Thursday, November 29, 2007

Former Congressman Henry Hyde dies

Former Rep Henry Hyde (R-IL) has died. He'd had open heart surgery over the summer and suffered complications afterward.

Rep Hyde retired from the House last year after serving 32 years in Congress. He was known for opposing government funding for abortions and was a central figure in the impeachment of then President Bill Clinton while on the House Judiciary Committee. (Sun Times)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Army Retrofitting Combat Uniforms

Some soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been holding on by the seat of their pants.

Seems the US Army is retrofitting 1 million unforms because of what it calls "crotch durability problems."

Heavy wear and tear is tearing out the inseams on the baggy battle britches. Seems the seams were only single stitched -- and these troops are doing double or triple tours.

The Army says the tears are unacceptable. They demand that battle uniforms hold up to anything short of direct fire. (USAToday)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

De-Icer Scandal Sends a Chill Down Your Spine

A company that provides de-icing services for airliners at 11 US and foreign airports has been caught slipping the answers to job candidates taking de-icing tests.

Job seekers have to be certified for the de-icing jobs.

KCNC-TV got undercover video of airlines feeding answers to the applicants.

Servisair deices airplanes for 22 airlines at Denver International Airport.

The station spent three-months investigating the story.

Airlines were caught feeding answers to 14 written tests to applicants for Servisair's 500 deicing jobs.

So now you may have people who know nothing about de-icing planes working on your flight this winter..

Just for the record, the FAA says since 1993, 135 airplanes have crashed and 171 people have died because the planes were not properly de-iced. (KCNC-TV/Al's Morning Meeting)

Hastert Leaves the House

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has resigned from Congress. He says the sudden departure will allow Illinois to hold a special election to replace him at the same time as next year's Illinois Presidential primary. From the Chicago Tribune:

Under state law, it's up to Gov. Rod Blagojevich to call a special election, and he has to set the date within five days of Hastert's resignation, which took effect at 10:59 p.m. Monday. By law, the seat must be filled within 120 days.
Rep Hastert says he's not explored job prospects -- citing a potential conflict of interest while still serving in Congress. (Chicago Tribune)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Trent Lott Callis it Quits

Sen Trent Lott (R-MS) will resign from the US Senate before the year's end. He isn't saying what he plans to do, but the former Senate Majority Leader could beat a deadline to start work as a lobbyist sooner. From the New York Times:

By resigning before the end of the year, Mr. Lott would beat the effective date for new ethics rules that double to two years the amount of time former Senators must wait before they can join a firm to lobby former colleagues. The new rule applies to those who leave office “on or after” Dec. 31.
He has spent 35 years in the House and Senate.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

IED Materials Get Past TSA Screeners

The Government Accountability Office has been able to get IED materials past airport screeners. What's more, the GAO investigators found the plans and materials for making the bombs on the Internet. From the Associated Press:

"The investigators learned about the components to make an improvised explosive device and an improvised incendiary device on the Internet and purchased the parts at local stores, said the report by the Government Accountability Office. Investigators were able to purchase the components for the two devices for under $150, and they studied the published guidelines for screening to determine how to conceal the prohibited items as they went through checkpoint security."
The GAO's conclusion was that it was relatively simple and amazingly cheap for terrorists to build a bomb and blow it up on a plane.

But rest assured your three ounces of bottled water will still get you strip searched. (AP)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pork Map lets you see where the pork's going in Congress' spending bills. You can actually see it on a map.

It also lets you contribute your own research or discovery of pork barrel spending. The Washington Post reports:

Three users of the site recently ran down an earmark for ICRC Solutions, an Alaska company that received $1 million for a Land and Sea Special Operations all-terrain vehicle known as a LASSO. In comments posted on the site, users said the company's chief executive is James Lexo, a former aide to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and a big campaign contributor.
And the Post found a million bucks spent on socks for Marines and another million for "Extended Cold Weather Clothing System" -- something the rest of us call "gloves." Bothe were going to Congress members who had factories in their districts or states landing the contracts.

