Saturday, December 22, 2007

The End of the World

I found this through Americablog, and it is just brilliant. Although it is pretty fast to keep up....From YouTube:

And I feel fine.

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Full Metal Jacket Christmas

This is just too funny. A little background here. This is a YouTube video by Woodrow2 which incorporates scenes from the old Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer TV special with the soundtrack from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. This scene is the famous Parris Island bootcamp scene where Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, a former drill instructor in real life) meets J.T. Davis "Private Joker" (as played by Matthew Modine). I should warn you that the language in this video is especially coarse. From YouTube:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Huckabee claims Gitmo is "too nice."

Well, the new GOP star in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee, has really put his foot in his mouth here. From CBS News:

DAVENPORT, IA - Asked about Guantanamo, Mike Huckabee said he had visited the facility and said it was “disappointing” that military personnel were eating meals that averaged $1.60 while the detainees were eating Halal meals that cost over $4 each.

“The inmates there were getting a whole lot better treatment than my prisoners in Arkansas. In fact, we left saying, ‘I hope our guys don’t see this. They’ll all want to be transferred to Guanatanmo. If anything, it’s too nice.”

Huckabee has said Guantanamo is more a “symbolic issue” than anything else since the detainees are treated better than prisoners in the US. Today Huckabee said, “Where they are detained is of less importance to me than that they are detained…until we know they are of no threat to us.”

So the prisoners at Gitmo are being treated better than the prisoners in the US? What the frack is Huckabee smoking? I found this Wikipedia entry on the Gitmo prison and the prisoner conditions:

Prisoners are held in small mesh-sided cells, and lights are kept on day and night. Detainees have rations similar to those of US forces, with consideration for Muslim dietary needs. However, many of the detainees have been denied access to the Koran for daily prayer, a Muslim tradition. Detainees are kept in isolation most of the day, are blindfolded when moving within the camp and forbidden to talk in groups of more than three. United States doctrine in dealing with prisoners of war states that isolation and silence are effective means in breaking down the will to resist interrogation. Red Cross inspectors and released detainees have alleged acts of torture[17] [18], including sleep deprivation, the use of so-called truth drugs[citation needed], beatings and locking in confined and cold cells. Human rights groups argue that indefinite detention constitutes torture.

The use of Guantánamo Bay as a military prison has drawn fire from human rights organizations and other critics, who cite reports that detainees have been tortured[19] or otherwise poorly treated. Supporters of the detention argue that trial review of detentions has never been afforded to prisoners of war, and that it is reasonable for enemy combatants to be detained until the cessation of hostilities. However, the detainees' status as potential or active terrorists, and the lack of any ratified treaties regarding treatment of captured terrorists, makes the situation particularly complicated.

I don't know what to say about Huckabee here. I know that he's trying to appeal to the hard-lined conservative base, but appealing for what? That he can be more hard-lined, sadistic, and mean? It doesn't make much sense.

Then again, there isn't much sense being made from any of the GOP candidates.

Poll shows sharp rise of Americans dissatisfied with current economic conditions

I found this small story through Americablog. It is a CNBC story, titled Dissatisfaction with Economy Jumps: NBC/WSJ Poll;

The number of American very dissatisfied with current economic conditions rose sharply according to the latest poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

There is definitely a perception that the economy is in trouble. Interestingly, 85 percent of Democrats view the economy in dark terms, as well as 40% of GOPers.

According to our pollsters, 40 percent of folks are "very" dissatisfied with the economy. That's a 15 point jump on intensity, which is a sign this is becoming a greater concern, frankly, than any other issue.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they expected a recession over the next 12 months, compare with 31 percent not predicting a downturn and 13 percent unsure.

This is the big takeaway from this poll: 2008 could end up being "the economy, stupid" and not "Iraq/Iran or Terrorism, stupid."

This, perhaps, is now a bigger problem for the GOP than Iraq was in 2006. If the GOP thought 2006 was tough dealing with Iraq, wait until they have to deal with an economy election. See 1992 as prime example.

Finally, do realize that when folks say "health care" is a concern, they aren't complaining about the care they get. But they are worried about access to it. They are worried about losing their job and their health care. Bottom line: assume health care is an economic concern more so than a medical concern.

The poll surveyed 1,008 adults between Dec. 14 and Dec. 17 and the margin of error is 3.1%.

It's the economy stupid. And the 2008 presidential elections are now starting with a failed Bush administration that has destroyed this country's economic future. No wonder Americans are feeling sour.

Wall Street gives out big bonuses to executives, despite mortgage-related losses

This is off MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - This might have been one of Wall Street's most dismal years in a decade, but that hasn't stopped bonus checks from rising an average of 14 percent.

Four of the biggest U.S. investment banks — Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. — will pay out about $49.6 billion in compensation this year. Of that, bonuses are traditionally estimated to represent 60 percent, or almost $30 billion.

But that might not sit well with investors who held on to investment bank stocks this year _ and watched them plunge by up to 45 percent. Investment houses have been slammed by the credit crisis, and top executives this past week said they've yet to see a bottom.

Further, some of those executives have even agreed to forgo their bonuses this year to reflect the poor performance. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne won't be collecting their payouts.

Mack received no cash bonus a year ago but received stock and options worth an estimated $40.2 million, well above his $800,000 base pay. Cayne received a bonus of $33.6 million in 2006 and base pay of $250,000.

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein reportedly is in line for a bonus of up to $70 million this year, as the nation's largest investment bank has largely navigated past any mortgage-related losses. Lehman Brothers' CEO Richard Fuld was granted a $35 million stock bonus for 2007, up 4 percent from last year.

Apparently the greed on Wall Street is still going strong, despite the big losses in the financial sector due to the subprime mortgage meltdown. In one sense, I am not surprised. Because greed is the only thing that Wall Street cares about--Greed is good!

Now I understand that greed has a place in our economic system. It is greed that makes people invest time, money, and labor in creating and working in companies to provide products and services for society. And that is understandable. But I have to seriously question how far should Wall Street's greed go in this country that is experiencing such problems and hardship? You have these investment banks that have lost billions in shareholder equity due to the banks' over-speculation into the subprime mortgage markets. And the shareholders of these investment banks were probably just as greedy in buying up financial stocks as the investment banks were churning out huge profits during the housing boom. But these shareholders have paid the price for their greed in the loss of their equity. Wall Street firms have not learned that lesson--they are still paying out almost $50 billion in compensation and bonuses to their employees.

The racket continues on.

Family sues CIGNA Healthcare over teen's death

This story is now starting to gain big interest. Seventeen-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan died just hours after her health insurance company, CIGNA Healthcare, reversed its decision to pay for a liver transplant she needed to combat leukemia. The doctors said that Sakrisyan needed the liver transplant, but CIGNA first denied payment for the transplant, but then reversed itself in the face of mounting protest against the company offices in Glendale California.

Well, in the aftermath of Nataline Sarkisyan's death, the family is suing CIGNA. According to MSNBC News:

GLENDALE, Calif. - The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed a decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant plans to sue the company, their attorney said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

Attorney Mark Geragos said he plans to ask the district attorney to press murder or manslaughter charges against Cigna HealthCare in the case. The insurer “maliciously killed her” because it did not want to bear the expense of her transplant and aftercare, Geragos said.

District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined to comment on the request for murder or manslaughter charges, saying it would be inappropriate to do so until Geragos submits evidence supporting his request.

I don't know what evidence Geragos has to support his request to press murder charges against CIGNA, but I would imagine it is the document and letters between the Sarkisyan family and CIGNA over Nataline's transplant request. All I can say is that this story is getting real interesting now.

Friday Fun Stuff--Psycho-Cat Christmas

This is from

What a terrifying combination--Christmas trees and cats!

Teen dies after CIGNA first denies transplant, then reverses decision

Natalee Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old from Glendale, Calif., died Thursday just a few hours after Cigna Health Care, her medical insurer, approved what they previously had described as "too experimental" a procedure and the same day that dozens of Sarkisyan's supporters protested at the insurer's headquarters. (ABC)

This is disgusting. You want to know what the Big Insurance companies are like, you just have to read this Yahoo News story in its entirety:

GLENDALE, Calif. - A 17-year old died just hours after her health insurance company reversed its decision not to pay for a liver transplant that doctors said the girl needed.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday night at about 6 p.m. at University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

"She passed away, and the insurance (company) is responsible for this," she said.

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication, however, that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to CIGNA Healthcare on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant.

On Thursday, about 150 teenagers and nurses protested outside CIGNA's office in Glendale. As the protesters rallied, the company reversed its decision and said it would approve the transplant.

Despite the reversal, CIGNA said in an e-mail statement before she died that there was a lack of medical evidence showing the procedure would work in Nataline's case.

