Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bush Unveils "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq

This is from the Washington Post:

President Bush, facing increasing opposition to the war in Iraq, went on the offensive today, releasing a detailed plan for fighting the war and then delivering a major speech in an attempt to show the country that the administration has a clear vision for victory in Iraq.

In a 45-minute speech before a receptive audience at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Bush again rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying conditions on the ground rather than "artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington" would dictate when American forces could return home.

He recounted improvements made by Iraqi security forces that he said would eventually lead to a U.S. withdrawal, although he warned that it would take "time and patience." Bush said the U.S. goal is for Iraqi forces to take the lead without "major foreign assistance," and he chronicled how Iraqi forces were fighting better and gaining more control of their embattled country. He said mistakes had been made in the training of Iraqi forces that have now been righted.

The speech, the first in a series the president will deliver in the run-up to the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq, broke no new ground in the increasingly impatient and vocal debate about U.S. strategy there.

A protester stands with a sign that reads ' Stay what course?' as one of the presidential helicopters arrives Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005 in Baltimore, Md. President Bush who earlier delivered a speech at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis on his war policy arrived in Baltimore for a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a republican candidate who is running for the Senate. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

In other words, stay the course.

The White House offensive comes as continued deadly violence in Iraq and the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops and the wounding of 16,000 others chip away at Bush's popularity, now at its lowest level since he became president.

The more I read about Iraq, the more I realize that the Bush White House is living in a fantasyland, and that no-one in the administration has a clue as to how to resolve the issue of Iraq. Do we increase the troop levels, as what we should do if we really want to win this insurgency? Of course, military is pretty much used up, considering all the extended tours we've forced down both Army and National Guard soldier's throats. Don't even ask about the steadily dropping recruitment numbers the military is currently facing now. So if we can't get the troops necessary to fight and win this war, should we consider a draft. A draft opens up a whole other can of worms, considering war protests, draft dodgings, and chants of "hell no--we won't go!" Or should we "cut-and-run," using that time-honored technique through "Iraqinization" of the war. Hey, Nixon got us out of Vietnam through his own "Vietnamization" of the war--why not do the same with Iraq?

President Bush's tired old "stay the course" rhetoric is almost laughable. The Administration's own "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," a 35-page strategy guide detailing how the White House plans to win the war in Iraq, is nothing more than recycled policy papers and stale press releases. I'm reminded of an old saying here--you can't polish a turd. The Bush White House has been polishing this turd for the past two years. When will the spinmeister's realize that the only thing that will come about from polishing a turd is that you'll get turd-poop on your hands?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Abramoff Tied to Dorgan Donation, Tribe Says

Today seems like it is "Culture of Corruption Day!" This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients.

A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan's political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff's clients wanted to use.

The check was one of about five dozen the Coushattas listed in a tribal ledger as being issued on March 6, 2002, to various lawmakers' campaigns and political causes at the instruction of Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Faircloth said Monday.

Many of the recipients were lawmakers who had just written letters to the Bush administration or Congress supportive of Abramoff's tribal causes, documents show.

"I am confident of that fact," Faircloth said when asked whether Abramoff had requested the donations listed in a tribal ledger obtained by the AP.

Yes, here's another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! What is especially interesting here is that the top Democrat investigating Abramoff was also taking political contributions from Abramoff. Continuing on with the story:

The revelation came as Dorgan took to the offensive Monday, saying there was no connection between the $20,000 in donations he got from Abramoff's firm and tribal clients in spring 2002 and a February 2002 letter he wrote urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund the tribal school building program.

Dorgan's letter noted that the Mississippi Choctaw, one of Abramoff's clients, had successfully used the program and requested lawmakers consider long-term funding for it. It made no mention of Abramoff or any of his other tribes that were interested in the program.

Dorgan sharply criticized an AP story last week that divulged he and about a dozen other lawmakers had gotten Abramoff-related donations around the time they sent letters supporting the school building program.

Dorgan told a news conference in North Dakota he had never met Abramoff, did not know about the donations from the lobbyist's clients around the time of his letter and saw no reason to step aside from the Senate Indian Affairs committee investigation of Abramoff.

"I don't have any idea what was contributed to me, or by whom. No contribution has been made to me that was ever represented as a contribution coming from Mr. Abramoff, or any relationship to things that he was involved in," Dorgan said when quizzed about the $20,000 in donations.

Dorgan said he wrote the letter because he supported the tribal school construction program and believed tribes in his state might benefit. "The Bush administration wanted to shut the program down. I disagreed. The program saves the federal government money and gets results. That makes sense to me," he said.

Dorgan's staff said Dorgan believes the letter was drafted by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who also signed it and got similar donations from Abramoff's clients in the same time frame.

I love how these Congressmen say there's no connection between their voting records and these campaign contributions. Like I'm suppose to believe them? Dorgan got $20,000 from Abramoff and in exchange, Dorgan urged lawmakers to fund a tribal school program that Abramoff's indian tribe clients were using.

This corruption just goes on and on.

the Coushattas' check ledger shows the tribe on March 6, 2002, wrote checks for $5,000 to Dorgan's political group, called the Great Plains Leadership Fund, and $25,000 to Burns. That money ultimately landed in Burns' Friends of the Big Sky political group, records show.

Other checks listed as being issued that day were made out to groups or campaigns associated with Sens. Trent Lott, Mary Landrieu, Harry Reid and John Breaux and Reps.
Tom DeLay, Charles Taylor and Pete Session, all of whom wrote letters favorable to Abramoff tribal client causes, the ledger shows.

Those lawmakers, like Dorgan, have denied any connection between the letters and the donations.

"The suggestion in the story that I may have supported that school construction program because of Jack Abramoff or because of campaign contributions from Indian tribes is clearly and despicably wrong," Dorgan said.

The culture of corruption, where our lawmakers have become hypocrits.

A Growing Wariness About Money in Politics

The Washington Post has an interesting analysis regarding the influence of money into politics:

For several years now, corporations and other wealthy interests have made ever-larger campaign contributions, gifts and sponsored trips part of the culture of Capitol Hill. But now, with fresh guilty pleas by a lawmaker and a public relations executive, federal prosecutors -- and perhaps average voters -- may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far.

After years in which big-dollar dealings have come to dominate the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, both sides are now facing what could be a wave of prosecutions in the courts and an uprising at the ballot box. Extreme examples of the new business-as-usual are no longer tolerated.

Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, are most vulnerable to this wave. But pollsters say that voters think less of both political parties the more prominent the issue of corruption in Washington becomes, and that incumbents generally could feel the heat of citizen outrage if the two latest guilty pleas multiply in coming months.

No fewer than seven lawmakers, including a Democrat, have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations. Congress's approval ratings have fallen off the table, in some measure because of headlines about these scandals.

"The indictments and the investigations have strengthened the feeling that people have that in fact there's too much money in Washington and that the money is being used to influence official decisions," said William McInturff, a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. "Polls show that neither party is held in high regard."

Interesting that a Republican pollster admits the basic fact that there is too much money into politics. When you've got corporations donating millions of dollars for no-bid contracts, ubber-lobbyists like Jack Abramoff throwing gobs of money to anyone in Congress--or the White House--who's willing to vote for the lobbyist's benefactors, you're going start to witness a breakdown of our country's democratic ideals--where individual citizens have the right and power to affect their government's decisions through their individual votes. We're slowly becoming a nation of oligarchies--where giant corporations and rich elitists have accumulated too much power and are using that power for their own self-interests, even when the self-interests are contrary to the nation's greater well-being. This is a dangerous path we're taking.

