Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tony Rudy, Former Tom DeLay Aide, Last To Be Sentenced In Abramoff Probe

By MARK SHERMAN, Huffington Post WASHINGTON -- Tony Rudy was among the first people to plead guilty in the long-running probe of influence peddling tied to Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. On Friday, the former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay was the last person sentenced in an investigation that focused on Congress, racked up 21 convictions, yet netted only one lawmaker.

Rudy's cooperation over the past six years helped win convictions of 18 people, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle still gave Rudy a sentence of five months in a halfway house and three years of probation for his role in conspiring with Abramoff and others to accept a stream of gifts when Rudy was a staffer and to offer gifts to public officials when he became a lobbyist – all in exchange for legislative favors.

Team Abramoff's brazen behavior included lavish foreign trips for public officials, as well as frequent meals and tickets to sporting events. All the while, Abramoff and his coterie of former congressional aides were grossly overbilling their Indian tribe clients and secretly lobbying against them in order to create more need for lobbying services. Abramoff spent 3 1/2 years in federal prison for his crimes. His crimes have long since been depicted in a documentary movie and a Hollywood release, with actor Kevin Spacey playing Abramoff. In recent months, Abramoff has been promoting his memoir recounting his time of influence. He says the reforms generated by the scandal that bears his name didn't go nearly far enough to eliminate the corruption.

Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was the only member of Congress charged in the investigation. He served a year in prison and six months in a halfway house for granting political favors to Abramoff and his lobbying associates in exchange for golf trips, including a pricey one to Scotland, other gifts and campaign donations. Ney briefly hosted a radio program in Ohio and now does occasional commentary for the Talk Radio News Service in Washington. DeLay, a Texas Republican who rose to House majority leader, was one of several members of Congress who were investigated by the Justice Department but never charged. He was tried and convicted on state charges not related to the Abramoff investigation.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Washington-based Public Citizen watchdog group, said the absence of charges against more members of Congress has bothered him. "They caught a lot of little fish, and they deserved to be caught, but not many bigger ones," Holman said. The government acknowledged in a written report that Rudy "provided detailed information about his knowledge and interactions with several public officials and lobbyists who were significant parts of the Abramoff investigation," although the information did not lead to criminal charges.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Massachusetts Miracle?

-Haven’t heard that phrase since the Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis in 1988. Saw this story on Crooks and Liars the other day. In Massachusetts, where 98% of the population have health insurance under Romneycare, they’re about to get a cut in premiums for the second year in a row; five percent this time. This is stunning in an industry that is accustomed to automatic 10% annual increases.

I expect to hear a lot about this in a campaign year where GOP politicians use “repeal Obamacare” for a sure applause line. But they’re preaching to the choir. As Americans benefit from changes already brought by the Affordable Health Care Act, such as the end of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, expanded coverage for young adults under their parent’s plans, the 50% discount for brand-name drugs for folks falling into the Medicare donut-hole, small business tax credits, and the 85% limit on insurer’s ‘medical loss ratio,’ which requires companies to spend at least 85% of premiums on actual health care, will Republican calls for repeal resonate with more than the small fraction of the electorate who vote in GOP primaries?

After ten years, Mass is showing the savings predicted for universal coverage. Could this promising development provide an alternative model to the price-shifting and patient-shafting market-based practices of our present catch-as-catch-can system?

Chupacabra Report

Heard a story on Marketplace this evening about the Japanese power grid since the Fukushima disaster. Seems that they shut down all atomic plants for safety inspections and afterwards local authorities have prevented any from restarting. Japanese utilities have been able to keep the lights on using gas and coal fired generators. The question remains whether they will be able to do that this summer when demand peaks. After 40 years of development, Japan has been getting half of their electricity from nuclear plants. Public approval of atomic power has been at polled 80% until Fukushima, now it’s 10%.

Japan has adopted ‘feed-through’ policies to encourage development on wind and solar capacity, first for domestic needs and then to sell abroad.

This will bear watching here, where political, if not popular support for new nuclear plants is extant. The hitch is that nobody dreams of building atomic reactors without huge public subsidies and indemnities. It will be interesting to hear candidates address this aspect of energy policy on the campaign trail this summer as we watch to see if peak-demand blackouts prompt the Japanese to reconsider their relationship with ‘our friend the atom.’

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chupacabra Report

The Texas Observer says; “Fifty Years and Still Outraged.” But outrage is hard to sustain, and yawns are hard to stifle. The long GOP Primary race is all but over now. Have done what I could to save them from themselves by knocking on Perry and Gingrich and the rest of the Seven Dwarfs who thought they might like to lead the free world. All the candidates whom God instructed to make a run at the nomination have fallen by the wayside; there’s a cosmic- scale joke for you.

And the laughs keep on coming, although it’s black humor. Windsock Willard will cruise to the convention with all the support money can buy. Republican voters will hold their noses and fall in line, but the batshit crazy faction that has put that party over the top time and again will not be lining up with their torches and pitchforks. They know that “there is no there there.” This man will say anything to get elected. If he had only chosen to get himself elected governor of Oklahoma instead of Massachusetts, he wouldn’t have left such damning evidence of moderation.

The GOP is fielding their strongest candidate, and he could win, the electorate has been hornswoggled before. Heck, he’s already selling access. So much for the idea that wealthy candidates could be immune to graft. That’s part of what this election will be about; how much is enough, or too much? The Party of Croesus stands opposed to progressive taxation, equal pay for equal work, and have killed the estate tax that in the year 2000 affected .01% of American taxpayers. As George McGovern quipped, “I guess everybody thinks they’re going to win the lottery.”

