Saturday, July 31, 2004
If We Can't Let Them Eat Cake.... In an apparent example of compassionate conservatism, a Bush campaign spokeswoman says people earning less should simply look for a new job, or take Prozac. I'm not making this up. Those were the words actually heard by a reporter. But can you afford Prozac if you don't have health insurance?
Pass the Airsickness Bags. Even if you aren't flying, you could wind up with a hefty airline ticket. Big companies that can't figure out how to turn a profit are turning to taxpayers. The New York Times reports you could be stuck with a $150 to $200 billion (with a "B") bailout of the airlines.
Missouri -- the "Show Me the Money" State. The Air Force wants to retire it's aging F-15 Eagle fighters. They want the new F-22 Raptor-- which at $150 million each, are about twice as expensive. The Air Force says they're worth every penny. The F-15 was cutting edge fighter plane technology -- back when disco was cutting edge music and we all thought afros looked OK on white people. Standing in the way of Air Force plans to retire the antique plane is Senator Chris Bond (R-MO). Oh, did I mention, the old F-15s are built in his state?
175-Grand Just Doesn't Go as Far as it Used To. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge thinks it may be time to cash in on his Homeland Security experience. It would be worth millions a year in the private sector. And he complains about making ONLY $175,700 a year. He says he can't put his kids through college on that! Maybe he could ask the Bush Administration for a student loan?
Hurry up and Wait to Spend that Cash. The White House was in a bind last fall, they needed cash for Iraq and they needed it fast. They got Congress to shell out $18 billion (with a "B"). Now, months later, it turns out the White House has spent only about 2% of that money. What a rush!
Sure, You Can Trust These Guys. You've got nearly $30 billion (with a "B") in tax money tied up in private contracts in Iraq. The White House wanted to speed Iraq's rebuilding, so they liked the idea of letting contractors slip around competitive bids. Business ethics would keep those big businesses in line, right? So why is the Coalition Provisional Authority's Inspector General launching 69 criminal probes?
If Only the Statue of Liberty was a 'Hooters Girl.' Washington was willing to spend millions to help build a "Hooters" in Louisiana. But nearly three years after 9/11, the Statue of Liberty is still closed to Americans due to money problems.
Get a Real Job. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) vetoed a bill to raise New York's minimum wage by two bucks an hour. He claims it'd drive jobs out of New York. Funny, he agreed to a 38% raise for New York lawmakers back in 1998, and they're still around. Governor Pataki is hosting the hottest parties in town during the upcoming Republican National Convention. The waiters can look forward to keeping their pay -- and no telling what they'll put in attendees' drinks.
Something's in the Air. And they've found the memo to prove it. The Bush EPA said the air around the World Trade Center was fine. Now a memo from the Bush EPA shows they knew better. Guess we can all breathe easier now.
Tony Soprano would be shocked--shocked, I tell you! Can you believe it? A New Jersey trash hauler accused of extortion and bribery!?! Trash hauling is an honored profession in New Jersey -- where trash haulers like this one can pal around with Gov. James E. McGreevey (D).
Bubba Soprano would be shocked--shocked, I tell you! Farther south, South Carolina Ag Commissioner Charles Sharpe (R) is indicted in a cockfighting scandal. As if there could be a cockfighting scandal in South Carolina.
Video Feature: Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz critiques the John Kerry campaign film.
From the RNC's Overkill Department: As if a politician can’t say stupid stuff on his own, the latest e-mail rumor has John Kerry saying something he never said. Snopes snooped it out.
Donald Rumsfeld takes center stage in London. Or at least an actor playing him in a ‘documentary’ stage presentation. And you thought Michael Moore was stretching the word with “Farhenheit 911.”
Friday, July 30, 2004
The Department of Veteran's Affairs spent millions on a new computer system for its hospitals. If you think you have problems with your desktop at home, think about what the VA got for it's money.
It delayed surgeries, triggered a Congressional investigation, and forced five top officials to resign.
The VA finally pulled the plug on the system that was supposed to cost taxpayers $472 million when finished.
But it never got beyond one hospital-Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida.
Hospital employees were left to themselves to figure out how the system was supposed to work. They never got the training the contractor promised. That meant the hospital's suppliers never got paid, orders for medical supplies never got placed, and surgeries got delayed.
The company that won the contract for the system is called BearingPoint. And even though they never taught VA employees how to use the system, they collected $200,000 in incentive bonuses for keeping the project on schedule.
The only things that didn't keep on schedule seemed to be bill payments, supply orders, and patient surgeries.
Now that the VA has scrapped the system, they don't know if they'll get any of your tax money back.
They do know they're going back to the old computer system. At least it's paid for.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
The St. Petersburg Times has a crazy hat photo gallery and CNN.com has an article.
Just a public service from your guy who's Watching Washington, while the Democrat Party is partying in Boston.
That's the word from the Inspector General's office of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Halliburton is the company Vice President Dick Cheney used to run. They've been running much of the reconstruction in Iraq since the war ended. Democrats often charge Halliburton gets favorable treatment because of that - avoiding things like having to bid on government contracts against competitors. Halliburton has earned $3.2 billion--with a "B"--in government contracts for Iraq's reconstruction. Now the CPA says Halliburton has lost $18.6 million of government property they were supposed to take care of.
They were given $61 million dollars of your stuff to take care of. That included things like trucks, computers, and office furniture.
The Inspector General audited the fine folks at Halliburton. They found Halliburton could not account for nearly a third of the taxpayer owned equipment they were supposed to manage.
The Inspector General's Office figures Halliburton can't account for a total of 6,975 items from an inventory list of 20,531.
Like I said, Vice President Dick Cheney used to run Halliburton. Think anyone thought to look for the missing stuff in some 'secure, undisclosed location?'
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
It just changed the way corporations, unions, and rich folks funnel money to politicians.
A lot of that money is pouring into something politicians call "527s" after the section of the tax code that regulates them. They're independent political groups hell-bent on a specific political bent.
