Monday, February 28, 2005

New Nickel

The US Mint unveils its new nickel Tuesday. It's the third in the series marking the bicentennial of the Louisianna Purchase and Lewis & Clark's expidition. It's also the first complete overhaul of the nickel since 1938, with a new portrait of Thomas Jefferson and a buffalo.

Now, if you could just buy something with it. (The Reliable Source -- WashPost)

The FCC Puts Things in Perspective

New fines for talking dirty or flashing naughty body parts on TV will carry heavy new fines. You might be surprised what other industries could get away with for the same price. Take Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." The maximum indecency fine is now $500,000 per incident. But if you were in the nuclear industry, you could get away with 8 dangerous accidents at your nuclear plant and still have change coming back from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Rolling Stone compares the indecency fines and finds that Howard Stern's dirty talk would be as expensive as dumping toxic waste into a city water supply or illegally testing pesticides on people. (Rolling Stone)

Retire Rich, At Taxpayer Expense

One of the ideas rising from the Social Security reform debate is a plan that would let every American retire a millionaire. President Bush's first Treasury Secretary is circulating the idea of giving every American baby a taxpayer funded retirement account starting the day they're born. Paul O'Neill's idea would have Uncle Sam give every newborn $2,000 when they're born and another two-grand every year until they turn 18. Then the money would go into an investment account and turn into a cool $1 million when they turn 65. And in 65 years, the system would replace Social Security.

Of course, 65 years from now, who knows how far a million will go. (Seattle Times)

Faulty Gadgets Cost Taxpayers $1 Million

The Air Force spent $1 million on faulty chemical weapons detectors -- and apparently knew they wouldn't work when they used your money to buy them. A Defense Department report says Air Force buyers may have broken federal laws when the bought 100 commercial detectors. They were given to commanders in the Middle East. But it appears the buying officials knew the gadgets didn't work when they bought them. The report also says they didn't wait to get tests back from a military test center. (LAT)

"The Free One" will Cost You $2 Million More

From Gannon/Guckert to Armstrong Williams to prepackaged VNRs, the Bush administration has a fascination with being in the media business. So now they want to start beaming Uncle Sam's Arabic language TV broadcasts to Europe. The channel -- Alhurra, which means "the free one" -- cranked up in the middle east about a year back. There are as many as 20 million Muslims in Europe, so the channel's honchos see it as a prime market for expansion.

The European expansion would require $2 million dollars -- part of what the President asked for in his $81 billion supplemental request for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (CNN)

A Rising Tide of Red Ink

Congress' top budget guru estimates the federal deficit will hit $368 billion this year. But that doesn't count the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Add them in, and the red ink rises to over $400 billion. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

It's Never Too Early

Washington Whispers calls Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "the most aggressive" among Democrats in lining up informal staff interviews for a possible 2008 Presidential bid. The USNews column lists her among five Democrats testing the waters. The others are Iowa Gov Tom Vilsak, Sen Evan Bayh, Sen John Kerry, and former Sen John Edwards. (USNews)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

All in the Cards

Oops. Bank of America lost information on "SmartPay" government travel cards affecting around 900,000 Defense Department workers. The cards work similarly to credit cards. Government workers use them while on the road to pay for trip expenses. The Secret Service is looking into the case -- in case it's a case of identity theft. Bank of America has found no fraud so far. They think they simply lost the information.

There are roughly 1.1 million travel cards issued to government workers. They place roughly $3.8 billion in purchases on them each year. The General Services Administration says using the cards instead of cash advances or reimbursements save taxpayers between $4 and $5 million a year. (Air Force Link) [HT: Dave Debo]

Friday, February 25, 2005

Relative Morality

Adelphia Cable -- one of the players in the string of corporate scandals -- has canceled hard core porn on pay per view. The Associated Press says five years back, company founder John Rigas dropped soft-core channel "Spice" because he found it immoral.

Three years ago, Adelphia filed for bankruptcy and Mr Rigas was accused of cheating investors out of billions of dollars.

Well, so long as we know what's moral and what isn't. (AP)

But Air Force One Left the Gate on Schedule

President Bush's visit to Frankfurt, Germany cost Europe's second largest airline millions of dollars.

The German government forced flight changes around the visit. That meant Lufthansa had to cancel 92 flights affecting 5,730 passengers. That created a chain reaction of delaying 330 other flights. All the delays added up to 300 hours. And each minute of a delay cost the airline $66. (Bloomberg)

Expect a Few Choice Words for ChoicePoint

Even if you don't know what ChoicePoint is, they probably know something about you. A spin off of a credit reporting agency, ChoicePoint has 19 billion public records in it's files. And criminals accessed as many as 500,000 The Senate plans hearings on identity theft as a result. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee want more regulation of information brokers to safeguard against identity theft. And Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) agreed to the hearings the minute they asked for it.

Surviving More Attacks in Iraq

Iraqi insurgents are launching more attacks -- but killing and wounding fewer Americans. The Pentagon says that since April, remote bomb attacks jumpef from 25 to 30 a day. But the number of attacks that actually killed or wounded Americans dropped from 90% to 25%.

The Pentagon credits several things. They cite better intel and armor. They also say the Army's gotten better at electronically jamming the devices used to set off the bombs. (USA Today)

Fallout from the Tanker Scandal

The Air Force -- already in a tailspin over the Boeing tanker scandal -- got slapped by a Government Accountability Office report on another Boeing deal.

The GAO sided with Lockheed Martin Corp and a pair of other companies in a contract dispute over $4 billion in upgrades to C-130 aircraft. The GAO report says "the Air Force conducted discussions in a manner that favored Boeing."

In the middle of those negotiations -- Darleen Druyun. She's the former Air Force contract officer who took a gig with Boeing -- but wound up spending nine months in prison for giving her once future employer an edge in winning government contracts. (Guardian)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Failing to Meet the Challenge of a Town Hall Meeting

President Bush backed out of a town hall meeting in Germany when his handlers found they wouldn't get to handle the crowd. The German government was unwilling to limit the meeting to scripted questions and a screened crowd. THey did that a lot on the campaign trail. So the White House put the kabosh on the German gab-fest. (Der Spiegel) [Hat Tip to Watching America]

Gimme Shelter

The Government Accountability Office reports that company tax shelters cost Uncle Sam $129 billion. You get to pick up the slack.

The GAO found 207 Fortune 500 companies bought tax shelters from accounting firms or through their auditors. They also found more than 10,000 individuals bought into tax shelters. The GAO probe covered 1998 to 2003. (

The Long Voyage Home

Nearly four decades after North Korea siezed USS Pueblo, the US Senate is moving on a resolution demanding it's return. North Korean fighter planes and navy vessels attacked the American spy ship on January 23, 1968. One sailor died and 82 were taken prisoner for a year. It was the first time a US naval vessel had been hijacked on the high seas in 150 years.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) filed the resolution after North Korea boasted of having an atomic bomb. Sen Allard's state is home to the Pueblo's namesake city. The ship is currently on display in North Korea as a museum.

"Known But to God"

Around 1,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center have never been identified. DNA tests can only do so much. And nearly three-and-a-half years after the attacks, investigators have given up on trying to identify the remains of those 1,000. (NPR - Audio)

Cost of Health Care

The Bush adminstration predicts that spending on health care will double in the next decade -- and that Washington will pay for half of all health care bills by 2014. By then, health care will be 18.7% of the American economy. The administration figures that'll amount to $3.6 trillion spent on health care in 2014 -- that'll be roughly $11,250 for every man, woman, and child in the US. Uncle Sam would pick up about $5,512.50 of that on average. (NYT)

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Unjoin 'Em

Republican state senators in Washington state want two Washington states. Fed up with Democratic Party domination from the more populated western part of the state, Sen Bob Morton (R) wants to create a new red state out of Washington's 20 eastern counties. (Newsday)

No Child Left Behind Leaves States Upset

State lawmakers give the "No Child Left Behind" Law bad marks. from both sides of the aisle and all across the country. The bi-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures has a statement out blasting the law as coercive, unconstitutional, and setting unreachable goals. (MSNBC)

The Cost of War

The latest casualty report from the Pentagon lists a total of 1,476 American's killed in the Iraq War -- 1,126 in hostile actions. The Washington Post has a complete list of the dead since the war started. (WashPost)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Translate

Foreign language experts are critical in the War on Terror. But the military's forced out more than 300 foreign language specialists in the last ten years for their sexual orientation. The first ever government study into the cost and warfighting impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" came up with the numbers. Of the 322 forced to quit, 54 spoke Arabic.

The Government Accountability Office also found more than 400 more troops had been discharged from "critical occupations" -- Army intelligence, Navy codebreakers, Air Force air traffic controllers, and Marine counterintelligence.

The GAO figures it's cost at least $200 million to recruit and train replacements for the 9,488 troops discharged since 1993 for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Boston Globe)

More Fodder for "The Liberal Multimedia"

Coming late to the game on the Gannon/Guckert issue. But here's the new and improved application for White House press credentials. (

Family Business

President Bush's uncle made $450,000 last month selling stock that's shot up in price because of the Iraq War. William T. Bush -- younger brother to the former President Bush -- exercised stock options he had in Engineered Support Systems, Inc.

ESSI has military contracts to add armor to military trucks and haul tanks in Iraq.

Mr Bush made a profit on the stock sale of $53.35 a share.

The Pentagon's Inspector General is investigating ESSI. He wants to see if a subsidiary improperly got an Air Force contract. Former Air Force contracting officer Darleen Druyun oversaw that contract. She's spending nine months in prison for contract fraud involving Boeing. (USA Today)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Red Tape Binding Soldiers' Wounds

Red tape's costing wounded National Guardsmen and Reservists tons of money and health care.

The Government Accountability Office found that nearly 34% of 867 soldiers it looked at were removed from active duty status while they were waiting for medical care. That meant they lost pay and benefits belonging to them.

Some of these soldiers were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The GAO was critical of the "medical holdover" system that took names off the active duty list before injured or wounded soldiers had gotten the medical care they needed.

The GAO gave up on Army records -- which they called "unreliable." They did their own audits and found missed pay alone amounted to anywhere from $1,208 to $13,475 for a single soldier. (WashPost)

NASA's Expensive Flights -- That Never Reach Orbit

The Government Accountability Office is investigating outgoing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. The investigation's focus is waste -- not fraud -- but it involves the misuse of government airplanes for expensive getaways with other NASA folks. Government workers are encouraged to take cheaper commercial flights whenever possible. But a NASA official says Mr O'Keefe would only fly on NASA planes. Mr O'Keefe is leaving the space agency to take a $425,000 a year gig at LSU. (CNN)

Congress' Paid Vacations

Washington winters can be so bleak. What better time for a Congressman to blow town for some sunny clime or a ski vacation -- and take a few friends with them.

There was a time when your Hired Hands on the Hill and other politicians took a junket on a lobbyist's dime. Now the politicians are planning for the getaway -- and charging lobbyists a campaign contribution to tag along.

Lobbyist Tony Podesta tells the Baltimore Sun, "It's more quality time."

That quality time comes with a price for lobbyists. Sen Gordon Smith (R-OR) sent out invites for a $5,000 a ticket golf tournament.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee opted for the sun instead of ski slopes. They've already had a Miami Beach weekend retreat.

Here are some more places & prices the Baltimore Sun found:

  • Rep Don Young (R-AK), $5,000 for a Miami reception
  • Rep Adam Putnam (R-FL), $2,500 for golf, fishing, & dinner in Boca Grande, Florida
  • Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID) had a $2,500 a ticket "ski fest" at Sun Valley
  • Sen Craig Thomas (R-WY) $1,000 for a ski trip in Jackson Hole
  • Rep Ben Chandler (D-KY), $250 and up for an evening of watching Kentucky basketball from Washington
Like I said, it comes with a price for lobbyists. It also comes with a price for taxpayers and voters. We take a back seat while special interests bend the ears of politicians who'll decide where our money's spent.

Oh, you can lobby them, too. But who do you think they're most likely to listen to -- someone spending 37-cents for a stamp to write their Congressman -- or the guy who shelled out a grand for his re-election?

And with Congress out of session this week, expect Representatives and Senators to be listening to those special interests -- and away from your annoying letters and phone calls. (BaltSun) [Crossposted at]

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as February 23, 2005

There were 951 fewer National Guardsmen and Reservists mobilized this week than last. The total number on active duty is now at 184,481. (DoD)

Washinton Waste and the 'High Risk' List

The Government Accountability Office has cranked out its list of "high risk" federal activities for 15 years. And every year, the Defense Department's supply chain management system has been on the list.

In fact, 14 or the 25 items on the list involve the Defense Department -- something Comptroller General David Walker called "unacceptable and should not be tolerated" during a Capitol Hill briefing.

Sen George Voinovich (R-OH) blames a "revolving door" between the Pentagon and the defense industry leading to cozy deals and big government contracts. He couples that with individual Congressmen watching out for military bases and contractors in their home districts. (WashPost)

All the News that's Fit to be Prepackaged

Comptroller General David Walker has fired off a memo to federal agencies warning them about "pre-packaged news." The PR tool has caused problems for at least two cabinet Departments -- for breaking federal anti-propaganda laws.

The prepacked news stories are called "video news releases" -- or VNRs in the business. They are one-sided, PR pieces that look like an actual news story. They've gotten on the air without changes -- and without any mention that they are produced by your government.

In his memo, Comptroller General Walker wrote, "Television-viewing audiences did not know that stories they watched on television news programs about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government. We concluded that those prepackaged news stories violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition."

His memo goes on to say it's not enough that the content is not objectionable nor that the VNR is identified as a government produced spot. He says the disclosures have to be clear to the television viewing audience. (WashPost)

"Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue"

The flag raising on Iwo Jima was 60 years ago today -- February 23, 1945. [Photo Credit: Terry Turner]

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rush & Mary Go To Afghanistan

Radio talker Rush Limbaugh and political commentator Mary Matalin are off to tour Afghanistan on an administration sponsored tour. Both are friendly to the Bush administration in their commentaries.

An administration official says the trip is to highlight "all the good things" the US is doing in Afghanistan. But there's no word on how much this "outreach" will cost American taxpayers.

Mr Limbaugh hasn't spilled the beans on who is buying his ticket. Ms Matalin says she'll pay her way to and from Dubai, but will be on the taxpayer's tab while in country. Ms Matalin was a former White House aide, worked for Vice President Dick Cheney, and was the first President Bush's 1992 campaign manager. (Reuters)

Halliburton's In and Out with Iran

Halliburton says it's pulling out of Iran, but a new contract it signed may make its ties to Tehran even tighter. The deal is for a Halliburton subsidiary to develop Iran's natural gas fields. NEWSWEEK reports the deal is with an Iranian oil company who's principals include Sirus Naseri. He's Iran's top international negotiator for the country's nuclear program. (Newsweek via MSNBC)

Recruiting Troubles

Five of the military's six reserve components have missed their recruiting goals for the first four months of the fiscal year. Only the Marine Reserve has made their quota. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers says the Army Reserve and National Guard are especially hard hit. He says the regular Army is hanging onto people longer. If they can't retire, they can't sign up for the Guard and Reserve. (NYT)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of February 16, 2005

After weeks of continuing declines, the Pentagon mobilized a collective total of 1,811 more Reservists and Guardsmen this week than last. All told, 185,432 National Guardsmen and Reservists are on active duty this week. (DoD)

Recuriting Shortfalls

Five of the military reserves' six components failed to meet recruiting goals for the first four months of the fiscal year. Only the Marine Reserve met its quota through January. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chariman, General Richard Myers told Congress the Army Reserve and National Guard are especially hard hit because the regular Army's hanging onto people longer. If they can't retire, they can't join the reserve. (NYT)

Help Wanted

Polish up your resume, the Bush administration still has three top jobs available. Almost a month into his second term, the President has yet to name a UN ambassador, a National Intelligence Director, and a Director at the EPA. (USA Today)

Dead Farmers

Your Agriculture Department has paid millions of dollars to thousands of dead farmers. At least 55 of the deceased got payments of $400,000 or more. To get farm subsidies, you're supposed to be "actively engaged" in farming. Kind of hard to till the soil when you've been planted in in for years yourself.

And millions more go to city slickers who never even see the farmland they own. The extent of their "active engagement" in farming may be limited to a couple of conference calls a year to the people actually doing the farming.

All told, there were 1.8 million people getting farm subsidies in 2003. The Bush administration wants to crack down on who's getting farm money and come up with a better definition of "actively engaged." (Chicago Tribune via Yahoo!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Move Along, Nothing to See Here.

The new chairman over at the House Ethics Committee has fired two senior staff lawyers. Rep Doc Hastings (R-WA) denies it was punishment for trouble the panel caused Rep Tom DeLay (R-TX), the House Majority Leader.

House GOP leaders already fired the panel's previous chairman, putting the loyalist Rep Hastings in charge. And they changed rules making it virtually impossible to bring up a sitting Congressman on ethics charges.

The ethics problems for Rep Delay stem from a pair of grand jury investigations in Texas. (USA Today)

Outsourcing Advocate Looking for a New Job

President Bush's top economic adviser has called it quits. N. Gregory Mankiw says it's time to "return to my family" -- usually political code for "Time to git while the gittin's good."

Prof Mankiw got out of step with his boss on Social Security, spilling the beans that it can't be fixed without some painful repairs. Back in early December, he said it'd be impossible to fix Social Security without cutting benefits. He called those promised benefits, "empty promises."

He'll be best remembered for his statement that outsourcing jobs overseas would prove "a plus for the economy in the long run."

As economist John Maynard Keynes put it, "In the long-run we are all dead." In the short term, at least Prof Mankiw's job wasn't outsourced. (NYT)

The Price of War is Going Up

The US is spending more per service member than right now than at any time in history. The cost of the wars since 9/11 are expected to pass the $300 billion mark.

High technology is an obvious cause. The modern American warrior goes into battle with more hardware than your neighborhood Tru-Valu.

But that's just one of the causes.

The all volunteer military has forced the Pentagon to compete with the private sector. That means higher pay and benefits to get the best people.

Then there's the worldwide nature of the War on Terror and the Iraq War spreading US resources across the globe.

The Iraq War costs $4.3 billion a month -- $143 million a day. The war in Afghanistan, around $800 million a month. (Boston Globe)

Who You Gonna Believe? Us Politicians or those Scientists?

The Republican members of the House Resource Committee are out with a 33 page report saying the dangers of mercury are overstated. They're taking up for the coal and electric industries. The Republican members say there's no link between mercury from coal burning power plants and mercury levels in fish. Just "crying wolf" they say.

Of course, the EPA's inspector general found out that weakened mercury standards the Bush administration sought were based on an industry lobbying group -- not science. That 61 page report I first told you about on February 6, indicates that the GOP administration overlooked health concerns to side with the electric industry.

Of course, you don't think there'd be any connection to campaign contributions from the industry, do you?

The Bush Administration vs. POWs

American pilots beaten and tortured by Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War have a new set of problems -- the Bush administration.

The POWs sued Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the war and courts awarded them $1 billion.

But now the White House says Iraq's changed. So the country shouldn't have to pay. The administration suggests the US should pay compensation to Iraqis tortured at the hands of Americans in the current war -- but not a dime to Americans tortured in the same Abu Ghraib prison at Iraqi hands 13 years earlier.

Congress allowed lawsuits against nations that sponsor terrorism back in 1996. The 17 Gulf War POWs filed suit in 2002 for a share of $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets frozen in the US. A judge awarded roughly $1 billion to the POWs when Iraq refused to respond to the suit. (LAT)

The VA has to Want to Help Itself

Nearly two decades to fix problems and the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing in the clutch.

A new Government Accountability Office report shows the VA hasn't even followed its own ideas for improving mental health care for returning vets. Rep Lane Evans (D-IL) requested the study. He says it confirms his concerns that the VA is not prepared to meet the demand for mental health care created by the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

The VA set up a Special Advisory Committee after Vietnam to come up with a plan to deal with war-induced mental health problems. They came up with 24 recommendations.

But the GAO found the VA will not have 23 of the 24 in place until 2007 or later -- even though many of the recommendations were made nearly 20 years ago.

Back in July, the New England Journal of Medicine surveyed 6,000 Iraq combat veterans and found 1-in-8 already showed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

On January 26, the Pentagon announced a new clinical program that would check up on returning troops three to six months after they got home from combat. The Defense Department's learned from experience that PTSD symptoms sometimes don't show up for weeks or months after the trauma happens.

But at the VA, the GAO found administrators at six of seven hospitals said they were unprepared to meet an increase in demand for mental health services. And the Special Advisory Committee reported in 2004 that the VA's ability to deal with PTSD had seriously eroded prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO & House Committee on Veteran's Affairs)

[Crossposted at]

More Military Money

Senate Democrats claim President Bush isn't spending enough on the troops. They want to tack on an extra $8 billion for higher toop pay and better benefits for their families. That's on top of the President's request for an extra $82 billion outside the federal budget to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leading the Democrats' charge -- the once and possible future Presidential candidate, Sen John Kerry (D-MA). He wants to vote for the extra $8 billion, before he...well, you know. He could use a better soundbite the next time around. (USA Today)

FDA to Institute Safety Board

Months after top Food and Drug Administration scientists accused the agency of slow or no response to dangerous drugs it approved, the FDA is finally getting around to setting up a drug safety panel. It'll watch for dangers that crop up after a drug is approved and on the market.

Drug companies can pay higher fees to get quicker approval for new drugs from the FDA. Critics say that rushes new medicines through -- before they can be fully tested.

Scientists have complained that once problems crop up with a drug already on the market -- the FDA is slow to pull the drug. Some have testified before Congress that they were threatened by superiors for calling attention to such problems.

The FDA announcement comes on the eve of a major scientific conference set to discuss problems with two such drugs -- Vioxx and Celebrex. The prescription pain killers were sold with FDA approval for years before research turned up showing they could cause heart attacks.

Critics say the plan isn't enough and question the timing. The FDA has gone looking for praise and made some high profile, populist calls at critical times in the Vioxx mess that seemed custom made to deflect their bad press. (LAT)

[Crossposted at]

Airbus Looks to Land in America

Leaders from 35 states showed up in DC for a sales pitch from European airplane maker Airbus. The Fench-based parent company -- European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company -- wants to build a $600 million plant here in the states. And even states with close ties to Airbus' biggest rival, Boeing, had people there for the pitch.

Boeing lost a bid to lease refueling tankers to the Air Force amid a major scandal recently.

Airbus has jumped into the bidding to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of tankers. Having a plant in the US could increase Airbus' ability to compete for military contracts. Military buying rules require a certain percentage of a plane be built in the US. But Lockheed recently won a bid to replace the President's personal fleet of helicopters with a model built largely in Italy. (LAT)

Turf Battle over Lighters

You can still carry butane lighters onto commercial airliners. There was supposed to be a ban go into effect Tuesday. Congress set the deadline some time back. Senators were afraid someone would try a repeat of the "shoe bomber," lighting a fuse by flicking a Bic. But the deadline passed and the Transportation Security Administration can't seem to stop the lighters just yet.

The Office of Budget Management put the ban on hold. Right now, you can carry two butane lighters and four books of matches onto planes -- even though you're not allowed to smoke -- or build campfires -- on any of them.

But the tobacco industry has lobbied against the ban. They argue that the ban will create defacto "No Smoking" zones throughout airports because people won't bother to bring lighters with them to the airports. They'd also like people to light up as soon as they deplane and reach a "Smoking" zone. (Guardian)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Where's Al Haig When You Need Someone In Charge?

Three years after 9/11, Washington still can't get its act together over homeland security. Sure, we've got a whole Department of Homeland Security, but they don't get to run the whole show.

Settling power struggles and turf battles, Congress and the President divided the responsibilities into 43 areas. But the Government Accountability Office could only identify lead agencies for 37 of those top priorities.

More than two-thirds of the projects have three or more departments taking a lead role. And the GAO found plenty of problems with coordination and cooperation between departments.

So that leaves a lot of confusion over who's supposed to be doing what to keep us safe. And we've all seen how Washington's confusion can leave a hole in our security big enough to fly four wide-bodied jets through. (GAO)

What'd He Say?

People who voted for George W. Bush for President often commented about how plainspoken he is. Then maybe someone can explain this description of his Social Security reform plan:

"There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you?

"It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

"Okay, better? I'll keep working."

--President Bush, Tampa, Florida, February 4, 2005. (

Tape at 11 -- But Not Much Tape

Maybe it was like hunting a baited field. Afterall, it's easy to predict that local television news won't cover local politics. Politics is too hard. Car chases and house fires are easy.

So it should come as no surprise that researchers watching local news found big city, local television news spent 8 times as much air time on car crashes than covering local election campaigns -- including federal races -- in the weeks before the 2004 elections. The study analyzed 4,000 local newscasts from 11 major markets. Some of the findings:

  • Seattle: Time spent on intro music and teases outnumbered time covering the Washington Governors race by 14-to-1
  • Nationwide: Paid advertising by candidates in news programs outdid local coverage of those races by 5-to-1
  • Nationwide: More than 50% of local newscasts carried a story on the Presidential race but only 8% carried a story on a local race

Sen John McCain is using the study to bolster his call for tighter controls on media ownership. Critics of allowing companies to buy up more stations claim big companies make less of a commitment to the local communities where their stations are actually located.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Seaton Hall University and led by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California. (NYT -- Thanks to Al's Morning Meeting)

Extending the Range of the Tanker Scandal

A former Air Force procurement official -- in jail for her part in the Boeing tanker scandal -- may have improperly influenced eight more government contracts worth $3 billion of your tax money. The Air Force is reviewing 407 contracts that Darleen Druyun worked on. (WashPost)

A Question of Faith

A former Bush administration official doubts the President's commitment to faith-based programs. David Kuo was President Bush's deputy director of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.

In an essay on, Mr Kuo says he's "saddened" by the administration's failure to fully fund the initiative -- calling it only "a whisper of what was promised."

Mr Kuo's criticism is the latest from those in political-religious circles critical of the President preaching one thing but failing to deliver. In January, religous-political groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family flooded the White House switchboard with a coordinated complaint campaign after President Bush backed off on his support for an Amendment banning gay marriage. (LAT)

Extending the Range of the Tanker Scandal

A former Air Force procurement official -- in jail for her part in the Boeing tanker scandal -- may have improperly influenced eight more government contracts worth $3 billion of your tax money. The Air Force is reviewing 407 contracts that Darleen Druyun worked on. (WashPost)

A Grammy for the Rock and Roll President

Former President Bill Clinton has won his second Grammy -- neither for saxophone related stuff. His audio book version of his memoir My Life won for spoken word category.

That's two more than Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, and the Doors combined. Go figure.

Mr Clinton shared Grammy honors last year with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for their version of Peter and the Wolf.

Sen Hillary Clinton won the spoken word Grammy in 1997 for the audio version of her book It Takes a Village.

