Thursday, December 30, 2004

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Singled Out

Forget the Marriage Penalty. When is a politician going to do something about the Single Penalties? Single people hold more than 40% of American jobs. But they pay higher taxes, higher insurance rates, work more holidays, and get fewer benefits. Even the Census Bureau has singled them out. (Detroit News)

Passing Muster with the Lobbyists

President Bush has a lot of Cabinet seats to fill and he's running his candidates past screeners -- lobbyists. The lobbyists even suggest questions for Senators to ask at confirmation hearings. Ain't Democracy grand? (USA Today)

Stop, Look, and Listen to this Report

A New York Times investigation has found that between 1999 and 2003, there were 400 cases where railroad crossing signals and gates failed to activate or malfunctioned. At least 45 people were killed, 130 injured in those cases. It could point to widespread problems with the warning systems. A former NTSB honcho says the Times findings may simply be "the tip of the iceberg." Might want to stop, look, and listen at the next crossing you come to -- just in case. (NYT)

Because the Important Thing Isn't National Security -- It's Which Bureaucrat Has the Most Turf

The Justice Department's Inspector General warns that a bureaucratic disagreement over fingerprint databases "creates a risk that a terrorist could enter the country undetected." His conclusions come in a 110-page report. Seems infighting between different federal agencies has slowed down efforts to unify all the different fingerprint databases. So most foreign visitors are never screened. (NYT)

A Public Campaign Against Privatization

AARP will spend $5 million running two weeks of ads critical of Social Security privatization plans. The campaign will coincide with the start of the new Congress next week. The full page ads, running in more than 50 newspapers, will refer to "Social Insecurity." AARP represents 36 million Americans, 50 and older. (NYT)

It's No Secret -- They're Quitting Quickly at CIA

The sixth top official to resign from the CIA since Porter Goss became director has turned in her resignation. Jami Miscik was deputy director for intelligence -- overseeing the CIA's analysis unit. Lawmakers worry that Goss is purging intelligence experts and replacing them with political appointees. The analysis section has been shorthanded, with stepped up recruiting efforts in recent months. (CNN)

Docking a Carrier Amid Defense Cuts

The Bush administration wants a total of $60 billion in cuts to defense spending over the next six years. That could mean mothballing the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are eating away at the defense budget at a rate of $5 billion (with a "B") per month. (Houston Chronicle)

Military Help for Tsunami Wrecked Shores

It's perhaps the biggest relief operation the US military has conducted since the Berlin Airlift. The Pentagon is mobilizing forces to provide help to countries battered by the Christmas Day tsunami. At least 20 aircraft are already flying supplies and looking for survivors. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and helicopter carrier USS Bonhomme Richard and their support ships are on their way. That's 37 helicopters and 12,500 people steaming to the rescue. (AP via Yahoo!)

How the Iraq War's Costing Jobs at Home

As the Pentagon scrambles to come up with the money they need to pay for the Iraq War, defense industries in the states are bracing for losses. The Air Force and Navy are both planning deep cuts. Yesterday, I told you how the F-22 Raptor program faced cuts of 117 planes. The impact is triclking down to companies that build parts for the planes, too. Pratt & Whitney stands to lose $20 million for every plane canceled. And the Navy has to cut costs, too. They're looking at cutting their submarine fleet from 55 to 37 boats. That likely means deep cuts to it's submarine building program -- currently producing only one boat per year. Sen Christopher Dodd (D-CT) says failing to boost that level to two submarines a year could cause "great harm to our military capabilities and national industrial base." (Boston Globe)

A DeLay in Ethics Probes

House Republicans want to make it harder to launch ethics investigations against House members. Namely House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) who had two launched against him recently. GOP leaders have a package of rule changes they plan to drop on the 109th Congress next week. Part of that is requiring a majority vote of the ethics panel to launch a probe. If panel members voted along party lines, the rule would make it impossible to investigate any member of the majority party. Clever, huh? This isn't the first time House Republicans have changed the rules to protect Rep DeLay. (Houston Chronicle)

Checking Out the Electronic Ballot Boxes

The Government Accountability Office will look into problems with the November elections including malfunctioning voting machines and problems with provisional ballots. Among the complaints:

  • An Ohio electronic voting system gave President Bush an extra 4,000 votes that were never cast
  • A North Carolina computer failed to count 22,000 votes cast for John Kerry
  • Ohio voters who voted for John Kerry saw their electronic voting machines record votes for President Bush

It won't change the Presidential election's outcome, but it could change the way we cast votes in the future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized December 29, 2004

The net total of Guardsmen and Reservists mobilized this week is 198 more than last week. The Defense Department is out with new totals. (DoD)

Rossi Rallies the Troops

Out in the "other" Washington, Gubenatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R-WA) is calling on overseas troops to help him overcome a recount deficit. The latest recount had Mr Rossi losing the governor's mansion by just 129 votes to Democrat Christine Gregoire. Staffers and volunteers are trying to drum up uncounted votes -- including appeals to the military like this one making the rounds:

"In order to maximize accuracy of the still pending Washington State gubernatorial contest, please consider using your medium to ask our military troops abroad that are from Washington State to please IMMEDIATELY contact Governor Elect Dino Rossi's office if they did not receive their absentee ballot (or did not receive it in a timely manner), or if they for some reason feel that their vote was somehow compromised.

"It's imperative that action be taken immediately. While the latest count, and the latest court ruling, position Democratic candidate Christine Gregware [sic] as the victor, the two previous (and many believe, more accurate) counts and court hearings give it to the Republican Governor Elect Dino Rossi.

"The latest court ruling allows the Democrats to "expand the universe" of countable ballots to include over 700 ballots recently "found" in the heavily Democratic sector of King County. While the Republican's don't agree with this ruling (declaring it in contrast to the Bush vs. Gore case of 2000), they're prepared to conform to the revised rules. Thus, the Republicans are seeking to have an additional collection of "found" ballots also counted. Republicans are working to solidify their collection, which includes military voters as described above. Thus, your support in communicating this very important message to Washington State troops everywhere is very much appreciated by all Washingtonians.

"Thank you very much for your efforts to help us ensure that every legal vote be counted."

This is from an apparent e-mail campaign designed to squeeze extra votes into the race before Mr Rossi is forced to either concede or contest the entire election.

Jumping on the Inagural Bandwidth Wagon

The cell phone and Internet gurus are working overtime to make sure there's enough bandwidth to handle all the extra talking, e-mailing, text messaging, and picture taking at the Presidential inaugural. (WashPost)

Where You'd Least Expect Them

The hottest ticket in town is one to the President's swearing in on the Capitol steps. But it ain't easy finding one of those 250,000 tickets -- unless you turn to Democrats. Regardless of party, every Senator gets 400 tickets, every Representative about 200 each. Sen John Kerry (D-MA) still had 180 tickets left last week. Maybe those Swift Boat guys could call him for one. (CNN)

Invisible Wounds from the Iraq War

The psychological toll of the Iraq War is adding up on troops returning home. And resources for helping them are stretched thin. The New England Journal of Medicine in July surveyed more than 6,000 Iraq combat veterans and found 1-in-8 showed symptons of post traumatic stress syndrome. The Pentagon has set up battlefield counseling and other mental health care in Iraq. But critics claim there's too little help here at home. (SF Chronicle)

Taking Advantage of Veterans and Taxpayers

Veterans in need of quick cash are signing over their pensions to financial service companies. The deals amount to loans with -- in one case at least -- 56% interest. The companies think they've found a loophole in the law allowing them to take the pensions -- but federal judges are ruling that the plans are illegal. The companies are still in business. (NYT)

The Science of Silencing Whistle Blowers

Scientists and doctors, hired by the government to look out for your safety don't have whistleblower protections like other government workers. If they see and report problems, they can be fired -- and have few legal protections. It's a powerful tool bureaucrats have for keeping them quiet. (WashPost)

Spending $1.1 Billion in Six Months

Special interests spent $1.1 billion during the first half of 2004 on lobbyists and ads to influence your elected leaders in Washington. Topping the list: the US Chamber of Commerce. They shelled out $39 million seeking medical liability limits. tracks lobbying spending and says this year's is on track to top 2003's record of $2 billion. (LAT)

Latest Iraq Casualties -- Jobs at Lockheed Martin

The Pentagon will cut the Air Force's F-22 Raptor program. The high tech plane was designed to take out the Soviet Air Force in a matter of days in the event of WWIII. The Cold War era fighter is a victim of escalating costs of the Iraq War. The Pentagon wants to stop the program at 160 planes, 117 short of the original order they put in with Lockheed Martin. Congress still has to approve the cuts, and the Raptor has dodged plenty of bullets since the fall of Communism. Lockheed's lobbyists could put up quite a dogfight. But the Pentagon is looking for ways to pay the ever increasing cost of Iraq, and the $72 billion F-22 program is a choice place to look. (ABC)

NOAA's Ark Too Little, Too Late

Congress will investigate why NOAA didn't warn nations around the Indian Ocean that this weekend's deadly tsunami was headed their way. NOAA -- the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration detected the wave on Christmas day -- but only sent warnings to Australia and Indonesia. Since the wave took two hours or more to reach some countries, the early warning could have saved thousands of lives in nine other nations. NOAA's home page says the agency acted quickly, but mentions only warnings to US territories and states -- which it says were in no danger. (Boston Globe)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It's Six -- If You're Counting

With a rotation that would make the Italian government envious, the FBI has named it's 6th -- count 'em, sixth -- counterterrorism chief since the 9/11 attacks. Willie T. Hulon is the latest to take the job. Counterterrorism is supposedly the new focus of the FBI in the wake of the attacks. They haven't found bin Laden, but they can find a new counterterrorism guru every couple of months it seems. (USA Today)

Paying the Piper for the Inaugural

Soldiers will dance for free at the President's inauguration. But the administration will pay the piper. A record $40 million in contributions -- many in $250,000 chunks -- will pay for the party. That sort of thing buys access in Washington. (Chicago Tribune)

Inaugural Visits and Return Business

White chocolate cowboy boots, yellow roses, and "Texas" vodka. Some of the extravagances on hand for the Presidential inaugural. The Ritz-Carlton is the crashpad of choice for top Republican donors in town for the swearing in, and the hotel is looking to make the guests with deep pockets want to rent rooms again when they're in town lobbying for their special interests. (WashPost)

Read 'Em & Weep

He wrote The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, some of the greatest books of American literature. But his hometown can't afford to keep it's libraries open. John Stienbeck must be spinning in his grave now that Salinas, California is so hard up, it's quit loaning hardbacks. (ABC)

A Pink Slip with Plenty of Green

Pitty poor Franklin Raines. Forced out as head of Fannie Mae, he's slated to recieve a mere $1.3 million a year in his pension. Now if someone could reform Social Seucrity to work like that.... (AP via Yahoo!)

A Woman's Place is in the House (or Senate)

From the Center for Women and Politics:

"In 2004, 74 women serve in the U.S. Congress. Fourteen women serve in the Senate, and 60 women serve in the House. The number of women in statewide elective executive posts is 81, while the proportion of women in state legislatures is at 22.4 percent. "


The Military Attacks the Clean Air Act

The Defense Department controls 28 million acres of land in America. They want to be exempt from pesky environmental laws when it comes to war games and weapons testing. They already have exemptions to parts of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Now they want a break from toxic waste laws and the Clean Air Act. Don't you just love the smell of napalm in the morning? (NYT)

Taxing Issue Puts Tax Reform on Hold

Don't expect tax reform this year afterall. Originally high on the President's "To Do" List, it's on the back burner because of the hot button issue of Social Security reform. That's likely to require all the President's attention for the next year, putting his tax reform plans on hold until the off year election year of 2006. (MSNBC)

Pork & Poor Management Endanger American Ports

The outgoing Inspector General at the Homeland Security Department worries that the agency will become a funnel for pork barrel spending back to politicians' home states. Clark Kent Ervin says that port security spending in particular should be governed by the most pressing priorities -- not local politics as has been the case since 9/11. (SF Chronicle)

The Next Best Thing to Being There

A couple of kids -- 12 and 14 years old -- with just $14 between them, started a group that in nine months has raised $250,000 to help America's troops phone home. Brittany Bergquist and little brother Robbie, started Cellphones for Soldiers. They collect old cell phones, sell them to companies that recycle them, and use the profits to buy prepaid phone cards for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. (NYT)

The Verdict of History

The Army's official historian for the Iraq invasion calls the effort there "mediocre." Maj Isaiah Wilson III says there was no plan for occupying Iraq after the combat phase. Wilson says no one at the Pentagon produced a single document laying out a strategy to consolidate victory. Wilson prepared his findings for presentation at several acedemic conferences but never published. (WashPost)

Something for Nothing

A handful of companies that paid no California income taxes are getting $82 million in refunds after a powerful state board ignored it's staff and sent out the checks. California's Board of Equalization voted 4-to-0 to send out the checks. A total of 22 companies will share in the $82 million. (LAT)

Revolving Door Riches

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge made $175,500 a year guarding the homeland. He'll make $50,000 a speech talking about the job he did now that he's available on the speaking circuit. If he lands a job at a law or lobbying firm, he's looking at a cool $1 million a year. Then there's the whole arena of big companies that could pay him double, triple or more -- just to sit on their board and bring in government contracts. And he's just one of the politicians cashing in on civil service this year. (NYT)

Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen -- And Take Your Cookbook With You

A new cookbook features 200 recipes from politicians including President Bush, VP Dick Cheney, and members of Congress. The Great American Sampler Cookbook offers up eats and sends the proceeds to the National Center for Family Literacy. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Duck & Cover And Eat Your Spinach

Films teaching kids to "duck and cover" to avoid nuclear destruction and a film starring Popeye the Sailor Man are among the 25 added to the National Film Registry this year. Films are not chosen because they are the "best" or most famous, but because they have "cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance." (LAT)

Driving Down Donations

If you ever plan to donate your car to charity -- now's the time to do it. After the first of the year, you'll no longer get to claim fair market value on your taxes. (KNBN via MSNBC)

Monday, December 27, 2004

A World of Pork

Pork barrel spending isn't unique to America. A Philipine journalist argues the issue was one of the most underreported of the year there. Sheila Coronel points out why stories on pork don't fly in her country. It sounds like it could play the same way in the US.

She says it's difficult to see a government respons to "Stories that deal with 'systemic rather than individual wrongdoing.... This is very, very difficult.... Pork barrel, for example, is systemic in the sense that it involves a relationship of patronage between a congressman and his constituents. So although the congressman may make money, the constituents feel that it is something where they can share from the spoils of power.'"

Yeah. But bet they'll still keep reporting on pork in the Philipines. I'll help hold up my end here. (Cyberdyaryo)

Paying the Tab for Homeland Security

The Congressional Budget Office suggests Washington should pressure the private sector to spend more to guard against terrorist threats. A new report calls for increasing taxes or writing new regulations for the chemical and nuclear industries. Some of the report's suggestions include:

  • Establishing new regulations for tracking the ownership of hazardous chemicals that could be used as weapons
  • Tougher regulations for monitoring for toxic chemical releases or limiting spent nuclear material stored near reactors
  • Raising taxes or creating other financial disincentives for businesses or residents to locate in danger zones
  • Requiring additional insurance coverage.
The report, Homeland Security and the Private Sector also suggests:

"Businesses would be inclined to spend less on security than might be appropriate for the nation as a whole if they faced losses from an attack that would be less than the overall losses for society." (CBO)

A Bumper Crop -- Of Your Money

US farm income has doubled in two years. But farm subsidies from Washington have gone up 40% over the same time. Much of that money goes to giant corporations -- not small family farms. Washington spent $15.7 billion of your taxes on farm subsidies last year -- $130 billion over the last nine years. (NYT)

The "Blue" Tax

One of President Bush's plans for revamping the tax code could involve getting rid of the deduction for state and local income taxes. That could hurt "blue" states more than "red" states. New York taxpayers alone could have to pay an extra $37 billion in federal taxes. (NYT)

Public Corruption Eruption

The totals aren't out yet, but CNN reports that Department of Justice government corruption cases have increased by 15% over the last four years. In 2000, the feds indicted 1,000 public officials. In 2002, it was 1,136. A Justice Department official says new figures will reflect a 15% increase. (CNN)

Tightening Do-Not-Call

New rules for the Do-Not-Call registry will let a lot more of you finish dinner. The rules now require telemarketers to check the list for new additions every 31 days -- insteas of every three months. There are 69 million of us on the list. (CNN)

A "Classic Money Pit" in Congress' Back Yard

The biggest renovation of the US Capitol since the 1850s is getting more expensive and farther behind schedule. An underground visitor's center has jumped in price by $130 million dollars since it started and is months behind on completion. Rep James Moran (D-VA) calls it "a classic money pit." It's a huge hole right beside the Capitol. There have been add-ons to the cost:

  • $70 million to expand office space expansion
  • $48 million for "unforseen site conditions"
  • $350 million for noise deafening windowpanes

The center's supposed to open now in late 2006. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Red Tape & Disaster Dollars

The federal agency that's supposed to deliver help to storm victims is now part of Washington's anti-terrorism efforts. FEMA fell under the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. Critics, including former directer James Lee Witt, say it went from a rapid response team to part of a bureaucratic behemoth. In the wake Hurricane Charley, FEMA delivered 560,000 pounds of ice and 200,000 liters of water in the first day. But the Department's Inspector General is looking into $28 million in possible fraud in that response. (WashPost)

Bases Reloaded

Washington plans a round of military base closings in May. Already, there are efforts to keep potentially targeted bases open. As many as a quarter of all US bases could be closed -- converted to civilian use. That means the federal money flowing into those areas around the bases will stop. That has politicians working around the clock to keep their local bases up and running. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Spending Money on an Old War

The US will spend $2.5 million to remove old, American bombs from Laos next year. Washington spent $1.4 million last year. The bombs are left over from the Vietnam war. They didn't explode then, but they've been going off ever since -- killing Laotians. The US dropped 2 million pounds of bombs on Laos from 1964 to 1973. (Philadephia Inquirer)

Short on Intelligence

Counterterrorism agencies are shorthanded. They've got recruiters scouring the country looking for new analysts -- offering scholarships and touring job fairs. They're shopping around military bases but also scouring the private sector. Scholarships up to $50,000 are promised to students who agree to work three years for the spy shops. Congress has shelled out $4 million this year for the slots -- $6 million for next year. (NYPost)

Go Fig-ure

In one of her last acts as Agriculture Secretary, Ann Veneman has announced the purchase of 5 million pounds of dried figs for domestic food assistance programs. If John Ashcroft weren't quitting his job at Justice, he could have used the leaves to cover more statures there.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Present for True Wonks -- Merry Christmas, all you Red States! Happy Holidays all you Blue States!

