Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 7th, 2007

:sigh: — Congress wants to be corrupt

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I’m beginning to think that Congress cannot be cleaned up because Congress wants to be dirty, to be corrupt, to be on the take. Congres has no ethical standard that it observes. Here’s the latest:

The railroad industry is hiring relatives of Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff members as it faces tighter federal safety legislation, employing a tactic untouched by the Democrats’ new ethics proposals: lobbying by congressional family members.

The new Democratic Congress is working on the first overhaul of railroad-safety laws in 13 years. Long attuned to Republican control, railroad companies are now working to keep their GOP allies but also hiring Democratic lobbyists.

Days after Jennifer Esposito became majority staff director of the House transportation panel’s subcommittee on railroads, her father, Sante Esposito, and brother Michael Esposito signed up as railway lobbyists. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) has just taken a seat on the subcommittee, and in the coming weeks, the railroad industry trade association said, his father and predecessor in Congress, William O. Lipinski (D-Ill.), will register as a railroad lobbyist, too.

The new lobbyists join Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), a former congressman and chairman of the transportation committee who lobbies for railroads and whose son, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), also has just joined the railroads subcommittee.

The lobbyists said they would not directly advocate for clients through family members. The hirings are legal, experts on lobbying law said, but point to a topic left unaddressed in the new ethics proposals before Congress. While the Senate has voted to ban lobbying by some lawmakers’ spouses, neither chamber has moved to limit lobbying by other family members.

“Like every other industry, we felt it was important to have representatives from both the Democratic and Republican side,” said Peggy Nasir, spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, which hired Shuster, Lipinski, and Sante and Michael Esposito. “We are meeting all the standards we need to meet for lobbying.”

The stakes are high for the railroads. Last week, Congress began debate on a reauthorization of the Federal Railroad Safety Program, which has not been updated since 1994. With government figures showing an increase in railroad accidents and fatalities over the past decade, watchdog agencies, accident victims and many Democratic lawmakers want improved track and crossing inspections, better accident investigations, and heavy fines for companies that break the rules.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 8:52 pm

Good question

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From the Watchdog Blog:

I came across this lead from a recent online issue of the English version of Al Jazeera, the Arab-based news service. And I wondered whether there was a lesson there for the U.S. press, which pussyfoots around such juxtaposition, for fear that it’s unfair or too pointed. The lead went as follows: “George Bush, the US president, is to ask congress for $245 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–while proposing curbs in spending on the US health care system.”

In another issue, Al Jazeera handled the same story, this one from from AP, with a precede: “Al Jazeera Editorial Note: Researchers and students of US foreign policy should notice this news and reference it as support for their hypothesis about the consequences of the Bush administration wars to average Americans. In just six years, Bush proposed and the US rubber-stamp Congress approved to borrow more than $3 trillion to spend on his wars….This has resulted in neglecting all other aspects of life for the average American citisen. In particular, two vital programs which care for elderly Americans, Medicare and Social Security have become the most vulnerable…”

The complete AP story was picked up, without further comment. Aside from the possibility that $3 trillion may be an exaggeration (but not by much), could we call this mere propaganda? Or legitimate journalism?

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 8:45 pm

Aha. So this explains Hagel’s vote

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From The Washington Note:

Seven Republican Senators — seven renegade samurai, or ronin — have essentially blasted in a letter just prepared in the last hour both the Democratic and Republican leadership for behind-the-scenes gamesmanship that undermined a floor debate about America’s options in Iraq.

While American citizens saw a procedural motion to move to “debate” the Warner-Levin Iraq War Resolution lose a 49-47 vote, what they did not see was a snarling, nasty tug-of-war between Reid and Durbin on one side and McConnell and Lott on the other that ripped the guts out of any possible comity needed to get to that debate.

TWN has learned that Senators John Warner, Olympia Snowe, and Chuck Hagel — and others — were highly irritated, angry in fact, with both sides and elected to vote against the procedural motion until the party leaders on both sides of the aisle ceased their antics.