Probing Payments

Reports that billions of your tax dollars are mismanaged, Army investigations into whistle-blower murders in Iraq. Now Congress is looking into where your tax money's going in Iraq. At least Democrats. They say Republican leaders refuse to act on their calls to probe mismanaged resources in Iraq. The hearings call attention to their concern -- but without the GOP members joining, carry no legal weight.

Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) compare US spending in Iraq to an ice cube passed from hand to hand -- with it melting a little each time until nothing's left. (CNN)

Pork Rocks

Buried away in the 2005 federal budget is $150,000 for the Grammys -- yep, the music awards folks. It goes to a non-profit Foundation that the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences set up. Rep Jeff Flake (R-AZ) says the pork is little more than a taxpayer gift to rich music industry insiders. (

You Want Fries With That?

Lawmakers in at least 17 states are ordering up "Cheeseburger Bills" this legislative session. Those are bills that bar people from suing fast food places for making them fat. Expect lawmakers to "super size" their bills with amendments and riders. (

Budget 101

The Washington Post has an interesting interactive feature that walks you through the budget making process. (WashPost)

I'm a Judicial Nominee. I Can't be Bothered by Laws.

President Bush's pick for US Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia has been practicing law without a license for the past four years. Thomas Griffith is general counsel for Brigham Young University. Utah law requires all lawyers -- including those serving in posts like Griffith's -- to have a valid law license. He's never had one since taking the job in August, 2000. Previously, he'd practiced law in Washington for three years without a license. (

Monday, February 14, 2005

Four More Years

A little late getting this to you -- and into the Liberal MultiMedia file. But here's a very left leaning music video by Dean Friedman (in the JibJab genre) called Four More Years.

Another Whistle Blower Murder in Iraq

The US Army is investigating the death of a contactor in Iraq -- who warned that his company was defruading the Army. Ryan Manelick and an Iraqi collegue were gunned down on December 14th -- shortly after Mr Manelick told Army investigators of his suspicions. His company -- Ultra Services of Winters, California -- has done $14 million in business with the military.

Just two months earlier, another employee Ultra Services disappeared from beside an Iraqi road. His abandoned car showed no blood nor any signs of struggle. Contractor Kirk von Ackermann's briefcase containing $40,000 was in the car's backseat. The Army is investigating that disappearance now, too.

The Army is aready investigating the death of another whistleblower. Dale Stoffel was gunned down shortly after telling investigators about a kickback scheme between his company -- Wye Oak Technology -- and Iraqi Defense Ministry officials. (SF Chronicle)

Gunny Sacks and Truckloads of Your Money in Iraq

Washington's had a heck of a time keeping track of your money as they spend it on contractors in Iraq. Nearly $9 billion of your tax money can't be accounted for.

Part of the problem may be with unconventional accounting practices. Officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority would count the cash as it left their vaults -- but have no paper trail after that.

A former CPA officer says they would hand out cash from the back of pick up trucks and in one case stuffed $2 million in cash into a contractor's gunnysack.

Obviously, CPA in this case should not be confused with Certified Public Accountant. Though the system sounds certifible. (WashPost)

Grounding Missile Defense Plans

It was the top defense priority of the Bush administration -- until 9/11. After that, missile defense took a backseat to counterterrorism. And it's being pushed even farther back now. The President's latest budget calls for slashing $1 billion from missile defense programs. (NPR -- Audio)

An Extra $82 Billion that Wasn't in the Budget

Money to pay for the Iraq War was no where to be found in the President's budget. He'll ask for that money today -- $82 billion. And it's only February. (CNN)

Bad Medicine?

Anti-malaria pills given to US troops may be causing problems as well as curing them. Take the case of Georg-Andreas Pogany. While serving in Iraq he suddenly became panicked and convinced the enemy was charging into his tent.

When he asked the brass for help -- he became the first soldier since Vietnam charged with cowardice.

Only after shipping him home did the military read the disclaimer on the Lariam they'd ordered Mr Pogany -- that it may cause paranoia and hallucinations. His lawyer latched onto that as a defense -- and Uncle Sam dropped all charges against him.

As Mr Pogany put it, "What are we doing giving drugs that cause hallucinations, confusion, psychotic behavior to people that carry weapons and hold secret clearances?" (CBS)

A Google Search for Campaign Donors's employees are big on giving money to federal candidates -- around $207,650 last year compared to a mere $250 in 2000. And 98% of that went to Democrats.

But a search for donations from Google's founders came up empty. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have $7.2 billion in stock each. But neither has contributed any of their fortunes toward political campaigns. (USA Today)

Patriot Penalty

Congress is thinking about getting rid of the "Patriot Penalty." That's the difference pay between a National Guardsman or Reservist's civilian pay and what he makes in the military. Some have to close down their businesses or struggle with bills while they're away. A new bill would help them with the bills for up to $50,000 of their lost income. (Guardian)

The Missing Memo Surfaces

Released on Friday, as network news deadlines were closing and as most Americans were gearing up for the weekend and tuning out the news, the administration released a memo showing the Bush administration got a clear and serious warning about al Qaeda's threat to the US -- just five days after taking office in 2001.

The memo was mentioned during the 9/11 Commission Hearings. It was from former counter terrorism boss Richard Clark to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Ms Rice has maintained throughout the President's first term, re-election bid, and her confirmation as Secretary of State that she never recieved any specific warning about al Qaeda.

But the memo from Mr Clarke detailed specific threats and warned that al Qaeda as having a broad reach, threatening US relations with allies and the Mideast peace process. (Boston Globe)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tom Ridge -- Private Citizen, Pork Salesman

In the short existence of the Department of Homeland Security, it has probably purchased more pork than Jimmie Dean. And now it's former first Director -- Tom Ridge -- is selling the Department as a potential buyer for pork barrel projects. Less that two weeks after leaving his government job as Homeland Security Secretary, Mr Ridge was hard at work for Security Technology Ventures -- a company anxious to sell the Homeland Security Department a boatload of anti-terrorism gadgets -- as their featured speaker at a Silicon Valley trade show.

At least Mr Ridge was honest. Last summer he said he couldn't get by on the piddling $175,000 a year salary of the nation's top anti-terror agency. And if he couldn't beat the pork barrel spending that plagued his agency -- at least he can join in on it.

And make a profit from your tax dollars. (

Friday, February 11, 2005

Would He Pose a (Space) Flight Risk?

Fellow named Thomas P. Jasin did an 18-month stretch in federal prison. He got convicted for trying to sell anti-tank missiles to South Africa against an international arms embargo. But a couple of years back, a judge tossed out his conviction on a technicality. Now, the guy "un-convicted" of selling rockets has become a rocket scientist on your payroll. He's heading up NASA's Robotic Lunar Exploration Program.

You'd think that checking a person's criminal record wouldn't be rocket science. But it appears NASA never checked him out with federal prosecutors. He was hired without those prosecutors dismissing his indictment. (WashPost)

Confusing Massachusetts with Texas -- Got any Barbeque Chowder to go with this Glow in the Dark Stuff?

A load of radioactive material that disappeared back in October while en route to Texas has turned up in Boston. Halliburton was hauling the americium -- used in oil exploration -- from Russia to Houston. The material could be used to make a "dirty bomb." Shippers tracked it as far as New York, then lost it. A Halliburton spokeswoman says the Texas bound material was improperly labeled and turned up safely in Massachusetts. Houston, Austin, Boston -- honest mistake, right? (CBS 2 NY)

The Payola Pundit Scandal Pay Off

The rash of paid-off pundits preaching the President's agenda has a noticable difference in payoffs. Columnist Maggie Gallagher got only $40,000 taxpayer dollars to secretly promote the administration's agenda, while TV commentator Armstrong Williams got $240,000.

Rolling Stone suggests that amounts to how much exposure pundits could give to the administration. With Mr Williams, there was Sinclair Broadcast Group. He offered to work as an independent analyst, and the company got lots of high profile interviews -- with Administration officials Mr Williams was under contract to interview.

Mr Williams told Rolling Stone, "Sinclair brought me stuff that I did not have -- real numbers, where you can get the speaker of the house or the VP. On Sinclair, I was talking to millions of viewers a night."

Sinclair was not aware of Mr Williams' arrangement with the Bush adminstration at the time. But the producer who worked Mr Williams' interview on Sinclair stations with Education Secretary Rodney Paige told Rolling Stone it was "the worst piece of TV I've ever been associated with. You've seen softballs from Larry King? Well, this was softer. I told my boss it didn't even deserve to be broadcast, but they kept pushing me to put more of it on tape. In retrospect, it was so clearly propaganda."

Another ex-producer for Sinclair says that sort of thing fit in with the style of the broadcast company. He says he was ordered not to report any "bad news" out of Iraq. There were to be no reports of dead troops or how much the war cost.

Sinclair head honcho David Smith tells Rolling Stone, "We're in the center" politically and that "99.9% of the media is left of center."

