Katherine Harris and Another Steaming Cup of GOP Culture of Corruption

The gift that keeps on giving is the culture of corruption Karl rove, George Bush and the GOP built over the last 20 years or so. Mitchell Wade is about to be sentenced, and there’™s some information in the documents related to his sentencing that indicates Katherine Harris and a couple others may be the next targets. Isn’™t that sweet?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The sentencing memorandum on behalf of Mitchell Wade is in, and there’™s some indications that he’™s told some stories about yet more Republican office holders who accepted illegal campaign contributions. Among those office holders is Katherine Harris, she of the Florida vote recount that was so pivotal to giving us the failure that is George Bush in 2000. Seth Hettena has the story, as does Politico. Here’™s a bit from Seth:

Mitchell Wade, the man who bribed Randy ‘œDuke’ Cunningham and then did much to speed the congressman’™s spectacular fall, is asking a judge to sentence him to a year of home detention for all the help he provided the government. Prosecutors don’™t dispute that Wade was helpful, but they believe that four years in prison is more appropriate for $1.8 million in bribes.

Would Cunningham ultimately have been convicted without Wade? Probably, but Wade made it happen much, much faster. He was debriefed 23 times by government investigators and supplied them a searchable electronic database of 150,000 documents, including the infamous ‘œbribe menu.’ And Wade’™s cooperation didn’™t stop with Cunningham. He provided damaging evidence against several others, including his testimony at the bribery trial of his former boss, Brent Wilkes, who’™s now serving time in prison.

A 42-page sentencing memo filed by Wade’™s attorneys says he aided the government in its investigation ‘œof at least five other members of Congress’ who were under investigation for ‘œcorruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham.’ These no doubt include Virgil Goode and Katherine ‘œPink Sugar’ Harris. Wade wanted to open facilities in their districts and made $78,000 in ‘œstraw’ contributions to grease the wheels. Neither Harris nor Goode has been charged with wrongdoing.

Prosecutors drop tantalizing hints about an even bigger, ongoing investigation. Wade was debriefed in 2006 and provided ‘œmoderately useful’ background information in another ‘œlarge and important corruption investigation’ that also has not yet resulted in any charges.

‘œLarge and important corruption investigation?’ Man, this Duke Cunningham, Wilkes, Wade thing is the gift that keeps on giving. Sure, we all expect that there will be Republicans who escape the culture of corruption web they wove, but I’™m sure we’™re all hoping Katherine Haqrris gets caught in this one. This would be true justice in pursuit of voter fraud, eh?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Bailout Imbroglio: Politics, Power, Pulpits, & Profit

The failure to pass bailout legislation is a symptom of a larger issue…one that percolates in the background. Good governance must promote a social structure that insists the nation be neutral while accepting the soul’s autonomy. Preserving our American identity hangs in the balance.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

We’re in uncharted waters with a leaky boat and a storm on the horizon…but the GOP wants us to know that Nancy Pelosi is a mean-spirited partisan.

Let me see if I can get this straight. The Republican president of the United States sends the Secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Chairman to Capital Hill with a message of impending economic doom…asking the party in power to put aside partisanship and pass necessary legislation.

The party in power (Democrats) holds its nose and puts together a bill premised upon the gravity of the situation, endures John McCain’s grandstanding at the eleventh hour, allows him to characterize his involvement as critical to the success of the process, spends hours meeting with those in the GOP who want to amend the bill, comes to an agreement on a bill the GOP leadership can support, and then brings the bill to a vote.

In that vote, over sixty percent of Democrats support legislation that was requested by the head of the opposition party, two thirds of the presidents fellow Republicans jump ship and oppose the bill, and the GOP house leadership wants Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to shoulder the blame?! Well there you have it…nothing illogical about that, right?

Frankly, I’ve personally reached the point at which I’m opposed to any attempt to glue what remains of our failed government back together. Unless and until politicians are held accountable for the consequences of their actions, I’m in favor of pulling the rest of the metaphorical china from the cupboard and smashing it all on the floor. I say as much because I don’t think anything will change until the American public is forced to face reality…even if that means standing in line for a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup.

Look, let’s be honest as to what all of this GOP partisanship is about. From their self-serving perspective, it’s power and money…and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to obtain both. Voters, on the other hand, have allowed themselves to be drawn into an ideological struggle to define morality. Taken together, this is the underlying formula for the disaster we’re witnessing.

Instead of a candid discussion on the merits of rescuing our financial structure, the political combatants have spent years defining our differences in terms of good versus evil; right versus wrong. While voters blindly engage in this theoretical tug of war, the real battle for dominance is waged in the trenches…replete with lobbyists looking to commit larceny in tandem with their trusted troopers…the political elite.

