Sunday, April 30, 2006
Which Scandal Breaks Big This Week?
Karl Rove may be indicted in the CIA leak case.
Prostitution allegations involving as many as six unnamed congressmen have emerged in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery case.
The former commissoner of the Food and Drug Administration, Lester Crawford, is under investigation for "financial impropieties" and making false statements to Congress.
And of course there is always the chance for something to break in the Jack Abramoff case.
There has been a lot of talk about how the GOP is going to try really, really hard to get back on track before the November midterms, but given all the scandal minefields they have to successfully navigate to get to those midterm elections without another indictment of a major figure in the GOP Congressional leadership or the administration, you have to wonder how successful they're going to be.
Anyway, which potentially devastating scandal is going to break first?
I'd bet it will take a while to sort out the prostitution allegations. As long as Brent Wilkes, one of the major players in the scandal with lots of info on who did what to whom, hasn't made a deal with prosectuors, there probably won't be any news breaking in that story.
The Crawford scandal, albeit a bit minor in comarison to the other two, may take a while to shake out as well.
If Rove secretly makes a deal with the prosecution in the CIA leak case, it's also possible that nothing breaks publicly in that case either.
But I'm betting Rove is going to get indicted soon. Jason Leopold of Truthout writes that Fitzgerald has already drawn up the Rove indictment and will be presenting it to the grand jury later this week. That could mean a press conference would be set for Friday to announce the indictment.
Wouldn't that be a great way to celebrate the third anniversary of Bush's Mission Accomplished speech on the aircraft carrier?
Colbert Speaks Truthiness To Power
Editor & Publisher reports the preznit and Laura felt the same way. They left the dinner unsmiling after Colbert said, among other things, that he admired the preznit because Bush believes the same thing on Wednesday that he does on Monday, no matter what has happened on Tuesday. Colbert also joked about the CIA leak case (pointing out that Joe Wilson and his wife were sitting just three tables away from Karl Rove), photo ops on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, the administration's post-war screw-ups in Iraq, and the recent reshuffling of the White House staff, which he noted was less like a rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic and more like a reshuffling of the deckchairs on the Hindenburg.
The press also took some jabs. Here's my favorite:
Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was “surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story — the president’s side and the vice president’s side." He also reflected on the alleged good old days, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story.
Addressing the reporters, he said, "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction."
The laughter was pretty scattered throughout Colbert's performance. Editor & Publisher says some in the room thought the jokes were a little too biting and harsh.
And that's the problem with the Washington press corps. They're so worried about insulting the power elites they report on that they ignore inconvenient truths and rely on the kind of polite reporting and innocuous bullshit that has allowed the current administration to get away with lying to start a war, spying on people at home, torturing "terror suspects" and/or rendering them to countries that will do our torture bidding for us among other crimes.
But hey, at least they're still on good terms with George and Laura.
UPDATE: Peter Daou at Huffingtonpost hammers the media for ignoring Colbert's sharp criticism of the administration to its most public face (the preznit) while lapping up the preznit's own performance earlier in the night:
The AP's first stab at it - and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune - tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.
This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission.
A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?
It really was painful to watch at times because the crowd seemed so hostile to Colbert. But what exactly did they expect when they tapped Colbert for the dinner? Did they think they were going to get good-humored, "We're all in this together" Jay Leno humor?
I'm glad Colbert had the guts to do what he did last night and thus we should all award Stephen Colbert a big brass set of "Colbert Balls" for weathering the hostile reception of the Washington elite last night in order to tell truth to power.
NY Daily News: Deutsche Bank Building Remains A Graveyard
The Daily News has published a special report on the building and it is a must-read:
For more than four years, the 40-story Deutsche Bank tower has stood silently at the edge of Ground Zero, a graveyard waiting to be found.
The building was searched in 2002 and pronounced clear of all human remains.
In the last few weeks, however, nearly 700 bone fragments have been found on the roof at 130 Liberty St.
Along with a piece of human scalp.
And a pair of plastic wings that airlines give to young passengers.
The Daily News has learned that several areas inside the abandoned skyscraper have never been fully searched. Small bits of human remains are being found now only because the state is preparing to demolish the building.
While the search was suspended last week when asbestos was discovered on the roof, officials at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. say they expect that more fragments will be found when they eventually take apart the structure's air ducts and cooling towers.
"Those body parts didn't just get there. They've been there for four years," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said last week after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the memorial at Ground Zero. "Nobody bothered to look."
How this gut-wrenching situation came to be remains a mystery; no single agency ever took charge of the recovery of human remains at Ground Zero.
The building became enveloped in a toxic plume after the collapsing south tower of the World Trade Center ripped a 14-story gash into its facade.
Filled with a poisonous mix of asbestos, lead, dioxin, cadmium, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 130 Liberty was rendered useless.
The most thorough search of the structure was conducted in June 2002, by the Fire Department, with two teams working round-the-clock.
They checked the entire building floor by floor, and visually inspected the roof, said spokesman James Long.
However, the firefighters did not take apart infrastructure or sift the so-called ballast gravel on the roof, where most of the remains have been found in the last several weeks.
"They found what they could," recalled Fontana, who had pressed for the search back in 2002. "They could only do a visual search. They couldn't look inside walls and vents and infrastructure."
No other agency stepped forward to order up a more thorough inspection of the privately owned building. The situation was complicated by the fact that at the time, the fate of the tower was tied up in litigation between Deutsche Bank and its insurance companies.
The LMDC bought 130 Liberty in August 2004, but still no thorough inspection for human remains was ordered.
While the remains previously recovered at the adjacent WTC site have been carefully preserved for possible DNA identification, the Deutsche Bank site has remained exposed and unprotected since 9/11.
That delay could make DNA identification more difficult.
"It's certainly not helping us that there was all this time that's passed," said Borakove. "But we're going to do the best we can to analyze what we're finding."
Some families of victims are furious that the building wasn't thoroughly searched years ago.
Last week, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton called on the Pentagon to send in the team that searches for MIA remains to supervise the recovery effort.
And some relatives are suggesting that the search be expanded to the rooftop infrastructures of nearby buildings.
"Really, when you think about it, it's four and a half years later," said Bill Doyle of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, who lost his son, Joseph, during the attacks. "Get it all done now, so I don't have to hear two years from now that they found more human remains."
I was down at the World Financial Center quite a bit two weeks ago, and the sight of the Deutsche Bank Building, enshrouded in black netting with its face opened and exposed to the city, sticks out like an infected sore. Full of asbestos and lead and mold and dioxins and other toxins, the building continues to contaminate the neighborhood.
The building needs to be fully searched for human remains. Now. After the building is fully searched for remains, it needs to be taken down. Safely.
Mayor Bloomberg's brilliant idea to implode the building is a great way to relive 9/11 by speading toxic dust and human remains all across downtown again during the implosion. Instead the building needs to be taken down safely, floor by floor. Floor-by-floor deconstruction will cost more, which I'm sure breaks Mayor Bloomberg's heart and is the primary reason for why he wants to implode the building instead. Nonetheless the mayor can take some of the billion dollars he was going to give the New York Jets for their West Side stadium and help bring down the graveyard that is the Deutsche Bank Building floor by floor.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Dylan Opens New Orleans Jazz Fest
Bob Dylan inaugurated the first post-Katrina Jazz Fest in New Orleans:
NEW ORLEANS -- It's always tricky looking for the motivation behind a Bob Dylan set list. But there was little doubt Friday that Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was on his mind during a towering 90-minute performance for the opening day of the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival here.
First, there was the sheer intensity of his vocals, which especially in the early going channeled the chesty growl of Howlin' Wolf more than the typical Dylan nasality. His frequent blues-drenched treatments of songs old and recent fit right in with the annual event's celebration of various strands of American roots music.
Mostly, though, it was the relevance of the songs he chose to the monumental destruction and the emotional and psychological aftermath that this region has been struggling with for the last eight months.
Three songs in, he pulled up "Lonesome Day Blues," from 2001's "Love and Theft" album, with its verse:
The road's washed out — weather not fit for man or beast/Funny, how the things you have the hardest time parting with/Are the things you need the least.
