Friday, February 01, 2008
Angry at Republican leaders, Chris Thieneman said yesterday that he would end his campaign for Congress, quit the GOP, join the Democrats and support Rep. John Yarmuth in his bid for re-election.
The series of moves came exactly one week after Thieneman, a Jefferson County developer, filed to run for Yarmuth's 3rd District seat, buoyed by his successful campaign last November to kill a proposed library tax in Louisville.
Thieneman's main primary opponent was former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, who is running to regain the 3rd District seat she lost to Yarmuth in 2006.
Since then Thieneman has accused GOP leaders -- including Northup, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Jefferson County Republican Chairman Jack Richardson -- of conspiring to get him out of the race to assure Northup of the nomination.
Thieneman made yesterday's announcements on WHAS radio. He acknowledged that his decision to leave the race and the GOP was "sour grapes against the establishment. I'll go back and fight my community fights. … I like that much better."
He did not respond to telephone or e-mail messages left for him later yesterday by The Courier-Journal.
McConnell, Northup and Richardson have all denied pressuring Thieneman to get out of the race.Read the rest here:
"Derp.... They Took Our Jobs!" - Barack Obama says Immigrants are being Scapegoated. And he's right.
Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment tonight on Countdown was yet another scathing rebuke of President Bush and his lies about the pending FISA legislation and fear tactics during his final State of the Union address earlier this week. Bush has said repeatedly he would veto any FISA legislation that did not include immunity for the telecommunications companies who broke the law and betrayed the American people. However, as Keith points out, if the president were to veto the legislation and there was another terrorist attack inside the U.S., he, and he alone would be responsible for it — all in the name of protecting huge corporations over the American people he was charged with protecting.
Sorry, Mr. Bush. The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month.
Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason… but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.
Transcript below the fold
And finally, as promised, a Special Comment — of FISA and the telecoms.
In a presidency of hypocrisy — an administration of exploitation — a labyrinth of leadership — in which every vital fact is a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma hidden under a claim of executive privilege supervised by an idiot — this one… is surprisingly easy.
President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws… ahead of protecting you from the terrorists.
He has demanded an extension of the FISA law — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.
Congress has given him, and he has today signed a fifteen-day extension which simply kicks the time bomb down the field, and has changed nothing of his insipid rhetoric, in which he portrays the Democrats as ’soft on terror’ and getting in the way of his superhuman efforts to protect the nation… when, in fact, and with bitter irony, if anybody is ’soft on terror’ here… it is Mr. Bush.
In the State of the Union Address, sir, you told Congress, “if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger.”
Yet you are willing to weaken that ability!
You will subject us, your citizens, to that greater danger.
This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it — you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists.
Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!
It’s bad enough, sir, that you are demanding an ex post facto law which would clear the phone giants from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive, and blatant collaboration with your illegal and unjustified spying on Americans, under the flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass e-mail.
But when you then demanded again, during the State of the Union address, that Congress retroactively clear the Verizons and the AT&T’s, you wouldn’t even confirm that they actually did anything for which they deserved to be cleared!
“The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America.”
Don’t you know?
Does the endless hair-splitting of your presidential fine print, extend even here?
If you, sir, are asking Congress, and us, to join you in this shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism — the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government — you still don’t have the guts to even say the telecom companies did assist you, in your efforts?
Will you and the equivocators who surround you like a cocoon never go on the record about anything?
Even the stuff you claim to believe in?
Of course Mr. Bush is going to say “believed.”
Yes, it sounds dumber than if he had referred to himself as “the alleged president,” or had said today was “reportedly Thursday,” or had claimed “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.
But the moment he says anything else, any doubt that the telecoms knowingly broke the law, is out the window, and with it, any chance that even the Republicans who are fighting this like they were trying to fend off terrorists using nothing but broken beer bottles and swear words couldn’t consent to retroactively immunize corporate criminals.
Which is why the Vice President probably shouldn’t have phoned in to the Rush Limbaugh Propaganda-Festival yesterday.
Sixth sentence out of Mr. Cheney’s mouth: The FISA bill is about, quote, “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.”
Mr. Cheney is something of a loose cannon, of course.
But he kind of let the wrong cat out of the bag there.
Because Mr. Bush — and the corporations he values more than people — didn’t want anybody to verify what Mark Klein says.
Mark Klein is the AT&T whistleblower who appeared on this newscast last November, who explained, in the placid, dull terms of your local neighborhood I-T desk, how he personally attached all of AT&T’s circuits — everything carrying every phone call, every e-mail, every bit of web browsing — into a secure room…
…Room Number 641-A, at the Folsom Street facility in San Francisco — where it was all copied so the government could look at it.
Not some of it; not just the international part of it; certainly not just the stuff some truly patriotic and telepathic spy might be able to divine had been sent or spoken by or to a terrorist.
Every time you looked at a naked picture, every time you bid on eBay, every time you phoned-in a donation to a Democrat.
“My thought was ‘George Orwell’s 1984,’” Mr. Klein told me, reflecting back, “and here I am, being forced to… connect the Big Brother machine.”
You know, Mr. Bush, if Mr. Klein’s “Big Brother Machine” — the one the Vice President conveniently just confirmed for us — if it was of any damn use at all at actually finding anything, you could probably program it to find out who started that slanderous e-mail about Barack Obama.
Use Room 641-A to identify that E–assassin, sir, and I’ll stand up and applaud you.
Yeah, I’m holding my breath on that one, too.
But of course, sir, this isn’t about finding that kind of needle in a haystack. This isn’t even about finding a haystack. This is about scooping up every piece of hay there ever was, and laying the groundwork for the next little job which you have to outsource to AT&T and Verizon.
It was your Director of National Intelligence, Mr. McConnell, letting this one out of the same bag.
The need for Homeland Security to stave off cyber-attacks against the government’s computer networks.
And how do they do that, sir?
By constantly monitoring the internet — the whole internet.
And who actually, physically, does that, Mr. Bush?
Right. The same telecom giants for whom you want immunity — Quickly. So quickly, you wouldn’t believe it.
Because this previous domestic spying, and this upcoming policing of the internet — they may be completely evil, indiscriminate, unlawful. So you have to dress it up, as something just the opposite.
It isn’t evil… it’s “to protect America.”
It isn’t indiscriminate… it’s “the ability to monitor terrorist communications.”
It isn’t unlawful… it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity!
There’s yet another level to this, and here we move from Big Brother… to Sleazy Son.
Mr. Bush’s new Attorney General, Mr. Mukasey, the one who has already taken four different positions on water-boarding, and who may yet tie that record on this subject of telecom immunity — he has a very personal stake in this.
There happens to be a partner in the law firm of Bracewell and Giuliani, named Marc Mukasey. And Bracewell and Giuliani and the Attorney General’s son Marc, just happen to represent… Verizon.
You know, Verizon - Telecom Giant.
And all of a sudden this is no longer just a farce in which “protecting the telecoms” is dressed up for us as, ‘protecting us from terrorist conference calls.’
Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp Family industrial giants by literally re-writing the laws for their benefit.
And we know how that turned out: Alfried Krupp and eleven of his directors were convicted of War Crimes at Nuremburg.
For those of us watching a President demanding this very specific law (the one the Germans had was called the “Lex Krupp”) there is one surprising bit of comfort in all this:
Clearly, Mr. Bush is at his hyperbolic worst here.
Consider how his former chief of staff Andy Card came on and scolded Chris Matthews and me after the State of the Union address.