Ex-FBI, CIA Agent Took Classified Info

A illegal alien with ties to the terrorist group Hezbollah was able to get jobs with both the FBI and CIA allowing her to access files on suspected terrorists.

Lebanese citizen Nada Nadim Prouty has pleaded guilty to secretly obtaining information and passing it on to relatives believed to be linked to the terrorist group.

Intel sources say Ms. Prouty was sent to the US specifically to penetrate intelligence operations and serve as a spy. She became an FBI special agent and later went to work as a mid-level CIA operative. (ABC)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cheap, Abundant Hydrogen

Three little words that makes sheiks shake in their boots and oil men cry like little babies: "Cheap, abundant hydrogen."

US researchers have found a new process that makes hydrogen out of waste material and other biomass. It requires electricity -- but it produces 288% more energy in hydrogen than it burns up in electricity.

What's more -- it's financially viable now -- not years down the road.

The breakthrough comes as car companies are experimenting with hydrogen powered or hydrogen fuel cell engines. (AFP)

Entertaining Political Notions

Seems liberals and conservatives are even divided on the kinds of entertainment each side likes.

The Norman Lear Center and Zogby International conducted a survey of entertainment tastes.

Here’s some of what they found.

  • Fox News wins the prize for the most politically divisive TV channel -- 70% of conservatives watch it daily and only 3% of liberals.

  • The only channel conservatives watch less than MTV – is Univision.

  • Not only do liberals give Comedy Central a big thumbs up 31% watch it daily, compared to 6% of all other respondents, you are more likely to find them watching comedies than moderates or conservatives.

  • Brainy stuff like documentaries, arts and educational programming all appeal more to liberals – conservatives prefer action-adventures, business and sports shows. Moderates prefer children’s programs and daytime TV.

  • Conservatives claim their favorite musical genre is classical but are most likely to listen to only two types of musical genres – country and gospel. They’re the least likely to listen to jazz.

  • Rock is the most popular among liberals – but liberals are the most likely to listen to all genres from jazz to punk.
But we're not really a house divided over home entertainment. What pulls us together?

Football, movies on television, and we’re all in the same house with “House.” That FOX doctor drama draws an equal number of people across all political views.

'Hidden Costs' Double Price Wars

Congressional Democrats claim hidden economic costs have raised the pricetag of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to $1.5 trillion. From the Washington Post:

"That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested to wage these wars through 2008, according to the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. Its report, titled 'The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War,' estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000. "
What are the hidden costs?

The report says the war is diverting investments in America and taking Reservists and National Guardsmen away from their civilian jobs. (WaPo)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Veterans Day: An Air Force Memorial

My dad and his Uncle Herbert were Airmen. They got a memorial in 2006. We present this video memorial for them -- and all other veterans -- this Veterans Day. [This video originally ran on Veterans Day 2006]

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rudy's Ties to an al Qaeda Associate

The candidate who's made 9/11 a central theme of his presidential campaign may have done business with an al Qaeda associate who helped in the escape of a 9/11 mastermind.

Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has remained on the payroll of his security consulting firm while running for President. He's refused to disclose his entire client list -- and the Wall Street Journal suggests he has a good reason to keep some of those clients secret. From the Journal:

Some of those clients have controversial records. Among those he hasn't disclosed is the government of Qatar, a Persian Gulf state to whom the firm provided security advice, according to the former U.S. ambassador there. Qatar is a strategic U.S. military ally and energy supplier, yet also a country that has been criticized for its conduct toward al Qaeda -- a potential political pitfall for a candidate pitching himself as an uncompromising foe of Islamic terrorism.
Radar magazine reports Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giulianni's consulting firm has been providing security advice to Qatar's internal security ministry.

"Qatar Interior Minister Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Thani has long had ties to top Al Qaeda operatives including Osama Bin Laden, and is believed by many U.S. officials to have personally arranged the narrow escape of Al Qaeda big-wig Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from U.S. agents in 1996, thereby ensuring his freedom to mastermind the 9/11 attacks."
What's Mr. Giulianni saying about all of this? Not a thing. His campaign says they won't discuss his business.

