Monday, January 31, 2005

Remember The Maine -- When You Pay That Internet Tax

The Joint Committee on Taxation has a bully idea. That telephone tax Washington passed to pay for the Spanish-American War -- how's about extending it to all Internet connections next year? Congress passed the 3% excise tax on telephones around the turn of the last century when telephones were luxury items and Washington needed to pay for a war with Spain over sinking the Maine. Turns out, the Maine sunk because of a faulty boiler, and we're still paying the tax to pay for that war. Bet President McKinley never expected to spread that tax to fiber optic lines. (CNET News)

What Do They Teach Kids These Days

A survey of 112,003 American high school students found that 36% believe newspapers should get "government approval" of stories before they're published. The John S. and James L Knight Foundation conducted the survey of First Amendment rights. Students were unavailable for comment -- they're still waiting for the school board to approve their statements. (USA Today)

We Had Him -- And Let Him Go

Newsweek reports that Iraqi police had the most wanted man in Iraq in custody in October -- and let him go. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi is the most infamous terrorist working in Iraq. Newsweek obtained an interrogation tape of a suicide bomber who survived his attack. He first told the story of al-Zarqawi's arrest and release. A deputy minister in Iraq checked records and now believes the claim is true. (Newsweek)

Deja Vu All Over Again

For those declaring victory in the Iraqi elections -- Taegan Goddard has a line of deja vu from a 1967 New York Times article over at (

From Our "We'll Never Speak Too Soon Again" Department

The folks who declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq nearly two years ago are using the Iraqi elections to declare victory over terrorists. There were more than 30 deaths in election related attacks -- but that was far below what the military expected. With the elections behind them, it's hard for insurgents and terrorists to find a new objective to address with violence. (Houston Chronicle)

Grading the States

Utah and Virginia get the highest marks in a study of how state governments manage money, information, people, roads, and buildings. The study comes from the Government Performance Project -- an initiative of the University of Richmond sponsored by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. They have an interactive map where you can click on your state to see what it's doing right -- and wrong. In this era of grade inflation, no state got less than a C-. (

Direct Mail is a Little Too Direct

A labor/Democratic front group sent out a mass mailing that got one letter getter hot under the collar. The Alliance for Retired Americans used a data base that has a lot of demographic info in addition to addresses. But the letter that went to Herbert Kaiser listed "Jewish" as part of his address. The WWII veteran and former foreign services worker didn't appreciate his religion being included in his address one little bit. (WashPost)

Stolen Honor's Fallout

Dave Hughes at reports that Sinclair Broadcast Group threatened to sue their one-time Washington Bureau Chief, Jon Lieberman for criticizing Sinclair's plans in October to air an anti-Kerry documentary called Stolen Honor.

Even though Sinclair fired Mr Lieberman, they're insisting he owes them "liquidated damages" on the ten months remaining on his contract. And they're holding him to his non-compete clause. But they want to start the six-month non-compete at when his contract was supposed to end -- not from when he was fired in October. (

Today In Congress

Here's what's going on in Congress today. Use the links to the right to write your Hired Hands on the Hill and let them know what you think. (WashPost)

Dangerous Jobs In Iraq

A quarterly report to Congress shows at least 232 civilian employees of private contractors have died working on US government projects in Iraq. Labor Department figures show US contractor deaths rose 93% during the fourth quarter of 2004. They averaged 22 a week for the quarter ending January 5. And workers comp claims for contractors missing more than four days of work due to injuries rose to a total of 728 claims. (Seattle P-I)

Losing Your Health Care Perk at Work

The Bush administration and Republicans in Congress are using that "political capital" from the 2004 election wins to rework your health insurance. They are working on plans to move the country away from employer provided health care -- a system in place since World War II. Instead, they want you to buy your own health insurance. Part of the benefit of an employer provided plan is the power of buying for lots of people in bulk -- which negotiates down the price of health insurance. The government would have to come up with some similar group plan to keep your rates in line. (LAT)

17 Words to Prevent a Scandal

A single, 17-word provision in the US Code warns federal agencies against the sort of thing that turned into the Payola Pundit scandal: "Appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose."

The law dates back to 1913, but the Bush administration -- like administrations before it -- took a fairly loose interpretation with the law. In the end, the Bush administration broke all records last year in spending on PR firms. (WashPost)

Nearly $9 Billion of Your Money Missing in Iraq

An audit of US aid given to Iraq after Baghdad's fall went to Iraqi ministries without financial controls, security, or adequate staff. The Inspector General's report says the occupying agency handed out $8.8 billion without "assurance the moneys were properly accounted for." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Flight 93 Memorial Moves Along

Five finalists -- out of more than 1,000 designs -- will be announced Friday for the memorial to United Airlines Flight 93. The plane was one of four hijacked on 9/11. It's passengers and crew apparently forced the hijackers to crash the plane in Pennsylvannia instead of its intended target, the Capitol or White House, thereby saving hundreds of lives on the ground. One of the judges, Sarah Wainio, whose sister Elizabeth died in the crash, says there's not a single bad design in the lot. (The Ledger)

The Bush Administration and "Errors in Judgement"

The new Education Secretary admits "errors in judgement" on the part of the Bush administration in the Payola Pundit scandal. Sec Margaret Spellings announced she's halted all work on the contract that paid $240,000 to commentator Armstrong Williams to promote "No Child Left Behind" on his radio and TV broadcasts.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Treating the Invisible Wounds

The Penatagon will add a third round of questionaires this spring to test the mental health of troops returning from combat. Military health experts have found that troops tend to minimize mental issues for fear of delaying their return home. Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder may not reveal themselves for weeks or months after troops return. (NYT)

BRAC's Timeline

The Pentagon has 24% more bases than it needs. The military is getting ready for its fifth round of base closings. The Associated Press has the timeline for the shutdowns. The closings are painful for communities hooked on the federal dollars bases lure to their local economies and that usually creates serious pork barrel politicking. (AP via the Boston Globe)

Uncle Sam's Computer Glitches

Washington has had more than a decade of costly computer blunders where you paid the bill. The FBI recently scrapped a $170 million computer program that simply didn't work as promised. The IRS has a $1.7 billion computer modernization project that is over budget and 15 months late. The IRS had to ask Congress for an extra $388 million last year. The FAA has doubled its cost estimates to $1.69 billion for a new computer system. (CNN)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Democratic Newt

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz repeats what I've been telling you for a while -- that Social Security reform is shaping up for President Bush like health care reform shaped up for President Clinton. Mr Kurtz writes that Democrats are patterning their attack on strategies that Newt Gingrich used in 1993 and 1994. The GOP attack not only killed "Hillarycare" as it was called -- it led to the Republicans retaking a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Marine One's Italian Parts

The President of the United States will soon ride aboard a partly foreign built helicopter. Lockheed Martin and it's international team beat out all-American Sikorsky Aircraft Corp to build the next fleet of Marine One choppers. The new fleet of 23 helicopters will be an Italian design. (WashPost)

Selling Social Security Reform with Tax Money

Democrats want the Government Accountability Office to investigate President Bush's use of federal agencies to promote his Social Security plans. The cite a Social Security Administration "communications/marketing tactical plan" which they claim orders civil servants to promote the President's political agenda. (WashPost)

The CIA and the Nazis

The CIA refuses to turn over hundreds of thousands of documents relating to Nazi war criminals -- even though a 1998 law requires the spy agency to do just that. The CIA has turned over 1.2 million pages so far from its predecessor agency. Those documents showed a closer that suspected relationship between the CIA and Nazi war criminals. Congressmen from both parties want the CIA to come clean and turn over the rest.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Third "Isolated Incident"

The White House said the Pundit Payola scandal was an isolated incident when USA Today broke the story of the Bush administration paying commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 dollars to tout "No Child Left Behind." Then came Maggie Gallagher. And now, another $4,000 contract paid to syndicated columnist Mike McManus to talk up a Bush administration marriage incentive. Mr McManus reaches a smaller audience with just 30 or 40 newspapers carrying his column. Probably explains the difference in the price. (USA Today)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of 26 January, 2005

The number of Guardsmen and Reservists on active duty this week was 951 fewer than last week. There are 193,458 Guard and Reserve on active duty. (DoD)

Those Who Fail to Remember History....

There was a lot of talk from politicians at the 9/11 Commission Hearings that no one could have forseen hijackers flying planes into buildings. But an Associated Press report found that was exactly what a Nixon-era anti-terrorism commission warned politicians about more than 30 years ago.

President Nixon put together the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism in the wake of the 1972 Olympic terrorist attack. It only met once, but spent five years working on potential terrorist threats.

In language that evokes deja vu, the panel warned that airlines wouldn't go along with increased security costs, that terrorists might build a radioactive "dirty bomb," and discussed ways to protect commercial planes from anti-aircraft missile attacks. (AP)

Watching Your Statehouse

Want to know if your local state legislator has a conflict of interest at the statehouse? Many are part time representatives who have full time jobs that might benefit from their votes. The Center for Public Integrity puts their financial disclosure statements on line so you can keep an eye on them. Sorry for all you voters in Michigan, Idaho, and Vermont. Your state legislators have not yet passed laws requiring that they tell you what their financial interests include. (CPI)

Speaking of Self Interests Among State Lawmakers...

