Friday, October 30, 2009

>What's truly stunning to me is that the ultra-conservative contingent of the republican party has endorsed Perry. The guy that made a huge show of declining bailout money but showed up at the back door with an application for funds when no one was looking.

Perry's Secret Jerusalem Trip Raises Questions

Reporting Bennett Cunningham

The city of Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and it has a new defender: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

In August, Perry was given the "Defender of Jerusalem" award. So Perry and his wife flew first class to Israel at more than $5,000 per ticket. The governor's security detail of four Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers was also along for the trip.

They all took the 7,000 mile journey to accept the award at a time when the governor was asking everyone else in state government to cut back on travel. During a speech in Houston, Perry directed state agencies to "curtail taxpayer funded travel."

According to state documents, the taxpayers' bill just to take Perry's security officers on the 5-day trip was more than $70,000. The breakdown includes $17,000 for rooms at the swanky King David Hotel, nearly $13,000 for food and more than 350 hours of overtime.

The specific price tag for the governor and his wife are secret. So when CBS 11 asked to see the governor's expense records for the trip, we received four pages and no specifics. Perry refused to do a formal interview with us and would only say, "Going to Israel or other countries is a wise investment for the state of Texas."

Keith Elkins is executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Elkins and his organization fight for government transparency. Elkins says, "This Governor operates under the premise of 'believe what I say, not what I do.'" While Elkins suggests, "There is something else going on here," he doesn't know what that 'something' is.

Records obtained by CBS 11 show the governor's airfare and trip costs for he and his wife were paid for by Irwin Katsof, a financier for energy companies around the world. And the man who presented Perry with the Defender of Jerusalem award, Guma Aguiar, owns a company that made billions of dollars in the Texas natural gas industry. Aguiar also created the award given to Perry.

Just two weeks before Aguiar and Perry posed for pictures in Israel, Aguiar posed for a mug shot in Florida. He was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. Aguiar pleaded no contest.

Sheila Krumholz is the executive director of the Washington D.C. based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the effect of money on public policy. She says, "There is just too much of a potential for a conflict of interest with these trips particularly with privately sponsored trips." Krumholz also wonders, "Is this the real deal or a sleight of hand to provide political cover of those attending?"

CBS 11 obtained a list of people on the trip. The organizers describe those attending as "an elite cadre of 20 executives in, gas and oil, biotech, finance and technology." The list includes an out of state Congresswoman and Texas Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, whose agency regulates the oil and natural gas industry in Texas.

Carrillo says he paid his own way but refused to show CBS 11 any of his expenses. Also on the list of travelers: a host of energy executives, the governor's family -- which included his son's fiancée -- and a member of the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. Hinojosa told us the trip was not about energy. "I don't recall discussions about oil and gas with the business people there," he said.

The governor and others met with the President of Israel, the Prime Minster and Israeli soldiers. They toured the old city of Jerusalem and snapped photos of Aggie souvenirs (the governor is a graduate of Texas A&M). Perry even took time to do an interview with an Israeli TV station. Remember, the governor is doing all this while asking other state employees to "curtail travel."

Like the governor, State Senator Hinojosa's entire trip was paid for by Katsof, the financier. Hinojosa also received the Defender of Jerusalem Award. But unlike the governor's four pages of documents, Hinojosa gave us everything he had -- fully disclosing the nature of the trip.

Hinojosa maintains there was no conflict of interest by accepting the trip. "We as public officials have to make decision on public policy. Not who contributes money or pays for a trip," he explained. But Krumholz disagreed, saying, "This trip raises real concerns for the potential for a secret junket."

The trip also had its share of perks. CBS 11 obtained private emails and found the organizer, Katsof, asked attendees what kind of scotch they preferred for a "scotch and cigar bar" where they would admire "a starry Jerusalem." Krumholz says trips like this "can be a lucrative way to conduct business. You pay for vacation and in return you may get contracts or government brokered deals worth millions of dollars."