I was as confused as anyone by the votes cast by Warner, Snowe and Hagel who were real stakeholders in the resolution that was being fought over. But it is now clear that in the eyes of these Senators, the Republican Party leadership and the majority Democrats chose to slug each other silly in ways that preempted any ability to secure the votes needed to assure debate. In that circumstance, the Senators who have signed the letter below decided to vote against the resolution in that climate.

Essentially, these seven Senators have said to their own Republican leadership and the Democrats to “shape up” or a “pox on both your houses.”

I think it’s a brave move — and explains a lot.

Here is the signed letter as a pdf.

Here is what the letter says:

February 7, 2007The Honorable Harry Reid, Majority Leader
The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader
The Honorable Richard Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader
The Honorable Trent Lott, Assistant Republican Leader

United States Senate — Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Senator Durbin and Senator Lott:

The war in Iraq is the most pressing issue of our time. It urgently deserves the attention of the full Senate and a full debate on the Senate floor without delay.

We respectfully advise you, our leaders, that we intend to take S. Con. Res 7 and offer it, where possible under the Standing Rules of the Senate, to bills coming before the Senate.

On January 10,2007, the President stated, with respect to his Iraq strategy, “if Members have improvements that can be made, we will make them. If circumstances change we will adjust.” In a conscientious, respectful way, we offered our resolution consistent with the President’s statement.

We strongly believe the Senate should be allowed to work its will on our resolution as well as the concepts brought forward by other Senators. Monday’s procedural vote should not be interpreted as any lessening of our resolve to go forward advocating the concepts of S. Con. Res. 7.

We will explore all of our options under the Senate procedures and practices to ensure a full and open debate on the Senate floor. The current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country.

Sincerely,

Olympia Snowe
John Warner

Chuck Hagel
Susan Collins

Norm Coleman
Gordon Smith

George Voinovich

This letter is going to reopen the possibilities of what could happen regarding the much needed national debate on the Senate floor on America’s course in Iraq.

The “huge get” of this letter is Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH. He was not on any of the previous resolutions.

So where are MURKOWSKI, SUNUNU, BROWNBACK, and SPECTER?

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 5:26 pm

Teen girls have it tough

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From WebMD:

Ever wonder why teenage girls can seem more stressed out and depressed than teenage boys? A new study sheds some light.

Teenage girls encounter more “stressors” in life, especially in their interpersonal relationships, than boys — and they react more strongly to those pressures, accounting in part for their higher levels of depression, the study suggests.

“Girls are getting a double hit,” says Benjamin L. Hankin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, one of the study’s researchers.

“They are experiencing more interpersonal stress, and when they experience more of the stress, they exhibit more depressive symptoms than boys do,” he says.

For years, Hankin says, experts have known that by midpuberty — age 13, or so — more girls than boys experience depression. But they have not been able to pinpoint why.

Other research has found that teenage girls report more stressors in life than do teenage boys, but researchers have disagreed on whether the girls react more strongly to stressors and become more depressed, Hankin says.

Hankins’ study looked at 538 eighth and 10th-grade students, aged 13 to 18 (average age: 14.9), from 18 Chicago-area schools. The students were asked to record their “worst event” of the day in their diaries every day for a week, at three different time points — the study launch, and six and 12 months later.

The diary method is considered superior to research that asks students to recall stressors from the past, Hankin says; it tends to be more accurate.

Besides describing this “worst event,” students said what made it so bad, and what they did in response. “Worst events” included getting kicked out of school, failing a quiz, arguing with a parent, getting mad at a girlfriend or boyfriend, and other problems.

The researchers later evaluated how stressful the events were and classified them as interpersonal (involving interaction between the teen and another person — such as family, peer, or romantic partner) or achievement (involving academics or athletic performance).

Hankin’s team also looked at the boys’ and girls’ depressive symptoms and their self-reported use of alcohol. The girls reported more interpersonal stressors, while the boys had more achievement stressors.