Utah State Representative Kory Holdaway (R) sponsored a bill to get rid of the Granite School District Police Department. He said he was opposed to the cost of school districts having their own police departments. Turns out, the Department arrested Rep Holdaway's son last year after a fight. The Representative has dropped his sponsorship but says the bill wasn't for revenge -- and we all know politicians always tell the truth. (KUTV)

The Big Social Security Checks

The Center for Responsive Politics follows the money leading to the Social Security reform debate.

On the President's side, that includes the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security -- with connections to Pfizer, Hewlett-Packard, and the US Chamber of Commerce -- and more than $34.6 million in contributions to federal candidates since 1999. And support from the security and investments sector which contributed $8.1 million to the Bush campaign in 2004.

In the other corner -- the non-partisan AARP is joining forces with highly partisan labor unions -- whose PACs gave $52.7 million almost exclusively to Democrats last year and their 527 groups which spent $101 million.

The Pay's Almost as Good -- And You Don't Have to Campaign

Top salary for a Congressional staffer is going up to $156,848 a year. A member of Congress doesn't make much more than that -- $158,100. While a good many Congressional staffers barely make enough to get by -- often recent college grads living in group houses to make ends meet -- the top pay allows top Congressmen to hire top talent. The pay comes out of individual office budgets ranging from $701,136 to $1,636,750 a year in fiscal 2004 in the House. The budgets are set based on state demographics and distance from Washington. (CAGW)

Shortage to Surplus

Remember the flu shot shortage? It's turned into a flu shot surplus. So many people avoided getting a shot -- to let the really needy get theirs -- that there's plenty left over. As many as 3.5 million doses are sitting on the shelves -- and may have to go in the trash if not used before flu season ends.

The turnaround shows a volunteer spirit of the American people. It also exposes flaws in our vaccine distribution system -- with many doses shipped to where they were never needed. (MSNBC)

Plotting a New Course

Taegan Goddard reports that a co-author of the anti-Kerry Unfit for Command is itching for another fight. Swift boat vet Jerome Corsi is considering a move to Massachusetts and a run against Senator John Kerry in 2008. (

Clearing the Air

ConocoPhillips of Houston will pay fines of $4.5 million and spend $525 million upgrading nine refineries in seven states to comply with the Clean Air Act. The company settled a complaint with the Justice Department that will remove 47,000 tons of harmful emissions from America's air. The refineries involved amount to about 10% of those in the US. The settlement comes amid growing complaints that the Justice Department has been letting refiners miss clean up deadlines. (NYT)

Picking Up the Slack

A Congressional report finds that Washington could have $311 billion more in the bank over the next 10 years if it would simply clamp down on tax dodgers. Scrapping the system for collecting taxes on American companies operating overseas could save $55 billion. Expect the report from the Joint Committee on Taxation to run into stiff competition from special interests. (NYT)

Putting Big Media on Pause

The Bush administration has backed off a plan designed to benefit big media. The President's people had pushed for new rules making it easier for one company to own both television stations and newspapers in the same market. A federal appeals court had blocked the plan. Now the Justice Department says it won't appeal the case. (NYT)

Telemarketing Social Security Reform

An anonymous recording is spurring thousands of Americans to swamp the Capitol switchboard. The recording, to people's homes, tells listeners their Congressmen support "privatizing Social Security." That's prompted panicked opponents of the idea to call a number the recording offers. Traces on the recording show it came from a number belonging to the American Federation of Teachers who say the line was hijacked. The calls have turned up in as many as 24 Congressional Districts in 17 states. No one's taking credit -- or blame -- for the call. That's prompted Rutgers Univeristy poli sci proff Ross Baker to declare, "The dirty tricks have begun."

Just wait until the debate begins. (USA Today)

Paying for Security on Your Next Flight

Apparently it's getting more expensive to pat down little old ladies and pilfer through your suitcases. The Bush administration wants to raise the airline security fee tacked onto your tickets from $2.50 to $5.50 on one-way tickets, anf from $5.00 to $8.00 for multiple legged flights. The hike would raise $1.5 billion -- but might not get you through security any faster.

Remember 9/11

The Library of Congress has put recollections of 9/11 online. More than 170 audio and video interviews, 40 hours of memories, with photos, drawings, written narratives and poems. They were culled from more than 400 recordings and 421 items of graphic material collected from 27 states. The project is modeled after a similar project the Library of Congress launched on December 8, 1941 -- the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The two collections are part of the Library's "American Memory" section.

This project is in addition to the September 11 Digital Archive Project, the Library's first major aquisition of 9/11 materials. My personal experiences as a reporter on Capitol Hill that day are included in that collection. (CNN)

Record PR Spending and a Congressional Crackdown

Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) promise a bill next week to toughen laws against the federal government using taxpayer money for publicity or propaganda within the US. The bill follows scandals involving the Bush administration paying commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law and columnist Maggie Gallager more than $21,000 for columns and reports supporting a $300 million administration plan on marriage.
The House Committee on Government Reform has released a report saying the Bush administration used a record $88 million in taxpayer money for publica relations contracts in 2004 -- more than double what was spent in 2000. (CBS)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Armstrong Williams Meets eBay

The latest Armstrong Williams wannabe? Conservative talk show host Michael Graham on WMAL in Washington DC is auctioning himself off on eBay. If the price is right, he'll talk up your cause -- regardless of what it is. And the proceeds go to charity -- the Fisher House. (eBay)

Sending Your Money to College

Washington lets colleges lend taxpayer money to students and turn a profit at public expense. And the Government Accountability Office says the Education Department doesn't have the tools it needs to keep an eye on the program. The GAO reports that the Federal Student Aid Office "may be unaware of practices that could place taxpayer dollars at risk."

The program has grown from $155 million in 1994 to $1.5 billion last year. You don't need a college degree to know that adds up to a lot of your money at risk. (CNN)

The "Big Agenda" is Getting Smaller

President Bush had big plans for his second term. But a week after inauguration, they're already scaled back.

The President promised an Amendment banning gay marriage -- but says that won't fly now.

He planned major income tax reform -- but put it off for at least a year because Social Security reform got complicated.

The Associated Press analyzes how things have changed from the lofty goals of his inaugural address to the reality of his news conference just one week later. (AP via Yahoo!)

PACing it In

They haven't even got their bags unpacked but freshman Senators are already setting up Political Action Committees or PACs. The money raising and donating organizations let politicians build clout. They can donate to other politicians' campaigns, thus buying loyalty when the Senators want a committee chairmanship -- or something bigger. (

Forget the Mainstream Media, Go After "Mainstream History"

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History has rocketed to number 8 on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. But the Times says Thomas Woods Jr's book is pretty much just "incorrect." An editorial review says the book's more of a list of conservative talking points than a serious look at history. It attacks the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says Social Security "damaged the economy," and calls the Marshall Plan "a failed giveaway program."

Just for the record, the Marshall Plan was the brainchild of every conservative's favorite Democrat -- Harry Truman. And it led every conservative's favorite European conservative -- Winston Churchill -- to refer to Mr Truman as "the man who saved western civilization." (NYT -- Editorial)

Bordering on Defection on Reimporting Drugs

Five Republican Congressmen and Senators have broken with President Bush to support plans to legalize importing prescription drugs from Canada. Bills in both the House and Senate would allow Americans to buy the cheaper drugs.

America has the highest prescription drug prices of any country in the world. Drug companies make pills here in the US and ship them to Canada. It is as much as 62% cheaper to have those drugs shipped back to the US than to pay the price at the corner drug store here in the states. (CNEWS)

The Cost of War

The number of Americans killed in the Iraq War officially stands at 1,377 -- 1,080 killed in hostile actions. The latest casualty report from the Pentagon does not include those killed on the deadliest day of the war, January 26. (WashPost)

Getting Right What the CIA Got Wrong

A month before US forces stormed into Iraq, a little known think tank circulated a 16-page report on what to expect after the war. The report, After Saddam Hussein, Winning a Peace if It Comes to War, it predicted a passel of problems: insurgency, civil society's collapse, and surging terrorism.

The US Institute of Peace -- created by Congress and paid for with your dollars -- got it right when the much better funded spy shops missed the ball altogether. The USIP gets by on a mere $17 million a year -- chickenfeed in Washington.

The USIP is coming into it's own. After eight years, they're getting $100 million from Congress for a new building, in the last site left on the National Mall. (WashPost)

"We Don't Know Whether to Wind the Watch or Bark at the Moon"

Network anchors are headed to Baghdad for this weekend's elections. Can't wait to hear Dan Rather describe the results: "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a gun." Hey, who doesn't in Baghdad? (MSNBC)

Selling the "Big Agenda"

The Bush administration has more than doubled the amount of tax money spent on public relations firms to sell its agenda to the American people.