"Our hearts go out to Nataline and her family, as they endure this terrible ordeal," the company said. " ... CIGNA HealthCare has decided to make an exception in this rare and unusual case and we will provide coverage should she proceed with the requested liver transplant."

Officials with CIGNA could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday night.

CIGNA doesn't give a crap about the health of its customers, or even providing coverage to its customers. All CIGNA cares about it keeping its excessive profits from the expensive premiums it charges its customers, while avoiding any sort of expensive payments for medial coverage its customers need. This is a legalized extortion racket that CIGNA and the Big Insurance companies are involved in. What is even more amazing is that CIGNA only reversed itself about providing coverage for the liver transplant to Sarkisyan only after teens and nurses protested outside of CIGNA's office. In other words, CIGNA reversed its decision not because of Sarkisyan's medical needs, but rather to save its public ass from negative media coverage of these protests. Nataline Sarkisyan died before the transplant could take place, and CIGNA didn't have to pay the money for the transplant.

This country needs some form of nationalized health care. The system is broken. There are around 46 million Americans that are uninsured for health care coverage--going into the hospital or emergency room will financially wipe them out. We have Big Insurance companies that currently hold all the power because they are the ones who decide which medical coverage and procedures are to be paid out to customers. What we have here is health insurance coverage that is paid out by bean counters. Consider this detail from the ABC News story, titled Time Runs Out for Transplant Teen:

Geri Jenkins of the California Nurses Association said the teen had insurance, and medical providers felt comfortable performing the medical procedure. In that situation, the the insurer should defer to medical experts, she said.

"They have insurance, and there's no reason that the doctors' judgment should be overrided by a bean counter sitting there in an insurance office," Jenkins said.

Doctors at the UCLA Medical Center actually signed a letter urging Cigna to review it's decision.

CIGNA bean counters made the decision regarding Sarkisyan transplant--not the doctors. And bean counters are only interested in how much profit CIGNA can make. According to this November 2, 2007 Yahoo Finance story, CIGNA's 3rd quarter profit "rose 22 percent on increased premiums and fees." Continuing with the Yahoo Finance story:

Cigna, which also sells disability and life insurance, said net income climbed to $365 million, or $1.28 per share, from $298 million, or 92 cents per share, a year earlier.

Adjusted income from operations totaled $323 million, or $1.14 per share, compared with $268 million, or 83 cents per share, a year earlier. Adjusted income from operations totals income from continuing operations excluding realized investment results and special items.

Total revenue rose to $4.41 billion from $4.14 billion in the 2006 quarter.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected profit of 94 cents per share on revenue of $4.41 billion.

Prospects are good that Cigna can generate sustained growth, Ed Hanway, Cigna's chairman and chief executive, said during a conference call with analysts.

Looking ahead to 2008, however, Cigna expects to post adjusted income from operations of $1.16 billion to $1.21 billion, or $4 to $4.20 per share, missing Wall Street average expectations of $4.23 per share.

Heath care profits are expected between $740 million to $780 million in 2008 and medical membership should rise by 3 to 5 percent without acquisitions.

"They gave relatively weak guidance for growth in the health care segment," said Peter Costa, an analyst at FTN Midwest Securities.

The third quarter's earnings lift didn't come from Philadelphia-based Cigna's core health care business, whose adjusted earnings after taxes fell 2 percent to $173 million.

Premiums and fees climbed 7 percent to $2.6 billion as medical membership grew to 10.2 million from 9.3 million. Despite the growth, though, margins fell to 5.7 percent from 6.1 percent a year ago.

Even though premiums and fees climbed, margins fell. I guess the bean counters at CIGNA didn't need another expensive liver transplant for a 17-year old teen to reduce their profits.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

PTSD benefits to war veterans vary

Graph showing Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with mental ailments are seeing disability payments vary according to where they live. From McClatchy News.

This is from McClatchy News:

WASHINGTON — Veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating mental ailments are discovering that their disability payments from the government vary widely depending on where they live, an exclusive McClatchy analysis has found.

As a result, many of the recent veterans who're getting monthly payments for post-traumatic stress disorder from the Department of Veterans Affairs could lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits over their lifetimes.

The Bush administration has sought to reassure soldiers that they'll be treated fairly, but veterans in some parts of the country are far more likely to be well compensated than their compatriots elsewhere are, the analysis found.

McClatchy's analysis is based on 3 million disability compensation-claims records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as separate documents that the VA provided. The analysis is the first to examine the issue of state-to-state variations in compensation for those young veterans who've left the military since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

For veterans, their families and their advocates, the issue of disability compensation is hugely important. Disability checks are now worth up to $2,527 a month for a single veteran with no children. Because they last a lifetime, low payments set now — when veterans are young — have a dramatic impact.

So far, more than 43,000 recent veterans are on the disability compensation rolls for a range of mental conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression and anxiety. Of those, more than 31,000 have PTSD, which has emerged as one of the signature injuries from the war on terrorism. Given the number of soldiers who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's a fraction of what the total will be.

The VA's assessments of those injuries, however, are all over the map.

Of the recent veterans processed by the VA office in Albuquerque, N.M., 56 percent have high ratings for PTSD. Of those handled by the office in Fort Harrison, Mont., only 18 percent do, the McClatchy analysis found.

"There's no reason in the world that a veteran from Ohio should be shortchanged on benefits simply because he is from Ohio," said U.S. Rep. Zack Space, a Democrat from Ohio, where veterans had among the lowest compensation rates in the nation. "And there's no reason a veteran from New Mexico should be getting more benefits simply because he lives in New Mexico."

I've read this story three times, and I can't figure out why these veteran medical payments are varying as according to where the veterans live. McClatchy goes into detail as to how these disability claims are processed, but there isn't really much of an explanation as to the discrepancy of the claims. According to McClatchy:

Although they're supposed to follow the same rules, the reality for VA workers in different offices is far different. What generates a high rating in one location may produce a lower one somewhere else.


Part of that is due to training differences around the country, and part is due to the personalities of individual employees who are handling claims and the different doctors and psychiatrists examining veterans who've applied for compensation.

Somehow there are training differences around the country as to how VA workers process these PTSD claims, and this difference in training is causing a difference in benefits paid to the claims.

Looking at this story, it appears to me that this is an example of how the Veterans Administration was never fully prepared for this long war we're in. The Bush administration never bothered giving the troops the support they needed for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the Bush administration is not giving the support these Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans need for helping with the PTSD, and the benefits they should be paid for their illness. The Veterans Administration never provided the resources and training to help these veterans. This is just another example of this Bush administration's failed Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

GOP Tancredo drops out of the 2008 presidential race

Well, it appears that GOP presidential candidate Tom Tancredo has quit the 2008 presidential race. From MSNBC News:

DES MOINES, Iowa - Rep. Tom Tancredo, who built his longshot presidential campaign on opposition to illegal immigration, dropped out Thursday and endorsed Republican rival Mitt Romney as the best man to carry on the fight.

Tancredo, a five-term congressman from Colorado, has consistently polled at the bottom of the nine-person Republican field. He announced his withdrawal two weeks before Iowa begins the presidential nominating process with its precinct caucuses.

He said he decided to drop out in part because of concern that staying in could split the vote for other candidates who have taken a hard line on immigration, helping those who would take a less restrictive approach.

Tancredo dropped out of the race because staying in could split the vote for other candidates? More than likely Tancredo dropped out because he didn't have enough money to continue on campaigning in Iowa, and realized that he was consistently polling last in the GOP race.

I looked back at an early analytical posting I did for the first Republican debate, and there was some interesting details about Tancredo. In that first debate, Tancredo positioned himself about as hard-lined to the right as he could, even going to the point of telling former First Lady Nancy Reagan that stem cell research was "morally reprehensible," even though such research may result in the cure for Alzheimer's Disease, which killed former President Ronald Reagan. Even Steve Benen at Carpetbagger Report provides some interesting details on Tancredo's hard-lined ideology:

I think Tancredo has generally had an exaggerated sense of his own worth. At a GOP debate in late-November, after hearing the rest of the candidates take a hard, conservative line on immigration, Tancredo boasted:

“Yeah, well, I tell you, this has been wonderful. I — and Senator McCain may not be happy with this — the spirit of this debate. As — for a guy who usually stands on the bookend — here — side and just listens all the time, that’s kind of frustrating, you know, in other debates. I have to tell you, so far it’s been wonderful — (laughter) — because — because all I’ve heard is — is — is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo. (Laughter.) It is great. I am so happy to hear it. (Applause.) It is a wonderful thing, and it’s a good message.”

