DRIVING OUT SHERRY
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress who is now serving his 12th term from upstate New York, might not seek re-election in 2006 if he is shut out from committee chairmanships.
Boehlert is serving his last year as Science Committee chairman thanks to term limits. Although he is next in line to head the Transportation Committee (a principal dispenser of pork), current Chairman Don Young of Alaska is expected to block Boehlert's ascension. Boehlert's lifetime support record by the American Conservative Union is only 40 percent.
A footnote: Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin is next in line at Transportation after Boehlert, but he may be stopped because of his support for a gas tax increase. That choice chairmanship could fall to Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee.
Former DeLay employees say Koulakovsky and Nevskaya met with him on multiple occasions. The Russians also frequently used Abramoff's skyboxes at local sports stadiums -- as did Kaplan, according to sources and a 2001 e-mail Abramoff wrote to another client.(For the record, so did Mark Green...)
The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.
During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.
Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).
The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.
In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.
A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.
But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.
Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."
A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."
One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.
A surprise awaits the nation's highest earners when they file their 2006 tax returns. Their taxes are going down again - whether or not Congress passes the investor tax cuts the lawmakers have been promising. On New Year's Day, two additional tax cuts will kick in, allowing people who earn upward of $200,000 a year to claim bigger write-offs for a spouse, their children and other expenses, like mortgage interest on a vacation home.
The bolstered write-offs were enacted in 2001, but with a delayed start date because of their high cost: according to Congressional estimates, the new breaks will cost $27 billion over the short term, exploding to $146 billion from 2010 through 2019. By then, most of the benefits would flow to taxpayers who make more than $1 million a year.
With the nation deep in debt, at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Congress voting last month to slash programs for health care and student loans, and with a debilitating shortfall building in Medicare - the decision by Congress to let these particular tax breaks take effect now is flabbergasting. But it is not out of character.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST To find out whether human activities are changing the atmosphere, scientists took ice cores from ancient glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice provided a pristine sampling of the atmosphere going back 650,000 years. The study, published last month in the Journal Science, found that the level of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that can warm the planet, is now 27 percent higher than at any previous time. The level is even far higher now than it was in periods when the climate was much warmer and North America was largely tropical. Climatologists said the ice cores left no doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the atmosphere in a substantial and unprecedented way.
FORBIDDEN VACCINE Ever year, about 500,000 women throughout the world develop cervical cancer. In the United States alone, the disease kills about 3,700 women annually. This year, scientists developed a vaccine against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that is the primary cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the 6,000 women who received it as part of a multinational trial. As soon as the vaccine is licensed, some health officials say, it should be administered to all girls at age 12. But the Family Research Council and other social conservative groups vowed to fight that plan, even though it could virtually eliminate cervical cancer. Vaccinating girls against a sexually transmitted disease, they say, would reduce their incentive to abstain from premarital sex.
These are 2 that jumped out at me. The first I had never heard, the second shows the problem of letting too much religion into science. We could be saving lives here.
Public Outraged As Price Of Fast-Depleting, Non-Renewable Resource Skyrockets
December 28, 2005
ATLANTA (Oct. 12)—Americans are expressing their outrage at the soaring price of the non-renewable resource gasoline from the passenger seats of their vehicles across the country. "America means having a right to cheap gas without having to say please," said Augusta, GA resident George Rizner, idling in his Hummer H2 in a protest near the Georgia State Capitol. "What are we supposed to do, walk?" Rizner then did doughnuts in a nearby parking ramp until his vehicle stalled. The public continues to express similar frustration at long lines at gas pumps, constant and disruptive road construction, and increasing traffic gridlock, insisting that all these problems can be easily solved with more and cheaper gasoline.
The president says that his highest duty is to protect the American people and our homeland. And it is true that, as commander in chief, he has sweeping powers to, as his oath says, “faithfully execute the office” of president. But the entity he swore to “preserve, protect and defend” isn’t the homeland per se—but the Constitution itself.
