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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bonus Taxes

According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the United States spent $48 billion for Iraq in 2003, $59 billion in 2004, and $81 billion in 2005. The center predicts the figure will balloon to $94 billion for 2006. That equates to a $1,205 bill for each of America's 78 million families, on top of taxes they already pay.
-Casey Sweet

Plain Incompetence and Corruption

Tuesday, April 25th the House Government Reform Subcommittee sponsored a hearing of the Iraq Reconstruction. It was lead by subcommittee chairs Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). The major panel member was the US Comptroller General, David Walker with some input by GAO personnel, Joseph Christoff. Most of the questioning revolved around the accountability for reconstruction in Iraq and corruption. It was no surprise that 1 republican participated and 3 or 4 democrats.

The Comptroller appeared to want to share facts and not spin and was very candid in his opinions. If only there could be more hearings like these, though a little more bi-partisan participation would be desirable. Some points Mr. Walker personally made:

-We have serious contract problems all through the defense department and not just with Iraq.
-(Rep Shays asked – you say corruption is huge?) I looked at the data (much of it classified) and it was quickly obvious that there was massive corruption. No specific estimate, but very material.
-Too many government contracts pay for effort and not performance (a point he made repeatedly). We need to improve our contract arrangements to be clear on what we want them to do because poor contract performance is a major factor not a minor one.
-There has been a tremendous amount of waste and mismanagement with serious systemic problems that neither the executive nor congressional branches have taken action on. Defense dept paid out 91% of incentive and award fees regardless of results (which Mr. Walker found appalling). Neither the executive nor congressional branches have held the Department of Defense accountable for years. (One representative even agreed and criticized the House for avoiding their oversight responsibility.)
-The defense dept. has relied on KBR (Halliburton subsidiary) for many years and there are not many other options. If taxpayers are not getting the value they deserve, we should find other options.
-In one instance, Halliburton was warned by geologists that a project was tragically flawed. Halliburton proceeded anyway and spent $75 million on the project before recognizing what the geologists warned was correct and then curtailed the project. “Plain incompetence and wholly inadequate transparency.”
-There has been a problem in planning and execution. For example regarding health facilities being build in Iraq, we are going to run out of money before we complete them or have to build fewer. There is not going to be enough money and additional money is going to be necessary.
-Because of decisions made in the past we created more problems for ourselves.
-We disbanded Iraq’s military, police, and border control and left the 24 million people in Iraq defenseless.
-Dept of Defense did not even have people on the ground in Iraq until recently when they started putting people into surrounding areas when their absence was criticized.
-(Rep. Chris Van Hollen D-Maryland – asked, Are we still contracting interrogation services?) That fell under interagency contract services. Congress has passed a number of reforms in contracting areas which has had positive and negative results. There is less paperwork and these flexibilities have resulted in some of these problems in high risk areas (interrogation).

Rep. Shays went on to request a list of companies that the Comptroller felt should be investigated and indicated their subcommittee would pursue an investigation. Let’s see if this happens, though the sincerity of Rep. Shays seemed to suggest he would pursue investigations.

-Casey Sweet

Bush's Big Oil

In a new "talk tough but do nothing" stance, President "G"lobal "W"arming Bush has called for an inquiry into gas gouging right here in the United States.

Isn't having an oil man call for an investigation into the oil companies a lot like having Enron investigate itself or letting polluters police themselves?

What? We did that, too?

Let's face facts, rising gas priced help only one group of people: the gas companies. Isn't a half-billion dollar retirement package enough for the soon-to-be ex-chairman of MobilExxon, Lee Raymond, to parachute on off with? Gas prices rising, some might say, is simply good business as we come into the summer months of vacations and family visits. They would call it the story of supply and demand. I call it thievery.

During the winter months the home heating oil companies raise their prices so grandma and grandpa can only afford to heat their homes, eat, or purchase their medicine. Maybe they can pull through two out of the three. In the summer, it's the American middle class, which is the heart and soul of the American economy, that is pinched. How many of you will be able to afford that same trip you took just six short summers ago? I know my plans are a-changing.