Indeed, as far as Tancredo is concerned, he got in the race to pull the party to the far-right on immigration, and after eight months of campaigning, he’s succeeded. He admitted as much today, saying he successfully pushed his anti-immigration position to the forefront of Republican politics.

I don’t think that’s true. Tancredo has barely had a campaign operation to speak of, barely campaigned outside the debates, and never actually tried to win the GOP nomination. By his reasoning, he would run for president, draw tons of support with his anti-immigration platform, and force his Republican rivals to run to the hard-right, just to pick up voters who would otherwise gravitate to Tancredo.

That clearly never happened. Tancredo never caught fire; he didn’t even cause a spark. Yes, other Republican candidates have embarrassed themselves with anti-immigration positions of their own, but by all indications, they would have done that anyway in response to demands from the party’s far-right base.

Tancredo did have a role to play in this election--that of the extremist. Even though his shoestring campaign never caught fire with the GOP base, his hard-lined views provided kindling to keep the anger burning with the far-right base. It is certainly obvious that the GOP front-runners were going to kowtow to the right-wing base, but even a failed Tancredo presidential campaign can have an effect in GOP presidential politics--especially if the front-runners are watching how the base reacts to Tancredo.

The next interesting detail is that Tancredo endorsed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney here, saying that Romney was the best candidate for opposing illegal immigration. I'm not exactly sure why Tancredo endorsed Romney, unless Tancredo opposes any form of amnesty program for long-term illegal aliens, and doesn't trust either John McCain or Mike Huckabee to continue on with the GOP immigrant-bashing. Still, we can always say goodbye and good riddance to the Tancredo campaign.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Morgan Stanley reports $9.4 billion write-down

This is off The New York Times:

Morgan Stanley reported the first quarterly loss in its 72-year history, heightening fears that the financial toll would keep mounting from the fast-spreading crisis in the subprime mortgage market.

The company took a $9.4 billion charge on subprime-linked investments for the fourth quarter and, in a stark reflection of its diminished status, said it would sell a $5 billion stake to a Chinese investment fund to shore up its capital.

Wall Street banks so far have reported more than $40 billion of losses as a result of the crisis in the mortgage market. Worst-case estimates put the eventual bill at $200 billion or more. The tally is likely to rise again Thursday when Bear Stearns is expected to report a quarterly loss.

The developments on Wednesday mark a stunning turn of events for Morgan Stanley, an offshoot of the Morgan banking dynasty that has counseled corporate America since the Depression. John J. Mack, the bank’s chief executive, said he took full responsibility and would forgo a bonus for 2007.

Again, it is the subprime mortgage loans that were pre-packaged into investment securities that Morgan Stanley, and the rest of Wall Street, were speculating on. Everyone was busy raking in the supposed easy money, not realizing that they were building a house of cards that has now completely crashed. Thus we've got Morgan Stanley reporting a huge loss of $9.4 billion, and this new report of Morgan Stanley selling another $5 billion stake to a Chinese investment firm "to shore up its capital." Did Morgan Stanley sell these subprime mortgage-backed investment securities to this unnamed Chinese investment firm? There is more to this story than what is now being reported.

Going back to the NY Times article:

The drastic losses may heighten speculation about the fate of Mr. Mack, who returned to the firm in 2005 after the removal of his predecessor, Philip J. Purcell. One of Mr. Mack’s signature changes was to push the firm further into trading using its own capital, an effort to emulate its profitable archrival, Goldman Sachs. His strategy worked for a while but then backfired when trades in tricky subprime-linked securities went wrong, resulting in the biggest write-down in the firm’s history.

While Mr. Mack is expected to keep his job, his compensation will plummet — one of the harshest punishments meted out on Wall Street, short of showing an executive the door. Last year, Mr. Mack made $40 million. This year he will take home about $800,000. His paycheck is particularly humiliating since Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is likely to receive a $70 million bonus. James E. Cayne, the chief executive of Bear Stearns, is also expected to forgo a bonus.

With all the disgust of Wall Street firms taking big losses while the CEOs are fired wearing golden parachutes, Mack has ended up being the sacrificial CEO scapegoat in losing his parachute as a result of the subprime mortgage mess. I doubt that the rest of the Wall Street CEOs will give up their excessive paycheck as the financial firms continue reporting huge losses.

Now let's get into some details on the Chinese investment firm. From the NY Times:

As for the investment from China, Mr. Mack framed the transaction not as a desperate act but as a strategic move. And he refused to concede that Morgan Stanley was a weakened firm. “We remain bullish on Morgan Stanley’s significant growth potential,” he said.

Still, the investment shows how reliant Morgan Stanley and Wall Street are on foreign funds and gives additional credence to the joke now circulating on trading floors. The joke is: “Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai or goodbye.”

The fund, the China Investment Corporation, has agreed to purchase almost 10 percent of the company. It will have no role the management of Morgan Stanley. Citigroup recently sold a stake to a Middle East fund.

The deal marks an abrupt shift in strategy for China’s $200 billion sovereign fund and underlines the extent to which it appears to be under the direct control of the country’s leaders.

Morgan Stanley executives first began discussing an investment with the fund this summer, but it wasn’t until recently that the deal was struck. For Morgan Stanley, the terms of the deal are severe. The firm will pay annual interest of 9 percent on bonds that will be convertible into Morgan Stanley stock in 2010.

The China Investment Corporation is under the control of China’s finance ministry, with some influence as well from the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank. There has been discussion in the Chinese government over whether even more foreign currency should be injected into the investment fund, as the People’s Bank of China continues to accumulate $1 billion a day as it buys up dollars to prevent the value of China’s currency from rising in international markets.

I wonder if the Chinese were feeling nervous about their own investments into the subprime mortgage-backed securities, or perhaps even their own stake in Morgan Stanley investment funds, and wanted to sell those securities. Morgan Stanley couldn't sell them for the Chinese, precipitating a potential collapse here. Perhaps Morgan Stanley couldn't pay the interest payments to the worthless securities they sold to the China Investment Corporation. Either way, a harsh deal was made against Morgan Stanley, where the firm would have to pay 9 percent interest on the bonds, before they will be converted into Morgan Stanley stock in 2010. What is especially scary here is how many other Wall Street firms are also feeling such heat coming from the Chinese dragon?

Bush lawyers involved in discussing fate of CIA videotapes

This is off The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.

Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.

It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex. In interviews, several administration and intelligence officials provided conflicting accounts as to whether anyone at the White House expressed support for the idea that the tapes should be destroyed.

This story is huge. We have four Bush administration lawyers who knew of these CIA interrogation videotapes--Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Bellinger, and Harriet Miers. All four of these top Bush officials took part in discussing whether these tapes should be destroyed, or not. More importantly, these discussions took place before the tapes were destroyed. This is a cover-up. The Bush administration did not want these tapes revealed to the public, since these could have shown torture techniques the CIA was engaged in--such as waterboarding. Continuing with the NY Times article:

One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. The former official did not specify which White House officials took this position, but he said that some believed in 2005 that any disclosure of the tapes could have been particularly damaging after revelations a year earlier of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Some other officials assert that no one at the White House advocated destroying the tapes. Those officials acknowledged, however, that no White House lawyer gave a direct order to preserve the tapes or advised that destroying them would be illegal.

The big question here is who had the "vigorous sentiment" to destroy the tapes--Addington? Bellinger? I suspect the "vigorous sentiment" for destroying the tapes came from Vice President Cheney's office, simply for the sake of keeping these interrogations secret. Of course, we won't know since the tapes are destroyed. There is still so much more here regarding this scandal.

Huckabee wishes you a Merry Christmas

I found this little Huckabee Christmas greeting through YouTube:

I didn't even catch the floating cross when I watched GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's greeting the first time, then looked back at it after reading some of the YouTube comments on the video. This is just brilliant use of subliminal advertising here!

This is not a "Merry Christmas" greeting from Mike Huckabee or his campaign. This is a political campaign commercial trying to masquerade itself as a Christmas greeting--Mike Huckabee even asks the viewers “Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you’ve been seeing, mostly about politics? I don’t blame you.” Mike Huckabee feels your Christmas pain--especially to the Iowa, New Hampshire, and perhaps even South Carolina voters where this ad may be playing on television stations there. So instead of telling the voters to vote for Mike Huckabee, Huckabee wishes them a "Merry Christmas" and hopes that those GOP voters will feel warm and cozy, and give Huckabee a late Christmas present by stuffing his stocking full with lots of ballots. And let us not forget the religious message here:

“At this time of year, sometimes it’s nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends.”

