Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Internets Will Be "The Next Big Thing"

A $1 million study on the Internet has finally been turned into Congress -- seven years after they asked for it. Congress passed a law in 1998 -- way back in the last millenium -- on the future of the Internet. The National Research Council finally got around to cranking out Signposts in Cyberspace. They were supposed to round up info on Web addresses and trademarks and be finished in nine months. Wonder what kind of dot-matrix printer they used to publish it.

Let's see. Since Congress ordered the report we've been through two Presidential administrations, Y2K, the Internet boom, the Internet bust, and those Web addresses -- they shot up from 2.2 million to 65 million.

Yep. That Internet thing is going to be big. Better sign up for a dial-up connection right away! (AP)

[Crossposted at]

Word for Word: Complete Text of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction

President Bush's commission called the US intel community "dead wrong" on WMDs going into the Iraq War. The non-classified part of the report -- about 600 pages -- is available at the White House website. (The White House)

Home from the Long War

There are 129 Americans still listed as Missing in Action from the Cold War. Many went missing in operations few Americans ever knew about. The remains of one -- Robert C Snoddy of Roseburg, Oregon -- have been identified after their return from China. A statement from the Pentagon sums up his final mission in America's longest war:

"Snoddy and his pilot, Norman A. Schwartz, took off from an airfield near Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 29, 1952, with two other crewmembers to extract a CIA operative from China. The mission in the Jilin province of northeast China was planned to pick up the agent on the ground with an airborne extraction system. Unfortunately, the Chinese had compromised the agent on the ground, and when the C-47 aircraft flew over the pickup point it was shot down by hostile ground fire. Snoddy and Schwartz were reportedly killed, and two other crewmembers, Richard G. Fecteau and John T. Downey, were captured by the Chinese and held until 1971 and 1973, respectively."

Only 19 MIAs from the Cold War have ever been identified. (DoD)

The President Calls -- Before Dealing the Cards

President Bush says there'll be political fallout for Congressional types who don't come up with plans to save Social Security. Speaking in Iowa the President challenged Democrats and other critics of his privatized Social Security accounts.

"If you've got a good idea, we expect you to be at the table. I expect you to bring it forward, but more importantly, the American people expect you to bring it forward. We want to listen to good ideas."

The President, meanwhile, says he won't reveal his plans to "save" Social Security until someone else shows their cards.

He's admitted repeatedly his privatized accounts will do nothing to shore up Social Security's funding.

Most economists figure Washington will have to either cut benefits or raise taxes to accomplish that. So expect this political poker stand-off to last a while. (LAT)

Strikes against the Stryker

An internal Army report shows plenty of problems with the new "Stryker" troop transport. The wheeled vehicle cost $11 billion to develop and 311 of them are deployed in Iraq. The report shows soldiers are pleased with much of the vehicle's qualities. But the report also states design flaws put passengers and crews at unexpected risks from rocket propelled grenades.

The Stryker's armor was too light to protect against low-tech attacks. So, the Army began adding an extra, armor "cage" around the machines. These stop about half the grenades fired at Strykers.

But the added weight of the armor is wearing out tires and wheel assemblies. Crews have to check tire pressure three times a day. And the report shows the Army's replacing "11 tire and wheel assemblies daily." (WashPost via MSNBC)

Mr Smith Goes Back to Washington

Jimmy Stewart's joined the fight to keep the filibuster. Left leaning advocacy group People for the American Way uses a scene from Mr Smith Goes to Washington to press for keeping the Senate floor talk marathons.

Filibusters are designed to allow a minority in the Senate to "talk a bill to death." Democrats have threatened to use it to block a handful of judicial nominees the President wants -- and Democrats don't. Republicans are threatening to respond with the "nuclear option" -- getting rid of the filibuster in judicial confirmations.

In the 1939 movie, Mr Stewart plays a naive, optimistic freshman Senator who uses a filibuster to win a battle for the little guys.

That piece of show business is not lost on PFAW -- founded by TV guru Norman Lear. They use a clip from the movie in a television ad running in seven Republican Senators' home states. (MSNBC)

Iraq -- What Went "Dead Wrong"

President Bush's WMD commission has found a long list of failures in the US intel community are to blame for wrongly suggesting Saddam Hussein had WMDs in 2002. The commission also has a long list of fixes to prevent future intel breakdowns. The commission's bottom line:

"We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure. Its principal causes were the Intelligence Community's inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions, rather than good evidence. On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude."

There have been plenty of other government reports on the failures. This is the first panel President Bush put together specifically to look at why American spy shops made such major errors about Iraq. Their conclusions that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and posed a threat to the US was a major justification for the March, 2003 invasion. (USA Today)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The "Good Old Days"

Increased home ownership, college education for the kids, the travel and leisure industries. These all became unintended consequences of Social Security. Originally designed simply to keep older Americans from starving to death, it let all Americans make plans for retirement. That in turn allowed Americans to plan for other things. It's one of the things highlighted in NPR's look at Life Before Social Security. Something few Americans can remember. (NPR -- Audio)

Schindler's List

If you gave money to help Terri Schiavo's parents keep her feeding tube attached -- get ready to be hit up for more money by more groups. Ms Shiavo's father, Bob Schindler, has turned over a list of names, addresses, and e-mail addresses to a direct mail outfit. The names came from people who responded to Mr Schindler's pleas for financial help in the case. The firm buying the list, Response Unlimited, sells mailing lists to conservative causes. The company charges $150 a month for every 6,000 names and $500 a month for every 4,000 e-mail addresses. (CNN)

No DeLay in Attacking the House Majority Leader

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-TX) troubles are turning him into a TV star. The Democrats and left leaning outfit Campaign for America's Future are targeting Rep DeLay in a series of ads. A grand jury investigation and his high profile in the Terri Schiavo case have made him more familiar to most Americans. That's made the ads practical. They'll run in four Congressional districts -- including Rep DeLay's home district. The higher profile means he's likely to get painted with the same broad brush that turned Newt Gingrich into a punching bag for political left hooks. (WashPost)

The Postal Service's Two-Cents Worth

Let me call you sweetheart -- 'cause I can't afford to write. The Postal Service wants an extra two cents a stamp. The Service says it needs the 5-6% hike to cover changes to its employee pension fund that Congress mandated. (WashPost)

The Big Issue in the Texas Governor Race -- Hillary Clinton

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) are trying to put some distance between themselves and Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). The two Texans are expected to square off for the Republican nomination for Texas Governor next year.

Governor Perry's people circulated a video showing Sen Hutchison speaking kindly of Senator Clinton. Them's fightin' words for Texas Republicans. So Sen Hutchison's opposition research found a skeleton in Gov Perry's closet -- a letter from Perry calling Sen Clinton's health care reforms "commentable."

All these pleasantries about Sen Clinton are sure stirring a tempest in a Texas teapot. (AP via Yahoo! News)

Meeting the Challenge of Town Hall Meetings

Three people were hustled out of President Bush's Denver town hall meeting on Social Security because a GOP volunteer didn't like the bumper sticker on their car. The sticker read "No Blood for Oil."

People at the town hall meetings are carefully screened so there won't be questions critical of the President's message. And in Fargo, North Dakota earlier this year, around 40 people were put on a black list and kept out. (WashPost)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Income Gaps

White women with a four year college degree on average earn less than Asian and Black women with similar degrees. A new report from the Census Bureau says White men still make more than any of them.

The breakdown for women with four year degrees by race:

Asian -- $43,700
Black -- $41,000
White -- $37,800
Hispanic -- $37,600

But a white man with a four year degree still makes the most of any demographic breakdown -- on average, $66,000 a year. (LAT)

Air Saudi

Newly released FBI documents indicate the Bureau did not do much interrogating of some of the Saudis who left the country in the wake of 9/11. Some analysts say the amount of time spent in meetings between agents and Saudis anxious to leave the US were too short to accomplish anything. And the documents -- obtained by Judicial Watch under an FOIA request -- show that some Saudis were never questioned at all before they left the country. (NYT)

Big Companies Target the Troops

Companies are illegally going after troops deployed overseas for unpaid bills brought on by the hardships of going to war. Under federal law, they can't do that. And big companies like Wells Fargo and Citicorp -- who you'd think would have a lawyer on staff to tell them that -- are among the offenders.

The law is called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. It protects all active-duty military families from foreclosures & evictions and other financail hardships that come of military service.