Expect his opponent to talk about it plenty -- in plenty of ads -- if he wins the GOP nomination. (WSJ/Radar)

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reagan Library Missing Momentos

The Ronald Reagan Library reports 80,000 objects in its collection are missing.

The National Archives Inspector General found that 4 in 5 of the artifacts in the Library's collection are missing or unaccounted for.

So who ripped off the Gipper?

The IG blames what it calls a "near universal" security breakdown.

Insiders at the library were able to simply walk off with artwork, vases, belt buckles and other mementos of the Reagan Presidency.

The IG also found artwork and vases stacked precariously in an area prone to earthquakes. (Seattle P-I)

Fake Badges, Illegal Immigrants, Airport Safety

Federal agents have found illegal aliens using fake IDs to work in critical areas at one of America's busiest airports.

Immigration agents rounded up 23 illegal workers with Ideal Staffing Solutions, Inc. at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Wednesday.

They also found that 110 of the 134 security badges issued to Ideal Staffing didn't match the people wearing them. Some of the 110 badges listed Social Security numbers that did not even exist.

One temporary worker told agents he was told to simply go through a box of IDs until he found a picture that looked like him. (Denver Post)

Date Rape Drug in Toys -- Move Along, Nothing to See Here

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to reduce its staff size and get out of that whole product safety biz, we've got a brand new Chinese toy recall -- because the toy is coated in a date rape drug.

Heckuva job, CPSC!

Something called "Aqua Dots," billed as this Christmas' Cabbage-Patch-Tickle-Me-Elmo-Must-Have-Thing, contain a chemical that when swallowed turns into a chemical similar to gamma hydroxy butyrate -- or GHB.

Two kids in the U.S. have already been hospitalized.

CPSC Acting Commissioner Nancy Nord recently sent letters to Congress asking them to reduce the agency's budget and cut its staff. That staff is already overworked. But the staff's been causing problems for big businesses. Just last month, they ordered 60 recalls -- 25 for toys and other items covered in led paint. (MSNBC)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Terror List Horrors

More than 15,000 people have appealed to the government this year asking their names be taken off the notorious "no fly list."

The list is supposed to keep terrorists off planes. But with 755,000 names -- many of them common names -- on the list, it's kept thousands of innocent Americans off flights.

Among the potential terrorists on the list -- six year old John Anderson of Minneapolis. He was flagged on his first airplane flight to Disney World.

A blond haired, blue eyed, six year old on his way to Disney World? Oh, I should mention he was born on the fourth of July!

Maybe he's why Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) called the list "un-American" in an interview with USAToday. She also compared being on the list to bing in purgatory.

Congress questions Homeland Security types Thursday about the list and the process for getting off it. When it comes to this bureaucratic purgatory -- here's hoping Congress gives the red tape dispensers hell on how they're handling the list. (USAToday)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Making the A-List

Thousands of innocent Americans have been unable to get on airliners because Uncle Sam misidentified them as terrorists.

Deborah Sherman of television station KUSA in Denver interviewed 20 people in Colorado who all share the name "John Thompson."

All of them report trouble getting on airplanes.

There is an actual John Thompson on the terror watch list -- a member of the Ulster Defense Reiment in northern Ireland.

The rest fall victim to the government's No Fly List.

The Justice Department's inspector general says a good 38% of the list is inaccurate or out of date.

There doesn't seem to be any real order or planning with the list. Just a bunch of names. And if an airline finds a passenger who matches a name on the list -- he's not supposed to be on the plane.

KUSA found that while people snagged by false matches are forced to arrive hours early at airports to be cleared, terrorists on the list are still getting on airplanes. A new program to fix those problems, called Secure Flight, has cost taxpayers $200 million so far and may leave participating passengers vulnerable to identity theft.

The list is nearing a million names. Eventually, Washington may be able to keep us all safe from terrorists on planes -- simply by not letting any of us fly. (KUSA/HT: IRE)

Thousands Slip Through Border Security

A Government Accountability Office report suggests as many as 21,000 people who should never have been allowed into the U.S. got through checkpoints last year.