Watching Washington takes time to watch the yule log burn and figure out what "Boxing Day" really is. Here's some factoids about the holidays from the fine folks at your Census Bureau -- from retail sales to Christmas tree sales to the dollar amount of imports from Christmas Island. (Census Bureau)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Fannie Pack Full of Money

It was a golden revolving door. While government workers are limiited in how much they can earn, those who left for Fannie Mae -- a government-private hybrid -- could pull down $1 million, $2 million, even $17 million a year. (WashPost)

Lawyer Money

Law firms raised their campaign contributions in the last election. American Lawyer reprots Piper Rudnick led the pack of PACs with a total of $1,449,267 -- actually only a measley $781,796 came from it's PAC. Still, that's a lot of billable hours. But really only about 30 minutes in real time. (WashPost)

You Say You Have An Appointment?

Who's in who's out? The White House has a running list of Presidential appointments so far. (WhiteHouse.Gov)

Ford Has a Better Idea -- No Cop Cars for You!

A dispute with Arkansas' Attorney General over Ford police cars has led the auto maker to suspend delivery of cars to cops in the Natural State. The AG says some advertised features are missing on the Crown Victoria interceptors. Ford says, "Buy a Chevy!" (Seattle P-I)

Arrr, Me Hearties, Ere's Another Golden Oldie Fer Yer Listenin' Pleasure

The FCC is looking for a pirate radio station in Washington that's broadcasting calls for "massive protests" of Pesident Bush's inauguration. It broadcasts around the city at 1680 AM, calling itself "Guerrilla Radio, WSQT." Seems anyone with $40 in parts from Radio Shack can do the same thing. So much for XM being the next big wave in radio. (India Daily)

A Bumpy Ride for Traffic Safety Laws

A new report ranks Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, and Rhode Island the worst for highway safety laws. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety issued the report. It names North Carolina, California, New Jersey, Tenneessee, and Washington as the best. The criteria includes whether police can ticket people for not wearing seat belts, use of car seats for kids, and motocycle helmet laws. (

A $133.3 Million Hole in the Desert

The pilot ejected safely, but his F-22 Raptor slammed into the Nevada desert. The F-22 is a next generation fighter and there are only a relative handful in service. The Air Force has grounded all the F-22s out there until they figure out what went wrong with this one. New planes often suffer a rash of crashes when they first enter service until all the bugs are worked out. But this was the first time one of the Raptors crashed. (CNN)

Expert Says Plain English Will Cause Confusion

New rules that take affect in just over a year will require foods that contain one of eight main food allergens to spell out the food in plain English. That means it would have to say "milk" on the label instead of "caseinate," or "egg" instead of "albumen." A university professor says that'll confuse people, who like me are allergic to eggs -- but never knew I was allergic to "albumen." Get a dictionary before you go to the grocery store. (MSNBC)

Paris in the Spring -- With A High Tech Passport

The US starts issuing biometric passports next spring. They'll feature personal identifying data and a microchip embedded in the cover. It'll take nearly 10 years to convert the nearly 60 million passports already in use to the new standard. The main effect of the change will be to prevent the tin foil hat crowd from leaving the country. (IHT)

Cold Comfort

Vermont's Senators want $300 million in extra emergency money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). They blame extra high fuel costs for the need -- on top of the $2 billion already set aside for LIHEAP. (Boston Globe)

Signed, Sealed, & Delivered

"By decreasing the amount of time a single executive, manager, or VIP signs his name by just 15 minutes a day, a signature machine can pay for itself in just a short time." -- advertisement for a machine that does 3,000 autographs a day 'without writer's cramp."

In the wake of the flap over Defense Secretary using such a machine to sign condolences letters to families of troops killed in action, makes you wonder what a life's worth. (Boston Globe -- Opinion)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The President's Pardons

President Bush only granted four Christmas pardons -- for a total of 31 during his first term. That's about half what his father did.

This year's lucky winners:
  • Kristan Diane Bullock Akins of, Raleigh, North Carolina. Sentenced in 1990 for embezzlement by a bank employee.
  • Ronald William Cauley of East Providence, Rhode Island. Sentenced in 1980 for misapplication of bank funds by an employee.
  • Stephen Davis Simmons of Austin, Texas. Sentenced in 1981 for possession of counterfeit obligations.
  • Roger Charles Weber of Northridge, California. Sentenced in 1969 for theft from interstate shipment. (CNN)

But What if the Terrorists Attack Roanoake

Big cities are finally getting bigger shares of anti-terrorism money. After repeated complaints that small towns and rural states were getting unusually high per capital grants for anti-terror efforts (like the Dodge Durango no one's allowed to drive in South Dakota), Homeland Security is looking at potential targets -- instead of pork projects. Take New York City. It's share jumps from $47 million in 2004 to $208 million in 2005. Cities had complained that they were paying local money to protect the nation's financial and communication centers

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of December 22, 2004

The number of Reserve and Guard mobilized for duty is up again this week. The net number is 634 more mobilized this week over last. A total of 186,366 Guardsmen and Reservists are now on active duty. (Department of Defense)

Exaggerated Damage Claims Costing You Millions

FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- sent $29.5 million to Mobile, Alabama residents for flood damage. Even though local emergency coordinators say there was no damage.

Again, thousands of claims for Hurricane Frances damage -- in parts of North Carolina where the storm did virtually no damage.

And local emergency coordinators in Detroit were stunned that 30,000 people filed $33.9 million in storm damage claims. They can't believe more than 2,000 really deserved the money. (Sun Sentinel)

New Worries for Pentagon Brass

Back in April 2003, the Pentagon predicted the Iraq occupation would be over this month -- December, 2004. Like so many other generals in so many other wars -- the brass once again wrongly predicted "we'd be home by Christmas." Instead, troop levels are rising to records and insurgent attacks are worsening and becoming more effective. It's another sign the attackers are more than mere terrorists. Even the President says that. That precision has the brass worried -- and more hesitant about predictions. (MSNBC)

Caving Slightly to Public Pressure

The Bush administration has opened the door slightly to the idea of reimporting low cost, American made drugs. They're usually 35% to 55% cheaper than the same drugs that never leave the US. But the White House wants to put out a list of which drugs can be reimported. Even Republican Congressmen claim the White House's relaxed rules don't go far enough. Rep Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) said, "I don't know whether to describe this as an insult or an embarrassment." (LAT)

The Cure Can Be Worse Than the Cause

Concerns over medicine safety may put the brakes on Big Pharma's efforts to push "lifestyle" drugs. Ad campaigns have pushed medicines that relieve things like impotence and heartburn. That turns into big money -- and may distract pharmaceutical companies from researching cures for major diseases with smaller cash returns. But analysts say the worries over recent problems with painkillers like Vioxx, and even Aleve, may make Americans think twice about popping a pill when they over indulge -- or want to indulge. (MSNBC)

Every Vote Counts

Democrats are claiming a razor thin victory -- eight (8) votes out of more than 2 million cast -- in the Washington state Governors race. Democrats are citing preliminary results of the recount putting Christine Gregoire ahead. (WashPost)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Cashing In on Congress

There's a long line of former Congressmen lining up for a little lobbying work. They stand to pull down a lot of cash for their new jobs, too.

Pushing Tin

The FAA is looking for people to replace mass retirements in the air traffic control system. They'll hire 435 new controllers next year, then around a thousand a year every year through 2014. The head honcho at the air traffic controllers' union says the hiring timetable is too long. (MSNBC)

Dog Fight Over BarneyCam

Websites -- led by the Washington Post -- are in a dog fight over rights to "BarneyCam" video. The White House puts out annual tapes of the President's pooch, Barney. They only supply TV outfits with tapes. They insist websites link to the site to view the film. All about film rights and whatnot. Probably taking the hard line after Socks got screwed on his biography rights -- and being a cat, that's nine different books. (

Politics of Oil

The US will reach it's peak oil production in just four more years. After that, oil production will start dropping -- simply because we're running out. Worldwide, that won't happen until 2030. So oil companies -- looking ahead to falling profits -- are looking for new oil fields. They want Washington to spend your tax dollars to help them look for oil beneath the oceans. They, of course, will keep the profits your taxes provide them with. (Center for Public Integrity)

One Way Around Red Tape: Cow Sharing

Some people like raw milk -- that's unpasteurized milk. Thing is, you can't sell unpasteuized milk. So an enterprising farm family sold shares in their milk cows. Technically, their customers own a share of the cow -- and there's no rule about the owner drinking raw milk. (NPR)

Cooking Washington's Books

The Government Accountability Office found Washington's bookkeeping is so bad, they don't even know if the bookkeepers keep accepted accounting practices. That's important considering how much money Washington has to account for. The national debt is $7.4 trillion -- about $25,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country. Add in Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits and it comes to $145,000 per person -- or $350,000 per full-time worker. That's a bunch of money. So get back to work. (WashPost)

Cooking Washington's Books

The Government Accountability Office has found Washington's bookkeeping so bad, they couldn't even tell if the bookkeepers kept accepted accounting principles. Good books are important. Right now, Washington's debt is around $7.4 trillion. That's $25,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. But add in Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits and it works out to about $145,000 per person -- or $350,000 for every full-time worker in America. That's a bunch of money. So get back to work. (WashPost)

Shhhhh. Lobbyists at Work.

Wall Street expects a windfall in the trillions if private Social Security accounts pass Congress. But Wall Street lobbyists' salivating in years past killed the idea's chances. This year, they're restraining their Pavlovian responses to mounds of other people's money and lobbying quietly. (NYT)

America's (Lack of) Intelligence Organization

Fresh from reforming the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the independent 9/11 Commission will turn its attention to reforming Congress. Panel members call Congress "dysfunctional" in overseeing spy agencies and the Homeland Security Department. The commissioners have formed a private group called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project to continuing lobbying for anti-terrorism reforms. (NYT)

What did Your $58 Million Really Buy

The Bush administration insists the $58 million they sent to Ukraine over the last two years was simply to promote democracy in the former Soviet republic. But there's growing criticism of how Washington spent the money. Critics claim it was really meant to simply oust the government already there. (NYT)

Cashing in on Patriotism

A pro-military country song is drawing fire for deceptive promotions. Chely Wright called on her fan club president to resign after a phone blitz to radio stations. Fans claimed to be in the military or have a relative in the military to get stations to play Wright's song "Bumper of my SUV." (NPR - Audio)

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Presidents Hanging out at Sam's Club

A couple of former Presidents side with both Wal-Mart and Costco regardless of's suggestion. Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton credit Costco and Sam's Club (a division of Wal-Mart) with making their writing careers a success. They love the crowds -- and them giant cans of Vienna sausages are a real bargin. (US News/Washington Whispers)

A Blue Christmas

Got some last minute, politically correct Christmas shopping? Check out to make sure you're not putting money in the pockets of your political enemies. The website tells you how much companies give to Democrats vs. Republicans. That way, all you Republicans can shop at Wal-Mart, Democrats head out to Costco. (

An Update from July

A big time federal contractor is having trouble making ends meet -- even after taking money from taxpayers and not delivering on the goods. BearingPoint, Inc announced it may not be able to report that it can stop accounting fraud. I told you back in July how the VA lost $427 million on a computer system BearingPoint set up for them. That contract alone resulted in delayed surgeries, a Congressional investigation, and five resignations. (WashPost)

Judging the Merits of the Junket

New rules for federal judges appear to make it easier for them to accept trips paid for by special interest groups. Those groups often have agendas that federal courts have to address. There had been a cry for tougher rules. But the rewrite rendered a verdict in favor of jet setting judges. (WashPost)

Defense Industries Get Their Fingerprints in Everybody's Pie

They build fighter jets -- and will soon have their hands on the Brit's fingerprints. Northrup-Grumman has won a $244 million contract to provide biometric identification -- a plan called IDENT1 -- to the bobbies of Britain. Kinda like Lockheed getting into the parking meter and red light camera business. (WashPost)

Who Will Guard Us From The Guardians

When Fannie Mae was called to Capitol Hill to be called on the carpet, they called in their political support. Fannie Mae's people planted questions among the Congressmen on the committee that's supposed to regulate them. Those questions turned the hearing around on Fannie Mae's accusers. (WashPost)

The Supremes Top Hits of 2005

A quick rundown of the biggest cases before the highest court. Expect decisions on things from the Ten Commandments to Title IX to come down in the new year. (AP via Yahoo!)

A Reunion from the Campaign Fundraiser

It was like old times at the White House economic conference that wrapped up last week. Of the 35 participants, 17 had chipped in money for politicians, PACs, or political parties. They contributed a total of $195,000 to Republicans, $23,000 to Democrats. (Center for Responsive Politics)

Your Water Bill

Big agribusiness companies get a windfall -- or perhaps a waterfall -- from your tax dollars. Water is in short supply in California, but big corporate farms are swimming in it -- paid for with $416 million of your tax dollars every year. The Environmental Working Group found that some of these big operations are getting a cool $1 million worth of water a year. (

Family Business

Rep Maxine Waters' family made more than $1 million over the last eight years doing business with candicates, causes, and companies she alllied herself with. That includes a bond underwriting firm her husband works for that recieved government business. (AP via WashPost)

The President: Word For Word

The complete text of the President's 17th news conference. Held on Monday, December 20, 2004. (WashPost)

You Got A Heap of Explainin' To Do, Dodge Sheriff

They're ready to break out a Dodge Durango in South Dakota -- if terrorists ever strike Hamlin County. The county got a grant -- $26,000 of your federal tax dollars -- to buy the $26,000 SUV. It was money for homeland defense. Thing is, the county can't use the SUV -- legally -- unless there's a terrorist strike. So, all those tax dollars of yours are gathering dust, and rust, in a South Dakota garage. (USA Today)

Don't Blame the Messenger

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has issued his annual Holiday Message to the Troops. No word on whether he signed it personally. (DoD Press Release)

Praise for the FDA

Despite the flu vaccine shortage, the Vioxx snafu, reports of whistleblowers punished for warning Congress about drug safety issues -- the FDA is still getting some high praise. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said the agency is doing a "spectacular" job and should "continue to do the job they do." Of course, this is the same crew that rewarded the CIA's WMD mistakes and complete miss on 9/11 with the Medal of Freedom for their director. (Boston Globe)

Flaws Fleecing You For Millions

Washington's sending hundreds of auditors to state capitals around the country looking for Medicaid money. The auditors are checking state accounting techniques that may shift hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid costs to federal taxpayers. States overpay millions every year to drug companies based on those companies' inflated, fictitous prices. (Houston Chronicle)

A Cure for Bad Medicine?

With the Vioxx snafu and mounting Congressional criticism of the FDA -- there are questions abouot the agency's effectiveness. Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) now wants an independent commission to come up with a plan to guide Washington onto the road to drug safety. (USA Today)

Cutting the Defense Budget

The Iraq War is costing $4.4 billion a month. The Bush administration is telling the Pentagon to start cutting budgets. It's a sign that the big Bush administration defense budgets are coming to an end. It also comes after a couple of weeks with heightened concern over recruitment shortfalls and equipment shortages that had the brass talking about billions more for spending in those areas. (LAT)

Medicare Goes from Bad to Worse

Washington's focused on Social Security -- but the big problem cold really be Medicare. Around 41 million elderly and disabled Americans depend on it. But it's going broke fast. It's hospital-care trust fund will be gone by 2019 -- more than 20 years before Social Security is supposed to run out of cash. (LAT)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Freezing Out Spending At Home

President Bush wants Congress to freeze or cut domestic spending next year. That'd mean holding the deficit in line. Not quite clear if this applies to pork barrel spending. Good thing they got that Norwegian shindig passed this year, dontcha know? (USA Today)

As If Invading Poland Wasn't Bad Enough

Turns out Adolph Hitler was a tax cheat. Research shows he spent years fighting tax collectors and finally quit paying all together when he took power. (No Silence Here)

Dead Parrots and Misfiring Missiles

The Washington Post compares the latest Pentagon spin to Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch. The $85 million dollar antimissile test that failed this week when the missile refused to work isn't really a failure. Not according to the brass who's brass is on the line to make it work. They say the military simply couldn't "complete the test [they] had planned." In other news, the same guy declares Pearl Harbor was a stunning victory for parking battleships for long term, underwater storage. (WashPost)

Mormons on the March

The US military is recruiting Mormons to fill a vital demand right now. Mormons are famed evangelists -- having served all over the world. That gives the military a ready pool of people who speak foreign languages -- a talent the military is short on these days. (NPR - Audio)

It's Still A Vowel. Close Enough for Government Work.

It's the misspellification strategery. Taegan Goddard's quick eye caught a sign below the President at an economic conference. It will be fixed before the White House spelling conference. (

Capitalizing on a Communist Market

Washington may not like trade with Cuba, but an ever growing number of states do. There's mounting lobbying efforts to open up trade with the communist nation particularly from farm belt states. Break out the conspiracy kits: Maybe that's why they're called "red" states. (

Sure We Have Red Ink Out the Wazoo, But Let's Throw a Million Dollar Party

Buried away in Washington's $388 billion spending bill is a cool $1 million for a celebration. It marks the 100th anniversary of Norway's independence from Sweden in 1905. Rep Martin Sabo (D-MN) slipped the Nordic nod ot the Norwegian American Foundation into the spending plan. (Grand Forks Herald)

Wow, Talk About A Coincidence

Remember the soldier who asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armor on their vehicles? By sheer coincidence his entire unit -- every single vehicle -- had armor within 24 hours of the question. Talk about damage control. (Tennessean)

The Social Security Shell Game

"Reform" in Washington often means simply twisting accounting priactices to hide where the money's going. Reform can look good on paper -- without really changing things in the realy world. Allan Sloan looks at how that plays into the debate over privatizing portions of Social Security. (MSNBC)

Owed, Because of the West Wind

An auditor looking into how California's Secretary of State spent $180 million of federal tax money says she's concerned. Critics of Kevin Shelley's (D-CA) spending accused him of using some of the money on his political campaign. Auditor Elaine Howle doesn't go that far, but says the federal money was poorly managed, had poor oversight, and Shelley showed disregard for planning and proper controls over the money. (MSNBC)

Set Your Crisis Counters to "Hype"

Back on December 9, I told you to expect to hear the word "crisis" crop up a lot in the debate over Social Security reform.

"The crisis is now." -- President Bush, December 16, at an economic conference discussing the future of Social Security.

But What About the Farmers?

The Army Corps of Engineers invokes the name of American agriculture in their latest project. The Corps wants to spend $1.79 billion to replace seven locks on the Mississippi River -- and another $1.58 billion on ecosystem reconstruction. The Corps says it's necessary to get farmers' goods to markets. But back in 2000, a whistleblower accused the Corps of inventing the justification to maintain their own flow of tax dollars.

Since then, scientists haven't been able to figure out how grain shipments would increase enough to justify the construction, either. Repeated studies by the National Research Council (a sister agency to the National Academy of Sciences) say the Corps has not made a good enough case for construction. (BaltSun)

Moon Landings & Iran Contra

Donald S. Jones lived an interesting life. He piloted the helicopter that recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins from the Pacific on their return from the first moon landing. He'd earlier recovered the Apollo 8 crew after the first translunar orbit. In 1986, Jones became military assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Within months, Jones was embroiled in illegally trafficking antitank missiles to Iran in exchange for American hostages held in Lebanon. Jones escaped charges. He died this week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at 76.

