Friday, October 07, 2005

FEMA FRAUD?

If you thought that with New Orlean essentially now dry - and I don't mean alcohol-free - it'd be happy days of reconstruction ahead, think again.

Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday that more than $20 Billion of the $60 Billion allocated for hurricane aid has ALREADY BEEN SPENT! Think about that before you get too enraged.

Let's pick a number for those that have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, shall we? How about 600,000 people. Let's start there. Divide 600,000 into $20 Billion. That's $33,333. per person. Hold to that thought. Now not each one of those people owned their own home; many were families, many were renters. You might actually be talking about a third of the people representing a home. I'm just playing with numbers, here, so don't hold my feet to some fire. After all, no one seems to be holding FEMA and President Bush to any hot coals. Translate the math, and that $20 Billion represents the equivalent of about $100,000 per family - already. And not one house has begun reconstruction. Not one.

Don't worry though, if you think that FEMA may run short of dough. They claim to have $40 Billion of our tax dollars left. Now doubt we can sleep soundly knowing that FEMA and Bush will spend it wisely.

$20 Billion! Aren't you really beside yourself? The military is currently spending about $6 Billion monthly blowing up Iraq. So FEMA has spent more than three times what Iraq is costing us - in only five weeks.

Paulison told the Committee, "I am going to do everything humanly possible to make sure that we follow government procurement guidelines from here on out for the rest of the expenditures that we're going to do. You have given us $60 billion to manage this disaster and we have to spend it in a fiscally sound manner, and that's what we want to do. I'm going to do everything I can do to make that happen."

WRONG! "We" don't have to spend all of the $60 Billion!

To Paulison's credit, he did announce that the earlier no-bid contracts to friends of George W. Bush will be put out for rebid on a low bid basis.

Paulison added, "We're going to look very carefully at some of these big projects ... to make sure that the contracts that we're putting out don't have some of the same taints that we did early on. I don't know if the contracts early on were right or wrong. That's something we're going to go back and look at very carefully ... I just want to make sure that the ones we do from now on, under my tenure, are as fair and equitable and legal as they can possibly be."

To date, Congress has requested, but received no accounting from the Administration about the $20 Billion spent to date. An ongoing accounting was part of the agreement for approving the funds in the first place. But hey, no reason why the Bush Administration should let a little thing like accountability and transparency impede their desire to enrich friends and family.

The fact is that FEMA is a disaster, but not a declared one. The agency has fallen into the abyss since the start of the Bush Administration and particularly since it was engulfed by the Department of Homeless Insecurity.

Following are excerpts from an article in the October 1 issue of Government Executive.
  • Since 2001, independent auditors have faulted its lax financial controls.
  • Agency officials have jeopardized their massive flood-mapping effort by misleading appropriators in Congress on their progress, according to an Aug. 5 article in CongressDaily.
  • There has been continuing concern that FEMA's flood insurance program does not have the money to cover the long-term risk of damage claims.
  • In response to the Florida hurricanes of 2004, the agency distributed $30 million to residents of Miami-Dade County despite the fact that it was not part of the disaster area. DHS' inspector general, Richard Skinner, still is investigating the charge, and critics are calling for a broader probe.
  • FEMA paid for funerals for deaths in Florida that were not attributable to the hurricanes.
  • Florida inspectors had a 37 percent error rate in their damage assessments, according Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And an investigation this April by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper found FEMA hired criminals to perform home damage inspections.
  • When Homeland Security was created, it took $80 million from FEMA - about one-seventh of the agency's operating budget, according to Brown - to cover departmental overhead costs.
  • The agency transferred $169 million to DHS in 2003 and 2004, and expects to lose at least $11 million to its parent in 2005, according to March 2004 FEMA responses to inquiries from the House Appropriations Committee.
  • FEMA's core budget has been cut every year since it joined DHS, according to figures cited in the Los Angeles Times in September. In congressional testimony this March, Michael Brown appeared to confirm that his agency lost 500 positions during that period.
  • One former official frets that as much as a third of the staff has been cut from FEMA's five Mobile Emergency Response Support detachments, for instance. Those teams, each made up of several dozen trained experts and heavy vehicles, deploy instantly to set up communications gear, power generators and life-support equipment to help federal, state and local officials coordinate response to a disaster.
  • The office responsible for deploying 9,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical examiners, pathologists, veterinarians and others, as well as several thousand disaster response experts, was cut nearly in half, from 18 full-time staffers to 10, according to another former FEMA official.
  • The agency also cut one of its three Washington-based emergency management teams, according to the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 5. And last year, FEMA postponed workshops to prepare for a hurricane and flooding in New Orleans because of an unexpected budget shortfall, according to a Sept. 19 Wall Street Journal article.
  • A Sept. 9 article in The Washington Post concluded that five of the agency's eight top officials had virtually no experience in handling disasters. Several seats are empty. A review of the most recent list of political appointee positions, published last November by the Office of Personnel Management, shows that 17 of FEMA's 46 "plum" jobs, all senior executive spots, were vacant.
Can we stop looking the other way? The Federal budget is being raped over and 0ver again, stripped of capabilities and flexibility. While the rape is proceeding under Bush's watch, you and I are being asked to fork over yet more money while his friends and family, the top 2 percent of earners in America, bask in the light of their fat tax cuts. Friends, the "CEO Presidency" is a fraud. Wake up before it is too late.









