Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Word-for-Word: The President's Press Conference

Transcript of President Bush's May 31, 2005 news conference. (The White House)

Finally, Less Hot Air from Politicians!

Rep Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) likes his Prius so well, he's trading his hybrid with 80,000 miles on it in for a new one.

US News & World Report has this list of hybrid-driving members of Congress, party affiliation, and model they own:

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Prius -- two of them
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) Ford Hybrid Escape
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) Prius
Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) Prius -- two of them
Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT) Ford Hybrid Escape
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) Ford Hybrid Escape
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) Ford Hybrid Escape
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) Ford Hybrid Escape on order

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) Prius
Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) Prius
Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) Prius
Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) Prius
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) Prius -- 2 of them
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) Ford Hybrid Escape
Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH) Ford Hybrid Escape

So, while they mull over a new national energy bill, these folks are saving on their personal energy bills. (Washington Whispers, USNews.com)

Political Change

Ohio taxpayers are missing as much as $13 million dollars from their workers' compensation fund. That's more than a quarter of what they had invested in two rare coin funds.

At the center of the storm, Thomas Noe.

He's a major fundraiser for the GOP in Ohio -- and a "Pioneer," raising $100,000 as a money man for President Bush's 2004 campaign. Mr Noe is also a rare coin dealer. His ties to politicians put him in good graces to win control of managing two of the investment deals -- a total of $50 million in state money.

Mr Noe is under six separate investigations. The Feds are looking at all that money he raised to become a Bush Campaign Pioneer. (NYT)

Punching Their Tickets

Rep Albert Wynn (D-MD) heads up a House telecom caucus. But he took his wife on a junket the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association paid for.

Sen Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. The Aspen Institute sent the Senator and his wife to Finland and Japan.

These are just a couple more Congress members getting attention from their local press as newspapers across the country delve deeper into Congressional travel records. (WashPost)

Deep Throat Revealed?

Vanity Fair reports that 91-yr-old ex-FBI assistant director W. Mark Felt claims to be "Deep Throat" -- the source of Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein's Watergate stories for the Washington Post.

Mr Felt has long been considered a likely candidate as the source. Slate carried this article about Mr Woodward meeting Mr Felt for lunch in 1999 -- where witnesses say they acted like old friends.

Mr Woodward has said he will not reveal the identity of "Deep Throat" until the source's death. That was the agreement he had with the source early on. Mr Woodward is not confirming Mr Felt's statement.

UPDATE: Late today, after speaking with Mr Felt's family, the Washington Post carried a statement from Mr Woodward and Mr Bernstein confirming Mr Felt's role as Deep Throat:

"W. Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat' and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories that were written in The Washington Post about Watergate."

The two, along with their editor, Ben Bradlee, had promised to keep Mr Felt's identity secret until his death. But in light of Mr Felt's admission and a statement from his family, they decided to break their silence. (Washington Post)

All the State's a Stage

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) is still an actor at heart. He staged an event for the press to show how committed he is to fixing potholes. So he had government workers go out and dig a 10 by 15 footpothole in San Jose. Then had cameras show up as he filled it back in. (SF Chronicle)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day Weekend

In Memory

Jimmy Buie was a friend of mine back at Sulphur Rock High School. It was a small school. I'm going to the all-years reunion there this Memorial Day weekend. We'll remember Jimmy.

Please take some time to remember what this holiday is about.

Watching Washington will return on Tuesday.

"The Fallen" -- A Roll Call of Honor

ABC's Nightline will air "The Fallen" again this year -- this time on Memorial Day. Sinclair Broadcast Group will actually allow their stations to carry the broadcast this year.

The Fallen is a reading of the names of those Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year. The ABC press release about the show, along with a listing of all the names of servicemembers -- state-by-state -- who have died between May 1, 2004 and May 23, 2005. (DC Fishbowl)

Faces of the Fallen

The Washington Post has a continuing interactive feature honoring those who've made the supreme sacrifice. Faces of the Fallen allows you to read about each of the more than 1,600 Americans who've given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. (washingtonpost.com)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Watching Washington -- Some Updates to the Site

If you haven't checked out Watching Washington's right hand column lately -- it's loaded with features.

The control panel lets you email me, and takes you to some special features.

There are banner links to information on lobbyist spending, politican junkets, and political contributions databases.

Links tracking spending and news from the war in Iraq -- along with a link to Stars & Stripes' military map to help you follow the stories coming out of Iraq.

Links to Amazon.com -- tracking political and non-fiction best sellers updated every hour.

The long-time favorite links to "Help You Watch Washington" -- making it easy to write your members of Congress, register to vote, and research candidates.

There are headlines from USA Today, NPR, The New York Times, Yahoo! Political News, Salon.com, Buzz Flash, and Christian Science Monitor.

Plus search features allowing you to find the latest local news and weather for your hometown.

If you've got some time, spend some time checking it out.

And thanks for reading!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Word-for-Word: The USNA Commencement Address

The President delivered the Commencement Address at the US Naval Academy. Here's the transcript. (White House)

Now Showing on Capitol Hill: Those Films from Health Class

Sen Tom Coburn (R-OK) briefed staffers and interns on Capitol Hill about the birds and the bees and STDs.

The Senator is also a doctor. As a Representative, he held the briefings for six years. His presentation has lots of graphic images of what STDs can do to you. He advocates abstainence -- though he admits condoms make a difference. (Miami Herald)

Prices & Pay

The Commerce Department shows personal incomes rose by 0.7% last month. But prices for food and energy rose more than twice as fast -- 1.6%.

That's still close enough for the Federal Reserve to say that inflation is contained. (WashPost)

The Class of 9/11

Seniors graduating this spring entered college in the days just before 9/11. Their view of the world is going to be affected by that. Consider the US Naval Academy, where the names of 10 alumni have been added to a wall remembering graduates killed in action since 9/11. (WashPost)

Feel Safer Yet?

In just one year, the taxpayer cost to hire airline passenger screeners has grown sevenfold -- from an original estimate of $104 million to $741 million. But they're no better at finding weapons than right before 9/11.

That's just one of the cases of runaway spending the Washington Post turned up in a special report. Other cases of waste and abuse included:

  • Bomb detecting machines -- price went from $508 million to $1.2 billion in 18 months
  • A computer network that cost taxpayers $10 billion relies on outdated technology
  • $500 million radiation detectors can't tell the difference between weapons grade uranium and kitty litter

The Post has an editorial today lamenting that so much of what they found had already been published in GAO and Inspector General Reports -- but that the Department of Homeland Security seems slow to read them. (WashPost)

DeLay Not Ready for Prime Time

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is no fan of "Law and Order." The show -- or the "Criminal Intent" version, anyway -- mentions Rep DeLay in an episode about the murder of two judges. As police look for suspects, one character suggests putting out an APB on "somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

In the wake of court rulings on the Terri Schiavo case, Rep DeLay said:

"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
Rep DeLay has since apologized for the remark. Critics claimed the statement bordered on vigilantism -- didn't sound like a "Law & Order" kind of attitude.

Rep DeLay's been having a bad run of luck lately: ethics investigations, a grand jury probe, and the treasurer of one of his Political Action Committees lost a $600,000 court case.

The timing led Dick Wolf, producer of "Law & Order" to say:

"I ... congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his
own problems to an episode of a TV show."

Stay tuned for next week's exciting episode. (CNN)

Highway Robbery

The nearly $300 billion dollar highway bill is still getting hamered out in Congress. It's not produced any road projects yet -- but it's generated thousands of press releases. Congress members are blowing their own horns about how much bacon their bringing home to their states and districts.

USA Today reports that every House member was offered about $14 million in pork -- pet projects in their districts. Party leaders got even more. Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) got $722 million. (USAToday)

Per Captia Pork

Alaskans score the most pork per capita under the highway bill Congress is hammering out. There are more than 4,000 specific projects added to the bill that states have to spend the money on. Thirty nine of those projects are in Alaska.

It amounts to about $1,151 for every man, woman, and child in the state. The next closest is Oregon, with a measley $82 per person. (USAToday)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Word-for-Word: Brig Gen Jay Hood on Koran Mishandling at Gitmo

The general looking into claims of Koran desecration at Gitmo announced today he's found 13 cases of mishandling -- but Brig Gen Jay Hood said none include flushing a Koran down a toilet:

"First off, I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by Joint Task Force personnel.

Ten of those were by a guard and three by interrogators.

We found that in only five of those 13 incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran."