“In an average week, the girls experienced twice as many interpersonal stressors as the boys did,” Hankin says. While the boys averaged 0.50 interpersonal stressors a week, the girls averaged one — about twice as many. However, the boys experienced 0.24 achievement stressors each week, while the girls reported just 0.16.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 5:15 pm

Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Art, Video

The doctor decides what the patient should know

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And the decision is made in the light of the doctor’s moral beliefs, not those of the patient:

A doctor’s beliefs may affect his or her willingness to present all the medical options — including controversial procedures such as abortion — to patients, according to a survey from the University of Chicago.

The study is published in the Feb. 8 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. It was done by University of Chicago doctors, including Farr Curlin, MD.

The researchers mailed surveys to 2,000 U.S. doctors, representing all medical specialties. The surveys asked what a doctor’s obligations are when a patient requests a legal medical procedure to which the doctor morally objects.

The vast majority — 86% — said physicians are obligated to present all the medical options to patients, regardless of their personal beliefs. However, 8% disagreed, and 6% were undecided on the issue.

In addition, 63% said it would be ethical for morally conflicted doctors to “plainly” explain their moral objections to their patients.

And when asked if such conflicted doctors were obligated to refer patients to doctors without objections to the requested procedure, 29% either said “no” or were undecided.

“If physicians’ ideas translate into their practices, then 14% of patients — more than 40 million Americans — may be cared for by physicians who do not believe they are obligated to disclose information about medically available treatments they consider objectionable,” write Curlin and colleagues.

Curlin’s team offers this advice to patients: Talk to your doctor about your views on thorny medical issues before a health emergency forces the discussion.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical

Interesting post on consumer motivations

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Well worth reading. The post begins:

As I was driving around last night, I was listening to a story on National Public Radio in which an immigrant female who was ashamed of her past was recounting some details of her experience. Right in the middle of her monologue, she uttered that line: “Buying things lets me forget who I am for a while.”

That line hit a nerve with me, one that made me really think about why I write personal finance advice to begin with. I offer up a large amount of daily advice on how to save money, how to better plan your finances, and so on, but that comment revealed to me once again that it is only really useful if I’m able to make a fundamental connection with people who read this site, beyond that of merely putting a dollar or two in their pocket.

The post goes on to offer some good and productive alternatives. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 1:18 pm

More of the military-industrial complex

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Here it is in action:

Three Army Reserve officers and a U.S. contractor were indicted Wednesday as part of a bid-rigging scam that steered millions of dollars of Iraq reconstruction projects to a contractor in exchange for cash, luxury cars, jewelry and other pricey goods.

The husband of one of the military officials also was charged with helping to smuggle at least $10,000 into the United States that the couple used to pay for improvements to their New Jersey house.

The scam was outlined in a 25-count indictment filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

The three U.S. Army Reserve officers were responsible for helping to supervise how the U.S.-managed Coalition Provisional Authority spent an estimated $26 billion available for reconstruction projects in Iraq. They were in those posts in 2003 and 2004.

The indictment says the three officers — Col. Curtis G. Whiteford of Utah, Lt. Col. Debra M. Harrison of New Jersey and Lt. Col. Michael B. Wheeler of Wisconsin — directed at least $8 million to a construction and services company. In return, they allegedly demanded cash, a Nissan sports car, a Cadillac SUV, real estate, a Breitling watch, business-class plane tickets and other items.

The contractor, identified in the indictment as Seymour Morris Jr., allegedly acted as a go-between for the military officers and the construction company by illegally wiring money and securing the goods. Morris is a U.S. citizen who lived in Romania, and owned and operated a Cyprus-based financial services business.

Last week, a former Pentagon contractor was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping steer millions in Iraq rebuilding funds to a company operated by U.S. citizen and businessman Philip H. Bloom. Bloom already has pleaded guilty to the scam and awaits sentencing.

Wednesday’s indictments were announced the day after House Democrats grilled the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq over how he doled out up to $12 billion in Iraqi money without accounting for it.

