Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Supreme Court Nomination Blog

The legal eagles who run SCOTUSblog have a new weblog up and running -- The Supreme Court Nomination Blog. Lots of links every day to the latest news and speculation on the high court. (SCOTUSblog)

Nixon's Deep Throat

Did Nixon have his own "Deep Throat" at the Washington Post?

A USA Today reporter got his hands on a copy of Bob Woodward's The Secret Man. The book about Deep Throat isn't due out until Wednesday, but a Virginia bookstore put some out early by accident.

In it, Bob Woodward worried that someone at the Post was leaking information about the paper's sources to the Nixon White House. Mr Woodward was convinced it led the Nixon administration very close to determining Mark Felt was Deep Throat. (USA Today)

Secret Man

USS Vincennes Decommissions

The Navy decommissioned USS Vincennes yesterday. The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser is most famous as the ship that accidentally shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988. At least 290 people died. The incident happened in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. The ship's crew thought the plane was an Iranian Air Force F-14 headed toward the ship.


ABC's Nightline recounted the engagement four years later. (Navy Newsstand)[Photo Credit: US Navy]

Thought Police at PBS

What makes you a liberal? Ask Fred Mann. He was the Republican consultant Public Broadcasting honcho Kenneth Tomlinson hired to monitor the politics of guests appearing on NPR & PBS shows. He divided people into three categories: conservative, liberal, and neutral.

The Washington Post's Robin Wright got a liberal label. Why? Look at Mr Mann's notes:
"Ms. Wright's viewpoint was that U.S. intelligence was geared to fight the Cold War and did not adapt to the new threat of terrorism."
The whole, 58-page report, paid for with your tax dollars, can be found here. (Romenesko)

Losing the Ratings War


President Bush's speech earlier this week on Iraq was the lowest rated speech since his pre-9/11 address on stem cell research. (Reuters via Yahoo!)

Time to Give In

Time Magazine has decided to turn over notes on confidential sources in the Vaerie Plame case. A grand jury is trying to figure out who in the Bush White House leaked information to the media a couple of years ago that Ms Plame was a CIA agent. One of the reporters the grand jury called was Time reporter Matthew Cooper.

Mr Cooper never wrote any article based on the information -- but a prosecutor demanded he give up his source. Mr Cooper refused and, after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, was facing jail time in a week.

A judge ordered Time to turn over the notes instead. Mr Cooper had asked Time not to. But the move will prevent him from serving time.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller also faces 120 days in jail for refusing to give up her source. She never wrote a story about the case either. Commentator Robert Novak first used the information in a column identifying Valarie Plame as a CIA agent. He never testified before the grand jury and faces no threat of jail time. (NYT)

The Poll Driven President

The President's message on the Iraq War earlier this week was crafted in part by an expert on public opinion polling. The Washington Post offers this analysis:

"The White House recently brought onto its staff one of the nation's top academic experts on public opinion during wartime, whose studies are now helpingBush craft his message two years into a war with no easy end in sight."
The administration's relying on work by Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi. They've published work on public opinion about Iraq and past wars.

Dr Feaver served on the staff of the Clinton administration's National Security Council. He joined the Bush White House about a month ago.

They argue the key to political victory for the President is to convince the American people the US is in Iraq to win. That image of resolve can be more important to maintaining public support for the war than an actual strategy to win the war. Polling trumps policy.

That goes a long way to explain why the President's address to the nation earlier this week was long on rhetoric and short on substance. (WashPost)

Looking for Money in a Rival's Backyard

Sen Hillary Clinton (D-NY) crossed the Potomac for a intimate little fundraiser in Gov Mark Warner's (D-VA) hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Both are seen as likely contenders for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

About 200 Virginians turned out to hand out checks to the former First Lady. The money was for Sen Clinton's re-election bid in New York next year. But it does put some Virginia Democrats -- including the event's organizers -- in an awkward position since they've pledged support to their native son in 2008. (WashPost)

Robbing Peter to Pay Big Bird

The Washington Post's David Broder explains where Washington got the money to keep public broadcasting fully funded. A massive letter and e-mail campaign convinced Congress to restore a planned $100 million cut.

But that money had to come from somewhere. So Congress took it away from health care, education, and job-training services. (WashPost via Tacoma News Tribune)

Army Battling Divorces

Army divorce rates have nearly doubled since 2001. It's particularly high among officers: 1.9% in 2002, 6% in 2004.

Longer and more frequent deployments get the blame. The Army's started new programs, counselling services, support groups, and hot lines to countrer the problem. (WVLT-TV)

You Can Tell it's Not an Election Year

The FBI is telling local law enforcement across the US that there is no specific terror threat over the July 4th holiday weekend. So, everybody, live your lives as you normally would. (WVLT-TV)

Playing Politics with Terri Schiavo

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute finds Florida voters disagree 2-to-1 with Governor Jeb Bush's (R-FL) order to investigate whether Michael Schiavo waited too long before calling 911 when his wife Terri collapsed in 1990.

Those disagreeing say they think the order was based on politics instead of genuine beliefs. (Gainesville Sun)

Feel Safer Yet? Part 6

The Homeland Security Department is supposed to look out for terrorists. But it seems they can't even spot con artists -- er, contractors -- taking advantage of the Department to get to your tax money. A new frederal audit questions $303 million of $741 million spent to hire passenger screeners. The Washington Post has a great graphic showing what your tax dollars paid for. Among the items found in the audit:

  • $526.95 for one phone call from a Hyatt Regency in Chicago to Iowa City
  • $1,180 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee -- $3.69 a cup
  • $1,540 to rent 14 extension cords at $5 each per day for three weeks

The Defense Contract Audit Agency crunched the numbers. They found contractors charging Uncle Sam $48 an hour for $20 an hour temps, $377,000 in unsupported long-distance charges, and $4.4 million in "no show" fees for job applicants who never showed up. (WashPost)

Secret Stuff

Rep Robin Hayes (R-NC) is convinced Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. He says those who don't agree just haven't seen the right intelligence reports.

Apparently no one has seen the intel reports Rep Hayes has seen. Back in September, 2003, President Bush said:
"We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11 [attacks]."

And the 9/11 Commission found al Qaeda actually sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in parts of Iraq and no evidence that Saddam and Osama bin Laden ever cooperated:
"Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."
Rep Hayes says members of his House subcommittee have access to intel others don't. You'd think they might share that with the President. (CNN)

Didn't We Meet in Tehran, I was Wearing a Blindfold, You Had a Bullwhip?

The new Iranian President looks familiar to some of the Americans held hostage in Iran in the late 70s. They claim President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waqs present at some of their interrogations:

"This is the guy. There's no question about it. You could make him a blond and shave his whiskers, put him in a zoot suit and I'd still spot him."

--Chuck Scott, former Iran hostage
quoted in USA Today

Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Iran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days from 1979 to 1980. (USAToday)

Prodding Karl Rove with a Poll points to a Gallup Organization review to show Karl Rove got it wrong when he claimed liberals wanted to coddle terrorists after 9/11. A Gallup Poll conducted October 19-21, 2001 showed 4 in 5 liberals wanted military action in Afghanistan. (

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Your Hired Hands Want a $3,100 Pay Raise

The US House agreed to raise their salaries by $3,100 a year to $165,200 a year. Mind you, Congressmen get a yearly raise like this unless they vote against it. No vote was allowed, so the raise takes effect next year.

