Sunday, April 30, 2006

Angelides Gets Crucial Party Endorsement

Some more on the Democratic primary for the governor's race. This is off the Los Angeles Times:

SACRAMENTO — In a boost to his struggling campaign for governor, state Treasurer Phil Angelides won the Democratic party's formal endorsement late Saturday — and with it the promise of money and bragging rights as he seeks to reinvigorate his campaign against Controller Steve Westly.

The endorsement, announced to the roar of delegates at a party dinner, came after the two leading Democratic candidates for governor sparred over their partisan credentials while dropping hints that they would soon take their sniping to the television airwaves.

Just before 10 p.m., a beaming Angelides — along with his wife and three daughters — greeted cheering supporters in a convention hallway. In an impromptu press conference, he declared himself "proud and honored."

"Today, this weekend was really the start of the playoffs," Angelides said. "You know, a lot of teams make it through the regular season, but who wins is determined in the playoff season. And in the first game of that playoff season, I am very proud to have scored this victory tonight."

Asked the importance of the endorsement to his campaign, he replied: "I need everything, every day, all along the way."

As the man favored by organized labor and much of the Democratic establishment, Angelides has long expected the party's formal endorsement to give a major lift to his campaign before the June 6 primary. For Westly, whose support among Democratic leaders is comparatively thin, the goal Saturday was simply to block Angelides from reaching the 60% threshold of delegates needed to win the party's imprimatur.

In the end, it was not close, with Angelides winning 67% to Westly's 28%.

First, I'm going to say I find it ironic that Angelides get this endorsement from the Democratic Party a day after the LA Times published a story showing Westly ahead of Angelides. And the lead was somewhat significant--with Westly at 33% to Angelides' 20%--although with 45% of California Democrats undecided. So what is the deal here?

My guess is that we had some back-room wheeling and dealing between the Angelides' campaign and the California Democratic Party leaders. The top Democratic Party leaders probably saw Phil Angelides as a far more "safer" choice as the Democratic candidate for governor than Steve Westly. One possible reason could be that Westly has close ties to the business community--especially his ties with eBay, when he was vice president. Since Westly was a top executive for a major internet technology company, Democratic special interest groups such as Big Labor may have felt that Westly would side more with pro-business interests over that of Big Labor's interests regarding economic and labor relations issues--that is not to say that Westly would side with business over labor, but there may be a perception within the top Democratic Party leadership that Westly may be more pro-business than the Democratic Party is willing to go. Whereas Angelides can court the Big Labor groups in saying he supports completely supports labor interests--even though Angelides himself was a businessman in developing a residential community in Laguna West. Another possible reason for the Angelides endorsement could be name recognition. The top Democratic Party leaders may have felt that Angelides' name recognition among voters is a greater asset than the unknown Steve Westly, when going up against Governator Arnold--even though both Angelides and Westly are well known within California politics and the Democratic leadership. Or perhaps the party leaders may have felt that Westly was a "loose cannon" to have as a Democratic candidate in going up against Schwarzenegger and winning the November race, so the party bigwigs decided to take a "safe bet" with Angelides--I mean, what would the legislative agenda of a Westly administration be like, once Westly moves into the governors mansion?

Now this is all speculation. I can't even say if there was a back-room deal between Angelides and the party leadership. What I can say is that we have a race between two candidates to go up against Scharzenegger in November. The Democratic Party bigwigs are throwing their support for Phil Angelides, over the supposedly unknown Steve Westly. At this point, the among half the California Democratic voters that have chosen a side, the unknown Steve Westly has taken the lead over that of the name recognizable Phil Angelides, as according to yesterday's LA Times poll. Both candidates are wooing the other half the California Democratic Party electorate that hasn't made up their mind--even as the electorate view both candidates with favorable ratings. So we have an interesting race here between a Democratic Party-endorsed name recognizable candidate verses an unknown populist underdog.

Interesting race.

Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner-- President Not Amused?

Comedian Stephen Colbert (R) provides the entertainment as U.S. President George W. Bush (L) watches during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, April 29, 2006. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

This is off Editor & Publisher:

WASHINGTON A blistering comedy “tribute” to President Bush by Comedy Central’s faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close.

Crooks and Liars has the video link right here. Continuing on:

Earlier, the president had delivered his talk to the 2700 attendees, including many celebrities and top officials, with the help of a Bush impersonator.

Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”

Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”

Turning to the war, he declared, "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, just three tables away from Karl Rove, and that he had brought " Valerie Plame." Then, worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, "Uh, I mean... he brought Joseph Wilson's wife." He might have "dodged the bullet," he said, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't there.

Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, “photo ops” on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, melting glaciers and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face. He advised the crowd, "if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. will be right over with a cocktail. "

And the coup de grace:
As Colbert walked from the podium, when it was over, the president and First Lady gave him quick nods, unsmiling, and handshakes, and left immediately.

Those seated near Bush told E&P's Joe Strupp, who was elsewhere in the room, that Bush quickly turned from an amused guest to an obviously offended target as Colbert’s comments brought up his low approval ratings and problems in Iraq.

Several veterans of past dinners, who requested anonymity, said the presentation was more directed at attacking the president than in the past. Several said previous hosts, like Jay Leno, equally slammed both the White House and the press corps.

“This was anti-Bush,” said one attendee. “Usually they go back and forth between us and him.” Another noted that Bush quickly turned unhappy, and left the dais shortly after while most seated near him, including Colbert and Snow, glad-handed the crowd. “You could see he stopped smiling about halfway through Colbert,” he reported.

Strupp, in the crowd during the Colbert routine, had observed that quite a few sitting near him looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting--or too much speaking "truthiness" to power.

Colbert didn't just rip Bush a new one--he ripped it, and then served it to Bush as the main entree at the Correspondent's Dinner!

I understand that these dinners are suppose to be a lampooning of the President, and perhaps of the Washington press corps, but Colbert did more than just a stand-up comedy routine. Colbert showed the president just how far his policies have gone in destroying this country's finances, its economy, and its image within the world. This Bush administration has refused to acknowledge any mistakes; it has divided this country along political, social, religious, and economic fault lines, and has attacked and stifled any serious criticism or debate of policy issues. When over 70 percent of the American population believes that the country is heading into the wrong direction, Colbert has delivered a powerful message to President Bush from the American people--your administration is failing to provide the leadership that this country needs! You have failed Mr. President!

It is a message that Bush still doesn't get.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Some more news on the War in Iraq--none of it good.

An Iraqi woman looks out of her tent at a refugee camp Saturday April 29, 2006 in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq. Sectarian violence has forced about 100,000 families across Iraq to flee their homes, a top Iraqi official said, as 14 more Iraqis were killed Saturday, including six who were tortured in captivity. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)

I found two stories off Yahoo News. The first story is titled Violence Uproots 100,000 Iraq Families:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sectarian violence has forced about 100,000 families across Iraq to flee their homes, a top Iraqi official said. At least 17 people, including an American soldier, were killed Saturday in fighting.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, one of the country's two vice presidents, estimated on Friday that 100,000 Iraqi families — 90 percent of them his fellow Shiites — had fled their homes to escape attacks by rival religious sects.

Abdul-Mahdi's estimate was higher than any offered so far by Iraqi officials, who have placed the figure at about 15,000 families, or about 90,000 people.

Dr. Salah Abdul-Razzaq, spokesman of a government body that runs Shiite religious institutions, put the number of displaced Shiite families at 13,750 nationwide, or about 90,000 people.

That includes 25,000 Shiites who have fled since the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22 triggered a wave of attacks on Sunni mosques and clerics.