Firing back in a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing Tuesday, L. Paul Bremer III insisted that he did the best he could in the middle of a war and repeatedly said he had spent Iraqi — not U.S. — money. Bremer ran the country for 14 months.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 12:42 pm

Quantum theory is not intuitive

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This is spooky:

Harvard University researchers have halted a pulse of laser light in its tracks and revived it a fraction of a millimeter away. Here’s the twist: they stopped it in a cloud of supercold sodium atoms, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), and then restarted it in a second, distinct BEC as though the pulse had spookily jumped between the two locations.

“It’s odd,” says atomic physicist Lene Hau, the team’s leader. “We can actually revive the light pulse and send it back on its way as if nothing had happened.” Besides being a neat quantum game of catch, Hau speculates that the technique may someday be used in optical communications or ultraprecise navigation systems.

Spooky

Researchers can stop a light pulse in one supercold cloud of atoms [purple] and restart it in another by converting the light into a quantum ripple of matter.

BEC clouds are prized because their atoms’ delicate quantum states all vibrate in unison, effectively creating one big atom that does things individual atoms cannot. In 1999, for example, Hau’s group slowed light inside a condensate to “bicycle speed” (38 mph). For the new experiment, she and her colleagues shined a control laser beam through two independent BECs placed side by side. They struck the first BEC with a laser pulse, which slowed and transferred its energy into a collective shudder of the condensate atoms—a sort of slow-moving ripple of matter that mirrored the laser pulse.

The researchers shut off the control beam long enough to give the wave time to travel the 160 microns between the BECs and then reactivated it. The laser caused the matter wave to coalesce (dump atoms) inside the second BEC, forcing the surrounding atoms to radiate like antennas and reproduce the original pulse.

“It’s really playing with quantum mechanics at a lot of different levels,” Hau says. The laser pulse and BEC are able to trade energy only because the quantum states of the condensate atoms match up with the frequency of the laser. As a result, the BEC enters a so-called superposition, meaning the matter wave is simultaneously there and not there.

The matter wave cannot distinguish between the BECs, because the superposition of the first BEC means that it is partly in the same pristine, undisturbed condition as the second one, says Michael Fleischhauer of the Technical University of Kaiserslautern in Germany in an editorial accompanying the Harvard team’s report, published online February 7 by Nature. With a bit of prompting it therefore transfers its energy to the new condensate in an exact reversal of what happened in the first condensate, producing what he calls “a striking and intriguing demonstration of a fundamental aspect of quantum physics.”

It might eventually have practical applications, too. By changing where the matter wave coalesced, Hau’s group could alter the properties of the restored pulse, suggesting the technology could be used to manipulate optical signals, perhaps helping to realize quantum schemes for ultrasecure communications, Hau says. She adds that it could also be used to produce continuous laserlike streams of supercold atoms, which could enhance navigation systems.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Science

We know how to make cigarette health warnings work

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So why don’t we? Guess. Here’s the study of effectiveness:

As the second leading cause of death in the world, cigarette smoking is a preventable behavior. Most countries require warnings about health risks on every package, but the effectiveness of these warnings depends upon the design and the “freshness” of the messages. In a multi-country study published in the March 2007 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that more prominent text messages were more effective and graphic pictures even more so in affecting smokers’ behaviors. Recent changes in health warnings were also associated with increased effectiveness, while health warnings on US packages, which were last updated in 1984, were associated with the least effectiveness.

The authors analyzed data from four waves of surveys taken during 2002-2005 of adult smokers in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Almost 15,000 smokers were surveyed on their awareness of the messages, any changes in understanding of the risk of smoking, their intention or motivation to quit and any behavioral changes they had noticed in themselves.