The unseen metrics of today’s maelstrom center upon the pursuit of profit. Those house Republicans who opposed today’s legislation tell us they are concerned about main street. In truth they, in concert with their corporate benefactors who want the government to insure their success without foregoing the profits that may eventually result from the government’s intervention, see main street as a peripheral player.

Let me explain. If the bail out takes the current form, the companies that avail themselves of it will have to forego the upside of the very assets that have made them a ton of money during the housing bubble and now leads them to the edge of financial ruin. Conversely, if the legislation is structured as an insurance mechanism, they receive the financial assist they need without foregoing the future profits that may ensue with the passage of time and an improved economy.

In other words, house Republicans are carrying the water of Wall Street while telling us they’re looking out for the interests of taxpayers. You see, one need only look at the proposal that came from the Bush administration…a virtual blank check to assist their wealthy benefactors…to understand their intentions. Only when the legislation, as modified by the Democrats and a handful of Republicans, became apparent, did the GOP revolt materialize. It did so at the behest of their capitalist (and opportunist) friends who stood to see their profit potential handed over to the American taxpayer.

Don’t be fooled…the motivation of many in the GOP, who voted against this bill, has little to do with those of us living on Main Street. The proof is found in today’s vote…and the reality that a bail out is inevitable. The acrimony simply centers on who gets the lion’s share of the benefit.


Monday, September 29th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Execs Get Golden Parachute; Taxpayers Get Golden Shower?

The Bush administration is carrying the water for Wall Street executives with regards to their greed for more unchecked compensation. Voters need to let their elected officials know that they are unwilling to take another golden shower in order to enable more golden parachutes.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

The more I see and hear about the bail out of Wall Street, the more I oppose it. Here’s the issue. Taxpayers are being asked to ante up for the good of the nation…and to do so with minimal information and even fewer details. At the same time, the White House is suggesting that any limitation on executive compensation may lead companies to decline participation in the program. I’m calling B.S. on this one.

From The Washington Post:

After 7 1/2 years of drift, President Bush has finally returned to his compassionate conservative roots with a heartfelt plea to Congress to help a needy and deserving group: those Wall Street CEOs who, for all their hard work, have been unable to lift themselves up by their wingtips.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (R-Goldman Sachs) made the rounds of the talk shows on Sunday, pleading for financial executives to be allowed to keep their multimillion-dollar compensation packages even if their companies need to be rescued by the $700 billion federal bailout.

“If we design it so it’s punitive and so institutions aren’t going to participate, this won’t work the way we need it to work,” Paulson, whose net worth is said to be north of $600 million, told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

“To have this program work, we don’t want to make it punitive and make it difficult,” Paulson advised George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

It was a message of mercy and humanity – who, after all, would be so cruel to deny executives their eight-figure bonuses merely because they drove their companies into insolvency? – and administration officials and Republican lawmakers joined the cause of the unappreciated CEOs.

Give me a frickin’ break…just how stupid does the Bush administration think we are. Further, if this isn’t a ploy to manipulate voters, just how damn stupid is the Bush administration? Let’s look at the logic.

First, if we assume that Wall Street is perilously close to collapse, then they need our help, right? Second, if they aren’t willing to accept our demands for fair executive compensation, we have every right to deny them our help. Thirdly, if they have the ability to forego our help in favor of their huge compensation packages, then they aren’t in that bad of shape, right? Fourth, if these companies can put their self-serving interests first, why in the hell should voters forego theirs in order to bail them out. Fifth, if the Bush administration can’t reach these same logical conclusions, then they have no business managing a lemonade stand…let alone the largest bail out in U.S. history.

Honestly, it’s time for voters to call the bluff of the administration that drug us into this mess. If we’re going to get screwed, let’s get screwed on our own terms. There is no plausible rationale to grant unlimited authority to the very people who pushed us into the financial abyss. Beyond that, there is absolutely no justification to take an unwanted screwing, write a huge check for it, and thank the Bush administration for putting it to us.

Truth be told, we have no assurances that this bail out will work. For two years, the Bush administration has told us the economy is sound and that we aren’t in a recession. Two weeks ago they assured us that the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seizure was the answer to our problems. In short order, they bail out AIG after telling us the bail outs were over and these companies needed to seek their own solutions. Days later we’re told the sky is falling and we need to bend over.

No way…no how…I’m happy to let it burn to the ground before we give Wall Street a free pass. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers. If they want more of our money, it’s on our terms or to hell with them. Let’s see who blinks first.


