Saturday, December 31, 2005

U.S. Economy Officially Enters Its 'Uncle Earl' Phase

The Los Angeles Times ran a story in Friday's paper about the disappearance of employee pension plans and the likelihood that the pace of that disappearance will accelerate.

The story starts by looking at workers at Delphi Corporation, the auto parts manufacturer. The company's leaders took it into bankruptcy earlier this year and the employee pension plan was one of the first things targeted to be wiped out. They also demanded that employees take a 2/3 pay cut, but have since withdrawn that demand. The thought that this might be good news for Delphi employees just seems like wishful thinking at this point.

Here is a key section in the story:
Although Delphi has since backed off a bit — it says it's willing to negotiate with its unions and its former parent and largest customer, General Motors Corp. — the parts firm has left little doubt that its ultimate aim remains steep reductions in wages, benefits and retiree costs.

Delphi is at the cutting edge of a crisis that's engulfing the U.S. auto industry, much as it did steel and airlines. Its actions are adding to a gathering trend, a shift of economic risks once largely borne by business and government to the backs of working families.

Before the trouble is over, some believe, a corporate icon such as Ford Motor Co. or GM could be swept from the American landscape. So too could much of what remains of the already frayed relationship between millions of working people and their employers.

"When the history of this period is written, Delphi will be viewed as the tipping point where the auto industry either got its act together or failed," said David E. Cole, the son of a former GM president and head of the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. "The spillover to the rest of the economy is going to be tremendous."
Delphi is, as the article points out, tearing a page out of the playbook of the airlines and others who used the bankruptcy process to shed their pension obligations to employees. The burden ultimately falls on other (temporarily?) healthy pension plans, as the agency that steps in to make good on at least some of the promises (the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation) is funded by what amounts to a tax on other pension plans.

So, the pension plans will likely go the way of job security, company loyalty and other myths that defined post-World War II America. But, these pensions were based on promises companies made to their workers during those years and many of those promises were codified in contracts between workers and companies. The phrase "not worth the paper they were written on" comes to mind, but let's not get brutally honest about it during the holiday season.

Instead, allow me to explain my belief that this tipping point we've just encountered has ushered in the "Uncle Earl K. Long Era" of American economic life.

As source material, I'm using A.J. Leibling's book on Earl Long, called The Earl of Louisiana. In my copy (the 1981 paperback edition from LSU Press), on pages 40-41, Leibling reports one of the great stories about Uncle Earl that appears to have taken place during his third term as governor:
"Earl likes to cut them down to size before they get too big and fresh," Tom Sancton said. "You heard what he did to the fellow from Alexandria who got a big retainer from the theater owners to try to remove a two per cent tax on movie admissions? The fellow went to see Earl before the last campaign and came back and told his clients that it was in the bag. Then he went out and worked like a dog for Earl — speaking on television and radio, and stumping and conspiring and kissing babies and hustling votes — until Earl was elected Governor. One of the first things Earl did in new Legislature was to oppose removal of the tax. The fellow from Alexandria went to see him — he was afraid he would have to refund his fee, or the theater owners would shoot him — and he said, 'I told my clients that you said you wanted their support and that you wouldn't block removal of the tax. What do I tell them now?' You know what old Earl said? He said, 'I'll tell you what to tell them. Tell them I lied.'"
That is, apparently, what a number of corporations have decided to say about their pension plans. If we have, in fact, crossed a tipping point, others will follow. That is to say, corporate America is telling those who (in the words of Bruce Springsteen) made those companies "rich enough to forget my name" that the promise of a secure retirement in return for years of service was a lie. Contracts are, apparently, for suckers.

This is more of the "one way street America" that big money and their Republican allies are creating here. Reciprocity is out; cashing in is 'in.' The idea of shared responsibility is out. So, too, is the concept of the general good. Nope, it's 'all for one and all for one' in this age. And, Uncle Earl's statement to the man from Alexandria nicely captures the essence of the new era.

By the way, another great book on Earl K. Long is Uncle Earl Deserved Better, by my good friend Jack McGuire of Mandeville. I did the production and printing on the book back in 1995, so I'm a bit biased, but it's a well-documented, highly enlightening read.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Abramoff Scandal: "The Enron of Lobbying"

The Washington Post tries to provide an overarching story on the scandals that are rapidly closing in on Jack Abramoff. They do a pretty good job.

The article traces Abramoff's rise and fall. It somewhat understates a key fact: Abramoff is a product of the Republican Party. He, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist came up through the party at the same time, starting with College Republicans (and apparently playing fast and loose with money in those days, too, according to the story).

In the 1980s, Abramoff was at least peripherally involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal. He made a political friendship with Tom DeLay back in the mid 1990s and that opened some significant doors. He's been involved with gambling interests for quite some time and his involvement in the Bush/Cheney transition team at the Department of the Interior provided him the access and influence that he turned into rivers of cash from various Indian casinos.

The paper provides a helpful chronology of Abramoff's career. And, a graphic that ties together some of the activities and some of those with whom he worked most closely.

Yeah, this is a Democratic blog and there can be no doubt that most Democrats think that the corruption exemplified by Abramoff is closely tied to the attempt of DeLay, Bush, Cheney and Karl Rove to grab all of the power in Washington.

But, the Post does a great service by providing quotes from two Republicans that confirm what we've been saying here: that this is a huge scandal that is quantitatively and qualitatively different from anything seen before in American politics.

Here's the first:
Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down."
Here's the second:
Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (Okla.), usually a defender of lobbying and Congress, said there have always been members who get caught "stuffing money in their pants." But he said this is different -- a "disgusting" and disturbingly broad scandal driven by lobbyists whose attitude seemed to be "government to the highest bidder."

"This is at a scale that is really shocking," said Edwards, who teaches public and international affairs at Princeton. "There is a certain kind of arrogance that in the past you might not have had. They were so supremely confident that there didn't seem to be any kind of moral compass here."
Abramoff and his team are the poster boys for the Culture of Greed that has come to define Republican operations in Washington.

These people came to power claiming they would 'clean up the mess' and demanding accountability. They've created a much bigger mess, but the demand for accountability is now more important than ever.

While the Post points out that some congressmen and senators who received money from Abramoff and his clients and associates are returning that money, no Louisiana legislator has done so. Many of them have taken that money. Their silence on what will be one of the largest corruption scandals ever to strike the national government is deafening!

How about it Congressman Boustany?

How about it Senator Vitter?

How about Congressman McCrery?

How about it Congressman Jindal?

Yes, How about it Senator Landrieu?

