Friday, March 25, 2005

Topic: Politics -- National.

Your feedback:

20 Comments:

Blogger pfennell said...

Fools on parade

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

D.C. stands for "doesn't care." Our nation faces so many complex issues, problems and solutions. Our national leaders are interested in special interests and special interests only. We need new leadership in Washington, D.C. so that our federal government will be what it is meant to be: A government of the People, by the People and for the People! I write to my President and Congress Members quite frequently to let the know my feelings on national issues.

Friday, May 13, 2005 9:01:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

December of 2004

I just finished reading a book about former-President Harry S. Truman. It was written by David McCullough and is almost 1,000 pages long. I have read this book for several years—while reading other books in between—and found it to be insightful as to the next pivot following the Civil War. President Truman was both a good and incautious (in terms of the far off future) head of state. Truman was good because he stopped empire building by the Nazi Germans and Japanese Emperors; he consolidated Western Power and transformed Eastern Power in Japan; he recognized Israel as a new state in 1948 and then went onto win a second term in his own right; he stopped Communist Aggression in both Europe (Berlin Airlift) and Asia (Communist North Korea) without starting World War III; he advocated for national health care, elderly healthcare (similar to LBJ’s Medicare), and other fair entitlement programs for the poor and disadvantaged; and most importantly to me, he stood for Jeffersonian rural democracy in a capital city that is usually ruled by anything but. Truman was incautious because he laid the seeds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s undue influence over our Democratic System of Government. He was not at fault for this de facto takeover that we now see in full bloom, but he should have placed measures to control the agency’s vast powers. However, he could not see into the future and hindsight of this time in history is a gift that people now have in today’s world, but not over 50-years-ago. Truman stopped evil empires, but did not direct our current American empire (for better of for worse) in the long term. A nation that grew to such importance as the United States of America, needed to be one for peace, not economic domination, such as the Roman, Ottoman and British Empires. Truman placed the United Nations into power, but on a deck of cards that would eventually collapse and lose all of its intended meaning. The U.N. did not direct America’s empire; rather, America’s empire resented the U.N.’s questioning of her motives. Truman had it where it counted, such as firing General MacArthur (Mr. Nuclear Option), opposing Joe McCarthy (Mr. Baseless pseudo-finger-pointing), standing against Joe Kennedy (Mr. Nazi-Sympathizer); and for being loyal, above all else: LOYAL to his faith, country, family, staff, and the American People. Truman had character, although not always right in argument, but real character. His scripts were all written, but his decisions were only those that a good man and great leader could make. I believe that Truman was an exceptional leader.

The one theme I understood of the time that Truman was the President of the United States was that in our world: The strong will always pick on the weak. It does not matter whether the strong were right or wrong or even indifferent. It does not matter if the weak were right or wrong, either. Whether the weak were poor throughout history; or Jewish in Nazi Germany/Europe and other tragic times; or Black in the times of colonial Slavery; or Native American in the times of western expansion and settlement periods; or Women; or Children; or any other demographic ascription, they were always defeated by those in power. Truman knew this. Many leaders throughout history did not know this. There have been leaders who have come up with diverse ways to come into and grow power. Some have said that Jesus Christ and Christian religion, however political, was the answer. Some have said that free markets will solve our problems. Some have said that the continual bequeathal of economic power to the Proletariat from the Bourgeoisie would stop injustice, not create it. Right now, our current American government is pontificating nonsensical Wilsonian Democracy that bringing democracy to oppressed Middle Eastern Islamic States will cure the violence and insolence against America and her empire. But, it is not so!

The problem is not the method! The problem is the problem! That problem is that those in power will abuse their power no matter the cause—Jesus Christ, Christianity, Capitalism, Communism, Wilsonian Democracy, or any other nonsensical political cause that always becomes the banality of any true and good intention.

What Truman saw was what any fair minded President, who saw the fall of Hitler and continuing rise of Stalin, the fall of China to the Communist Party in 1949, among other events, would see. The 19th Century was for all intents and outcomes the opposite of the early 21st Century. The 19th Century saw the centralization of state power and the beginning of the modern, industrial period. The 20th Century saw the burdens of that power. The 21st Century is seeing a full circle back to the days of demographic ascriptions to protect, however falsely, the weak. The weak are not fighting the strong; but rather, the weak are fighting to become the strong. Their method is to point out the evils of discrimination, social injustice, poverty, capitalism, religion, and the like; just like the aforementioned methods were misused to control and defeat the weak. We are in a period of continual false pretenses of protecting people who really want power who will then find a new group of weak people to victimize. Just look at the evolution of Truman’s Israeli state. Israel now has power, but only currently protects her own conservative-Jewish political causes at the expense of many minorities and outside groups. Israel went from a weak land of victimized refugees to a conservative Jewish state that incites violence and injustice to achieve her conservative political ends. Israel, as Truman created it, proved his very sentiments of global politics.

The problem of modern political power, as Truman observed, was that the methods, such as the spread of Marxist Communism versus Wilsonian Democracy, now overtook the problems of those who actually had power and what they did with that power—i.e., Hitler or Stalin, and their respective mass murders (genocides) and totalitarian regimes. Truman saw through the elite academics, which he never had the privilege of partaking, which would say: If we prescribe this bureaucratic answer to that societal problem then we will have this efficient outcome. Nothing works in this manner in the real world and in global politics. In conclusion, Truman saw evil and met it with a razor sharp mind, granite body and iron fist without causing unnecessary crises. When the weak were picked on, he helped them. When the strong were wrong, he stood up to them in the capacity that he could. Truman could have taken over the world (as Stalin was trying to do the same), but wisely did not do so. His strength was that he met injustice with justice; his weakness is that he unintentionally created a monstrous CIA and a bully American empire that he hoped would not become so at the time of his Administration.

I like to read about politics and write about these subjects, but I have no ambition to be a player in these matters. I do believe that our country deserves far better presidents than the past two and the current one. I would like to see another President Truman in power sometime in my lifetime. Truman was not the best president, and he had many policy flaws, but I am amazed at what he was able to do given the historical time in which he served. Truman understood history and government, and I hope that I was able to pass on his understanding of these matters to you.

-By Jonathan A. Melle

Monday, May 16, 2005 7:56:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Memo

From: Jonathan A. Melle

To: The Honorable John Olver, D-Amherst, The Honorable Charlie Bass, R-Peterborough, NH

Re: My Open Letter to Charlie Bass and John Olver, Members of the U.S. Congress

Date: June 11, 2005

Dear Congress Members Olver & Bass,

I recently received Congress Member Bass’ email concerning increasing federal funding for state and local government’s special education programs. I am in full concurrence with U.S. Representative Bass’ commitment to increase funding for special education programs at the federal government level.

Despite my sharp political differences with the Honorable Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which is my native hometown, Jim Ruberto jruberto@pittsfieldch.com , I remain his supporter and friend, even as I now live in the great state of New Hampshire. I have communicated with this municipal leader throughout his second & successful campaign and current first-term as Mayor. Mayor Ruberto keeps sending me his message that municipal costs are increasing higher than his revenue sources. Moreover, and case in point, Mayor Ruberto tells me that his state funding, which is connected to how much money the federal government sends to the state, is $2 Million less than it was several years ago—I believe he said it was benchmarked to the year 2002. Now, with the commitment by Rep. Bass to increase funding to special education, which is a big cost in Ruberto’s municipal educational budget, the state may be able to send more funding to his public schools.

If I were Mayor Ruberto, I would not let the municipal budget stand in my way of funding public education. Rather, I would work with every member of our American government, even if it were on my knees, asking, pleading and begging for more funding for my municipal public schools. I would be the great communicator, not the (not so) great insider. I would point out to the community, the state government and, yes, the power brokers, such as entrenched politicians like both of you, in Washington, D.C. that I don’t have the municipal budget to effectively run my schools. I would legally and legitimately demand a meeting with President George W. Bush, and say, yes, I realize that Africa needs money for their communities, but Gosh Darn It, I need money for my schools right here in the good old U.S.A.!