And during the encore portion, Dylan subtly but powerfully changed the familiar verse of "Like a Rolling Stone." So that instead of asking "How does it feel/to be on your own?" he zeroed in on the disorientation of displaced tens of thousands: How does it feel/To be without a home/With no direction home?
"Highway 61 Revisited" evoked the age-old conundrum of humanity striving vainly to understand the notion of "God's will," while a rare unearthing of 1970's "Watching the River Flow" brought the consoling observation that in times when it's impossible to understand life, it's advisable to just stand back and watch it.
Sounds like it was a great Dylan show. He really has gotten so much better the last few years, especially after he got sober. He's still weird and sly and estoeric and crazy and brilliant and million other things. But he's a lot less sloppy and incoherent. Getting sober will do that for you, I suppose.
Bruce Springsteen is supposed to close the Fest on Sunday. He's got his new Pete Seeger Sessions album to play. That should be a good show too.
1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984!!!
Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.
But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws.
Such an approach would signal a thorough revision of the informal rules of engagement that have governed the relationship between the press and the government for many decades. Leaking in Washington is commonplace and typically entails tolerable risks for government officials and, at worst, the possibility of subpoenas to journalists seeking the identities of sources.
But the Bush administration is putting pressure on the press as never before, and it is operating in a judicial climate that seems increasingly receptive to constraints on journalists.
Because such prosecutions of reporters are unknown, they are widely thought inconceivable. But legal experts say that existing laws may well allow holding the press to account criminally. Should the administration pursue the matter, these experts say, it could gain a tool that would thoroughly alter the balance of power between the government and the press.
The administration and its allies say that all avenues must be explored to ensure that vital national security information does not fall into the hands of the nation's enemies.
The United States government cannot allow reporters to print information that is potentially embarrassing or politically damaging to the administration.
Officially sanctioned leaks, like the Libby leak of the National Intelligence Estimate to NY Times reporter Judy Miller, are okay.
War is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery.
Federal Contracts For Felons
These are important questions to ask in this day of little government accountability. First, here is the list of Baker's troubles:
1. Between 1979 and 1989 two misdemeanor convictions (drug and petty larceny) and two felony convictions (attempted robbery and car theft).
2. IRS filed a tax lien against Baker in 1996. Personal bankruptcies in both 1998 and 1999.
3. Court order to pay debt of $55,292 to American Express Travel Related Services in 2002.
4. Baker's limousine service had its contract terminated by Howard University for "poor service" and other problems.
5. In 2003 and 2004, Baker's limousine company received eviction notices for not paying the rent for an office in a luxury building.
6. In September 2004 the company was sued for $1.8 million dollars for buses it bought for the Howard University contract. The case was settled last month for $300,000 dollars.
7. Baker closed his bankruptcy case last April when he paid $125,000 dollars to his creditors.
While I in no way wish to cast stones or aspersions upon Mr. Baker, this doesn't sound like the kind of man who should receive two Homeland Security contracts for $3.8 million and $21.2 million dollars respectively in 2002 and 2004.
And yet, he did.
Now here's the Department of Homeland Security's response, per the Washington Post:
Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said the department does not routinely conduct background checks on its contractors. Instead, it relies on a list the government keeps of vendors who have had serious problems with federal contracts, he said.
In Shirlington Limousine's case, only the drivers were subject to criminal background checks, he said.
Past performance is one key factor the government weighs in awarding a contract, Orluskie said. But he said he did not know whether contract officers checked with Howard University before awarding Shirlington Limousine its first contract.
He stressed that Shirlington Limousine has performed well, saying: "We have not had any problems with this service -- we don't question whether they can deliver because they are delivering."
Did Baker receive the two federal contracts totaling $25 million dollars with Cunningham's help? Did any other of the "six congressmen" reportedly connected to the poker/hooker parties that were held at the Watergate help Baker win the Homeland Security contracts?
Very, very intriguing.
I am of the opinion that while the American public may have a difficult time following the intricacies of some Washington scandals, they get bribery and hookers.
If I were any of the unnamed Congressmen alleged to have attended the poker/hooker parties at the Watergate, I would be very worried today.
Friday, April 28, 2006
WH Press Secretary Tony Snow's Website's Still Up
Snow's website claims these are fake versions of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that created world-wide riots after they appeared in a Danish newspaper.
FishbowlNY (hatip) wants to know why Snow's website is still up. Make that ditto for me.
And while we're at it, does the White House want to be tied to the above cartoons? Seems like they have enough firestorms to put out already without Snow's website adding to the conflagrations.
Bush-Style Progress In Iraq
WASHINGTON, April 28 — The number of insurgent attacks on civilians in Iraq skyrocketed last year, resulting in almost 8,300 deaths and accounting for more than 50 percent of those killed in terrorist attacks worldwide, according to a State Department report released Friday.
The figures for 2005, reported in the State Department's annual survey of global terrorism, showed a doubling from the previous year in both the number of major terrorist attacks in Iraq and the death toll from them. The overall tally of about 3,500 terrorist attacks in Iraq last year represented nearly one-third of such attacks around the world. The numbers do not include attacks against American or coalition troops.
American and Iraqi officials have long argued that political progress would gradually diminish the violence in Iraq. Yet the figures released on Friday sum up a time of increasingly powerful attacks, some involving foreign fighters, even during a year of historic elections and the formation of a democratically elected government.
Heard a reporter from Bloomberg say on Washington Week tonight that the administration couldn't understand why the formation of a new Iraqi government this week didn't get more positive coverage in the press.
Maybe it's because people in the press, like many Americans, think it's too late to stem the tide of violence and chaos in Iraq. Every time a political objective was achieved in Iraq, whether it was handing over sovereignty, holding elections, or forming an interim government, the violence and chaos got worse, not better.
So what's different now?
Sorry, but "we've turned a corner" rhetoric stopped working a while ago and people won't believe we've turned a corner in Iraq until we really do turn a corner in Iraq.
Which, judging by the level of violence, chaos, corruption, and criminality in Iraq these days, may be never.
Colbert At White Correspondents' Dinner
UPDATE: Am catching Colbert tear Bill Kristol a new anus on The Colbert Report repeat on Comedy Central (Crooks and Liars has the tape if you missed it.)
What a wanker Kristol is. It's nice to see somebody unsettle Kristol the way Colbert did. I wish some reporters would put wankers like Kristol on the hot seat the way Colbert did.
SECOND UPDATE: Kristol denies he hits his wife on The Colbert Report! Watch the tape, you'll see what I mean.
Milbank: America in Oil Denial
America may be addicted to oil, as President Bush puts it. But America is in the denial phase of this addiction -- as evidenced by the behavior of its lawmakers. They have proposed all kinds of solutions to high gas prices: taxes on oil companies, domestic oil drilling and releasing petroleum reserves. But they ignore the obvious: that Americans drive too much in too-big cars.
Milbanl lists the kinds of cars that politicians drive notes that most are gas guzzlers. As Milbank notes, many Americans drive gas guzzlers too and they don't intend to change any time soon.
Because, as the Financial Times noted yesterday, Americans believe cheap gas is a basic human right.
Lawmkers' inability to put some of the blame for the energy crisis on the real problem (i.e., fat-assed Americans want to drive big-assed cars and pay $1.50 a gallon for gas) means the problem will not be solved any time soon. Because as Milbank says in his column, nobody in Washington (except for Senator Mark Dayton, who's leaving anyway) wants to ask Americans to do anything drastic and behavior-changing because they're afraid they'll pay for their efforts at the ballot box.
Political pandering to the American voter is a problem in many ways. Not only do politicians not want to tell Americans that they need to drive smaller cars, drive less, or both in order to conserve energy, politicians also don't want to blame parents for their kids' problems in school (it's the teachers' faults, the school's fault, or both) and they don't want to point fingers at the people who first supported the Iraq war because it sounded kinda cool but now don't like it because it's expensive and deadly.
