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!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Repeating Mistakes of Iraq in New Orleans

Former Senator John Edwards has written a powerful piece on his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq and why, knowing what he knows now, he would not give that support now. The first sentence of his Washington Post Op-Ed piece is: "I was wrong."

In the course of his piece, Edwards lays out his recommendations for extricating the country from the mess that has resulted from the way the Bush administration took this country into war.

One aspect of the problem Edwards addresses is this:
American contractors who have taken unfair advantage of the turmoil in Iraq need to leave Iraq. If that means Halliburton subsidiary KBR, then KBR should go. Such departures, and the return of the work to Iraqi businesses, would be a real statement about our hopes for the new nation. (Emphasis added)
The Bush administration has brought the same business model to Katrina recovery that it has used with disastrous effect in Iraq, specifically, the use of no-bid contracts for recovery work. In addition to the well-documented wide-spread corruption that has plagued the reconstruction effort in Iraq, the approach has made Iraqis spectators in the process of rebuilding their own country.

Now, look at New Orleans. The no-bid contract rule is once again in effect (must be plug-and-play for the administration). Once again, KBR is a major beneficiary. And, once again, local companies and citizens are forced into the role of bystanders in the process of rebuilding.

Ah, but didn't you read that the contracts were going to be put out for bid? Yes, you did.

But, as has so often proven the case with this administration, the facts don't match up with what's being said.

Here's a story from Friday that makes this clear.

Much has been written nationally about our state's history of corruption and that argument is behind the efforts to treat rebuilding after Katrina as a quasi-occupation of at least part of our state. But, the fact remains that corruption is the core business model of the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in both the Senate and the House, and one need look no further than the so-called rebuilding effort in the wake of these hurricanes as proof.

The no-bid contracts are intact, but aid for small businesses has not yet arrived. Our devastated local governments have been offered loans to help them through this disaster, unlike the grants that were given communities in other states in the wake of other storms.

This is also a key element of the Bush administration's modus operandi: using disaster as a pretense to enrich those who support them politically.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Nationwide Victory for Progressives

Nationally on this "OFF YEAR" for elections Democrats, but specifically PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS have done a GREAT JOB!

As explained in today's Progress Report, they outline quite well the sweeping wins we had throughout the heartland.

Yesterday was election day for many Americans, and progressives won big. There were victories for civil rights in Maine, for employee rights and privacy rights in California, for science and education in Dover, Pennsylvania, and for progressive candidates around the country. A full run-down:

VICTORY IN CALIFORNIA: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) suffered an "across-the-board defeat last night at the ballot box," as California voters "rejected every measure he offered to change the political, fiscal and educational policy of the most-populous U.S. state." According to the L.A. Times, Schwarzenegger cast the debate in "stark terms": "He was a bold force for progress; the teachers, firefighters and nurses arrayed against him were selfish 'special interests.'" Not surprisingly, voters sided with teachers, firefighters, and nurses. Among the initiatives knocked down: one sought to limit the use of trade-union dues for political purposes; another would have capped state spending and eliminated the state's minimum funding guarantee for education; a third strongly backed by the pharmaceutical industry was also defeated. California voters also rejected a parental notification initiative that would have harmed teens seeking abortions.

VICTORY IN MAINE: For the first time, Maine voters approved a set of civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, voting down a conservative-backed measure that would have overturned a ban on "discrimination in housing, employment and education based on sexual orientation." Conservatives had succeeded in overturning similar laws in both 1998 and 2000.

VICTORY IN DOVER: Though the Kansas Board of Education voted yesterday to back "intelligent design," there was a silver lining. In Dover, Pennsylvania, eight out of eight incumbent school board members lost their bids for re-election to members of the pro-science Dover CARES campaign, who argued that the inclusion of "intelligent design" materials in science classes should be based on scientific, not political or ideological, merits.