An Iraqi girl cries while looking for her father at a refugee camp Saturday April 29, 2006 in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq. Sectarian violence has forced about 100,000 families across Iraq to flee their homes, a top Iraqi official said, as 16 more Iraqis were killed Saturday, including six who were tortured in captivity. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)

Whichever statistic you choose, the Iraqi civil war, and the concurrent insurgency against the American occupation forces, is having a disastrous effect on the civilian population. When families are uprooted from their homes, by the fighting, they will tend to move towards areas where they believe will provide them with basic living needs--food, clothing, shelter. But uprooted families also disrupt the social fabric of civil society. Men are no longer gainfully employed to provide the social and economic needs of both society, and of their own families. Women are no longer able to care for their homes, families, or even their own jobs if they are also employed. Children no longer attend schools, to gain knowledge and develop social skills with other children. While networks--families, neighborhood, school, religious, social, small shopskeeping, are disrupted when families are uprooted from traditional homes. And even more, by settling in new regions, these wandering families will compete for the economic resources with the native individuals and families that currently reside in that region, which can cause even greater conflict. It is almost like vigorously shaking a bee hive--such an action will disrupt the normal activity of bees, as they buzz furiously around their hive, before they can finally settle down in time.

But what does the U.S. military have to say about this disruption?

However, the U.S. military insists that even the lower estimates appear exaggerated.

U.S. command spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said this week that American troops investigate all reports of displaced people and have found no evidence of "widespread movement" away from religiously mixed areas.

Lynch said sectarian attacks in the Baghdad area had fallen by 60 percent last week and were approaching the levels before the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis.

Guess everything is all honkey doory in Iraq. Or is it?

Well, I found another interesting article off Yahoo News, titled Bush Warns of More Tough Fighting in Iraq:

WASHINGTON - President Bush warned Saturday of tough fighting to come and "more days of sacrifice and struggle" in Iraq as April drew to a close as the deadliest month for American forces this year.

"The enemy is resorting to desperate acts of violence because they know the establishment of democracy in Iraq will be a double defeat for them," Bush said in his weekly radio address as he saluted the emergence of a permanent government.

"There will be more tough fighting ahead in Iraq and more days of sacrifice and struggle," he cautioned. "Yet, the enemies of freedom have suffered a real blow in recent days, and we have taken great strides on the march to victory."

As of late Thursday, at least 69 Americans had died in Iraq in April. The toll was 31 in March, 55 in February and 62 in January.

The administration hopes the political progress in Iraq, which came only after a frustrating four months of infighting and amid persistent violence, will be a turning point. If it is, that could pave the way for a significant drawdown in the number of U.S. troops there.

Bush said the new government's formation "marks the beginning of a new chapter in America's involvement."

U.S. President George W. Bush waves while walking towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, April 27, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Reading Bush's remarks, I'm reminded of the later days of the Second World War--where a delusional Adolf Hitler, hunkered down in his bunker complex in Berlin, commanded his generals to send phantom divisions out to attack American and Soviet positions, extolling how Germany would win the war with "secret weapons," all while the Red Army artillery shells rained down upon Berlin. While artillery shells may not be raining down on Washington, a delusional hunkers down in his own White House bunker, extolling how the U.S. will win the war in Iraq, how the "enemies of freedom have suffered a real blow these days," while ignoring the fact that 69 Americans have been killed in Iraq in April. Already 217 Americans have died in Iraq this year--and we're only a third into this year!

How much more delusional can President Bush get?

In Leak Cases, New Pressure on Journalists

This is not good. From the New York Times:

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.

In the last year alone, a reporter for The New York Times was jailed for refusing to testify about a confidential source; her source, a White House aide, was prosecuted on charges that he lied about his contacts with reporters; a C.I.A. analyst was dismissed for unauthorized contacts with reporters; and a raft of subpoenas to reporters were largely upheld by the courts.

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.

So in order to control information that is given to the American public, the Bush administration is willing to prosecute journalists who may provide information that has not been approved by the White House spin-meisters. This is scary. One of the most important duties of the press is being the watchdog for abuses within the government. And look at the abuses we've seen within this Bush White House--illegal domestic spying by the NSA against Americans, phone and date mining of Americans, misuse of Iraqi intelligence data on WMDs, Valerie Plame, the use of torture against prisoners in Abu Gharib prison, secret CIA detention facilities in Eastern Europe (that also uses torture against prisoners). These are all examples of abusive power by this Bush administration. The Bush White House has certainly declared that the publication of these stories have damaged the U.S. effort in fighting the Great War on Terrorism, or have aided the terrorists, or any number of excuses concerning terrorism. But it is not about terrorism. It is about the control of information. Consider this:

Critics of the administration position say that altering the conventional understanding between the press and government could have dire consequences.

"Once you make the press the defendant rather than the leaker," said David Rudenstine, the dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and a First Amendment scholar, "you really shut down the flow of information because the government will always know who the defendant is."

So if the government can't discover who the leaker is in providing such information of the government's abuses, then you go after the press. If the government is successful in shutting down the press for publishing these leaks, then other publications and journalists will think twice about publishing leaks that are damaging to the government--hence, the government continues to control the flow of information. This is especially dangerous for a Bush White House that believes in absolute dictatorial powers, believes itself to be above the law, and is willing to destroy the constitutional rights and protections of all Americans in its quest for power.

Westly Leads Angelides in Primary Race

AHEAD: State Controller Steve Westly talks with reporters on the first day of the California Democratic State Convention in Sacramento. Westly leads State Treasurer Phil Angelides in a Times Poll.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Time for some California politics here! Here in the Golden State, we've got ourselves a nice little race going on to see who the Democratic challenger will be to take on Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governor's office this year. And the two Democratic challengers who are duking each other out are State Controller Steve Westly, and Treasurer Phil Angelides. For the past year, I haven't seen much in the news, or even the internet sites, regarding either candidate. I haven't even seen any campaign commercials from either candidate until this last month. I have not seen any campaign literature mailed to me from either candidate. So for the moment, this battle has been waged pretty much out of sight, out of mind.

Now we have this Los Angeles Times article:

State Controller Steve Westly has taken a double-digit lead over Treasurer Phil Angelides in the Democratic contest for governor, but nearly half of likely voters in the June 6 primary are undecided, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found.

The race remains highly volatile: More than half of those who support Westly or Angelides say they could change their minds.

With both still unfamiliar to many Californians, Westly has gained an edge in part by outspending Angelides on biographical television ads. But neither man has started airing negative commercials, which could yet scramble the dynamics of the race. Voting by mail starts in nine days.

For now, Westly leads Angelides among likely Democratic primary voters, 33% to 20%, with 45% undecided.

VOLATILE RACE: State Treasurer Phil Angelides trails Westly by 13% in a Times poll, but 45% of those surveyed were still undecided, and almost half said they could change their minds.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Now this is fascinating. Westly is leading Angelides? I would have expected Angelides to be leading Westly, simply because of name recognition. But that's not the case. As the Times has said, Westly has gained an edge in part by outspending Angelides on biographical television ads. I've seen a couple commercials that Westly aired that were the equivalent of a video depiction of his resume, both in business and government service. A Phil Angelides commercial that aired last night was also very similar, showing his highlights in government service.

So we've got ourselves a fun Democratic race here!

But there's some more interesting details here in this Times story. Continuing on:

On the Republican side, the poll found signs of a rebound for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom the Democratic nominee will face in November. Schwarzenegger's popularity has risen across a broad spectrum of voter groups since the last Times poll in October, when he was pushing a conservative ballot agenda roundly defeated weeks later.