We get the kind of government we deserve. The reason we have bullshit politicans who pander to us, steal our money, and harm the future of the country with their short-sighted policies is because we want them there. We elected them. And we'll continue to elect them. Until Americans grow up, that is, take responsibility for their actions, and realize that sometimes the fault for a particular problem lies within.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
House Passes Lobbying Reform, Sort Of
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican-backed lobbying overhaul bill narrowly survived Thursday, averting what would have been a stunning blow to the party's drive to repair the scandal-tarnished reputation of Congress before the fall elections.
The 216-207 House vote to advance debate on the bill came after GOP leaders spent hours urging their own members not to abandon them on the legislation. The turning point came when they persuaded Republican members of the Appropriations Committee to go along with measures in the bill to limit earmarks, or special interest projects.
In the end 12 Republicans, mostly lawmakers who thought the bill was too weak, voted against it. Democrats were unanimous in opposition.
Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., the main sponsor of the bill, said the bill would add new transparency to lawmaker-lobbyist relations. ''What we are doing here today is another indication of our strong commitment to the issue of reform.''
Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of the Republicans voting against the resolution, disagreed. ''We're losing our moral authority to lead this place,'' said Shays, who like Democrats, objected to procedures that barred them from offering amendments they said would have strengthened a weak bill.
This lobbying reform bill doesn't help innoculate the GOP from ethics problems. Not when Chris Shays, "maverick" Republican from Connecticut, openly mocks the bill and says Republicans are losing the moral authority to run the House.
But that's the modern GOP for you. They're good at P.R., terrific at paasing bullshit legislation that fools you if you don't look closely at it, but they're not so good at passing real reform.
Cheap Gas As A Basic Human Right
Pity the leader of a nation that regards cheap petrol as a basic human right. That is President George W. Bush's position as pump prices start to approach a high of $3 a gallon ahead of next month's driving season - and next autumn's mid-term elections - while his approval ratings are closing fast on a low of about 30 per cent.
Do not pity him for too long, though, because Mr Bush has really squandered the chance to do something about what he has correctly characterised as America's "addiction" to oil.
After the attacks of September 11 2001, the president had a unique opportunity to create a bipartisan and public consensus behind increased energy efficiency and reduced energy dependency, especially on oil imported from politically unreliable parts of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. He did not take it. Instead, the administration took four years to produce an energy bill that, in spite of some electricity network improvements, in no way addresses the fact that per capita energy use in the US is far higher than in any of its competitors - in transport, for example, three times that of Japan.
In the end, however, America's addiction can be beaten only by hard policy decisions: rigorous fuel-efficiency standards, a tax regime that prices petrol realistically, as well as a framework of incentives for investment in alternative technologies. Meanwhile, the best agent of change is expensive oil.
Let's face it: American politicians don't want to face the hard policy decisions needed to be taken in order to end America's addiction to oil and the American people don't want to face the consequences of those hard policy decisions.
All we want is cheap gas. It's our god-given human right to live in the exurbs and drive our huge American cars (no dinky European models for us!) 60-100 miles a day to work.
We're entitled - cuz' we're Americans.
So Much For The Ethics Reform
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans abruptly called off debate on a lobbying and ethics bill Thursday after it became apparent they lacked the votes to pass it. The GOP leadership called a closed-door meeting to try to persuade wayward members to support the package.
Republicans need unity to pass the legislation, aimed at reversing the spiraling reputation of Congress following several lobbying scandals, because it faces widespread Democratic opposition. Democrats say the package is weak and will do little to end abuses caused by lobbyists' influence.
Minutes into the debate Thursday, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., announced that he was withdrawing the resolution setting the rules for debate. The announcement came after a brief conversation with Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.
Lewis and others on his committee have objected to a provision in the bill that requires greater disclosure of earmarks, or narrow pet projects, that make their way into larger appropriations, or spending, bills. Lewis argued that the earmarks provision should also apply to policy and tax bills.
''We have a weak bill that people want to make weaker,'' Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a leading advocate of stronger reform, said as he entered the private meeting.
Shays said his own party was ''totally clueless when it comes to the issues of reform and ethics.''
I think Shays is wrong. I don't think Republicans are "totally clueless when it comes to the issues of reform and ethics."
I think they just don't give a shit.
But if I were Dems, I would be framing that Shay's quote for every "Culture of Corruption" commercial they plan on running for the midterms over pictures of Duke Cunningham (and his "comped" hookers) , Tom Delay, Bob Ney, et al.
Shuster: Rove is More Worried About An Indictment After His Grand Jury Testimony
Shuster says Rove was surprised by both the kind of questions asked by Fitzgerald at the grand jury proceedings and by the length of session.
I wonder who leaked this information to Shuster and why he/she leaked it.
Is Rove now expecting an indictment and he's trying to get out in front of the news by laying the groundwork in the media for an eventual indictment?
UPDATE: Sol Wiesenberg, former deputy independent counsel, just told Norah O'Donnell that any time you are a subject in an investigation, have testified five times before a grand jury and spend three and a half hours testifying the fifth time, you are definitely in some trouble.
Hookers and Limos
As the article says, no other members of Congress have yet been implicated in the "hospitality services" scandal, but it sure will be one fun investigation to follow.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.
Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.
In documents filed in federal court in San Diego, prosecutors listed four "co-conspirators" in the bribing of Mr. Cunningham. The two who allegedly played the biggest role, listed as co-conspirators No. 1 and No. 2, have been confirmed by Justice Department officials and defense lawyers to be Mr. Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, the founder and former head of MZM Inc., a software and computer-services firm that Mr. Cunningham helped to gain federal contracts.
Mr. Wade told investigators that all the arrangements for these services had been made by Mr. Wilkes and two employees of Mr. Wilkes's company, according to people with knowledge of his debriefing. He said Mr. Wilkes had rented the hotel suites and found the limousine driver, who had "relationships" with several escort services. Mr. Wade told prosecutors that sometimes Mr. Cunningham would contact him to request these services, and he would pass on the request to Mr. Wilkes or his employees, who then made the actual arrangement. Mr. Wade said that other times Mr. Cunningham called Mr. Wilkes directly to make the requests.
If investigators find that any other members of Congress or their staffs received services at so-called hospitality suites, that could help make a case that they had illegally taken action to benefit Mr. Wilkes in return for favors from him. Mr. Wilkes, his family members and his employees were heavy campaign contributors to several members of Congress. But prosecutors so far apparently haven't found any evidence that other members of Congress had been bribed.
Mr. Wade told investigators that he had knowledge only of the service being provided to Mr. Cunningham, not anyone else, and has said he doesn't know whether Mr. Wilkes mayhave provided prostitutes or other free entertainment to anyone besides Mr. Cunningham.
I mean, who doesn't love "family values" Republicans having to deny they received free hookers as bribes?
No Wonder Nobody Trusts The Fucking Gov't
Cleanup of the toxic Deutsche Bank tower near Ground Zero has been halted after asbestos was found in areas the state said had already been cleaned, the Daily News has learned.
Officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered that workers performing cleanup and searching for human remains at the 130 Liberty St. site have been working without respiratory equipment for weeks, and will not be allowed back to work until they're properly outfitted and trained.
The federal EPA, joined by the city environmental agency and the state Labor Department, inspected the site last Thursday and found that supposedly cleansed areas on the roof of the 40-story building still contained undetermined amounts of asbestos-laden dust.
"We expressed very strong concerns," said the EPA's Mary Mears. "As a result, work was stopped. We're going to make sure they do it properly before they start it up again."
The Deutsche Bank is the building Mayor Bloomberg wanted to take down with an implosion, btw.
Because that's what downtown needs. More asbestos in the fucking air.
But now the people running this building takedown can't even protect their own workers.
Or maybe they don't care enough to protect their own workers.
Just like they didn't particularly give a shit about the men and women working the pit in the days after 9/11 when the fires below ground were still buring and spewing a toxic stew across the city.
Maybe if that was Giuliani's kid working on the roof or Bloomberg's daughter working as foremen, then the workers would be protected.
But when it's just some $8.00 an hour laborers doing the work, no one really cares.
Iraq Carnage Continues
64 American military personnel have been killed in the month of April so far. Two Italian soldiers and one Romanian soldier were killed by a bomb blast targeting their convoy yesterday.