Back in 2001, the administration spent $37 million. Last year, the they shelled out $88 million. All told, the Bush administration has spent $250 million of your money to convince you to support their agenda. That compares with $128 million the Clinton administration spent in its second term to sway you to their way of thinking.

Some $240,000 of the Bush administration's spending went to commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law. He failed to disclose the connection, leading to investigations by the FCC, Congress, and Education Department as they look into possible payola and "covert propaganda" crimes.

Another $41,500 went to syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher to promote a $300 million dollar marriage plan the administration had. She also failed to disclose the connection in her syndicated columns.

Mr Williams' contract was through the Ketchum PR firm, the largest PR contractor to the administration. They took in $97 million of your tax dollars in the last four years.

Currently, the Republican Party is raising private donations to help with the PR effort at the White House. (USA Today)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Give 'Em a Couple of Elections and They'll Go Negative

Powerful "get out the vote" commercials are airing on Arabic TV over the Iraqi elections. The Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project has a good collection you can watch at their site. (MEMRI TV)

Disclosing an Error

Sinclair Broadcast Group has likened a pair of bloggers to Armstrong Williams in their commentary segment The Point. This comes as Sinclair promises to investigate their involvement in the Armstrong Williams scandal -- and as Sinclair's head honcho attended an Inauguration Day reception at Williams' house.

The commentary was called "Disclosures" and argued that journalists should disclose potential conflicts of interest to their readers or viewers. This is a basic tenent of journalism.

But The Point pointed to bloggers Jerome Armstrong of and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga who runs Thing is, they both disclosed that they took money from the Howard Dean campaign to promote him on their sites. (

You Are Your Own Best Critic

Columnist Charles Krauthammer had lots of praise for President Bush's second inaugural speech. He said such glowing things as "It was a revolutionary speak essentially about the abolition of tyranny...can only be spoken of as radical."

High praise, considering Mr Krauthammer consulted with the Bush administration on how to write the speech. Mr Krauthammer forgot to mention that in his critique on Fox News.

Mr Krauthammer was one of ten people invited to the White House on January 10. His column's distributor -- the Washington Post Writer's Group -- issued a statement saying the commentator didn't see the visit as an exercise in speech writing.

Liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America also says columnist and commentator William Kristol also consulted on President Bush's speech and failed to mention his involvement while praising it. (Editor & Publisher)

Paying for PR on "The Big Agenda"

The Republican Party is raising money for a new campaign -- to get President Bush's message out for the "Big Agenda" of his second term. National GOP Chair Ken Mehlman sent out a fundraising email asking donors for $25 each to get past that biggest of all boogeymen to conservatives -- the dreaded "liberal media." Of course, the request came as revelations broke about how the Bush administration -- at the Education Department and Health & Human Services Department -- quietly hired journalists with tax money to promote past Bush administration agendas. (AP via Yahoo!)

Word for Word -- The Presidential News Conference

The test of President Bush's Wednesday news conference at the White House. (Seattle P-I)

The President Draws the Line on the Armstrong Williams Scandal

President Bush has directly criticized his own Education Department for the Armstrong Williams scandal.

"I expect my Cabinet secretaries to make sure that that practice doesn't go forward. There needs to be independence," the President told reporters during a rare news conference.

Williams took $240,000 from the government to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law in his newspaper columns, and on radio and TV shows. He never disclosed the connection until USA Today broke the story.

The President says his agenda should stand on its own two feet, without secretly placing commentators on the government payroll. (ABC)

The Case for Private Accounts

The Club for Growth has launched a new blog to spread its ideas on Social Security reform -- namely promoting personal accounts. will take what its organizers call a "pro-growth vision of Social Security reform." The Club is probably best known outside political circles for its famous anti-Howard Dean commercial in the Iowa caucuses. features commentary written by folks like David Keating -- instrumental in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and the National Commission on Restructuring the IRS -- and Larry Kudlow of CNBC's Kudlow and Cramer. It's an interesting site with the usual Club for Growth intellectual approach -- and some good political cartoons thrown in so guys like me can follow what these financial brains are talking about. (

Maybe They Lost Their Remote

The FCC has rejected 36 complaints against such TV shows as "Friends" and "The Simpsons" filed by the Parents Television Council. The Council was caught spamming the FCC with complaints over the last two years, sending complaints to the FCC skyrocketing from fewer than 350 in 2001 to 240,000 in 2003. Among the complaints the FCC poo-pooed, one about signs protesting students carried in an episode of the Simpsons. One read: "What Would Jesus Glue" the other read "Don't Cut Off my Pianissimo." (AP via Yahoo!)

Wasting Billions of Your Tax Dollars

Even as the White House asks for an extra $80 billion for the Pentagon, Congress' investigative arm says the Defense Department is the most wasteful department in the federal government. The Government Accountability Office reports that 8 of the 25 most wasteful programs, policies, and offices are at the Pentagon. Comptroller General David Walker says DoD's failure to turn around poor management and wasteful programs "results in billions of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." (WashPost)

Wear and Tear in the War Zone

The Army drives an average Bradley Fighting Vehicle 4,000 miles a year in Iraq. Not much for a Buick. Quite a bit for a multi-ton, $1.16 million armored personell carrier in a war zone. Most of the tanks, APCs, and helicopters serving in Iraq were bought back in the 1980s. Some of the Humvees driving around Iraq were used in the 1991 Gulf War. All that equipment is wearing out and is a big reason the Bush administration asked for an extra $80 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (USA Today)

In what has become the deadliest day of the Iraq War, 31 members of the 1st Marine Division died in the crash of a transport helicopter with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Another five Marines and Soldiers died in other incidents around the country. The Pentagon isn't saying if the helicopter crash was related to hostile action. An investigation is underway. The Marines in Fallujah reportedly plan a news conference at 1:00 pm EST with more details of the crash. (DoD) Posted by Hello

Seeing Red

Want a little financial advice? Buy stock in red ink manufacturers, because Washington's going to use a record amount of it this year. Additional war spending will drive the federal deficit to a record $427 billion for fiscal 2005. That tops last year's $412 billion.

Right now, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased year by year:

  • 2003: $78.6 billion
  • 2004: $88 billion
  • 2005: $105 billion (estimated)
But it's only January. So Washington could need more money before October. (WashPost)

You're Fired for Blowing That Whistle

A whistle blower who warned about shoddy research at NIH lost his bonus because he stood up for safety. Dr Jonathan Fishbein was up for a $2,500 bonus for improving AIDS research and safety. But Dr Fishbein reported poor patient protections and slip-shod government research practices. Suddenly, NIH fired him for "poor performance." Now it turns out that superiors plotted to fire him after he blew the whistle on them. An e-mail from his boss says "we must overwhelm with force" Dr Fishbein's efforts to improve safety. This is the National Institutes of Health. The people who head it up are scientists. You'd think the idea of leaving a paper trail wouldn't be brain surgery or rocket science. (USA Today)

We Only Said it Happened Once Because We Didn't Think You'd Find the Other Cases

More of your tax dollars going to journalists to promote government policies. Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallager repeatedly rode to the Bush administration's defense in 2002 over a $300 million plan to encourage marriage as a way of strengthening families.

But Gallagher never told her readers she'd taken $21,500 from a Department of Health and Human Services contract to promote the plan. Her work ran from January through October in 2002. She also took another $20,000 grant from the Justice Department to write a report called Can Government Strengthen Marriage? The report was for a private group called the National Fatherhood Initiative.

The amount of money is not nearly as much as the $240,000 commentator Armstrong Williams took in an undisclosed government contract to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law. But after that scandal broke, the White House promised on January 11 that the Williams case was an isolated incident. (WashPost)

Coffee, Tea, or Electronic Jamming Countermeasures?

The Rand Corporation says al Qaeda has the ability to hit US commercial airliners with shoulder-fired missiles. But there's still a big debate over whether airliners should be equipped with expensive countermeasures. That could change if airline executives were forced to ride their own planes instead of smaller corporate jets that aren't as likely to be targeted. (NPR)

Republicans Weighing Polls Before the Social Security Debate

Republican pollsters are warning House GOP leaders about trouble ahead on the President's Social Security reforms. The pollsters warn that changes to Social Security promise serious consequences for Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections. Kind of like what health care reform did to Democrats in 1994.

Republican polls show near-retirees evenly split on privatizing a part of Social Security. But as they are given the talking points from Republicans and Democrats on the issue -- the support slips and opposition increases. (MSNBC)

President Bush, Back on the Campaign Trail

In one of his rare news conferences, President Bush called the coming Iraqi elections "a grand moment in Iraqi history," urging Iraqis to "defy these terrorists" and go to the polls.

Gee, in this country a little rain can cause low turnout. (MSNBC)

Birth Control Versus Abortion

Sen Hillary Clinton (D-NY) blames President Bush for a rise in abortion rates in parts the country. Sen Clinton told abortion rights supporters that during her husband's administration, family planning money was a priority. And she says, "We say the rate of abortion consistently fall."