Mr Smith promised an internal investigation of the Armstrong Williams scandal and his company's involvement with Mr Williams during the contract. But shortly after making the announcement, Mr Smith was a guest at an Inauguration Day reception at Mr William's home. (Rolling Stone)

Surveying the Damage

The Pentagon's set up a special registry to track causalty information from the wars in Iraw and Afghanistan. The data will help the military decide what works and doesn't. It will affect things like designing future protective gear and how to better deliver medical attention on the battlefield. The Joint Theater Trauma Registry details wounds received, treatment given, how field hospitals worked and what the long term results were on wounded troops. The data shows how effective combat care is. In past wars, about 25% of those wounded in combat died. In the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, only 10% of the wounded have died. (DoD)

Virginia's Seat of Government gets Embar-assed

Virginia's "Droopy Drawers" bill turned into a political wedgie for its supporters, who've now dropped their anti-low-cut-pants legislation. The bill would have spanked kids with a $50 fine for wearing pants that exposed their underwear in "a lewd or indecent manner." The Virginia House passed the bill but a Senate panel killed the plan in an unanimous vote. Senators said the bill was embarassing the Commonwealth -- so many cracks about it in the media. No word on how the plumbers' lobby came in on this bill. (CNN)

The Bush Budget and a Lack of Leverage

The top man at the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office holds little hope for President Bush's budget cutting record federal deficits. Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin says the cuts the President wants are only in a small fraction of the overall budget.

He likens it to a lever. With a long enough handle, you could lift the burden of a large deficit. But with no handle, you're not going to get it very far off the ground. The Bush Budget cuts make up a small handle. (ABC)

Important Importing Numbers

The US trade deficit hit a record $618 billion last year -- up 24%. And for the first time in 50 years, America imported more farm products than we exported. The President of the National Association of Manufacturers calls the numbers, "dismal."

The trade deficit forces the US to borrow money from overseas. So the US had to borrow money equal to about 5.3% of what the US produces here at home. That's above the danger point for financial gurus. Most countries have serious economic problems once they pass the 5% mark. (WashTimes)

The Whole World is Watching

Want to know how the rest of the world sees America? Check out It's a new site that features links to news stories from around the world, international journalists reporting on America for their national media. Angles to stories you won't see on the networks or in American papers. (

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Mail One for the Gipper

The Ronald Reagan stamp is finally available. And just like how Walter Mondale and the Soviets never could lick him -- you can't either. His stamp is self adhesive. (USPS) [Photo Credit: USPS]

Second Home

The biggest attraction at the Bill Clinton Presidential Library is -- Bill Clinton himself. The former President has a two bedroom penthouse suite over atop the library. Word is he spends at least one week every month there. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has yet to visit the penthouse pad overlooking the Arkansas River. (WashTimes)

Lobbying to Keep 'Em Flying

It wasn't even 24 hours after President Bush announced plans to cut two Air Force contracts that Senators were out in force to keep 'em flying. Sen Johnny Isakson (R-GA) led the lobbying mission to save the C-130J and roll back deep cuts to the F-22 program. Sen Isakason represents 8,500 workers at the plant where much of the planes are made.

The Sen had breakfast with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the morning after the budget came out.

Cuts in the F-22 Raptor program would save $4.3 billion. Eliminating the C-130J would save $4.9 billion. (Chicago Tribune)

Accused of Padding their Pockets with Your Dollars

Washington's suing one of Uncle Sam's biggest contractors of padding bills to the taxpayers. Science Applications International Corp was legally allowed to reap a 10% profit. But Washington claims the company padded bills to get 30% or more on contracts. Washington paid the company $24 million for the contract it's now suing over. (NYT)

Don't Forget Poland. How Can You, If We Give 'Em $100 Million?

President Bush wants $100 million for Poland -- a "thank you" for Poland's support in the Iraq War. Part of a $400 million package for allies in the Iraq War. (NYT)

Letter Writing Campaign

If the Republican National Committee doesn't agree with a commercial about the President's Social Security reforms, they try to get it pulled off the air. The RNC sent letters to 14 TV outlets demanding taht an ad from the liberal be pulled. The letters invoke the name of the FCC and suggests their broadcast licenses could be in trouble if they air the ads.

Jim Behling, general manager at WNDU-TV in South Bend said, "There were some things in the tone that I didn't appreciate."

The other GMs apparently had the same attitude. None of the stations that got the letters pulled the ads. (USA Today)

Ignoring Warnings of 9/11

The feds had dozens of warnings about suicide attacks and planned hijackings leading up to 9/11. But they were overlooked because of a false sense of security with US intelligences operations. A previously unreleased report from the 9/11 Commission shows the FAA's leadership recieved 52 detailed warnings between April and September 10, 2001. (USA Today)

Humperdink, Englebert Humperdink

Web security guidelines the National Security Agency published for federal agencies showed a couple of emails from 60s pop star Englebert Humperdink to the NSA. It created quite a stir that the singer might have been a spy. Not so, says the NSA. They borrowed his name for a ficticious example and have now removed it from their site. But Captain James T. Kirk -- they're not saying. (USA Today)

Every Silver Lining has a Cloud

The National Taxpayers Union has found some unwelcome news for taxpayers buried away in the President's budget. A couple of examples. They point to the hike in airport security fees and note that the average tax burden on a $200 round trip ticket is now 26%. And while NTU praises cuts in farm subsidies, they point out farm payments in the budget are still twice as high as they were in the year immediately folloing the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. (NTU)

Budget Highlights

Don't have time to wade through all umpteen thousand pages of the President's budget? Citizens Against Government Waste has highlights -- including a list of those 150 programs the President wants cut or eliminated. (CAGW)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Power Trips

Your Representatives and Senators had to give up a lot of perks to reforms over the past several years -- but they still get to travel -- a lot. American Radio Works looks at the trips, who's taking them, and who's paying for them.

You can look up your Representatives and Senators.

You can also find who accepts the most money in trips.

And find out how the political parties compare. (ARW)

George Herman

George Herman has died. He was the first reporter to broadcast news of a break in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate in 1972. He was also the longest serving host of "Face the Nation." (WashPost)

Where are We Going, And Why Are We in this Handbasket?

In a statement to Congress, US Comptroller General David Walker warns that the US is headed for trouble in the way we're spending money and cutting taxes:

"Simply put, our nation’s fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course and our long-term fiscal gap grew much larger in fiscal year 2004. Long-term budget simulations by GAO, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and others show that, over the long term we face a large and growing structural deficit due primarily to known demographic trends and rising health care costs. Continuing on this unsustainable fiscal path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of lliving, and ultimately our national security. Our current path also will increasingly constrain our ability to address emerging and unexpected budgetary needs and increase the burdens that will be faced by future generations."

Walker testified that the GAO found that economic growth alone and minor changes to tax and spending policies won't fix the problem either. (GAO)

Taxpayer Dollars and the National Pastime

In addition to paying for sports stadiums, taxpayers also foot the bill to attract the teams that will demand taxpayers pay for the stadiums. WTOP radio in Washington found taxpayers shelled out $500,000 on consultants to help lure the Montreal Expos to the nation's capital. (WTOP)

Silent Partners

Fresh off their campaign efforts in the Presidential election, 527 groups promise to be among the biggest players in the Social Security debate. The Center for Public Integrity has a look at some of the groups on both sides of the issue -- likely to spend $100 million or more to influence your Congressmen. (CPI)

The Budget's Direction

An analysis of President Bush's budget shows that it is focused on shaping anti-terrorism policy. The biggest gains are for areas that would strengthen homeland and national security. (LAT)

If C-SPAN isn't Available

Andrew Cochran at The Counterterrorism Blog has a link to let you listen in on today's Oil-for-Food Hearing. It's before the House International Relation's Subcommittee at 1:30 pm EST. (Counterterrorism Blog)

What's Missing in the Budget

The President's budget is the tightest one of his tenure. But it leaves out the really expensive stuff he wants. For instance, there's no mention of the transition costs of his Social Security private accounts -- which the White House estimates will cost $754 billion over five years. Some other items that he left out:

  • $81 billion already requested this year for the Iraq War
  • $1.6 billion (over 10 years) to make tax cuts permanent
  • $642 million (over 10 years) to change the alternative minimum tax

There's also the White House report out today that the President's Medicare prescription drug plan will cost $1.2 trillion -- instead of the $400 billion he first claimed in 2003. The budget does mention an apparent doubling of that cost over the first five years of the plan. (Boston Globe)

The US Arsenal in Europe

The Cold War is long since won. But Uncle Sam still keeps a good sized nuclear arsenal ready in Europe. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a new report, US Nuclear Weapons in Europe. The 102 page report estimates as many as 480 US nukes are stored in Europe. (IHT)

Taking a Toll on Shipping

Shippers and factories along the Great Lakes are lining up to oppose a part of the Bush budget that calls for higher tolls on the St Lawrence Seaway. The administration hopes to raise $8 million in new revenue with the hike. Businesses say it'll raise their prices and cost jobs. (AP via Canoe)

Passing the Buck -- 118 Million of 'Em

The state of Arizona wants Washington to pay it back for locking up illegal aliens. Gov Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) has sent a bill for $118 million to the feds. She fired off a letter to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking federal prison officials to take custody of about 3,600 illegal immigrants in her state prisons, too. (AP via

Deficits and Defections

Sen George Voinovich (R-OH) cast a key vote for President Bush's tax cuts. But he now opposes making them permanent. Like other Republicans in Congress, he's alarmed at the size of the budget deficit which has set new records in the past couple of years. (LAT)

Who We're Fighting in Iraq

A top Pentagon official tells CNN the brass estimates between 13,000 and 17,000 insurgents are working in Iraq. He says the Defense Department believes most are loyalists to Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party. The Pentagon also believes about 500 more fighters came in from other countries and about 1,000 more are are believed to be followers of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (CNN)

The Cost of War

The total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War now stands at 1,445 -- including 1,107 lost in hostile actions. (WashPost)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of February 9, 2005

After weeks of net decreases, the number of Guardsmen and Reservists on active duty last week rose -- up 1,688 over the previous week. The cumulative total stands at 183,621 this week. (DoD)

Loose Lips Lands Pink Slip

Spreading rumors on the Internet netted a governor's long-time aide the pink slip. Joseph Steffen, longtime aide to Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr (R-MD) resigned just hours after the Governor's administration was accused of spreading false rumors.

