Saturday, December 30, 2006

Don't buy into George Bush's Iraq trap

The American people have had enough of Iraq. The polls show it.

Many Democrats who won this year had endorsed the Murtha plan for a staged withdrawl from Iraq.

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group released its recommendations and also called for a withdrawl.

Yet, just two weeks ago it began to be reported that the President wanted to propose a 'surge' in troop strength, and was opposed by Generals.

So now, the Generals appear to have flip-flopped and back Bush (well, the last General to publically oppose the President on troop levels, Eric Shinseki before the war started, was forced to leave the army. The lesson clearly has not been lost.)

To start with, his proposal to increase troop strength by 20,000 troops is stupid. But I actually don't think he is planning to. More on that later.

If we increased troops by 20,000 it would make no difference. Shinseki's recommendation in 2002 (based on a 1999 exercise which quantified it) was that 400,000 troops total (265,000 more than are there now) would be needed to prevent an insurgency. Adding what amounts to a spit in the bucket of 20,000 today won't stop it, because it would be hundreds of thousands too little, and several years too late.

And George Bush knows that. So do the generals. But that isn't really his plan.

He will say it is because he is shifting the frame of the debate. Instead of it being between 'stay the course' (his position) and 'withdraw' (the progressive position) which he would certainly lose, what he plans to do is try and get people debating the 'surge' (i.e. ratcheting up the war.) Those opposed are then debating against increasing troops, and as such are by default arguing only to not increase them (i.e. maintaining current levels-- 'staying the course.') He knows he doesn't have the votes in the new Congress to win, but what he is trying to do is play the Democrats for chumps, and get people to forget that we were talking about how to get out. Then he can lose the vote in Congress but still end up 'staying the course' (what he wants anyway). Only then that will become the the Democratic position (because it was in opposition to his 'new' position), and then if Iraq continues to deteriorate (as it will) and we continue to lose American troops (which we will) then it becomes the fault of Democrats.

In other words, he is trying to unload his lemon onto us.

If we fall for that, then we really are stupid. But unfortunately, based on what I've heard, there are some on the left who seem ready to take up this no-win debate. For example, in today's radio address Congressman-elect Jerry McNerney said that Democrats will oppose deploying any new troops there. Nothing at all about plans to withdraw or seek a political solution. So it appears, despite his line about seeking a 'new direction' (a politically meaningless catchword that can be applied to almost anything) that the good Congressman-elect is being roped into a plan to in effect debate in favor of continuing the President's current policy and stay in Iraq indefinitely.

We as Democrats should be firm on this:

1. The voters want us to get troops out of Iraq, not leave them there.

2. The Murtha plan is a militarily sound plan that spells out a path to withdrawl of U.S. forces from Iraq.

3. The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission (I.S.G.) studied all the problems of Iraq and concluded that withdrawl is the only realistic military option for the United States.

4. The United States and other countries in the region, as well as factions within Iraq need to work to find a political, not a military solution. Iraq's problems can only be solved by a political solution, not a solution imposed by military force.

A day of funerals.

I've been watching two funerals today. Gerald Ford's, which began this morning and will conclude tonight (I went out at about 11:50 and watched the plane carrying his casket-- usually it is one of two planes designated as Air Force 1 when the president uses it, but today it is called, 'special air mission 29000,') and James Brown's.

Ford's funeral (at least the departure from California) was as dignified as one would expect. Betty Ford was a picture of class. I've always wondered how the widows of some of our presidents are able to stand and watch through all the ceremony of a state funeral. But she did. And Betty Ford was certainly the classy lady that we've always seen, since she first came out and used her own trials with substance abuse and later with breast cancer to draw all of us into the discussions of those important topics.

James Brown's funeral, well, for most of it, it was like going to a James Brown concert. There were a number of performers and they got the whole room hopping. Watching M.C. Hammer dance (which to be honest I'd never seen him dance before) evoked Brown.

There was one moment which was poignant but in which someone made the wrong statement at the wrong time. Tomie Rae Brown (remember earlier this week I called her a Golddigger and my opinion of that hasn't changed) took a moment to look at him in the casket, then broke a flower off of one of the bouquets and threw it in there. Staged? Maybe, in fact probably. But then it was sad that some in the crowd began booing and yelling at her to get off the stage. To be honest, that was unnecessary. The legal case will go as it does. But James Brown was a classy man, whatever his problems may have been, and I don't think he would want anyone saying anything like that to the mother of his son, at his funeral.

There was another poignant moment a bit after that. Al Sharpton was speaking (and yes, it was a great speech.) At one point (and I am as directly as I can, quoting reverend Sharpton here-- and he is a man who I greatly admire) he said that he had a talk with James Brown, his friend of thirty-five years, just last week, the last time he saw him. And he said that James Brown told him to tell people, 'What happened to I'm black and I'm proud? Now we call each other ni****s and who***s and bit***s. Why? James Brown wants us to clean up the music.' Probably everyone who is anyone in the African-American music community was in that room, so it was a good message. And then he named Michael by name and invited him up to the stage, and Michael Jackson came up and spoke about how James Brown inspired him-- they still love him there (and let's remember that the jury in his trial a couple of years ago did vote to acquit him-- so he is no more a felon than you or I, and it seems that the people there recognize that and are more willing to forgive people for whatever their perceived tresspasses may have been.)

Now, I have a question for people reading this blog. Why is it that a few weeks ago we all admired how well the Amish were willing to forgive a man who was guilty (and it is admirable that they forgave him) but you probably won't hear anyone praising the black community for their willingness to accept someone like Michael Jackson who was tried and found not guilty? Is it a double standard?

And oh, yeah. Saddam Hussein was executed and will be buried tonight. And compared to Gerald Ford and James Brown his funeral is down at the bottom of the list.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Spaghetti fundraiser highlights an injustice.

In a story out today, Ohio State concludes there was no NCAA violation involved when the families of four players who are traveling to the BCS national championship game in Glendale held a spaghetti dinner to raise funds so that family members could attend the game.

The players could have been suspended if they were found in violation of rules that prohibit athletes from receiving special benefits.
Starting tailback Antonio Pittman and his backup, Chris Wells were at the Dec. 23 spaghetti dinner but left midway through after Paulette Wells, Chris Wells' mother, called Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman to ask whether it might violate NCAA bylaws. Bollman advised her to have the Buckeyes players leave the event, which they did...

Dawn Stigger-Ferguson, a friend of one player's family and the fundraiser organizer, said previously the money would go instead to local youth football organizations. But in a statement Thursday, she said the event lost money because of the cost of food and supplies.

This really bothers me. Who has been there through the whole life of the players amd supported them when no one else would? Their families. But let's face it, for most of today's college football players (often from very poor families), a trip to watch them compete in the biggest games of their lives is pretty much out of the question and unaffordable.

Consider that for the cost of a college scholarship, room and board (depending on the insutitutions, about $25,000 per year,) the BCS, NCAA and player's institution can make tens of millions of dollars. This year the payout for teams in BCS bowls is $17 million. That is without even taking into account the benefits to the schools involved and to the NCAA and BCS from things like merchandising, television revenues and advertising. I don't know if the players on both teams will be weearing shirts with the Nike swish on them or some other logo, but you can be sure that they will have a logo there.

And add to that, if the player sustains a career ending or life altering injury, he will get short term medical care. And that's probably all.

But they can't even afford to help the player's families watch them in the biggest games of their lives? This is exploitive, and the NCAA is sooner or later going to have to address this issue. And yes, I do as a matter of fact believe that you can't just do something for football, you have to do it for other sports; but let's also be honest-- it's a lot cheaper to go to the Lacrosse finals than to the BCS championship game.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why it makes sense in Arizona (and elsewhere) to support Bill Richardson

Preface: This post is part of a series started by Andrea, on her challenge to write about why a Bill Richardson Presidency would be good for your state.

I just posted a link to an online poll. You may want to know who I voted for. I voted for Bill Richardson.

There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason is because I've actually had the chance to watch Governor Richardson for more than twenty years, since he was my Congressman while I was living in Socorro, New Mexico. In fact I've met him at least a couple of times (though I doubt if he remembers the meetings because they were very brief) but I do remember a town-hall type of meeting that he held there on the end of the Rural Electrification Administration (which was announced by the Reagan administration in 1986, claiming that the job was '99% complete'). Governor Richardson was against ending it until the job was 100% done, as the original promise had been when the REA was created in 1935. And that's the way he is. Where I live now, in northeastern Arizona, I have met a lot of people living on the Navajo reservation who don't have electricity; despite the objections of Bill Richardson and a few others, the Reagan administration unfortunately won that battle-- so millions of Americans in hundreds of communities still are not on the electric grid (even though it really would not take all that big an investment to finish it). But Bill Richardson stood out to me then as a thoughtful man who was willing to take on even battles that didn't make headlines, like that one.