Purists, like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) argue that calling it a "pay raise" is wrong when it's really a COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment):
"It's not a pay raise. It's an adjustment so that they're not losing their purchasing power."
--Tom DeLay (R-TX),
quoted on 2006 Congressional Pay Raise

Congress has allowed itself a raise every year since 1998. By the way, the minimum wage has been at $5.15 since Congress last raised it in 1996 -- two years before Congress' string of four digit pay raises for itself. (AP)

Maybe They Were Using "Fuzzy Math"

The Bush administration admits it seriously "misunderestimated' the number of troops coming home from the wars and needing some medical care.

They thought only about 23,553 wounded or sick soldiers could come home from Afghanistan and Iraq this year. They've upped that estimate to 103,000.

That means it's going to cost more to take care of them. Earlier, the Veterans Administration said it was $1 billion short. New documents show the Department is closer to $2.6 billion.

Just this week, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson went with hat in hand to the House Appropriations Committee to explain the $1 billion shortfall. Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) said waiting so long to tell Congress "borders on stupidity."

"Somebody was hoping they could hide the ball for a while and talk about it later, and frankly in this arena you can't afford to do that."

--Rep Jerry Lewis (R-CA),
quoted in the Washington Post

Republican Senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee chipped in an extra $1.5 billion to cover the earlier reported loss. Now they may have to come up with another billion. (WashPost, HT: Tracey Vail)

Trouble In The House

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents from Rep Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). Back in 2003, Rep Cunningham sold his house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1.675 million dollars.

Mr Wade later sold the house and took a $700,000 loss. Rep Mitchell, meanwhile has been living rent-free on Mr Wade's yacht in DC.

Shortly after the house sale, Mr Wade's company suddenly saw millions in defense contracts come its way -- possibly through the influence of Rep Cunningham's post on the House Appropriations Committee.

The Pentagon has now stopped future dealings with Mr Wade's company. And Mr Wade has stepped aside as its head honcho. (WashPost)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Campaign contributors are reaping profits from a GOP White House and Congressional majority. Check out the cause and effect:
  • Big tobacco gave $2.7 million to GOP candidates, 3-to-1 over Democrats -- The Justice Department slashed their request for a $130 billion penalty on tobacco companies in a court case to just 8% of what experts had testified it should be
  • Securities and investment firms kicked in $47.8 million to the GOP -- President Bush appointed Rep Christopher Cox (R-CA) with a very pro-corporate record to head up the SEC, the Commission that regulates the industry
  • Energy and timber interests gave 39.3 million to Republicans -- the administration lifted bans on road construction, timber harvesting, mining, and oil & gas projects in national forests
The rewards are worth billions -- the tobacco action alone saves contributors $116 billion. That's a 42,962 to 1 return on their investment. May be part of why the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating that move. (USAToday)

Redefining Iraq, Part Umpteen

President Bush is redfining the US mission in Iraq to conform to his strength in political polls at home.

This isn't the first time President Bush has redefined the mission in Iraq. Think Progress has a list of several "defining moments" from the White House's own archives showing when President Bush redefined the mission before.

Speaking to an audience at Fort Bragg -- and televised live across the nation -- the President laid out a sales pitch for his policy in Iraq on the first anniversary of the Coalition Provisional Authority turning over the reigns to Iraqis.

The fight President Bush once defined as against a "grave and growing danger" posed by Iraq possessing WMDs, is now a fight against terrorism.

Playing to Peoria

President Bush's new message attempts to take advantage of his greatest polling positives -- the war on terror. The latest polls in the media obviously reflect what his own polling is telling him -- he's losing public support for his Iraq policy but people still think he's doing OK in the fight against terror.

The latest USAToday/CNN/Gallup poll just this week showed only one in three Americans believed the US was winning the Iraq War.

But back in November, a slim majority of voters saw the Iraq War and the War on Terror as one in the same. Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder says that was a bigger pluss than the so-called "morals voters" for Mr Bush's re-election:

"In polls taken during the campaign season (collated by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes).... On election day, the exit polls asked: 'Is the war in Iraq part of the war on terrorism?' The 54% who said "yes" went for Bush by a margin of 4 to 1. The 43% who said "no" went for Kerry by 9 to 1."

That was a good day for the Bush campaign.

The Bush administration's theory is that if Americans see Iraq as part of the War on Terror -- they will take their support of the President's handling of terrorism to a new support for the War on Terror. The Administration runs the risk, though, of American's taking their negative perceptions of how the Iraq War is going to the President's handling of terror. (Watching Washington)

Bush Iraq Speech: By The Numbers

President Bush referred to "September 11" five times in his Fort Bragg Speech. He didn't mention "weapons of mass destruction" a single time. Think Progress does the math:
  • References to “September 11″: 5
  • References to “weapons of mass destruction”: 0
  • References to “freedom”: 21
  • References to “exit strategy”: 0
  • References to “Saddam Hussein”: 2
  • References to “Osama Bin Laden”: 2
  • References to “a mistake”: 1 (setting a timetable for withdrawal)
  • References to “mission”: 11
  • References to “mission accomplished”: 0
(Think Progress)

Word-for-Word: President Bush's Speech at Fort Bragg

If you were watching The Daily Show, here's the transcript of President Bush's Iraq policy speech. (WashPost)

California Cash

California is in the midst of a budget crunch. That isn't worrying the highest paid people in state government. The number of state workers making more than $132,000 last year almost doubled in the past two years -- nearly 2,000 make the big bucks. The San Francisco Chronicle has a searchable database to let taxpayers on the left coast see who the highest paid people are. (SF Chronicle)

Freeing a Man to Fight -- At a Huge Salary

Uncle Sam wants private contractors. PBS's Frontline found that the US relies on 20,000 private security forces and 100,000 civilian contractors in combat zones. They serve supply lines, run US bases, and even guard the top brass. Private contractors make more money than Army Privates -- anywhere from $400 to $1,000 a day. (Frontline)

The Think Tank You Own -- Now You Can Read Their Reports

Taxpayers shell out $100 million a year for the Congressional Research Service. They crank out study after study to keep your Congress members informed. But you haven't had an easy way to read those same reports -- until now.

The Open CRS project is putting those reports on the Internet so you can access them for free.

Recent reports include Funding Facts and Status on public broadcasting and Policies and Proposals on gasoline prices. (Open CRS)

We Seemed to Have Missplaced Your Application -- Along With a Quarter-Million Others

Still waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to call you back? You could be one of the 230,000 people to apply for a job with them -- only to have them lose your application.

The applications were online -- handled by Monster Government Solutions -- part of

That was enough for DHS to fire Monster -- but only after paying the company half it's $753,000 contract.

If they can't find your resume -- makes you wonder how they're doing finding terrorists. (WashPost)

Is That Political Capital All Spent?

How's the President doing in your state? Survey USA has a state-by-state breakdown of his approval rating.

The President has a 50% or higher disapproval rate now in these nine states he carried back in November:

New Mexico
North Carolina

(Survey USA, HT:

This Just In from the Tomb of Thomas Jefferson -- The Spinning Sound Seems to be Slowing Down

The First Amendment Center is out with numbers tracking what Americans think about their namesake. Seems 9/11 had Americans wanting to eliminate some of those freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly -- all in the name of security.

USA Today reports on their numbers:

The percentage of people who say the First Amendment 'goes too far in the rights it guarantees' has fallen dramatically. In 2002, the year after the terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, almost 50% of those polled said the amendment goes too far. This year, just 23% felt that way.


Hey, CIA Guys! Quit Watching TV and Get Back to Work!

Remember those terror attack warnings back around Christmas, 2003? The crazy-quilt color code got bumped up a notch, flights between Europe and the US were suddenly canceled, people were told attacks could come at any time -- but go about life as usual.

Nothing happened.