Now, 44% of California's registered voters approve of Schwarzenegger's job performance, up from 37% in October. But his recovery is shaky: 53% still give him negative job ratings.

More troublesome for the governor: 48% say they will definitely or probably not vote for him in November. Just 31% say they will definitely or probably support his reelection.

Another difficulty for the incumbent is the surly mood of California voters. The poll found that 61% of them see the state as seriously on the wrong track, their grimmest outlook since they ousted Gov. Gray Davis in the 2003 recall.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at the annual California Chamber of Commerce Host Breakfast in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, April 25, 2006.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The Governator is in trouble. First, his approval ratings have moved up, since Schwarzenegger has shifted his policies towards the center. But the Governator still has a problem. For the past two years, Schwarzenegger has been governing far to the right of California politics. In his vow to clean up the corruption of Sacramento politics, Schwarzenegger tried to force down special election ballot measures that not only angered those on the center and left of the California political spectrum, but would have stripped political power away from Democratic legislators, liberal interests, unions, and just about anyone who wasn't involved in big business, or with the Religious Right. The Governator made some powerful enemies when he tried to push those special election ballot measures through last year, and failed. Now Schwarzenegger doesn't have any legislative accomplishments that he can tout as a reason for Californians to re-elect him. That's why he's got a 53 percent negative job ratings, and 48 percent saying they will not vote for him in November.

Now back to the Democratic primary. Some more fun details here:

With the election a little more than five weeks away, voters are paying scant attention to the Democratic primary for governor. Barely a third of likely Democratic primary voters say they are very interested.

Although many have no opinion of the two Democrats, Westly already leads Angelides among every major group of likely voters in the primary, including men, women, Latinos and residents of all California regions.

The controller runs ahead even among groups targeted by Angelides, such as liberals and union members — a sobering turn given Angelides' endorsement by organized labor. Likely voters in the Democratic primary say Westly would do a better job than Angelides on schools, the economy, the state budget and the environment.

Overall, Westly has left a favorable impression on 58% of likely voters in the primary; Angelides, 52%.

For now, in the absence of attack ads, just a sliver of Democrats hold unfavorable opinions of either candidate.

So a majority of voters are not paying attention to the primary, Westly leads among all groups targeted by Angelides, both candidates have favorable impressions among the voters, and there is no unfavorable opinions of either candidates--since they haven't aired any attack ads. Expect the attack ads to hit in May or June. But here's a real great detail to ponder on:

Schwarzenegger's fate could indeed hinge partly on who wins the Democratic nomination, the poll suggests. In a hypothetical match-up among registered voters, Westly would unseat the governor, 48% to 39%, if the general election were held today, while Angelides and Schwarzenegger would be tied at 43% apiece.

Now this is an interesting detail. Westly would beat the Governator by about 9 percentage points, while Angelides and Schwarzenegger would be tied. Why does Westly have a greater approval ratings over Schwarzenegger than that of Angelides? Is it because Westly is more of an unknown name--a fresh face over that of Angelides, who may have greater name recognition in California, and perhaps a greater image negativity among voters?

This Times article provides a great little round-up of what is on the California ballot. I myself, as a registered Democrat, have not formed an opinion as to who I would choose between Westly or Angelides. At this moment, I subscribe to the ABA school of thought--Anybody But Arnold! Both Westly and Angelides are probably well qualified to sit in the governor's office. The differences between them is in their political philosophies, of which I have not researched yet. So as this race heats up in the next month or so, I'll certainly be watching it with delight.

Prostitution Alleged In Cunningham Case

I've been watching this from the sidelines for the moment, wondering how I should comment on this issue. The story has been coming out on Americablog, TPM Muckraker, The Daily Kos, and even Think Progress. And now The Washington Post is getting into this latest scandal involving the Republicans. What could this scandal be you ask? Is it about money? Power? Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Certainly not. This is a great weapon that the Republicans loved to bash over Bill Clinton's head when he was in office, and the one scandal that Americans have no trouble comprehending--SEX!

This is from The Washington Post:

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a California defense contractor arranged for a Washington area limousine company to provide prostitutes to convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and possibly other lawmakers, sources familiar with the probe said yesterday.

In recent weeks, investigators have focused on possible dealings between Christopher D. Baker, president of Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc., and Brent R. Wilkes, a San Diego businessman who is under investigation for bribing Cunningham in return for millions of dollars in federal contracts, said one source, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Baker has a criminal record and has experienced financial difficulties, public records show. Last fall, his company was awarded a $21 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security to provide transportation, including limo service for senior officials. Baker and his lawyer declined to comment yesterday.

The Cunningham investigation's latest twist came after Mitchell J. Wade, a defense contractor who has admitted bribing the former congressman, told prosecutors that Wilkes had an arrangement with Shirlington Limousine, which in turn had an arrangement with at least one escort service, one source said. Wade said limos would pick up Cunningham and a prostitute and bring them to suites Wilkes maintained at the Watergate Hotel and the Westin Grand in Washington, the source said.

Okay. So not only were Wilkes and Baker not only bribing Cunningham for millions of dollars worth of defense contracts, but Baker was able to get a $21 million Homeland Security contract to provide transportation for Cunningham and possibly other government officials, while also providing them with "escort" services to the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels for some steamy playtime. First I'll have to say I find it ironic that Wilkes was using the Watergate Hotel for their private parties with Cunningham and his friends, considering that the Watergate Hotel was the site for that first great Republican scandal that caused the downfall of Richard Nixon's presidency.

But it gets better. Continuing on:

The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday cited a letter from Baker's lawyer, Bobby Stafford, saying that Baker "provided limousine services for Mr. Wilkes for whatever entertainment he had in the Watergate" from the company's founding in 1990 through the early 2000s. The letter also stated that Baker was "never in attendance in any party where any women were being used for prostitution purposes." Reached by telephone yesterday, Stafford would not comment on the letter.

Before starting Shirlington Limousine, public records show, Baker compiled a lengthy criminal record. Between 1979 and 1989, he was convicted on several misdemeanor charges, including drug possession and attempted petty larceny, as well as two felony charges for attempted robbery and car theft, according to D.C. Superior Court records.

It appears that this little arrangement to provide entertainment with the limo service had started in 1990--well before the Republicans were demanding Clinton's impeachment for his affair with Monica. How much do you want to bet that Cunningham was using both the limo service and the escort service for his pleasures? How many other Republican congressmen did Cunningham invite to these parties? And you can bet that they were great parties--seems that Baker could find the great sex and drugs, considering his rap sheet. Throw in a little rock and roll, and you've got yourself a party!

This scandal is going to be picked up faster than Olivia Newton-John's cooing of, "Let's get physical" moved up the pop charts. Iraqi WMDs, intelligence failures, and even Valerie Plame are all complicated scandals with so many twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is difficult enough for those individuals who track these complicated scandals on a regular basis to fully comprehend the greater impact that these scandals have on our country, without getting lost in their convoluted details. But a sex scandal can be easily understood by Americans. And prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Baker and Wilkes wanted some legislative favors to expand their businesses and their fortunes. They were able to bribe Duke Cunningham with both money and sex for lucrative defense contracts to be awarded their way. Cunningham loved the money and sex, that he invited his own congressional friends into the racket--what fifty or sixty-something congressman wouldn't enjoy a private blow-job from a twenty-something "escort?" Everyone's getting a little something here--Wilkes and Baker get rich off their fat contracts, Cunningham and his Republican friends get wet, and the American taxpayers get screwed.

More to come.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Limbaugh arrested on drug charges

I've got some Breaking News here! From MSNBC.Com:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Rush Limbaugh was arrested Friday on prescription drug charges, law enforcement officials said. Limbaugh turned himself in to authorities on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office, said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office.