FRUSTRATION WITH BUSH AGENDA EVIDENCED IN SEVERAL RACES: The New York Times opines that at least one fact seems "obvious" after last night's elections: "George Bush's political capital turned into a deficit." The AP's Ron Fournier agreed, referring to Bush as a "political toxin," noting that the president "put his wispy political prestige on the line" when the Virginia candidate "he embraced in a last-minute campaign stop was soundly defeated." In one contest in particular -- the mayoral race in Minnesota's capital city, St. Paul -- the issue of President Bush's leadership trumped all others. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, "St. Paul voters punished Mayor Randy Kelly on Tuesday for standing with President Bush a year ago, denying the Democrat a second term in Minnesota's capital city. Former City Council member Chris Coleman, also a Democrat, routed Kelly by a more than 2-to-1 margin in unofficial returns with most precincts reporting."

SOME DARK SPOTS: In Texas, voters approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, "making their state the 19th to take that step." Said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign: "The fight for fairness isn't over, and we won't give up." In Ohio, meanwhile, voters rejected a set of measures meant to reform the state's scandal-plagued political system. "An ambitious effort by opponents and widespread confusion over the complex issues combined to defeat the entire package," the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

In a "What are they thinking" moment - The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 on Tuesday to adopt new science standards that will force Science teachers to teach intelligent design along with evolution ... YES - IN SCIENCE class. Ofcourse the next fight will be - WHICH GOD will they teach about... A Catholic Teacher with Jewish Students? You must learn it the Catholic way - Yes? This will be the next fight.

However, when left up to the VOTERS - The voters send School Board members who want to push their THEOLOGICAL beliefs onto their science students - PACKING. In Pennsylvania, school board members that have been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biology class were all kicked out of office by the voters. Yes, that is right - ALL members of this school board who were up for re-election who supported the dumbing down of Biology classes were voted OUT of office.

So what have we learned?
  1. The GOP is completely corrupt, reports throughout the country from the President's administration on down to the Burroughs of New York Republicans are being indicted and the voters are finally "GETTING IT"
  2. When we stand up and fight, our arguements WIN - We just have to stand up!
  3. The "Gover-nator" will NOT "BE BACK"
  4. Public Schools are not the place to push RELIGION... after all, is that not what "SUNDAY SCHOOL" is for? Voters seem to think so!

So there is my weekly Update - What do you think?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Meet the Democrats: The Bush Administration and Torture

Here are our "SHOW NOTES" from this week's show. We would greatly appriciate feedback and your thoughts on this highly important matter.

Meet The Democrats - Show Notes from 11/7/2005

Guest: Anthony Fazzio (Lafayette Parish Democrat Executive Committee and Louisiana State Democratic Central Committee)

Host: Stephen Handwerk (Lafayette Parish Democrat Executive Committee)

Show Topic: The Bush Administration's Sanctioning of Torture

After Army Spec. Joseph Darby exposed the Abu Ghraib abuse, his photos and videos exploded across European newspapers like the Sunday Herald. When the Sunday Herald broke the story of torture by American held facilities in Iraq, Europe was socked by a headline that talked about torture of children: "A Sunday Herald investigation has discovered that coalition forces are holding more than 100 children in jails such as Abu Ghraib. Witnesses claim that the detainees - some as young as 10 - are also being subjected to rape and torture." The article described "the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15." The witness explained, "The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets.... Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door ... and I saw (the soldier's name is deleted) who was wearing a military uniform." The witness then described how the soldier raped the child.

However, news critical of the Bush administration travels slowly here at home, if at all. Such was the case in U.S. But Americans saw only some of the photos, giving the impression the stories were "baseless, unproven assertions." Immediately after articles about torture raced across Europe, the Bush administration lowered the Neo-Con Curtain across America to hide the truth about torture in Iraq. Americans were allowed to see sanitized versions of the Iraq abuse. Picture of soldiers humiliating prisoners appeared in U.S. newspapers, the most notorious as the photo of Prvt. Lynndie England holding a prisoner on a dog leash. Then the unimaginable happened.

Army Maj. Gen. Taguba issued a report on the Abu Ghraib abuse, which referenced "sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick," cryptically noting the existence of "numerous photos and videos of actual detainee abuse ... not contained in [the] investigation." A select few saw the excluded photos and videos, and what they reported was shocking.

Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, gave a shocking account of the sexual abuse of women and children. Gen. Taguba called what he saw "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses." Donald Rumsfeld admitted, "I looked at them last night ... they're hard to believe ... [Acts] that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman." After seeing some photos, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said his "stomach gave out." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raged, "The American public needs to understand, we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience; we're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges." For conservative Republicans to use those words, you know it's very bad.

Rumsfeld apologized and then, along with Dick Cheney, working frantically to prevent regulation of the confinement of detainees even if the detainees are children. Why? Secrecy is the way the Bush administration plays the "patriot game.” Secrecy prevents accountability.

Prvt. Lynndie England, the Abu Ghraib dog-leash girl, told reporter Brian Maass that higher-ranking officers allowed the abuse. Gen. Anthony Taguba, who had investigated, confirmed England’s account. In response, Donald Rumsfeld all but called Taguba a liar. Currently, in partly secret proceedings in a Manhattan U.S. District Court, the ACLU and others are urging a federal judge to let America see all the evidence. So far, the Pentagon has defied every court order to release all the photos and videos. But why secrecy? If correct, the abuse would lead back to the Bush administration. Here’s the trail.

Bush confidant, Mickey Herskowitz said, before he was elected president, Bush talked about invading Iraq as a way to reinvent his unaccomplished life and eclipse his overachieving father. Former CIA chief, Vince Cannistraro explained, although unconnected, Bush used the September 11 attacks as the opportunity and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as the rationale to invade Iraq. But, the absence of WMDs raised the stakes for Bush. Bush became “frustrated by the lack of information…from detainees…about WMDs," Cannistraro said, which "translated into taking off the gloves."

White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, warned Bush that Bush risked “domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" unless Bush declared detainees outside the Geneva Conventions. Consequently, Gonzales wrote his infamous memo calling the Geneva Conventions “obsolete” and inapplicable to detainees.

Journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that the Bush administration became obsessed with Raphael Patai’s 1973 book, “The Arab Mind,” which portrayed Arab males as particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation. Desperate for detainee information about WMDs, the Bush administration allowed detainee abuse to go too far. Commenting on the Abu Ghraib abuse, conservative Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained, “We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We're talking about rape and murder." ." Conservative Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ), himself a victim of Vietcong torture, agreed.

Recently the Senate approved a McCain/Graham anti-torture amendment to a defense-spending bill. The measure is now in the House of Representatives, but the Bush administration opposes it. Rep. Charles Boustany should show courage and vote to end torture.

What do you think Acadiana?

None Dare Call It Selective Enforcement!

An Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, has received a warning from the IRS that it might lose its tax exempt status because of what were perceived to be political comments made from the pulpit in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

No, this notice did not go out to one of the American Catholic bishops who warned Catholics that they risked committing a mortal sin if they voted for John Kerry or other Catholic candidates who supported a woman's right to reproductive choice.

Nor did it go to any of the Protestant pastors who warned that votes for Democrats were votes to force gay marriages into every hamlet in the country.

Instead, the warning went to a church where a guest sermon by a former rector dared question the morality of the Bush administration's embrace of pre-emptive war.
Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
The congregants are pretty upset with the accusation:
Some congregants were upset that a sermon citing Jesus Christ's championing of peace and the poor was the occasion for an IRS probe.

"I'm appalled," said 70-year-old Anne Thompson of Altadena, a professional singer who also makes vestments for the church.

"In a government that leans so heavily on religious values, that they would pull a stunt like this, it makes me heartsick."

Joe Mirando, an engineer from Burbank, questioned whether the 3,500-member church would be under scrutiny if it were not known for its activism and its liberal stands on social issues.

"The question is, is it politically motivated?" he said. "That's the underlying feeling of everyone here. I don't have enough information to make a decision, but there's a suspicion."
Politics motivating the actions of an agency under the control of the Bush administration? Why, I'm shocked — SHOCKED!!! — that anyone could suggest such a thing!

Ask former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill if the administration went after him for his criticism of the President and his decision-making process.