Mr. Bass & Mr. Olver, we live in a time when Halliburton receives uncapped, uncompetitive, no time lines, no accountability, and on and on, funding, in the tune of billions upon billions of dollars, to rebuild Iraq, Afghanistan, and the like, which are worthy causes. HOWEVER, WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN COUNTRY? I think it is about time that Congress and the President start working with our Mayors and Governors a lot more. I support Mr. Bass’ commitment to fund special education at the federal level. I hope we see more initiatives like this in the future!

My very best regards,

Jonathan A. Melle

Charlie Bass' Capitol Link
Linking Granite Staters to the Nation's Capitol
Vol. 6 No. 17 - Week of June 6, 2005

Fighting to Fully Fund Special Education

Earlier this week I authored a letter to Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH), the chairman of the House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, requesting that $14.65 billion be included for the IDEA grants-to-states program. Last year the House of Representatives approved and the President enacted, the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act, laying a clear glide path to attaining full federal funding. Over the next five years, the amount of federal funding would incrementally increase until the full 40 percent was reached in FY 2011. The amount I requested would keep Congress on that path towards full funding.

I am pleased that 76 other members of Congress joined me in signing this letter so that we can continue to assist our local communities trying to meet the education needs of all students, including a growing number of students with disabilities. I have long been a supporter of full funding for the IDEA program because I believe that Congress must help ease the pressure that special education puts on state and local budgets. In order to continue the fight I will also be reintroducing my bill that would lock discretionary funding at current levels and mandate annual increases above the discretionary level until the promised 40% is reached. Increased IDEA funding actually allows our local communities to devote scarce resources that are being spent to meet the federal requirements of the IDEA law to other areas of need. It is important that we continue to fight against the failure of the federal government to live up to its commitment of financial assistance for children with special needs.

Saturday, June 11, 2005 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

THE BOSTON GLOBE

DeLay's charity for children under fire
Corporate donors' intent scrutinized

By Nicholas Thompson, Globe Correspondent | June 12, 2005

NEW YORK -- At a tribute last month in Washington to House majority leader Tom DeLay, admirers praised DeLay as a hero to foster children, having drawn attention to their needs, taken them into his home, and especially raised millions of dollars through the DeLay Foundation for Kids.

As DeLay confronts allegations of improprieties that have led to several House Ethics Committee investigations, his supporters are increasingly citing his caring heart as key to understanding the real Tom DeLay.

But his critics have also noted DeLay's work on behalf of foster children -- as a way for companies to give unregulated and undisclosed funds to a charity controlled by DeLay, in order to get in his good graces.

''It looks good on the surface, but it's rotten," said Fred Lewis, president of Campaigns for People, a Texas nonprofit group. ''It's not about benefiting children, and it's not about benefiting charity. It's about allowing another way for the donors to get their hooks into politicians."

DeLay, in his 11th term in the House, started his main organization, the DeLay Foundation for Kids, 18 years ago after his wife, Christine, a teacher, became an advocate for children in foster care. Eventually, the DeLays began taking foster children into their home.

The charity reaped greater funds as DeLay's career in Congress progressed. During the past five years, it has raised money primarily through golf tournaments where DeLay, 58, and other GOP House leaders have spent hours on the greens with business groups who paid large sums to participate. Last year, the foundation's tax returns declared assets of over $4 million and said that the spring golf tournament brought in $530,000.

Most of the money the foundation has spent has gone to Oaks at Rio Bend -- another organization controlled by DeLay and his wife -- which is building a residential community for foster children. ''Fighting for the needs of abused and neglected children is an issue that is extremely personal to Tom and his family, and for them, transcends partisan politics," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, who has participated in past golf tournaments with DeLay to raise money for the foundation.

Oaks at Rio Bend, which has declared in tax papers that it is an ''outgrowth" of the DeLay Foundation, aims to build a community of foster families who provide stable homes for children. According to its director, the organization has already built nine houses and a chapel and is half finished with a gymnasium. The company doing the construction is run by Bob Perry, a major donor to DeLay's campaigns, who has said he is doing the work at cost.

There are almost no restrictions on what corporations can give to nonprofits connected to politicians, making nonprofits one of the few avenues by which companies can give vast sums since the passage of a campaign-finance reform law in 2002. DeLay is one of a handful of political leaders, including Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, who have started big-money charities in addition to their political work.

DeLay is not required to name his charity's supporters. But tax and online records reveal that the donors include ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and SBC. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, created by the founder of Dell Computers, gave the DeLay Foundation $250,000 in 2003.

The DeLay Foundation has always raised money by soliciting corporations. In its application for nonprofit status from the IRS in 1987, three years after DeLay was elected to Congress, it declared, ''The initial fund-raiser will be a gala evening with a buffet, cocktails, dancing, and a short program. . . .The costs of the event are being solicited from corporate contributions by officers and directors."

DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, referred all inquiries to the leaders of DeLay's charities. Jim Jenkins, president of the DeLay Foundation for Kids, said that the group is disconnected from politics and that the names of donors are not disclosed both for the donors' privacy and because of the concern that they might be approached by other, similar charities.

Margaret Gow, executive director of the Oaks at Rio Bend, said she has attended many of the fund-raisers for the DeLay Foundation, including the golf events, and has never witnessed any quid pro quo. ''I have never seen any indication that anything was ever asked or that anything was ever given," she said.

But critics have long noted that the companies giving to the foundation have a hidden route to the congressman.

''DeLay is selling something," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Sloan contends that companies give because they expect something back and that the foundation's donor lists should be disclosed at least to the House Ethics Committee.

Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist being investigated by the Department of Justice for fraud, donated to the foundation and, according to a recent report in the National Journal, persuaded clients to do the same by telling them it was a way to get in the good graces of Tom and Christine DeLay.

In 2004, DeLay established another nonprofit, Celebrations for Children, to raise money at the Republican National Convention in New York City for abused and neglected children. The organization invited donors to parties, Broadway shows, luxury seats at President Bush's acceptance speech, and a yacht cruise with DeLay.

Chris Bell -- a former congressman who filed ethics complaints against DeLay that led to DeLay being admonished by the House Ethics Committee three times last fall -- said that he considered filing another complaint against DeLay over Celebrations for Children. Bell said the foundation was an overt political tool because of its clear connection to the GOP convention. Only one sentence in the foundation's 13-page brochure mentioned the recipients of the aid. Bell only relented when the organization was shut down in mid-2004 after public outrage.

DeLay's ''relentless aggressiveness in pushing the envelope is what leads to questions being raised about all his activities," said Don Simon, general counsel to Democracy 21, an organization that led the criticism of Celebrations for Children.

Bruce Hopkins, a Kansas City lawyer specializing in nonprofit tax law, said that it is almost impossible to discern the intent behind someone's donation.

''People make charitable donations for all sorts of reasons, and some are more charitable than others. But all the person has to say is 'No, I gave to this foundation because I support what it's doing.' "

Hopkins added that the law also gives people some leeway to make charitable donations that serve their private interests, such as donations to a university that then names a building after the donor.

DeLay's supporters call the fund-raising activities genuine and good for the country.

Monday, June 13, 2005 9:41:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

June 23, 2005

Re: My dissent against the Pentagon’s Student Database

Dear Berkshire Bloggers

If public education means ceding the rights of our most vulnerable citizens (children) to the military than I believe our democratic system of government is becoming authoritarian. I must register my dissent concerning the enclosed news article, below.

The first reason I dissent against the Pentagon tapping into public education students is that I WILL ALWAYS SPEAK MY GOOD CONSCIENCE AS LONG AS I LIVE! Give me Liberty or give me death! We live in a free nation whereby every citizen is free to exercise his or her freedoms without fear. Whether it is in communicating with Pittsfield’s Mayor Jim Ruberto, who is my friend and I am his supporter, but who also continues to confuse me when I read about his poor leadership decisions such as not fully funding his city’s public schools and not awarding his teachers union contracts, or with my opposite in politics, state Senator Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., who is a corporate banking lawyer who also makes public policy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, R-Peterborough, NH, who says he is an independent, but is in the Republican Party’s pocket, or even President Bush, I will always tell them what I think whether or not it meets their approval. I will stand for Liberty and Justice for All. My conscience is important because I know that if every American citizen participated in our democracy, we would have peace, prosperity and equity in our government and businesses.