National Guard Underfunded

The National Guard needs $20 billion more to pay for the equipment it needs to carry out the mission Washington has given it. Lt Gen H. Steven Blum says Guard units rotating out of Iraq have to leave their equipment behind for the arriving Guardsmen to use -- because the new guys simply don't have any of their own. Last year, an Arkansas and a North Carolina Guard detachment became the first since the Korean War to relieve a regular Army unit in a war zone. The Arkansas and Noth Carolina Guardsmen had to borrow equipment from the Kentucky and Ohio National Guard to take on the mission.

But the Guard isn't just running short on money and equipment. Long and repeated deployments are making it difficult for the Guard and the Reserve to hang onto people -- and attract new ones. The Guard hopes to fix this by tripling bonuses for some recruits. (BaltSun)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Invisible War Wounds

Doctors and veterans' groups warn that the US will be deluged with tens of thousands of returning soldiers facing mental health problems -- and a health care system ill equipped to help them. An Army study shows one in every six soldiers in Iraq shows symptoms of major depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. (NYT)

An On-Off Switch for GPS

President Bush wants to be able to shut down access to the global postitioning satellite system in the event of a terrorist attack. It's believed the 9/11 hijackers used GPS devices to guide their hijacked planes to their targets. Plane and ship traffic in the US are dependent on the GPS system. The White House says the satellites would only be turned off in an extreme circumstance. (USA Today)

College Politicians Dropping Out

College Republicans and Democrats are having a hard time getting students to show up for meetings now that the campaign is over. No excitement, no shows. They're struggling to come up with ways to keep attendance up. As a one time college student, I have the one-word solution: beer. (USA Today)

Troops Bringing Drug Resitant Bugs Home from Iraq

Wounded soldiers coming home from Iraq are bringing along an epidemic of multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infection to military hospitals. It's not happening with troops coming from Afghanistan -- just Iraq. Doctors and the CDC are debating if the suberbugs are being produced by antibiotic use or they're unique qualities of the strains infecting the troops. (Al's Morning Meeting)

This is Riyadh Rose. While You Americans are Supporting Some Other Peace Plan, Your Girlfriends are Dating Clark Gable.

Did the Saudi Government and a Washington PR firm break a federal law
on foreign sponsored propaganda? The Justice Department is on the case of ads promoting Crown Prince Abdullah's Mideast peace plan. The case could be an embarrasment for both the Saudi government ant the White House. (Newsweek via MSNBC)

Sure, It's Dangerous, But the Industry We Regulate Really Wants to Sell It. Be a Sport.

One-fifth of the FDA's scientists surveyed in an official review said they were pressured to reccomend approval of a new drug -- even though they had professional concerns about it safety or effectiveness. This comes on the heels of Congressional questioning of the FDA's handling of scientists' concerns. (WashPost)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Nebraska. You're Sure? Nebraska?

Nebraska ranks among the top six states in bioterrorism preparedness because we all know al Qaeda is hell bent on destroying the infidel Cornhuskers. (

Thank Goodness the Cold War's Over, The White House Can't See Red Flags

How exactly did the White House miss all the warning signs about Bernie Kerik -- the short-lived nomination for Homeland Security Director had a past more checkered than Purina's printing plant. There are plenty of theories. The favorite may be that George Tenent told President Bush the nomination would be a "slam dunk." (WashPost)

Washington's Revolving Door, Part 2,004,123

Retiring Rep Jack Quinn (R-NY) only made $160,000 or so in Congress. He's signed on to earn $500,000 a year as a lobbyist for Cassidy Associates. Their clients include Major League Baseball, Saudi Arabia, and Boeing. Being a former Congressman gets you onto the House floor, in the House gym, all those places a regular joe from Erie, NY coming to complain to his Hired Hands on the Hill about Washington's revolving door are never allowed to go. (WashPost)

Washington's Revolving Door, Part 2,004,122

Retiring Rep Billy Tauzin (R-LA) leaves a job as chairman of the House committee that regulates the pharmaceutical industry. But he won't collect any unemployment checks. He's already got a sweet gig lined up working for the pharmaceutical industry's top lobbying group. (USA Today)

Turning Everyone into a Spy

Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney (R) says states and cities have to develop their own anti-terror intelligence. Gov Romney says they can't rely on federal agencies to crack terror plots. He's calling for "Meter readers, E.M.S. drivers, law enforcement" to look for clues of terror plots. Afterall, if the CIA missed 9/11, the water company may be just as good at cracking the case. Who knows, maybe the mailman will find those WMDs yet. (NYT)

Uphill Battle

A top US General says the Iraqi insurgents are gaining ground.

"They have had a growing understanding that where they can affect us is in the logistics flow," Air Force Lt Gen Lance Smith, deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command, told reporters. (ABC)

The Squeaky Wheel and $4 Billion in Grease

It pays to speak up. A week after a soldier questioned Defense Secreatry Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armored trucks and Humvees in Iraq, the Army is spending $4 billion to rush more armored vehicles to the region. The "up armored" vehicles get high praise from troops. They make a big difference when a homemade bomb goes off beside the vehicle. A standard Humvee may only have sheetmetal doors and cloth tops. Not much protection from insurgents. (Houston Chronicle)

Pauline Gore Passes On

Wife to a Senator, mother to a Vice President. Pauline Gore was a living example of the old saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." Former Vice President Al Gore's mother has died. She was 91. (No Silence Here/

The "Let "em Eat Cake" Strategery

Proving that his Harvard MBA was earned the hard way -- President Bush had an easy solution to the skyrocketing US trade deficit. Jest quit abuyin' them furn made products. (

OK, It's Still Expensive & Wasteful, But We Still Can't Discuss It

Sen Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) blasted a super secret project on the Senate floor without telling what it was. What isn't so secret is, if it's a government project, the price is likely to goup. The Washington Post reports the secret controversy is over a new satellite system. Originally supposed to cost taxpayers $5 billion, the price has shot up to $9.5 billion. (AP via Yahoo!)

Backing the President

Protestors plan a quiet demonstration against President Bush during his second inaugural. At a pre-selected time, the protestors, scattered throughout the crowd, will turn their back on the President. (LAT)

A Lot of Blue Communities Hidden In Red States

Democrats did surprisingly well in "hidden elections" back in November. That is, they picked up state house and local seats in areas that went for President Bush. That bodes well for building a pool of candidates for higher office in the future. (USA Today)

Maybe the Missile is a Conscientious Objector

The anti-missile shield has a perfect record so far. It still has never passed a single test. The latest failure was Tuesday. That hasn't kept Washington from spending billions and even deploying the system.

America's multi-billion dollar missile defense sheild failed it's first test in two years when the missile that's supposed to defend us from attack -- refused to work. The interceptor, which was supposed to blast a target missile out of the sky -- simply shut itself down on the launch pad.

This was only a test. Had this been an actual emergency -- Seattle would have a nice, green glow this morning. (ABC)

The Cost of War, Part 2

Some estimates now have the total price of the Iraq War climbing to $200 billion by early next year. (Boston Globe)

The Cost of War

Washington has now spent twice as much on the Iraq War than what the experts first predicted it would cost before the 2003 invasion. Washington has spent $100 billion. The first Gulf War only cost $80 billion. The counter to the right shows roughly $150 billion in war costs. That's based on how much Congress has put aside for the war to date. We haven't spent all that money yet. But the administration plans to ask for $70 - $100 billion more right after the new year.

The higher price is the 1,299 Americans killed in Iraq in the war. More than 1,000 of those are combat deaths. (CBS) [Photo Credit: Washington Monument Reflected In Vietnam Memorial by Terry Turner] Posted by Hello

What's that Spinning Noise Coming from Ronald Reagan's Grave

The 40th President was the grand daddy of all fiscal conservatives. But his supporters have dipped into the pork barrel for $475,000 of your tax dollars by invoking Ronald Reagan's name and memory. Your tax money went to help fix up an old theatre in Springfield, Missouri where Ronald Reagan once attended a screening back in 1952. He was still an actor and registered Democrat at the time. The federal grant is part of a $8.3 million restoration project for the Gilloz Theatre. (MSNBC)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"I Think That I Shall Never See..."

A 300 year old "Liberty Tree" -- a marker on the Underground Railroad -- was cut down in Massachusetts after city leaders determined it was too damaged to save. It served as a meeting place for abolitionists including Frederick Douglass. Townspeople had hoped to win National Historic Register status for the sycamore and build a park around it. (WFRV-TV)

Who's Going To War

The Pentagon's handed out marching orders for Iraq and Afghanistan for the new year. There'll be 138,000 troops in Iraq (an extra 12,000 through the planned January elections) and 14,000 in Afghanistan. (Newsday)

Sure It Was Dangerous -- But We Slipped It Past the Regulators

It's called "The Patients First Bill." But it puts Big Pharma first when it comes to bad medicine.

Tucked away in a Congressional plan to cut down on medical malpractice lawsuits is a provision to protect drug maker Merck & Co. They made Vioxx -- the arthritis pain medicine pulled from the market this year for a link to heart attacks. Merck & Co. failed for four years to find in their own test data that the link was there. Then the FDA brass came down hard on one of their scientists who tried to warn Congress of the danger.

Senate Bill 11 failed in the last Congress. But expect it back next year with a GOP majority friendly to the idea of tort reform. Section 7(c) would let Merck & Co. off the hook for pricey punitive lawsuits that might otherwise teach the drug maker not to ignore the dangers their products could present.