2005 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE TO ANTINUKERS

In a stunning and stoic rebuke - intended or not - of George W. Bush's bullying and militaristic policies, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohamed ElBaradei. The Nobel Committee's award underscored the importance and preference of negotiation and inspection over military threats and intervention in working to reduce, even eliminate the spread of nuclear weapons.

“At a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to underline that this threat must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation. This principle finds its clearest expression today in the work of the IAEA and its director general...At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA’s work is of incalculable importance,” the committee said.

"This is very clear signal to the world that our goal should be to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons," Nobel Committee Chairman Ole Danbolt Mjos said. “The people’s power is formidable.”


ElBaradei said the prize was recognition that the foremost issue was the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons, the existence of thousands of such weapons in the world, and the threat of "nuclear terrorism". He said the award would give him and his agency a much needed "shot in the arm" as they tackle nuclear crises in Iran and North Korea.

This danger could only be met with the broadest international cooperation. ElBaradei said there was "still a hard way in front of us", and that the peace prize also paid regard to this.

ElBaradei was born in Egypt on June 17, 1942. He studied law at the University of Cairo and has a doctorate in international law from New York University. He began his career at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in 1964 and has also been a member of Egypt's delegation to the United Nations in New York and Geneva and has been a special adviser to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. ElBaradei has held leading positions at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) since 1984. He was elected director general in 1997 and reelected to a second term in 2001. He was reelected to a third term in June 2005 after the USA, which has been critical of the IAEA director's stance on the Iraq conflict, withdrew its opposition.



reprinted from The New York Times
October 7, 2005
U.N. Nuclear Agency and Its Chief Win Nobel Prize for Peace
By CRAIG S. SMITH

OSLO, Oct. 7 - The International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohamed ElBaradei today won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2005 for their work in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The prize recognizes the role of multilateralism in resolving all of the challenges we are facing today," Mr. ElBaradei told a televised press conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna. "The prize will strengthen my resolve and that of my colleagues to continue to speak truth to power."

Mr. ElBaradei, 63, has championed the peaceful use of nuclear energy while emphasizing quiet diplomacy in trying to dissuade countries from using the technology to develop weapons. He has been at the center of nonproliferation crises involving all three states that President Bush once labeled the axis of evil, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran and North Korea.

He faced intense pressure from Washington in the days before the 2003 American.-led invasion of Iraq, demanding more time for weapons inspectors to search the country for weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were never found.

More recently, Mr. ElBaradei has resisted American pressure to ask the United Nations Security Council to consider sanctions against Iran for its past breaches of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, preferring to coax Iran into compliance. The agency's board finally voted to report the country to the Security Council in a watered-down resolution last month that set no timetable.

Mr. ElBaradei won a third term as chief of the I.A.E.A. earlier this year despite opposition from Washington. He had overwhelming support from the rest of the world community.

The Norwegian Nobel Institute's prize committee said it hoped that the prize will strengthen the United Nations organization and refocus energy on nonproliferation in the wake of a failure to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at a United Nations conference earlier this year.

"The director general has stood out as an unafraid advocate," the Nobel committee chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, said in making the announcement beneath crystal chandeliers in a small vaulted room on the third floor of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. He added that the I.A.E.A.'s work is of incalculable importance "at a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role."

Mr. Mjoes said the award to Mr. ElBaradei was not meant as a veiled criticism of Washington or of Mr. Bush. "This is not a kick in the legs to any country," he told reporters gathered for the announcement. A former committee chairman described the 2002 prize to former President Jimmy Carter as a "kick in the legs" to Mr. Bush.

President Jacques Chirac of France and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who were at odds over the invasion of Iraq, both praised the choice of Mr. ElBaradei during a joint press conference in Paris following meetings they had been holding there. Mr. Chirac said the recognition of Mr. ElBaradei was particularly welcome now when he and the agency "are making a determining contribution to the search for peace and security."