I believe the Pentagon’s control of children’s personal information will create a state of fear. Such a state of fear that, by example, has been propagated by authoritarian bureaucrats such as Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. or former-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. When I lived in Berkshire County (for 28+ years), so many citizens came up to me and told me how much they feared Mr. Massimiano. I could not believe that anyone would fear a public official in our American Democracy. But, then I found out for myself. In 2004, I was preparing a run for State Senator against Nuciforo in the Democratic Primary. Several times, I came across Massimiano. He made it a point to tell me that he would not sign my nomination papers and that I should know that he supported Nuciforo. Then, I asked one of his workers at the Berkshire Jail to serve on my campaign committee and he told me that I should know that Massimiano would fire him if he supported me. Then, my eyes opened. There are authoritarian bureaucrats within our beautiful democratic state.

Whether it is a local, state or federal government official, I want them to know that I would rather be given death than cede my Liberty. I will speak out against authoritarian government and business bureaucrats with all of the air in my lungs. I will speak out against fear-mongers like Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr., John Ashcroft, and the like. I would rather be dead than live in an authoritarian state and submit to totalitarian officials.

Another reason why I dissent against the Pentagon’s decision to create a large database of children is that they are still children! At least wait until these children become adults. I do not believe anyone should be exploited, especially an innocent child. The military should wait until children are 18 to put them in as enlisted soldiers. In public schools, there should be at least a class that teaches children about the realities of war. War is hell! I am a Veteran of the U.S. Army. While I was never deployed to a combat zone, I experienced the hell of military life. My experiences are so painful that it hurts me and puts me into tears to write about them. In the military, I met almost all authoritarian bureaucrats who were not interested in right or wrong, but rather only indifference. The military carried out its missions without regard to the law, fairness, human rights, equity, and every other civic ethic children learn about in school. The military is not like a public school. The military is hard, tough and even brutal. If the Pentagon wants our children’s souls, the children should know about the Pentagon and what war is like. When I arrived at my base in Europe, my fellow soldiers had just returned from Kosovo. 11 soldiers in my battalion had died in that deployment. The soldiers who returned told me that they spent most of their days burying dead bodies. They told me that genocide had made for piles of dead bodies that gave off the worst odors and they had to dig grave after grave after grave to bury their bodies. These soldiers were young men who were visibly shaken by their deployment. That is what military life is like; that is what war is like.

At least teach the realities of war in public school. Tell children that their private information is being given over to the Pentagon so that they can deal with the most tragic, devastating and violent events in our world. Tell them that when they are on a military mission that it is only the mission that matters, even if soldiers are hungry, wounded, dying, dead; civilians are in pain and in harms way; peoples are displaced; hate runs rampant; and on and on. Tell the children that they are being fed to a military machine that is authoritarian, not democratic. Tell them that they must obey almost every order or face the worst consequences—even if the soldier is right to disobey something illegal or immoral. Tell the children that they will suffer from physical and/or mental injuries and that most civilians will not care about them when they return to their hometowns. In my case, my hometown (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) helped me greatly and I am very grateful for Veterans Agent Larry Caprari, Veterans Representative Richard Delmasto, and other community leaders, but there were many ignorant people who also picked on me because of my weaknesses that were my mental injuries suffered during my military service. Tell the children whose information is being rendered to the Pentagon that the VA doesn’t care about the Veteran and it takes them years to start to provide compensations, pensions and care to the Veteran. Tell the children that the VA is also authoritarian in its bureaucratic structure and intimidates them (as Veterans) from receiving their entitlements under clearly written federal laws.

At least tell the children the truth if the Pentagon is going to own their personal information! All of this is looking like the beginning of a draft! I dissent!

Sincerely,

Jonathan

Pentagon Creating Student Database
Recruiting Tool For Military Raises Privacy Concerns

By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 2005; A01

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.

The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.

"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.

Privacy advocates said the plan appeared to be an effort to circumvent laws that restrict the government's right to collect or hold citizen information by turning to private firms to do the work.

Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country.

School systems that fail to provide that information risk losing federal funds, although individual parents or students can withhold information that would be transferred to the military by their districts. John Moriarty, president of the PTA at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the issue has "generated a great deal of angst" among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.

Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state drivers' license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.

"Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military," according to written statements provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke in response to questions. "This program is important because it helps bolster the effectiveness of all the services' recruiting and retention efforts."

The Pentagon's statements added that anyone can "opt out" of the system by providing detailed personal information that will be kept in a separate "suppression file." That file will be matched with the full database regularly to ensure that those who do not wish to be contacted are not, according to the Pentagon.

But privacy advocates said using database marketers for military recruitment is inappropriate.

"We support the U.S. armed forces, and understand that DoD faces serious challenges in recruiting for the military," a coalition of privacy groups wrote to the Pentagon after notice of the program was published in the Federal Register a month ago. "But . . . the collection of this information is not consistent with the Privacy Act, which was passed by Congress to reduce the government's collection of personal information on Americans."

Chris Jay Hoofnagle, West Coast director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the system "an audacious plan to target-market kids, as young as 16, for military solicitation."

He added that collecting Social Security numbers was not only unnecessary but posed a needless risk of identity fraud. Theft of Social Security numbers and other personal information from data brokers, government agencies, financial institutions and other companies is rampant.

"What's ironic is that the private sector has ways of uniquely identifying individuals without using Social Security numbers for marketing," he said.

The Pentagon statements said the military is "acutely aware of the substantial security required to protect personal data," and that Social Security numbers will be used only to "provide a higher degree of accuracy in matching duplicate data records."

The Pentagon said it routinely monitors its vendors to ensure compliance with its security standards.

Krenke said she did not know how much the contract with BeNow was worth, or whether it was bid competitively.

Officials at BeNow did not return several messages seeking comment. The company's Web site does not have a published privacy policy, nor does it list either a chief privacy officer or security officer on its executive team.

According to the Federal Register notice, the data will be open to "those who require the records in the performance of their official duties." It said the data would be protected by passwords.

The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress.

Some see the program as part of a growing encroachment of government into private lives, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It's just typical of how voracious government is when it comes to personal information," said James W. Harper, a privacy expert with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Defense is an area where government has a legitimate responsibility . . . but there are a lot of data fields they don't need and shouldn't be keeping. Ethnicity strikes me as particularly inappropriate."

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Social Security Administration relaxed its privacy policies and provided data on citizens to the FBI in connection with terrorism investigations.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, June 23, 2005 2:39:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

“Halliburton executives have run up costs by staying at top-of-the-line hotels in Kuwait, that they have paid too much to import fuel, and that they've prepared thousands more meals than they've served.”

"The (U.S. Government) report…expands the scope of allegations of waste and financial malfeasance.”

“…Halliburton contracts had nearly $10 million in ''duplicate costs" for cargo and freight equipment as well as instances where the company issued more paychecks for a project than the number of people working on it…”

- - The Boston Globe, June 28, 2005

Dear President Bush (via U.S. Mail), Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Gregg, Sununu, Congressmen Olver, Bass and Bradley, News Media, Politicians, the People (via E-mail):

I DISSENT! It is outrageous that Halliburton is overcharging the American Taxpayer for the services they provide in Iraq and at other military operations. I ask that you shut down and liquidate this corrupt corporate entity and return the money Halliburton has overcharged, stolen and cheated from the American Taxpayer back to the American Taxpayer. This is a disgrace!

I support out troops, but am dismayed at the corrupt goings on in the centralized government and political worlds. Stand up and do what is right, please!