Maybe Obama has him where he want’s ‘em. Romney will be running against the Buffet Rule, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and reproductive rights, for War with Iran and the status quo ante for healthcare coverage. With the economy out of free-fall and the troops coming home, odds should be good for re-election. Now he needs to work on those coat-tails so the extreme right wing that has captured the Party of Lincoln is sent back to the wilderness that is their rightful place.

Archeologists and historians still haven’t found the site of the Battle of Medina. Volunteers searched a site in Atascosa County last week-end looking for evidence of the bloodiest battle in Texas history, where a Spanish army under General José Joaquín de Arredondo defeated Tejano-American forces and put them to the sword, killing over one thousand. This is where a young General Santa Ana learned to give no quarter.
So it’s still out there, somewhere south of San Antonio. Now where’d I leave that metal detector?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Frothy Quits

Rick Santorum ducked-out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination today, facing the fact that the Pennsylvania voters, those who know him best, were lined-up to vote against him in their primary election on April 24th. Santorum lost his bid for re-election to his Senate seat there in 2006 after questions about his sweetheart deals for multiple home mortgages, his dispute with the State of Pennsylvania after they billed him for over $100,000.00 in costs to home-school his children after he moved his family to Washington, and his part in Jack Abramoff’s “K Street Project,” including his efforts to grant “Made in USA” status to Chinese sweatshops on the island of Saipan.

This clears the field for perennial loser Ron Paul, who after this failed campaign, will no doubt pass the torch to his son Senator Ayn Rand Paul to tap the wacky libertarian moneybag and unreconstructed Bircher community.

Newt Gingrich too will carry on, though the profit margin on his campaign is eroding, prompting him to charge $50.00 a pop for people to listen to him. He is now negotiating a joint venture with Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold Election Systems, to automatically charge voters who select him.

Now comes an historic opportunity for the American people to show how broad-minded they’ve become. When John Kennedy ran in 1960, some questioned whether a Catholic could be elected. When Nelson Rockefeller, the original ‘Rockefeller Republican’ got divorced, consensus was that his White House dreams were over, and they were, as Gerald Ford avoided fatal golf injuries during his time in office but Ronnie Reagan soon broke through that barrier. And Barack Obama in 2008 became the first black American to be elected president. This year, Willard Romney will prove that today, even a near-billionaire can win his party’s nomination for the highest office in the land.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


I heard feedback today on NPR about a story they did recently about Texas succession so I had to look it up. It started with a mention of Rick Perry on the campaign trail saying that Texas might have to leave the union to escape meddling from the federal government.

Rick Perry, foe of big government; here’s a man who hasn’t had a private sector job since he peddled Bibles in the 1960’s. Who’s become a millionaire working in the public sector, lives in a $10,000 a month luxury home paid for by taxpayers while he collects a $150,000 salary and a $92,000 state pension at the same time.

In this story NPR’s John Burnett imagines an independent Texas “as a sort of Lone Star Singapore, with low taxes, free trade and minimal regulation. It enters the community of nations as the world's 15th-largest economy, with vast oil and gas reserves, busy international ports, an independent power grid and a laissez-faire attitude about making money.” With “airports without the Transportation Security Administration; gun sales without the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; land development without the Endangered Species Act; new congressional districts without the Voting Rights Act; and a new guest-worker program without Washington gridlock over immigration reform.” Where “immigrants to come and go as the jobs ebb and flow, and fill the jobs that Texans are unwilling to do,"

Burnett interviews some Tea Party members who describe a Republic of Texas “charged with defense, charged with education, charged with a few things that you have to do, and the rest is wide open," "Liberty may look like chaos, but to us it's a lot of choices." "There's a safety net that's always been out there. We don't have that anymore. You will be a productive member of society and our environment doesn't allow for people to not be productive." “Maquiladora [or foreign-owned] plants are springing up on the south side of the Red River and on the Sabine [River]," Jillson says. "The American South is complaining because some plants are moving to Texas."

“According to Harvey Kronberg, longtime editor and publisher of the Texas political newsletter Quorum Report, a modern sovereign nation requires more — not less — government than a state would. Consider all the new departments it would need to monitor things like foreign affairs, aviation and nuclear regulation. And then there are all the expenses Washington used to take care of — things like maintaining interstate highways, inspecting meat and checking passports.”

“Public education is a good example. In 2011, the Texas state Legislature slashed billions of dollars from school systems at a time when Texas was already 43rd among the states in per pupil spending and dead last in the number of adults who completed high school.

“Steve Murdock, the former Texas state demographer and current director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, expects that things would not improve under the budget of a struggling infant nation.

"For Texas to be the competitive nation that we would all wish it would be, it has to make major improvements in education," Murdock says, "because right now it's falling short."

“And Kinky Friedman imagines what he would do as the Texas secretary of foreign affairs.

"I think the first thing we would do is go to the Third World countries and teach the women how to grow big hair and give the men Rick Perry wigs," he says. "I will keep us out of war with Oklahoma. And one of the first countries we'll open free trade with is Cuba. We will be opening cigar stores all over Texas. We're not supporting their economy; we're burning their fields."

Monday, April 02, 2012

“A CFO is interviewing candidates for a job as a benefits consultant. He calls the first one, an accountant, into his office and asks, “What’s two plus two?” the accountant says “Four.” The CFO sends him away, calls an actuary into the room and asks, “What’s two plus two?” the actuary closes the door, pulls down the blinds, then leans in and whispers, “What do you want it to be?” He gets the job.

-From Ellen E. Shultz’s “Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers”