* Fashion and Society news – President’s Bush’s daughter Jenna will wear an Oscar de la Renta gown at her May 10th wedding. It is described as simple and elegant organza with embroidery, matte beading and a small train -- and yet still casual. The 14 attendants will wear short chiffon Lela Rose dresses which can be seen at the above link. Two hundred family and friends will attend the informal ceremony at the family’s Crawford ranch. Gift suggestions include a set of long staple Egyptian cotton white towels to replace the one the President has thrown in.
* Nouri al Maliki ~ a Prime Minister without portfolio or budget - During the Petraeus hearings Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) noted that Iraq has $30 billion in surplus funds stored in U.S. banks. It was also noted that Iraq’s oil revenue for 2007 and 2008 will be $100 billion. Even Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine asked, "Isn't it time for the Iraqis to start bearing more of those expenses (for reconstruction and Iraqi troops), particularly in light of the windfall in revenues due to the high price of oil?" Isn’t it time for Congress to be Dutch uncles to Uncle Sam?
* What the muck is going on?
~At least 3 female employees of Iraq contractor Halliburton KBR have come forward to reveal they had been brutally raped by fellow employees. What made the revelations an even greater atrocity is that military investigators and the Justice Department were as egregious as KBR’s attempted cover up in not pursuing investigations and possible criminal charges. How many rapes have gone unreported because of the stonewalling?
~Two former officials at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. “Their plea agreements detail a conspiracy in which politically connected defense contractors that lobbied for congressional funding, called earmarks, bribed the officials to steer the funds to sham subcontractors. The overall investigation is “turning a harsh new light on companies that lobby Congress for no-bid defense contracts.”
~We learn this week that recently resigned Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson, even as the housing crisis was emerging, was pushing for legislation that would have made it easier for lenders to supply loans to risky borrowers. We also learn he had a personal chef and security detail when he attended social functions. His office launched a new $7 million auditorium and cafeteria at HUD's headquarters using money that some within the agency believed should have been directed toward housing for the poor. Jackson’s office solicited an emergency bid to obtain oil portraits of Jackson and four other HUD secretaries at a cost to taxpayers of $100,000. I wonder if Jackson is wearing prison stripes in the portrait.
~IRS audit rates of the largest corporations are less than half what they were 20 years ago. “The Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse described what it said was a "historic collapse" in audits for corporations holding assets of $250 million or more. The IRS’s abdication of corporate oversight completes the Bush administration’s strategical abandonment of public interests to business interests. A reader pointed out that “The IRS” spells “theirs”.
~Defense contractor fraud has gone from rampant to virulent under the Bush administration with the Justice Department remaining impotent to the abuse of taxpayer dollars. The Justice Department finally acted in February by forcing companies to notify the government if they find evidence of contractor abuse of more than $5 million. Although $4.9 million would get a free ride the story gets more interesting. The fraud crackdown had a “secret” loophole. “The proposal to force companies to report abuse of taxpayer money will not apply to work overseas, including projects to secure and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan” (which involves expenditures of over $2 billion). This week the House planned to investigate whether the loophole was a result of lobbyists acting on behalf of contractors. With an investigation pending the Bush administration removed the loophole stating that it was “a drafting error” - leaving a large “loophole” in its dodge.
~ Finally, a growing industry – Unfortunately, it is food banks and soup kitchens that expect a 20% surge this year of people needing their services. This is in addition to the newly enrolled 1.3 million needing food stamps. In the not too distant future America may qualify for aid from the United Nations or China. Sharpen your chopsticks.
