Friday, September 30, 2005

Aww, if you have to get somebody, Scooter is volunteering.

Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who has been in prison for 85 days for refusing to testify concerning the Valerie Plame leak, (and not coincidentally served as a conduit for lies about Iraq prior to the war) did testify today before special prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald and a grand jury investigating the leak. According to the story, Miller said she got assurances from her source and from Fitzgerald that enabled her to testify.... Before she agreed to talk to the grand jury, Miller's source, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, gave her assurances she could reveal the contents of their conversations. For his part, Fitzgerald promised to limit his questioning of Miller to the Libby contacts regarding Plame.

Read that again. Now, we all knew from earlier stories that it was Karl Rove who spilled the beans, when he told Matt Cooper when Cooper called him that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative, and then called six other reporters including Bob Novak and said the same thing to each of them. Scooter Libby was then mentioned as a secondary source of the information. And keep in mind too, that Fitzgerald's Grand Jury is due to expire on October 28, so Miller could have waited it out until then. So too, could Scooter Libby, unless his agreement to 'let' Miller testify about their contacts is part of a carefully calculated plan. I believe it is. It is a plan to alter the course of the investigation and get the Special Prosecutor and the grand jury to focus on Libby rather than Rove.

What this seems to suggest is, that now that it is clear that someone will have to pay for this act of treason and that the Special prosecutor will indict someone, the tack of the administration has changed, from denial, stonewalling and coverup, to point everything at Libby. Rove, the 'Golden Boy' without whom the Bush administration wouldn't even exist, must be defended at all costs, so it seems as though Libby is being set up to take the fall.

Not that I'd feel sorry for Scooter though-- Republicans take care of their own in these kinds of situations, witness the appointment of John Poindexter, who took the Iran-Contra fall and was convicted of a felony and sentenced on June 11, 1990 to six months in prison (suspended sentence), to work in a choice counterintelligence job in the Bush administration.

Pre-Fab legislation.

Credit goes to Ernest Spoon in a blog posting at Heartland PAC.

Check out this information clearing house article.

(An) alliance of corporate power brokers and conservative Republicans have spent the last five years attempting to hi-jack democracy and move the seat of governance from Pennsylvania Avenue to K Street.

But you won’t read about this coup, you won’t see it played out on the evening news, and you won’t hear about it on talk radio. Why? Because the mainstream media are major combatants.

At the center of this takeover is the K Street Project – an attempt to purge industry’s lobbyists of any and all Democrats, and to make sure that "...even the secretaries..." are "conservative Republican activists."

They’ve just about succeeded.

Over the past five years the relationship between government and industry has been transformed. Now, an assortment of K street Corporate shills write legislation, develop tax proposals, and formulate foreign policy, sometimes in their industry’s self-interest, sometimes at the behest of a few right wing ideologues in Congress or the Administration.

Now I don't have a problem with lobbyists, including corporate lobbyists, doing their job as they have in the past. Lobbyists serve an important purpose, educating Congressmen about the needs and the challenges faced by their various clients so that bad legislation which harms an industry or other group isn't written out of ignorance. But, don't we elect and pay Congressmen to write the actual legislation, as required by the U.S. Constitution? Apparently, not only are we looking at Conservatives who have been elected by no one pretty much running the place, but THEY, not our elected lawmakers, are now the ones writing the laws.

The laws we are seeing, from the Bankrupcty reform bill to the Energy bill to the Medicare prescription drug bill, have been written and prepackaged for delivery to the hill, and about all that Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert have had to do is rubber stamp them through Congress without any significant changes. Of course, as we have seen before, one tactic that they use frequently is to deliver bills that are thousands of pages long (and we now know, are written by industry lobbyists with offices on K Street instead of in Capital Hill offices) to Democrats and those Republicans not in the leadership the night before they are to be voted on and then limit debate to an hour or two. And, of course, Democratic proposals made in committee, never see the light of day and amendments or competing bills offered on the floor are invariably voted down (which the majority certainly has the right to do, I would just question how many of them have even read, since we now know they haven't written, the bills they are pushing instead.)

Even if one IS a conservative Republican, shouldn't the idea that our Congressmen can no longer be troubled to even write the laws, the most basic duty that they should be attending to, be just a bit disturbing?

I guess with all those vacations, fundraising trips and lobbyist-paid junkets to play golf in Scotland, the life of a Congressman is a busy one, so something had to go!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A second chance to elect an honest leadership, and they still blow it.

Credit to this story goes to Dorsano, who posted it on the comments section of one of my other threads, and to my county chair, Ken Smith, who mentioned it at tonight's meeting of our county party.

Since Tom DeLay has been forced to step down due to his indictment yesterday, he has been replaced by Republican whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, who has been named as one of the thirteen most corrupt congressmen and Senators in Washington by the Citizens for Ethics and Responsiblity in Washington. Note that eleven of the thirteen are Republicans (and that of the two Democrats on the list, one, William Jefferson, is a classic 'DINO,' most recently breaking ranks with the Democratic leadership to join the Republican House inquiry on Katrina-- an inquiry boycotted by House Democrats because it promises to be a whitewash, in contrast to the 9/11 style commission that the Democratic leadership has called for).

According to the report,

only hours after Rep. Blunt assumed the role of Majority Whip – he tried to secretly insert a provision into Homeland Security legislation that would have benefitted Philip Morris (now Altria), at the expense of competitors.

In addition, Rep. Blunt’s son Andrew lobbies on behalf of Philip Morris (now Altria), a major client he picked up only four years out of law school. Notably, Altria is Rep. Blunt’s largest campaign contributor, having donated more than $270,000 to political committees tied to him....

Members of the House are prohibited from "taking any official actions for the prospect of personal gain for themselves or anyone else." 5 CFR §2635.702(a). By pushing for legislation that would benefit Philip Morris and UPS, and, as a consequence, his then-girlfriend and his son, Rep. Blunt may have violated this provision.

Federal law also prohibits public officials from directly or indirectly demanding, seeking, receiving, accepting or agreeing to receive or accept anything of value in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act. If Rep. Blunt accepted campaign contributions from Philip Morris, FedEx or UPS in exchange for legislative assistance, he may have violated the bribery statute."

There is also a lot in there about other connections that might be considered as nepotism. Oh, and there is of course the tie to Jack Abramoff (who as I have posted before is now facing serious campaign fraud charges and has not been ruled out as a suspect in a murder).

Rep. Blunt and his staff have close connections to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of criminal and congressional probes. In June 2003, Mr. Abramoff persuaded Majority Leader Tom DeLay to organize a letter, co-signed by Speaker Hastert, Whip Roy Blunt, and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, that endorsed a view of gambling law benefitting Mr. Abramoff’s client, the Louisiana Coushatta, by blocking gambling competition by another tribe. Mr. Abramoff has donated $8,500 to Rep. Blunt’s leadership PAC, Rely on Your Beliefs.

If, as it appears, Rep. Blunt was accepting campaign contributions from Mr. Abramoff in exchange for using his official position so support a view of gambling law that would benefit Mr. Abramoff’s client, he would be in violation of the law.

Now, we have heard over and over how the Republicans are the party of morality. And, I understand that there will always be a handful of bad apples anywhere (although just by sheer numbers, it seems as though for the GOP lately, it is quite a few more than a 'handful.'-- I blogged on it the other day, and with former Illinois governor George Ryan's bribery trial slated to begin this week, it seems that we may soon have as many as four current or recent Republican governors either in prison or convicted of bribery or otherwise using their office for personal gain).

But I would like to know why Republicans in Congress (several of whom are themselves currently being investigated by federal or state officials) elect people like Bill Frist, Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt to serve as their LEADERS.

Possibility # 1: The Republicans know these guys are corrupt, but they only have a problem with corruption when it involves Democrats.

Possibility # 2: The Republicans in Congress are having a really tough time finding enough honest people to run for leadership positions, because so many of them are corrupt.

Possibility # 3: Even if they are honest, corruption is so pervasive on the Republican side of the aisle that they don't believe that there is anything wrong with this kind of behavior.

Possibility # 4: The Republicans in Congress are just plain stupid, and their judgement in selecting leaders makes Lynndie England look like a genius when picking Boy Friends.

So which one is it?

Partisan is in the eye of the beholder

Tom Delay, after being indicted by a Texas grand jury based on evidence presented by Travis county District Attorney Ronnie Earle, called Earle, who is a Democrat, a 'partisan zealot' and suggested that the charges were politically motivated. Well, were they?

