Friday, October 28, 2005

MIERS: WHY SHE REALLY PASSED ON HER SCOTUS NOMINATION?

Curiously, the media seems to be ignoring the fact that just hours before Harriet Miers walked away from her nomination for Supreme Court justice, it was disclosed that United States senators have developed a keen interest in the tax shelter shenanigans of her former law firm, Locke Liddell and Sapp.

Miers headed the law firm during much of the 1990s.

During that time and while she was co-managing partner of the firm, Locke Liddell issued opinion letters - rather sold an average of $1.8 million annually in opinion letters - between 1999 and 2001.

The tax shelters involved "washing" income through short-term business partnerships. These partnerships could then be written off as losses. Created by Ernst and Young in 1998, the "Contingent Deferred Swap" tax shelters were investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, which determined them to be abusive in 2002. Ernst and Young used Miers' law firm to sell legal opinion letters to their clients indicating that the tax shelters "should be" upheld in court. Miers' firm was paid $50,000 or $75,000 for each letter.

What did she know and when did she know it? Did Bush really want Miers, his personal, Rightwing religious pick for Supreme Court justice, to have to deal with this controversy during her confirmation hearings?

How would it look if Bush was appointing Miers, an apparent advocate of tax scams for big businesses, to the highest court in the nation?

Hmmmmmmm. "Maybe she wasn't the best pick afterall," Bush might have been thinking Wednesday evening.

Miers, whom Bush inaccurately had billed as one of the greatest woman lawyers EVER, withdrawing voluntarily because "all the pressure was just gonna too much for lil' ole me?"

Somehow I doubt it.

  • Washington Post

  • Internal Revenue Service announces a closing agreement with Ernst & Young, LLP





  • LIAR!

  • United States of America v. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby











  • WILL HE OR WON'T HE?

    Minutes before Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald announces at least some of his findings in the intelligence leak case, I am wondering.

    Will Bush hold true to his prior statements about anyone that has committed a crime will not work in his Administration? And what exactly does he mean by that? Is indictment good enough? Or does an indicted person get to continue working for "The Man" until such time as he is actually convicted?

    Something to think about before we all get too excited about today's pending events.




    THE PLAIN FACTS: WHY BUSH IS NOT QUALIFIED TO BE PRESIDENT

    I am not one to criticize people's character or physique. Thanks to the benefits of my spiritual path, I see all human beings as equal, regardless of their apparent flaws, to be equally valued "specs" as parts of the living entity that some call God, others call "One" or "Unity," the list goes on and on.

    So that said, here's my observation about George W. Bush.

    There are reasons why he is the "Unelected" President.

    1) He doesn't look presidential.
    a) On camera, he just looks too short to be president.
    b) His hair looks like a plastic cap.
    c) He smiles or smirks at all the wrong times. Presidents generally shouldn't smile anyway. Their job and responsibilities are much too serious.
    d) His suits are simply too tight and form-fitting. Presidents shouldn't have that much time to devote to their wardrobe.

    2) Former drunks and partiers just shouldn't qualify to be president. They should come from far more serious backgrounds. And while we're on the subject of qualified, forgoing genuine military service or legitimately not serving are qualifications. Having your daddy scoot you up the list for a national guard position - that you don't even fulfill - does not qualify as military anything and should be prima facia evidence that you are not serious about serving your country.

    3) W is not diplomatic. Webster defines diplomatic as "characterized by tact and cleverness in dealing with people." Webster defines diplomat as "a representative of a government in the interests of his own country."
    a) Let's be honest. No one really thinks or believes that W has ever acted in the interests of the nation. In the interests of oil companies, yes; in the interests of his family and friends (including the Bin Laden family), yes ; in the interests of rightwing fascist so-called Christians, yes. But in the interests of the American people?

    4) W is not a statesman. Webster defines statesman as "a person who shows wisdom and skill in conducting state affairs and treating public issues." Sorry not W.

    5) He can't give a speech without reading all of it from papers or teleprompters. Have you watched Al Gore since the Supreme Court "Xed" his presidency? He has become one of the most eloquent and compelling speakers around. He makes points, he inspires, he doesn't need prompting from papers or ear pieces. We seem to have very few statesmen these days. We seem to have far fewer politicians that can actually speak to America directly from their minds and hearts rather than from papers written entirely by someone else.

    6) What else?! W can't ad lib. He doesn't speak from the heart, let alone a brain. He can't think on his feet when speaking to the press or the public. He fails all public speaking tests and his vocabulary doesn't even qualify him for a bus driver's job - no offense to bus drivers.