What really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Is Huckabee saying that we should vote for him because he thinks it is more important to celebrate the birth of Christ now? Remember, Huckabee first said that you voters were getting "worn out of all the television commercials you’ve been seeing, mostly about politics." You know, those pesky political campaign commercials that are talking about the not-so-important issues like the war in Iraq, the economy, the mortgage mess, the budget deficit, immigration, abortion, gun control, employment--I could go on here. All those political issues are not as important as Huckabee's issue of celebrating the birth of Christ. And Huckabee's issue of celebrating the birth of Christ is the perfect political issue to target on the evangelicals, who are especially located in South Carolina. All of the religious and Christmas symbolism is there--Huckabee's red sweater, "Silent Night" playing in the background, the message of asking are you getting sick of the political commercials, Huckabee's emphasis of celebrating the birth of Christ, the floating cross, and perhaps even the three Christmas ornaments on the upper left side of the cross (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Or the Three Kings?).

It is the perfect anti-political, political message. And in one sense, it is scary because it could work with the southern evangelicals.

Fire erupts in Eisenhower Executive Office Building

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Thick black smoke billowed from a fire Wednesday on the White House compound in the Executive Office Building.

The blaze appeared to be located near the ceremonial office of Vice President Dick Cheney on the second floor of the building. The vice president was across the street in his office in the West Wing of the White House.

A uniformed Secret Service officer stands on the White House grounds in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, as smoke pours out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Secret Service spokesman Darrin Blackford said the Old Executive Office building was evacuated as a precaution. District of Columbia firefighters poured water on the blaze and moved furniture from the building onto a balcony.

The Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget and staff of the National Security Council and other agencies.

My apologies, but the cynic in me has got to ask this one question. I wonder how many more secret documents, torture memos, waterboarding videotapes, Bush-approved U.S. attorney termination papers, failed Iraqi intelligence notes, and White House visitor logs that President Bush and Vice President Cheney wanted to conveniently destroy? All that paper could make some nice kindling in a utility closet....

The big comment I have is all those beautiful antiques, paintings, and historic furniture that are being destroyed by the fire and water damage.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Retailers nervous on slow Christmas sales

This is off MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - Following a lukewarm shopping weekend, the nation’s stores are now focusing their attention on the final week leading to Christmas, as consumers seem to be postponing more of their buying to the last minute compared to a year ago.

Just as malls and stores ushered in the official start of the holiday season with expanded hours and generous discounts, they plan to do the same in the final stretch. Macy’s Inc. plans to pull all-nighters at several of its stores, including its Manhattan flagship, starting Friday. Toys “R” Us plans to keep its doors open until midnight every day until Dec. 24.

Based on early reports from analysts and malls on Sunday, sales results were generally unimpressive this past weekend, as shoppers were held back by a snow storm that spread a mix of sleet, freezing rain and snow from the Great Lakes states to New England. Consumers, fretting about economic worries, were also delaying their shopping even more this year, knowing there’s a full weekend before Christmas, when the bargains will be even better.

Meanwhile, for online retailers, which likely finished their busiest days last week, their fate appears to be already sealed: Holiday sales didn’t live up to industry’s hopes as lower-income shoppers pulled back on spending amid a housing slump. ComScore Inc. reported Sunday that online sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 14 rose 18 percent — less than the 26 percent growth rate seen in the same period a year ago and the 20 percent projection for the season.

“This holiday season at this point has been disappointing, whether they’re brick and mortar, catalog or online,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C. “Shopper are more frugal and cost-conscious because they have less money to spend.” As for Saturday and Sunday, he said, “This weekend was busy, but it wasn’t huge.”

We have a number of factors that are actually contributing to the slow Christmas sales. The big factors are still the subprime mortgage meltdown, high energy prices, and consumer worries on the economy. But then there are also the smaller factors such as the ice storms that have been slamming the Midwest and eastern U.S. This brings up an interesting question--if the bad weather starts to clear, will consumers start to open their wallets for shopping? Or will consumers continue to be worried about the big problems of their mortgages and energy prices?

White House logs are ruled public

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - White House visitor logs are public documents, a federal judge ruled Monday, rejecting a legal strategy that the Bush administration had hoped would get around public records laws and let them keep their guests a secret.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration, which has fought the release of records showing visits by prominent religious conservatives.

Visitor records are created by the Secret Service, which is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. But the Bush administration has ordered the data turned over to the White House, where they are treated as presidential records outside the scope of the public records law.

But U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled logs from the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence remain Secret Service documents and are subject to public records requests.

In a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group, Lamberth ordered the Secret Service to turn over visitor logs regarding nine conservative religious commentators, including James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Jerry Falwell.

"I think it's hugely significant," said Anne L. Weismann, the watchdog group's chief counsel. "The judge saw their arguments for what they were."

This is a big decision here. Remember that this whole legal argument over the White House visitor logs is another CYA by the Bush administration in order to keep secret the White House visits by lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It is all about keeping everything in the Bush White House secret, allowing no oversight into the Bush administration on anything, while at the same time having the Bush White House to tell us to trust them. We've seen this again and again on just about every Bush administration scandal.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons--The Rabbit of Seville

Here is one of the great Bugs Bunny classics, The Rabbit of Seville. It is a short cartoon that is loosely adapted from the opera The Barber of Seville...well, maybe just the music from the great opera was used for the cartoon. But still, it was a great marriage of music, comedic gags, and wonderful animation that even Figaro would approve of. From YouTube:

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Fun Stuff--Great Moments In Presidential Speeches Compilation

The title really says it all. From YouTube:

How did this idiot ever got elected president for two terms, I really cannot say.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

CIA destroyed tapes of terrorist interrogations

This is off The Washington Post:

The CIA destroyed videotapes in 2005 showing the use of harsh interrogation methods on two terrorism suspects because the agency feared the tapes could be leaked to the public and reveal the identities of the questioners, the CIA director told employees today.

CIA Director Michael Hayden also said that leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees at the time were informed about the existence of the tapes and about the agency's plans to destroy them.

"The tapes posed a serious security risk," Hayden wrote in a message to CIA employees. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathizers." The tapes were destroyed in November 2005 on orders of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was then the CIA's director of clandestine operations, according to senior intelligence officials. That was the same month that The Washington Post revealed the existence of CIA secret prisons overseas holding "high-value" terrorists.

For once, Hayden is right--the interrogation tapes did pose a serious security risk. Where Hayden is completely wrong is that the tapes did not pose a security risk to the country, but rather a security risk to the Bush administration's insistence on using torture on these prisoners. These tapes were destroyed the same month that the WaPost revealed the existence of these CIA secret prisons. You have to wonder what was going on in those secret prisons--torture? This was a CYA on the Bush administration's part in destroying evidence of this administration using torture on terror suspects.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Arkansas Times--DuMond case revisited

With this new scandal on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee paroling a convicted rapist, due to the fact that the man raped a woman who was a distant relative to Bill Clinton, now emerging in the press, I think it is important to post the entire Arkansas Times back story on Huckabee's involvement in the DuMond case. From the Arkansas Times:

“I signed the [parole] papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled. I was thinking the governor was working for the best interests of the state.”
—Ermer Pondexter, ex-member of the board of pardons and paroles

New sources, including an advisor to Gov. Mike Huckabee, have told the Arkansas Times that Huckabee and a senior member of his staff exerted behind-the-scenes influence to bring about the parole of rapist Wayne Dumond, who Missouri authorities say raped and killed a woman there shortly after his parole.

Huckabee has denied a role in Dumond’s release, which has become an issue in his race for re-election against Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher. Fisher says Huckabee’s advocacy of Dumond’s freedom, plus other acts of executive clemency, exhibit poor judgment. In response, Huckabee has shifted responsibility for Dumond’s release to others, claiming former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker made Dumond eligible for parole and saying the Post Prison Transfer Board made the decision on its own to free Dumond.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to voters during a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, December 4, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)

But the Times’ new reporting shows the extent to which Huckabee and a key aide were involved in the process to win Dumond’s release. It was a process marked by deviation from accepted parole practice and direct personal lobbying by the governor, in an apparently illegal and unrecorded closed-door meeting with the parole board (the informal name by which the Post Prison Transfer Board is known).

After Huckabee told the board, in executive session, that he believed Dumond got a “raw deal,” according to a board member who was there, and supported his release, board chairman Leroy Brownlee personally paved the way for Dumond’s release, according to board records and former members. During that time — from December 1996 to January 1997 — Brownlee regularly consulted with Butch Reeves, the governor’s prison liaison, on the status of his efforts, two state officials have told the Times.

The governor, his office and spokesman Rex Nelson were repeatedly contacted for a response to this article, but none was forthcoming. Brownlee also did not respond to phone calls, but the Post Prison Transfer Board responded in writing.