Mr. ElBaradei was chosen from 199 nominees, a record for the prize, first awarded in 1901. Front-runners are believed to have included people as diverse as the Finnish peace mediator Martti Ahtissari, the anti-nuclear activist and Nagasaki survivor Senji Yamaguchi and the Irish rock singer and activist Bono.

Mr. Yamaguchi, in Nagasaki, told Agence France-Presse that he believed he had been passed over because the Nobel committee didn't want to offend the United States. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. He said that Mr. ElBaradei and the I.A.E.A. should "work harder to stop the possibility of repeating the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies in the future."

Geir Lundestad, executive director of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, declined to say who were runners-up for the prize. However, the peace prize has been awarded to people or organizations fighting the spread of nuclear weapons at regular 10-year intervals since at least 1985 when it was awarded to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In 1995, the prize was shared by the physicist Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for their efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The Nobel committee always keeps its short list of potential prize winners strictly secret and this year did not even call the winner to congratulate him in advance of the announcement fearing the news might leak. After it did so last year, the ensuing celebration by the winner, Wangari Muta Maathai, tipped off reporters, who told the world before the Nobel Prize committee did.

Mr. ElBaradei said he had assumed he had not won because he had not received the customary call. He only learned that he was being awarded the prize only when he heard his name in Norwegian while watching the announcement live on television with his wife.

The prize is one of five Nobel Prizes endowed by the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who decreed in his will that the prize be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

At the time that Mr. Nobel stipulated the terms of the prizes, Norway and Sweden were politically united. The other prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.

Mr. ElBaradei studied law in Cairo before teaching at New York University. He worked at the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs in the 1960s and later represented Egypt at the U.N., both in New York and Geneva.

In 1984, he joined the I.A.E.A. as legal counsel and deputy director general for external relations. He became director general of the organization in 1997.

The I.A.E.A. was established in 1957 to promote the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It now has 137 members.

The award will be formally awarded at a ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death in 1896. Winners of the peace prize are given 10 million kronor, or about $1.3 million. Mr. ElBaradei and the I.A.E.A. will share the money equally, the committee said.







Thursday, October 06, 2005

BUSH WAR STRATEGY FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED

In a speech on October 6, 2005 at the National Endowment for Democracy (read transcript), Unelected President Bush outlined his blustery basis for waging war in Iraq. A holy crusade against an enemy upon which whose name he cannot even decide.

"Some call this evil Islamic radicalism. Others militant jihadism. Still, others Islamo-fascism," said Bush. For cryin' out loud! Which is it? Or perhaps can we construct some other names for it?

Bush continued, "Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom."

Whatever it's called? Mr. Bush, you ARE the president, right? You claim to surround yourself with the best and the brightest minds - oh and "good hearts," too. You claim to know what it is, but you can't even find a label for it. How can you expect to effectively fight a war against an enemy that you don't understand, let alone can name. Never mind even trying to win it.

Error of your ways #1. "...the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom." Just where did your braintrust find that definition, Mr. Bush? You certainly didn't Google it. It sounds like a legitimate Webster's dictionary definition, doesn't it? Something that your mindless and blind core followers will swallow. But the hard and sad fact is that your "manufactured" definition is not truthful, Mr. Unelected President. Muslims who follow the path of senseless violence may use the peaceful cloak of Islam as a guise, but it seems that their primary aims are rather simple really. They want America and its western allies out of the Middle East and out of the affairs of Islamic countries. They want equality and balance in our Israel/Palestine policies. They wish to see Arabs and Muslims manage their own affairs. Many even want to see the end of American support for totalitarian governments that do not serve or reflect their needs and desires.

Let's face it. Would we, as Americans, act any differently if we were invaded and occupied? If there were a more powerful nation on Earth that dictated economic policies and social policies to us? Hell, we'd likely turn the streets blood red, as well.

There is no justifying violence, let alone violence against innocents. But we can understand it as a reaction to perceived discrimination and repression.

Bush wails on, "First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions."

Errors of your ways #2. You got part one correct, part two wrong, and part three correct. Yes, they DO want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East. Why shouldn't they? Yes, we DO stand in the way of their ambitions. But NO, not because we stand for democracy and peace. How naive and simplistic. But it makes for darned good soundbites. How about because we claim to stand for democracy and peace, but for decades we've defined democracy and peace based on what's good for us, not for others. We always frame foreign policy, even when it comes to humanitarian aid, in terms that are good for American government. Free trade policies that greatly diminish the power of small farmers in undeveloped and developing nations while enhancing the power of domestic corporate interests, agricultural or otherwise. Armaments deals that are good only for countries that cow-tow to our own "strategic" interests.

Mr. President, if you had any understanding of how Islam was intended to work when Muhammad introduce it centuries ago, you'd understand that democracy and peace are cornerstones of the faith.