The gossip concerned Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) who claimed a "concerted and orchestrated and sustained" effort to spread false rumors about an extramarital affair. The mayor's thinking about challenging the Governor next year.

Mr Steffen admitted he discussed the rumor on popular conservative website and in private e-mails.

Governor Erlich, in accepting Mr Steffen's resignatioN, refused to apologize to Mayor O'Malley saying it was premature to assume his office or campaign was behind the rumors. (WashPost)

Jamming Gets Him in a Jam

Five months in jail and a $15,600 fine -- the penalty handed down to Allen Raymond for political dirty tricks in New Hampshire. Mr Raymond was president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based GOP Marketplace LLC when he jammed Democratic Party phone lines in the Granite State in the 2002 elections. More than 800 computer generated phone calls knocked the Democratic Party's phones off line for an hour and a half on election day. (Manchester Union Leader)

Putting All Your Nest Eggs in the Stock Market Basket

An analysis of the Bush Social Security plan shows two long term views from the President.

First: For Social Security to hit a shortfall by 2042, an aging population will slow productivity and that will create a drag on the overall economy.

Second: For the private accounts to work, the stock market will be unaffected by the slowing economy and clip along with strong investment gains. (WashPost)

TSA Tossed to Create New Agencies

Less than four years after creating it, the Bush administration wants to dismantle much of the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA handles security at airports. And that's about all it would do under plans in the President's budget. Duties to keep and screen millions of photographs and fingerprints would shift to a new federal agency called "Screening Coordination and Operations." That agency in turn would be home to at least four more major divisions to track and screen passengers for possible terrorists. (WashPost)

The Party of Big Government?

Congressional Conservatives have some problems with the Bush administration's second term agenda. Many of the plans involve expanding the federal government's size and role in formerly state and local issues. At least 50 Republicans got together in Baltimore last week to discuss the possibility of protesting the President's latest education plans. (WashPost)

The Big Pill for Taxpayers to Swallow Keeps Getting Bigger

The White House now predicts their Medicare prescription benefit plan passed in 2003 will cost $1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years. The Bush administration has won GOP support for the plan largely with the promise that it would cost only $400 billion.

Medicaid's bean counters caught wind of the higher prices early on. But their top actuary, Richard Foster, said Medicare's top brass threatened to fire him if he went public with his belief the cost would top $600 billion.

The new numbers also show seniors will have to pay more for their share of prescriptions each year under the plan.

Part of the rising costs may be linked to a provision in the plan that prevents Medicare negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. (WashPost)

Democratic Plans for Social Security

Congressional Democrats are offering alternatives to President Bush's plans to fix Social Security.

Represenatives Dennis Moore (D-KS) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) have each proposed "lock box" plans.

Sen John D. Rockerfeller IV (D-WV) wants to keep Social Security solvent by simply not extending the President's tax cuts.

Both address the issue of Congress borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to make ends meet on regular federal spending. The President is looking at four plans to cut benefits or extend the retirement age. He's also backing a plan to let people put some of their Social Security withholding into private accounts. That plan would have no effect on fixing the Social Security shortfall, though. (WashTimes)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You Can't Please Everyone

The FCC got 500,000 complaints over last year's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction." This year they got two. Both complained that Paul McCartney's halftime show was "boring." (Yahoo!)

Symbolism and Savings in the President's Budget

Only in Washington would $20 billion be "symbolic." But that's pretty much what the cuts President Bush proposed in his budget.

The President wants to slash or eliminate 150 programs. All told, that adds up to about $20 billion. That's a lot of money to the average Joe -- but just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the $2.5 trillion budget.

It's only about 5% of the deficit for next year -- and only eight-tenths of one percent of the budget. What's more, some of it's taken from programs that have friends in Congress.

For instance, The Bush budget calls for doubling the co-pay for some veterans' medical care and charging others a $250 a year fee. The President can propose that because he doesn't have to run for office again. The people who have to vote on it -- are voted on next year. It's hard to believe any but the strongest Bush loyalists in the House backing a plan to raise prices on vets.

Sibling Rivalries in the Billions

As President Bush struggles to keep from coming in with another record deficit this year, his brother Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) is looking at $3.5 billion extra in his state budget. Brother Jeb has an advantage the President doesn't -- a line item veto. Governor Bush has promised to strike all pork barrel spending in the Florida budget. President Bush is pretty much stuck with whatever Congress gives him. (Miami Herald)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ducking the Ax

Get enough special interests behind a government program and it'll stick around no matter how many politicians preach about cutting waste, fraud, and pork. Take the Advanced Technology Program.

It gives your tax money to big companies for high-tech research. You'd think they could afford to pay for their own research and development. The President does.

Last year, President Bush proposed cutting 65 programs in his budget. He got all but one -- that one that gives big businesses your money. This year, ATP is spending $136 million of your tax dollars.

Getting rid of all 65 programs President Bush wanted to eliminate last year would have saved $4.9 billion -- still only about two-tenths fo 1% of the federal budget. It's only a little more than 1% of last year's deficit.

No matter what a Congressman's party, power brings with it increased campaign contributions -- and owing a certain debt to special interests. And spending on special interests' pet projects sticks around -- regardless of who's in power.

"As Republicans, we used to ridicule Democrats for spending. But now we're in power, and we've perfected the practice," says Rep Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

President Bush is trying again this year to kill the ATP. He's got a bigger hit list, too -- 150 programs for cuts or elimination. (USA Today via Yahoo!)

Is French Back in Fasion?

Maybe it was two years of eating "freedom fries." Seems French food is popular with Americans again -- after the big chill that started over the Iraq War. Importers of black turffles -- at $75 bucks for a seven ounce jar -- report sales up 25% during the holidays. French numbers show imported Champagne and cheese sales to the US increased 20% in 2004. US figures show an increase of $600 million in French goods purchased in the US.

Then there's French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure which hit number 2 on the Barnes & Noble best seller list last month. Of course, at $75 for seven ounces -- maybe they just don't eat as often. (IHT)

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Senate

Pity poor Sen Ben Nelson (R-NE). He gets no respect. First, President Bush comes up with a pair of nicknames for him that the Senator can't stand -- "Nellie" and "Benny" -- then the President dumps him on the side of the road.

The Senator was traveling with the President's Social Security reform tour, when the President took off and left Sen Nelson without a ride. The Senator had to hitch a ride in an '89 Buick.

At least he talked President Bush into using a new nickname -- "Benator." I always liked "Pat Benator," big star in the '80s. (Omaha World Herald)

Higher Taxes for Flying

President Bush's budget will have at least one tax hike in it when it's presented to Congress today. It calls for more than doubling the airport security tax from $2.50 to $5.50 for a one-way airline ticket -- and raising it from $5.00 to $8.00 for each flight with multiple legs. Congress passed the original tax after 9/11. The airlines promise to fight the tax hike. (Washington Times)

Raising Prices for Veterans

Some veterans will have to pay a new $250 fee under the Bush budget if they want to keep using goverment health care. The budget also calls for more than doubling the co-payment many veterans have to pay.

