For some time now, the FBI has insisted that it is using the Patriot Act's national security letters function with caution and discretion. National security letters were used by the agency between 2003 and 2005 to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents and visitors, and a court order is not required to issue one. Corporations and other organizations receiving national securing letters are told that part of federal compliance is that they keep the request and the reply secret.

The FBI reported that it had sent only "about 9,000" national security letters, when--in fact--it had sent between 19,000 and 50,000, depending on who you ask or how the data is interpreted. At any rate, there is no doubt that they sent many more than they claim to have sent, and the figure seems to be in the several-thousand area. More significant, a sampling of the letters, investigated by the Justice Department, indicates 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations.

Because the Patriot Act permits the gathering of personal information from persons not alleged to be spies or terrorists, the potential to abuse the national security letter function was obvious to many of us from the beginning, but both the FBI and the Bush administration insisted, over and over, that no abuses were taking place. You can call it incompetence or you can call it lying, but the bottom line is that abuses were taking place all the time.

Lanny Davis, a member of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, says that a recent briefing by the FBI left him "very concerned about what I regard to be serious potential infringements of privacy and civil liberties by the FBI and their use of national security letters. It is my impression that they too regard this as very serious."

In the Justice Department report are many examples of FBI agents having used "exigent letters" to get fast information under the condition that they would later cover the requests with either full national security letters or grand jury subpoenas--only the national security letters and subpoenas never surfaced. There were also several instances in which agents claimed exigent circumstances when none existed.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is said to be "incensed" over the report, and FBI director Robert S. Mueller III has taken full responsibility for the errors.

Thanks to Think Progress and NPR.

Here's the latest in the continuation of the epic Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit—a veritable Odyssey for our times, chronicled in Mother Jones (Sept-Oct 2005) "Accounting Coup." Ten years and three Secretaries of the Interior have passed since Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet banker and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, filed suit against the government, in pursuit of money long overdue her and 500,000 Indians. Background from the MoJo article:

[Cobell's] fight takes the forms of Cobell v. Norton [now Kempthorne], a federal lawsuit on behalf of a half-million Indians across America whose individual property is held in trust by the Department of the Interior… Interior leases these private Indian lands to oil, timber, and agricultural corporations and other commercial entities, then pays the Indians the revenues those leases yield. But Cobell claims the government has been grossly negligent in its 118 years of managing the Individual Indian Trust, treating the Indians not as clients and beneficiaries but as easy marks.

While generations of non-Indians have become rich harvesting the abundant resources of private Indian lands—which once included virtually all the oil fields of Oklahoma—Indian landowners have been paid only erratically, and far less than their due. Consequently, even landowning Indians remain among the nation's poorest citizens, joining the 23 percent of Indians in America living in poverty, and the nearly 40 percent who are unemployed. Some tribes fare even worse, and the Blackfeet suffer a 34 percent poverty rate and a 70 percent unemployment rate. Overall, Indians are more than twice as poor as the average American.

Cobell filed her lawsuit in 1996 after years of kinder entreaties failed, demanding payment of all unpaid revenues from Indian leases for the past century, a tally of past revenues, and a new accounting system to deal with future revenues. According to Cobell's forensic accountants, the government owes $176 billion to individual Indian landowners, averaging $352,000 per plaintiff, making this monetarily the largest class-action lawsuit ever launched.

Now the government has proposed paying $7 billion. Seems like a lot, right? But with those monies Interior hopes to settle Cobell's lawsuit on behalf of the Individual Indian Trust and a whole lot more. Hey, this is the kind of accounting we should all get to practise when it comes time to pay our taxes… From

The money would end the more than 250 tribal cases as well as the billion-dollar Cobell lawsuit over individual Indian funds. In exchange, the administration demands Congress extinguish the government's liability for all future trust claims. Not only would the money be used to resolve the lawsuits, it would be used to pay for trust reform programs at the Interior Department. In the letter, Gonzales and Kempthorne cite fractionation, information technology security and a controversial initiative to shift all management duties to tribes and individual Indians.

The proposal was immediately met with resistance from the Cobell plaintiffs. Keith Harper, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the plaintiffs, called it a "bad faith offer. You cannot say that you have a potentially $200 billion liability [for tribes] and try to settle that, plus Cobell, plus trust reform, plus IT security, for $7 billion," he said yesterday… The offer is also likely to draw objections from tribal leaders, who rejected the same proposal last fall when it was released by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

More from an update on

Far from settling the long-running, acrimonious Cobell case, the government proposes that Indian beneficiaries further litigate the Cobell case. At the same time, the government's letter is an open invitation to more litigation.