    Aren't you embarrassed to have him as President? Won't you do something about it? Bush is a national disgrace.



    Thursday, October 27, 2005

    DEATH IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS

    Raytheon’s profit rises, boosted by jet sales

    Defense contractor and missile maker also raises its full-year outlook
    Reuters
    Updated: 7:49 a.m. ET Oct. 27, 2005

    NEW YORK - Defense contractor Raytheon Co. on Thursday said third-quarter profit rose a better-than-expected 50 percent, helped by strong sales of its jets and intelligence systems.

    Raytheon, which makes Stinger and Tomahawk missiles, Hawker jets and a range of technology systems, also nudged up its full-year profit forecast.

    The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company reported net profit of $228 million, or 50 cents per share, compared with $152 million, or 34 cents per share, a year earlier.

    Excluding some one-time items, it reported earnings from continuing operations of 51 cents per share. That beat Wall Street’s forecast of 48 cents as compiled by Reuters Estimates.

    Sales rose 8 percent to $5.3 billion, a little below analysts’ average forecast of $5.48 billion.

    Raytheon, like rivals Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. , is thriving on high levels of U.S. defense spending over the past few years. But concerns over the Pentagon’s planned budget cuts are starting to weigh on the sector.

    Raytheon raised its full-year profit estimate, forecasting earnings from continuing operations of $2 to $2.05 per share, up from its July forecast of $1.90 to $2. Wall Street is expecting, on average, $2.01.

    For 2006, Raytheon forecast earnings of $2.40 to $2.50 per share. Analysts are expecting $2.44.

    Raytheon shares are down about 5 percent so far this year, compared with a 7 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s Aerospace and Defense index. Raytheon shares are trading at about 15 times estimated 2006 earnings, in line with its competitors.

    Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

    © 2005 MSNBC.com

    Boeing says earnings more than doubled

    Commercial jet maker cites gain from sale of rocket engine unit
    Reuters
    Updated: 12:49 p.m. ET Oct. 26, 2005

    NEW YORK - Boeing Co. Wednesday said quarterly earnings more than doubled, boosted by a one-time gain from the sale of its rocket engine unit, even as revenue at its key defense unit fell.

    The world’s No. 2 commercial jetmaker said its third-quarter earnings rose to $1.01 billion, or $1.26 cents a share, from $456 million, or 56 cents, a year earlier.

    Wall Street analysts had forecast that the earnings would rise to 78 cents before exceptional items, according to Reuters Estimates.

    Without a 62 cents-a-share benefit from tax settlements and adjustments, the quarterly earnings per share would have been 64 cents.

    The results also included a 45 cents-per-share gain on the sale of propulsion unit Rocketdyne and a noncash charge of 14 cents a share related to another asset sale.

    Revenue fell 4 percent to $12.63 billion, depressed by an 11 percent slide in its defense unit’s sales, which Boeing said were hit by the sale of Rocketdyne and a less profitable mix of aircraft deliveries.

    Boeing and its European archrival Airbus — the No. 1 jetmaker — have enjoyed a surge in orders this year from fast-growing airlines in India, China and the Middle East. But Boeing has already said a one-month strike at its commercial factories depressed deliveries in the quarter.

    Looking forward, Boeing raised its earnings per share outlook for the full year to between $2.95 and $3.05 a share, and boosted its 2006 forecast to $3.10 to $3.30 a share.

    Boeing shares have edged up 1.5 percent since the end of the second quarter, outperforming the Amex Defense index , which is down 1.5 percent for the period.

    Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

    © 2005 MSNBC.com

    Lockheed profit up on plane sales

    Earnings gain was larger than analysts' forecasts
    Reuters
    Updated: 8:28 a.m. ET Oct. 25, 2005

    NEW YORK - Lockheed Martin Corp. said Tuesday third-quarter profit rose a better-than-expected 39 percent as the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor boosted sales of electronic systems, government satellites and deliveries of its C-130J transport planes.

    Lockheed, which makes fighter jets, cargo planes, Patriot missiles and sells a range of technology services, also raised its full-year profit forecast, largely due to a one-time gain from a stock investment, and made its first forecast for 2006 profit, within the range of Wall Street's estimates.

    The Bethesda, Maryland-based company reported profit of $427 million, or 96 cents per share, for the quarter. That compares with $307 million, or 69 cents per share, last year. Revenue rose 9 percent to $9.2 billion.

    Earnings beat analysts' average forecast of 90 cents per share, but revenue fell a little short of Wall Street's forecast of $9.38 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

    The rise in sales of high-tech systems comes as defense contractors try to move away from traditional military hardware projects, which are vulnerable to cuts as the Pentagon looks to trim defense spending after several years of sharp growth.