“The President’s address tonight was very important,” Card said, “because it really was a sobering call to reality for us.
“And the reality is, we have an enemy who wants to hurt us. The primary job of the president to protect us.
“He talked about protecting us. He talked about the needs to have the tools to protect us.”
Indeed, Mr. Bush.
The primary job of any president is to protect us.
Not just those of us who own Internet and Telephone companies — All of us.
And even you, sir, with your intermittent grasp of reality… even with your ego greater than a 100-percent approval rating… even with your messianic petulance — even you could not truly choose to protect the corporations instead of the people.
I am not talking about ethics here. I am talking about blame.
Even if it’s you throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Mr. Bush, it still means we can safely conclude… there is no baby!
This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir.
It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.
Sorry, Mr. Bush. The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month.
Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason… but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.
And if there is one thing we know about you, Mr. Bush, one thing that you have proved time and time again under any and all circumstances, it is that you are never responsible.
"Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living." - Wal-Mart Exec John Tate.
January 31st, 2008 2:30 pm
Clinton Remained Silent As Wal-Mart Fought Unions
Tapes Reviewed by ABC News Show Clinton As a Loyal Company Woman
By Brian Ross, Maddy Sauer and Rhonda Schwartz / ABC News
In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world's largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.
Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.
Wal-Mart's anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton's fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years.
Tate was fond of repeating, as he did at a managers meeting in 2004 after his retirement, what he said was his favorite phrase, "Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living."
Wal-Mart says Tate's comments "were his own and do not reflect Wal-Mart's views."
But Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and other company officials often recounted how they relied on Tate to lead the company's successful anti-union efforts.
An ABC News analysis of the videotapes of at least four stockholder meetings where Clinton appeared shows she never once rose to defend the role of American labor unions.
The tapes, broadcast this morning on "Good Morning America," were provided to ABC News from the archives of Flagler Productions, a Lenexa, Kan., company hired by Wal-Mart to record its meetings and events.
A former board member told ABCNews.com that he had no recollection of Clinton defending unions during more than 20 board meetings held in private.
The tapes show Clinton in the role of a loyal company woman. "I'm always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else," she said at a June 1990 stockholders meeting.
Clinton would not agree to be interviewed on the subject but now says she no longer shares Wal-Mart's values and believes unions "have been essential to our nation's success."
The videotapes do show that Clinton used her role to push for more environmentally friendly policies and better treatment of women.
"We've got a very strong-willed young woman on our board now; her name is Hillary," said Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton at a 1987 stockholders meeting in describing Clinton's role in pushing for more women to be hired in management positions.
Critics say Clinton's efforts produced few tangible results, and Wal-Mart is now defending itself in a lawsuit brought by 16 current and former female employees.
"I don't doubt the sincerity of her efforts, but we don't see much evidence that conditions for women at Wal-Mart changed much during the late 1980s and early 1990s," said Joe Sellers, one of the lawyers suing Wal-Mart on behalf of the women.
Wal-Mart declined to comment to ABC News about the lawsuit, but the company has said previously that it is confident it did not discriminate against female employees.
Sen. Clinton has recently sought to distance herself from Wal-Mart.
In a campaign speech last year in New Hampshire, Sen. Clinton said, "Now I know that Wal-Mart's policies do not reflect the best way of doing business and the values that I think are important in America."
Her Senate campaign returned a $5,000 contribution from a Wal-Mart Political Action Committee, although ABCNews.com discovered another $20,000 in contributions from Wal-Mart executives and lobbyists.
Clinton spokesperson Howard Wolfson said, "There is no basis to return" the money.
According to the New York Times, Sen. Clinton "maintains close ties to Wal-Mart executives through the Democratic Party and the tightly knit Arkansas business community." The May 20, 2007 article also reported that her husband, former President Clinton, "speaks frequently to Wal-Mart's current chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr." and held a private dinner at the Clinton's New York home in July 2006 for him.
President Clinton defended his wife's role on the Wal-Mart board last week after the issue was raised by Sen. Barack Obama in a CNN debate.
His wife did not try to change the company's minds about unions, the former Arkansas governor said.
"We lived in a state that had a very weak labor movement, where I always had the endorsement of the labor movement because I did what I could do to make it stronger. She knew there was no way she could change that, not with it headquartered in Arkansas, and she agreed to serve," President Clinton said.
In a written statement, Clinton spokesperson Wolfson said, "As President, she will fight alongside labor to promote the economic growth of America's middle class." He said Clinton strongly believes Wal-Mart workers should be able to unionize and bargain collectively.
He did not directly respond when asked why she did not quit the board over the conpany's anti-union efforts. "Wal-Mart was Arkansas's largest employer when Sam Walton asked Sen. Clinton to join the board," he said. "As the first woman to join Wal-Mart's board, she worked hard to make it a better corporate citizen."
In its statement, Wal-Mart described Sen. Clinton as "a valuable contributor" who "pushed us to be a better company."
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Edwards is Out. The Punisher Endorses Obama.
Bob Cesca at HuffPo
Posted January 30, 2008 | 08:03 PM (EST)
Last night's non-victory victory rally in Florida underscored everything that's awful and ridiculous about the Clinton-Clinton '08 style. They pledged not to campaign in Florida, yet they campaigned there anyway. The primary was unofficial and no delegates were counted, yet they celebrated with a televised victory rally anyway -- ostensibly to trick some casual viewers and supporters into thinking it was a meaningful win.
Imagine, if you will, the Patriots showing up at U of P Stadium tonight and declaring victory even though they've agreed -- "pledged" if you will -- to play against the Giants on Sunday. It's an easy way to declare victory, albeit equally as cheap, dishonest and artificial.
And to observe Senator Clinton's pledge to seat the Florida delegates while, at that very moment, violating a previous pledge, was to observe a Clintonian paradox in its pristine, natural habitat.
Until today, John Edwards absolutely succeeded in moving the debate a little closer to a progressive posture. And by dropping out, John Edwards has further succeeded in condensing and clarifying the dynamic of the race. Today, this primary campaign has been distilled down to what amounts to Joe Lieberman versus Ned Lamont.
It's now about a competition between a new and inspirational paradigm -- a watershed movement inside the Democratic Party, not to mention a total redrawing the electoral map and an advancing of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy -- versus the shifty, triangulating DLC crap-on-a-stick approach to politics that has, more often than not, made us embarrassed to be Democrats.
And we should be equally as embarrassed by the Clinton approach so far. From the relatively insignificant over-use of poll-speak like "we are sending a clear message" simply because polls indicate that voters like candidates who are "sending a clear message"; to the besmirching of a presidential legacy by shamelessly race-baiting in South Carolina; to that bizarre scene in Florida last night, the Clinton-Clinton de facto ticket has become, dare I say, Lieberman-ish in that it represents a style of doing business that, in any other race, we'd be shredding without mercy or regard to party affiliation.
We know that both of the Democratic candidates have an equally strong chance of winning in November. We know that there's plenty of overlap on the issues. We know that Senator Clinton can recite policy positions just as brilliantly as Senator Obama can induce chills in even the most cynical political junkies. And we know that both candidates will make history. So if it's more or less a tie in those columns, why should we willingly choose to support the Democrat who's cribbing political strategy from Karl Rove's whiteboard?
