<\body> Stories in America: November 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Troops React to Bush's 'Victory Plan'

Iraq Veteran and Operation Truth Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff released the following statement today, following President Bush's speech at the Naval Academy. Operation Truth is the nation's first and largest Iraq War Veterans organization.

"The plan the President outlined for Iraq is an improvement over the administration's previous plan, which consisted only of "stay the course." But as a Veteran of this war and someone who talks to other Veterans everyday, I can say that in the eyes of the Troops, this plan still falls short in two important ways.

First, there are still no metrics for success. Our Troops must know what objective guidelines will be used to declare that a goal has been reached. They deserve to know that their road home is based on hard data and not just a subjective opinion of success.

Second, a timeline for success must be established. Whether that means one year, two years, or five years, our Troops need a realistic time frame in which to achieve a well-defined mission. Without that, our Troops and their families cannot prepare to meet the obligation of our commitment to the Iraqi people.

The President himself has recognized the need for a timeline in military operations in the past. During the 2000 campaign, the Presidents own website stated, of the U.S. military engagement in Kosovo, "The President should also lay out a timetable for how long American troops will be involved." One of the President's own advisors said, "[Vice President] Gore seems to have a vision of an indefinite U.S. military deployment in the Balkans. He proved today that if he is elected, America's military will continue to be overdeployed, harming morale & re-enlistment rates, weakening our military's core mission."

The President must provide well-defined conditions for success and a timeline for our commitment in Iraq. Until that happens, his plan cannot be seen as credible in the eyes of the Troops and Veterans of this war. I wouldn't give this plan a failing grade, I would give it an 'incomplete.'"

Paul Hackett, veteran of the Iraq war and candidate for U.S. Senate, today responded to President Bush's remarks on the situation in Iraq and the White House release of their, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

"Once again the President has left the American people with unanswered questions. We deserve more than yet another glossy public relations stunt," said Hackett. "The President has failed to answer the number one question. I call on him tell the American people what the mission in Iraq is and describe the strategy for achieving that mission... 'staying the course' is neither a mission nor a strategy."

Responding to the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" Hackett called the 35 page document, nothing more than, "a smoke screen from a White House completely divorced from the reality of our situation in Iraq." He continued, "Iraq is less secure today than it was two and half years ago. The American military has accomplished all that can be militarily accomplished in Iraq. American tax dollars and lives should not be spent painting Iraqi schools or building Iraqi highways. It's time for the people of Iraq to rebuild their nation and it's time to plan for a redeployment of our troops serving in Iraq."

Republicans for Choice

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Here's a statement from the Republican Majority for Choice:

This is the first major abortion case before the Court in 5 years and the decisions reached will have long-lasting ramifications for women's health and abortion laws across the country.

In deciding Ayotte, the Court could potentially rule to eliminate the requirement that abortion laws must contain provisions to protect the health of the woman. Eliminating this requirement interjects judges and lawmakers into decisions best made by doctors and puts women facing medical emergencies at risk.

Here are additional articles and statements:

"If the Court accepts the government's arguments in this case, it will give a green light to states to pass abortion restrictions that will harm women's health in medical emergencies. We are hopeful that the Court will recognize the importance of protecting women's health and access to safe, legal abortion and rule in our favor."
-Jennifer Dalven, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, and the attorney who argued before the Court today

"The government is actually urging the Supreme Court to take the dangerous step of forbidding doctors from putting their patient's health first. Government should not be the judge of when doctors can and cannot treat their patients."
-Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Seek Middle Ground in Abortion Case - Bloomberg
Several U.S. Supreme Court justices tried to find a middle ground as they grappled with their first abortion dispute in five years, a challenge to a New Hampshire parental notification law.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Supreme Court Takes Up Abortion Case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a case involving a New Hampshire law that prevents doctors from performing an abortion for a young woman under 18 until 48 hours after a parent has been notified. The law prevents a doctor from treating his or her patients, even when a medical emergency threatens their health.

Here's a statement from Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

"The case is not about whether states may require a parent's involvement. The Supreme Court has said that states can do so. Rather, the case is about whether these laws must allow physicians to protect their patients' health by acting immediately in an emergency. The undisputed facts in the case show that without this ability to treat patients facing such emergencies immediately, young women will face real risks to their health, including infertility, vision loss, and permanent kidney or liver damage.

In addition to arguing that these restrictions do not need to contain an emergency exception to protect women's health, New Hampshire and the Bush administration argue that doctors and their patients should not be allowed to challenge the lack of an emergency exception until the patient is actually facing the emergency. But women who are facing emergencies, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension that should be treated immediately before it progresses into a life-threatening condition, should not be required to find lawyers and go to court when they really should be in a hospital receiving medical care.

Currently, American women expect their doctors to put their health first when they are seeking an abortion. And thanks to thirty years of abortion jurisprudence, that expectation has been protected under the U.S. Constitution. But now in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, New Hampshire and the Bush administration have asked the Court to throw out that standard, and adopt a standard that would, in effect, forbid doctors from protecting their patient’s health first and foremost.

For years, the Supreme Court has taken seriously its duty to protect individuals from permanent harm to their health. The proposed Bush standard not only callously robs women of that constitutional protection, but also seriously intrudes upon the constitutional right of each American woman to have some control over her destiny by deciding herself when, and if, she will bear a child."

Al Jazeera: Don't Bomb Us

Staffers at Al Jazeera have created a new blog with a message to the Bush administration: Don't Bomb Us.

If you're not familiar with Al Jazeera, check out Control Room, an excellent documentary about the Iraq war, with an emphasis on Al Jazeera's coverage.

It's worth noting that Josh Rushing, a Centcom spokesman whose opinions about the war change in Control Room, recently accepted a job with Al Jazeera.

Bush Shuns Global Warming Conference

Canada's 10-day UN climate control conference began yesterday, with 10,000 experts from 180 nations discussing how to slow the dangerous effects of greenhouses gases and global warming. Kicking off the conference, Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion said climate change is the single most important environmental issue facing the world today. Guess who didn't bother to show up?

Dr Harlan L Watson, senior climate negotiator for the US Department of State, said that while president George W Bush declined to join the treaty, the US leader takes global warming seriously. He noted greenhouse gas emissions had actually gone down by 8% under Bush.

"With regard to what the United States is doing on climate change, the actions we have taken are next to none in the world," Watson told the Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference.

Watson said the United States spends more than $5 billion a year on efforts to slow the deterioration of the earth's atmosphere by supporting climate change research and technology, and that Bush had committed to cutting greenhouse gases some 18% by 2012. The United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would harm the US economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economic powers such as China and India.

Not only did Bush refuse to make an appearance, his administration has ruled out making extra pledges to fight global warming beyond 2012.

Environmentalists accused Washington of doing too little to fight a rise in temperatures from human activities that could lead to more storms, expanding deserts and worse floods, and could raise sea levels by up to three feet (one meter) by 2100.

Bill Hare, climate policy director of Greenpeace, called the United States the "fly in the ointment" at the conference. "The failure of the United States to be willing to discuss future action here is the real issue," he said, predicting Washington will only join a global pact after Bush leaves office.

