Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Product Safety Honcho Turns Down Money, Staff

The head honcho at the Consumer Product Safety Commission says things are going so great -- they don't want more money in next year's budget. Acting Chairwoman Nancy Nord has fired off two letters to Congress -- asking members to dump plans to double the SPSC's budget and rebuild its dwindling staff.

Afterall, things are great! No big scandals about unsafe products.

No poisoned dog food or toothpaste.

No tires falling apart at highway speeds.

No lead paint on toys.

Seriously. Have you even tried to keep count of all the scandals involving tainted products from China this year?

The good folks at the CPSC could use some help in stopping this stuff before it gets to market.

When scandals of tainted Chinese toothpaste and fish popped up across the U.S. earlier this year, China actually executed their bureaucrat in charge of food safety.

Here, if things get out of hand -- I guess we can always rely on FEMA! (NYT)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Billion Dollar Relics

When the Air Force took delivery of its first KC-135 tanker, Sputnik hadn't flown, the Edsel was still on the drawing board, and "Gunsmoke" was the number one rated television show in America.

The Air Force wants to retire 85 of the old planes. It considers 52 of those "parked" -- unable to fly.

But some folks in Congress refuse to let the Air Force retire the planes -- forcing the military to pay millions to keep the rusting relics on the flightline for missions that will never come.

There are other restrictions on other aging aircraft -- so worn out, the Air Force is afraid to fly them.

But Congress members keep them on the books -- at billions of dollars billed to taxpayers -- so they can keep an air base open in their district -- or steer contracts toward companies that try to fix up the old planes.

In the case of repairing worn out C-5 Galaxies -- the bill might come to $11 billion dollars. (WaPo)

Friday, October 26, 2007

More People Believe in Ghosts Than Bush

More people believe in ghosts and ESP than believe in President Bush.

Nearly a third of Americans believe in ghosts.

A new Associated Press/Ipsos poll found 34% of people believe in ghosts. And 23% even claim to have seen one.

If you feel haunted -- think how President Bush must feel.

The last AP/Ispos poll of his approval rating pegged at 31%. -- three points below believing in ghosts.

On top of that, 48% believe in ESP.

So the psychic hotline has a far bigger following than President Bush?

Hey, if ESP really existed -- wouldn't we have known there were no WMDs? (CNN)

Keeping Polling Places Secret

Pennsylvania has an election coming up on November 6th. But they're keeping the location of polling places secret.

Seems the Keystone State's Keystone Kops are worried that terrorists will try to disrupt their statewide elections if they know where people plan to vote. So they've refused to release thier list of polling places. They say it "protects the integrity of the voting process."

So what are voters supposed to do?

They can still call their state or county election office -- or look up the list on the state's website.

Hey, sure is a good thing terrorists don't have telephones or the Internet! (The Guardian)

FEMA's Fake News Conference

Don't like bad press? Create your own reporters. Seems the Federal Emergency Management Administration did just that.

Al Kamen in the Washington Post reports FEMA called a news conference Tuesday on the California fires -- giving only 15 minutes notice to the real news media.

They did give a phone number where reporters could call in and listen -- but could not ask questions.

FEMA employees pretended to be reporters -- asking plenty of softball questions questions to make FEMA look good.

And some of the cable news outfits -- notably MSNBC and FOX News -- carried the fake news conference live. (WaPo)

Red Tape Tangles Airborne Firefighting Efforts

State and federal red tape kept firefighting helicopters and C-130s grounded in the early days of the California fires. Two C-130s never joined the fight because they were never equipped with the firefighting equipment they were supposed to get four years ago.
"The weight of bureaucracy kept these planes from flying, not the heavy winds. When you look at what's happened, it's disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that's put tens of thousands of people in danger." -- Rep Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in an interview with the Associated Press.

Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) says the planes and copters were grounded because of wind conditions. But state law requires a State Forestry officer aboard all federal aircraft fighting fires -- something Rep Rohrabacher zeroed in on. (AP)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hooker Testifies in Duke Cunningham Scandal Trial

A prostitute testifying in the trial of defense contractor Brent Wilkes has shone some light on the scandal that sent former Rep "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) to prison. From the Associated Press:
"A prostitute whom prosecutors say a defense contractor provided to former Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham testified Wednesday that the congressman fed her grapes as she sat naked in a hot tub before they headed to a bedroom at a Hawaiian resort. "

Mr Wilkes is accused of bribing Rep Cunningham with $700,000 in cash and perks -- for his help in landing $90 million in government contracts. (AP via Yahoo!)