GAO investigators found some checkpoints unmanned. Guards at others never asked for travel documents.

Customs and Border Patrol say they have to balance commerce with security.

The GAO says CBP needs more front line employees.

The union representing the border agents agrees. The National Treasury Employees Union represents 17,600 officers. And says they have to deal with 400 million people crossing he U.S. border every year. (CNN)

Ron Paul's Guy Fawkes Day Coup

Republican Presidential candidate Rep Ron Paul (R-TX) raised more than $3.5 million dollars in a single day. And he tied it to the British holiday of "Guy Fawkes Day." From the AP:

Paul, the Texas congressman with a Libertarian tilt and an out-of-Iraq pitch, entered heady fundraising territory with a surge of Web-based giving tied to the commemoration of Guy Fawkes Day.

Fawkes was a British mercenary who failed in his attempt to kill King James I on Nov. 5, 1605. He also was the model for the protagonist in the movie "V for Vendetta." Paul backers motivated donors on the Internet with mashed-up clips of the film on the online video site YouTube as well as the Guy Fawkes Day refrain: "Remember, remember the 5th of November."

That's the single largest one day take among Republican candidates. Only Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) have raised more money in a 24 hour period. (AP)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Welcome to America

In the world of world wide tourism, Americans are replacing the French waiter as the stereotype of rudeness.

The Discover America advocacy campaign blames the decline on the whole unpleasant experience visitors are put through just to set foot on U.S. soil.

They claim that since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has seen overseas tourism group by 17%. That's cost us $94 billion and 200,000 jobs.

The problem -- rude welcomes, long lines, searches, suspicion, and all the red tape that politicians passed off as protection in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

But in giving in to fear -- instead of embracing the qualities that made America great like courage, resolve and openness -- we've become paranoid of even tourists heading for the Grand Canyon.

And that's created a rift between America and the world.

A visit to America should be one of the most powerful tools to make friends from around the world. And making friends can turn enemies away.

The "Ugly American" has come home. He needs to learn how to treat guests to his home. (AFP)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is a Public Restroom Among Larry Craig's Earmarks?

Senate Republican Leaders have taken a wide stance on Senator Larry Craig's (D-ID) pork barrel spending.

The Senator had promised to resign if he couldn't get his conviction for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom overturned.

The court upheld his conviction -- and the Senator decided to back out of his resignation -- and hang around Capitol Hill.

Taxpayers for Common Sense reports Senator Craig also has his name on about 84 earmarks -- 22 of those in his name alone.

Earmarks are special spending items -- slipped in for a pet project or a special interest.

Seven of those projects alone are worth more than $7 million.

His party's leadership could punish him by cutting off the pork. They haven't.

But you have to wonder -- are any of those pork barrel projects for a public restroom? (The Hill)

What Floats Your Boat

Congress spent $4.5 million dollars on an 85-foot speed boat that only makes one run a year -- and that's just to keep its engine in running order.

The Seattle Times reports that a U.S. Senator and two Representatives slipped the money for the boat into a defense spending bill for the Navy.

Problem is, the Navy never wanted the boat.

So they gave it to the University of Washington.

Which, it turned out, didn't want it either.

Who really wanted it?

Try Guardian Marine International -- a shipbuilder.

Turns out, Guardian had contributed $16,750 to Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA), $14,277 to Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA), and $15,000 to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

And the three included earmarks in defense bills sending Guardian $17.65 million in government contracts for boats the Navy and Coast Guard never asked for and never wanted. (Seattle Times)

Armed Pork

A pair of Seattle reporters found about $11.8 billion in the last defense spending bill were for pet projects and special interests.

David Heath and Hal Bernton of the Seattle Times spent months collecting press releases and campaign finance reports, looking for connections between Congress members and pork barrel spending.

They were able to pin about half the 2,700 earmarks in the 2007 defense bill on specific politicians. (Seattle Times/HT: IRE)