The Times has also learned that:
• Ermer Pondexter, a former member of the Post Prison Transfer Board, says she was persuaded by the parole board chairman Brownlee to vote for Dumond’s release and because she knew the governor supported it.

• The board did not allow its recording secretary to attend a closed session with the governor regarding Dumond, nor was the session taped, a departure from custom.

• Board chair Brownlee [2005 note: Brownless has since been reappointed to the Board by Huckabee] personally interviewed Dumond in prison and set in motion the reconsideration of the board’s August 1996 vote to refuse Dumond parole. Normally, inmates must wait a year after a decision for a new hearing. Thanks to Brownlee’s efforts, Dumond was granted a new parole hearing Jan. 16, 1997, just six weeks after his request for reconsideration. This time, the board voted to parole. Brownlee later was reappointed to the board by Huckabee.

• Dumond was transferred to the Tucker unit in December 1996, after his request for rehearing. Had he stayed at Varner, he could not have been scheduled for a new hearing before Jan. 20, 1997, Huckabee’s deadline to act on his announcement that he was considering commuting Dumond’s sentence. His transfer — which the Department of Corrections has explained in conflicting ways — allowed him to get on the Tucker hearing schedule, which let the board parole Dumond before Huckabee’s deadline — and thus take the heat for his release.

A couple of items to point out here. The first is that Huckabee met in a closed session with the parole board regarding DuMond, where there was no recording or transcript of that session. There is no record of whatever Huckabee said in that meeting with the parole board. Second, board chairman Leroy Brownlee was consulting with Huckabee's prison liason Butch Reeves. Brownlee was able to grant a new parole hearing for DuMond on January 16, 1997--just seven months after the board refused to grant DuMond's parole in August 1996. Normally an inmate must wait a year after the decision for a new hearing. Finally, Brownlee was rewarded with a reappointment to the prison board by Huckabee after DuMond was paroled.

Then there is the transfer of DuMond from Varner to the Tucker unit. DuMond had to be transferred from Varner to Tucker so he could be quickly rescheduled with a new parole hearing before Huckabee's announcement to commute DuMond's sentence. There is this concerted effort within the Huckabee governorship to parole DuMond, rather than have Huckabee commute DuMond's sentence. The reasoning here is very obvious--by paroling DuMond, any public outcry against the parole would be directed against the prison board, rather than against Huckabee with a commutation of DuMond's sentence.

Continuing with the Arkansas Times story:

When the board paroled Dumond in January 1997, he had been in prison since 1985 for the rape of Ashley Stevens, a Forrest City high school student.
The board made Dumond’s parole conditional upon his moving out of state, but initially authorities in Florida, Texas, and other states declined to allow him to move there. Dumond was finally released in October 1999, when he moved to DeWitt to live with his stepmother.
In August 2000, Dumond moved to Smithville, Mo., a rural community outside Kansas City. He had married a woman from the community who was active in a church group that had visited Dumond in prison and believed him to be innocent.

Convicted rapist Wayne DuMond

Only six weeks after Dumond moved to Missouri, Carol Sue Shields, of Parkville, Mo., was found murdered in a friend’s home. She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

DuMond is released in October, 1999. In August/September 2000, DuMond rapes and kills Carol Sue Shields. Continuing with the Arkansas Times story:

In late June 2001, Missouri authorities charged Dumond with the first-degree murder of Shields. The Clay County, Mo., prosecutor’s office asserted that skin found under Shield’s fingernails, the result of an apparent struggle with her murderer, contained DNA that matched Dumond’s.

Missouri authorities also say that Dumond is the leading suspect in the rape and murder of a second woman, Sara Andrasek, of Platte County, Mo., though he has not yet been charged with that crime.

Andrasek was 23. Like Shields, Andrasek had her brassiere cut from her body; Dumond cut Stevens’ bra off before he raped her.

“It’s as if he wanted to leave us his calling card,” a Missouri law enforcement officer said.

Four former parole board members have spoken at length to a Times reporter about the Dumond parole. Three of those board members — Ermer Pondexter, Dr. Charles Chastain and Deborah Springer Suttlar — spoke for the record. The fourth only agreed to share his recollections if he were allowed to speak anonymously.

A senior state employee who served as an advisor to Huckabee on the Dumond case also spoke on the condition that he be granted anonymity. He provided a detailed account that has been largely corroborated by former and current members of the Post Prison Transfer Board, other Arkansas state officials, court records, Arkansas State Police files, and previously confidential records of the parole board.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Pondexter told the Times that she voted for Dumond’s release from prison because board chairman Brownlee, asked her to vote that way.

“The reason that I voted as I did was because Mr. Brownlee specifically asked me to vote for the parole,” Pondexter said. “I thought that Mr. Brownlee was acting on behalf of the governor, and I was trying to support the chairman of the board, and I was trying to support the governor ...

“I signed the [parole] papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled. I was thinking the governor was working for the best interests of the state. So I signed it.”

Pondexter signed the parole papers because the governor wanted DuMond paroled. The question to ask here is why was Huckabee so intent on paroling DuMond? Why did Huckabee meet with the parole board, regarding the DuMond parole, in a closed session, without the recording secretary, or any tape recordings or transcripts of the meeting taken? Why did the Huckabee governorship work so hard at transferring DuMond from one prison to another in order to expedite a new DuMond parole hearing before Huckabee would have to commute DuMond's sentence? Huckabee is going out of his way to see that DuMond walked out of prison here. The big question is why? The only answer I can see here is that DuMond raped a 17-year-old girl who was a distant relative of Bill Clinton. Had DuMond raped any other 17-year-old girl, he would have been rotting away in prison for a long time with no one interested in taking up his parole. But the fact that DuMond raped a girl who was a distant relative to President Bill Clinton, gave DuMond this heroic status within the hard-lined conservative establishment. DuMond struck back against the evil Clinton presidency by raping some distant relative of Bill's. The vast, right-wing conspiracy may have felt that DuMond should be rewarded for this political attack(?) with his freedom. And then-governor Mike Huckabee works to free DuMond. Instead of becoming the hero for the conservative establishment, DuMond shows just how much of a serial rapist he is by raping and murdering Carol Sue Shields. Continuing on with the Arkansas Times article:

Pondexter said that she was unsure as to whether Brownlee had specifically mentioned Huckabee’s position while soliciting her vote for Dumond’s parole.

Suttlar, who came forward publicly after Dumond’s arrest for the Missouri murder, said Pondexter had told her at the time about Brownlee’s solicitation of her vote.

“Ermer told me that the chairman had asked her to vote a certain way, and that she went along with the chairman’s request ... and that she understood that Mr. Brownlee had wanted her to vote that way because the governor backed this, and wanted to get it done.”

Pondexter had been appointed to the board by then-Gov. Bill Clinton, and was reappointed to a second term by Jim Guy Tucker. Associates says she’s a woman of deep principle, not readily dismissed as a partisan. Many of them know Pondexter — who in 1964 in Miller County led an effort to integrate a swimming lake that resulted in shootings of three black men and Pondexter’s jailing — as someone whose focus has been on civil rights issues, not partisan politics.

Pondexter was initially reluctant to speak with the Times, saying she feared friends of the governor might impair her career. She eventually was persuaded to give her account.

Said another former board member: “Anybody has to be really careful in a situation like this. This is a small state, and the governor or his supporters can make life uncomfortable not only for someone with a career in public life, but also in private business.”

I seriously wonder if Pondexter was threatened by Huckabee, or his supporters, had Pondexter gave her account to the Times? Even more, was Pondexter threatened by the Huckabee governorship of her firing from the parole board if she refuse to pardon DuMond? Continuing with the Times story:

A more outspoken former member of the board has been Suttlar, who was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, and who had previously been an aide to Tucker.

“For Governor Huckabee to say that he had no influence with the board is something that he knows to be untrue. He came before the board and made his views known that [Dumond] should have been paroled ... “

Suttlar noted that just prior to Huckabee’s appearance before the board the board had voted 4-1 against Dumond’s parole. After Huckabee’s board appearance, her colleagues largely reversed themselves, voting 4-1 for Dumond’s release.

“Why did all the votes change?” Suttlar asked. The board members knew the governor’s position. And Huckabee knows what influence a governor has over a board. Who’s going to turn down a governor?”

A board member, who only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said, “We are not talking rocket science here. The board jobs are known to some degree [to be] political patronage, and they’re not the most difficult jobs for the pay.” Board members currently earn more than $70,000 a year.

“And then there’s the most obvious: If the governor likes you, you might get to keep your job.” One board who voted for Dumond, Railey Steele, was reappointed shortly before his vote. Brownlee was reappointed by Huckabee this year.

