Party of Fiscal Irresponsibility strikes again

Republicans desperate to regain an edge before the mid-term elections have finally settled on an answer: bribe voters with a $70 billion tax cut.

House and Senate Republican negotiators reached a final agreement yesterday on a five-year, nearly $70 billion tax package that would extend President Bush's deep cuts to tax rates on dividends and capital gains, while sparing about 15 million middle-income Americans from the alternative minimum tax.

Nevermind that the federal debt is setting new records everyday, cutting taxes (and raising the debt limit) is the only thing this crowd knows how to do. With the Republicans, it’s cake and cookies at every meal, with a big helping of whipped cream on the side. Eat all you want! Don’t worry about tomorrow! That’s the Republican mantra these past five years.

That’s fine if you prefer a weak, emaciated government that is incapable of responding adequately to national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, but if you would prefer to have a government that is strong enough to protect its citizens then we are going to have to put the grown-ups back in charge of things come this November.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

E-N discovers blogging - in Austin

I guess all us local San Antonio bloggers just aren't exciting enough for our local newspaper the Express-News. They had to go all the way to Austin today to profile some blogger I'd never heard of for a piece touting the rising popularity of blogging.
Stephanie Klein, who writes a blog called Greek Tragedy got the fawning attention of our local paper mainly because she had already been written up by the New York Times before moving recently to Austin from the Big Apple.
It's not that I'm jealous or anything (ahem), it's just that they might look around sometime and notice that they have some ,fairly prominent and up-and-coming bloggers right here in their own backyard.