Just ask Jim Mattox if he thinks so. In 1983, Mattox, a Democrat, was the Attorney General of the State of Texas, and was expected to run for Governor of that state.

That year, the district attorney in Austin, Ronnie Earle, indicted Mattox on bribery charges. He was acquitted, but the damage was done. Mattox had spent $300,000 on attorneys. His political career began to peter out.

Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, an Austin group that works to reduce the influence of money on government, called the politics-as-usual defense the "standard response" here to an Earle indictment.

"Every single person he has indicted, Democrat or Republican, has claimed politics," Lewis said. "That's what people don't understand. I think Ronnie Earle has just done his job. The people that are criticizing the indictments don't know one thing about Texas law or the facts. And frankly, they need to be quiet and let the criminal justice process work."

In fact, of the fifteen politicians that Earle has indicted since he began his career, twelve have been Democrats!!

Of course DeLay, the quintessential attack dog, who blew up some minor questions about Bill Clinton's earlier infidelities into national scandals, will call it a partisan indictment. What else can he do? Say, 'yeah, I did it, they got me, I resign.'?

Like that will happen.

You can call Ronnie Earle a lot of things, but the facts just don't support that 'partisan' is one of them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update

The other day, I blogged on the trial now going on in a Dover, Pennsylvania courthouse Has the 'monkey' from the scopes trial been elected to the school board?

Well, today a scientist confirmed that the problem with Intelligent Design is that it hasn't been held up to the standard that is expected in science. Dr. Robert T. Pennock, a Professor of Science and Philosophy at the University of Michigan, testified,

"As scientists go about their business, they follow a method,..."Intelligent design wants to reject that and so it doesn't really fall within the purview of science."

Gee, the scientific method. Two years ago, one of my then second grade daughters won a 'best of show' in our local science fair while FOLLOWING the scientific method in her project. By the time she was done, she understood the need to TEST a hypothesis. I guess that means that she knows more than six members of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board.

Also during the trial, a judge agreed to limit questioning of two reporters who wrote that during the October 2004 board meeting when the school board voted to incorporate Intelligent Design into the curriculum, the board members had actually discussed Creationism, to verifying the accuracy of their stories.

We will stay on top of this trial as it unfolds.

Still looking for the 'virtues'

Credit to Tedski over at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion for this one.

Looks like our old friend Bill Bennett, the former Reagan Cabinet Official who wrote the 'Book of Virtues,' a conservative treatise on morality, and then took millions of dollars of the profits from the book and blew it on a Las Vegas gambling binge is at it again.

In response to a caller on his radio show who suggested that the Social Security taxes paid by people who have been aborted in the past thirty years would have solved the Social Security solvency problem, Bennett brushed off the 'far reaching extrapolation' but then responded that "If you wanted to reduce crime ... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.

I don't know if this is some kind of sick fantasy that Bill Bennett has, but for him to say something like this on his radio program really lays open the true nature of the right in this country.

He then tried to cover himself by saying that it would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

If you think that it is impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible, then WHY EVEN BRING IT UP, BILL?

And just think, House Republicans elected Tom DeLay as their LEADER!!

The problem with blogging, as I did yesterday, about the widespread corruption among Republican leaders is that news comes in too much and too fast, to prevent such a post from quickly becoming dated.

Last night, a new report on Frist surfaced, so I dutifully updated the blog post.

So then today, it turns out that DeLay, who I said yesterday is still being investigated, was indicted by the same grand jury that had previously indicted several of his associates. DeLay has stepped aside 'temporarily' from his Republican leader's job.

Of course, DeLay, whose past shows that he is always ready to respond to any criticism or negative news with personal attacks, was quick to denounce Prosecutor Richard Earle as a 'partisan.' Never mind that fact that DeLay is being investigated by the house ethics committee as well, and that all of the stuff he is being indicted on has already been unearthed and appeared in the press, or the fact that state government in Texas is under complete control of Republicans, or the fact that the grand jury, presumably composed of adult men and women only issues indictments when they see there is some evidence to warrant it. No, according to Tom, none of that is relevant, and it is all Earle's fault, a 'partisan witch-hunt.'

I remember once being at a lunch where DeLay spoke (at a conference on healthcare organized by conservatives and where I was pretty much the only liberal in the room) and I can tell you, having listened to the man personally, he sees everything in black and white. If you believe Tom, he is being persecuted by the evil Democrats (and since Earle is about the only one left in Texas, he has to be the one persecuting DeLay).

I think I will have to get on to a different subject besides GOP corruption, because otherwise I will have to update it some more by tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Republicans have nearly absolute power, and an old adage is proven right.

The sleaze around Republicans just keeps getting deeper and deeper.

The more we learn about the investigation into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and his apparent insider sale of stock that he wasn't even supposed to know he had, the more unbelievable his claims about denial seem.

But it isn't just Frist. There are now so many corrupt Republicans around, that I will limit my discussion to those not just with mere ethics complaints, but who are either the active targets of investigations by Federal authorities, or who are under or who have been implicated by persons now under indictment, or who have recently been convicted of actual crimes. Oh, and keep in mind that the federal authorities in question (as well as Texas state authorities) are all Republicans, so these are not partisan witchhunts.)

Over on the house side, there is, or course Tom DeLay. Two groups with ties to DeLay were recently indicted for breaking the law in order to influence the 2002 Congressional elections (and successfully, at that). Aside from the fact that this shows that the Republican pickup of seats in Texas was financed illegally, it is also the case that DeLay is not yet out of the woods, as the case will procede to trial and Mr. DeLay is still subject to being indicted himself.

Also, Mr. DeLay's association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff has spattered a number of Republican congressmen who got questionable money from DeLay's moneyraising machine or accepted questionable gifts, most notably Bob Ney, R-OH (I blogged about this in a previous post, Field of Greed) and noted that Ney also has to answer why he put statements on behalf of Abramoff into the congressional record attacking a man who was subsequently shot to death-- and who Abramoff and partner Adam Kidan have not been cleared of as possible suspects in the murder.) Also, more DeLay money went to Congressman Duke Cunningham, R-CA, who is also under investigation by Federal authorities for accepting 'gifts' in exchange for his vote.

At the state level, we have a pair of Republican governors hip deep in trouble. Ohio Governor Bob Taft last month pleaded guilty to four charges of accepting unauthorized gifts. He may have been smart to do so, in contrast to the slow boil that Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher is now feeling. Wonder if he will soon join former Republican governor Roy Rowland of Connecticut behind bars?

Of course, then there is Karl Rove, now being investigated by a Special Prosecutor for what is effectively an act of Treason against the United States of America.

For a rundown on other corruption cases, visit Banana Republicans on

Now, I'm not saying there has never been a Democrat caught with his hand in the cookie jar (or more likely, given the recent history of scandals, his pants unzipped like Fletcher's Democratic predecessor in the Kentucky statehouse), but right at the moment, it is the Republicans who have proven overwhelmingly unworthy of the public responsibility with which they have been entrusted.

UPDATE (and a timely one at that):

The New York Times is reporting today that the Inspector General of the United States is investigating the Bush administration for demoting the Federal Prosecutor over Guam in 2002 after he began an investigation of Abramoff (then a big Republican fundraiser and a Bush Pioneer).

Monday, September 26, 2005

Has the 'monkey' from the Scopes trial been elected to the school board?

(actual disclaimer put in textbooks by the Cobb County (Georgia) school board, recently declared unconstitutional at a cost of $209,000 to the school district-- a severe pinch for a small rural school district.)

In fact, this is relatively tame compared to the actions of the Dover, Pennyslvania school board, which has expressly mandated that

9th grade biology students “will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”

Today, in a Pennsylvania courthouse, arguments were put forward for and against the new version of the Dover school board science curriculum.

I have blogged before on why, without any scientific evidence to back it up, the theory of 'Intelligent Design' belongs in a philosophy class rather than a science class. This is despite my own personal belief that it may very well be true, but to simply allow it or any other untested hypothesis into a science classroom without holding it to the same scientific standard as other science is held to, is a disservice to American students at a time of an increasingly competitive international research field.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

This is what happens when you get the government out of the regulatory business

The whole idea of the free market operating, without regulation by the government, has always been a cornerstone of conservative economic theory. So, it was a little surprising to hear about the pending investigation by the FTC into price gouging by oil companies in the wake of Katrina. The investigation comes at the result of a request by a group of eight Democratic governors.