Errors of your ways #3. "...the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments." Wrong again. Mr. President, YOU created the vacuum when you invaded Iraq, decimated its infrastructure, then failed to plan for the aftermath. YOU, Mr. President, created a base from which they could launch attacks and conduct their war.

Errors of your ways #4. "And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history." Here we go, compare your nameless enemy to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot? Great Rightwing soundbite wailing away against "rightwing" dictators. Can we get more incredulous?

Errors of your ways #5. "Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience must be taken very seriously, and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply." Did you lift that one from Howard Dean, Mr. President? Sounds like a liberal Democrat talking about you and your antisocial, very un-Christian, "Ownership Society" Rightwing agenda and loyalists, Mr. President. Are there no mirrors in the White House?

Errors of your ways #6. "Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals... The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse." Huh? Hmmmm! Hasn't it, Mr. President? Are you attempting to turn negatives into positives, or positives into negatives. I for one am very confused. Hasn't extremism been strengthened by the actions of "our coalition" in Iraq? Haven't we somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals, both because of your Iraq War and because of our decades-old Middle East policies?

Errors of your ways #7. "In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with unalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder." But there ARE grievanece that can be "soothed and addressed." Fairness in resolving the Israel/Palestinian conflict for starters. And just where in whatever manifesto that you claim to have read does it say that the objectives of these nameless enemies is "to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world?" And well, again this is not justification for violence, but Mr. President, can't you understand the nature of anger that responds to perceived injustices with further injustices? Do you actually believe that these people are just "in it" for the sport and enjoyment of murdering? Why, Mr. President, I thought you said earlier that they are in it because they are enemies of democracy and peace? Which is it?

Errors of your ways #8. "Our coalition, along with our Iraqi allies, is moving forward with a comprehensive, specific military plan. Area by area, city by city, we're conducting offensive operations to clear out enemy forces and leaving behind Iraqi units to prevent the enemy from returning." Comprehensive, specific military plan? Mr. President, would you mind sharing at least some of that plan with American voters? Or is it either double top secret, or way too complicated for the simple minds of us Americans? There aren't many people that share your faith in this so-called military plan.

Errors of your ways #9. "Within these areas, we're working for tangible improvements in the lives of Iraqi citizens. And we're aiding the rise of an elected government that unites the Iraqi people against extremism and violence." The rise of an elected government that unites the Iraqi people? Forgive me from laughing. The master "democratic" plan for the Iraqi Constitution was that it could be voted down if more than two-thirds of either Sunnis, Kurds or Shiites voted against it. Then suddenly, the Shiite- and Kurdish-controlled parliament effectively closed that loophole with a rule change. The legislature decided that a simple majority of those who cast votes would mean the constitution’s victory — but that two-thirds of registered voters must cast “no” ballots in three provinces to defeat it.

According to the Associated Press, "that interpretation had raised the bar to a level almost impossible to meet. In a province of 1 million registered voters, for example, 660,000 would have had to vote “no” — even if that many didn’t even come to the polls." Even the United Nations was opposed to this outright manipulation. Fortunately - we hope - the legislature reversed itself. But clearly these actions could only serve to raise fears and skepticism among Sunni Iraqis.

Errors of your ways #10. "As Americans, we believe that people everywhere -- everywhere prefer freedom to slavery and that liberty, once chosen, improves the lives of all." Hmmm. And it took us, what, about a hundred years of our own democratic history to begin to enlighten us to this? You talk as if this is an American golden rule, Mr. President. I recall that it was Europeans that abolished slavery long before it was in America's interests to do so.

Errors of your ways #11. "The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East." But Mr. President, aren't we amongst the biggest haters in the Middle East? Well at least our foreign policy seems to be, perhaps not us real Americans. Seems that by forcefully trying to inject our own brand of democracy into Iraq, we've stimulated and encouraged just what you claim to be trying to defeat, hatred and resentment.


Eleven very suspect ideas all concentrated in a single speech that is meant to mark yet another beginning in yet another PR campaign to win back the support of Americans. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.







Wednesday, October 05, 2005

SOMETHING TANGIBLE ON MIERS?

Church ties could shed light on Miers’ thinking

Faith in Jesus has shaped court pick’s personal values


By Michael Grunwald, Jo Becker and John Pomfret
The Washington Post
Updated: 8:01 a.m. ET Oct. 5, 2005

One evening in the 1980s, several years after Harriet Miers dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, she attended a lecture at her Dallas evangelical church with Nathan Hecht, a colleague at her law firm and her on-and-off boyfriend. The speaker was Paul Brand, a surgeon and the author of "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," a best-selling exploration of God and the human body.

When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. "I'm convinced that life begins at conception," Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is "taking a life."

Read the Washington Post article at MSNBC

BUSH TEAM - NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY

Dear Mr. Unelected President Bush,

I don't have any judicial experience. May I please have a lifetime job on the Supreme Court? Or something? Please? I know, I don't have a law degree either. But that shouldn't disqualify me, should it? After all, your pal Brownie (Michael Brown) didn't have any disaster experience and he got the top FEMA job. And your ogre buddy, John Bolton. He didn't have any diplomatic experience. And your top generals, they don't seem to have any nation-building experience.

And oh, Tom DeLay. OK, I know that you didn't actually have him elected to Congress.......did you? But he was an exterminator. I guess if that qualifies you for the highest position in Congress, well there must be SOMETHING for me?

Mr. President, I know that you only have three years and three months and three weeks (who's counting!) left in office. But if you could just let me have one of those cushy jobs for that long, I can retire comfortably and write a really cool book about the experience. I don't expect a lifetime position. I just want a few of those "Ownership Society" crumbs. Oh, and I'd like to be able to benefit from those upper income tax cuts, too.

Say I have a question, Mr. President. Is there really that much room underneath the Oval Office desk for all of these people to give you oral sex? I know it's a really big desk, but come on now. Do you keep a schedule? Is that what is needed to become "born again" through your Administration? The good thing, I suppose, is that you don't discriminate based on gender. Did you learn that during your drinkin' and partyin' National Guard days? Guess you only need to pledge that you have a "good heart" and yer in the club eh?

Mr. President, do I have a good heart? Do any Democrats have good hearts, Mr. President? I think I do. That's what my friends and family say. But they're not givin' out great jobs to totally unqualified people, though. So that's where you come in. I know, I know, you say that you have to be a failure to get the really bestest jobs. Like Brownie was when he managed Arabian horse judges, like Bolton was - well when he did anything that involved human interaction, oh and like you were when you blew through your dad's, your dad's friends' and the Binladen family's money in your busted oil company ventures. And didn't Harriet Miers have that Texas Lottery gig? Now that involved losing money for folks, too, didn't it?

OK, Mr. President. Sorry to take so much time. And I didn't even get to my non-qualifications for any job in your Administration. Just think about it, OK? Maybe you could pray about to that Evangelical god of yours.







Tuesday, October 04, 2005

BUSH GANG INFLATING HURRICANE LOSSES?

BUSH GANG INFLATING HURRICANE LOSSES?
What are the real motives behind the Bush Administration's - and others - estimates of Hurricane Katrina losses of $100 - 300 Billion?

They certainly produced those estimates pretty quickly, didn't they! And they have been quick to the trigger to warn us about the need to slash government spending, even entitlements programs. You know, those entitlement programs that are designed specifically to help the neediest amongst us? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Education...

Let me see if I understand this. Hundreds of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast, many of them quite poor, need our collective help to get back on their feet. OK, I am just fine with that. It's the Christian, Jewish and Islamic thing to do. Says so in our holy scriptures. So let's get about it.

But hold on, Mr. Unelected President! Shouldn't the folks with the most be sharing this burden of charity and compassion? Oh No! 'Cause you tell us that the reason why our economy has been hummin' along is 'cause dem rich folk been buyin' those foreign made Lexus and BMW autermobiles and dem newfangled $6,000 TV sets - also made by dem damn foreigners.

Mr. President, no one buys what yer peddlin', sir. At least no one in their right (I mean left) minds.

Level with us. You are inflating these damage costs to rationalize slashing federal spending on the tens of millions of Americans that can least afford it. If you have your way, you'll slash Social Security benefits to "save" a program that has never ever been in financial crisis since you won your job in court almost five years ago. Let's just see what you propose, or rather your blind servants in Congress, to do with Medicare and Medicaid. Let's see if you take that $700 Billion and counting entitlement away from the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. President. And education? What was that program? All Childs Left Behind? Sounds like an Evangelical Christian science fiction story to me. But judging by the last reports I've see on public school performance, your program sucks! Now you'd like to make it worse? Guess you'd like all of America to mirror public education in Texas, huh?!


THE NUMBERS ARE COMING IN

According to ISO, an insurance risk and data firm based in Jersey City, N.J., Hurricane Katrina is likely to result in at least $34.4 billion in personal and commercial property loss claims. Policyholders in the six affected states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia — were expected to file more than 1.6 million claims for damage to personal and commercial property, automobiles, and boats and yachts.

Let's zero in on New Orleans for a bit, since the devastation there was so enormous. The National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), estimates that only about 40 percent of properties had flood insurance. And we all know too well how much damage was caused by flood. Widening the swath from New Orleans and doing some extrapolation, NFIP may have to pay out as much as $30-40 Billion more.