Another reason is that living in Arizona, I'd have to say that Bill Richardson understands our issues in a way much different from all the other candidates in the race. There is more to the term 'neighbor' than just living next door. Your neighbor has pretty much the same perspective as you do on a lot of things in life; the view from your neighbor's house is much the same as it is from yours. If the street needs to be fixed or it snows or a stray dog is getting into people's garbage, it is something that you go through and deal with together with your neighbor. Governor Richardson, to begin with, understands the unique issues involved with matters like tribal sovereignty, water issues and the border much more than, say, a Clinton of New York, an Obama of Illinois or an Edwards of North Carolina. In fact, of all the announced or likely major Democratic candidates, only Clark (of Arkansas-- right on the Mississippi river) and Richardson are from anywhere west of the Mississippi at all-- and Governor Richardson is the only one who is from a place where water generally even is an issue.

Governor Richardson has also taken a balanced approach to the border, of the type that is favored by most Arizonans. At a time when most national politicians-- of both parties-- are struggling to find themselves on the issue, Bill Richardson seems to have a good handle on it. Last year, together with our own Governor, Janet Napolitano, Governor Richardson announced a state of emergency along the border which allowed for the stationing of the National Guard along the border in order to enhance border security. At the same time he has opposed building a wall along the border. That fits the views of most Arizonans. The Arizonans who took the hardest lines on immigration-- Gubernatorial nominee Len Munsil, Attorney General nominee Bill Montgomery, Congressional candidate Randy Graf, and Congressman J.D. Hayworth, all lost in their election bids this year. The reason is plain-- other than the Minutemen and a few other loonies out there, people don't want a wall around the country. In Arizona, as in New Mexico, the ability of people and goods to pass over the border easily helps the economy and keeps thousands of people employed. Many businesses near the border make their money from trade with, through and in Mexico. Former Republican congressman Jim Kolbe understood this, as does Republican congressman Jeff Flake. So do Democrats like Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, who beat Graf handily and will succeed Kolbe. They understand that Mexico is a partner, not an enemy. And Bill Richardson also understands this.

Further, what a lot of politicians don't understand about immigration is that the whole border issue is tied up with family. Many families run the gamut, with family members who are U.S. citizens, family members living happily in Latin America, and perhaps with family members who are here legally or illegally as aliens. So when people talk about building a wall or making being here without documents a felony, it is a personal issue that strikes to the core of family values. I know this is true in my own family. My father's family has been here since 1630 (in fact I had an ancestor who was a ship's chandler in Southampton who rented the Mayflower to the pilgrims, and himself came over ten years later.) My mother's parents were both Ellis Island immigrants during the early part of the last century. I have a cousin (on my father's side) who is today married to a Latin American man (he is a legal resident) and they go back every couple of years to visit his parents and other family members still living there. I know he has other family members living in the United States, and I haven't asked what their immigration status is (because it doesn't matter to me-- if I meet one of them then they are my family by marriage, and whether they have a green card or not won't change the family relation.) Bill Richardson's mother was from Mexico, so he certainly understands the family issues like no one else who is running. And further, whether we like it or not, the relations the U.S. has with Mexico are more important than the relations the U.S. has right now with probably any other country in the world. Geography, history and family have made it that way. Both Bill Richardson's knowledge of issues, his knowledge of Mexico and his negotiation skills would make him the best choice for someone who could work out a plan with Mexico that would secure the border, get a handle on who is going in and out and allow the free flow of trade and legal immigrants across the border. Stopping terrorists, criminals, drugs and maybe even WMD at the border won't work unless we have cooperation with Mexico, and Bill Richardson is a guy who I think can get it.

Water is another critical issue in the Southwest. We have a rapidly expanding population in Arizona (in fact Arizona just recently outpaced Nevada in this category to become the fastest growing state in the nation), and the limit on how far it can expand is dependent on one thing more than anything else: the water supply. New Mexico is also experiencing rapid growth (I went back with my wife a couple of years ago to visit Moriarty and Los Lunas, communities where we used to live, and was amazed at the growth that has occurred in both places.) The water issues in New Mexico, if less stressing than they are in Arizona, are very much the same. In 2003, a dry year, Governor Richardson was willing to endure the heat from outraged boaters and others when he released 122,500 acre feet instead of the expected 217,000 from Elephant Butte reservoir. While he has since visited the area and funded classes on boating safety and other issues, his decision then showed that 1) he understands water limitations, and 2) he is willing to make an unpopular decision that he thinks is right even when it costs him political support; that's a rarity in a politician these days.

Bill Richardson has always respected the Native American tribes in New Mexico. He hasn't tried to interfere with the free exercise of tribal soverignty, and (as I mentioned earlier) he is aware of the fact that on some reservations the electric grid was never completed, and felt that it should have. I am involved right now with a project to bring electricity to a community that has been waiting for decades to receive it, and my belief is that if Bill Richardson becomes President this issue, and others on reservations (such as the high numbers of meth labs) will be addressed, but in a way that respects and works with, rather than dictates to the sovereign governments that exist on the reservations.

Those are some reasons specific to Arizona that I support Bill Richardson, and believe that if it came to it he is the one Democrat who might be able to force John McCain, if he is the GOP nominee, to campaign at home (particularly with the McCain-mafia connection that is likely to come up sooner or later). There are some other reasons as well, that would apply no matter where I lived. The biggest one, now that we see the disastrous consequences in Iraq of our policy of unilateralism and the doctrine of 'pre-emptive war,' is that Bill Richardson's foreign policy (and he has extensive experience in the area) is based on diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflict. That doesn't mean that he couldn't make a hard decision if he had to-- for example, in a speech to the U.N. in Stockholm in 1998 then-U.N. ambassador Richardson, speaking on behalf of the Clinton administration policy, said that it was possible that use of force might be needed to get Iraq to comply with U.N. sanctions (which the threat of did in fact get Saddam Hussein to let the inspectors back in before President Bush decided that he would rather just unilaterally ignore that the Iraqis had done what he asked and invade anyway.) Bill Richardson is a man of peace though and I know from having watched him for twenty years (during which time he has engaged in successful hostage negotiations and other negotiations with some pretty dangerous and unsavory characters) that he would consider war as a last resort only, and only if all other options for resolving a situation have failed. Further, he brings something that is sorely needed at this time-- a voice that is respected in the world and would begin to return the U.S. to a position of leadership in the world. No other candidate, of either party has the credentials and respect around the world that Bill Richardson has that will enable him to do the long, hard job of repairing America's reputation in the world and re-establishing America's moral authority to lead.

Bill Richardson also is innovative and willing to use the Government to help ordinary people. One example of this was his landmark initiative for providing a quarter million dollars of life insurance for each member of the New Mexico National Guard, including those deployed in Iraq. The effect of this was to eliminate one of the main concerns that our soldiers have-- worrying about how their loved ones will get along if they don't come back, and allow them to focus on the task at hand. The innovation by Richardson eventually embarrassed President Bush into doing the same thing on a national level.

New Mexico has also always been a very poor state with thousands of people in grinding poverty. It's still a poor state, but with Richardson's leadership as governor it is starting to grow and inch up on all those lists where it has been at or near the bottom for decades. New Mexico is blessed with a budget surplus again this year-- largely because of Richardson's willingness to resist the urge to throw money at problems while still increasing funding for specific areas to address specific and well-defined deficiencies. He has cut a few taxes in New Mexico, but the taxes he has cut-- like sales tax on things like groceries and medical care-- really are targetted towards everyone, not just the wealthy.

Primary poll

I just tried something new.

I put up a link to an ongoing poll on Poll: Who will you vote for in the 2008 Democratic primary?

and View Results.

The links are from my left sidebar (or the hotlinks above in this post).

This isn't a scientific poll, of course. If it is then we better just hand the nomination to Dennis Kucinich (at least looking at the present results). And yeah-- I know-- it's 2006. But have fun voting.

Ford thought Iraq war was a mistake.

Caught up in all the Gerald Ford retrospectives this week, let's remember what he said about George Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

Ford said the justifications were inadequate to justify the war.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an interview never before published, former President Gerald Ford said President Bush and his chief advisers "made a big mistake" with their justifications for the Iraq war.

Ford made the comments in a four-hour interview in 2004 with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward....

"I don't think, if I had been president -- on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly -- I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war," Ford said in a part of the interview broadcast on CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday.

"I would have maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer," the former president said.

Too bad he wasn't still the President in that case. What we had instead was a bunch of chicken hawks who had managed to avoid combat themselves, apparently making decisions to send other people off to war without adequately thinking through what the cost of war could be, and more importantly what the cost of failure might be. And backed up by the neo-con crowd whose idea of warfare and military strategy is mostly derived from late nights playing Risk.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Yes, someone is from Cuckooland. It's the author judge

This is standing on principle: Wait until you are retained as a judge, and only then come out with a liberal bashing book entitled, "The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault.

Last month, 70% of the voters in St. Louis, a heavily Democratic city, voted to retain Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr.