As such, it's absolutely astonishing that the Democratic race is as close as it is. If a Republican said something like "Jesse Jackson won here twice" or pledged to grab delegates that don't exist we'd be choking on our own tongues as we convulsed and gasped in shock-horror. There's no excuse for forgiving the Rovian games or the DLC calculation. Just because they're The Clintons doesn't make it forgivable. Up until the last two months, I've been an unwavering supporter of President Clinton. He's arguably the second or third greatest president of the 20th Century next to FDR and JFK and he's presently the Most Popular Living Ex-President In The World, but these past couple of months have been seriously painful.
So how has Senator Clinton lasted as long as she has given her campaign's fun & games? Well, for starters, it doesn't hurt that the Most Popular Living Ex-President In The World is serving as her de facto running mate -- using his position as the Most Popular Living Ex-President In The World to publicly rip Senator Obama every day during New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. (Speaking of which, it's worth noting that in New Hampshire Senator Obama came within three percentage points of both Senator Clinton and the Most Popular Living Ex-President In The World. Any other year, that would've been considered a huge win for Obama.)
It also hasn't hurt Senator Clinton's chances that, somewhere along the line, it became de rigueur among some of the top-shelf progressive bloggers to remain neutral.
I understand exactly why they did, but now that it's a two person race, there's no reason why the progressive blogosphere shouldn't get down to endorsing a candidate. And while the endorsements could easily be for either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, they ought to be, by-in-large, endorsements that are consistent with the blogosphere's past activism against Democrats like Joe Lieberman, party machines like the DLC, and political stunts that reek of the current Bush Republican regime.
Now that John Edwards is out, and there's (unfortunately) not a truly "progressive" candidate in the field, there's no reason why the progressive bloggers shouldn't step up and actively support Senator Obama's effort. If the arguments for Senator Obama are framed correctly, supporting his campaign shouldn't be any different or more divisive than actively campaigning for Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman or, presently, campaigning for Donna Edwards over Congressman Al Wynn. And while, unlike Lieberman/Lamont and Edwards/Wynn, the 2008 presidential primary campaign isn't specifically about pro-war versus anti-war candidates, an argument can be made that it really is, since, after all, Senator Clinton vocally supported the invasion...
Even if we were to strike the war from the syllabus, we'd still be left with a choice between a once-in-a-generation, transformational candidate who's running parallel to our collective desire to remake the party, and, on the other side, a candidate who represents a species of Democrat that we've traditionally rejected. If the blogs choose to step out of the way on this one, they're forfeiting an historic role in the most historic presidential election of our time while the antiquated, embarrassing politics of DLC triangulation sneaks on by without a fight.
So yeah okay, there should be a parenthetical in my headline that reads, "(Preferrably Senator Obama.)" But you know, when the dust settles, we'll all come together behind the presumptive nominee and collectively barrel our way past the Bush Republicans to make history in November.
UPDATE - 8:06AM - Thursday: Markos, who has already voted absentee for Senator Obama, addresses the Obama national television spot here. Please read this, Clinton supporters.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Edwards is Out.....Obama is my new choice!
I hereby officially endorse Barack Obama!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
We've Got 99 Problems, But A Human-Animal Hybrid Ain't One
A Look at the Biggest Winners and Biggest Losers Under the Bush Administration
By MicCheck Radio
January 28, 2008
MicCheck Radio is a free, daily radio prep service which combines politics, research, entertainment, and gossip. Our approach paparazzi politics makes filtering today’s news stories fast and fun. Use it to read everything you need to know to sound brilliant, gain instant popularity, and become an instant Washington insider—or at least sound like one. MicCheck Radio is a product of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
As President Bush’s days of power draw to a close, one thing is clear: We’ve got a lot more problems now than we did seven years ago. Here are 99 of them, everything from less money to more war and a planet in crisis. It’s not a comprehensive list, so we have one question for you:
What’s your problem?
Problem: Staggering National Debt
After declining significantly during the 1990s, the combination of expensive Bush tax cuts and reckless spending pushed the national debt from $5.7 trillion in 2001 to $9.2 trillion in 2008. [Department of Treasury]
There are 4.9 million more Americans living in poverty today than there were in 2000. [EPI]
A total of 603,139 Americans filed for bankruptcy in the first three quarters of 2007, a 40.15 percent increase over the same period in 2006. [American Bankruptcy Institute] [Consumer Affairs]
In the third quarter of 2007, there were 635,159 foreclosure filings in the United States. When you crunch the numbers, that’s one foreclosure filing for every 196 U.S. households. That’s 100 percent more than in the same period of 2006. [Daily Herald]
Problem: Credit Card Debt
Today, Americans owe more than $813 billion in credit card debt. Additionally, Americans are falling behind on their credit card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come. [American Progress] [MSNBC]
Problem: High Gas Prices
The average price of a gallon of gas has skyrocketed, from $1.39 a gallon in January 2000 to $3.07 a gallon in January 2007. [Energy Information Administration]
Problem: Freezing Families
In 2008, the average U.S. household will have to spend $986 to heat their homes in winter, up 11 percent from the year before. Millions of the elderly and poor rely on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to heat their homes, yet in 2007, President Bush asked Congress to slash funding for LIHEAP by $379 million. [Associated Press]
According to the USDA, the number of hungry families in the United States rose 26 percent between 2001 and 2006. Worse, the number of families with the least access to enough food rose 32 percent. That’s 1.3 million American families, not including the homeless. [USDA]
Problem: Sorry, We Meant to Say “Low Food Security”
In 2006 the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to sugarcoat the hunger issue by banning the word “hunger” from official documents, replacing it with the more opaque “very low food security.” [Washington Post]
Problem: Small Businesses Struggle
Under the Bush administration, corporate giants like Microsoft and Wal-Mart managed to finagle $12 billion in small business grants from the federal government. Federal law says, based on population, small businesses must receive 23 percent of federal contracts. The government claims at least a quarter of federal contracts are going to help small business owners (small business = one employing fewer than 100 people), but in reality, it’s more like 5 percent. [Globe and Mail]
Problem: Surge Failure
In January 2007, President Bush announced a plan to send a 20,000-troop “surge” to Iraq to quell the violence and provide military cover while the Iraqi government took over the ruling of its own nation. The U.S. military was able to staunch much of the violence in the country—though at the price of 896 American troops killed in 2007—but the Iraqi government remains in chaos. The Iraq Inspector General calls government corruption “the second insurgency,” Parliament rarely is able to get a quorum together to conduct business, and even the Iraqi Minister of Defense says the government will be unable to take over its own security until at least 2012. [Chicago Tribune] [The Guardian]
Problem: Iraq Reconstruction in Shambles
Despite spending $488 billion (so far) on the Iraq war, many of the U.S.-led reconstruction projects in Iraq, fraught with corruption, security problems, and inept contractors, “have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed.” Hospitals, prisons, and police training centers were all abandoned, while the guard-house for the U.S. Embassy became such a toxic fire hazard, they had to evacuate everyone who tried to move in. [Boston Globe] [International Herald Tribune] [National Priorities Project]
Problem: The Taliban’s Resurgence
Today, Al Qaeda along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border is back to pre-9/11 strength. The Taliban increased the number of roadside and suicide bomb attacks in 2007 to the highest level since the war in Afghanistan began. The two groups are flush with money from the Afghanistan opium trade, which “grew by 17 percent in 2007, reaching record levels for the second straight year.” [Mic Check] [USA Today]
Problem: Afghan Women Still Live in Fear