The conservative radio commentator came into the jail at about 4 p.m. with his attorney Roy Black and bonded out an hour later on a $3,000 bail, Barbera said. The warrant was for fraud to conceal information to obtain prescription, Barbera said.

Prosecutors have learned that Rush Limbaugh has received 2,000 painkillers in six months. Rich Arden / AP.

Black said his client and authorities reached a settlement on a single count charge of doctor shopping filed Friday by the State Attorney will be dismissed in 18 months.

Prosecutors seized Limbaugh's records after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion. They contend that Limbaugh engaged in "doctor shopping," or illegally deceived multiple doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions.

Limbaugh has not been charged and maintains he's innocent. He has acknowledged he became addicted to pain medication, blaming it on severe back pain, and took a five-week leave from his radio show to enter a rehabilitation program in 2003.

Linbaugh has received 2,000 pain killers in six months? You're talking about 11 pain pills per day! Rush Limbaugh--can you say drug addict?

Bush: Raise fuel-efficiency standards

President Bush speaks about the price of gasoline during an impromptu stop at a filling station in Biloxi, Mississippi April 27, 2006. Bush called for legislation on Thursday to allow a boost in fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars, as he sought to soothe rising anxiety among Americans about higher oil costs. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

This is crazy. From CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday said he wants to raise fuel-efficiency standards on automobiles, as members of both parties jockeyed for political position on the issue of rising gas prices.

Bush called on Congress to give him the authority to set the standards for passenger cars sold in the United States as a means of reducing the nation's demand for gasoline.

"I encourage them to give me that authority," Bush told reporters during a visit to a service station in Biloxi, Mississippi. "It's an authority I used for light trucks, and I intend to use it wisely if Congress will give me that authority." (Watch political frenzy spurred by gas prices -- 2:01 )

The president's comments, delivered as he stood next to gas pumps during his 11th visit to the Gulf Coast area devastated by Hurricane Katrina, were soon followed by a letter from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to the GOP House and Senate leaders.

"At the president's request, I hereby ask that the Congress take prompt action to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to reform fuel economy standards for passenger automobiles," Mineta wrote.

"Along with other previously announced energy policies, the president believes these actions are critical to promoting our nation's energy security and independence."

So now the president demanded that Congress give him the authority to raise CAFE standards. President Bush demanded Congress to give him legislative powers! He didn't ask Congress to raise the CAFE standards--he didn't even send a bill to Congress, so that Congress could vote on raising the CAFE standards. He simply demanded Congress to cede authority. This is outrageous!

Hail to the Dictator!

Bush Opposes Singing Anthem in Spanish

It appears we've got a new social issue for the Republicans to campaign on--stick it between the abortion issue and gay marriage. This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Friday the national anthem should be sung in English — not Spanish — in a blunt rejection of a new Spanish-language version. He also expressed opposition to a national work stoppage called for Monday to dramatize the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

"I'm not a supporter of boycotts," Bush said, while restating his support for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws.

Bush made his comments at a Rose Garden news conference as a Spanish-language version of "The Star Spangled Banner," hit the airways featuring artists such as Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Puerto Rican singers Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon.

Called "Nuestro Himno" — "Our Anthem" — the Spanish version rewrites some of the English version. For instance, the second stanza says, "My people keep fighting. It's time to break the chains."

"I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English," Bush said.

"I understand how difficult this issue is for some people here in Washington and around the country," Bush said. His approach calls for a temporary guest worker program, tougher enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants and stricter border controls.

Acknowledging that it has become a highly charged topic, Bush said, "One of the things that's very important is when we debate this issue that we not lose our national soul."

I can't think of anything to say about this issue--I'm speechless! Why is President Bush even talking about singing The Star Spangled Banner in English, or Spanish, or any language? Why should President Bush even care what language our national anthem should be sung in? I'd certainly be curious as to how the national anthem would be sung in different languages--I'd gather that half the American population wouldn't even know the words to the anthem to sing it in English.

"I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English," Bush said.

So the Mexican immigrants had better throw away their Spanish language version of The Star Spangled Banner! And they'd better learn to sing it right in English! Because that is what the President has said--he's The Decider! And we've got ourselves a new campaign issue for the Republican Party for this year's midterm elections. Never mind about the failed domestic and foreign policy issues of this administration. The most important issue of this year's election will be to sing The Star Spangled Banner in English. And while we're at it, let's make sure that the Republicans continue to allow corporations to hire illegal immigrants at substandard wages, with no legal rights or benefits.

The sad thing is that the Republicans still don't get it. It is not about singing The Star Spangled Banner in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any language. At any sporting event that you can attend, they will always play the national anthem, and singers will always sing the anthem in English. That is never going to be taken away, no matter how much the Republicans scream about this as an election issue. What the Republicans don't like is that the Mexican immigrants have taken their "cherished, traditional" national anthem and adapted it to reflect their own struggles. Look at this second stanza, "My people keep fighting. It's time to break the chains." These immigrants come to the U.S. for a better way of life, for hope and freedom. And yet, those immigrants that come into the U.S. through illegal means are forced into a form of economic slavery by big corporate interests in agriculture, construction, food processing, retail, and other labor-intensive industries that covet extreme profits for their top executives, while paying less-than-minimum wages and providing no legal rights for these immigrants. And how many of these top executives, who turn a blind eye while their corporations are hiring illegals, provide large sums of political campaign contributions to the Republican Party and Republican legislators? To these immigrants, this anthem becomes a rallying cry to fight against the injustices they experience against their corporate masters, and against the Republican Party that panders to the corporate interests. This anthem becomes a rallying cry against a social and economic class warfare that the Republican Party and their own corporate masters have been waging against the illegal immigrants, and perhaps even against the lower and middle classes of Americans.

FRIDAY FUN STUFF: Republican Hypocrisy

I think today's Friday Fun Stuff should be a tour of Republican hypocrisy--seems there's a lot of it going around today. And it is all about the gas prices. So let's start with this first story on President Bush, titled Bush Rejects Tax on Oil Companies' Profits:

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Friday rejected calls in Congress for a tax on oil company profits, saying the industry should reinvest its recent windfalls in finding and producing more energy.

"The temptation in Washington is to tax everything," Bush said in an exchange with reporters in the White House Rose Garden. Rather than for the government to reap the benefit from oil company profits driven by the recent surge in global oil prices, he said, "The answer is for there to be strong re-investment."

"These oil prices are a wakeup call," Bush said. "We're dependent on oil. We need to get off oil."

With gasoline topping $3 a gallon in some areas, Bush said energy companies should use their increased cash flows to build more natural gas pipeline, expand refineries, explore "in environmentally friendly ways," and invest in renewable sources of energy.

"That's what the American people expect. They also expect to be treated fairly at the pump," he said.

So Mr. President, if we're not suppose to tax these excessive profits from oil companies, then what are we suppose to do?

How about this:

Meanwhile, in the Senate, GOP leaders unveiled a 10-point plan aimed at soothing the growing election-year public anger over high gasoline prices.

Democrats, meanwhile, talked of suspending the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax for two months to ease Americans' pain at the pump.

It included a $100 fuel-cost rebate for millions of taxpayers and proposals to rescind oil industry tax breaks enacted only eight months ago, and other measures.

But the plan also called for opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling — a longtime goal of several large oil companies operating on the Alaska North Slope — to the consternation of many Democrats and moderate GOP senators, who long have opposed such a move. The drilling provision all but assured the package would have a tough time getting approved.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the proposals for $100 rebates and suspending the gas tax each have merit and the Bush administration is analyzing them. "There's always the question of unintended consequences," Bodman told CBS' "Early Show" on Friday.