Again, we see in this story, the possibility that Huckabee may have threatened the parole board. The threat here would be that the board members could lose their jobs if they refused to grant DuMond's parole. Remember, Huckabee met with the parole board in a closed session, with no recordings or transcripts. Continuing with the story:

On Aug. 29, 1996, the parole board denied Dumond parole on a 4-1 vote. Dr. Charles Chastain voted for parole; August Pieroni, Railey Steele, Fred Allen and Suttlar voted against. Brownlee didn’t vote. (Chastain’s vote was part of a board custom of giving inmates one positive vote as an encouragement for good behavior.)

On Sept. 10, 1996, the board took another vote, going 5-0 against recommending executive clemency and 5-0 against recommending an executive pardon. The no votes were cast by Steele, Brownlee, Pieroni, Suttlar and Fred Allen.

On Sept. 20, Gov. Huckabee announced his intention to commute Wayne Dumond’s sentence to time served.

The governor and his staff were unprepared for the public outcry that followed his announcement that he was likely to free Dumond.

Under state law, the governor had to wait at least 30 days — but not more than 120 — after his Sept. 20 clemency announcement to allow the public, legislators, prosecutors, and other interested parties to present their views before he made a final decision. Huckabee was required to make a decision before Jan. 20, 1997. As it turned out, the board voted four days before the deadline to parole Dumond, sparing Huckabee from the decision.

So the prison board refused to grant DuMond a parole on Aug. 29, 1996. On Sept. 10, 1996, the board voted against recommending both executive clemency and an executive pardon. Ten days later, Huckabee announces his decision to commute DuMond's sentence, provoking an public outcry against his commutation. Huckabee met with the parole board in the closed meeting (without any transcripts or recordings) on October 31, 1996. Just four days before Huckabee was required to make his declaration of commuting DuMond's sentence, the parole board grants DuMond's parole. By granting DuMond his parole, the parole board shifted the public's anger away from Huckabee's commutation announcement. Huckabee got the political reward of freeing DuMond, without any serious political consequences. Continuing with the Arkansas Times story:

Twenty women members of the state House of Representatives denounced the idea. A number of career and elected law enforcement officials — some privately, others publicly — announced that they opposed any commutation or pardon.
Huckabee’s announcement led to renewed interest by the media as well.

“It wasn’t so much that this had turned into a full-fledged firestorm for us,” said the state official who advised Huckabee. “It was thought of more in terms of the potential to be a firestorm for us.”

Huckabee was then new to his job — he’d been in office only a couple of months — and was fearful of his first stumble, the official said.

In an effort to stem the political fallout, Huckabee and his staff agreed to meet for the first time with Dumond’s victim, Ashley Stevens, her family, and Fletcher Long, the prosecuting attorney who sent Dumond to prison. In interviews, both Walter “Stevie” Stevens, Ashley’s father, and Long both said they came away frustrated that Huckabee knew so few specifics about the case.

While the parole board did free DuMond, there was still some political fallout on Huckabee's part. The GOP PR-campaign here was that Huckabee was new to the job, so this was just a simple stumble on Huckabee's part. He was only in office for a couple of months! Huckabee went even so far as meeting with DuMond's first victim, Ashley Stevens and her family--we're talking about the distant relative to President Clinton. What is especially interesting here is that Huckabee didn't know any specifics to the case, even as he talked to the Stevens family. Getting into the specifics with the Times story:

“He [Huckabee] kept insisting that there was DNA evidence that has since exonerated Dumond, when that very much wasn’t the case,” recalled Long. “No matter that that wasn’t true … we couldn’t seem to say or do anything to disabuse him of that notion.”

In fact, there had never been any DNA testing in the Ashley Stevens case.

The state official who advised Huckabee on the Dumond case confirmed that the governor knew very little about Ashley Stevens’ case:

“I don’t believe that he had access to, or read, the law enforcement records or parole commission’s files — even by then,” the official said. “He already seemed to have made up his mind, and his knowledge of the case appeared to be limited to a large degree as to what people had told him, what Jay Cole had told him, and what he had read in the New York Post.”

This brings up another question for Huckabee. If Huckabee was so adamant on releasing DuMond from prison, then why did Huckabee know almost nothing about the case? You are involved in the release of a convicted rapist to the public--the least you should do is familiarize yourself with the evidence regarding the case. What is more, Huckabee insisted to the Stevens family that there was DNA evidence that exonerated DuMond from his conviction, even though there was no DNA evidence involved in the Stevens case. It is almost like Huckabee decided that since DuMond raped a Clinton relative, then DuMond should be released--regardless of the facts of the case. Continuing with the Times story:

Jay Cole, like Huckabee, is a Baptist minister, pastor for the Mission Fellowship Bible Church in Fayetteville and a close friend of the governor and his wife. On the ultra-conservative radio program he hosts, Cole has championed the cause of Wayne Dumond for more than a decade.

Cole has repeatedly claimed that Dumond’s various travails are the result of Ashley Stevens’ distant relationship to Bill Clinton.

The governor was also apparently relying on information he got from Steve Dunleavy, first as a correspondent for the tabloid television show “A Current Affair” and later as a columnist for the New York Post.

Much of what Dunleavy has written about the Dumond saga has been either unverified or is demonstrably untrue. Dunleavy has all but accused Ashley Stevens of having fabricated her rape, derisively referring to her in one column as a “so-called victim,” and brusquely asserting in another, “That rape never happened.”

The columnist wrote that Dumond was a “Vietnam veteran with no record” when in fact he did have a criminal record. He claimed there existed DNA evidence by “one of the most respected DNA experts in the country” to exonerate Dumond, even though there was no such evidence. He wrote that Bill Clinton had personally intervened to keep Dumond in prison, even though Clinton had recused himself in 1990 from any involvement in the case because of his distant relationship with Stevens.

“The problem with the governor is that he listens to Jay Cole and reads Steve Dunleavy and believes them ... without doing other substantative work,” the state official said.

This is the key statement as to why Huckabee pressured for the release of DuMond. Huckabee listened to the lies and baseless claims of these two individuals--individuals who had probably had their own political agenda of both attacking then-president Clinton, and portraying DuMond as a conservative hero. Huckabee may have also decided to push for DuMond's parole as a means of currying favor to the hard-lined conservatives who may have sympathies for DuMond. Continuing on:

Had Huckabee examined in detail the parole board’s files regarding Dumond, he would have known Dumond had compiled a lengthy criminal resume.

In 1972, Dumond was arrested in the beating death of a man in Oklahoma. Dumond was not charged in that case after agreeing to testify for the prosecution against two others. But he admitted on the witness stand that he was among those who struck the murder victim with a claw hammer.

In 1973, Dumond was arrested and placed on probation for five years for admitting in Oregon to molesting a teen-age girl in the parking lot of a shopping center.

Three years later, according to Arkansas State Police records, Dumond admitted to raping an Arkansas woman. (Dumond later repudiated the confession, saying he was coerced by police.) Dumond was never formally charged in that case; the woman, saying she feared for her life, did not press charges. (See sidebar.)

This is the conservative hero Wayne DuMond. Continuing on:

The meeting Huckabee had with Ashley Stevens and her family only made matters worse for the governor, energizing Stevens and her family to tell their story to anybody who would listen.

Huckabee “ let us know that he was set on his course, which was to set Dumond free,” Long said.

Ashley Stevens says she told the governor: “This is how close I was to Wayne Dumond. I will never forget his face. And now I don’t want you ever to forget my face.”

Huckabee’s deadline to act on Dumond’s commutation was Jan. 20, 1997. Four days earlier, the parole board freed Dumond instead.

What happened to prompt the turn of events?

According to the state official who advised Huckabee, the governor found a way to achieve his goal to release Dumond, but with some political cover provided by the parole board.

“It would not have necessarily been a vote for parole,” the official said. “I think we would have been grateful for even a close vote.” At the end of the entire process, he says, “we never thought we could extract from the board what we ended up with.”

On Oct. 31, 1996, Huckabee met with the parole board. Huckabee has categorically denied that he supported the Dumond parole during the closed portion of the meeting, but four current and former board members tell the Times that Huckabee in fact did so.

The minutes of the Oct. 31, 1996, open meeting provide no detail as to what transpired.

The minutes simply state: “Governor Mike Huckabee and the board went into executive session. The board appreciates the governor meeting with them to discuss his and other concerns regarding criminal justice and rehabilitation and sharing his viewpoints on other issues.”

There is no information, no transcripts, nothing as to what was said between the parole board and Huckabee. There is no information as to what Huckabee said at the parole board. There is no information as to Huckabee's views regarding DuMond's parole. Continuing with the story:

Present at the meeting were Brownlee, Chastain, Allen, Pieroni and Suttlar.