Brig Gen Hood said there was only one case of Koran mishandling after new rules -- put in place with input from the International Committee of the Red Cross -- went into effect. (DoD)

A Big Payout for Fined Democrats...

The Democratic Party, Rev Jesse Jackson, and a pair of groups associated with him have been fined $200,000 for election law violations. Rev Jackson and his groups spent $450,000 toward Democratic candidates. Problem was, the groups were incorporated -- making it illegal for them to donate money to politicians. (USAToday)

...And a Payday for Democrats

The treasurer for a political committee that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) founded will have to pay $200,000 for breaking Texas election law. A civil case against Bill Ceverha found he failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Mr Ceverha was treasurer for "Texans for a Republican Majority PAC. The people who sued him -- all Democratic candidates who lost elections -- claimed TRMPAC funneled $600,000 worth of corporate cash toward illegally influencing Texas House races three years ago. The $200,000 will be split among the plaintiffs in the case. (USAToday)

Koran Questions

With conflicting reports over exactly what happened to Korans at Gitmo, the base commander will brief reporters later today. Brig Gen Jay W. Hood speaks from the Pentagon at 4:00 pm EDT today. (DoD)

New Gig for the Memo Master

The man behind the infamous memo on how the Republican Party could capitalize on the Terri Schiavo case has a new gig. Brian Darling had to quit his job with Sen Mel Martinez (R-FL) when his connection to the memo was discovered. Now he's back in the game -- as a lobbyist.

He's registered to lobby on enforcing judgements won under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Cats & Props

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda. (Applause.) " -- President Bush speaking on Social Security, Greece Athena Middle and High School, Greece, New York, May 24, 2005 (The White House)

Flip Flopping on Freedom Fries

The Republican Congressman who cooked up the name "Freedom Fries" has had a change of heart. Rep Walter Jones (R-NC) circulated the letter that had House of Representatives eateries drop the word "French" from all menu items. He did it to protest France's lack of support for the US invasion of Iraq.

But now, Rep Wilson says he's opposed to the war and complains that the administration failed to give Congress all the information it needed to make a proper assessment of the Iraqi threat.

He's also sorry for taunting the French. (Bellaciao)

Flushing the Koran and Trashing the Flag

Think the Koran story was bad? Wait til you see the cover of a Japanese edition of Newsweek.

Ike Piggot at "Accentuate the Positive" looks at corporate PR disasters and thinks he's found a good one: A cover with the American flag in a trash can, and this headline:

"The Day America Died: With Bush Remaining in Office, the Ideal of "Freedom" is
Dashed to the Ground"

Here we go again. (Accentuate the Positive)

A Crackdown to "Save" Social Security

The Treasurary Department Inspector General says companies cheat the government out of billions of unpaid payroll taxes every year. That's money that pays for Medicare and Social Security.

That has Democrats calling for a crackdown on tax cheats. They say that money could go a long way to stopping benefit cuts to Social Security. (Seattle PI)

A Hidden Tax -- On Your TV

Uncle Sam is changing the channels on your TV. And on January 1, 2009 -- less than four years away -- there's a good chance you'll have to pay for it.

Wasington's demanded that TV stations switch from analog to digital signals.

That means you'll have to buy a new television to recieve local channels -- or buy or lease special equipment to translate the new signals into something your old TV can show. (USAToday)

A Hole In Fortress America's Wall

The Government Accountability Office has found a hole in America's defenses against terrorism.

The GAO looked into a US Customs & Border Protection program. It's designed to streamline cargo inspections. In exchange, shippers promise to provide tighter security around what goes into cargo containers headed for the US. But the GAO found there's no way to insure that tighter -- or even any -- security is ever provided.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

A congressional investigator who spoke on the condition of not being named called the program a "hole" in the nation's security net. "It is a system that ... is not making us safer," the investigator said.
An earlier Congressional investigation found only about one-third of 1% of cargo coming into the US is ever inspected. (Houston Chronicle)

Newsweek Revisited

FBI files provide some vindication for Newsweek's mention of Koran desecration at Guantanamo. The FBI investigated claims of abuse and knew as early as 2002 that there were reports of Koran desecration.

The BBC reports:

"After interviewing a detainee, an unnamed FBI agent wrote on 1 August 2002: 'Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behaviour is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet.'"
The now retracted Newsweek article mentioned the statements in FBI emails:

"Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet...."

Newsweek claimed the FBI reports had been confirmed. The Pentagon denies there was ever any confirmation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross released records earlier also backing up Newsweek's report. It turned over a series of reports to the Defense Department in 2002 and 2003 about Koran desecration. Those reports led to reforms at the detention camp. The ICRC says after the reforms, the claims of Koran desecration stopped.

Newsweek retracted the article after the White House blamed it for riots that killed 16 people in Central Asia. But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have both said the article was not the cause of rioting. (The Statesman)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Logging on to Waste

The Justice Department has concluded that Atlanta's public school system mismanaged or misspent $73 million. It was from a federal fund -- part of the E-Rate program -- supposed to get poor kids in rural and urban areas on the Internet.

But They Still Have Free Health Care at their Neighborhood M*A*S*H

National Guardsmen and Reservists have lost a battle with Washington. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has yanked a plan to allow citizen-soldiers to buy health insurance for themselves and their families through the military's TRICARE system. Rep Hunter used a rare authority of his post to kill the plan. The rising cost of health care has Washington looking for ways to cut benefits like health insurance for the military.

It would have let Guardsmen and Reservists buy individual insurance for $75 a month and family coverage for $233.

Roughly 20% of the Guard and Reserve have no access to civilian health insurance. Roughly 100% of them can be called to serve in combat. (GovExec.com)

Nuke Mapper

A new online mapping tool -- created by the Federation of American Scientists -- shows what a terrorist nuke could do to the nation's capital. It shows how much more devastating a bomb set off aboard a plane over the city than on the ground would be. (Congressional Quarterly)

Tillman and the Koran Story

Greg Mitchell, in a "Pressing the Issues" column for Editor & Publisher, questions why the Army gets a free pass for inaccuracies in the death of NFL star Pat Tillman. He compares it to the controversy over the Newsweek article that mentioned Koran desecration:

"Where are the calls for apologies to the public and the firing of those responsible? Who is demanding that the Pentagon's word should never be trusted unless backed up by numerous named and credible sources?

Where is a Scott McClellan lecture on ethics and credibility? "

Mr Mitchell points out that, oddly enough, the controversy over the Tillman issue has a corporate tie to Newsweek. (Editor & Publisher)

Changing Priorities

A coalition of 150 corporations, unions, religious groups and others are telling Washington the President and Congress are focused on the wrong issue.

The coalition, which represents about 150 million Americans, says Washington should focus on fixing health care before working on Social Security.

Social Security may be able to only provide 80% of promised benefits in 40 years. But 45 million Americans can't get health insurance today. (Christian Science Monitor via USAToday)

The Bully Pulpit

Congress has a bill to reduce bullying. The problem has been linked to school shootings including Columbine -- but there's been little done to address the problem. (NPR -- Audio)

Who Owns What in the Ownership Society?

If your pension plan's in trouble, you're out of luck trying to find out about it. A 1994 law keeps the information secret from people who are counting on the pension for retirement.

The law requires companies tell the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp that the pension plan may be in trouble. That's because the PBGC is the federal agency that insures pension plans. But the same law forbids the PBGC from telling anyone else about the info they get. (MSNBC)

Classes for Constitution Day

Today, May 25th, is the anniversary of the start of the Constitutional Convention. September 17th is the anniversary of when the US Constitution was finished in 1787 -- Constitution Day.

This Constitution Day, the Education Department will enforce a little known law requiring schools spend the day teaching about the Constitution. Well, every school and college that recieves federal money, anyway. (ABC)

Today in Congress

Coastal enhancement, energy projects, and Ambassadorial nominations. These are some of the things on the agenda for your Hired Hands on the Hill today. Use the links to the right to write your Congress members with your ideas and opinions. (WashPost)

Small Planes Allowed Over DC

For the first time since 9/11, corporate jets will soon be allowed to fly into Washington-Reagan National Airport outside the capital.

The airport is just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC -- with a view of the Capitol and major Monuments. It's just 15 minutes from Congressional Office Buildings.