The Senator says the abortion rate fell 25% between 1990 and 1995, and another 11% by 2000. Senator Clinton claims the Bush administration has cut birth control funding leading more women to seek abortions. (CNN)

The War Chest

The President passed word through three of his top aides that the White House will ask for $80 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's well on the way to the $100 billion for the year I told you about on January 4.

The request for more money comes even as Congress' top budget analyst predicted $855 billion in deficits over the next decade -- without the war money factored in. (CNN)

Taking Point on Talking Points

Obstacle courses, bayonet training, and learning to deliver a soundbite. The military does more before "Good Morning America" than most people do all day.

Media training is now routine for troops headed to Iraq -- has been for years in the Marines. They're getting a couple of hours of briefings from public affairs specialists, then handed talking point cards to memorize in case they run into the enemy -- er, a reporter. (Accentuate the Positive)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Sweetening a Dead Horse

Running into a hesitant Congress, the Bush administration is trying to sweeten the deal on Social Security reform. Just this week, the Republican chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee called the White House plan a "dead horse." His ideas include benefits indexed to wages and concentrating benefit controls on specific age groups. (Reuters)

IRS Free For All

Log onto the IRS web site and you can file your taxes electronically -- for free. You once had to meet certain age, income, or residency requirements to get the free service. Now it's open to anyone. Looks like a way to hook you on TurboTax and charge you for filing electronically in the future. (USA Today)

Mistakes Happen

News articles are written on newsprint -- not in stone. When a good paper makes a bad mistake, they'll run a correction. Same goes for the electronic media. sums them all up in one place. (

An Aspiring Armstrong Williams Wannabe?

Baltimore City Paper's Joe MacLeod would be a bargin for the Education Department. The guy's no Armstrong Williams, but give him credit for trying. Give the guy $10 and he'll mention you, your company, or your cause in his Mr Wrong column. That's a bargin compared to the $240,000 paid Mr Williams to promote "No Child Left Behind." (Baltimore City Paper)

If You Can't Stand the Heat -- Fire the Cooks

Republicans have fired six staff members on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- including three from the audit team that keeps an eye on spending by the CIA and other spy agencies. Those three were reportedly involved in politically sensitive investigations that could be embarrassing to the GOP -- such as a probe into botched intelligence that Iraq had WMDs just prior to the 2003 invasion. (LAT)

FCC Chair Reportedly Leaving

The Wall Street Journal reports that FCC Chairman Michael Powell will step down today. That'd give him time to clean out his office and be out of town before this years Super Bowl halftime show. (WSJ)

Changing of the Guard

The Senate confirmed Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings on Inauguration Day. Republicans are miffed though that Democrats held up Condi Rice's confirmation for Secretary of State until next week. (USA Today)

A Political Lightening Rod Steps Down

Bob Jones III is stepping down as head of Bob Jones University -- founded by his grandfather 78 years ago. The conservative, fundamentalist school has been at the center of political controversies over the years. President Bush drew fire for a campaign speech there when the school still banned interracial dating in 2000. After the 2004 election, Mr Jones sent the President a letter saying:

“You have been given a mandate. ... Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ.”

Mr Jones also called Catholicism and Mormonism "cults" in a 2000 campus magazine article.

He says he's stepping down to let someone closer to today's youth -- someone with new ideas -- to take charge. Who knows, they may allow raccoon coats and jalopies on campus. But "The Charleston" will still be banned. (MSNBC)

Paying Big Bucks to Keep 'Em In Uniform

The Pentagon will shell out $160 million in special perks to keep special forces troops from retiring. The military is spread thin and struggling to keep many of its most experienced people. The Pentagon's facing stiff competition for talent from private security firms, the CIA, and other government agencies offering SEALS and Green Berets six-figure salaries. The Pentagon will budget more than $100 million a year now for new bonuses. (CSM)

The Cost of War

The Iraq War military death toll is now at 1,364 -- including 1,073 killed in hostile action. The latest casualties came from Connecticutt, Colorado, Georgia, and Massachusetts. (WashPost)

Williams Spinning Some Good PR Amid the PR Scandal

Commentator Armstrong Williams -- who made a lot of coin from a secret government contract -- handed out commemorative coins to seven pioneering black conservatives in an inauguration day reception at his home. Mr Williams is under fire for taking $240,000 in taxpayer money to promote "No Child Left Behind" on his radio and television programs. The scandal has prompted Education Department, Congressional, and FCC investigations. Attending the reception at Mr Williams home was the head of another company that earlier promised to investigate their own connection with Mr Williams and the government contract. David Smith, owner of Sinclair Broadcast Group attended the reception. Mr Williams was a paid analyst for Sinclair Broadcast Group during the time of the contract and Sinclair broadcast an interview Mr Williams conducted with Education Secretary Rodney Paige. (WashTimes)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What the President Did Not Say

There were 2,000 words in President Bush's second inaugural address. Guess what never came up. Iraq. Not a single word directly addressing the elephant in the livingroom. (AP via Yahoo!)

From the Home Office in Cheney's Grove Township, Illinois

There are 11 million more Americans this Inauguration Day than four years ago. Just one of the amazing factoids the US Census Bureau brings you to pass the time while waiting for the parade to pass you by. (US Census Bureau)

Word for Word: The Inaugural Address

The text of President Bush's Second Inaugural Address. (White House)

The Inaugural Schedule

Here's today's schedule for the Presidential Inauguration. (AP via Yahoo!)

International Regulations

The Bush administration has softened regulations from the EPA and FDA to make life easier for business. But it hasn't worked. The European Union is filling the void. They now tell American manufacturers either abide by European rules -- or don't sell your goods there. That's a huge market. So, in effect, the US is letting the EU set the safety standards for American products. (Marketplace)

Back with More Cash

As of Friday, donors had chipped in $24.9 million for the Presidential Inaugural. And the names on that donor list matches a lot of the names on the list for campaign contributions in the 2004 elections. The Center for Responsive Politics makes the connections.

More than 50 donors have contributed $250,000. More than 90 donors topped $100,000. (CRP)

Pigs vs. the Troops

Citizens Against Government Waste reports Congress sacrificed troop safety in Iraq to pay for pork at home to the tune of $9 to $12 billion. CAGW's Wastewatcher says appropriators took $300 million from Pentagon procurement accounts -- including those that pay for armor on vehicles. Another $411 was cut from operations and maintenance and research and development accounts -- all to pay for the pet projects they included in the Defense budget. CAWG claims that since the Iraq War first seemed imminent, Congress has funneled $34.5 billion into pork barrel projects under the guise of defense spending. (CAWG)

The Boogeyman of the Moment

With Saddam Hussein locked up awaiting trial and Osama bin Laden uncatchable, as the President said, "Because he's hiding," it's time to turn our nation's attention and resources to the latest evildoer, the current public enemy number one, the most notorious boogeyman: SpongeBob Squarepants.

Dr James Dobson, head honcho of the conservative Focus on the Family, is focused on SpongeBob. A cartoon sponge may appear to be a soft target. But Dr Dobson, Phd, has identified SpongeBob as the key figure in a new axis of evil that includes Jimmy Neutron and Barney the dinosaur.

At issue is a video that Dr Dobson sees as the WMD in the culture war -- a video produced by the We Are Family Foundation -- founded by Nile Rodgers, who wrote the 1970s disco hit "We Are Family." Dr Dobson claims the video preaches tolerance for homosexuals -- and tolerance cannot be tolerated.

But it appears Dr Dobson is relying on the same kind of intel that told us there were WMDs in Iraq in 2002. It seems Dr Dobson has been looking at the wrong website. There is a site called "We Are Family" which promotes sexual tolerance. But it's completely different from Mr Rodgers' site and not affiliated with his foundation.

Mr Rodgers created his foundation after the 9/11 attacks to teach kids not to hate people from other cultures.

But hey, it's still preaching tolerance -- that may be close enough for Dr Dobson. (NYT)

The Other Inaugurals -- Less Pomp, More Circumstance

While President Bush is the center of attention at the most expensive Inauguration ever, the nation's governors are cutting corners and pinching pennies in their swearing-in festivities. The second Bush Inaugural will cost an estimated $40 - $50 million.

The Presidential Inaugural is almost always an expensive spectacle. But Vermont Governor James Douglas (R) used his inaugural ball to raise money -- $20,000 for Vermont's military families. Gov John Lynch (D-NH) and Gov Jon Huntsman, Jr (R-UT) used their galas to raise $60,000 in tsunami relief.