We’re hearing a number of insiders suggest that homeowners bear some responsibility for this predicament. The argument contends that too many of us bit off more than we could chew. OK, I’ll accept that there’s some truth to that contention…but it isn’t the whole story. The whole story needs to consider the fact that the average American has spent the last seven years working harder and producing more…for less money.

The fact of the matter is that millions of Americans gambled on the historical data that home prices will rise. When they did, many of them did so because they needed money and the only means available to obtain it was to borrow against the equity they thought they had in their homes.

Yes, that may have been shortsighted and imprudent…but so too is it detestable that our elected officials failed to be good stewards of the economy. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans didn’t trickle down…and the few jobs that were created weren’t enough and they weren’t higher paying jobs. Instead, far too much of the Bush tax package was invested in high risk financial gimmicks designed to create easy profits.

If we’re going to assess blame, then let’s not forget where the bulk of it belongs. It belongs squarely on the backs of those who have promoted a morally bankrupt economic philosophy that concentrates wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the hard work of the many.

There’s one additional saying that applies to the current situation of our greedy cash chasing countrymen…”bet –em high and sleep in the streets”. All that’s left to be said to our Wall Street friends is, “Welcome to Main Street…and don’t forget to bring some cardboard boxes and a warm blanket”.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Financial Meltdown: Math & The Myth Of Fiscal Responsibility

As we steel ourselves for the bail out of a failing financial system, it’s time to review the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. For nearly three decades, the GOP has succeeded in hanging the “tax and spend” label on the Democrats. Accepting that premise has likely enabled this painful fleecing.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

While the details haven’t been disclosed, it appears that the powers that be are considering a plan to bail out Wall Street…in a big way…on the backs of the American taxpayer. Troubling as this sounds, it may be the only viable solution. Regardless of the eventual solution, one thing is clear, the losses will be large.

I want to focus on an analysis of the aftermath and the philosophy that led us to this point. I want to do so because I lived through the Savings & Loan scandal and I’ve been convinced for more than two years that the housing bubble, the artificially low interest rates, the lack of proper oversight, and the associated paper “equity” borrowing it fueled would lead to this type of meltdown.

Having established this backdrop, I want to make the case for driving a stake through the heart of trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the meme that the “tax and spend” Democrats are fiscally irresponsible.

Here’s the deal. The existence of large sums of money in the U.S. economy is a given…it has always been there and it will likely continue to be there (though eight years of GOP malfeasance will make digging out from under the enormous debt a formidable obstacle). With that said, we must begin to consider politics and the inevitable debate about what we will do with the money.

By and large, the party that succeeds in holding power and driving public sentiment gets to decide where the money goes. Without a doubt, the GOP has won this battle for the better part of the last thirty years. In doing so, they have succeeded in attaching the “tax and spend” label to the Democrats…driven primarily by highlighting the Democrats desire to fund and insure existing safety net programs (Social security, Medicare, Welfare, and Unemployment benefits…as well as expand others (Healthcare).

At the same time, the GOP has chosen to foster an economic structure that is weighted towards large corporations and the wealthy. Part and parcel of this approach has been the undermining of labor unions, the refusal to increase minimum wages, the willingness to ignore the huge number of uninsured, allowing the influx of illegals to provide cheap labor, and a willingness to accept the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.

So let’s step back for a moment to the S & L scandal (the late 80′s, early 90′s)…the last instance when profits were privatized and losses were socialized. Rampant real estate speculation and a lack of regulation of the financial industry made a number of investors very wealthy while saddling taxpayers with approximately 123 billion dollars of debt. As an aside, it should be noted that numerous investors were building commercial properties and apartments with no intention of ever managing them…they were simply milking the unregulated financial system.

Now let’s take a look at the GOP’s objections to any form of universal healthcare put forth by the Democrats. The argument suggests that it would cost anywhere from 60 to 100 billion dollars annually. At the same time, it must be noted that the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 have been projected to cost 2.5 trillion dollars over ten years…and we’re also spending approximately 120 billion dollars annually on the war in Iraq. As to the costs of the current Wall Street bail out, it’s difficult to determine the damages. For the sake of this argument, I’m going to estimate that the final tally will approach a trillion dollars.

Now lets calculate the total dollars these items represent. If we assume that only half of the tax cuts were unwarranted (they went to the very wealthy), we have 1.25 trillion. Let’s add in 600 billion for five years of the Iraq war (we’re being conservative). That leaves the 120 billion lost on the S & L scandal and the trillion dollars we’re assuming will be lost on the Wall Street meltdown. Taken together, this totals just under three trillion dollars.

OK, now lets see how many years have passed since the S & L scandal. We’ll use 1985 as our start date (again we’re being conservative), which equates with 23 years. For this exercise, we’ll go ahead and round that to 25 years.