So the re-opening should make it easier for Congressional travel perks. Since 9/11, there's been a lot of paperwork and red tape to get a politician on a private plane out of National. (ABC)

Iraq's Missing Oil -- A Slippery Slope

Long after the oil-for-food program ended in Iraq, oil may still have been smuggled out for personal gain. An audit report of Iraqi oil production can't account for $69 million. The oil disappeared during the occupation under the Coalition Provisional Authority and the early days after authority was returned to Iraq. (IHT)

Reserve Casualties

This month's death rate for National Guard and Reservists in Iraq is one of the highest of the war. It's the highest since violence peaked in January. At least 21 citizen-Soldiers and Marines have died this month. That's roughly a third of all military deaths in Iraq in May. (BaltSun)

Vietnam, WW II, and the Filibuster Compromise

The Washington Post's David Broder points out an interesting tidbit about the "Gang of 14" -- the Senators who hammered out a compromise to save judicial filibusters while allowing up and down votes.

Mr Broder points out how political friction has changed the country in the political generation that came out of the Vietnam and Watergate era.

Only four of the fourteen Senators involved were actually old enough to be swept up in the passions of that era. The others were too young to be much influenced by it or from the World War II generation.

Mr Broder holds out hope the younger generation will take that WW II attitude of harmony with them into leadership posts. (WashPost -- Opinion)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

BRAC & Blue & Red All Over

The Pentagon denies there's any politics afoot. But Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is questioning where the bases are closing in the latest round of Base Realignment and Closings (BRAC) reccomendations.

Seems "red states" will gain 11,000 jobs and "blue states" will lose 25,000. (Raw Story)

Karzai and Newsweek

Afgan President Hamid Karzai denies the Newsweek Koran desecration story prompted riots.

Speaking at a joint news conference with President Bush, President Karzai said:

“These demonstrations were in reality not related to the Newsweek story. They were more against progress in Afghanistan and our strategic partnership with America. We know the people who were behind the demonstrations.”
Since White House criticism of the Newsweek article, and Newsweek's retraction, the International Committee of the Red Cross has released reports showing the US acted on reports of Koran desecration. And Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Richard Myers has denied that the article caused any violence. (Financial Times)

Shadows and Substance

The Washington Post's Terry M. Neal looks at the Newsweek Koran desecration story and how the White House zeroed in on it. Mr Neal points to a recurring tactic of the administration to target an inaccuracy to draw attention away from the meat of the story. He says the White House tactic tries to "delegitimize the entire news media based on the mistakes or sloppy reporting of a few."

He goes on to point out how the White House has successfully used the tactic to silence or dilute charges by people in prominent positions in the government and military who disagree with the administration. (WashPost)

$21 Million to Recover $10,000 -- Your Tax Dollars at Work

Congress refuses to stop a 10-year-old investigation that has cost you $21 million dollars and netted less than $10,000 in fines. Independent counsel David Barrett will continue to probe former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros -- even though Mr Cisneros recieved a Presidential pardon in 2001, making it impossible to prosecute him if Mr Barrett does ever find anything. Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) proposed cutting off the money. When his efforts failed, he said, "Even waste has a constituency." (WashPost)

Today in Congress

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

Word-For-Word: The Filibuster Compromise

The Senate headed off a showdown over judicial filibusters. The New York Times has the entire text of the memorandum of understanding worked out between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. (NYT)

Drawing the Line on AMT

The Senate's top tax writer says he won't wait for the President to come up with a plan to fix the looming Alternative Minimum Tax mess. Sen Charles Grassley (R-IA) promises to come up with his own plan to at least hold the line on the AMT.

The AMT was created to make sure wealthy people with a lot of deductions and access to loopholes, would pay at least some tax. But as incomes increase, more Americans are inadvertantly falling within the boundary of the AMT -- forced to pay higher taxes.

If Congress fails to act this year, the number of Americans paying the AMT will jump from 3 million to 20 million in 2006. (Reuters)

War Pork

When the Senate voted for emergency money for the wars in Afganistan and Iraq -- they packed in some pork for their own pet projects at home.

The Center for Defense Information found money for things like:
  • $500,000 to study wind energy in North & South Dakota
  • $20 million for a Montana fish hatchery
  • $26 million to move nuclear materials from New Mexico to Nevada
  • $4 million for the Tygart Watershed Project in West Virginia

Congress has passed four emergency war spending bills so far -- totalling $200 billion. The one in April was the first to have non-war related items included.

Congress members know that these emergency bills will pass. So they make a good place to hide money for other projects. (Big News Network)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Closing the "Gate"

Al Kamen at the Washington Post has announced the winners of his latest "In the Loop" column contest. This time it was to name the scandal surrounding House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's travels.

Among the winners:

  • "DeLaissez Faire"
  • "Exceedia.com"
  • "Gullible's Travels"

Sure beats another name ending in "-gate." (WashPost)

Today In Congress

They're talking about the Alternative Minimum Tax on Capitol Hill this afternoon.

Here's a look at the schedule for your Hired Hands on the Hill. Use the links at the right to write them with your opinions and ideas. (WashPost)

Power Trips

Check out the right hand column for the "Power Trips" banner. It's a permanent link to Medill News Services investigative efforts on Congressional trip taking. There are stories on lobbyist and trade association spending on Congressional trips, loopholes, and the places Congressmen travel. It also gives you a state-by-state breakdown of Congressional leaders and their trips. (Medill / Northwestern University -- HT: PoliticalMoneyLine.com)

Lobbyist Paid Travel

The Nuclear Energy Institute lobbys Congress for breaks for the nuclear power industry. Oh, yeah. They also fly Congressmen and staffs to places like Paris and Rome.

At least 17 Congress members have taken trips on the NEI's dime since 2000.

It's illegal for private lobbyists to pay for trips like that. The NEI takes advantage of a loophole that lets trade associations or policy groups do it.

Among those taking advantage of the junkets:

Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) -- $17,708 trip to Paris
Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- $30,338 trip to Rome for himself, a staffer and her spouse; $5,761 to send a staffer to France
Rep Ray LaHood (R-IL) -- $23,112 trip to France for himself, a staffer and her spouse

PoliticalMoneyLine.com reviewed spending reports and found the NEI spent $272,877 on 21 trips for Congress members and staff in the last four and a half years. (Chicago Tribune)

That's DOCTOR Alice Cooper to You!

Chief Justice William Rehnquist has won an honor that last year went to rock star, Alice Cooper. It's a honorary doctorate in political science from Christian liberal arts college Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Chief Justice Rehnquist leads Christmas carols at the Supreme Court each year.

Could be be on the cusp of a Alice Cooper/William Rehnquist Christmas album? (AP via Yahoo!)

An All-Star Battle for California's Governor's Mansion

Actor Warren Beaty says he could do a better job of running California than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He says he's thinking about running against Governor Schwarzenegger in the next election.

Stay tuned for updates on Steven Segal's Senate bid. (AP via Yahoo!)

Wanna Check out a Library Book? Fine, We'll Need Your Fingerprints.

The Naperville Public Library System in Illinois will become only the second library in the US to require fingerprints to check out books. More fear of terrorists has prompted the library to take the step. It comes as Congress considers expanding the USA Patriot Act -- giving federal agents expanded power to examine your reading habits. (Chicago Tribune)

Friday, May 20, 2005

9/11, World War II, and 1,347 Days

It has now been 1,347 days since 9/11. That's how many days there were between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day.

Think about it. Enough time to build an Army, Navy, and Air Force virtually from scratch. Enough time to fight the Battles of Midway and Iwo Jima. Enough time to invade Italy and Normandy. Enough time to defeat Mussolini, Tojo, and Hitler.

Enough time to conquer half the world and set it free.

So where do we stand by that same mile marker in the War on Terror?

Richard Larsen has an answwer in a guest column for the Washington Post. He's a former Chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College . He's currently the Director of the Institute for Homeland Security. Mr Larsen added up the number of days that've passed.

What It Adds Up To

In World War II, the US went all out to build the atom bomb before Germany or Japan did.

Today, Mr Larsen argues, the US has no protection from a terrorist launched nuclear or biological attack. He talks about the billions spent on defenses against a nuclear missile attack. Then points out:

"The last time the United States suffered a biological attack, the U.S. Postal Service provided the delivery vehicles, and we still don't have a return address for the sender. A small truck, boat or private jet will most likely serve to smuggle a nuclear weapon across our 7,500 miles of borders or 95,000 miles of shoreline."

The Sum Total

1,347 days after Pearl Harbor and Hitler and Mussolini were dead, Tojo was in the dock.

1,347 days after 9/11 we still don't know where Osama bin Laden is.

1,347 days after Pearl Harbor the US had won the race to build the atomic bomb.