An accountability moment is fast approaching. Who's going to respond?

UPDATE (Wednesday afternoon): The Post includes this story naming those who've drawn the interest of investigators who are looking at various aspects of Abramoff's operation.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Poll: Republicans Give Higher Priority to Iraq than Gulf Coast!

Will someone please call Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and tell him to look no further for the reason for the Federal government's slow response to Katrina (and to Rita) than his own party?

Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi and former chairman of that party, has raged against the slow response of the Feds to the needs of communities in the wake of Katrina. Our Governor Blanco has done the same thing, but that all gets lost in the extreme partisanship of our nation's capitol because she's a Democrat.

The reason for the slow federal response is revealed in a Washington Post story published on the day after Christmas. The real reason is that Republicans don't want the job done!

It turns out that a plurality of Republicans believe that the nation should focus on Iraq rather than on rebuilding the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast of their own country! The margin is 46-37 percent.

The good news is that the country as a whole favors rebuilding the Gulf Coast by a 58-28 margin. Which means that there are large majorities of Democrats and Independents who want the President to make good on his promises to the coast. It also means that the Republican Party is badly out of step with the rest of the country.

The bad news is that Washington is run by Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a White House that doesn't know much else BUT playing to its base.

So, getting our coastal communities the aid they need, that they were promised, and that they deserve will be harder work than it by any right ought to be. But, isn't that the story of the Bush administration: it's always WAY too hard to get them to do the right thing and, all too often, not possible to do so!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Contributions + Contracts = Corruption? Nah! They're Republicans!!! Charlie B. Got Some $$$, too!

Yet another of Charlie Boustany's Republican Congressional patrons has cropped up in a news story about a congressman and a contractor skirting very close to the edge of ethical conduct.

The Washington Post reports on the dealings between Congressman Harold 'Hal' Rogers of Kentucky and a Massachusetts company trying to make its way in the world as a homeland security contractor. Low and behold! They gave some money to Rogers (did we mention that he chairs the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee?) and landed a pretty nice ($463 million — but who's counting?) contract from the Transportation Security Administration.

Some call it corruption. Others call it getting their due. Some, apparently, call these relationships at least worthy of review.

It is worth noting that Congressman Rogers' political action committee (HALPAC) has been a persistent and significant contributor to Congressman Charles Boustany's 2004 and 2006 campaigns. Pardon me, I take the liberty of calling $18,500 a significant amount of money.

Is there something about being a Republican congressman from the Seventh District in Louisiana that makes is near impossible to get out of the way of tainted contributions? Congressman Boustany's steadfast refusal to separate his campaign from corrupt (DeLay, Abramoff, et al) contributors and tainted contributors must surely raise questions about Mr. Boustany's ethical judgment. Oh, I forgot, he's a Republican, so he must be presumed to be ethical!

For someone who promised to separate us from the corrupt politics of the past, Charlie is sure running in extremely tight formation with the most corrupt elements of his chosen party. Has he even hinted at returning a penny of this tainted money? Not that I know of, but that's just me!

How long can one run in corrupt circles without being affected by it? Is Charlie Boustany trying to make himself a test case? How long do we have to wait for answers?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Dang! Another Boustany Contributor in Ethics Trouble!

Poor Charlie Boustany! Copley New Service is reporting that another contributor to the Republican Congressman's campaign is in ethics trouble tied to a questionable relationship with a lobbyist.

The contributor is California Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (not the entertainer), who has made at least three contributions to Boustany's campaign fund.

While our Congressman has not been personally tied to corrupt behavior, a growing number of his Congressional patrons have.

Unlike a number of other congressmen who've felt some sense of shame for having been tied to 'dirty money,' our Congressman has steadfastly refused to give back even a penny of the tainted dough that's made its way into the coffers of his two campaigns.

That's backbone for you! Ain't nothin' gonna keep Chuck from a buck! Ethics? Smethics!

Daschle: Bush Claims "Power We Didn't Grant"

Former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle exposes the lie in President Bush and his defenders' claims that Congress granted him the power to violate civil liberties when it authorize the government to pursue al Qaeda.

In an Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Post, Daschle said Bush/Cheney and their 'amen chorus' are wrong about the additional powers they claim Congress gave them:
As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.
Here is the proof Daschle offers:
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.

The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration's request for an unprecedented grant of authority.

The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress -- but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language.
Daschle goes on to say that he doesn't believe there is anything in the constitution or the law that gives Bush the power he's claiming.

Gee! Not in the constitution and not in the law. Would that make these NSA wiretaps and email fishing expiditions unconstitutional and illegal? Article One, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution does offer a suggested remedy.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Decade of Accumulated Republican Corruption Nears Detonation

Almost out of money and definitely out of luck, lobbyist Jack Abramoff is reported nearing a deal with federal prosecutors that could implicate as many as a dozen members of Congress in a corruption scandal unlike anything seen in modern American politics.

If a deal is struck (there are two sets of federal investigators unravelling Abramoff's various scams), what will set this scandal apart from others will be the fact that it reached so high up and so wide into a single party (that would be the Republican Party that had as its public face that of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay).

Congressman Charles Boustany is travelling on a photo-op to Iraq with one of the Congressmen who will likely be among the first Abramoff will bring down with him, Bob Ney of Ohio.

Boustany is also linked to the scandal through the significant amounts of money his two campaigns (2004 and the upcoming 2006 campaign) received from DeLay's main political action committee (Americans for a Republican Majority). DeLay figures to be another of the elected officials Abramoff will implicate.

In exchange for that 2004 campaign money, Boustany voted to effectively shut down the House Ethics Committee in order to protect DeLay in a vote cast by the rookie Congressman on his first day official day as a member of the House of Representatives.

What has become clear through press coverage (and what Abramoff's plea deals will confirm) is that a culture of corruption arose in Washington centered around the efforts by DeLay and others in the Republican leadership to grab control of the legislative and lobbying mechanisms in the capital. The extent of the corruption that will be revealed will only prove the success of the effort.

Like the Texas redistricting scandal in which DeLay finds himself facing criminal charges, all of this Washington scandal is about seizing money for political gain to distort the electoral process and usher in an era of permanent Republican majority rule.

These are the people and the methods that brought Charles Boustany to Congress. Now he's going to have to dance with the ones that brung him!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lawbreaker in Chief

This is must read stuff from WIRED by the executive director of the Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. Start with the first two sentences:
Ignorance of the law is no defense. Someone should tell the president.
Ouch! Guess that applies to the Vice President and the Attorney General, too?