The word from the White House is that President Bush is trying to figure out a theme for his State of the Union speech and for his next three years. Mr. President, what more has to happen - how many more Katrinas, how much more reckless behavior by Iran, how many more allies bought off by petro-dollars - before you realize that there is only one thing to do for the next three years: lead America and the world in an all-out push to conserve energy, reduce dependence on oil and develop alternatives?
It might seem counterintuitive that many credit card companies would inundate the recently bankrupt with solicitations for new cards. It's especially perplexing that those same companies would do so after having spent more than eight years and $100 million lobbying Congress to protect them from irresponsible borrowers with a draconian new bankruptcy law.
But the truth is that credit card companies aren't all that interested in customers who pay their bills in full every month. They really want the so-called revolvers, people who don't cover their balances and pony up those juicy interest payments and fees. The tighter repayment provisions in the new law will encourage companies to trawl for even less-qualified customers.
This is all a stark reminder of just how one-sided the new bankruptcy law is. While access to Chapter 7 bankruptcy has been sharply curtailed in the law, which went into effect in October, credit card companies are welcome to keep stuffing mailboxes with pre-approved cards.
Health care seems to be heading back to the top of the political agenda, and not a moment too soon. Employer-based health insurance is unraveling, Medicaid is under severe pressure, and vast Medicare costs loom on the horizon. Something must be done.
But to get health reform right, we'll have to overcome wrongheaded ideas as well as powerful special interests. For decades we've been lectured on the evils of big government and the glories of the private sector. Yet health reform is a job for the public sector, which already pays most of the bills directly or indirectly and sooner or later will have to make key decisions about medical treatment.
Let's hope that extreme cases like the one reported in The Times a few months ago, in which surgeons systematically used the devices of companies that paid them consulting fees, are exceptions. Still, the drug companies in particular spend more marketing their products to doctors than they do developing those products in the first place.
But then there was a public backlash. It turns out that even in America, with its faith in the free market, people don't trust for-profit corporations to make decisions about their health.
In practice, the health savings accounts created by the 2003 Medicare law will serve primarily as tax shelters for the wealthy. But let's put justified cynicism about Bush administration policies aside: is giving individuals responsibility for their own health spending really the answer to rising costs?
Moreover, it's neither fair nor realistic to expect ordinary citizens to have enough medical expertise to make life-or-death decisions about their own treatment. A well-known experiment with alternative health insurance schemes, carried out by the RAND Corporation, found that when individuals pay a higher share of medical costs out of pocket, they cut back on necessary as well as unnecessary health spending.
So cost-sharing, like H.M.O.'s, is a detour from real health care reform. Eventually, we'll have to accept the fact that there's no magic in the private sector, and that health care - including the decision about what treatment is provided - is a public responsibility.
A front-page article last Tuesday about foreign governments' security concerns regarding satellite photography available through Google referred imprecisely to security measures applied to some of the imagery. Although images of the White House and its environs are now clear in the Google Earth database, the view of the vice president's residence in Washington remains obscured.
Spaceship, castle, haven to daydream in, the cardboard box was enshrined Friday in the National Toy Hall of Fame along with Jack-in-the-Box and Candy Land.
No kidding, grown-ups.
"I think every adult has had that disillusioning experience of picking what they think is a wonderful toy for a child, and then finding the kid playing with the box," said Christopher Bensch, chief curator of the Strong Museum. "It's that empty box full of possibilities that the kids can sense and the adults don't always see."
Low-tech and unpretentious it may be, but the cardboard box has fostered learning and creativity for multiple generations — a key qualifier for inclusion
in the museum's seven-year-old hall of fame. And its appeal as a plaything or recreational backdrop is universal.
"This is money right out of the budgets of families who need the child support owed to them to meet their children's needs," said Vicki Turetsky, a spokeswoman for the center.
Unless the action can be reversed, it could force the layoff of perhaps 50 workers, up to about 25% of his staff of 206, Hayes said.