1,347 days after 9/11, we've done virtually nothing to guard against a terrorist atom bomb.

It's been 1,347 days since this generation's darkest day. And not that much has changed to make us safer from the potential for greater darkness. (WashPost)

[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]

Dang Ferigners!

Oil giant BP -- based overseas -- is stuck with 162 Superfund waste sites in the US. The EPA has already spent $1.1 billion of your tax dollars dealing with BP's mess alone. So what does BP do? They've shelled out $33 million sweet talking and arm twisting with government leaders and representatives to let the taxpayers keep footing a portion of the bill.

BP is one of more than 650 foreign companies now lobbying the US government. All told, they've spent around $650 million lobbying the US government for better treatment, tax breaks, or changes in the law to benefit their business. (Center for Public Integrity)
[Graph courtesy of CPI]

Write Your Congressman -- Look What that 37-cent Stamp is Up Against

Lobbyists spent nearly $13 billion last to sway your lawmakers to their way of thinking.

The Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers. They also found special intersts have around 2,000 former government officials -- elected, appointed, and hired -- on their lobbying payroll. (Center for Public Integrity) [Graphic Courtesy of CPI]

Wonder if This Will Cause Riots in Seoul?

The Chicago Tribune didn't retract their story about the Newsweek flap over reported Koran desecration. But they also got something wrong relying on Reuters. So they ran the following correction:

A Page 1 caption Tuesday should have said that a Muslim cleric was protesting the reported desecration of a Koran. Because of a typographical error, the word "Korean" appeared instead of "Koran."
Again, no Koreans were flushed down any toilets. (Regret the Error)

Lose the Tie, Save the Planet

Toyota's head honcho has a unique idea for saving energy. He's launching a campaign to get Japanese businessmen lose the tie and jacket over the summer. Going for more casual dress in the office means the office can crank back on the airconditioners. Add that up around all the businesses in a country and you save a lot of juice. They're calling it "Cool Biz." The Japanese Environmental Minister has gone so far as to ban neckties from his buildings through the summer.

As someone who's been collared with a tie through Washington's humid, sweat-soaked summers, and who grew up in more humid climes, I've never really thought they make you look all that professional all the time. Sure, I guess the tie does draw attention from the sweaty hair, red face, and bulging veins on your forehead. And the jacket hides the gallon of sweat your shirt soaks up from your armpits. But the overall look, not a pleasant fashion statement.

I speak for hundreds of thousands who would agree that importing "Cool Biz" across the Pacific would be the most welcome gift from Japan since the cherry trees. And the smell (or sudden lack of it) around town -- would be twice as nice, too. (NYT)

The President takes a Hit on his Social Security Plan

Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) bolted from the President's camp to offer his own ideas to encourage people to save for retirement. The President wants that handled through tax breaks for wealthy Americans.

Rep Thomas has a two pronged approach that goes against the President's plans.

First, he'd make companies that offer 401k plans automatically sign up new employees. That tends to lead to greater participation. If you don't want a 401k, the burden's on you to opt out.

Second, he'd encourage new forms of annuities that would attract investment from low-income workers. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

And Another Blow

One of President Bush's top advisors on Social Security reform is urging the President to give up the idea of using a portion of withholding taxes to pay for private accounts.

Robert C. Pozen came up with the theory behind the President's plan to trim future Social Security benefits. Mr Pozen is a business executive. He developed the theory of "progressive indexing." He warns that the President's private account plan would reduce tax revenue and promised benefits too much. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The "Payola Pundit" Scandal Hits a Statehouse

In another case of pundits working for politicians, the Boston Herald fired a columnist for signing a state contract with Gov Mitt Romney's (R-MA) administration. Charles Chieppo wrote a weekly column for the Herald, but took on a $60 an hour contract to promote Gov Romney's environmental policies. He would have made no more than $10,000 under the contract. (Boston Globe)

The White House Didn't Listen

The Education Department's Inspector General says top Bush administration offials wasted tax dollars and showed poor judgment when they hired commentator Armstrong Williams to push the "No Child Left Behind" law.

The administration paid the Ketchum public relations firm $1.3 million to promote the law. Part of that was to hire Mr Williams. The deal was part of a much wider policy of hiring commentators to promote the administration's agenda without telling readers or viewers they were working for the govenment.

When the "Pundit Payola" scandal broke, the White House claimed it was a single, isolated incident.

But the IG's report shows two Education Department officials warned the White House last summer about the "inherent conflict" of the Williams contract. But neither the White House nor the Department listened. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cost of the Iraq War

The Iraq War is almost as costly as the Korean War. The Congressional Budget Office now figures the War could cost US taxpayers $600 billion by 2010.

Adjust for inflation, and the Korean War would cost $350 billion. So far, Congress has spend $320 billion on the Iraq War. (USAToday)

Red Cross Warned the Brass about Koran Flushing

Just days after Newsweek retracted it's story with a brief mention of Koran desecration, the International Red Cross now says it alerted the US military to the problem as early as 2002. The revelation gives new credibility to the Newsweek story.

The IRC corroborated all instances of reported Koran desecration before forwarding them to the Penatgon in a series of confidential reports. The IRC reccomendations were used to lay out guidelines on how to handle the Koran -- similar to guidelines used to respect the flag in the US.

The IRC says the reports and complaints of Koran desecration disapeared almost immediately after the guidelines were issued to US troops at Guantanamo. (Chicago Tribune)

[CORRECTION: The abbreviation "IRC" and the name "International Red Cross" are both incorrect. The proper version is "ICRC" for "International Committee of the Red Cross." I apologize for the mistake and any misunderstanding in this post. And thanks, Ike, for calling the error to my attention -- Terry Turner]

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

$1.5 Million Bus Stop

It's got to be the cushiest place in the world to wait for a bus. Outside a museum in sunny Anchorage, Alaska. In a $1.5 millon dollar bus stop.
[This is a typical bus stop, Anytown, USA. How do you spend
to build something that serves this function?]

It's a pork barrel, pet project Sen Ted Stevens (R-AK) sent home while he was still chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The money is earmarked for a single bus stop -- outside the Anchorage Museum of History and Arts.

Considering that a bus stop with lots of frills costs only $10,000 tops, Anchorage's transportation honcho -- Tom Wilson -- is trying to figure out how to cram that much free money into a single bus stop.

He's already talking about better lighting and seating. Then there's the idea of heated sidewalks to melt all that Alaskan snow. And he's thinking about adding electric signs -- so it looks a bit more like Times Square, maybe. So far he's only come up with how to spend a third of the one-and-a-half million bucks in federal aid for that single bus stop.

And that $500,000 is about 50 times what a top of the line bus stop costs in Anchorage. I'm actually a bit surprised that it costs 10-grand for ANY bus stop. (Baltimore Sun)
[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]

Thanks For Reading

I'm ten months into this blogging thing.

Just checked WhoLinksToMe.com. Seems a lot of you do. Here's what it says:

WhoLinksToMe.com has found
links to this site.

Blogrolling.com has found
blogrolls that contain this link.

Google has found
links to this site.

Yahoo! has found
links to this site.

MSN Search has found
links to this site.
Thanks for reading! Especially you, Bill Gates.
To check this for yourself, scroll down to the bottom of the right hand column and click on the text link: "Who Links to Me." (Watching Washington)

You Gotta Spend Money to Win that Ethics Fight

Campaign finance records show that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has given more money to his collegues and Congressional candidates than any other House member in the last decade.

Rep DeLay wrote $3.5 million in checks for 432 Congressional candidates since 1995 -- nearly 75% of the House Republicans now serving. Campaign contributions pay off with votes for leadership posts -- and help if you run into trouble down the road.

What's Rep DeLay gotten for his money? Amid ethics charges in the house, a grand jury investigation at home, and three warnings from the House Ethics Committee last year, only two House Republicans have suggested the Majority Leader give up that juicy post.

Speaking of the Ethics Committee -- it has 10 members. Rep DeLay has given campaign contributions to 5 of them -- including $15,000 for each of two members.

Behind Rep DeLay, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is second in giving campaign contributions at $2.74 million. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is third with $2.68 million. (Bloomberg.com)

Cancer vs. Sex

Human papillomavirus (HPV) kills 4,000 women a year in the US. In fact, 93% of the women who develop cervical cancer have HPV, leading some researchers to suggest a link. So you'd think that a HPV vaccine would be universally welcomed.

Think again.