Lawmaker Quits After He Pleads Guilty to Bribes

This is from the New York Times:

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28 - Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican from San Diego, resigned from Congress on Monday, hours after pleading guilty to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes to help friends and campaign contributors win military contracts.

WOW! Cunningham took $2.4 million in bribes to help give his friends military contracts! That's $2.4 million dollars! Nice chunk of change.

Now here's what Cunningham had to say:

Mr. Cunningham, a highly decorated Navy fighter pilot in Vietnam, tearfully acknowledged his guilt in a statement read outside the federal courthouse in San Diego.

"The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office," he said. "I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions and, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."

Mr. Cunningham, 63, pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, tax evasion, wire fraud and mail fraud. He faces up to 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and forfeitures.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) talks to reporters in San Diego after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. (By Lenny Ignelzi -- Associated Press)

You screwed up Cunningham! You got involved in the culture of corruption, thinking you'd never get caught. And you got caught--just as a number of your Republican colleagues are getting caught with their hands in the cookie jars--Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Michael Scanlon. This is the Republican version of "honor and integrity."

The Washington Post gives a nice list of what Cunningham took:

The government's plea agreement cites an escalating series of payments to the congressman over the past few years, including a graduation party for his daughter; the purchase and upkeep of a yacht and a Rolls-Royce; antiques and rugs; and a payment to cover the capital gains tax when he sold his house in Del Mar, Calif., to a defense contractor in 2003.

For a gruff war veteran, Cunningham emerges from the court documents as a man with surprisingly delicate tastes. Among the gifts he accepted were a $7,200 Louis-Philippe commode, circa 1850; three antique nightstands; a leaded-glass cabinet; a washstand; a buffet; and four armoires. After paying $13,500 toward a Rolls-Royce in April 2002, one of Cunningham's benefactors tossed in $17,889.96 toward the car's repairs less than a month later.

Well Cunningham, you can sit on the prison commode now.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sisters 'fine' after Macy's parade balloon accident

The M&M's balloon hit a lamppost Thursday during New York's Thanksgiving parade. From CNN.Com

This story is WOW! From CNN.Com:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Two sisters who were injured because of an unwieldy giant balloon in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are "doing just fine," and the family doesn't plan to sue over the incident, their father said.

City and Macy's officials said they are investigating Thursday's events, which echoed a 1997 balloon accident that prompted new parade safety standards.

The sisters, 11-year-old Sarah Chamberlain and 26-year-old Mary Chamberlain, left their Albany home around 3 a.m. to see the nationally televised parade in person.

The accident happened in Times Square near the end of the parade when the tethers on the "M&M's Chocolate Candies" balloon became tangled in the head of the streetlamp and it broke off. Authorities said the sisters were hit by debris.

Sarah needed nine stitches on her head, her father, Stephen Chamberlain, said Thursday night. Her older sister, who uses a wheelchair, got a bump on her forehead, he said.

Now check out the video.

Early Holiday Shoppers Hunt for Bargains

Hundreds of shoppers wait in line for a Wal-Mart store to open Friday, Nov. 25, 2005, in Northlake, Ill. Shoppers waited in line for hours for the 5 a.m. opening of the store on the first day of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

This is from Yahoo News:

NEW YORK - Bargain shoppers, many facing frigid temperatures, woke up before dawn Friday to snap up specials on items from cashmere sweaters to flat-screen TVs and digital music players as the holiday shopping season officially got under way.

Things got out of hand at a Wal-Mart store in Orlando, Fla., where a man who allegedly cut in line to get a discounted laptop computer was wrestled to the ground, according to a video shown by an ABC affiliate, WFTV-TV. The store's manager referred questions to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where officials had no immediate comment.

[See video here from WFTV-TV]

In an improving but still challenging economy, merchants seemed to be even more aggressive in wooing the big crowds from a year ago, luring them with such come-ons as free money in the form of gift cards. For the first time, Macy's, a division of Federated Department Stores Inc., was giving away a total of $1 million in gift cards to early bird shoppers. Some retailers, like J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Wal-Mart, threw open their doors earlier in a bid to keep them shopping longer in their stores.

Such incentives may have worked. Based on early reports from some retail executives, traffic and buying appeared more robust than last year, but stores need customers to keep buying throughout the season.

"To me, it looks like more traffic than what we have seen," said Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and CEO of Federated, who was walking the floors of Macy's Herald Square in New York, which attracted 1,000 customers to its doors for the 6 a.m. opening. "I have also seen a lot of bags." Hot items were cashmere sweaters, down comforters and scarves, at up to 60 percent off, he said.

"Today, things look really good. But these next five weeks are really critical," Lundgren added. "You have to wait and see how it unfolds."

Shoppers fill the aisles of a Wal-Mart in South Setauket, N.Y., shortly after the store opened at 5 a.m., Friday, Nov. 25, 2005. The nation's retailers are set to usher in the 2005 holiday shopping season with the usual come-ons_deep discounts and expanded hours_ along with a slew of stores offering early bird specials for the first time. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

At a Best Buy Co. Inc. store at CambridgeSide Galleria, in Cambridge, Mass., the line of about 400 shoppers snaked through the indoor mall for the 5 a.m. store opening, a scene that was played out across the country.

"The prices are much better than last year," said Shirley Xie, 30, who was with Jen Lin, 35, both from Medford, Mass. The married couple said they were enticed by deals such as a Toshiba Corp. laptop computer, with a 15-inch screen, that was $379.99 after a $370 instant rebate. The offer ended at noon Friday. Xie said a comparable laptop she bought last year as a gift cost about $600. The couple bought a pair of the computers as gifts for a niece and nephew entering college.

The couple also bought a SanDisk Corp. MP3 player for $39.99 after a $60 instant rebate available until noon.

At a Wal-Mart store in Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, the biggest crowds for the 5 a.m. opening were in the electronics aisles. Portable DVD players were selling for $79.86; 20-inch flat screen TVs, advertised for $129.83, were selling for $89; and the Garth Brooks limited-edition, six-disc box set was priced at $25.

Tosha Peterson and Brad Farrer sleep outside the Wal-Mart store Friday, Nov. 25, 2005, in Midvale, Utah. They and their friends got in line seven hours prior to the store's opening. All of them got the $398 laptop computers they came for. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

This is crazy. Spending Thanksgiving night just to get to that first Christmas shopping day for buying presents--with the stores just happy to open their doors at 5 a.m. in the morning. Five A.M. in the morning? Who gets up that early anymore?

We use to have three distinct holidays for the last three months of the year. The first, of course, was Halloween. Kids would get dressed up to go trick-or-treating for candy. The adults would get dressed up for their own parties. Then the merchants decided to commercialize Halloween--just go to one of the Halloween superstores that pop up during October, and you'll see just about every costume, mask, and decorative items to make your place a haunted house for your wild Halloween party-night for either kids or adults.

Then there was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was the middle holiday that really didn't do much for retailers. Look at what you do on Thanksgiving--you get together with your close friends and family, stuff yourselves full of turkey and cranberry sauce, then sit around like beached whales, ready for nap time. Not much commercialism there, except for the two people who might just buy the paper mache turkey centerpieces for their dining room tables. The only items consumers were buying for Thanksgiving were the turkey dinners. So what do the retailers do? They co-opt Thanksgiving, and start putting out the Christmas decorations. Go into a department store on November 1st, and you'll start hearing the Christmas carols interspaced with the crappy elevator music they'll play. The decorations are already starting to go up. Now we have this big after-Thanksgiving sale, or pre-Christmas sale, where the stores are opening up to entice shoppers to start spending their money. Time to max out those credit cards on $40 throw-away DVD players, and $300 laptops.