Very Truly Yours,

Jonathan A. Melle
jonathan_a_melle@yahoo.com

Audit questions $1.4b in Halliburton bills
Expenses at issue from Iraq contracts
By Rick Klein rklein@globe.com , Globe Staff | June 28, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Internal Pentagon audits have flagged about $1.4 billion in expenses submitted by Halliburton Co. for services the firm is providing in Iraq, charges that include $45 cases of soda, $100-per-bag laundry service, and several months preparing at least 10,000 daily meals for a US military base that the troops did not need and ultimately went to waste, according to a report released yesterday by congressional Democrats.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency, which reviews Pentagon contracting, identified $1.03 billion in Halliburton invoices that it questioned as excessive, and an additional $442 million in expenses the company reported that the agency deemed to be insufficiently documented, according to the report.

The report, which House and Senate Democrats made public yesterday, gives a broad overview of questionable costs racked up by the energy conglomerate once led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Federal officials have also probed allegations that Halliburton executives have run up costs by staying at top-of-the-line hotels in Kuwait, that they have paid too much to import fuel, and that they've prepared thousands more meals than they've served. The report categorizes allegations that previously had been anecdotal, and expands the scope of allegations of waste and financial malfeasance.

It's also the latest salvo in Democrats' long-running contention that Halliburton -- by far the largest private contractor working in Iraq -- has gotten favored treatment from the Bush administration despite overcharging the government.

''Whether the explanation is gross incompetence or deliberate malfeasance, the result is the same: The taxpayers are getting bilked," Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said yesterday at a hearing Democrats held to highlight the report. ''This special treatment must end."

Cathy Mann, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, said the $1.4 billion figure is a ''gross mischaracterization" of the expenses that are under review, since some of the discrepancies have already been resolved.

For example, Mann said, Halliburton and the Pentagon disagreed over a bill for food services, but resolved the matter in April. She said both sides ultimately agreed that Halliburton would get $145 million of $200 million that had been withheld over the dispute.

''The only thing that's been inflated is the political rhetoric, which is mostly a rehash of last year's elections," Mann said. ''Halliburton is taking care of our troops' needs so they can focus on the tasks at hand. . .Audits are part of the normal contracting process, and it is important to note that the auditors' role in the process is advisory only" to the other Pentagon agencies that award private contracts.

The audits surfaced in a joint report prepared by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee. The audits were part of the Pentagon's normal contract review policy; Democratic lawmakers obtained them from whistle-blowers who thought the information should come to light, according to committee aides. The whistleblowers asked not to be identified.

Much of the money in question has not yet been paid to Halliburton, pending resolution of the concerns raised by auditors.

Halliburton has won a number of contracts -- some the Pentagon handed to them on a no-bid basis -- for military suppport, security and reconstruction work in Iraq, deals that could total as much as $18 billion. Divisions of the company are under contract to provide meals and logistical services for coalition troops, rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure, and purchasing equipment and supplies to help with the reconstruction of the country.

The contracts entitle the company to get full reimbursement for its costs from the government, in addition to a fee that is a percentage of those costs, an arrangement that critics say creates an incentive for the company to pad its bills.

Democrats cited numerous instances in the report of apparent double-charging for services and equipment, and seemingly excessive costs for basic materials like food, gasoline, and laundry.

A November report by the Army Audit Agency, another Pentagon review office, found that Halliburton contracts had nearly $10 million in ''duplicate costs" for cargo and freight equipment as well as instances where the company issued more paychecks for a project than the number of people working on it, and the purchase of $560,000 worth of unnecessary equipment. At one point, the company billed the government $152,000 to build a 10,000-title ''movie library," an expense auditors ultimately deemed excessive.

Rory Mayberry, a former food production manager for the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, testified at the hearing that the company routinely overpaid for staples such as tomatoes and bacon by importing the food from Philadelphia instead of using local suppliers overseas and in the region. Mayberry said that in early 2004, the company ordered enough food to prepare 20,000 meals every day at one US base in Iraq even though it was serving only 10,000 of them a day.

''When I questioned these practices, the managers told me this needed to be done because KBR lost money in prior months, when the government suspended some of the dining-hall payments to the company," said Mayberry, who testified via videotape from Iraq, where he is now working for another private company.

Two employees of the fuel transport and security company Lloyd-Owen International, another private company, told lawmakers yesterday that while Halliburton paid a Kuwaiti company about $1.30 per gallon of gasoline to fill the tanks of its vehicles, other contractors paid as little as 18 cents per gallon.

Federal officials have launched investigations of portions of Halliburton contracts, most notably in a March indictment where the Justice Department accused a company official and a subcontractor of overcharging taxpayers by nearly $5 million.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said: ''The American taxpayers have simply been cheated. For every dollar that Halliburton gets in excess profits, these are jobs that cannot go to Iraqis who need them."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

ADRIAN WALKER
Mother fights VA for justice
By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist | July 14, 2005

Joanne Wheeler possesses the virtue of patience. That is a necessary quality in anyone who plans to battle with the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy.

''I happen to be someone who perseveres," she said yesterday. That's an understatement.

Not that she asked for this fight. Her son, James M. Wheeler, joined the US Navy in 1981, becoming a maintenance technician on nuclear submarines. Approximately four years after his discharge in 1985 he was dead, his life claimed by acute lymphocytic leukemia. His family is convinced that his fatal illness was the direct result of radiation he was exposed to in the Navy.

Sixteen years after James's death, Joanne Wheeler is still fighting to get the military to accept responsibility and award benefits to his widow. She has amassed a vast store of evidence. It suggests that exposure to ionizing radiation is the only plausible explanation for her son's cancer, which is highly unusual in adults. Military judges have repeatedly found that her claims have merit, but Veterans Affairs has yet to rule definitively that Wheeler's death was service-related, the key to awarding benefits.

''All cases that go to the VA are slow and tedious," observed US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who has taken up Wheeler's cause. ''I have to credit the family for their perseverance here," he said. ''It's been a long struggle, and there's been denials, and one would think they might give up at some point. But they have not, and I admire that."

James Wheeler joined the Navy at 19 as a welder. He was assigned to the New London Submarine Base in Groton, Conn. His job there was to repair and perform maintenance on nuclear submarines. Because he was not a nuclear technician, he did not wear a dosimeter, the device used to detect exposure to radiation.

After 15 months in Groton, Wheeler was transferred to the USS Barbey, a California-based frigate. While stationed in California, he began to suffer from knee injuries related to his physically demanding duty. In August 1985, he was discharged because of his knee problems. At 23, he returned home to Massachusetts. He enrolled in Massasoit Community College. He wanted to become a structural engineer.

It didn't work out that way. Wheeler suffered a crushed right foot and broken bones in a motorcycle accident, injuries that despite his youth and relative good health refused to heal. Soon his wounds developed infections. He eventually began to suffer numbness in his chin and lower lip. Doctors couldn't find the cause.

Finally, after a harrowing trip to the emergency room at Brockton Hospital, he was diagnosed with leukemia and was told he had five years to live, at most. Fifteen months later he died.

Three weeks before Wheeler passed away, his mother met a military veteran in a leukemia support group. The man, a former Green Beret, said that most of his unit had died. They had been exposed to Agent Orange. It started Joanne Wheeler wondering if her son had been exposed to something hazardous. She says she asked her son the next day if he had been exposed to radiation, and he said yes.

''They weren't supposed to talk about it, so he never had," she said.

James Wheeler was survived by a wife and a young son. His son died in a motorcycle accident when he was 19. Wheeler's widow lives in Brockton and has tried to move on with her life. Wheeler says she and her daughter-in-law seldom communicate, except when there is a development in the case.

Earlier this month, a military judge remanded the Wheeler case to the VA with an order that resolution should be expedited. That would be a first in this slow-moving case of justice both delayed and denied. The VA did not return calls seeking comment.

Joanne Wheeler insists she will not go away, though she sometimes gets the impression that is what the government would like.

''Every time it comes up, I go through all the heartache again," she said. ''It's like I can't put him to rest yet."

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

Friday, July 15, 2005 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

House reauthorizes USA Patriot Act
By Alan Elsner | July 21, 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives, ignoring protests from civil liberties groups, renewed the USA Patriot Act on Thursday mostly along party lines, to make permanent the government's unprecedented powers to investigate suspected terrorists.