"The situation we have has been decades in the making," Bodman said, "and everything that can be done, that we know that works, this president is doing."

Yes, the Bush administration is starting to LOVE the $100 tax rebate to be given to all Americans as a way to offset the high gas prices--courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. And the $100 rebate checks come with an extra special Bushie treat--opening up ANWAR to Big Oil's drilling. We even have some bipartisanship here, with the Democrats talking about suspending the 18.4 cent federal gas tax for a couple of months--another courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. As for Big Oil?

Remember what Bush said about the rising gas prices?

"I know the folks here are suffering at the gas pump," the president said while promoting his competitiveness initiative at the Silicon Valley headquarters of Internet networking company Cisco Systems Inc. "Rising gasoline prices is like taking a--is like a tax, particularly on the working people and the small-business people."

But to address the immediate problem, Bush offered only a pledge that "if we find any price gouging it will be dealt with firmly."

And we can't forget this little Bush quote:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he is "concerned" about high gasoline prices, and pledged that the U.S. government will keep a close watch out for profiteering.

"I'm concerned about higher gasoline prices," Bush said at a Rose Garden news conference to name new staff appointments.

"The government has the responsibility to make sure that we watch very carefully and investigate possible price-gouging, and we will do just that," Bush said in unprompted remarks about energy prices.

Bush said high crude oil prices, rising summer driving demand and a switch to new motor gasoline standards is keeping gasoline prices high.

"It's tight supply worldwide and we've got increasing demand from countries like India and China, which means that any disruption of supply ... (is) going to cause the price of crude to go up," Bush said.

Can't blame Big Oil.

But President Bush is a strong believer in investment. Instead of taxing Big Oil's excessive profits, Bush says that "The answer is for there to be strong re-investment."

I guess this is what Bush means by strong re-investment:

In January, Exxon posted the highest quarterly profits of any public company in history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the full year.

In the first quarter, net income rose to $8.4 billion, or $1.37 per share, from $7.86 billion, or $1.22 per share, a year ago. Excluding a gain on the sale of an interest in China's Sinopec, the company's year-ago profit was $7.4 billion, or $1.15 per share.

Exxon said it invested $4.8 billion in capital and exploration projects, a 41 percent increase from 2005.

Exxon also said it returned $7 billion to shareholders through dividends of $2 billion and buying back $5 billion worth of shares.

So Exxon invested $4.8 billion in capitol and exploration projects, and $7 billion in dividends and stock repurchases. And while we're at it, check out Chevron's earnings:

SAN RAMON, Calif. - Chevron Corp.'s first-quarter profit soared 49 percent to $4 billion, joining the procession of U.S. oil companies to report colossal earnings as lawmakers consider ways to pacify motorists agitated about rising gas prices.

Chevron released its results Friday after two of its biggest rivals, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., already provoked public outrage with similarly large first-quarter profits. Combined, the three oil companies earned $15.7 billion during the first three months of the year. That's 17 percent more than the trio made during the same time last year when they went on to pocket a combined profit of nearly $64 billion.

"All these companies have so much money, they don't know what to do with it," said Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit.

Yes Mr. President--looks like we're developing a strong re-investment of our energy program.

But I shouldn't just carp on the President here. We've got some more hypocrisy coming from Congress these days. First, let's go back to this letter that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert wrote to President Bush:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional GOP leaders on Monday formally called on President Bush to launch an investigation into possible price gouging by oil companies, as gas costs shot up nearly 25 cents a gallon in two weeks.

"Anyone who is trying to take advantage of this situation while American families are forced into making tough choices over whether to fill up their cars or severely cut back their budgets should be investigated and prosecuted," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, wrote in a letter to President Bush. "Therefore, we believe that Federal law enforcement agencies and regulators should take every available step to ensure that all Federal laws protecting American consumers from price-fixing, collusion, gouging and other anti-competitive practices are vigorously enforced."

And what has the House done? Check this out:

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers are walking a tightrope. With gasoline prices soaring they want to appear tough on oil companies.

But apparently not too tough.

While congressional Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate promised to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies, the House in a largely symbolic vote Thursday seemed to move in the other direction.

House Republicans refused to go along with a proposal that called on House members to accept a Senate-passed repeal of $5 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks. They are the subject of intense negotiations between the House and Senate on a broad tax bill.

A resolution urging House negotiators to accept the Senate tax proposals failed 232-190, with only two Republicans voting for it.

I don't know yet who the two Republicans are that voted for the Senate tax proposals, but I can pretty much guess it wasn't Dennis Hastert.

And now one final note of Republican hypocrisy:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Ill., left, sits in the passenger side of a hydrogen powered alternative fueled vehicle, drive by General Motors engineer, Mike Miller, after a news conference at a local gas station in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to discuss the recent rise in gas prices. Hastert and other members of Congress drove off in the Hydrogen-Fueled cars only to switch to their official cars to drive back the few blocks back the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Here's Denny switching cars:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Ill., center, gets out of a Hydrogen Alternative Fueled automobile, left, as he prepares to board his SUV, which uses gasoline, after holding a news conference at a local gas station in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to discuss the recent rise in gas prices. Hastert and other members of Congress drove off in the Hydrogen-Fueled cars only to switch to their official cars to drive the few blocks back to the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

This Is Priceless!

This is from Yahoo News Photos:

U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) speaks at a news conference on gas prices at a gas station in Washington, April 27, 2006. Hastert drove home his points by leaving the news conference in a pair of hydrogen-powered cars. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It appears that Dennis Hastert wants to get tough in solving our energy crisis by switching to alternative-fueled cars--Just like the hydrogen-powered car that he drove away from the news conference. Good for Denny!

Check it out:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Ill., left, sits in the passenger side of a hydrogen powered alternative fueled vehicle, drive by General Motors engineer, Mike Miller, after a news conference at a local gas station in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to discuss the recent rise in gas prices. Hastert and other members of Congress drove off in the Hydrogen-Fueled cars....(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Yes! That's Denny Hastert riding in a hydrogen-fueled car!

Now check out this lovely photo:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Ill., center, gets out of a Hydrogen Alternative Fueled automobile, left, as he prepares to board his SUV, which uses gasoline, after holding a new conference at a local gas station in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to discuss the recent rise in gas prices. Hastert and other members of Congress drove off in the Hydrogen-Fueled cars only to switch to their official cars to drive back the few block back to the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

I love the smell of Republican hypocrisy in the morning.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

MSNBC reports Rove believes he is in legal jeopardy

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove leaves Federal District Court in Washington, April 26, 2006. This marks the fifth time Rove has appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA operative's identity. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Now this is interesting. From Raw Story on an MSNBC News report:

Karl Rove has described his three and a half hour meeting with a grand jury as grueling, and is more worried about being prosecuted than ever, MSNBC is reporting.

RAW STORY has also learned that an MSNBC report tonight revealed that one of Rove's lawyers said the presidential adviser described his fifth grand jury appearance as "hell." MSNBC's David Shuster appeared live on Keith Olbermann's 8pm show this evening and stated that Rove was surprised by the tone of the questions as well as the length of time he was required to testify.

Shuster agreed with Olbermann that it was "easy to imagine" that Rove's legal situation was the cause of his recent reduction of responsibilities. However, he added, "I don't see there's any chance that Karl Rove's going to resign, barring an indictment."