This month, Dierker came out with his book:

Chapter 1 of Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr.'s book, "The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault," has circulated via e-mail since last month and been widely read in legal circles, lawyers and judges say.

The sentiments expressed in that chapter, which frequently uses the term "femifascists" and is titled "The Cloud Cuckooland of Radical Feminism," have already prompted a complaint with the state body that can reprimand or remove judges.

The actual unveiling of the book is to be on conservative talk-show host Bill O'Reilly's show next month. Literacy level aside, one would at least think that a Circuit Judge would have enough of a knowlege base to move above juvenile name-calling. But then it is clear from his language that the Judge is getting some of his information from right wing talk shows. Scary thought in itself.

The good news is that there is a loophole that can be used to remove him from the bench if O'Reilly or anyone else references his official position as a judge.

Other judges and lawyers have said that Dierker may have violated a state rule against a judge using his or her position for personal profit. One judge said it would be surprising if Dierker was not removed, calling the book "professional suicide."

Of course he is going to be introduced sooner or later as a judge; in fact the title itself says so. If that fact can be shown to cause even a single person to buy the book who would not have, then Dierker has made money on it and can then be removed from the bench. As I said, the best way would have been to let the voters decide, but he waited until after the election precisely so the voters can't have a say until 2012. A brave man of principle, that Robert Dierker, to wait until after the election.

But the book raises other concerns. In matters of law, the modern feminist movement has spearheaded legal changes needed to deal with matters like gender discrimination, family leave, equal pay and sexual harrassment, to name a few. One has to wonder, despite the judge's disclaimer at the end of the book, whether he would be able to rule impartially on a case involving any of these matters, if he thought that the law came straight from "Cuckooland."

Maybe Judge Dierker wants the controversy-- hoping he can parlay it into a run for higher office, as former Alabama Judge Roy Moore did (you remember Moore, don't you? The 'ten commandments' judge?) Dierker is known to be frustrated at being passed over for higher judgeships (obviously a good call though.) Memo to Dierker: Moore lost his run in the GOP primary for Governor, even running against a Republican governor who had broken a pledge not to raise taxes.

Another useless death due to the Iraq war of a soldier -- this time in Maryland.

Well, that's one way to stay out of Iraq. But it seems such a waste: army reservist due to go to Iraq killed by police in standoff.

LEONARDTOWN, Maryland — A member of the U.S. Army Reserves despondent about being sent to Iraq was killed by police during a 14-hour standoff that began Christmas night when family members told authorities he was armed and threatening to kill himself.

James Emerick Dean, 28, had barricaded himself inside his father's house with several weapons Monday night, family members told police. He later told officers he would shoot anyone who entered the house. His father was not home at the time.

Around noon Tuesday, while police were preparing to use tear gas to force Dean out of the home, Dean came to the front door and pointed his weapon at an officer, St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron said. Another deputy shot Dean once, killing him.

Dean had already served 18 months in Afghanistan and was despondent after learning recently that he would be deployed to Iraq, family members told police.

During the standoff, Dean fired several shots at police, including one that struck a car where a deputy sat. The officer was not injured.

This is about as close as it gets to a suicide. If you shoot at police officers and then come out into plain sight and point a gun at one, well, let's say your chances of survival are probably less than if you had pointed the gun at yourself and pulled the trigger (some people actually do survive that).

It is true, that having signed on as a member of the army reserve James Dean knew he might be deployed, and during a war he knew he might be deployed to a war zone. At the same time, he had already gone to one, and apparently had done so willingly. Unlike regular units, reserve and national guard units are made up of people who have a job outside of the service-- and with the job, bills to pay and other responsibilities that are not shared by full time soldiers.

What this does show (for the umpteenth time, I might add) is the overreliance on the guard and reserve units by the Bush administration. They have finally proposed to do what John Kerry suggested two years ago, namely expand the standing army. But count on George W. Bush to start a long protracted war and then realize four years into it that we may need more troops.

The worst part of this is it is a tragedy that didn't have to happen. There should be regular post-war professional counseling available, free of charge, to all returning soldiers-- whether they are full time or not. Then when a situation like this comes up, at least someone may be in a position to identify it and get the person involved the help (s)he needs.

Republicans STILL believe government spending must be wasteful, so they are STILL trying to make it so.

Last March, I wrote a post entitled, Republicans believe that government spending is wasteful. And they're certainly proving themselves right about how contractors that the government had hired for Katrina cleanup-- generally politically well-connected firms like Bechtel and Fluor-- used to getting fat on government contracts-- had taken a cut from the contracts and shuffled the job off to subcontractors, who in turn had shuffled it off through layers and layers of subcontractors until it got to the people who actually did the work, for a tiny fraction of the cost.

Well, it turns out that things haven't gotten better. An audit came out today showing contractors are still bilking us out of billions, all legally because the Bush administration apparently did nothing after this first came out in March.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The tally for Hurricane Katrina waste could top $2 billion next year because half of the lucrative government contracts valued at $500,000 or greater for cleanup work are being awarded with little competition.

Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm.

Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work.

"Based on their track record, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw another billion more in waste," said Clark Kent Ervin, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general from 2003-2004. "I don't think sufficient progress has been made."

He called it inexcusable that the Bush administration would still have so many no-bid contracts. Under pressure last year, Federal Emergency Management Agency director David Paulison pledged to rebid many of the agreements, only to backtrack months later and reopen only a portion.

Investigators are now examining whether some of the agreements -- which in some cases were extended without warning rather than rebid -- are still unfairly benefiting large firms.

"It's a combination of laziness, ineptitude and it may well be nefarious," Ervin said.

This is however not a surprise. There is a history that this administration will fix a problem only when a spotlight is shone on it, and as soon as the spotlight moves on to something else, they go right back to their old way of doing things.

The real losers in all of this are the people of Louisiana. Thousands are still living as refugees, almost a year and a half since Katrina, the work is progressing slowly, and sooner or later people's appetite for investing more money in this will wane-- and the money that has been invested will almost all be sitting in someone's bank account who did none of the actual work.

I would propose a simple solution for this. According to the article in March, the overcharges ranged up to 1700%.

Certainly it is tempting to suggest that the government simply nationalize the contracts, send the Corps of Engineers out there to do cleanup, and if they hired a subcontractor it would be a local subcontractor who could not themselves subcontract out any of the work.

But I have a suggestion which might even appeal to conservatives and would still get a handle on the problem: I would suggest that the amount of 'cut' that could be taken out of such a contract to all levels of subcontractors would be limited to, say, 20% of the total overall contract. That means that if, for example, a company like Bechtel, Flour or Shaw gets a government contract to do cleanup anyplace (not just for Katrina) the sweetest deal they could cut would be to pay subcontractors 80% of the overall contract-- and that only if that contractor agreed that their organization would specifically and personally do all the work. Or, Bechtel or Fluor could keep 10% and dump it off to someone else who could take 10% of the original contract and then still pay 80% to whoever was actually doing the work.

Rising Ocean Levels Claim Previously Inhabited Island

Quietly, very quietly the high tide came in from the Bay of Bengal. And with it, one of the most dire predictions of global warming became a reality: rising sea levels inundate previously inhabited island.

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.

It sucks, being right about this. I would much prefer that conservatives were right, that there is nothing we could do that would damage the environment. But that is not the case.

Of course when the first islands in the deep sea began to sink beneath the waves some years ago, conservatives made a pretty ridiculous claim-- that the sea floor beneath them was sinking. But one point to make about the Sundarbans-- is that they are part of the Asian continent. So if conservatives made a similar claim here they'd have to claim that Asia was sinking (presumably into the mantle) so that the sea floor was rising.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gerald R. Ford, 1913-2006

It is being reported that Former President Gerald R. Ford has just died.

President Ford was unique among all of America's chief executives in that he was never elected, either to the Presidency or to the Vice Presidency. He was picked by Richard Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew during the scandal-choked year of 1973. The following year he acceded to the Presidency when Nixon resigned. Ford was President for two years. Even before that Ford was a sometimes controversial figure, having served on the Warren Commission that eventually concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, had fired all the shots that hit President Kennedy and Governor Conally on that black day in November of 1963; Ford was the last surviving member of that commission. Ford served in the House of Representatives representing Grand Rapids, Michigan, until the day he was confirmed as Vice-President of the United States.

During his two years, he was a sometimes-controversial President. He set a modern record for vetoing legislation, as even after the 1974 election he did not concede an inch to the Democratic Congress. He also pardoned Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned the Presidency (effectively ending the Watergate investigation), raising the spectre of a backroom deal (which both men vigorously denied for the rest of their lives, but the possibility has to be considered nevertheless.) Ford presided over the final American withdrawl in Vietnam, including the evacuation of embassy personnel by helicopter from the rooftop of the embassy in Saigon. In 1975, Khmer Rouge guerillas, who had just seized power in Cambodia, seized the U.S. spy ship Mayaguez. Ford authorized a rescue mission, which also became controversial, as 38 marines died to rescue 39 hostages. Ford also survived two assassination attempts, including one by 'Squeaky' Fromme, a former member of the Manson family.