    Lockheed's shares are up about 12 percent so far this year, ahead of the 9 percent rise in the Standard & Poor's Aerospace & Defense index. Lockheed shares are trading around 15 times forecast 2006 earnings, a little below the average of 16 times for the index.

    Looking forward, Lockheed forecast earnings in a range of $3.85 to $3.95 per share for this year, up from its previous forecast of $3.60 to $3.75 per share. The increase is mostly due to a gain from the sale of shares in British satellite operator Inmarsat, which went public in June. Analysts were expecting earnings of $3.78 per share, on average.

    Lockheed forecast full-year revenue of $37 billion to $37.5 billion, a touch shy of analysts' average forecast of $37.7 billion.

    For 2006, Lockheed forecast earnings of $4.00 to $4.25 per share, broadly in line with analysts' average forecast of $4.21. For the first time next year, Lockheed's results will include the cost of stock options, the company said.

    The company forecast 2006 revenue of $38 billion to $39.5 billion, in line with analysts' forecast of $39.5 billion.

    Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

    © 2005 MSNBC.com









    BIG OIL'S RECORD BLOOD MONEY

    Exxon Mobil posts largest quarterly profit ever

    Gain of $9.92 billion is the largest quarterly profit ever for a U.S. company
    MSNBC News Services
    Updated: 12:26 p.m. ET Oct. 27, 2005

    IRVING, Texas - Exxon Mobil Corp. had a quarter for the record books.

    The world’s largest publicly traded oil company said Thursday high oil and natural-gas prices helped its third-quarter profit surge almost 75 percent to $9.92 billion, the largest quarterly profit for a U.S. company ever, and it was the first to ring up more than $100 billion in quarterly sales.

    Although it raked in a bonanza from record oil and gas prices, Exxon’s quarterly results fell short of Wall Street forecasts due to production outages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and sharply lower profit at the company’s chemicals division.

    “The [results] were a bit disappointing, but this is a temporary phenomenon,” said Paul Kuklinski, an analyst with Boston Energy Research/Soleil Securities. “This is largely attributable to hurricane effects.”

    The hurricanes slashed Exxon Mobil’s U.S. production volumes by 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, down nearly 5 percent year-over-year, costing the company $45 million before taxes. The company said total daily production slipped to 2.45 million barrels of oil equivalent from 2.51 million barrels.

    “Following the hurricanes, Exxon Mobil maximized gasoline production from all of our refineries which were operating in the U.S., and increased imports from overseas affiliates to meet U.S. demand,” said Chairman Lee R. Raymond.

    The company cautioned that reduced volumes and higher costs will also hurt the fourth quarter.

    Howard Silverblatt, equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s, said both Exxon’s net income and sales figures are all-time records for publicly traded U.S. companies.

    Analysts have warned that record profits for Big Oil, at a time when consumers are paying sky-high prices for gasoline, could add to calls for a windfall profits tax or other penalties on oil companies.

    Exxon’s quarterly net income ballooned to $9.92 billion, or $1.58 per share, from $5.68 billion, or 88 cents per share, in the same quarter one year ago.

    Excluding certain items, earnings were $8.3 billion, or $1.32 per share, versus $6.23 billion, or 96 cents per share, in the 2004 quarter. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial, on average, predicted earnings excluding items of $1.38 per share. Revenue grew to $100.72 billion from $76.38 billion in the prior-year period.
    Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

    © 2005 MSNBC.com

    >>>>>PUT IN PERSPECTIVE:

    Exxon Mobil's quarterly after-tax profit was equal to about $35 per every man, woman, and child in the United States.




    BYE BYE HARRIET...SORT OF

    Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is history. Her withdrawal was announced today with an eloquent letter stating her concerns about the confirmation process.

    She's gone, but not forgotten. She still retains her role as a White House insider and legal counsel to W. She won't be lacking for income or influence as Bush reaches into his 100-gallon hat for his next Supreme Court pick. Who will it be this time? No doubt someone more appealing to his fascist Christian Conservative Rightwing friends and family.

    Have the Democrats gained any political capital from this Bush fiasco? Not likely. They are still in the minority on the Hill. And Conservatives still control talk radio and television. Besides, the Democratic Party has yet to crystallize an agenda for America other than "we hate Bush."

    The next nominee battle will be more fun to observe. It's likely that the new nominee will actually have a judicial record that can be scrutinized. But it's also likely that it will be clearly conservative and Republicans in Congress will gush with enthusiasm for the pick.