If we take our 25 years and assume it would have cost 100 billion dollars per year to fund universal healthcare, that brings us to a total of 2.5 trillion dollars. Note that the use of 100 billion per year is also an extremely conservative number as it would have been far cheaper to provide in the earlier years.

As you can see by a simple review of the numbers, we had enough money to fund universal healthcare for the last 25 years…with nearly a half trillion dollars to spare. Unfortunately, we didn’t have universal healthcare. Instead, those of us that have had healthcare insurance, paid for it for 25 years…and we also received a meager tax cut for the last seven years. If you look at the total dollars the average family received in tax cuts for these seven years, I suspect one would be lucky if it would have paid for three or four years of healthcare insurance (we’re completely ignoring the deductibles and copayments).

So if we look at the rhetoric of the GOP for the last 25 years, they want us to believe that any consideration of universal healthcare would have been irresponsible. They’ve repeatedly told us that the Democrats would raise taxes and spend money we didn’t have…on programs we couldn’t possibly afford.

However, if we look at the numbers above, the only thing we received for supporting this philosophy for managing our government’s finances (our money), was minimal tax cuts…promised nearly every election cycle (surprise, surprise?). At the same time, those in charge squandered three trillion dollars of our money on tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, an unwarranted war, and two episodes of enabling unregulated and painful financial disasters.

In the end, you can slice it any way you like…but you can’t disregard the fact that the money was there to provide universal health care…or any number of other programs designed to benefit all Americans. In the interest of being fair, all of the blame can’t be placed on the GOP, since the Democrats went along with many of these ill-advised expenditures…or the policies that enabled them.

Regardless, it’s also true that the Democrats frequently did so because voter sentiment demanded it. In other words, voters bought into the rhetoric that the GOP would let us keep more of our money and the Democrats would undoubtedly take more of it away from us. Since we know that all politicians cater to the whims of voters in the hopes of winning elections, it’s no wonder the Democrats have acquiesced and appeared amazingly weak. They’ve been on the wrong side of the argument and they’ve failed to convince voters otherwise.

That brings us to where we now stand. If we voters fail to recognize what has happened in the last 25 years as a result of enabling the rhetoric and the policies of the GOP, we do so at our own peril. It’s time for us to demand that our money be spent on programs that serve the greater good; not the ones that line the pockets of the greedy and the wealthy. The money is there…it has always been there…it’s time we elect politicians that have the interests of all Americans at heart…politicians who will be honest stewards and spend our money wisely.

If we don’t, let me be the first to predict the next financial scandal. Unless we choose a different course, it will invariably happen as soon our memory of the last one fades and we resume our role as gullible voters who settle for false promises and paltry tax cuts. Rest assured, once the coast is clear, the greedy will gladly step in and bust the bank again…while their bullshitting benefactors turn a blind eye.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Friday, September 19th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Need More Evidence of Oil Market Manipulation?

Earlier this year, I wrote that investment bank Morgan Stanley may have issued their infamous “$150 / bbl oil price” prediction in order to drive up the value of their holdings in the petroleum commodity market, as a way to offset a big S&P downgrade due to their exposure in mortgage backed securities. With the failure of Lehman and Merrill, plus oil prices falling $7, is market manipulation confirmed?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Earlier this year, when oil markets were going bonkers, and the price hit $147 / bbl because of remarks by an obscure Morgan Stanley commodities analyst, I wrote:

The other day, Standard and Poors downgraded Morgan Stanley’s rating because of their exposure in mortgage backed securities. From a market manipulation standpoint, could Morgan Stanley have issued their “prediction” in order to drive up the value of their holdings in the petroleum commodity market, as a way to offset the downgrade due to their exposure in mortgage backed securities? Hmm? Since Morgan Stanley is one of the biggest players in the commodities market, it’s a question worth exploring…

Listen, I’m no financial market genius. But when a neophyte like me can see that there are clear indications of significant market manipulations that are causing significant economic pain for all Americans, then it’s right out there in the open. The financial houses were doing it brazenly. And now, two more have tanked (Lehman and Merrill).

This morning, stock markets around the world are tanking. Such an event would normally be a “buy opportunity” for fungible commodities such as oil. What’s happening with the price of oil this morning, even following a big blow by Hurricane Ike in the gulf coast region this past weekend? This:

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil plunged $7 on Monday as investors fled to safer havens, due to turmoil in the U.S. financial system, and on early signs Hurricane Ike had spared key U.S. energy infrastructure…U.S. crude dropped $7 to $94.18 barrel at 1135 GMT, the lowest level in seven months.