The International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey collected the responses from the same smokers, approximately 2 months before new UK warnings were implemented, and then at 6, 18 and 32 months after implementation. Warnings on the packages ranged from graphic pictures covering half the package in Canada to small text warnings on the side of packages in the US. The first international treaty devoted to public health, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), has mandated “large, clear, visible and legible” warnings that cover at least 30 per cent of the surface. Canada currently meets this guideline, although most countries fall short. Thus, the current study evaluated warnings that were: (1) well below the minimum FCTC standard (US and UK at baseline); (2) slightly below the FCTC minimum (Australian warnings), (3) enhanced to the FCTC standard (UK at follow-up), and (4) at the recommended FCTC standard (Canada).

Writing in the article, David Hammond, PhD, states, “This study suggests that more prominent health warnings are associated with greater levels of awareness and perceived effectiveness among smokers. In particular, the findings provide strong support for the effectiveness of new health warnings implemented on UK packages that were enhanced to meet the minimum international standards…UK smokers were also more likely to report that the new warnings had led them to think about quitting, to think about the health risks of smoking, and had deterred them from having a cigarette compared to Australian and US smokers. Although the findings provide strong support for the effectiveness of prominent text warnings that meet the minimum international standards, the findings also suggest that larger pictorial warnings may have an even greater impact: data collected two and a half years after the implementation of the Canadian pictorial warnings and two and a half years after the implementation of the new UK warnings indicate that the Canadian warnings had impact levels at or above the UK warnings for each of the measures examined in the survey.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 12:02 pm

The importance of believing in yourself

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You can get better, if you believe you can:

Research on how junior high school students’ beliefs about intelligence affect their math grades found that those who believed that intelligence can be developed performed better than those who believed intelligence is fixed.

The findings come from two studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Stanford University, and are published in the January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

One study looked at 373 12-year-olds over two years of junior high school. Although all students began the study with equivalent achievement levels in math, students who believed that their intelligence could be developed outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed. Furthermore, the researchers found, the gap between these two groups widened over the two-year period.

Researchers concluded that the difference between the two sets of students stems from the fact that students who believed their intelligence could be developed placed a higher premium on learning, believed more in the power of effort, and had more constructive reactions to setbacks in school.

A second study looked at 91 12-year-olds in two groups, both of whom had shown declines in their math grades. One group was taught the expandable theory of intelligence as part of an eight-session workshop on study skills. Another group participated in the same workshop, but did not receive information on the expandable intelligence qualities of the brain. The students who learned about the intelligence theory reversed their decline and showed significantly higher math grades than their peers in the other group, whose grades continued to decline.

“These findings highlight the importance of students’ beliefs for their academic progress,” said Carol Dweck, one of the researchers and professor of psychology at Stanford University. “They also show how these beliefs can be changed to maximize students’ motivation and achievement.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 11:59 am

Who’d have thought? A digital sundial

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Yes, digital: no moving parts, no electricity, works totally by the sun’s light. And you can buy one. Or you can get blueprints and make your own.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 11:49 am

That military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about

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Eisenhower in 1961:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

And what do we get?

After 10 years and $1.7 billion, this is what the Marines Corps got for its investment in a new amphibious vehicle: A craft that breaks down about an average of once every 4 1/2 hours, leaks and sometimes veers off course.

And for that, the contractor, General Dynamics of Falls Church, received $80 million in bonuses.

The amphibious vehicle, which can be launched from a ship and then driven on land, is so unreliable that the Pentagon is ditching plans to begin building the first of more than 1,000 and wants to start over with seven new prototypes, which will take nearly two years to deliver, at a cost of $22 million each.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 11:23 am

National Healthcare is coming

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From ThinkProgress:

To the Progressive Community:

Some of you may be wondering why two leading progressive groups like SEIU and CAP have joined in a coalition with Wal-Mart, AT&T, and Intel on health care. This is an important issue that deserves a direct response.

From all of our years in organizing and government, we have concluded that the primary obstacle to health reform is not the lack of ideas. What is needed to bring about fundamental reform is new pressure for change and genuine political will. This involves going beyond the traditional coalitions of associations and advocates and political players on both sides of the debate.

