Saturday :: Jan 10, 2004

Meanwhile, Back in the Secured Homeland, ... Part 2

by pessimist

So how does America benefit from the activities of the Fundrai$er-in-Chief?

Bush Gives Lipservice - Not Funding - To America's Schools

This Week, President Bush this week is touting his education record, claiming he has seriously increased funding for various programs. But his rhetoric is at odds with the budgets he's proposed.

In St. Louis, Bush said, "Teacher training money is up. We've increased the teacher training and recruitment budget significantly." (1)

But in his most recent budget, Bush proposed to freeze Teacher Quality State Grants (2) - cutting off training opportunities for about 30,000 teachers, and leaving 92,000 less teachers trained than called for in his own No Child Left Behind bill. (3)

Bush also said, "Schools need mentors. We all need to be out encouraging people to volunteer." But again, his budget proposed to eliminate all $48 million for Youth Opportunities Grants - the Department of Labor's major program to "provide youth seeking assistance in achieving academic and employment success." (4)

Finally, Bush said, "Title I money [for disadvantaged students] is up." And while Bush did propose increasing this program by $1 billion - he proposed paying for the increase by eliminating 45 education programs and slashing another 18 for a total cut of nearly $3 billion in funding for these same disadvantaged students. (5)

1 President Bush Discusses Progress in Education in St. Louis, 01/05/2004.
2 Bush Budget for Department of Education, FY 2004.
3 Promises Made and Broken in Education, 2004.
4 Youth Opportunities, US Department of Labor.
5 Bush Credibility Gap: The 2004 Budget, 2004.

There is method to this madness! Keep 'em stooopid, and they won't notice what happened to their medical coverage!

Bush Acts to Reward Companies Who Cut off Seniors' Drug Coverage

Late last year, President Bush promised retirees that "if there's a Medicare reform bill signed by me, corporations have no intention to dump retirees [from their existing drug coverage]...What we're talking about is trust." (1)

The White House and its congressional allies backed up Bush's assertion by claiming the bill included a special tax subsidy to "encourage employers' to retain prescription-drug coverage" for their retirees' and not to cut them off. (2)

But just three months after Bush's pledge, the Wall Street Journal now reports that the White House quietly added "a little-noticed provision" to the bill that allows companies to severely reduce - or almost completely terminate - their retirees' drug coverage "without losing out on the new subsidy." (3)

In other words, the president did not just break his promise to sign a bill that prevents seniors from losing their existing drug coverage. He actually acted to reward companies who cut off their retirees with a lavish new tax break.

The provision was no mere oversight by the president. The major backers of the provision were Lucent Technologies, General Motors, Dow Chemical and SBC Communications - all major campaign contributors to the president. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, executives from those companies have donated almost $140,000 in hard money and $2.5 million in soft money to Bush and his party since 2000.

Lucent hard money contributions to Bush since 2000: $14,415 (4)
Lucent soft money contributions to RNC since 2000: $27,000 (5)
Dow hard money contributions to Bush since 2000: $23,200 (6)
Dow soft money contributions to RNC since 2000: $631,354 (7)
GM hard money contributions to Bush since 2000: $92,050 (8)
GM soft money contributions to RNC since 2000: $95,260 (9)
SBC hard money contributions to Bush since 2000: $9,450 (10)
SBC soft money contributions to RNC since 2000: $1,762,206 (11)

1 President Calls on Congress to Complete Work on Medicare Bill, 10/29/2003.
2 "U.S. Drug Subsidy Benefits Employers", Wall Street Journal, 01/08/2004.
3 Ibid.
4 Open Secrets.Org.
5 Open Secrets.Org.
6 Open Secrets.Org.
7 Open Secrets.Org.
8 Open Secrets.Org.
9 Open Secrets.Org.
10 Open Secrets.Org.
11 Open Secrets.Org.

And what are our elected representatives going to do about this?

Despite New Law, the Fight Over Medicare Continues

The fight over Medicare is picking up exactly where it left off four weeks ago, when President Bush signed a bill offering prescription drug benefits to the elderly. Democrats, denouncing the arm-twisting tactics used to pass the bill in the House, vowed Monday to rewrite the law to reduce the role of private health plans, to increase drug benefits and to authorize the government to negotiate drug prices.