House Bill Forces the Poor to Work More

The massive budget bill that essentially starves the poor would also require some two million welfare recipients to increase their hours of work, training and community service. The cuts for food stamp, student loan and medicaid programs have been covered by the national media, but the changes in welfare requirements have been largely ignored. The bill would require welfare recipients to spend 40 hours a week in activities out of the house, substantially more than they do now.

The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on the new requirements:
Democrats and liberal-advocacy groups say the stricter work rules are not backed up by the funding to subsidize child care. Moreover, the budget bill's cuts to food stamps and Medicaid could add still more financial pressure as welfare recipients transition to the ranks of the working poor.

"There is no good argument for these increased work requirements," said Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor who quit the Clinton administration in protest over the 1996 welfare restructuring. "People have demonstrated they wanted to get off welfare and go to work. They don't need an extra push with a stick."

The new changes are a follow-on to the 1996 bill, whose supporters argued it was needed to end the cycle of dependence on government.

Wade Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, disputed critics who opposed the 1996 changes, which he said have been successful. The changes in the House bill reflect the reality that part-time, low-wage work cannot lift a family out of poverty, but even at modest wages, workers can pull themselves above the poverty line by working full time and collecting the earned-income tax credit, he said.

"We're not big, mean conservatives trying to punish the poor," he said. "States have been focusing on part-time work because that's what we told them to do. The standard should be what most Americans think work is: full-time work."

The changes in the House bill involve multiple layers to ensure that states stick to tougher work rules. Under the requirements imposed in 1996, states are supposed to have half their welfare recipients working to avoid sanctions that eat into their welfare block grants. Welfare recipients have to work, do community service or take vocational-education classes for 20 hours a week. They are also expected to be out of the house 10 more hours a week, in education, volunteer or community-service programs.

Monday, November 28, 2005

With God on Their Side

I'm currently reading an excellent and frightening book called, With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right, by Esther Kaplan. It's about the success of the Christian right and its influence on the Bush administration and its policies. AlterNet is running an interview with Kaplan about Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito.

What does this nomination mean to the Christian Right?

You cannot underestimate the extent to which the Christian Right feels like this is the culmination of their work. This is the moment they've been waiting for. Roe v. Wade was the single most important factor in the rise of the Christian Right as a social movement, and the brass ring has always been to stack the Supreme Court so they can overturn that decision. They have the Senate, they have the presidency. This really is their moment and they are going to pull out all the stops.

As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council declared, they are "ready to rumble." But it's interesting to speculate, politically, do the Republicans really want Roe overturned? We forget that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, as are the majority of Americans. It's always been convenient for the Republican Party to posture as pro-life and trust that the Supreme Court will uphold Roe, but that could change now, with major political consequences.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Buy Nothing Day?

What were you doing at 5:00 this morning?

Thursday, November 24, 2005


On this Thanksgiving weekend, why not adopt a turkey, rather than eat one? Every year, Farm Sanctuary, the nation's largest farm animal rescue and protection organization, rescues turkeys from slaughter and provides them care at their shelters for farm animals in Watkins Glen, New York and Orland, California. For a one-time $20 adoption fee, adopters receive a color photograph of their turkey, an adoption certificate and a year subscription to Farm Sanctuary's quarterly newsletter. The adoption fee provides funds for feed, bedding and veterinary care for the turkeys. It's a great gift for kids!

If you can't live without turkey on Thanksgiving, there's always tofurkey...

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bush's Reality Check

Now here's a map I would proudly put on my wall (thanks, AlterNet):

AlterNet is also running a great piece about Bush's failed policies:

Let's begin by taking the pulse of America's majority population: Working families.

*Pre-tax incomes fell for middle-income families of every type
*After taking into account changes in both pre-tax income and taxes, the finding remains that most middle-income families lost ground
*Family spending on higher insurance co-pays, deductibles, and premiums has escalated in recent years
*Inflation-adjusted income of the median household was unchanged and remains $1,700, or 3.8 percent, below its most recent peak in 1999, according to Monday's release by the U.S. Bureau of the Census
*How about those Bush tax cuts and all the jobs they were going to create?

On Monday, General Motors announced it was cutting 30,000 jobs. This continues a trend we've seen throughout this presidency. One picture is worth one thousand jobs:

How about Bush's free trade deals? How's that working out for us?

The trade deficit so far this year is running at a record annual rate of $706 billion, putting it on track to far surpass the old record of $617.6 billion set last year. We are selling less and buying more from aboard.

Why? For one reason, outsourcing has resulted in everything being manufactured abroad now. Way to go. How bad does the trade deficit have to get before the dollar collapses? Stay tuned, we are well on our way to an answer.

Those tax cuts that were going to stimulate the economy so much, Bush said, would cut the budget deficit in half. How's that going?

The National Debt continues to grow by $3.14 billion per day since September 30, 2005. The total national debt now stands at just a tad over $8 trillion, or $27,200 of debt for all US citizens -- yes, including the kids.

Bush inherited a government operating, not just in the black, but in surplus. How'd he build on that?

First Bush went on a gifting spree, giving nearly $2 trillion of it away in tax give-aways to companies and the already-wealthy. Then he went shopping with the nation's platinum card. Surpluses quickly disappeared and were replaced by end-to-end budget deficits. We'll be adding another $320 billion to that this year. Hell, Bush ran up another $50 billion in debt in October alone. What's in your wallet?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Pro-Choice Bush Family

The SF Chronicle is running a piece that looks back at the Bush family's support for Planned Parenthood and family planning services. The article also highlights the fact that both Barbara and Laura Bush are against overturning Roe vs. Wade. "I agree with my husband that we should try to reduce the number of abortions in our country by doing all of those things, by taking responsibility, by talking about abstinence." Yes, pressed interviewer Katie Couric, but what about Roe vs. Wade? "No, I don't think that it should be overturned."
Care to guess who was the treasurer of Planned Parenthood when it launched its first national fundraising campaign in 1947? It was Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of the two Bush presidents.

The political repercussions hit hard. Prescott Bush was knocked out of an expected victory for a Senate seat in Connecticut in 1950 after syndicated columnist Drew Pearson declared that it "has been made known" that Bush was a leader in the "Birth Control Society" (The old name of Planned Parenthood had been the Birth Control Federation of America.) Recall that contraceptives were controversial in those days -- and remember that a constitutional right to use them wasn't established until 1965, when the Supreme Court affirmed an implied right to privacy in Griswold vs. Connecticut.

Prescott Bush won a Senate seat two years later, and his son George and daughter-in-law Barbara continued to support Planned Parenthood even after George's election to Congress from Texas. In fact, he was such an advocate for family planning that some House colleagues gave him the nickname "Rubbers."