When the price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. hit $4 in June, people (and companies) changed their energy usage habits out of sheer necessity. Demand was “destroyed”, in market parlance. And the price started dropping. When the price started dropping, oil commodity holdings by companies such as Lehmans, Merrill, and Morgan Stanley started losing value rapidly, and their commodity traders started dumping oil futures. The price slide continued. The value of the holdings could no longer mask their exposure in the mortgage markets.

A recent study presented to the U.S. congress confirmed that oil commodity speculation drove the price of oil to stratospheric levels, not supply and demand economics. Given the financial market bailouts in the past couple of months (except for Freddie and Fannie), it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that American consumers were raked over the gasoline coals because of big investment houses’ exposure in the collapsing mortgage markets.

Criminal proceedings should commence, and not one thin dime of taxpayer money should be bailing out the collapsed financial institutions.

Update: As would be expected, Eschaton is buzzing today about the markets. Good reading there. Here’s one comment that is so spot on, it almost hurts:

John McCain says he really doesn’t understand the economy. For that he relies on [former GOP congressman] Phil Gramm.

Phil Gramm is the man most responsible for the financial services and banking deregulation that made today’s disaster possible.

Phil Gramm says the problem is all in our minds and we’re just a nation of whiners.

Putting McCain and Gramm in charge of fixing this economy would be like asking the iceberg to save the Titanic.

And that, my friends, is the crux of the issue.

Monday, September 15th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

So, Is Dana Perino “Gruntled”, Then?

You knew it was coming. The current Minister of Propaganda, Dana Perino, went after her former boss today. She says that Scott McClellan was “disgruntled”. I guess that means she’s still gruntled.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Ok, so, the White House smear campaign against former Minister of Propaganda Scott McClellan is raging in full force now. According to current MP Dana Perino:

White House aides seemed stunned by the scathing tone of the book, and Bush press secretary Dana Perino issued a statement that was highly critical of their former colleague.

Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House,” she said. “For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad – this is not the Scott we knew.” …

The implications of Perino’s statement are pretty clear: Scottie has jumped the shark. We don’t know if he’s had a brain injury, or what. But clearly, he’s not in his right mind. As opposed to me. I’m merely gruntled. Next question, please.

Listen, I don’t even want to waste a byte of internet bandwidth in dissecting Ms. Perino. I’ve said before that I don’t know how she can wake up in the morning and look at herself in the mirror. Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, Tony Snow, all of them – each of the Bush propaganda ministers – have revealed themselves as little more than a pack of lying, snide, smug, sycophantic shills. They knew their roles. (In Perino’s case, still do.)

Perino said the reports on the book had been described to Bush, and that she did not expect him to comment. “He has more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers,” she said…

Yeah. He always has.

John Feehery (Dennis Hastert’s former press secretary) writes blithely at Politico:

It is hard to know what Scott McClellan’s motives are for writing this book. He is not the only one to jump ship and turn on his former client. Doug Feith, Jerry Bremer and a host of others have tried to shift the blame to others for failed policies in the Bush administration…

No, John, it’s not hard to understand the motivations. In fact, it’s incredibly easy. Start with war crimes and the International Court of Justice (The Hague), then work your way down the laundry list of complaints to common criminal investigations. They’re all in it up to their hips, and they know it. They’re scared. They’ve all lived a charmed media life for the past 8 years, and it’s about over.

I’ll return to blogging full time when every single one of the enablers of this criminal regime (including la Perino and McClellan) have been shackled and frog marched in a conga line through the front gates of the White House, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been empaneled by congress.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Alphonso Jackson, Housing Secretary for Bush, Resigning

Alphonso Jackson, the Secretary of Housing for Bush, is resigning to spend more time with his family. Of course, there’™s some troublesome and questionable contracts he’™s given out. The big suprise here is that there’™s no whiney excuses yet. No alcoholism to blame, at least yet.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Mr. Jackson is just the latest in a long line of Bush appointees who has resigned to go spend more time with his family. He may need that time, as the DOJ is investigating him for giving out contracts to friends. Yes, the culture of curruption is alive and well and living in the Bush Administration still. Here’™s the skinny from the New York Times:

‘œThere comes a time when one most attend more diligently to personal and family matters,’ Mr. Jackson said. ‘œ Now is such a time for me.’

‘œSeven years ago, President Bush gave me an extraordinary opportunity to serve HUD and the nation,’ said Mr. Jackson, who first joined the department as deputy secretary in 2001. ‘œAs the son of a lead smelter and nurse midwife, and as the last of 12 children, never did I imagine I’™d serve America in such a way. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.’