President Bush and other Republicans plan to trumpet the law as a boon to the elderly and will oppose changes, saying the law should be given a chance to work. Administration officials and Congressional Republicans predicted that the Democrats would not gain traction with their arguments.

Within hours after Mr. Bush signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8, Democrats and labor unions held a rally on Capitol Hill. "We have only just begun to fight," Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said then. Jean Friday of Pittsburgh, a spokeswoman for a group of retired steelworkers, described the bill as "an abomination." Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, advised the elderly, "Beware of Republicans bearing gifts." Mr. Kennedy said Monday that Democrats and their allies would resume the effort when Congress convened on Jan. 20. "If Republicans think this fight is over, they are wrong," he said. At the moment, Democrats appear to have no chance of modifying any significant provisions of the law.

Republicans said they saw no need for even technical corrections. With their majority in the House, they can usually block consideration of Democratic amendments. But Democrats plan to make a political ruckus and said they hoped to put Republicans on the defensive. "We want the debate to start now," said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who is drafting a bill to revise the new law. "This issue is far from resolved. We don't want people to go through the election and the year without knowing what's in the law."

Democrats said they planned to raise their concerns day after day on the Senate floor. Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, said: "The Medicare issue will be dormant this year only if we allow it to be dormant. We'd be fools if we did."

On Jan. 16, the administration is scheduled to announce higher Medicare payment rates for private health plans, including health maintenance organizations. Democrats said they would attack the rates as a giveaway to the insurance industry. In March and April, Congress is likely to debate a budget for the coming year. Democrats will offer amendments to increase the drug benefit. In May, insurers will start issuing government-approved drug discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Democrats will cite studies saying such cards produce small savings.

The White House, AARP and Congressional Republicans say they know they need to educate the elderly about the new law. Critics are eager to help. Ronald F. Pollack, executive director of Families U.S.A., a consumer group, said he was planning a "road show," which will visit about 25 states in March and April. He will explain the law, including what he sees as its strengths and weaknesses.

Republicans are prepared to defend the law they wrote. The House Republican Conference has given its members "suggested responses" to Democratic arguments. The materials assert that "seniors will initially save 25 percent or more through the prescription drug card" somewhat more than the typical savings of 10 percent to 15 percent envisioned by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Kennedy and Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader, have introduced bills to alter the new law. Democrats in the Senate and House are developing comprehensive bills. The proposals would allow people to import prescription drugs from Canada; eliminate tax breaks for health savings accounts; fill in gaps in Medicare drug coverage (the "doughnut hole"); reduce payments to private plans; and abolish a demonstration project that will require traditional Medicare to compete directly with private plans.

Republicans say the Democrats are sore losers, angry at losing control of the Medicare program. For the first time in years, the "liberal intelligentsia" was excluded from the process of writing a Medicare law, a House Republican said. The law was written mainly by conservatives and centrists.

Note how easy it is for the Republicans to sling mud and outrageous slogans our way. What happens when we throw back?

Republicans' 'outrage' can't mask their fear of liberals who fight back

The first thing you should realize about the Republican party and all their assorted spokespeople, representatives, mouthpieces and surrogates is this - they can dish it out, but they cannot take it.

Over the past ten years, conservatives have defined the rules of the game as it is played today. Throughout 8 years of non-stop attacks on Bill Clinton - despite his unparalleled success as a two-term, legally elected president - they nearly perfected the technique of sliming their political opponents. Remember the 'Clinton Body Count?' Remember The Clinton Chronicles, in which Clinton was accused of everything from drug dealing to outright murder? Sure you do. You couldn't swing a dead cat in Washington, DC without hitting some Republican who was pushing one outlandish allegation or another about Clinton. So effective was the rumor-mongering that many otherwise intelligent Americans still believe that Clinton either raped someone or killed someone or stole something.

Key in the Republicans' tactic was the technique of 'manufactured outrage.' Remember the righteous anger of Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston and Newt Gingrich during the failed impeachment? Well, you can't possibly describe it as anything other than manufactured outrage - because while they were railing about how Clinton's conduct was rending the very fabric of our society and threatening the existence of our nation, every one of them was practicing the exact same conduct. Newtie was, to put it coarsely, bending his secretary over the desk. Hyde had wrecked his share of marriages by that time (of course it was, in his description, a 'youthful indiscretion' - if you can count age 40 as anything vaguely resembling 'youth'). And Livingston was engaging in conduct so potentially embarrassing and so deviant, that he resigned as Speaker of the House rather than have his personal sexual proclivities revealed.