Seems the CIA jumped on some bogus info.

Anaylsts watching Arabic-langauge Al-Jazeera television thought they'd cracked a code in that crawl the runs across the bottom of news channels.

Maybe they were staring too long -- but they were convinced they'd seen dates, flight numbers, and map coordinates for tiny Tappahanock, Virginia. Michael Moore included the terror alert about the small town in his movie, Fahrenheit 911:

[Michael Moore is interviewing citizens from Tappahonnock, Virginia, population 2,016]

Michael Moore: Is there any terrorist target around here?

Tappahannock Woman: [Gesturing towards the restaurant behind her] We have a big spaghetti supper in here.


Intelligence experts question the CIA's approach -- one compares it to "reading tea leaves." Even Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security Secretary at the time, called it "bizzare." (NBC)

Speaking of Iraq

Around two years after his "Mission Accomplished" speech -- President Bush returns to a military setting to again speak to the American people about America's future in Iraq.

The speech two years ago was a fantastic photo-op for the President: Landing on a carrier deck, stepping out in a Navy flight suit, addressing troops on the deck beneath that banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."

That speech was supposed to provide closure for "major combat operations."

But after that the White House confirmed there'd never been any WMDs in Iraq, then the insurgency, and more troops dying than in those major combat operation. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans no longer support the President's handling of Iraq. His own polls included -- or he wouldn't be delivering tonight's speech.

The President addresses the nation tonight from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. No "Mission Accomplished" banner tonight. Americans need more than a slogan or a buzzword. So the White House promises the President will give specifics about his political and military strategy for Iraq.

He's been talking up Iraq for the past week. It was the subject of his weekly radio address Saturday. Some political analysts believe the Karl Rove comments on liberals wanting to coddle terrorists after 9/11 was designed to muddy the waters -- again -- between the War on Terror (where Mr Bush does well in the polls) and the Iraq War (where Mr Bush is taking a beating in the polls).

Tonight's speech comes on the first anniversary of the US turning over control of Iraq to the Iraqi people. (Boston Globe)

Billions in Contract Abuse -- Take that Taxpayers!

Pentagon auditors have turned up $1.3 billion in "questioned" costs and another $548 million in "unsupported" costs in Halliburton's Iraq contracts. At the same time, a top Army procurement officer turned whistle-blower -- Bunny Greenhouse -- told Congress that Halliburton produced the worst federal contract abuse she's ever seen:
"'I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR (Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root) represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.'"
--Bunny Greenhouse, Testimony to Congress
Ms Greenhouse saw Halliburton in action while serving as lead procurement officer at the Army Corps of Engineers. (Australian Broadcasting Company)

Just Great

Ending the Cold War greater than saving the union? Winning the Tour de France greater than commanding the Normandy invasion? Hosting a talk show more important than inventing the airplane or walking on the moon?

Some of the value judgements of Americans who voted on "The Greatest American."

Here's the top 20:

1 Ronald Reagan
2 Abraham Lincoln
3 Martin Luther King Jr
4 George Washington
5 Benjamin Franklin
6 George W Bush
7 Bill Clinton
8 Elvis Presley
9 Oprah Winfrey
10 Franklin D Roosevelt
11 Billy Graham
12 Thomas Jefferson
13 Walt Disney
14 Albert Einstein
15 Thomas Alva Edison
16 John F Kennedy
17 Bob Hope
18 Bill Gates
19 Eleanor Roosevelt
20 Lance Armstrong


Didn't See This Coming Back in '92

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the same boat. Mr Clinton was in the neighborhood signing some books and dropped by the other former President's summer house in Kennebunkport, Maine. They waved to people on the shore as they roared out into the Atlantic. When Mr Bush heard his 1992 election rival would be at the local Borders, he called Mr Clinton and invited him over.

The two became good friends while working together to raise relief money for last year's tsunami victims. (CNN)

Help Wanted: Pesticide Testers

Here's a job for you -- letting bug spray compaines hose you down with their pesticides to see if you break out in a rash, get good and sick, or die.

A panel of experts came up with all kinds of ethical safeguards for human testing of pesticides last year. Presented them to the EPA.

But this is Washington, where ethics are relative...and the connection between regulators and the companies they regulate are practically incestous.

So the EPA is leaving out a bunch of those pesky "ethical" safeguards when it issues new rules. Companies won't have to be so careful when testing poisons on people. They no doubt breathed a deep sigh of relief. You in the testing chamber -- don't breathe so deeply. (WashPost)

One Year Later -- Iraq

It's been a year since the US turned over sovereignty to Iraq. The Defense Department website is loaded with background on the anniversary.

Iraq Note

Note from Condi Rice to President Bush one year ago. The President wrote
"Let Freedom Reign on it after he read it.

A Fact Sheet details what the administration and the Coalition Provisional Authority had planned for Iraq a year ago.

There's also a timeline leading up to the turnover of power last year. It starts with President Bush telling the UN that Iraq is a "Grave and gathering danger." (DoD)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Karl Rove's Fighting Words

There may not be many of them but liberals in the US military are fighting mad over Presidential advisor Karl Rove's comments that liberals wanted to coddle terrorists rather than fight them after 9/11. Liberals in uniform are opening fire on Mr Rove at Take the Fight to Karl, a blog that claims to verify a poster's military credentials before posting their Karl Rove Complaint. (Take it to Karl HT: Chris Woods @ Political Forecast)

A Billion Missing Bucks? We've Got Other Problems First

The Veterans Affairs Department is coming up $1 billion short on what it needs to pay for vets' health care. So what was on the agenda for a weekly conference call over at the medical part of the VA?

The Secretary's picture.

You know, the Cabinet Secretary for each department gets his or her picture on the wall of every office under their charge.

And it turns out, some of those offices have been tardy in hanging up those pictures.

Al Kamen's In the Loop column at the Washington Post has an actual transcript of the conference call:

"Unfortunately, however," [Deputy Undersecretary Laura ] Miller continued, "there are many facilities that currently do not have the picture displayed. I am aware that the mailings of the pictures occurred on April 22, 2005." So that's more than five full weeks.

"Dr. Perlin" -- that's Jonathan B. Perlin , undersecretary for health, who revealed the $1 billion shortfall after being grilled by committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) -- "and I cannot stress the importance of this enough," she said. "We are asking that you give this your highest priority. We will continue to ask for daily updates on the status until we are assured that all of our facilities have a current picture displayed."

Not all VA officials put the picture as top priority. Mr Kamen talked to one who didn't want his name in print:

"And here we're trying to figure out where our next patient meal is coming from and what furniture to sell to buy drugs next year."

But just walking into a VA hospital and seeing Secretary Jim Nicholson's smiling face has got to make you feel better, huh? (WashPost)

Your Freedom of Speech, Carefully Handed Out by Your Government

Yelm, Washington Mayor Adam Rivas won't let citizens speak to the city council if they bring up "Wal-Mart" or "big-box" stores. The city attorney says the city doesn't want to look biased if Wal-Mart appeals a building application before the council.

A couple of months ago, Wal-Mart opponents wanted a moratorium on big-box stores. But the council passed a moratorium on moratoriums -- no moratoriums on anything before the council. (Seattle PI)

Staked Out

Rehnquist -- Library of CongressOConnoerstevens

[Photo Credit: US Government]

National media attention is focused today on three members of the US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Sandra Day O'Conner & John Paul Stevens.

Reporters are waiting to see if any -- or all -- of them will tender their resignations as the Supreme Court concludes their session -- a traditional time for Justices to announce retirement.