Of course, the oil industry has gotten its way more than any other, between the votes of Republicans and oil state Democrats. And that includes deregulation. And, with two oilmen as President and Vice President, they have their way at the top as well. Of course, during the 2000 election, when oil prices were as high as $1.30 a gallon nationally, one argument that was advanced was that two oilmen would know a few things about energy policy, so they could get that down if they got their energy bill passed. Well, it's passed, including ANWR drilling, and even before Katrina, the price of gas had doubled (man, what I wouldn't give for $1.30 a gallon). Of course, oil companies have blamed many things for this, especially the fact that no refineries have been built in America for ten years, which they blame on environmentalists. Well, what about that one?

The answer is found in internal memos from Mobil, Texaco, and Chevron from several years ago which all say essentially the same thing. The thing they propose is, to intentionally limit the number of refineries in order to drive up gas prices and then, when it happens, to blame environmentalists.

And it's all right there in their own memos.

And, how has the refinery shortage and the subsequent disasters affected the oil industry? Not a bit. Oil companies have seen their stock prices about double so far this year on record profits. Station owners, at the front edge of customer complaints, typically make only pennies a gallon, and in fact crude oil prices haven't even risen by as high a percentage as gasoline prices have.

This is a perfect example of why deregulation and 'trusting' corporations to police themselves without government oversight is a bad idea.

Karl Rove's lawyer must be taking Rolaids right now.

Last week, Karl Rove was pretty candid about a number of topics. He said these things at a conference, where the press was not invited, but a great number of public figures were.

He said (pretty much in order)

On Katrina: The only mistake we made with Katrina was not overriding the local government...

Which local government? With hundreds dead in five states, there were quite a few local governments involved. And overrule how? If you, Karl, had a plan to evacuate, who was in place to handle it? As it was, FEMA took two weeks to even show up in parts of southern Mississippi. Perhaps you mean overrule the local governments in El Mirage, Arizona and San Diego, California as in tell them to call off their police overtime since those are the locations where the President actually was during the first two critical days of Katrina?

Karl's nose is growing longer on that one.

On The Anti-War Movement: Cindy Sheehan is a clown. There is no real anti-war movement.

I'll let today's demonstration answer that. Of course, police, especially Washington police, are used to people overstating crowd sizes, so the comment of Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is significant. Ramsey, noting that organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, said, “I think they probably hit that.” Obviously this has gone way beyond Cindy. She may have started it, but the whole anti-war movement grew beyond her last month, when she had to leave her camp for several days after her mother had a stroke. And the camp grew bigger without her.

On Bush's Low Poll Numbers: We have not been good at explaining the success in Iraq. Polls go up and down and don't mean anything

What success in Iraq? We have fought for two years, at a quarter of a trillion dollars, 1900 American troops killed and over ten thousand wounded, and the most we can hope for is that the Iraqis will approve the new constitution and form an Iranian style republic where Sharia is the law and women can't even go to high school. And that is the BEST outcome we can realistically hope for. Hmmm. Wasn't this what the Reagan administration's greatest fear was in the 1980's when they supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war?

This is only success by the standards of the Bush administration, which has failed on the economy, jobs, bringing the 9/11 perpertrators to justice, healthcare, protecting the public, and education.

And most amazing of all:

On Judy Miller And Plamegate: Judy Miller is in jail for reasons I don't really understand...

On Joe Wilson: Joe Wilson and I attend the same church but Joe goes to the wacky mass...

Rove is being investigated by a special prosecutor to see if he committed treason by intentionally blowing the cover of a CIA agent, and he is so arrogant that he has the nerve to crack jokes about Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame? You'd think at least his lawyer would have told him to not comment on it.

Well, I have a quote he may have heard in that church.

Pride cometh before the fall. And some at the conference should know. Among the attendees was Bob Novak (who Rove allegedly leaked the story to, but who has been since following the advice of HIS attorney and keeping his mouth shut about it), and Martha Stewart, whose recent experience probably had her wondering about his precarious perch.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The trust wasn't blind, so why do some Republicans blindly trust this guy?

It now turns out that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's sale of stock which was supposedly in a blind trust.

The sale raised eyebrows because Frist would have had intimate knowledge of the company, Hospital Corporation of America, founded by his father, and the sale was just ahead of a major drop in the stock's price caused by a disappointing earnings report. In fact, other insiders are also being investigated.

More concerning, however, is that Frist apparently knew that it was in his blind trust. What good is a blind trust (designed to avoid conflict of interest by government officials who have to pass legislation that could affect various companies) if it isn't actually blind? How could we trust the Senate Majority Leader if he can't even follow a simple rule like not guiding his blind trust?

I've blogged in the past about how Bill Frist is poll driven and willing to change positions for political gain so now it seems apparently he is corrupt also.

And this is the guy who Republicans in the Senate asked to lead them (and who himself plans to run for President in 2008).

A scary situation developing in and around Houston.

The pictures coming from CNN are disturbing to say the least.

After millions of people were told to evacuate Galveston and Houston, the highways out have turned into parking lots, with fuel stations closed, and cars which have run out of gas idling their engines running out of gas on the road. The airports are packed, and people can't get out because the airport security checkpoints are backed up because so many workers didn't report to work-- apparently heeding the evacuation order and now being trapped on the highways. Today, the temperatures along I-45 north of Houston were near 100 degrees, and some people have moved only a few miles in 12 hours.

Considering how much advance notice Texas officials had, and the experience of watching things break down during Katrina, you'd think they would at least have made sure that there were enough fuel stations open (even if they had to send state troopers to operate the stations).

Let's all pray that the storm misses Houston and the surrounding area, because the thought of hundreds of thousands of people being stuck on the open road during a hurricane with no protection other than their car is truly frightening.

UPDATE: It appears as of this (Friday) morning that they have gotten the traffic moving, and the hurricane is steering away from Houston (although causing more flooding in an empty New Orleans).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Of Men in Mice

I have blogged before on scientific issues and how I have been concerned that we are losing our edge in science. On the other hand, it is not all bad news. When science is held back in the U.S. by cuts in budgets for basic research, and ideologically motivated decisions to attack science, it is nice to realize that there is a big world out there where research continues unabated.

With this in mind, I was heartened to read a story on chromosome transplants into mice.

The research, carried out by Elizabeth Fisher at the Institute of Neurology and Victor Tybulewicz at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, transplants a particular sequence of human genes into mice. The sequence in question is the same one that is associated with Down's syndrome. In addition, according to Dr Tybulewicz, genetic tests on the mice, which will systematically knock out different genes on the transplanted chromosome, will help identify which gene or genes cause each of the symptoms common to people with Down's syndrome. He said, "This should illuminate which genes lead to heart defects, the higher risk of leukaemia and early onset Alzheimer's,"

This is exciting news, and it is nice to see that basic research is moving forward with the hope of someday providing the cures that will help billions of people.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I don't usually plug candidates I can't vote for but these are extraordinary times

By now the use of dozens of NY riot police to break up a rally while Cindy Sheehan was speaking is all over the web (although 'oddly' missing from telecasts of the conservative mainstream media)you can read what Chuck has to say for a synopsis.

I would like to suggest that this is also somewhat rooted in New York politics. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican who was elected to succeed Rudy Giuliani in the wake of 9/11, is now facing a united opposition since Fernando Ferrer won the Democratic primary last week. Despite changing his positions toward the left in advance of the election, the mayor had a problem. With Ferrer getting all the press, Mayor Bloomberg had to do something dramatic to reclaim the stage. The anti-war rally was just the opportunity for him to do that.

Now I haven't posted as much as I would like on the nascent but growing anti-war movement (which is bigger than just Cindy Sheehan, although it organized around her and the President could have bought himself some time if he'd given her half an hour and sent her home happy last month, but it's too late for him on that).

However, this outrage has caused me to think that it may be a good idea for progressives who live outside of New York (and I generally don't get involved in political races outside my local area) to come together in support of Mr. Ferrer's 'Freddy and Goliath' campaign to oust the mayor. If you want to get involved go here. Also keep in mind that IF you live in NY City, then any contributions you make will be matched 6-1 by the NYC Campaign Finance Board, up to two hundred and fifty dollars.