Despite a new constitution that enshrines women’s rights, insufficient resources devoted to the war in Afghanistan mean “the state cannot protect women and ensure that they can go about their work safely.” In some regions controlled by the resurgent Taliban, they “have restricted possible employment, education and health care opportunities for women, often resorting to violence to enforce their edicts.” [Quazen]
Problem: Refusing Iraqi Refugees
The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes quadrupled over 2007, bringing the totals to “2.3 million internally displaced persons within Iraq, and over 2.3 million Iraqis who have fled the country.” The United States took in only 7,000. [CNN]
Health Care Problems
Problem: Expensive and Inefficient Health Care
In 2006, America’s health care costs spiraled to an all-time high of over $2 trillion (or $7,026 per person). In a report by the World Health Organization, America ranks 37th in health care quality, despite spending more per person than any other country in the world. [LA Times] [WHO]
Problem: No Health Insurance
There were 47 million Americans living without health insurance in 2006; that’s 8.6 million more uninsured than there were in 2000. [EPI]
Problem: Government in Bed with Drug Companies
An independent report found that from October 2005 to December 2006, “Food and Drug Administration officials met 112 times with industry representatives but only five times with consumer and patient groups.” According to Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), “the FDA has essentially become the government affairs office of the pharmaceutical industry." [USA Today]
Problem: Medicare Cheats Off the Hook
A 2007 audit by the Government Accountability Office showed private insurance companies pocketed $59 million in overpayments from Medicare that instead should have gone to better benefits and lower co-payments or lower premiums for older Americans. At the same time, the White House a) refused to audit these companies and b) refused to try to recover the missing money. [NY Times]
Problem: Seniors Can’t Afford Their Meds
In April 2007, Bush refused to sign a Senate bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices from pharmaceutical companies. [Reuters]
Problem: Blocked Stem Cell Research
In 2001, Bush placed a federal ban on future funding of embryonic stem cell research, which holds the promise of developing cures for Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other degenerative diseases. In 2006, he used his veto pen for the first time to kill a bill expanding funding for stem cell research. In 2007, he again vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. [Time] [MSNBC] [Time]
Problem: Cheating the Disabled
Social Security’s draconian standards keep even the “severely disabled” from receiving Social Security disability benefits. The source of the problem? A poorly managed agency where there are “doctors making decisions outside their specialties, and inexperienced examiners under pressure to keep costs down.” [CBS]
Problem: Manipulating Access to Health Info
In 2002, the National Cancer Institute posted on their Web site the scientific conclusion that there was no link between abortion and breast cancer. The White House removed the analysis and replaced it with a statement which “erroneously suggested that whether abortion caused breast cancer was an open question with studies of equal weight supporting both sides.” [House Government Oversight]
Problem: Blocking International Efforts
At the beginning of his presidency, Bush blocked the Kyoto Protocol, a landmark global agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions signed by 174 other nations. Then, at the 2007 G8 summit, U.S. negotiators attempted to water down the language of a different international climate change declaration. [USA Today] [Washington Post]
Problem: Sticking Poor Countries with the Bill
Countless reports have said that poor, developing nations will bear the brunt—think: drought, famine, floods, and disease—of climate change. Yet, at the recent climate change talks in Bali, U.S. delegates tried to block a proposal that would require rich nations to do more to help poor nations fight global warming. [Der Spiegel]
Problem: Killing Us with Carbon Emissions
After President Bush pledged a cap on carbon emissions in 2000, President Cheney filled the White House Committee on Environmental Quality with industry representatives. Following their appointment, the group released a report saying “the current state of scientific knowledge about causes of and solutions to global warming is inconclusive” and no caps were needed. [Rolling Stone]
Problem: Killing the Polar Bears
In January of 2008, the Bush administration missed a deadline requiring a final decision on whether to give polar bears—often the poster children of global warming—federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Geological Survey’s September report, meanwhile, found that melting Arctic sea ice could wipe out polar bears in Alaska and kill off two-thirds of the species’ global population. [ABC]
Problem: Destruction of the Alaskan Wilderness
Also in January of 2008, the federal government decided to open up nearly 46,000 square miles off Alaska’s northwest coast to petroleum leases, available in February. Goodbye wildlife, hello oil spills. [AP]
Problem: The EPA vs. California
At the end of 2007, head of the EPA Stephen Johnson denied California’s quest for a waiver from the Clean Air Act to allow the state and up to 17 others to set stricter regulations on automobile pollution. Senate investigators later found EPA scientists and career staffers fought for the EPA to grant California’s waiver. [Kansas City Star] [AP]
Problem: Melting the Arctic Ice
Thanks to global warming, the Arctic Sea ice has decreased nearly 20 percent in the past 20 years. [USA Today]
Problem: Ignoring Civil Rights
The Bush administration changed the civil rights mission of the Justice Department “by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.” [NY Times]
Problem: Affirmative Action Under Siege
Bush has consistently attacked affirmative action policies in higher education, including suing the University of Michigan for taking race into account in its admissions process. [CNN]
Problem: Rolling Back Brown v. Board of Education
A half century ago, with the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ordered the nation’s schools to desegregate. In 2007, with two of President Bush’s Court appointees in the 5-4 majority, the Roberts Court rolled back desegregation, ruling local officials “cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together.” [NY Times]
Problem: African Americans Without Health Care
Since 2000, the percent of African Americans without health insurance has increased from 18.5 percent to 20.5 percent. [Census Bureau]
Problem: Hispanics Without Health Care
In 2006, there were 15.3 million uninsured Hispanics in the United States, an estimated 3.4 million of whom are children. [Census Bureau]
Problem: Disparities in Cancer Treatment
The American Cancer Society finds that, while cancer deaths may be dropping, that statistic does not apply to African Americans. Experts cite inadequate access to quality health care for minorities as one of the main reasons for the tragedy. [Reuters]
Problem: Minorities and Mortgages
Experts are calling the current economic crisis “the greatest loss of wealth for communities and individuals of color in modern U.S. history.” Black and Hispanic homeowners could lose up to $256 billion in the subprime mortgage crisis. [Boston Herald]
Problem: Blocking Immigrants Seeking Citizenship
At the onset of 2007, the Bush administration jacked up immigration fees by more than 80 percent, shooting up the cost of applying for citizenship to $595. Also, today more than 1.4 million legal permanent residents are facing an 18-month delay in their citizenship applications due to administrative backlogs. [Washington Post]
Problem: Toxic Lack of Prosecution of Polluters
Under the current administration, the EPA sharply decreased the prosecution of criminal cases against polluters. New prosecutions, new investigations, and total convictions all plummeted by a third. [Washington Post]
Problem: Toxic Arsenic in Our Drinking Water
In April 2007, Bush waited until Congress went into recess to appoint Susan Dudley to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Dudley, “who made no secret of her hostility toward government regulation,” was a corporate insider who said the EPA “should not value the lives of older people as highly as the lives of younger people when calculating the effect of arsenic in drinking water.” [NY Times] [LA Times]
Problem: Toxic, Mutating Weed Killer in the Water
The White House has fought against regulating the weed killer atrizine, even though the chemical has seeped into U.S. water supplies and created a new mutant breed of hermaphroditic frog. They have no idea what the effect the chemical has on humans besides the higher prostate cancer rate among those men who work around the chemical. [Washington Post]
Problem: Toxic Air at Ground Zero
In September 2001, just days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the White House pressured the EPA to delete warnings from a press release about air quality at Ground Zero and falsely reassure the public that the air was safe to breathe. Later studies show roughly 70 percent of workers from Ground Zero now suffer from respiratory illnesses. [NY Times] [NY Times]
Problem: Toxic Air on the Highways
