Thursday, September 29, 2005
Jesse Ray Harvey recieved a 25-month sentence back in 1990 for the bombing at the Milburn Colliery during a coal miners strike.
He was among 14 people pardoned in the President's latest round of clemency. President Bush has pardoned or commuted sentences on 60 people since taking office in 2001. (SF Chronicle)
That means the SEC can issue subpoenas.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have joined the investigation.
Sen Frist sold all his stock in HCA Inc -- a company his family started -- just two weeks before it's price dropped. (Business Week)
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Rep DeLay is charged along with two associates of criminal conspiracy.
Rep DeLay is stepping down as Majority Leader -- at least until the outcome of his trial. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has recommended Rep David Dreier (R-CA) to take over the Majority Leader's duties in the meantime.
The Smoking Gun has a copy of the DeLay indictment. (CNN)
Of particular concern are the government issued credit cards given to federal workers in the disaster zone. The cards usually have a $2,500 limit. But that was raised 100 fold to $250,000. The cards have been the source of scandal in the past.
The watchdogs are also keeping tabs on politically connected companies -- many with no-bid contracts -- hired in the reconstruction effort. (CNN)
The project teaches you how to search for local pork barrel projects, bring them to public attention, and join the call for members of Congress to cut spending.
There are also updates on the responses of Congress members to the call.
I've added a permanent link to the right hand column to connect you with the effort. (The Truth Laid Bear)
Lobbyists are busy trying to get a piece of that pie.
- Oil compaines are seeking changes that will let them build new refineries and get tax breaks
- Airlines are using it as an excuse to dump their pension obligatons on taxpayers and drop the federal tax on jet fuel. The tax break alone would cost $600 million
- Insurance companies are using it to push a bill that would have taxpayers pick up part of their bill in the event of a terrorist attack
- Farm groups outside the disaster zone are asking for more cash
- For-profit hospitals are demanding a share of FEMA cash -- usually only spent on non-profit hospitals
- Hotel lobbyists are asking Congress for tax breaks, grants, and low interest loans
- The mortgage industry is lobbying to have every homeowner in the Gulf Coast eligible for $250,000 in flood insurance -- even if they never bought it
It's a sweet deal for the cruise line. The ship is moored to a dock in New Orleans for six-months. They're making a ton of money at $1,275 a week -- since it only costs $599 per person for a seven-day cruise out of Galveston around the Western Caribbean. And that would include entertainment and making the ship move. (NBC)
Higher gas prices are making it harder for people to pay their credit card bills. The American Bankers Association made the link. They say the higher gas prices are taking more out of family budgets, leaving little spending flexibility for more Americans. Credit card bills are one of the first places people delay payments. (MSNBC)
It worked like this: Joe Albaugh was Governor Bush's campaign manager. When Mr Bush was elected President, he appointed Mr Albaugh as FEMA Director. Mr Albaugh brought in his old college buddy Mike Brown to serve as a FEMA lawyer. When Mr Albaugh left -- to become a lobbyist/consultant, Mr Brown took over the agency.
But he's not the only crony who's landed a job that may be more than he could handle.
Cronyism isn't new, but TIME magazine reports that the Bush administration has turned it into an art form -- with a plan to use friends and supporters to completely remake Washington's beauracracy.
The President has taken advantage of as many as 3,000 political appointments to place political beliefs over experience at the top of important government agencies.
For instance, an ex-lobbyist with little purchasing experience was named the federal government's top purchasing agent. He oversaw $300 billion in spending -- at least until he was arrested.
At the Department of Homeland security, another political ally of the President's with little experience will soon take over the job of preventing terrorists from entering the US.
The watchdogs are a corps of Inspectors General. But these are being replaced with political allies as well, likely to turn a blind eye to inexperience, failure, and abuse. (TIME via CNN)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Mr Brown was criticized for being unaware of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center for three days -- while network news shows repeatedly covered their plight. He has been criticized for letting FEMA hold up relief supplies and manpower for days. He's been criticized...well, for just about everything that went wrong in the Katrina response.
Now, Mr Brown's been hired as a consultant -- by FEMA.
To help find out what went wrong.