To be honest, for a Republican President I almost liked Gerald Ford. Even with all the vetoes, he was willing to work with Congress, and the strident partisanship, which are in abundance now and which was in abundance when he took office, had all but disappeared by the end of his term. He was also arguably the last ex-President to behave as people had come to expect an ex-President to behave, largely ducking involvement in big projects or working for the betterment of the world, instead occasionally coming in off the golf course to answer a few softball questions. Both his predecessor, Nixon, and his successor, Carter, began to set a different pattern for ex-Presidents, that of social activist and worker.

He should have just asked to be on the Apprentice

Apparently Donald Trump can be conned. At least on a resume. E.J. Ridings was hired as head of Trump Mortgage in April.

At the time, Trump said that the goal of Trump Mortgage was to

inject integrity into an industry that has the reputation for giving customers a raw deal....

"Trump Mortgage is going to take better care of people than anyone in the mortgage industry ever has," said Trump.

Sounds like integrity has a way to go. Until this week, Trump Mortgage's website described Ridings as a 'seasoned pro.'

First, Ridings' initial bio stated that before joining the company he was "a top executive at one of Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks."

Second, the bio had said that Ridings was an "established leader" at one of New York's leading mortgage boutiques.

Third, the bio said he had 15 years of experience in the financial industry.

All three claims appear to be false, according to regulatory documents obtained by Money and interviews with former colleagues of Ridings.

In fact, Ridings apparently worked for a whole six days as a registered broker with Morgan Stanley subsidiary Dean Witter Reynolds, out of a three month stint total. He also later worked as a day trader and at a company called GuardHill Financial, where he was a 'loan originator,' an entry-level position. Beyond this, he also sold health drinks and vitamins, and had his own cleaning service. Yup, that's right, a janitor fooled Donald Trump.

OK, so that brings us to the next question: Now that the fraud has been exposed, how did 'wonder boy' do? I mean, if anyone would forgive even this level of indiscretion in getting hired if it was balanced by an outstanding record of achievement since then, you'd expect it to be Trump. He said just last week in the Miss USA controversy, "I've always been a believer in second chances." So what kind of performance did Ridings turn in the past eight months, apparently learning as he went?

Well, not so hot.

Trump Mortgage is off to a bumpy start. At least six residential mortgage professionals have left the firm in the past six months, including Scheck and Craig Lane, who was hired to run the company's Florida operations.

And Trump Mortgage has fallen short of Ridings' earlier forecasts. At the time of the company's launch, Ridings predicted the company would complete $3 billion in loans in 2006, much of it in residential lending. Now Ridings says, "Trump Mortgage anticipated doing close to $1 billion in residential mortgages, but that figure may not be reached by the end of this year."

I'm surprised that Ridings hasn't been fired yet. He made a monkey out of 'the Donald,' and I doubt if the Donald is going to give him another chance.

James Brown had his Widow Locked out of the House.

James Brown never ceased to amaze.

And so it is in his death. It turns out that his widow has been locked out of the house.

BEECH ISLAND, South Carolina (AP) -- James Brown's lawyer said Tuesday that the late singer and his partner were not legally married and that she was locked out of his South Carolina home for estate legal reasons.

"It's not a reflection on her as an individual," lawyer Buddy Dallas told The Associated Press. "I have not even been in the house, nor will I until appropriate protocol is followed."

Brown's partner, backup dancer Tomi Rae Hynie, was already married to a Texas man in 2001 when she married Brown, thus making her marriage to Brown null, Dallas said. He said Hynie later annulled the previous marriage, but she and Brown never remarried.

"I suppose it would mean she was, from time to time, a guest in Mr. Brown's home," Dallas said.

On Monday, after the 73-year-old "Godfather of Soul" died at an Atlanta hospital, Hynie, 36, found the gates to Brown's Beech Island, South Carolina, home padlocked and said she was denied access.

The protocol Mr. Brown's lawyer is following, including locking her out, is protocol that was established by the singer himself. And clearly he knew the legal situation involving her previous marriage and made a conscious decision not to remarry her legally.

I have to admit that neither party comes out looking very good in this one.

James Brown has a five year old son by Tomi Rae Hynie, so it's not like she hasn't invested a significant amount of time with him. The couple has feuded and in 2004 Brown pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge after Hynie alleged that he had pushed her to the ground and threatened her life.

On the other hand, Hynie apparently hasn't seen Brown 'in weeks.' He went to the Hospital in Atlanta to be treated for pneumonia, and with him on his deathbed she apparently didn't even bother to come by the hospital and visit, much less keep him company in his final hours. It may be that the 'protocol' he established was done so during these final hours when she was someplace else (she says she was on a 'retreat;' In this day and age it isn't hard to contact anyone in an emergency (as his hospitalization was) And of course she is 36, he is 73. Not saying that there couldn't be true love in this scenario, but her actions during his decline and death hardly suggest it. So Golddigger seems to be the only apt description. Then, to put an exclamation point on it, she was apparently also not with her son when his father died. If there is one other place that it would be logical and understandable for her to be, other than at his bedside, it would be with her son who was losing his father. But apparently when she went on her 'retreat,' she left the boy to grieve in the care of someone else.

As I said, this does not look very good for either of them. And I am sure she is getting in contact with her lawyer right now, to go to court with his lawyer. She will probably lose, because it appears that Brown carefully prepared and landscaped the legal ground in this case before he died.

I just hope there is something left for his kids (including his son by Hynie as well as the rest of the kids.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Stuck with inefficient private industry

Remember the story from last October about how a routine drug bust had netted some classified material from Los Alamos National Laboratory?

Well, it seems that the cure was worse than the affliction. Los Alamos, having gone from institutional management via the University of California to a partnership with Bechtel, one of the most notorious recipients of corporate welfare in Washington, decided to fix the problem by having all the computers super-glued. Actually, the USB ports, more specifically had to be super-glued.

That’s right, Los Alamos Nuclear Labs, one of the top US research labs with some of the smartest scientists and engineers has decided that Super Glue is the best answer to their endpoint security problems.

What about PCMCIA slots, PS/2, Serial Ports, Firewire ports and CD-ROM drives? What will happen when a researcher needs to use a biometric device, or other USB device? The computer system is now ruined and will have to have the USB ports replaced, or the system replaced. Your tax dollars at work.

To say nothing of what happens when the letter 't' wears out on your keyboard? Now, instead of replacing a $20 keyboard, you have to trash the whole computer, probably worth thousands of dollars.

Well, what else did you expect when you gave control of the labs to private enterprise, especially a company like Bechtel which makes their living off of fat government contracts and has learned how to pocket tons of cash while actually doing very little?

Correction: Indy Voter pointed out some misleading statements, at least one of which 'government management' implied direct Federal management, which the lab has never had (though the University of California is an institution within a government entity.) Though this is technically not an error I will count it as one, so I presently have 7 errors in 510 posts, and in accordance with the previously announced policy at Deep Thought, I am publically acknowleging erroneous information in a blog post and still have a fielding percentage for post accuracy of 503/510 = .986

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Yeah, it's Christmas. And I was right.

This would be a good time to visit a 'crystal ball' kind of prediction:

Back on September 7, as the President was suddenly focusing on the Afghan war (you know, the war against the folks who really attacked us on 9/11) as a way of diverting attention from Iraq, I wrote:

Terrorism and the Afghan War:

At the end I predicted, based on past elections, that the new focus on the Afghan war was an election related smokescreen:

So that explains a lot of why, with the election less than nine weeks away, we are suddenly seeing such a renewed focus on the war in Afghanistan right now.

Sure, conservatives will express shock at my questioning the President's motives.

All I'd say is, be sure to continue to ask him about the war in Afghanistan in November after the election and December.

Because I bet that by Christmas, Afghanistan will be relegated to the same second thought that it has been over the past few years. Hope I'm wrong, but that's what I expect.

Well, Christmas is here, and the focus is on... Iraq.

What really bothers me about this is that what the President and his advisors once again used as election campaign fodder isn't the usual stuff about abortion, guns, gays, etc.-- I can handle that-- but wars which involve the deaths of thousands of people (including hundreds of Americans), to say nothing of the aspirations and hopes of millions of people.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wanna bet they appoint Inspector Clouseau to the Renzi case?

There is news regarding the ongoing investigations involving my congressman, Rick Renzi. I say that in the plural because they were reported originally as two separate investigations. One was reported as Renzi using his office to steer Federal dollars to his father's company, and the other as Renzi arranging a land swap with James Sandlin in an influence peddling scheme as he quickly raised money to run for Congress in 2002. As I blogged in October, these two investigations may be one complicated one.

The news is that U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who is handling the Renzi investigation, is leaving his position to join the Phoenix based law firm of Kennedy and Gallagher in January.