The Patients First Bill would prevent patients from suing companies like Merck that manufacture potentially fatal drugs so long as the FDA approved the product. In other words, if a company -- or the FDA -- ran tests that showed a drug was dangerous, but it still got through the approval process, the company couldn't be punished. Interesting, considering the flap with the FDA reportedly trying to keep reports on the dangers of Vioxx from Congress.

Kinda like saying, "I knew robbing the bank was wrong, but the vault door was wide open and the guard was looking the other way."

The Patients First Bill was sponsored in the last congress by Sen John Ensign (R-NV), a veterinarian before he became a Senator. Doubtful many of his patients took Vioxx. (US Government Printing Office)

Halliburton's $812 Million Dollar Problem

Pentagon audits turned up lots of irregularities in a non-compete bid given to Halliburton last year. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board released results of the audits. They cover five work orders costing taxpayers $812 million. The Pentagon found that Halliburton failed to complete required evaluations, were unable to support some of their costs, and overstated other costs to taxpayers. (Reuters)

Sweatshirts from Sweatshops

Top brass at top colleges promised five years ago to stop buying their logo laden, licensed apparel from companies using overseas sweatshops. They were driven by student protests. Five years later, those protestors have mostly graduated, but a lot of the sweatshirts are still coming from sweatshops. The Hartford Courant found UConn gear stitched the same way they were when UConn President Philip Austin led the promises to stop the practice. (Hartfort Courant)

Everything's Bigger in Texas -- Except the Tax Bill

Whether you make corn chips or silicon chips -- you can profit from cow chips in Texas. Frito Lay, Intel, and Ross Perot have skipped out on paying taxes to support Texas schools by turning prime beef loose on their prime real estate. They're taking advantage of state laws in the Lone Star State that were supposed to help farmers. The law's wound up hurting schools.

The Dallas Morning News found that "maintaining a small herd of cattle, planting a few acres of crops or merely growing native grasses, landowners can keep their taxes low while the market value of their prime real estate grows. An agricultural exemption can reduce a $240,000 annual tax bill, for example, to $300." (Dallas Morning News)

Warehousing the Wounded

The military is warehousing more than 13,000 mentally and physically ill soldiers in "medical holdover" units. In short, it means taking wounded soldiers, locking them up in a barracks, and failing to provide treatment. Reservists and Guardsmen are particularly peeved by the practice. It frustrates their efforts to get a medical retirement. There are perks that go along with that -- a lifetime monthly pension and discounts at commissary stores. But it requires an Army judgement -- and means money out of the Army's pocket for people who will never be able to fight again. (Denver Post)

National Grading Effort Earns a "C"

Nursing home patients aren't suffering as much from untreated pain and are not in physical restraints nearly as much these days. Part of the results of Bush administration policies to grade the nation's nursing homes. But the Boston Globe found the policies have done nothing to ease patients' pressure sores or get patients walking, eating, or using the bathroom on their own. (Boston Globe)

We've Got Deadlines to Keep -- But Since You're Big Oil, We'll Let You Slide

Washington's been quietly letting oil refineries all across the US to miss court-mandated deadlines to reduce air emissions. That means hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting extra exposure to dangerous pollutants. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram found the EPA has been extremely flexible with the industry it's supposed to regulate. The Fort Worth reporters also found that deals to clean up four Chevron/Texaco refineries have been held up for more than a year. (IRE & Fort Worth Star Telegram)

Battling for the Prime Pork Post

The Appropriations Committee is the place to add pork barrel spending projects to any bill. So the race to lead the committee can be a heated one -- with lots of campaign money going to the candidates who can influence where your tax dollars go. Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) steps down as chairman in January. The people at the Center for Responsive Politics are tracking the money behind the people who want to replace him: Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Ralph Requla (R-OH), and Hal Rogers (R-KY). (Center for Responsive Politics)

The Boom and the Meltdown

Ralph Smith at has a cheery view of the future. He discusses the idea of a "market meltdown" as baby boomers retire, threatening the whole stock market:

"What happens if this large group of people decides to withdraw billions of dollars from retirement stock accounts and put their money into different investments? And will boomers even be able to retire?

"Some analysts warn investors about a 'market meltdown' as boomers go from making lots of money in their chosen careers, and investing those retirement dollars in stock retirement funds, and begin withdrawing that money and living on interest income and Social Security benefits. " (

Twisting Arms

Iran says it's willing to negotiate with the US over its nuclear program. And the UN's not atomic watchdog says any Mideast peace plan must include disarmament for the region.

But former Gen Wesley Clark takes the "not in my backyard strategy." Speaking at an international conference, the former NATO supreme allied commander and Democratic presidential candidate said it'd be in the interest of Arab and Muslim countries to curb Iran's nuke plans.

"Go to your neighbor across the Gulf and say in clear terms: Your efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities are not welcome, they are not appreciated, they won't improve your security and they won't improve our security," Clark said. (MSNBC)

Homeland Security Money

New York City gets one of the lowest per capita amounts of money for homeland security of any place in the country. While rural parts of the US are swimming in money they can't figure out how to spend. Debate's brewing in Congress about how to split up the federal homeland security help with places that want it -- and those that really need it. (NPR - Audio)

Posted "Help Wanted" Signs at America's Donut Shops

Washington's police department is looking for some extra help come Inauguration Day. They're recruiting 2,700 extra police officers from around the country to help with crowds, security, and protestors. And for the first time ever, reporters covering the swearing in willhave to be fingerprinted and subjected to a background check. (

This Would Make Golf on Radio Seem Exciting

Washington's newest radio station is WFED-AM -- all bureaucracy, all the time. Monday's playlist included an engrossing discussion of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program featuring senior officials with the Office of Personel Management. They detailed FSA and HSA features of FEHBP and Zzzzzzzzzzz...... (WashPost)

Setting an All-Time Record

America's trade deficit hit an all-time high $55.5 billion in October. Crude oil prices contributed to the widening gap. Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan warned last month that ever increasing trade deficits could could hurt the US economy. That's because foreign investors could be frightened away from investing money in the US. (USA Today)

Working Longer for Less Retirement Pay

With or without the privatized accounts -- expect to see your Social Security benefits cut. Almost every plan the GOP majority has for reforming Social Security involves cutting benefits one way or another. (NYT)

No Pot at This College

The DEA slapped a serious buzz kill on the University of Massachusetts' plans to grow marijuana. The University wanted to grow grass for research into medical uses for marijuana. So, parents, rest assured. There is no marijuana growing on campus. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. (NYT)

Tax & Spend Democrats Go After Tax & Spend Republicans

Democrats -- long demonized as "tax and spend liberals" -- claim now that no one's holding Republicans responsible for their spending. So, without subpoena powers or a majority for that matter, the Democrats are promising their own oversight hearings to look into where your tax dollars are going. (NYT)

Mapping the New World

The hottest book on the military brass' reading list right now is a work on strategy by P.M. Barnett called The Pentagon's New Map. Barnett tries to lay out the map for a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world. It focuses on the "haves" and "have nots" among nations and paints a picture of prospering nations ignoring those that are spinning toward chaos.

Sounds like great bedtime reading. I'll sleep a lot better. (WashPost)

Only in America

Let me get this straight. You head up the CIA -- the agency that misses the 9/11 attacks, then tells the world there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And for all those screw ups, you get the Medal of Freedom -- America's highest civilian honor.

George Tenet, the former CIA chief who presided over two of the biggest intel failures in the agency's history, will recieve the Medal.

But still no Medal of Freedom for the passengers and crew of Flight 93 -- who gave their lives on 9/11 to save people at the Capitol or White House. (WQAD-TV)

Start Squirrelling It Away -- The Fed's Set to Raise Rates

Expect the Federal Reserve to jack up interest rates today -- the fifth time this year. The Fed figures the economy is growing fast enough to support the rate hike. (Reuters) [Photo Credit: Squirrel at the Federal Reserve by Terry Turner]

Oops! Washington Misspent $20 Billion of Your Money

Private companies that process health claims for Medicare made nearly $20 billion in errors or in questionable payments last year. That means nearly 10% of the money Medicare spent was for errors. (USA Today)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Senator John Edwards Runs Third

Sen John Edwards (D-NC) took an electoral vote away from his boss. One of Minnesota's 10 electoral votes went to Edwards instead of Sen John Kerry (D-MA) who carried Minnesota. That's gotta hurt Ralph Nader's feelings. (Star Tribune)

Women on the Front Lines

The military is reportedly looking at easing its manpower shortage by using more women. Internal US Army documents indicate the military is looking at allowing women soldiers into frontline combat posts. Women soldiers can currently serve in support roles, but not on the frontlines. Part of the reasoning -- not enough male recruits to sustain the forces needed in combat. (Daily Mail)

Rallying Around the Whistle Blower

At least 22 members of Congress have signed a letter demanding the FDA fess up to what's going on with whistle-blower David Graham. Dr. Graham raised concerns about the prescription drug Vioxx. The FDA reportedly tried to silence his concerns, but his word reached Congress. Shortly after that, the maker of Vioxx pulled the drug from the market over a link to heart attacks. The Congressmen are worried over reports that Dr. Graham is being punished for doing the right thing for the American people. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Jumping Ship Leaves the FBI Rudderless

All four of the top management makeover specialists announced at the FBI in the wake of 9/11 are gone. Top specialists are splitting lickety-split -- causing disorder at the top of the law-and-order chain in the Hoover Building. (LAT)

On Guard

National Guardsman are one-third more likely to be killed in Iraq than full time soldiers.

The death rate in Iraq is one regular Army soldier for every 402 sent there. But National Guardsmen are dying at a rate of one for every 264 guardsmen sent.

Today (December 13) is the 368th birthday of the Army National Guard. The first unit was founded in Massachusetts on this date in 1636. (USA Today)

The War on Terror Meets the War on Drugs

The Defense Department is stepping up drug testing for troops serving in Afghanistan. It comes as opium production is growing in the country.

The UN Office on Drugs & Crime reports that Afghanistan produces 87% of the world's opium. India estimates that Afghanistan's opium production is around $2.8 billion a year -- $500 million bigger than last year. (DoD Press Release)

The Big Winner in the Kerik Mess Could Be Wes Clark

With Bernie Kerik out as President Bush's choice at Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson's name is back in the mix. Last week, Political Wire noted that the number two under Tom Ridge was fixing to run (as they say there) for Arkansas Governor.

The former Congressman, with a network of national donors, would be a tough competitor for a likely Democrat seeking the job -- former General and presidential candidate Wesley Clark -- who's also expected to run for Arkansas Governor in 2006. (USA Today)

The Most Powerful People in American Politics -- Immigrant Nannies

Typical of how Washington works. Bernard Kerick was nominated to be Homeland Security Secretary. Forget the fact that he'd make $6.5 million in stock options as a consultant with Taser International -- a company that sold stun guns to the Department and wanted to sell even more. You can ride out being in bed with a big government contractor. Just ask VP Dick Cheney -- or anyone at Halliburton.

Forget the lawsuits over unpaid condo fees, the sex scandal involving a relationship in the NYC Correction Department, and the fact he filed for bankruptcy a few years back.

Nope. It was the immigrant nanny that's derailed so many other government nominees that took out Bernie Kerik. (NYT)

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ignore That Threat -- Maybe It'll Go Away

More than three years after the 9/11 attacks, Washington has not assessed the risks of attack using general aviation. That includes non-commercial aircraft like private or charter planes -- including full size airliners.

The Government Accountability Office found the Transportation Security Administration has done nothing to assess the threats. That's despite warnings from the FBI that terrorists have looked at general aviation -- as opposed to commercial aviation -- as a way of delivering 9/11 style attacks. The TSA claims it's too costly to do any kind of widespread assessment.

There are 19,000 general aviation airports in the US. Nearly 75% of all aircraft operating in the US fall into this category. General aviation accounts for about $100 billion of the US economy and 1.3 million US jobs. (GAO) [Photo Credit: FAA]
Posted by Hello

Al Qaeda Could Plot to Take Out the Windmill on the 18th Hole

Water parks and miniature golf courses made Washington's list of potential terrorist targets. But pipelines, chemical plants, and dams didn't make it. The secret database is taking a public drubbing from Congress. Put together by the Homeland Security Department, some members of Congress have called it haphazard and even "an exercise in full employment for bureaucrats." (USA Today)

Fool Me Once...

Taxpayer-funded, privately run companies in Florida hired at least 200 people for juvenile justice cneters after they were fired from similar jobs for violence and misconduct.

Some of the fired then re-hired workers had sexual relationships with the teenagers they were supposed to protect.

The Palm Beach Post found people rehired after they'd choked, punched, and head-butted teens in their care. (Investigative Reporters and Editors & Palm Beach Post)

Global Hawks & Budget Hawks

The Global Hawk is an amazing piece of hardware. It's a huge, unmanned spy plane that can be programmed to take off, fly across the Atlantic and back, and land -- missing the centerline of the runway by only six inches.

What's more amazing, is that the plane was built using "off the shelf" parts. Engines and landing gear came from business jets. Other parts from other existing airplanes. That meant no expensive research and development. That in turn kept the price to taxpayers low.

All good things come to an end. The price of the program has shot up $900 million since 2001.

Back then, a single Global Hawk was supposed to cost $85.6 million. The price is up to $123.2 million.

The Air Force planned to spend $5.4 billion for 63 of the planes. Now they're spending $6.3 billion, and getting only 51 of them. (WashPost) (Photo Credit: US Navy)
Posted by Hello

Do Not Remove Tag Under Penalty of Law

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is mulling over a rule change that could save hundreds of people's lives -- in their sleep. A rule change on mattresses could save 330 lives a year. The CPSC figures 440 people die in mattress fires every year. Another 2,230 people are hurt. The rule change would require slower burning matteresses -- more resistent to matches, lighters, and candles. (AP via Yahoo!)

The Pfizer Taste Test Could Be Next

With 40% of Americans taking prescription drugs, it was bound to happen. Consumer Reports rates RX pills. And not surprisingly they found cheaper drugs -- sometimes even over the counter brands -- worked better than the pricey stuff Big Pharma advertises on the TV. (AP via Yahoo!)

I Know You Chickens Keep Disappearing, But Here's a Promising Report from your Head of Security, Mr. Fox

A new report says privatizing portions of Social Security would not be a windfall for big Wall Street firms. The report is by the Securities Industry Association -- which represents big Wall Street firms. So why would they lie?

They say it would only result in $39 billion to $279 billion over the next 75 years. That's still at least a couple billion more than the average American makes over the same lifetime.

Back in September, University of Chicago business school prof Austan Goolsbee predicted the total would be more like $940 billion or more -- amounting to the largest windfall in US financial history. (WashPost)

Trading Liberty for Security

The intelligence reform bill passed this week includes some little mentioned measures that expand police powers. They would loosen rules on FBI surveillance and allow the feds to more easily hold people without bail. That isn't sitting well with civil liberties groups. (WashPost)

Keeping Tabs on Drugs

Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) plans a bill next year requiring pharmaceutical companies to register their drug trials and report their results in a public database. Sen Grassley has been critical of drug companies he believes have hidden bad results of their drug tests. Democrats have several versions of the same idea. But having a senior Republican leading the charge may mean a better chance of a database bill passing the GOP dominated Congress. (NYT)

The Pell You Say

Even as college costs soar, the Bush administration wants to cut the Pell Grants for college students. Under the administration's plan, 90,000 students getting Pell Grants would lose them. Another 1.2 million would see $200 to $300 cuts to their grants. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Watch Where You Point That Phone, Buddy

In one of its final actions of the year, Congress passed a bill banning Peeping Tom photos with your camera phone. So plans to use your phone to post dirty pictures on the Internet could now land you in jail. The law makes it a crime to videotape or photograph the naked or underwear-only clad privates of a person without that person's consent -- at least when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Of course, in these days of the Patriot Act -- do we ever really have an expectation of privacy? Better keep your pants on -- just in case. (Boston Globe)

A License to Print Money

Congress has green-lighted a plan to let the US Treasury print money for other countries. They can also knock out postage stamps, drivers licenses, passports, and other "security" documents for countries looking to outsource the work to the US. With the dollar sliding against other currencies -- printing some other currencies may be a good idea. (LAT)

Tight Security Around the Swearing In

People who work in the US Capitol will have to apply for special credentials just to get to work on Inauguration Day. Planners are taking no chances on security in the first Presidential Inauguration since 9/11. (NDTV)

Paying for the President's Party

The group raising money to pay for President Bush's second inaugural want to raise $50 million -- most from donors willing to write six-figure checks. Send in a $250,000 check and you'll get:
  • 4 seats at the swearing in
  • 10 VIP seats at the inaugural parade
  • 2 tickets to a luncheon featuring President Bush & Vice President Cheney
  • 20 seats at candlelight dinners featuring the President, Vice President, and their wives

Not to mention the eternal gratitude of politicians who could help you get your special interests taken care of over the next four years. (Boston Globe)

Military Reserve Officers Calling it Quits

A surge in resignations is creating an officer shortage in the Army Reserve. Resignation requests have jumped from 15 in 2001 to more than 370 in the year ending this past September. The Reserve is rejecting resignations, forcing some officers to stay on call after they've fulfilled their eight-year service requirement. (Seattle Times)

A Timeline -- Congressional Reaction to 9/11

The intelligence reform bill passed this week got a lot of attention. Here's what else Congress has done since 9/11 you may have forgotten. (AP via

Paying the Price for Iraq

Mounting violence in Iraq could mean mounting bills for you. Congress is bracing for a request of $75-$100 billion in additional money to fight the Iraq War. Washington's spending $1 billion a week in Iraq. That could grow to $1.5 billion a week shortly after the new year. The issue of more money came up during the campaign -- but was brushed aside at the time. (ABC)

We're Perfectly Safe from Attack -- Unless it Rains

The US is already deploying a missile defense shield -- even though the system has never passed a real world test. Another missile defense test -- the first in two years -- had to be scrubbed because of bad weather. (

We Don't Really Trust You -- But, Hey, Take Our Money Anyway!

Halliburton has taken in $10 billion dollars of taxpayer money for work in Iraq -- despite rising concerns and mounting investigations. There are several investigations into Halliburton's operations in Iraq launched by agencies from the FBI to the Pentagon. (

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Want Some Horsemeat with that Pork?

In addition to the pork barrel spending in the omnibus spending bill is a clause allowing people to sell horses and burros for meat. Government corrals house about 20,000 wild horses. If they're more than ten years old, or if they've been passed over for adoption three times -- they're toast, er, hamburger. Guess Puxsutawaney Phil came out even better than expected. (WMTV)

The Ebay Answer

Yet another solution for those troops who comb scrap heaps looking for armor for their Humvees in Iraq. The London Underground admits now that it shops for parts on ebay. Afterall, Vice President Dick Cheney sang the praises of ebay as a boon to the economy during the campaign. Legend has it that when General George Patton ran into massive mounds of red tape trying to get replacement parts for his tanks prior to World War II, an enterprising NCO simply ordered the needed parts from Sears & Roebuck. (AFP via Yahoo!)