Mr. Jackson said that he had worked hard to keep families in their homes, to revitalize public housing and to preserve affordable housing. ‘œDuring my time here, I have sought to make America a better place to live, work and raise a family,’ he said.

He left the room without taking any questions.

Well, that didn’™t tell us anything, did it? The Times was going to quote Mr. Jackson, which is fair, but they led off with the charges. They’™re a bit exotic. Contracts in sweet places going to friends, threats to the Philadelphia Housing Authority if they won’™t sell land they own to politically connected friends of Jackson. This seems a bit bald-faced, on the surface:

Housing secretary Alphonso R. Jackson resigned on Monday, saying that he needed to devote more time to his family. The announcement came as federal authorities were investigating whether he had given lucrative housing contracts in the Virgin Islands and New Orleans to friends.

His resignation, effective April 18, also comes as the Bush administration is increasingly relying on the department’™s Federal Housing Administration to help stanch the widening foreclosures.

In recent weeks, Mr. Jackson had faced mounting pressure to leave his post. The FBI has interviewed several of his employees, and two senior Democratic senators called on him to resign, saying the allegations of wrongdoing had undermined his leadership. Lawmakers have also raised concerns about accusations that Mr. Jackson had threatened to withdraw federal aid from the Philadelphia Housing Authority after its president refused to turn over a $2 million property to a politically connected developer.

I’™m thinking Mr. Jackson is a prime candidate for a pardon come January 19th, 2009, so he may not even get indicted. (Can he get pardoned if he’™s not charged until after Bush leaves office?) As a result, we’™ll probably miss out on the usual fun of watching a Republican make the kinds of whiney excuses they normally make when caught with their hands in the cookie jar, or in some male prostitute’™s pants, or playing footsy in a restroom stall, or . . . etc., etc., etc.

Monday, March 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Mr. President…Democracy Is As Democracy Does

When the President characterizes the quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world as the fundamental struggle confronting civilization, I can’t help but think of the Michael Jackson song…the one that says “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”. Mr. President, may I sincerely suggest you take a look?

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I like it when a simple situation can provide insight into more complex matters…and a new article in the Washington Post delivers the goods. It has long been thought that the Bush administration has sought to orchestrate events…big and small…for political advantage. In fact, if one has read much of what has been written about Karl Rove since his announced departure, the Bush administration rarely missed an opportunity to exploit an event for partisan gain.

The latest example involves a lawsuit filed by two individuals who were ejected from a Bush event because they wore objectionable clothing that wasn’t favorable to the President. As a byproduct of that lawsuit, the Bush administration was forced to release an instruction manual which details the measures taken to insure that presidential appearances were partisan events…events where protest and dissent were quickly quashed.

In viewing some of the detail contained in that document, one is able to see the degree to which this administration was willing to circumvent opposing views. It also helps explain the concerns that this President has chosen to isolate himself from those who do not share his vision or his views…leaving him unaware of the other relevant arguments and convinced that his thoughts are not only mainstream; they are majority mandates that must be maintained.

Not that they’re worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn’t want any.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of “deterring potential protestors” from President Bush’s public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by “rally squads” stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent – just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police “to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route.”

The “Presidential Advance Manual,” dated October 2002 with the stamp “Sensitive – Do Not Copy,” was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004.

The manual demonstrates “that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events,” said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. “Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it’s not a favorable one.”

I find it interesting that a man who likes to fashion himself as a champion of freedom and democracy has so little regard for enabling it…when it may take the form of dissent…and therefore not agree with his vision of it. Even more ironic is the fact that the President, just this week, chose to label himself as a dissident. Its difficult to avoid the contradictions.

As to providing insight into more complex matters, I can’t help but wonder what can be discerned about other policies enacted by the White House that have yet to be exposed. I also can’t help but think back to the presidency of Richard Nixon…the last occupant of the Oval Office who had a compulsive streak with regard to those whom he regarded as his opponents.

As I allow myself to explore the possibilities, I find no comfort in my thoughts. Permit me to offer some plausible concerns. There are many. They include the surveillance programs discussed in the NSA scandal and subsequently monitored by the FISA court, issues of torture with regard to enemy combatants, the holding of prisoners in Guantanamo and other unidentified facilities without due process, the possibility that U.S. Attorneys were fired for failing to better serve the partisan goals of the GOP, the institution of signing statements designed to modify legislation which fails to meet with the President’s favor, and the outing of Valerie Plame in order to discredit her husband’s contentions with regards to WMD’s and the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Let’s look at one particular item. With the recent expansion of the surveillance measures allowed under the FISA court…a move the Bush administration argued was essential to combat terrorism…we clearly see an area vulnerable to the abuses of power one might expect from a leader who is obsessed with conformity and who has a history of seeking to silence those who would undermine his message (as evidenced by the “manual”.