Chastain, Suttlar and two other board members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Huckabee made it known that he favored a commutation of Dumond’s sentence.

All four also said it was when Huckabee brought up the subject that the chairman, Brownlee, closed the meeting to the press.

They further contradicted Huckabee’s later claims that it was Chastain and not Huckabee who first raised the Dumond issue.

“It was thought to be a routine meeting,” Chastain recalled. “Huckabee said, ‘There is this one case I want to talk to you about.’ ”

Brownlee then had the board go into executive session, Chastain said. “The governor commented that Wayne Dumond had received, from his perspective, a raw deal, that he was someone from the wrong side of the tracks ... and that he had received what he thought was too long a sentence for that type of crime.”

Suttlar also said Brownlee closed the meeting after Huckabee raised the Dumond case.

Huckabee and his spokesman Rex Nelson have also claimed that any mention of the Dumond matter at the October meeting was fleeting, but Chastain and other board members dispute that. They say the remarks were substantive.

Chastain provided the following account of an exchange with Huckabee.

“The governor felt strongly that Dumond had gotten a raw deal,” Chastain recalled. “He said the sentence was awfully excessive for what he did. “I said, ‘Governor, well that happens. When you rape a cheerleader in a small town like that, that’s what is going to happen.’ He responded, ‘Most people don’t get a life sentence plus 20 years.’ I pointed out that his sentence had already been reduced to 39 1/2 years and said, ‘That’s not really out of line at all.’

Most of the other board members remained silent, as he and the governor argued over the issue. “I got the impression that no one wanted to argue with the governor,” Chastain said.

Suttlar, Chastain, Pondexter and a fourth board member also question the propriety of the board going into a closed-door session to discuss the issue.

“The board is supposed to be autonomous,” Suttlar asserted. “Whenever we all come together, the public is supposed to be notified by law. And we should have never been in executive session with a governor about anything.”

The board’s executive session appears to have been a violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which says state boards may meet privately only for the “specific purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any public officer or employee.”

Says another board member: “Some of us were taken aback when the chairman took us into executive session. ... He should have known better than to do that, and presumably most of us knew better as well ... you can’t do that. The only reason a state board can ever go into executive session is to discuss personnel matters.”

In response to questions from the Times regarding whether the board violated the FOIA by meeting in executive session, the board provided this written response:

“It was a new governor meeting with a board he had not appointed. At no time was this meeting meant to circumvent the state’s FOIA laws.”

Rex Nelson, the governor’s spokesman, has said that the meeting might have in fact contravened the FOIA, but said it was the chairman’s decision to have the board meet in executive session, and the governor was not familiar enough with the statute to object.

Suttlar told the Times that she and other board members did not object to Brownlee taking the board into executive session, and covered for the chairman as well, because they were, for the most part, friends with him, and did not want to embarrass him.

“And so when the press called and wanted to know why Mr. Brownlee wanted to go into executive session, we said we didn’t know why,” Suttlar said. “We couldn’t answer that question. What were we going to say? That he was protecting the governor? That’s exactly what it was. The governor started talking about Dumond, so Mr. Brownlee knew that was inappropriate and he went into executive session in order to allow the governor to speak without the press being there.”

Despite the fact that the meeting was closed, there still should have been a record of it, four former board members and a former staffer say. They say that Sharon Hansberry, the board’s office administrator, ordinarily attends the meeting and takes notes. It was also a common practice around that time, they say, for her to tape record the meetings as well, even though the tapes were often destroyed once the minutes were formalized.

Former members of the board say that Hansberry was asked to leave the room when the board went into executive session. A spokesman for the board says that there is no record of what occurred in the executive session — no tape recording of the executive session, or notes, or minutes.

Board chairman Leroy Brownlee then took a series of additional highly unusual steps that would allow Wayne Dumond to gain his freedom.

On Nov. 29, 1996, Dumond sent a request for reconsideration to the board, board records show. The request was received Dec. 2 at its offices. Ordinarily, inmates have to wait a full year from their last hearing to go before the board again. In Dumond’s case, his next hearing would have been scheduled for Aug. 29, 1997.

For an inmate to obtain a new board hearing under such circumstances, at least one board member must approve his request for reconsideration. If the petition request is approved by the first board member who reads it, a hearing is then usually scheduled, and there is no further vote.

If, however, the petition request is disapproved by the first board member who reads it, then it is passed around to other board members who vote, until a majority of board members either supports or disapproves of reconsideration.

Leroy Brownlee was the first person to review Dumond’s request, a board spokesman said. Brownlee made the decision approving the petition for reconsideration by himself, the spokesperson added. Because he had approved Dumond’s request, no other members of the board were provided with a copy to review for themselves. There is no written record in the parole board’s files, however, as ordinarily there should be, showing that Brownlee or any other board member approved Dumond’s petition for reconsideration.

The board has told the Times it’s possible such a document has been lost in the past five years, when the Dumond file has been examined many times. “It is possible that the document has been misplaced, if it ever existed.”

Brownlee continued to take a personal interest in Dumond’s case, according to previously undisclosed parole board records, and former and current board members.

On Jan. 9, 1997, Brownlee personally interviewed Dumond at the Tucker prison unit. Brownlee then recommended to the full board that Dumond be paroled, on the condition that Dumond leave Arkansas.

Three former and current members of the board say Brownlee has rarely conducted an inmate interview in preparation for a full board review. But a spokesman for the board said that although it’s rare today for Brownlee to conduct inmate interviews, it was not in 1997, because the board had fewer full-time members than it does today.
Brownlee’s interview and his recommendation to parole Dumond paved the way for the full board to hold a hearing Jan. 16.

The timing of the board’s action could have not been better for the governor. Had the board not acted on Jan. 16, Huckabee would have had to announce his own decision on Dumond Jan. 20.

Another move made the Dumond parole hearing possible.

On Dec. 19, 1996, Dumond was transferred from the Varner prison unit to the Tucker unit. Had he stayed at Varner, Dumond would not have been interviewed by Brownlee on Jan. 9, nor would he have had his parole reconsidered by the full board on Jan. 16. That’s because the board only considers paroles for inmates from certain prisons during particular sessions.

Had Dumond stayed at Varner, he would not have been eligible for a parole hearing before the board until long after Gov. Huckabee’s Jan. 20 deadline. Asked whether the parole board would have considered Dumond’s parole on Jan. 16 had he still been at Varner instead of Tucker, a spokesperson provided the Times with this written response: “While the PPTB members do not know what inmates will be seen at any hearings/screenings, the PPTB members do not know what inmates will be seen at any given unit at any given time.”

Department of Corrections officials insist that it was pure serendipity for Huckabee that Dumond was transferred from Varner to Tucker. “Wayne Dumond was moved for institutional reasons,” says Department of Corrections spokesperson Dina Tyler. “We move inmates day and night — based on conditions, needs, jobs, and other reasons. Wayne Dumond was a routine movement.”

George Brewer, an administrator with Corrections who handled the logistics of Dumond’s transfer, told the Times that he made the transfer after being told to by the warden of Varner:

“It was at the request of the warden,” Brewer said in an interview. “Dumond was one of a bunch of clerks who had become a clique. As clerks, they had access to files about inmates and other things going on around the prison ... If two or three start working together, they can use the information they have to manipulate the system.”

Brewer said the Varner warden Rick Toney told him: “I’ve got to bust up the clique. I’ve got to bust up my clerks. Dumond’s one of them.” Brewer says he then transferred Dumond to the Tucker unit. Toney declined to be interviewed for this article.

This new explanation for Dumond’s transfer differs substantially from reasons given in the past. In January 1997, State Corrections Director Larry Norris wrote to state House Speaker Bobby Hogue of Jonesboro denying that the transfer was made to allow the board to expedite a parole hearing. Norris asserted that Dumond was moved for security concerns, “including allegations made by inmate Dumond about his personal safety.”

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported around that time that unnamed corrections officials told the newspaper Dumond’s transfer was the result of a routine request from Dumond so that he could change prison jobs. Dumond was said to have wanted to take a job working in a factory constructing buses at Tucker.

The parole board denied to the Times that Brownlee or any other member of the board was involved in bringing about Dumond’s transfer to Tucker. In a written statement, a spokesman said: “The PPTB does not have the authority to effect the transfer of any inmate within the Arkansas Department of Corrections.”

However, in the two weeks just prior to Dumond’s Jan. 16 parole hearing, Brownlee had at least three telephone conversations with Butch Reeves, the governor’s liaison for Corrections, according to the advisor to Huckabee and a second state employee.

During those discussions, the advisor says, Brownlee expressed frustration that the hearing was likely to be delayed because Dumond was incarcerated at Varner.