But as he began to position himself for the White House within the increasingly conservative GOP, he gradually began to identify himself as averse to abortion -- first by opposing Medicare funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and ultimately by acceding to presidential nominee Ronald Reagan's demand that, as his vice presidential nominee, Bush embrace the GOP platform's call for a constitutional amendment against abortion.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself Campaign

Advocates for Youth is launching a nationwide campaign designed to begin a conversation about condoms and emphasize their important place in the fight against unintended pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases:
The Respect Yourself. Protect Yourself. Campaign comes at a critical time as conservatives in Congress and the administration promote a sexual health agenda based far more on ideology than on public health science. Among other things, conservative factions in Congress and the administration have spent more than one billion in public funding to promote abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that censor information about the effectiveness of condoms and removed information about the health benefits of condoms from the Web sites of at least two federal agencies. Just this month, a group of conservative organizations and lawmakers led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) pushed the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for condom labeling that would emphasize condom failure rates instead of condoms' effectiveness.

"Twenty-eight million young people under the age of 25 (including 8 million under the age of 19), have had sexual intercourse," said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth. "To undermine public confidence in condoms -- the most effective prevention tool we have for people who are sexually active -- violates core principles of public health and flies in the face of basic common sense. This campaign is our way of cutting through hypocrisy and censorship and educating youth about the importance of condom use."

Respect Yourself. Protect Yourself. is based on a highly successful campaign conducted by the German Federal Centre for Health Education -- the German equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For almost 20 years, the German campaign has achieved the largest impact among sexually active youth ages 16 through 20, 87 percent of whom reported using condoms in 2003 (up from 59 percent in 1988).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Reaction to Budget Cuts

On the same day the Republican-controlled House voted to cut essential programs for the most vulnerable, they gave themselves a $3,100 pay raise.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the bill imposes the following cuts:

Food stamps: more than 220,000 people would be cut off the program. This includes at least 150,000 people, most of them in working families with children who have substantial work and housing expenses that drop their net incomes below the poverty line. In addition, 70,000 legal immigrants who have been in the United States between five and seven years, primarily working-poor parents and poor elderly individuals, would be cut off food stamps by 2008. The food stamp cuts would total $700 million over five years, according to CBO.

Medicaid: low-income beneficiaries would have to pay more for health care and would receive reduced services; many would end up doing without needed care. A last-minute change by the House reduced the co-payments that the poorest Medicaid beneficiaries must pay. But the House left unchanged the two most serious most serious problems in this part of the bill — the very high co-payments and premiums that beneficiaries just above the poverty line could be charged, and the health care services that states would be allowed to eliminate, including comprehensive preventive care and treatment for near-poor children.

Child support: $24 billion in child support payments would go uncollected over the next ten years because of deep cuts in child support enforcement efforts. By sharply weakening funding for child support enforcement, the bill would undercut one of the government's principal tools for enforcing personal responsibility on those who father a child. Child support payments would drop sharply -- according to CBO, $24 billion that would be collected under current law would go uncollected under the House bill -- and as a result, many children would likely be pushed deeper into poverty.

Child care: 330,000 children in low-income working families would lose child care assistance by 2010. The bill requires states to place many more parents receiving TANF cash assistance into work programs. States will have to provide child care for these parents. Yet the House bill fails to provide enough child care money even to maintain the current number of subsidized child care slots for low-income families.

Several groups and politicians have released statements about the bill and its impact:

"Republican congressional leadership and the Bush administration again revealed their skewed priorities by slashing vital programs that support working families while promoting tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. While congressional leaders were working in the dark of night to eke out enough votes to pass the House Reconciliation bill that includes draconian cuts in working family programs, the Bush administration continued its push to pass a whopping $70 billion dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy."
-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney

"This budget chooses war over education, tax cuts over health care, special interests over need of the nation and rich over poor. This budget bill attempts to balance the deficits caused by the war in Iraq and the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans squarely on the backs of poor and working class Americans. Our nation cannot sustain the path laid out by this bill. With this bill, Congress is turning its back on hundreds of millions of people in favor of an extreme ideology. We can and must do better."
-Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH)

"We are disappointed that the House made cuts to the Food Stamp Program and are poised to cut taxes for the wealthy. Their choice takes food from families struggling to make ends meet and puts more money in the pockets of those who need it the least. This is morally wrong and will make Thanksgiving bleaker for hundreds of thousands of hard-working families."
-Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann

"Since only minor changes have been made to the budget proposal, it is obvious that a lot of arm twisting must have occurred since then. Congress recognized that special places like the Arctic Refuge need protection. However, it is unfortunate they did not apply that standard of protection to our other sensitive public lands."
-Earthjustice Legislative Associate Sarah Wilhoite

Friday, November 18, 2005

House Votes to Starve the Poor

The House's decision to cut $700 million in food stamps will impact 235,000 people. The vote was 215-217. Fourteen Republicans, one independent and 200 Democrats voted against the bill. Congressmen Leonard Boswell of Iowa and Edolphus Towns of New York, both Democrats, failed to vote.

Additional details from Reuters:
House and Senate negotiators now must write a final, compromise version of legislation to pare federal spending over five years. The Senate did not touch food stamps in its version of a $35 billion budget-cutting bill.

Food stamps, the major U.S. antihunger program, help poor people buy food. Some 25.8 million Americans received food stamps in a program run by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The final bill should abandon proposals to cut food stamps, urged Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center. "In nutrition, the Senate did the right thing," she said.

Bread for the World, another antihunger group, said the prospect of food stamp cuts "will make Thanksgiving bleaker for hundreds of thousands of hard-working families." It pointed to government estimates that 38.2 million Americans live in "food insecure" households that have trouble buying enough food.

House Republican leaders say the cuts are only a sliver of food stamp spending that runs more than $35 billion a year. Earlier this week, House Majority Leader Roy Blunt said the cuts would focus the program on "the people you intended to help instead of just adding on at the edges."

In a statement, the White House said it supported the House "efforts to narrow overly broad exemptions from the food stamp program's eligibility limits." President (George W.) Bush proposed restrictions in February that are similar to the House-approved steps.

Under the House plan, roughly 165,000 people now automatically enrolled in food stamps when they get assistance from welfare programs would lose food stamps. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said these were mostly working families with children.

States would have the option to continue offering free school lunches to families cut off of food stamps. The Center on Budget said it was unlikely all states would do so.

The House proposal also would require 70,000 legal immigrants in most cases to wait seven years to become eligible for food stamps, rather than the current five years. That brings the total number of people affected by the plan to 235,000.

Who Supports the Troops?

Bush and Cheney are on the defensive, saying comments from decorated war veterans like Congressman John Murtha are "sending the wrong message to our troops." The troops are dodging bullets and bombs on a daily basis. Does Cheney really think a call to bring them home is hurting them?

I've written several articles about what it really means to support the troops and I'm continually amazed that those who are in favor of the war and sport "Support Our Troops" ribbons on their cars are letting the Bush administration get away with disprespecting the troops by not providing them with adequate healthcare.

Here are a few articles that deserve more attention:

U.S. Veterans Denied Health Care, Retired General Hoar Says - Bloomberg
The Bush administration is shortchanging U.S. military veterans in health care, providing insufficient psychological support and other aid to troops returning from Iraq, a former head of U.S. Central Command said.
President George W. Bush "has consistently refused to provide enough for veteran's health care," retired Marine General Joseph Hoar said in the Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address.
"Thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will require mental health care services, yet the Bush administration has not taken action to deal with this emerging problem," said Hoar, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Southwest Asia under President George H.W. Bush, the current U.S. president's father, and Marines Corps Chief of Staff of Operations during the 1991 Gulf War.

Vets lash out at House over budget moves - The Hill
As Veterans Day approaches and the war in Iraq rages on, veterans-service organizations are criticizing House leaders for ending a 55-year legislative tradition, and fearing that Congress will not fill next year's budget gap for veterans healthcare.
Senators erupted in frustration earlier this year after Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Jim Nicholson conceded that the department was more than $1 billion short for 2005. They will get a chance to vent again today when Nicholson appears before the Veterans Affairs Committee at a hearing on VA hospitals damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
But lobbyists for veterans groups are most incensed at Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), the new House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, who announced Tuesday that the groups would no longer have the opportunity to make legislative recommendations at joint House-Senate hearings.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

House Defeats Budget Bill

After weeks of debate, emails and phone calls, the House has defeated the budget bill.
The 224-209 vote against the $142.5 billion spending bill disrupted plans by Republican leaders to finish up work on this year's spending bills and cast doubt on whether they would have the votes to pass a major budget-cutting bill also on the day's agenda.

Democrats, unanimous in opposing the legislation, said it included the first cut in education funding in a decade and slashed spending for several health care programs. "It betrays our nation's values and its future," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "It is neither compassionate, conservative nor wise."

Republicans said they may have lost votes because this year's bill, down $1.5 billion from last year, included no special projects or earmarks for lawmakers. "You take those out and you lose the incentive," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who voted for the bill.

Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure, many of them moderates who also are swing votes on the budget-cutting legislation.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said one factor in the bill's defeat was the drop in the president's popularity and his inability to maintain unity among the GOP ranks. He also noted that the Republican Party misses the vote-gathering powers of Texas Rep. Tom DeLay -- nicknamed "The Hammer" -- who has stepped aside as majority leader because of legal problems, replaced by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "Not every blunt instrument is a hammer," Frank said.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

I highly recommend seeing Robert Greenwald's latest film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I saw it last night and was reminded of the many downtowns I visited over the past six months that are slowly disappearing, thanks to Wal-Mart.

The film was effective in that it didn't focus on the usual anti-big box activists; it focuses on people living in communities that have been negatively impacted by Wal-Mart, including Republicans. Too many left-leaning articles and films ignore Republicans, which is one of the reasons why I traveled to the so-called "red states" this summer. In one scene, a liberal preacher and a suburban Republican from Arizona successfuly work on a campaign to prevent Wal-Mart from coming to town.

The challenge will be to convince people who actually shop at Wal-Mart to watch this film.

A few facts about Wal-Mart:

*"On average, Wal-Mart sales clerks -- "associates" in company parlance -- pulled in $8.23 an hour, or $13,861 a year, in 2001, according to documents filed in a lawsuit pending against the company."

*A Wal-Mart Worker may donate money from their paycheck to the Critical Need Fund, a program to aid other employees in times of crisis, like a fire or tornado. In 2004, Wal-Mart Employees gave over $5 million to help fellow workers; The Walton Family gave $6,000

*The Walton family Has Given less than 1% of Their Wealth to Charity Bill Gates has given 58%

*The Walton family received a federal tax cut of: $91,500.00 per HOUR in the 2004 tax year

*"A recent study by researchers at UC Berkeley's Labor Center has quantified what happened to retail wages when Wal-Mart set up shop, drawing on 15 years of data on actual store openings. The study found that Wal-Mart drives down wages in urban areas, with an annual loss of at least $3 billion dollars in earnings for retail workers."

UPDATE: Since the completion of our film, the study has been finalized and published, and the published findings produced a different number for the annual loss in retail earnings than the preliminary figure we used in the film. The published study ultimately found that Wal-Mart actually reduced the take-home pay of retail workers by $4.7 BILLION dollars annually. Unfortunately for the retail workers this statistic concerns, Wal-Mart's effect on retail wages turns out to be worse than we had anticipated.

*In 2004, a study released the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that "reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health related expenses and $54 million in other assistance."

*In the film, a former Wal-Mart co-manager claims that store managers are told to "Keep the number of associates from being full time, as many as you can, keep many of them part time, as much as you can."

*"Wal-Mart will escape criminal sanctions and pay $11 million to settle claims stemming from a federal investigation of illegal workers hired by the company's cleaning contractors, the company said Friday...The more than four-year investigation was led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania. It produced 245 arrests of undocumented workers in 2003."

*In an initial search of "electronic archives of local newspapers to find cases of Wal-Mart stores that had received" development subsidies, Good Jobs First uncovered "91 stores that have received public assistance. In total, these subsidies were worth about $245 million to Wal-Mart and the developers of shopping centers in which a Wal-Mart store served as an anchor. Individual subsidy deals in those 91 stores ranged from less than $1 million to about $12 million, with an average of about $2.8 million."

A Few Bad Apples

The Canadian Broadcasting Company is airing a special about torture at Abu Ghraib called A Few Bad Apples.

From Daily Kos:

"A Few Bad Apples" tells the story... of the "bad apples" that the White House argued were, alone, responsible for the abuses in Abu Ghraib -- as well as another, bigger, story about politics and the war in Iraq.

How is it that Canadian reporters are able to find and interview military witnesses from the rank of private to general to describe prisoner abuse in Iraq, and our own MSM is barely able to muster lame verbal contortions about 'allegations of abuse,' etc.?

Young, inexperienced reserve soldiers like Israel Rivera were ordered to help break the detainees. Rivera told the fifth estate's Gillian Findlay: "I mean, prior to being an [intelligence] analyst I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken, so it was quite a big jump from being a 19-year-old wage worker to, you know, people coming toward you and saying well, what do you think."

This extraordinary report will be available for online viewing tomorrow. Catch it if you can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Boeing Settles Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

Like most sex discrimination class-actions, the suit filed against Boeing has been settled out of court and has received little attention. More than 20,000 current and former female employees out of a potential pool of 29,000 said Boeing discriminated against them at Seattle-area plants between 1997 and 2000. "It's revealing that over 60 percent of female employees filed claims -- in most class-action suits a 30 percent response rate is typical," said Mike Helgren, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
Thousands of female employees involved in a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Boeing Co. will be sharing in a $72.5 million settlement in the next few weeks.

Boeing agreed more than a year ago to pay anywhere from $40.6 million to $72.5 million, and documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court show the final total at the high end.

If the plaintiffs' motion for speedy payment is granted, checks could be in the mail to some 17,960 current and former Boeing employees by Christmas. Otherwise, Boeing has until Jan. 14 to pay a court administrator, who would issue checks.

Individual payments range from $500 to $26,000, said Mike Helgren, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

Boeing admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to change its hiring, pay, promotion complaint investigation practices.

"We've moved ahead on numerous fronts in making improvements to our work environment," said John Dern, a spokesman at Boeing headquarters in Chicago.

Bush Appoints Another Unqualified Candidate

From an editorial in today's Orlando Sentinel:
President George W. Bush's nominee to head the State Department office for refugees and humanitarian crises is not worthy of Senate confirmation.