Report: Brownback Quits

MSNBC Reports Sen Sam Brownback (R-KS) will drop out of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination Friday. He was a longshot and raised only $800,000 toward his election campaign in the third quarter. (MSNBC)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore Shares Nobel Peace Prize with IPCC

Former Vice President Al Gore -- along with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. They were recognized for their efforts to raise awareness of manmade climate change and efforts to counter it.

The Nobel panel warned that climate change -- by inducing mass human migrations and limiting resources -- could result in more violence and war unless efforts are made to stop it. (AP)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Going to NASCAR? Get Your Shots!

Congressional staffers were urged to get a battery of immunizations and other shots usually reserved for trips to third world countries -- before attending a NASCAR event in North Carolina.

That isn't sitting well with the local Congressman, Rep Robin Hayes (R-NC).

Gonzales Lawyers Up

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has wasted no time in lawyering up for possible court action against him. From Newsweek:
"Gonzales’s choice of counsel, George Terwilliger —a partner at White & Case—is ironic if not surprising. A former deputy attorney general under the first President Bush, who later helped oversee GOP lawyers in the epic Florida recount battle of 2000, Terwilliger had been a White House finalist to replace Gonzales—only to be aced out at the last minute by retired federal judge Michael Mukasey. "

His biggest concern is the expanding Justice Department IG investigation. That probe has spread from the US Attorney firings to inlcude the warrantless wiretapping program and possible CIA torture techniques approved by the Justice Department. (Newsweek)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Boot Camp 'Nightmare'

A new report from the Government Accountability Office -- the investigative branch of Congress -- finds heat exhaustion and dehydration the leading causes of death at juvenile offender boot camps. From USA Today:
The first federal inquiry into boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled teens cataloged 1,619 incidents of abuse in 33 states in 2005, a congressional investigation out today reveals.

There are currently no federal rules over how the camps operate. The House Committee on Education and Labor is looking into whether rules are needed. (USA Today)

US Embassy in Iraq Behind Schedule and Over Budget

The US embassy in Iraq was supposed to open last month. Now, no one is sure when it'll be completed. From Reuters:

"The sprawling complex, whose cost is edging toward $750 million, was set to open last month but U.S. lawmakers say shoddy work by the contractor and poor oversight by the State Department have delayed it."
Chairman of a key House oversight committee has sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to explain the delays and costs. (Reuters)

More Fuzzy Math

FactCheck.org finds that Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is padding some numbers on his website:
On his Web site, Rudy Giuliani claims that he grew New York City's police force by 12,000 officers between his inauguration as mayor in January 1994 and mid-2000. That's just not true. Most of the cops he's counting – 7,100 to be exact – were already housing or transit police who were simply folded into the New York Police Department. The merger of the departments didn't increase the number of police in the city at all.
New York's crisis command center for a terrorist attack was based in the World Trade Center and destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. Fact Check also points out that Mr Giuliani arrived at the back up command center around noon on 9/11. That was roughly two-and-a-half hours after the primary center was evacuated.

Fuzzy Math

The President used some fuzzy math to add up the member nations in the "Coalition of the Willing" -- the countries allied with the US in Iraq. The President said in a recent speech there were 36 nations. The Daily Show points out it is just 25:

Friday, October 05, 2007

These are the Guys Protecting Us?

The US Postal Servicehandles millions of address changes a day.

Homeland Security proved far less efficient than the Post Office.

A North Carolina businessman fired off an e-mail to the Department of Homeland Security. He'd subscribed to daily e-mail alerts from the Department and simply wanted to have them sent to a new address.

Before the day was out, a computer glitch at DHS fired off 2.2 million messages across the country, jamming e-mail accounts of government and private security experts.

Not to worry. DHS assures they'll pay for any damages or inconvienence this caused -- as soon as they get their money from that Nigerian bank president's widow. (NYT)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

FCC In Tune With Lobbyists

Who will guard the guardians? The Government Accountability Office has found instances were the Federal Communications Commission has helped lobbyists for the industry it's supposed to regulate.

A new GAO report accuses the FCC of leaking tips to business interests before they’re made public.

NPR reports the FCC has given phone and cable lobbyists a heads up about issues up for a vote in Congress. (NPR/Think Progress)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

You Gotta Spend War to Make Money

Remember that war in Iraq that was only going to cost $60 billion tops? You know, the one edging toward $1 trillion now?