Kinda like appointing John Wilkes Booth as special investigator into the Lincoln assassination. (CNN)
Monday, September 26, 2005
Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and David Vitter (R-LA) have slapped together a $250 billion, pork-packed plan to rebuild the Pelican State. Thing is, many of the projects have nothing to do with repairs or future flood control. There are massive amounts of federal money earmarked for new navigation projects that would benefit businesses around the Bayou State.
The $250 billion is 10 times the annual Army Corps of Engineers budget -- for the entire United States.
It's 16 times what the Corps originally needed to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane. (WashPost)
Washington predicted early in the war it'd cost US taxpayers only about $1.7 billion to rebuild Iraq. The US has spent $30 billion so far.
In the past 12 months, between tsunami relief and hurricane relief efforts, Americans have contributed around $240 billion to charity. (The Observer)
Among the 13:
- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN): accused of violating federal campaign laws. CREW also wants an inquiry into why he suddenly sold his stock in his family's company -- the SEC is investigating for possible insider trading
- Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA): a December 2004 Los Angeles Times investigation showed members of her family have made more than $1 million in the last eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that Waters has helped
- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): Billed Pennsylvania taxpayers for sending his kids to school in Virginia
Friday, September 23, 2005
City and parish leaders say FEMA has no plans in some cases to supply water, sewer, and electricity to massive trailer camps it plans to set up. There may be as many as 15,000 trailers in some of the planned camps.
Katrina displaced more Americans from their homes than any other disaster in 60 years. (WashPost)
Thursday, September 22, 2005
What do those cuts include? Check out this line from the Navy Times:
"Possible sources of funding cuts to free up money for Katrina relief include reduced health benefits, consolidation of the three military exchange systems and the closure of the military's stateside school system."The Congressmen call their idea "Operation Offset." It looks like it could leave a lot of service members behind:
- It will offer cash payments for servicemembers who cut back on health insurance and health care for their families -- this could save $2.4 billion over four years.
- Stateside school for servicemembers families would save only about $788 million over 10 years
So far, only Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has agreed to give up $10 million of her earmarks. No one else on Capitol Hill is willing to give up their pet projects. (Navy Times)
Looks like Washington's putting that schooling to work right away.
The Bush administration has already declared Hurricane Rita an "incident of national significance" on Wednesday -- even though it won't hit land until possibly Saturday.
That frees up federal help for what the White House determines will exceed local capabilities.
The White House waitned a full day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast to make the same declaration. (USAToday)
Mr Flanigan used to be a corporate lawyer for Tyco International Ltd. Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski is off for a 25 year stint in prison.
But Tyco's lobbyist now admits he's been lobbying Senators to approve Mr Flanigan's nomination as Deputy US Attorney General.
When you're a company likely to be under federal investigation, it doesn't hurt to have friends at the top. (LAT)
The Senate has approved a NASA request that would let the space agency buy Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft (pictured). They're the only interim option for NASA to keep flights to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz has been a Russian workhorse since the 1970s. It was designed as their competitor to the US "Apollo" program. Not nearly as roomy as a current American astronauts are accustomed to, a Soyuz holds only three crew members. In fact, the Shuttle bay was designed to be big enough to capture a Soyuz in orbit and haul it back to earth -- part of the Cold War which produced both ships. (Space.com)
So what was Mr Rove doing last week while the Gulf Coast dug out and hundreds of thousands of Americans were still living in evacuee centers?
He was off hobnobbing with wealthy campaign contributors.
Mr Rove attended the Forstmann Little Aspen Weekend weekend retreat.
It's invitation only attendence to the event, sponsored by investment company Forstmann Little. Lots of the attendees showed up in their own private jets.
And comments are "off the record." But columnist Bob Novak was on the guest list and says the overall tone of the event is fair game.
He says these big time money men -- a who's who of Bush contributors -- spent the week bashing President Bush like it was a Cindy Sheehan bitch session.
"For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem cell research, population control, the Iraq war and,
especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections." -- Robert Novak
I guess even when you're President of the United States, everyone kicks you when you're down.
The bridge is a pork project slipped into the Highway Bill to build a massive bridge to a tiny island with about 50 people on it.
But Mayor Mike Salazar wants to keep the bridge. He believes it'll mean an economic boom for Ketchikan, Alaska. (WPMI)
Most of the money and effort has gone into creating mini-fortresses for politicians and bureaucrats -- turning the Capitol Hill complex into an "American Green Zone," setting up mail sorting buildings to catch bio-hazards before they reach the White House, and setting up barriers around federal buildings.