* Foreign policy ~ ad hoc, ad lib, ad nauseum - On the Sean Hannity radio show last week Dick Cheyney said that if the U.S. pulls its troops from Iraq it would be bad because “if al Qaeda were to take over big parts of Iraq, among other things, they would acquire control of a significant oil resource. Iraq has almost 100 billion barrel reserves, producing 2.5-3 million barrels of oil a day. If you take a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and give it that kind of revenue, there’s no telling the amount of trouble they could get into.” As noted by thinkprogress.org, “It’s highly unlikely that al Qaeda would take control of Iraq’s oil if the United States redeployed. First, the vast majority of Iraqis are Shi’ites, who want nothing to do with a fringe Sunni group like Al Qaeda. Second, 70 percent of the country’s oil is in southern Iraq where there are strong Shi’ite strongholds... U.S. withdrawal would not mean that al Qaeda would suddenly be able to defeat at least three different powerful Shi’ite militias to seize control over Iraq’s oil.” Repeatedly the Bush/Cheyney strategy/alibi for Iraq morphs to another dimension. Originally we were defeating Saddam and his “nuclear” threat. When this turned out to be a bag of couscous the mantra became we were bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. Lack of planning led to all hell breaking loose with high levels of violence which led to a surge which has brought us a pause which has... Perhaps what is really going on is bringing barrels of oil to ExxonMobil.
* The Fourth Estate ~ fifth rate – The questioning of Clinton and Obama during the first hour of their debate on Wednesday night by ABC moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos was painful. Their “gotcha” questions avoided the serious issues facing this country and what the next president would do to improve a troubled America. “Disservice” is the nicest word I could use to describe ABC’s luminaries. The “worst” presidential debate ever - in the view of many veteran observers.
* Playing with oneself ~ lessons from the Department of Justice – Recall in July 2006 Attorney General Gonzalez called a press conference to announce the government had thwarted a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago by a group of terrorists based in Miami. From the start it seemed apparent that these six “terrorists” were a group of ragtag misfits that were more likely to hurt themselves than others. The government proceeded with a high-profile prosecution and in December the trial resulted in a hung jury with one defendant found not guilty. A new trial was convened that this week ended again in a hung jury following 13 days of deliberation. I can recall one “successful” terrorist prosecution – an Australian who took a plea bargain so he could return to his home country. The government’s terrorist busts continue to be a bust.
* Lying must be an aphrodisiac ~ it is too prevalent to be just a lack of ethics – At John McCain’s official website there is a section “Cindy’s Recipes”. Cindy is McCain’s wife and the recipes are attributed to the McCain family. In fact, several of the recipes are word-for-word copies found in recipes at the Food Network. Not to be outdone, McCain is plagiarizing Bush policy for his presidential run.
* Dumber and Dumbest - It is incomprehensible to me that anyone would advocate continuing Bush policies, especially a presidential contender. In a speech in Pittsburgh this week John McCain again demonstrated his desire to continue the Bush policies that have damaged our country. This speech involved economic policy. He proposed cutting corporate taxes from 35 to 25% and making permanent Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy (that he once opposed). I would ask Senator McCain if economic concessions to corporations over the last decade have resulted in new jobs, higher wages and benefits for employees or investment in technology, research and development that resulted in building their businesses in this country. I would ask if Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy increased their investment in America’s productive economic structure. The answer to these questions is a resounding NO.
* Jews on the left ~ a welcome voice – “Some of the country's most prominent Jewish liberals are forming a political action committee and lobbying group aimed at dislodging what they consider the excessive hold of neoconservatives and evangelical Christians on U.S. policy toward Israel.” Calling themselves the J Street PAC they will focus on promoting an Arab-Israeli peace settlement to fill a void left by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Jewish groups that they contend have tilted to the right in recent years.” In the past I have expressed criticism of the neconservatives and the U.S. government for their intransigent approach to peace in the Middle East, especially between Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps a fresh influence on this failed and stalemated process has merit.
* A retro approach ~ consequences for criminal behavior in government – Will Bunch, who writes for the Philadelphia Daily News, asked Barack Obama, “whether an Obama administration would seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they green-lighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House.” The reply: Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law." Can I hear an Amen?
* “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States (1767 – 1848)
“I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together”
George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (born July 6, 1946)