There's only two holidays for retailers--Christmas and Halloween. Halloween is the honorable mention holiday here. I won't even get started on Christmas.

And yet, I wonder if the retailers are going to shoot themselves in their feet this year. Continuing with the Yahoo story:

Retailers' spirits have improved in recent weeks amid falling gasoline prices. In fact, on Tuesday the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation upgraded its holiday growth forecast to 6 percent from the 5 percent it had announced back in September.

Still, many shoppers are cautious. While gasoline prices have fallen, they are still high, and this winter shoppers will face higher heating bills.

Shelley Humback, 30, of Strongsville, Ohio, who was shopping at a local Wal-Mart, said she plans to spend about $1,000 this year on Christmas gifts, half of what she spent last year.

"Everything's up, including the price of gas. I have to pay to heat my home," she said.

The retailers are hoping for bigger Christmas sales growth this year than last. They are trying to get their spirits up with the recently falling gas prices--maybe consumers will start spending more money this year. But I'm wondering if the retailers are not looking at the entire picture here--perhaps they don't realize that home heating bills are also going up, or that economic growth is not translating into higher wages for workers, or a better jobs picture. Remember, GM just announce layoffs of 30,000 last week. And in todays Yahoo News Business section are two stories regarding higher energy prices. The first is a general story regarding higher heating costs througout the world:

Heating oil and other energy prices are up to 40 percent higher than three years ago. That translates into bad news for Northern Hemisphere consumers whose budget is already stretched by a summer of high prices at the gasoline pumps — and into opportunities for those who cash in on the cold.

In South Korea, where a vigorous save-energy campaign is under way, the clothing industry expects a 10 percent rise in profits from sales of warm apparel. But not only manufacturers see an opportunity.

"We have seen a lot of thefts of heating oil ... stolen from private properties and construction sites," says Peter Josephsen, a police officer in Ringkoebing, 140 miles west of Copenhagen.

Henrik Sloth, who sells wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in Roskilde, also west of the Danish capital, says sales are "smoking hot." And Denise Henry, whose family deals in firewood in France's Bourgogne region, says "the phone is ringing off the hook."

The second story regards a possible natural gas shortage in New England:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - In just a few short years, New England may run short of natural gas. Energy analysts predict that by 2010, and perhaps sooner, there won't be enough supply to fulfill the region's energy needs. But plans to build liquefied natural gas terminals in New England face stiff opposition.

Opponents say highly flammable LNG is too risky to store in heavily populated areas, and security measures to protect tankers that bring in LNG shipments will be a burden. Some have proposed putting terminals offshore, but those plans concern fishermen and environmentalists.

Long reliant on heating oil due to its older housing stock, New England came late to the natural gas market compared to the rest of the country. Thirty-five percent of households in New England use natural gas, the lowest percentage among all regions of the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fifty-five percent of U.S. households heat with natural gas, according to the agency.

Natural gas demand in New England is expected to grow 1.4 percent annually on average through 2025, according to the EIA; that translates into a 35 percent increase in usage during that time.

While that level of growth may not seem extraordinary, the key is its effect during so-called peak days, when demand is highest and the system is strained. Experts say supply is stretched thin even now during peak periods, because the main and secondary pipelines operate at capacity. As recently as January 2004, the region endured a gas crunch when high demand put unexpected pressure on the infrastructure and caused prices to spike.

Also, New England is at the end of the pipeline network and has no underground storage capacity, which can make it especially susceptible to weather problems or disruptions.

"We're close to capacity at peak days, and if that is affected by something we haven't planned for, then that's a cause for real concern," said John Shea, director of environment and energy programs at the New England Governors Conference.

So I wouldn't get my hopes up too high for Christmas shopping. I know I'm cutting way back on my Christmas shopping for this year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Judge declines to rule immediately in DeLay case

Folks--It's time for another episode of The Tom DeLay Comedy Hour! This is from the CNN.Com website:

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- The judge in the money-laundering and conspiracy case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declined to rule Tuesday on a motion to dismiss the charges against the Texas Republican, saying he would need two weeks before he came to a decision.

"I had a pretty good idea 24 hours ago what I thought about this case. Having listened to some pretty good lawyers, I'm confused," said Senior Judge Pat Priest.

DeLay has maintained his innocence and asked for a speedy trial if he is unable to get the charges dismissed.

But Priest said that if the charges stand, "I doubt very seriously we can take this case to trial before the end of the year."

Earlier Tuesday, DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, had asked the judge to throw out the money-laundering and conspiracy charges against his client and two co-defendants.

"No crime occurred, and no crime was charged," Dick DeGuerin told the judge as the Travis County district court hearing began.

Priest came out of retirement to preside over the case after an earlier judge was removed amid defense accusations that he was a partisan Democrat.

OH DEAR! Looks like Tom DeLay's not going to have a Happy Thanksgiving this week! DeLay's lawyers have been trying every legal trick they can find to have the case thrown out--including some new tricks such as shopping for politically-correct judges. So now they have this new trick of trying to throw DeLay's case out of court so that DeLay can get back to his job as House Majority Leader. Continuing on with the story:

The case concerns the 2002 transfer of $190,000 in corporate money from a political action committee created by DeLay to the national Republican Party in Washington, which then sent $190,000 back to Texas Republican state candidates.

It is illegal under Texas law for corporations to contribute to political campaigns, but DeGuerin argued that the money sent to the RNC was not the same money as was returned to Texas, so no violation occurred.

He also argued that the state law under which the charges were filed did not take effect until 2003.

Wait a minute? DeGuerin is saying that the $190,000 corporate money that DeLay received for the national Republican Party is not the same $190,000 that was sent to the Texas Republican state candidates? It is not the same money? What was different about the money? DeGuerin, are you saying they were different dollar bills? Perhaps the $190,000 in corporate money was in $20 dollar denominations, while the $190,000 to the Texas Republicans for state was in $5 denominations? Is that what you're saying? Or perhaps the serial numbers on those bills were different? Is that what you're saying? So if the money goes in and out of the same account, but they are different dollar bills, does that make them different? What a concept! We could make this into an economically viable business plan--corporate sponsored money laundering! We'll take your old, worn-out dollar bills and clean them up, providing you with fresh, clean, innocent new dollar bills. So bring in all your tired, old corporate PAC donations, your drug smuggling profits, and your stolen Iraqi reconstruction funds--we'll convert them into fresh, new, squeaky-clean dollar bills. And it's 100 percent legally guaranteed!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lawmakers Reject Immediate Iraq Withdrawal

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled House spurned calls for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq in a vote hastily arranged by the GOP that Democrats vociferously denounced as politically motivated.

"To cut and run would invite terrorism into our backyards, and no one wants to see troops fighting terrorism on American soil," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Friday night after the House, as planned, rejected a GOP-written resolution for immediate withdrawal.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., holds a press conference with other House GOP members to summarize GOP efforts before Thanksgiving recess on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005. Behind him are House Majority Leader Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., right, and Rep. Eric Cantor R-Va. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The vote, held as lawmakers rushed toward a two-week Thanksgiving break, was 403-3.

Democrats accused Republicans of orchestrating a political stunt that prohibited thoughtful debate on the issue, and nearly all voted against the measure.

That included Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the Democratic hawk whose call Thursday for pulling out troops set off a nasty, personal debate over the war.