For instance, Guard and Reserve members called to active duty may have to take massive pay cuts while serving in combat. That makes it hard to pay bills. And simply getting a bill paid on time can be difficult if you're sitting in the middle of a desert 10,000 miles away for months on end. (NYT)

Iraq Corruption

Whistleblowers claim Iraq War contractor Custer-Battles double-billed Uncle Sam for salaries and repainted captured forklifts so they could lease them back to the US government. But the Bush administration has declined to jump into a federal lawsuit to get your money back.

It comes to $50 million.

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg. Reports on spending in Iraq show plenty of reports of corruption. The amount could easily outstrip the amount involved in the oil-for-food scandal. (Newsweek via MSNBC)

Stevens and Inouye

An Alaskan Republican and a Hawaiian Democrat. About as far apart as you can get. So what brings them together? Pork. Both Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) get more than their state's fair share of federal money for their home states. (NPR - Audio)

Vermont's Pork Free Diet

Vermont's state legislators are trying to hand out money -- minus the pork. Their annual construction bill has been a perfect place for the politically powerful to plant pet projects -- like the "Ps" in this sentence. Relatively small grants for minor local repairs added up to millions for state taxpayers. The senior members could tack on $5,000 here, $15,000 there for projects in their home town. To eliminate that -- some lawmakers came up with what they call the "Pork Reduction Act." It puts a lump sum of money into a single pot. Any town that wants the grants they used to get from their local legislator now has to go through a competitive system to get the money they want. They have to show they need it first. (Boston Globe)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Government Misleading the American People. That's a First.

A report from the Homeland Security Department's Inspector General says the Trasportation Security Administration misled the public, the press, and Congress.

The report follows an investigation into TSA's role in gathering personal information on 12 million airline passengers. The TSA said it was to test a new computer screening system meant to weed out terrorists.

The investigation found several instances:

  • After getting hundreds of FOIA requests from JetBlue passengers asking if TSA had their records, TSA reported on their website they had none, even though TSA did, in fact, have those records
  • TSA Chief James Loy told COngress in November 2003, that certain kinds of passenger data were not being used in the test -- even though the data was
  • The TSA failed to disclose when asked how broad it's role was in getting and using passenger data
Congress has said the TSA can't continue testing the system unto the GAO clears their safeguards to ensure privacy and protect data. (USAToday)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Wal-Mart Director Quits -- After the Market Closes on a Friday, Of Course

A Wal-Mart bigwig is out of work after an internal probe shows evidence of "financial improprieties" of up to a half million bucks.

Thomas M. Coughlin quit after the probe turned up $100,000 to $500,000 in misused assets.

The SEC has filed a report in the case -- but it fails to detail specifics about what role -- if any -- Mr Coughlin played in the case. (ABC)

Site of the Week -- Taegan Goddard's

A roundup of political news and a rundown of blogs from the right and left. is one of the most comprehensive political websites you'll find anywhere. Mr Goddard's Front Page highlights political stories it'd take the web novice all day to find. His summaries are short, sweet, to the point, easy to follow and fun to read. Not bad when tackling politics.

If you're looking for polling info -- this is the only place to go. had the fastest, most complete updates of every imaginable poll in the 2004 elections.

And on a personal note -- Mr Goddard's links to Watching Washington when I was starting out gave us great exposure all across the Internet. Hey, most of you wouldn't be reading this -- if hadn't first introduced you to my little site. The rest of you, get with the program and check out

WMD Report Could Be a Bombshell or a Dud

Back before the Iraq War, 15 different federal agencies gathered information saying Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and accessing their threat to the US.

All 15 are bracing for a government report expected to blast them all for doing a sloppy job.

The nine-member, bipartisan panel looking into the WMD issue in Iraq is expected to issue it's report next week.

No WMDs stockpiles were ever found in Iraq and preliminary reports from the government have admitted that US intelligence was wrong.

Commissioners promise to release as much of the report as possible. But right now, copies are circulating among the various intelligence agencies to approve what can and can't be shown to the general public out of national security concerns. In the past, agencies have often tried to declare embarassing failures as secrets. (USAToday)

$37 Million of Your Tax Money so Wal-Mart Execs don't sit in Traffic

Buried away in the federal highway bill is $37 million to make live easier for Wal-Mart. It would widen the street providing the main access to Wal-Mart's corporate HQ in Bentonville, Arkansas. The company had asked Rep John Boozman (R-AR) for the street widening. Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) dropped the Wal-Mart road work into the bill the day before the House was scheduled to vote on the massive spending plan. (USAToday)

The Father of the Constitution goes Online

James Madison is called the "father of the Constitution." He was was also the granddaddy of political flip-floppers. He originally opposed a Bill of Rights. When the political winds began blowing against him, he proposed 19 Amendments. Ten of them passed. Now you can read some of his posturing on getting the Constitution shaped the way he wanted it. Around 12,000 pages of his personal papers go online from the Library of Congress. Some are written in code, including some to President Thomas Jefferson. (BaltSun)

Second Thoughs on Second Amendment Rights for Suspected Terrorists

After the Goverment Accountability Office found more than 40 terror suspects were allowed to buy guns legally -- the FBI is taking a second look at the law. Director Robert Mueller wants a study group to look into ways to prevent potential terrorists from packing iron. All were able to get guns because background checks showed that they were neither felons nor illegal immigrants. (Houston Chronicle)

Pundit Payola Probe

The General Accounting Office will investigate the Pundit Payola Scandal to see if the Bush administration broke any laws in hiring columnist Maggie Gallagher. Ms Gallagher wrote a series of columns promoting a pro-marriage, Bush administration initiative. She was paid $41,500 in taxpayer money.

President Bush has called on federal agencies to stop the practice of paying pundits to sell policies. Commentator Armstrong Williams got the biggest chunk of change in the scandal -- about $240,000 to promote the "No Child Left Behind" law.

On a related front, the GAO has declared that pre-packaged Video News Releases (VNRs) put together to promote the administration's iniatives are a violation of federal anti-propaganda laws. The administration has circulated memos telling federal agencies to ignore that ruling.

Bobby Kennedy to Get Second Billing

The DC Sports and Entertainment Commission wants a multimillion dollar deal that would rename the stadium named in honor of Robert F. Kennedy. DC Stadium was renamed RFK Stadium after Sen Kennedy's assasination.

RFK Stadium is home to the new "Washington Nationals" -- formerly the Montreal Expos of Major League Baseball. Since baseball left the nation's capital, stadiums have been named for products -- rather than people or cities or whatever. So the Commission has to play a little catch up.

On top of the sponsorship, "RFK" will still be part of the name, with the corporate sponsors name preceding that of the late Attorney General.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

When Woodward and Bernstein met Scully and Mulder

Wouldn't have predicted this one. Seems President Richard Nixon turned to psychic Jeanne Dixon for early warnings of terrorist attacks. Her predictions were relayed to the Oval Office via secretary Rosemary Woods -- of "18-minute gap" fame.

NEWSWEEK reports some of the warnings were never acted upon. In true Dick Nixon fashion, a threat to Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham was hushed up. Ms Woods reported to the President that Ms Dixon had seen Ms Graham injured by a package at her office. Ms Woods told President Nixon, "But [Dixon] is not going to pass that on, she's not going to call Grahm and tell her this."

Guess that's what you get for running all those Watergate stories. (NEWSWEEK)

Arms Shopping in South America

Venezula only has 62,000 people in their army and national guard combined. But the country's buying 100,000 AK-47 assault weapons -- and the Pentagon says the order could rise to 300,000.

Hard to figure out what Venezuela would do with all those rifles -- and not enough men to man them all. But the Bush administration says the move could start a South American arms race and destabalize the continent for decades.

The Los Angeles Times also reports that Venezula's spending billions to buy new warships, as many as 50 Russian attack helicopters, and 30 MIG-29 fighter jets. (LAT)

Throwing Tobacco Money Down the Budget Hole

Only about 20% of the money states get from the 1998 tobacco settlement go to any health related programs. Most is being used to plug budget holes.

The states got the money claiming that smoking ran up their health care costs. The Government Accountability Office says that 46 states took in $9.7 billion from the settlement last year. And that the states used 44% of that money to cover budget shortfalls. (LAT)

Saving the Barn While the House Burns

A pair of trustees watching over Social Security and Medicare say Social Security's situation hasn't changed since they came onboard in 2000. But they warn that Medicare's finances have "deteriorated dramatically" over the same time.

Republican Thomas R. Saving and Democrat John L. Palmer broke with the Bush administration's trustees in saying Medicare needs attention before Social Security.