In November 2007, a federal appeals court threw out the federal government’s fuel efficiency standards for trucks because they were a) too weak and b) broke the law, as they “didn’t properly assess the risk to the environment and failed to include heavier SUVs and trucks, among several other deficiencies the court found.” [MSNBC]
Problem: Testing Pesticides on Kids
The EPA used camcorders to bribe parents into offering up their toddlers as guinea pigs for a study about the dangers of pesticides on children. The study was paid for in part by the chemical industry. [SF Chronicle] [Washington Post]
Problem: A Hobbled National Guard
A congressional report found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had worn down the National Guard so much that almost 90 percent of Army National Guard Units are “not ready ... jeopardizing the Guard's ability to respond to crises at home and abroad.” [Washington Post]
Problem: A Hobbled Marine Corps
In 2007, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, said the strain of the Iraq war was forcing Marines to skip vital combat training that made up the traditional backbone of the Corps. [AP]
Problem: A Hobbled Army
After five long years in Iraq, General George Casey says the Army is “out of balance” after the military strategy in Iraq “sucked all of the flexibility out of the system.” He also said the Army is “so consumed by current operations that we can't do the things we need to do to prepare ourselves organizationally or institutionally.” [Army News] [WSJ]
Problem: Squalid Conditions at Vet Hospitals
In 2007, a Washington Post expose revealed squalid conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, including “mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses” in facilities for injured soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A separate investigation revealed a similar pattern of neglect and “depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country, from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Fort Dix in New Jersey.” [Washington Post] [Washington Post]
Problem: Habeas Corpus Denied
Article One, Section Nine of the United States Constitution states the basic human right of habeas corpus can not be suspended except for cases “of rebellion or invasion.” In September 2006, at President Bush’s urging, the Republican-led Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which stripped terror detainees of this basic right. Thirty-three former U.S. diplomats warned “to deny habeas corpus to our detainees can be seen as prescription for how the captured members of our own military, diplomatic and NGO personnel stationed abroad may be treated.” [LA Times]
Problem: Homeless Veterans
A 2007 study from the National Alliance to End Homelessness found there are nearly 200,000 homeless veterans on America’s streets. Many fought in the Vietnam War, but the Veterans’ Association also found an increasing number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were using VA homeless shelters. [Washington Post]
Problem: Extended Tours in Iraq
In April of 2007, the Bush administration announced that it was extending troop tours from 12 months to 15 months. During these tours, the troops are only allowed a single two-week break to return to their families. [Military.com]
Problem: Veteran Suicides
Fact: Male U.S. veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than people with no military service. Tragedy: A third of returning soldiers seek mental health treatment after returning from combat, but they are welcomed home with military health insurance (TriCare) whose mental health coverage is “hindered by fragmented rules and policies, inadequate oversight and insufficient reimbursement.” [Reuters] [USA Today]
Problem: White House Enables Torture
In January 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agreed with a memo drafted by the Justice Department’s John C. Yoo, suggesting “Mr. Bush should declare the Taliban and Al Qaeda outside the coverage of the Geneva Conventions.” In August 2002, Gonzales signed off on a Justice Department memo stating extreme interrogation techniques on terror suspects abroad “may be necessary,” and dramatically narrows the definition of “torture” to actions “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” [NY Times] [Washington Post]
Problem: Defense Department Enables Torture
In November 2002, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation techniques for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. They included “‘removal of clothing’ and ‘inducing stress by use of detainee’s fears (e.g. dogs)’” and “stress positions.” [USA Today]
Problem: The Horrors at Abu Ghraib
In August 2003, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller was sent from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to the prison at Abu Ghraib to help “get more information out of Iraqi prisoners.” Once there, he encouraged harsh interrogation methods, including the “use of dogs.” Later, once reports of gross abuse at the prison surfaced, Major General Antonio Mario Taguba, in his classified report, “blames Miller’s policies.” Miller then won the “Distinguished Service Medal.” No officers have ever been convicted of a crime concerning the atrocities. [Washington Post] [MSNBC] [Army News]] [USA Today]
Problem: Guantanamo Bay
Since opening its doors in 2004, the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has held—and presumably tortured—more than 500 detainees. The lack of basic legal rights—such as habeas corpus—at Gitmo has been one of the White House’s biggest scandals, and has helped to ruin the U.S. reputation around the world. According to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen: “More than anything else it’s been the image—how Gitmo has become around the world, in terms of representing the United States. ... I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us that it’s been pretty damaging.”[American Progress] [USA Today] [AP]
Problem: Kidnappings and Secret Prisons
The United States is “secretly transferring terror suspects to locations where they have faced torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and indefinite detention without charge.” A 2004 Washington Post report uncovered “an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems.” [Amnesty International] [Washington Post]
Problem: The CIA Torture Tapes
In 2005, lawyers for the CIA gave the green light for the agency to trash hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting the interrogation—and torture—of two lieutenants from Al Qaeda, despite a previous court order requiring the government to keep all materials “regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees” at Guant·namo. The tapes allegedly included waterboarding, a practice the U.S. military has prosecuted as torture since the Spanish American war. [NY Times] [Washington Post] [Washington Post]
Problem: Government Tapping Our Phones
Under the Bush White House, the National Security Agency illegally intercepted phone calls of countless Americans without first obtaining court warrants—a direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Last year, the White House strong-armed a new warrantless wire-tapping bill through Congress that gave Bush even more power—an act that Speaker Pelosi said did “violence to the Constitution.” [Washington Post]
Problem: Government Reading Our Mail, Checking Our Banks
President Bush gave himself the power to read our mail: In 2006, during the Christmas recess, President Bush quietly attached a signing statement to a postal reform bill giving the White House the authority to open U.S. mail without a warrant. The CIA and Pentagon also gave themselves the power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans. [Washington Post] [NY Times] [NY Times]
Problem: Losing the Right to Protest
A Defense Department database, known as the Talon program, was designed to catalogue domestic threats to the Pentagon but included data on anti-war demonstrators and peaceful protestors. [Washington Post]
Power Grabbing Problems
Problem: A Presidency Above the Law
Bush has used signing statements—caveats to bills that presidents tack on when they sign them into law—to amend more than 1,100 sections of legislation. (That’s more than all other presidents combined.) Some of the more controversial signing statements: President Bush gave himself the power to bypass a law requiring the Justice Department to report to Congress about how the FBI uses the Patriot Act to search American homes. In another instance, President Bush gave himself the power to waive the congressional ban on torture. [Boston Globe]
Problem: A Vice Presidency Above the Law
In June 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney announced he did not have to comply with the law requiring members of the executive branch to report to the National Archives on information his office has classified because, according to the vice president, he was not actually part of the executive branch of the government. [Seattle P-I]
Problem: White House Quest for Secrecy
In 2000, the federal government spent $452,807 on contracts for paper shredding services. By 2006, that number skyrocketed to $2.9 million. And what they couldn’t shred, they stonewalled. Since 1998, the number of exemptions to the Freedom Of Information Act cited to support the withholding of information increased 83 percent. Two out of five FOIA requests weren’t even processed by 2006. [USA Spending] [Coalition of Journalists for Open Government]