The big unknown is what do we do about the uninsured? About those that were insured but didn't purchase flood insurance? Do we suddenly - by "we" I mean the all-powerful federal government - start writing $200,000 checks to folks that didn't budget in property insurance or business interruption insurance? Boy, I can think of half a dozen times when I had wished I had a certain type of insurance when I got stuck with a loss. But I chose to not purchase it. I took a chance. I absorbed the risk. And I lost. Now isn't that just the "Ownership Society" way of going about things?

Of course lots of folks in the storms' path were poor and they rented their homes. They were excluded from George Bush and the "Christian" Right's (wrong's) Ownership Society. I wonder how much insurance the Ownership Society's slumlords had on all those less than prime properties?

And the not-so-quite poor people that lived in areas that may have to be condemned by government through the exercise of eminent domain laws? We've seen here in Colorado and in many other states how government calculates "market value" in those situations. I expect that lots of folks, again amongst those that can least afford it, will get far less than "market value." And in any case, any actual market value in some of those areas won't likely come close to getting those families into decent housing elsewhere. Oh well, I am putting carts before horses anyway, 'cause dem folks won't be good credit risks for mortgages on their new homes anyway 'cause they DON'T HAVE ANY JOBS! Not only will many of the businesses at which they were employed no longer in existence, but the Bush Administration has suspended the Davis-Bacon Act that would have required the payment of "REAL" wages for real work in the affected areas. After all, those undocumented foreign workers need jobs, too.


So the quick and displeasing take on all of this - and we are still at a very early stage of sifting this all out - is that we can expect to see tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars going to no one else but the "usual suspects" within the orbit of the Bush family and friends.

Hundreds of Billions of dollars? Not to any needful residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida or Texas. Well perhaps Texas....and Florida.







Monday, October 03, 2005

ISSUES OF BLIND TRUST

What really are the issues underlying the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist' (R-TN) divestiture of HCA stock from his blind trust? The media is doing its generally good job of obscuring all or any of the possible issues in favor of public confusion and....oh my!...television ratings?

Let's address the blind trust issue first.

In October 1994, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics (the "Committee") released a sample qualified blind trust agreement for use by Senate Members, officers, employees, and their attorneys. A blind trust agreement must be approved by the Committee prior to its execution. The sample agreement, Ethics Committee Sample Blind Trust Form , is just that, filled with "boilerplate" that is required by statute. But other specific details of a blind trust agreement can be modified and must be spelled out.

To quote the sample agreement, "The primary purpose of this Trust is to entrust to the Trustee decisions as to when and to what extent the original assets of the Trust are to be sold or disposed of and in what investments the proceeds of sale are to be reinvested, without any participation in, or knowledge of, such decisions by any interested person." Note the language, "without any participation in, or knowledge of, such decisions by any interested person."

The sample agreement later continues, "There shall be no direct or indirect communication between an interested party and the Trustee with respect to the Trust unless -- (A) It relates to a request for a distribution from the Trust of cash or other unspecified assets of the trust, or (B) The communication is in writing and is filed by the person initiating the communication at the office of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics within five days of the communication, and it relates only -- (1) To the general financial interest and needs of the interested party (including, but not limited to, an interest in maximizing income or long-term capital gain), (2) To the notification of the Trustee of a law or regulation subsequently applicable to the reporting individual which prohibits the interested party from holding an asset, which notification directs that the asset not be held by the Trust, or (3) To directions to the Trustee to sell all of an asset initially placed in the Trust by an interested party which in the determination of the Grantor creates a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof due to the subsequent assumption of duties by the Grantor (but any such direction is not required)."

It is Sections B(2) and B(3) that appear problematic. Let's address them individually:

Section B(2): "There shall be no direct or indirect communication between an interested party and the Trustee with respect to the Trust unless -- The communication is in writing and is filed by the person initiating the communication at the office of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics within five days of the communication, and it relates only -- To the notification of the Trustee of a law or regulation subsequently applicable to the reporting individual which prohibits the interested party from holding an asset, which notification directs that the asset not be held by the Trust."

The asset in question is the publicly traded stock of HCA, Inc., the largest for-profit operator of hospitals in the United States. In 2004, HCA reported revenues of $23.5 Billion and Net Income of $1.2 Billion. In 2004, $6.4 Billion, 0r 27 percent, of HCA revenues came from Medicare; $1.9 Billion, or 8 percent, from Medicaid. This represented 39 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of HCA's hospital admissions.

Bill Frist's family was among the founders of HCA. His brother, Thomas Frist, Jr., a former senior officer of HCA, serves on the Company's Board of Directors and is classified by Securities & Exchange Commission regulations as an insider.