The annual trustees' report estimates the Social Security trust fund will run out of money in 2041. But Medicare's trust fund will be gone by 2020 -- 21 years before Social Security. (WashPost)

A Taste of Pork

One of the best sampler plates of Congressional pork comes out on April 6. It's the annual Pig Book put together by the folks at Citizens Against Government Waste. In 14 years of riding herd on hoggish spending, CAWG has found plenty of ways Congress used and abused your money:

  • $102 million to study screwworms, which were long ago eradicated from American soil
  • $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa
  • $2.2 million to renovate the North Pole (lucky for Santa!)
  • $1 million for ornamental fish research
  • $273,000 to combat goth culture in Missouri
  • $50,000 for a tattoo-removal program in California
Since 1991, the Pig Book has detailed 52,461 pork barrel projects that have cost you $185 billion. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) says the number of pork projects per year has ballooned 886% since 1994 -- from 1,318 to 13,000.

Certainly worth a read. (CAWG)

More Bull from Politicians

Maryland politicians are debating whether mechanical bulls should have seatbelts. Current state law requires seatbelts. State Sen E.J. Pipkin (R) says that takes all the fun out of being thrown by a mechanical bull. Of course politicians may not be the best experts to make this kind of call. Politicians are used to throwing the bull, not being thrown by them. (BaltSun)

Cocaine, OxyContin, the Oscars, and Politics

An autopsy report shows that a GOP media guru died of a drug overdose while in LA for the Oscars last month.

The LA coroner's office says GOP media adviser R. Gregory Stevens died of an overdose of cocaine and OxyContin. Mr Stevens was found dead in the Beverly Hills home of Carrie Fisher on February 26.

Mr Stevens worked for lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers and had headed up the Bush-Cheney Entertainment Task Force for President Bush's second inaugural. (WashTimes)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

EPA: I'm Not Listening, La,La, La, La,La. $5 Billion? La, La,La, La, La

Your Environmental Protection Agency is using "junk math" to replace "sound science."

The EPA says the cost to the power industry to limit mercury emissions far exceeds the public health payoff. But it turns out that a Harvard University study reached the exact opposite results. And that study was paid for by the EPA, co-authored by one EPA scientist and peer reviewed by two more EPA scientists. It was the bureaucrats and political appointees who rejected the science.

The study found that tougher rules the EPA honchos rejected would have saved taxpayers $5 billion a year through reduced health care expenses. The EPA honchos had said the tougher rules would have cost the electric power industry $750 million a year.

But since the mercury findings didn't mesh with the EPA leaderships' wants -- and those of the power industry -- the big wigs decided to ignore it.

It's hard to follow sound science when you refuse to listen to the sound. (MSNBC)

Plumbing the Depths of Social Security Reform

A new AARP ad against President Bush's private Social Security accounts show a house flattened to fix the kitchen sink. The track for the spot reads:

Plumber: Yep, looks like the drain is clogged. Only one way to fix it. We’re going to have to tear down the entire house.
Woman: What?!!!
Plumber: Go ahead, guys!
On Screen: Demolition crew wrecks house with sledgehammer, jackhammer, backhoe, wrecking ball.
Announcer: If you had a problem with the sink, you wouldn’t tear down the entire house. So why dismantle Social Security when it can be fixed with just a few moderate changes? Reform is necessary, but diverting money into private accounts is just too drastic, could add up to two trillion dollars in more debt and lead to huge benefit cuts.For more visit Paid for by the AARP. says, "The ad is intended to be humorous but presents a distorted picture. It both understates Social Security's financial problems and misrepresents the effect that individual accounts would have."

Meanwhile, the pro-Bush Progress for America is running an ad that criticizes "national Democrats" for not coming up with a Social Security plan of their own.

Announcer:If an economist saw this graph, they’d say you were in serious trouble. Well, you are. Because this sea of red ink is Social Security, your Social Security. If we don’t fix it, Social Security will start hemorrhaging money and hit bankruptcy, sooner than you think. President Bush wants to rescue Social Security. National Democrats have a simple plan: do nothing, but oppose President Bush. Urge your Members of Congress to show courage and help President Bush save Social Security now.

But also points out that while Democrats have not endorsed any specific plan -- neither has President Bush. (

What are You Gonna do in the War, Granpa?

Battling recruitment shortfalls, the National Guard and Army Reserve have upped the age to sign up for duty. The age limit for enlisting jumped from 34 to 39. That'll add an extra 22.6 million people to the eligibility list. (DoD)

The Cost of War

The American death toll in the Iraq War stands at 1,518. Of those, 1,162 have died in hostile actions. The Washington Post has a complete list of the dead. (WashPost)

Bin Laden's Narrow Escape

A government document is the first evidence that Osama bin Laden was at the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan -- and eluded capture by US and allied forces.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney repeatedly said through the 2004 election campaign they didn't know if bin Laden had been at Tora Bora. But the Associated Press obtained a document through the Freedom of Information Act that US commanders knew he was.

The "summary of evidence" document shows the US captured a top commander of bin Laden's in shortly after the battle. The detainee helped bin Laden escape from Tora Bora. He's is now locked up with other detainees at Guantanamo Bay. (USAToday)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Site of the Week

Peter Daou was online communications adviser to Sen John Kerry's Presidential bid. His Daou Report tracks political buzz in the blogosphere and online universe. It's a great collection of news and of commentary from all across the political spectrum.

If you don't subscribe to, it's certainly worth sitting through a commercial for the day pass.

Check it out.

"Containment" Creator

The diplomat who coined the word "containment" to sum up Cold War policy, has died. George Kennan was 101.

Writing anonymously under the pen name "X" in a 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, Mr Kennan drew the outline of the containment policy:

"It is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."

Mr Kennan was also instrumental in shaping the Marshall Plan and won a Pulitizer Prize for history and a National Book Award for Russia Leaves the War in 1956. His Memoirs, 1925-1950 won another Pulitzer in 1967. (USAToday)

Oiling the Political Machine

We're close to seeing drilling rigs in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wanna see the money trail that leads to the Arctic Circle? Check out the oil & gas industry's political contributions. A total of $179,725,562 since 1990.

Environmental interests have only donated $13,317,313 over the same time period.

In Washington, money talks. (

I Spy -- A Clever Forgery

The Pentagon has determined a cable accusing an NBC jouralist of spying for Iraq is a forgery. William Arkin has had a series of scoops that embarassed the Bush Administration. He also has a book out, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World

Mr Arkin broke the story of a classified report detailing hurdles to an Iraq invasion. That was back before the war started. His book lists 3,000 military code names and details the operations the names goe with. Mr Arkin believes excessive government secrecy led to the government being unable to stop the 9/11 attacks. He considers his book a protest against that kind of secrecy.

Those sorts of things can make you a lot of enemies. And the faked cable is pretty detailed. It merges false charges with a knowledge of where he was and what he was doing at key times. It's filled with military jargon and follows closely the way a real Defense Intelligence Agency report would appear and be circulated.

Mr Arkin has written for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post's online edition. He's also been an Army intelligence analyst, so he's familiar with these sorts of cables. That had him firing off a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying in part:

"Such an action raises deeply troubling questions about the integrity of the department's processes and raises the possibility of an organized effort to intimidate me as a journalist."

The faked memo was leaked to the media in an apparent attempt to discredit Mr Arkin on the eve of the Iraq invasion anniversary. (WashPost)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What Happens in Vegas -- Can Shut Down the Philipine Government

Think Congressional junkets are bad in the states? Check out the Philipines. The country has a big vote coming up on a value added tax. Big enough for Philipine President Arroyo to consider a special session of that country's Congress. But there may not be a quorum in either house for a vote.

At least 30 Filipino congressmen are in Las Vegas. They're there to see native son Manny Pacquiao box Mexican opponent Erik Morales this Saturday.

That could mean a TKO for the VAT. (Philipine Star)

White House Firetrap

The General Services Administration calls the White House Press Room "a firetrap." That's leading to plans for a renovation -- a potential "iretrap" for the White House Press Corps. In the end, it could mean kicking the media out of the White House altogether.

That nice, blue trimmed room you see on the TV news conferences -- is TV. It's a set. The seats look like they were looted from a condemned movie house. The carpet is stained with coffee, Coca-Cola, and godonlyknowswhat from the Clinton years.

Behind the seats, and in the basement, reporters, photographers, and producers huddle in tiny cubbyholes littered with paper -- news releases, newspapers, memos.