Itching for a Fight

Taegan Goddard's points to a National Journal poll that shows Republicans are itching for a fight over a Supreme Court nominee. Democrats want someone who won't cause a fight. Politicians apparently believe a fight will only boost Republicans' sagging fortunes. (

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Throwing Himself on a Hand Grenade -- And Shooting His Party in the Foot

It's been a hard week for the GOP PR machine. The majority party -- likely going into a tough fight to name a new Supreme Court Justice in the next couple of weeks just couldn't win. No doubt this weekend has been like a half-time locker room session of a championship team taking a beating from the league's losers. In the end, President Bush's top advisor took one for the team. But like everything else the GOP did this week, it seems he crossed the wrong goal line.

The Party of No vs. the Party of No Plan

Republicans accuse Democrats of being the "Party of No" -- simply opposing anything the Republicans bring up. A better name might be "The Party of Give the GOP Enough Rope."

New polls from the national media reflect what the politicians at the White House and RNC see in their own million dollar data dumps: the President's two waddles from becoming a lame duck. That has Republicans trying to distance themselves from the President willy nilly -- a bunch of headless chickens refusing to follow the lame duck.

The bottom line is the Republicans have spent nearly 8 months since the last election trying to come up with something the American people actually support. As time ticks down to the next election and the Party in charge of the White House and Congress seems blocked at every turn -- there's mounting frustration in RNC HQ at 310 First Street, SE -- and that has to be worrying the boss over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Losing Control

The signs have been there for weeks. Republicans -- facing off-year elections next year -- have gotten an early start distancing themselves from President Bush:
  • When GOP leaders finally introduced a Social Security bill, it was conspicuously missing the President's private account plan
  • Sen Mel Martinez (R-FL) -- a former Bush cabinet member -- has joined the call for closing the detention camp at Gitmo
  • Rep Walter Jones (R-NC) -- the man who coined the term "freedom fries" in protest of France's lack of support for the Iraq War -- has joined the French -- and a majority of Americans -- in opposing the war
But this week saw three high profile setbacks in a row:
  • The Truth About Hillary is that if you write a book blasting a Clinton, it only plays into his or her favor. Billed as a book that would sink her presidential aspirations, even Peggy Noonan and Bill O'Reilly are terrified it has backfired big time and will now help her campaign
  • Rep John Hostettler (R-IN) demonized Democrats by saying they "demonized Christians." He specifically targeted a Catholic and a Jewish Congressman in opposing an amendment to a defense bill calling for more religious tolerance at the Air Force Academy. Rep Hostettler apologized and the next day the Air Force confirmed an atmosphere of religious intolerance toward traditional Christians, Jews, and other non-Evangelical views at the AFA
  • Karl Rove attempted to send the record of America's uncommon unity after 9/11 down the "memory hole." He told a New York audience that liberals wanted to coddle terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attack -- even though the Congressional Record shows united, overwhelming support for military action and other tough action
Rove vs. Lincoln

Mr Rove threw himself on a political hand grenade to rally the GOP around their leader. But he has only galvanized the Democrats. And independents and moderates and everyone else who remembers the uncommon sense of national unity that persisted in the weeks after 9/11.

Just as the Bush White House has never been able to convince the majority of Americans that the War on Terror and the Iraq War are part of the same fight -- the American people see through the partisan politics of Mr Rove's statements in New York.

And as Republicans rally 'round Rove -- they may not notice the damage he's done to the Party. The base, staunch Democrats and Republicans, make up only about 20% each of the electorate. It's that vast, 60% of independents and moderates who ultimately decide what's best for America.

As another Republican -- far smarter and infinitely more eloquent that Mr Rove once said:

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
--Abraham Lincoln

The American people have never liked being made fools of. They didn't like it when Osama bin Laden did it on 9/11. They won't stand for it from Karl Rove -- one of their own -- as he tries it today.

Abraham Lincoln knew what dividing a country could do. He also understood it was more important to unite us than divide us. Maybe Mr Rove missed that day in history class. (Watching Washington)
[Crossposted at]

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Missing Billion Bucks

Rising medical costs have caught the Veterans Affairs Department by surprise. They need an extra $1 billion this year to pay veterans' medical bills.

Rising health care costs are creeping up fast on the military. Back in April, the Pentagon said that health care costs for troops and their families had shot up from $18 billion to $36 billion in just the last four years.

At the time, Congressional leaders suggested the Pentagon start cutting benefits to service members and their familes. In May, Armed Services Comittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) killed a plan to allow Reservists and National Guardsmen to purchase health insurance through the military's TRICARE system. The Pentagon estimates that 1-in-5 citizen service members can't afford private health insurance. (

Bob Dole Would Have Fought This BIll

The House voted 285-121 to ban Medicare and Medicaid from paying for Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs. The Congressional Budget Office figures without the ban, Uncle Sam would end up paying $2 billion on such drugs over the next decade. (CNN)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Masking the Real Burning Issue

Once again, the US House has passed a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag burning -- and other forms of desecration. It's the sixth time they've done it since 1995 -- all the other attempts died in the Senate.

Would President Bush face a fine or jail time
for autographing flags at public appearances?

It's a simple enough Amendment, just one sentence:

Article -- `The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.'

It's sponsored by Rep Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), a fellow who needs a bit of good press -- the kind that comes with wrapping yourself in the flag. Rep Cunningham recently sold his house to a defense contractor -- at about $700,000 dollars more than the house was worth. Right after that, the contractor got some defense contracts -- with Rep Cunningham's fingerprints all over them -- worth millions to the contractor.

Once again I have to argue this plan does not go far enough. I can't support any Amendment that fails to specifically state that a politician wrapping himself in the flag is the worst form of desecration. (LAT)

Who Ya Gonna Believe?

"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

--Vice President Dick Cheney
CNN, May 31, 2005

"I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago. [The level of the insurgency is] about the same."

-- GEN John Abizaid, Commander, US Central Command
Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee
June 23, 2005

(Detroit Free Press)

Rove's Rewrite of History

Remember the unity that swept over this country in the wake of the 9/11 attacks? Remember that stirring video of every member of Congress, on the Capitol steps that night, Democrat and Republican, side by side, singing "God Bless America?"

Karl Rove doesn't.

Speaking to the New York State Conservative Party, President Bush's top advisor claimed liberals tried to obstruct a quick response to the terror attacks.

In his rewrite of history, Mr Rove sought to erase the record of bipartisanship that existed in Washington in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and paint a picture of a divided Washington while the nation was under attack:

"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war . . . Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies."
--Karl Rove, June 22, 2005

Democrats demand an apology. The White House refuses to apologize.

Rove Rewrites History

But historians should demand an apology as well. The record clearly shows a different picture from the one Mr Rove tried to paint. Just look at roll call votes on anti-terror measures in the aftermath of 9/11.

  • Senate Joint Resolution 22 stated in part: "[Congress] supports the determination of the President, in close consultation with Congress, to bring to justice and punish the perpetrators of these attacks as well as their sponsors..." -- Passed 100-0 on September 12, 2001
  • House Joint Resolution 61 -- the House Version of SJ Resolution 22 -- Passed 408-0 on September 13
  • House Joint Resolution 64 -- "To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." Passed the House 420-1 on September 14, 2001
  • Senate Joint Resolution 23 (the Senate version of HJR 64) -- "To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." It was sponsored in the Senate by noted liberal Sen Tom Daschle. And Passed the Senate 98-0. The two Senators who didn't vote were both Republican
  • Senate Bill 1426 committed $40 billion to the War on Terror -- Passed 96-0 on September 14. Four Senators failed to vote, three of them Republicans, one a Republican turned Independent
  • The Patriot Act -- Passed the Senate 98-1. Passed the House 357-66

All pretty lopsided votes taking aggressive stands against the people who attacked America on 9/11. Not exactly the division that Mr Rove remembers.