Given the failure of past efforts, we know that corporate America is critical to overcoming the forces of the status quo. Change of this magnitude can not occur without the largest payers and players in the system working together with the largest stakeholders to overcome barriers and create new opportunities for health reform.

So today, SEIU and CAP helped to launch what is potentially one of the most transformative coalitions on the field today–a network of business, labor and public policy thinkers dedicated to building a new American health care system with quality, affordable coverage for all by the year 2012.

For the first time, companies like Wal-Mart, AT&T, Intel and Kelly Services, unions like SEIU and the CWA, and public policy groups like CAP, the Howard Baker Public Policy Center, and the Committee for Economic Development have joined together to push for universal health care and a more rational and efficient health delivery system.

We are not naïve about the prospects for change or the difficulties of holding a coalition like this together over the long term. We will not allow this effort to be a fig leaf for anyone’s particular interests or image and we will not give up our core priorities in order to participate in this coalition.

A joint effort between corporate leaders and progressives in support of universal coverage is a major vindication of your hard work and diligence. It is our hope that you will now join us in this unparalleled effort to do what is right and necessary for our people and our economy.

You can read the coalition’s goals, principles, and plans for the next few months here and here, and we welcome your comments.

Sincerely –

Andy Stern and John Podesta

More from Andy Stern:

And even more: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 10:56 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health

“I know! Let’s fly 363 tons of cash into the war zone!”

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“That will certainly make some people rich.” And so they did:

House Democrats criticized former Iraq occupation administrator L. Paul Bremer yesterday for disbursing nearly $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue without instituting accounting systems to track more carefully how Iraqi officials were using that money.

In a five-hour hearing, Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probed whether the money, which was provided to Iraqi government agencies to pay salaries and fund other operations in 2003 and 2004, was spent properly. The Democrats cited an audit conducted two years ago by the special inspector general for Iraq’s reconstruction that found that Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) engaged in “less than adequate” managerial and financial control of the money.

The funds were provided to the Iraqis in cash, often in shrink-wrapped packages of $100 bills. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), said the U.S. government flew nearly $12 billion in cash into Baghdad on military cargo planes from May 2003 to June 2004.

“Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone? But that’s exactly what our government did,” Waxman said. Because of the way the CPA kept track of the payments, Waxman said, “we have no way of knowing whether the cash shipped into the Green Zone ended up in enemy hands.”

Bremer responded that he was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Iraqi ministries, he said, lacked modern financial management systems, and the country’s banks could not handle electronic fund transfers. Waiting to implement new accounting and banking practices, he insisted, would have resulted in lengthy delays in paying salaries and pensions.

“Delay would have been demoralizing and unfair to the citizens of Iraq,” Bremer said. “Delay might well have exacerbated the nascent insurgency and thereby increased the danger to Americans on the ground.”

The hearing did not dwell on some of the more controversial aspects of Bremer’s time in Iraq, such as his decisions to disband Iraq’s army and fire Baath Party members from government jobs. Instead, the disagreement between Democrats and Bremer came down to a rather obscure point: whether Bremer should have required Iraqi ministries to provide a more detailed accounting of the money the CPA gave them.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 10:47 am

Rather revealing

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No comment needed:

US Senator Tom Coburn says he will not run for re-election if an ethics bill that’s passed the Senate becomes law.

Supporters say the bill will crack down on free gifts and travel for members of Congress.

Coburn is one of just two senators who voted against the bill and says an “innocent mistake” would cost a lawmaker $500,000 to defend himself.

The bill now goes to the U-S House which has adopted new ethics rules instead of ethics legislation.

Coburn’s seat comes up for election in 2010.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 10:42 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Trouble for the surge

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From TPMmuckraker. The surge/escalation may be doomed from the start.

As the new Baghdad security plan gets underway — otherwise known as phase I of the surge — State and Defense Department officials are again at odds over the division of labor for the “build” end of the “clear, hold and build” strategy. And that’s something that, according to the military officers in charge of implementing the surge, could doom it from the start.