In late May a Texas appellate court ruled that all DPS expense reports for the governor's security detail were to be made public. A few days later, the state legislature passed a bill to get around that court ruling, allowing DPS to hide the expense reports of the governor's security detail from public view. The law took effect immediately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009



Lieberman’s 60th vote is needed to get the Senate bill to the floor and overcome a Republican filibuster. And once again, he is abandoning the Democratic Party when he is most needed. Despite his campaigning for Sen. McCain during the presidential election and speaking out in opposition to candidate Barack Obama during the RNC, Majority Leader Harry Reid still welcomed Lieberman back into the fold and allowed him to retain his committee assignments.

During Lieberman’s 2006 Senate run as an Independent, after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman campaigned heavily for single payer, universal health insurance for all:

“What I’m saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance,” Lieberman said during a July, 2006, debate.

Lieberman also supported a proposal called, “MediChoice,” which would “allow anybody in our country to buy into a national insurance pool like the health insurance pool that we federal employees and Members of Congress have.”

Lieberman also promised his health insurance plans would cover “95 percent of those who are not covered now, and it will reduce the pressure on rising costs for all the millions of others.”

Three years later apparently, Sen. Lieberman is now strongly opposed to even a watered down state opt-out public option. In recent days, Lieberman has puffed up his chest and taken his disingenuous “I’m against the public option” road show to Fox News band any other media outlet that would have him.

One day Lieberman claims he opposes the opt-out public option, because it would raise the deficit and increase the burden on taxpayers. The next day he makes a contradictory argument, claiming a public option would reduce rates paid to health care providers, which would result in higher costs to consumers.

Howard Kurtz (WAPO) writes:

This from a senator who, as much as anyone, helped run up the national debt since 9/11 by pushing to raise the military budget to its highest level since World War II. It is a budget inflated by enormous expenditures on high-tech weaponry irrelevant to combating terror, such as the $2-billion-a-piece submarines -- produced in his home state of Connecticut -- that he claimed were needed to combat al-Qaida, a landlocked enemy holed up in caves. Lieberman is worried about the impact of a very limited public option on the debt the same week as he and others in Congress passed a $680-billion defense bill larded with pork of the sort the Connecticut senator has always supported. . . .

Maybe he can also take some time then to justify his strong support for the government bailout of troubled banking and insurance companies that has tripled the federal deficit this year to $1.4 trillion. Is AIG not now a 'government-run insurance company,' and doesn't the $185 billion of taxpayer money thrown at that sorry enterprise add up to more than twice the yearly cost of the health reform package?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good People Musings
I know a lot of good people. I mean, a lot of really good, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, dear people. This is not about them.
This is about a couple of people that I heard today that were such a resoundingly refreshing gust of crisp, cool and wonderful air that I feel the need to share.

Alan Grayson
You probably know him as the guy that said the republican health care plan is if you get sick, die quickly. Today I heard him in a committee meeting when he requested the opportunity to ask questions of Broun (Republican Rep from Georgia, I think) who has initiated legislation which, again, attempts to pull all funding from ACORN. He coolly asks if Broun knows what bills of attainer are. This is something specifically called out as unconstitutional as it attempts to spearhead legislation towards a particular entity in an effort to punish. Essentially, it is a way to bypass the judicial branch and the legal system. Grayson is repeatedly asked to relinquish his time to which he empathically says no - until he graciously cedes his time at 5 seconds. Broun squirms and fidgets whining about how this isn't that but it is blatantly obvious that this effort is exactly that and Grayson has the cohones to say so. Rock. Star.

Elizabeth Warren.
Yet another blissfully sensical, logical, graceful discussion regarding the financial institutions and how our government has enabled them to hijack the financial system. At one point she says that she teaches constitutional law at Harvard, yet she doesn't understand her credit card. She says that there is a perfectly legal line in every 30 to 45 page legal agreement attached to a credit card whereby it states that the credit card company can charge any amount, at any time for any reason and the holder is required by law to pay it. She said that every single item we touch, taste, feel, see is regulated to be safe and has basic standards to which it must adhere - i.e. toasters must be made in such a way that they don't blow up upon use, yet nothing like that exists for our financial system. Great. Woman.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Evil Public Option

(from the funpie weblog)

In the town where I grew up, there were a couple of mom and pop bookstores, one called Borders, and one called Barnes & Noble. These small businesses, the backbone of our economy, provided a wide array of reading material, music and games, along with coffee and scones. Each also provided a type of membership card. The one from Borders was free, and entitled holders to additional discounts on books and free desserts on their birthdays. The one from Barnes & Noble cost $25 and entitled holder to save at least $25 over the course of purchasing something like another $1000 worth of books. Both were a great deal, and these little mom and pop stores provided each other with a healthy competition in the spirit of the American Dream.