Republicans in Washington state got stiffed. After the recounts deposed Republican Dino Rossi, 150 of his supporters tried to get their money back for the now useless $75 tickets to his canceled inaugural ball. Mr Rossi's people refused any refunds. (

National Guard Benefits

If a National Guardsman dies in combat, Washington only provides $12,000 in death benefits to his family. Goveror Bill Richardson (D-NM) says his state can do better. He wants the state to buy $250,000 in life insurance for every National Guardsman deployed to combat zones. And it's just one of the financial benefits he wants for the New Mexico National Guard. (NPR -- Audio)

Balancing Yucca Mountain at the "Nu-kuh-ler" Reglatory Commission

President Bush used a loophole to fill two vacancies on the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission without having to get Senate approval. The new members are Peter Lyons, a science adviser to Sen Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Gregory Jaczko, a nuclear issues advisor to Sen Harry Reid (D-NV). Sen Reid is a major opponent to a proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in his home state -- Sen Domenici is a major supporter of the site. (MSNBC)

Winning a Battle and Losing the War Over Gay Marriage

It was a court victory for opponents of gay marriage -- but it may be a huge set back for backers of a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. A federal judge upheld the Clinton era "Defense of Marriage Act", allowing states to ban gay marriage. But President Bush has cited the law in his decision to back off plans to seek a Constitutional Amendment. He said last week, Congressional leaders told him an Amendment would not pass unless the Defense of Marriage Act was killed in the courts. (MSNBC)

Jack Kemp and the Oil-For-Food Scandal

It was a convoluted plan involving sending a former Vice Presidential nominee and Billy Graham's son to meet with Saddam Hussein. The scheme was part of what led to the first guilty plea in the Oil-for-Food scandal. It got the FBI's attention and landed a prominent former lawmaker in the middle of an Justice Department investigation.

The FBI grilled former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp about his involvement in the UN's Oil-For-Food scandal. The FBI interviewed Mr Kemp back in October about his contacts with Samir A. Vincent, an oil trader who pleaded guilty to four criminal charges stemming from the scandal.

Mr Kemp is reported to have had several contracts with Mr Vincent and the two spoke at least once a month for several years about Mr Vincent's desire to improve US-Iraqi relations. Mr Kemp's lawyer -- Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton -- says Mr Kemp approached Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell about Mr Vincent's proposals, but was rebuffed each time.

Mr Kemp was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. (NEWSWEEK via MSNBC)

Conflict of Interest on Base Closings

Former Representative Vic Fazio would look like a perfect choice for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Until you look a little closer. Mr Fazio is a Democrat and former Congressman -- strong credentials for the bipartisan panel. He's also from California -- one of the biggest homes to the military. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has reccomended him for the job.

But states and communities have lined up lobbyists to get Congress to keep bases in their backyards up and running -- whether the military wants them or not.

And the state of California has hired the lobbying firm of Clark & Weinstock to keep their bases open. Guess who works as a lobbyist for Clark & Weinstock. Vic Fazio.

US Whistle Blower Murdered in Iraq

A US contractor murdered in Iraq died just days after the man accused Iraqi Defense Ministry officials of corruption. Dale Stoffel alerted senior US officials in Washington that he suspected Iraqi Defense Ministry people were part of a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving a contract with the company he worked for -- Wye Oak Technology. The contract was to refurbish old Iraqi military equipment. The FBI is now looking into whether Mr Stoffel's death was in retaliation for his whistle-blowing. (LAT)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of January 19, 2005

The number of Guardsmen and Reservists on active duty this week is 868 fewer than last week. The Defense Department reports a total of 192,507 Guardsmen and Reservists mobilized. (DoD)

Lifting Detention

Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has withdrawn a hold on Margaret Spellings' nomination as Education Secretary. Sen Lautenberg placed the hold to prevent hearings on her nomination until he got assurances that she would investigate policies and procedures at Education to prevent a repeat of the Armstrong Williams scandal. Mr Williams recieved $240,000 from the Education Department to promote the "No Child Left Behind" act on his radio and television programs. (AP)

Apologizing for Bad PR

After two weeks of criticism and investigations by the FCC and Congress, the PR company hired by the Education Department to promote "No Child Left Behind" has apologized for its part in the Armstrong Williams scandal. The Ketchum agency paid Mr Williams $240,000 from the Education Department to conduct interviews with Bush administration officials and to promote the act on his radio and television programs. Mr Williams and the Education Department never disclosed the arrangement until USA Today broke the story. The Ketchumpromised to change policies to prevent what it called another "lapse in judgement." Right now, federal investigators are probing to judge whether it was much more -- such as breaking federal laws against the government engaging in "covert propaganda." (NYT)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

More from the Liberal Multimedia

The folks at are back at it. They brought you the great Internet cartoons "This Land Is My Land" and "It's Good to be in DC" during the election. Now they've got a new one called "Second Term." (

Oil For Food Guilty Plea

A New York man is the first to plead guilty in the US in the Oil-For-Food scandal. The Oil-For-Food program was a UN administered plan that allowed Iraq -- under Saddam Hussein -- to trade oil for food outside of UN sanctions. The program generated $67 billion for humanitarian needs -- but it also generated $1.7 billion in kickbacks to Saddam.

Among those taking part in the program were dozens of American companies and individuals. And among those, Samir A. Vincent.

The Justice Department says the New York businessman got the rights to 9 million barrels of oil and a stack of cash to lobby US and UN officials to weaken economic sanctions against Iraq. (Yahoo! News)

AP Top Ten List

The Associated Press has brief profiles of 10 new members of Congress you may want to watch. These could be the movers and shakers to emerge from the class of 2005. (AP via Yahoo!)

Last Exit on the Exit Polls

The exit polls that had Democrats overconfident on election day worked -- but not as well as in past elections. The final analysis shows the exit polls came up pretty close to the way the actual vote turned out.

The polling data has been released. An examination shows that none of the clients of the $10 million dollar system -- ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, or the Associated Press -- was misled into inaccurate projections. The problem seems to be that people leaked incomplete data early in the day that was not true to the results the actual polling was gathering. (MSNBC)

When Politics Gets Personal

Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales told the US Senate that he supports extending the assault weapons ban. The reason? His brother. Tony Gonsales is a SWAT officer in Houston. The AG nominee says he worries about his brother getting shot by a criminal with an assault weapon. (Houston Chronicle)

The Cost of War

From Texas, Virginia, New York and New Jersey. The latest combat deaths in Iraq bring the total number of American service men and women killed in the war to 1,362 -- 1,073 died in hostile actions. A full list of those killed in the Iraq War is here. (WashPost) [Photo Credit: Terry Turner] Posted by Hello

Today in Congress

Here's what's going on in Congress today. Use the links at the right to write your Hired Hands on the Hill. (WashPost)

The Price of a Free Press

The International Federation of Journalists says 129 journalists were killed in 2004. That's the most deaths recorded in a 12-month period since records began in the 1980s. At least 49 of them died in Iraq. (Mail & Guardian)

Lobbying Canada

The US pharmaceutical industry is mounting a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to get Canada to ban the practice of shipping prescription drugs into the US.

Drugs made in the US and shipped to Canada are cheaper than the same drugs sold in the US. The price can be 32% to 62% cheaper. Americans bought 12 million prescriptions worth about $700 million from Canada in 2003.

PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying arm, has hired a former US ambassador to Canada to help with the lobbying effort. The Center for Public Integrity obtained Canadian lobbyist disclosure forms showing the extent of the campaign. (CPI)

The Backdoor Draft

As many as 1-in-4 of the Army's Individual Ready Reserves are actively resisting call ups to serve in Iraq. Unlike the Army Reserves who are paid and train regularly, the IRR recieve no training nor pay. They are given points toward retirement after leaving the regular Army and bound to serve if called on. It's rare by has happened. This time, the Army's calling up 5,000 of them. Some have health problems making them unfit to serve and some claim they've already resigned their commissions. (FOX)

"The Best ****ing Country in the World"

Maybe you go into the Inauguration with the values you have, not the values you want. During the Jenna & Barbara Bush organized "America's Future Rocks Today" concert -- a part of the official Inaugural festivities -- the lead singer for Fuel announced, "Welcome to the greatest f***ing country in the world."

Except he didn't use asterisks. Sure that was music to the ears of all the "values voters" in the audience. (CBS)

A Spot of Trouble Over a Spot of Tea

There's a noticible person missing from the First Ladies Inaugural Tea -- the First Lady. Laura Bush says she wasn't invited. The guest speaker is former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore -- who was removed from office for refusing court orders to remove a block of stone with the Ten Commandments on it from government property. The Bush Administration has had a chilly relationship with the renegade judge. The organizer of the Tea says the First Lady was indeed invited. That leads to the suspicion in Washington that the Bush administration doesn't want it's members to been seen in the same room as Judge Moore. (USA Today)

The Honeymoon's Over on Gay Marriage

Social conservatives are taking the President to task for backing off on his Gay Marriage Amendment promise. The President vowed to make an amendment banning gay marriage a priority during the campaign. Now that the election's over, he's broken his vows.

Prominent conservative groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family launched a phone campaign to the White House on Tuesday, flooding the switchboards with calls from angry rank-and-file conservatives.