Here are the final two paragraphs of the piece:
Until recently, Congress and the courts have been open-minded about the administration's arguments in light of recent terrorist attacks and the nation's enduring war in Iraq. But that pattern of deference is about to change. The Senate, at least temporarily, has suspended debate on reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act, perhaps out of concern that the administration doesn't plan on following whatever rules Congress puts in place. Republican Sen. John McCain has pushed his anti-torture bill over strong administration objections. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that citizens detained in Guantanamo are entitled to lawyers and some due process. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in last year's opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, "a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

I think that 2006 will be a time when we look back on this surveillance with a clearer eye -- one that takes in these violations, the lack of due process at Guantanamo and the government's sanctioning of torture as illegal acts. In that light, recent administration speeches are less justifications of government policy than they are admissions of guilt.
You owe it to yourself to read the entire piece.

Anyone hear any member of our state's Congressional delegation speak out in favor of protecting our civil liberties in the past week or so? The silence is deafening!

Thank you, Mr. President-dictator, Sir!

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives failed to vote on Congressman Richard Baker's bill to afford help to homeowners whose property was damaged by either Katrina or Rita.

According to the Times Picayune, it turns out it was the Bush White House that left Louisiana's citizens and congressional delegation out to dry.

Baker says the White House says they'll be happy to talk about it in the New Year. Uh, the White House's man on the ground isn't so sure.

Apparently, the only thing Bush is certain about is that he's in charge and the law is whatever he says it is!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Profile in Integrity: Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest

Not everyone is content to merely stand around and criticize the Bush administration's Wars on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Washington Post reports that a member of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has resigned in protest of President Bush's illegal and unconstitutional use of the National Security Agency to intercept foreign and domestic communications.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Merry Christmas, Katrina & Rita Victims, from your Republican friends in the U.S. Congress!

The Republican-controlled United States House of Representatives has refused to endorse a plan to help Louisiana homeowners devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The plan was proposed by one of their own, Republican Congressman Richard Baker of Louisiana.

Oh, but I noticed the Republicans did managed to make cuts in programs that help the poor and middle class and are still working on more tax cuts for the rich.

You can read Congressman Baker's statement on the failure here. A lesser man would have pointed out that this was less-than-compassionate conservatism.

Merry Christmas, Louisiana hurricane victims, from your friends in the Republican-controlled United States House of Representatives!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Be Careful What You Ask For — At the Library!

I found a link to this story at a business site. It describes a visit by federal Homeland Security Agents to a college student's home after the student requested the library order a book for him that was research material for a political science class.

Now, this action was taken under the auspices of the USA Patriot Act, which Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and others have succeeded in blocking until respect for the civil liberties of American citizens (like this student) are given more protection.

The Bush administration has used the war on terror to launch a campaign to essentially shred the constitution in the name of war powers for the presidency. This is not what this country is supposed to be about. Read the story about this college student and understand what this argument is about.

Scanlon bragged about controlling legislative districts in Louisiana

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a Texas district attorney is considering an investigation into the Indian casino-funded, Jack Abramoff-related lobbying activities of former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.

Here's a synopsis of the focus of the potential inquiry:
An investigation would focus more attention on Reed's work for Abramoff — a three-year partnership in which Reed conducted anti-gambling campaigns in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. Two of Abramoff's tribal clients, eager to preserve their casino markets, funneled Reed more than $5 million toward his efforts.
Now, ethics laws vary across state lines, so it could be that there is nothing to investigate at the state level, though the article suggests that Texas lobbying laws might apply to Reed's activities there.

This paragraph raises questions about the extent of the influence that Abramoff, his associate Michael Scanlon, and Reed wielded in Louisiana:
Reed's work was part of a larger effort by Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, to sell the Louisiana Coushatta tribe on the need to expand its political clout into Texas. "Can you imagine the power of controlling legislative districts in the state of Texas in the same fashion as your home state?" Scanlon wrote to a tribal official, according to an e-mail released by a Senate committee.
The Scanlon quote comes from an e-mail that turned up in Senator John McCain's investigation into Abramoff's operation. The Abramoff operation, which might well have funded a broader web of Washington corruption, was financed primarily by the Louisiana Coushatta Indians, owners of the casino and hotel operations based near the Allen Parish town of Kinder, Louisiana.

Scanlon has recently agreed to cooperate with a federal criminal investigation into Abramoff's various activities, which reportedly include bribery of members of Congress and the executive branch.

What do we know about the extent of the influence Abramoff, Scanlon and Reed had in Louisiana, particularly during the second term of Governor Mike Foster (that's when the Jena Choctaws were closest to get their casino license and the time when Abramoff was exerting his influence in the U.S. Department of the Interior)? It is documented that this is when Abramoff hooked up with then-Congressman David Vitter.

But, what else were they doing in Louisiana? Which legislative districts did they control here? Has this ever been investigated? Where's the attorney general's office on this? What about a district attorney in the Allen Parish area?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

NYT: "We are about to lose New Orleans"

The New York Times' editorial (link via today says it all:
We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.
Why? Because President Bush and the Republican controlled Congress are reneging on their commitment to build a levee system that can protect the Crescent City.
The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?
The editorial makes it clear that there are responsibilities that reside closer to home:
Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.
But, ultimate responsibility resides where the power is:
The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.
The paper then calls for something the President abhors: straight talk.
Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.
What has become clear is that New Orleans flooded because of flaws in the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If inflicting this harm on New Orleans was the action of a national agency, rescuing it is a national responsibility.

The sad news is that this Republican administration and this Republican-controlled Congress have shown little in the way of responsible behavior, particularly in response to the storms that hit here in September (ask Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour).

Once, we had a president who said the buck stopped at his desk when it came to responsibility. The buck still stops at that desk in that office, no matter what the current occupant of that office believes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

'There was a disconnect'

Limbaugh, off the air in N.O. since Katrina managed to alienate the city on his first day back. Limbaugh tried to get New Orleanians to agree that the problem was New Orleans. New Orleans wasn't buying it.

A story on chronicles the debacle"

There was a disconnect'

WWL radio invites Rush Limbaugh to New Orleans so he'll know what he's talking about

Limbaugh, the most listened-to radio talker in the land, introduced caller "Ray from New Orleans," where, said the host, "They're getting back to normal in the city."

"Things are not returning to normal," said Ray. "I wish you would come down here to see for yourself..."

Ray set the tone by criticizing President Bush's fabulously framed Jackson Square TV speech to the nation.

"All lies," the caller said. "None of the things that he promised are happening."