The Family Research Council promises to fight any attempt to put an HPV vaccine on the market. HPV is sexually transmitted and the Council uses fear of HPV as a marketing tool to push their abstinence programs. HPV isn't blocked by condoms. As long as it's out there, it provides an argument that using condoms doesn't really mean safe sex.

Two drug makers -- Merck and GlaxoSmithKline -- are moving forward with tests on HPV vaccines.

Radar magazine quotes FRC policy analyst Bridget Maher: “Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.” (New Scientist)

Speaking up for Judges

A federal judge -- her husband and mother murdered by a disgruntled plaintiff -- wants the Senate to condemn rhetoric about the Judicial Branch. Federal District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow told the Judiciary Committee:

"Fostering disrespect for judges can only encourage those that are on the edge, or the fringe, to exact revenge on a judge who ruled against them."

The Associated Press put together a list of recent quotes critical of the judiciary:

  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the Terri Schiavo case: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
  • Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) on a Supreme Court decision restricting the death penalty for minors: [Public frustration] "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification."
  • Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson on ABC's "This Week:" "Over 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."

In Judge Lefkow's case, a man who'd had his medical malpractice suit thrown out of court broke into the Judge's house and shot her mother and husband. (AP via Yahoo!)

The 'Nuclear Option' -- An Adaptation

The script for Dr Strangelove was a lot better, but the Senate leadership is busy scripting out plans for their own nuclear option. The Washington Post has a blow-by-blow description of how Republicans may land a bunker-buster on judicial filibusters. Though, it'd be a lot better with Slim Pickens as Majority Leader, whoopin' and wavin' his hat. (WashPost)

Pork for the Road

There's enough pork in the Senate's highway bill to earn it a Presidential veto.

President Bush threatened to kill the bill if it went over the amount the House approved. The Senate version tops that by $11 billion.

There's enough pork barrel spending alone -- $12 billion -- to put the Senate's $295 billion plan over the top. It includes 4,000 projects that Senators swear up and down their states need. Critics claim they're just pet projects designed to scratch special intersts backs and win votes back home.

Watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says the Senate bill "contains a mind-boggling array of tax cuts for alcohol producers, limousines, and gun manufacturers." A fun night on the town, no doubt, but hardly in keeping with the mission of a highway bill.

The bill also won Sen Charles Grassley (R-IA) "Porker of the Month" honors from Citizens Against Government Waste. They cite key projects for Sen Grassley's home state he was able to add as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. From the CAGW website:

  • $4 million to construct the Principal Riverwalk in Des Moines
  • $2 million for transportation enhancements to access Lake Belva Deer in Sigourney
  • $1 million for construction of the 100th Street Interchange on 135-80 in Urbandale
  • $1 million (over three years) for the purchase of 40-foot buses in Des Moines

But people who back the spending say any highway project will pay off. Sen James Jeffords (I-VT) says stretches of bad roads account for a third of the 42,000 highway deaths in the US every year. (Seattle PI)

[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Midday Bike Rides and the Rest of Us

We will always remember where we were and what we were doing when that sinister Cessna bore down on DC last week. At least until maybe next week, anyway. And before that memory fades from our collective consciousness, let's not forget where President Bush was: blissfully ignorant of the elevated terror alert back at his house -- pedalling around the Patuxent Research Refuge.

That's 12,790 acres of wildlife and scenery.

Nice if you can take off in the middle of the day and motorcade out to it with a Secret Service detachment. But harder for the average working family.

Marc Fisher in the Washington Post writes:

"[D]on't expect to follow President Bush's example in the late afternoon or evening, or on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July or any other national holiday, because the same president who repairs to Patuxent for his recreation has saddled the refuge with budget cuts that have forced a sharp reduction in its public opening hours and other services."
If it's any reassurance that the President of the US is one of us -- the President of the Refuge Association says if he'd shown up at 4:00 pm, they would have slammed the gate in his face.

The cuts mean they have to cut back the number of hours they're open -- even if the leader of the free world feels like some free-wheeling bike ride.

Good thing there was no pressing business in the middle of that regular work day -- like Osama bin Laden on the loose or a war in Iraq. So President Bush could take off early and beat the gates' closing time. (WashPost)

Sole-ial Security

Richard Leiby in the Washington Post tells us that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) will probably do a little more legwork in scouting out shoe stores in the future.

He popped into a Washington, DC shoe shop -- not noticing the office above the store. Folks working at "Americans United to Protect Social Security" did notice the Majority Leader downstairs. They hot-footed it downstairs with their always handy protest signs. The Senator came to the door -- in his socks -- to ask who they were.

By the time Sen Frist filled his shopping bag, 50 protestors were waiting on the sidewalk outside. (WashPost)

Did Your Fill Up Benefit Saddam?

The Senate is looking at how Iraqi oil wound up in the US amid the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.

Three different US government reports detail Saddam Hussein's efforts to make billions of dollars on illegal oil sales -- even though the UN had slapped stiff sanctions on Iraqi oil.

Saddam made his money by imposting illegal surcharges in the oil-for-food program. And American companies paid those illegal surcharges to get their hands on Iraqi oil.

Documents show that US companies bought at least 200 million barrels of illegal Iraqi oil. And the US government knew about at least 7 million barrels that left Iraq illegally in the weeks before the 2003 US-led invasion. But there's no evidence the US did anything to stop the shipments.

The UN repeatedly notified the US Office of Foreigh Assets Control of the scheme to smuggle oil to US companies. The US government never acted on the warnings. (Seattle PI)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Elephants & Bunnies

Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz writes about how coverage of House Minority Leader Tom DeLay's ethics troubles have spurred a swarm of ethics coverage in local media nationwide.

Reporters call it "localizing" a story -- taking the big national story and seeing if it flies in your coverage area. In the DeLay case, that's meant newspapers looking at their local Congress member to see if he or she has done anything shady lately.

It's turning up a lot of coverage of close ties to lobbyists -- among both Republicans and Democrats.

Choosing Targets Carefully

The national media will usually focus on the big target. These are guys and gals who hunt elephants and like having a Tom DeLay in their sites. Bringing down a House Minority Leader is a nice trophy to hang on the wall -- just ask the journalists who did that with former House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-TX) after bad press put that "former" before his name and title.

So the national media don't cover the Congressman no one's ever heard of ouside his district. Afterall, there's not much left when you level an elephant gun on a bunny rabbit.

Rabbit Hunting Reporters and the Vegetarian Editor

In fairness, local papers can be serious rabbit hunters when they want to be. Other times, they sit out the season.

Take the case of the Scranton Times and Tribune. Both papers share the same editor. When their local Congressman was accused of choking an "aquaintance" -- a 29 year old woman at his Washington digs -- the papers didn't report on it.

Mind you, Rep Don Sherwood's (R-PA) wife was not there at the time.

The papers share an editor -- Larry Beaupre -- who told the Columbia Journalism Review:

"This is Gary Hart all over again. Does the National Enquirer set the [news] agenda and everyone has to follow it? Are we going to write about the personal life of a politician if it is not criminal, if it is not unethical and if it does not have any effect on his public policy role? If that's the case, how many politicians' sex lives will we examine? I don't think it's fair reporting."

He may not bag any rabbits this season, but Mr Beaupre should be a shoo-in for the Gary Hart/Bill Clinton We-Need-More-Editors-Like-This Award. (WashPost)

The Terrorists -- er, Con Men -- Have Already Won

Congress gave the FBI $114 million of your tax money to go out and catch people ripping off health insurance. Those frauds drive the price of your health care up and often steal Medicare payments -- paid for with your tax dollars.

But catching con-men doesn't grab headlines like going after terrorists. So the FBI took some the money and spent it for other things.

Now that move is buying the FBI some bad press.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says, "It's inexcusable that the government cannot account for millions of dollars set aside to fight health care fraud."

One in every five dollars Washington spends goes to Medicare and Medicaid -- $474 billion last year alone. About $19.9 billion went out in overpayments.

Doing the math, it looks like $114 million to get back that $19.9 billion would be a pretty good investment. That's roughly a 174-to-1 return.

Guess you don't have to be a detective to realize the FBI ain't too good at math. And the Government Accountability Office seems to agree. They have a report saying, "The FBI had no effective mechanism in place" to account for your money. (NYT)

Pushing the Pork out of Homeland Defense

The latest homeland defense bill to clear the House ties spending to where the biggest risk for an attack could be. As the LA Times points out:

"California officials have griped that the nation's most populous state last year received about $310 million -- or $8.75 per person -- while Wyoming received about $18 million -- or $37.52 per capita."
Rep Marion Berry (D-AR) was among those voting against the bill. Upset that the bill "would give Arkansas less money to protect its citizens." Small states have gotten tons of federal money -- at the expense of much more likely targets -- since 9/11.