The President's Budget In Print

The Government Printing office has the President's budget ready for your review online. At $2.57 trillion, it's still one of the tightest budgets in years, slashing spending to 150 programs. Among the cuts: farm subsidies, health care payments to the poor and veterans, education, and envorinmental protection. (GPO)

Transportation Department Budget at a Glance

The President's spending plans for the Transportation Department. (AP)

State Department Budget

The President's spending plans for the State Department. (AP)

Department of Justice Budget

The President's spending plans for the Justice Department. (AP)

Department of Interior Budget at a Glance

The President's spending plans for the Interior Department. (AP)

Homeland Security Department Budget at a Glance

The President's spending plans for the Department of Homeland Security. (AP)

HHS Department Budget at a Glance

The President's spending plans for the Department of Health & Human Services. (AP)

EPA Budget at a Glance

The President's spending plans for the EPA. (AP)

Energy Department Budget at a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Department of Energy. (AP)

Department of Education Budget at a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Department of Education. (AP)

Veterans Department Budget at a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Veterans Department. (AP)

HUD Budget in a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (AP)

Department of Labor Budget at a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Department of Labor (AP)

Department of Defense Budget at a Glance

President Bush's spending plans for the Department of Defense. (AP)

Changing Course on Defense Spending

The new Bush budget has more money for defense -- but cuts a lot of defense programs. It moves money from sophisticated weapons systems like the F-22 Raptor and DDX destroyers to ground forces. (Reuters)

With a Telescope That Big, NASA Should Have Seen it Coming

NASA gets more money under the President's budget -- but not enough to save the Hubble Space Telescope The $16.45 billion dollar NASA budget has only $75 million for a robot mission to Hubble -- and that would be to set it on a course to burn up in the atmosphere. (Seattle P-I)

Blackouts Across the Wide Missouri

River levels along the Missouri River are dropping. They're low enough to raise concern among six Governors along the Missouri. The Missouri supplies hydroelectric power to the region. Low water means less juice -- and they Governors are meeting to find ways to avoid blackouts. (NPR - Audio)

Intelligence Test

Stung by the CIA's massive intelligence failure on Iraq, the Senate Intelligence Committee is reviewing the spy shop's work on Iran. The Committee also wants a review of intel capabilities on North Korea and China. (CNN)

Saving Us From Ourselves

Lawmakers around the country are busy working on laws designed to protect us from ourselves.

Several jurisdictions are talking about limiting the sale of violent video games to minors -- blaming them for young punks playing out "Grand Theft Auto" in real life.

And in Texas, a state legislator wants to make it illegal to call yourself a meteorologist without a four year degree.

At least you still don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. (Al's Morning Meeting)

Taking on Gerrymandering

Grassroots and seemingly unrelated efforts nationwide target sophisticated redistricting plans. Critics of modern Gerrymandering say the map drawing leads to entrenched incumbents and less competition for office. At least eight states have some kind of movement to overhaul redistricting methods. (NYT)

Federal Dollars and a State Resignation

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) has resigned amid charges of improper campaign fund raising. He's accused of misusing federal money for partisan purposes. Charges are he used the money to raise his political profile and to pay experts to attend Democratic Party events. (MSNBC)

Trillions in Borrowing

Vice President Dick Cheney says the country will have to borrow "trillions more" to pay for the President's private accounts plan under Social Security reform. On Fox News Sunday, the VP said the plan would require the government to borrow $764 billion over the next ten years. He called that "a managable amount." But he added, "Trillions more after that." (MSNBC)

Budget Primer

President Bush hands his $2.5 trillion budget to Congress today. MSNBC has a list of "10 Things to Know About the Federal Budget" to get you up to speed. (MSNBC)

Today in Congress

Here's what's happening in Congress today. Use the links at the right to write your Hired Hands on the Hill with your ideas and opinions. (WashPost)

The CIA's Nazis

Faciong public hearings before Congress if they didn't come around, the CIA has agreed to release documents showing its ties to ex-Nazis. Congress passed a law requiring the CIA to turn over all documents on the matter back in 1998 -- but the CIA insisted until now that the law didn't apply to all their papers. The Nazis in question were apparently never charged with war crimes. But they include former SS members. The CIA is believed to have enlisted the Nazis to aid in espionage against the former Soviet Union. (LAT)

A Boat Load of Job Losses on the Horizon

The Navy's cutting orders for DDX destroyers and Virginia class submarines. Their plan to build two of each every year into the next decade is cut in half. That's likely to mean thousands of layoffs in the New England shipbuilding industry. About 180,000 people work in it. (Boston Globe)

Time to Reload

Hoping to stave off another ammunition shortage like last summer's, the Army plans to quadruple production of small arms ammunition. They'll let contracts in coming months for ammo production. Since the 1970s only one plant has made small arms ammunition for the Army. (Chicago Tribune)

Really Big Social Security Checks

Washington's witnessing the biggest lobbying war since 1994's battle over health care. This time the fight's over Social Security and a ton of money's on the table.

In President Bush's corner:

Opposing the the plan:

Outside groups spent $100 million in the lobbying effort over President Clinton's health care plan in 1994. This fight is shaping up to be even more expensive. (USA Today)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Hello, Chickens. Mr Fox is Back to Guard You.

The EPA based it mercury limits on data supplied by a group representing 17 coal fired power plants. In a 61 page report, the EPA's inspector general determined that the Bush administration overlooked health dangers and sided with the electric industry in setting the limits in a way that benefited coal plants. (The News Tribune)

Superbowl Sunday

Yeah. football's fun. But helping us keep it in perspective, here's a reminder of real teamwork this Super Bowl Sunday. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Don't Like Math?

The Club for Growth folks behind Security Choice have a link to editorial cartoons supporting their position for the President's private accounts push. If you can't follow math -- especially the way politicians on both sides add it up -- you can at least get a few chuckles here. If a picture's worth a thousand words -- does that diminish that $2 trillion transition cost? (Social Security Choice/Club for Growth)

Where President Bush Plans Cuts

The Bush budget cuts will include grants to local law enforcement, home heating aid, and environmental protection.

The budget will cut aid to local police from $600 million to just $60 million and eliminates $300 million to the states to help lock up illegal aliens.

Firemen come out a bit better than cops. Grants to firefighters would drop from $715 million to $500 million.

The budget cuts $200 million from the $2.2 billion program to help the elderly pay for home heating.

And it slashes about 6% from the EPA's budget. Surprisingly, most of it coming from Congressional pork barrel projects -- a rare move for any President.

Overall, the Bush budget promises to be a cut in spending -- as Washington defines cuts. If you factor in real dollars. That means it will be more than last year, but increase by less than the expected 2.3% increase in inflation for 2006. (CBS/AP)

Special Forces -- Special Pay

The Pentagon's offering bonuses of up to $150,000 for certain special forces people who re-enlist for six years. That's $25,000 year on top of regular and combat pay. Not a bad deal for them -- not a bad deal for Uncle Sam who has a lot more invested in special forces. (NYT)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Insurgent Intimidation

A top general says insurgents hurt US efforts to get Iraqi forces on their own two feet. Lt Gen David Petraeus says Iraqi military and security forces have suffered "losses due to severe intimidation." He offered no specifics. But the big requirement for a major US withdrawal from Iraq is having Iraq take care of its own policing and military. (Guardian)

The State of the Union Ratings

President Bush pulled the second lowest TV ratings in 12 years for a State of the Union speech. Only Bill Clinton's last was lower -- and that was after a sex scandal and impeachment. The rest of President Clinton's SOTUSes topped President Bush's Wednesday. All told, 38 million people tuned in to see the President. He had a great lead in on Fox -- American Idol. But only 29% of its viewers -- around 7 million -- hung around to hear Mr Bush. (WashPost)

The State of the Union Ratings

President Bush pulled the second lowest TV ratings in 12 years for a State of the Union speech. Only Bill Clinton's last was lower -- and that was after a sex scandal and impeachment. The rest of President Clinton's SOTUSes topped President Bush's Wednesday. All told, 38 million people tuned in to see the President. He had a great lead in on Fox -- American Idol. But only 29% of its viewers -- around 7 million -- hung around to hear Mr Bush. (WashPost)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of February 2, 2005

The Pentagon announced a massive drop in the number of Guardsmen and Reservists mobilized this week. The net total was 11,525 fewer on active duty than last week. All told, 181,933 Guardsmen and Reservists were on active duty as of Wednesday. (DoD)

Tale of the Tape

Newly released tape recordings suggest that Enron tried to drive up energy prices two years before the 2000 west coast energy crisis. In one tape, an Enron employee appears to conspire with a Las Vegas power plant operator to take the plant off line, creating a power shortage that would allow energy prices to rise. (NPR - Audio)

Deep Cuts, But Plenty of Red Ink

In an effort to reign in repeated record deficits, President Bush will propose the tightest budget of his Presidency on Monday. OMB Director Joshua Bolten says the plan to add private accounts to Social Security would create bigger deficits than the White House first forecast. But the Bush administration doesn't count that as part of it's spending. That looks good on paper, since the White House now expects the private account transition to cost $754 billion over ten years.

Director Bolten says the White House is still on course to cut the deficit in half by 2009. To get there, the President will ask Congress to cut or kill more than 150 goverment programs this year.

The President wants $2.5 trillion for 2006. (Reuters)

Cutting Benefits to Save the System

The President's private accounts plan gets all the Social Security attention, but it's not designed to "save" the system. With or without the accounts, Social Security still faces shortfalls in the future. There are four plans out there that the President has mentioned. One radical change would be to tie your benefits to the increase in consumer prices -- instead of wage increases.

Right now, your benefits are tied to wage hikes which rise faster than inflation. So each generation's retirement benefits are more expensive than the one before.

Tying your benefits to inflation would keep the value constant in real dollars.

The Congressional Budget Office figures this change would reduce the promised monthly benefits for people retiring in 2065 from $26,000 under current law to $14,000. That'd add up to more than $4 trillion over 75 years, more than enough to cover the expected $3.7 trillion shortfall.