Just consider that Interior's own experts have estimated that the government's liability in the Cobell case (excluding all other claims) to be at least $10 billion, and that it could exceed $40 billion. Now consider that the Kempthorne-Gonzales letter proposes a $7 billion cap that eliminates "all existing and potential individual and tribal claims for trust accounting, cash and land mismanagement, and other related claims, along with the resolution of other related matters . . . that permit recurrence of . . . litigation."

The scope is breathtaking, and the injury to Indians everywhere can only be described as catastrophic. The Attorney General himself has said that the tribal accounts alone are valued at $200 billion.

Notable though: the letter is the first time the administration has offered any type of number in association with the trust debacle. The AP via the Great Falls Tribune reports:

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he will hold hearings on the proposal and said the settlement offer is the first time the federal government has acknowledged a multibillion dollar liability for mismanagement of the trust funds over the past century.

Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said the department looks forward to working with Congress on the proposal. Congress has attempted to wade into the dispute in recent years, but has yet to find resolution. "We believe this proposal looks to the future," he said.

Yeah, right. Same old stonewalling, double-crossing future, more like it.

Now maybe I'm just the liberal rabble-rouser the right likes to believe I am, but pardon Libby: huh? A political scandal that ends in jail time for someone who worked in the White House is one that has real heft to it. But even the liberal(ish) American Prospect is calling for a pardon.

Now to play devil's advocate for a moment: Say this is a political battle, left and right in the trenches. How many of the right came to the left's aid during Clinton's absurd political persecution (cherry on the top of which sundae came today when henchman Newt Gingrich admitted that he was having an affair at the time he was impeaching Clinton for having an affair)? Precious few. Not only that, but many Democrats and leftists broke ranks to speak out against Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. And the case for doing partisan battle has never been stronger: This administration is shredding the constitution and making every department of the government partisan from top to bottom. (For a micro-tour, click here and here.)

Now let's take the arguments on their face. The Prospect says we should pardon Libby because "The offenses of which [he] has been convicted pale in comparison with the high crimes that have gotten us trapped in Iraq and that, even now, remain unacknowledged and largely unpunished." Say what? The column reads like a celebration that finally someone in this corrupt administration has been taken to task with "pardon Libby" stuck on the top and the bottom. The time has already been spent going after Libby—even if "he's small potatoes" were a good argument, it would have made sense a year ago but not now. It's not a good argument: If you work in the White House, don't lie on the stand in a probe about endangering the life of someone serving her country. Cover up for someone higher, do time.

Word to the Prospect: You know your argument is messed up when you agree with Tom DeLay. Here's the illogical platitude the oustered uber-partisan House leader offered: "In their wisdom, our Founding Fathers gave our chief executive the authority to issue pardons in order to better balance the scales of justice." Which is even more ironic than it seems given that pleas for a pardon come amid revelations that the Bush Justice Department fired prosecutors who weren't sufficiently partisan. Balance the scales of justice? More like sit their fat white asses on the right side.

As pathetic as the Republican hunt for a nominee already is, it just got worse.

Rudy Giuliani has had no luck wooing conservatives, but you'd think America's mayor would at least get the firefighter vote. Nope. Turns out many of New York's finest think Giuliani botched the Ground Zero clean up and showed blatant indifference for the ladders' losses. In fact, Giuliani was to be the one '08 candidate they didn't invite to speak at an upcoming forum, a leaked union letter [PDF] reveals. They relented, Rudy accepted, and then bowed out shortly thereafter.

Countdown on his candidacy is on.

Calling an anti-Bush website was a stroke of genius that continues to pay off.

Remember Timothy Griffin, who replaced H. E. Cummins when the latter was unceremoniously sacked for not playing hardball with the Bush administration? Well Tim accidentally sent emails meant for senior RNC staff about a vote suppression scam he was running to addresses instead of

The suppression scam, explained on Greg Palast's blog (H/T AlterNet), specifically targeted blacks and Latinos (and soldiers and the poor). That's a felony. But instead of firing or investigating old Timmy boy, the Bush administration fired the respectable Cummins specifically to make room for Griffin. An old buddy of Rove's, he's exactly their kind of guy.

