Tuesday, May 31, 2005
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)
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)
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)
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)
Monday, May 30, 2005
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 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)
Saturday, May 28, 2005
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
"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)
He's registered to lobby on enforcing judgements won under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
"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)
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 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)
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)
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)
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
Seems "red states" will gain 11,000 jobs and "blue states" will lose 25,000. (Raw Story)
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)
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)
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)
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
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"
- "Gullible's Travels"
Sure beats another name ending in "-gate." (WashPost)
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)
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!)
Stay tuned for updates on Steven Segal's Senate bid. (AP via Yahoo!)
Friday, May 20, 2005
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]
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)
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]
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)
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)
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)
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 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
Adjust for inflation, and the Korean War would cost $350 billion. So far, Congress has spend $320 billion on the Iraq War. (USAToday)
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
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)
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.
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)
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)
"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!)
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
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
"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
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Thursday, May 12, 2005
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)
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)
- The Christian Science Monitor reports "US Towns Brace for Base-Closing Wave"
- USA Today reports on how "States Challenge Pentagon on Closing National Guard Bases"
- CNN reports things may not be so dire as local interests fear in "Base Closings May Be Reduced"
- ABC gives you a picture of facts, figures, and what it means with their "Primer: Understanding Military Base Realignment and Closure"
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)
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)
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
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)
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 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)
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
"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)
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)
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!)
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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)
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
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?
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
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.
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)
- $5.45 million (the largest share) to Hager Sharp to promote the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
- $1.69 million to ZGS Communications about various Department programs
- $1.3 million to the Ketchum firm (which hired Mr Williams) to tout the No Child Left Behind law
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]