But that's all in the past. There's a whole new - and even more bogus - form of manufactured outrage being practiced by today's Republicans, and it's proof that they are beyond shame and more than willing to do anything to win. Case in point - MoveOn's 'Bush In 30 Seconds' ad competition, the Bush family's connection to and financial support of Nazi Germany, and Ed Gillespie's efforts to conflate the two.

Prescott Bush's connection to the Hitler's Germany is a matter of public record. Last year, Miami reporter John Buchanan went to the National Archives in Washington and walked out with literally hundreds of documents linking Prescott Bush to financial dealings with the Nazis, both before and during World War II. This is fact. The National Archives do not make stuff up. The archivist who supplied Buchanan with the Bush-Nazi documents said he would stake his career on the veracity of the documents, and while Republicans whined like babies over Buchanan's three-part series in the New Hampshire Gazette, not a one of them disputed any of the charges raised in the series. But let's get back to the MoveOn competition and Ed Gillespie's very special brand of whining.

MoveOn received over 1,500 entries to 'Bush in 30 Seconds' - so many, in fact, that they enlisted the opinion of their vast membership in order to choose the finalists. Among those 1,500 entries were two which compared George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, and the people who voted on the finalists for the contest voted them out - neither one made the cut, and they were taken down from the 'Bush in 30 Seconds' web site. Case closed, right? Well, no.

Somehow, the Republican National Committee got hold of a copy of one of the ads in question. In the week when the real finalists were announced (including this site's submission, Symbolman's brilliant 'Army of One'), the RNC - led by the Head Whiner, Ed Gillsepie - went to the press with tales of outrage, telling anyone who would listen how those nasty liberals at MoveOn were accusing George W. Bush of being a Nazi. Gillespie cried in his best imitation of a victim of hate speech that MoveOn and the big, mean liberals were polluting the public discourse with 'political hate speech.' A mass email went out from RNC headquarters with a link to the offensive ad, so that the Republican faithful could see how the mean liberals were so full of hate that they put together an ad that no civilized person should have to see. An ad that was so hateful, it should never be out on the internet.
But the link for the offensive ad led to the web servers of the Republican National Committee.

So here we have Ed Gillespie practicing the worst sort of manufactured outrage. On one hand, he was on Crossfire and any other TV program who would have him, all over the news, crying like he was smacked in the head with a monkey wrench over the outrageous behavior of those nasty, hateful liberals - while he was hosting that hateful ad on his own party's web servers. C'mon, Ed - either the ad is beyond the pale and shouldn't be viewed by right-thinking people, or it isn't. You can't cry like a schoolgirl about the ad being out there if you're the one putting it out there.

Of course, Gillespie got all of his pals like Matt Drudge and all the slime in the swamp of right-wing Hate Radio to play along. Hannity, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Boortz, Beck - they were all just so appalled and outraged and shocked by the repulsive ad, which was being provided to the public by the Republican party. Drudge 'broke' a story about a second Bush-Nazi ad. The cable nets picked up the drum beat. Suddenly, it seemed as though the entire country was shocked and appalled and outraged. All this outrage, for an ad that was so hateful, Ed Gillespie couldn't wait to put it on his server and link to it.

To digress for a minute - I wrote an article very similar to this one last August, after Byron York went on Fox News and proclaimed us 'Bush-Haters' over a flash animation that was produced by this site in early 2002 entitled 'Bush Is not A Nazi, So Stop Saying That!' York's manufactured outrage (over a flash that was over a year old already at that point) was good for an article in Naional Review, and it also got him on Fox, so I'd guess his outrage was assuaged somewhat by the check he got from National Review for writing about us. Now, back to the story at hand - and who should make an entrance at this point than Byron York, once again earning a paycheck by writing aout lil' ol' us.