Take Hamlin County, South Dakota and its homeland security SUV, a Dodge Durago. We told you back in December how that out of the way place got $26,000 for a SUV they can only use in the event of a terrorist attack.

Money lthat used to protect Hamilin County from terrorist plots will now go to protecting things like LAX, the US Capitol, and New York Stock Exchange. (LAT)

Friday, May 13, 2005

War & Pork

Paying for wars already underway is a great way to sneak a few pet projects under the President's pen.

President Bush signed the emergency supplemental act to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and tsunami relief into effect this week. It'll cost you $82 billion -- and take the total cost of the Iraq War to more than $200 billion.

But there's pork a-plenty feeding at the act's trough. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) has rooted a lot of it out:

• $2,000,000 to continue funding for the Southeast Regional Cooling, Heating and Power and Biofuel Application Center in Mississippi
• $4,000,000 to pay off debt at the Fire Sciences Academy in Elko, Nevada
• $2,000,000 for the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences in Michigan

Sen McCain told the Senate, "Are we restraining our spending? No, of course not. We’re at it again, finding new and ever more creative ways to funnel money to the special interests."

Among those special interests the Senator pointed out:

• A viability study for a Rio Grande Silvery Minnow sanctuary
• Completing the Indiana Harbor and Canal disposal project
• San Gabriel Basin restoration in California

Of course, Sen McCain is probably going to feel pretty foolish the minute that a Rio Grande Silvery Minnow uses technology developed at the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences to finally catch Osama bin Laden.

Police Miss the Point of a Missing Kids Law

Police from dozens of agencies around the nation failed to report nearly 4,500 missing and abducted children. They've been required to report them as missing immediately to federal authorities by law since 1990. At least 131 of those kids are still missing. Another 17 are dead.

Thomas Hargrove of Scripps Howard News Service turned up the numbers after combing through data at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (Scripps Howard HT: IRE)

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The Hampton Daily Press in Virginia reports that a federal highway project in their neck of the woods has doubled in cost.

What's more, it's already two years behind schedule, but the contractor could get a $504.000 early-completion bonus anyway. (Daily Press HT: IRE)

Watching the Watchdogs

In the last six years, nearly 300 companies have tried to influence the outcome of Government Accountability Office investigations through lobbying efforts.

The Center for Public Integrity is watching out for the watchdogs in Washington. They looked at lobbying efforts aimed at federal watchdog agencies. GAO wasn't alone. The Center found efforts to influence investigations at places like the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Government Ethics.

The bunch lobbying the GAO the most was the Nuclear Energy Institute. The GAO has released at least three recent reports dealing with things like security at nuclear plants.

One of the more bizarre findings was that the Air Conditioning Contractors of America was among one of the busiest groups lobbying the Federal Election Commission. (Center for Public Integrity)

BRAC by State

The Pentagon has released a state-by-state list of bases set for closure or realignment. There's also a webpage with past BRAC base closings listed by year. (DoD)

Senators Bringing Home a Tax Break -- For Themselves

More than 20 Senators claim a tax credit on their Washington houses -- even though the tax break is allowed only for permanent residents.

Senators are supposed to keep their primary residence in the state they represent. Washington, DC offers a local tax break called the Homestead Deduction for people who make the District their primary residence. But the Kansas City Star found that of the 44 Senators who own a house in the District, nearly half take the deduction.

The Deduction lest people reduce the assessed value of their homes by $38,000. The DC City Council is thinking about raising it to $60,000.

Lawmakers already get a $3,000 tax deduction for having to maintain a second home in the DC area.

Taegan Goddard at Political Wire points to the Kansas City Star story. (KC Star)

A Way With Words

Embattled House Majority Leader (R-TX), speaking at a $250-a-plate fundraising bash, declared Thursday night that Democrats have "no class."

This follows Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calling President Bush "a loser."

Wonder which politician will be the first to call the other side "poopy-face" or simply go "nanny-nanny boo-boo" on one of the Sunday morning talkshows.

Rep DeLay and Sen Reid -- more proof that the only difference between Congress and a kindergarten is that one has adult supervision. (USAToday)

Promised BRAC Savings

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says closing the bases on the BRAC list unveiled today will save taxpayers $48.8 billion over 20 years. USA Today has a good interactive graphic of US military bases. Click on your state to see the number of bases and the number of people employed by the military there. (USAToday)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

BRAC Keeping Close to Home

Don't expect much about bases outside the US in Friday's Base Closings and Realignment (BRAC) announcement. The announcement from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now scheduled from 10:30 am EDT. And it will only deal with bases in the United States -- not overseas. There's been lots of speculation on closing overseas bases -- holdovers from the Cold War. (Watching Washington)

The Sermon and the FDA

Despite FDA denials, an evangelical doctor says he played a major role in blocking approval of over the counter sales of emergency contraception.

The FDA's advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to approve over the counter sale of "Plan B." But the FDA overruled that decision. Critics at the time said the FDA bowed to conservative pressure. The FDA denied that.

They know about drugs and politics at FDA. They didn't think about videotape.

A tape of W. David Hager, a conservative doctor/preacher delivered a sermon back in October taking credit for the FDA's flip-flop:

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision. Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

Dr Hager says he was asked by someone "outside the agency" to write a minority report on Plan B.

Hagar was appointed to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee in 2002. He says in his sermon, the White House asked him to accept the nomination because of issues the administration thought were "critical" coming before the board.

Plan B has been available by prescription since 1999. It's maker, Barr Laboratories wanted it cleared for over the counter sale saying it would likely reduce the number of abortions from unintended pregnancies. (WashPost)

Like London During the Blitz

The Cessna Mess that put official Washington in a tizzie Wednesday isn't scaring people the way these evacuations used to. The White House Press Corps was directed outside and across the street to Lafayette Park. But some journalists were in no hurry -- so the security types sent them to the basement for protection.

There was also no formal announcement of the threat -- despite a public address system in the White House used in the past for announcing evacuations.

But there seems to be a growing calm in the face of such alerts. Mauybe it's the "crys of wolf" or just a sense of being secure. Or maybe we're finally listening to the administration's insistance that we "go about our lives as we normally would."

Over at the Capitol, an AP reporter tells Editor and Publisher that veteran reporters took their time walking out of the building after the warnings. The Capitol Hill Press Corps say the evacuations are becoming routine. One reporter says he and his collegues now make sure they have their keys and Blackberry with them.

About 35,000 people left the Capitol and Congressional Office Buildings, another 200 left the White House during the evacuations. (Editor & Publisher)

BRAC Attack

Washington announces the latest round of military base closings and realignments Friday morning. The impact on towns and states has been described as a "tsunami." At stake: humdreds of millions in federal dollars for local economies, population shifts as military families move out of one town for another, a ripple effect as their kids empty out of schools or create overcrowding in others. The second guessing is going strong:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to deliver the list of bases up for closure and realignment Friday morning at 8:30. (Watching Washington)

Closed Down, Never Cleaned Up

There are 34 former military bases on the EPA's Superfund list -- Washington's list of the worst toxic locations. Closed since 1988, not a single one of them is completely cleaned up.

On top of that, the EPA still hasn't finished cleanups at 100 other Defense Department locations.

The EPA says it'll take another ten years and cost nearly $12 billion when it's done cleaning up the mess.

The report comes as Washington prepares to announce the latest round of base closings Friday morning. (NY Post)

Lincoln Bedroom Still in Business

About a third of the guests who stayed overnight at the White House and Camp David last year were fundraisers or donors to President Bush's campaign.

USA Today got a list of the guests. They include several people who raised $100,000 or more for President Bush's campaign -- among them a Texas art dealer the President named to the Committee on Arts and the Humanities.

Sound familiar? It brings back memories of President Clinton doing much the same thing with his contributors back in the 90s. (USAToday)

Washington's in a Panic, Better Wait Til the President Finishes His Bike Ride to Tell Him

While jet fighters scrambled, people ran out of the Capitol, and Vice President Dick Cheney was whisked to a secure location -- President Bush pedaled calmly along a rural Maryland bike trail.

The terror threat alert at the White House shot up to red -- the highest. The Capitol to orange -- the second highest.