Even just a few years ago, I was able to afford to take my family on a cruise. Taking advantage of late-in-the-season pricing, and driving to Florida (from New Jersey) instead of flying, the trip fit into our budget. (We planned to spend no more than $3,000 for a week's vacation. The grand total was just over $2,700.) Today, due to the price of fuel for my car (or the higher airline fares that result from higher jet fuel prices) and the increased cost of the ship's fuel, we won't be taking that trip. I wonder how many Americans can afford a "nice vacation" this year? Maybe the old pool in the backyard and a few hot dogs on the barbeque will have to do.

The travel industry looks to the summer for its revenue. Just ask the residents of places like Cape Cod, MA; Wildwood, NJ; Virginia Beach, VA; and Myrtle Beach, SC how important summer travel is to them. (Notice how I picked 2 Blue States and 2 Red States - Clever, no?) There is no life in these places for these people without travel and tourism in June, July and August.

"We'll deal with them."
-Bush, "talking tough" to the gas companies regarding gouging and price manipulation

Sounds good, huh? Not really. GW's "plan" is to "relax" the pollution standards by suspending environmental rules on gasoline. Just how is that "punishing" the gas thieves? The logic is that if the refineries can produce more gas, that will ease the burden on our nation's gas supply. If we ease the burden on our nation's gas supply, it create lower prices at the pumps. So much for his putting the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department on "alert", as he had done just hours earlier.

Realize this: We are in a global war for gasoline with all of the other oil consuming nations on the planet. We can refine all the oil we want, but that still doesn't lessen the price of crude that the energy companies are paying for it. in fact, according to the laws of supply and demand, when an item is in limited supply, making it more available will raise its price, not lessen it because of its dwindling supply. In short, the more gas we use, the less gas will be available and the more the remaining gas will cost. Got it?

By "relaxing" or "suspending" the gas refining laws, all GW has accomplished is to dirty our air and offer the polluters another avenue for profit without regard for the environment. The only situation where increasing the production of gasoline is beneficial is when there is a gasoline shortage. This is not the problem, at least not at present. Today, gas prices are higher for 2 reasons and 2 reasons only:
1- Because crude oil is being manipulated by "those who can" to record highs, unchecked by a willing Bush administration
2- Because it's summer and they are being allowed to get away with it

"What happen to Iraq oil, Mr. President? You said Iraqi oil would pay for the war. Ain't seen no money. Ain't seen no oil,"
-Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Senator Mikulski is right. Remember that one of Bush's stated "benefits" of the war in Iraq was the availability of the Iraqi oil reserves to our nation.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) had a better idea: Suspending the gas tax for awhile. Unfortunately it isn't a much better idea. All that does is take money from our tax revenues while still allowing the oil companies their huge profits. Besides, once these oil company thieves see the prices at the pump going down, for any reason, they will raise their prices knowing that the American consumer will still only look at the bottom line which they are paying. "Look, Ma... The price is down from $3.00 to $2.95. That GW Bush sure knows what he's a-doin', don't he?" Of course, that price reduction will all be extra profit to the oil companies. (Can we call them oil barons yet?)

And, let's remember this: Once you remove a tax it isn't easy to get the American public to agree to pay it again.

"Our addiction to oil is a matter of national security concerns. After all, today we get about 60 percent of our oil from foreign countries. That's up from 20 years ago, where about 25 percent of our oil came from foreign countries."
-GW to the Renewable Fuels Association

All the more reason to end or dependence on foreign oil. Brazil, a nation of roughly 100 million people, doesn't import one drop of oil. Instead, they are using their sugar crops for fuel, much in the same way GW touted "switch grass" as an energy source. Switch grass aside, our nation actually pays farmers not to grow corn, where our ethanol could actually come from.