A column appeared on today's National Review Online, in which York pointed out that one of the finalists - Symbolman - was the same person who produced the 'Bush Is Not A Nazi' flash animation. Well, someone must have tipped Matt Drudge (or Drudge just went and stole the story without attributing York), because this afternoon, the Rabid Right's favorite Drama Queen was 'breaking' the news about another Bush-Hitler animation (At this point, nearly two years old!) done by a finalist in the MoveOn competition. You could almost hear Drudge wetting his drawers at the prospect of 'breaking' the story (or stealing it from York, whatever). He mustered the biggest font that his limited HTML skills would support and put up the headline on his site.
Now we should make it perfectly clear, here and now - despite Drudge's little hissy fit, MoveOn has nothing to do with the 'Bush Is Not A Nazi' animation. It is not a finalist in the competition. It was never even entered in the contest. But of course, that doesn't stop crybabies like York and Drudge, who wake up every morning yearning for something to be shocked and appalled and outraged about. And if they can smear TBTM and MoveOn at the same time, so much the better. But their outrage, and the outrage of that big whining baby Ed Gillespie, tells me something.

They are all afraid of liberals who stand up to them. Each and every one of them are scared to death of people like us.

Gillespie has become accustomed to dealing with Beltway Democrats, who roll over and pee on themselves on his command to show how 'bi-partisan' they are. Gillespie is used to Democrats who go along to get along. And he, and Drudge and York and all the slime in the swamp of right-Wing Hate Radio are all coming to the same realization - that people like us, and web sites like TBTM and MoveOn, are anything but pee-on-yourself Democrats. and it scares them like they've never been scared in their lives. I'm sure that Ed and Byron and Drudge, were they to read this, would cluck their tongues and shake their heads and make some remark about how uncivil and impolite and downright rude we are, and right on cue, they'd all be outraged and appalled and shocked. Like I said at the top of this article, they can dish it out, but they cannot take it. And where they have come to expect Democrats in the past to be remorseful and regretful and apologetic, Symbolman and I - and thousands of other like-minded sites and blogs - have a slightly different message instead. We're fighting back this year. You won't go unchallenged any longer. We don't care how outraged or shocked or appalled you are, not any more.

To put it in terms you're more familiar with - get over it.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
-- Abraham Lincoln

Fool me once, shame on shame on you. Fool me you can't get fooled again."
- George W. Bush

Whatever you say, Georgie-boy! Some of the common people are beginning to notice that something isn't quite right about our country to day. Maybe that's why some Vermont citizens made the following comments in letters to the editor of the Burlington Free Press:

Bush a dictator?

Recently I've heard some people comparing the Bush presidency to a dictatorship. Is that a fair comparison? Hmm, let's see.

* President Bush has imprisoned people indefinitely on secret evidence without access to counsel, in violation of the Constitution.

* He has launched programs to spy on the American people without their knowledge and due process of the court system (the "sneak and peek" provision of the Patriot Act).

* He has stifled all dissent of his policies through intimidation.

* He has steadfastly refused to involve Congress in the formation of his policies (even alienating his own party) and has classified more documents than any president in American history in a zealous quest to keep others from knowing how his administration works.

* And, of course, he invaded a country, ignoring world-wide protests, based on assertions which were later proven to be outright falsehoods, presumably to distract the American people from his incestuous ties to the biggest financial scandals in American history.

Bush a dictator? Maybe the claim isn't as outrageous as it first seems.

Forest giveaway

While Santa was filling most stockings, George W. Bush was filling the paper companies' stockings, discreetly (as he does with all natural resource exploitation). Under President Clinton the Forest Service received over one million submissions in favor of protecting wilderness areas. President Bush stopped that plan and called for new submissions. Over 98 percent favored wilderness protection for all wilderness areas, including Tongass. Bush decided not to go with the majority and has opened 300,000 acres in Tongass to the timber companies. That could conceivably be OK (though I'm not sure how) if the timber companies paid fair market value and built their own roads. But a curiosity of the National Forests is that the Forest Service builds the roads, and still doesn't charge fair market value. Surely, somehow, our national resources should be used as we (the people) desire and surely we should be fully compensated for these resources.
Craftsbury Common

What's up with Bush?

President Bush: Where were you in 1972? You were supposed to be attending weekend meetings in the National Guard but all the evidence points to you being AWOL.

President Bush: When tens of thousands of average Jane and John Does headed towards danger on Sept. 11, 2001, to help, you were flying for the safety of a hardened underground bunker. What's with that?