But the President kept riding his bicycle, never issuing an order, never taking a single action.

Don't blame the President. His handlers never told him radar had picked up an incoming plane violating the no fly zone over Washington, DC. They never told him what was going on until the whole incident was over.

It turned out to be no threat. The two people on board were using old charts and won't be charged with anything.

But you'd think if all of official Washington was hunkering for cover, someone would have told the President. Or, you might think, someone should be looking for a new job this morning. (CBS)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

OK, We've Lost Count of These Isolated Incidents

When it happened the first time, the White House called it an "isolated incident." Now a third federal agency has been caught paying a journalist to write favorable stories about an administration pet project.

The Agriculture Department admitted that it paid freelance writer Dave Smith $9,375 for three articles on the wonders of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The articles showed up in Outdoor Oklahoma, and Washington-Oregon Game and Fish. Neither identified Mr Smith as having written the articles on behalf of the government.

Mr Smith just happens to work for the NRCS now. (USAToday)

Ethics and Sour Grapes

Sinclair Broadcast Group is up in arms over an ethics award handed to one of it's former employees.

Remember Sinclair? The broadcasting company that was forced to back off it's Stolen Honor documentary with ties to the Swift Boat Veterans on the eve of the 2004 election? The same Sinclair involved with Armstrong Williams in the "Pundit Payola" scandal? The same Sinclair which promised an investigation into the scandal -- only to have their head honcho, David Smith attend a reception at Mr Williams' home a few days later?

Well, that same David Smith fired off a letter to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication complaining about it's Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. Seems the school gave the award to Jon Lieberman. Mr Lieberman was Sinclair's Washington Bureau Chief until he publicly opposed the Stolen Honor fiasco.

Sinclair fired him and has been hounding him ever since.

Officially, Sinclair fired Mr Lieberman for discussing company business with the Baltimore Sun. Mr Smith pointed out that a Maryland labor judge had ruled Mr Lieberman broke his contract with the company and should be denied the honor -- since he was denied unemployment compensation.

Dean Tim Gleason of the journalism school fired back a letter to Mr Smith with a quick lesson in Ethics 101:

“Mr. Leiberman upheld the fundamental journalist principles of fairness and balance, even at the risk of losing his job. It was a principled stand in the face of significant pressure. [H]e acted in order to uphold values that are central to the practice of journalism in the public interest.”

After his firing, Sinclair Broadcast Group reportedly threatened to sue Mr Lieberman for "liquadated damages" for the ten months remaining on his contract. The no compete clause in his contract still prohibits him from working in television in competition with Sinclair.

This is the state of ethics in Washington these days. It has more to do with "winners and losers" instead of "right and wrong." Congress bends their ethics rules to protect a Congressional leader. The panel is stacked with people who've taken campaign contributions from him. The administration pays journalists to write favorable stories about their pet projects. Then ignore the Government Accountability Office when they're called on the carpet. Ethics are based on who has the clout.

So, a corporate honcho attends a party as a guest of a man he's supposed to investigate. An employee is fired for standing up for principles standard throughout the industry. Not really surprising in the big picture.

Excuse me, Mr Pot. What can you tell me about the kettle? (Romensko)

[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]

The Administration's Color Samples

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says the Bush administration would raise terror alerts based on flimsy evidence. Mr Ridge says he often disagreed with other officials who wanted the alerts raised. He claims his Department was seldom behind raising the alerts, but that demands they be raised came from other parts of the Bush administration.

The Department came under fire last summer, raising the alert at key points in the Presidential campaign. Critics at the time claimed the alerts were aimed at stealing the thunder from the Democratic National Convention or to divert attention from other issues in the campaign.

The color coded alert system, never popular with the public, is targeted for retooling. (USAToday)

Less Bang for Your Buck

Inflation is rising faster than wages in the US. That has real wages -- the buying power of your paycheck -- falling at the fastest rate in 14 years.

The Financial Times reports real wages falling by .9% -- the worst showing since the 1.1% decline at the start of 1991. There are still 22,000 fewer jobs than when the recession started in March, 2001. Analysts say the slow replacement of jobs has made it harder for workers to ask for more pay. (At the same point after the early 1990s recession, job growth was up 4.7%) (Financial Times)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

DeLayed Loyalty

Is your Congressman in cahoots with Rep Tom DeLay (R-TX)? In a show of how favors and campaign funds get traded in Washington, the folks at Public Campaign Action Fund have come up with a "guilt by association" list of Congress members and how closely they're tied to the embattled House Majority Leader. As they describe it:

"We've created a ranking based on how often they vote the way DeLay does, how much DeLay's PAC contributed to them, how much they've contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund, and so on." (PCAF)

Fire, Brimstone, and the IRS

The Baptist preacher who wanted nine members of his church expelled for voting for Democrats may get to testify -- for the IRS.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State are calling for an IRS probe into the East Waynesville Baptist Church in western North Carolina.

Preachers aren't supposed to use the pulpit to endorse candidates or campaign. That can cost a church its tax exempt status. Nine members of the church say Rev Chan Chandler preached politics up to last year's election and kept it up until they were kicked out for failing to toe the GOP party line, even though they all claim to be good Baptists. (Yahoo! News)

Longer Lines to Get Your License

States are balking over Congress' plan to standardize drivers licenses around the US.

Using the umbrella of homeland security, Congress wants states to verify citizenship status of people getting licenses.

That's an expensive propostion for states. And it could mean law abiding drivers have to wait in longer lines at the DMV to get a license. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), Vice-Chair of the National Governors Association told the Associated Press that the states may buck Congress:

"If more than half of the governors agree we're not going down without a fight on this, Congress will have to consider changing this unfunded federal mandate."

Governors worry that Congress' changes could force you to make multiple trips to the license office -- once to provide them with a ton of paperwork, then again to pick up your license. (AP via Yahoo!)

A Red Letter Day

The Edsel of bureaucratic gimmicks may finally be on the way out. The Homeland Security Department, bowing to public criticism -- and a fair share of ridicule -- is ready to whitewash over its color coded alert system.

The pencil pushers are considering new warning systems. They're looking at low level alerts on their website -- similar to what the State Department does. Other alternatives include getting rid of the colors in favor of numbers or letters.

A product of the post-9/11 "we-gotta-do-something-to-look-like-we're-doing-something" mentality that embraced Washington bureaucrats, the color coded chart sits at "Yellow" or "Elevated" status most of the time. It's been raised to "Orange" or "High Risk" six times. But almost always amid confusing, vague descriptions of why we should suddenly become more fearful -- and always accompanied by admonitions to "carry-on-with-your-life-like-we-didn't-just-scare-the-living-bejebus-outa-you." (WashPost)

Presidential Pay and Perks

Newsweek's Gersh Kuntzman explores the finances behind the President's fast food purchases.

It's really a look at the President's expense account. In addition to the President's $400,000 salary, he gets $50,000 a year to pay for incidentals, buying Colin Powell a hamburger is one of the examples Mr Kuntzman documents. And the President doesn't have to keep up with his reciepts.

Mr Kuntzman's efforts to document the President's expenses is a trip through the bureaucracy of Washington bean-counting. (Newsweek via MSNBC)

Veto Showdown Over Road Bill

The Senate's added $11 billion to the highway bill and that doesn't sit well with the White House. That would raise the cost of the bill to $295 billion. The President's threatened to veto any plan that goes beyond what the House wants to spend on the bill -- $284 billion.

Senators say the bill wouldn't add to the federal deficit. But Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says Senators use accounting gimmicks to come to that conclusion. The Secretary says the bill would bankrupt the trust fund of gas tax collections. (LAT)

Logic vs. Politics

Wartime gives a unique view of which military bases are needed and which ones aren't. That's important, because the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) bunch are looking to weed out some military bases to save the Penatgon some money. Analysts say it makes sense to keep the ones going full tilt and close those doing nothing.

But that could slam head on into politics. Where slow moving bases are kept open by powerful allies who represent that district or state in Congress. Military bases pump millions of federal dollars into the local economies surrounding them. Little used bases can become big pork barrels for a politician.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld unveils the list of closures and realignments at 8:30 Friday morning. Friday the 13th.(NY Post)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Prescribing a Big Tax Break to Big Pharma

A new corporate tax break promises to let US drug makers to pocket an extra $75 billion in profits from sales overseas.