Problem: Politicized the Office of U.S. Attorneys
After the 2004 presidential election, the Bush administration canned eight U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t play partisan ball even though many of them were working on high-profile corruption cases, and replaced them with political operatives. [NY Times]
Problem: Politicized Executive Branch
At the onset of 2006, GAO queen bee Lurita Doan threw the Hatch Act to the wind and held a video conference with a Karl Rove deputy to discuss ways to help Republican candidates. During the January 2006 meeting, Doan apparently asked J. Scott Jennings, the White House deputy political director how they “could help our candidates in the next elections.” Suggestions included “targeting public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country.” [Washington Post]
Problem: Politicized Scientists
In 2004, White House official Philip Cooney, chief of staff of its Council on Environmental Quality, doctored a report on global warming to downplay scientific warnings. (He now works for Exxon.) In 2006, NASA scientist James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, accused the White House of preventing his research from reaching the public. In October 2007, the administration altered a draft of congressional testimony to be given by Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the negative health implications of climate change. According to a CDC source, her testimony was “eviscerated.” [AP] [NY Times] [Washington Post]
Problem: Pre-War Deception
In the two years after 9/11, Bush and senior administration officials made 935 false statements alleging Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and attempting to connect Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. A non-partisan study by the Center for Public Integrity said they represented “an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” [Center for Public Integrity]
Problem: Outed Covert CIA Agent
Bush administration officials leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, in order to discredit the work of her husband, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, after Wilson exposed the White House was bending the truth on Saddam’s quest for WMD. [NY Times]
Problem: Fake News
The Department of Health and Human Services got caught producing fake “news” segments on the prescription drug benefit that were “sent to TV stations, along with government-prepared scripts for news anchors to read.” In 2005, the Department of Education was discovered paying conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to write columns promoting No Child Left Behind. In October 2007, the Department of Homeland Security staged a fake press conference (complete with staffers posing as reporters) to offer a glowing report of how well they handled the California wildfires. [USA Today] [San Francisco Chronicle]
Problem: Criminals in the White House
Bush’s top procurement official and former chief of staff of the General Services Administration, David Safavian, pleaded guilty in 2006 to lying about his shady dealings with Jack Abramoff, a former Republican lobbyist who showered Washington officials with gifts and dinners in exchange for information and influence. [MSNBC] [Washington Post]
Problem: Kids in Poverty
There are 1.2 million more kids living in poverty today than in 2000. [EPI]
Problem: Kids Without Health Insurance
There are 8.7 million kids in the United States without health insurance (that’s 11.7 percent of all American children.) In 2007, President Bush vetoed SCHIP legislation not once but twice, unwilling to raise taxes on the price of a pack of smokes to add more kids to the program. The president finally signed the legislation to extend the existing program at the end of December 2007, but the new, watered-down bill left 9 million uninsured children without coverage. [Children’s Defense Fund]
Problem: Kids Dying in the South
After years of decline, infant mortality rose sharply in Mississippi and across the south, especially among African-American families. [NY Times]
Problem: Kids with Weight Problems
In 2007, Bush asked Congress to eliminate the preventive health services block grant, “which provided $99 million a year to help states prevent obesity and other chronic conditions.” [NY Times]
Problem: Kids with Brain Damage
In 2004, White House staffers were caught having “deleted or modified information on mercury” from an EPA report to downplay the toxic health effects emissions have on the brains of babies and unborn fetuses. [NY Times]
Problem: Kids Having Kids
Bush spent over $1 billion on the federal financing of “abstinence-only” education which leaves young people without vital sexual health information and has never been shown to “prevent unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.” In 2007, new analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that, for the first time in 14 years, the teen birth rate went up, to 3 percent [CDC] [San Francisco Chronicle]
Problem: Kids Playing with Poisoned Toys
Last year, in the wake of date-rape-drug-filled AquaDots and Elmo dolls laced with lead, the White House-appointee head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nancy Nord, sided with manufacturers and fought against measures in the Senate that would require the toy industry to tell consumers which toys were under investigation or to increase penalties against companies that knowingly violated toy safety laws.[Consumer Affairs]
Problem: Kids on Drugs
The GAO reports that a “$1.4 billion anti-drug advertising campaign conducted by the U.S. government since 1998 doesn’t appear to have helped reduce drug use and instead might have convinced some youths that taking illegal drugs is normal.” Soon after, the White House asked for $120 million more to fund it. [USA Today] [Mic Check]
Gay Rights Problems
Problem: Anti-Gay Surgeon General Nominee
In June 2007, President Bush nominated Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr. to become U.S. Surgeon General. Holsinger’s resume includes founding a church to “cure” homosexuals, penning an infamous paper about the “pathophysiology of male homosexuality” and voting on the United Methodist Church council to allow ministers to keep gay men and lesbians out of their churches. [Washington Post]
Problem: Denying Marriage Equality
In every year of the 109th Congress, President Bush urged lawmakers to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage. (Every year, public opinion wins out and the bill fails.) [MSNBC]
Problem: Perpetuating Workplace Discrimination
In 2007, the House of Representatives passed the landmark Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or ENDA) bill, which seeks to eliminate sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace. This year, the Senate is looking to pass the same bill. The White House, though, has boasted that it’ll veto any version of the bill that crosses its desk. [Washington Blade]
Homeland Security Problems
Problem: Unsafe Trains
President Bush did not act to secure the “thousands of tons of highly toxic chlorine gas [that] travel by rail in the United States.” These cans, if ruptured, could “release a dense, lethal plume for miles downwind, potentially killing or injuring thousands of people.” [American Progress]
Problem: Unsafe Seaports
A study by the Department of Homeland Security found that “serious lapses by private companies at foreign and American ports, aboard ships, and on trucks and trains would enable ... materials or weapons of mass destruction to be introduced.” [AP]
Problem: Unsafe Airports
Airline security is consistently the top complaint of air travelers ... but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. In airport tests, the TSA consistently fails to detect test bombs. In one example, “screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the starting points for the Sept. 11 hijackers, failed 20 of 22 security tests conducted by undercover U.S. agents.” [Seattle Times] [AP]
Problem: An Unmanageable “No-fly List”
Before 9/11, the list of people barred from plane travel in the United States topped out at 16 people. Now, it has over 44,000 names on it, plus an additional 75,000 people who should be pulled over for extra screening. On the list? Dead people, 14 of the deceased 9/11 hijackers, toddlers, a member of the U.S. Senate, and thousands of common names like “Gary Smith, John Williams or Robert Johnson.” [CBS]
Problem: Ignoring Katrina
Although President Bush was notified that the levees had been breached on August 29, 2005 (the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall) it wasn’t until aides made him watch a DVD of news reports on September 2 that the devastation actually “sank in.” New Orleans victims of the hurricane still were trapped in the dirty, crime-ridden Superdome until September 3. [AP] [Fox News] [Newsweek] [AP]
Problem: Toxic FEMA Trailers
Although they were warned more than a year before the problem became public, FEMA purposely ignored reports that the trailers they set up for families affected by Hurricane Katrina were filled with toxic, carcinogenic formaldehyde gas. More than 75,000 families lived in these trailers. [Washington Post]
Problem: Unqualified Disaster Officials
Five out of eight top FEMA officials came to their posts with no crisis management experience. Former FEMA head Michael Brown, personally appointed by Bush, was formerly head of the International Arabian Horse Association with a seriously padded resume. [Washington Post] [Time Magazine]