It went on and on. Rush ineffectually tries to find some credible way to blame New Orleans for the plight she finds herself in but, shock, New Orleanians refuse to play his game. Rush usually makes his hay by ridiculing those that he thinks his audience resents. He forgot the basic formula here: you can't make much hay ridiculing your audience.

There's been a lot of right-wing nonsense smearing Louisiana that is intended to cover up federal incompetence. Rush thought that would be an easy game for him to play. But Ray from New Orleans wasn't having any of it. We shouldn't either.

It's our turn to say: We're angry and we're not going to take it any more.

Don't Blame Us. We Voted for Kerry and Blanco!

Louisiana Republicans, bereft of any ideas other than trying to gain political advantage from the catastrophe of Katrina and the disaster of Rita, are reportedly printing up bumper stickers that say, "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Jindal."

The idea is that Governor Blanco has somehow botched the response to these two storms and that the state would somehow have been better served had the boy genius won the 2003 governor's race.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour apparently disagrees. The Republican Governor of our neighbor to the east is putting blame where he feels it justly resides: the Bush administration's FEMA and the Republican controlled Congress.

Perhaps if Jindal and other Republican members of our congressional delegation weren't so busy sucking up to the corrupt leadership of their party and making the 'recovery' safe for no-bid contractors, the people of our state and Governor Barbour's might actually be making progress on this recovery.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bush Giving up on New Orleans: Fallujah on the Bayou!

Read this Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece by Mike Tidwell (author of Bayou Farewell) and weep.

Republicans, looking for a way not to fund a recovery package for New Orleans, compare it to Baghdad, saying both are corrupt.

The more accurate comparison is to Fallujah. In both Fallujah and New Orleans, policy and operation failures of the U.S. government resulted in the destruction of a city and thousands of death. In each case, U.S. promises to reconstruct the cities proved empty.

Boustany Traveling to Iraq with Ohio Congressman Implicated in Abramoff Scandal

The Daily Advertiser reported on Sunday that 7th District Congressman Charles Boustany is making a photo-op trip to Iraq later this month.

The story includes the fact that Boustany will be traveling in the company of fellow Republican and Jack Abramoff beneficiary Bob Ney of Ohio. It appears that this could be one of the last junkets Ney takes before what appears to be his near-certain indictment in the Abramoff corruption scandal. Ney and another of Boustany's patrons, indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay, are said to be targets in that aspect of the Abramoff scandal involving bribing members of Congress and members of their staffs.

About the only thing more pathetic than the company Boustany is keeping these days is the attempt by Boustany and his staff to tie this current trip to the members of Louisiana National Guard units who have served (and returned) from Iraq. Here's Boustany's whack at it:
Boustany wants to see how the Iraqi government is working, but mostly he wants to see where Louisiana troops served.

"The biggest step is to see the troops on the ground," Boustany said. "I owe it to the families of those who lost their lives and served, and to recognize their hard work."
Then, a staff member takes another stab at it:
"He wanted to be in one of the first groups, considering that the TOW (Platoon 23rd Marines) and the 256th (National Guard Infantry Brigade) have come back," Jones said. "He wants to go and experience what they experienced and see what they have seen and what they went through."
Does that mean Boustany will be going on patrol in inadequately armored vehicles, like those Marines and National Guardsmen?

Look for 'Boustany the Liberator' images culled from this trip to be appearing in the Congressman's re-election campaign ads next year.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Fixing the Game - New York Times

In the eyes of Bush/Cheney/DeLay Republicans, government exists solely for the aim of advancing partisan advantage. In their view, there is no such thing as 'the greater good.'

This editorial from today's New York Times looks at how this approach to government has affected the Justice Department.

Here's the take-away:
Mr. Bush and his team don't understand that they merely hold the current majority in a system designed to bring periodic changes in the governing party and to protect the rights and values of the minority party. The idea that the winners should trash the system to make sure the democratic process ended with them was discredited back around the time of the Bolsheviks.
Ruinous budget deficits. Shredding the Bill of Rights. Launching an unprovoked war based on manipulated intelligence. Violating treaties to which the United States is a signator, including prohibitions on torture. Waging war on the middle class by shifting the tax burden off the wealthiest among us.

These people are not conservatives. They are radicals.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

'Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War'

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University, is author of "Transformation of War" (Free Press, 1991) and about 15 other books on military history and strategy. He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.

Here's what he wrote in the November 25 edition of Forward about the Bush War in Iraq:
The number of American casualties in Iraq is now well more than 2,000, and there is no end in sight. Some two-thirds of Americans, according to the polls, believe the war to have been a mistake. And congressional elections are just around the corner.

What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon — and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.
He continues:
Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began. When Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, the military was able to carry out the operation in a single night without incurring any casualties. That, however, is not how things will happen in Iraq.

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge — if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.
Mr. van Creveld says the U.S. will be forced to withdraw from Iraq but cannot afford to leave the region because of the oil there. He says the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice team is not up to the job of maneuvering the complex situation that will exist on the backside of the U.S. failure in Iraq:
First and foremost, such a presence will be needed to counter Iran, which for two decades now has seen the United States as "the Great Satan." Tehran is certain to emerge as the biggest winner from the war — a winner that in the not too distant future is likely to add nuclear warheads to the missiles it already has. In the past, Tehran has often threatened the Gulf States. Now that Iraq is gone, it is hard to see how anybody except the United States can keep the Gulf States, and their oil, out of the mullahs' clutches.

A continued American military presence will be needed also, because a divided, chaotic, government-less Iraq is very likely to become a hornets' nest. From it, a hundred mini-Zarqawis will spread all over the Middle East, conducting acts of sabotage and seeking to overthrow governments in Allah's name.

The Gulf States apart, the most vulnerable country is Jordan, as evidenced by the recent attacks in Amman. However, Turkey, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Israel are also likely to feel the impact. Some of these countries, Jordan in particular, are going to require American assistance.

Maintaining an American security presence in the region, not to mention withdrawing forces from Iraq, will involve many complicated problems, military as well as political. Such an endeavor, one would hope, will be handled by a team different from — and more competent than — the one presently in charge of the White House and Pentagon.
Mr. van Creveld has to reach far back into history to find a war of imperial overreach with such disastrous impact on the country that launched it:
For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.
My guess is that the first impact of this piece will be for someone at the Pentagon to make sure that van Creveld is no longer required reading at any U.S. military college. That's fits a Bush administration pattern, too: attack the messenger.

It's ALL ONLY about Politics for Republicans

Three stories in two days make clear that Republican control of the House, the Senate and the White House is not about governing. It's about making government an instrument of politics.