A Political Disaster for Mayor Bloomberg

Mr Rove was supposed to be in New York helping Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (R-NY) re-election. It's created a new problem for the Mayor. Mr Bloomberg's office has put out a statement in sharp disagreement with Mr Rove:

"9/11 was an attack on all of America. In the hard days and weeks that followed, we came together as a City and as a country, united in our resolve not only to defeat terrorism but also to rebuild Lower Manhattan. Ever since, we have tried to keep politics out of the discussion."

Once again, the White House tries to muddy the waters -- trying to make it appear that opponents to the Iraq War also oppose the War on Terror. It comes as polls show public support for the war in Iraq -- and for the President's handling of it -- dropping to all time lows:

"The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey finds a majority of Americans oppose the war with Iraq -- a substantial change from March when the public was evenly divided. President George W. Bush's overall approval rating remains at 47%, while a majority of Americans, 51%, disapprove."

--DavidW. Moore, Gallup

The Rove comments were simply spin -- from an administration in a tailspin.

[Crossposted at]

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Chief Justice Rehnquist to the GOP: Hey, I'm Still on the Job Here!

A pro-Bush bunch is already running an ad attacking the Democrats' resistence to President Bush's Supreme Court nominee. The Folks at explain the time warp in their latest article:

"Pro-Bush group's ad faults Democrats for criticisms they haven't yet made, about a Supreme Court nominee who hasn't been named, to a vacancy that doesn't yet exist."
The group Progress for America is spending $700,000 running the ad through July 1.

There is speculation that Mr Rehnquist will announce his retirement the week of July 4 -- if he decides to retire. Looks like Progress for America is willing to bet 700-grand on that. (

Who's Side are You On

Truth About Hillary

Taegan Goddard at quotes the economist saying The Truth About Hillary may have backfired on conservatives hoping it'd do her in:

"[Author Ed Klein] has succeeded in doing the near impossible: he has written a book that will make all but fire-breathing conservatives sympathetic to her cause... Mrs Clinton can sail on to the Democratic primary confident that this book will not do her the least bit of harm."

I suggested here, six days ago, the book might have effects opposite of what conservatives were counting on:

"And the book is coming out more than three years before the election. It could have the effect of only 'immunizing' the Senator against the same claims during the 2008 campaign.... And in the end, The Truth About Hillary may turn out to be more Fortunate Son than Unfit for Command."

Uncle Sam Wants Your Student

The Pentagon is building a database of all US college students and every high schooler as young as 16. They went to work this week with a Massachusetts-based marketing firm -- BeNow Inc -- to identify potential recruits.

The database will include kids' Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, GPAs, race, and what classes they take.

Privacy advocates don't like that at all. The federal government is forbidden by law to collect and keep personal information of American citizens. They claim Washington's trying to use a loophole by going through private companies to do it. (WashPost via Boston Globe)

Checking the Bill is Easier When Items Are NOT Blacked Out

Representatives on both sides of the aisle are united in demanding to know more about the Pentagon's payments to Halliburton. They're targeting a disputed $2.5 billion bill for fuel imports and Iraqi oil site repairs.

The Pentagon tried to keep secret what their auditors found out. That probe suggested that $200 million in Halliburton invoices were not valid.

Washington set up something called th Development Fund for Iraq back in 2003. It took money from the sales of Iraqi oil and used that cash to pay for some of the rebuilding. Over about a year and a half, the money came to about $19.6 billion. The money was spent -- with very little oversight.

When Congress wanted to know how the money was spent, the Pentagon sent over audit reports. But information on Halliburton subsidiary KBR were blacked out. And it appears a representative from KBR told the Pentagon what to black out before providing the reports to Congress. (International Herald Tribune)

Importing Drugs Controls Prices

AARP says that Eurpean practices of importing prescription medicine had lowered costs without compromising safety or screwing up supplies.

Those are two big arguments drug makers use in arguing against importing drugs into the US.

AARP studied drug imports into 15 European contries. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Odds of a Major Terror Attack

Odds of someone using a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon in an attack anywhere in the world are 50/50 over the next five years. Move the timeline to 10 years and the risk jumpst to 70%.

The Senate Foreign Relations committee polled 85 experts on national security and WMDs to reach that conclusion. (Guardian)

Congress' "Meth Caucus"

President Bush has been moving money from fighting drugs to fighting terrorism. That's beginning to hurt funding in middle America where local police are overwhelmed with the home-grown meth crisis.

Meth -- short for methamphetamine -- is sweeping through rural communities, swamping police and health resources. It's beginning to reach the northeast -- New Jersey police recently found the first meth lab in that state since the 1970s. Meth drug is cheap and easy to make. It fuels crime and causes severe health problems.

"The problem has grown faster than the money chasing the problem."

--Rep Ken Calvert (R-CA) to the LA Times

Rural state lawmakers have banded together in a "Meth Caucus" to present a united front against taking federal resources away from that fight. They currently want $10 million in anti-drug aid restored to their states.

Overall, the Bush administration tried to cut or kill 5 anti-drug programs -- freeing up and extra $1.6 billion for anti-terror efforts. (LATimes)

New Tools For You

Some new buttons added to my "Resources to Help You Watch Washington" in the right hand column.
Click on them to find Congress' schedule for the day, up to the minute action on the House Floor, and records of roll call votes in both the House and Senate. (Watching Washington)

Shooting for the Moon -- With No Real Aim

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out if you have big plans -- you have to spend time and money to make them work.

That's exactly what rocket scientists are telling the Bush administration today. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences say the Administrations grand plans for space exploration are doomed -- unless the administration kicks in big bucks and makes basic space policy changes.

"Current U.S. space policy presents a paradoxical picture of high ambition and diminishing commitment."
--American Academy of Arts and Sciences,

The New York Times took a look at the paper and reports four major problems in the way of US space exploraton:

  • Inadequate planning for NASA's future
  • Erosion of international cooperation in space
  • Congressional restrictions on the export of space technology that have choked the flow of sales to other nations and make it difficult to share information with foreign partners
  • A projected shortfall in the future United States science and engineering work force, made worse by post-Sept. 11 restrictions on visas for foreign students.

All this comes just three weeks before Discovery is supposed to return Americans to space for the first time since the Columbia crash. (NYT)

Putting Work Before Family

The US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are hard at work to make it harder for you to take off work for a family emergency. They're leading the fight to get President Bush to cale back the Family and Medical Leave Act. President Bush's father twice vetoed the bill. Bill Clinton made it an election issue in 1992 -- and it was the first bill President Clinton signed into law.

The act lets people take time off work -- without pay -- to take care of a newborn baby or sick relatives.

Business groups claim the law creates chaotic work schedules and covers up laziness. The pro-business Employment Policy Foundation says 15% of American workers took time off under the law last year, costing businesses $21 billion in lost productivity.

On the other hand, the US does not require paid maternity leave -- making it the only industrialized nation without the requirement. There are 139 nations that require it worldwide. (Bloomberg)

Closing the God Gap

Liberal Christians are setting out on a daunting crusade -- to break the Republican hold on evangelical voters. The GOP has held that constituency since Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory with the help of the "Moral Majority."

But liberal Christians condemn what they see as an unholy alliance that cheapens Christianity while winning votes for politicians. Among them, Presbyterian pastor Tim Simpson of Tallahassee who told the Philly Inquirer:

"[The religious right] has taken control of the language of our faith... to promote an extreme and divisive political agenda."