The Washington Post compared the Homeland Security Department's handling of New Orleans to plans made for Washington, DC. They found little has changed in the last four years since 9/11 for Washington's regular citizens. (WashPost)
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
New evidence and computer models show the levee-floodwall combinations that collapsed should have been able to withstand the storm. This new evidence suggests the storm surge was not as high as previously thought, and water never topped the floodwalls. That points to a design flaw, shoddy construction, or a combination of both.
Here's how the process works for designing and building the levees:
- The US Army Corps of Engineers recommends to Congress the design and capabilities of the levees needed to prevent flooding
- Congress authorizes flood control projects based on the Corps' recommendations
- The Corps oversees the final design and construction of the walls and levees -- mostly through the use of contractors
Many of the walls in New Orleans were 11 feet tall. (WashPost/NYT) [Photo Credits: New Orleans floodwalls before and after the flood, US Army Corps of Engineers]
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
The Pentagon announced Today that five more Americans had died in three seperate incidents. Their loss brought the total killed since the March, 2003 invasion to 1,903. (WashPost)
Since 9/11, the FBI has been regeared to go after terrorists. So what would the head honcho at the Justice Department have the most famous law enforcement agency in the world working on?
Try dirty pictures.
The Washington Post says the e-mails were flying fast and furious around the Hoover Building as agents joked about the new unit dedicated to tracking down porn. Some of the non-explicit one-liners going around:
- Things I Don't Want On My Resume, Volume Four.
- I already gave at home.
- Honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves.
In the memo, Mr Brown doesn't seem worried about the mounting crisis, asking for 1,000 additional people -- but in no hurry, saying they can take 48 hours to get to the scene.
Mr Brown wraps up his request by calling Katrina "this near catastrophic event." (FactCheck.org)
If they can just find one dead, rich person killed in Hurricane Katrina, they plan to use the corpse as an example of why Congress should repeal the estate tax -- or the "death tax" as it's opponents call it.
TIME reports Sen Sessions left a voice message on a law professor's phone:
"Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with." -- Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
The guy who got the message -- Harold Apolinsky -- is an estate tax opponent. He rounded up the American Family Business Institute -- also opponents. They've been combing the aftermath, morgues, hospitals, obits and such -- looking for a dead rich guy who's family would have to pay an estate tax because of his death.
The tax afffects only a small number of people, and you have to have quite a bit of money to qualify. Most people with money could afford to get out of the storm's way.
So far -- none of the dead would have qualified for the "death tax."
The FBI says David Safavian made repeated false statements to investigators in the corruption probe of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Mr. Safavian's job allowed him to set the purchasing policy for the entire federal government. He headed up the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Until his resignation and arrest, he'd been focused on the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. (WashPost)
LT GEN Steven Blum says the Guard was poorly equipped to do the job it was supposed to do in the storm.
"We were underequipped. We don't need tanks and attack helicopters and artillery, but we must have state-of-the-art radios and communications." -- LT GEN Steven Blum
Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have sent a letter to President Bush warning about weaknesses in the National Guard. They say only about a third of the Guard's equipment is available for use in the US. The rest is overseas.
They warn there are steep shortages of trucks, night-vision goggles, and communications gear. The Guard needs about 37,000 new radios. They're making due with radios the regular Army used in the Vietnam War.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
The source tells Watching Washington that civilian disaster relief officials are not fully utilizing the thousand-bed military hospital ship -- USNS Comfort -- already there. A second one, USNS Mercy (above) left San Diego for the gulf coast on September 8.
Our source tells us civilian authorities are keeping quiet about the ships to direct people to "for-profit" hospitals -- appeasing health care providers in the hurricane zone who may see the relief mission as competition.
He says most of the care the Navy's been providing has been dental care. But sick and injured who could be sent to military medical units are instead being diverted to private hospitals. Patients can then be charged for care while Navy ships sent there underutilized.
Even if unused, the ships still run up a bill for taxpayers. Hospital ships in particular are gennerally unmanned and not fully stocked until called for a specific mission.
Not the First Time
The Chicago Tribune reported early in the hurricane response how USS Bataan (right) rode out the storm and was waiting for immediate relief missions as soon as Katrina cleared.