It has been a rather busy Friday in the House. The whole fiasco really started off on Thursday, when House Democrat John Murtha called for a six month withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Murtha is a Democratic hawk, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and a decorated Marine who fought in the Vietnam War. He called the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." He said the U.S. presence in Iraq was "uniting the enemy against us." It was also "time to bring the troops home." (See CNN Story). Continuing on with the Yahoo Story:

"Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on our present course," Murtha said. He said the GOP resolution was not the thoughtful approach he had suggested to bring the troops safely home in six months.

Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa

Murtha's call for a timetable withdrawal had sent both the Republicans in Congress, and the White House into a major tizzy. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called Murtha's proposal, "baffling." McClellan claimed that Murtha was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party." (See CNN Story).

So far, I've been summarizing the background for this House fiasco. As a respected Democrat with extensive knowledge on defense issues, Murtha's resolution brought this entire debate to the front of everything. The Republicans knew that Murtha's timetable would certainly gather support over time--especially by moderate Republicans who would fear that their seats would be in jeopardy during next year's elections if there is continued mounting opposition to the war by the American public. The Republicans can also see trouble with President Bush's poll numbers--an extensive debate on a timetable would further erode support for President Bush's policy in Iraq. In short, the Republicans continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding Iraq. The only alternative the Republicans have is to try to quash Murtha's resolution.

And that's just what they did.

First, the Republicans rewrote Murtha's resolution. Here is what Murtha's resolution said:

Whereas, Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government;"

Whereas, additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas, more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas, U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas, polls also indicate that 45 percent of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

Now here's the GOP rewrite of the resolution:


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that
the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Notice the difference? The GOP version required that the U.S. forces be pulled out of Iraq immediately! This is completely opposite of what Murtha wanted. Murtha's resolution said that the forces should be withdrawn "at the earliest practicable date." Murtha knew it would take time to pull the American--and their equipment--out of Iraq. In fact, when Murtha introduced this resolution, he reasoned it would take about six months for U.S. forces to complete the pull-out. The Republican resolution called for "United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." In other words, the Republican resolution called for the U.S. to "cut and run" from Iraq.

The Republicans never meant for this resolution to be passed. This was all a sham--a political con game to try and trap the Democrats. If the Democrats voted "yes" on the GOP resolution, the the Republican propaganda machine could use that vote against the Democrats in next year's midterm elections--claiming the Democrats were unpatriotic, they didn't support the troops, or that they wanted to surrender to the terrorists. If the Democrats voted "no" on the resolution, and another timetable withdrawal resolution came up in the near future, the Republicans could accuse the Democrats of "flip-flopping" on the issue.

Thus, we had a huge fight erupt in the House, Friday, over this GOP resolution, with insults traded on both sides. Consider this from the New York Times:

The battle boiled over when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican who is the most junior member of the House, told of a phone call she had just received from a Marine colonel back home.

"He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course," Ms. Schmidt said. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-OH

Democrats booed in protest and shouted Ms. Schmidt down in her attack on Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran and one of the House's most respected members on military matters. They caused the House to come to an abrupt standstill, and moments later, Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, charged across the chamber's center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidt's attack had been unwarranted.

"You guys are pathetic!" yelled Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. "Pathetic."

The measure to withdraw the troops failed in a 403-to-3 vote late Friday night.

The battle came as Democrats accused Republicans of pulling a political stunt by moving toward a vote on a symbolic alternative to the resolution that Mr. Murtha offered on Thursday, calling for the swift withdrawal of American troops. Democrats said the ploy distorted the meaning of Mr. Murtha's measure and left little time for meaningful debate.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, denied that there were any political tricks involved and said pulling forces out of Iraq so rashly would hurt troop morale overseas. "We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

The measure's fate was sealed - and the vote count's significance minimized - when the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, criticized the Republican tactics and instructed Democrats to join Republicans in voting against an immediate withdrawal.

"Just when you thought you'd seen it all, the Republicans have stooped to new lows, even for them," said Ms. Pelosi, who assailed Republicans as impugning Mr. Murtha's patriotism.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi D-CA

The parliamentary maneuvering came amid more than three hours of often nasty floor debate and boisterous political theater, with Democrats accusing Republicans of resorting to desperate tactics to back a failed war and Republicans warning that Mr. Murtha's measure would play into the hands of terrorists.

And what was the White House response to the House vote? According to Reuters:

OSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush vowed on Saturday "we will stay in the fight" until victory in Iraq, rejected critics' calls for a troop pullout timetable and insisted progress is being made in Baghdad.

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to U.S. soldiers at Osan Air Base in South Korea November 19, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Bush quoted a top U.S. commander in Iraq, Major-General William Webster, as saying that setting a deadline for withdrawal would be "a recipe for disaster", and said that as long as he was president, "our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sole judgment of our military commanders on the ground".

"We will fight the terrorists in Iraq, we will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for," he said.

There you have it--the rancorous fight that's been going on for the last three days. And it is still going on right now, as lawmakers on both sides are spinning this story for their own political gain. And I don't have to tell you what the topic will be on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

In retrospect, while the Republicans may have won this little battle, they may have overplayed their hand in the political war regarding Iraq. The Republicans still do not have an answer in resolving the Iraq issue. So far, they are still holding on to the "stay the course" message and "we'll succeed when we accomplish our mission." Look at President Bush's comments from the Reuter's quotes--it's basically the same spin for the past two years. But while the Republican PR spin has remained the same, the American public's views on the Iraq war have changed. In this Reuters story:

A Gallup poll this week showed 63 percent of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq policy. A Gallup poll in March 2003 showed 66 percent would approve going to war to enforce Bush's demands of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

President Bush's poll numbers are also dropping. According to this Yahoo News story:

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The latest Harris Poll finds that President Bush's positive job rating has continued to fall, touching another new low for his presidency at 34 percent. This compares with his positive ratings of fully 88 percent after 9/11, 65 percent in November 2002, 50 percent at the end of 2003, 50 percent in November 2004, 45 percent in June of this year, and 40 percent in August.

The Republicans are fighting a losing battle--with the midterm elections coming up next year. There is only so much spin you can try to push down the American public's throats. There are only so many political tricks you can use, before the American public realizes they've been conned. The longer the Republicans continue this political game, the deeper the political hole that they will dig themselves into with their support the troops / stay the course message. The Republican lies are starting to fall of deaf ears. And remember, the Republicans are not only fighting this Murtha resolution, but they also have to fight a defensive battle against Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation in the Valerie Plame affair, the accusations that the Bush White House manipulated intelligence to sell their war in Iraq, the Scooter Libby trial, the Jack Abramoff / Tom DeLay investigations, Bill Frist's insider trading investigation on his stock sales, the continued Katrina / FEMA disaster. All of these issues will come up in the midterm elections. So while the Republicans play this game of surpressing everything, the pressure and anger regarding these issues, and the Republican incompetence to resolve them, will continue to build. It is only a matter of time before the pressure explodes, and the Republicans will have nowhere to go, but complete and utter defeat.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fitzgerald to Convene New Grand Jury in Leak Case

This is from the Washington Post:

The federal prosecutor investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity says he plans to present information to a new grand jury, a sign that he is considering additional charges in his two-year-old probe.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in court filings that his investigation "will involve proceedings before a different grand jury than the grand jury which returned the indictment" against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Fitzgerald obtained the indictment against Libby Oct. 28 on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and false statements and said at that time that his investigation was nearly complete. However, he told attorneys for Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, that Rove remains under investigation for possible false statements in the probe into whether administration officials revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003.

Since then, a new wrinkle has been added to the case by the disclosure that an unidentified senior administration official told The Washington Post's Bob Woodward about the CIA operative a month before her name was published. Woodward revealed that he testified in a deposition Monday, answering Fitzgerald's questions about his conversation with the official in mid-June 2003.