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee suggests a War Surtax. With the administration now asking for $200 billion in temporary funding, Chairman David Obey (D-WI) figures it'd be a good time to start paying for it.

Not so says Sen Lindsey Graham (D-SC). He says wars pay for themselves. From NPR:

"You pay for the war by winning the war. This is not an accounting exercise. How did we pay for World War II? Everybody rolled up their sleeves and did the best they could."
Americans also paid a war surtax. (NPR)

First Class Waste of Your Money

Federal employees wasted $146 million of your tax dollars in a single year on first class or other premium airline tickets.

A report from the Government Accountability Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- reviewed more than a dozen agencies. The GAO found 67% of premium class travel was unauthorized. Some of their findings:
  • An Agriculture Department executive took 25 premium-class flights costing $163,000
  • At the Pentagon, a political appointee took 15 premium-class flights and cited a medical condition as justification for the $105,000 in expenses -- though he couldn't provide a doctor's statement to back up his claim
  • Thirty-two State Department employees flew from Washington to Liberia in premium class over a six-month period -- it cost $293,000 and comparable coach-class tickets would have cost $124,000 - a difference of $169,000
The GAO report also points out that several federal agencies are not subject to the rules limiting first class flying. These include the US Postal Service, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (Seattle Times)

Never Let Facts Get in the Way...

A couple of powerful political soundbites from Democratic Presidential candidates -- both addressing race in America:
"The idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating -- pretty soon we're not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They're all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two."--John Edwards, MTV political forum, September 27, 2007

"We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America." --Barrack Obama, NAACP forum, July 12, 2007.

Just one problem -- neither is accurate.

Fact is, five times as many young black men are in college as in prison. Still a pretty sad percentage -- but not as bad as the politicians would want you to believe.

And there is a disproportionate number of black prisoners among the prison population serving time for drug crimes. From Reason:
Of the 250,900 state prison inmates serving time for drug offenses in 2004, 133,100 (53.05%) were black, 50,100 (19.97%) were Hispanic, and 64,800 (25.83%) were white.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shut Up and Take Your Airplanes

The Air Force is getting 10 spanking new C-17 cargo planes. Thing is, the Air Force doesn't want them.

But Congress has ordered the Air Force to take $2.4 billion of it's budget and buy the planes anyway.

The Air Force says it has plenty of the planes -- large, four-engine jets that can ferry men and equipment anywhere in the world.

But, part of the C-17 Globemaster III's are built in Texas. And the Texas delegation on Capitol Hill slipped a provision into a defense authorization bill to keep lobbyists and home state voters happy. The order would mean the Air Force would have to cut back on other things it needs or wants to order the extra planes. (Houston Chronicle)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pink Slips at Blackwater

What exactly do you have to do to lose your job as a mercenary? A Congressional investigation has found that Blackwater USA -- the security contractor -- had to pink slip 122 people in three years. From USA Today:
"Private security contractor Blackwater USA has had to fire 122 employees over the past three years for problems ranging from misusing weapons, alcohol and drug violations, inappropriate conduct, and violent behavior, according to a report released Monday by a congressional committee."
The report to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shows the security firm averages 1.4 shooting incidents a week. And it says 80% of the firings came in cases where the employee -- required by government contract to act in defense only -- shot first. (USAToday)

Conservatives Consider Third Party Challenge to Rudy

Christian conservatives -- a key part of the GOP base since 1980 -- threaten to mount a third party challenge for the White House if Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican Presidential nomination. The group qualifies their opposition by saying they would only "consider" the idea. But the New York Times reports it's a clear warning that Christian conservatives will not support a pro-abortion rights candidate at the head of the Republican ticket:

The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie and dozens of other politically-oriented conservative Christians, participants said.
Mr Giuliani still receives a plurality of support from white evangelical voters in a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. But leaders in the Christian conservative movement warn his nomination could splinter the party. (NYT)

The New Whigs

The Associated Press reports on gallows humor among Republicans looking at next year's chances for Congressional races. Rep Tom Davis (R-VA) jokes about his party going the way of the Whigs. From the AP:

"Fundraising for Republican campaign organizations lags. That is strikingly so in the House, where the party committee spent more than it raised in each of the past two months, reported only $1.6 million in the bank at the end of August and a debt of nearly $4 million. Democrats reported $22.1 million in the bank and a debt of slightly more than $3 million."

On top of that, the Democrats are recruiting top tier candidates in several states with open seats -- while the GOP is having a hard time talking people into running. (AP via Yahoo!)