In that position, he will join his wife, and not coincidentally earn quite a bit more money in all likelihood than he was earning as a U.S. Attorney.

Charlton, though I know some people who don't like him, has always impressed me. Maybe it's because I remember his investigation into Valinda Jo Elliot after the Rodeo Chedeski fire had destroyed hundreds of homes; Elliott had started the Chedeski half as a signal fire after being lost in the woods following a vehicle breakdown. Elliott took her cell phone, and had reached some stupid person with a clerk mentality with the Bureau of Land Management; they figured out where she was and informed her that since she was over the line in the national forest she had to call the national forest headquarters. The HQ of course had long since been evacuated because of the nearby Rodeo fire and the national forest was closed, so Elliott got a recorded message. Then her cell ran out of power after having been put on hold for so long by automated machines between the two calls. Anyway, Charlton was the guy who was willing to go to Heber after the Chedeski fire and face an auditorium full of enraged people and tell them that he wasn't going to prosecute Valinda Jo Elliott (which was the right call by the way; if anyone should have been prosecuted it was the one person she actually talked to, the clerk with the ultimate 'that's not my department,' mentality even while talking to a desperate person in a life and death emergency.)

There could be more to this than meets the eye though. Remember Noel Hillman? He was the prosecutor assigned to investigating the Jack Abramoff case. Hillman was doing such a good job that the Bush administration had to find a way to deal with that. They appointed him to the Federal Bench, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that most prosecutors dream about but never get the call for.

And now suddenly Paul Charlton gets a phone call offering him a lucrative position where he can work with his wife. You have to wonder what he was working on in regard to Rick Renzi when that call came through.

Well, maybe there is something to be said for investigating allies of the Bush administration. It can be a great career boost, when they decide it's time to buy you out.

Virgil Goode's letter about Keith Ellison

Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Virginia) has become the latest in a long list of Republicans and conservatives who are objecting to Representative-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota)'s intention to take his oath of office on the Koran instead of the Bible.

But Congressman Goode went beyond that in his letter to constituents, which was released to CNN after it enquired about the letter. He wrote,

The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.

Let's first address the whole issue of Representative Ellison and his desire to use the Koran (which according to his Muslim faith is a Holy Scripture, while he believes the Bible is not). It presents us with a very basic question:

Why is the Bible used to take an oath on?

Why don't lawmakers and other elected and appointed officials who take oaths of office simply swear an oath agreeing that they understand that if they fail to uphold the Consitution or the duties or responsibilities of their office then they may be subject to criminal prosecution, recall, censure, expulsion, impeachment, being fired, bad press resulting in not being re-elected or any of the other various punishments and penalties that the legal system, the legislative body, the executive or the voters can subject them to? Why is the Bible used at all?

The answer is that it is a matter of faith. By taking an oath on a book that is considered Holy Scripture (and often ending this oath with the words, 'so help me God') the public servant (whether elected or appointed) is not only agreeing to serve faithfully and to the best of his or her ability, but is in effect agreeing that if (s)he fails to carry out the duties of the office in an honest and ethical manner then (s)he may be subject to having to answer to God about having violated an oath taken in the name of God. This is supposed to strengthen a public servant, who even if (s)he might be tempted to misuse his or her position to get rich by influence peddling, make inappropriate sexual advances to teenage pages or otherwise abuse the system, is aware that the penalties for this type of behavior may not end at the grave.

Now it is true that swearing on the Bible has not always prevented people like Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley and Bob Ney from abusing their oath of office. What the effect will be beyond this life is between them and that God who they named in an oath with their hand upon Holy Scripture. What it does mean though is that Rep. Ellison absolutely should swear upon the Koran. If he swore on a scripture that he doesn't believe carries the weight of deity, then why would we expect that oath to be given any more credence by the fact that a Bible was there? On the other hand, if he as a Muslim swears on the Koran, then since he believes it is imbued with the power of God, isn't he more likely (for the same reasons mentioned above) to behave honestly and ethically in office, believeing that if he does not he will also have a debt to settle with Allah someday?

It seems to be that those who insist that Rep. Ellison should have to use the Bible exhibit the most profound lack of faith and lack of understanding of why the Bible is used at all.

The other issue that Representative Goode brings up is his continued hard line against immigration that resonates throughout his letter. And it, as well as his support for using the Bible only will probably help him in his conservative, edge-of-the-Bible-belt rural Virginia district.

It is sure to give Republicans headaches though. Not that party loyalty has ever meant much to Virgil Goode, of course-- he was elected as a Democrat in 1994 and then switched parties after the GOP took over the house for reasons of pure political opportunism.

The reason it will give Republicans headaches is this: This year the GOP felt that if they just turned out their base they could win the elections. True, they fell short of that goal in some places, but in others they did turn out the conservative base and they still lost the election.

One reason was their hard line stance on immigration. This year the GOP lost 14% of the Hispanic vote, falling from President Bush's share of Hispanics at 44% nationwide down to 30%. Without the GOP leaning votes of Cuban-Americans, it would be down into the 20% range, as it was in many Hispanic communities in the southwest. The reason is no mystery-- many Hispanics here have extended and immediate family that run across the spectrum-- some U.S. citizens, some living happily in Mexico or some other Latin American country, legal residents, illegal residents and some planning to come. An example is my cousin who is an American and married to a man from Latin America (he is a legal resident). Their kids are U.S. citizens (the oldest will probably be registering to vote in 2008) and they go down to visit his family every other year. I know they have other family here in America, and I haven't had a reason to ask about their legal status (plus I don't care whether they are legal or not-- they are still part of my family by marriage). And La Familia is very important among these people. So when Republicans threatened to build a wall this year, make some of their family members felons or carry out mass deportations, well you mess with a person's family and it's safe to say you've lost that person's vote. This loss of 14% among a group of voters who number into the tens of millions directly cost the GOP at least one congressional seat in Texas and probably two congressional seats here in Arizona (in both contests here, the GOP candidate was a conservative hardliner on immigration and got the conservative base out, but it was beaten by the direct loss of moderates and Hispanics that switched to the Democrats since 2004.) The irony of course is that immigrants from Mexico are 98% Christian, so if the concern is about the erosion of Christianity in America, they are shooting themselves in the foot by railing against undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Goode then goes on to cite 'diversity' in immigration and immigration from the Middle East. Now, I agree with most conservatives as well as most liberals that we need to get a handle on who is coming into the country (which is one reason a guest-worker program makes sense) so that we can figure out ways to keep terrorists and criminals from entering the country, and track immigrants when they do come in as a backup if we don't catch some of the criminals or terrorists at the border. What is disturbing about Rep. Goode's letter though is that he speaks about Muslims and people from the 'middle east' (incidentally, the most populous Muslim countries are in Asia, not the middle east). He appears to use that as an argument to clamp down on immigration, as if there is something intrinsically bad about people from that part of the world coming to America. Now there are certainly some bad apples from the middle east, which is one reason I just mentioned that we need to get a handle on who is entering the U.S. But most people there are not bad apples, nor are most Muslims. What it will do is cause those who become U.S. citizens to gravitate toward's Congressman Ellison's party, not Congressman Goode's.

But maybe Congressman Goode doesn't care about that either. As I said before, party loyalty has never been his strong suit.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Iraq is a political, not a military failure.

Yesterday I wrote a post on how the White House, by admitting that a homegrown group of Iraqi insurgents had become even more powerful and a bigger threat than al Qaeda in Iraq, has in effect admitted that we are losing the war.

However, it needs to be made clear that it has been a political, not a military failure. Every time there has been any sort of offensive action undertaken by the military and every time our troops have been involved in combat, American troops have cleaned the clock on the enemy. That includes two offensives undertaken over the past couple of years against al-Sadr's Mahdi militia as well as offensives undertaken against Sunni insurgents and against members of al Qaeda in Iraq.

So why are we in the situation we are in? It has been because of repeated political failures. The political failure to see things through in Afghanistan before embarking on another war, the political failure to work with the rest of the world to obtain a sufficiently broad coalition, as Bush I did in 1990-1991, the political failure to be willing to consider any other option in dealing with Iraq than war, the political failure to give our forces a clearly defined and unchanging mission, or even for the most part to make it clear what exactly we are fighting for, and most importantly the political failure to explain to the American people what if any reason there is for continuing to fight in Iraq more than three and a half years after the fall of Baghdad.

Ultimately, this war, while again proving the superiority of American combat troops will be another political failure just as Vietnam was. In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed in combat versus 1.1 million Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regular soldiers, or about a 1-20 ratio. What made Vietnam a defeat for the U.S. however is that the Vietnamese communists were fighting a foreign invader and were willing to lose over a million troops in order to drive us out, while Americans could not see what was there that made it worth losing the tens of thousands of troops we did. In Iraq, we are approaching 3,000 American troops killed, and it is likely that the number enemy losses (including Saddam Hussein's army, the Mahdi militia, Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda) is probably at least 20 times as much as the number of American losses. However, they are more willing to fight on even in the face of these losses, and for largely the same reasons as the Vietnamese were-- patriotism is not exclusive to Americans. Of all of these opponents, only al-Qaeda is one that the American people could remotely be persuaded that it is worth continuing to fight against, but then the question has to be raised as to why we have not put more emphasis on Afghanistan.