The Short List

It's easier to keep up with who's staying with the administration's second term. Only six of 15 Cabinet secretaries will hang around. (AP via Yahoo!)

A Social Security Reform Primer

The words "crisis" and "trillions of dollars" will come up a lot. CNN maps out the debate over fixing Social Security. (CNN)

Avoiding a Tough Choice

Privatizing Social Security may provide you with more money when your retire -- or you may see your investments go belly up. One thing for sure is that privatization plans can't save Social Security from the looming crisis it faces. That can only be done with tough choices -- like cutting benefits or raising the amount of withholding from your paycheck. The Bush administration has ruled out one of those tough choices -- no higher withholding. You may be able to hold on to more of your money now -- but have less to live on later if the privatization fails. (ABC)

Welcome to the Jury Pool

An unexpected benefit of being one of the millions of newly registered voters is getting called to jury duty. Wanna see how much that pays? Bet you'll think twice before participating in democracy again, huh? (Cincy Enquirer)

Soldiers & Marines Invade Canada

The Pentagon says more than 5,500 service members have deserted since the war began in Iraq. 60 Minutes talks with some of them who are hiding out in Canada. (CBS)

Hey, It Worked For Dick Cheney and Halliburton

President Bush's pick for Homeland Security Director made $6.2 million in stock options from Taser International -- a company that makes stun guns. The company has sold the guns to the Homeland Security Department and wants to sell more. (USA Today)

Congress Bans Your Bic -- Assault Weapons Still OK in Certain Cases

Congress has banned people from carrying butane lighters onto commercial flights. However, you can still carry your M-16 onto special charter flights Uncle Sam arranges for you. (AP via Yahoo!)

But What About Washington's Sacred Golden Cows?

The Bush administration has signed on with those urging the US Supreme Court to allow Ten Commandments displays on government property. The high court takes the issue up sometime next year. (AP)

Zell Miller, Lobbyist

Outgoing Senator Zell Miller (D-GA), who sided with President Bush in the 2004 campaign, is becoming a lobbyist. He's joining McKenna Long & Aldridge with offices in Atlanta, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. He will employ the unusual tactic of persuading Congressmen to go along -- or meet at sunrise to duel. (WashPost)

Fraud Down on the Farm

Washington's handed out $131 billion in farm subsidies over the last 9 years. With that kind of money floating around, there's sure to be some fraud. It's hard to track down how much -- because most happens in small towns where family and neighbors won't talk. But Uncle Sam's trying. (NPR - Audio)

Political Severance Pay

One time Democratic Presidential candidate Al Sharpton got $86,715 from the John Kerry campaign after Sharpton dropped out of the race. The Kerry camp paid Rev Sharpton to travel around the country, campaigning for Sen Kerry as a paid political consultant. All the other Democrats who dropped out campaigned for Sen Kerry, too. None of them got any money for it. (CNN)

The Long Count in Washington State

They're recounting 2.9 million ballots in Washington state. A machine recount showed the Republican -- Dino Rossi -- beat Democrat Christine Gregoire by just 42 votes in the Governor's race. (WashPost)

This War is Costing an Arm and a Leg -- And Sometimes, Both

US troops require twice as many limb amputations as soldiers in past wars. Part of the reason is that medical advancements allow more to survive. That may mask the number of wounded. As late as the Gulf War, 25% of the wounded died. It's only 10% now.

In the past, the loss of three limbs was barely survivable. In the current Iraq War, soldiers are surviving far worse wounds -- but face an uncertain future. The Department of Veteran Affairs is spending $7.2 million to develop new artificial limbs. But the record survival rate may leave the wounded with "invisible" scars -- emotional ones. And what we're missing is that for every soldier killed -- 10 more are wounded. (Boston Globe)

Privatizing Tax Collection

The Bush administration has gotten Congress' green light to let the IRS hire private collection agencies to collect overdue taxes. The Bush campaign collected some hefty campaign contributions from those agencies in a couple of elections.

Let's do some quick math:
  • The IRS figures it could collect $80 billion of the taxes it's owed.
  • The average government worker at the IRS could collect $900,000 a year -- several times his salary.
  • Debt collectors would keep 25% of what they collect.
That'd mean IRS workers would have to earn around $200,000 a year or more to be more expensive than the private sector solution. They make no where near that much. So the bottom line is that this is going to end up costing you money. But it's already happening. Around 40 states already use private debt collectors and the Education Department pays private companies to collect overdue student loans. (WashPost - Editorial)

It's Expensive and Wasteful -- But I Can't Tell You What It Is

We don't know what he's talking about -- because it's secret. But Sen Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) says a mysterious spy program tucked into US intel spending is "very wasteful and dangerous to the national security." Sen Rockerfeller, along with Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) all refused to sign a compromise allowing the mystery project to move forward. Defense and intel experts believe the project may somehow involve sending weapons into space to defend America's satellite system. (LAT)

Sorry We're Late, But We Really Have an Agenda Here

The Bush administration missed a deadline to deliver a report on reimporting prescription drugs. They were supposed to turn in their report to Congress on why it's such a bad idea. The deadline fell one day after the administration announced it was a good idea to import flu vaccine from Germany. Brand name drugs -- made in the US and shipped to Canada -- cost one-third or less than they do here. The administration says they can't vouch for the safety of these American made drugs once they cross the northern border. (

Doctors Overwhelmed in Iraq

The military's medical system is overwhelmed in Iraq by the largest number of -- and most severe -- injuries since the Vietnam War. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the Army has fewer than 50 general surgeons, 15 orthopedic surgeons, in Iraq for 138,000 troops. The article details how the military is addressing the problem and also features a photo essay on their work. This small handful in Iraq has had to treat 9,765 wounded -- and some of the 1,276 who've died since the invasion. Yesterday, there were fresh reports of plans to draft health care workers if the need arose. (LAT)

You May Want a Second Opinion

Medicare's telephone help line gave the correct answers less than half the time when taxpayers called seeking help. The Government Accountability Office found customer service representatives gave the wrong answer 55 out of 70 times.

Among the problems: Confusing "trunk strength" -- it means upper body strength. A customer service rep thought it applied to the ability of a car trunk to hold a wheel chair. (Guardian)

No More Free Parking

UN diplomats are known for ignoring parking tickets. That costs New York City tons of money every year. Now they'll get some revenge. Congress' omnibus spending bill orders that foreign aid be docked 110% of the taxes and tickets owed by deadbeat diplomats. That's worth $195 million for the Big Apple. (NY Post)

Remembering Some Sacrifices

Washington will finally honor police and firefighters killed on 9/11 will for their sacrifices. Nearly four years after the attackes, the omnibus spending bill Congress passed includes a special "Medal of Valor" for those uniformed civilians who went into the World Trade Center to save people after the attacks. Still no honors for the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who forced the plane down in Pennsylvania before it could reach its target, though. (NY Post)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Cost Cutting Move that Doesn't Cut Costs

Privatization, consolidation, reorganization. They are all touted as ways to save taxpayers money. But they often only create new layers of red tape and end up costing just as much -- if not more.

Take this Kentucky example. The City of Louisville and Jefferson County merged their governments -- promising taxpayers the move would save them $700,000 in salaries alone. But the savings are gone. The mayor says they used the savings to hire more expensive workers. (Courier-Journal)

Easy to Misplace $70 Billion Worth of Stuff

The Defense Department has an inventory of $70 billion worth of spare and repair parts. But they have no good system to track that stuff or know were many of those parts are at any given time. That can lead to the military buying stuff it doesn't need, simply because they didn't know they already had it in stock.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the Defense Department has tried for 30 years to fix the problem. But there are still problems because the military's computers that track the stuff, simply can't talk with one another. (GAO)

Yeah, But You Should See What the Dixie Chicks Have to Do Now

Washington is making a killing in the music business. Foreign musicians have get a new visa every time they play the US. And they have to pay $1,000 to have their visas sent to them on time -- even if they apply for visas months in advance. The State Department appears to be taking advantage of 9/11 worries to make some quick cash. (NPR - Audio)

A Case Where Health Care SAVES Money

A new program matches first-time single, poor mothers with help from trained nurses. The nurses are there through the pregnancy up until the baby's second birthday. A long term study of the program shows the kids do better for years afterwards -- and it saves taxpayers on average $17,000 per family. The savings come from fewer expenses for welfare, health care, and even court costs. (NPR -Audio)

If Something Works, Fix It

The FTC is thinking about wateringdown the "Do Not Call List" that is so popular with the American people. They are considering opening a loophole to let companies deliver pre-recorded messages to your phone -- perhaps the most annoying of all telemarketing calls. The Electornic Privacy Information Center calls the idea "answering machine spam" that would hit 62 million of us -- probably right as we sit down to dinner.

If you don't like the idea, you can send the FTC your comments online. (Chicago Sun Times)

Cell Phone "Do Not Call List"

By the way, the FTC has quietly started a "Do Not Call List" for cell phones. No word on whether they'll let machines call them. The list comes as the first national directory of cell phone numbers is about to go online. (Al's Morning Meeting)

Your Tax Dollars Stolen in an Inmate Scam

A local TV station in Florida has uncovered a scam where inmates are bilking the IRS out of your tax dollars. The inmates have been filing fake tax returns and getting back an average of $5,000 from Uncle Sam. (WESH & Al's Morning Meeting)

Complaints from the Ranks

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took on the troops in Kuwait. Soldiers complained about the lack of armored Humvees and long deployments.

"You go to war with what you've got," the Secretary told them.

Most of the complaints came from Guard and Reservists. They've had big problems getting the right armor for their vehicles and experienced longer than expected deployments. (AP)