President Bush: You have shifted taxes from the wealthy of today to America's children and their children by "reducing" taxes. We all know the bill will have to be paid, but you've made sure it's the likes of my daughter and her kids and their kids who will be paying the bill you helped create.

President Bush: Our national debt is currently just shy of $7 trillion, and that figure is growing by a half trillion dollars per year under your administration. Since 1962 we have paid over $8 trillion in interest on our nation's debt, and for last year alone that figure was $320 billion, once again under your administration. What's up with that?

President Bush: You told the nation all about Iraq's WMD but we can't find a hint of one. What's up with that?

Keeping food safe

President Bush and his Wild West posse are falling far short on one of his campaign promises. Keeping our food safe. The threat to our food supply and agribusiness is due in large part to practices in farming, which are driven by greed. Warning labels appear on food placing the onus and liability on the food service industry and on the consumer. Right here in Vermont the USDA (beholden to big agri-business and grossly underfunded) quarreled for two years with the owners of two flocks of imported sheep, which were suspected of having the sheep form of spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), rather than act on the side of safety and cull the imports swiftly. The tainted parts of the latest infected Holstein cow likely went into feed, pet food or cosmetics. The sad truth is that science knows so little about the rogue proteins called prions which cause mad cow disease that there is no way to be sure that the deadly bugs cannot find their way back up the food chain as they did in Britain. To be sure this practice of recycling animal parts back into animal feed (known as industrial cannibalism) is a practice we can do without.

Please, Mr. Bush, let's wage peace abroad and war at home. Wage war on practices and policies, which endanger the wholesomeness of our food. Our kitchens should be made at least as safe as our airports.

Do you REALLY think Mama wants some armed National Guardmen in her kitchen, X-raying the frozen pot roast while she's trying to cook it? After reading the next article, you might think so!

USDA is too dominated by cattle industry

Alisa Harrison has worked tirelessly the last couple of weeks to spread the message that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, is not a risk to American consumers. As spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Harrison has helped guide news coverage of the mad cow crisis, issuing statements, managing press conferences and reassuring the world that American beef is safe. For her, it's a familiar message. Before joining the department, Harrison was director of public relations for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the beef industry's largest trade group, where she battled government food safety efforts, criticized Oprah Winfrey for raising health questions about American hamburgers, and sent out press releases with titles like "Mad Cow Disease Not a Problem in the U.S." Harrison may well be a decent and sincere person who feels she has the public's best interest at heart. Nonetheless, her effortless transition from the cattlemen's lobby to the Agriculture Department is a fine symbol of all that is wrong with America's food safety system. Right now you'd have a hard time finding a federal agency more completely dominated by the industry it was created to regulate. Dale Moore, Veneman's chief of staff, was previously the chief lobbyist for the cattlemen's association. Other veterans of that group have high-ranking jobs at the department, as do former meatpacking executives and a former president of the National Pork Producers Council.

The Agriculture Department has a dual, often contradictory mandate: to promote the sale of meat on behalf of American producers and to guarantee that American meat is safe on behalf of consumers. For too long the emphasis has been on commerce, at the expense of safety. The safeguards against mad cow that Veneman has announced -- including the elimination of "downer cattle" (cows that cannot walk) from the food chain, the removal of high-risk material like spinal cords from meat processing, the promise to introduce a system to trace cattle back to the ranch -- have long been demanded by consumer groups. Their belated introduction seems to have been largely motivated by the desire to have foreign countries lift restrictions on American beef imports. Worse, on Wednesday Veneman ruled out the most important step to protect Americans from mad cow disease: a large-scale program to test the nation's cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The beef industry has fought for nearly two decades against government testing for any dangerous pathogens, and it isn't hard to guess why: When there is no true grasp of how far and wide a food-borne pathogen has spread, there's no obligation to bear the cost of dealing with it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is by no means the first such body to be captured by industry groups. In Europe and Japan the spread of disease was facilitated by the repeated failure of government ministries to act on behalf of consumers.

In Britain, where mad cow disease was discovered, the ministry of agriculture misled the public about the risks of the disease from the very beginning. In December 1986, the first government memo on the new pathogen warned that it might have "severe repercussions to the export trade and possibly also for humans," and thus all news of it was to be kept "confidential." Ten years later, when Britons began to fall sick with a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, thought to be the human form of mad cow, Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg assured them that "British beef is wholly safe." It was something of a shock, three months later, when the health minister, Stephen Dorrell, told Parliament that mad cow disease might indeed be able to cross the species barrier and sicken human beings.