Problem: A Strained National Guard
The White House, unwilling to spend the money or PR to beef up the military before going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead leaned heavily on the National Guard and Army Reserves. As a result of this unprecedented pressure on these domestic forces, governors across the country are saying they’ve been short of both manpower and equipment in handling massive disasters and emergencies like the California wildfires, the Kansas floods and hurricane recovery. [ABC]
Problem: The World Doesn’t Like Us
In 2007, a Pew research poll showed that the United States was even less popular with our allies now than we were five years ago. In 2002, Britain had a 75 percent favorable rating of the United States. A year ago, it sank to 51 percent. Germany had a 60 percent favorable view of the United States in 2002; in 2007, it was 30 percent. [Pew]
Problem: Hurting Our Diplomatic Corps
President Bush slashed 10 percent of diplomatic posts around the world; in the meantime, Condoleezza Rice warned foreign service agents that they would be forced to “volunteer” in Iraq if the 250 embassy jobs weren’t filled with actual volunteers. The diplomats aren’t happy; only 18 percent of them say that Rice is doing a good job protecting their profession. [Washington Post] [Washington Post]
Problem: Inflating the Iranian Threat
In public, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney ratcheted up talk about the nuclear threat from Iran despite private intelligence reports that showed Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003. [Wall Street Journal]
Problem: Bungled Diplomacy with North Korea
In October 2006, Bush failed to prevent North Korea from becoming the first country since 1998 to conduct a nuclear test. Leading up to the big bang, Bush allowed North Korea to acquire enough plutonium for 4 to 13 weapons, stoked North Korea’s ire by naming the country part of the “Axis of Evil,” and botched diplomacy efforts, having to call back former U.N.-ambassador John Bolton for jeopardizing crucial talks by insulting North Korea just days before. [ISIS Study; FOX News; CNN]
Problem: Bringing Back Nukes
In January 2008, former State Department official Linda Gallini told reporters the Bush White House “gutted” nuclear counter-proliferation initiatives by pushing out career diplomats at the State Department and replacing them with inexperienced, ideological political appointees. The Pentagon also fought to create a new generation of American nuclear weapons, including “bunker busters” and “mini-nukes.” [UPI] [BBC]
Problem: Poor Kids Need a Head Start
This administration cut funds for Head Start, the national program dedicated to getting low-income kids ready for school, 11 percent since 2002. In 2007 alone, the amount cut was equal to the amount needed to include 26,500 kids. [Center On Budget And Policy Priorities]
Problem: College Students Get Overcharged
Due to an uncorrected computer error, the Department of Education caused “more than 3 million student loan borrowers to be billed hundreds of millions of dollars more than they owed.” [Washington Post]
Problem: Student Loans Slashed
President Bush attempted to get rid of the Perkins Loan program, a program which offers low-interest loans to needy students, and froze money for Pell Grants at a maximum of only $4,050 per student for six consecutive years. [NY Times] [NY Times]
Problem: Student Debt Skyrockets
Total student debt in the United States is more than $471 billion—and that’s not including private loans. What’s more, the average student today graduates with debt twice that of graduates a decade ago—and enters a job market where the average job pays them less than it would have in 2000. [Student Debt Alert] [Economic Policy Institute]
To All My Right Wing Friends Who Say That Private Enterprise Needs No Government Regulation... I give you Exhibit A of why that's Fucking Stupid.
(CBS) It was another nervous week for the world's financial markets and for Wall Street. In the last six months, Americans have seen their investments shrink, their property values plummet, and the country edge closer towards a recession. At the heart of the problem is something called the subprime mortgage crisis, which began last summer and continues to ricochet through the economy.
It sounds complicated, but it's really fairly simple. Banks lent hundreds of billions of dollars to homebuyers who can't pay them back. Wall Street took the risky debt, dressed it up as fancy securities, and sold it around the world as safe investments. It sounds like a shell game or Ponzi scheme; in some ways, it was a house of cards rife with corruption, greed, and negligence.
And as correspondent Steve Kroft reports, it started in places like Stockton, Calif.
Stockton is a city of 280,000 people in the Central Valley; 80 miles east of San Francisco and 80 miles north of San Jose. In many ways, this is ground zero for the current financial crisis and a microcosm of everything that went wrong.
A few years ago, it was one of the hottest real estate markets in the country; today it is the foreclosure capital of America.
Real estate agent Kevin Moran represents 102 properties and says all of them are in foreclosure.
Moran gave Kroft a tour of the wreckage in one subdivision called "Weston Ranch," with block after block of vacant and abandoned houses.
"If you see a 'for sale' sign in this neighborhood, that probably is a sign of distress, right?" Kroft asks.
"I would say that, yeah. Two out of three of all the sales are probably foreclosed properties, and/or people who are in distress," Moran explains.
The "for sale" signs and the overgrown lawns in Weston Ranch only show part of the picture. To get a real overview, you need to look at a map from Sean O’Toole's Web site, foreclosureradar.com, which tracks distressed properties in Stockton and other California communities.
"The light blue circles are folks that have gone into default. And that means that's the first step of the foreclosure process," O'Toole says, explaining how his maps color-code properties. "The dark blue is auction properties. And the red icons are properties that were sold at auction, had no bid, and therefore went back to the lender."
As of last week, there were 4,200 Stockton homes either in default or foreclosure; $1.4 billion in bad loans in just one California community, and it is far from over.
"Two months from now, what's this map gonna look like? How many of those light blues are gonna be red?" Kroft asks O'Toole.
"We'll probably see at least 60, 70 percent of these light blues turn red. And we'll see at least this many light blues again," O'Toole predicts.
Banks are auctioning off houses all over California and in South Florida, in Nevada, and in parts of Ohio and Texas, the result of a huge real estate bubble that began forming in Stockton back in 2003, when people priced out of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley discovered that you could buy a four-bedroom home there for just $230,000.
Developers started turning asparagus fields into subdivisions, and lenders handed out free money to anyone who wanted to buy.
"What do you mean by free money?" Kroft asks Jim Grant, the editor of "Grant's Interest Rate Observer" and one the country's foremost experts on credit markets.
"I mean free money. I mean you had to apply not to get a loan, almost. Sometimes you have to apply to get a loan, you almost had to apply not to get one," Grant says.
"When you opened your mailbox in 2004, 2005, you could barely -- people were pressing on you, if you were not institutionalized, all matters of schemes in which to expand your personal debt and mortgage debt. You could, and people did, borrow more than 100 percent of the price of a house with the most fragile of financial bonafides," Grant explains.
Most of the mortgages issued in Stockton, and half of those now in default or foreclosure, were something called subprime loans, meaning less than prime quality. The borrowers often had sketchy credit, were financially strapped or lacked sufficient income to qualify for a standard mortgage. After a year of artificially low payments, the interest rates on subprime loans jumped all the way to ten or 11 percent.
"They were getting loans in excess of 100 percent of the value of the property," Abbott says. "That type of thing. So, most of 'em were actually putting a little bit of money in their pocket at close of escrow."
"So, they were getting paid to buy a house?" Kroft asks.
"They were getting paid to buy a house. Yes. Yeah," Abbott says.
And strangely enough, it didn't seem to bother the lenders either, who were collecting huge fees just for landing the loans.
"Whatever they wanted to state for their income. The bank accepted that at face value and made the loan based on that income," Abbott says.
Abbott says borrowers got the money, without a down payment.
Jim Grant calls it an invitation to fraud. "You apply to a bank, or a mortgage broker for a loan. And you would fill out a form. And you would say, 'I have an income of, oh, $400,000 a year.' They say, 'You do? Fine. Just sign right there.' And they would nod, and because they were being paid, not by the veracity of the information, but by the consummation of the deal. The lending office would say, 'Ah. You have verified this?' 'Why, yes, we have.' And the lending officer would say, 'Great. So do I,'" Grant says.
"And he got a cut, too?" Kroft asks.
"Yes, oh, yes. Everyone gets a cut," Grant says.
Almost all of the people involved in the transactions made huge amounts of money, then passed the risk onto someone else. Instead of keeping the dicey loans in their own portfolios, the big banks and giant mortgage companies that originally underwrote them, resold the mortgages to big New York investment houses.
Firms like Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch sliced the loans into little pieces and packaged them up with other investments, then sold them to their best customers around the world as high-yield mortgage-backed securities, turning sows' ears into silk purses, all with the blessing of rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s.
"At every step in the way, somebody has his or her hand out, getting paid. And everyone, for the time, is happy. The broker got paid. He or she was happy. The lending officer, ditto. The rating agencies got paid for passing judgment on these securities. They, too, were pleased, and their stockholders were happy. And on and on. And it would never end, except that it did," Grant says.
It was all predicated on the idea that real estate prices would keep going up, and up and up, and for a long time they did. But by the summer of 2005, speculators flipping houses in Stockton had helped drive the price of that four-bedroom house to more than $400,000 and the market began to soften, then to tumble.
All of a sudden those subprime borrowers who had taken the free money found themselves upside down, owing more on their new house than it was worth.
It’s not exactly clear how a mortgage broker was able to qualify Phil Fontenot and his wife Kim Monroe for their $436,000 house, from which they run a small day care center. They say they wanted to move to a better neighborhood. A mortgage broker approached the Fontenots and offered to get them a loan. They told her the most they could afford, at most, was $2,500 a month. But the monthly payment on the adjustable rate mortgage she gave them quickly jumped to $4,200.
"Did you understand any of this?" Kroft asks.
"No, not really. Not much of it," says Phil Fontentot, who also says he didn't have a lawyer look over the paperwork.
"I didn't really look at it like that," Fontenot says.
"How did you look at it?" Kroft asks.
"I looked at it as far as my family. I can get my family off of this block," he replies.
"And that we could pay the payments that she said that we could pay," Fontenot's wife Kim adds. "But after it was all said and done, and the paperwork was drawn up, it was something different."
But Matt and Stephanie Valdez say they knew exactly what they were doing when they bought a small two-bedroom for $355,000. They could afford the initial payments and planned to refinance the mortgage before the interest rate jumped to 11 percent. But they couldn't do it because the value of the house had fallen below what they owed on the mortgage. They say they can afford the higher payments, but see no point in making them.
"The house keeps going down, payments keep going up. Where's the logic in that? And how can we fix it? I mean, that's what this whole thing's about for us is how can we fix this? And if we can't fix it, then what do we do?" Matt Valdez asks.
"Why pay a $3,200 payment on a 1200-square-foot home? It makes no sense," Stephanie Valdez adds.
"That's what you agreed to do when you bought the house," Kroft points out.
"Fine. If the value is going up. But we're not going anywhere. The price or the value is going down. It makes no sense because we will never be able to refinance and get a lower payment. There's no way," Stephanie Valdez replies.
"You're saying, essentially, that you're going to stop making payments on it? You're just gonna let it go into foreclosure?" Kroft asks.
"You know, that's the only advice we've gotten so far is walk away from the home. We don't want to do that to our credit. Why can't our mortgage company work with us?" she says.
There is a certain cold logic to just walking away.
Kevin Moran, the real estate agent who gave Kroft the tour of foreclosed houses in the Weston Ranch subdivision, says it is happening every day. They were never really invested. Most of the people who lost the houses didn’t lose any money because they never put any money down. Though their credit is damaged, and they could face legal action in some circumstances, they got to live in a new house for a couple of years, and some of them even managed to get some money with home equity loans or by refinancing.
"Nobody seems to be saying, 'Look, I made a contract with you. I borrowed money from you. I'm gonna do everything I can to pay off that obligation.' People just seem to be saying, 'Look, take the house. Good-bye. I'm leaving,'" Kroft says. "There was a time, I think, when people felt really bad about not paying off a debt."
"Yeah, I think in those days, loans were made by your local banker or building and loan associations or savings and loan. They were guys you saw in the grocery store. They were on the little league team with you, the PTA, the school. And I think as mortgages became securitized and Wall Street became involved, they became very transactional and there was no relationship built with the borrower and the lender. And I think that makes it easier for someone to see it as an anonymous party at the other end of the transaction and just walk away from it," Moran says.
"Just a business decision," Kroft says.
"A business decision that has to be made," Moran agrees.
"It turns out that if you give people free money, they will take it without really worrying too much about giving it back. Because after all, it was free," Jim Grant says.
Asked if it's a case of greed, Grant says, "Greed, sure. Greed on both sides of the table."
"What do you mean?" Kroft asks.
"Lenders and borrowers," Grant says. "Everyone was gaming the system."
The Wall Street and foreign investors are now stuck with the millions of distressed properties on Sean O’Toole's map, the unsold condos in Miami, the unfinished apartments on the Vegas Strip, the developments in Atlanta that are sitting idle and the thousand stucco houses in Stockton. Not even Kevin Moran, who has copies of the foreclosed mortgages, can figure out who exactly owns them.
"That’s the fascinating part of this whole debacle we’re in. Mortgages are sold in mortgage backed securities, so they’re pooled. I’ve seen everything from some of the largest financial institutions in the country, and you see 'Deutsche Bank' in a series and a series of numbers and letters to a mortgage pool," he says.
The pools are part and parcel of those high-yield mortgage backed securities everyone gobbled up a few years ago, and are now stuck in the windpipe of the world's financial system. No one wants to buy them, so no one can sell them.
"Bonds marked triple-A are now quoted at 50 cents to the dollar, 40 cents on the dollar. Some of them, much less," Grant says.
"How much on the dollar, do ya think?" Kroft asks.
"Some of them are worth nothing on the dollar. Nothing on the dollar. This is the worst thing that has happened to Wall Street in a long time," Grant says.
Asked how many of these securities are out there, Grant says, "A trillion with a T-plus."
Asked who bought them and owns them, Grant says, "You know, state pension funds, the hedge funds bought them. Foreign central banks own some of these things, if you please. So the ownership is very widely dispersed, which accounts for the general anxiety, and the persistence of anxiety."
It’s that anxiety that spooked the world’s stock markets last week, that and the knowledge that things are likely to get worse, at least for a while.
"Still houses going into foreclosure?" Kroft asks Kevin Moran.
"Yeah. I don't think we're 40 percent into this. I think we've got a long way to go," he predicts.
There’s already a two-year supply of properties on the market in Stockton and so many foreclosures that real estate agent Cesar Diaz decided to start the "Repo Bus" to take bargain hunters and bottom feeders on a weekly tour to see some of them. He got the idea from the Hollywood tour of the stars' homes.
The day Kroft went along, there were two busloads checking out houses that are now 70 percent cheaper than they were when the crisis began. The consensus seemed to be prices are going to drop still further. Not particularly encouraging news for the past two chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board.
"Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben Bernanke, would say over and over that it's contained. The problem's contained. It turns out, it is contained only on planet Earth," Grant says, laughing. "That's it."
"It's still spreading?" Kroft asks.
"Yeah," Grant says.
In the past few months, Wall Street's top investment banks have written off more than $120 billion in losses related mortgage backed securities, and some are now under new management.
Two of the fired CEO's responsible for the biggest losses rode off into the sunset with some free money of their own. Charles Prince of Citigroup collected $29 million on his way out the door; Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch left with $161 million.
Labels: American Corporate Republic