    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    PRESIDENT OF IRAN SMOKES TOO MUCH HASHISH

    Speaking on October 25 at a conference in Tehran called “World Without Zionism,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned countries or leaders who have taken measures to acknowledge the Israeli Zionist regime, under pressure or due to “lack of sound understanding,” that they will be confronted with the wrath of the Islamic ummah and will forever be disgraced. Ummah means community.

    Impressing his statesmanlike wisdom upon a crowd of thousands of students, Ahmadinejad expressed his firm belief that the new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine and the growing turmoil in the Islamic world would in no time wipe Israel away.

    “As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map,” said Ahmadinejad, who came to power in August.

    Ahmadinejad referred to the Zionist regime’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a “trick,” saying Gaza is part of Palestinian territory and the withdrawal was meant to make Islamic states acknowledge the Zionist regime of Israel.

    Pointing to the “evil” attempts of the US and Israel to sew discord among warring forces in Palestine and other parts of the Islamic world, the president said such attempts were aimed at forcing some Islamic countries to acknowledge the existence of Israel.

    Ahmadinejad is either smoking too much or his turban is too tight. His tough, bullying rhetoric comes at an awkward time, me thinks. Unelected President George W. Bush and his dwindling friends already have Iran on their “axis of evil” watch list. Considering that Bush has been showing increasing evidence of drinking too much – well drinking period – what better for his legacy than to take our minds off the 2,001 and counting dead American service men and women, and the current “undeclared” civil war in Iraq by launching a brand new military adventure.

    And while he’s at it, since he’s so pissed off at Syria for its failure or inability to seal its border with Iraq from hemorrhaging insurgents, well two military adventures are always better than one. Just one gets pretty boring pretty quickly. We may not have any more boots to put on the ground, but we sure gots the air power. Bush can blow away as many civilians as he likes with his little B1s and Stealth fighters and cruise missiles. We already know how much he cares what the rest of the world thinks about American foreign policy, so that’s not an issue.

    And for added backup, I expect that he thinks he can always count on Israel to finally admit to the world community that it has a large nuclear weapons arsenal – and use a few. After all, it’s Israel that Ahmadinejad is wailing against. But are the Israelis na├»ve enough to join a Bush venture against Iran? Not unless they have suddenly taken a liking to the New Testament’s Book of Revelations and the mad ravings of misguided, politicized, fascist so-called Christians.

    Sure, Israel has a right to defend itself – if attacked that is. Last time I checked, Iran had all its guns in its pants and wasn’t exactly massing for an attack. If Ahmadinejad believes that suicide bombers are going to be the instrument of destruction for the only democracy in the Middle East, well all I can say is, “President Ahmadinejad, keep on smokin’ that hash.”

    If Ahmadinejad and Iran have any hopes of realizing western support for its “peaceful” nuclear program, if that have any hopes for normalizing relations with the United States and emerging from third world poverty, they had better mend their ways and zip their lips. Or we just might see their former arch nemesis, Saddam Hussein, back in the driver’s seat in Iraq, ready to launch another bloody war with Iran – using only the finest in American chemical and biological weapons of course.







    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    A CASE FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

    In the face of General Motors realigning its employee and retiree health care coverage, there is little doubt that other major U.S. employers will soon follow their crumbs. This trend will weaken the availability of health care for all Americans. While fascist Rightwing politicians and pundits will counter with something like, “Consumers need to make good health care choices. If they take on more of the financial burden, they will think twice about running to the doctor or the emergency room, they will be more deliberate about using prescription drugs.”

    Look around and tell me how many folks you know that actually run out for medical care when they could do without. Not many, I bet. One of the factors that does seem to drive growth in health care spending in recent years is the ability of the pharmaceutical industry to advertise directly to consumers via mass media. So what we now have is a system in which consumers, with absolutely no medical or pharma training, drive the consumption of expensive drugs based on television viewing, identifying supposed health problems that they previously didn’t think they had and reinforcing poor lifestyle choices, believing they can offset their own excesses by popping a few very expensive pills.

    True enough, drugs are only one component of health care expenditures. But add investor need for profits – in hospitals and insurance companies – and you can see what is driving health care costs ceaselessly higher. With relentless managed care pressures, it certainly isn’t growth in physicians’ or nurses’ compensation. With rising federal budget deficits, it certainly isn’t increasing payment rates for treating Medicare patients.

    Health care spending in the United States is simply out of control. It is driven by the desire for profits and the seeming lack of strong incentives for cost efficiencies.

    Let’s review some of the data, shall we?



    THE MACRO PICTURE

    In the United States, for the most recent year of available data, total expenditures for health care rose by 7.7 percent in 2003, to $1.7 Trillion. This was four times the rate of inflation in 2003.(1)


    Private payers (primarily private health insurance and payments by individuals for co-pays, deductibles, and services not covered by insurance) funded more than half of national health care expenditures in 2003, or $913.2 billion. The public sector funded $766 billion, with the Medicaid program funding 16 percent of aggregate health spending, or $267 billion, nearly equaling the 17 percent, $283 billion, spent by Medicare.(1)

    Health care spending accounted for 15.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2003, outpacing growth in the overall economy by nearly 3 percentage points.(1) Contrast that with health care spending in other industrialized nations. It accounted for 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2)

    Although nearly 45 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.(8)

    Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense. (8)

    Pharmaceutical Spending Trends:

    · Between 1995 and 2003, on average Americans increased the number of prescriptions they were taking, per person, by 42 percent. In 1995, Americans purchased 2.125 billion prescriptions, or about 8.1 prescriptions per person. In 2000, Americans purchased 2.865 billion prescriptions, or about 10.4 prescriptions per person. In 2003, Americans purchased 3.215 billion prescriptions, or about 11.5 prescriptions per person.(3)

    · On a retail basis, between 1995 and 2003, prescription sales increased from an average of $274 per person to $725 per person, an increase of 165 percent.(3)

    · Drug spending in the Unites States rose 11 percent in 2003 to $180 billion.(4)

    · Retail prescription prices have increased an average of 7.4 percent a year from 1993 to 2003, more than double the average inflation rate of 2.5 percent.(5)

    · Co-payments for brand name drugs that have generic equivalents jumped 62 percent to $26 in 2003 from $16 in 2000, while generics rose to an average of $9. (5)

    · Doubling of co-payments for prescription drugs results in a 10 to 12 percent reduction in use of medications for chronic disease conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.(6)

    · Between 1995 and 2002, the average increase for drug expenditures was 15 percent higher than for any other type of health expenditure.(7)

    While those numbers are massive and “impressive,” it’s hard for the average American to really get their minds around them. So here’s a peak at how you may be directly affected:

    · In 2004, employer health insurance premiums increased by 11.2 percent - nearly four times the rate of inflation. The annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $10,000. The annual premium for single coverage averaged $3,695.(9)

    · The premiums for employer-based health insurance rose by 11.2 percent in 2004, the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases. All types of health plans - including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs) and point-of-service plans (POS) demonstrated double-digit increases.(9)

    · The annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for a health plan covering a family of four averaged $9,950, or $829 a month in 2004. Workers contributed $2,661, or 10 percent more than they spent in 2003. For single coverage, workers contributed an average of $558 toward the $3,695 annual premium.(9)

    · Health insurance premiums will rise to an average of more than $14,500 for family coverage in 2006.(10)

    · National surveys show that the primary reason people are uninsured is because health insurance coverage is too expensive.(11)

    · Almost 50 percent of the American public says they are very worried about having to pay more for their health care or health insurance, while 42 percent report they are very worried about not being able to afford health care services. (12)

    · A recent study by Harvard University researchers found that the average out-of-pocket medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy is $12,000. The study noted that 68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. In addition, the study found that 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses. (12)

    · One half of workers in the lowest-compensation jobs and one-half of workers in mid-range-compensation jobs either had problems with medical bills in a 12-month period or were paying off accrued debt. One-quarter of workers in higher-compensated positions also reported problems with medical bills or were paying off accrued debt.(13)

    1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. http://www.cms.hhs.gov/media/press/release.asp?Counter=1314

    2. Pear, R.. “U.S. Health Care Spending Reaches All-Time High: 15% of GDP.” The New York Times, 9 January 2004,

    3. Statistical Abstract of the United States. U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/statistical-abstract-us.html; http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/health.pdf

    4. Smith, C., C. Cowan, A. Sensenig and A. Catlin. “Health Spending Growth Slows in 2003.” Health Affairs 24:1 (2005): 185-194.

    5. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation. Prescription Drug Trends 2004. 25 October 2004.