In the wake of that scandal, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Japan banned imports of British beef -- yet they denied for years there was any risk of mad cow disease among their own cattle. Those denials proved false, once widespread testing for the disease was introduced. An investigation by the French Senate in 2001 found that the Agriculture Ministry minimized the threat of mad cow and "constantly sought to prevent or delay the introduction of precautionary measures" that "might have had an adverse effect on the competitiveness of the agri-foodstuffs industry."

In Tokyo, a similar mad cow investigation in 2002 accused the Japanese Agriculture Ministry of "serious maladministration" and concluded that it had "always considered the immediate interests of producers in its policy judgments."

Instead of learning from the mistakes of other countries, America now seems to be repeating them. In recent days much has been made of the "firewall" now protecting American cattle from infection with mad cow disease -- the ban on feeding rendered cattle meat or beef byproducts to cattle that was imposed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. That ban has been cited again and again by Agriculture Department and industry spokespersons as some sort of guarantee that mad cow has not taken hold in the United States. Unfortunately, this firewall may have gaps big enough to let a herd of steers wander through it.

First, the current ban still allows the feeding of cattle blood to young calves -- a practice that Stanley Prusiner, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on the proteins that cause mad cow disease, calls "a really stupid idea."

More important, the ban on feed has hardly been enforced. A 2001 study by the Government Accounting Office found that one-fifth of American feed and rendering companies that handle prohibited material had no systems in place to prevent the contamination of cattle feed. According to the report, more than a quarter of feed manufacturers in Colorado, one of the top beef-producing states, were not even aware of the FDA measures to prevent mad cow disease, four years after their introduction. A follow-up study by the accounting office in 2002 said that the FDA's "inspection database is so severely flawed" that "it should not be used to assess compliance" with the feed ban. Indeed, 14 years after Britain announced its ban on feeding cattle proteins to cattle, the Food and Drug Administration still did not have a complete listing of the American companies rendering cattle and manufacturing cattle feed.

The Washington state Holstein at the center of the current mad cow crisis may have been born in Canada, but even that possibility offers little assurance about the state of mad cow disease in the United States. Last year 1.7 million live cattle were imported from Canada -- and almost a million more came from Mexico, a country whose agricultural ministry has been even slower than its American counterpart to impose strict safeguards against mad cow disease. Last year the Agriculture Department tested only 20,000 cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, out of the roughly 35 million slaughtered. Belgium, with a cattle population a small fraction of ours, tested about 20 times that number for the disease. Japan tests every cow and steer that people are going to eat.

Instead of testing American cattle, the government has heavily relied on work by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis to determine how much of a threat mad cow disease poses to the United States. For the past week the Agriculture Department has emphasized the reassuring findings of these Harvard studies, but a closer examination of them is not comforting. Although thorough and well intended, they are based on computer models of how mad cow disease might spread. Their accuracy depends on their underlying assumptions. "Our model is not amenable to formal validation," says the Harvard group in its main report, "because there are no controlled experiments in which the introduction and consequences of BSE introduction to a country has been monitored and measured."

Unfortunately, "formal validation" is exactly what we need. And the only way to get it is to begin widespread testing of American cattle for mad cow disease -- with particular focus on dairy cattle, the animals at highest risk for the disease and whose meat provides most of the nation's fast food hamburgers.

In addition, we need to give the federal government mandatory recall powers, so that any contaminated or suspect meat can be swiftly removed from the market. As of now all meat recalls are voluntary and remarkably ineffective at getting bad meat off supermarket shelves.

And most of all, we need to create an independent food safety agency whose sole responsibility is to protect the public health. Let the Agriculture Department continue to promote American meat worldwide -- but empower a new agency to ensure that meat is safe to eat.

Yes, the threat to human health posed by mad cow remains uncertain. But testing American cattle for dangerous pathogens will increase the cost of beef by just pennies per pound. Failing to do so could impose a far higher price, both in dollars and in human suffering.