The three and a half hour duration is considered highly unusual for a fifth appearance before a grand jury, Shuster reported. Also not boding well for Rove is the fact that the grand jury plans to meet tomorrow. Some are speculating that an indictment for Rove may be handed up tomorrow, though others have claimed such a fast turnaround time is unlikely.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Is Karl Rove really worried after that fifth grand jury testimony, or is this all more endless speculation by a rampant White House press corps? Did Karl Rove tell MSNBC that his grand jury ordeal was "hell?"

Raw Story has the transcript of the MSNBC Story:





[Scott Fredericksen, former independent counsel] "Grand jurors asking about why he didn't recall his conversation in the original grand jury means they are focusing on the charge itself: Did he perjure himself? And they are not yet convinced of his explanations, that's why they are asking those questions."





Fredericksen: "Mr. Fitzgerald is a straight shooter, I have no doubt in my mind he has told them very clearly why he has Rove in there. It's because he wants to determine whether Mr. Rove was telling the truth when he first appeared before the grand jury."

So there is some interesting details here regarding Rove's testimony. MSNBC is focusing on this time gap between the Viveca Novak tip, and the Matt Cooper testimony. After Scooter Libby was indicted, there was a lot of speculation as to whether Karl Rove would also be indicted. Luskin was able to stave off indictments against Rove, by claiming Rove's misstatements in the 2004 testimony was not intentional. From what I can gather here in this MSNBC story, is that Rove first claimed he never talked to Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame. Then after Fitzgerald orders Cooper to testify before the grand jury, Rove changes his statement, claiming he forgot about the Cooper conversation. Matt Cooper testified before the grand jury in August, 2004. But now we get this story coming out from Viveca Novak regarding her conversation with Luskin, and how she got a tip that her colleague Matt Cooper talked to Karl Rove about Valerie Plame. Luskin and Rove go back through the White House correspondence, and discover and email that Rove wrote [to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley in July 2003] in which Rove talked to Cooper. It is after this email surfaces, that this investigation twists into a new direction. Novak tells Luskin what Cooper said in the grand jury testimony--that Cooper revealed Rove as the source of Valerie Plame. I would be curious to now when did Novak tell Luskin about Cooper's testimony? When did Rove and Luskin find this email to Hadley? What were the contents of that email to Hadley? Was there any follow-up emails? Why didn't Rove and Luskin go through these files before Rove's original grand jury testimony? Did Fitzgerald originally know of this email after Rove first changed his testimony, or was this particular email letter kept away from the special prosecutor? If this email letter was not originally provided to the special prosecutor's office by the White House, and Fitzgerald had just recently discovered the contents of this email letter, then I do have to wonder if Rove was trying to hide this from Fitzgerald.

We might see indictments handed down against Rove. Could be more to come.

Judge Won't Dismiss Case Against Libby

A US judge refused to throw out a perjury case against former White House powerbroker I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, seen here in February 2006, arising from a scandal over a CIA spy's blown cover.(AFP/Getty Images/File)

OH MY! Looks like Scooter Libby is having a bad day. This is off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top White House aide who was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges last year in the CIA leak scandal.

In a 31-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton turned down a motion by lawyers for Vice President Dick Cheney's one-time top assistant, who challenged the authority of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to handle the case.

Libby's lawyers had argued that Fitzgerald was given too much power — more than the attorney general — and that the appointment should have been made by the president with the Senate's approval.

Walton said Thursday he did not need to "look far" in the law to reject the claim by Libby's defense team. The judge said there is no question the attorney general can delegate any of his functions.

"There was no wholesale abdication of the attorney general's duty to direct and supervise litigation," he wrote.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had recused himself from the investigation because of his White House contacts. James Comey, who was deputy attorney general at the time, appointed Fitzgerald, giving him wide berth to conduct the investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters in 2003.

"This case provides the clearest example of why such broad discretion is necessary," Walton wrote. "Here, the attorney general believed there was a conflict of interest ... It was, therefore, entirely appropriate for the attorney general to remove himself completely from the investigation."

Walton said there must be a way to appoint special prosecutors to ensure that "the perception of fairness withstands the scrutiny of the American public" when high-level government officials are investigated for alleged wrongdoing.

See ya in court Scooter.

America continues to sour on Bush, Congress

I found this poll off of Americablog, so I had to go back to the source of the story. Yes, we're talking more low poll numbers for President Bush. This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - As gasoline prices have spiked above $3 a gallon throughout the country, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the public'’s view of President BushÂ’s job, the economy and the nation'’s direction have continued to decline. But with the midterm elections just six months away, the biggest drop in the survey--11 points in one month--is in the approval rating of Congress, which is locked in a bitter debate over what do about these gas prices, immigration, Iraq and a host of other issues.

"“You have never seen such a sour mood in the country," says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff. "“It is sour, sour, sour."

And in that sour mood, the poll shows, registered voters say they prefer Democrats controlling Congress--but by a smaller margin than in the past few NBC/Journal surveys.

According to the poll, BushÂ’s approval rating fell by one point from last month to 36 percent, his lowest mark in the survey. But the troubling news for Bush doesn'’t stop there: Hart explains that Bush has now spent nine consecutive months at 40 percent or below in the poll, a feat exceeded only by Richard Nixon (13 months) and Harry Truman (26 months).

McInturff adds that it will be difficult for the president to substantially improve his standing, barring an increase in stability in Iraq or some kind of '“extraordinary'” event taking place.

Yet Bush'’s approval isn'’t the only measure that has declined. In the poll--which was taken April 21-24 of 1,005 adults, and which has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points--just 24 percent believe the nation is headed in the right direction, a drop of two points since last month and seven points since January. What'’s more, only 17 percent think the nation'’s economy will improve in the next 12 months, a decline of seven points since March.

The big question I have to ask here is, where is President Bush's base of support? Looking at all these polls--Gallup, ABC News /Washington Post, CBS News, Fox News, Zogby--they have all been consistently dropping with no end in sight. Bush has already spent nine consecutive months at 40 percent or below, and he's still dropping. So I have to wonder what hard-lined, neoconservative, Religious Right, wing-nut would be left in this country to continue to support Bush as the economy deteriorates, gas prices skyrocket, Iraq continues to be a meat grinder for young American men and treasure, the housing market collapses, interest rates rise, and our national debt eats everything in sight. And if the Democrats get control of Congress, how much further will Bush's poll numbers drop once the congressional investigations start looking into the scndals and skeletons in the Bush White House closet?

It is an interesting thought.

Exxon's $8B 1Q Profit Is 5th Highest Ever

An Exxon gas station sign is shown in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday April 27, 2006. Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company, on Thursday said higher oil prices drove first-quarter profit up 7 percent from the prior year.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

This is off Yahoo News:

DALLAS - Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company, reported Thursday the fifth highest quarterly profit for any public company in history, posting gains from higher oil prices that were likely to stoke the furor over outsized oil company earnings.

Despite the 7 percent gain in earnings to more than $8 billion in the first quarter, Exxon Mobil said its earnings came in below its record fourth-quarter because all three of its business — exploration and production; refining; chemicals — didn't perform as well.

First, don't you feel so sorry that Exxon's fifth highest quarterly profits came in below its record fourth-quarter profits because its core business didn't do as well as Exxon had planned? Continuing on:

n January, Exxon posted the highest quarterly profits of any public company in history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the full year.

In the first quarter, net income rose to $8.4 billion, or $1.37 per share, from $7.86 billion, or $1.22 per share, a year ago. Excluding a gain on the sale of an interest in China's Sinopec, the company's year-ago profit was $7.4 billion, or $1.15 per share.

But analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for a higher profit of $1.47 per share for the latest quarter, and shares fell $1.02, or 1.6 percent, to $62.08 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst for Standard & Poor's, said the latest profit figure still places Exxon fifth historically among quarterly earnings. Exxon also holds the first, second and fourth spots; Royal Dutch Shell PLC has the third spot.

The company said its average sale price for crude oil in the U.S. during the quarter was $55.99 per barrel compared to $42.70 a year ago. It sold natural gas in the U.S., on average, for $8.31 compared to $6.18 during the same period one year ago.

Earnings from exploration and production of oil and gas rose to $6.4 billion from $5 billion a year ago. Refining profits fell from $1.4 billion to $1.2 billion and profits from its chemical business fell to 949 million from $1.4 billion

Revenue grew to $88.98 billion from $82.05 billion a year earlier. Higher crude oil and natural gas prices and improved marketing margins were partly offset by lower chemical margins.

Placed in perspective, Exxon's revenue for the three-month period was still greater than the annual gross domestic product of some major oil producing nations, including the United Arab Emirates ($74.67 billion) and Kuwait ($55.31 billion), according to statistics maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Exxon said it invested $4.8 billion in capital and exploration projects, a 41 percent increase from 2005.

Exxon also said it returned $7 billion to shareholders through dividends of $2 billion and buying back $5 billion worth of shares.

In other words, Exxon made barrels of money here--so much that they didn't know what to do with $5 billion of it, so they decided to buy back their stock--got to keep the stock prices high.


Some more comments on the $100 gas rebate checks

When I wrote in my previous post about Congress enacting legislation to provide $100 rebate checks to all Americans in response to the high gas prices, I didn't catch this little detail on the story. So this is actually from a CNN.Com story regarding the gas rebate checks:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.

Democrats are also expected to offer their own competing proposal, as members of both parties jockey for political position on the gas price issue.

The energy package, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, will be offered as an amendment to an emergency spending measure now before the Senate funding the Iraq war and hurricane relief, according to a senior GOP leadership aide.

I LOVE IT! Ted Stevens and Rick Santorum co-sponsored this legislation to provide the $100 rebate checks to Americans. Now Ted Stevens sponsering this legislation, I can understand. For not only is this a bill that would give each American a $100 rebate check to offset the high gas prices they're facing, but there's also a nice little provision in there that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling for Big Oil--and you can bet that $100 rebate check that both Senator Ted Stevens and the Big Oil execs have been salivating over drilling in ANWR. So what is really happening here is that Ted Stevens is trying to buy your vote to allow Big Oil to drill in ANWR--for a measly $100 bucks!

Oh, and by the way, according to this 11/9/2005 US Newswire release, Ted Stevens, Republican, Alaska, received $368,890 from oil and gas interests since 1990. And it appears that another sponsor of this lovely $100 rebate check bill, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Dominici, Republican, New Mexico, also received $574,087 from oil and gas interests since 1990. Coincidence?

Now we come to Little Ricky Santorum. We're talking about the Pennsylvanian senator, who is not only the number three man in the Senate, but also the darling of hard-lined conservative and Religious Right wing-nuts. It is interesting that Little Ricky has also signed on to this $100 gas rebate check scam. What is Ricky expecting to get out of this scam? According to, Rick Santorum was getting $132,300 for the 1999-2004 Senate election cycle. So Santorum is certainly going to be favorable to legislation that benefits Big Oil, but perhaps not to the point that Stevens or Dominici are advocating. I'd say that Santorum has got another little problem--he's behind in the race against Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey. Consider this little Feb. 13, 2006 story off of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

HARRISBURG, Pa. - More people said Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey holds mainstream views than does Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the man he hopes to unseat in the November election, according to an independent poll released Monday.

Casey also continued to hold a double-digit lead over Santorum, including leads in the populous eastern and western parts of the state. Santorum leads in the 29-county central region, according to the poll by the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University.

In the poll, 59 percent of people surveyed believe Casey holds "mainstream" views, versus 49 percent who said that about Santorum. Ten percent called Casey "extreme" compared to 34 percent for Santorum. The rest did not know enough to express an opinion, or had no opinion.

Casey also leads Santorum, the two-term incumbent who is the Senate's No. 3 Republican, by 51 percent to 36 percent. In a Keystone Poll released last week, Casey held a 50 percent to 39 percent lead. About one in 10 voters remained undecided, according to both polls.

Santorum and Casey are expected to face off in one of the most competitive and closely watched Senate races in the country. The race is expected to cost a combined $50 million, which would make it the most expensive Senate race in Pennsylvania's history.

Santorum has aligned himself so closely with both President Bush and the Religious Right wing-nuts, that he is no longer considered "mainstream" by his Pennsylvanian constituents. And he's behind Casey by double-digits in the polls (I don't have any current poll numbers on the Santorum race). Little Ricky Santorum is in trouble. Now we have this little issue of exploding gas prices that are affecting Americans--and Pennsylvanians--pocketbooks. And you can also bet that $100 rebate check that Pennsylvanians are just as mad at the rising gas prices, and they may just reflect their anger at the polls--say bye-bye Little Ricky. So Rick Santorum is going to do something about those high gas prices that are affecting his constituents--he wants to give those hard-working Americans--and Pennsylvanians--back their gas money in the form of $100 rebate checks.

Can you say Little Ricky is trying to buy the Pennsylvanians' vote for a measly $100 each?

It appears that our congressional legislators think that our votes are not worth much these days.

$100 gasoline rebates to help deal with prices?

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans advocate sending $100 rebate checks to millions of taxpayers, and a Democrat is leading the campaign for a 60-day gasoline tax holiday.

Either way, it seems no one in Congress wants to be without a plan, however symbolic, to attack the election-year spike in gasoline prices.

A vote is possible as early as this week on the Senate GOP approach, which calls for $100 rebate checks for taxpayers to cushion the impact of higher gasoline prices. The measure seems unlikely to prevail, at least initially, since it includes a highly controversial proposal to open a portion of AlaskaÂ’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Senate Republicans also favor extending a tax break that manufacturers receive for each hybrid vehicle they make, and want President Bush to suspend deliveries to the nationÂ’s strategic petroleum reserve for six months.

Democrats seemed caught off guard by the GOP maneuvering, but a spokesman said they would have a plan of their own.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has proposed a 60-day suspension in the federal tax on gasoline and diesel, a holiday that he says would cut the cost of gasoline by more than 18 cents a gallon and reduce the price of diesel fuel by more than 24 cents a gallon.

All I can say is WTF? A $100 rebate check is going to cushion the high gas prices--oh and don't worry about that little provision for opening ANWR to the oil companies for drilling. A 60-day suspension of gas taxes to reduce the price of gasoline? This is the best that our congressional legislators can do?

Excuse me while I clean the splattered coffee of my keyboard and monitor.

This is total bullcrap. These are token actions, designed to keep the American public from getting really mad at the incompetence and hypocrisy of our congressional legislators. Keep the American public's anger subdued until the summer driving season ends, and gas prices will hopefully go down by 30 cents. Then the public will be happy, and the congressmen can continue whoring for the Big Oil companies.

If Congress was serious in looking at the issues of soaring energy costs, the first thing they could do is throw out these token legislative plans. They could start by looking into the oil industry and its obscene profits, and seriously determine if the industry has gouged the American consumer. They can look into ways to improve energy efficiency--raise the CAFE standards. They can look into ways at improving the nation's electrical grid. They can look into ways at providing alternative power-generating sources such as solar power for individual homes and businesses. They can look at the greater use of ethanol in motor vehicles. This is a long-term problem that grows more serious in each passing day. So forget the token solutions and get down to solving this nation's energy problems.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Senate Panel Recommends Abolishing FEMA

This story is off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The nation's beleaguered disaster response agency should be abolished and rebuilt from scratch to avoid a repeat of multiple government failures exposed by Hurricane Katrina, a Senate inquiry has concluded.