Rummy and Rice can jet into Baghdad in the middle of the night for FOX News photo ops aimed at the home audience all they want. Bush can claim progress in the political process and pull 50,000 troops out of Iraq before the November midterms all he wants as well.
This thing is not going to end well no matter what.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
So Much For The Fresh Start
Only one problem: Karl Rove testified before the CIA leak grand jury for a fifth time today. The news of Rove's appearance before the grand jury broke just after Bush's press conference introducing Snow to the media.
Sure is hard to get a fresh start when all that criminal activity and/or problems from the past keep coming back to haunt you.
Last Thursday when Rove had his policy portfolio stripped from him by new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, I speculated whether the demotion had anything to do with the CIA leak case.
Now perhaps Rove's demotion was just coincidental, but it sure is funny how he got demoted a week before he stepped before the CIA leak grand jury for a fifth time "to clear up a few things."
Lawrence O'Donnell at Huffington Post thinks Rove's going to be indicted pretty soon (Hat Tip to Mike at Born at the Crest).
I'd say that's probably a pretty good bet. Otherwise, why would Rove have volunteered to go before the grand jury to clear things up again?
UPDATE: Jeralyn at Talk Left thinks Rove is cooperating with Fitzgerald in the CIA leak case. Larissa Alexandrovna at Raw Story reports that "sources close to the investigation" say Rove has been "providing information" to the prosecution in the case.
So which is it? Is Rove cooperating or was he trying to talk his way out of an indictment?
Either way, it's a win-win. If Rove's indicted, that'll make for a fun trial. If Rove is ratting out Cheney or somebody else, Rove's get the new moniker "King Rat."
As I say, it's win-win.
A Dispirited Base
Speaking of skyrocketing gas prices Sunday, Bush told a California audience to expect "a tough summer," then threw cold water on any hopes he had a solution: "The American people have got to understand what happens elsewhere in the world affects the price of gasoline you pay here."
Message: You're on your own.
Monday he preached defeat on the immigration crisis, saying, "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It's just not going to work."
Message: There's nothing we can do about it.
As Bush might soon learn, there is something worse than being unpopular - it's being irrelevant. Even when problems are enormously complex, the American people don't hire Presidents to tell them there is nothing he can do about them. Jimmy Carter discovered as much after his infamous "malaise" speech. He told Americans to stop feeling sorry for themselves and they responded by getting a new President.
Bush has his second term, but with midterm elections approaching, he'd better come up with some answers or he'll reap a Democratic Congress. Two years of that would make him long for Carter's early retirement.
Goodwin was a Bush apologist for a good long while, but he turned against Bush right around Katrina and hasn't looked back since. He also appears on Lou Dobbs's how every week and if anything is even more critical of Bush on Dobbs' show than he is in print.
That Bush has lost a conservative like Goodwin speaks more to the preznit's problems than anything else I can think of. The base is slowly eroding (thus the 32% approval rating in the latest CNN poll and 33% approval rating in the latest FOX poll) and if it keeps up, the GOP is really going to get hammered in the midterms, gerrymandered House districts be damned.
I say this because I have noticed just how dispirited former supporters of the preznit and/or GOP talking heads have seemed on television or in print lately. And it's not just Michael Goodwin. Tony Blankely seems pretty low-key in his support of the preznit lately. WSJ hack John Fund and former Congressman and CNN contributor J.C. Watts used to vigorously defend their preznit, now they're both critical. Republican strategist Ed Rollins is overwhelmingly critical of the preznit and the GOP leadership in Congress and even National Review editor/MSNBC contributor Kate O'Beirne doesn't seem to have her heart in her appearances on Hardball anymore.
Just a year and a half ago, all those people mentioned above were vigorous defenders of the preznit.
Now they look the way Kerry supporters did right after the election.
If part of the Democratic plan for victory in November is having a juiced Democrat base and a dispirited Republican base going into the election, then the plan seems to be working so far.
AP Says Snow Is New Press Secretary
The Associated Press says it's official: Snow will be the new press secretary.
The AP story notes that Snow has said some "unflattering" things about Preznit Bush and his administration in the past. The story also says the Bushies hope Snow can "reenergize the administration" and lift the preznit's low approval numbers.
So does Tony Snow help "reenergize the administration" and restore some of the credibility McClellan had lost when he was caught giving misinformation about Karl Rove's and Scooter Libby's roles in the CIA leak case?
I dunno. I used to watch Snow on that Sunday morning FOX show for a while, but I had to stop because he just came across as a partisan jerk to me. But to be frank, everybody on FOX comes across as a partisan jerk to me, so maybe my feelings about Tony Snow are not a good gauge for how the rest of the country will see him.
Of course, maybe the rest of the country won't particularly give a shit that Snow is replacing McClellan as long as Americans are dying in Iraq, gas is over $3.00 a gallon, and middle and working class Americans are struggling to make ends meet because of high health care costs, energy costs, college costs, and stagnant wages.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Let Them Eat Corn
I suppose that's true, but I have the feeling if you asked the preznit why we can't use more solar power technology for our energy needs, he would say "We can't use all the sun -- people gotta tan -- animals gotta sleep in the sun too!"
"We can't use all the corn -- people gotta eat -- animals gotta eat too!"
Some Pretty Bleak Democracy Corps Numbers For The GOP
In contests where a Democratic incumbent is running for re-election (199 House seats in this database), the Democratic candidates enjoy a 26-point advantage and claim a strong majority of the votes (57 to 31 percent)
In open seats with no incumbent running in this cycle (20 House seats), the Democratic advantage is even higher -- a remarkable 63 to 28 percent
Most importantly, in races where a Republican incumbent is running for re-election (217 House seats), the Republican candidate leads by just 4 points (42 to 46 percent) and fails to claim majority support -- a sharp contrast from the strong position of Democratic incumbents.
Conventional wisdom remains that Dems will almost certainly make big gains in both the House and Senate but the jury is still out on whether they can capture either or both houses of Congress.
There is a lot of time between now and November and with the help of Karl Rove's bag of dirty tricks and the Diebold Corporation, I suppose Republicans could hold onto solid majorities in the House and Senate.
But when you look at those Democracy Corps numbers, you'd have to say that both Karl Rove and Diebold have got their work cut out for them in the House.
Those are some pretty scary numbers if you're a GOP member standing for re-election.
403(k) Plans Are Goodie Bags For Teachers Unions
As with a 401(k), the nest egg grows tax-free until the owner retires and starts making withdrawals. But there is a key difference. In the private sector, employers sponsor 401(k) plans and are required to screen the investment options and make sure employees have reasonable choices.
School districts are under no such obligation. Most leave it to teachers to find their own investments.
As a result, hundreds of insurers, mutual fund companies and financial planners compete for teachers' money, touting a bewildering array of products. A union endorsement confers a huge advantage, allowing a provider to stand out from the crowd.
Unions do more than simply give companies their blessing. Some help market and sell endorsed products. They tout investment firms on their websites and provide direct links to sites where teachers can sign up to buy annuities. Endorsed providers also enjoy special access to schools and teacher conferences where they can pitch their products.
Teachers generally are not aware that unions are paid for their endorsements, directly or indirectly. Such deals usually are not mentioned on union websites or in brochures describing the favored investments.
"This is a national problem," said Dan Otter, a former Maryland teacher and founder of 403bwise.com, which offers tips on finding low-cost retirement plans.
"It's a rare school district that gives teachers access to quality choices. In most cases, they just turn a blind eye to the problems. And it's the rare union that's advocating for better 403(b) investments for its members," Otter said. "In many cases, the 403(b) is a source of profit for unions."
I'm printing the whole article out, making copies and distributing it to my colleagues at school.
I'm a neophyte about this stuff, but it doesn't surprise me that teachers unions see investment accounts as a source of profit. I don't see the UFT in the LA Times article, but I would bet Randi and company have their greedy mitts in this business too.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Cheney's Security Detail Goes "Up In Smoke"
Via Talk Left, here's a pretty funny quote from Tommy Chong:
"I know Dick Cheney's Secret Service guys smoke pot," Chong said. "The reason I know that is I sold them bongs."