    6. RAND. Cost Sharing Cuts Employers’ Drug Spending but Employees Don't Get the Savings 2002.

    7. National Center for Health Statistics. Trends in the Health of Americans. Hyattsville, Maryland 2004.

    8. California Health Care Foundation. Health Care Costs 101 -- 2005. 02 March 2005

    9. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Employee Health Benefits: 2004 Annual Survey. September 2004

    10. Simmons, H. E. and M. A. Goldberg. Charting the Cost of Inaction. National Coalition on Health Care, May 2003

    11. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Uninsured: A Primer, Key Facts About Americans without Health Insurance. 10 November 2004

    12. Appleby, J., “More Insured Workers Unable to Pay Medical Bills,” USA Today, 29 April 2005

    13. The Commonwealth Fund. Wages, Health Benefits, and Workers' Health. Issue Brief, October 2004.


    Isn't it time to revisit the case for Universal Health Coverage?






    Sunday, October 23, 2005

    MIERS' BRAND OF ETHICS

    Miers family received 'excessive' sum in land case


    Knight Ridder Newspapers

    WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers collected more than 10 times the market value for a small slice of family-owned land in a large Superfund pollution cleanup site in Dallas where the state wanted to build a highway off-ramp.

    The windfall came after a judge who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Miers' law firm appointed a close professional associate of Miers and an outspoken property-rights activist to the three-person panel that determined how much the state should pay.

    The resulting six-figure payout to the Miers family in 2000 was despite the state’s objections to the "excessive” amount and to the process used to set the price. The panel recommended paying nearly $5 a square foot for land that was valued at less than 30 cents a square foot.

    Mediation efforts in 2003 reduced the award from $106,915 to $80,915, but Miers, who controls the family’s interest in the land, hasn’t reimbursed the state for the $26,000 difference, even after Bush appointed her to the Supreme Court.

    The case raises new questions about Miers’ judgment at a time when her nomination is troubled by doubts about her qualifications for the nation’s highest court and accusations that she was chosen mostly because of her close friendship with President Bush.

    Nothing indicates that Miers sought out the judge or engineered the appointments to the panel, but there’s also no indication that she reported the potential conflicts of interest in the case or tried to avoid them.

    Supreme Court justices, unlike other government officials, define potential conflicts of interest for themselves and are responsible for policing their own ethics.

    “If Harriet Miers is confirmed, she’ll be entrusted to make a large number of un-reviewable decisions about which cases to sit on,” said Doug Kendall, the executive director of the Community Rights Counsel, a public-interest law firm in Washington. Kendall said the fact that Miers raised no red flags in the face of “clearly disturbing facts” in the land condemnation case doesn’t say much for her ethical acumen.

    Through a White House spokesperson who declined to be identified, Miers said that she considers the case a “straightforward condemnation matter.”

    Even though Miers was the president of her law firm, the spokesperson said, she didn’t know the specifics about the firm’s campaign contributions to the judge, which were handled through its political action committee.

    She also said that the money her family must repay the state is being held in an account in her mother’s name. The funds will be released when the settlement papers are finalized.

    The land is owned by Miers’ mother, Sally. But court documents granted Harriet Miers authority to represent her mother’s interests in the case, and all the paperwork was sent to Miers’ law office.

    The condemnation case in Dallas began in April 1999, after the Miers family rejected the state’s initial offer of $5,900 for a half-acre of their land and a subsequent offer of $27,000.

    The land, at the corner of North Westmoreland Road and Interstate 30 in west Dallas, was one of several parcels that Miers’ father purchased in the area after World War II. The market value for the entire 18.74-acre lot, according to state tax records, was $244,890. It is vacant and brush-covered.

    The state wanted to build an off-ramp from I-30 onto Westmoreland Road and needed the northeast corner of the Miers’ lot to do it.

    Texas law says that in condemnation cases, a judge must appoint three “disinterested” special commissioners to hear evidence, determine the “injury or benefit” of the state’s action to the property owner, and rule on what, if anything, the state should pay for the property.

    But there was an accumulation of shared interests - dating back years - among several of the parties that assembled in state District Judge David Evans’ courtroom to settle the Miers’ case.

    Campaign finance reports in Dallas show that Miers’ law firm, Locke Purnell Rain & Harrell, had contributed at least $5,000 to Evans’ political campaigns between 1993 and 2001. That included a $3,000 contribution in 1998, the year before the Miers’ condemnation case appeared in Evans’ court.

    Evans declined repeated requests for an interview. “He has too many things he has to do. … He just wouldn’t have time right now,” said his court coordinator, John Warren.

    One of the three commissioners whom Evans appointed to hear the case was Peggy Lundy, a close professional friend and political ally of Miers.

    Lundy is listed among Miers’ “personal friends” by a conservative interest group, Progress for America, which supports her nomination to the high court.

    “Mrs. Lundy’s late husband, Judge Nick Lundy of Dallas, attended Southern Methodist University Law School with Harriet Miers and they have known each other for years,” the group said in an Oct. 3 press release.