Then one day, a “public option” was forced upon my little town. This government-run public option – some called it a “library,” I called it a nazi-loving beauracratic nightmare – had the audacity to swoop down and start offering books to people for FREE! How in the hell could our little mom and pops ever hope to compete with that?!? This evil library also gave out membership cards, and anyone who had one could take home a whole STACK of books for up to a MONTH at a time!!! Sure, sometimes people had to wait a little bit for access to bestsellers, and since books had to be returned you couldn’t give them as gifts or keep them on your shelves to show people how well-read you were, but still. No one on the planet could possibly compete with this kind of undermining of the free market.

Soon after this public option library came to town, Borders and Barnes & Noble were forced to close up their small businesses, costing hard-working Americans their jobs, and bringing us one step closer to Stalinist Russia. That is why I will never again support a public option of any kind for anything. I love America too much. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the post-office, which means I have to drive all the way past the fire house, the public elementary school and the police station, so I’d better get going.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quick Musings
As anyone can tell you, I believe in close and firm monitoring of those entities involved in the financial system. Clear and present reform as well. But it appears that our tendency is to focus on the label rather than the content. There are swirlings of outrage regarding Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs was a huge company. Thousands of people worked for that entity. Thousands. Was each and every single person involved in that company tainted, a money grabber that threw our country into economic ruin? Was each and every employee at Enron corrupt? Judging by the outrage, the crying, the blank, bewildered looks by those carrying their belongings from the building in cardboard boxes the answer would have to be no. It is our way to sweepingly swipe at an entire entity - Iran (all of Iran), California, Wall Street, Conservatives, Liberals - and cast all out. Baby. Bath water. Let's show a little insight, a little maturity, and little bit of wisdom.

You can say socialism. You can say the 1/6th of our economy. You can say people helping themselves. But what this all boils down to is that our system is broken and pointing at the paint job, pointing at the low air in the wheels, griping about the sound system has nothing to do with fixing the engine. The engine is broken and we are fixing it. Eventually if we get our way, insurance companies will cease to exist. That is my hope. We have to get people well. Only those that have no exposure to the real world, only those that have not seen the devastating effects of pain, of fear, of chronic illness, the stress of the impending cost of getting oneself well say that reform is not needed. Only those that have not seen people destroyed by illness can wag their finger and talk about laziness and bootstraps. STFU. 99.9% of people do not want to be a burden. They want to do for themselves. They want to contribute. You are not the only human being in the world with tenacity and ambition and the drive to do well. What you feel is what we all feel. However when you are ill to the point that you cannot function at 20% let alone 100% no amount of ambition and gumption will change it. You can judge and mock and castigate but it changes nothing. Those unable to do for themselves MUST be helped by those that can. It is our obligation as a compassionate society. Isn't it funny, how we run to help those in other countries affected by famine, natural disaster or are victims of war but we look down our nose at those in our own country that just need a temporary hand up? I hurt my back and for 4 weeks I was in pain. During that short time, I felt my entire personality change. Pain is a personality killer. It is exhausting. It is physically and emotionally devastating. You cannot do what you need to do. You cannot emotionally or psychologically invest. You don't have it to invest. That was one month. What about those in pain for 6 months, a year, five years, ten?
Enough of the judging. We are a society by and for the people. We must care for those that need help. If it is indefinitely, then so be it. I don't mind. That is what I was put on this earth to do. Contribute, create, care. I was put here to do for others and for myself. It is not my job to judge those that come back twice, thrice or indefinitely for assistance. Something in their lives has made that a reality. It is not my place to judge.

Peggy Noonan / George Will
Can go to hell.

Faux News
Is the oasis for the fanatical rightwing and ultra conservatives. There is no other place for them where they get that agenda 24/7. The ratings are high because there is no dilution. MSNBC, CNN etc. have a centrist if not a left leaning view. There is much dilution. I can switch from 6 to 10 outlets and get a pretty good idea of what's going on. Turn to Faux News and I get one that is whack I can't even believe they aren't in hystericals on a regular basis.