If Chong had said the policymakers in the White House were stoned, that I could I believe. But Cheney's Secret Service detail?
Oh, well. If Cheney can get drunk and shoot people, I guess his security detail ought to be able to get high.
POSTSCRIPT: If Cheney's security detail is getting high, it makes me wonder who else in the Bush administration and/or White House is using.
The twins are, that goes without saying. And I still maintain that Bush himself is a periodic drunk who stays clean most of the time but disappears every once in a while for a two-day bender (you'll notice he disappears from sight with no public appearances every so often and when he resurfaces he's either got cuts on his face, he looks swollen, or both.)
But who else in the administration is either using or drinking to excess? Cheney? Rove? Rummy? Condi? Laura? All of them?
WASHINGTON — Just when it looked like the political climate couldn't get worse for President Bush and the Republican Party, more storms have gathered.
This month's abrupt rise in gas prices is fueling new worries about the party's prospects in the fall elections, which have been roiled by controversy over GOP policies on immigration, the federal budget and Iraq.
So when Congress returns today from a spring recess, Republicans face a political landscape even more challenging than when they left town two weeks ago after failing to pass legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration and curb domestic spending.
Since then, gas prices have shot up to more than $3 a gallon in some places. Demonstrations against GOP immigration proposals have continued across the country. A poll shows Bush's approval ratings at new lows — and the Republican-led Congress' even lower.
"I don't see panic setting in yet, but there's certainly increasing concern when the president is in the 30s [in approval polls] and we're in the 20s," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.).
So what's the solution for the GOP? Have the preznit act more like Moe Howard!!!
The situation may call for Bush to step in and demand more party unity from Republican lawmakers, who have increasingly kept their distance from the White House as the president's agenda and poll numbers have flagged.
"The president has to be like Moe Howard: At some point in every 'Three Stooges' short, Moe slaps both Curly and Larry and says, 'Get to work,' " said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "There's a window of opportunity to get things done, but the window is getting smaller every day."
Yeah, that'll work.
The preznit can try to marshall his Rubber Stamp Congress to pass some legislation all he wants. As long as the problems in Iraq, in the economy, with gas and oil prices, and with ethics remain, the GOP poll numbers aren't going much higher.
The LA Times article says the good news for the GOP is that they seem to have bottomed out (i.e., preznit in low 30's, GOP Congress in high 20's).
Maybe that's true. But maybe not.
I still maintain that when the Abramoff indictments come down for Bob Ney, Tom Delay, et al., public approval of the GOP Rubber Stamp Congress is going to fall even further than it already has.
I also maintain that as long as gas prices remain at these highes, public approval of the GOP Rubber Stamp Congress isn't going to go any higher.
And does anyone think that with huricane season on the horizon, refineries going off line to switch to an ethanol additive, and continued political uncertainty surrounding oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Iran, that oil and gas prices re going to drop any time soon?
Or that there won't be criminal indictments of major Republican figures in the Abramoff and perhaps CIA leak cases?
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Funny and Scary
And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Cunning Realist didn't quote this Ledeen passage, but I'm going to just for laughs:
In short, both demography and geopolitics make this an age of revolution, as President Bush seems to have understood. Rarely have there been so many opportunities for the advance of freedom, and rarely have the hard facts of life and death been so favorable to the spread of democratic revolution.
The architect of 9/11 and the creator of Palestinian terrorism are gone. The guiding lights of our terrorist enemies are sitting on cracking thrones, challenged by young men and women who look to us for support. Not just words, and, above all, not promises that the war against the terror masters will soon end with a premature abandonment of what was always a miserably limited battlefield. This should be our moment.
When you make your own reality, as wingnut Ledeen obviously does, I guess you can knock off Bin Laden any time you want, and when you think of the world as one big Risk board, I guess you can cheer on Bush's democracy movement via warfare, but at some point, doesn't reality smack even somebody as clueless as Ledeen in the face?
Ledeen, by the way, is an NRO contributing editor and a resident "scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute - meaning he's really sucking up the wingnut welfare.
Do They Really Believe Their Own Bullshit?
WH:Osama Tape Proves Al Qaeda Is On The Run
I couldn't hear what was being said because I was at the gym. But all the FOX folks looked to be dutifully parroting the White House line that this new Bin Laden tape threatening the American people with death is a good thing.
They can't really believe that, can they? Even the psychos at FOX have to be saying, "Jesus, how come this guy's still out there threatening Americans nearly five years after 9/11 while we're tied up in Iraq for the forseeable future?"
410(k) Plans Are Like Goodie Bags For Wall Street
The 401(k) plan is a large part of George Bush's push to create an "Ownership Society" - a society where Bush claims individuals will own the responsibility for taking care of their own welfare, health care, education, and retirements.
In addition to pushing 401(k) plans, Bush has also tried to privatize Social Security by providing people with "personal retirement accounts" instead of guaranteed Social Security benefits in the future and he has also attempted to sell people on a national plan for personal health care accounts that people could use when they become sick.
The problem with Bush's personal retirement accounts was pretty simple: taking money out of the Social Security system to put into the personal retirement accounts of younger people would essentially bankrupt Social Security while not necessarily providing for more money for these younger people when they retired. In point of fact, the one group of people who would stand to make money from Bush's Social Security reforms would be Wall Street. For every dollar invested from people's Social Security personal account, Wall Street would take a percentage.
Bush's health care savings account plan is just as bad as his Social Security reforms. The idea behind his health care reforms is to give people the opportunity to save money in a personal account that they can used for health care costs. In years when the individual doesn't need to go to the doctor or have a check-up, money would accumulate in the account. The money from the accounts is invested, of course, so again the boys and girls from Wall Street get their greedy little mitts on it. The big problem behind the health care accounts, besides the fact that it's designed as another goodie bag for Wall Street, is that it would discourage people from going to the doctor for preventative medicine or check-ups, since those kinds of doctor visits would eat money out the account that might be better saved for catastrophic events.
This is not to say that the current Social Security system isn't in need of reform, of course, nor to say that the current health insurance system isn't in need of major overhaul (especially since so many people are uninsured.) But it seems to me that George Bush's solutions for Social Security and health care are designed to be corporate giveaways, just like nearly everything else he has done as our first CEO preznit (Medicare law is a giveaway to the drug companies, Iraq war is a giveaway to Halliburton and other Bush/Cheney cronies, No Child Left Behind law is a giveaway to the tutoring and testing industries, etc.)
So now we come to 401(k) plans, which admittedly have been around awhile. Nonetheless, with all the companies either canceling their traditional pension plans for 401(k) plans or ratcheting down their contributions into employee pension plans in order to encourage employees to take advantage of 4o1(k) plans, 401(k)'s have been much in the news.
Today, the LA Times describes how 401(k) plans, like Bush's personal retirement accounts and health care savings accounts, are goodie bag giveaways to Wall Street and related industries through arious charges like "fund maintainance fees," "administrative fees," and "overhead fees" :
John Fuchs was checking his 401(k) account online one afternoon when he saw something that seemed amiss. Listed along with his regular contributions was a $48 charge, in red.The rationale behind Bush's Ownership Society, that individuals bear the responsibility for their own retirements, sure works with these 401(k) plans. Individuals are responsible for poring over their 401(k) accounts to find the fees that they don't have to pay if only the companies running the accounts had to disclose that individuals don't have to pay them, which they don't, since the federal laws regulating the plans are outdated.
That's odd, he thought.
Why would anyone be taking money out of his account?
After a flurry of phone calls and e-mails, Fuchs learned that the $48 deduction was no mistake. The money was paid to an outside firm that enrolls employees in his company's 401(k) plan, mails quarterly account statements and handles other administrative tasks.
Fuchs knew the mutual funds he'd chosen charged fees for investing his money. He didn't know that overhead costs were also being taken out of his account. They now cost him about $500 a year.
Because the administrative fee is a percentage of his balance, he will pay more and more as his savings grow. Fuchs figures that by the time he retires, it will have cost him more than $316,000 in direct charges and lost investment returns.
"I think a lot of people out there pay this fee but don't know it," said Fuchs, 38, an information technology manager for an engineering firm in Exton, Pa. "To the average employee, it's totally invisible."
As many employers scrap their traditional pensions and doubts grow about the future of Social Security, Americans' hopes for a secure retirement depend more than ever on their 401(k)s. About 44 million workers have more than $2 trillion invested in these accounts.
Yet unknown to many of them, obscure fees and deductions are quietly eroding the value of their nest eggs. In many cases, employers could bargain for lower charges, but don't.
Mutual fund management fees are the biggest expense. But they are prominently disclosed, have attracted wide publicity and have been declining as fund providers compete for customers.
Administrative fees are another matter. They usually don't show up on quarterly or annual statements. Brochures touting the benefits of 401(k) investing rarely mention them. Employees have to work hard to find out how much they're paying — for instance, by scouring their plan's website for a record of all activity in their accounts.
Plan consultants and providers collect their cut in varied ways. Some receive a fraction of each employee's savings. That's the charge Fuchs stumbled upon. Others collect a commission from insurance companies that run 401(k) plans.
When mutual fund companies manage 401(k)s, they often absorb overhead costs in return for the chance to give most of the "shelf space" to their own funds. They get their money back through fund management fees.
What's more, fund providers frequently offer 401(k) participants the same retail mutual funds they sell to the general public, not the low-fee alternatives designed for big groups of customers.
Employees tenacious enough to demand information about fees from benefits departments or 401(k) administrators often complain that they can't get straight answers.
Because of outdated federal disclosure rules, publicly available records on fees often reveal only a fraction of the money leaking out of retirement accounts.
"It's very difficult for the average participant to determine what the total expenses are, how those expenses measure up, and who exactly is getting paid and how much," said Bud Green, a principal at Fortress Wealth Management Inc., a 401(k) consulting firm in Santa Monica.
Workers who save conscientiously suffer a disproportionate hit because fees are typically taken as a percentage of their account balances. Someone with $100,000 pays 10 times as much as a co-worker with $10,000, even though it costs about the same to administer the two accounts.
The structure of 401(k)s leaves employees with little or no voice. Employers sponsor the plans and hire the providers and administrators. But workers pay most of the fees.
Employees can raise a stink about the charges — if they happen to learn about them. But they can't take their business elsewhere; they're stuck with whatever plan their company offers.
"People can be paying thousands of dollars in fees if they've been in their 401(k) plans for years," said John Turner, a senior policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. "They can be paying thousands of dollars more than they need to be paying."
How's that for a Wall Street goodie bag giveaway? The man in the Times article says the charges will cost him about $316,000 dollars in direct fees and lost investment returns.
Just another example of how in Bush's Ownership Society, the rich and powerful take advantage of the working and middle classes. These fees are all but invisible and you'd have to be quite knowledgeable about your plan before you'd find the charges:
Fuchs works for Groundwater & Environmental Services, which cleans up contaminated groundwater at gas stations and other sites. The company, which has 600 employees, selected Benefits Sources & Solutions, a consulting firm in Bound Brook, N.J., to run its 401(k).
The consultant advises Groundwater on which mutual funds to include, processes employees' payroll deductions and holds educational workshops, among other tasks.
Benefits Sources does not bill Groundwater for these services. Instead, it collects a percentage of employees' total savings every three months.
In 2004, this fee averaged 0.51% — $51 on a $10,000 account. Overall, the company took in $48,185 from Groundwater employees that year, the most recent for which figures are available.
The payments do not appear as line items on employees' quarterly statements. Rather, Benefits Sources takes a cut of the mutual fund shares in each account. That makes the fee all but invisible.
Most employees focus on their dollar balance, not the number of shares. The share balance changes constantly as fresh contributions are added and dividends are reinvested. To detect the deductions, an employee would have to track his or her shares rigorously enough to notice that the number isn't climbing as fast as it would otherwise.
"I think it's pretty sneaky," Fuchs said. "The fees should be reported in a forthright manner, but they're not. All these companies do it. A lot of human resources people don't even know what's taken out of their own funds."
Fuchs said he learned about the administrative fee by chance: He happened to check his balance online the day the $48 was withdrawn.
"The 'pending transaction' in red got my attention," he said.
Fuchs said his employer wouldn't reveal details of Benefits Sources' fee. From Internet research, he learned that he could ask Groundwater for a copy of its Form 5500, which employers must file annually with the Labor Department, listing certain expenses paid from retirement savings plans. With the document in hand, Fuchs was able to calculate the size of the fee and how much he was being charged: about $500 a year.
That might not seem like much, but over time the effect of such charges can be huge. In addition to the direct cost, workers lose out on the interest, dividends and other returns that would pile up if the money had been left in their accounts to grow and compound.
Fuchs used calculators on the Securities and Exchange Commission website (www.sec.govunder "investor information") to arrive at his $316,000 estimate of how much administrative expenses will cost him by the time he retires in 2030.
John Zelechoski, Groundwater's manager of human resources, said that Benefits Sources had done a good job selecting mutual funds and that he had gotten few employee complaints about the plan.
Scott Rappoport, president of Benefits Sources, said its fee was in line with what other 401(k) administrators charged. He said the firm earned its money by researching investment choices, educating workers and providing other services. But he declined to detail the cost of those services or explain how the fee was determined.
To be frank, that's legalized robbery. If the companies felt comfortable about charging the fees, they'd charge them up front, wouldn't they? But they don't. Instead they finagle the amount of shares you have and unless you're a financial wizard or determined to get to the bottom of the charges like Mr. Fuchs, you're none the wiser.
I'm sick of this bullshit.
I'm sick of middle and working class people who play by the rules getting fucked by rich and powerful corporations and rich and powerful people.
Credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and banks are fast approcaching the Gambino family in terms of customer service, fees, and interest charged.
Insurance companies are happy to take your premiums, but they're not so eager to pay out on legitimate claims (and they love to point to the abuse stories, where somebody took advantage of them, to justify why they don't pay out on legitimate claims.)
The oil and gasoline companies are raping American consumers at the pump, ever happy to raise prices when the market goes up on oil, but not so quick to lower prices when the market price for oil goes down (as Chuck Schumer noted with Wolf Blitzer a few days ago.)
Transnational corporations are squeezing middle and working class wages, making people work ever longer hours for ever less money (at least in terms of real hourly wages and benefits.)
Transnationals are also using "globalization" as an excuse to pay lower wages and squeeze ever more "productivity" out of the workforce.
According to Worldwatch.org, of all high-income nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, with 30 percent of income in the hands of the wealthiest 10 percent while only 1.8 percent of income goes to the poorest 10 percent.
Even in the middle, people are falling way behind. The lifestyle that used to take just one income to afford (i.e., owned home, money for annual vacations, savings for kids college fund, etc.) now takes two or more incomes to afford. For many, this lifestyle is only paid for with large amounts of credit card and home equity debt.
Something has to change. We cannot go on like this much longer.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Midterms Looking Brighter For Dems?
The national mood remains bleak for Republicans. President George W. Bush’s poll numbers have not rebounded, and there is no reason to believe that they will before the fall midterm elections. The public still gives low marks to Congress and tells pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
At the district level, voters are more critical of GOP incumbents than they usually are at this point in the election cycle. Democratic voters are already polarized against Republican House members, so Democratic challengers can focus their efforts at wooing Independents and disgruntled Republicans, rather than mobilizing their Democratic base.
The only bit of good news for Republicans has been the growing mention of ethically challenged Democratic congressmen in the media. That could dilute the impact of ethics as a purely partisan issue, but the issue is still likely to hurt Republicans disproportionately in the fall, especially since GOP congressmen and staffers will continue to get attention by being linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
We believe that the House definitely is “in play,” and the key to whether Republicans can maintain control is whether they can discredit individual Democratic challengers who otherwise would be positioned to win. We are increasing our estimate of likely Democratic gains from 5-8 seats to 7-10 seats (they need to net 15 seats for control), with a bias toward even greater Democratic gains.
Now from CQPolitics:
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) each reported raising $9.2 million in March, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
But that virtual tie was a big step forward for the Democrats. The NRCC, long a fundraising juggernaut, has outdistanced the DCCC by wide margins in most months of the 2005-06 election cycle, building up a big overall edge in receipts: $83.3 million to $57.7 million.
The Democratic organization also spent much less than the Republican unit last month, narrowing the gap in cash that the parties could spend on the final seven months of the battle for control of the House.
As of March 31, the DCCC had $23 million cash on hand, which was not far behind the $24.5 million that the NRCC had left in the bank as April began. As recently as the end of last August, the NRCC had $10 million more cash on hand than the DCCC: $18 million to $8 million.
As noted by First Read yesterday, on the Senate side Democrats continue to outraise Republicans. A tie in fundraising on the House side truly is a victory for Dems and should put the fear of god in the GOP. The biggest advantage Republicans have had in the past few election cycles, besides Diebold and Karl Rove's bag of dirty tricks (see New Hampshire phone jamming scandal as an example), is money. But if Democrats can equal or even surpass the GOP in fundraising, Republicans will be hard-pressed to match their successes in the past three election cycles.
As for the dilution of the "Culture of Corruption" meme, the Rothenberg Political Report is alluding to Representative Allan Mollohan (D-West Virginia), who stepped down temporarily from his post as ranking Democrat on the ethics committee after allegations were made that Mollohan had used his position in Congress to steer money to his own home-state foundations and William Jefferson (D-LA), who is under investigation for corruption and bribery charges. CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have named Jefferson as one of the 13 dirtiest politicians in Washington.
While it is true that both Mollohan and Jefferson have gotten some mention in the press and could undercut the Democrats use of the "Culture of Corruption" campaign theme in November, I have to say that Dems have gone out of their way to not defend Jefferson and while they have defended Mollohan as the victim of Republican smears (the allegations levied against Mollohan were made by a Republican-funded attack machine), they also pushed him out of his position on the Ethics Committee as quickly as they possibly could.
The lesson here is this: if Dems want to use the "Culture of Corruption" campaign theme in November, they don't have to be 100% lily white and clean; they have to be willing to show the public that Democrats will hold abusers of power and privilege in the Congress accountable for their actions, no matter the party. The comparison between Dems punishing their own for ethics violations while Republicans bent over backwards to help keep Tom Delay in power as Majority Leader (until the position becamse untenable and they made him step down) will not be more stark.
Anyway, we'll see if Mollohan and Jefferson undercut the "Culture of Corruption" meme for Democrats. I still maintain that Americans will be more impressed by the number of Republican Congressmen, Senators and administration officials who will be under indictment and/or convicted by October of this year (Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, Bob Ney, John Doolittle, Richard Pombo, Conrad Burns, Duke Cunningham, David Safavian, Claude Allen, Jim Tobin and the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal guys, Bob Taft, Bob Noe, Tony Rudy, Ed Buckham, Michael Scanlon, and perhaps Karl Rove and Stephen Hadley) than they will be by two potentially dirty Democrats that Dems throw to justice.
And don't think the "Culture of Corruption" meme isn't taking hold even in Republican circles. Just in today's Washington Post, conservative Craig Shirley notes that the GOP is beset by a multitude of problems including "endemic corruption":
On top of all the scandals, it has just come to light that the RNC paid millions in legal bills to defend operative James Tobin, who was convicted with associates in an illegal phone-jamming scheme aimed at preventing New Hampshire Democrats from voting. In doing so, the GOP appears to sanction and institutionalize corruption within the party.
"The GOP appears to sanction and institutionalize corruption within the party".
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Only this is a conservative Reaganite saying it.
Which, on top of the 2006 money-raising problems and all the future frog-marching to come, should really worry the GOP.
Bubbles, Bubbles, Toil and Troubles
Investors who sought quick profits buying and selling real estate in the Washington region are in full retreat, dampening demand for homes, most notably for condos.
What is becoming apparent, market watchers say, is how big a part speculators played in the region's real estate boom of the past few years. Not just condominiums, but also townhouses and single-family houses, were snapped up by investors using no-money-down financing and non-traditional loans. They helped send prices soaring at unprecedented rates. And now many are trying to sell, or rent at a loss. Some may eventually dump properties at low prices to get rid of them. That could weigh down values for everyone.
Nobody knows exactly how much of the real estate boom was driven by investment and speculation. Experts say that between 15 and 30 percent of all purchases were made by investors, rather than by people who bought homes intending to live in them. Some bought the properties for cash, sometimes with equity they pulled out of their own homes, so there is no loan record. Other buyers pretended on loan applications that they would live in homes they really intended to flip, so that they could qualify for better loan terms or get around developer restrictions on investor-buyers.
Some projects became particular investor magnets, and, more recently, the subject of real estate blogs criticizing speculative excesses. For example, the local Internet blog Bubble Meter focused last month on what it called "the bubblicious bench." At one recently completed condominium called the Halstead at Dunn Loring, a luxury condominium complex in Fairfax County, a park bench outside the building bristles with real estate agent lockboxes to permit vacant units to be shown to prospective buyers or renters. On a recent morning, there were 49 lockboxes there, outside a building that has about 200 units.
Manuel Tagle, a real estate agent with Fairfax Realty in Falls Church, is representing two units there, both owned by investors, one of which is for sale and one for rent. He owns a unit there himself, which he has rented out.
"There's a very high concentration of investors," he said. "I have seen a lot of investors selling now. They see values going downhill."
The prevalence of investors -- and now their disappearance -- is causing real problems for owner-occupants who want to sell, sometimes against competitors willing to cut prices substantially because of profits they made in 2003 or 2004. Mike Pugh, a real estate agent with Re/Max Allegiance in Arlington, is trying to sell a condo at the Halstead for a woman he says bought it for her retirement home, then became ill and went to live with family. Pugh said his client, who he believes was one of the few purely owner-occupants in the complex, is likely to lose money she had saved over a lifetime.
"We aren't investors, but we are being punished by the market as though we were," he said.
They face plenty of competition. Delta Associates, an Alexandria real estate research firm, said there are about 25,853 new condos being marketed locally now. But only about 1,996 new condos were sold from January to March, down from 3,520 in the first three months of last year. And the area's multiple-listing service, which lists mostly previously owned properties, showed about 5,500 condos and co-ops for sale in March in Washington and the close-in suburbs. That was about a fourfold increase from about 1,400 listed in March 2005 with the service, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.
Is Washington market the only bubble area in the country? Not according to Housing Bubble:
Here is a partial list of the housing markets that are particularly interesting.
Los Angeles - Aka 'Epicenter of the housing bubble.' Huge market where prices are way out of whack with median incomes.
Las Vegas - Not only do they gamble in casinos, but here they gamble in the mortgage broker's office. The Las Vegas economy continues to be VERY dependent on the housing industry and tourism.
Bakersfield - Central Valley, California. Incomes way out of line with housing prices. Price have more then doubled in the past 5 years. Where are the high paying jobs to support the surge in home prices?
Miami - Where the construction crane is the unofficial bird of Miami. The condos developments have inundated by flippers looking for a quick buck. Inventory has rapidly risen in the past year especially for condos. The hurricane season starts in a month and a half.
I dunno if New York is on the list of "interesting markets," but I do know that a piece of shit studio (400 square feet) in a piece of shit pre-war building in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn costs $315,000+.
I also know that I can't currently afford to buy an apartment in New York without spending the rest of my days eating stale, outdated food from Jacks 99 Cents store.
But I'm kinda glad I haven't been able to afford to buy real estate in the last two years or so, because I'd hate to be living in a piece of shit studio in a piece of shit pre-war building in Brooklyn or Queens that I paid $315+ for, living off stale Super A boxed macaroni and cheese and Corn Flakes from Montreal with an expiration date that's strangely obscured on the box top, wondering how much value my apartemnt has lost since I bought it.
Again, I'm not an economist, I'm not in the real estate business, but it sure does sound like a major "correction" is coming for many real estate markets across the country.
Friday, April 21, 2006
So When Does The Rove Indictment Come Down?