Eerily reminiscent words

Despite the best efforts of the administration to distance the war in Iraq from such comparisons, it seems that every week you hear about some comparison to Vietnam. Of course, the comparison is clear-- a protracted guerilla war in which the mission seems to change regularly (meaning there is no clearly defined mission).

However, a story out today compares the literal words right out of the mouth of Lyndon B. Johnson (1967) and George W. Bush (this year).

LBJ: "America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated"...Despite the obstacles to victory, "We shall stay the course."

-- speech to the Tennessee Legislature on March 15, 1967.

Bush: "We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy."

--August 3, 2005

OK. Not quite the same. I do recall once learning the difference between 'shall' and 'will' in my grammar class. Not sure who has the correct usage.

If you read through the article, there are other comparisons between their words. One in my mind stands out.

"Be assured that the death of your son will have meaning," Johnson told the parents of a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor during a Rose Garden ceremony on April 6, 1967. "For I give you also my solemn pledge that our country will persist — and will prevail — in the cause for which your boy died."

Speaking to military families in Idaho on Aug. 24, Bush said: "These brave men and women gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the security of our country, and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission."

Unable to justify our remaining there for any better reason, the purpose of these speeches seem to be to justify staying and losing more young Americans because of those who have already died.

Now I have had a number of friends (mostly Republicans, but also a couple of Democrats) tell me that we need to support the President during time of war.

I understand that position, but I wonder how many people had the same view 38 years ago, and how many more American soldiers died fighting in a dead end war because of it. It was the wrong position then, and it is the wrong position now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are arrogant jerks.

Credit story to Buzzflash.

Just in case anyone thinks that since the President took responsibility for the Katrina disaster, the Federal Government has become any more responsible: a story in the Mirror says otherwise: Hundreds of tons of British food aid burned.

According to the article, HUNDREDS of tons of British food aid shipped to America for starving Hurricane Katrina survivors is to be burned.

US red tape is stopping it from reaching hungry evacuees.

Instead tons of the badly needed Nato ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption.

And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.

One British aid worker last night called the move "sickening senselessness" and said furious colleagues were "spitting blood".

The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed.

Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant.

Apparently the Food and Drug Administration recalled the food because of regulations in place regarding the importation of meat from Britain following a mad cow (BSE) scare several years ago. The aid worker addressed that issue directly :

"If they are trying to argue there is a BSE reason then that is ludicrously out of date. There is more BSE in the States than there ever was in Britain and UK meat has been safe for years."

The aid worker went on, "This is the most appalling act of sickening senselessness while people starve.

"The FDA has recalled aid from Britain because it has been condemned as unfit for human consumption, despite the fact that these are Nato approved rations of exactly the same type fed to British soldiers in Iraq.

"Under Nato, American soldiers are also entitled to eat such rations, yet the starving of the American South will see them go up in smoke because of FDA red tape madness."

So it is good enough for our soldiers in Iraq, but not for people on cots at evacuation centers. If that is true, then it looks even worse for this government.

The aid worker summed it up better than I could: "There will be a cloud of smoke above Little Rock soon - of burned food, of anger and of shame that the world's richest nation couldn't organise a p**s up in a brewery and lets Americans starve while they arrogantly observe petty regulations.

"Everyone is revolted by the chaotic shambles the US is making of this crisis. Guys from Unicef are walking around spitting blood.

And here is the kicker: After they spent all those millions donating aid to us that we decide is banned by regulations in America, then instead of burning it, couldn't we at least send it back to them?! Or if not that, then put it on the next plane to Sub-Saharan Africa or someplace else where people don't have enough to eat?

Boy, we have a bunch of pinheads running our government, and firing Michael Brown didn't solve the problem.

In memoriam

The Wiesenthal Center has announced the death of Simon Wiesenthal, in his sleep at his Vienna home at the age of 96.

Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor, devoted the rest of his life to tracking and finding Nazis and bringing them to justice. He made sure that none of them could sleep safely, knowing that they were always hunted.

A biography of Wiesenthal is found here.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Katrina now an excuse for-- achieving segregation.

CNN just ran a story about Kenner, Louisiana. The town is a New Orleans suburb that was damaged by Katrina, but not to the point of being uninhabitable. Except for one area.

The city has a sizable Hispanic population. According to the report, the mayor, Phil Capitano, has refused to open a shelter to house people living in one area of the city. The Hispanic area. It is also the only area where the power has not been turned on, and apparently, according to the CNN report, by the order of the mayor. The police chief,who was interviewed said that there was no reason he knew of why it could not be turned on. They even showed a confrontation between the police chief (who is one of the good guys, but doesn't have the final say on anything) and an angry resident about racism. The CNN report made it pretty clear: Pure and simple, the mayor wants a 'whites only' town. In fact, he has now ordered all of the Hispanic residents forcibly removed to another town 50 miles away (his excuse is so they can avoid Rita-- keep in mind that they all stayed during Katrina).

So, I did a little digging. I found on this site. According to the lead story,

La. officials probes pilfered donations

9/18/2005, 7:39 p.m. CT

The Associated Press

KENNER, La. (AP) — Officials are responding to complaints that city workers helped themselves to cases of Gatorade, brand-new clothing and other donated items that were intended for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

This town is evil.

Total contempt for our own puppet government

Today, British coalition troops in Iraq opened an offensive in Basra. Using ten armored vehicles, backed by helicopters, they overwhelmed the opposition, destroyed their target and quickly achieved their objective.

Were they fighting insurgents then? No, they were not. They were attacking an Iraqi prison-- guarded by members of the very same police force that we have been working so hard to recruit and train. Their objective was to free two British commandos, arrested after being accused of gunning down two Iraqi policemen.

According to the article, the British and Iraqis offered different explanations.

Mohammed al-Waili, the governor of Basra province, condemned the British for raiding the prison, an act he called “barbaric, savage and irresponsible...
A British force of more than 10 tanks backed by helicopters attacked the central jail and destroyed it. This is an irresponsible act,” al-Waili said, adding that the British force had spirited the prisoners away to an unknown location.

The British view is this:

Late Monday, a Ministry of Defense spokesman, speaking in London on condition of anonymity as is customary, said he had no information suggesting the men were freed as a result of any overt military action. But the spokesman stopped short of denying reports that British vehicles crashed through the jail walls. The ministry issued a statement saying the two Britons were back with other British troops....According to the BBC, defense officials insisted they had been talking to the Iraqi authorities to secure the release of the men, but acknowledged a wall was demolished as British forces tried to “collect” the two prisoners.

Additionally, a witness said that he watched about 150 prisoners flee the jail (did the British not care about this either, or just assume that when they knocked the wall of the jail down the rest of the inmates would just quietly sit around waiting for the guards to return?)

In other words, the British chose to ignore Iraqi 'sovereignty.' Of course, this isn't the first time this has been done. We made it clear last year, just a day after the ink was dry on the proclamation of Iraqi sovereignty, that they would know that it was just a piece of paper.

On June 29 of last year, just one day after granting Iraqi sovereignty on June 28, 2004, The coalition decided that they didn't like an Iraqi court acquitting a man on a charge of attempted murder of coalition troops, so the coalition authority rearrested him and sent him to Abu Graib for a retrial.

US prosecutors said that he was being returned to the controversial Abu Ghraib prison because under the Geneva Conventions they were not bound by Iraqi law.

Interesting that our prosecutors alluded to the Geneva convention when under the infamous Gonzalez memo of 2002, they also claim not to be bound by the Geneva convention. But, the real issue here is this:

As I said at the time, I have no problem conceptually with the coalition authority believing they have the right to try a man accused of attacking coalition troops. But, if they believe that, why did they send him to an Iraqi court in the first place? They obviously were only going to uphold the verdict if it was favorable (sort of like if you get a die roll you don't like, picking the die up for another roll). This makes it clear that they considered the Iraqi court as a puppet institution, and coming only one day after the official 'sovereignty' date, it made it clear that it was a farce.

Oddly enough, it may happen that Iraq does eventually have an independent sovereign government, but if it does, it will resemble the pre-war government of Afghanistan (if the new constitution is any guide), and it will be because we failed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Will he recognize what is really unecessary spending before he cuts it?

President Bush promised to rebuild the Gulf Coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama-- an undertaking expected to cost well over a quarter of a trillion dollars (that's 'trillion,' with a 't.')

He said that he would do it without raising taxes, and balance the budget by cutting 'unnecessary spending.'