Story #1:
The second redistricting of Texas (made possible through the use of illegal corporate campaign contributes in 2002 statewide elections) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to the staff of the U.S. Justice Department. Those opinions were overridden by the political appointees in the department, including Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Story #2: The Congressional Research Office says the Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency 'fixed' the analysis of the impact of the Orwellian-sounding "Clear Skies" air quality regulations to make them appear more effective than they actually are. (Fixing the analysis seems to be the hallmark of the political operatives of this administration; see, "War in Iraq" for details.)

Story#3: The so-called "Plan for Victory" in Iraq is not a military strategy. Turns out its a poll-driven effort to raise flagging public support for this foolish war.

This administration is not interested in solving any problems; only, gaining political advantage. That certainly explains to reliance on cronyism to fill government slots at places like FEMA.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Republicans Proclaim Shock at Cunningham's Admission of Corruption!

Like Claude Rains' Captain Renault character in Casablanca, President Bush and other Republicans have declared that they are shocked — SHOCKED! — the fellow Republican and Congressman Duke Cunningham has admitted to taking bribes.

Of course, Captain Renault was a gambler at Rick's Café American. Everyone knew it.

Does anyone actually believe the Republicans are upset that Cunningham took bribes? Or, is it that he got caught?

Why the Abramoff Corruption Investigation Is Relevant to Louisiana

Bloomberg reports the latest revelations in the scandal swirling around Jack Abramoff's relationship with the Coushatta Indian tribe of Louisiana.

The relevance of this story goes beyond the immediate corruption itself, which is pretty staggering. I mean, $80 million from a handful of tribes over three years is not chicken feed!

For starters, there is the fact that Abramoff and his colleague Ralph Reed used some of this money to attempt to manipulate politics in Louisiana. Reed, you may recall, used money from the tribes funneled through Abramoff to mobilize Christian anti-gambling forces in Louisiana to fight the possible issuance of another Indian casino license in Louisiana.

We have enough issues with homegrown corruption in Louisiana without having Washington- and Georgia-based hypocrites running around throwing off cash by the bucket load in order to advance their schemes.

Isn't it a cruelly ironic that the Washington corrupt establishment is now using Louisiana's reputation for corruption as the basis for living up to promises to rebuild and restore communities wrecked by hurricanes Katrina and Rita?

The fact is that the money Abramoff and his cohorts raised from the Indian tribes and other client/victims was used to fund a political slush fund in Washington controlled by Republicans for the primary benefit of Republicans. How high do Abramoff's connections go? Susan Ralston was Jack Abramoff's personal assistant before she hired on for a similar position with Karl Rove. Ralston, apparently, served as the gatekeeper for Abramoff's luxury box influence machine at D.C. area sports venues.

Much of this corruption flowed off the proceeds of shady deals Abramoff struck with Indian tribes in Louisiana.

Republican Congressman Pleads Guilty to Accepting $2.4 Million in Bribes

A conservative Republican Congressman from California plead guilty on Monday to accepting $2.4 million in bribes to help friends win military contracts.

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he was guilty of one count of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, tax evasion, wire fraud and mail fraud.

Cunningham was no back-bencher. Here's how he is described in Tuesday's New York Times:
Mr. Cunningham, who is known for his combative conservatism and his emotional outbursts, served on the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and as chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence.
Using the Appropriations and Intelligence committees as gateways to riches?

Here's what the prosecutor said about Cunningham:
"He did the worst thing an elected official can do," Carol C. Lam, the United States attorney, said in a statement. "He enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there."
Cunningham's plea adds to the pantheon of Republican perp walks that has become the near-signature of the party that a mere five years ago boasted of its moral rectitude.

The New York Times provides a handy run-down of Republican criminal and ethical lapses currently under investigative scrutiny:
In the Senate, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the majority leader, is under scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the timing of his trades in the stock of his family's health care company. In the House, Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges in his home state.

In a separate Justice Department investigation, Michael Scanlon, a former spokesman for Mr. DeLay, pleaded guilty last week to bribery. Prosecutors said Mr. Scanlon was part of a conspiracy to defraud Indian tribes and win legislative favors from lawmakers in return for campaign donations, meals, entertainment and other benefits. A former White House aide has also been indicted in that investigation, which is centered around Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist and ally of Mr. DeLay who worked with Mr. Scanlon. As part of his plea, Mr. Scanlon agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

In addition, I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted last month for perjury and false statements in the investigation of the leaking of the name of a C.I.A. operative. Other White House officials, including the senior political adviser Karl Rove, remain under investigation in that case.
Cunningham's plea is the latest evidence that Republicans in the Bush/Cheney/DeLay era have cultivated a culture of corruption in Washington.

Thanks to the fact that under Republican control, Congress has completely abandoned its oversight and investigative functions, the biggest scandal of all is not mentioned on this list. That scandal? The manipulation of intelligence by the Bush administration to take this country into an unprovoked war.

Monday, November 28, 2005

State Senator Butch Gautreaux

The AP reported that Last week State Senator Butch Gautreaux took to the senate floor to give an impassioned closing speach to the special session. He commended the State Senators and Representatives that worked together to insure that as many of the needs of our state were answered in the recovery from Katrina and Rita. However, he was not able to speak as well on Washington - In fact, his statement was a clear indictment on the Bush Administration.

Senator Butch Gautreaux:

I wanted to take a few minutes as we wrap up this short and successful session to thank you for the way you worked together.

We got a lot done in two and half weeks. We got a lot done for Louisiana and for our future because we worked together. We may have differed on how best to get the job done but every one of us was focused on what's best for Louisiana.

And today we still all have one goal: a successful recovery for Louisiana.

I wish I could offer this kind of praise for the leadership in Washington. I can’t … and that worries me. The future of this state depends on funding from the Congress and President Bush. Like it or not, its true.

I worry that Louisiana’s needs will be lost in the debate over the botched war in Iraq.

I worry that our needs will be lost as the Bush Administration makes sure that the
very richest Americans get a tax cut. They just rammed a bill through the US House of Representatives to cut programs for the poor and middle class to fund those tax cuts. They cut into vital services like Medicaid, food stamps and student loans … all to give millions more to millionaires.

They’re playing Robin Hood …but in reverse.

I wonder HOW they will meet Louisiana’s needs … IF they will meet our needs.

The Bush administration took the budget surpluses it inherited and transformed them into massive deficits … deficits with no end in sight … deficits that our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will be paying off long after we are gone.

I worry for Louisiana.