The President on Friday said Senators had made it clear to him the amendment had no chance of passing unless the courts strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which pretty much does the same thing as the amendment would. (WashPost)

Inaugural Photos & Factoids

The Washington Post has a great collection of photos covering more than a century of Presidential Inaugurations. They also have a test of your Inaugural knowledge. (WashPost)

Social Security Civil War

House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) warns that President Bush's Social Security reform plan could be so devisive that it will quickly turn into a "dead horse." He's already looking at alternatives to the President's plan.

Rep Thomas is the highest ranking Republican to cast doubts on Social Security reform. But a rising drumbeat of doubt from Republicans in Congress is beginning to paint the President's Social Security plans in a familiar shade: that of President Clinton's health care reform. That disaster split the Democratic Party and allowed the Republicans to sweep into House and Senate majorities in 1994.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

January Junkets

Interior Secretary Gail Norton, a handful of Congress members, and other government big wigs are skipping the cold of Inaugural Week in Washington to enjoy sun and spa pampering in Arizona thanks to some special interests. Hanging out around the pool at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa is pretty nice this time of year.

They're attending a junket put on by the oil, gas, & mining industries -- which they're supposed to regulate.

The spa's "Four Hands Massage" is priced at $260 for 50 minutes. That's the typical price the mining industry pays for about 50 acres of federal land. Might want to watch the taxpayers' pockets those four hands are reaching for. (EWG)[Photo Credit: Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa] Posted by Hello

The Cost of War

From South Dakota and Phoenix and a pair of little towns in Texas. Four more Americans died in the Iraq War in the past week bringing the total to 1,358 -- 1,071 of those in hostile actions. (WashPost)[Photo Credit: Terry Turner] Posted by Hello

Iraq's Pricetag

The number crunchers and bean counters in Washington expect the cost of the Iraq War will rise by 25% in 2005. Quite a bit since the Bush administration predicted two years ago that the troops would all be home by now. What's more, those rising costs of the war will likely start cutting into the regular Defense budget in a big way in the very near future. Chief among the reasons for the rising costs: rising troop levels. There are more troops on the ground now than at any time in the war.

Then there's the cost of defending all those extra troops. Another 35,000 vehicles need armor at a cost of $4 billion.
The cost of the war at the end of 2004 came to $128 billion. By the end of this year, it should reach as much as $232 billion. By the end of 2007, $316 billion.

But that doesn't include major maintainence and replacing destroyed equipment. A single Bradley Fighting Vehicle will run taxpayers $3.16 million. (Christian Science Monitor via USA Today)

Tightening the Belt at Medicare

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission voted to reccomend Congress cut Medicare payments promised to hospitals and freeze payments to nursing homes in 2006. Medicare covers 41 million Americans and costs climbed 8.4% last year to $300 billion. It's expected to increase a whopping 30% between now and 2007 with the introduction of a new prescription drug benefit. (NYT)

Hello Bartlett's, We've Got a Couple of Additions for You

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election." -- President Bush to the Washington Post on why no one in his administration was held accountable for perceived missteps on Iraq.

"Because he's hiding." -- President Bush to the Washington Post when asked why the US has not yet captured or killed Osama bin Laden. (CNN)

The Pentagon Orders Up the U-Hauls

US troops may leave long held Cold War era posts for bases in the former Communist bloc. The move would involve scaling back or shutting bases in western Europe and Korea. Around 70,000 to 100,000 troops and family members would be withdrawn. Those that stay could be moved to new bases in Romania and Bulgaria. (BaltSun)

Rethinking the Iraq War

When Washington planned the Iraq War -- they planned to have all the troops home by last month. But now, the number of troops in country is steadily increasing. That has the Pentagon ordering a comprehensive review of how they're approaching the war and how to fight it better. Retired four-star general Gary Luck arrives in Iraq this month to begin a "rethink" of tactics. (Guradian)

Tsunami Money

Three weeks after the disaster, the US has spend roughly a third of the federal help it promised to tsunami relief. About $92 million of the promised $350 million has gone to the UN and private relief organizations. The money does not include military support in the form of helicopters, ships, and manpower. (MSNBC)

The "Big Agenda" and Big Opposition

The Bush administration promises a "Big Agenda" in his second term, but it's already drawing big opposition -- from Republicans. Fiscal conservatives don't like the cost or political wisdon of private savings accounts replacing portions of Social Security. There's a coalition of Republicans wanting tighter border controls as the President pushes to ease immigrant work rules. Still another block of Republicans threaten to roll back the President's Medicare prescription drug bill set to take effect next year. And more Republicans are cooling to plans to extend parts of the increasingly problematic "No Child Left Behind" law. (Boston Globe)

Today In Congress

Here's what's going on on Capitol Hill today. Use the links at the right to write your Representatives and Senators. (WashPost)

FCC Investigates Williams

Last year's big FCC investigation was into what Janet Jackson exposed. This year's promises to be into what Armstrong Williams covered up. The FCC has launched an investigation into the pundit taking $240,000 in taxpayer money to promote a Bush administration agenda. Federal communication law requires that such arrangements be publicly disclosed. Mr Williams kept his arrangement secret until USA Today broke the story. He and the Education Department may have broken federal law against "covert propaganda" as a result. FCC Chairman Michael Powell ordered the investigation. (CBC)

Armstrong Williams and Bad PR for the PR Firms

Washington spends millions of your tax dollars every year on private public relation firms. But in light of the Armstrong Williams scandal -- that money could dry up. Mr Williams took $240,000 of your tax money to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law on his programs. The move may have broken federal law against "covert propaganda." A flood of tax dollars flowing to PR firms has made the DC area a PR paradise in recent years. PR firms are already launching their own PR campaign condemning Mr Williams and the way that publicity effort was handled. (WashPost)

With the Election Over, Time to Sound the All Clear

Those terror alerts that cropped up around the political conventions and distracted from the campaign are suddenly disappearing -- just in time for the inaugural. The Department of Homeland Security issued the alerts around the Democratic National Convention, stealing political thunder and media airtime. Now that we're nearing wall to wall coverage of the inaugural -- with free airtime to outline the second Bush administration's goals, the Department says they had bad intel afterall. (WashPost)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Those $3.25 Mistakes Add Up

A little one-room school in Nebraska faces a $10,000 fine from the IRS because of a $40 error. The school's accountant made an error on tax forms, that he carried over on quarterly filings for two years. It added up to about $40. Now the IRS wants the fine paid. The school is trying to raise money -- even selling it's van for $2,000. (SacBee)

Reviewing Medevacs

More than three dozen people have died in 12 medical helicopter and plane crashes over the last 12 months. Only 7 died the year before. That's an "extraordinary concern" for the NTSB. They and the FAA are launching separate investigations into the high number of deaths from medical flights. (USA Today)

Iraq War, 2020

A forecast from the National Intelligence Council predicts Iraq turning into an important terrorist training ground over the next 15 years. The NIC answers to the CIA Director. They predict the world of 2020 will see a continued threat of radical Islamist terrorism -- with a biological attack being the single greatest threat to the US.

The report says the Iraq War and other possible conflicts "could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself." (NYT)

Inaugural Donors at a Glance

A quick list of businesses and lobbyists who have given $100,000 or more to the Presidential Inaugural Committee. (AP)

What the Party Could Pay For

The Presidential Inaugural will cost around $40 million. What could that money buy? The Associated Press offers some comparisons:

  • Two hundred armored Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq
  • Vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami
  • A down payment on the nation's deficit, which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year
The money is coming largely from private sources. But for the first time ever, the inaugural committee is refusing to reimburse the District of Columbia for providing security. DC's city government will have to spend nearly $12 million of its Homeland Security budget to cover the costs. (AP via Yahoo!)

I Misspokified

President Bush has second thoughts about a couple of things he said. Two famous prases: "Bring 'em on," and getting Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." The President now says the lines had "unintended consequences." (Knight-Ridder)

Checking the Oil

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) wants to know what will happen if Venezuela suddenly cuts off its oil supply to the US. Venezuela is the fourth largest oil exporter to the US. But the State Department says it's not a reliable supplier. Political unrest, strained relations between the US and Venezuela, strikes and protests make the chances of oil supply problems real. Sen Lugar wants the GAO to look into the consequences of a sudden stop in the flow of Venezuela's oil. (Reuters)

Looking Through the Secretary's Letters

A pair of Democratic lawmakers want Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge's notes and correspondence with a lobbyist who wound up with billions in Homeland Security contracts for his clients. The AP reported that the day after President Bush tapped him as Secretary, Mr Ridge visited a lobbyist's home in Arizona. Two of Mr Ridge's aides took jobs as lobbyists in the firm and worked on getting contracts from Secretary Ridge's new Department. Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep Bennie Thompson (D-MS) say the relationships raise questions about potential conflicts of interest. (Guardian)

Who Your Congressmen Will Hang Out With This Week

Lobbyists are flocking to Washington for Inaugural week to wine and dine lawmakers. It's a target rich environment for rich special interests hoping to twist arms and get what they want from your Hired Hands on the Hill. (Boston Globe)