Best Friends
There is nothing better than having a best friend. I am fortunate that outside my family (my mom, sister, my wonderful husband) I have Lori. Lori is the easiest, the most fun, the most compatible person to me that I have ever met. I don't need a bunch of people that I call friends. Just a couple close people. I am so blessed.

I missed Paul a lot this week. I feel his presence every day but I feel his spirit always. I miss his voice, his wit, his input.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beyond the Fringe Right Reaction

Here is a round-up of world reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Obama as reported by news agencies.


We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.


It confirms, finally, America's return to the hearts of the people of the world... you can count on my resolute support and that of France.


In a short time he has established a new tone, creating a willingness for dialogue and I think we all should support him to make peace in this world possible. There is a lot do but a window of opportunity has been opened. His advocacy of a world free of nuclear arms is an aim we all need to make real in the next few years.


I am really pleased. I want to congratulate him from my heart. I've seen the world changing since President Obama took office. It was outstanding when he made the speech in Prague calling for a nuclear-free world.


President Obama has made extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.

He has also demonstrated his strong commitment to help build peace and defend fundamental human rights, including through the atlantic alliance. This honour is well deserved.


There is nobody today in my view who is more deserving of that peace prize than Barack Obama. In less than a year he brought a radical change in the way we look at ourselves, in the way we look at our world. He is restoring the basic core values that every one of us should live by - dialogue, respect, democracy, due process, human rights, a security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons. His dedication to these values rekindles hope that, finally, we could have a world at peace with itself.


We have no objection if this prize is an incentive to reverse the warmongering and unilateral policies of the previous US administration and if this encourages a policy based on just peace.

The appropriate time for awarding such a prize is when foreign military forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when one stands by the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people.


We congratulate Obama for winning the Nobel. His hard work and his new vision on global relations, his will and efforts for creating friendly and good relations at global level and global peace make him the appropriate recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.


We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan. He has not taken a single step for peace in Afghanistan or to make this country stable.

We condemn the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for Obama. We condemn the institute's awarding him the peace prize. We condemn this year's peace prize as unjust.


You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses the hope that your presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation. Nowhere is such a peace needed more than in the Middle East, a region that has been long marked by terror and bloodshed.

I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to advance peace and to give hope to the peoples of our region who deserve to live in peace, security and dignity.


We hope that he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East and achieve Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and establish an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.


We are in need of actions, not sayings. If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won't move us forward or backward.


I am happy. What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave hope. In these hard times, people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.


He's not even finished a year in his first term of office of a relatively young president. It's an award that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all.


So soon? This is too soon. He has not yet made a real input. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act.

This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres.


It is a bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment to peace and harmony in international relations. It shows the hope his administration represents not only to our nation but to people around the world.


I think it's extremely well deserved. I think it will take some time before people put together all the different moves that linked his speech at the UN on the abolishing of nuclear weapons, his shift on the missile defence programme in Eastern Europe and the movement of Russia to joining the international consensus that confronted Iran to abide by the non-proliferation treaty.


I think that it is kind of foolish to think that the Nobel Prize isn't politicised - it's not a humanitarian prize, it's a prize in recognition of change in the world to contribute to peace, sometimes its a recognitions of visions for peace. He is facing huge contradictions as well - he is going to be sending 40,000 new American troops into Afghanistan just as he receives the Nobel Peace Prize? I think that is a contradiction that needs to be seriously looked at.


Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama is a way of encouraging him to not renege on the universal principles that he has championed.

We would have preferred a human rights defender like Oleg Orlov from Memorial in Russia or Natalia Estemirova [human rights activist murdered in Chechnya].

Monday, October 05, 2009

Yeah, yeah, SNL is funny. I find it amusing that the far right only finds the humor when they are scoring on Obama but whatev.
Here's a quick list of what Obama did in his first 100 days. But let's not forget, the mess that was left for him will take years to clean up. Expecting a new guy to come in and completely clean up all the graft, the sleeze, all the infiltration of outside influences, within a year is naive. It took well over 8 years to get to this point, it will take time to clean it up.