"Everything you can make from a barrel of oil you can make from a bushel of corn."
-Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), referring to successful trials for alternative fuels (like ethanol), on the Ed Schultz Show, July 14, 2005

In fact, Senator Harkin and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) introduced the Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act last year which would require "require all U.S. marketed vehicles to be manufactured as Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) within ten years", according to Gristmill online. It would be a step in the right direction if it were given a word or two in the newspapers or on the corporate-owned airwaves. Even Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) had joined in later to co-sponsor the bill.

Remember that Bush's budget stripped the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of $28 million and it had to reduce its staff by 32 people. Just how are we going to become energy independent when President Bush stops the funding necessary to research renewable fuels? (That was a rhetorical question, boys and girls.)

This is all a ploy to remove environmental standards while opening up our coastlines and ANWR (Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge) to "exploration" and to put what's left of the middle class cash in the pockets of Bush's ultra-rich "base" of "have and have-mores".


There is no plan to remove our dependence on oil, foreign or domestic" by the Bush administration

The policies and ineptness of the Bushites are killing the one thing that the conservatives, traditionally, used to try and save: Real US Industry. Their definition of US Industry, it seems, is any company that has given money to a "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party representative, is represented by the "legalized bribers, the "K" Street project lobbyists and/ or has an ex-crony on its board. Global priorities in the form of unlimited profits are all that this group in DC are concerned about. And if it means the destruction of the American economy and the American middle class, they seem to feel, it is so much the better.

-Noah Greenberg

In response to "Viva La Resistance!", a gas company punishment boycott idea, Sean (Mr. Blue-Sky) writes:

This year's litany of complaints about gasoline prices is a re-run of the same program from years past: Gasoline prices in the USA are too high; gasoline is a unique commodity whose price isn't subject to the usual market forces of supply and demand; OPEC and greedy American oil companies secretly manipulate the market to keep prices artificially high; and a simple boycott of a couple of brands of gasoline will rectify all this.

Oil companies can manipulate their prices somewhat by controlling how much gasoline they produce and where they sell it, but they can't alter the basics of supply and demand: prices go down when people buy less of a good, prices go up when people buy more of a good, and prices go way up when demand outstrips available supply. The "gas out" schemes that propose to alter the demand side of the equation by shunning one or two specific brands of gasoline for a while won't work, however, because they're based on the misconception that an oil company's only outlet for gasoline is its own branded service stations. That isn't the case: gasoline is a fungible commodity, so if one oil company's product isn't being bought up in one particular market or outlet, it will simply sell its output to (or through) other outlets:

Economics Prof. Pat Welch of St. Louis University says any boycott of "bad guy" gasoline in favor of "good guy" brands would have some unintended (and unhappy) results.

. . . Welch says the law of supply and demand is set in stone. "To meet the sudden demand," he says, "the good guys would have to buy gasoline wholesale from the bad guys, who are suddenly stuck with unwanted gasoline."

So motorists would end up . . . paying more for it, because they'd be buying it at fewer stations.

And yes, oil companies do buy and sell from one another. Mike Right of AAA Missouri says, "If a company has a station that can be served more economically by a competitor's refinery, they'll do it."

Right adds, "In some cases, gasoline retailers have no refinery at all. Some convenience-store chains sell a lot of gasoline — and buy it all from somebody else's refinery."
A boycott of a couple of brands of gasoline won't result in lower overall prices. Prices at all the non-boycotted outlets would rise due to the temporarily limited supply and increased demand, making the original prices look cheap by comparison. The shunned outlets could then make a killing by offering gasoline at its "normal" (i.e., pre-boycott) price or by selling off their output to the non-boycotted companies, who will need the extra supply to meet demand. The only person who really gets hurt in this proposed scheme is the service station operator, who has almost no control over the price of gasoline.

The only practical way of reducing gasoline prices is through the straightforward means of buying less gasoline, not through a simple and painless scheme of just shifting where we buy it. The inconvenience of driving less is a hardship too many people apparently aren't willing to endure, however.

"G"reed "O"ver "P"eople

"Democrats, take heed. It's time to talk straight to the American people. The modern Republican Party can best be summed up as devoted to lying and spying while others do the dying. All in the service of greed and bleed, of money and war."
-SusanG as posted on The Daily Kos

April 29th NYC. Time to be as mad as hell and don't take it anymore.