In response to questions by the Times regarding those three conversations, a spokesperson for the parole board said: “Communication between Butch Reeves and Chairman Brownlee was frequent during that time span. However, it is impossible to remember the content of any conversation that took place five years ago.”

The same sources say that Brownlee and Reeves discussed the Dumond matter on numerous other occasions during the months preceding Dumond’s parole hearing, although one source said that Reeves simply listened to what Brownlee had to tell him, and passed it on to the governor.

A spokesperson for the board confirmed those numerous contacts, saying they “were simply a matter of routine business.” But she refused to confirm or deny whether Dumond was discussed: “The topics of those conversations have long been forgotten in the ensuing years.”

Reeves did not respond to repeated telephone calls seeking his comment for this story.

For its part, the governor’s office has repeatedly denied a role in Dumond’s transfer from the Varner to Tucker units.

But one state official says that it had “become virtually a routine constituent service” for Huckabee’s office to request inmate transfers on behalf of the families of inmates. The same source says: “If a warden gets a call from the governor’s mansion, they’re just not going to think there is anything untoward ... and try and accommodate it.”

Even George Brewer, the corrections official who personally handled the Dumond transfer — who says that the warden of Varner asked him to transfer Dumond for a routine reason — says the governor’s office, either by direct request or by forwarding family member requests, seeks inmate transfers at least once a week. Says Brewer: “They’re usually routine referrals, like ‘I got a momma calling me. She’s real upset that they’re not moving her son.’ That type of thing.”

Voting Jan. 16 to parole Dumond were Brownlee, Steele, Allen and Pondexter. Chastain voted against parole. Suttlar and Pieroni, who had voted against Dumond’s parole the previous August, abstained.

Railey Steele’s vote surprised many board members. Steele had been one of the most hard-line board members, rejecting parole more often than most of his fellow commissioners, and at times openly dismissive of members Chastain, Pondexter, and Suttlar, who were seen as more sympathetic.

Says Chastain: “It was kind of a role reversal for [Steele and me]. He always thought that I was much too lenient ... and for that reason, often times had little use for me.”

Steele, who died in October 2000, had been a mayor of Gentry, a Benton County judge from 1975 to 1979 and served two terms in the state legislature from 1991 to 1995.

Though Steele later denied his vote was political, one former board member said Railey “almost approached the job as if he were still a legislator. That was his background. But that’s not how we’re supposed to serve. We’re supposed to set aside politics, because we make decisions regarding the legal system and public safety.

“Railey took calls from state legislators. He took calls from influential people in the community. He continued acting as the pol that he had been most of his career.”

Just three days before the vote, Huckabee reappointed Steele — named to the board by Huckabee’s Democratic predecessor Jim Guy Tucker — to the parole board. The move raised eyebrows at the time, since governors usually appoint friends and political allies to the board. Huckabee also reappointed Brownlee, who once served as secretary of the state Democratic Party, on Feb. 28, 2002, to another seven-year term.

Though he’s distancing himself from the accused murderer today, the record has long been clear that Huckabee was an advocate of Dumond’s freedom.

On the day of the vote, Huckabee released a statement in support of the board’s action: “I concur with the board’s action and hope the lives of all those involved can move forward. The action of the board accomplishes what I sought to do in considering an earlier request for commutation ...

“In light of the action of the board, my original intent to commute the sentence to time served is no longer relevant.”

Huckabee’s office then released a letter to Dumond denying his application for a pardon.

“Dear Wayne,” Huckabee wrote, “I have reviewed your applications for executive clemency, specifically a commutation and/or pardon. ... My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel now that parole is the best way for your reintegration into society. ... Therefore, after careful consideration ... I have denied your applications.”

Huckabee was able to achieve what he wanted to do in the first place: Release Dumond from prison with no apparent political cost to the governor. The public was told that Dumond was paroled solely due to an autonomous decision by the Post Prison Transfer Board.

Later in January 1996, Brownlee denied that the governor had interfered with the vote and told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “This was the first time that Dumond had ever submitted a solid release plan.” He had told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal the same thing.

In fact, according to a spokesman for the parole board, Dumond had submitted a parole plan in August 1994, January 1995, and August 1995. The August 1994 and August 1995 plans include a request to move to Texas. Dumond did not submit any additional materials in support of his parole application between Aug. 29, 1996, when he was turned down for parole, and the board vote of Jan. 16, 1997.

A spokesperson for the parole board noted that “it is possible letters of protest or of support were received during that time span, but no support documentation was submitted by Mr. Dumond.”

There is a lot more here in this story that I've boldfaced, but I haven't fully analyzed. But this Arkansas Times story makes one major clear point--Governor Huckabee had placed the DuMond parole as a major point of his governors' agenda, even as presidential candidate Huckabee now denies that he had a major role DuMond's parole. There is even more information regarding the Huckabee's involvement in DuMond's parole in the Huffington Post, which has published letters sent to Huckabee by DuMond's rape victims, requesting that Huckabee not parole or commute DuMond's sentence.

Did Huckabee parole a convicted rapist due to Clinton hatred?

I've found this story through Americablog , on how Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee paroled a convicted rapist simply because the man raped a woman who was a distant relative of former president Bill Clinton. Here is the CBS News story, titled Paroled Rapist Could Haunt Huckabee:

In 1985, [Wayne] DuMond was convicted of the rape of a 17-year-old girl with a connection to then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton: She was the governor's distant cousin and the daughter of a major campaign contributor.

As Clinton rose to national prominence, the case came to the attention of his critics. Journalists and talk show hosts questioned the victim's story and suggested that DuMond had been railroaded by the former governor. Steve Dunleavy, a New York Post columnist, took up the case as a cause, calling DuMond’s conviction "a travesty of justice."

The story also came with a tabloid-ready twist: DuMond said that while awaiting trial, masked men broke into his house and castrated him. Though there were doubts about the story, it engendered sympathy for DuMond among Clinton foes.

DuMond's sentence had been set at life in prison, plus 20 years. In 1992, Clinton's successor in the Arkansas governor's mansion, Jim Guy Tucker, reduced that sentence to 39 years, making DuMond eligible for parole.

When Huckabee became governor in 1996, he expressed doubts about DuMond's guilt and said he was considering commuting his sentence to time served. After the victim and her supporters protested, Huckabee decided against commutation. But in 1997, according to the Kansas City Star, Huckabee wrote a letter to DuMond saying "my desire is that you be released from prison." Less than a year later, DuMond was granted parole.

Huckabee's office denied that the governor played a role in the parole board's decision, but there was evidence (exhaustively detailed here) to contradict that claim.

Charles Chastain, a Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who was on the parole board at the time, told the governor met with the board to argue on DuMond’s behalf.

"He thought DuMond had gotten a raw deal," said Chastain, who calls himself neutral towards Huckabee. "He said he'd been born on the wrong side of the tracks and hadn't been treated all that fairly."


DuMond's release was delayed because a number of states did not want to take him in, but he left prison in 1999 and ended up in Missouri. Not long after he arrived, he was arrested again - this time for sexually assaulting and murdering a woman named Carol Sue Shields. DuMond was also the leading suspect in the rape and murder of another woman. He was convicted of murdering Shields and died in prison in 2005.

So DuMond rapes a 17-year-old girl who happens to be a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. The right wingnuts complain that DuMond is getting a bad rap because he raped a Clinton. So Huckabee paroles DuMond, who then rapes and murders another woman. And what is Huckabee's excuse for paroling DuMond? Going back to the CBS News story:

Joe Carter, director of research for the Huckabee campaign, insists that Huckabee did not seek to pressure the parole board. "If it was such an important issue for him, he would have commuted his sentence," Carter told


In a statement, Huckabee Press Secretary Alice Stewart told that Huckabee “had no influence regarding the parole board's decision to release Wayne Dumond.”

“Governor Huckabee had no authority to grant parole to Wayne Dumond or anyone else -- governors don’t have that authority in the parole process,” she said.

According to Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley, who has tangled repeatedly with Huckabee over the years, the governor's influence clearly played a role in DuMond's release from prison.

"In the end, he took a series of actions that can be interpreted only one way: That he was an advocate for Wayne DuMond," said Brantley. "And it was bad judgment. And he's never been willing to take responsibility for it."

So Huckabee had no influence regarding the parole board's decision to release DuMond, and that the then-governor had no authority to grant DuMond a parole. If that is the case, then how can the Huckabee campaign explain Huckabee's letter to DuMond, saying that it was Huckabee's desire to release DuMond from prison? In addition, Huckabee also met with the parole board to argue for DuMond's release--because the parole board did end up agreeing with Huckabee and released DuMond. There is a lot more to the back story on Huckabee's involvement in paroling DuMond in this Arkansas Times story.