So you have decided to take action and want to get people to the polls and vote out the soundrels? make sure they know how to use the Diebold Vote Washing and Ballot Grinder Machine first!

Votes from 134 residents were not counted

Ballots cast by 134 voters in a special election Tuesday weren't counted, apparently because people failed to use touch-screen machines properly. It's the electronic equivalent of a voter failing to punch a stylus all the way through on a paper ballot, leaving a hanging chad. Only with electronic voting, there's no way to review the ballot and determine how a person wanted to vote. The vote is not counted, and in this case, the vote of 134 people who left polling places without hitting the "vote" button on the machines was not counted. The Broward Supervisor of Elections office wasn't able for comment Wednesday, when candidates in the race and the county mayor brought the so-called "undervotes" to the attention of the public.

Although the number of people who didn't finish casting their ballots is a relatively small percentage, said Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman, it seems unlikely that anyone would come out for such a small election with no intention of voting. Seven candidates were on the ballot in the special election for the District 91 state House Seat left vacant by Connie Mack. Ellyn Bogdanoff won the race by 12 votes, making the 134 votes even more meaningful. "It's incomprehensible that 134 people went to the polls and didn't cast votes," said Lieberman, who served on the canvassing board that oversaw Tuesday night's count.

But the winning candidate, Ellyn Bogdanoff, said she attributes at least some of the undervote to Democrats who reached the polls and realized all the candidates were Republicans.

Oliver Parker, the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea mayor who lost the race, wouldn't comment Wednesday. A spokesman for his campaign said that Parker is weighing his options for tomorrow's recount -- mandated by state law because the race was so close. But it does seem strange that so many people would go to the polls for a small, special election and then not vote, said Chas Brady, a spokesman for Parker. Especially in an election where only one race was on the ballot, Brady said. "It's not as though they're on page 5 and are tied of voting," he said.

But then, maybe you're facing a bigger issue, such as having your district boundaries altered for partisan political reasons, and you want to go to sue in court. You just might be wasting your time!

Judges Uphold GOP-Drawn Texas Districts

A three-judge federal panel Tuesday upheld a new congressional map for Texas that the Republicans pushed through the Legislature after months of turmoil and two walkouts by the Democrats. The decision followed a December trial in which Democrats and minority groups argued that the new map tramples the rights of Hispanic and black voters. But the judges said Democrats failed to prove the plan violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, designed to protect minority voters. The opinion also noted that the judges ruled simply on the legality of the Republican plan not its "wisdom."

The judges also rejected the Democrats' claims that the state constitution allows for redistricting once per decade, after Census information is released. The Legislature failed to act on redistricting during the 2001 session, so a court-drawn plan was adopted. The Republicans then went to work last year to get another map drawn in the Legislature. Democrats in the House and Senate both staged quorum-breaking walkouts in an attempt to kill GOP-led bills, but the Republicans ultimately prevailed.

"We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game," the judges said. Democratic Rep. Martin Frost, whose district is being decimated under the new map, said the ruling turns "back the clock on nearly 40 years of progress for minority Americans." Democrats had argued the map amounted to a right-wing power grab led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. DeLay said he hopes the Democrats "are now satisfied with the fairness and finality of the federal court decision."

"By fleeing the state twice, employing numerous stalling tactics and groundless legal action, the Democrats have cost taxpayers untold sums of money," he said.

But Democrats and minority groups said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask the court to immediately prevent the map from taking effect. "Only the Supreme Court can put a stop to the dismantling of voting rights that was done in Texas to accommodate the extreme partisan interests that drove the redistricting process," said Gerry Hebert, an attorney for the Democrats.

Republicans expressed relief that they finally got the redistricting plan they wanted in time for the 2004 elections. "In 2004, the people of Texas will finally have a congressional delegation that reflects their votes and their views," said state GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser.

Texas Democrats held a 17-15 advantage in Congress before Rep. Ralph Hall switched to the Republican Party last week, creating an even split in the delegation. Republicans say the new map could give them a 22-10 advantage.

Throw out the partisan judges, you roar! Think it will make any difference?

Republican Wins Disputed Pa. Court Seat

The state on Friday declared a Republican the winner of a disputed seat on a Pennsylvania appeals court, deciding a contest in which only 28 votes separated the top two candidates. Susan P. Gantman was declared the winner in the Superior Court race just hours after a federal judge in Philadelphia refused to block the certification process. Waiting for the results of the Nov. 4 election to be completed has led to "a long, tedious 10 weeks," Gantman said. "It was harder than the election."