-Robert Scardapane

In response to "According to Secretary Leavitt, sick Americans are the problem with health care costs today. His logic was that Americans aren't taking care of themselves, therefore there are more Americans who are sick. Mr.. Leavitt feels that diet and exercise are the cure-alls that we need to cure the health care crisis.," Rhian writes:

-No national health care plan is going to be able to function as long as the FDA, and the pharmaceutical companies are swindling Americans for prescription drugs.
-No national health care plan is going to be able to function as long as doctors charge the exorbitant fees they expect.
-No national health care plan is going to be able to function as long as hospitals charge $5.00 for a single tissue, and literally thousands for each piece of hermetically sealed plastic they use to treat every patient.
-There is no group of people more involved in greed, including politicians, than medical professionals.
-Finally, there is no health care plan that can function in a system where the bottom line for services, for charges and for treatment is the consideration of medical malpractice lawsuits.

The huge costs of health care in the nation are for one root reason and that is


Guilty are the doctors, the universities who train the doctors, the insurance companies, the FDA, the pharmaceutical corporations, hospital administrators who shortstaff nursing personnel, and the protective groups that doctors organize into. Also greedy are the attorneys who do bring malpractice lawsuits to court, and doctors who send assistants to do things the doctors should be doing, which is usually a situation of a malpractice lawsuit looking for a place to happen.

National health care plans are doomed, as long as the basis of the practice of medicine in the US is rooted in the consideration of potential medical malpractice lawsuits.

The terminally ill, the aging population, the catastrophic attack and/or injury cannot be blamed. It is the not the profile of patients that is causing medical costs to soar in this nation. It is the same thing that is making gas prices soar. It is the same thing that is making the tax burden on the people of this nation. From health care to oil, to political agendas, it is the same. It is the greedy desire of the few (relatively speaking) to take the most, from the most. They use risk management, they use lawsuits, they use personal power techniques, they use each other, but it is all the same game. One man wants everyone's resources, for himself. Greed. Bush plays it globally on third world countries, CEO's play it locally on investors, the medical profession plays it on the sick, and injured and while there are many individual doctors and nurses who do a lot of good to individual patients, the profession, taken as a whole, is the biggest vulture in our society. They swing on those who cannot swing back.

In response to "This just fits in with the strategy of avoiding responsibility that makes these elitist ultra-rich Bush 'base' of 'have and have-nots' ,who have overtaken common sense and fair play in the post-millennium United States," Robert Scardapane writes:

These Rethuglican creeps preach the "gospel" of personal responsibility to working/middle class Americans but never take responsibility for their own failures. They want us to believe that working people are the reason for high medical costs. Supposedly we are all lazy and dumb so they must outsource our jobs. Yet, these "masters of universe" can not admit the simple truth that they created monumental failures such as Enron. Throw them in jail.

Today's Quote

"These groups, in the name of religion, justify such acts in which innocent people are killed,"
-Hassan Naboulsi, a supporter of Hezbollah, regarding the bombing on the Siani Penninsula which killed mainly Muslims

A member of Hezbollah, a group that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and a group that target Israeli civilians, no cares about "innocent civilians". I still remember the reaction of many in the Muslim world on September 11, 2001 on the deaths of American "Innocent Civilians". The question I have for Hezbollah is "Do we count?"

And as a note, isn't it something that when these Muslim extremists attacked this Egyptian vacation resort, the nation that offers help in the form of ambulances and medical experts is Israel. Due to the good works done in the 1970's by President Jimmy Carter (D), Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, these two neighbors now get to put their differences aside and offer help to each other in times of crisis. I don't see Hezbollah attempting to make any peace in the middle east.

These are horrific attacks, whether they be perpetrated on Egyptians, Israelis, Americans or even Lebanese Hezbollah-supporting citizens. Let's see if we can keep that in mind the next time someone blows up a bomb... anywhere.

-Noah Greenberg

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-Noah Greenberg