The Iraq War's Hidden Costs

The White House is about to ask for $100 billion more to fight the Iraq War. But Pentagon brass say that won't pay a penny on what they're calling "hidden costs." There's growing talk at the top of a "broken force." The next request will put the cost of the war at around $200 billion. But that's just to fight the war. Nothing's been put aside to pay for worn out and destroyed equipment and the military is seeing lower recruitment and retention rates. The military predicts the cost of fixing the problems will be tens of billions more and years of work. (Boston Globe)

Investigating Himself

Education Secretary Rodney Paige has ordered an investigation into the Armstrong Williams scandal. Mr Williams was paid $240,000 in taxpayer money to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law on his radio and television appearances. His contract called for repeated interviews with Secretary Paige. The Education Department committed at least $1.3 million to the public relations company that set up the Williams contract. Congressmen have already demanded records, an FCC member has called for an investigation, and Siinclair Broadcast Group promised to investigate their business relationship with Mr Williams. Critics say the arrangement breaks federal laws against "covert propaganda." (Guardian)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Government Backed Sit-In

Anti-war groups have backed off plans to sue the National Park Service after the government came through with free seating for the Inaugural Parade. For the first time ever, protestors will have reserved seating -- though not much of it. They'll get a small bleacher section taking up about 220 feet along the mile long parade route on Pennsylvania Ave. (Scripps Howard News Service)[Photo: Bleachers along Pennsylvania Ave Parade Route by Terry Turner] Posted by Hello

Maybe Next We'll Green Light the Michael Jackson Day Care Center

Washington wants to change rules to allow convicted arsonists to get jobs driving gasoline tankers and trucks loaded with explosives or other hazardous materials. The Transportation Security Administration says that arson is not automatically an act of terrorism -- so don't worry about the firebug hauling gasoline down your street. (Seattle P-I)

Paying for the Party

The Washington Post has donated $100,000 toward President Bush's inauguration. The newspaper says it's a business decision. They claim they had to make the donation to make sure they could get enough inaugural tickets for the Post's major advertisers. has that story and a list of the contributors so far. (

The Mad Scramble to Save Defense Jobs

The Air Force and Navy are facing major cuts so Washington can pay bills on the $5 billion a month Iraq War. But those cuts mean job losses at home and Congressmen are battling to keep jobs in their districts.
  • Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a bill requiring the Navy to maintain a 12 carrier fleet. USS John F Kennedy, homeported in Florida, is slated for retirement under the Navy's plan.
  • The Georgia delegation is lobbying to keep the C-130J and F-22 programs -- both built partly in Georgia.
  • And 24 Senators sent a fax to President Bush urging him to save the C-130J. All represent states where part of the plane's built.

Killing the C-130J program would save $4.1 billion dollars. Cutbacks to the F-22 program would save $11 billion. That'd pay for three months in Iraq. (Miami Herald)

The War Over Iraq

MSNBC has analysis of the struggle over whether to go to war with Iraq. Running against conventional wisdom, it was civilian leadership pushing for a fight with the military's top brass urging restraint. Something of a major rewrite of Dr Strangelove. (MSNBC)

The Softer Side of Sears -- And a Pay-Off from a Debt Collector

Two companies indicted in the Rep Tom DeLay (R-TX) PAC investigation have agreed to help prosecutors. Sears & Roebuck and California debt-collection company DCS Inc, were among eight indicted for either giving money illegally to Mr DeLay's political action committee or to one of three associates raising money for Texas statehouse candidates. The probe has already indicted those three associates. The latest phase of the investigation appears to be targeting Mr DeLay himself. (WashPost)

Sure, I'll Defend the Homeland -- Right After I Visit my Cronies

Just one day after Tom Ridge was tapped to be Homeland Security Secretary, he popped in for a visit with a lobbyist who's firm later wound up with lots of contracts from Mr Ridge's department. Mr Ridge went to Arizona for a sitdown with David Girard-diCarlo. Mr Girard-diCarlo's firm is called Blank Rome. After the visit, two of Mr Ridge's aides -- from his time as Governor of Pennsylvania -- were hired as lobbyists at Blank Rome. Their job was to lobby Mr Ridge's new department for contracts to Blank Rome's clients.

Shortly after the visit, one of Girard-diCarlo's clients -- Raytheon -- won a $10 billion contract for border protection. Since 2003, Blank Rome has lobbied Homeland Security on behalf of tech company BearingPoint. That company was awarded a $229 million deal in September. CNN has this picture of President Bush, Secretary Ridge, and Mr Girard-diCarlo from a campaign stop last year. (NY Post)

A $170 Million Computer Error

A $170 million computer program designed to make it easier to share info on terrorists between FBI agents will be scrapped after only a month. Science Applications International Corp designed the program -- Virtual Case File. When it arrived in December, the FBI determined it was outdated and unusable. They are already looking for a replacement. The FBI's computer systems are antiquated and the bureau is in the middle of a $500 million, four-year overhaul. It looks like it just got $170 million more expensive. (MSNBC)

Looking into Long Lines

A pair of Congressmen want the Government Accountability Office to look into why there were so many long lines on election day and whether that kept some people from voting. Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep John Conyers (D-MI) say they've gotten 1,400 reports from 32 states of what they called "excessively long lines." There have been reports of people waiting seven hours to cast ballots. (Guardian)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Good Showing for the Troops

The USO credits Sen John Kerry (D-MA) with much of its biggest ever fundraising effort. Sen Kerry asked his 2.7 million webpage subscribers to donate to the USO's programs for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USO says 42% of the money they raised came from Sen Kerry's efforts -- roughly $646,940. (USNews)

The Governor General

A friendship with the Clintons and a presidential bid have boosted retired Gen Wesley Clark's name recognition and status in his home state of Arkansas. At the same time, he's still raising money through his own PAC. USNews reports there's a steady drumbeat of talk that General Clark will seek the Governor's office in Little Rock come 2006. Someone else uset the office as a stepping stone to the White House already. Maybe the General is looking at that guy's strategy. (USNews)

Lawnmowers, Double Dipping, and Your Homeland Security Tax Dollars

Since 9/11, Texas has raked in $587 million in homeland security money. But new audits suggest it has a poor record of managing that money. Among the cases cited in the state audit:

  • One county bought 18 radios -- from a company owned by one of the county commissioners.
  • The county also paid to install one of the radios in the commissioner's personal car.
  • Another jurisdiction bought a trailer -- to haul lawn mowers to "lawn mower drag races."
A report last year from the House Select Committee on Homeland Security found money meant to fight terrorism being converted into pork:

One official from a rural county in Washington said of the items purchased with federal dollars: "Some of the equipment on the ODP (Office for Domestic Preparedness) list we don't even recognize. We think, well this looks good, maybe we'll need it. We're getting stuff we won't use. This equipment could have gone to Seattle where the real threat is."

And don't forget the Dodge Durango no one in South Dakota is allowed to drive. (Dallas Morning News)

Producing Evidence

I told you yesterday that a producer for Sinclair Broadcast Group remembers Armstrong Williams conducting an interview with Education Secretary Rodney Paige. Now, has more.

Sinclair has launched an internal investigation now that Mr Williams admits he took $240,000 in taxpayer-funded payola to promote the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" law. His contract included a requirement that he interview Secretary Paige on his radio and TV shows.

Sinclair Broadcast Group issued a statement saying they were unsure if any such interview aired while Mr Williams worked for the TV station group as an analyst.

A former producer who worked on the show talked with

"'He was clearly double-dipping,' says one former Sinclair producer. 'He was getting paid $240,000 [by the administration] and getting paid as a commentator by Sinclair. When I read the USA Today story on Friday I was aghast, as anybody in his business would be. Then the first thing I thought about was Williams' interview with Paige and then a light went off.'

The producer recalls the Williams-Paige sit-down as being the 'single worst interview I've seen in my career. It was nothing but softball questions. In retrospect, it was clearly part of Armstrong's way of getting paid' by the DOE. (Weeks later, Williams conducted a similar interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, pitching him such easy questions as, 'Why do you think the media is so obsessed in trying to tie you to Halliburton?')"

Sinclair executives say they had no idea of Mr Williams' link to the government when the interview happened. (

Afghanistan Wants Its Air Force Back

Afghanistan, fresh off free elections, wants 26 war planes back. They include five bombers and eight fighter planes flown out of the country to neighboring Pakistan and Uzbekistan by defectors or sent away to avoid destruction over the years. (Yahoo!)

Former Lawmakers Raking in the Cash

Retiring Representatives and Senators seem to have no problem finding new jobs. The pay is also a lot better than the mere $162,100 they made serving the voters. And there are plenty on the list for lobbyists' headhunters. (AP via Yahoo!)