Amphibious ships are designed as floating islands to support invasions. Because of that, they have extensive medical facilities to treat wounded troops. Bataan even has a pediatrician on board.
But FEMA didn't use the hospital facilities on the amphibious assault carrier. FEMA even waited more than four days to start bringing Bataan's doctors ashore.
In addition, the Navy dispatched two hospital ships, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, to provide care for sick and injured people that Katrina displaced. Comfort is at Pascagoula, Mercy is still underway. They are the only two hospital ships in the US Navy's fleet.
FEMA Ignores Military
Though four ships -- including USS Harry S Truman -- left the hurricane zone this week, FEMA is asking for additional military assistance. In addition to the 1,000 beds aboard both the Mercy and Comfort, the military currently provides a total of 789 hospital beds for the response:
- New Orleans International Airport -- 25 beds
- USS Bataan -- 360 beds
- USS Iwo Jima -- 105 beds
- USS Tortuga -- 35 beds
- 14th Combat Support Hospital -- 204 beds
- USS Shreveport -- 60 beds
A review of FEMA's website under "Medical, Social and Government Assistance" takes you to a link for "Health Services" at the Department of Health & Human Services. That link lists 195 hospitals in the storm recovery zone, but the military assistance centers aren't listed.
The health care industry contributed $73.79 million dollars to federal candidates in both major parties during the last election. (Watching Washington)
Friday, September 16, 2005
The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller was a pool reporter. She was able to confirm the White House flew in all the lights and generators for the spectacular backdrop.
Bobby DcServi, the White House's lighting designer (yes, they have one on your payroll) and Scott Sforza, in charge of visuals, created that image of Mr Bush, Andrew Jackson, and the Cathederal in the midst of an empty city.
To do it, they used as much candlepower as was used to light up the entire Statue of Liberty for President Bush's September 11, 2002 speech in New York. (WashPost)
From the New York Times:
"Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort, which reaches across many agencies of government and includes the direct involvement of Alphonso R. Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development."
Retired General Tommy Franks is reported to be the favorite to take over the job permanently.
That might be a good idea to have the General waiting in the wings. Mr Rove is at the center of a criminal investigation over a White House leak of a CIA agent's identity. The grand jury is expected to wrap up it's investigation in the next few weeks. (WashPost/NYT)
Dome are able to charge as much as $250,000 to the cards (right) -- and you, the taxpayer, get the bill.
About 250,000 federal workers have the cards. Congress -- at the uing of the Bush administration -- raised the credit limit to a quarter million dollars. Even with lower credit limits, there has been widespread abuse associated with the cards. Among the abuses the Government Accountability Office has found over the years:
- Remote-control helicopters
- $2,500 flat-panel computer monitors
- A pet dog
- Prostitutes at brothels
- Gambling expenses
- Tickets to New York Yankees games
- Tickets to Los Angeles Lakers games
These cards will really get a workout once the French Quarter reopens. (Boston Globe)
But Republican staffers who hacked into Congressional Democrats' computers and lifted internal memos last year were never charged with any crime.
Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) has asked the Attorney General to look into the case "and see if he can perhaps protect our records as much as we want to protect that poor young lady's telephone records." (Newsday)
He's talking about how the President who presided over the start of the Great Depression managed a natural disaster much more effectively than the financial one.
When the great flood of 1927 destroyed much of Louisiana, the federal government jumped in quickly and coordinated evacuation and relief efforts.
President Coolidge's point man -- Commerce Secretary and future President Herbert Hoover.