Senator Frist was first elected to the United States Senate in November 1994 and is serving in his second term. He was elected Majority Leader in December 2002. Regarding Section B(2), there does not appear to be anything in Senate or other regulations that would have required Frist to divest himself of HCA stock at any time. So I think that we can all put this possible argument to bed, so to speak.

HOWEVER, Section 2(c) is a bit more disconcerting: "There shall be no direct or indirect communication between an interested party and the Trustee with respect to the Trust unless -- The communication is in writing and is filed by the person initiating the communication at the office of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics within five days of the communication, and it relates only -- To directions to the Trustee to sell all of an asset initially placed in the Trust by an interested party which in the determination of the Grantor creates a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof due to the subsequent assumption of duties by the Grantor (but any such direction is not required)."

The Grantor, of course, was/is Senator Frist.

The sample blind trust agreement continues:

"In addition to the rights, duties, and powers conferred upon the Trustee by law, the Trustee shall have the following powers, rights, and discretion with respect to any Trust property held by him: (A) To sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of the property in such manner and upon such terms as the Trustee in its sole discretion shall deem appropriate;"

This suggests, or perhaps simply stipulates, that Frist's Trustee would have been the only and final determining party for securities sales, their manner and timing.

WHY DID FRIST SELL THE HCA STOCK IN 2005?

Well, that appears to be the sole issue associated with Frist's blind trust, in my humble opinion. Seems to me that one might reasonably deduce from the above reading that Frist had no business directing the Trustee, in writing or otherwise, to dispose of an asset UNLESS "it relates only -- To directions to the Trustee to sell all of an asset initially placed in the Trust by an interested party which in the determination of the Grantor creates a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof due to the subsequent assumption of duties by the Grantor (but any such direction is not required)."

But if that was the case, why only, and suddenly, in 2005? After some four years of voting on healthcare issues? Often to the benefit of the healthcare industry?

Could it have had anything to do with the value and performance of Frist's HCA stock holdings over the period of his Senate tenure? Let's take a closer look, shall we?

  • January 1995 - Frist takes office: HCA approximately $15 per share
  • Early 1997 - $42, just before the federal government announces a major criminal investigation of HCA for Medicare and other fraud.
  • Early 1999 - HCA stock bottoms at about $10 per share.
  • In December 2000, HCA agrees to plead guilty to criminal conduct and pay more than $840 million in criminal fines, civil penalties and damages for alleged unlawful billing practices. HCA stock rebounds to about $45 per share.
  • Fall 2002 - HCA rises slowly, but steadily to more than $50 per share
  • June 2003 - HCA stock plunges to about $27 per share after agreeing to pay the United States $631 million in civil penalties and damages arising from additional false claims the government alleged it submitted to Medicare and other federal health programs, PLUS an additional $250 million to resolve overpayment claims arising from certain of its cost reporting practices.
  • July 2005 - HCA stock rebounds to more than $58 per share, during which time Frist's HCA stock is sold - while insiders are also selling 2.3 million shares.

The record seems to show that for years Frist resisted selling his HCA stock because of his claim that since it was held in a blind trust, he had no control over it. But for years, critics of the Senator believed that his ownership of stock in the largest hospital chain was ripe with possible conflict of interest, certainly the appearance thereof.

And here's another way to enjoy the Frist/HCA timeline: Think Progress

Later, he said that his only objective in divesting his blind trust HCA stock was to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. HMMMMM. Appearance No? Appearance Yes? Do I detect flipflopping?

As regards allegations of insider trading, a charge that has surfaced since only days after the stock sales, HCA announced lower earnings guidance, after which the stock was pummeled by Wall Street, "I had no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available when I directed the trustees to sell the stock," Frist said.

Frist's sale of HCA stock could have been coincidentally timed. I know that I've had comparable good fortune in years' past. But I remain troubled, as should everyone, over this issue of Frist directing the Trustee to sell his stock - or to engage in any action within the Trust for that matter. It's that Section 2(c) thing. Why, after all those years of legislating in favor of his healthcare industry friends, does he suddenly awaken to the concept his holdings of HCA stock - millions of dollars of HCA stock - might create "a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof?"

When his stock was cheap, there was no conflict? When he was voting to reduce lawsuit liability, there was no conflict? When he was voting to allow cancer patients to remain hospitalized longer, there was no conflict? When he was voting for the gargantuan Medicare prescription drug bonanza, there was no conflict?


The Senator has been instrumental in guiding these and other pieces of healthcare-related legislation through the Senate.