Bush administration policies continue to benefit big business at the expense of working Americans. This administration values profits above all else: above the
health and safety of workers, damage to our environment, the exporting of American jobs, and the future of our economy.

I worry for Louisiana.

This administration and their radical allies have succeeded in using faith and religion to divide and polarize this nation. They’ve done a skillful job of melding God and partisan politics. As a Christian, an American and as a veteran, I abhor this perversion both of Christ’s ministry on Earth … and … of our Founding Fathers work creating this nation.

I did not step to this podium on a whim.

I stepped up here today because I care for this state … I love this nation … and I’m concerned about the future for every family in Louisiana and America.

Well, not every family. I know the Bush family won’t be missing any meals. They aren’t still waiting for FEMA to assess their storm-damaged home or business. They don’t worry about paying the mortgage or covering medical bills. They won’t face layoffs. They’ll be fine … and so will their friends in the highest income brackets.

It’s the rest of us that have my attention: our children and our grandchildren…..and the victims of Rita and Katrina.

Most of you know me well.

You know that I aim to be diplomatic – even reserved -- in my relationships with you … and in my comments in this chamber. You know my record: a solid Southern
Democrat … conservative with state finances and dedicated to the rights of ALL

You know that I respect this institution..… just as I respect the Office of the President of the United States.

You will remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for that office that he pledged to bring dignity and integrity to the office.

He has clearly failed.

We’ve watched the CIA leak scandal unfold over the last months and weeks.

Yes, no one has been convicted of any crime -- yet. But, from the facts and from the public record, it’s clear that White House leaders revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent. They violated national security and jeopardized the life and career of an agent merely for revenge.

The husband of that agent questioned the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq. The White House responded they way they always respond: with a vicious attack. That’s the pattern. Anyone who crosses them faces similar treatment.

Look what happened last week to the decorated veteran, a US Congressman, who dared question Bush’s war in Iraq. They called him a coward and a traitor.

Look what happened after Katrina when the White House realized how poorly FEMA performed. They heard the criticism and they attacked. They came after this state and they came after our governor.

They attacked Louisiana. They attacked our National Guard. They attacked our
governor. They attacked with lies. They said we never evacuated New Orleans. They said Gov. Blanco never declared a state of emergency. They said we never mobilized the National Guard. They said we couldn’t rescue our own people.

They attacked with a web of lies that still entangles Louisiana – ALL of Louisiana – a web of lies that hampers our recovery to this day.

Now … I wonder what they are going to do with me.

We’ve seen those attacks waged against anyone who questioned the claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We’ve seen this administration lead us into a bloody war … a war with no foreseeable end … on the basis of intelligence that is questionable – at best. The more we learn, the more we know that the Bush administration manufactured the pretext for war. They manufactured a link between Sadam and 9/11 and they manufactured the threat from WMDs.

They manufactured this war based on the dream of a quick and easy victory … a dream that has turned into a nightmare for the families of the 2,000 American dead … a nightmare for the countless maimed and wounded … a nightmare for the untold thousands of dead Iraqi civilians.

I would like to ask the President if he still believes in “Mission Accomplished.”

I know I risk being called un-American and having people say I don’t support our troops. But, I will risk those attacks because I stand here to speak the truth.

The truth is, President Bush has let this nation down. I worry that he will let this state down.

We’ve been working hard down here in Louisiana every since that first hurricane hit. We worked hard in so many ways: to rescue victims, clean up our neighborhoods, reopen our businesses … and this Legislature worked hard the last two and half weeks to keep the recovery going.

We succeeded this session because we worked together.

I came to praise this body and our Legislature … to hold us up as an example of cooperation for others to see.

I will be praying that others will see how the people of Louisiana are helping themselves and working together for a brighter future.

It is quite clear that only weeks after President Bush gave his theatrical speach in Jackson Square New Orleans that we would see the largest reconstruction project the our country as ever seen, that little or nothing is happening. We are suffering here, our people are scattered all over the country, unable to return home as they still don't have power, clean water or shelter. Businesses are suffering - many predict a dim future if action is not taken now.

We owe Senator Gautreaux our thanks for sure, but MORE than that we owe him our voice and our actions! We must stand up and demand the help he promised us, we must demand that our representatives are held accountable.

Just this past week Congress voted to give another $70 Billion in Tax Cuts to the UBER Rich all the while cutting funding for College Educational Loans/Grants, Medicaid, Food Stamps and many other important programs that Louisiana needs to survive.

We must stand up, we must act.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Can Hurt the Wealthy — Along with the Rest of Us!

What passes for Bush economics is a faith-based commitment to cutting taxes on the wealthy, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the need, regardless of the impact on the economy. Taking care of his class has been a hallmark of this President Bush throughout the nearly five years of his tenure.

As the Congressional Budget Office and others have pointed out, one impact of the Bush tax cuts has been to shift more of the tax burden off the wealthy an onto the middle class. Bush is not middle class; what does he care?

But, what if the tax cuts for the wealthy were not actually good for the wealthy?

A colleague of the incoming head of the Federal Reserve System made just that argument in a New York Times business article over the holiday.

Because Bush-o-nomics is 'faith-based' the fact that the tax cuts might not actually be in the best interests of the wealthy will not get in the way of the President and his allies wanting further cuts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the administration is now finding it difficult to recruit serious economics to fill positions in the government.

Consider this:
The White House and Congress need as many as five academic economists of high caliber, and it's not obvious where they will come from. The Republican Party may be facing something of a shallow bench.

"Bush's reputation in at least the academic community is about as low as you can imagine," said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the council during President Ronald Reagan's first term and is now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group. "A lot of people would not be willing to give up a good tenured position for a position in the White House."
Surely, they'll find a handful of cronies willing to take the post. Michael Brown could well turn out to be the rule, rather than the exception in this incompetent administration.

Iraq abuse 'as bad as Saddam era'

The BBC today carries this report on comments about human rights conditions in his country:
The former Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has called for immediate action against human rights abuses.

Such abuses are as bad today as they were under Saddam Hussein, Mr Allawi told UK newspaper The Observer.

Militias were operating with impunity within the Interior Ministry, torturing and killing Iraqis in secret bunkers.

He warned the militias had infiltrated the police and other institutions, and their influence could spread like a disease throughout the government.

Refresh my memory, please.

These casualties were for what purpose?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wall Street Journal: 'Abramoff Scandal Probe Bigger Than We Thought'

Reuters reports that the Wall Street Journal says the Justice Department's investigation into what are alleged to be Jack Abramoff's corrupt business practices is much broader than originally thought.