Of course, this goes along with his conservative philosophy, but on further examination it looks anything but conservative.

For example, in order to finance our last quarter trillion dollar disaster, in Iraq, without raising taxes (and in an economy already mired deep in record debt thanks to his tax CUTS in early 2001), the President cut 'unnecessary spending' already, several times. Among the hits: deep cuts to the national parks and other shared treasures of America, and cuts to block grant programs to the states. This last case was actually a stroke of genius on his part, if his goal was to get rid of government assistance to the poor without being blamed. While running for office, he campaigned on changing the way Federal assistance was given, and proposed packaging them into block grants to the states. His first year in office, this was done. Then, after another year, he began proposing (and Congress began passing) deep cuts in the block grants. This put state and local officials in the position of taking the heat for either the inevitable cuts in services or increases in taxes, while the President could claim that he was not making the decisions on these matters.

Most troubling, however, was another matter on his cut list: New Orleans levees. Not just New Orleans, of course, but public safety and works across the country. As quoted more than a year ago in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
-- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the levee money would have, even if it was approved in full, prevented widespread death and destruction at the hands of Katrina (although it is equally valid to point out that it would have alleviated the effects in some areas); but what this shows is something very profound. The President's definition of 'unnecessary spending' is highly questionable. If it involves gambling that the deleterious effects of cuts won't happen, just as he gambled with the New Orleans flood control system to finance Iraq, then I (not being a gambler) don't support it.

However, since the President is so opposed to raising taxes, I would like to propose an 'unnecessary' spending program that he could cut: Repeal or suspend the enormously expensive and ineffective Medicare Prescription Drug bill that was passed in December of 2003, and which, even in order to get passed, Tom Delay had to break the rules including, among other violations, offer what amounted to a bribe to Republican Nick Smith of Michigan (which is one of the ethics charges DeLay is now answering to the ethics committee for). Not only that, but the actual cost was kept secret, even from the members of Congress who actually had to vote on it.

According to a report published by the Pacific Research Center, this bill, which sends most of its taxpayer largesse to pharmaceutical companies, originally pegged at $400 billion for the first year, will cost over $1.6 trillion over the next two decades.

Meanwhile, America's seniors are not as dumb as the Republican leadership thought they would be. It turns out, that they are opting out of the program in unanticipated numbers. In fact, the President and his supporters will be lucky if they even get half of the seniors in America to sign up for what is being billed as a 'free' benefit. In fact, it is ironic that during the crucial first two days of the Katrina crisis, the President was in Arizona and California campaigning to try and get seniors to sign up for the program.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, Author of the Total Health Program, sums it up perfectly: The Medicare drug plan will force millions of older Americans to accept inferior drug coverage while it enriches pharmaceutical companies and cheats taxpayers.

Now, the $1.6 trillion dollars that the Medicare drug bill will cost according to the Pacific Research Center study is several times even the highest estimates for Katrina. And it does little or nothing for seniors, but only enriches Merck and Pfizer.

Further, despite what we all think of when someone says, 'welfare,' between draconian cuts in individual welfare in most states due to the block grant situation, and huge increases in corporate welfare under Bush because of bills like this, corporate welfare is now five times as much of what is spent in welfare every year, as is welfare payments to individuals.

So, instead of urging the President to raise taxes (although sooner or later we will have to do that too when it comes time to pay the piper for all this borrowing), I have a suggestion for some 'unnecessary spending' he can cut.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Maybe they just pay him to PRETEND that he's paying attention

President Bush, in an ABC interview on September 1, three days after Hurricane Katrina, said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

Of course the fact that this had been anticipated is by now well documented elsewhere. However, it turns out in this story, Katrina forecasters remarkably accurate that

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield also gave daily pre-storm videoconference briefings to federal officials in Washington, warning them of a nightmare scenario of New Orleans’ levees not holding, winds smashing windows in high-rise buildings and flooding wiping out large swaths of the Gulf Coast...

A photo on the White House Web site shows Bush in Crawford, Texas, watching Mayfield give a briefing on Aug. 28, a day before Katrina smashed ashore with 145-mph winds.

And there you have it. The President believes that no one anticipated this, but the day before he was briefed by the guy who did.

Wonder where his mind was wandering.

Even Ghouls can get a No-Bid Contract.

Credit goes to my sister, Miriam, for alerting me about this story.

I wrote a post Wednesday questioning the handing out of no-bid construction contracts. But this is even worse.

According to Raw Story, the no-bid contract for collecting, identifying and disposing of bodies from Hurricane Katrina has been outsourced to a firm, Kenyon Interntational, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International, SCI, a funeral company with a long a sad record of breaking the law to dispose of bodies, some in very disturbing ways.

So how did SCI get the contract? Well, it began with FEMA (then under Michael Brown) who contacted the firm and began negotiations. Then, after the Department of Homeland Security finished negotiating the deal, Lousiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed it.

From the story:

In other words, FEMA and then Blanco outsourced the body count from Hurricane Katrina -- which many believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- to a firm whose parent company is known for its "experience" at hiding and dumping bodies.

For example, in 2002 , the state of Florida sued SCI and its Florida funeral home, Menorah gardens, because of accusations that occupied plots that were resold. It also affirms the most disturbing accusation: that a backhoe was used to crack open a vault to make room for another body. Pieces of Hyman Cohen's vault, burial shroud and remains were scattered in nearby woods in ''a field of wild hogs,'' according to the state.

After being taken to court, SCI paid $100,000,000 to the families of the deceased.

Then, SCI was one of several companies implicated in a a Georgia scandal involving the dumping of bodies in the woods by an unlicensed crematorium. In that scandal, it was also unearthed that 67 bodies were packed into a vault designed for one body.

No wonder we have this exchange from the Raw story article:

A secretary at the lawfirm that sued SCI over the Florida cemetery scandals gasped when informed that FEMA had outsourced handling of Katrina victims' bodies to an SCI subsidiary.

"Oh, good lord!" she said.

Now, we know what SCI's past record is. So why did they get the contract? Well, that relates to an ealier scandal, in Texas in 1998. To really understand the article, it is necessary to know what was then common knowledge in Texas-- that the relationship between SCI CEO Robert Waltrip and the Bush family goes way back. According to an article in the Washington Post about a judge's ruling that Bush, then running for President, would not personally have to testify in the case, Waltrip donated $45,000 to Bush's 1994 gubernatorial bid.

According to the article,

What began as a citizen's complaint against SCI in January 1998 has since grown into a scandal revolving around campaign contributions, and the influence they may buy. All of the politicos who intervened on SCI's behalf received major contributions from SCI's political action committee, or PAC. Did that money convince them to help SCI -- the world's largest death care company -- and to punish the agency that investigated SCI? Whether that was the reason or not, the state officials took positions that may hurt consumers. SCI's prices are routinely among the highest in the funeral business. One consumer advocate, Lamar Hankins, the president of the Funeral & Memorial Societies of America, says the company routinely engages in "price gouging." But campaign cash, not consumers, is at the heart of this scandal. And the scandal promises to grow as the lawsuit -- filed by former TFSC director Eliza May -- works through the discovery process. The suit alleges that May was fired because she "repeatedly and in good faith reported violations of the law and conduct that she reasonably believed to constitute violations of the law."

Now, a whistleblower was fired. And not even a whistleblower against the Bush administration, but rather a whistleblower against a company owned by a Bush friend. Man, what a feeling of deja vu I had when I read that.

So, they give a no-bid contract to a company owned by a Bush friend and which has a record of just getting rid of corpses to handle the bodies of Katrina victims. And, here is the kicker: we are paying SCI to do a job that local mortuaries had already agreed to do for no charge. At the end of the original article, we find:

Dan Buckner, co-owner of the Gowan-Smith Chapel in the Gulf area... had planned to serve with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Repsonses Team... Upon learning of Kenyon's contract, Buckner expressed puzzlement. He told the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, 'volunteers would have gone at no charge.

Aside from making the body count questionable, the selection of Kenyon and SCI is hardly reassuring to the victims of Katrina who may have lost loved ones in the disaster. At the very least, isn't it your right to expect that your family members will receive a decent burial?

Red meat politics

We have a lot of really big issues to debate right now in this country. The war in Iraq, what we are doing about terrorism, the situation in the Gulf Coast and what to do about FEMA, jobs, the environment and global warming, the protection of our intelligence assets, the record national debt and ongoing deficits, the accessibility of healthcare to millions of people who are being priced out of the market, fuel costs and energy policy, Social Security, protecting our children from predators, immigration, Iran, North Korea, education, the list is endless.