It is the incompetent political leadership that has led us into the situation we are in now, and it is both the present and future generations of Americans that are paying and will continue to pay the price for their bumbling failure to lead.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

We are losing-- the White House all but says it.

The White House has said that the most dangerous insurgent force in Iraq is no longer al-Qaeda in Iraq, and is now Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia.

Could their admission that they are losing the war be any plainer?

Al-Qaeda, of course, has benefitted greatly from the U.S. invasion. The terrorists we claimed this would hurt have instead come flooding in from the outside so they could kill Americans, and regionally they have done a masterful job of recruiting because they have spun the Iraq war as proof that their contention that the U.S. is trying to 'occupy Muslim lands' is true.

But the Mahdi army did not exist at all while Saddam Hussein was running Iraq. Al-Sadr's father, when he spoke out even a little against Saddam, was killed by Saddam's regime.

So we now have a homegrown insurgent group (ironically led by a man and composed of people who were all suppressed under Saddam) becoming even a bigger threat to the U.S. and the stability of the country than al-Qaeda.

As I said, could the admission of failure be any more direct than that?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Married to the Mob.

Ever since the 2000 election, when Vietnam combat veteran John McCain burst onto the scene in the Republican Presidential primaries as a 'moderate alternative' to George W. Bush, it seems that he has led a charmed political life. George Bush is known to detest McCain personally, but he has needed him. Liberals held their fire because every now and then McCain throws them a bone (in fact John Kerry wasted valuable time and effort trying to convince McCain, who was the chair of the Bush campaign in Arizona, to defect and run on a ticket with him; what it also meant was that when John Kerry picked John Edwards for the ticket, everyone knew he was a second choice.) Independents ooze over the conservative McCain (and conservative he is, just look at his voting record,) as if they think he is one of them. Even Bush backers, like Pat Robertson (who thoroughly trashed McCain in South Carolina) have warmed up to him.

And one of McCain's biggest assets, according to most of these people is that he eschews negative campaigning.

There is a good reason for that though. It's a tale that involves organized crime, corruption and murder. Let's say that John McCain never runs a negative ad against his opponents because he doesn't want them to dig too hard.

It's because McCain is where he is because of his marriage to his second wife, Cindy. No, Cindy Hensley McCain is not where the story begins. She was a young 25 when McCain married her (he was 43). According to the Arizona Republic on June 5, 1999, McCain joked that his marriage was based on a 'tissue of lies.' Both he and she had lied to each other, she claiming to be older than she was and he claiming to be younger. Yeah, I know-- what a good foundation for a marriage to start off on. To their credit the McCains however have stayed together. Or maybe there are other reasons...

One wonders what Cindy told McCain about her father. When did McCain learn how his father-in-law Jim Hensley made his fortune? Sooner or later he had to be dealt in on the 'family jewels.' After all, they helped finance a run for Congress and not long after that for the Senate.

Jim Hensley and his brother Eugene went to work after World War II for Kemper Marley, a wealthy wholesale liquor distributor. Marley, in fact, had once been a bookie, getting his start working for the Transamerica Wire Service, a betting service established by mafiosi Gus Greenbaum (who was murdered with his wife when their throats were slashed in bed in 1958). Until 1947, liquor was rationed by the government. Apparently Marley did quite well in spite of the restrictions, and in 1948 the reason why became clear. Eugene and Jim Hensley were convicted of falsifying records on behalf of Marley's distributorship, United Liquor (along with fifty other Marley employees) to conceal the illegal distribution of hundreds of cases of liquor. Jim Hensley got a six month suspended sentence.

In 1953, Jim Hensley, then the General Manager for United Liquor, was once more charged for doing the same thing again. Marley paid for top notch legal representation though (future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.) Hensley still went to prison, but took the fall when the rest of the company was cleared. According to an article in American, Marley rewarded Hensley for his loyalty to the organization:

When Hensley strolled out of the joint, Marley bought his silence with a lucrative Phoenix-based Budweiser beer distributorship.

That distributorship and the rest of Marley's empire did very well over the decades for both Hensley and Marley, making both men multi-millionaires.

In fact, Marley was interested in more than just liquor. In 1976, then Gov. Raul Castro, a Democrat, appointed Marley, then a billionaire and the state's richest man, to the state racing commission.

And that's when one of those pesky investigative reporters got in the way. The reporter's name was Don Bolles and he worked for the Arizona Republic. Bolles discovered a land fraud ring and other crimes that appeared to lead to Sen. Barry Goldwater and other movers and shakers in Arizona. And he discovered that Kemper Marley, newly appointed to the State Board Racing Commission, had connections to the Mafia. In fact, Marley was a close associate of Peter Licavoli, the mob boss for Arizona. Marley had also served as Chairman of the Board for Valley National Bank, which helped bankroll Bugsy Siegel's construction of the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Digging into Marley's past also uncovered his earlier work for Gus Greenbaum. The revelations forced Marley to resign from the commission.

And Kemper Marley and his associates in the Mafia weren't people whose business you interfered with lightly.

On June 2, 1976, Bolles climbed into his car and was blown apart by a bomb under the driver's seat. Pieces of his body were strewn around the parking lot. Bolles amazingly survived for eleven days and said to investgators on the scene, "They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John (Harvey) Adamson."

Adamson was later convicted of the murder. But who hired him? That trail was never really followed up on, according to members of the Arizona Project, a group of reporters who began looking into mob ties after the murder.

Following Bolles' death, more than 30 journalists from the then-newly formed Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) group arrived in Phoenix to carry out their late colleague's work....

Don Devereux, another Arizona Project reporter, feels the IRE team may have trusted the authorities too much. "We accepted very uncritically their scenario. In retrospect, we were very naive to get lead around. It really isn't something that we should be running around congratulating ourselves about," says Devereux of the IRE investigation...

"The biggest disservice we did to Bolles was not paying more attention to him," says Devereux. "His dying words were words we should have glommed onto a little more seriously, because when he was lying on the pavement he said: `Adamson, Emprise, Mafia. ... Emprise was almost Bolles' white whale. He was obsessed by them...."

Emprise, a Buffalo, NY based sports concessionire with known mob ties, had a circuit of Greyhound racing tracks in Arizona. So who was named to the Racing Commission was of vital interest to Emprise. Enter Kemper Marley. Exit Kemper Marley, courtesy of Bolles.

The Phoenix police theorized that Marley wanting revenge enlisted the help of local contractor Max Dunlap. Dunlap then allegedly hired Adamson to carry out the bombing. Adamson claimed that plumber James Robison assisted him.

Over the years, Dunlap and Robison have maintained their innocence. Dunlap remains incarcerated.** Although, Robison gained acquittal in a retrial, he is still awaiting release from prison on a related charge. Meanwhile, the state paroled Adamson [in 1996], and he disappeared into the federal witness protection program.

The Phoenix police never even arrested Marley, who died in 1990.

**-- Dunlap has since died in prison after the source article was published.

Meanwhile, Jim Hensley remained a close confidante and associate of Kemper Marley. In fact, it was Bolles who wrote that the Hensleys had bought Ruidoso Downs horse racing track in New Mexico on behalf of Marley. Eugene Hensley later sold the track to a buyer linked to Emprise (linked here as described in the Phoenix Gazette, Jan. 4, 1990.)

One thing that Marley and Hensley didn't have-- governmental authority themselves. They had to depend on their friends in government to help them out. But then Hensley got a gift-- his daughter married the former Navy pilot and decorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict, John McCain. Hensley knew right away what to do. According to an article published in 2000 by the Phoenix New Times,

[McCain] retired from the military in 1980, divorced his first wife, wed Arizona native Cindy Lou Hensley and moved here to plunge into the world of politics. His first job in Arizona was as a public affairs agent for Hensley & Company, one of the nation's largest beer distributors. He was paid $50,000 in 1982 to travel the state, touting the company's wares. But he was promoting himself as much as he was Budweiser beer. A better job description might have been "candidate."

Then in 1982, McCain ran for Congress. That takes some quick money, and McCain had access to it-- thanks to his father in law (whose employees at his liquor distributorship were 'persuaded' to donate thousands of dollars to McCain), and one of Hensley's friends, Charles Keating of the Lincoln S&L (I won't get into the Lincoln S&L scandal here because it is pretty well known by now that McCain was one of the 'Keating Five.') To seal the deal, Jim Hensley and Cindy Hensley McCain invested $359,100 in one of Keating's projects. In fact, when McCain first ran for the Senate, in 1986, even Kemper Marley, through his son Kemper Jr. (who was now running United Liquor-- Marley himself had become politically radioactive) donated money to him.