Examples include the RNC mailing out flyers in Arkansas and West Virginia in the 2004 election claiming Sen John Kerry (D-MA) would "ban the Bible" if elected President. And just this week, Rep John Hostettler (R-IN) -- in a fight to strip religious tolerance language from a defense bill -- accused Democrats of "demonizing Christians:"

"Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians."

Brother Simpson is part of the newly formed Christian Alliance for Progress , setting out to close the "God gap." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Nobel Prize in Medicine Goes to That Gal from "Friends"

Jennifer Anniston and Halle Berry have made a major breakthrough in medical research into how the brain works.

Well, their pictures have anyway.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology used photos of celebrities to test memory. Using the picture suitable for People, scientists conducted research now published in Nature -- the science journal. The guys in the lab coats were able to isolate single neurons that hold memories of an image. The scientists say it's a really big deal that could lead to an understanding of how memory works. (Reuters)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Congress' Travel Agency

Lobbyists have found a hole you can fly a 747 through. They're not allowed to pay for trips for your Congress members. But non-profit groups can pay for lavish travel for your Representatives and Senators. So lobbyists are forming non-profit organizations -- and sending Congress members around the world.

Take "America's Trust." Just don't trust them. Every member of that non-profit's board of directors is a registered DC lobbyist.

A couple of months ago, this non-profit wined and dined Congress members to the tune of $46,000 -- including $458 a day for food for each person. (USAToday)

The Representative's Associates Take the Tribe for a Ride

A former Republican lobbyist and his partner charged a Mississippi Indian tribe $7.7 million in lobbying fees. But it turns out only a fraction of that actually went to expenses -- as the lobbyists claimed.

Jack Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon kept $6.6 million of the fee for themselves. Using only about $1.2 million to lobby on the issues the Indians wanted.

Mr Abramoff is currently at the center of ethics issues facing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Mr Scanlon is a fromer spokesman for Rep DeLay. (WashPost)

Air Force Report on Religion at the Academy

The task force looking into complaints of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy "found an institution grappling with a challenge that is the subject of significant debate in the public arena." To use the Air Force's words.

The report has been released.

It claims there was no intentional discrimination. But that the AFA failed to meet the needs of different religions among cadets:

"The (Air Force) team found a religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members' needs and a lack of awareness where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs."

A chaplain, Capt Melinda Morton, who raised concerns about the religious climate at the AFA, resigned her commission after 13 years yesterday.

The AFA has gotten 55 complaints of religious intolerance, discrimination, or persecution over the past 5 years.

The Air Force has put out four statements on religious tolerance over the course of rising complaints at the Air Force Academy.

Guess What's Missing from the Social Security Bill

President Bush had a hard time selling his Social Security private account plans.

First, he couldn't get any Democrats in Congress on board. Then he couldn't win public support for the plan. Now, even House Republicans are abandoning him.

House leaders drafting a new Social Security bill have left out any mention of the private account plan. The GOP leaders also reportedly don't have any plans in their bill to head off the eventual insolvency of Social Security. (WashPost)

Holy Crap, Religion Problems at the Air Force Academy

A military task force unveils a report later today saying religious intolerance is so bad at the Air Force Academy -- the Pentagon will have to step in to fix it.

The Academy has gotten 55 complaints in the last five years from Protestants, Catholics, and non-Christians claiming religious discrimination, intolerance, and persecution from Evangelicals at the Academy. The Air Force put together a special investigation. It's set to release it's report at 1:00 pm EDT today.

The Rocky Mountain News got a heads up from a cadet's father who got a look at the report before its release.

Mikey Weinstein graduated from the Academy with honors in 1977. He's a former lawyer and advisor in the Reagan White House. He says the report brings up serious problems at the Academy:

"The report states that there are problems throughout the academy in the areas of religious respect and religious intolerance."

Mr Weinstein's son is one of the 55 people who've filed a complaint. Curtis Weinstein says cadets called him "a (explitive) Jew" and accused him of killing Jesus Christ.

Earlier this week, Democrats held up a vote on the Defense budget as they tried to insert a religious tolerance amendment into it. Rep John Hostettler accused Democrats of "demonizing Christians." He's since apologized. (Rocky Mountain News via MSNBC)

Mission Misstatement

What is our mission in Iraq? Think Progress shows -- in President Bush's own words, how that mission has changed -- from disarmament in 2003, to nation building today. (ThinkProgress, HT:

Sorry About That

It's been a big week for apologies from politicians:
  • The Senate apologized to lynching survivors for never having passed an anti-lynching law
  • Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) apologized for saying "Adios, mofo," at the end of a television interview -- while his mike was still on
  • Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) apologized for statements that sounded like he was comparing US guards to prison camp guards under Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot
  • Rep John Hostettler (R-IN) apologized for saying Democrats were "demonizing Christians" in debate over a religious tolerance amendment to a Defense bill
If "Love means never having to say you're sorry," this is just more proof of how there's no love lost between politicians, the media, and the public these days. (Watching Washington)

The Price of Power is Costing You Your Voice in Government

Main Street may be struggling -- but K Street is paved with gold.
K Street Sign

While the rest of the economy has been moving along sluggishly since the turn of the century, the business of influencing your elected leaders has been booming. Take a look at these developments over the last five years:

  • The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has nearly doubled -- from 16,342 to 34,785
  • The prices they charge have risen from $10,000 a month -- to as much as $25,000
  • Nearly half of all retiring Congressmen take lobbying jobs
  • An aide to a top Congressman can make twice as much as his boss -- around $300,000 starting salary -- going to work at a lobbying firm

Compare that kind of influence to the kind you have -- a 37-cent stamp on a letter to your Congressman. This could be bad news for those of us who don't have the ear of our Congressman or Senator. Allan Cigler, a Political Scientist at the University of Kansas tells the Washington Post:

"We've got a problem here. The growth of lobbying makes even worse than it is already the balance between those with resources and those without resources."

And the nature of the business has changed, too. It used to be that lobbying was "reactive." That is, businesses hired lobbyists to fend off legislation that might hurt them.

Now it's very "proactive" -- companies hiring lobbyists to draft bills that will specifically benefit them. The Washington Post cites the example of Hewlitt-Packard which crafted a bill giving the company tax breaks on $14.5 billion in overseas profits. (WashPost)

National Guard and Reserve Mobilized as of June 22, 2005

There were 5,196 fewer Guard and Reserve troops mobilized last week than the week before.

A total of 147,940 Guardsmen and Reservists are currently on active duty. (DoD)

It's What's Not There

Sen John Kerry (D-MA) is back on the air with political ads. These are from his Political Action Committee touting a plan to provide health care to 11 million American kids. says the ad is accurate. But it leaves out how much Kerry's plan would cost. Experts put the price at anywhere from $264 billion to $700 billion over ten years.

Sen Kerry introduced his "Kids Come First Act of 2005" on January 24. (

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Running Uphill

As Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-TN) should be in a great position to mount a Presidential campaign in 2008. He should simply be sheparding President Bush's wants and needs through a Republican controlled Senate. And that should make for good press all around.