Critics -- including Republicans -- say it could send retirees into poverty. Giving you an idea of a world where $14,000 a month is below the poverty line. (NYT)

Foreign Aid

President Bush will ask Congress for $22 billion in foreign aid in the next year. That's up from $19.7 billion this year. Israel and Egypt are the two biggest recipients. (NDTV)

Catching Flak for the $170 Million Computer Glitch

There's nothing like testifying before Congress the same day your inspector general hands in a critical report. Just ask FBI Director Robert Mueller. He had to explain to Congress why the FBI's "Virtual Case File" computer program had to be scrapped after the government spent $170 million on it. The short answer is that it didn't work. He also had to tell Congress he had no idea how much more it'd cost to replace it. All this happened as the Justice Department inspector general released a report blaming planning failures and management weaknesses for the problems. (Boston Globe)

Coming Home

With elections out of the way in Iraq, the Pentagon is drawing down troop levels in country. About 15,000 troops will leave Iraq next month, reducing the number there to 135,000. (WashPost)

Making the "Bush Blacklist"

Opposing views weren't welcome at the President's Social Security Tour stop in North Dakota. Workers at two ticket distribution sites were given lists of more than 40 names of local residents not allowed to attend. The list included a producer for the liberal "Ed Schultz Show," a deputy Democratic campaign manager, and several University professors. The White House says the list did not come from them and blamed the blacklist on overzealous volunteers. (WashPost)

Republicans Resolve Remiss

While the President tries to sway Democratic Senators with his Social Security tour, members of his own party remain hesitant.

Sen Pete Domenici (R-NM) says of the President's reform plans, "Politically speaking, right now it's probably not doable."

Sen Susan Collins (R-MN) wants to take a year to study the idea, and Sen Olympia Snowe simply opposes any plan to divert Social Security withholding to private accounts.

And so far, not a single Democrat has endorsed the President's plan. (WashPost)

Private Plans and Paperwork

Right now you can write the Social Security Administration and ask what to expect when you retire. You'll get a two page answer showing all the money you've earned, paid in, and can expect each month when you retire. Under the President's private account plan, a financial planning expert tells the Washington Post, "It could be 30 pages of 'what-ifs.'" (WashPost)

State of the Union Speech = $12.8 Billion

The National Taxpayers Union figures President Bush's calls for new spending in his State of the Union Speech adds up to $12.8 billion -- a record low since the group started tallying SOTUS spending ideas. They attribute much of that to the fact that the President repeated calls for programs that he asked for in last year's speech. The NTU analysis does not take into account the cost of private accounts for Social Security. That cost is hard to pin down. Estimates for transitioning to private accounts range as high as $2 trillion. (NTU)

Bankruptcy and the Sure Thing has a couple of problems with President Bush's State of the Union Speech. They're critical of the President using the term "bankruptcy" when talking about Social Security. They point out politicians of both major parties have used the term -- but that it creates the impression that Social Security will go out of business. It won't.

They also question whether private accounts are a "sure thing." They point out stock prices have risen a steady 6.8% over the past couple of centuries. But if you break it down to smaller chunks of time, things aren't always rosy. For instance, every major stock index is currently below where they stood 5 years ago. (

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Clinton & Bush Administrations Condoned Saddam's Oil Smuggling

Documents show both the Clinton and Bush Administrations allowed Saddam to break oil embargoes -- so long as the trade was with US allies. Both administrations turned a blind eye while profiting militarily and politically from it. CNN obtained memos from top ranking State Department officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The memos suggest Iraqi oil smuggling to Turkey and Jordan was allowed to continue because the US needed the countries as allies -- so it was deemed in "the national interest" to allow the embargo breaking practice. It's estimated the oil smuggling was worth $5.7 billion to $13.6 billion -- far more than the $4.4 billion he got in the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. (CNN)

The Feel Good Legislation of the Year

There's a catch to the President's privatized Social Security account idea. You might not get back any more money than you would under the regular Social Security system. But it's supposed to make you feel good about the economy.

The math's a little hard to follow. The Washington Post even admitted it got the workings wrong.

Here's how the President's plan is supposed to work. Every dollar contributed to the President's private fund is taken from your guaranteed Social Security benefit -- plus interest. That interest is 3%. But the rate of return on the private plan is estimated at only 3.3%. So you don't wind up with all that much more money.

Say you set aside $1,000 a year for 40 years. Your payoff is all the money you put in, plus the return on that investment, MINUS what you would have gotten from Social Security. That adds up to a lifetime, grand-whopping $21,000.

Brookings Institution economist Peter R Orszag says it's like a loan to play the stock market. He says you have to pay back the loan with interest out of your monthly Social Security checks.

That would leave your benefits roughly the same, but you'd be drawing them from two seperate accounts -- Social Security and the private account.

Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute says by leaving the money untouched, though, you'd have a sense of ownership in the economy. Part of that "ownership society" the President talks about.

But while you may own the money, Wall Street gets to borrow it -- and play with it. The private accounts are supposed to be worth trillions over the next generation to the financial industry -- source of the some of the President's biggest campaign gifts in the last election. (WashPost)

The GOP Playbook On Social Security Reform

Need a talking point to talk up the President's plans? How about a letter to explain to the voters back home why you're siding with the President? Republican members of Congress have 103 pages of help with the party's playbook on selling the President's plan. It's called Saving Social Security: A Guide to Social Security Reform. But a copy of it fell into the hands of a group opposed to the President's plan. Now you can see if you're being spoonfed talking points and lines pre-tested on focus groups. (And if any of you have a link to the Democratic Party's playbook, drop me a line -- maybe we can do a comparative book report). ( & Cranky Liberal Pages)

Where Did Those Iraqi Election Numbers Come From?

You've no doubt heard the numbers from the Iraqi elections -- 8 million voted, 60% turnout. But those numbers may turn out to be too optimistic. The votes aren't counted yet. The Wall Street Journal Numbers Guy wonders how reporters could have come up with the numbers -- when they were unable to travel around the country.

Editor and Publisher tracks the notion for the numbers to Farid Ayar, spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. He said "as many as 8 million" voted in an official announcement. Reporters shortened that to flat out "8 million."

Similar elections in Vietnam in 1967 and El Salvado in 1984 later had their numbers adjusted downward.

In Mosul, 60% of the votes have been counted and the New York Times says only 10% of the city's 500,000 eligible voters turned out. That's a Sunni dominated town -- and Sunnis boycotted the election. (Editor and Publisher)

Eating Up that State of the Union Speech

The Washington Post's Tom Shales points out that many of the network commentators were "too jolly" in summing up the President's State of the Union Speech. The President has promised no more buying comentators' loyalty as happened with the Payola Pundit scandal. But he did buy them lunch. Several of the commentators had lunch with the President they were to cover later in the day. (WashPost/

The State of Internet Phones

Internet telephones could cost your state some easy money. States want more say in the new technology. Nearly 1 million people use it already -- 16 million are expected to by 2008. No one's figured out how to regulate or tax it. And states want their finger in that pie. (

Don't Touch My Pork

Word on Capitol Hill is that Rep Ernest Istook (R-OK) lost his Appropriations Subcommittee chirmanship because he tried to kill 21 pork barrel projects in GOP districts. He's the latest in the line of independent Chairmen who've crossed Republican leadership and been punished for it. The pork projects Rep Istook took out of the bill were a trade. The lawmakers got their pet projects added after they agreed to back Amtrak funding. (The Hill)

The Pentagon's People Problems

In a pair of reports, the Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department doesn't have enough control over calling up reserve forces to fight an extended war and doesn't even know how many people it needs to insure national defense.

One GAO report found the Pentaon has no plan for having Guard and Reserve forces available when they're needed. DoD is limited to calling up just 1 million Guard and Reservists for no more than 24 months at a time. The GAO found this left the Pentagon short of needed people in 2004 and could lead to the Pentagon eventually running out of forces.

A second GAO report found that the Pentagon has failed to figure out how many people it needs in uniform to put together a national defense strategy. The GAO found that one of the main reasons the DoD had not done the work was that it was limiting money needed for personnel costs for other priorities -- chiefly "transformation." That's the catch-all phrase meant to embody how the Pentagon's chaning its mission for the 21st Century. (GAO)

New Mexico National Guard Death Benefit Boosted

While Congress debates how much death benefits to provide the troops, New Mexico has taken the lead for its National Guard. Governor Bill Richardson (D) signed into law his plan to pick up the insurance bill for a $250,000 National Guard death benefit policy. Currently, Washington only pays survivors $12,400 if their kin is killed in action. (MSNBC)

Armor Still Lacking

An op-ed piece written by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq claims the Pentagon has not done enough to upgrade armor on military vehicles in Iraq. Defense analysts say that after Vietnam, the Pentagon designed its logistics around a war fought on central Europe's plains. It never took into account a war in the Mideast where the enemy would attack behind the frontlines. As a result, the Pentagon still has no balistic requirements for trucks serving in Iraq. One company that supplies those trucks to the Pentagon has 4,800 of their products in the war zone. Only 500 of them have added armor and only 200 have armored cabs. (Boston Globe & Christian Science Monitor)