It has been said that the Mafia never really left, they have just moved upscale. That is certainly the case in Las Vegas, where the casinos are corporations and run in a businesslike manner (so a Bugsy Siegel would be an anachronism, but I'm also not sure I'd want to make an enemy out of some of the folks who have those offices on the top floor.) The original Cosa Nostra may have been largely broken up, but the remnants of the Mafia are still around, mostly in fat family bank accounts and people they have helped push into positions of power, and John McCain is privvy to one and is the other.

Cross-posted at Night Bird's Fountain and Coalition for a Republican-Free America.

Time Person of the Year-- another 'feel-good' cheerleader award.

I thought Time magazine had already become hopelessly worried about bad press, when choosing their 'person of the year.' Remember, this is the same outfit who, when news was real news, didn't flinch at picking people like Adolf Hitler (1938), Josef Stalin (1939 and 1942) or Ayatollah Khomeini (1979)as their person of the year. Back then the award meant something, a person who (for better or worse) influenced the news and world events more than anyone else. In 1982, a year when relatively little news was made outside the Falkland Islands and we were entering the digital age, Time chose 'the computer.' And certainly a good case could be made for it at the time.

Sometimes they have picked groups of people, such as American scientists (1960), American women (1975) or philanthropists (last year-- though I would have jointly picked Michael Brown, Ray Nagin and Max Mayfield for 2005, and that's not a good thing). I'm not complaining about some of these choices, but it bothers me that lately their choices have seemed designed to choose the 'person' of the year primarily without ticking anyone off. They have picked George W. Bush twice-- in 2000 and 2004. What exactly did he do then? He won an election. Fine. And it does merit consideration. But it seems to me that a President has to do something besides just win an election (which could have been considered the case in 2004, but not in 2000). Bill Clinton similarly won in 1992 (though his other year, 1998, was a joint appearance with Kenneth Starr.) Then this year they just picked 'you.' OK, I guess we live in a feels-good puff-news culture.

Even when they have picked a person, it seems they have gone out of their way to 1) try to make it a surprise, and 2) make it a non-controversial pick. For example, in 2001, the obvious choice would have been bin Laden, but they could be excused for picking Rudy Giuliani, who certainly did a great job that day in New York. In 2004, Bush won the election but Karl Rove would have been a better choice (hey--I'm trying to stay non-partisan in this post-- and honestly Rove in 2004 should have gotten it.) This year there were several newsmakers who probably deserved it more than 'you.' And yes, a lot of them are Democrats (this just wasn't a good year for Republicans). But if they'd picked Nancy Pelosi or Rahm Emmanuel or Harry Reid or Howard Dean, of course the right wing bashers (who forget quickly the two time selection of Bush) would certainly have jumped all over them for it. And to a lesser extent so would I in the case of Pelosi and Reid-- let's see what they do, not just that they've won (though Dean or Emmanuel, as strategists, deserve consideration.) To be honest, the Republicans who made the most news this year were Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney and Mark Foley; I suppose you could pick them all together, but in fact this election was a Democratic win more than it was a Republican loss.

Internationally, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah, Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq, Russian President-becoming-dictator Vladimir Putin and N. Korean dictator Kim Jong Il should be considered. Even Fidel Castro has made more news by his possible slow death than he has made in years when he was alive and vibrant. Keep in mind that I don't like any of those folks, but they largely drove the international news cycle.

That said, my own pick for man of the year is someone who I thoroughly despise, and who I would never want to have anything to do with. But in the true spirit of the award, intended to name the biggest news maker and person who has done the most to change the world for better or worse, not just the popular choice or choice without controversy, I would have to say

Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

And my guess is that if the publishers of Time who weren't afraid to pick someone like a Hitler or a Stalin, realizing they were writing with an eye to history instead of just the current sales cycle, were making the selection, that is who I suspect they would have named as well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Choose one from column A and one from column B...

It's not hard to see why President Bush has pushed back his unveiling of the 'new' Iraq policy until January.

Just look at the advice he's been getting lately: Withdraw troops. Maintain current troop levels. Send more troops. Negotiate with Iraq's neighbors. Don't negotiate with them. Don't tinker with the Iraqi experiment in Democracy. Work to strengthen the Shiite-Kurd dominated government and focus on fighting the Sunni insurgency that is opposed to it. Shift the fight to Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia and try to get the Sunnis to replace al-Sadr in the governing coalition. Give more responsibility to the Iraqis to police themselves. Take responsibility away by embedding small units composed of U.S. troops in larger Iraqi units. "Redouble" our efforts in Iraq by pouring in as many troops as we can and gamble everything on an all-out offensive to end the violence. De-emphasize Iraq and go on an all-out offensive in Afghanistan.

In other words, name your suggestion, and there is someone who is recommending it to the President.

But here is the rub: Whichever of these suggestions the President uses to cobble together the 'new' Iraq plan (I'm still not sure what the 'old' one was) he had it available to him for the past four years! But the President's by now well-known stubbornness and resistance to change cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives before he even began working on the 'new' plan for Iraq.

Whatever he announces as the new Iraq plan (and IMO, any suggestion that gets us into the pool of quicksand any deeper must be opposed, while other suggestions make some sense), the simple fact that it has taken this long (and obviously even now he was only spurred to action by an election loss fueled by discontent over Iraq) for him to reconsider what we are doing in Iraq should prove the man's incompetence, if there was ever any doubt.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tim Johnson hospitalized

Senator Tim Johnson, (D-SD) is right now undergoing brain surgery for something. It was intially reported as a stroke, then as not a stroke, but now is apparently something serious enough to require emergency brain surgery in the middle of the night.

First of all, I am praying both for Sen. Johnson and his family at this difficult time. With conflicting reports out, the only thing that we can say for sure is that it will be some time, at least a day or two, before we know exactly what this is and how serious it is.

In the event that Johnson is unable to continue his service in the U.S. Senate, then South Dakota Governor Rounds, a Republican, will appoint his replacement. Rounds will appoint a Republican, as is his right, and it will, if it happens, undo one of the main results of the elections. In a year when more Democratic Senate seats than Republican seats were up for election in the Senate, Democrats managed to win six seats (including two by a combined 9,000 vote margin) and complete an improbable takeover of the Senate. With Justice Stevens' heart problems, this is of critical importance. Without it, it is conceivable that President Bush could appoint a fifth 'strict constructionist' justice to the Supreme Court and radically alter the direction of the court (which is now split 4-1-4, with Anthony Kennedy the center of the court.)

Now, I don't blame the GOP if they get the opportunity, for seizing it. Democrats would do the same. In fact, a few years ago, Paul Coverdell, a Republican Senator from Georgia died tragically in the middle of his term, and then Democratic Governor Roy Barnes selected a Democrat to replace him (though I would question Barnes' judgement in the matter; he selected his predecessor in the Governor's mansion, Zell Miller, who in his relatively brief stay in the Senate rarely voted with other Democrats and used his position to bash them, even going so far as to endorse President Bush for re-election.)

If there is a silver lining it is that even if the Senate becomes 50-50 with Dick Cheney breaking the tie and returning power to the Republicans, it will be moved much to the left from where it was, and Democrats will only need to convince a single Republican to join them (plus keep Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson in line) in order to block anything. But that is still a lot different from having control.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nothing I could dream up is as bizarre as what the nutbag right really comes up with

Hat tip to Feministing.

According to the latest wacky theory being kicked around on the far right, A Devil Food is turning our kids into homosexuals.

No, that's the real headline.

According to the article,

There's a slow poison out there that's severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture. The ironic part is, it's a "health food," one of our most popular.

The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore...

Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally....

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to... sexual confusion and homosexuality.

So that's it! The geniuses in the nutbag right have finally figured it out! Burn the U.S. soy bean crop and there will be no more homosexuals. Oh, and if you meet a guy from Iowa, just keep in mind that it is the soybean capitol of America (that's right, it wasn't Klinger, it was really Hawkeye all the time.) And go back to that headline-- obviously soybeans weren't put here for the benefit of civilization, no, they were planted by the devil. Buy a bottle of soy sauce, and you're bringing Lucifer home with you from the supermarket.

Yeesh! You have to admit, they have gotten pretty creative trying to justify their anti-homosexual ranting.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wonder if his bank account is frozen, too.

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about how wise Democratic voters in Georgia had been to kick out Cynthia McKinney. And it is worth noting that Republican primary voters who didn't have the guts to pull the primary levers for James B. Harris in Ohio and Tom Campbell in Houston, instead voted for Bob Ney and Tom DeLay respectively (on the way to losing both districts to Democrats.)

So up until this evening, I could easily make the argument that Democrats had a better track record in terms of cleaning house on their own bad apples than Republicans did.

Unfortunately I can't make that argument right now. It looks like William Jefferson will retain his seat in a runoff against Karen Carter.