Ellen Sauerbrey is a former Maryland legislator and two-time loser for governor who was Mr. Bush's state campaign chair in 2000. She has scant experience with refugees and humanitarian crises. She lacks the management background to take over a $700 million office on which lives and international good will often rest.

Mr. Bush's political opponents have been too quick to oppose his nominees for ideological reasons. But despite anti-abortion views that have riled critics, it is Ms. Sauerbrey's inadequate qualifications that make her unfit.

Surely the president can find a more capable nominee.

The Art of Spin

Each week, the Center for Media and Democracy compiles a list of news items about political spin and propaganda. It's called The Weekly Spin and it's a must read. Here are a few summaries from this week's list:

The PR firm Edelman "is working with the American Petroleum
Institute (API), the oil industry's primary lobbying group, on a
public issues campaign aimed at convincing Americans that the
industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in
record quarterly profits," reports PR Week. Print ads designed by
Edelman's advertising unit, Blue Worldwide, "have run in major daily
newspapers across the nation, as well as in Roll Call and The Hill."
The print ads urge "consumers to adopt conservation measures this
winter" and push for the removal of "barriers on the production of
natural gas on federal lands." Blue Worldwide also launched "a new
TV campaign that will run during news and public affairs
programming, which started with NBC Nightly News" on November 10.
SOURCE: PR Week, November 11, 2005

As The Nation's Jeremy Scahill cautions that Stewart Simonson, the
U.S. official "responsible for coordinating the federal response to
a flu pandemic or bioterror attack could well be the next Michael
Brown," businesses are preparing marketing plans to avoid decreased
chicken or egg consumption due to avian flu. The PR firm Edelman "is
in the early stages of developing contingency programs." Edelman's
Mike Seymour said, "We're building on our experience with Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome SARS. ... The best thing to do is to have
a plan in place ahead of it." Kentucky Fried Chicken is planning TV
ads "to educate consumers that eating cooked chicken is perfectly
safe." The National Chicken Council launched a website,
avianinfluenzainfo.com. Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods "have prepared press releases ... trying to allay concerns." O'Dwyer's reports that the Egg Safety Center hired Aronow Communications "to get word out that a potential avian flu pandemic would not make eggs unsafe."
SOURCE: Advertising Age, November 7, 2005

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which recently launched a
major chemical industry PR campaign called "essential2," is one of
the main groups claiming that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a
public right-to-know program, is not so essential. Under TRI, the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annually reports on what
industries release into the air, water and land. The ACC "has urged
less frequent reporting since 1999." ACC's Michael Walls said, "Just
because we're used to doing something doesn't mean we should accept
the inherent high costs or burden of doing it." The Bush
administration supports changing the TRI so that fewer releases are
reported, less frequently. EPA officials say they will "likely spend
another year weighing the pros and cons" of the proposed changes,
after the public comment period ends on December 5. According to
federal records, the EPA "previously solicited comments from
industry groups."
SOURCE: Toledo Blade (Ohio), November 14, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

GOP Fails to Extend Tax Cut

From the AP:
The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-6 to endorse a package that would cut taxes by $60 billion over five years but would omit a GOP priority of preserving reduced tax rates for investment income. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican holding a pivotal vote on the committee, rejected the extension.

"The reality is, this is a very different world than where we were even six months ago," Snowe, said, pointing to budget deficits, rebuilding efforts along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, ongoing operations in Iraq and rising energy costs.

Other Republicans reluctantly voted for the bill, bemoaning the need to abandon the extension but pledging to reinstate it before the legislation hits President Bush's desk.

"It's in many respects the centerpiece of this legislation," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "We ought not to be doing the bill without that key element."

NY Times Decodes Bush's Denials

An editorial in today's New York Times does a brilliant job of decoding Bush's denials, including his claim that everyone had access to the same intelligence:
Mr. Bush says everyone had the same intelligence he had - Mr. Clinton and his advisers, foreign governments, and members of Congress - and that all of them reached the same conclusions. The only part that is true is that Mr. Bush was working off the same intelligence Mr. Clinton had. But that is scary, not reassuring. The reports about Saddam Hussein's weapons were old, some more than 10 years old. Nothing was fresher than about five years, except reports that later proved to be fanciful.

Foreign intelligence services did not have full access to American intelligence. But some had dissenting opinions that were ignored or not shown to top American officials. Congress had nothing close to the president's access to intelligence. The National Intelligence Estimate presented to Congress a few days before the vote on war was sanitized to remove dissent and make conjecture seem like fact.

It's hard to imagine what Mr. Bush means when he says everyone reached the same conclusion. There was indeed a widespread belief that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. But Mr. Clinton looked at the data and concluded that inspections and pressure were working - a view we now know was accurate. France, Russia and Germany said war was not justified. Even Britain admitted later that there had been no new evidence about Iraq, just new politics.
What about Bush's claim that the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation on Iraq found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence?
That is true only in the very narrow way the Republicans on the committee insisted on defining pressure: as direct pressure from senior officials to change intelligence. Instead, the Bush administration made what it wanted to hear crystal clear and kept sending reports back to be redone until it got those answers.

Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of central intelligence, said in 2003 that there was "significant pressure on the intelligence community to find evidence that supported a connection" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The C.I.A. ombudsman told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the administration's "hammering" on Iraq intelligence was harder than he had seen in his 32 years at the agency.

Mr. Bush and other administration officials say they faithfully reported what they had read. But Vice President Dick Cheney presented the Prague meeting as a fact when even the most supportive analysts considered it highly dubious. The administration has still not acknowledged that tales of Iraq coaching Al Qaeda on chemical warfare were considered false, even at the time they were circulated.

Mr. Cheney was not alone. Remember Condoleezza Rice's infamous "mushroom cloud" comment? And Secretary of State Colin Powell in January 2003, when the rich and powerful met in Davos, Switzerland, and he said, "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?" Mr. Powell ought to have known the report on "special equipment" - the aluminum tubes - was false. And the uranium story was four years old.

Mr. Bush said last Friday that he welcomed debate, even in a time of war, but that "it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began." We agree, but it is Mr. Bush and his team who are rewriting history.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Judges Determine Fate of Yong Women

This is what happens in states with parental notification laws on the books:
A Lakeland-based appellate court ruled late Thursday that a 17-year-old girl could get an abortion without telling her parents.

In doing so, it overturned the decision of a Polk circuit judge, who had denied the girl a waiver to a new law requiring a minor to notify her parents before having an abortion.
The girl's name has not been revealed, but The Ledger printed this description of her background:
The girl -- who will turn 18 in about a month -- still lives with her parents and comes from a Catholic family. She lives in the 10th Judicial Circuit, which consists of Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.

She graduated from high school with an "impressively high grade- point average" and now attends a nearby post-secondary school.

The girl testified that she became pregnant by her steady boyfriend whom she intends to marry in the next year.

She said her desire to have an abortion is "not at all" motivated by pressure from her boyfriend.

Instead, the girl said she isn't prepared financially or otherwise to support a child. She would have to sacrifice her education and work full-time.

Although she has a good relationship with her parents, the girl said they would "adamantly oppose her decision" to have an abortion and might kick her out.
Despite this girl's situation, Judge Charles A. Davis Jr. dissented, saying she failed to show sufficient maturity to make such a decision.
"Her decision to immediately seek termination without seeking any other information or counseling establishes her failure to show by clear and convincing evidence that she possesses sufficient maturity to be entitled to bypass relief," Davis wrote.
In other words, she's not mature enough to terminate her pregnancy, but is mature enough to have a baby.

Abstinence-Only Advocates in Denial

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a great piece about what is being taught in abstinence-only classes:
Gale Grant, who has taught abstinence in Virginia and now works for the Virginia Department of Heath, said she teaches students to wait until they are married. She doesn't teach them about the use of condoms or other birth control, she said to an audience gathered at the National Academy of Sciences last week.

Someone in the audience asked about masturbation. She said she tells students to "abstain from arousing yourself sexually" because, she explained, it could lead to dangerous sexual behavior.

Somehow you're supposed to act as though your body below the waist doesn't exist until you're married.
Those opposed to sex education and abortion always fail to talk about the disturbing fact that three in 10 American girls become pregnant before the age of 20, which is high compared to other industrialized countries.
There must be something we can learn from the Canadians and Europeans, who have as much sex as we do but end up with fewer abortions and teen pregnancies. Could it help that they're more open about sex, while we Americans treat it like a crime, all the worse if it's, God forbid, premeditated? You're supposed to be swept away by passion with no plan, no discussion, no change of clothes for the next day, and no condom. No wonder three in 10 teenage girls end up pregnant.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Largest Party of All

I'm doing some research and just ran across these numbers: Of the 197 million Americans who are eligible to vote, 142 million (72 percent) reported they were registered to vote. Among those registered, 126 million (89 percent) said they voted. That means the number of people who didn't vote on Election Day 2004 surpassed the number of people who voted for Bush. Is it fair to say we are divided when 71 million Americans didn't vote?

Friday, November 11, 2005

First the Pill, Now Condoms

If social conservatives don't like condoms, they shouldn't use them. From the LA Times:

Against a background of pressure from social conservatives, the Food and Drug Administration is recommending a new series of labels for condoms, warning that they "greatly reduce, but do not eliminate" the risk of some sexually transmitted diseases.

Though little noticed by the general public, the issue of condom labeling has become another battleground in the nation's culture wars.

Social conservatives have been working in Congress and elsewhere to press their contention that unwarranted reliance on condoms encourages promiscuous behavior and can contribute to the spread of disease; many in this camp advocate abstinence on both medical and moral grounds. Many public health groups, as well as birth-control advocacy groups such as Planned Parenthood, argue that adding caveats to condom labels could discourage their use and thus increase the likelihood of unprotected sex.

Supporting the Troops on Veterans Day?

Paul Rieckhoff, director of Operation Truth, the nations first and largest organization for Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, would like Bush to answer a few questions on this Veterans Day:

"Why is there no mandatory baseline funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs? You say you support the Troops, but year after year, the VA is woefully underfunded because funding is at the discretion of Congress and the President. The result has been the agency charged with Veteran care has been continually underfunded by as much as 13-14%, according to the agency's own Undersecretary. The agency does not have enough centers and personnel to properly screen for and treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or provide adequate and timely health care. Some Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are already homeless. There is no system set up to help them.

Why has no one been fired for underestimating the VA's need by billions? A wave of new Veterans is coming and the VA is not ready. Earlier this year, Secretary Jim Nicholson crawled to Congress with his tail between his legs to admit the agency miscalculated its need by almost $3 billion for the next two years. Who has been held accountable for this foul up? Has the agency kept a closer eye on the developing need to make sure they aren't caught unprepared, as our Troops return from war?

Why did we become Veterans in the first place? On behalf of the Veterans of Iraq, I ask that the question is finally answered: Were we misled into war? We deserve to know.

Does anyone have a real plan for Iraq? Many of us who served in Iraq feel there was never a well thought out plan for after the invasion. We never felt there was a clear mission with attainable goals. We are told by many of our friends still over there that there is still no clear mission. Is there an exit strategy that is responsible and practical? Neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered anything on that front.

We Veterans do appreciate the accolades and honors we will get today from people across America, and we thank you. But what we really want is to be listened to, and get some answers. That is the best way to support the Troops on Veterans Day."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

House Cancels Budget Cut Vote

This just in from the National Women's Law Center:

Two Important Victories in the Budget Battle!

This afternoon, the House Republican leadership cancelled the expected vote on the spending reconciliation bill -- because they didn't have the votes to pass it. And, this morning, at the last minute, Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) cancelled a scheduled mark-up of the Senate reconciliation tax cut plan, because in the face of moderate opposition, it couldn’t get through the Committee.

Your calls and e-mails made the difference: Members of Congress got the message that cutting services for women and their families to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy few are the wrong priorities. Please thank members of both parties who stood up for America's families -- and call on them to continue to do so.

This fight isn't over yet -- but the momentum is on our side! Congratulations!

House Votes on Medicaid, Food Stamp Cuts

The House is voting on a sweeping set of budget cuts today that would slash services used by people who need them the most. According to a New York Times editorial, "The five-year, $54 billion proposal is headed for a floor vote this week disguised as an overdue act of fiscal responsibility and government savings. In truth, it is so over-the-top in its inequities and giveaways that embarrassed moderates are actually rebelling, withholding support unless some of the more outrageous measures - like despoiling the Alaska wildlife refuge with oil drilling - are killed."

Hoping to encourage moderate Republicans to vote for the bill, the House decided to drop the amendment that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Food stamps and drilling for oil. See the connection?

Now is the time to call your Representatives and express your opinion on this issue. The American Friends Service Committee has donated their toll-free number for the week of November 7. Call 800-426-8073 to be connected to the capitol switchboard.

Which programs will be hit the hardest?

*Food Stamps:

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House bill would cut food stamp benefits by about $45 a month for 225,000 people and that 40,000 children would lose their eligibility for free meals at school. About 70,000 legal aliens would no longer qualify for food stamps. The Senate version of the legislation, passed last week, would save about $36 billion over five years and would do so without cutting food stamps or health care to poor or elderly beneficiaries.


The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Medicaid reductions in the House proposal, which seeks more out-of-pocket spending from beneficiaries and also increases premiums and co-payments, would total $30 billion over 10 years. The changes could affect six million children who live in poverty, according to Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. In addition, the proposed Medicaid cuts could affect five and a half million people with disabilities, Greenstein said. "For many millions of people the allowable charge for a health care service (co-payment), which currently is $3 would be raised to a level that would have no ceiling at all. Premiums, which can't be imposed [now], could be imposed on these people," Greenstein said, adding the only restriction on states would be that co-payments and premiums combined could not exceed 5 percent of a family's annual income.

*Childcare Enforcement:

Buried in the House bill are cuts that could strip funding from state child care enforcement budgets. Arizona groups are warning that the bill, "if passed, it could mean a $59 million cut for the state's child-support enforcement over the next five years and a $10 million to $12 million reduction for the state's Child Protective Services." California's Arnold Schwarzenegger also criticized the "proposed reduction in federal reimbursement to states for child support enforcement from 66 percent to 50 percent." The funding cuts would reduce the ability of states to collect payments from deadbeat parents, among other provisions.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

GOP Talking Points: Repeat After Me

If you spend enough time flipping around the cable news stations, you'll begin to hear the same lines from different politicians. The Daily Show sums up these repeats brilliantly. It's humorous, but irritating and one of the main reasons why people are so fed up with politics.

Here are a few Republican talking points for last night's Democratic wins:

Tonight was a vote for the status quo. We began the night with 28 GOP governorships and we concluded the evening with the same amount. The two gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia are not determinate of larger trends. Each was a race unique unto itself. In these off-year races, the electorate is focused on local issues, and whether the candidates represent their values and beliefs.

Really? Is that why so-called pundits said if the initiatives in California pass, they'll pass anywhere?

Arnold Lost

Schwarzenegger lost all of his initiatives. What a waste of $300 million.

Perhaps even more encouraging, voters defeated Prop. 73, an initiative that would have required girls under 18 to notify a parent before terminating a pregnancy. This initiative, like so many anti-abortion initiatives, would have done nothing to decrease the number of abortions. Instead, it ignores the issue at hand: why are so many young women having unprotected sex and what should we, as a concerned society, do about it?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Over 6.5 million Californians are expected to vote in today's $300 million special election.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.

Here's a list of endorsements:

California's Naitonal Organization for Women

Califonia League of Conservation Voters

San Francisco Bay Guardian

SF Bay Area Indymedia

Monday, November 07, 2005

California's "Special Election"

Voter turnout is expected to be low in tomorrow's special election, which was called by the Terminator. Please remind family and friends living in California to go to the polls.

For more information, check out the California Voter Foundation's Voter Guide.

As usual, I'm appalled by the amount of money being spent on this election. It's even more infuriating when you think about budget cuts on services that are needed by people who don't have a voice.

*Prop. 73 would require a girl under the age of 18 to notify one of her parents before she has an abortion.

Yes on 73 contributors:
Don Sebastiani, a Sonoma vintner and former state lawmaker, contributed $250,000
Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza and supporter of Catholic causes, contributed $300,000
James Holman, the publisher of the San Diego Weekly and a string of Catholic newspapers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, loaned $700,000 to the campaign and contributed more than $1.2 million overall

*Prop. 75 would prohibit using public employee union dues for political contributions without individual employees' prior consent.

Yes on 75 contributors:
Lewis Uhler, the measure's sponsor and president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, has said he expects to raise and spend $20 million

No on 75:
The California Teachers Association alone anticipates budgeting $50 million to defeat Prop. 75 and two others on the November ballot -- Prop. 74, which extends the time before a teacher is tenured, and Prop. 76, a budget reform package. That $50 million came from the pockets of people who don't make what they deserve.

*Prop. 78 is a drug discount initiative sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry; it's become the most expensive ballot campaigns in U.S. history. Drug companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, have spent $80 million on TV and newspaper ads encouraging people to vote yes.

No on 78
Labor's Alliance for a Better California has raised about $10 million to fight Prop. 78 along with five other measures backed by Schwarzenegger.

*Prop. 79 is a drug discount initiative sponsored by consumer groups.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Former FEMA Director: Can I Quit Now?

What was on Federal Emergency Management chief Michael Brown's mind as Hurricane Katrina raged?

In a Friday, August 26 email to his press secretary Sharon Worthy, Brown writes: "Tie or not tonight? Button down blue shirt?"

On Monday, August 29, Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, emails Brown: "My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous -- and I'm not talking the makeup!"

To which Brown replies: "I got it at Nordstroms. Email McBride and make sure he knows! Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"

On Sunday, September 4, Sharon Worthy gives Brown crucial advice: "Please roll up the sleeves on your shirt...all shirts. Even the President rolled his shirt to just below the elbow. In this crises and on TV you just need to look more hard-working...ROLL UP THE SLEEVES!"

Remember, you are paying their salaries. Brown is still on the federal payroll; he makes $148,000 a year.

Think Progress caught this exchange between Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien of CNN:

"Humor is a stress relief, so we understand"

"Who knows if he's being sarcastic?"

"There was a point when nobody knew how bad it [Katrina] was"

"How many times have you misinterpreted an email?"

Leave it to cable TV anchors to make sense of it all.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Welcome to Argentina, Mr. Bush

Wherever he goes, protests follow. In Argentina, more than 10,000 people took to the streets to oppose Bush's visit and his plan to create a free trade zone in the Americas. Photos from Reuters:

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Senate Votes to Slash Social Programs

The Senate today approved a bill to cut $36 billion from programs that help the poor, students and the elderly over the next five years. The vote was 52-47. Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Florida were the only Democrats who voted in favor the bill. Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey didn't vote. Republican Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mike DeWine of Ohio voted no over an included provision to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat from New Jersey, said the Republican-named "Deficit Reduction Act of 2005" would be more aptly called the "Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportion Reconciliation Act."

GOP Kills Iraq Investigation Resolution

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today introduced a resolution calling on Republicans "to comply with their oversight responsibilities, demands they conduct a through investigation of abuses relating to the Iraq war and condemns their refusal to conduct oversight of an executive branch controlled by the same party." The resolution failed by 220 to 191, with all Republicans voting against it.

The resolution accuses Republicans of failing "to undertake meaningful, substantive investigations of any of the abuses pertaining to the Iraq war, including the manipulation of prewar intelligence, the public release of a covert operative's name, the role of the vice president in Iraqi reconstruction, and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal."

Here's Pelosi's response to the vote:

"A vote to table is a vote to cover-up. Congress has the responsibility to find out why so many things in Iraq have gone so terribly wrong. That is why I asked the House to investigate abuses relating to Iraq. Yet, Republicans again thwarted efforts to answer the questions of the American people. This Republican cover-up Congress refuses to live up to its oversight responsibility. Congress has an obligation to identify and correct the problems that led to the production of flawed intelligence. Our troops are at risk until that is done, and yet, there is no sense of urgency to undertake a thorough review of what went wrong. Neither the issue of the quality of the intelligence nor the equally important issue of whether intelligence was politicized, have been investigated by this Congress."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Working Three Jobs in South Texas

When I arrived in Texas in late April and looked at the Election 2004 county map, I immediately noticed a small section of Democratic counties in the South, so I decided to visit to find out what makes the area different from the rest of the state. My first stop was Crystal City, located in Zavala County, where Kerry got 75 percent of the vote. Like so many rural towns, Crystal City's main drag is full of empty storefronts and dilapidated buildings. I stopped at a small flea market and interviewed a few women who were hesitant to talk before and even during the interview; after I turned off my recorder, they wrote down their addresses and said they'd appreciate it if I would send them political magazines.

Here are excerpts from those interviews:

Sofia Munoz is a cook for early Head Start, a labor contractor in the fields and a part-time cook at a taco stand

How many hours a week do you work?

I work 40 in my regular job, 14 in my part-time job and eight, nine or sometimes 10 hours in the fields.

That's almost 64 hours a week.