But Sen Frist has had three major setbacks -- in just the first quarter of this Congress:
  1. The Terri Schiavo debacle: Sen Frist seriously misread public opinion in the case and championed a wildly unpopular bill to allow the federal government to intervene. Then there's the "video diagnosis" he made -- criticized by doctors at the time and thrown back in his face after the autopsy report came out
  2. The Filibuster Compromise: After threatening to use the "nuclear option" and shut down filibusters of judicial nominees, a handful of Senate moderates -- led by potential GOP nomination rival Sen John McCain (R-AZ) worked out a compromise that's held together and taken away Sen Frist's thunder
  3. The Bolton Nomination: After making John Bolton's nomination to the UN his latest priority, Sen Frist was stymied by the Democrats opposing it on two occasions -- he's scheduling a third vote, but some Republicans have urged him to simply give up and let the President make Mr Bolton's postition a "recess appointment." That would be admitting defeat -- not good if you're trying to raise money for a new campaign
These may be the biggest three opponents Sen Frist has going into a Presidential race. But the Senator is assemling the resources he needs to get into the race. (NPR - Audio)

Grassroots Opposition to the Patriot Act

Fairfax, Virginia -- a Washington, DC suburb -- has backed off declaring outright opposition to the federal Patriot Act. The Board of Supervisors will only send a letter to their Congressional delegation expressing concerns about it.

In just two years, 389 local governments have passed resolutions asking Congress to repeal or change the Patriot Act. There are 276 efforts underway in other towns. A group calling themselves the Bill of Rights Defense Committee launched the grassroots effort to get cities worked up against the Patriot Act.

The Act's up for reauthorization. Critics say it violates privacy and free speech rights. Backers say it's essential to fight the War on Terror. (

Fed IT Safety Does Not Compute

A majority of federal agencies are not ready to deal with common threats to computer networks. Things like spyware, phishing, and even spam.

The Government Accountability Office found that even the FBI and IRS had fallen victim to phishers.

The good news is that there's no evidence that any of your tax money has gone to help deposed Nigerian princes or to penis size enhancement. (Computer World)

Feel Safer Yet? Before You Answer, We Already Have Your Answer on File

The folks who are supposed to watch out for your security on airline flights have really been watching you. They collected personal information on passengers een though Congress made it illegal and their brass promised not to do it.

The Associated Press got its hands on documents from the Transportation Security Administration. They show the TSA has been buying and storing detailed information on passengers so they could test something called "Secure Flight."

The practice appears to violate the Privacy Act of 1974 which makes it illegal to keep secret databases of American citizens. Congress has worried that the data bases are not secure and someone could steal personal info. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Ask Forgiveness and the Bill is Born Again

Democrats held up a House vote on the $409 billion Defense budget after a Republican Congressman accused Democrats of "demonizing Christians."

Rep David Obey (D-WI) had offered an amendment to the put Congress on record against "coercive and abusive religious proselytizing" at the Air Force Acadmemy. Rep Steve Israel (D-NY) had offered similar language in another bill earlier.

That set off Rep John Hostettler (R-IN) who launched into an speech calling Democrats anti-Christian:

"The long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.... Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians."

Democrats demanded Rep Hostettler be censured. Rep Obey said it only proved his point:

"[Hostettler's] outburst . . . is perhaps the perfect example of why we need to pass the language in my amendment."

Democrats refused to vote for more than half an hour until Rep Hostettler asked for forgiveness.

For the record, Rep Obey is a Roman Catholic and Rep Israel is Jewish. Both religions are particularly sensitive to evangelical messages aimed at their members. Rep Hostettler is a Baptist, an evangelical-Christion religion which encourages members to speak openly to people of other denominations in an effort to win them over.

Rep Hostettler is currently serving in Congress while on criminal probation -- for carrying a loaded handgun into the Louisville, Kentucky airport. Not that I'm demonizing him or anything. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The High Price of Freedom

About 55,000 Reservists are self-employed in civilian life. The Congressional Budget Office figures as many as 30,000 of the America's 860,000 Reservists also hold key posts in small businesses.

That can be expensive when you're called up. US News found a dentist who's lost $700,000 in business since he was called to duty -- a lot of visits from the tooth fairy. To subsidize his service to his country, the dentist had to refinance his business and hit up the Small Business Administration for a loan -- before Uncle Sam sent him out on his third tour of duty. (USNews)

Say Bye to the Bear Meat

A juneau homeless shelter has had to change the menu -- after learnig the state bans non-profits from recieving donated bear, fox, and walrus meat.

The shelter had been accepting bear meat for years -- using it to stretch burgers, casseroles, and spaghetti. Since finding game meat is illegal, the outfit has turned down 250 pounds of bear meat. That's a big deal for a shelter that cooks up 54,000 meals a year with a budget of only $4,500.

Many other states allow donations of wild game to homeless shelters and food banks. (Seattle Times)

Hillary by the Book, Chapter 2

The reviews are in for The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President by Edward Klein. The 305-page book blasting Sen Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as ambitious, ruthless, and bent on securing a second Clinton administration with Ms Clinton in the Oval Office hit the stands yesterday.

Truth About Hillary

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said:

"We don't comment on works of fiction, let alone a book full of blatant and vicious fabrications contrived by someone who writes trash for cash."

Conservatives have been promoting the book as damning enough to stop a Hillary Clinton presidential bid. (Houston Chronicle)

On the Edge of Nuclear War

A new book suggests that the Pakistan Army prepared an atomic warhead for launch against India in the 1999 Kargil Crisis -- and that Pakistan's leader wasn't told.

Then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif only found out about his military's plans when President Clinton told him of the development in a July 4, 1999, conversation -- in the midst of the conflict.

The revelation comes in Pakistani author Husain Haqqani's new book Pakistan Between Mosque And Military.

President Clinton reportedly reminded Prime Minister Sharif about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis then asked him if he realized what would happen if just one bomb was dropped. The book says the Prime Minister cut President Clinton off in mid-sentences saying it would be "a catastrophe."

Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. The flight time by missile to each other's capitals has been estimated to be as little as ten minutes. (The Hindu)

Saudis Top Numbers of Foreign Fighters in Iraq

More than half of all foreign fighters known to have been killed in Iraq are Saudi nationals. looked into the known casualties among insurgents and terrorists fighting in Iraq. Of the 300 foreign fighters, they found 165 had come from Saudi Arabia. Syrians made up the next largest group -- about 13%. (The Counter Terrorism Blog)

Come To Jesus Time for the Air Force Academy

The Air Force's top brass will be on hand to release the Air Force Academy Religious Climate Report on Wednesday.
The Air Force has been investigating complaints that some cadets have engaged in religious persecution of other cadets. The Air Force launched an investigation after non-Christians and Christians outside the evangelical denominations filed 55 complaints of religious discrimination going back to 2001.
A news conference Wednesday at the Pentagon will focus on what a review group found -- and what they reccomend.
A copy of the report will be available tomorrow, after the 1:00 pm EDT news conference at (US Air Force)

Eating Doritos, Nagging Soldiers, Talking Politics -- How Saddam Spends his Days

Saddam Hussein Rates American Presidents (on a scale of one to five stars):

Ronald Reagan: *****
George H. W. Bush: *
Bill Clinton: ***
George W. Bush: *

Saddam admires Ronald Reagan and thinks Bill Clinton was "OK." But he says both Presidents Bush are "no good."

And the "Butcher of Baghdad" is really good at nagging American soldiers to get married. He told one soldier:

"You gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean."
Just some of the thoughts of America's most heavily guarded inmate. The observations appear in GQ magazine. They interviewed some Pennsylvania National Guardsmen who took care of Saddam for a while.

By the way, Saddam loves Doritos and hates Fruit Loops. Guards started feeding him Doritos when the Cheetos ran out. They claim Saddam can plow through a family sized bag of Doritos in about 10 minutes. (Austrailian Financial Review)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Clinton: How to Tell if the Terrorists Have Already Won

President Bill Clinton has jumped on the "Git Rid of Gitmo" bandwagon -- the most prominent name on the list now. The former President says the place should be "closed down or cleaned up."