Secretary Hoover didn't dilly-dally about taking time to get things rolling. He got in touch with 91 communities and told them to be ready for refugees:
"And you haven't got months to do it.... You've got hours." -- Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, coordinating evacuation of 1927 Lousianna floodsNot exactly the kind of comparison the Bush administration would like to have -- a President associated with failure credited for doing a better job than the one President Bush has taken responsibility for. (CSM)
Some of the details:
- $5.6 billion -- human services: housing, food, counseling
- $4.9 billion -- administrative costs
- $5.1 billion -- Louisianna
- $3.6 billion -- Mississippi
- $2.7 billion -- Florida
- $1 billion -- Alabama
- $42.6 million spread out over 26 states and DC which are taking in evacuees
The Associated Press has a rundown of America's biggest reconstruction efforts to date:
- Reconstruction, 1867-77: 1,000 schools built in the south, civil rights and social reform enacted during post-Civil War occupation of the former Confederacy
- WPA (right), 1935-43: 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, 651,000 miles of road -- employed 8.5 million people
- Tennessee Valley Authority, 1930s - Present: Built dams and flood control efforts over a seven-state region -- and produced the massive amounts of electricity needed later by the Manhattan Project
- Marshall Plan, 1948: Actually Harry S Truman's brainchild though named after Secretary of State George Marshall to get it through Congress, rebuilt Europe at a cost of $13.3 billion dollars -- and was largely credited with stalling Communist expansion
Fiscal conservatives weren't happy with President Bush's Jackson Square speech last night. Promising "one of the largest reconstruction efforts" in world history, the speech signaled a return to big government -- even thought the federal government has expanded steadily since 9/11.
Here are some of the statements Newsday gathered:
"It is inexcusable for the White House and Congress to not even make the effort to find at least some offsets to this new spending. No one in America believes the federal government is operating at peak efficiency and can't tighten its belt." -- Sen Tom Coburn (R-OK)
"Dollars add up. For every dollar we spend on this means a dollar that's going to take a little bit longer to balance the budget." -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL)
The right leaning Heritage Foundation -- a Washington think tank -- wants Congress to review the pork-laden Highway Bill it passed in early August. The foundation believes the rebuilding costs could be offset by canceling some of the questionable projects -- like a quarter-billion dollar bridge to an Alaskan island with only 50 people. (Newsday)
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Making a mark on history often requires a counter intuitive move from a President:
- Lyndon Johnson -- segregationist who pushed through passage of the Civil Rights Act
- Richard Nixon -- devout anti-communist who opened relations with Red China
- Bill Clinton -- mainstream Democrat who balanced the federal budget and hammered out welfare reform
It promises to be the single largest federal spending program in memory -- with at least $200 billion coming from Washington. (WashPost)
"I think I may need a bathroom break?" -- President Bush in note to Sec of State Rice, September 14, 2005
First Lady Laura Bush -- a former teacher -- will likely be worried about her husband's poor punctuation skills -- he ended with a question mark?
But shouldn't the rest of us be worried that the Secretary of State -- fourth in line of succession to the Oval Office -- is in charge of the President's potty breaks?
No wonder US foreign policy is in the crapper. (Reuters via Yahoo!)
The latest request for aid from President Bush will push the federal response to $200 billion.
His speech tonight from Jackson Square in New Orleans is expected to commit the US to the largest rebuilding project ever on US soil. (WashPost)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
ABC reports Rep Jefferson used National Guard troops to check on his house and rescue personal property. The National Guard says the Congressman originally requested a tour of portions of the city in his District to acess damage. After the 5-ton truck and a half dozen MP rolled out, Rep Jefferson asked them to divert to his house.
Jefferson went in the house for an hour, leaving the troops parked in his yard. He retrieved a computer, three suitcases, and a large box which the troops loaded on the truck.
The truck, by that time, had sunk in his yard and was stuck.
Getting the truck out required tying up a rescue helicopter for 45 minutes and a second truck had to be dispatched to tow the first one out.
This isn't the first time the government has retrieved belongings from Congressman Jefferson's home. Back in August, federal agents raided the Congressman's home in a probe linked to his brother-in-law's recent mail fraud conviction. (ABC)
"In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by [Osama] Bin Ladin and al Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark." -- revised 9/11 Commission Report, September 13, 2005 -- featuring information the Bush administration originally withheld as "classified"
- Local emergency officials still unable to communicate with one another during disasters
- The federal government has no clear system of command and control for crisis response
Both problems clearly exposed in the hurricane and it's aftermath. (WashPost)
Among the new material: a newly declassified section showing the FAA's intelligence unit had gotten "nearly 200 pieces of threat-related information daily from U.S. intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI, CIA, and State Department."
It also shows that US aviation had been operating since 1996 on what is today considered "Code Orange." (USAToday)
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.... I'm not going to defend the process going in." -- President Bush on Katrina response, September 13, 2005
The President says the federal response raises serious concerns about whether the US is prepared to respond to a terrorist attack. (AP via Yahoo!)