    In an interview Thursday, Lundy said she and Miers worked closely together on a commission set up to restructure Dallas’ municipal court system.

    “That’s where I got to see her up close and see how terrific she is,” Lundy said.

    Lundy said the work on the judicial commission inspired her to become active in judicial campaigns in the 1990s, work that led her to call frequently on Miers for advice about candidates. “I had a nice, professional relationship with her.”

    Lundy said that she recruited Evans to run for judge and served as the treasurer of his first campaign and as an adviser to several others. She said she didn’t remember whether Miers ever gave her advice about Evans.

    Evans also appointed one of his campaign contributors, Cathie Adams, to work on Miers’ case. At the time, she was president of the Dallas Eagle Forum, a politically active conservative organization that touts its “pro-family movement.”

    Adams said in an interview on Thursday that she believes Evans picked her as a commissioner because of her strong views against the government’s “taking of land.”

    “I don’t like it,” she said of condemnation, or eminent domain, proceedings. Such cases should be “rare,” Adams added, and only if the government is willing to pay a stiff price.

    Adams said that she first met Miers in 1989, when Miers ran for Dallas City Council, and she had several inconsequential dealings with her during her two-year term on the council.

    The two women have never been political allies, however, and Adams said that she and other conservatives feel “betrayed” by Bush for choosing Miers for the Supreme Court.

    Lundy, Adams and another commissioner, Patricia Calderon, who couldn’t be reached for comment, made their decision on Oct. 13, 1999, declaring that the Miers family should be paid $106,915 for the half-acre they were ceding to the state.

    The state objected to that award, saying it was “excessive” and that the panel hadn’t used “the proper measure of damages” in determining the amount to be paid.

    Eventually, the state reached a settlement with the Miers family over the lot, agreeing in 2003 to reduce the amount by about $26,000.

    But Scott Young, the Dallas lawyer who represented the Miers family in the case, never signed the settlement papers, and Miers never repaid the difference.

    “I don’t know why … it has been as long as it has,” Young said. And, he said, “the state hasn’t been pressing us” for the money.

    Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said the state hasn’t complained about the delay in the reimbursement because Sally Miers had “insisted” that her daughter look over the mediation agreement papers before signing them.

    Kelley also said the state had no knowledge of the two commissioners’ prior relationships with Miers and the judge.

    “The judge appointed the commissioners. Our attorneys here … had no knowledge of the commissioners one way or another and assumed it would be a fair hearing,” Kelley said.

    Commercial real estate experts in the area say the nearly $107,000 awarded in court for the land was unusually high.

    “Industrial land in that area is generally sold around one or two dollars per square foot,” said George Roddy, the owner of Roddy Informational Services, which has researched commercial real estate in Texas for 35 years. “That’s closer to five dollars per square foot.”

    One 3.8-acre parcel a few miles east sold for $2.07 per square foot in 1999, Roddy said. Another lot in the area sold for no more than $2 per square foot, he said.

    Roddy added that the Miers property’s assessed market value is a strong indicator of its worth. At $244,890 for 18.74 acres, the land was assessed at about 30 cents per square foot.

    “Assessed values tend to be pretty accurate, within about 10 or 20 percent depending on the county,” Roddy said.

    The market value of the Miers’ land may have been depressed because it is located within a federal Superfund site that had been contaminated by an old lead smelter. The smelter crushed and recycled batteries - and spewed toxic lead dust on surrounding properties - for 50 years until it closed in 1984.

    The Miers’ property is about a mile away from the site of the smelter, which has since been torn down. An Environmental Protection Agency map shows that the Miers land is within the 14-square-mile site’s boundaries, but records available Friday didn’t indicate whether there is contamination on the parcel.

    Lundy, the Miers associate who helped evaluate the land’s value for the court, said the panel based the value on “how it was appraised” and because of potential redevelopment of the area. “It was valuable,” Lundy said.

    Lundy said she didn’t know until she received the papers explaining the case that it involved Miers’ mother. “I looked and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I think this is Harriet’s mother,’” Lundy said.

    But she saw no conflict in continuing to do the work.

    “I wasn’t the arbiter. I was just one of three,” Lundy said. “I mean, everybody knows who Harriet Miers is.”

    (Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Alison Young and researchers Marcia Melton and Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.)

    Miers' land had liens

    Court nominee had to reimburse Texas city for failing to clear weeds, debris from vacant lots


    WASHINGTON BUREAU

    October 16, 2005

    WASHINGTON -- The year Harriet Miers began work as a senior presidential aide in the White House, the city of Dallas slapped three liens in three months on a property she controls in a low-income minority Dallas neighborhood, records show.