1. Rove remains a subject of the investigation (as Jason Leopold reported yesterday at Truthout.)
2. Rove is not going to be called as a witness for the prosecution in the Scooter Libby trial, most likely because the special prosecutor plans on indicting Rove some time in the future.
3. Rove is called "Official A" in the Scooter Libby indictment, and any time Fitzgerald has referred to somebody in court documents as "Official A," that person eventually gets indicted.
The CIA leak grand jury meets on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Note reports the grand jury is meeting today.
Jason Leopold reported yesterday that Fitzgerald told the grand jury on Wednesday that he plans on prsenting them with a list of criminal charges he intends to file against Rove "in hopes of having the grand jury return a multi-count indictment against Rove."
That day wouldn't be today, would it?
I've had a pretty shitty week and boy, I gotta tell you, a Rove indictment in the CIA leak case sure would make it all better.
But I guess if the indictments were really coming down soon, Rove's lawyer, Robert "Goldbars" Luskin, and other Rove allies would be leaking like a roof in a Toll Brothers house during a hurricane.
So I'll just have to wait for a bit and console myself with the knowledge that any time Fitzgerald has referred to a person as "Official A" in a criminal indictment, that person eventually went on to be indicted.
Guess I'll have a better weekend than Karl Rove or Bob Ney.
UPDATE: Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake says we shouldn't get our hopes up for a Rove indictment any time soon. She notes that the trial documents that refer to Rove as a "subject" in the investigation (as opposed to the more benign term "witness") were actually filed by Libby's lawyers, not Fitzgerald, and have more to do with Libby's graymail defense strategy to tie the trial up with document fishing expeditions than they do with how Fitzgerald views Rove's status in the investigation.
Hamsher does think Rove will be indicted but:
this may be a long game, one that plays out over years and that frustrates a lot of people who want justice NOW. Those frustrations are only exacerbated by people who try to feed public hunger for this case by printing dubiously sourced stories that consistently get the facts wrong. We don’t leap every time someone yells "boo" about this story, nor should you.
First Read on Midterm Conventional Wisdom
The CW in Washington is that Democrats have a better shot at winning back the House than the Senate. Yet the fact that the Democratic Senate campaign committee continues to outraise its GOP counterpart has to count for something. The Washington Post, in covering the latest fundraising data from the various campaign committees, notes that Sen. Elizabeth Dole was tapped to chair the Republicans' Senate campaign committee "in part because of her reputation as a fundraiser." "Equally significant," the Post says, is that Democrats have the same amount in the bank as their GOP counterparts on the House side.
I've got nothing to add, but it sure would be nice.
I Don't Get It
Yet the Dow Jones hit a six year high yesterday and is expected to climb again today. The talking heads on CNBC have been breathless with their market cheerleading this morning.
The conventional wisdom for the morning is: the Fed is at or near the end of its rate hikes, earnings season has been great, unemployment is low, inflation is contained, everything's great!
But I don't get it. With oil prices over $73 a barrel and gasoline at or above $3.00 a gallon across the nation, how can inflation not be a problem? How can the prognosis for the economy be so optimistic?
Listen, I'm an economic neophyte. I can't crunch the numbers and figure out what's going on. But common sense tells me that while Wall Street and the Bush administration are cheering the economy and repeating ad nauseum how great things are, most Americans are in debt up to their eyeballs, haven't seen a real wage increase in years, are being squeezed at the pump, are facing rising health care, college, and housing costs, and are worried about their jobs.
That, to me, is the economic reality in America today.
But on CNBC its "Morning in America!", so don't forget to "Buy! Buy! Buy!"
And don't worry about oil and gas prices. When you strip food and energy costs from the producers and consumers price indices, inflation's really, really tame.
You just have to learn how to live without eating, driving, or powering your home.
UPDATE: Oil finished above $75 dollars a barrel. The gas station across from my building was charging $3.05/$3.15/$3.25 this morning. Now it's $3.07/$3.17/$3.27. And there's a TV truck outside the station with a camera on the sign waiting for the prices to go up again later this evening.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
So Why Was Rove's Policy Portfolio Taken From Him?
Longtime Bush confidant Karl Rove -- who had hoped to use his position of deputy chief of staff to usher in an expansive conservative agenda -- was relieved of his policy portfolio to concentrate on long-term strategy and planning for a November midterm election that looks increasingly bleak for Republicans.So that's the official reason for why Rove was demoted yesterday. But many on the blogosphere, including yours truly, have been speculating that there may be another reason for Rove's demotion - such as his fat, corrupt ass is about to indicted in the CIA leak case. While another Washington Post article by Baker and VandeHei published today says "A Republican close to Rove said the change was unrelated to the CIA leak case," Jason Leopold at Truthout reports this today:
Rove probably will remain one of the most influential voices in the White House, but his shift in responsibilities suggests that new White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten intends to operate a different White House than his predecessor, Andrew H. Card Jr., who resigned after more than five years at the helm.
Rove's return to a role that closely mirrors that which he played in Bush's first term demonstrates how much this White House has now shifted to survival mode -- and how far events have pushed the president from the grand ambitions with which he opened his second term just 15 months ago.
Then, with Rove as the animating force, the president sought to engineer Republican political dominance by remaking government with such far-reaching initiatives as his plan to remake the Social Security program. Today, Social Security stands as Exhibit A of what went wrong domestically in 2005.
Public disillusionment over Bush's policies in Iraq have left the country in a sour mood and Bush's presidency at low ebb, threatening the entire Bush-Rove project to create a durable Republican majority. While that goal remains central to those closest to Bush, the focus at the White House for the foreseeable future will be trying to revitalize this presidency quickly enough to avoid crippling GOP losses in November that could thrust Bush into instant lame-duck status.
Realigning the White House staff and bringing in new faces appear central to that effort.
Just as the news broke Wednesday about Scott McClellan resigning as White House press secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove shedding some of his policy duties, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case and introduced additional evidence against Rove, attorneys and other US officials close to the investigation said.
The grand jury session in federal court in Washington, DC, sources close to the case said, was the first time this year that Fitzgerald told the jurors that he would soon present them with a list of criminal charges he intends to file against Rove in hopes of having the grand jury return a multi-count indictment against Rove.
In an interview Wednesday, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove remains a "subject" of Fitzgerald's two-year-old probe.
"Mr. Rove is still a subject of the investigation," Luskin said. In a previous interview, Luskin asserted that Rove would not be indicted by Fitzgerald, but he was unwilling to make that prediction again Wednesday.
"Mr. Fitzgerald hasn't made any decision on the charges and I can't speculate what the outcome will be," Luskin said. "Mr. Rove has cooperated completely with the investigation."
Fitzgerald is said to have introduced more evidence Wednesday alleging Rove lied to FBI investigators and the grand jury when he was questioned about how he found out that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA and whether he shared that information with the media, attorneys close to the case said.
Fitzgerald told the grand jury that Rove lied to investigators and the prosecutor eight out of the nine times he was questioned about the leak and also tried to cover-up his role in disseminating Plame Wilson's CIA status to at least two reporters.
Additionally, an FBI investigator reread to jurors testimony from other witnesses in the case that purportedly implicates Rove in playing a role in the leak and the campaign to discredit Plame Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose criticism of the Bush administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence lead to his wife being unmasked as a covert CIA operative.
Luskin wouldn't comment on whether the investigation of Rove continues to center on alleged misleading statements to which Rove testified regarding a July 2003 conversation he had about Plame Wilson with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
Sources close to the investigation, however, confirmed that is exactly what Fitzgerald has continued to focus on and what he discussed with the grand jury Wednesday.
So which is it? Was Rove demoted in order to free him up to focus on the November midterm elections, was he demoted in order to scapegoat him for the second term failures (e.g., Social Security, Katrina etc.) or was he demoted because the White House knows a criminal indictment is coming down for Rove in the CIA leak case? Or is it a combination of all three?
Hard to say yet. But I hope somewhere in the equation is a multi-count indictment for Mr. Rove in the CIA leak case.
Let's face it, a multi-count indictment couldn't happen to a more deserving guy than Rove.