Crippled by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be fixed, a bipartisan investigation says in recommendations to be released Thursday.

Taken together, the 86 proposed reforms charge the United States is still woefully unprepared for a disaster such as Katrina with the start of the hurricane season a little more than month away.

So what is the Senate recommending to replace FEMA? How about this:

The Senate report urges yet another overhaul of the embattled
Homeland Security Department — FEMA's parent agency — which was created three years ago and already has undergone major restructuring of duties.

It chiefly calls for a new agency, called the National Preparedness and Response Authority, to plan and carry out relief missions for domestic disasters. Unlike now, the authority would communicate directly with the president during major crises, and any dramatic cuts to budget or staffing levels would have to be approved by Congress. But it would remain within Homeland Security to continue receiving resources provided by the larger department.

The proposal drew disdain from Homeland Security and its critics, both sides questioning the need for another bureaucratic shuffling that they said wouldn't accomplish much.

The whole problem here was not just incompetence of Heckuva Job Brownie or stifled budget cuts by the Republicans, but rather it was the idea of sticking this office inside the Office of Homeland Security, where FEMA languished in exile. FEMA became a shambles because it had to compete within a bloated homeland security department for money, resources, and federal powers to plan and execute its mission goals from other encroaching security offices. So instead of taking FEMA out of Homeland Security and returning its powers, resources, and staff back to the pre-Homeland Security days, we've got Senate Republicans, and their token Democrats, calling for the abolishment of FEMA, and the creation of a new bloated emergency and disaster office--to be placed inside of the Department of Homeland Security. While they've added a few token powers--such as the directer can talk to the president, or that dramatic cuts to the budget or staffing would have to be approved by Congress--this National Preparedness and Response Authority would still have to compete with other Homeland Security offices for money and power. In other words, the National Preparedness and Response Authority would have to fight their own "turf wars" with other Homeland Security offices. We're talking major bloat here. And this National Preparedness and Response Authority is going to be sitting in the same place as FEMA was.

We've just changed the name from "FEMA" to "NaPRA."

Privately, Bush Says He Favors Citizenship

This story doesn't make sense. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush generally favors plans to give millions of illegal immigrants a chance at U.S. citizenship without leaving the country, but does not want to be more publicly supportive because of opposition among conservative House Republicans, according to senators who attended a recent White House meeting.

Several officials familiar with the meeting also said Democrats protested radio commercials that blamed them for Republican-written legislation that passed the House and would make illegal immigrants vulnerable to felony charges.

Bush said he was unfamiliar with the ads, which were financed by the
Republican National Committee, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

At another point, Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other members of his party pressed the president about their concern that any Senate-passed bill would be made unpalatable in final talks with the House.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, said the lawmaker who would lead House negotiators,
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, had been "intractable" in negotiations on other high-profile bills in the past. Bush did not directly respond to the remark, officials said.

The Republican and Democratic officials who described the conversation did so Wednesday on condition of anonymity, saying they had not been authorized to disclose details.

This story doesn't make sense. If President Bush is in favor of granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, then why didn't he do more to support a strong bi-partisan bill that would allow such citizenship, rather than hide in the White House? Why didn't he do more for this immigration issue, which would provide him with a major legislative accomplishment that he could use for the midterm elections? Or even better yet, improve his standing in the public opinion polls?

The only reason I can think of as to why President Bush would be so coy about immigration would be to not anger his neoconservative and Religious Right Wing-nut constituents. These are the folks who are supportive of The Minuteman Project--White Anglo Saxon Protestant Republican voters. They are President Bush's base support. To push for an immigration bill that would allow citizenship to long-term illegal immigrants would not just alienate these WASP Republicans, but it could cause an all-out civil war within the Republican Party between the neoconservatives and what is left of the moderates, who could favor some type of bipartisan bill. So President Bush is trying to straddle both sides of the issue. Bush will claim that he supports whatever bipartisan bill that is negotiated through Congress, but will not use White House pressure to force Congress in passing such legislation. If such an immigration bill is passed by Congress, then Bush signs it and claims a White House victory in reforming immigration before the midterm elections. And if Congress fails to pass an immigration bill, then Bush can blame the evil Democrats for not compromising on such an immigration bill--even though it is the Republicans in Congress who would be stalling such a bill. And the neocons would not be able to blame President Bush on immigration reform, since such a bill was never passed by Congress.

In other words, President Bush's position on the immigration bill was nothing more than political spin.

But now we've got this private story coming out saying that Bush was all for citizenship for long-term illegal immigrants. Again, I would say that this more political spin, only it is spin in a different direction. President Bush is claiming he favors citizenship for long-term illegal immigrants, but didn't want to become more publicly supportive of such measures due to "opposition from House conservatives." President Bush is starting to realize that without a legislative victory that the White House can tout during the midterm elections, not only will Bush's public opinion polls continue to drop, but also there could be a change in control of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats. So far, the Republican campaign strategy has been to push voting for Republicans, for the Republicans are claiming that if the Democrats gain control of Congress, they will impeach the wartime president Bush. The last thing the Bush White House would want is Democratic investigations into the multitude of scandals--with subpoena powers. So this story becomes a subliminal message to the Congressional Republicans--give the White House an immigration bill that the president can sign, and tout a legislative accomplishment before the midterm elections, or face dire consequences by angry Americans at the voting booths.

Big Oil donates big bucks to Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign

I found this off an Americablog comments section, regarding the story on Senate GOP being forced to investigate Big Oil's profits as gas prices soar. The story is from the San Francisco Chronicle, titled Big Oil donates big bucks to Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign:

No sooner did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger call for a state investigation of price gouging at the pump than his critics jumped in feet first -- noting that the "no special-interest money" governor has taken nearly $2 million in campaign contributions from the very oil companies he wants investigated.

"Arnold's latest slick stunt, pretending to care about soaring costs of gas prices, rings hollower than a Krispy Kreme doughnut,'' said the anti-Arnold labor folks at the Alliance for a Better California.

And indeed, records show that the governor -- who has raised $82.7 million since riding into Sacramento on the promise not to be beholden to special interests -- has accepted nearly two dozen contributions from oil interests since 2002.

In the past year alone, the governor's California Recovery Team collected $500,000 apiece from independent oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and Vail Drilling Co., plus $250,000 from Chevron Corp. and $50,000 from Shell Oil.

Chevron has also given $44,600 to Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign since November.

And what is the Governator going to do about the rising gas prices? Continuing on:

Team Arnold campaign spokeswoman Julie Soderlund calls such oil contribution complaints "nothing but baseless political attacks to score political points.''

Soderlund insisted the governor hasn't tempered his response to the oil companies as a result of the donations. She pointed in particular to his call Monday for the state Energy Commission to look into rising gas prices and his earlier push for the development of alternative fuel sources.

Ultimately, however, there's not much Sacramento can do about rising prices, even if the pols want to, said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California's Energy Institute.

"Most of this is the world oil market, and the world oil market is telling us the prices are very high because there is a real shortage,'' Borenstein said.

He agrees that refiners are "making a ton of money'' -- about 30 cents a gallon more than they earned at the start of the year -- because of a refining capacity shortage.

But he also added, "Contrary to what many believe, we don't have a God-given right to unlimited quantities of gas at a price we choose.''

Nice to know the Governator is really feeling our pain here.