Yes, we can all agree that it is important to prevent terrorist attacks…but just this week we saw the Pentagon cancel the TALON program…an anti-terror database used to gather information…information that included the activities of anti-war groups as well as LGBT advocacy organizations…groups clearly unrelated to the purpose underlying the establishment of the program. Again, if abuse exists in this program, what other abuses are taking place that we have yet to uncover?

The questions raised by this and other examples are many and they all center on concerns about the misuse of power. If a president is willing to create a manual to manage and monitor those who attend his public appearances…and such activities typify a mentality prone to pushing the partisan envelope…one must wonder what other measures have been established…or what other legitimate programs have been hijacked in order to carry out other similar activities.

Once one begins to explore this area of thought, another concern emerges…the one that became known as “stonewalling” during the Nixon years…and is now being called “executive privilege” by the Bush administration. Let’s again look at the contradictions.

Here we have a President who has made the exportation of freedom and democracy the flagship of his administration…and at the same time…here at home…he has made it a practice to circumvent both under the guise of national security. Am I alone in seeing the inconsistencies? I struggle to understand a man who would…on the one hand…be willing to risk his legacy upon a doctrine of creating democracies around the world and accepting of the likelihood that history will be unkind in recounting his actions …and then on the other hand, be willing to approach issues of established democratic process at home with such disdain and a seeming disregard for all that he so firmly and fervently espouses.

If he has done no wrong, then no wrong can come from allowing the democratic process to verify as much. In doing so, would he not be demonstrating his commitment to the form of government he insists can bring peace and prosperity to the world? When his actions seem just the opposite, one must view the dissonance with skepticism…all the while looking for a palatable explanation. Stepping back, his actions with regard to public appearances and the creation of a manual offer the necessary blocks upon which to build a reasoned rationale.

The President’s apologists would contend that his actions at home are simply a reasonable response to the partisan proclivities of his detractors which have been designed to cast disfavor on the President and the GOP. In the absence of his unpopular and controversial actions with regard to Iraq, I might accept that argument…an argument that could sensibly conclude that no president should do that which is detrimental to his retention of power…especially if it is part and parcel of a partisan effort to undermine his support.

Unfortunately, this President casts himself as a man of principle and conviction…arguing that while his actions in Iraq may be unpopular with the voting public, they are the right thing to do. Is it logical for a man of this ilk to take a completely opposite approach at home? If democracy is the holy grail for the people of Iraq and other oppressed nations, why subvert it here in the United States? If the President has done no wrong, why not let the democratic process do what it does best…expose truth…and therefore illuminate the promise of a free and open society.

The fact that he hasn’t and the fact that he continues to employ efforts to obstruct and obfuscate serve to invalidate his intentions…leaving objective observers suspicious as to his sincerity. Let me be clear…I’m not suggesting that a President should never refuse to cooperate with Congress…but in looking at the Bush administration it becomes a question of degree. Clearly, this President has made it a matter of practice…a quantitative fact which must be viewed in its proper historical context…leaving one doubtful and disturbed by the persistent patterns.

In the final analysis, the difference between the activities of the Bush administration and those of Richard Nixon are little more than the fact that the Bush administration has had the benefit of a war on terror upon which it has been able to legally piggyback it’s efforts to monitor and manage those who are viewed as opponents. Regardless, the intentions and the abuses which have resulted are no less heinous and no less indicative of a man obsessed with maintaining power and silencing or stifling those who might seek to unseat him.

When the President characterizes the quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world as the fundamental struggle confronting civilization, I can’t help but think of the Michael Jackson song…the one that says “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”. Mr. President, may I sincerely suggest you take a look?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

Dems Keep Promise: House Passes Ethics Bill

For this legislation to work, voters will also need to adjust their ‘œwhat’™s in it for me’ mindset. The days of overlooking the unethical actions of one’™s representative because he or she was able to ‘œbring home the bacon’ must cease to exist. While it is easy to blame our elected officials, isn’™t it also time for voters to admit our role as enablers and recommit ourselves and our country to the advancement of the greater good?

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

When Nancy Pelosi stated that this Democratic Congress would be ‘œthe most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history’, I’™ll admit I was skeptical though hopeful. Not long ago, I wrote that the much touted ethics reform seemed to be missing in action but today it looks like the Democrats have delivered much of what they promised with the passage of a comprehensive Ethics Bill.