David Cay Johnston covers taxes for the New York Times in the tradition of the very best muckraking journalists. Here's what I wrote about Johnston in an introduction to a long interview I did with him a year ago:

David Cay Johnston is one of the few people in the United States who's exposing the American tax code for what it is: backwards socialism. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter for the New York Times, Johnston has, over the past nine years, uncovered the inner workings of a system that coddles, aids, and abets the rich in their various attempts to get out of paying taxes, forcing the upper-middle, middle, and working classes to pay for government on their own.
As Johnston showed in his book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—And Cheat Everybody Else, few people have really closely examined the intricate loopholes, devices, dodges, and shelters that allow corporations and superrich individuals to pay shockingly little in taxes.

Johnston exposed $262 billion in tax fraud from his post at the Times and broke the story that Enron had used various offshore devices to avoid paying any taxes at all. If you've ever hated paying your taxes and had a creeping feeling that corporations and those in higher tax brackets aren't feeling the burden they way you are, take a look at what Johnston has to say.

Today, Johnston reports that the Bush Administration's push to privatize government has reached the tax code, compromising it in critical ways.

The Internal Revenue Service is asking tax lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes to take the lead in writing some of its new tax rules.

Hey, if you let energy executives write energy policy, why not let dirty tax lawyers write the tax code? But while some are critical of the move -- "Why don't we just privatize Congress and outsource the development of our laws?" asked the director of a research and advocacy non-profit, who noted that the outsourcing of regulation was reaching the point of absurdity -- others see this as a formalization of a problem that already secretly plagues the system:

Kenneth J. Kies, one of the most sought-after tax lobbyists in Washington, said the proposal "merely formalizes" the practice of lawyers sending the I.R.S. letters "saying, 'We think you need to issue some guidance in an area and here is our suggestion.'" He said a formal process would be more transparent.

Further reason to believed that all-consuming cynicism is warranted when thinking about the federal government. It's not enough that all of Bush's agencies and departments are in the pocket of big business -- the IRS needs to be in the pocket of the folks who do big business' taxes. So that way, rich CEOs can both play the game on an uneven playing field and not have to pay any taxes on the winnings.

(Hat Tip, Kevin Drum)

He admitted this in an interview with Focus on the Family that will air today. No big deal though, because Gingrich has repented. "I've gotten on my knees and sought God's forgiveness," he says. Now that that's been taken care of, it's on to selling his new book: "Rediscovering God in America."

It's all anyone is talking about. Will Bush pardon Libby? The Dems are urging the president not to. Libby allies are pushing hard and fast for an immediate pardon. Bush has said he will stay out of it for now.

Jonathan points out we should really move "past Libby and take a look at all the other players (Read: Cheney) in this sordid drama." I couldn't agree more, but there is one interesting question which Newsweek posed a few days back. Can Bush pardon Libby even if he wanted to? According to Newsweek, he can't. The VP's chief of staff "does not qualify to even be considered for a presidential pardon under Justice Department guidelines," reads the article. Here are the guidelines.

Well, so this isn't exactly true, because not all presidents follow these guidelines. But Bush has, so it could make the prospect for a pardon from him unlikely. Bush has been both stringent with the number of pardons that he has granted as well as with the manner in which he has granted them. One guideline that could impede Libby's pardon prospects is that a petitioner must wait five years or until released from confinement to file a pardon application. There is also the issue of acceptance of guilt, which according to Jonathan Turley, a GW law prof. I contacted for more information on this issue, is a "threshold expectation among pardon attorneys."

But really, I wonder if any of this matters. With pressure from Cheney and Libby allies, will Bush uphold his frugal pardon track record? Maybe not. According to Turley, if Bush pardons Libby, the controversy would indeed be escalated considering his refusal to pardon so many others, but he notes that Bush has one thing going for him -- low ratings. "It is hard to get any lower," says Turley. "He is down to the true believers and Koolaid drinkers at this point." Maybe Libby will get lucky.

We were remiss in not posting this yesterday, but here are some quick links to help you celebrate (?) International Women's Day one day late.

Jessica at Feministing has a video post describing International Women's Day events around the world.

Katha Pollitt has a post at TPM Cafe that hits on a lot of topics.

Here's the official website and you can find the history of International Women's Day on Wikipedia.

Via ThinkProgress, take a look at the different local reactions to President Clinton's 1997 trip to Brazil and GWB's current trip.