An outfit I worked for shared an "office" with Reuters. One desk, one chair, in a four-foot by four-foot broom closet. Only one person at a time allowed in.

It's a dump. But it's the Press Corps' dump. There was an administration effort to remodel the place during the Clinton years. But the Corps is very hesitant about those plans. Remodeling could mean redesigning the place -- pushing the press farther away from the President's people who leak goodies and make being part of the Corps such a cool gig.

During a possible summer renovation, there's talk of moving the media to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Imagine being a White House reporter and not even being in the White House.

And the plan they're talking up would return the current West Wing quarters to "Executive Residence use."

With pre-packaged VNRs, the Pundit Payola scandal, and Gannon/Guckert -- kicking the press out of the White House seems like the perfect plan for an administration perceived as trying to control its media coverage. (WashTimes)

[Crossposted at]

Reagan vs. Bush

Ronald Reagan's daughter -- Patti Davis -- writes a Newsweek commentary critical of the Bush administration and Senate Republicans who voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. She writes:

"We have an administration in Washington that cares nothing for this planet, for
beauty, for pristine places, for innocent animals with soft brown eyes. Everything is a war to this president, and he is determined to win."

Ms. Davis says keeping ANWR free of oil drilling has been a longtime concern of hers. So much so that she discussed it with Sen John McCain (R-AZ) at her sister Maureen's funeral a few years back. (MSNBC)

A Reminder to Do Your Taxes

No bond for the man federal prosecutors call the biggest tax cheat in US history. The feds claim Walter Anderson made $450 million in off shore profits -- and didn't pay a single penny of the $200 million he owed in taxes. A judge refused bond -- saying there was a good chance he'd never show up at trial. (WTOP)

"The Influence 50"

Legal Times is out with it's annual list of the biggest spending lobbyist outfits in Washington. At the top:

  1. Patton Boggs -- $65.8 million
  2. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld - $64.2 million
  3. Hogan & Hartson -- $51.6 million
  4. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary -- $42.4 million
  5. Cassidy & Associates -- $28 million

The bottom of the top 50 still spent $6.7 million to influence your Hired Hands on the Hill.

So how do you get a word in edgewise? You could try the Internet.

Taegan Goddard at quotes Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as saying how politicians take blogs pretty seriously:

"Wealth and power control most everything in this country. But one thing they do not control -- wealth and power does not control the Internet. Through the Internet, regular ordinary people have a voice. That’s why I go out of my way to communicate any way that I can on the Internet and I think the blogs are a tremendously important way for the American public to find out what’s really going on."

But a Gallup Poll shows that blogs are still pretty elitist. Saying "Blogs are still not in the media big leagues," Gallup found that few Americans read blogs with any frequency. And those that do fall into a narrow 18-to-29 year old age range. Only about 3% of Americans check blogs on a daily basis.

Needless to say, that breaks my heart and I no longer believe in polls.

But for Americans without blogs, there's still snail mail. You may not be able to spend like Patton Boggs, but a 37-cent stamp can still carry some weight in Washington. And a letter still carries more weight with most politicians than an e-mail. It's a rule of thumb in politics that for every one letter expressing an opinion, there are 100 people with the same opinion who didn't have time to write.

Might want to write that down -- and share it with a few friends. (WashPost) [Crossposted at]

Back in the Fight

Retired four-star general and one-time presidential candidate Wes Clark promises to stay in the political fight with a new website for his Political Action Committee (PAC).

Defeated in his headlong charge into Presidential politics, the Little Rock resident is considered a likely Democratic candidate for Arkansas Governor next year. (Yahoo! News)

Today in Congress

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

Greenspan's Plans for Your Retirement

Fed boss Alan Greenspan cuts to the chase with plans for "saving" Social Security. He reccomends cutting benefits and raising the retirement age. Chairman Greenspan also suggests Congress give itself a deadline of 2008 -- when the massive wave of baby boomers start retiring.

The baby boom retirement is the single biggest threat in the short term for Social Security. The system is paid for by people working today -- paying for those who are retired now. So, as baby boomers retire, there will be fewer people working, more retired, and the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund will have to make up the difference. That won't last forever, and will eventually run out.

Raising the retirement age or cutting benefits would stretch the amount of money in the system keeping Social Security afloat longer. (Chicago Tribune)

An Inside Look at Social Security's Future

The annual Social Security trustees' report will probably get more scrutiny this year than in a long time. It should be out in the next few days. MSNBC lists five things to watch when the report comes out:

  1. The life-span issue
  2. How soon before the financial crunch
  3. The number of immigrants
  4. The ratio of workers to retirees
  5. Social Security's "actuarial balance"

Social Security's actuary's office has already looked at plans to keep the system flush with cash for the next 75 years. President Bush has said he will not reveal any plans he has for doing the same Social Security until Congress presents some plans. (MSNBC)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Don't Let that Swift Boat Bite You in the Stern

The "Senate Majority Project" wants Vermont Senate Candidate Greg Parke (R) (left) to release his military records.

It comes right after Mr Parke announced he'd been endorsed by the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" -- which made a point in the 2004 Presidential election to demand that Sen John Kerry (D) release his military records.

The Private Accounts and the Public Campaign

President Bush admits his private account plan will not do anything to save Social Security. The President has proposed allowing people to invest part of their Social Security withholding into the private accounts -- while at the same time talking about how Social Security is going broke. People tend to put those two ideas together and believe the private accounts plan is designed to save Social Security from bankruptcy.

The private accounts were never meant to do that.

The President told reporters during a White House news conference, "Personal accounts do not solve this issue."

What's more, the President refused to offer up details of his plan to shore up Social Security. He said he wants Congress to come up with ideas first. "I have not laid out a plan yet, intentionally. I stood up in front of the Congress and said, 'Bring your ideas forward.'" (USAToday)

Return of Gannon/Guckert?

Sinclair Broadcast Group's new Washington Bureau Chief chaffed the staffs of a pair of US Senators. fishbowlDC details a day on Capitol Hill for former Dayton TV guy Don Hammond. The folks at fishbowlDC cite a Roll Call article saying Mr Hammond repeatedly referred to Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) as "ma'am" -- instead of "Senator" -- and kept asking Sen John Kerry (D-MA) about his war record at a news conference. This was Tuesday -- not back a year or so ago when the war record was a story in the Presidential campaign.

Staffers demanded to see his credentials after the news conference. He had none, but there is an application pending.

Sinclair fired it's last Washington Bureau Chief for questioning the company -- rather than Sen Kerry -- about a documentary critical of the Democratic Presidential nominee right before last year's election. (fishbowlDC)

Missing Money and a Dead American

A $24.7 million dollar payment that was supposed to go to a US contractor in Iraq is unaccounted for -- and the FBI is investigating the contractor's death.

A plan to build an Iraqi tank division led US contractor Dale Stoffel to write in a November e-mail, "If we proceed down the road we are currently on, there will be serious legal issues that will land us all in jail." Stoffel was killed in an ambush eight days later. The FBI is investigating his death -- to see if he was killed to cover up corruption in the new Iraqi government.

The US has maintained that Iraqis have been in complete control of the tank project. But the Los Angeles Times has found paperwork showing the US military is running the show. And it's a show featuring charges of millions in corruption. (LAT)

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Missing Man

The federal government is investigating the death of a whistleblower in Iraq and the disappearance of another contractor that may be related.

Susie Dow keeps track of developments in the cases at The Missing Man website. Her description reads: "Kirk von Ackermann disappeared in Iraq on October 9, 2003. On December 14, 2003, his colleague, Ryan Manelick was gunned down. The Missing Man is a collection of links to articles on the two men." (The Missing Man)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Senate Roadblock to Social Security Accounts

All it takes to stop President Bush's plan to privatize a portion of Social Security is 41 votes in the US Senate. If opponents have that many -- they can keep the idea from ever reaching the floor.

So reporters at the Washington Post started calling Senators to see how many are firmly against the plan. They found 42 -- maybe 44 -- opposed enough to block it in the Senate. The only two who wouldn't criticze the President's plan were Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Robert Byrd (D-WV).

The Post only surveyed Democratic Senators and left leaning independents.

On top of them, there are believed to be some Republicans opposed to the idea if it means borrowing money to pay for it. And Vice President Dick Cheney is on the record saying it'll cost "trillions."