Most of them support Democrats, such as the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together - which happen to be the two 527s with the most money.
And The Hill reports they are spreading the wealth amongst political consultants and media buyers.
There's still plenty of conventional givers to political parties. The Seattle Times ran a list of the 50 biggest players so far this year.
And the Center for Responsive Politics keeps track of political money all the time.
All this money to politicians buys access. Being able to shake hands with a politician and say something like, "I gave your party a million bucks in the last election," can help you get what you want out of Washington.
Don't think so?
Look at some of the legislation in Washington. How much of it really deals with changing rules for banks, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers? A lot.
Look at bills spending your tax dollars. How much of that money goes to big companies who gave big donations? Again, a lot.
Think about what Washington passes for special interests and how little really deals with the public interest. You might find some interesting results.
Look at history and you'll find you can't really take money out of politics. You can only move it around. But it always ends up in the same place.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
For our President, it seems to be a recurring theme.
President Bush took another tumble this week, mountain biking on his rather mountainless Texas ranch.
An Associated Press reporter was along for the ride.
Pedalling to his back-forty, through brush and along cow paths, the President's bike came to a sudden stop. The President didn't.
According to the intrepid reporter, President Bush sailed over his handlebars, landed flat on his back, and lay there motionless.
The reporter helped him up, and despite a cut on his knee, Mr. Bush insisted on finishing his ride. He told the reporter mountain biking has a "mind-clearing" effect.
As the President mounted his $3,100 mountain bike, the reporter asked him if he knew John Kerry had an $8,000 mountain bike.
The President only replied, "Who?"
'Mind-clearing?' Mr. President, it's called 'amnesia.'
Roll Call reports that four years ago, in Los Angeles, Democrats partied with Barbra Streisand, Cher, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It's quieter this year.
Back in 2000, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent $4 million on 23 top drawer parties at the LA convention. This week they've got only six.
The McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act means the Democrat and Republican Parties can't throw around that soft money any more. And it was soft money that let the parties party hard.
But not to worry for those poor conventioneers. Corporations are filling the void.
Let me be a little more clear - corporations wanting something from Washington are filling the void. They're picking up the tab for 200 little get-togethers. For instance, the fine folks at the American Gas Association are fueling a half-dozen parties at the Democrat and Republican Conventions this year. And picking up the $700,000 tab.
See, Democrats aren't alone. US News and World Report's “Washington Whispers” claims lobbyists are lining up for a “Pataki Pass” during the GOP Convention in New York.
It'll get you into a party a night:
- Monday at Cipriani 42nd Street
- Tuesday at Tavern on the Green
- Wednesday at the Copacabana
- Thursday Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
Intimate little soirees like that let lobbyists and politicians get real chummy.
But guess who won't be there. The media. No cameras, no reporters taking notes on what lobbyist is whispering sweet nothings in your Congressman's ear, no record of any deals made to spend your money.
And of course, taxpayers who'd like to know these things for themselves should not expect a "Pataki Pass" either.
But then, for taxpayers, the party's been over for a long time already.
Monday, July 26, 2004
Enlist now and get a boob job!
Service members and their families can now get breast enhancements or other plastic surgery. Thanks to the US taxpayer.
The New Yorker magazine reports that people serving in all four branches of the military can get the free surgery. Though patients have to supply their own implants. The magazine quotes an Army spokeswoman as saying, "the surgeons have to have someone to practice on."
And they've been practicing on a good number of people.
Between 2000 and 2003, military doctors performed 496 boob jobs. They did 1,361 liposuction surgeries, too. In the first three months of this year, they've done 60 breast enlargements and 260 liposuctions.Excuse me, I just have to get something off my chest.Maybe it's a case of “if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.”
Back in 2002, a Senate Hearing revealed that a one-time Department ofDefense employee used his government credit card to pay for his girlfriend's breast enlargements. Actually, she was never really his girlfriend, just a waitress he met at a Jacksonville, Florida, “Hooters.” She dumped him after he spent $35,000 in taxpayers' money trying to win her over.
Good thing it wasn't his own money.
Now, he could just get her to enlist.
Actually, none of the military's recruiting literature mentions the free breast enhancements.
But think how the enemy might react - staring down a pair of loaded thirty-eights.
Just one hitch - you are not allowed to see it.
It's called the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS). You can go to the website: http://www.ppirs.gov/ , but you won't be able to tap into it. It's reserved for bureaucrats who decide what contractors to hire.
Washington spends $200 billion a year of your money on government contracts. PPIRS doesn't have info on all that money, but it does keep track of more than 300,000 companies paid with your tax dollars.
That's kind of important.
A General Accounting Office report back in February found that a lot of contractors - who are paid with your tax dollars - weren't paying their taxes.About 27,000 of them owed a combined $3 billion to the Treasury.
And the GAO found that a lot of them kept billing Uncle Sam, even as they failed to pay him what they owed.The GAO also found that the IRS didn't do much to track down the delinquent contractors.
They turned their report over to a Congressional subcommittee, but because of privacy laws, they weren't allowed to tell the names of the delinquent contractors, not even to the subcommittee. At the time, the Washington Post reported some interesting things about the report, and the subcommittee's reaction to it:
- The missing money includes payroll taxes -- Social Security and Medicare -- as well as income taxes
- Most appear to be small businesses.
- Musicians, dentists and repair people also appear on the list.
- Some cases involved substantial sums and clever accounting ideas to pocket money from the Defense Department.
Look at one case the GAO found:
- One contractor providing "base support and custodial services," collected $3.5 million in payments from Washington -- while owing nearly $10 million in back taxes.
- The owner borrowed $1 million from the business, and bought a boat, several cars and a home outside the country with business funds.
- The business was dissolved in 2003 and its employees were transferred to a related business.
- That new business now receives payments from the Defense Department.