Three Republican members of the House of Representatives (including Charles Boustany's patron Tom DeLay), a Republican U.S. Senator, 17 current and former congressional aides, plus an official in the Interior Department and the government's procurement office are under scrutiny by the Justice Department's public integrity and fraud divisions. Boustany also received money from political action committees that received money from Abramoff.

Here's how Reuters described the Journal's thumbnail description of the investigation:
It said investigators were looking into whether Abramoff and his partners made illegal payoffs to the lawmakers and aides in the form of campaign contributions, sports tickets, meals, travel and job offers, in exchange for helping their clients.
The amount of money involved on the Indian casino side of this scandal alone ($80 million!) makes all other Washington corruption scandals pale in comparison.

This is no accident. It is well known that Republicans, under DeLay's leadership, have made a concerted effort to seize control of the money in politics, by pressuring companies to hire former Republican aides and congressmen as lobbyists. This is the infamous K Street Project.
K Street is the street of choice in Washington where lobbyists have set up shop.

Now that indictments have begun to flow and people, like Scanlon, have started to enter plea bargains, the scope of this scandal will begin to become clear. This is only the beginning.

One thing that is over: Any Republican claim to integrity. Lord Acton needs to be updated. Apparently, the very attempt to gather absolute power is corrupting.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Does Abramoff Scandal Threaten Vitter?

After about a gazillion years of Republican harping about Democratic corruption, it looks like the Jack Abramoff scandal appears that it could well involve significant members of the Republican Congressional leadership in Washington.

Abramoff's partner in crime, Michael Scanlon, copped a plea today in a federal court in Washington, agreeing to turn state's evidence against Abramoff. Scanlon knows everything that happened. Much of the money involved in the scandal ($80 million from Indian tribes alone) flowed through his bank accounts. He's agreed to give the tribes $19 million in restitution.

The indictment alleges that Scanlon and Abramoff used Abramoff's Washington restaurant Signatures and luxury boxes at the MCI Center and FedEx Field to hand out favors to lawmakers and policy makers. Those favors apparently came in the form of not billing for things like food and drinks.

According to the New York Times, Scanlon's plea agreement included new information:
The plea agreement released Monday offered new details of many of the accusations against Mr. Scanlon.

It said that beginning in January 2000, Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff conspired to begin offering a "stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence and agreements to provide official action and influence."

"Those things of value included, but are not limited to, travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, election support for candidates for government office, employment for officials and relatives of officials and campaign contributions," it

One of those "candidates for government office" who benefited from the Abramoff/Scanlon partnership was then-Congressman, now United States Senator David Vitter.

An April 15, 2005, article in BusinessWeek highlighted an Abramoff-sponsored fund raiser for Vitter held at Signatures on September 9, 2003:
A separate fund-raiser at the restaurant is causing headaches for freshman Senator David Vitter (R-La.). After BusinessWeek inquired about his Sept. 9, 2003, evening fund-raiser at the restaurant -- where then-Representative Vitter raised $12,000 -- the senator sent letters seeking clarification to the FEC and to Signatures restaurant on Apr. 15.

A Vitter spokesman says the campaign had signed a contract agreeing to pay for the 16-person event and provided Vitter's personal American Express card number to cover the tab -- but was never billed. Nor did the campaign report the event as an in-kind contribution.

A notice advertising the event to potential donors said the $1,000 per-head cocktail reception would be hosted by Abramoff, but Vitter's office now says that the lobbyist wasn't at the dinner.

GREAT LOBSTER. In his letter to FEC General Counsel Larry Norton, Vitter asks the commission for advice on how to "report this information on our FEC reports.... We do not want to compound one reporting error with another." In a letter to Signatures, Vitter says the restaurant "did not comply with the terms of our agreement" to charge the event to his personal credit card. "I am hereby directing you to charge my credit card today for the costs of the event and to immediately furnish me with proof that the charges have been duly posted," he writes.
Speculation in Washington is that this scandal will turn out to be the biggest Congressional scandal in more than a century. Coming as it does during a time when Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House, the bulk of the impact will be on that party and its 'conservative' leaders.

Apparently tax cuts for the rich, ripping away the social safety net, and shifting the federal tax burdens to the middle class were not enough for this crowd. They wanted more.

Here it comes!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Huge Break in Abramoff Corruption Case. Scanlon Flips!

The Washington Post reports that Jack Abramoff's partner in crime, Michael Scanlon, is going to plead guilty on Monday to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribe government officials, including at least one member of Congress.

The victims of the fraud to which Scanlon will plead guilty to conspiring to commit include the Coushatta Indian Tribe of Louisiana.

This is a huge break in this case as Scanlon worked tightly with Abramoff on the schemes to scam the Indian tribes out of about $80 million and then use that money as a political slush fund used to influence politicians and policy makers in Washington.

Scanlon is a former staffer of Congressman Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader and a prominent funder of Congressman Charles Boustany's 2004 campaign.

Scanlon's importance to the case cannot be overstated. Here are a few relevant paragraphs from the Washington Post story:
Scanlon could help investigators learn more about the purpose of gifts and nearly $3 million in campaign contributions Abramoff and his tribal clients lavished on members of Congress and their staffers, who night after night filled the lobbyist's four sports skyboxes. Scanlon may also be able to elaborate on e-mails that have been made public by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in which Abramoff discussed job offers to public officials and his efforts to get political appointees at the Interior Department to intercede on issues affecting clients.

Scanlon may also be knowledgeable about Abramoff's direction of tribal funds to several charitable foundations and advocacy groups and tax-exempt organizations, including one run by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. E-mail shows that Scanlon was intimately familiar with some of the financial dealings of anti-gambling activist Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Reed, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, has acknowledged receiving $4 million in dealings with Abramoff to whip up anti-casino campaigns in the South, but has maintained he did not know the funds came from the gaming proceeds of tribes that wanted to scuttle competition.

E-mails and other documents obtained by The Washington Post, and some released by the Indian Affairs Committee, show that Reed was routinely paid with tribal funds that were sent to Scanlon's firm, then routed to an Abramoff company called KayGold, and then sent to one of Reed's Atlanta-based political consulting firms.

Scanlon's e-mails and memos often reveal an aggressive, take-no-prisoners style. In a 2001 memo to a representative of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, Scanlon said his political program was "designed to make the Coushatta Tribe a politician's best friend -- or worst political nightmare."
While the focus of the case is on activities around the money taken from the Indian tribes, it has tentacles that extend broadly across Washington and Republican politics. Abramoff and Norquist worked very closely with DeLay and with Karl Rove. The case has already reached into the White House with the indictment last month of David Safavian.

The New York Times story on the scandal quotes long-time Congress watcher Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution:
"I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century. I've been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress."
The significance of this corruption scandal is not limited to the individuals involved. It is important to recall that the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1994 largely by running against what they called the entrenched corruption of the Democratic Party which had held majority power in the House since the 1950s.

As the charges against Abramoff and Scanlon detail, in one short decade the corruption unleashed by the Republicans makes the corruption of the Democrats look quite pedestrian.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Scanlon Charged With Conspiracy to Bribe Officials, Cheat Indian Tribes

Abramoff partner and former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon is indicted for defrauding Indian tribes (including the Coushatta Indians of Louisiana). Here's a story. Here's the indictment (pdf).

There'll be a lot more about this in the next few days.

But, isn't it interesting that the Republican corruption machine has come a cropper while playing in Louisiana's allegedly ultra-corruption? And, where are the Louisiana-based U.S. Attorneys on this case? Guess they're still only targeting Democrats?

Boustany Votes to Make Farmers, Students and Poor Pay for Tax Cuts for the Rich

Congressman Charles Boustany voted in lock-step with the radical leadership of his party again yesterday, voting twice to force cuts in support programs for farmers, students and the poor in order to cover the costs of Republican tax cuts for the rich.

Boustany did not join a group of conscience-driven Republican moderates who said they could not support the more draconian cuts proposed by the Republican leadership. Those cuts were defeated in a vote on Thursday (with Boustany voting to make those cuts).

Republicans, after giving away hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest segments of society (and, in the process turning the largest surplus in history into the largest deficits), have been looking for opportunities to display some semblance of fiscal responsibility while, at the same time, working to extend those tax cuts.

Boustany has been following the GOP leadership at every turn at the expense of the interests of the people of the Seventh Congressional District.

How so? Here's a description of who will be affected by the cuts Boustany supported:
The House measure would cut about 220,000 people off food stamps, allow states to impose new costs on Medicaid beneficiaries, squeeze student lenders, cut aid to state child-support enforcement programs and trim farm supports.
Let's start with farmers. The Seventh District has thousands of farmers (pdf) who get substantial supports from the federal government. Boustany voted to reduce those supports.

The Seventh District has a significant number of food stamp recipients. Boustany voted to remove more than 200,000 people from this program. People in his district will be affected.

The bills Boustany supported also reduce funding for Pell Grants for college students and low-income heating assistance programs (a few months after voting to give tax breaks to energy companies!).

Charles Boustany has been a loyal vote for those who raised money for him; too bad those folks don't have the interests of the Seventh District at heart!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Abramoff's Corruption Circus Crosses Party Lines

The Associated Press has broken new ground in the saga of the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, Indian Casino Licensing Division. An Indian casino license request by a tribe in Louisiana is at the center of the latest revelations, and so, too, is the fact that Abramoff's influence (i.e., "money") reached across party lines to influence action on the license.

In an article appearing in papers across the country today, the AP reports that 33 senators and congressmen who wrote letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton in opposition to the Jena Choctaw's license request received contributions from Abramoff's clients or were the direct beneficiaries of Abramoff fund-raising operations. The total money distributed, according to the AP, was $830,000 between 2001-2004.

Abramoff's favorite ATM, the Coushatta Indian tribe of Louisiana, was the primary donor, the AP reports.

The list of 27 lawmakers who were recipients of Abramoff's operation extends into the leadership of both parties. The AP reports congressional leaders did quite well by doing Abramoff's bidding: House Speaker Dennis Hastert ($100,000), Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid ($66,000), former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ($57,000).

Louisiana lawmakers of both parties got in on the dealing, too. Representative Jim McCreary got $36,000 in Abramoff-related contributions; Senator Mary Landrieu got $24,000; former Senator John Breaux got $1,000 in campaign contributions and $10,000 "for his library fund."

Senator David Vitter, the AP reports, took money from Abramoff and used Abramoff's restaurant for a fund-raiser for his Senate campaign. He later returned the contributions and the money from the fund-raiser. Apparently that does not get him out of hot water:
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff's fundraising influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration, and whether anyone tried to conceal their dealings with Abramoff.
The AP includes Senator Vitter as one of those whose activities are being scrutinized.

Does all this money in response to cooperation with a lobbyist constitute corruption? The politicians say no. One watch dog group thinks it does:
Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said lawmakers' denials of a connection rang hollow.

"Special interests do get more and they do get what they pay for despite the constant denial that lawmakers can't be bought," said Sloan, who now runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that monitors public officials' conduct.
It's clear that the high cost of running campaigns and the huge growth in size and influence of the lobbying industry in Washington in recent years have opened new avenues for corruption. The result is that expensive campaigns have created an addiction to campaign money that leads politicians to replace the interests of their constituents with the interests of their contributors.

If you want to know in whose interest government works, in the words of Watergate's Deep Throat, follow the money.

Bush/Cheney War on Truth Intensifies

The war now being waged by the Bush/Cheney administration against those intent on holding the President and Vice President accountable for (well, anything, but specifically) their rush into an unprovoked war in Iraq and their failure to prepare for the aftermath is getting more intense.

Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau says recent speeches by President and Vice President are playing fast and loose with the facts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This Explains Why They Didn't Testify Under Oath

With public anger rising about already high fuel costs rising nearly as fast as oil company profits, Congressional Republicans recently made a big show of grilling the top executives from those companies about their profits and fuel costs.

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Republican Ted ("Bridge to nowhere") Stevens of Alaska, ignored protests of committee Democrats and did not require the oil execs to swear that their testimony would be truthful.

Now we know why.

The front page headline in today's Washington Post reads: "Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force."

Here are the first paragraphs:
A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.

Chevron was not named in the White House document, but the Government Accountability Office has found that Chevron was one of several companies that "gave detailed energy policy recommendations" to the task force. In addition, Cheney had a separate meeting with John Browne, BP's chief executive, according to a person familiar with the task force's work; that meeting is not noted in the document.
Here's another:
The executives were not under oath when they testified, so they are not vulnerable to charges of perjury; committee Democrats had protested the decision by Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) not to swear in the executives. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.
I can't for the life of me figure out why Vice President Cheney has fought so hard to keep the record of these energy task force meetings secret!

High fuel prices with record oil company profits, coupled with oil execs so giddy that they are willing to lie to the Congress about their role in shaping policy? Sounds to me like energy policy is the Bush administration policy initiative that has worked exactly as it was designed!