In 1999, Frist voted Yes on S.AMDT.1241 to S 1344: To enhance breast cancer treatment. The vote expanded health care services for cancer patients by allowing "patients, in accordance with their physician, to determine in their health care plan a period of time necessary for a hospital stay following a mastectomy, lumpectomy or lymph node dissection for the treatment of breast cancer" and required "insurers to provide coverage for a patient seeking a second opinion from a specialist on a cancer diagnosis."

In 1999, Frist voted YES on S.AMDT.1250 to S 1344: To protect patients and accelerate their treatment and care. It was a "vote to adopt an amendment that would remove language from the bill validating a patient's right to sue their insurer in state courts if damages resulted from a denial of medical care from the bill."

In 1999, Frist voted YES on S 1344: A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to protect consumers in managed care plans and other health coverage. It was a "vote to pass a bill that expands health care services for patients enrolled in managed care plans." The bill required group health plans covering emergency medical care to provide coverage for emergency medical screenings which have been deemed necessary by a “prudent layperson;” stipulated that patients do not need a referral from their primary care provider to receive care from obstetricians, gynecologists and pediatricians; required insurers to disclose all information in a specified plan to potential enrollees, current participants and beneficiaries; called for insurers to have internal and external reviews to examine medical denial claims; replaced the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and specifies agency mandates; barred insurers from denying coverage or adjusting premiums based on a patient's “predictive genetic information;" allowed self-employed individuals to fully deduct health insurance costs from their gross incomes; barred group health plans from requiring patients to seek preauthorization for emergency medical treatment. The bill passed the Senate, but was not voted upon in the House.

In 2000, Frist voted NO on S.AMDT.3690 to HR 4577: To establish an off-budget lockbox to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. The vote was "to adopt an amendment that would protect Social Security surpluses and move Medicare trust fund surpluses off budget to prevent using them for other purposes."

In 2001, Frist voted NO on S 1052: A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to protect consumers in managed care plans and other health coverage, aka The Patients' Bill of Rights. It was a "vote to pass a bill that allow patients to appeal decisions made by their health plan organization about coverage and treatment and provide federal protections, such as access to emergency room care." Among its proposed provisions, would have given patients the right to sue insurance companies over medical decisions in state court, with a cap of $5 million on non-economic damages; would have required that patients demonstrate harm, not just allege it, before going to court; would have exempt hospitals and physicians from liability for certain health plan decisions; would have banned concurrent suits in federal and state court; would have prohibited insurance companies from penalizing doctors for ordering procedures that insurance companies do not classify as necessary; would have allowed patients to visit the closest emergency room, regardless of other factors.

In 2002, Frist voted NO on S 812: A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide greater access to affordable pharmaceuticals. It was a vote to pass a bill that would institute procedures for the introduction of generic drugs into the prescription drug market and would also allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada into the United States. The bill, which never came to a vote in the House, would have granted brand-name drug companies one 30-month extension of the right to exclusive sales if the Food & Drug Administration approves a competitor's generic drug patent; authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to permit pharmacists and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from Canada into the United States; required Canadian importers and wholesalers to register with the Department of Health and Human Services; authorized individuals to import drugs from Canada, provided that the prescriptions they acquire are for individual use and do not exceed a 90 day dosage.

In 2003, Frist voted YES on S 1: A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for a voluntary prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program and to strengthen and improve the Medicare program, and for other purposes. It was the vote to pass a bill that would add prescription drug benefits to Medicare. Among its highlights: participants would pay a $275 yearly minimum deductible, and a $35 average monthly premium; from $276 - $4,500 participants would be responsible for 50% of drug cost; there will be no coverage after $4,500, until the participant has spent $3,700 of their own money. After this mark is reached the Federal Government will cover 90% of drug cost, with the participant covering the remaining 10%; program would be available to those who stay in Medicare programs as well as those who choose partially funded, private health plan providers.

In general, Frist has voted for legislation that sometimes provided benefits to healthcare consumers, but underlying his record is a series of giving huge benefits to the healthcare lobby. Limiting lawsuit liability exposure, approving a Medicare drug benefit that tied the hands of the federal government to negotiate volume pricing from drug manufacturers, allowing cancer patients to spend more time in (HCA) hospitals.


FRIST CAMPAIGN FUNDING

Sen. Frist has also been among the largest beneficiaries of healthcare sector campaign funds and this sector has been among the largest to his election campaign, period. In his 2000 re-election campaign, Frist received $203,207 from the healthcare sector, more than from any other industry segment. He largely financed his initial 1994 campaign from his own pockets.


I don't know about you, but let's allow the SEC and other legal wheels to run their course. The sad fact, however, is that Frist has announced that he is not running for re-election in 2006. Sad because it'd be wonderful for a Democrat to beat him out of his Senate Seat. But perhaps Bill Frist figures he doesn't need the headaches and has plenty of money now that his HCA stock is sold. Hmmm.