    The city placed the liens in 2001 to force her to reimburse it for clearing the vacant lot of tall grass, weeds and debris after Miers failed to have the work done herself, as required by city law, and after she did not respond to city notices to maintain the property.

    It wasn't the first time the city had to take action - records show that since Miers assumed power of attorney for her elderly, ailing mother in 1995, the city has issued seven other liens on vacant lots that Miers controls in the same area around Tipton Park.

    All 10 liens, totaling less than $2,000, have been paid off, a city spokesman said.

    But the failure of Miers, a former Dallas City Council member, to comply with city law and her slow response in reimbursing the city run counter to her image as a meticulous, detail-oriented attorney who is always well prepared.

    That image is undergoing intense scrutiny now that President George W. Bush has nominated Miers, his former personal attorney, to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

    Bush's selection of Miers has drawn harsh criticism by many activists on the right, who question her conservative credentials and her legal qualifications to be on the high court.

    The White House appeared to be caught off guard by questions about the liens and the properties, initially unaware of Miers' responsibility for them.

    After looking into the issue, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday that Miers had control of the properties, which technically are owned by her mother Sally, who is in a skilled nursing facility.

    "The issues were resolved to the city's satisfaction," Perino said. "She has great respect for the city and its process." She added, "For the last several years they have had a contractor handling the maintenance."

    Miers' financial disclosure filings list ownership of only two properties, her home in a fashionable north Dallas neighborhood and a vacant lot in the Tipton Park area.

    But records show Miers has been the attorney of record for her mother's properties since 1973 and has held power of attorney for her mother since 1995.

    The undeveloped housing lots are among the remnants of the real estate business that her father, Harris W. Miers, built in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s in the black and Latino Tipton Park area, where now more than half live in poverty.

    In anticipation of a post-World War II real estate boom, Harris Miers bought many of the lots, which range from 55 x 180 feet to 70 x 266 feet, on contract. He bought in the hardscrabble area even before it was a part of Dallas, in the belief that the city would grow west, toward Fort Worth. But it didn't - it grew north.

    Harris Miers suffered a debilitating stroke in 1963, and his wife served as his guardian and managed and sold properties to keep the family going. When he died in 1973, he left 36 properties - nearly all of them around Tipton Park - worth $271,500 to his wife, court records show.

    Harris Miers' stroke had a deep impact on Harriet Miers, forcing her to become a scholarship student at Southern Memphis University in Dallas and influencing her career choice as an attorney because lawyers helped the family so much.

    But the vacant lots he left behind also have created problems for her.

    In 1989, as she was preparing to run for Dallas City Council, the city placed a lien on a property she owned in the Tipton Park area. She paid off the lien and later sold the property.

    In 1990, as a City Council member, Miers was barred from voting or participating in a $118 million public housing desegregation lawsuit because the city attorney said she had a conflict of interest: she and her mother owned lots near a housing development that would benefit from the proposed settlement.

    Since 1995, the city has placed liens on three of Miers' properties: three on 3423 Bernal Dr. in 2001, one on 3552 Toronto St. in 2000 and six on the connected 3439-3443-3447 Bickers St. property in 1996, 1997 and 1999, city and county records show.

    The liens on the properties have been paid off, but the city has no record of the dates, amounts, who paid them or how they did it, said Celso Martinez, a spokesman for the city.

    Martinez said the city law is necessary for health and safety reasons, to keep vermin from flourishing and to avoid creating hide-outs for crime.

    City records show that the city's costs were usually reimbursed within months of the liens being put on the lots. But one 1997 lien was not paid off until 2002, two months after the city turned over the debt to a collection agency.

    That debt was for the Bickers Street lots, across the street from an elementary school.

    Lewis Simpson, 64, who lives on Bickers Street, said he could not recall anyone cutting the grass before this year. Now, he said, "A guy comes out about every two weeks with a tractor. He started coming out about six months ago."

    Lifelong west Dallas resident and former community activist Luis Sepulveda, now a justice of the peace, said he was surprised to hear Miers had not taken care of her properties.

    "I'm forced to do that. So is she," he said. "If it's not done, shame on her."

    The impact could extend beyond that Dallas neighborhood.

    "The Bush administration has been trying to sell Miers as an extremely competent religious conservative," said Jeffrey Segal, a Supreme Court expert at Stony Brook.

    "Nobody is buying the religious conservative argument," he said, "so if the super-competent argument doesn't hold, they don't have anything to justify the nomination."

    Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.