Among Republican Senators the President has yet to sway to his side are Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). (WashPost)

A Toilet Paper Roll Call Vote

Nothing is certain except death and taxes -- and going to the bathroom. And politicians in Florida have figured that out. State Sen Al Lawson (D) wants to slap a 2-cent a roll tax on toilet paper. He says it'll wipe out $30 mllion a year in new sewer costs. But House Speaker Allan Bense calls it "a crappy bill." (St Petersburg Times)

Typos of Mass Destruction

Sudan was alarmed to find out the US nuked it in 1962. Seems Rep Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) brought up a previously undisclosed atomic test in Sudan back in 1962. She mentioned it during a subcommittee hearing. And there it was, right in the transcript, "Sudan."

Sudanese leaders were freaked. Not only had they been nuked 43 years ago, they completely missed it, or forgot about it, or couldn't remember it, or something.

Not to worry. Uncle Sam never nuked Sudan. Just Nevada. The test in question was one letter and umpteen thousand miles off from "Sudan." It was an atomic test code named "Sedan." With an "e." Just a typo. Maybe that could explain the fact there were no WMDs in Iraq, but there is a nuclear program in Iran.

Meanwhile back in Nevada, tourists can even visit the impressive crater the Sedan test left behind. And you won't even need a passport to see it. (Al Kamen's In the Loop, WashPost)

Buy American -- Aw, Nevermind

The US trade deficit hit its second highest level ever in January --$55.7 billion. The record was back in November at $59.4 billion. Trade deficits can cause foreign investors to pull out of the US. That could disrupt the US economy. (USAToday)

Payback is Hell

If you're a soldier, it's tough enough being sent to war. It's even worse when you have to buy your own equipment to go fight it.

That's happened a lot with soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers have paid for their own armor, medical supplies, and GPS devices -- things you'd expect Uncle Sam to spring for.

In fact, there's a law saying Washington's supposed to reimburse troops for those kinds of things. But a year after the law passed, the Pentagon still has no plan on how to get them money back to the troops -- even though the White House just asked for an extra $74.9 billion for defense.

Adds new meaning to the phrase, "Payback is hell." (BaltSun)

Road Hogs

Spend $284 billion in Washington and you can almost taste the pork in there somewhere. Groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense track pet projects and pork barrel spending.

Some of the items Taxpayers for Common Sense identified as pork in the $284 billion highway bill:

  • $3 million for improvements to a museum in Warren, Ohio, dedicated to the Packard automobile
  • $7 million for snowmobile trails in Vermont
  • $35 million for landscaping around freeways in Houston
  • $3.2 million to build an interpretative center and improve trails in the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Corridor
  • $500,000 to improve streets, sidewalks and curbs outside the Museum of Modern Art in New York

Keith Ashdown, VP for Policy at TCS says, "Instead of tightening their fiscal belt, Congress had instead decided to fund horse trails, museums, interpretive centers and water taxis."

Cosmetic Costs

Mr Ashdown's group also point to $2.5 million for landscaping along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in Simi Valley, California. California State Rep Elton Gallegly (R) sought the funding. A spokesman for him called that stretch of freeway "the first impression" that many visitors have of the area.

Well, now they've got a new one -- a $2.5 million one.

Making the List

In all, Taxpayers for Common Sense came up with 4,128 earmarks like these. They've listed everyone of them on their website. They even break it down state-by-state. It shows how Alaska -- one of the least populated states in the union -- got more money than places with much more traffic, like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Of course, Alaska's sole Representative in the House just happens to chair the committee where all the goodies get added -- Rep Don Young (R-AK).

And how do we taxpayers get to pay for all these ideas? We already pay a federal fuel tax on gasoline and diesel. Tucked away in this highway bill is another way to bill the taxpayer -- by allowing states to start charging tolls on the interstates. Lucky us. (NYT)

[Crossposted at]

Taking a Toll

Load up on quarters. Congress is edging toward allowing tolls on Interstates. They've been banned for decades. But the Bush administration likes the idea of toll booths popping up along Interstates to help pay for roadwork. (LAT)

Uncle Sam, Stockholder #1

Set up private Social Security accounts and by 2050, Uncle Sam becomes the single largest investor on Wall Street. Goldman Sachs predicts the federal government would own 25% of the stock in America in 45 years.

Robert J. Samuelson writes in the Washington Post that the arrangement could politicize the investment decisions and that could cripple the economy.

That's because you wouldn't get to pick and choose exactly where you're money's invested. The government would make rules deciding where and how you invested money taken out of your Social Security withholding.

That's a lot of money -- which draws lobbyists like sugar draws flies. And they could influence your Congress members to direct that money to their clients.

GAO and "No Immediate Crisis"

The Comptroller General says there is no Social Security crisis. Testifying before Congress, the head of the non-partisan Government Accountability Office says the program "does not face an immediate crisis" but there is a long-term financing problem.

David Walker also criticized President Bush for his two-month tour to sell Americans on privatized Social Security accounts. He says the nation would be better served by having the President and Congress work on ways of fixing the financing problems. The private accounts will have no impact on that.

Mr Walker says the sooner Washington acts, the less extreme the fixes to Social Security will be. (LAT)

On the Road Again

The US House has OKed a six-year, $284 billion highway bill.

Tucked away in the bill are nearly 4,000 projects requested by individual members. They're worth $11 billion. Some projects may be needed, but without debate or hearings on their merits -- odds are a lot of those 4,000 projects rate as pork barrel spending.

Pork is money that's added to a bill in committee without debate and benefiting a single state or district. And House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young's (R-AK) home state will get a sizable chunk of change. Spending would shoot up from $3 million to $200 million for an Anchorage bridge project, and from $3 million to $125 million for another bridge near Ketchikan.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tonight on the Henhouse Network -- Your New Consultant, Ms. Fox

The media is supposed to keep an eye on politicians. But a Las Vegas TV station has hired one to serve as their consutlant. Nevada State Sen Barbra Cegavske (R) advises the KVBC newsroom on how to cover what's going on in the legislature. The $3,000 a month the station pays her makes her something of an employee of Sunbelt Communications. The company's owner is interim chancellor of the university system. But Sen Cegavske promises to keep voting on higher education issues -- despite any apparent conflict of interest. (Las Vegas Sun)

Blame it on the Caribou

With talk of gasoline hitting all time record prices in no time flat, President Bush has ruled out the idea of releasing some of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to offset price hikes.

The US has 660 million barrels of oil -- about a two month supply -- in salt domes off the Gulf Coast. But the White House says opening the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling would be a better solution.

Let's see -- oil we got versus oil we'll get in 10 years. Hmmmm. (USA Today)

The New York Times > Washington > Documents Suggest Bigger DeLay Role in Donations

Evidence in a Texas civil trial show that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was more involved in gathering corporate donations for a political action committee than he'd admitted. That PAC is the target of a grand jury investigation. He forwarded at least one corporate check and talked with other corporate contacts to raise money for state political races in Texas. State law bans the use of corporate money in state races. Two fundraisers close to Rep DeLay have already been indicted in the criminal investigation. The prosecuter said last week he'd not rule out the possibility of criminal charges against Rep DeLay. (NYT)

Bin Laden Hates America -- But he's Gotta Love that Second Amendment

The Government Accountability Office found dozens of terror suspects on Uncle Sam's watch list were able to legally buy weapons last year. The GAO report found that terror suspects took advantage of a loophole that allows them to stock up on guns and ammo -- despite their clear links to terror groups. The GAO found 44 times last year when people on the FBI's watch list either tried to buy guns or get permission to carry them in public. The FBI and state authorities in all but nine of the cases said, "Go right ahead!" Another 12 suspected terrorists were allowed to buy or carry guns in the four months after the study.

In all, authorities approved 47 of 58 requests from terror suspects to buy or carry guns in a nine month period. (NYT)

Money and Medicine

The company behind Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) family fortune could profit from a bill the Senate Finance Committee's writing.

HCA, Inc has lobbied Congress to limit the growth of speciality hospitals. And the Committee's taking up the idea. HCA claims new hospitals draw away high-dollar heart and surgery patients needed for other hospitals to subsidize unprofitable services -- things like emergency rooms.

A Family History

Senate Majority Leader Frist's father and brother founded HCA. His brother served as CEO until 1993 and still sits on its board of directors. HCA is now the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain. New speciality hospitals mean competition for the 190 full servise hospitals HCA owns. And even though it's in a blind trust, Sen Frist owns $26 million in HCA stock.

Lopsided Lobbying

Opponents of the limits spent a combined total of $440,000 last year lobbying for their position.