The timing of the conversation appeared to make Woodward the first journalist to be told that the wife of administration critic Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. Libby's defense team has seized on the revelation, saying it undermines Fitzgerald's case against Libby. The special counsel had identified Libby in a post-indictment news conference as the first official to disclose Plame's identity to a journalist.

Fitzgerald was scheduled to appear in federal court today to argue that much of the evidence gathered in his investigation -- material to be used in his prosecution of Libby -- should be withheld from the public or news media before trial.

This case is not over yet--not for a long while. Ever since Woodward revealed that he knew of Valerie Plame's identity, from a Bush administration source, a month before it was published, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this means for the case. Scooter Libby's lawyers have jumped on the Woodward issue, claiming that Woodward knew Plame's name before Libby talked to Time's Matt Cooper or New York Time's Judith Miller. The problem with this defense is that Fitzgerald is not indicting Libby for leaking Plame's name out to the press, but rather for lying to the grand jury and obstruction of justice. Woodward's revelation means that Fitzgerald hasn't finished his investigation--hence, the new grand jury.

The bad news for the Republicans, and the Bush administration, is that this investigation is not going away anytime soon. In 2006, we've got a convergence of three major issues. First, we'll have Scooter Libby's trial in which you'll probably see senior White House officials Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney having to take the witness stand. Second, the Plame investigation will continue on to determine the actual source of the leak--who knows what indictments will be handed down next year. And finally, there's the midterm elections. All of this can provide major fuel for both the growing scandal of the Bush White House manipulating intelligence as a marketing tool to sell the Iraq war to the American public, and the continued pressuring against both Congress and the White House to start pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.

This spells bad news for the White House.

Police: Wal-Mart site raided

This is from the CNN/Money website:

NEW YORK ( - A raid by federal, state and local authorities at a Wal-Mart Stores construction site in Pennsylvania netted about 125 arrests for alleged immigration violations.

Schuylkill County Capt. Dennis Kane confirmed the raid to CNN. USA Today reported that the workers were working on a million-square-foot distribution center in eastern Pennsylvania.

Suspected illegal immigrants found at the High Ridge Business Park were loaded on white buses and taken to a processing center. From WNEP Channel 16 News

Kane said immigrants who were arrested were taken to nearby Philadelphia. The county police worked in conjunction with Pennsylvania state police and federal immigration agents, he said.

High Ridge Business Park in Schuylkill County as seen from Skycam 16. From WNEP Channel 16 News

Wal-Mart officials told the newspaper those arrested were employees of a subcontractor and that the nation's largest retailer has contracts with subcontractors requiring that they follow all federal, state and local laws.

This is what happens when the world's biggest retail merchant pushes for the cheapest labor costs they can get. Wal-Mart starts to hire shady subcontractors, who use illegal immigrants to build their superstores, then feign innocence by claiming they didn't know the subcontractors were using illegals. It's not our fault. How many times have we seen this pattern happen before with Wal-Mart?

Continuing with Wall-Mart's side of the story:

"It is our understanding that the individuals taken into custody at the Pottsville distribution center construction site were employees of subcontractors and not Wal-Mart associates," Wal-Mart said in a statement emailed to

"Consistent with our corporate practice, we have written contracts with these subcontractors requiring that they follow all applicable local, state and federal employment laws. We will cooperate fully with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. attorney's office in this matter," the statement said.

Translation: We'll play the little illegal alien games with the government, pay whatever fines necessary (while declaring neither guilt nor innocence), and then continue with business as usual.

But this is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been tarnished by a raid that found illegal immigrants working for its contractors. Two years ago raids at 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states resulted in the arrests of about 250 illegal immigrants working on cleaning crews.

USA Today reported Friday that a federal agency affidavit unsealed this month says two Wal-Mart executives knew about the practice of hiring illegal immigrants by the cleaning contractor. Wal-Mart has denied that executives knew about the workers, the newspaper said.

A critic of Wal-Mart said that this latest raid will be another blow to the bad public relations the company has been suffering from lately.

"They're trying to improve their public image ... but they're undermining their own attempts," Paul Blank, campaign director of Washington, D.C.-based, told the paper. "There's clearly a pattern where they're violating the law."

Wal-Mart executives knew about the practice of hiring illegal immigrants by the cleaning contractor. How much do you want to bet these Wal-Mart executives knew tha the subcontractors building their superstores were also using illegal immigrants? This has been an ongoing pattern by Wal-Mart--pushing all costs down to the most extreme, stocking their shelves with cheap imported crap, and pushing extreme maximization of their stock for the shareholders. I don't mind businesses maximizing profit and their shareholder's value, but is there a point where profit maximization becomes too excessive? I've heard stories where Wal-Mart gives their employees state and federal insurance forms for health insurance, rather than providing their own insurance coverage to employees. I've heard Wal-Mart providing food stamp forms to their employees. I've even heard that Wal-Mart finds it cheaper to train new employees, rather than pay higher wages to their more experienced staff. Finally, there's a massive sex-discrimination suit against Wal-Mart, where Wal-Mart passed over female employees to choose less-qualified male employees for raises and job promotions. It is incredible.

And Wal-Mart is supposedly the darling company of Wall Street.

White House: Murtha's call is 'surrender'

Rep. John Murtha

This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House accused a senior House Democrat -- and a decorated Vietnam veteran -- who called for a swift withdrawal from Iraq of advocating surrender, comparing him to anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore.

In a broadside issued Thursday night, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said that it is "baffling that [Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party."

McClellan called Murtha, a retired Marine colonel who earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam, "a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting America."

Scott McClellan

But McClellan added, "The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists."

A senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Murtha had supported the resolution that authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But Thursday he called the Bush administration's management of the conflict "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," and said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is "uniting the enemy against us."

Excuse me Scotty? You're "baffled" that Murtha's left your Republican brainwashing and is now endorsing Democratic policy positions? Gee Scotty, maybe the reason Murtha withdrew his support for your "flawed policy wrapped in illusion" is because Murtha's seen this before in the rice patties of Vietnam. And now as a representative for the people in Pennsylvania, and this nation, Murtha has come to realize he was just as responsible for allowing your ilk to force this war down the American public's throats through lies, deceptions and threats--a war we should have never gotten into in the first place. Young American men are dying in Iraq--wasted, useless deaths--just as Murtha witnessed young American men were dying wasted, useless deaths in Vietnam. Congress never bothered placing a check against the Johnson Administration as we went to war in Vietnam. Well Scotty, history is repeating itself.

Murtha's coming out now to check you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Poll: More Americans want off world stage

This is an interesting poll off CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The public's belief that the United States should mind its own business internationally has reached levels not seen since after the Cold War ended more than a decade ago, a poll has found.

Opinion leaders from various parts of society also are less likely to feel the United States should be the most assertive of the leading nations, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The poll, sponsored this year by Pew and the Council on Foreign Relations, has been conducted by Pew every four years since 1993.

Anxiety about the war in Iraq is likely a big reason for the shift in attitudes.

"What's striking is the common thread, both the opinion leaders favoring a less assertive role for the United States and the public's isolationist views," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "This particular period of time marks a transition from the post-9/11 era."