The new database would be a great way to track down where money's going. Maybe the IRS could tap into it and make sure those making money off taxpayers are making tax payments like the rest of us. But, just like you and me, the IRS isn't allowed to check up on these contractors.
Even though you and I and the IRS can't tap into the database, we pay $500,000 a year to run it.
Wonder if that's paid to a contractor.
We could look it up…oh, yeah.
Saturday, July 24, 2004
That is the crude, raw, unvarnished bottom line of the report from the 9/11 Commission.
They wrote, bipartisan and unanimous: "The institutions charged with protecting our borders, civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or defeat it."
In an analysis article for the Washington Post, David Von Drehle pointed out the only thing that worked on 9/11.
"Only a small band of civilians, strangers to one another -- without benefit of staff meetings, bylaws, uniforms or task forces -- communicating by cell phone with loved ones who happened to be watching TV -- managed to figure out what was going on in time to thwart a guided-missile attack on Washington.
Brave passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 forced hijackers to crash the plane into an empty field far short of its target."
The word "hero" is over used these days. We slap it on just about anyone for just about anything. But it has to apply to those people who charged the cockpit door, were thrown away by the hijackers jerking and jenking the plane -- and who charged again.
The cockpit recorders caught it. Twice the hijackers prayed to Allah. Twice their prayers were ignored. Still the Americans charged the cockpit. In the first battle in a War Against Terror, the terrorists surrendered to American civilians. They crashed their missile miles short of their target.
The passengers and crew of Flight 93 deserve the title "heroes" -- and they deserve more.
I know, because I'm a survivor of Flight 93.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, a speaker pointed out that Flight 93 didn't include only the people on the plane. Flight 93 includes the people on the ground who never died -- thanks to the desperate stand of a handful of heroes.
On the morning of 9/11, I was at the US Capitol. I would have been there, in the open, when that plane slammed into the Capitol -- had it not been for the actions of the Americans on that plane.
As administrations and agencies spin the stories to cover themselves, the heroes of Flight 93, and their sacrifice, go almost unmarked. We now have a 567-page report on what went wrong. We have nothing to honor those who did what was right, even though it cost them their lives.
As his handlers paint President Bush as a hero in the War Against Terror, flying him onto carrier decks to declare "Mission Accomplished," he has ignored the mission that a brave handful of Americans accomplished in the first battle of the war.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.
President Harry S. Truman created it to honor civilians who acted heroically in World War II.
President John F. Kennedy revived it to honor Americans who have contributed greatly in peacetime.
President George W. Bush, on June 18th announced 13 people who would receive it this year. His list included Doris Day, Rita Moreno, Arnold Palmer, and Estee Lauder.
He has never named a single passenger nor crew member of Flight 93 to the list.
The passengers and crew of Flight 93 deserve the Medal of Freedom.
What's more, the place where they gave their lives to save American lives in Washington should be among our most sacred soil. But the Bush Administration, holding to a promise not to create more memorial land, has balked at making the Flight 93 crash site a national cemetery.
As Abraham Lincoln said on another Pennsylvania field where Americans held their ground and broke the will of another enemy:
"It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here."
As an American, who stood in the open on Capitol Hill when a guided missile was headed there and our government failed us all -- I think it's the least we can do for those who did their all.
Friday, July 23, 2004
To balance things out, we have government agencies and Congressional committees to keep an eye on drug companies to make sure they aren’t slipping the taxpayers a Mickey.
And leading those agencies and subcommittees are men like Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA). Men like him are all who stand between us, and the steamroller of corporate profits.
Well, he used to stand in the way.
Now, he stands to make more money working for a company his Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations used to have oversight over and conduct investigations into.
Representative Greenwood dropped out of his reelection race and snatched up a job from the Biotechnology Industry Organization. It’s a trade group with a $40 million annual budget that lobbies for more than 1,000 pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
In fact, just days before taking the job, a bunch of executives in those companies were supposed to testify before Greenwood’s subcommittee. Your Congressmen were supposed to be looking into the safety of anti-depressant medicines. There are a lot of concerns about that right now. Studies show links between anti-depressants and suicides among teenagers.
But all of a sudden, the hearing was canceled.
Greenwood says it had nothing to do with him taking the job. He says some lawyers just needed extra time to get their act together.
But you’ve got to figure it’s sure hard to investigate someone while you’re negotiating your new salary with them.
His new salary will be $650,000 a year. He could get a bonus of up to $200,000. His Congressional salary was $150,000.
Greenwood will still serve in Congress until his term ends in January. He promises not to use his influence for his new bosses until then.
And then there are tough laws to keep him from using undue influence. Why, he’s not allowed to lobby any of his House colleagues for a WHOLE year! Of course, he can lobby Senators, and federal departments all he wants.
Congress really needs to get going with that hearing on anti-depressants. Stories about Washington's revolving door really create a need for the stuff.
NPR Audio: http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3611727
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Buy it from a private party, and you can pay up to a million dollars an acre. Buy it from Uncle Sam, and you can pay only about $5.60 an acre -- if you're a big mining company.
Phelps Dodge bought 155 acres of taxpayer owned, mineral rich land just outside Crested Butte for just $875.
Over the next 11 years, they plan to make $158-million after taxes -- mining minerals that used to belong to you.
This is just one of hundreds of cases of companies getting great breaks to mine taxpayer owned land. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington based advocacy group, added up all the land out west sold off to mining companies at Old West prices. They found 5.6 million acres in 12 western states, sold for as little as 84-cents an acre.
It's thanks to the Mining Law of 1872. It gives big breaks to people and companies who stake a claim on public land. Meaning the taxpayers pad company profits and neighbors who'd like to open their land to mining face unfair competition.
Think about the folks who own mineral rich land next door. Don't you know Uncle Sam is driving down their property values with these bargain basement prices for land? Why buy from Joe Landowner, when Washington's giving away free gold, silver, copper, and whatnot?