Sixteen provisions of the 2001 law, hastily enacted in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, are due to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress. President Bush, who has repeatedly called on lawmakers to make the entire law permanent, commended lawmakers for approving the measure.

"The Patriot Act is a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people, and the Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews the act without weakening our ability to fight terror," the president said in statement.

The House reauthorized the act by 257-171 with several changes designed to increase judicial and political oversight of some of its most controversial provisions. In the Republican-controlled chamber, 44 Democrats supported the bill while 14 Republicans opposed it.

Republicans repeatedly argued throughout the 11-hour debate that the latest explosions in London showed how urgent and important it was to renew the law.

"Passage of the ... act is vital to maintaining the post-9/11 law enforcement and intelligence reforms that have reduced America's vulnerability to terrorist attack," Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner told lawmakers.

Republicans also added a new provision to apply the federal death penalty for terrorist offenses that resulted in death and another establishing a new crime of narco-terrorism to punish people using drug profits to aid terrorism. These offenders will now face 20-year minimum prison sentences.

The original act allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects and gave the government the ability to go to a secret court to seize the personal records of suspects from bookstores, libraries, businesses, hospitals and other organizations -- the so-called "library clause."

House Republicans agreed last week that this clause -- perhaps the most contentious -- and another allowing so-called roving wiretaps, which permits the government to eavesdrop on suspects as they switch from phone to phone, would be renewed for only 10 years instead of being made permanent.

The Senate judiciary committee voted unanimously to recommend its own version of the act on Thursday, which included only four-year renewals of these two clauses. The full Senate is expected to take its bill up in the fall.

The House also passed an amendment requiring the director of the FBI to personally approve all requests for library or bookstore records and a number of other amendments designed to add civil liberty safeguards to the bill.

'GRAVE THREAT'

However, Democrats who mostly supported the original law in 2001, were not mollified and said the law still posed a potentially grave threat to personal freedoms.

"The bill before us fails to assure accountability," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Today, we are deciding whether the government will be accountable to the people, to the Congress and to the courts for the exercise of its power."

Republicans said there had been no documented instances of civil liberty abuses since the act was originally passed in 2001. However Democrats said the government had requested individuals' library records more than 200 times.

Democrats also complained that the Republican leadership refused to allow debate on several of their key amendments and opted instead to ram the law through on a party-line vote.

"This is an abuse of power by the Republican majority which has deliberately and purposely chosen to stifle a full debate," said Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer.

A coalition of liberal and conservative civil liberties groups, formed to oppose reauthorization of the law in its current form, this week called on lawmakers not to rush to reauthorize the bill without further debate.

"Certain sections of the law extend far beyond the mission of protecting Americans from terrorism and violate ordinary citizens' constitutional rights, especially the right to privacy," said former Republican Rep. Bob Barr.

Leading opposition from the left, the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill gave the FBI extraordinary power to obtain personal records, search individuals' homes or offices without their knowledge and to use a secret court to obtain personal date on ordinary Americans.

Friday, July 22, 2005 9:21:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Dear Union Leader,

I am sorry that I voted for John Kerry for President last year. The reason for my regret is that I have written to the Senator and even spoken to a member of his staff about my Veterans inquiries. While I have received positive responses from Senators Judd Gregg, Edward Kennedy, and President Bush, among others, I received no response from Senator Kerry. I do not believe John Kerry cares about Veterans. I hope that he will someday stop running for President and begin to relate to and advocate for his constituents and Veterans.

Sincerely,
Jonathan A. Melle

Thursday, August 04, 2005 9:36:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

9/11 Panel Says U.S. Hasn't Enacted Crucial Reforms

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; A03

Four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the federal government has failed to enact crucial homeland security reforms that could have saved lives and improved the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, according to a report to be issued today by former members of the Sept. 11 commission.

Local emergency officials are still unable to reliably communicate with one another during disasters, the federal government has no clear system of command and control for responding to a crisis, and authorities have faltered in enacting basic border controls designed to keep out terrorists, according to the report's findings, which commission members outlined in interviews.

A separate commission report released yesterday provided chilling details about the Federal Aviation Administration's assessment as early as 1998 that al Qaeda might try to fly a jet into a U.S. landmark.

"In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by [Osama] Bin Ladin and al Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to the report, which was a new version of a more heavily edited document released earlier this year.

But, the report added, the FAA viewed the possibility as "unlikely" and a "last resort."

Thomas H. Kean (R), the former New Jersey governor who headed the panel that investigated the terrorist attacks, said the bungled response to Katrina laid bare how unprepared the nation remains for a catastrophic event, whether it is another terrorist strike or a natural disaster.

"This is not a terrorist incident, but it brings into play all of the same issues and shortcomings," Kean said. "What makes you mad is that it's the same things we saw on 9/11. Whoever is responsible for acting in these places hasn't acted. Are they going to do it now? What else has to happen for people to act?"

Lawmakers and the Bush administration are in the midst of a partisan debate over whether an independent panel akin to the Sept. 11 commission should be formed to study missteps that left tens of thousands in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast stranded without assistance after Katrina. More than 640 deaths have been confirmed from the Aug. 29 storm and its aftermath.

Congressional Republicans have proposed a special committee to investigate the Katrina response, but many Democrats support the idea of an independent commission. The Bush administration, which also resisted formation of the Sept. 11 panel, has signaled that it does not support a separate Katrina commission.

The Sept. 11 commission is technically disbanded and is now operating as the nonprofit 9/11 Public Discourse Project. It has held a series of hearings in recent months to examine the government's progress in enacting recommended reforms.

Congress and the Bush administration have embraced many of the major changes recommended by the Sept. 11 panel in its best-selling 2004 report, such as creation of an intelligence director to coordinate anti-terrorism and anti-espionage efforts.

But Kean and other commission officials fault Congress and the administration for proceeding too slowly on some changes and ignoring others altogether, including a recommendation that Congress restructure the way it handles oversight of homeland security issues. Today's findings will be the first of three reports to be issued in coming months, followed by an overall "report card" that will rank the government's progress at the end of the year.

Kean and other commission officials said the most serious oversights are those that might have helped in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

The commission's report will note that lawmakers, facing opposition from the broadcast industry, have not established a unified emergency communications system by dedicating a portion of the broadcast spectrum to medical and disaster responders.

As on Sept. 11, when malfunctioning radios contributed to deaths in the World Trade Center, public safety officials in New Orleans have reported widespread communications problems.

"The fact that Congress has chosen not to do something about this is a national scandal that has cost lives," Kean said.

Other shortcomings that will be highlighted by today's report include delays by the Department of Homeland Security in ranking potential transportation and infrastructure vulnerabilities, continuing confusion over the line of command to be followed in national emergencies, and sluggish efforts to track visitors entering and leaving the United States.

The panel's follow-up investigation also has found that only a few of the nation's 441 commercial airports have deployed equipment to check passengers for explosives, despite the continued threat of attack by suicide bombers.

"The White House and the Congress took off with the baton . . . but they haven't finished running the race," said commission member Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "The fundamental job of the government is to protect and defend its citizens, and at this point the United States is still very vulnerable."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 9:23:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

washingtonpost.com
Jailed Reporter Is Distanced From News, Not Elite Visitors

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 17, 2005; A01

Locked in the Alexandria Detention Center for the past 11 weeks, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is cut off from the world. She has no Internet access and precious little opportunity to view CNN. Her phone calls are limited, friends say. Her daily newspaper arrives a day late.

But for 30 minutes nearly every day, the world comes to her: A parade of prominent government and media officials, 99 in all, visited Miller between early July, when she was jailed for refusing to be questioned by a federal prosecutor, and Labor Day, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.

The who's who of friends, supporters and Washington and New York luminaries includes John R. Bolton, President Bush's new ambassador to the United Nations, former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw and former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). Gonzalo Marroquin, president of the Inter-American Press Society and director of the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre has been by.

Most say they want to rally her spirits and show support for what they believe is the right of a free press to protect confidential sources.

"Judy Miller is the most innocent person in this case," Brokaw said in an interview yesterday. "I really thought that was outrageous that she was jailed and we needed as journalists to draw a line in the sand in a strong but thoughtful way."