Ask former ambassador Joseph Wilson if the administration went after him for exposing the fact that the President used false information in a State of the Union address as part of the effort to sell the war in Iraq (Better yet, ask Karl Rove!).

Nah! Just must be some honest bureaucrat trying to earn some Brownie points!

My wife and I saw "Good Night and Good Luck" Saturday night. Newsman Edward R. Murrow decided to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy when it became clear in his own work place that "the terror is here in this room." The degree to which the Bush administration is using government to silence critics has begun to take on the tinge of McCarthy's slanders. Only this time it's worse. This is the administration running the country, not a rogue senator from Wisconsin.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

DeLay, Abramoff and Reed Operated Corruption Circus in Louisiana; Boustany Still Silent

Wednesday's Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing, chaired by Senator John McCain, was a wealth of information on just how corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff ripped off the 7th District's Coushatta Indians, peddled influence in the Department of Interior, raised money for Tom DeLay, and made Ralph Reed rich by putting anti-gambling Christians to work in support of the efforts of gambling interests in Louisiana. Here's one story on it. Here's another. And another.

Despite the fact that just about all this activity was carried out with funds bilked from a business in the 7th District (the Coushatta Casino in Kinder), 7th District Republican Congressman Charles Boustany has yet to utter a single comment on the burgeoning scandal.

Think it could have something to do with the money DeLay and his cronies raised for Boustany's maiden campaign?

The evidence (links to which can be found here) reveals a level of political cynicism that is breathtaking in its scope. Abramoff's client was the Kinder casino-owning Coushatta Indians. When the Jena Choctaw Indians sought a casino license in Louisiana, Abramoff said he could defeat it, but that it would cost a lot of money. Apparently this effort and a similar effort to defeat a license for a Texas-based tribe moved over $30 million from the Coushatta Tribe's accounts into Abramoff's. Some of it went to Tom DeLay. A lot of it went to former Christian Coalition operative Ralph Reed.

Reed was enlisted by Abramoff to stir up anti-gambling sentiment among Louisiana's fundamentalist Christian communities. So, Abramoff gave gambling-generated money to Reed to use anti-gambling Louisiana Christians to help defeat gambling initiatives that would have hurt the Coushatta Tribe's gambling operations! Got that? Louisiana Christians' anti-gambling fervor was used to score wins for casino owners. Ralph Reed did the orchestrating, using money from Abramoff's gambling clients.

Edwin Edwards could have taken lessons from these guys!

In one email contained in the evidence presented during Wednesday's hearing, Reed gushed that he believed he could use the money Abramoff was providing (again, from the Coushattas) to win control of both houses of the Louisiana Legislature and the Governor's Mansion. Wonder who their candidate was? Had to be someone with close ties to the DeLay/Abramoff/Grover Nordquist wing of the corrupt establishment.

Despite the fact that the victims of the Abramoff reside in the 7th District, 7th District Republican Congressman Charles Boustany has remained silent on the issue. One can only assume that the rookie Congressman is too dependent on the financial largesse that DeLay, Abramoff, et al, to dare speak out against these outrages.

Amazingly, candidate Boustany ran on a platform based, in part, on the fact that he was not part of the old time politics. No. He's part of that new fangled corruption that lies at the heart of Republican control of the House, the Senate, and the White House.

Does the Congressman have no shame?

48 Louisiana Reasons Why Congress Should Investigate Bush/Cheney Pre-War Intelligence Manipulation

Republicans in the U.S. Senate were angered by Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid's move to force the Senate into a closed door session on the failure of the Republican Senate leadership to exercise Congress's duty to provide oversight on the actions of the Bush administration. While the oversight failure is general and near total, the specific focus of this maneuver was the failure of the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the manipulation of pre-Iraq war intelligence by the Bush administration.

Here are 48 good reasons why Louisiana citizens should be demanding this investigation go forward in an honest and no-holds-barred way into how we got into this war.

Get this straight: Taking this country into war based on false intelligence is a tragedy. Knowingly taking this country into war based on false intelligence is both criminal and impeachable. This is one of the highest crime that any leader can commit against a republic.