I have to make ends meet.

What do you make?

In the fields, I make $5.15 an hour; as a regular cook, I make $6.76; and at the taco stand, it's $5.00 an hour. I work most of the time.

How long have you had those jobs?

My regular job, five years. And the other one, all my life. My parents were migrant workers and I worked there. After I got married, I continued working in the fields and raised a son. Then I got divorced and got this part-time job about three or four weeks ago. If I can work, everybody else can. There are a lot of people out there who depend on welfare and shouldn't. We were born to fight for our rights. Still, they tell us we can't and pay us cheap labor. We have to fight to get more money.

Do you ask for raises?

We asked for a raise, but they say we only get one percent of the cost of living. It should be three percent. Everyday they raise prices. The cost of living goes up every day. Look at the gas prices. It's hurting everybody.

What do you pay for rent?

I pay $150 in rent and about $200 in bills. On this income, I barely make ends meet. Way back in 1974, we had a walk out because we were discriminated against and we fought for our rights. Now we want to be known. We're equal. The only thing I get upset about is that politicians only know we're around during election time. They should always be there for the people. You're there because we voted for you to fight for what's right.

Do you vote?

Yes and I want to know why we're still at war. We want to know why. A lot of innocent people are getting killed. I vote Democrat all the time, but I feel that something went wrong.

What message would you send to politicians?

Please don't be an opportunist. Please continue to fight for our rights and let's do it together. If we all stand together, we can make a difference. We live in a small town, but those of us who stay informed spread the word and have a lot to say. All we ask is that you be real and listen. When they have debates, that's where I want to be because I have a lot of things to say. I work in the fields with 150 people and I fight for their wages and I fight for good conditions.

What's it like working in the fields?

I work in cabbage, cantaloupes and watermelon fields. When it's real hot, I just work five to seven hours. You have to be careful. We're human just like everybody else.

Where do you get your information?

I listen to the radio and television. I go to seminars and trainings. I always write everything down. That's who I am. I was born and raised to work hard. I graduated from high school. We never had the means to go to college. What I learned I learned from my family. I make a point to learn as much as I can and ask questions. Some of us get in trouble, but it's better to know the facts.

Maria Rivera, Homemaker

Why is your county the most Democratic county in the state of Texas?

Because of our Mexican heritage. Most of the people believe that the Democratic Party is for the poor people.

Tell me about Crystal City.

It hasn't been long since it's become a Hispanic town. It used to be mostly white. In 1974, we had a walk out. Most of the kids weren't allowed to leave so they had to jump out of the windows to join the walk out. By then, if you walked out, you would be suspended.

How has life changed since then?

It's getting worse. At least we had jobs back then. The white people brought in more opportunities. If you have a job, keep it. You won't get another one.

What kind of work do people do here?

They work at the Del Monte cannery. The high paying jobs are teachers, but they don't get paid a lot. Most guys are truck drivers.

Did you vote?

Yes, for Kerry.

What message would you send to politicians?

To get more involved with minorities.

What issues are most important to you?

Jobs, segregation and equality. If you're white, you get paid more than Hispanics. That's the main problem here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dems Finally Demand Iraq Explanation

Democrats forced the Republicans into a closed door session earlier today to demand answers about the Iraq war.

"They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why. The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions," said Democratic leader Harry Reid.

"Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has been trying for a year to get the intelligence committee to keep its promise and investigate the misuse of intelligence information," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said shortly before the session ended.

"We just thought we couldn't wait any longer for them to keep giving excuses. This is very serious," added Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat from New York.

How did Republicans respond?

Senator Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi, said Reid was making "some sort of stink about Scooter Libby and the CIA leak."

"This is an affront to me personally. This is an affront to our leadership. It is an affront to the United States of America, and it is wrong," added Senator Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee.

Based on the interviews I did over the course of my six-month road trip, Americans who initially supported the war are sick of the lies. They want answers.

After the session, three Republicans and three Democrats were chosen to assess the progress of the probe. They're scheduled to report back to the Senate by November 14.

GAO Finds 2004 Election Flaws

The non-partisan General Accounting Office (GAO) has released a report that focuses on the accuracy and security of electronic voting machines used in the 2004 election. This report has received little coverage in the national media. The following GAO findings were reported by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman at The Free Press:

1. Some electronic voting machines "did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected." In other words, the GAO now confirms that electronic voting machines provided an open door to flip an entire vote count. More than 800,000 votes were cast in Ohio on electronic voting machines, some seven times Bush's official margin of victory.

2. "It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate." Numerous sworn statements and affidavits assert that this did happen in Ohio 2004.

3. "Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level."

3. Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards can easily be done, according to the GAO.

4. The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network. This critical finding confirms that rigging the 2004 vote did not require a "widespread conspiracy" but rather the cooperation of a very small number of operatives with the power to tap into the networked machines and thus change large numbers of votes at will. With 800,000 votes cast on electronic machines in Ohio, flipping the number needed to give Bush 118,775 could be easily done by just one programmer.

5. Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords. So even relatively amateur hackers could have gained access to and altered the Ohio vote tallies.

6. The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.

7. One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail, re-emphasizing the fragility of the system on which the Presidency of the United States was decided.

8. GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel, confirming still more easy access to the system.

In essence, the GAO study makes it clear that no bank, grocery store or mom & pop chop shop would dare operate its business on a computer system as flimsy, fragile and easily manipulated as the one on which the 2004 election turned.

The GAO findings are particularly damning when set in the context of an election run in Ohio by a Secretary of State simultaneously working as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Far from what election theft skeptics have long asserted, the GAO findings confirm that the electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software.

The GAO documentation flows alongside other crucial realities surrounding the 2004 vote count. For example:

The exit polls showed Kerry winning in Ohio, until an unexplained last minute shift gave the election to Bush. Similar definitive shifts also occurred in Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, a virtual statistical impossibility.

A few weeks prior to the election, an unauthorized former ES&S voting machine company employee, was caught on the ballot-making machine in Auglaize County

Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long. Officials claim the problems were quickly solved, but sworn statements and affidavits say otherwise. They confirm similar problems in Franklin County (Columbus). Kerry's margins in both counties were suspiciously low.

A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. The problem was allegedly fixed.

In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4000 extra votes when only 638 people voted at that polling place. The tally was allegedly corrected, but remains infamous as the "loaves and fishes" vote count.

In Franklin County, dozens of voters swore under oath that their vote for Kerry faded away on the DRE without a paper trail.

In Miami County, at 1:43am after Election Day, with the county's central tabulator reporting 100% of the vote - 19,000 more votes mysteriously arrived; 13,000 were for Bush at the same percentage as prior to the additional votes, a virtual statistical impossibility.

In Cleveland, large, entirely implausible vote totals turned up for obscure third party candidates in traditional Democratic African-American wards. Vote counts in neighboring wards showed virtually no votes for those candidates, with 90% going instead for Kerry.

Prior to one of Blackwell's illegitimate "show recounts," technicians from Triad voting machine company showed up unannounced at the Hocking County Board of Elections and removed the computer hard drive.

In response to official information requests, Shelby and other counties admit to having discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.