Miller was jailed July 6 after a federal judge found her in contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to cooperate with special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame leak case. Fitzgerald has been investigating whether Bush administration officials broke the law by leaking the name of Plame, then an undercover CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for criticism of the administration leveled by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Miller did some reporting on Wilson's claims that the government had twisted intelligence on Iraq's attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war, but never wrote a story. Fitzgerald has questioned other reporters, including two from The Post who provided limited depositions with the consent of their sources, and maintains that it is crucial to his investigation to talk to Miller.

As a low-risk prisoner, Miller, 57, is generally allowed as many as three visitors a day for a total of 30 minutes. An assistant to Miller's lawyer manages the visitation list, and many who have tried to see the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist have been turned away because of the crush of requests. Miller receives advice from her lawyers about prospective visitors, but she has the final say on whom she will see, friends say.

"She's very popular, and it's kind of hard to get on the schedule," said longtime friend Ellen Chesler, who visited Miller in early July but has not been able to get back in since. "She has to turn people away."

Said one court official familiar with her schedule: "She's running an office down there."

Miller could walk out of jail today, leaving behind her green jumpsuit and her job at the jail laundry, by breaking her silence. She has vowed she will not, which means she can expect to remain jailed at least until the end of October, when the term of the current grand jury is scheduled to end. Fitzgerald could seek to extend her detention.

Authorities at the Alexandria Detention Center say it is not unheard-of for some prisoners to receive a visit every day from a spouse or mother. What distinguishes Miller, detention officials concede privately, is the volume and celebrity of the people who have come to talk to her through the plexiglass partition of the tiny visitor center.

"Well, she's not the most famous person we have here," said one employee at the detention center, which also houses convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. "But she does have some visitors."

Miller's criminal attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said jail authorities show Miller no special treatment and handle her visitation rights "appropriately and professionally."

"There are lot of people, like Senator Dole, that are concerned about her as a friend and as a reporter," Bennett said. "And Judy has a lot of friends."

Those friends include billionaire publisher Mort Zuckerman, blockbuster book editor Alice Mayhew and prolific film director Irwin Winkler and his wife, actress Margo Winkler.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) have visited to discuss a federal shield law for reporters protecting their sources. Dole, an old friend, came by before Labor Day with an aide, and later wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times urging her release.

The visitor list also includes people who might be key sources for a reporter who covered terrorism and weapons of mass destruction: Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism adviser under Clinton and Bush and his former aides, Roger Cressey and Lisa Gordon-Haggerty.

Miller also hosted Charles Duelfer, who concluded in 2005 that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but uncovered bribes in the United Nations' oil-for-food program. Even a former secretary of the navy, Richard Danzig, who now works as a bioterrorism consultant to the Pentagon, came through.

Bolton's visit raised some eyebrows in Washington. A vocal defender of administration claims in 2003 that Iraq was seeking weapons of mass destruction, he could have had access to a State Department memo, parts of which were classified, that detailed Wilson's trip to Niger to determine whether Iraq was seeking uranium there and identified his wife as a covert CIA operative. Who saw or discussed the memo has been a central question for Fitzgerald.

Bolton declined through a spokesman to discuss his visit to Miller or his reasons for going. "This has nothing to do with his job here," the spokesman said. "He doesn't want to talk about it."

Times officials have been mainstays on the visitor list, including chairman of the New York Times company Arthur Sulzberger Jr., columnist William Safire, Editor Bill Keller and Managing Editor Jill Abramson.

But friends say the volume of visits does not make up for Miller being largely cut off from the world. Out of respect for her fellow inmates, mostly Spanish-speaking women more interested in entertainment than news, Miller does not push to watch CNN on the shared television.

"This is the toughest aspect of this for a woman who makes her living engaging the world -- to be taken away from the world," Chesler said.

Saturday, September 17, 2005 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

September 19, 2005

Dear Berkshire Bloggers:

The news article below raises the issue that the federal government needs to formulate and implement a plan to lower the costs of healthcare insurance, especially for the disabled and elderly. This year’s recurring premium increase, which is $10.30 per month, for Medicare Part B is a multiplying expense to many economically constrained disabled people and senior citizens. Moreover, heating oil, gasoline and many other living necessity expenses have increased in cost far greater than this Medicare Part B expense, which is typically deducted straight from one’s Social Security check. The elderly, who are on a fixed or constrained budget, are being economically marginalized from a functional society, thereby turning our nation into a dysfunctional society. As the baby boomers begin to retire and live on in old age, I believe now is the time for the U.S. Government to come up with a more compassionate, humane and equitable solution to meeting the disabled and elderly citizens’ healthcare insurance needs. Universal healthcare insurance for all Americans would be a positive first step to a realistic and functional solution to our nation’s ever-growing problem of poverty, lack of adequate healthcare, and expensive healthcare insurance, among other pertinent issues.

Sincerely,
Jonathan A. Melle

U.S. Government Raises Medicare Premiums Again

By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer

Friday evening, September 16, 2005

Senior citizens and the disabled will have to pay a monthly Medicare premium of $88.50 next year for doctor's visits and other services, a $10.30 boost in the fee.

The 13.2 percent increase in premiums for Medicare Part B was in line with what government actuaries had been predicting. Even so, the Bush administration tried to lessen the pain of the announcement by touting the prescription drug benefit that begins Jan. 1.

Under the program, millions of low-income Americans will have their prescription drug costs covered almost entirely, and many other beneficiaries should see their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs decrease.

"Next year, people on Medicare will be getting much more in benefits than they had previously received," said Herb Kuhn, director of the Center for Medicare Management, part of the Health and Human Services Department.

Beneficiaries, through their premiums and other fees, pay about a quarter of the expenses for Part B, or supplemental insurance. Taxpayers pick up the other 75 percent.

Kuhn said an increase in the number and intensity of services that doctors provide is driving the increase in the premiums. The volume of physician services grew at a rate of 6.3 percent last year and is expected to grow 5.6 percent this year. The volume of hospital outpatient services has grown at a similar rate.

Kuhn said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not have a good understanding of whether the increasing volume of lab tests, office visits and the administering of drugs by physicians was entirely necessary.

"We're still trying to understand how much value we're getting for that," Kuhn said.
CMS officials say the rapid growth in services proves the need to move away from a reimbursement system that pays simply for more services, regardless of their impact.

The American Medical Association, in press releases issued earlier this year, defended the increase in services by noting that conditions once requiring hospitalization are now routinely treated in a physician's office at a lower cost to the government and patients.

"Americans are living longer than ever, more are entering Medicare, and chronic disease continues to increase, which naturally leads to an increased need for physician services," Dr. James Rohack, a member of the AMA Board of Trustees, said at the time.

For the nearly 42 million Americans on Medicare, the part B benefit is voluntary. Premiums for the benefit increased 17.4 percent in 2005, and 13.5 percent the year before. Most senior citizens have the premium deducted from their Social Security check. It's not yet known how much the coming increase will eat into that check, because officials have not yet announced what next year's cost-of-living increase will be for Social Security.

For 2005, about 40 percent of the average cost-of-living increase went to pay for the increase in Part B premiums.

Monday, September 19, 2005 5:44:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

The real reason We the People have government: For Power, Privilege, & Domination!

American Drivers Fund New Fleet of Megayachts

The Other Side of the Energy Crisis: Oil Magnates Turn to Megayachts to Spend their Fortunes

By BEDE MOORE, ABC NEWS

COSTA SMERALDA, Italy, Aug. 1, 2006 —

Spend time this summer in any of Europe's elite cruising grounds — Sardinia, Saint-Tropez, Monaco — and you can't miss the massive floating palaces littering the coastline.

Called "inch-fever," it's a curious ailment suffered exclusively by the megawealthy.

The cure? Build a bigger megayacht than the next sheik or oligarch. And, yes, a few Americans measure up.

Buyers, however, who want to compete on this circuit need upward of $100 million to make a splash, although these days that's entry level in the world of deca-dulgence.

It's a massive price tag, and increasingly the people who can pay it have one thing in common — oil. Life is good at $70 a barrel.

"The megayacht industry was virtually invented for the Arabs," said Dirk Johnson, managing partner for Churchill Yacht Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "They're the ones who funded almost all the big yachts; [in the '90s] ships were built for Arab sheiks and oil money."

The superyacht industry was really born in the 1980s, with Power and Motoryacht Magazine, a listing of the world's largest yachts. Since then, both the number and size of boats have grown beyond anyone's expectations.

Adnan Khashoggi, Eat Your Heart Out

Once colossal, a 200-foot private yacht no longer warrants a head turn.

There are thousands of newer vessels that dwarf the flagships of the past.

In the 1980s, arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi was famous for his 285-footer Nabila. Today, he'd be middle of the pack.

A new and even bigger generation is currently under construction at boatyards across the world, raising the stakes yet again.

"There has been the most amazing escalation in boat-building," said Alev Karagulle, director of marketing and communications at the Nigel Burgess Group, an international yacht brokerage. "It's tied in with the fact that the economy has been buoyant for many industries."

Buoyant, particularly, for those who have trouble finding ways to spend the windfalls of record energy prices.

It's only logical that the top end of Power and Motoryacht's current ranking of the world's 100 largest yachts is dominated by rulers from the oil-rich Gulf monarchies.

Take Al Salamah, the luxury liner owned by Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, son of Saudi Arabian King Fahd.

Measuring an incredible 456 feet, replete with indoor swimming pool and glass ceiling, Al Salamah is the largest privately owned ship in the world.

In the yachting world, there are stories of wealthy Saudis who've built larger boats than the king, or who contemplated it, but sold them so as not to offend the Saudi rulers.

Of course, like other oil magnates, the prince saw his fortunes boosted recently by successive years of rising energy prices. This year, his kingdom anticipates a further 25 percent increase in revenues to coincide with the $3 gallon of gas in America.

As American drivers fuel this luxury naval race, the Gulf monarchies are not the only ones profiting.

"The Arab market has always been strong," said Jim Wallace, yacht broker at Camper & Nicholson, "but it's all the oil countries."

On the water that means Russia.

The Arabs might boast the biggest yachts, but not for long.

Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich has the most megayachts — three — and he's reported to be building a new ship.

This year Abramovich sailed into the German port of Lübeck for the World Cup onboard the 377-foot Pelorus, impressing crowds and bolstering his image.

The former owner of a controlling stake in oil giant Sibneft, Abramovich recently sold his stock for $13 billion. Worth $18.2 billion, he's Russia's wealthiest man.

He now functions as the Russian ambassador to the megayacht industry, having recently purchased Ecstasea to complement his two other superyachts, Pelorus and Le Grand Bleu.

"[The Russians] have become very real players in the West," said Karagulle from her office in London. "We have to do a lot of homework on the Russian market. It's a very important part of the industry."

Translation: These guys have more money than God, and they're looking to flaunt it.

"They came into the forefront in the last five years," said Johnson, a specialist in brokerage and charter. "[The money] is not just from oil. Lots of it's from other natural resources. Sometimes it's hard to tell where the money comes from."

High-profile American billionaires such as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga are all part of this elite cruising club.

Two weeks after the World Cup, Abramovich's Pelorus lay at anchor in the famed Cala di Volpe along Sardinia's Emerald Coast.

Cala di Volpe means "bay of the foxes." In order to have one of the monsters parked there you probably need a little fox in you (aside from the oil).

Although on this day, one bay over, the Russian ship was dwarfed by something bigger — Ellison's Rising Sun, pristine at a whopping 452 feet. Man that's got to hurt. The Americans were still bigger. You wonder for how much longer.

-----
ABC's Steven Alperin contributed reporting for this story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 4:14:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

A WASHINGTON POST Online EDITORIAL

Transparently Inadequate

The House passes a pale imitation of earmark reform. The Senate may not even manage that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006; Page A20

ONE AMAZING thing about the House passage of "earmark reform" last week was how much labor it took to bring forth this tiny mouse of change. A more amazing thing is that the Senate may not bestir itself to change its rules even that much -- though it has already voted to require such disclosure as part of the lobbying reform bill now mired in a separate disagreement with the House. All this in a year when challengers on the left and right campaign against the "bridge to nowhere" mentality of free-spending lawmakers; when lawmakers themselves acknowledge that the practice of setting aside money for pet projects is out of control; and when a congressman is serving time for taking bribes in exchange for earmarks.

How modest -- pathetic would be a more apt term -- is the House change? Henceforth, members will be required to disclose their sponsorship of certain earmarks, and by no means all of them. Beyond this limited disclosure: nothing. No provision for an up-or-down vote on such spending. No prohibition on earmarks to benefit lawmakers' relatives. No limitation on last-minute additions that offer no opportunity for scrutiny or debate.

Disclosure is useful but insufficient. Sponsors of some of the most egregious earmarks have been eager to have their names attached to the pork-barrel spending. Remember "Don Young's Way"? This $230 million earmark for a bridge in Anchorage was part of a transportation spending bill that the Alaska Republican, who chairs the House transportation committee, bragged was "stuffed like a turkey." Somehow, we doubt that forcing Mr. Young to disclose his sponsorship of Don Young's Way would have done much to persuade him to spend taxpayer dollars any more wisely.

This kind of transparency ought to be a no-brainer minimum requirement. But, in a reflection of the degree to which lawmakers have become addicted to earmarking, the change almost failed to win passage because Republican appropriators revolted against what they viewed, with justification, as unequal treatment: While earmarked funding would be covered, the sponsors of special-interest tax breaks would have to be listed only if the break was limited to a single beneficiary. Of course the definition should be broader than that.

But the fundamental points are these: First, no one should be fooled into thinking that the House's minor, loophole-ridden change is anywhere near enough. And no one should tolerate the Senate's failing to live up to even the low standard set by the other body.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 2:11:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

GLOBE EDITORIAL
Better bargaining on drugs
January 26, 2007

A MAJOR FLAW in the Medicare prescription drug benefit Congress adopted in 2003 is that it specifically prohibited Medicare from bargaining directly with pharmaceutical companies to get bulk discounts on drugs. Recently, House Democrats -- with the help of 24 Republicans -- redeemed one of their campaign pledges by passing a bill requiring the government to negotiate with the drug industry for lower prices.

Passage of this bill advances the debate on the best way to curb Medicare drug prices, which are now set through dealings between insurance companies and drug makers. Ideally, better administration of the new benefit would yield enough savings to end or reduce the program's "doughnut hole" of uncovered prescription costs for many recipients.

Despite the solid 255-170 vote in favor of the measure, it still faces an uncertain future. The Democrats' margin in the Senate is just one vote, and the chairman of the Finance Committee, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, has gone only so far as to favor ending the current prohibition against negotiating with the drug companies. He said the House bill requiring such bargaining would have to be discussed. President Bush quickly promised a veto of the House measure, and even the large majority in the House vote is short of a veto-proof margin. Finally, the lobbying juggernaut of the pharmaceutical industry can be counted on to slow Medicare-bargaining legislation.

For all the criticism of the House bill from the White House and congressional Republicans, the measure stops short of providing Medicare all the authority it would need to get the lowest possible prices, which is one reason the Congressional Budget Office believes it may produce no savings. The bill does not permit Medicare to bar drugs whose companies decline to sell them at discounted prices, a right that the Department of Veterans Affairs has. This provision is not just a concession to the industry. Some congressmen are concerned about a possible backlash against direct Medicare purchases of drugs if that means their constituents will not get the choice of medications they prefer.

But with the authority granted by the bill, a secretary of health and human services would have a bully pulpit to hold down the prices of specific, popular drugs for which Medicare recipients are paying substantially more than the VA or Medicaid. President Bush's first HHS secretary, Tommy Thompson, used such authority in driving down the price the government paid during the 2001 anthrax scare for the antibiotic Cipro. When Thompson left office, he said one of his great regrets was that the Medicare drug benefit bill included its prohibition against just that kind of government bargaining. The House bill begins the crucial process of putting that arrow in the secretary's quiver.
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Support Medicare Part D, it's working
January 30, 2007

THE VIEWS expressed in your Jan. 26 editorial in support of the federal government's negotiating directly with biotechnology companies to lower Medicare drug prices ("Better bargaining on drugs") are highly flawed.

The new Medicare drug benefit has given senior citizens many choices of plans, as well as choices of drugs within each plan. By inviting many companies to compete in the drug benefit, the federal government has brought down costs while delivering a high-quality benefit for senior citizens. That is why 88 percent of Medicare beneficiaries like the new benefit, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, meaningful savings would only be realized if significant restrictions were put in place, which would result in limiting access to drugs.

In addition, price controls of the kind you endorse would limit the ability of Massachusetts biotech companies to attract capital. This would ultimately reduce our ability as an industry to translate promising areas of research and development, such as stem-cell research and the Human Genome Project, into real therapeutics for patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and rare genetic disorders.

A better approach is to continue to support the new Medicare drug program, while ensuring a strong framework for biomedical research exists at the federal level.

In Massachusetts, that is something we should all embrace.

JIM MULLEN
Cambridge

The writer is president and CEO of Biogen Idec and chairman of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

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THE MEDICARE prescription drug program lets America's seniors choose from a range of drug plans to fit their individual health needs. Since when is freedom of choice and open access a "major flaw," as you suggest in your Jan. 26 editorial?

Governments don't "negotiate" prices, they dictate them, and with serious consequences. The Veterans Affairs system is not a model for Medicare. Only 65 percent of the 300 drugs most prescribed to seniors are included in the VA formulary, according to the Lewin Group. By comparison, 94 percent are covered by the two largest Medicare Part D plans.

Just a few years ago, barely half of America's seniors had comprehensive prescription drug coverage. Today more than 90 percent do. And on average, they are seeing an annual savings of $1,200 on the cost of their prescription medicines.

Medicare Part D is working. We should give it a chance to keep working.

KEN JOHNSON
Washington

The writer is senior vice president, communications & public affairs, of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 2:42:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Dear Berkshire Bloggers, News Media, Politicians, & the People:

Here is proof that we do NOT live in a democracy in The United States of America anymore...

I DISSENT AGAINST THE REPUBLICAN MINORITY IN THE U.S. SENATE's FASCIST ACTIONS TODAY!

In truth,
Jonathan A. Melle
----------
Breaking News Mon., February 5, 2007

Breaking News from ABCNEWS.com:

REPUBLICAN MINORITY BLOCKS DEBATE IN U.S. SENATE ON IRAQ BUILDUP
RESOLUTION

Monday, February 05, 2007 8:07:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Re: Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter

Dear Berkshire Bloggers, News Media, Politicians, & the People:

On the late afternoon of 2/22/2007, I met NH’s first woman member of Congress for the first time. She is the kind of leader that I am proud to represent me on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. During the Congresswoman’s speech at her Manchester, NH district office open house, she spoke of her love of country and familial military background. She serves on the Armed Service Committee where some of her committee meetings are held in secret chambers.

I should be following D.C. national politics more closely than I have been, but from what I understood, next month the president is submitting a request for a supplemental Iraq and Afghanistan war budget. This is going to be a moment of truth for the First Term Democrats in U.S. Congress because if they support it then they are reneging on their anti-war campaign theme, but if the oppose it then they are going to diminish the financial support for the troops overseas. From what I understood from my new Congresswoman, Carol Shea Porter, she is going to ensure the troops have the money they need without supporting the president’s war funding. I am unsure on how she is going to accomplish this goal.

Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter supports universal healthcare for all American Citizens. She is a strong proponent of Congressional Power, too. At the end of her speech, I asked my new Congresswoman about President Bush’s use of signing statements. She responded with the word “despair.” Like me, she believes that when Congress passes a bill for the president to sign, the president should either sign it or veto it without the use of signing statements to then disobey the intent of the law.

All in all, I am glad to have Carol Shea Porter as my new member of Congress representing me on Capitol Hill!

Sincerely,

Jonathan A. Melle

P.S. My picture was in “The Union Leader” newspaper today, 2/23/2007, as an audience member listening to Carol Shea Porter speak at her Manchester, NH District Office opening to the public.

---------------------

Shea-Porter supports Iraq funding cuts

By STEPHEN BEALE
Union Leader Correspondent

Friday, February 23, 2007

GOFFSTOWN – Freshman U.S. Rep Carol Shea-Porter yesterday came out in support of cutting funding for the war in Iraq, saying such a move was possible without leaving U.S. armed forces unprotected.

"As long as we're protecting the troops, and I insist that we do that, I think we can do both," Shea-Porter said at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, in a forum sponsored by the Goffstown Democrats.

Shea-Porter, who voted for the recent House resolution opposing the surge of troops in Iraq, said that an immediate withdrawal would be impossible, but she said the process could -- and must, she added, begin within six months.

Instead of more military involvement, Shea-Porter said she favored a political solution for a country which she said was involved in a civil war and had rejected U.S. involvement.

The United States, she said, should not be in Iraq, but it should be in Afghanistan, where the war on terror first began and where the Taliban has recovered its strength. The people of Afghanistan, she noted, have been more welcoming of U.S. efforts.

Responding to a question on Iran, Shea-Porter said both Democrats and Republicans were worried about the possibility of war with the country. "I haven't met anybody who thinks it's a good idea," she said.

Two wars in the region were enough, she added.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Shea-Porter said she had a front-row seat on the debate about Iraq and its impact on the U.S. military, which said had been "seriously strained" by the conflict.

The readiness level of the armed forces, she said, is at its lowest. "I would say we are minimally ready," she said.

On the home front, Shea-Porter called for the establishment of alternative sources of energy so the United States would not have to import it from abroad. She said she was working with other congressmen to put together a program that would allow the United States to be energy independent in about 10 years.

Shea-Porter said the goal was possible, if Americans utilized the enterprising spirit of previous generations. "We can do the Apollo program in energy," she said.

The congresswoman also called for a major reform of health care, suggesting that the current system is dysfunctional. She said the kind of coverage provided by Medicare should be available to all Americans.

Friday, February 23, 2007 1:21:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Dear Berkshire Bloggers, News Media, Politicians, & the People:

Last night, I walked to Central High School (Manchester, NH) from my tiny studio apartment to hear the candidate I fully support for President of the United States: Hillary Rodham Clinton. When she walked into the gymnasium, everyone rose to their feet with hearty applause. She spoke about America's goals and asked us what they are in the 21st Century. She pointed out that the current Bush administration does not have any goals for America. Hillary went on to state all of her goals, including universal healthcare, energy independence, a fiscally solvent federal government, among other likeminded progressive ideals, such as ending the Iraq War and bringing our troops home!

I took the time so far this year to hear my Congresswoman, Carol Shea Porter, speak at the opening of her district office in Manchester, NH, Congressman Paul Hodes speak at an open town meeting in Milford, NH, and now Hillary Clinton speak at a Manchester campaign event. By far, Hillary was the best speaker! She carried her voice and convictions with great weight, she was excited to be campaigning, and she listened to the concerns and questions of the audience. While I asked Congresswoman Shea Porter and Congressman Hodes questions, this forum was just too big for me to be able to ask Hillary Clinton a question. The question on my mind was if she would end genocide, such as the one in Darfur, Sudan, Africa? While I did not get to ask her my question, she did talk about her beliefs in human rights.

Hillary Clinton cares about poor and middle class American Citizens, not just the wealthy and high income ones. She is a fair and intelligent candidate for President. I am excited to have witnessed history last night (4/13) by seeing Hillary Clinton campaign for President of the United States. Boy, am I excited that our nation will have such a good and historic president in 2009 - 2017!

Sincerely,

Jonathan A. Melle

Saturday, April 14, 2007 2:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what the Bush Administration and his allies think of the book "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" by Vincent Bugliosi (an author and former prosecutor). He was on www.infowars.com today talking about the evidence to convict Bush.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 4:43:00 PM  

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