While it appears that the bill may have omitted some of the reforms that have been discussed and suggested, for the most part, the legislation should be a huge step towards limiting the practice of purse string politics. Additionally, passage of the measure should help to bolster the dismal approval ratings of Congress and provide the Democrats with another achievement to tout in their 2008 election efforts.

The bill, drafted by Democratic leaders, passed by a vote of 411 to 8. It would require House and Senate members to disclose those lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more for them within a six-month period by ‘œbundling’ donations from many people. It also would bar lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including meals and tickets, to lawmakers.

Senators seeking targeted spending projects or ‘œearmarks’ would have to publicize their plans 48 hours before the Senate votes on the proposals in publicly available data bases, and declare their families would not directly benefit financially. The House made similar changes to its rules governing earmarks in January.

House members approved the new legislation even though some privately grumbled that it would complicate their fundraising efforts. Senate leaders expect opposition from some conservative Republicans, but they predicted final passage of the measure by week’™s end.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, signaled the bill will meet resistance in the Senate. It ‘œguts key earmark reforms that both houses of Congress approved overwhelmingly,’ he said.

Coburn particularly objected to a revision that would allow committee chairmen or the Senate majority leader ‘” not the Senate parliamentarian ‘” to rule on whether earmark disclosure requirements have been met.

No doubt there will be efforts to subvert the intent of the bill as politicians, driven by the need to raise campaign funds, will look for loopholes to exploit. Hopefully, the measure can be the first step towards refocusing elected officials on public service and good governance rather than the perpetual need to pander to powerful interest groups who dangle perks in exchange for pledges of financial support.

More importantly, I would hope the renewed focus on ethical behavior would begin to shift voter perceptions. Unfortunately, many voters have become so disenchanted with the state of affairs in Washington that they see little difference between the two parties and therefore even less reason to vote. That complacency has become a tacit acceptance of the bad behavior and an opportunity for politicians to further push the limits of propriety.

Lastly, while many constituents have grown to accept pork barrel politics’¦the practice of attaching earmarks to legislation for the funding of pet projects intended to benefit those they represent, perhaps politicians can begin to think beyond the narrow objectives that have made it more difficult to pass important measures.

For example, when efforts to require vehicles to achieve better mileage efficiencies are repeatedly defeated by politicians from those districts in which automobile manufacturing is a mainstay of the economy, the goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil is thwarted. When that happens with virtually every issue, progress on overarching national issues becomes cumbersome, if not impossible.

Hopefully, this step towards reform will reduce the influence of special interest groups and allow elected officials to address important issues that have become mired down in the minutiae of manipulative lobbying.

For this legislation to work, voters will also need to adjust their ‘œwhat’™s in it for me’ mindset. The days of overlooking the unethical actions of one’™s representative because he or she was able to ‘œbring home the bacon’ must cease to exist. While it is easy to blame our elected officials, isn’™t it also time for voters to admit our role as enablers and recommit ourselves and our country to the advancement of the greater good?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007 by Richard Blair |

Underdog wins the day

It’™s sounds like something straight out of a Grisham novel. A poor, down-on-his-luck schmuck gets busted by the feds. With the help of only an assistant public defender, the poor guy goes up against the enire U.S. government and walks away scot free. Except the poor schmuck in question is Walter Anderson, a multimillionaire many [...]

Commentary By: Gloria

It’™s sounds like something straight out of a Grisham novel. A poor, down-on-his-luck schmuck gets busted by the feds. With the help of only an assistant public defender, the poor guy goes up against the enire U.S. government and walks away scot free. Except the poor schmuck in question is Walter Anderson, a multimillionaire many times over, who plead guilty to hiding $450 million offshore.

H/T to Buzzflash.

Telecommunications entrepreneur Walter Anderson pled guilty to tax evasion, but U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the binding plea agreement listed the wrong statute. This problem could have been overcome had prosecutors not failed to include any discussion of probation as is routine in such deals.

Because of the technicality, Judge Friedman said, ‘œI’™ve come to the conclusion, very reluctantly, that I have no authority to order restitution. . . . This is a very poorly drafted agreement.’

The case was prosecuted by the office of the interim U.S. Attorney for D.C., Jeffrey A. Taylor. Taylor was appointed directly by Attorney General Gonzales without Senate confirmation in November 2006 under a provision of the Patriot Act that Congress has recently voted to reverse.

That’™s right, the taxpayers ponied up for this guy’™s defense and due to an *ahem* epic blunder, cannot recoup at least $100 million bucks in restitution. It’™s a good thing Gonzo’™s Purgegate put someone in place who could do such a heckuva job on a slam dunk case. This one really stands out amongst the countless reverse Robin Hoods the Bush administration has pulled off.

Thursday, March 29th, 2007 by Richard Blair |
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