And it's not just American companies. One in every five acres with a claim staked to it, belongs to foreign companies. Twenty percent. Ninety-four foreign companies from ten different countries control 1.2 million acres of public land.
As the old saying goes, they got the gold mine, taxpayers got the shaft.
Monday, July 19, 2004
The Hill reports in it’s July 14th edition that the Social Security Administration (SSA) shelled out more than $3 billion in improper payments. You know the SSA, the fine folks who supervise your tax supported retirement plan.
Some of this could be waste, fraud, or simple accounting errors that simply wrote bigger checks than normal to unsuspecting retirees.
What’s more, they could only catch the waste and fraud in 60% of the cases. That’s $1.2 billion they can’t account for.
That’s a lot of money. Imagine a stack of $20 bills. Now imagine a stack of twenties as tall as the 555 foot tall Washington Monument. That’s a start. That’s only a couple million dollars.
One-point-two billion dollars would be 432 stacks of $20 bills that tall.
You’d think that would be kind of hard to misplace.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) calls the findings "astonishing." He claims the SSA doesn’t even have a plan to fix this kind of problem.
In a letter to Social Security Administrator Jo Anne Barnhart, Grassley said he didn’t know which was "more troubling:" a) that SSA sent out more than $3 billion in overpayments…or b) that the SSA couldn’t figure out where all that money went.
Janklow is the former Congressman with a notorious lead foot. He was stopped 16 times in recent years for speeding, but never ticketed. The last time he was stopped, it was for speeding through a stop sign, hitting, and killing motorcyclist Randy Scott.
Janklow resigned from congress after he was convicted of second degree manslaughter. He served 100 days in jail.
Scott’s family is without a breadwinner. They sued Janklow. Their lawyer wants to move the trial to state court where they could seek punitive damages (those are not allowed in federal court).
Punitive comes from the same root word as punishment. It lets citizens, through the courts, get justice in the form of money – even if the criminal courts fail. Some people can easily see a mere 100 days in jail for recklessly killing someone as a failure.
But now, U.S. Magistrate Arthur Boylan decided Janklow was on official business when he killed Scott. So taxpayers have to pay for Janklow’s carelessness.
If it’s any consolation to taxpayers, at least he won’t be getting a pension. He hadn’t been in Congress long enough to qualify.
Too bad. Some folks might like to see any pension signed over to the family of the guy he killed.
Friday, July 16, 2004
Ever had an old car parked around the house? One you didn't drive? Ever figure how much money you could save -- insurance, upkeep, and such -- if you just sold the thing?
Uncle Sam has lots of cars like that. Take the 36,000 cars at the Department of the Interior. The Inspector General over there figures if they only used the cars they needed, Washington could save us taxpayers $34 million dollars a year.
That's the bottom line in a General Accounting Office report.
It costs Washington $1.7 billion dollars a year to operate the federal motor pool of more than 387,000 vehicles.
The report mentions one car in particular. The VA bought it with your tax dollars four years ago. Ever since then, it's been parked behind a VA laundry. Never driven. No one in Washington can even find its keys now.
The Navy actually has ways of measuring how many cars a base needs. They just don't always follow their own rules. They found out if a single base had gone by it's own guidelines, it would have saved taxpayers $3.7 million.
And the Army found some cars had slipped by their guidelines for fleet size. They had 99 too many at a single military base.
Federal agencies do try. Here's a couple of examples in the GAO report:
* A Navy command decreased its fleet from 156 to 105 vehicles over the course of a year, resulting in savings of about $12,000 per month. A Navy official explained that the decrease in vehicles was driven by cuts in the command's budget.
* A Veterans Affairs medical center, in an effort to find potential savings, reduced its fleet by 12 vehicles, with estimated savings of about $57,000 per year.
But there's no standard method of deciding which cars are needed and which ones aren't. So some agencies may be getting rid of too many cars, while others keep unused ones parked behind the laundry.
Trimming cars like that, would buy enough gasoline -- even at $2.00 a gallon -- to let you drive a big, gas-guzzling SUV from the earth to the moon, three and a half times.
Now, you or I might have some sentimental reason for keeping an old car. Maybe it was the first one we ever owned, or the one we courted our first love in.
It's hard to get sentimental over Uncle Sam's car collection. Maybe there are some memories for him in the back seats. Afterall, we taxpayers feel like we've been there.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Some of the biggest, most controversial bills of this Congress were voted on in the wee hours of the morning, when network television reporters had gone home, newspapers had been put to bed, and Americans had turned off C-SPAN for the night.
It makes it harder for you to find out how your Congressman voted, and easier for him to cave into pressure instead of vote his conscience.
Take the sweeping changes in Medicare. Remember the plan that wound up costing you a quarter-trillion dollars more than it was supposed to cost? The House forced a vote on it at 5:55 – on a Saturday morning – back in November.
That wasn’t the only time Congress has acted in the dark. Just look at this list from the past couple of years:
- 2:54 on a Friday morning: House cuts veterans' benefits
- 2:39 on a Friday morning: House cuts education & health care
- 1:56 on a Friday morning: House cuts taxes on millionaires
- 2:33 on a Friday morning: House passes Medicare privatization
- 12:57 on a Friday morning: House cuts money for Head Start
- 12:12 on a Friday morning: House gives $87 billion to Iraq
These were close votes, almost all of these passed by five or fewer votes. It’s easier to swing someone to your side if he figures the voters at home are going to miss the story of how he voted for them in Congress.
Guess they gotta be sneaky. There are less than 30 working days before Congress calls it a year, and tons of work still not done.
At least that's the fantasy.
And now at least one photographer has come closer to living out the fantasy.
The other day, New York Post reporter Vince Morris kept blocking camera shots of a news conference featuring Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats of New York.
This happened in the Senate Gallery. Folks here are supposed to be professional. They're supposed to understand that everyone else is there to do a job and you don't go jumping in front of the camera like a high school kid trying to flip the finger during a small market station's live report from the county fair.