However, I predict that the issue we will hear the most about in the next election is none of these. It will be about the ruling by District Judge Lawrence Karlton that two districts in California cannot allow their students to recite the pledge of Allegiance containing the two words, 'under God.'

Now, I have my own opinion about that, which is that the phrase does not invoke a supplication to Deity, nor is saying the pledge (or for that matter mouthing those particular words when saying the pledge) mandatory in any situation. Heck, go to any large public event and you will probably see people sitting and chatting during the pledge, or during the national anthem. Therefore, there is no reason to claim that it is an enforcement of belief, and in fact, it has been said as it is since 1952, so it is likely as much a part of nearly every American by now as the recognition of the motto, 'In God we Trust' on the money, so there are no real grounds to change it. I would further suspect that the majority of liberals would agree with my position on that, even though it is in contrast to what conservatives are always trying to claim that liberals believe in. In fact, a couple of years ago when the original ruling was issued by the ninth circuit, I immediately contacted my school board member and suggested that if such a nonsensical policy were put into force here, then perhaps the school might simply raise the flag five minutes early every day and the public could stand on the street (public access) and say the pledge INCLUDING all of its words, together.


However this goes, it is a minor issue. The fact that such a big deal is being made over it however is in keeping with the stuff that the right usually throws into elections. For example, every election cycle, we hear again about a flag burning amendment (never mind that there was exactly one documented instance of an American flag being burned last year in America in protest-- to listen to the right wing, replete with stock footage of flag burnings from decades ago, or taken from Al Jazeera broadcasts from that part of the world, you'd almost think that the sidewalks of American cities were lined with people standing side by side burning one flag after another.) The purpose of the 'flag desecration amendment' is not to change the Constitution. It is to get Democrats who oppose changing the most important document in the world just to stifle a handful of kooks, on record as 'supporting people burning, urinating on and walking on the flag,' so that Republicans can use it as political fodder.

We have seen the same kind of stuff on other issues, such as last year when the Republican National Committee sent out mailings to West Virginia voters advising that Democrats had a secret plan to ban the Bible (that one worked, by the way-- until then Kerry was even with Bush in that state, but after the flier went out he never came within striking distance again.) You will also hear them pounding the drums on the Death Penalty (completely ignoring the fact that aside from the Federal Death Penalty, which covers a very small number of inmates, the death penalty, its use, its legality and its ethics are purely state issues that the courts occasionally issue rulings on, but the President and Congress have almost no say on it.) I even remembered the year I lived in Texas, the Republican candidate for railroad commissioner won by running 'tough on the death penalty ads' (I guess in case they ever decide that tying people to the tracks is a legitimate method of execution). You will probably also see a number of gay marriage amendments (11 were on the ballot, mostly, by 'coincidence' in swing states last year, or states like Oklahoma that had a critical Senate race, and not surprisingly, the states where they are working on it for 2006 all have a Democratic governor and/or a possible tight Senate race; I wonder if Mr. Rove had anything to do with this?

But hey, this is nothing new. Republicans know they can't win on the issues in most places, so they have learned obfuscation, distortion and personal attacks, and raised them to a new level.

But now they have a newer issue. Thanks to the court ruling, you will hear about how Democrats are 'anti-American (and frankly, even those who want to return to the pre-1952 pledge would only be reciting the same version of the pledge that millions of Americans took during WWII-- were they anti-American too?) We will see it overtake the real issues, as this kind of stuff always seems to.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Perspective makes all the difference

Funny, but losing one's home can change one's perspective.

For example, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who lost his home in hurricane Katrina (along with about a million other people) has admitted that it was a mistake to put FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security.

Now, Trent was downright embarrassed two weeks ago when President Bush showed up at the ruins and joked about how nice it would be to sit on Sen. Lott's porch when he rebuilds it (Lott recently blamed Bush for helping to engineer his loss of the majority leader's job over racially insensitive remarks three years ago). Probably he was embarrassed by being singled out when so many others suffered the same loss.

But considering that Lott helped to move FEMA to the DHS, his change of heart is significant. He has seen firsthand how, even today (if you read the article you will find this) there are STILL people in Mississippi waiting for FEMA to arrive. In fact, the destruction of coastal Mississippi and the agonizingly slow response time has been all but ignored by the media focusing on New Orleans (as well, recently, by the White House since they don't have the convenience of a Democratic Governor they can blame FEMA's late arrival on).

Lott has now seen first hand that the effect of subordinating FEMA's role to that of the new agency, combined with its having an incompetent head, has made it ineffective.

The role of Government is to protect the state and its citizens, and he has now realized that it no longer does this.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is a little oversight too much to ask?

This week, two news stories came out that highlight an ongoing problem, and one which apparently the Bush administration does not consider it necessary to do anything about.

The first, was when it turned out that September 11 funds, appropriated by Congress to be given to banks for the purpose of making low interest loans to businesses victimized by the September 11 terrorist attacks, were found to have been loaned to businesses all over the country, and as diverse as a liquor store, pizza joint and hair salon in Iowa and a smoothie maker, an auto repair shop and a dentist in Colorado. The culprit? Well, according to the second article,

the AP review suggests that there was little oversight over who was getting the money and that banks had financial incentive to make as many loans as possible..

From the first article,

Mike Schlueter, owner of Brewski's Beverage, a liquor store in Council Bluffs, got a $544,000 STAR loan in the fall of 2002 when he purchased the business from its previous owners. He said he never knew the money was linked to terrorism relief..."I didn't even know. The bankers were the ones that dealt with everything," he said. "I completely relied on the bank for the funding."

The money was just given to the banks, and the government just assumed that it would be used to help businesses hurt by terrorism.

More recently, the work performed in Iraq by companies such as Bechtel and Fluor, politically well connected companies given no-bid contracts for work in Iraq, is coming under scrutiny. For example, Fluor and Bechtel were among firms accused of fraud and abuse in Iraq.

According to Peter W. Singer, a former Pentagon official interviewed in this article, the onus for the fraud and financial irregularities should not be on the companies themselves, but on the government.

"it's not the company's fault if it has a dumb client. I'm not blaming the companies, I'm blaming the government," said Singer, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The contracts are legal because the Bush administration repealed regulations put in place by the Clinton administration that would have allowed officials to bar new government work for companies convicted or penalized during the previous three years. Of course, companies like Bechtel (six violations the past ten years) and Fluor (fifteen violations) would have been barred had Bush not changed the law.

Now, we see that these same two firms have been awarded no-bid contracts for rebuilding Katrina work.

Keeping in mind that because the President's invocation of an exception to the Davis-Bacon act allows contractors to pay below prevailing rates, this no-bid contract holds an even sweeter cherry-- for the contractors.

We see what the problem is. Repeat violators continuing to rip off the government at every turn. The claim that Katrina relief had to be expedited, which justifies the no-bid contracts is true in some areas, but not in construction since it will take several weeks before the city is decontaminated and otherwise made habitable. This is plenty of time to put out a contract for bid.

Is the culprit a lack of people to provide adequate oversight, is it that the people are there but are providing incompetent oversight, or is it that this administration looks the other way on corporate fraud because they don't consider it a serious problem or they refuse to believe that a large corporation might break the law, or that it isn't such a big deal if they do?

North Korea will keep their nukes.

North Korea said yesterday that they will keep their nuclear program.

According to a Newsweek article, Pyongyang said flatly that it will not give up its right to civilian nuclear programs. Of course since the North Koreans have issued claims before that they already have nuclear weapons, and millions of its citizens still live in huts with no electricity at all, it is clear that this 'civilian' nuclear program is code talk for nuclear weapons program.

The fact is, the North Koreans can say what they want. They know they are safe from an American military invasion (and have been for years). There are two main reasons for this:

1) they already have a deterrent, in the form of thousands of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, which essentially hold the south Korean capital hostage and could begin blanketing that city with shells within literally seconds after an order came to do so, and 2) recalling that the Chinese intervened in 1950 when American forces came too far up into North Korea, they know it is unlikely that America would risk an invasion. China, to be sure, sees North Korea as a minor nuisance, sometimes flooding the border with refugees, but it has to be considered a possibility that an American army that close to their borders would provoke the same response it did in 1950. That said, the article suggests that the Chinese intend to lean on North Korea, In New York on Tuesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao told President Bush that China was ready to “step up” pressure on Pyongyang for progress in the negotiations.