In Senate testimony yesterday, it was revealed that while the State Department is creating 350 new positions to support the Iraqi government during the surge, it has a manpower shortfall so severe that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is requesting the U.S. military — already overburdened — to fill up to a third of the civilian jobs. Defense Secretary Gates told Senators pronounced himself disappointed by Rice’s request; be sure that Rice will have to answer for it in testimony tomorrow before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And that’s because of the broader logic of the surge. Both General David Petraeus and incoming Central Command chief Admiral Bill Fallon stated in their confirmation hearings last month that ultimate success in Iraq depends not on military victory, but on political and economic developments — the idea that there’s a better life for Iraqis who renounce violence. In other words, without sustained support from the State Department and other civilian agencies to improve the daily lives of Iraqis, arguably the most important aspect of the surge will never have a chance.

So why is State having such a hard time sending people to Iraq? I asked a State Department contact for a wingtips-on-the-ground perspective, and here’s his candid, off-the-cuff response.

Here’s the contact’s reply:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 10:40 am

The 25 most corrupt members of the Bush Administration

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Probably hard to limit the list to 25, but here it is: a list of the offenders, along with details and exhibits.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 10:36 am

Does Congress do its job?

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Many in Congress seem to be up in arms about having to work a five-day week. It’s not like it was under Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. (The comments at the link are very good.) And, alas, it seems that both the GOP and the Democrats have members who really don’t want to work a full week.

Even before Democratic leaders have made good on promises to harness lawmakers five days a week, cross-party opposition is growing, with senators ready to revolt and House members simmering over the new schedule.

The most popular move afoot would have lawmakers working for three weeks at a stretch with a week off — or some variation on that theme, several House and Senate members said. Such a schedule would roughly reflect the one in practice under previous Republican rule in the Senate.

“They should really work us so we get things done, then give us a few weeks off so we can do the Kiwanis Clubs and all that,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. “If you leave early Monday, yes, you can get here for a 4:30 vote, but you lose the whole working day of Monday.”

There’s a broadening bipartisan “uprising” to ditch the longer workweek among both lawmakers and staff, especially in the Senate, said a top Democratic Senate aide.

“It’s a grind,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who enjoys one of the easiest commutes to the Capitol from his home in Northern Virginia. “It’s a lot more stringent than people originally thought it would be.”

A visibly annoyed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., agreed: “I just told (Reid) I won’t be back by 4:30” for the vote Monday, “even though I’m catching a 1:55 flight.”

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 9:45 am

Will Jonah Goldberg pay his bet? haha

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Not likely. Reason: he’s dishonest. An example:

There are many shades of rightwing punditry in our country. Among the shadiest is Jonah Goldberg. With arrogance seemingly matched only by his ignorance, Goldberg was just being Goldberg when he offered this wager two years ago:

Let’s make a bet. I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I’ll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now).

The two-year period comes due this Thursday. Even Goldberg now realizes his prediction was totally wrong — with poll after poll showing most Americans do not “agree that the war was worth it.” (Not to mention what Iraqis think of the war or Goldberg’s boast that “Iraq won’t have a civil war.”)

So shouldn’t Goldberg — or somebody — pay off the $1,000?

The bet was offered near the end of an overheated blogo-debate between Goldberg (at National Review Online) and Dr. Juan Cole, the Middle East scholar from University of Michigan. In proposing the wager to Cole, Goldberg goaded: “Money where your mouth is, doc. One caveat: Because I don’t think it’s right to bet on such serious matters for personal gain, if I win, I’ll donate the money to the USO.”

Cole reacted to the proposed bet with disgust — calling it symbolic of “the neo-imperial American Right. They are making their own fortunes with a wager on the fates of others, whom they are treating like ants.” Wrote Cole: “Here we have a prominent American media star … betting on Iraqis as though they are greyhounds in a race.”

Just before Goldberg proposed his bet to Cole, the professor had fumed:

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Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 9:27 am

Posted in GOP, Iraq War, Media

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