So the American public wants to retreat back into isolationism. I'm not sure I like the idea of the U.S. pulling back to mind its own business any more than I like the neocons proclaiming American imperialism. The United States needs to strike a balance in its foreign policy. The U.S. needs to continue working with other nations in developing multilateral agreements on a wide range of international issues. We need to continue working within international organizations--not as a self-proclaimed leader pushing our military and economic weight around--but rather quietly, diplomatically. We need to understand it is not our right to push ourselves into other nation's internal affairs where we have no business--such as Iraq. And yet, when there are events within a nation that prompt a world outcry against that nation--such as the racial genocide in the Dafur region of the Sudan--we need to take the lead in developing solutions to solve these crisis. I know this is contradictory. Guess what, international relations is full of contradictions. The United States needs to walk a centrist line regarding its foreign policy and international relations. We need to let the world's nations go about their own business in peace, and yet keep a watchful eye on threats to our own interests. We need to understand that other nations have self-interests that are completely opposite of our own. We need to find common solutions, and common grounds when our self-interests contradicts those of other nations. And when the world is faced with a major crisis, then we need to use our power to take a stand on principles--to defend this world against these threats. It is a fine line that the U.S. must walk between isolationism and activism.

We need to return to that fine line.

Post urged to probe Woodward's role in CIA case

Joe Wilson

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, called on Thursday for an inquiry by The Washington Post into the conduct of journalist Bob Woodward, who repeatedly criticized the leak investigation without disclosing his own involvement.

"It certainly gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. He was taking an advocacy position when he was a party to it," said Wilson, joining media critics in questioning the role of one of the best-known investigative reporters in the United States.

Woodward disclosed that he testified under oath on Monday to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that a senior Bush administration official casually told him in mid-June 2003 about Plame's position at the CIA.

Bob Woodward

Wilson, a former ambassador turned White House critic, told Reuters that The Washington Post should reveal the name of Woodward's source, and conduct an inquiry to determine why he withheld the information for more than two years from his editors and the federal prosecutor.

First Joe Wilson. It doesn't surprise me that Wilson wants an investigation of Woodward. Woodward testified under oath to Fitzgerald that a senior Bush administration official told Woodward about Plame. And apparently Woodward did not tell his employer, the Washington Post, about his involvement in this Plame affair for more than two years. Wilson basically wants to know who, in the Bush White House, outed Valerie Plame. This whole, sorrid scandal stems from the basic idea that someone in the White House released Valerie Plames name to the press, in retribution for Wilson's criticisms of White House intelligence manipulation to support President Bush's war in Iraq.

But there's another issue here, that I'm not so sure about. Someone in the Bush White House told Bob Woodward about Valerie Plame, assuming Woodward's grand jury testimony is accurate. Woodward never wrote about Plame--he never released Plame's name to the public. Who is Woodward's source? Then there is this flap between Woodward and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Woodward claims that he told about Wilson's wife, working at the CIA as a WMD analyst to Pincus. However Pincus says he doesn't recall Woodward telling him about Wilson's wife. There are a lot of contradictions in this story, which I'm not sure how to resolve. So in one respect, I've been hesitant on posting an article on this issue, as I scan through the news and blogosphere, trying to make some understanding of this latest revelation.

There is one interesting final piece of information from the Yahoo News story:

A White House official said on Thursday that national security adviser Stephen Hadley was not Woodward's source on Plame. According to current and former administration officials and lawyers, neither was: President George W. Bush himself, top political adviser Karl Rove, Libby, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, counselor Dan Bartlett, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former CIA director George Tenet, and former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin.

Got to love the idea that just about everyone in the White House denied that they were not Woodward's source.

Lawmakers Acted on Heels of Abramoff Gifts

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Folks, we know you've been waiting for another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! Tonight's Episode--The Gifts That Keep On Giving! This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton

Lawmakers said their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff, and the timing of donations was a coincidence. They said they wrote letters because they opposed the expansion of tribal gaming, even though they continued to accept donations from casino-operating tribes.

Many lived far from Louisiana and had no constituent interest in the casino dispute.

Now we know you've heard this story before about Abramoff giving football skybox seats, and golfing trips to Scotland as gifts, as well as gobs of green money to congressional leader's campaign accounts, in exchange for favorable legislation from Congress for his Indian tribe clients. Throw in a little embezzlement, and some musical checks to various Congressmen's campaign funds, and you've got a wonderful snapshot of how big time lobbying can corrupt and influence legislation. But tonight, we're going into the nitty-gritty of who got what from our ubber-lobbyist-extraordinaire. It's not pretty.

Are you ready? Here's those wonderful details you've been waiting for from Yahoo News:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, held a fundraiser at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant in Washington on June 3, 2003, that collected at least $21,500 for his Keep Our Majority political action committee from the lobbyist's firm and tribal clients.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert

Seven days later, Hastert wrote Norton urging her to reject the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians' request for a new casino. Hastert's three top House deputies also signed the letter.

Approving the Jena application or others like it would "run counter to congressional intent," Hastert's June 10, 2003, letter warned Norton.

It was exactly what Abramoff's tribal clients wanted. The tribes, including the Louisiana Coushattas and Mississippi Choctaw, were trying to block the Jena's gambling hall for fear it would undercut business at their own casinos.

Yes, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is starting us off. Looks like he did a lot for Abramoff, spending his time at Abramoff's Singatures restaurant to raise $21,500 for Abramoff's indian clients. And he wrote a letter to Norton on behalf of Abramoff to reject another indian tribe's request to open a casino. Hey, if the Jena tribe opens a casino, then it would take away customers--and revenues--from the Coushattas and Choctaw's tribes casinos. Can't let that happen.

Continuing on:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

Sen. John Ensign

In the midst of the congressional letter-writing campaign, the Bush administration rejected the Jena's casino on technical grounds. The tribe persisted, eventually winning Interior approval but the casino now is tied up in a court dispute.

Congressional ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in performing their official duties and accepting political money.

The two senators from Nevada also took part in Abramoff's letter writing campaign. It was just a coincidence that on March 5, 2002 Reid sent his letter to Norton, and then the next day, the Coushattas sent Reid a $5,000 check to Reid's Searchlight Leadership Fund. Of course, Reid also gets over $66,000 in donations from Abramoff. Is this a conflict of interest? Nah--it was just a coincidence.

But what this also says is that Abramoff was playing the field, on both sides of the political spectrum. Abramoff doesn't care as to who wrote his letters to Norton, requesting the Jena tribe's casino to be stomped out--he's willing to pay big bucks to both Democrats and Republicans, from both the Senate and the House. This is what sent Abramoff to the top of the lobbying food chain.

Shall we continue on?

The Abramoff donations dwarf those made by Keating. At least 33 lawmakers wrote letters to Norton and got more than $830,000 in Abramoff-related donations as the lobbying unfolded between 2001 and 2004, AP found.

"This is one of the largest examples we've had to date where congressional action was predicated on money being given for the action," said Kent Cooper, who reviewed lawmakers' campaign reports for two decades as the Federal Election Commission's chief of public disclosure.

Cooper, who now runs the Political Money Line Web site that tracks fundraising, said "the speed in which this money was turned around" after the letters makes the Abramoff matter more serious than previous controversies that tarnished Congress.

Lawmakers contacted by AP said their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff's fundraising, and instead reflected their long-held concerns about tribal gaming expansion.

"There is absolutely no connection between the letter and the fundraising," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "The only connection was Senator Reid has consistently opposed any effort to undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act."

I remember the Keating Five Scandal. After the deregulation of the banking industry in the 1980s, savings and loan associations were given the ability to invest their depositor's funds into risky commercial real estate ventures. As a result of this, Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed. The chairman of Lincoln Savings, Charles H. Keating, provided campaign contributions of $1.3 million to five senators--Alan Cranston (D, CA), Dennis DeConcini (D, AZ), John Glenn (D, OH), John McCain (R, AZ), and Donald Riegle (D, MI)--in exchange for the senator's influence in discontinuing federal regulator's investigation into the Lincoln Savings and Loan collapse. Keating ended up being convicted of fraud, while Senators Cranston, DeConcini, and Riegle were found to have interfered in the regulator's investigation and were censured by the Senate Ethic's Committee. Senator's Senators Glenn and McCain practically got off with a warning. And now we have another scandal--only this time with both senators and representatives--receiving large amounts of money in exchange for political favors. And the money is getting up there with $830,000 given by Abramoff to congressmen between 2001 to 2004. Let's also not forget that Abramoff was involved in selling an Oval Office meeting with President Bush to Gabon's President Omar Bongo for a cool $9 million (See New York Times Story).

Continuing on:

Hastert ultimately collected more than $100,000 in donations from Abramoff's firm and tribal clients between 2001 and 2004. His office said he never discussed the matter with Abramoff, but long opposed expanding Indian gambling off reservations and was asked to send the letter by Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La.

Rep. Jim McCrery

McCrery sent his own letter as well, and collected more than $36,000 in Abramoff-connected donations.

So Hastert's got himself a nice little $100,000 amount from Abramoff. Hastert's office never discussed the indian tribe issues with Abramoff? So what was Hastert doing over at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant--playing bingo? Who asked Hastert to send McCrery's letter to Norton and why? Did Abramoff ask Hastert to send McCrery's letter? Of course, you know that McCrery could send his own letter to Norton. And McCrery did, while also collecting $36,000 from Abramoff.

But Hastert seems to have a little more trouble here:

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff's fundraising influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration, and whether anyone tried to conceal their dealings with Abramoff. For instance:

Hastert failed for two years to disclose his use of Abramoff's restaurant the week before his letter or to reimburse for it as legally required. Hastert blames a paperwork oversight and recently corrected it.

This is called the "Dog Ate My Homework" defense.

Continuing on with The Gifts The Keep On Giving:

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., received $6,000 from Abramoff tribes from 1999 to 2001 and refunded it the day before he sent one of his letters to Norton in February 2002. He also used Abramoff's restaurant for a September 2003 fund-raiser but failed to reimburse for it until this year.

Sen. David Vitter

The Coushattas wrote two checks to Rep. Tom DeLay's groups in 2001 and 2002, shortly before the GOP leader wrote Norton. But the tribe was asked by Abramoff to take back the checks and route the money to other GOP groups. In all, DeLay, R-Texas, received at least $57,000 in Abramoff and tribal donations between 2001 and 2004.

Rep. Tom DeLay

We know you've been waiting for Tom DeLay--well, here he is! Of course, DeLay's got his own rockin' hit show spin-off, filled with exciting the drama of money laundering, musical judges, and tropical get-aways to visit the Mariannas' sweat-shops with his pal Abramoff. So it is not surprising that DeLay was also involved in the Norton letter writing campaign, picking up $57,000 from Abramoff.

Now, let's round out the rest of our guest stars:

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, received four donations totaling $5,500 from casino-operating tribes represented by Abramoff a month and a day after he signed the Feb. 27, 2002, group letter.

Rep. Pete Sessions

"If they want to give a contribution to support Republican candidates, more power to them. That doesn't mean we have to support what they are doing," said Guy Harrison, a Sessions spokesman.

Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., received $1,000 from Abramoff several weeks before he signed the group letter, then got $16,000 from two of Abramoff's casino-operating tribal clients about two months later. By year's end, Doolittle also had used Abramoff's restaurant to cater a campaign event and received another $15,000 from tribes.

Rep. John Doolittle

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, signed three letters to Norton. He took $1,000 from Abramoff and $2,000 from the lobbyist's firm around the time he sent a May 2003 letter.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt

Blunt long has opposed the expansion of tribal gaming and his letters are "consistent with his long-held position and are in no way related to political contributions," spokeswoman Burson Taylor said.

Yes, we're talking the same Roy Blunt who took over Tom DeLay's Majority Leader job after DeLay was indicted on money laundering charges. Blunt sent three letters to Norton, picking up $3,000 from Abramoff. A grand for writing each letter? Not bad. Of course, Blunt's got his own little troubles, considering he and DeLay have been playing the musical cash game, exchanging $150,000 from DeLay's Americans for a Political Majority PAC to Blunt's Rely on Your Beliefs PAC (See The New Republic Online). Of course, Blunt's letters to Norton were also not related to Abramoff's contributions.

Continuing on:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, whose committee is investigating Abramoff, sent a letter on March 1, 2002, opposing the Jena casino. The letter said a company that operates casinos in Grassley's home state was concerned. Grassley got $1,000 from Abramoff's firm the following month and a total of $62,200 in related donation by 2004.

Sen. Charles Grassley

So Senator Grassley--who is the Senate Finance Committee Chairman and is currently investigating Abramoff--also sent a letter to Norton for $1,000, opposing the casino. And of course, Grassley got another $62,200 in related donations from from Abramoff. But that's okay. Because in no way, do these donations represent political influence by Abramoff. Do you detect a pattern here?

We're not finished yet:

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the former Senate GOP leader, wrote Norton on March 1, 2002, to "seriously urge" she reject the Jena casino. Lott received $10,000 in donations from Abramoff tribes just before the letter and $55,000 soon after. Lott's office said he sent the letter because his state's Choctaw tribe and a casino company were concerned about losing business.

Sen. Trent Lott

Then-Sen. John Breaux (news, bio, voting record), D-La., wrote Norton on March 1, 2002. Five days later the Coushattas sent $1,000 to his campaign and $10,000 to his library fund, tribal records show.

Then-Sen John Breaux

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., wrote Norton on June 14, 2001, one of the first such letters. Cochran's political committee got $6,000 from Abramoff tribes in the weeks before the letter, and another $71,000 in the three years after.

Sen. Thad Cochran

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who was engaged in a tight re-election race in 2002, sent her letter March 6, 2002. That same day, the Coushattas sent $2,000 to her campaign and she received $5,000 more by the end of that month. By year's end, the total had grown to at least $24,000.

Sen. Mary Landrieu

And there you have it! The Gifts That Keep On Giving! I knew that Abramoff was doing some serious lobbying, considering the previous posts I've written linking Abramoff with DeLay. But the scale and scope of this one operation--a letter writing campaign to Norton, requesting the Interior Department to block one indian tribe from opening a casino by two other tribes who already have casinos--is incredible. It reeks of how lobbying money is used to buy political favors. And it clearly shows the hypocrisy these congressmen have in claiming these donations do not influence their political and legislative decisions.

You've got to wonder what other political favors lobbyists are buying from our congressmen?

Influential House Democrat Wants Immediate Iraq Withdrawl

This is from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An influential House Democrat who voted for the Iraq war called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, another sign of growing unease in Congress about the conflict.

"This is the immediate redeployment of American forces because they have become the target," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats. At times during his remarks to reporters, the decorated Vietnam War veteran was choking back tears.

"It is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region," Murtha said.

Murtha, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, has earned bipartisan respect for his grasp of military issues over three decades in Congress. He said announcing a U.S. withdrawal would provide the Iraqi government with an added incentive to have their own security forces take control of the conflict.

Murtha is a close adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. For months, Pelosi has pushed for the Bush administration to outline an exit strategy, although she has stopped short of calling for an immediate troop pullout.

Some Senate Democrats have called for immediate or phased withdrawal.

Murtha's comments came just two days after the Senate voted to approve a statement that 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" to create the conditions for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Murtha voted to give the president authority to use force against Saddam Hussein in 2002. In recent months, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee defense panel has grown increasingly troubled with the direction of the war and with the Bush administration's handling of it, particularly following reports of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," Murtha said.

When one of the most hawkish Democrats on the House is saying we have to get out of Iraq, then we better stand up and take note of what he's saying. Of course, we know what the Bush administration's response would be to Murtha--NOT! And I would imagine Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will trot out the tired old argument of "Well, first you voted for the war, and now you want us to pull out before our mission is complete?" The problem with the Bush White House is that there is no clearly defined set of policy goals, with details, that the U.S. must achieve before leaving Iraq. All we hear about are these vague notions of completing our mission--we must complete our mission. Never mind the fact that Bush has never told us what our mission is. Of course, we haven't gotten into insurgency, the secret CIA prisons and reports of torture, Rummy's flawed military strategy of faster, cheaper, smaller (Think U.S. troops running around Iraq in unarmored Humvees), the continuing Valerie Plame / misuse or marketing of intelligence by the White House.

It is coming together into a five-year perfect storm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

American Faces Charge of Graft for Work in Iraq

Okay America. This is where your taxpayer dollars are going for Iraq's reconstruction. This is from the New York Times:

In what is expected to be the first of a series of criminal charges against officials and contractors overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, an American has been charged with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities and their spouses to obtain construction contracts, according to a complaint unsealed late yesterday.

The man, Philip H. Bloom, who controlled three companies that did work in Iraq in the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and interstate transportation of stolen property, all in connection with obtaining up to $3.5 million in reportedly fraudulent contracts.

The complaint, unsealed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, also cites two unnamed co-conspirators who worked in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq when the contracts were awarded in early 2004. These were the officials who, with their spouses, allegedly received the payments.

"This is the first case, but it won't be the last," said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office. Mr. Mitchell said as many as a dozen related cases had been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

There's suppose to be more cases? It doesn't surprise me when you have American companies given big no-bid, or regularly bidded contracts from the American-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority. It is easy graft and corruption, with almost no audit or oversight of these American companies by either the military, or the Provisional Authority. The details of this corruption are incredible:

The complaint says that in order to obtain lucrative reconstruction contracts, Mr. Bloom paid at least $200,000 a month to an unspecified number of coalition authority officials, including the two co-conspirators and their spouses. Neither co-conspirator is named in the complaint, although it indicates that one is cooperating with the prosecution.

The other co-conspirator, the complaint says, held the position of comptroller and financing officer for "C.P.A. South Central Region in Iraq," which included Hillah. This person controlled $82 million "to be used for payment of contract services rendered in Al Hillah, Iraq, including contracts awarded to Bloom," the complaint asserts.

A United States government official said this person was named Robert J. Stein.

The complaint says the contracts Mr. Bloom obtained "were purported to be for the rebuilding and stabilization of Iraq" in Hillah and Karbala, a holy city in the south. The work included "the renovation of the Karbala Public Library; demolition work related to, and construction of, the Al Hillah Police Academy; the upgrading of security of the Al Hillah Police Academy, and the construction of the Regional Tribal Democracy Center."

With the assistance of the alleged co-conspirators and others, the document says, Mr. Bloom submitted multiple bids on the same contracts, using the names of different companies that were either controlled by Mr. Bloom or did not exist. Once there were sufficient bids to satisfy United States government regulations, the co-conspirators, including Mr. Stein, would ensure that the contract went to one of the companies, the complaint says.

"The value of these contracts ranged up to $498,900," the complaint says. "Co-conspirator 1's approval authority for awarding contracts was limited to contracts less than $500,000."

The complaint contends that the monthly bribes to coalition officials have been corroborated by an Iraqi witness, one of the conspirators "and other persons with personal knowledge of the payments, and through reviewing various financial records."

In one case Mr. Bloom, "who paid the aforementioned bribes, kickbacks and gratuities," the complaint says, "caused the transfer of funds totaling more than $267,000 from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States in the name of Co-conspirator 1 and/or his spouse." Other transfers came from banks in Kuwait, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Romania to accounts controlled by the alleged conspirators, the complaint says. Some transfers also went to jewelers, automobile dealerships and a realty firm, all apparently for the benefit of the fellow conspirators.

You know what is really scary? This is small fry stuff. I wonder what graft took place among Haliburton, or Kellog Brown and Root that we don't know about? What other American companies have been playing this game?

Bill O'Reilly takes aim at San Francisco

This is from MSNBC News:

Does Bill O'Reilly have it in for the city by the bay?

San Franciscans have been in an uproar this week over apparent comments by the host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that it was A-OK for terrorists to wipe the city off the map.

At issue are comments from O'Reilly's Election Day broadcast on his syndicated Westwood One radio show about a San Francisco ballot measure opposing the presence of military recruiters in city schools.

"Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead," O'Reilly said, according to a transcript and audio posted by liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, and by the San Francisco Chronicle.

"And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead," O'Reilly continued, referring to the 1933 San Francisco landmark that sits atop Telegraph Hill.

Coit Tower, San Francisco

What can I say, but Bill O'Reilly is a complete fraud. This man uses hate to slander anyone who has a dissenting viewpoint that opposes Republican propaganda and conservative right-wingnut ideologies. He sits on his perch at Fox News and spews his crap to the ideologues for the sake of ratings and fat corporate profits. He is not a journalist. He is not even a commentator--a commentator would at least analyze both sides of a complex issue before making an opinion. He's a charlatan and a whore of the worst kind, playing down to the lowest form of sub-human constituents for that almighty dollar.

And yet, he succeeds wildly in his niche.

ThinkProgress blogsite contained a post saying that O'Reilly was setting up a McCarthy-styled "enemies list" of "internet smear sites" that have criticised his recent comments about San Francisco. This enemies list has spread like wildfire through the progressive blogosphere, where bloggers have been requesting that their names be posted on O'Reilly's enemies list. Shakespeare's Sisters, Earl Bockenfeld's Radio Weblog, and Lance Mannion have provided tips to bloggers on how to get on O'Reilly's enemies list. Instead of an "enemies list," O'Reilly has created something akin to a rite of passage for the progressive and liberal bloggers. Yes, I've created and sent my own little email letter requesting my blogsite to be added to the list. Here is my letter:

Dear Bill O'Reilly:

I received word through Shakespeare's Sisters and the Think Progress blogsites that you plan to compile an "enemies list" on your website. Please add my blogsite to your list.

I could continue by saying you're a money-grubbing, hate-filled, right wing-nut fascist idiot, but I'm not going to say that. I think you are smart enough to portray this image on your radio and television programs as a means to sell your books, clothes, totes, mugs and hats to ignorant, right-wing evangelists and lower-class workers who not only have no ability to think or analyze complex issues for themselves, but are brainwashed by the same old GOP lies and vitriol that you spew every day. You're a charlatan who has sold out whatever journalistic or analytical integrity you may have had, for corporate profit. Your website at gives your true self away--the site has no news, commentary or any informational content. But there's plenty of links to purchase anything with your name and picture on.

I cannot stand to watch your television show on Fox, or even listen to your radio program. Even reading the recent debacle of where you flapped your mouth off, saying San Francisco should be blown up by Al Qaeda terrorists because the city voted to ban military recruitment from schools, makes me want to gag in disgust. So you want to compile and "post the names of all who support the smear merchants on" Put my name and blogsite on your list. I want to know "know who was with the anti-military internet crowd" so we can expose your lies, the hate-filled Republican propaganda you've regurgitated, and the show the country what a complete fraud you are.


Eric A Hopp

What can I say? It was just too fun not to be a part of.