On the other side, the Federation of American Hospitals represents HCA and other general hosptials. They spent $7 million lobbying in the first half of 2004 (the most recent numbers available). -- which tracks lobbyist spending -- ranks them as 10th in spending among everyone lobbying Congress. That's pretty high up the food chain.

On top of that, they've hired 16 additional lobbyists. Among them is Anne Phelps. She's a former aide to Sen Frist.

Medicine & Money

The bill would limit growth by changing the way Medicare pays hospitals. But the speciality hospitals say they have a 16% lower mortality rate in-hospital than general hospitals -- largely because they specialize in one kind of treatment. They also claim to cut hospital stays by more than a day on average.

But even if those claims aren't skewed by the specialty hospitals' lobbyists, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how Washington is likely to come down on a battle between your health -- and special interests' money. (The Tennessean)

[Crossposted at]

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Answer is Blowin' in the Windfalls

The folks at and the Campaign for America's future are fussing over facts about Social Security reform and the potential windfall to the securities industry.

The Campaign opposes private Social Security accounts.

On Friday, claimed the Campaign was over estimating the amount of money Wall Street would make from privatizing a part of Social Security. said at the time Wall Street would likely make only 16 cents for every $10,000 it managed in private accounts.

The Campaign for America's Future says failed to check their math. They claim FactCheck created a hypothetical scenario to support their claims. They've put out a release saying FactCheck's points were flawed and wants the statement pulled from FactCheck's website.

FactCheck fired back with yet another post on their site defending their original statement. They say the Campaign failed to dispute their central argument -- that Wall Street would only get 16-cents for every $10,000 managed.

FactCheck based their math on a model where private Social Security accounts would resemble the Thrift Savings Plan -- the retirement fund for military and federal employees. The Campaign argues that private Social Security accounts wouldn't follow that model closely enough to result in the numbers FactCheck came up with.

Stay tuned.

Finally, An Honest Politician

Politicians say the darndest things. Take Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman in front of an elementary school class. He was there for Nevada Reading Week and voters have been reading about what he said to the kids.

When the kids asked him what his hobbies were, he said "Drinking." When they asked him what he'd take with him to a desert island, he answered, "A bottle of gin."

When reporters brought up the comments at a news conference the next day, Mayor Goodman said, "I'm not going to lie to children. I'm not going to say I would take a teddy bear or a Bible or something like that."

Great. We finally get an honest politician. (WashPost)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sinclair and SCOTUS

Sinclair Broadcast Group -- which already owns 62 TV stations around the country -- wants the Supreme Court to allow it to own even more. The company's joined other owner groups asking the high court to reverse an order limiting the number of stations a company can own.

Sinclair has found itself tangled in political controversy from the 2004 Presidential election campaign when it attempted to run an anti-Kerry documentary -- Stolen Honor -- on the eve of the election, and more recently for it's involvement in the Payola Pundit Scandal and close ties to commentator Armstrong Williams, a key player in that scandal.

Chasing Down the Windfalls

The folks at say the securities industry would reap few profits from privatized Social Security accounts. The idea that Wall Street would make money hand over fist is a top argument of the President's critics. says the windfall isn't as big as some of those critics would have you believe. They point out that the President's model appears to be based on the federal Thrift Savings Plan. And that securities firms only make about 16 cents for every $10,000 they handle in the TSP.

Based on the information found, they estimate Wall Street would pocket $39 billion (over 75 years) with a private acount system based on the TSP.

They take to task the Campaign for America's Future for running newspaper ads claiming the amount would be $279 billion.

Either way, the securities industry knows a good investment when they see one. The Center for Responsive Politics figures the securities and investments industries have pumped more than $203 into federal political campaigns since 1990.

Even if the pay off is Washington backing the TSP model, and they only make $39 billion, that'd still be a 19,200% profit for the industry. (

[Crossposted at]

What a Difference Two Days Makes

"In terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months or a year as to when we bring something to the floor, it's just too early." -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) on March 1, discussing the chances of passing Social Security overhaul this year.

"We need to do it this year -- not next year, but this year." -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) two days later on the same subject.

Sen Frist is a likely candidate for the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination. His comments Tuesday on the long odds of passing an overhaul this year had others in his party a bit miffed it seems. (WashPost/Orlando Sentinel)

Crime Doesn't Pay -- And Justice Doesn't Collect

For every buck in federal fines and restitution criminals are ordered to pay -- the Justice Department lets 96 cents slide. And almost two-thirds of that is from white-collar crime.

A new audit shows Uncle Sam's been stiffed to the tune of $25 billion -- money criminals were supposed to pay the Justice Department. That's double the amount an audit three years ago turned up.

The Government Accountability Office did both of those audits. They gave the Justice Department some grief for not following up on GAO reccomendations back in 2001. The GAO gave Justice 13 plans to fix the criminal collection problem in their 2001 report. This time, they found DoJ had followed only 7 of them.

White Collar Crime

The GAO looked at five specific cases of white collar crime where convicts were supposed to pay restitution to their victims. The restitution totaled $568 million. Only 7% of the ordered restitution was ever paid. The report says all five cases had a common trait:

"At some point prior to the judgments establishing the restitution debts, each of the five offenders either reported having wealth or significant financial resources to the courts or to Justice, or there were indicators of such. However, following the judgments, the offenders claimed that they were not financially able to pay full restitution to their victims."

Pennies in Punishment

Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) ordered the report. He says the Justice Department collects only four cents on the dollar in federal fines and orders to pay restitution.

Four cents. That's chump change. Guess who's the chump. (MSNBC/GAO)

[Crossposted at]

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Terror Threat Below

There's no job too dirty for the folks at the Government Accountability Office. Congress asked them, so they've explored the terrorist threat to our sewers.

And they found some serious....stuff.

Wastewater treatment is pretty much out of sight, out of mind. Most people don't want to think about it. And this new GAO report paints a picture of how that seems to be the approach people have taken to securing our sewers from terrorists.

The GAO accesses the security risk to wastewater utilities. It says sewer lines pose threats by allowing terrorists to gain access to buildings or pump in toxic chemicals. And that chemicals stored, used, or transported in the wastewater treatment process could pose a risk if terrorists target them.

The GAO also found a general lack of security awareness in the industry. And that damaging a single part of a wastewater system in some cases could take out the whole system.

Take out a major city's sewer system, and within days you've effectively got a biological attack on your hands.

The report looks at what would be necessary if Congress decides the federal government should take a greater role in protecting the wastewater infrastructure. The GAO examined ideas from loans to tax incentives to pay for improved security. They decided direct grants from Washington to individual wastewater treatment plants would be the most efficient way of directing federal dollars toward better security.

Congress has considered the idea of increased federal involvement in your local treatment plants in the past. This report will help guide them if they take it up again.

Of course, once in, it'll be hard to get Congress out of the sewer. (GAO)

Give a Little, Get a Lot of Mixed Reviews

Small donors to the 2004 election campaign had mixed results on the outcome. Democrats got more money from the $200-and-under crowd -- collecting $166 million in small donations. Republicans rounded up $157 million in small gifts. Both were bigger amounts than in 2000, but overall, the small donors made up a smaller percentage of campaign contributions to the major parties. That means the big donors gave even more -- diluting even further the voice of small donors. (CNN)

The "Steel Magnolia" Passes

Former Rep Tillie Fowler (R-FL) had died at the age of 62, two days after a brain hemorrhage. Campaigning on a platform of "eight is enough" term limits promise, she retired on schedule after four terms in the US House. During her tenure there, she was a major player on defense issues and rose to rank as the most powerful woman in the House at the time -- fifth in the GOP leadership. (Guardian)


The Associated Press reports that 1,500 Americans have now died in the Iraq War.

The Defense Department says at least 1,140 have died as the result of hostile action.

Since the "Mission Accomplished" speech in which President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq completed, 1,362 servicemembers have died -- including 1,030 in hostile action. (Lexington Herald-Leader)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I Searched for "David" +"Duchovney's" +"Career" and Came up Blank

Osama bin Laden is roaming free. The CIA's looking for him, but what are people looking for on the CIA website? The spy agency, so bad at keeping track of WMDs does keep track of what people search for on their website. For February, 2005, the most searched for item was UFOs. A total of 2019 searches for aliens crossed their site.

The CIA lists the top 25 most frequent search phrases on their site.

There's an Internet game going on right now to have people enter "naked cheerleaders xxx" in their search box to take the title next time.