Closely Guarded

From under the streets to high in the sky, the inauguration will be the most heavily guarded one ever. More than 6,000 guards from regular police to bomb sniffing K-9 units will patrol Washington while the party's underway. (CNN)

Leaving the Country for Inauguration Day

Democrats fed up with the festivities surrounding the inauguration are shipping out of DC. The "Democrats in Denial" cruise is fully booked. About 35 campaign veterans signed up for a cruise departing Miami on Monday and sailing the Caribbean through the GOP festivities in Washington. Inauguration Day has the ship in international waters headed back to Miami. It's not Canada, but then who wants to spend January in Moose Jaw? (WashPost)

By the Book

The CIA is reworking the rules it has on employees writing books. The move comes after a book critical of the Bush administration written by the man who headed up the CIA's search for Osama bin Laden. Michael Scheuer wrote Imperial Hubris using the pen name "Anonymous." He cleared the book with his superiors before it went to the publisher. The book criticized how the Bush administration set and enforced terrorism policies and became an issue in the Presidential campaign last year. (WashPost)

Bush, Bush, & Kennedy

Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) has spoken with his brother the President about keeping USS John F Kennedy afloat. Commissioned in 1968, she's one of the oldest carriers in the fleet, homeported at Naval Station Mayport Florida. The Kennedy was not scheduled for retirement until 2018. But the Navy's trying to cut costs and free up money for the Iraq War. So it's considering mothballing "Big John" right away. That'd be a blow to the local economy around Mayport. The ship's 4,642 crewmembers mean an average payroll of more than $89 million dollars to the Florida community -- and that's not counting the crew members of the two crusisers, four destroyers, two attack subs, and fast combat support ship in her battle group. (Miami Herald)

Cutting Back on Chemical Weapon Clean Ups

The Pentagon is cutting the amount of money it'll spend to destroy stockpiled chemical weapons stored in Kentucky and Colorado. The Defense Department plans to spend only $31 million this year, split between Army depots in Richmond, Kentucky and Pueblo, Colorado. The Kentucky facility recieved $105 million last year. The Chemical Weapons Working Group claims each depot needs at least $140 million to do the job right. (Seattle P-I)

What are they Drinking on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill workers have been warned, "Don't drink the water." Tests showed excessive levels of lead in tap water at the Library of Congress. Workers are warned to avoid faucets and drinking fountains. The Architect of the Capitol oversees the Library of Congress and has been conducting tests eversince thousands of DC residences tested positive for high lead levels in their drinking water about a year ago. Ingesting lead can lead to severe mental disorders. So, it might be hard to detect its effects on Capitol Hill. (WashPost)

The Slam Dunk is Rejected

The hunt for WMDs in Iraq is official over. Nearly two years after the US coulda sworn they were there, the US team looking for them has concluded -- there weren't any after all. The top CIA weapons hunter is back home and his team are at work in Virginia. The search wrapped up right before Christmas. Charles A Duelfer led the search in 2004. He turned in an interim report to Congress that showed practically every prewar claim from the Bush administration on WMDs in Iraq was wrong. A top official at the CIA says that report will stand now as the search team's final report and be published in the spring. So this is how the search ends -- not with a bang, but a whimper? (Boston Globe)

Brother, Can You Spare a Commemorative Dime?

With coin collecting enjoying a renewal -- thanks to the the 50 state quarter series -- scam artists are making a mint. So the US Mint wants Congress to crack down on dealers passing off fake commemorative coins. Only Congress can authorize a commemorative coin. But in one case, a dealer simply painted silver dollars with gold paint and passed them off as commemorating the astronauts killed in the Columbia shuttle crash. The Mint wants fines of $5,000 for print ads and $25,000 for broadcast ads for fake commemorative coins. That's a lot of quarters. (LAT)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of January 12, 2005

The Pentagon mobilized a net total of 4,936 more Guardsmen and Reservists this week than the week before. A cumulative total of 193,375 Guard and Reserve are now on active duty. (DoD)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Retiring to Big Bucks

Former Senator John Breaux (D-LA) is joining Washington's largest lobbying firm -- Patton Boggs. Mr Breaux represented Louisianna in the House and Senate for a total of 32 years. Retired Congressmen have an advantage as lobbyists -- not only in knowing most of the people who's arms they'll twist, but in having lifetime access to parts of the Capitol where the rest of us aren't allowed to wander around. (The Hill)

Lobby Firm Shopping List

The Associated Press has the Washington equivilent of a "free agents" list. It's the names of every departing Representative and Senator -- free to take up more lucrative jobs with lobbying firms and the like. (AP)

Bush's Beltway Bunch

When President Bush first came to Washington in 2001, his staff said they'd not do things the way Washington usually did. They were, after all, "outsiders," a flashy buzzword that evokes populism and middle America in politics. A lot of those staffers are gone. And now, the Bush administration is relying more and more on Washington insiders to fill the posts those "outsiders" are getting out of. (AP via Yahoo!)

Schedule for the Big Bash

The schedule for the Inauguration is out. Everything from glee club singing to a candlelight dinner at Union Station for donors who chipped in $100,000 or more. (AP via Yahoo!)

I Wondered Why My Inbox Was So Empty

A federal judge went along with the Federal Trade Commission and slapped a restraining order on six X-rated spammers. The Nevada based companies were sending porn e-mails to people around the country. The companies failed to include the words "SEXUALLY EXPLICIT" in the subject line as required by the new "Can Spam" law. (USA Today)

Big Brother and the Outsourced Indian Call Center

Call a service center and get put on hold. Bite your tongue. This quality time of elevator music forced through phone lines leads you into rants, complaints, and outright threats. But the company's warned you "This call may be monitored for quality assurance." In other words, they're already recording everything you say. (NYT)

TennCare on Life Support

Tennessee is dropping 323,000 people from its state health care program. Lawsuits, prescription drug prices, and medical inflation is eating up one in every three taxpayer dollars in the Volunteer State. (NPR - Audio)

Profiting from Medical Tests at Taxpayer Expense

A pair of US government researchers are collecting royalties on an AIDS treatment they're testing on patients at taxpayer expense. The patients don't know about the money link. In fact, Washington won't let the two doctors tell their patients. But it's not an isolated incident. More than 900 current and former scientists at the National Institutes of Health collected $8.9 million the same way last year -- testing their drugs on patients, and having you foot the bill. This would appear to be a conflict of interest -- scientists using their position to test drugs on which they stand to make a profit. Not to mention how taxpayers are underwriting the whole arrangement. (CBS)

The Secret of the Social Security Debate is Knowing Who to Scare

"[N]o longer can they frighten seniors by saying, if we do this, seniors aren't going to get their checks." -- President Bush on Social Security to the Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2005.

"If we do not act soon, Social Security will not be there for our children and grandchildren." -- President Bush, Radio Address, December 10, 2004.

Losing Jobs over Iraq

Navy budget cuts have put 120 shipyard workers out of work. They were laid off at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Navy and Air Force are making deep cuts in weapons systems as the Bush administration looks to come up with more money for the Iraq War. These are among the first of hundreds more lay-offs to expect in the defense industry in coming months. (The Ledger)

Iraq Casualties

The Pentagon is back to its weekly schedule of announcing casualties from the war in Iraq. The total stands at 1,352 -- 1,065 of those killed in hostile actions. (WashPost)

Ethics in Washington. Kinda Like Snow in July.

My latest column at deals with the rash of ethics messes in Washington -- from changing House rules to the Armstrong Williams scandal. (

America is Back

America is back. America (The Book), anyway. The Jon Stewart fake text book, written in the spirit of The Daily Show's fake news had gotten pulled from a pair of Mississippi towns' librairies. Seems they didn't cotton to the Supreme Court Justices shown nekkid. But the move outraged library patrons far and wide. The library board was flooded with e-mails from around town and around the country. They decided it was better to put the book on the shelf and let people decide for themselves if they wanted to see Chief Justice Rhenquist in the all-together. (AP via ABC)

Rather Hear About Another Television Investigation?

Sinclair Broadcast Group -- which has drawn fire for it's Stolen Honor documentary -- is investigating a possible link to the Armstrong Williams scandal. Mr Williams admitted to taking $240,000 of taxpayer money to promote the "No Child Left Behind" act on his talk shows. During this time, Mr Williams also served as a news analyst for Sinclair Broadcast Group. The company has 62 television stations around the country.

The ranking member of the House Rules Committee has sent a letter to Sinclair -- and to TV One, another outfit on which Mr Williams has appeared. Rep Louise Slaughter (D-NY) demands that both fire Mr Williams immediately.

TV One says it's show with Mr Williams, "On Point," would be put on hiatus.

Sinclair promises an investigation. Chief Counsel Barry Faber says it's believed that Mr Williams interviewed Education Secretary Rodney Paige about "No Child Left Behind" while at Sinclair. A producer who worked at Sinclair at the time tells Watching Washington he clearly remembers working on that particular show.

Mr. Williams' newspaper column is all but dead at this point. His distributor, Tribune Media Services, fired him after the USA Today story of the scandal broke. An informal phone poll by Editor & Publisher, a newspaper trade journal, had all the papers they contacted saying they would no longer carry Mr Williams through any distributor. (Hollywood Reporter via Reuters)