I know that Katrina has rearranged political reality there to a degree that is almost incomprehensible. And Carter was hurt in largely white Jefferson Parish (about 30% of the district is in Jefferson Parish) by a comment she made during Katrina that angered some people there. But while losing by almost 3-1 in Jefferson Parish, she ran slightly behind Jefferson in Orleans Parish (the city itself) as well.

Jefferson, of course is under investigation by the FBI. They found $90,000 in cold, hard cash in his freezer (emphasis on the word, 'cold' there). He has been named as one of the most corrupt members of Congress. I don't understand why anybody would vote for the man. And it's not even a matter of party loyalty, as Jefferson and Carter are both Democrats.

Maybe the FBI and/or the House Ethics Committee will do what the voters failed to do tonight. Fire him.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Foley investigation shows Hastert 'negligent.'

A special four member House investigative panel consisting of two Democrats and two Republicans reported their conclusions today that the House Republican leadership, and in particular Speaker Dennis Hastert had been negligent and in fact had chosen to remain "remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences," of former rep. Mark Foley's emails to teenage pages and former pages.

The report also singled out two other members of the Republican leadership: Majority Leader John Boehner and GOP house campaign committee chairman Tom Reynolds.

This report did come out after the election-- and likely spared Reynolds from losing his district in Congress (he beat back a challenge from Jack Davis by 2 percent).

The report does say that the GOP leadership "did not violate any Congressional rules."

I would assume not. They write the rules. If the best defense you can give is that you didn't 'violate the House rules (which you yourself wrote)' then you deserve to lose your job (as Hastert did.)

It did point one finger at a Democrat-- a congressional staffer who it says leaked this to the press. However, that only proves (once again) how stupid coverups are. If you are a politician and try to cover up something, then it rarely means it won't come out. Much more likely is that it will come out, but rather than when and how you choose, at a time and method of your opponent's choosing. But like many things, that seems like common sense to me but almost an impossible thought to most politicians.

McKinney Bill of Impeachment will fail (and it should).

Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), the only incumbent Democrat voted out of office (pending the result of the Jefferson-Carter runoff in Louisiana) is leaving much as she held office-- in other words, anything but quietly.

McKinney introduced a bill to impeach the President.

WASHINGTON - In probably her final legislative act in Congress, outgoing Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney has introduced a bill to impeach President George W. Bush.

The legislation from the Democratic congresswoman has no chance of passage and serves as a symbolic parting shot not only at Bush but also at Democratic leaders. Incoming House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that she will not entertain proposals to sanction Bush and has warned the liberal wing of her party against making political hay of impeachment.

There is a reason why the Democratic primary voters in Georgia decided to send Hank Johnson (a boring but earnest and hardworking DeKalb County commissioner) to Congress in place of McKinney. Corruption allegations and her much publicized run-in with Capitol Hill police aside, she is always grandstanding, and even on her way out of the House she is still doing the same.

Personally, I have never supported impeachment. There are two reasons for this. The first is on principle; impeachment was intended to be used for 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' and should not therefore be based on a President's policy decisions-- no matter how disastrous those may turn out to be. The second is practical; There is not enough support in the House to get there and certainly would cost much needed political momentum to do so, nor are there votes in the Senate to convict, the political price of such an overreaching would likely be that Democratic control of Congress would last for all of two years, and even if successful it would only make Dick Cheney the President.

But, even if there were to be impeachment, then there have to be some grounds for it. Even if some of my readers are right (and I know some of you who have posted here in the past support impeachment), then there would have to be a full investigation and accounting of why, not some half-baked bill like the one McKinney is offering.

Really, it is not a bill about George Bush at all. It is a bill about Cynthia McKinney. She is about to walk out of Congress tomorrow and into political obscurity. Because of her past behavior, it is unlikely that she will even be able to parlay her former office into a lobbying or consulting job like some retired congressmen do. Really, this is about her last chance to make a headline and in the process thumb the leadership in the eye, so she is taking it. And what it really points out is that even the long stream of Republicans who got booted this year are for the most part showing more class than Cynthia McKinney is on the way out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How stupid is stupid?

Remember the Dubai ports deal? Do you remember how the Bush administration didn't think that outsourcing our security to a company owned by the government of Dubai was a bad thing? This despite the fact that the government of Dubai was one of only three in the world to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan (a move too radical even for Iran, Iraq or Syria), or that the 9/11 commission had pointed out that in February 1999 (six months after the African embassy bombings) the emir of Dubai had entertained bin Laden as a cherished guest at his hunting camp in Afghanistan.

Well, because most people have more common sense than the Bush administration (or those 'must wear blinders' conservatives who parrot every word in a White House press release), the Dubai ports deal never became reality. One would hope that the White House learned something from that and wouldn't repeat the mistake.

One would hope that, but one would be wrong. Today, it was announced that Dubai Ports World, the same firm that was eventually determined to be unacceptable for purposes of screening cargo coming into the U.S., will now be screening cargo coming in for nuclear material.

Yes, you read that right.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dubai Ports World, the Arab-owned company which set off a furor with its purchase of six U.S. port operations earlier this year, has been cleared to join a federal pilot program to test the methods used to screen U.S.-bound cargo for radiation.

The Security Freight Initiative involves the use of existing technology -- including streaming video and nuclear-detection devices -- at foreign ports, according to details announced Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The United States, however, "will not outsource our security," Chertoff said, adding that all decisions about whether cargo is allowed to continue to the United States "will be made 100 percent by U.S. officials."

And we are supposed to feel better because our guys will make the call on whether to let the cargo go? The whole concern is founded on whether Dubai's chumminess with bin Laden might allow some of bin Laden's people to infiltrate the system. Of course if an item fails an inspection it won't go, but then the goal of terrorists isn't to cause failed inspections. It's to figure a way out to sneak something past the inspectors. And if you are the inspector, well what else do I have to say?

Of course, it might not even be that any bin Laden sympathizers who are working for DPW would have to do slip anything past the inspection themselves. All they would have to do is learn enough about how the system works to figure out how to beat it.

I know that the Bush administration has trouble changing course. But even when they've already been forced to acknowlege the problem before, they still don't change their basic thinking.

Judge kicked out for sending late court arrivals to jail.

Today, according to a report on Ann Althouse's blog, the Florida Supreme Court has thrown Seminole County Judge John Sloop off the bench.

The reason is because two years ago, (apparently when Sloop was having a really bad hair day or something) he had eleven people who showed up late for court summarily arrested and put in jail. Then, when it turned out the reason they were late for court was because a courthouse employee had given them wrong directions, he still kept them there.

I'm surprised it took this long. If I did something that egregious at work, I'd be gone within a few hours (maybe a month if I insisted on fighting it.) To be honest it is frightening that someone with this kind of temperment was making decisions that affect other people's lives.

Of course, you do remember Seminole County don't you? That was the county where in the 2000 election, GOP campaign workers had been, in violation of the law, filling out and mailing absentee ballots themselves (truth is, Seminole County and the neighboring county of Martin were the two counties where the 2000 election was really stolen, while everyone was watching Palm Beach county.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq study group.

Today the Iraq Study Group report was released.

To be honest, for the most party it looks like an excuse to continue more or less what we are doing. There is no timetable for withdrawl, it says that we will have to turn things over to the Iraqis, but then that is what we are doing.

It is spiced with common sense, but of the variety that is new only because our leadership has been so tone deaf to reality for so long. For example, it acknowledges that if there ever was a window to turn Iraq into a stable democracy, that has long since been closed. It describes the situation as 'grave and deteriorating.' Well, D'oh. It talks about withdrawl, but not giving specific dates. It says that we have to deal with Iran and Syria. Well, yeah, when you talk about ending a war then you have to deal with people who are at least by proxy on the other side. I've heard some conservatives complain about that, and it only shows how out of it they are. George Bush could meet a hundred times with Tony Blair and al-Maliki but that wouldn't solve anything. It's like people who were opposed to ever negotiating with communists. Ultimately, we had to. In order to get out of Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger met with and negotiated with communists. Vietnamese communists, Soviet communists, Chinese communists. It doesn't mean that we should trust a guy like Ahmadinejad, but the reality is that he can make a lot of things happen in Iraq, both good and bad, that we have no control over, and Iran has become much, much more powerful as a player in the region than it was when we invaded Iraq. So if our goal is to bring peace (or at least some semblance of stability) to Iraq so that we can get out 'with honor,' then we are going to have to deal with Iran. That is aside from the issue of trust. We have dealt with a lot of people we don't trust, but have made agreements which were in their best interests to keep. Everyone knows that we will have to negotiate with Iran except for a few people who have their heads in the sand and are still living in a pre-Iraq world when the U.S. pretty much dictated to the rest of the world, so the report spells it out.

This report does have the potential to provide some direction, but on the whole it seems more like a 'cover your behind' type report, seeking to justify our continued presence while providing cover for the President and his administration when the inevitable overtures to Tehran and Damascus to talk about peace are made.
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