1. Health Care: The Obama White House cleared an important hurdle in the health care reform debate when it appropriated $19 billion in the stimulus package to help implement an electronic medical record system. The money is paltry compared to the hundreds of billions set aside for an overhaul of the health care system in the budget. But officials inside and out of the White House say its significance is hard to overstate.

"We need to have health IT so we have a better idea both of what works but also... so people can share information," Zeke Emanuel, Obama's health care adviser told the Huffington Post in mid-March. "We are on our way in a way that we have never committed ourselves before."

2. Communications: A presidential campaign built on innovative messaging and advanced technology has, naturally, become a White House defined by similar characteristics. As such, the reach of the administration's new media efforts - from hosting online question-and-answer sessions with the president to publishing the first White House blog - has been as expected as appreciated. It's unfortunate, said one tech savvy Democrat, because the new policies have had tangible impacts. "The White House streams every event with the president on its website, even press events," he said. "It's remarkable because, this Sunday they held a swine flu press conference that ordinary people [including many who may have been personally nervous about the topic] were able to watch online... Before you had to wait for a readout or hope that CSPAN would cover it. This is one of those things that people don't quite understand the significance of."

3. Transportation: Since the passage of the economic stimulus package in mid-February, the Obama Department of Transportation has approved 2,500 highway projects. The movement of stimulus money out the door has been as swift as it has been effective: $9.3 billion has been spent in all 50 states. Touting its impact, DOT officials say 260,000 jobs are expected from this investment. And with competition for contracts fierce, the department is set to approve even more projects than previously envisioned. "There will be more money for additional transportation projects," said the official.

4. Education: Maligned for its handling of the financial and banking crises, the Obama Treasury Department has nevertheless implemented policies with real qualitative and quantitative impact on debt-burdened families. Chief among those was a $2,500 tax credit to help offset the cost of tuition (among other expenses) for those seeking a college education. Nearly five million families are expected to save $9 billion, according to Treasury officials.

5. Cars: The automobile industry at the White House and Congress's behest has undergone seismic structural changes, managerial reorganization, and massive cuts in employment. But for all the tough love, the president has put in place the framework for an industry recovery. Perhaps the most significant of steps was to allocate $2 billion in stimulus cash for advanced batteries systems. One high-ranking Hill aide called battery technology "the next big frontier" in the automotive world, adding that if the U.S. could dominate this market it would reclaim its perch as the world's premier car manufacturer.

6. Pakistan: Cognizant of a destabilizing situation in Pakistan, the administration's diplomatic team, with a major assist from Japan, secured $5 billion in aid commitments "to bolster the country's economy and help it fight terror and Islamic radicalism" within the country. The money, as Pakistan observers -- notably Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry - note, will prove instrumental in bringing the nation away from the brink of failure and increased Taliban control.

7. Cities: More than any prior president, Obama has put a spotlight on America's struggling cities, even creating an office of Urban Policy in the White House. It is the Justice Department, however, that lays claim to one of the most consequential of urban affairs achievements. Through the Recovery Act, DOJ secured $2 billion for Byrne Grants, which funds anti-gang and anti-gun task forces. The money, cut during the Bush years, is expected to have massive ramifications on inner-city crime and violence.

8. Engaging the Muslim World: While certainly discussed, foreign affairs experts insist that Obama's engagement with the Muslim world has been at once remarkable and under-appreciated. From the first interview with Al Arabiya to his Nowruz address to the Iranian people, to his proclamation that "American is not at war with Islam" during an appearance in Turkey, seasoned observers have been routinely impressed. "Through these [statements and interviews]," said one Democratic foreign policy hand, "He has been able to dramatically change America's image in that region."

9. Forests: Since taking office, the White House has put under federal protection more than two million acres of wilderness, thousands of miles of river and a host of national trails and parks. The conservation effort - the largest in the last 15 years - came with the stroke of a pen when Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 in late March.

10. Tone: Leaving a meeting at the White House on Tuesday a progressive member of the House of Representatives commented to the Huffington Post just how impressed she was with the president's manner. "He is so calm," said the member, "and has a great ability to make you feel like you're being respected and listened to."