I'm not encouraging anyone to do that. And I've already told that to the nice men in black who just showed up at my door. (CIA)

Little Secrets

Washington loves its little secrets. And some experts in the field of classified documents say that's what a lot of them are -- little secrets. Thomas S. Blanton is director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He says there's a steep increase in the federal government "overclassifying" and "pseudo-classifying" information. He testified before Congress today with that message.

That may sound like it keeps information out of bad guys' hands -- but it also keeps it out of good guys' hands, too. And, as the 9/11 Commission Report showed, that makes it harder for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing when it comes to protecting the US.

In 2003, the last year for which he had numbers, Mr Blanton showed that the federal government classified more documents than at the height of the Cold War. There were 15.2 million documents classified in 2003. The most since 1980. (National Security Archives)

Escaping the Death Penalty

Prior to Tuesday's Supreme Court decision, at least 22 people who were juveniles at the time of their capital crime had been executed in the US since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The Court ruled this week that the death penalty was unconstitutional for juveniles at the time of their crimes.

Most famous among those facing a death sentence may be Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger partner in the "DC Sniper Case" from 2002. Mr Malvo turned 20 last month, but was only 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad were arrested in the shooting spree that killed 15 people.

Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling effectively moved 72 inmates off death row in 12 states.

The Death Penalty Information Center has a brief case synopsis of each of those inmates.

The FDA Backtracks

For months, the FDA repeated that it did nothing wrong in regulating Vioxx. Now, one of their top honchos had cracked under pressure and said there were "lapses."

The anti-arthritis drug's maker pulled it from the market when it turned out the pill had a link to heart attacks. The Senate was critical of charges that the FDA pressured scientists to supress evidence and cover up those "lapses."

The FDA's Dr Sandra Kweder admited to FDA problems in testimony before the Senate. She also said it'd be good if the agency could order new label changes when a problem like Vioxx crops up. (NYT)

Shooting the Messenger

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind tells Salon that he saw and heard firsthand how the Bush administration laid out plans to silence the media. He was given a lot of access to the White House when President Bush first took office in 2001. The press handling strategy he saw emerging then was to weaken the credibility of the media. That would make it easier to get out an unquestioned partisan messages. He calls the Armstrong Williams scandal and others signs of that.

The Salon article argues that the White House has a two-fold purpose in diluting news coverage:

"Weakening the press weakens an institution that's structurally an adversary of the White House. And it eliminates agreed-upon facts, the commonly accepted information that is central to public debate."
On the first point, the purpose of a strong press is to question government and other public institutions to keep them honest.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute once pointed out to me that no country with a free and agressive press has ever seen a famine. He said the reason was that the media keeps the bean-counters honest -- so there are enough beans to go around. If the media's own honesty is called into question, those governmental institutions can get away with a whole lot more.

And by muddying the water on facts, political philosophy can be converted to "sound science," partisan attacks can be framed as "truth," or "patriotism." There are no indisputable facts -- such as "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Everything is reduced to opinion.

The problem with shooting the messenger is that politicians may shoot themselves in the foot. Damaging an institution like the press -- so important it was the only business protected in the Bill of Rights -- for short term political gain can hurt your causes later on. Once damaged, the institution with weakened credibility in questioning the Bush administration would be just as weak if there is a Hillary Rodham Clinton or John Kerry administration in 2009. And in less of a position to question dismantling the current administration's gains.

The GOP might want to hope for good press in the next election -- instead of none at all. (Salon) [Crossposted at]

What's in a Name 2: Ann Coulter's Next Book

Richard Leiby's The Reliable Source jumps into a Center for American Progress sponsored book naming contest. The left-leaning Center came up a contest to name Ann Coulter's next book. The winner was Roosevelt: Wheelchair-Riding, America-Hating Terrorist.

The Reliable Source folks -- knowing Ms Coulter is always good for a few column inches -- passed the info onto her and got a list of her own title ideas in return, including The Five People You Meet in Line at the Welfare Office. (WashPost)

No Escaping Gas Prices

Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) wants to tax fuel efficient cars. This from a guy who created the whole civilian Hummer idea and still drives one of the 11 mpg trucks.

If you drive a fuel efficient car, you don't buy as much gas. So you don't pay as much in gasoline taxes. Rising gas prices have driven people to fuel efficient cars. So now California's road budget is $5.4 billion short and the highway folks are behind on 6,000 projects.

The Schwarzenegger administration wants to start taxing people by the mile -- instead of the gallon. This way, someone driving a hybrid would pay as much as, well the Governator. (The San Diego Channel via Yahoo!)

You Gotta Spend Money to Spend Money

Your local tax dollars could be used to keep Washington from saving your federal tax dollars. The Pentagon is gearing up for the latest round of base closings. And cities and states around the country are hiring lobbyists to keep their neighborhood bases off the list.

Florida is spending $50,000 a month on a lobbying firm. Most states and cities who've hired lobbyists are keeping the numbers secret. But estimates put the cost easily into the millions.

The base closings will be announced before May 16. So cities and states are taking pre-emptive action.

  • California Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger has hired a lobbying firm that boasts former Rep Vic Fazio (D-CA) and David Berteau -- a former Asst Sec of Defense whose job was to close bases.
  • Florida Gov Jeb Bush has hired a lobbying firm that includes former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) and former Defense Secretary William Cohen

Former Secretary Cohen, a Defense Secretary in the Clinton administration, was singing the praises of base closings back in 1998. Speaking to the nation's mayors, he said:

"BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] today can be a win-win-win proposition -- a win for the government when it frees up money for more important military uses, a win for the communities when they create new jobs, and a win for businesses that seize new opportunities to grow and flourish."

Now, like Mr Berteau, former Sec Cohen is putting his experience to work on the other side of the argument. That's where governors and mayors are spending millions of your tax dollars to make sure Uncle Sam keeps spending billions more of your tax dollars. (CNN)

[Crossposted at]

What's in a Name? Try $2.1 Million

Renaming airports can be expensive. Folks around Washington found that out when Congress added Ronald Reagan's name to Washington National Airport in 1998.

Now the state of Maryland's thinking about changing the name of Baltimore-Washington International Airpot. Already a mouthfull, they plan to keep the current parts and tack on "Thurgood Marshall" to the front.

The Washington Post counts 17 syllables there.

Then there's the expense of chaning road signs, uniforms, business cards. It comes to $2.1 million.

Of course, locals in DC still refer to Ronald Reagan-Washington National Airport simply as "National." As they have since the 1940s. Chances are, folks will still refer to "BWI." No sense in delivering a long speech to a taxi driver when you're late for a flight.

Nothing against renaming something to honor the honored dead. It might be smarter to attach names to new places or phase the name change in slowly. Use up the old business cards before ordering new ones.

Of course, that's just my two cents worth -- on the $2.1 million dollar plan. (WashPost)

An End Run on ANWR

Republicans will use a tactical maneuver to get around another fillibuster over drilling for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Drilling plans have cleared the House in the past only to die amid a Democrat majority or fillibuster in the Senate. This time, the GOP plans to include it in the budget -- something that can't be fillibustered. That promises to be a win for backers of the ANWR drilling plans. (LAT)

Ceasar Rendering Unto God

The Bush administration reports that the government spent $2 billion last year on church, synagogue, and mosque supported charities. That's the most taxpayer money ever for religious charities. (NYT)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of March 2, 2005

There are 1,115 fewer National Guardsmen and Reservists on active duty this week than last. There are now 183,366 Guard and Reserve troops on active duty this week. (DoD)

The Terror Cell -- In a Federal Prison Cell

His base of operations was his federal prison cell. Housed, clothed and fed on taxpayer dollars, one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers encouraged jihad.

From there, Mohamed Salameh wrote letters encouraging suicide bombers and praising Osama bin Laden. Prison censors should have caught the letters. They didn't.

His letters went to a Spanish terror cell and to Arabic newspapers. Federal prosecutors who worked to lock up Salameh say the letters helped recruit new terrorists.

Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants those who allowed the letters to slip through fired. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says an investigation is already underway. (MSNBC)

Medicare vs. Social Security

Think there's a Social Security crisis? Medicare's impending shortfall is 7 times Social Security's -- $3.7 trillion short of what it needs to pay benefits over the next 75 years. But there's little talk in Washington about fixing Medicare while politicians and lobbyists are falling all over themselves tackling Social Security.

