Month: March 2008

KBR Sued by Former Employees for Exposing Them to Toxic Chemicals

KBR (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root) is the largest private contractor in Iraq and, until 2007, a subsidiary of the infamous Halliburton.

Nine former employees are suing the war contractor KBR for knowingly exposing them to toxic chemicals without adequate protection. The workers, all US citizens, say KBR falsely assured them a chemical strewn across their work site was only a mild irritant. It turned out to be sodium dichromate, known as highly cancerous. KBR is seeking a dismissal through the Defense Base Act, which limits employee lawsuits against war contractors. But KBR’s own previous tax-dodging could undermine its attempt.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe revealed KBR has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in the Cayman Islands. Lawyers plan to argue KBR’s foreign tax status excludes it from protection under federal law.

Why has this not been reported on the nightly mainstream news? Are we finally just numb to all the corruption connected with this administration?

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So, How’s That War in Iraq Working Out For You?

At the Pentagon, President Bush dismissed criticism of the war, saying US occupation has brought “undeniable” success in Iraq.

There is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me: removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win.

Bush’s approval rating is at 31 percent, a forty-point drop since the eve of the Iraq invasion. A recent survey found more than two-thirds of Iraqis believe US-led coalition forces should leave Iraq. A quarter of those surveyed said they had lost a family member to murder since the war began.

Meanwhile a new CNN poll shows two-thirds of Americans oppose the war, while more than seven-out-of-ten believe it’s hurt the economy. In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, Vice President Dick Cheney said public opinion is of little concern.

“On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.”
Martha Raddatz: “Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.”
Cheney: “So?”
Raddatz: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?”
Cheney: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.”

Really, what can you say about such blatant arrogance, such utter delusion?

The Feds Bailout of Bear Stearns

The Federal Reserve’s decision to bail out the investment bank Bear Stearns is coming under criticism from housing advocates who say the Bush administration has done too little to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Over the weekend, the Fed took extraordinary measures to help JPMorgan purchase Bear Stearns and save the nation’s fifth largest investment bank from collapse. As part of the deal, the Fed put up $30 billion to guarantee Bear Stearns riskiest investments. Jim Carr of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition said, “It’s almost stunning to witness the shoring up of a major financial institution, but not addressing the problem that the quality of housing assets is deteriorating with each minute we wait.”
On Monday, reporters questioned White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about the bailout.

Reporter: “But people who are facing, say, foreclosures, individuals, the little guys who are facing their foreclosure, are looking at the big guys getting government, if not brokered, certainly they’re overseeing deals that are engineered to sort of keep the big picture financial community afloat, and they’re saying, well, where’s my boost of liquidity?”

Dana Perino: “They’re going to get that boost of liquidity in the form of a stimulus package and a tax rebate that’s coming to them the second week of May.”

Reporter: “But that’s not going to save their houses.”

President Bush praised the Federal Reserve’s actions.

President Bush: “One thing is for certain: we’re in challenging times. But another thing is for certain, that we’ve taken strong and decisive action. The Federal Reserve has moved quickly to bring order to the financial markets. Secretary Paulson has been-is supportive of that action, as am I. And I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working over the weekend…”

Meanwhile, Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, says the current economic crisis is “likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the Second World War.”

Bush’s Economic Plan? Avoid Overcorrecting

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At least he is consistent. As the economy crumbles around him, our “What Me Worry?” President is lame duck walking his way off stage with a remarkably consistent display of incompetence. With the same combination of incomprehension and insolence he displayed following 9/11 and Katrna, Bush tries to assure the country that the government must guard against going too far in trying to fix the troubled economy, cautioning that “one of the worst things you can do is overcorrect.”

I get it. “Heckofajob” Brownie was actually demonstrating great leadership when he refused to “overcorrect” after Katrina. Bush demonstrated great leadership when he refused to follow up and actually find Bin Laden during the battle of Tora Bora –that would have been overcorrecting.

Watching Bush address the Economic Club of New York yesterday, Gail Collins, in a New York Times column commented that,

you had to wonder what the international financial community makes of a country whose president could show up to talk economics in the middle of a liquidity crisis and kind of flop around the stage as if he was emcee at the Iowa Republican Pig Roast.

“We’re really past expecting anything much, but in times of crisis you would like to at least believe your leader has the capacity to pretend he’s in control. Suddenly, I recalled a day long ago when my husband worked for a struggling paper full of worried employees and the publisher walked into the newsroom wearing a gorilla suit.

“The country that elected George Bush–sort of–because he seemed like he’d be more fun to have a beer with than Al Gore or John Kerry is really getting its comeuppance. Our credit markets are foundering, and all we’ve got is a guy who looks like he’s ready to kick back and start the weekend.”

Home prices are plummeting, foreclosures are soaring, the Fed pumps billions into propping up Bear Stearns and his Treasury Secretary belatedly starts talking about overseeing cowboy mortgage lenders, but the President is sure that our country is still “the economic envy of the world” and that “sending out over $150 billion into the marketplace in the form of checks that will be reaching the mailboxes by the second week of May” will cure it all.

As we continue the slide into recession, what are Bush’s plans that will correct without overcorrecting? Here is more from Collins on Bush’s leadership in a crisis:

This is not the first time Bush’s attempts to calm our fears redoubled our nightmares. His first speech after 9/11 – that two-minute job on the Air Force base – was so stilted that the entire country felt like heading for the nearest fallout shelter. After Katrina, of course, it took forever to pry him out of Crawford, and then he more or less read a laundry list of Goods Being Shipped to the Flood Zone and delivered some brief assurances that things would work out.

O.K., so he’s not good at first-day response. Or second. Third can be a problem, too. But this economic crisis has been going on for months, and all the president could come up with sounded as if it had been composed for a Rotary Club and then delivered by a guy who had never read it before. “One thing is certain that Congress will do is waste some of your money,” he said. “So I’ve challenged members of Congress to cut the number of cost of earmarks in half.”

Besides being incoherent, this is a perfect sign of an utterly phony speech. Earmarks are one of those easy-to-attack Congressional weaknesses, and in a perfect world, they would not exist. But they cost approximately two cents in the grand budgetary scheme of things. Saying you’re going to fix the economy or balance the budget by cutting out earmarks is like saying you’re going to end global warming by banning bathroom nightlights.

Bush pointed out – as if the entire economic world didn’t already know – that Congress has already passed an economic incentive package that will send tax rebate checks to more than 130 million households. “A lot of them are a little skeptical about this ‘checks in the mail’ stuff,” he jibed. Jokejoke. Winkwink.

Then, after a run through of “ideas I strongly reject,” Bush finally got around to announcing that he was going to “talk about what we’re for. We’re obviously for sending out over $150 billion into the marketplace in the form of checks that will be reaching the mailboxes by the second week of May.

“We’re for that,” he added.

Once the markets had that really, really clear, Bush felt free to go on to the other things he was for, which very much resembled that laundry list for Katrina (“400 trucks containing 5.4 million Meals Ready to Eat – or M.R.E.’s … 3.4 million pounds of ice …”) This time the rundown included a six-month-old F.H.A. refinancing program, and an industry group called Hope Now that offers advice to people with mortgage problems.

And then, finally, the nub of the housing crisis: “Problem we have is, a lot of folks aren’t responding to over a million letters sent out to offer them assistance and mortgage counseling,” the president of the United States told the world.

But wait – more positive news! The secretary of Housing and Urban Development is proposing that lenders supply an easy-to-read summary with mortgage agreements. “You know, these mortgages can be pretty frightening to people. I mean, there’s a lot of tiny print,” the president said.

If you want to watch the video of Bush’s remarks to the Economic Club of New York, you can via CSPAN Personally, I don’t have the stomach for it.

As his final legacy, Bush has 310 days to refuse to overcorrect his way from a recession to a depression. A Bush Depression will be the icing on the cake of the worst Presidency of modern times.

Meanwhile,

The Design firm the PRD Group has been chosen as the “interpretive planner” for President Bush’s library and museum at Southern Methodist University.

Dan Murphy, founder of PRD, describes his mission: “We’re not really just trying to put a front cover and back cover around eight years of a presidency,” he said. “We have a much bigger story about America and about the history of the presidency and about the American experience. … We’ve got a great, great, great story.”

The architect for the project said that there will be “no bombast or boredom” to Bush’s library.

Bush Vetoes the Intelligence Authorization Act

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Today Bush vetoed the bill that would have banned the CIA from using simulated drowning and other coercive interrogation methods to gain information from suspected terrorists. The bill would have limited the CIA to 19 interrogation techniques that are used by the military and spelled out in the Army Field Manual.

Bush said he vetoed the measure because it is important for the CIA to have a separate and classified interrogation program for suspected terrorists who possess critical information about possible plots against the United States. He claimed that the coercive interrogation tactics have helped foil terrorist plots, which is, of course, untrue.

According to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee:

This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future. He ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals and 18 national security experts, including former secretaries of state and national security advisers, who supported the bill. Torture is a black mark against the United States.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that there are enough votes in the Senate to override the veto. Go here for other responses concerning the veto.

A Drop in the Bucket

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Here is an idea from the “Why didn’t I think of that” department. Leviathan Energy has developed the “Benkatina” turbine that would reportedly generate power from the downward movement of water through pipes in a municipal system. In other words, it is possible to produce energy simply by flushing the toilet. The idea is not new, the West was built on hydroelectric power. It is just the location and scale of the turbine that is innovative.

Leviathan Energy also produces wind turbines and wave energy systems. I predict the company will soon be flush with success.

Gender and the Idaho Legislature

March is Woman’s History month. The Statesman has a feature by Jeanne Huff that makes an Idaho connection. Even though the first paragraph of the article claims that the Seneca Falls convention was in 1948 rather than 1848 and fails to point out that Idaho and Utah were the first two states in the Union to pass woman suffrage laws, it does give interesting thumbnail sketches of five important women in Idaho history.

The article got me thinking about the current Idaho legislature and I made an interesting discovery. Although Democrats are a minority in the House, 63% of the Democratic representatives are women. That’s right- of the 19 Democrats in the House, 12 are women. This compares with Republicans where there are only 7 women and 44 men. The gender breakdown is quite different in the Senate where there are only 6 women in the entire body with two of them Democrats.

I haven’t bothered to check the gender breakdown in the other 49 statehouses, but I would be very surprised if there was another state where women comprised a majority among Democrats.

This bodes well for Idaho Democrats (and Idahoans in general) because so many of the women legislators are demonstrating real leadership. In particular, Wendy Jaquet, Minority Leader in the House, and Kate Kelly, Minority Caucus Chair in the Senate, are articulate and forceful spokespersons for progressive Legislation.

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It would be nice to see a Statesman feature celebrating and highlighting the women in the Idaho legislature.