After the news conference was over, P.G. Cuong, a CBS photographer focused his anger on the oblivious Morris.
They got into a shoving match, appropriately captured in pictures.
It’s an election year. There’s also squabbling between Republican lawmakers over what should be voted on. So a lot of bills are still bottled up.
Not to worry, Congress has another sneaky way to get things passed (or 'past' you). They’re called ‘riders.’
These are items that have nothing to do with the bill being debated. Congressmen can simply add their pet project to a bill that’s sure to pass and it rides the wave right into law. Congress still has to pass a bunch of bills to pay the bills that keep government up and running. Since they want to run home to run for re-election, those bills are almost sure to pass. Those are the bills picking up a lot of riders.
Dan Morgan points out how popular it is right now in a Washington Post article.
He points to a portion of a $143 billion dollar bill to keep three cabinet departments running after October 1st. The House Appropriations Committee was zeroed in on a part that would spend money on teaching disabled kids and helping schools in poor neighborhoods.
Not the kind of things politicians would vote against.
So a handful of Congressmen decided to slap on their ‘riders.’ Suddenly the committee was bogged down debating abortion, the definition of overtime pay, and how to send checks to Mexican citizens who’d paid into Social Security.
None of these things has to do with disabled kids or poor schools – in case you didn’t notice.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-WI), in perhaps one of the most eloquent summations in Congress in recent years, declared the rush to add riders was turning the bill into "a garbage dump" for things best left to other committees.
This sort of thing is slowing down Congress even as Congress is running out of time. The Congressional Budget Office says some of the things that still have to be debated and paid for include the Coast Guard and the FBI.
You’d figure funding the Coast Guard and FBI would be important, what with the country on a chartreuse or mauve or egg-shell-white terror alert and all.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
What’s even better for the politician: he doesn’t have to hand over any money next year – after the election.
It’s in Al Kamen’s In the Loop column in today’s Washington Post (page two, fourth item in column).
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (D-IL) handed over a $722,943 check to a school in the District of Columbia. The money is to train history teachers. Hastert used to be one – and a wrestling coach, too.
Hastert even delivered a speech about how important it is to teach history. We don’t have enough of them to go around.
Maybe he should have studied a little recent history.
A subcommittee in the chamber he leads voted just last week to kill the $119-million program.
This is a good example of what an acquaintance of mine called Hill’s Law. Kind of like Murphy’s Law, you know, “anything that can go wrong, will.” Except with Hill’s Law, you define what’s gone wrong with the world.
Simply put, Hill’s Law says: “The representation becomes the reality.” Or more to the point: Representations of reality become more important than the reality they represent.
Some examples he gave were:
*The brand becomes more important than the company.
*The painting becomes more important than the landscape.
*The prize becomes more important than the achievement.
In this case, the photo-op becomes more important than the program that made it possible.
That is at the core of what is wrong with Washington – that the photo-op of a politician speechifying on the importance of history teachers is more important than the ability to train those needed history teachers.
This is part of a historical trend with the way Washington works,
And as George Santayana said, those who fail to remember history are condemned to repeat it. So expect fewer history teachers and more photo-ops.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
A friend of mine found a snippet of one of my television reports featured in Farahenheit 911.
It's a Washington Watchdog report from 2001 included in a montage of news reports showing how we in the media strike fear into the hearts of Americans. I'm such a fear monger.
Michael Moore used a whole SEVEN SECONDS of the report! I tend to grate on people's nerves beyond that I guess. The upside to that is -- as my college English professor Terrell Tebbets pointed out -- I still have 14 minutes, 53 seconds of fame left.
I remember seeing it, but didn't recognize my voice at the time. It was a story about what the Agriculture Department was doing about terrorists targeting feed lots. Spreading Mad Cow Disease or anthrax around them could disrupt the food supply. At the time, I thought -- "That sounds like something I'd write!"
I should have been listening to the movie instead of mooing at the cows on the screen.
My old company -- not I -- got the credit in the credits. That'd be CONUS Communications.
I'll be signing autographs later. And if you want one, don't be afraid to ask. I won't forget the little people!
14:53 and counting down.
Monday, July 12, 2004
They’re ordering 30 million flags--P.D.Q!
For years, soldiers got to wear a U.S. flag patch on their right sleeve if they went into battle overseas.
Now the army wants all it’s soldiers to wear the patch no matter where they‘re stationed. They want five flags for every soldier but they don’t have enough.
It’s a big business opportunity for a modern day Betsy Ross--with her own textile mill.
This is just the latest, and perhaps the least, in a series of army shortages.
Other shortages have been a bit more critical:
*American troops had to cannibalize captured Iraqi equipment to keep U.S. equipment going during the war in Iraq, according to new Army reports.
*The army couldn’t come up with enough modern body armor for troops in Iraq in late 2003.
*And the military’s sole small arms ammunition factory in Independence, Missouri, hasn’t kept up with demand since 9/11
They still can’t turn out enough bullets.
The Army’s turned to private companies to produce 70 million rounds a month to take up the slack. Even with the help, they won’t be fully restocked until sometime in 2005.
These shortages are especially tough on the National Guard, which faces more that the regular Army.
The Newark Star-Ledger reports that if all the National Guard went to war, one-in-five guardsmen would have to go unarmed.
And Arkansas’ 39th Infantry Brigade--along with a North Carolina unit--are the first Guard units since the Korean War given full responsibility for part of a combat zone.
They had to borrow Humvees--those big, all all-purpose, SUVs--from Guard units in Kentucky and Ohio.
The Arkansans’ Humvees weren’t armored for combat.
The Army’s fixing the problem. They’re spending $225 million to upgrade armor on the vehicles in Arkansas and other states.
They should be ready and waiting--sometime after the 39th get home from the war.
But they’ve been given top priority for getting their flag patches.
(Terry Turner reports from Washington where he is always well supplied with tales of Uncle Sam’s shortages and questionable priorities.)
Thursday, July 08, 2004
Thursday, July 01, 2004
White House advisor Karl Rove hasn't lost any clout while being at the center of a criminal investigation into White House leaks of a CIA agent's identity. Sources in the White House tell US News & World Report that he's just as influential as ever:
"But the insiders say Rove hasn't backed away from his powerful role as one of President Bush's most valued advisers. He has been active, for example, in winning passage of the recently enacted transportation and energy bills..."
He's now at work on the administration's plans for next year which include Social Security overhaul and tax reform.
The energy and transportation bills only included $38 billion in pork projects. Gotta wonder how Congress will tinker with Social Security and tax plans. (US News)
Rove, Watergate, and History Repeating Itself -- August 22, 2005
Former Texas GOP Chairman, Vietnam intel officer, and Reagan administration official Thomas Pauken looks into the Plame Name Blame Game for the Houston Chronicle.
He finds it ironic that White House adviser Karl Rove's favorite President was Richard Nixon -- andhow trivial matters are behind both men's White House woes.
Mr Pauken looks at how an obscure law may finally catch up with Mr Rove and the political tactics he honed as a College Republican working for President Nixon. (Houston Chronicle)
I'm Outta Here -- August 5, 2005
After he cussed and stomped off set in the middle of a live show, Robert Novak will get a little cooling off time. CNN told the commentator to "take some time off." They've indefinitely suspended him from the air.
Mr Novak's outburst came during "Inside Politics." He was appearing alongside Democratic political consultant James Carville. They were talking about the Florida Senate race and Rep Katherine Harris' (R-FL) claim that papers had doctored her photos to make her look bad.
This is from the CNN transcript:
So, wait. Just let me finish what I'm going to say, James. Please, I know you hate to hear me, but you have...
CARVILLE: He's got to show these right wingers that he's got backbone. Show them you're tough.
NOVAK: Well, I think that's bullshit. And I hate that. Just let it go.
(Novak leaves set.)
Later in the show, moderator Ed Henry said he'd told Mr Novak earlier that he planned to ask about the CIA leak investigation.
It was Mr Novak's column that first mentioned Ms Plame was a CIA agent. That's sparked a criminal investigation into who leaked that information to the press.
Mr Henry said, "Hopefully we'll be able to ask him about that in the future."
Talk about dodging a question. (WashPost/CNN)
Bet Karl Hopes the Sharks are Biting -- August 4
August is a slow month for news in Washington. And that's bad news for Karl Rove. With Congress and the President gone for the month, and reporters getting antsy for air time, any thing could turn into a story at any moment. Remember August, 2001, when the media went nuts with shark attacks and Chandra Levy's disappearance? 9/11 wiped them both off the news.
So, as the news cycle slows, Republican leaders are prepared for another flare up in the Karl Rove connection to the Plame Name Blame Game -- the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.
In fact, the Democratic National Committee is firing off a daily fact sheet called, "Mr. Bush, Tear Down That Stone Wall." It promises to reveal a fact a day about the Plame case and White House ties to it.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Republicans say "Karl is cool as a cucumber." (USNews)
Rove Aide Questioned -- August 3, 2005
An aide to White House advisor Karl Rove has testified in to the grand jury investigating the leaked identity of a CIA agent. The prosecutor spearheading the criminal investigation called Mr Rove's executive assistant Susan Ralston before the grand jury. It's still not clear what interest Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had in questioning her.
Mr Rove has testified before the grand jury -- the prosecutor has questioned him at least three times. The probe is looking for the person in the White House who identified Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. (LAT)
Plame Name Blame Game Timeline -- Say it Four Times Fast! -- August 3, 2005
Trying to get a grip on who knew what when in the ongoing CIA leak investigation?
MSNBC offers up a timeline of key events in the Plame Name Blame Game scandal. (MSNBC)
What Did Karl Know & When Did He Know It? -- August 1, 2005
Timing is everything. And new evidence questions the timing in the Valerie Plame outing. It could shoot holes in White House advisor Karl Rove's claims that he learned about the CIA agent's identity from the media. TIME reports White House officials may have known about her role in the CIA before her husband wrote an op-ed column critical of the administration. That would give creedence to the theory that the White House outed Ms Plame out of revenge against her husband. (TIME)
Was Bolton Questioned? -- July 28
President Bush has hinted at a recess nomination of John Bolton (right) to the UN. Mr Bolton ran into a tough time in confirmation hearings and on the Senate floor. Democrats argued he would reject intelligence if it differed with his political objectives.
Sen Joe Biden (D-DE) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice asking about Mr Bolton and the investigation in to the Plame leak.
The criminal investigation is looking into who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to the media in 2003. Attention has focused on White House aides Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. But the special prosecutor in the case has spread a wide net.
If Mr Bolton was questioned, he's required -- as a nominee -- to report that to the confirmation committee. Former White House aide Karen Hughes reported to the Foreign Affairs committee that she'd been questioned in the investigation while she was awaiting confirmation for a diplomatic post recently. (FOX News) [Photo Credit: US State Dept]
The Plot Thickens, The Net Expands -- July 27
"Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street."
-- George H.W. Bush
at the Dedication Ceremony
April 26, 1999
Perjury, Obstruction of Justice -- Just Another Day in DC -- July 25
They say its the coverup -- not the initail act -- that gets politicians in trouble with a scandal. That's what happened with Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky affair.
And it looks like it's happening again in the Plame Name Blame Game.
People close to the criminal investigation of the leaked CIA agents identity say the prosecutor is changing his focus in the probe. No longer just going after the leaker -- but toward perjury or obstruction of justice charges.
There have been reports since last week that testimony from two White House officials -- Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- don't match testimony from other witnesses. (Chicago Tribune)
The Leak Timeline -- July 25
FactCheck.org says there's plenty of false info floating around on both sides of the Plame Name Blame Game.
They cite Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as saying the leak "put this agent's life in jeopardy" -- but point out there's been no evidence of that.
And they point to RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman claiming Joe Wilson (Valerie Plame's husband) falsely claiming Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his trip to Africa. But Mr Wilson never made any such claim.
The folks at FactCheck.org decide not to wade into this political swamp -- at least just yet. But they do have an extensive timeline of key events in the developing scandal. (FactCheck.org)
Choosing Which to Defend: Defend Rove or the United States -- July 25
Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson used the Democratic Party's weekly radio address Saturday to repeat charges that the White House jepordized national security in the Valerie Plame case.
The broadcast reflected Mr Johnson's testimony to Congress last week.
White House adviser Karl Rove has admitted that he told TIME magazine reporter Matt Cooper that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA -- but says he never used her name.
Mr Johnson says the President should disipline Mr Rove for the action because it has hampered efforts to recruit informants against terrorists. (LAT)
The 12 Hour Gap - July 25, 2005
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (right) says he spoke with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card as soon as he learned there was a criminal investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.
Mr Gonzales was White House Counsel at the time.
But he waited 12 hours before notifying the rest of the White House staff that an investigation was underway.
The delay is important because the notification is given to make sure no one deletes or destroys any evidence in the investigation. Notifying Mr Card, but delaying staffwide notification until the next morning led Sen Joseph Biden (D-DE) to suggest that would have given people time to destroy evidence.
Sources close to the investigation say that accounts VP Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff -- Scooter Libby -- and what what White House adviser Karl Rove have given the grand jury don't jibe with testimony from other witnesses. (SF Chronicle) [Photo Credit: US Govt]
The Plame Blame Game Adds Names -- July 22, 2005
The criminal investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity is casting a wide net. Remember Karen Hughes? President Bush's one-time communications aide. She quit the White House back in April, 2002. That's her in the picture at the left with President Bush.
She's been called and has testified before the grand jury investigating the leak.
She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about her appearances. She's appearing before them on her nomination to lead the State Department's public diplomacy effort.
Former White House spokesman Ari Fliesher (right) has also been called to testify because he got a telephone call from columnist Robert Novak the day after the outing. It was Novak, citing "senior administration officials" who first mentioned in print Valerie Plame's role in the CIA. Mr Fliescher says he never took the call that shows up on his telephone log. (IHT)
Did a Full Court Press Lead to Leaks -- July 22, 2005
At the time Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent was leaked to the media in July, 2003, both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were working on a related matter.
Presidential advisor Rove and VP Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Libby are both identified as sources of Ms Plame's identification.
They were busy at work defending a 16 word statement in the President's State of the Union Address from earlier in the year relating to Iraq's efforts to get yellowcake uranium from Niger. Ms Plame's husband Joe Wilson had conducted a fact finding mission to Niger and said the claim wasn't true. He says the administration publicized his wife's role at the CIA in retaliation.
Mr Rove and Mr Libby were working on a statement to be issued by then-CIA Director George Tenent -- an explanation of how the "16 words" got into the President's speech.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is looking into that time frame and into the statement itself.
What's unusual is that the people working on the statement were from both the White House's "political" and "national security" operations. It's rare that those are combined.
It appears there was a full court press to defend the President. That climate is certainly on Prosecutor Fitzgerald's mind as he tries to determine just how far those operations might go to defend the President. (IHT)
So What "Is" the Definition of "Is?" -- July 22, 2005
The story White House advisor Karl Rove and VP Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Scotter Libby tell -- doesn't jibe with other accounts of CIA agent Valerie Plame's outing.
And those are stories told to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald -- heading up the criminal investigation. He's been calling reporters and White House brass into a grand jury to testify under oath.
People familiar to the case have told Bloomberg News Service that all the reporters tell pretty much the same story. But Mr Rove and Mr Libby tell a different tale. Mr Rove's public account also differs with a TIME magazine account by Matt Cooper. Mr Cooper lists Mr Rove as a source of Valerie Plame's CIA connection. Mr Cooper testified before the grand jury.
Those discrepancies could lead to perjury charges if the differences are enough to look like someone's lying. (Bloomberg)
Bush Mum on Rove Resignation Offer -- July 21, 2005
President Bush sidestepped a reporter's question Wednesday about whether Karl Rove had offered his resignation in the Valerie Plame leak. The President didn't answer the question but said he'd wait until after the criminal investigation into the leak is finished before taking any action on possible leakers. (Houston Chronicle)
Ex-Spies Defend Plame to Congress -- July 21, 2005
Former intelligence officers say leaking Valerie Plame's name may have damaged national security an the CIA's ability to spy on our enemies.
Eleven former intel officers sent a three-page statement to Congress stating their concerns.
"Intelligence officers should not be used as political footballs. In the case of Valerie Plame, she still works for the CIA and is not in a position to publicly defend her reputation and honor."
--from a statement to Congress
by 11 former US intelligence officers
There's a criminal investigation into the leaks still going on. (CNN)
Clearly Marked as "Secret" -- July 21, 2005
A State Department memo from June, 2003, contained information about Valerie Plame and her role at the CIA in a paragraph clearly marked "secret."
Government officials say that any Bush administration staffer reading the memo would have known that the information was classified.
At least two members of the Bush administration leaked Ms Plame's identity and the fact she worked for the CIA. Knowingly identifying a CIA agent is punishible by up to 10 years in prison.
The memo was delivered to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell as he left for a trip to Africa with President Bush on July 7, 2003. Seven days later, Ms Plame was outed as a CIA operative in a Robert Novak column.
White House advisor Karl Rove has admitted to talking with TIME reporter Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame's CIA connections. Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief Of Staff, Scooter Libby has also been identified as a potential leaker. Mr Rove has testified before a grand jury on three occasions as they look for who leaked Ms Plame's identity. Mr Rove says he never saw the memo until the special prosecutor in the leak investigation showed it to him. (WashPost)
Where Have I Heard That Before? -- July 20, 2005
The New York Times' Frank Rich prefaced a column this week with a pair of quotes from a pair of Presidential Press Secretaries:
"I am saying that if anyone was involved in that type of activity which I referred to, they would not be working here."
- Ron Ziegler, press secretary to Richard Nixon, defending the presidential aide Dwight Chapin on Oct. 18, 1972. Chapin was convicted in April 1974 of perjury in connection with his relationship to the political saboteur Donald Segretti.
"Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn't be working here at the White House if they didn't have the president's confidence."
- Scott McClellan, press secretary to George W. Bush, defending Karl Rove on Tuesday
Scandal Round Up -- July 18, 2005
The Washington Post's Al Kamen points out that one-time Clinton administration advisor Dick Morris says President Clinton shoul not fire Karl Rove because Mr Rove never violated a law disclosing a CIA's identity.
Mr Kamen, in his In the Loop column, also points out why Bill Clinton fired Mr Morris:
"Morris, Loop Fans may recall, was canned by President Bill Clinton without even a hint of any criminal activity. Letting his escort service companion listen in on Clinton's telephone calls was not a crime. And alleged toe-sucking is hardly worthy of a grand jury."
Outing the Outers -- Rove & Libby -- July 18, 2005
TIME magazine reporter Matt Cooper identifies White House adviser Karl Rove as the first person to identify Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Mr Cooper was released from his promise of confidentiality by his source shortly before he was to go to jail for contempt in the grand jury investigation into the case.
Mr Cooper writes an article for the current issue of TIME. In it, he says Mr Rove was the first to tell him of Ms Plame's role at the CIA. He says it was later confirmed by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff -- Lewis Libby. (USAToday)
Rove's Phone Call with Novak -- July 15, 2005
Karl Rove testified to the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame leak that he did indeed talk to columnist Robert Novak about Ms Plame. Mr Novak used the information from that conversation in identifying Ms Plame as a CIA agent in a subsequent column.
The New York Times gets their information from an anonymous source "in the legal profession."
The phone conversation took place on July 8, 2003. The source says Mr Novak brought up Valerie Plame's name and the fact that she was a CIA operative. The source tells the Times that Mr Rove replied, "I heard that, too."
Mr Novak's column cited two senior administration officials as his sources for the column. The Times source says Mr Rove would have been the second source -- or the one confirming Mr Novak's information. (NYT)
Picking on Girls -- The American Way -- July 13, 2005
What is it about Republicans attacking wives?
Throughout the Clinton era, the GOP seemed to attack Hillary Clinton as often as Bill Clinton. Then-First Lady Barbara Bush said she couldn't describe Hillary on television but the word rhymed with "witch." That was probably the kindest thing a Republican said about Hillary Clinton after 1991. From there, it only went downhill.
Pick on Girls
And in the 2004 campaign, there was an entire flanking maneuver on Theresa Heinz Kerry -- Republicans even boycotted her late husband's company and squeezed their own "W" ketchup.
And when the Bush administration had a problem with former ambassador Joe Wilson, they didn't go after him. They went after his wife. Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. Some "senior administration official" outed her -- possibly in violation of a 1982 federal law designed to protect CIA and other intel agents. Commentator Robert Novak says at least two sources outed her. Presidential advisor Karl Rove admits he talked about Ms Plame's job -- but says he never mentioned her name.
Karl Rove says he simply referred to Valerie Plame as "Joe Wilson's wife." This wasn't about her -- but her husband. It's become hard-wired for the right to go after the wife if they have a problem with the man.
A Pattern Emerges
That says a lot. Can you remember this kind of automatic attack on Laura Bush or Barbara Bush? Even movie critics defended Barbara Bush when she was made the butt of slapstick humor in the Naked Gun comedies. With Nancy Reagan the attacks even came from the GOP -- people within the administration who had problems with her influence over Ronald Reagan.
Can you imagine someone referring to these women as someone's wife -- instead of calling Laura Bush or Barbara Bush or Nancy Reagan by name? Can you remember the last time a Democrat attacked the wife instead of the man he was in a fight with? Think back to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Do you even know the name of Newt Gingrich's wife? Or Henry Hyde's? Or Karl Rove's?
Fight Like a Man
Politics is often described as a "full contact sport." Harry S Truman said "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." You need a thick skin and hard head to be in politics. Your spouse is just along for the ride. Too often they are becoming "collateral damage" in the war of words.
Thank God for the Republicans that the Democrats have Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as one of their leaders. Now, she's a woman who is legitimate target. But her husband should be worried.
Wait a minute, the GOP may be afraid to take on a man. (Watching Washington Commentary)
The One Word Promise from the President -- July 13, 2005
There's been some confusion as to whether President Bush himself ever promised to fire anyone who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media. The President has in fact made that promise. It came during an exchange with reporters at a news conference following the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia last year:
Q. Given recent developments in the C.I.A. leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, suggestion that it might difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name? And ...
President Bush: That's up …
Q. And do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so? And …
President Bush: Yes....
June 10, 2004
Talk the Talk -- July 13, 2005
Raw Story has gotten their hands on a memo supposedly put out by Carolyn Weyforth, the RNC's Director of Television, listing talking points for Republicans talking to the media about the Karl Rove Ruckus. The idea is for the GOP to close ranks and get on the same page in defending Mr Rove. The lines don't actually take up for Mr Rove, but attack others -- very similar to the analysis the Washington Post provided in today's edition.
The Talking Points cited in Raw Story include lines like these:
- Once again, Democrats are engaging in blatant political attacks
- Karl Rove discouraged a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise
- The false premise was Joe Wilson's allegation that the Vice President sent him to Niger
- Karl Rove has fully complied with this investigation for more than a year and has permitted any reporter he spoke with about Joe Wilson to discuss their conversations
Raw Story has a whole lot more of the talking points. See if you can spot them on your friendly, neighborhood cable news shout-fest! Makes for a great drinking game! (Raw Story)