Medicare costs $325 billion a year. It provides health care for 42 million Americans. It's expected to be more expensive than Social Security by 2024. And Medicare is on track to start running up red ink in 2018 when it starts taking in less money than it's paying out. That's two years before Social Security runs into the same wall.

Washington's Deafening Silence

But we're not hearing much about Medicare reform in Washington. For one thing, the Bush administration added $724 billion to Medicare's cost over the next decade when they added prescription drug coverage in 2003. Saying it needs to be reigned in right after taking the reigns off wouldn't look too good in the off year elections.

Paying the Pipers

Social Security reform is driven by a campaign for private accounts. Not popular with the general public, but very popular with the Wall Street campaign contributors who've made big donations to politicians and stand to reap big returns.

But fixing Medicare's problems are almost impossible without slapping some kind of controls on rising medical costs. And controlling medical costs would mean cutting into the profits of other campaign contributors in the health care sector.

So while Washington may be biting its collective tongue on Medicare, it's clear that in Washington, money still talks. (MSNBC)

[Crossposted at]

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

"The Faces of Meth" puts a human face on a growing national drug problem -- that's actually one of the most underreported drug epidemics of the 80s and 90s. Meth is only beginning to get major media attention. Meth -- sometimes called "Poor Man's Cocaine" -- has been a staple of rural America for decades now.

I first reported on it in 1989. Even then, it was the single largest drug problem on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. Some counties reported more people addicted to it than to alcohol.

The Reynolds Wrap Test

Meth is "cooked" from a mixture of petroleum based liquids and other corosive chemicals. A "cooker," in describing the recipe for my producer at the time said the way to tell a really good batch was to throw in a roll of aluminum foil and -- if it was good -- the aluminum would dissolve in a day or so.

"Faces of Meth"

That helps you understand some of the changed faces in this feature. "Faces of Meth" shows mugshots of meth abusers -- in a "before" and "after" pattern. The wear and tear of toxic chemicals can be brutally pronounced in just a matter of weeks.

Slicing the Budget Pie To Thin

On a national scale, the meth problem has caused a drain on the War on Drugs. Money for that metaphorical war was originally meant to shut down gateways into the United States. It was meant to keep foreign drugs out. But cookers can crank out meth. And the midwest has seen meth production explode. So that has politicians slicing the drug war budget thinner to send money to their home states.

Citizens Against Government Waste issued a statement recently saying the slicing is so thin, that the money there's hardly enough to be effective anywhere. The budget originally meant for only 5 gateways when the War on Drugs started in 1989 is now split between 26 places.

Washington has spent $25 billion over 25 years in the War on Drugs. But prices of illegal drugs shipped in from other countries are at the lowest levels in years. A sign that the money's not put a dent in the supply flowing in.

And as the images show, drugs made in the USA are putting a whole new face on the drug war. (

[Crossposted at]

The Mint Unveils New Nickles and the Post Office Wants a Piece of That Aciton

The US Postal Service is about to mail out documents asking for a 6% hike in mailing rates next year. USPS reports volume is up 5.5%. (The NonProfit Times)

George Mason Misses a Golden Key

Big time honor society Phi Beta Kappa has rejected George Mason University. The school has impressive credentials -- including a pair of Nobel laureates on faculty. But the school nixed a speech by left leaning film maker Michael Moore.

The school's President says it was about using $35,000 in taxpayer money to pay for the speech right before the election. Phi Beta Kappa -- saying their collective momma's didn't raise no fools -- weren't convinced. They say their rejection is about academic freedom -- stilling speech because it was political.

And in the weeks after the cancellation, the American Association of University Professors criticized the University and accused administrators of cancelling the speech simply to placate statehouse politicians who'd complained. (WashPost)

No More Juveniles on Death Row

The US Supreme Court just moved around 70 convicted murderers off death row. They ruled 5-4 that the death penalty is unconstitutional for minors. People aged 16 - 17 could be sentenced to death in 19 states before this ruling. A 2002 decision had drawn the line at those convicted of capital crimes committed before they turned 16. The latest ruling came in a Missouri case. In it, prosecutors argued the 17 year old killer had planned the murder, bragging he could kill his victim and get away with it because of his age. (CNN)

Cussin' in Wartime is Acceptable

When ABC showed Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day, 66 affiliates refused to carry it for fear of indecency complaints. Not just from all the bleeding and dying -- but also from the language actors used portraying soldiers bleeding and dying. But the FCC has cleared the movie.

In its order, the FCC said: "In light of the overall context in which this material is presented, the commission determined that it was not indecent or profane." Chairman Michael Powell issued a statement saying the story could not be told properly without the violence and language.

Seeking Middle Ground Between the White House and the Statehouse

Governors from both parties question President Bush's plan to cut $40 billion from the Medicaid budget. The cuts in Washington may have to be made up at statehouses all around the country. The costs are soaring -- pushed on by health care inflation and by people living longer and counting on Medicaid for health care. Governors have met with the President and hope to reach some kind of compromise.

Medicaid will cover 53 million Americans this year and cost $329 billion. That's 40% more than it cost five years ago. (CNN)

Today in Congress

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

Odd Scholarships

Looking for college cash? Dig out the duct tape, you arm-flapping left handed, tall folks. You could get a scholarship. Sallie Mae, the Congressionally anointed agency overseeing student financial aid. They list more than 2.4 million scholarships worth $14 billion. Donors have set up scholarships for a lot of unusual things over the years from being tall to being left handed to knowing how to play bagpipes. There may be some suggestions to offset the rising prices of college. (WashPost)

Minding The Cost Of Boston's Big Dig (

Holding the costs to just $14.6 billion is a big step in Boston. The "Big Dig" -- a nearly 20 year project to bury Boston's central artery -- has been plagued with missed deadlines and cost overruns on its way to setting record as one of America's most expensive public works projects.

Still under construction it was supposed to be finished two years ago. And the costs are nearly $12.5 billion over the original $2.5 billion estimate.

Getting Your Money Back

US taxpayers poured nearly $8.5 billion into this hole in the ground. There's an effort to get some mispent money back. But count the returned money in the millions -- a fraction of the huge cost overruns. And it could be a losing effort. The last time the government tried to get concessions from contractors they only got $4 million -- after spending $8 million on the effort. (WashPost)

Tax Break for Federal Retirees

Federal and military retirees would get to pay for their health insurance with pre-tax money under a plan before Congress. That'd give them a tax break on their insurance. Federal employees have had the break since 2000, but it doesn't apply to retirees. Sen John Warner (R-VA), and Reps Tom Davis III (R-VA) and Jon Porter (R-NV) want it extended. The idea ran into trouble before because it extends the tax break to only government retirees -- not all retirees. The cost is also pretty steep. It costs about $480 per employee per year for the tax break now. (WashPost)

Social Security Sales Job -- Don't Expect a Commission

President Bush rallied Republican Congressmen to sell his Social Security privatization plan during last week's Congressional recess. Now he may have to re-sell it to a lot of the Congressmen he sent out. Town hall meetings saw GOP Representatives rapped by skeptical constituents.

A Long Way to go and a Short Time to Get There

Congressional backers of the President's plan say they have a lot of work to do to sell the idea. A former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) says it'll take a lot of time. Stuart Roy says "It's a months-long, if not years-long process."

But a top Republican Senator says they don't have that kind of time to do it. Sen Charles Grassley (R-IA) has said that if the public doesn't buy into the plan within 90 days -- it's dead. (LAT)

The Pentagon's Wal-Mart Strategy

In a move to cut costs, the Pentagon's looking at buying military equipment from Tiawan. A group from the Comparative Testing Office at DoD heads out this weekend for Taipei to look at Tiawan's ability to compete with American defense industries. They're looking at more than 300 items ranging from aircraft parts and ammunition to satellite phones and computers. The Navy recently made waves when they chose an Italian design for the new Marine One helicopter fleet to ferry the President. (Yahoo! News)

Taking Stock in Iraq

Monday's suicide attack in Iraq was the deadliest since the fall of Saddam. At last count, 120 people -- mostly women and children -- died. The Pentagon says there are 60 attacks per day in Iraq launched by terrorists and insurgents. That's roughly the same number as before the Iraqi elections. And both the Pentagon and US intel sources in the past week seemed to come around to what Osama bin Laden has apparently already figured out -- the war in Iraq has created a recuiting bonanza for terrorists. Osama bin Laden has now fired off a message to terror honcho Abu Musab Zarqawi to try using some of the extra recruits to carry out attacks here in the US.