The official count showed Gantman, a family lawyer, beating Democrat John J. Driscoll, a county judge, by 28 votes out of about 2.3 million cast for them. Driscoll argued that county election officials failed to count ballots from disabled and elderly voters that were improperly disqualified for being delivered too late. Democrats are seeking to have the result overturned in a federal lawsuit. "If we prevail and the (200 to 300 disputed) ballots are counted, .... very likely the result in the election will be changed and the federal court will unseat Judge Gantman," said Gregory M. Harvey, who represents Driscoll and three voters who filed the suit.

Once before, Americans required help from Europe to deal with a repressive government. It may be time to do so again.

From afar, Americans try to steer presidential election

During the past year, I have noticed political dissidence building among my fellow American expatriates living in Europe and around the world. Now, their growing concern will take concrete shape here in Prague, Czech Republic, in less than two weeks. On Jan. 19 - when the US political season officially begins with the Iowa Democratic caucuses - the American Voices Abroad (AVA) coalition, a collection of American civil-liberties and antiwar organizations from around the globe, will launch a campaign around Europe to try to influence the US presidential election.

Back in November, 50 representatives of Americans living in Europe and the Middle East met in Prague to hash out initial plans. True, it was a small sampling of a global American expat community that numbers in the millions. But they are responding to an anti-American sentiment that has been felt from South Africa to South Korea since the run-up to the Iraq war last year. These Americans, while thousands of miles from their original homes, have not forsaken their homeland. On the contrary, they care about it enough to want to stay engaged from afar. "Americans abroad played an important role in the antiwar movement this spring and, of course, we can mobilize voters abroad," says Phil Hill, an American who left the US because he wanted to live in a country with more environmentally-friendly policies.

The AVA coalition insists that it is nonpartisan, and its primary interests are international law, civil liberties, press freedom, and political reforms that they say could make the US more acceptable on the world stage. Its membership ranges from the groups Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad to radical veterans in the Stop the War Brigade to unaligned intellectuals and professionals.

The new campaign, dubbed the "100,000 for 2004 Voter Pledge Campaign for Americans Living Abroad," is designed to persuade expat voters to sign a pledge declaring that they will vote only for candidates who promise to repeal the so-called "doctrine of preemptive war" and the USA Patriot Act. The aim is to force presidential candidates to discuss these hot topics, and to leverage a large bloc of expats and their absentee ballots to convince candidates to take favorable positions on their issues.

During a visit to Prague, Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, spoke to the AVA assembly in a hall packed with American expats and international observers, including the former chairman of the UN General Assembly, Jan Kavan. Mr. Ritter accused the Bush administration of lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, undermining international law, and manipulating UN weapons inspectors.

"I voted for Bush, and he deceived me," Ritter, a registered Republican, told the conference. "American democracy is infected with a disease and Bush is only the latest symptom. I believe in accountability, and we as Americans have to confront the disease."

The rise of AVA and the "100,000 for 2004" campaign point to a surge of political ire among the normally lackadaisical expat population. "When 9/11 happened, my 85 year-old Czech neighbor came to my door with a yellow rose and tears in his eyes," says John Crane, who lectures on history and psychology in Prague. "Somehow, we have lost that sense of support. Now I encounter more and more people who are anti-American. Even the Czechs who used to think America could do no wrong now often say they were deceived."

Others agree. "Just last year when I passed out applications for study programs in the US, my Lebanese students were eager for a chance to study in America," says Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, who teaches at the Lebanese-American University in Beirut. "This year, I could not get them to even take the forms. Several students told me, 'I wouldn't study in America if they paid me.' "

Many American expats say they want to protect the positive image of the US and show the rest of the world that not all Americans agree with current policies. "While I was protesting against the war last spring, I could have just blended in with the French peace movement, but I love my country, and what it stands for," adds Laurie Chamberlain, who has lived in Paris for 25 years but never been politically active before. "It breaks my heart to see what is happening to it these days, That's why I carried a sign saying, 'I am an American.' "

And proud of it! Take that Ed Gillespie, you freeper wimp!

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