The county has about 130,000 child support enforcement cases, he said.
"Deadbeat dads will be given a license" to withhold support because the
county won't have enough people to help enforce court-ordered payments, he said.
Even Walker was against it:
Rod McWilliams, a spokesman for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, said the cuts would affect county's child support enforcement operation dramatically. Walker had opposed the cuts, calling an earlier, even more severe version "devastating" and warning that families would be pushed deeper into poverty.
Three moonshiners and a bank robber are among those pardoned, as is a Denver attorney with Republican political ties. The pardons were issued Tuesday, in keeping with a tradition of granting clemency during the holiday season.
One of those pardoned, Wendy St. Charles, is a lawyer for a Denver homebuilder, MDC Holdings, parent of Richmond American Homes, The Denver Post reported. St. Charles was convicted on drug charges in 1984 and sentenced to four years in prison.
MDC's chairman, Larry Mizel, has contributed more than half a million dollars to Republican campaigns along with his wife, Carol, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A company spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.
The attorney general should be immune from lawsuits for ordering wiretaps of Americans without permission from a court, Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, wrote in a memorandum in 1984 as a government lawyer in the Reagan administration.
"I do not question that the attorney general should have this immunity," Judge Alito wrote in 1984, arguing that top officials should not be subject to liability for damages for decisions relating to national security, including when they knowingly violated the law. But he counseled against appealing the issue to the Supreme Court, for two reasons.
NEW YORK - The National Security Agency has conducted much broader surveillance of e-mails and phone calls — without court orders — than the Bush administration has acknowledged, The New York Times reported on its Web site.
The NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained access to streams of domestic and international communications, said the Times in the report late Friday, citing unidentified current and former government officials.
The story did not name the companies.
Since the Times disclosed the domestic spying program last week, President Bush has stressed that his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al-Qaida.
But the Times said that NSA technicians have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorists.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunications data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White
House has acknowledged, the paper said, quoting an unnamed official.
The story quoted a former technology manager at a major telecommunications firm as saying that companies have been storing information on calling patterns since the Sept. 11 attacks, and giving it to the federal government. Neither the manager nor the company he worked for was identified.
Big Brother is watching
IT took 21 years longer than expected, but the future has finally arrived.
And we don't like it. Not one bit.
We are fighting a war with no end to create a peace with no defined victory.
We occupy a foreign land that doesn't want us, while at home our civil liberties are discounted.
We are told that it's better not to know what our government is doing in our name, for security purposes. Meanwhile, our government is becoming omnipresent, spying on us whenever it deems it necessary.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
George Orwell was right after all.
In 1949, Orwell penned "1984," a dark, futuristic satire in which the totalitarian government used indoctrination, propaganda and fear to enforce order and conformity. His "Big Brother" — the face of this all-knowing regime — was never wrong, and to make sure of it, history was constantly being rewritten.
Orwell wrote his book as a cautionary tale to underscore the insidious danger of slowly eroded individual liberties. His Thought Police may not yet be on the march, but it's not hyperbole to point out the eerie parallels with today's America.
In America today, Big Brother is watching.
He's watching because President Bush told him to. Shortly after 9/11, Bush secretly authorized warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens making or receiving international calls and e-mails.
When it comes to fighting terror, Bush is totalitarian — remember, you're either with us or against us. Trust me to get it right, he says. Debate on the law is not only not needed, it's evil.
"An open debate about the law would say to the enemy, 'Here's what we're going to do.'" Bush said recently. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
Then there's the Patriot Act, also created in the days immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate and House of Representatives voted Thursday to extend the law by a month. President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insist it's an indispensable tool in the war on terror and want it extended permanently.
"I'm as concerned about the privacy of American citizens as anyone, but we cannot allow libraries and use of libraries to become safe havens for terrorists," Gonzales said in July, defending one of the act's most controversial provisions.
Remember, too, that we invaded Iraq primarily because we were told Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat