Thursday, March 31, 2005
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 BlogCritics.org]
Word for Word: Complete Text of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction
"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)
"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)
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)
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)
"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
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
Saturday, March 26, 2005
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
Friday, March 25, 2005
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)
If you're looking for polling info -- this is the only place to go. PoliticalWire.com 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 PoliticalWire.com hadn't first introduced you to my little site. The rest of you, get with the program and check out PoliticalWire.com.
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)
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.
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
- $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
Certainly worth a read. (CAWG)
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
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)
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.
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 AARP.org. Paid for by the AARP.
FactCheck.org 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 FactCheck.org also points out that while Democrats have not endorsed any specific plan -- neither has President Bush. (FactCheck.org)
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
If you don't subscribe to Salon.com, it's certainly worth sitting through a commercial for the day pass.
Check it out.
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)
Environmental interests have only donated $13,317,313 over the same time period.
In Washington, money talks. (OpenSecrets.org)
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
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)
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 BlogCritics.org]
"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)
- Patton Boggs -- $65.8 million
- Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld - $64.2 million
- Hogan & Hartson -- $51.6 million
- DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary -- $42.4 million
- 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 PoliticalWire.com 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 BlogCritics.org]
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)
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)
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:
- The life-span issue
- How soon before the financial crunch
- The number of immigrants
- The ratio of workers to retirees
- 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
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 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)
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)
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
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
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)
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)
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)
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."
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 BlogCritics.org]
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.
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)
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
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)
In all, authorities approved 47 of 58 requests from terror suspects to buy or carry guns in a nine month period. (NYT)
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.
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). PoliticalMoneyLine.org -- 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 BlogCritics.org]
Sunday, March 06, 2005
The Campaign opposes private Social Security accounts.
On Friday, FactCheck.org claimed the Campaign was over estimating the amount of money Wall Street would make from privatizing a part of Social Security. FactCheck.org 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 FactCheck.org 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.
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 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.
FactCheck.org 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 FactCheck.org 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. (FactCheck.org)
[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]
"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)
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 BlogCritics.org]
Thursday, March 03, 2005
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)
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
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)
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)
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 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)
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 BlogCritics.org]
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)
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!)
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 BlogCritics.org]
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)
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 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 BlogCritics.org]
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
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 Oregonlive.com 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 OregonLive.com images show, drugs made in the USA are putting a whole new face on the drug war. (OregonLive.com)
[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]
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)
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.
Medicaid will cover 53 million Americans this year and cost $329 billion. That's 40% more than it cost five years ago. (CNN)
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)
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)