Beyond that, truth be told, the North Koreans (just like the Iranians, who I posted on a couple of weeks back) know that despite inheriting the strongest military machine in the history of the world, President Bush has squandered it to the point where other than bombing, there isn't a whole lot we CAN do. Right at the moment, we simply don't have the ability to invade North Korea or anywhere else. Our army is scattered and does not have a clear mission.

The fact is, North Korea can develop any nuclear capable system right now that it wants.

So what should we do?

First, tone down the rhetoric. We won't invade North Korea, so why should we keep talking like we mean it when clearly we don't?

Second, sell them the food and medcine they want. A hungry country is a desperate country, and there certainly indivuals and organizations who would pay a great deal of money for a working nuke. If we make them too poor, then we risk creating exactly the hazard that is our greatest fear-- terrorists with nuclear weapons.

Third, We need to come to grips with the fact that another nation is in the nuclear club. The whole nuclear non-proliferation treaty is rarely endorsed by countries now building them. We won't be able to prevent more and more nations from joining, so we need a different 'line in the sand' (I blogged on this early in July).

Fourth, we must begin a policy of 'constructive engagement.' It is no secret that alone among communist countries, Cuba and North Korea stand out as being old line Marxist states. And, not coincidentally, those are the two countries where we have maintained a cold -war style of engagement. In communist countries where we have engaged the public and showed them the benefits of our lifestyle, either the people themselves have overthrown their governments (i.e. Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union) or pushed them into making some reforms, which will be an ongoing process (i.e. China, Vietnam). Isolating countries like North Korea and Cuba only serves to strengthen the Marxist dictators in those countries internally.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sex ed groups find a way to challenge abstinence only education.

Abstinence is the only 100% sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. We know that, and it should be taught that way as part of a broader sex education curriculum.

However, what we have seen over the past few years is an abstinence only curriculum. In fact, this agenda, which removes all other forms of sexual education, is damaging, because it is ineffective. A study by the American Society of Pediatricians cites statistics that 45% of high school girls and 48% of boys have engaged in sexual intercourse. For these students, who are not practicing abstinence, there needs to be a recognition that ignorance is more dangerous than providing a discussion of birth control, STD's and other topics contained in a sex ed class.
In fact, abstinence only education is a recent development, and it is (as I posted on July 21) liberal solutions that have worked over the past generation to reduce the abortion rate to half of what it was in the mid 1970's.

Now, however, we see a new tactic being used by groups which favor a broad based sex education curriculum (and despite what conservative pundits say, no liberal proposes not teaching the benefits of abstinence, but rather we support teaching it as the best, but not the only option for avoiding pregnancy and illness). These groups are challenging abstinence only by the use of an obscure law that allows "affected persons" to seek the correction of information disseminated by federal agencies, the groups said Tuesday that the abstinence education programs contain erroneous and ineffective information. They asked the Health and Human Services Department to correct it.

According to James Wagoner, the President of Advocates for Youth, one of the two groups challenging the programs, the programs state that condom use reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS by 69-90%, while in fact the rate is at least 98%.

Now, abstinence is still the best plan, and I hope that my younger daughters practice it. But my older daughter did not, and I hope that if they also do not then they will use birth control and protect themselves in every way they can.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Will Bush's first veto be of a bill to end torture?

According to this story in the Boston Globe about the Bush/Rove response to Katrina, there is an interesting battle possibly bubbling on the horizon.

Hidden about halfway through the article,

Senator John McCain, a conservative Republican and a war hero, has been appalled by the administration's policy that prisoners of war in American custody may be deliberately subjected to cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment as part of interrogations. We are the only nation in the world with such a stated policy. (which was designed in 2002 by now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales).

McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, all Republicans on the Senate armed services committee, have drafted an amendment to the defense appropriations bill.

It states that US policy should be:

defined as the interrogation procedures authorized by the US Army Field Manual, which specifically prohibits cruel, degrading, or inhumane treatment. Second, all detainees held by the United States, in whatever invented category, must be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Not an unreasonable amendment at all. McCain said, 'This is not about who ''they" are, McCain has said repeatedly. It's about who we are. ''We are Americans... and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how terrible they may be. To do otherwise undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation."

Bush responded to the proposed amendment by threatening to veto the entire defense appropriations bill if the amendment is included. He sent Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to capitol hill to twist Republican arms.

Since then, dozens of retired generals, admirals, and other ranking officials have signed letters supporting the McCain amendment. Retired Brigadier General James Cullen, former chief judge of the US Army Court of Appeals, told a conference on national security policy in Washington last Monday that the legal experts of the military's own criminal system had been systematically excluded from the setting of interrogation and detention policy after 9/11.

Now, I for one am not one to trust McCain, he shifts positions more often than a weather vane. Virtually everything he does is with an eye to his own Presidential prospects in 2008.

But this amendment is bigger than McCain. It is about the United States standing up for what we have been in the past (after all, it only returns interrogation tactics back to what they have been historically, and puts us into compliance with the Geneva convention in regard to Red Cross registration).

Send the doctor here then.

I had earlier done a post on why the President declined foreign aid when people were dying.

Today, he not surprisingly declined another offer. from Cuba.

However, as the article says, Despite Bush administration assurances that international aid offers will be kept free of politics, Cold War tensions seem to be freezing out help from Cuba.

Empty words, apparently.

Now I have no great love for the regime of Mr. Castro, and there is no question that he is a despot whose death won't be mourned by a great many people. However, a doctor is a doctor, and aid is aid, and it is very presumptuous of President Bush, who took several days to make up his mind about aid from even friendly countries, to turn down any aid. Heck, if they don't want the doctor cited in the article in the disaster region, then send him here-- like most rural areas, we are chronically short of doctors here (I even know some people on the reservation who go the medicine men instead of doctors-- not because of some deeply held faith, but simply because they can get in to see the medicine man and the doctors are booked up for weeks or months in advance).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Righties should pay attention to this Republican. I do.

Last month I wrote a post on Colin Powell entitled, Trading Honor for a Pack of Lies in which I described the admission by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's assistant that Powell had been fed intelligence which was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

In the post I wrote

To this day, I believe that Colin Powell believed what he said, and if one could ask him I believe he would regret his propagation of a lie. As Secretary of State, he had an absolute right to know what anyone else in the administration knew, yet they knowingly fed him lies, and therefore fed him to the wolves.

Well, it happens that this week, Powell answered that question, and many others, in an wide-ranging interview he gave to ABC news.

In addition to his role in the run-up to the Iraq war, Powell discussed the response to Hurricane Katrina.

His insights are valuable, because they are correct. In fact, he also verified everything I wrote in the initial post when he said,

He told Walters that he feels "terrible" about the claims he made in that now-infamous address — assertions that later proved to be false.

When asked if he feels it has tarnished his reputation, he said, "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

Although he does not blame former FBI director George Tenet, he says,

"There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me."

Addressing the Katrina response, Powell said, "I think there have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels — local, state and federal. There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why."

Exactly right. The dangers to New Orleans have been documented in article after article, report after report, and yet requests for funds to maintain levees, build higher levees, and upgrade and build pumps and other drainage systems were routinely ignored by Congress, except to be cut. (see, the US news article, Why Didn't Anyone do Anything about the Warnings?. Al Naomi, a senior project manager for the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of engineers, told U.S. News in June that his proposal entitled, 'Benefits of category 5 Protection: Loss of Life Prevented; Makes evacuation manageable," (to upgrade protection in the city to withstand a level 5 hurricane) is still awaiting federal funding--for a feasibility study.

Powell also said, "When you look at those who weren't able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own. These are people who don't have credit cards; only one in 10 families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing — but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor,"

Right again.

He also said that he was reluctant to go to war in Iraq, but once the President made the decision to do so, he supported it.

Now, there are some things I disagree with Mr. Powell strongly about, including his insistence that we must remain in Iraq, but clearly he stood, as I perceived him then, head and shoulders above the rest of the Bush administration.

And I was wrong about one thing in my August post. I ended by saying, To paraphrase MacArthur, (Powell) now just an old soldier fading away.

Apparently he isn't fading away after all. And that is a good thing.

Something else Congress could do in addition to appropriating funds

Katrina has been called the perfect storm.