Mr Clinton says you have to ask yourself if the treatment challenges the "fundamental nature" of America. He says if you answer "yes," then you have "already given the terrorists a profound victory." (FT via MSNBC)

The Men Guarding the Pork Barrels

The Washington Post profiles the men who herd Washington's pork home.

Sen Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Rep Jerry Lewis (R-CA) are chairmen of their respective chambers' Appropriations Committees -- the panels that pack pet projects into spending bills.

The article describes how they've seen too it that Mississippi cotton subsidies and California defense contractors get plenty of tax money.

But they are both under pressure to get budget bills out of committee and passed this year. Congress has been slow to do that for years now. And with approval ratings for Congress at record low levels -- not to mention an election year next year -- they've got new incentive to get their job done. (WashPost)

Truth in Politics

Go to How Stuff Works and enter "Supreme Court nomination" into the site's search engine.

The number 1 result is "How Witchcraft Works." (

Terror War -- Lost in Translation?

Since 9/11, Washington has increased spending on language training from $41 million to $100 million a year. But the US is still short 34,000 foreign-language specialists -- badly needed in the War on Terror. On top of that, it can take 10 years for a student of Mideastern languages and dialects to become proficient. (USAToday)

SCOTUS Nominee Battle Takes Shape

Activists are lining up for a long, drawn-out battle over the next Supreme Court Justice -- even though there are no openings on the Court right now.

There's a good chance that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will retire -- possibly before the month's out. Senate staffers have been told to delay vacations. And politicians on both sides are looking at getting their positions set in stone within 24 hours of a justice announcing retirement.

Conservatives are relying on relatively new groups -- set up specifically to deal with a Supreme Court fight:

Liberals will rely on long established groups with past experience in nomination battles:

  • People for the American Way -- Has a "War Room" already set up to fire off liberal viewpoints down 75-phone lines and from 40 computers
  • The Alliance for Justice -- a group dating back to 1979 that's taken up liberal causes in the judicial arena
  • Leadership Conference on Civil Rights -- a liberal group that spearheaded Robert Bork's defeat in the 1980s. It will bring it's expertise in that fight and the battle over Clarence Thomas' nomination to bear

Supreme Court Justices historically announce their retirements at the close of a judicial session. The current session ends on June 30th. (LATimes)

Biden to Seek Presidential Nomination

Sen Joe Biden (D-DE) says he's in the running for the White House in 2008 -- unless he decides later this year to drop out. Biden made his intentions known on CBS's Face the Nation. (WashPost)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Today's Sesame Street is Brought to You by the Letter "L" for Lobbyist -- And a 15-Grand Payout from the Corp for Public Broadcasting

Investigators are looking into $15,000 in payments from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to a pair of Republican lobbyists. The payments were authorized by two Republican members of the Corporations' board -- but never disclosed to the full board.

One of the lobbyists was an Indiana man who gave board chairman Kenneth Tomlinson reports detailing the politics of guests on Bill Moyers' "Now" show.

The lobbyists are identified as Brian Darling and Mark Buse. Mr Darling served a brief stint as legal counsel to Sen Mel Martinez (R-FL). He was forced to quit when it was learned he was behind a memo circulated to Republicans detailing how they could capitalize on the Terri Schiavo case.

Mr Darling was paid $10,000 in CPB funds for his expertise on Sen Conrad Burns (R-MT). Sen Burns authored a bill to give local stations more say on the Corporation's board. Both the Bush Administration and Chairman Tomlinson. The bill failed.

Board member Katherine Anderson suggested hiring Mr Buse, a former aide to Sen John McCain (R-AZ), to provide still more advice.

Both lobbyists say they never approached Congress members -- but only provided advice to the board.

The IG at CPB is trying to figure out how the Board's Chairman was able to authorize spending 15-grand without the board's approval or knowledge. (NYT)

The Watching Washington Farm Report

The US Agriculture Department has been using tax money to promote a trade agreement that's opposed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress -- but supported by the administration.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is also opposed by labor unions and the sugar industry.

The USDA has hammered out three dozen radio and television spots this year alone promoting CAFTA. The spots were cranked out even as the administration was taking a beating over spending millions on PR campaigns, secretly hiring pundits to hawk administration policies, and agencies producing VNRs (Video News Releases) masquerading as legitimate news stories.

The CAFTA spots came from the USDA's Broadcast Media and Technology Center -- which generates around 90 TV news reports a year. Many of them air intact on farm shows like AgDay and US Farm Report.

The center also cuts more than 2,000 radio reports sent out to 675 radio stations around the country. (Chicago Tribune)

The Old Boy Network -- Protecting You From Terrorists. Feel Safer Yet?

The top honchos at the FBI admit they didn't consider expertise in the Mideast or terrorism when promoting people to fight terrorism in the wake of 9/11.

FBI agent Bassem Youssef began questioning the Bureau's brass under oath. He wanted to show he was passed over for promotions. Special Agent Youssef claimed what he knew wasn't as important as who others knew when it came to getting promotions.

The Associated Press has gotten its hands on hundreds of pages of testimony that seem to indicate the "old boy network" trumps expertise when it comes to how the FBI chooses to protect Americans against terror.

The guy who got the FBI's key job as top terrorist fighter right after 9/11 admitted he had no experience going after terrorists. Dale Watson was used to bank robberies:

"A crime scene in a bank robbery case is the same as a crime scene, you know, across the board."

Yeah. But John Dillinger never stole jumbo jets for a heist. And never killed 3,000 people in a single hold-up.

Mr Watson has left the job. His successor, Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald says his anti-terror expertise has come as "on-the-job-training." Been there. That's how I learned the ropes -- bagging groceries as a teenager. (Miami Herald)

Byrd's Ghosts

Sen Robert Byrd (D-WV) has served longer in the Senate than any person alive -- and is on track to breaking the late Strom Thurmond's record. He has sent home $1.6 billion in pork to his home state. And he was not only a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he recruited more than a hundred members for them. It's a subject he addresses head-on in his new autobiography, Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields:

"It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me, and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career and reputation. displayed very bad judgment, due to immaturity and a lack of seasoned reasoning."

In his book, Sen Byrd talks about watching Klansmen parading in hoods through his hometown, finding out his father was among those parading, and how, as a teen, he bought into the Klan's anti-communist rhetoric. (The Guardian)

Friday, June 17, 2005

FEMA: Money for Non-Disasters, Bills for Real Ones

FEMA handed out millions of dollars in hurricane relief checks to people who didn't need it last year. We're talking about people who filed claims in counties where the storms never showed up.

Now, FEMA's sending out bills, trying to get some money back -- from people who actually had storm damage.

Take the folks at the Belle View condos in Alexandria, Virginia. The place took a $6 million dollar hit from Hurricane Isabel and her flood waters back in 2003. FEMA wants some of the $140,000 they gave the folks who live there.

Condo resident Stephen Snell got a bill from FEMA demanding he return $484 of the $2,000 he got for repairs. He told the Washington Post:

"I'll pay this back when hell freezes over."

Of course if Hell does freeze over, someone would probably be eligible for more FEMA funds. (WashPost)

"Since Their Parents Aren't Around, Let's Give These Kids Some Drugs," said Uncle Sam

The federal government tested AIDS drugs on kids in foster care back in the 1990s. The Department of Health and Human Services has found that some of their testing broke federal rules in place to protect kids from medical testing risks.

The government investigation follows an Associated Press story back in May. The AP found government funded researchers in New York, Illinois, and several other states used kids in foster care to test AIDS drugs starting in the 1980s. (WashPost)