These big companies have been opposed to Americans re-importing prescription drugs. They claim that they lose money on drugs shipped overseas. But it seems they've been singing a different tune to the IRS. They've been telling the taxman for years that their profits come from international sales. (NYT)

Spending Billions to Detect Cat Litter

Washington has spent $4.5 billion of your taxes on security devices since 9/11. And a lot of them don't work as promised. So Washington will spend billions more to fix or replace them.

On the fix-it list are devices designed to detect nuclear and biological weapons smuggled into the US. Among the problems reported by the New York Times:

  • Radiation monitors that can't tell the difference between nuclear weapons and cat litter
  • Biological weapons detectors that don't report danger until 36 hours after an attack
  • Postal service devices that check for anthrax -- but only check a fraction of the mail and don't look for other threats

Washington estimates it'll spend $7 billion more on screening equipment in the next few years. Critics are beginning to warn Washington about putting too much faith in machines to protect us.

We got burned before doing that. A reliance on technology like spy satellites and sophisticated eavesdropping didn't tip off the US to 9/11. (NYT)

Fighting Fat

Blue State Republican over at Mike Huckabee President 2008 has an interesting pair of links comparing the cost of the Iraq War to the cost of obesity. As I mentioned Friday, Governor Mike Huckabee lost 110 pounds and is campaigning for healthy diets and exercise.

BSR's post links to House Budget Committe documents showing the Iraq war's cost is $6 billion a month, and to Centers for Disease Control figures that showobesity costs America $9.75 billion a month. (Blue State Republican)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Finally, A Politician Who Cuts the Fat

Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) is known for writing books when he isn't running the Natural State. His latest book is Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. It details how he lost 110 pounds. His doctor told him to lose the weight and he's been weighing in on how much better he feels ever since.

Now, Governor Huckabee and one of his predecessors who also lost weight for health reasons are teaming up to cut fat. He and President Bill Clinton are campaigning with the American Heart Association against childhood obesity. President Clinton lost his weight after heart bypass surgery.

Island Pork and a Lobbyist's Pockets

Your tax dollars were used to buy votes -- that benefited a lobbyist.

The Los Angeles Times reports that two former aides of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) meddled in Siapan politics -- with US tax dollars -- to win a lobbying deal for Jack Abramoff. Mr Abramoff is at the center of grand jury and House Ethics Committee probes into Rep DeLay.

Aides Edwin Buckham and Michael Scanlon went to the US Territory of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1999. They lobbied a pair of local lawmakers to swing their votes for a new Speaker of the House in the territory. That new Speaker then pressured the Governor to restore the lobbying contract the Islands had with Mr Abramoff.

Shortly after that, Mr Abramoff had a $100,000 a month contract with Siapan.

And the two lawmakers suddenly had big chuncks of federal money flowing into their district. The LA Times reports Rep DeLay was apparently behind their sudden pork barrel money. (LAT)

Your Tax Dollars at Work -- Paying for a Lobbyist

The lobbyist at the heart of the Tom DeLay ethics accustations had close ties early on with the Bush administration. The Associated Press reports that Jack Abramoff and his firm had nearly 200 contacts with the administration during it's first 10 months in the White House.

Mr Abramoff represents interests in the US Territory of the Northern Mariana Islands who want to keep the territory exempt from US minimum wage laws. He raised $100,000 toward President Bush's election in 2000. He's also bragged that he got part of the 2000 GOP Platform changed to benefit his client.

Lobbying against extending US labor law to the islands, Mr Abramoff's crew also won $2 million in federal aid from the Bush administration for his clients. He told the Marianas government that money could be used to pay the lobbying bill. (AP via USAToday)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How is the Monster Raving Loony Party Doing?

It's election day across the pond. Cyberjournalist.net has a list of links to help you keep track of the British elections. [By the way, if you're really interested in the fortunes of the Monster Raving Loony Party, you can check out their site.] (Cyberjournalist.net)

The Cost of a Free Press

The Freedom Forum has added 78 names of journalists who died last year covering the news to the Journalists Memorial. 2004 was the third deadliest year for journalists since 1812. In 1994, 94 journalists died and in 1991, 93 died due largely to conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and drug violence in Columbia.
Of the 74 names added this week, 25 died covering the war in Iraq. A total of 45 journalists have died in the two years of the Iraq War. That compares with 69 who died in all of World War II and 63 who died in 20 years of the Vietnam and southeast Asian conflicts. (Freedom Forum)

What Good Does It Do To Stack the Cards if You Don't Get to Deal?

The House Ethics Committee will be two people short when they investigate House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). A couple of the Republicans on the panel gave money to Rep DeLay's defense fund. So they've withdrawn from the probe. Democrats had been complaining for months that the GOP leadership put Rep Larmar Smith (R-TX) and Rep Tom Cole (R-OK) on the Committee to give Rep DeLay an edge.

Rep DeLay faces questions about his travel. He's accused of taking a trip paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's against House rules to accept travel form lobbyists. (MSNBC)

Congress Flying High With Coporate Interests

Rep Roy Blunt (R-MO) has hopped flights on corporate jets belonging to at around 30 companies that have interests before Congress.

No long lines, no security checks, and plenty of leg room.

Rep Blunt isn't alone. He's one of a dozen current and former Congressional leaders in key positions to fly on corporation owned jets. The Washington Post reports the jet-setting dozen took 360 flights between January 2001 and December 2004.

Reps Blunt and Tom DeLay (R-TX) are the two most frequent fliers on the list -- taking about one flight every 10 days. A total of 140 flights between them. Others on the list:

  • Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- 38 flights
  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) -- 15 flights
  • House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) -- 7 flights

Republican leaders took 265 flights since 2001, Democrat leaders took 95.

Congressmen get a taxpayer funded allowance to fly commercial flights. But there is no limit on the number of flights they can take on a company's plane. The flights don't fall under laws meant to limit corporate influence on Congress.

And what industries did the Post find paying for the flights?

  • Tobacco
  • Telecommunications
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Securities

And a host of other industries from restaurant chains to railroads.

Post reporters called some of the companies that provided the planes. Many of the companies say the Congressmen solicited the flights and the companies granted them the planes in an effort to get favors from the Congressmen.

Something to think about next time you're packed into coach nibbling on pretzels. (WashPost via MSNBC)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Postal Execs Moving on Your Dime

Work for the Postal Service and pocket up to $25,000 when you move. The Service hands out the moving money, no questions asked, no reciepts required when their top brass move.

One senior vice president moved three times between 1998 and 2001 and pocketed a grand total of $75,000. The Post Office had to sell 202,703 stamps to cover that move.

Another 265 top execs got $10,000 each for their moves, and 10 got the full 25-grand treatment. That comes to 7,837,838 stamps.

The Senate Finance Committee gathered the information. Then they went and talked to the folks at the American Moving and Storage Association.

They say that depending on the size of the household, some of the people may have pocketed more than $6,000 of a $10,000 stipend. (USAToday)

Got an Atomic Bomb in that Shipping Container? No? Okay, Mr Bin Laden, We'll have to Take Your Word for It.

Washington has put radiation detectors at only two of 20 high-risk shipping ports. The Government Accountability Office investigated nuclear security and found it's pretty weak. The GAO report also found the Energy Department doesn't even have plans to expand the security system past 2010. The GAO says that'll make it hard to tell if the Department is making any progress in securing ports against nuclear smuggling.

The Energy Department set up the program to catch nuclear smuggling in foreign countries before it leaves ports for the US. Washington has spent more than $40 million dollars so far, but only has systems in place in Greece and the Netherlands.

About 7 million shipping containers come into the US every year. That's so many that US Customs can't inspect every one. They don't have enough people. Only about 3% of the containers get a good going over once they get here. The other 6.79 million or so are assessed on the risk they pose based on the country of origin, shipper, and other factors. (CBS)

Your $9 Million PR Education

Armstrong Williams $240,000 in the "Payola Pundit Scandal" was a drip in the Education Department's PR budget. The Associated Press has gone through records and found the Department spent $9 million of your money on public relations in the past few years. That includes:

The records also show that Ketchum closely watched for their messages to pop up in the media nationwide -- from interviews Mr Williams conducted to airing of video news releases (VNRs).

VNRs look like regular news stories, but are designed to drive a carefully crafted, partisan point home. Some TV stations aired Bush administration VNRs without mentioning they came from the government. Critics have accused the administration of "covert propaganda" in using the VNRs.

Ketchum would give points to education reporters who made the Bush administration look good. But the company insists that didn't affect the way they treat reporters.

Gotta trust 'em. They're in PR. They wouldn't lie. Again. (AP via Newsday)

[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]