It soon will be exactly that, but with the assistance of the U.S. Congress, for a group of people you may not have heard as much about lately.

Last May, the Congress passed and President Bush signed a bankruptcy reform bill which was largely written by the credit card industry. The bill, which is scheduled to go into effect on October 17, raises the bar for people to file for chapter seven bankrupcty. Under the new law, many people will instead be forced to file for chapter thirteen bankrupcty, which is much more onerous and opens up the likelihood of losing one's home or other assets. The new law requires that most of the people whose income is above the median for their state file chapter thirteen instead of chapter seven. The worst part of the law is that it requires that the court NOT consider the causes for the debts involved. So, people who are forced to file for bankrupcty due to job loss, horrendous medical expenses or a disaster like Katrina are considered exactly the same in court as people who went on a shopping spree at the mall and ran up a bunch of credit card debt.

So who is this going to hurt? For the most part, not the people you have seen on television every day in shelters or stadium seats. Those people face a horrific trial to come, and it will begin by burying the dead in their community in the coming months. But chapter thirteen bankruptcy is probably a trial they won't face, because nearly all of them will fall below the median incomes for their states, and if they file for bankruptcy it will be chapter seven.

The people it will hurt is another group of Katrina victims, a group that you probably haven't heard about as much. They are people, mostly from suburbs or wealthier parts of New Orleans or from coastal Mississippi, nearly all white, mostly homeowners, who probably left during the evacuation and may have found a hotel room in Jackson or Baton Rouge but who now may not have a home and certainly don't have a job to go back to. The hurricane destroyed over 400,000 jobs, including virtually every job in New Orleans except for a few hundred police and other emergency workers.

When these people cannot make their house or other payments, they may file for bankruptcy. But their income will be determined as if they still had a job (in fact, most of them technically do, they just aren't doing it or getting paid for it), along with other factors like last year's income. So their failure to earn income right now will have a minimal effect, and I suspect that many, if not most, will be determined to be above the median income for Louisiana or Mississippi (both states with overall a low median income). This will put them on track for chapter thirteen, and losing their homes (or they could just accept foreclosure and lose their homes that way). The home may be rebuilt, if it is insured for flood damage, or by Federal government aid (don't hold your breath on that one though, I have a friend in the Florida panhandle who knows people still waiting for Federal assistance from Hurricane Ivan last year, and who got hit again with Dennis this year), but they won't be the ones moving back into it. The banks will sell it to someone else and their years of payments will be no better than very high rent payments. And remember that by law the bankruptcy court can't consider their status as a Katrina victim.

It is true that most of these people are relatively wealthy, white, and live in areas that voted for George Bush heavily. They voted for Congressmen who supported the new bankrupcty law.

But just because someone is wealthy, white and Republican doesn't mean that they don't deserve compassion.

Here is my proposal:

Enact emergency legislation in Congress to suspend the effects of the new bankrupcty bill for one year for people residing in zip codes affected by Hurricane Katrina (this is a well defined group, and easier to determine than the degree to which any specific individual has been affected). If necessary, allow them to file for chapter seven (which includes a homestead exemption) under the old law.

Flash me, or Stay Here and Starve.

As if the misery for survivors of Katrina wasn't bad enough, it turns out that female survivors of the hurricane gathered on New Orleans rooftops were told to bare their breasts before they would be rescued. Those who refused were left where they were.

According to British tourist Ged Scott of Liverpool, "I could not have a lower opinion of the authorities, from the police officers on the street right up to George Bush... The American people saved us. I wish I could say the same for the American authorities."

This is not only truly disgusting, but it is a criminal act (something of value, namely saving her life, is offered to a woman for a sexual act, which is solicitation), and I hope it will be investigated immediately and those guilty prosecuted for it.

Many heroic rescuers have risked their lives and taken time away to come and help, and most are doing an outstanding job. But the actions of one or a small number risk to besmirch the reputation of those who deserve to be applauded.

Friday, September 09, 2005

This is truly frightening

Just in, an appeals court has reversed a lower court ruling and ruled that the Government can continue to hold U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, accused of planning a 'dirty bomb' attack, with no charges being filed against him.

Padilla's lawyer, Andrew Patel, responded by saying, "It's a matter of how paranoid you are... What it could mean is that the president conceivably could sign a piece of paper when he has hearsay information that somebody has done something he doesn't like and send them to jail — without a hearing (or) a trial."

Keep in mind that the evidence against Padilla has never been made public, and at this point one has to wonder if they even have very much of it. We have certainly seen how the Bush administration has been willing to detain people in Iraq on flimsy or no evidence, so I wonder if the real reason they won't charge Mr. Padilla is that in fact there isn't much evidence.

That pretty much hits the nail on the head. This case now will go to the Supreme Court, and if they agree that Padilla can be held indefinitely, then it creates the way for a system of Gulags in the United States, in which shoddy or no evidence other than a baseless accusation can be used to put someone away for as long as, well, the Government wants them to be put away. And keep in mind that no matter what your political leanings are, you are a fool if you believe that no one will ever be elected President who might be tempted to abuse these powers.

Didn't you just know some wacko would say this?

A Philadelphia based group called 'repent America' issued a news release claiming that God sent hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans because of an annual event called, 'southern decadence,' which caters to gay people.


"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge," he continued.

The article also sites the fact that Louisiana has ten abortion clinics as a reason God wanted to punish the state (I wonder, with hundreds dead in Mississippi and virtually every inch of its coastline in ruins for several miles inland, what the Magnolia state's sins were).

Of course, Mr. Marcavage and others like him wouldn't even consider putting the blame where it belongs; For starters, consider the 2001 FEMA report that said that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans is one of 'three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.' Note that the post linked to here is a reprint of an article first published in December 2001. So, what did the U.S. government (the Bush administration and Congress) do? CUT FUNDING to even maintain the levee system as it was then, or improve the drainage system. Cut funding. That's what Republicans do best. It's what they did. And the levees failed and the drainage projects to improve the outflow of water are still in the designers book.

There are also matters like the by now overwhelming evidence in favor of global warming (and if you choose to plug your ears about that, then YOU find an explanation for why water temperatures in the Northern Gulf of Mexico are near 90 degrees, an historic high). Then there is the destruction of wetlands and barrier islands by building shipping canals through them-- which to be sure way predates the Bush administration, but which has invariably pitted conservatives (of both parties)and rich shipping magnates against the people who are affected and environmentalists-- and with the former group almost always prevailing.

But, I guess it is easier for fundamentalists like Mr. Marcavage to blame God for all the deaths and misery (and never miss an opportunity to advance your political agenda) than it is to look in the mirror and realize what they have voted for.

Who was too lazy to run this guy's background check?

Why do you submit a resume? It's so your potential employer knows if you are qualified for the job.

As it is, FEMA head Michael Brown never claimed to have experience with disaster relief beyond a brief stint in the 1970's as an assistant city manager in Edmond, Oklahoma.

But now, it turns out that he apparently didn't even have the limited experience with disaster relief and leadership that he claimed he had.

In a story first reported by the Daily Kos and now being reported by Time Magazine, it turns out that Brown lied about his past experiences.

For example,

Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him."

An assistant to FEMA defended Brown and claimed that he was in fact an assistant city manager. That would mean that his former employers, all of whom claimed he was a good employee, had lied about him. And, he didn't even graduate until 1978, the last year he claims to have been running the emergency services division. Even if one believes his supervisors are lying about him, it seems odd that they would hire an undergraduate college student to direct their own emergency management response.

But that isn't the only problem with his resume.

Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at — which is information on the legal website provided by lawyers or their offices—he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". However, Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). "He may have been an adjunct instructor," says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of "professor." Carl Reherman, a former political science professor at the University through the '70s and '80s, says that Brown "was not on the faculty." As for the honor of "Outstanding Political Science Professor," Johnson says, "I spoke with the department chair yesterday and he's not aware of it." Johnson could not confirm that Brown made the Dean's list or was an "Outstanding Political Science Senior," as is stated on his online profile.

Of course, in the wake of 9/11, it shows even more of the incompetence of this administration that they would let a man serve as head of FEMA, an agency on which literally many people's lives depend, and which could very well be on the front lines of any future terror attack, manage to get hired with lies on his resume.

So what did qualify him to serve in a position where the lives of tens of thousands of people depended on his knowing what to do?

Well, he WAS the rules chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. At least that resume item, I find believable.
Flag Counter