Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pentagon can't account for billions in Iraq

From The Los Angeles Times:
The Defense Department is unable to properly account for $8.7 billion out of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil revenue entrusted to it between 2004 and 2007, according to a newly released audit that underscores a pattern of poor record-keeping during the war.

Of that amount, the military failed to provide any records at all for $2.6 billion in purported reconstruction expenditure, says the report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which is responsible for monitoring U.S. spending in Iraq. The rest of the money was not properly deposited in special accounts as required under Treasury Department rules, making it difficult to trace how it was spent.
The U.S. Department of Defense: We lose more money before 9 a.m. than most people can visualize.

Since the unaccounted-for money was unaccounted for from 2004 to 2007 I suggest we start looking for it at Dick Cheney's house.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

IT privatization: Keep an eye on it

From The News & Observer:
Gov. Bev Perdue wants to take a look at privatizing parts of the state's IT operations.
I remember when Georgia privatized its IT operation. Despite the big numbers it didn't seem like that interesting of a story. I can't speak for the rest of the press corps back in Georgia, but I ignored the issue.

I regret that. From The Macon Telegraph, in the year after that privatization:
Though 31 entities initially went after the two contracts, most fell by the wayside as the state discussed what it wanted from potential bidders.

In the end, IBM was the only company to bid on the largest contract.
AT&T got the other contract. Together, they total $873 million over eight years for IBM and $346 million during five years for AT&T.

Officials say Georgia will eventually save money over what it used to spend on computers and telephones, but right now it's costing millions more each year.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If you read one paragraph this month about the federal deficit ...

From The New York Times:
Measured as a percentage of total economic output — the gauge that economists say is most meaningful — the deficit would be 10 percent of gross domestic product. That would be about the same as last year, a level that could not be sustained over the long run without endangering the economy, but well below the records set during World War II.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

June worst month for U.S. troops since 2001

From The Raleigh News & Observer today:
At least 15 North Carolina-based service members have died as a result of fighting in Afghanistan this month - nine during the past week - in what is shaping up to be a deadly summer for the effort to bring stability to the country through military force.

June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. Figures from the U.S. Department of Defense indicate that 60 U.S. troops were killed in what the military calls Operation Enduring Freedom during June, one more than in the next-deadliest month of October 2009.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How far from the World Trade Center before it's OK to build a mosque?

I understand why many people don't want a mosque built two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York City.

But if we start drawing that line, where do we stop?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

NYT: Obama admin reverses field on health "tax"

This is pretty stark. From The Times:
While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.

“For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week.”

When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, “I absolutely reject that notion.”
But, wait, because it's been 9 months:
In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.
The article quotes administration officials as saying this argument is a linchpin of its case to defend health care reform in court.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Congress, brazen fundraising before a vote

From a New York Times story about an ongoing investigation into fundraising in the weeks surrounding the U.S. House of Representatives' vote on new financial regulations:
For example, on Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.
North Carolina Democrat Melvin Watt and Georgia Republican Tom Price are subjects in the inquiry, The Times reports.

Monday, July 12, 2010

They were for it before they were against it

Friday in the North Carolina State the Republican caucus, which is in the minority here, tried to make several amendments to the Citizens United Response bill. That's the bill that contains a bunch of new disclosure requirements in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that says groups can spend as much money as they like on political advertising.

One of those amendments would have increased a reporting threshold from $20,000 to $50,000. It failed, 18-28, according to the official tally.

But I saw this vote take place, and it was really 20-26. Democratic senators Charles Albertson and Julia Boseman both changed their yes votes to no votes after the vote had been tallied and it was clear the amendment had failed. They simply got the attention of the Senate president and had the official record, recorded approximately 30 seconds earlier, altered.

So they showed their Republican colleagues they're willing to work with them without having to worry about any messy proof of bipartisanship making it into the official record.

Also Friday, in the House, Republicans tried to amend SB 900, which creates various study committees. House Minority Leader Paul Stam wanted to require that a certain committee have at least two Republicans on it, and this amendment passed.

The chamber buzzed over this small display of bi-partisanship ... for least a few seconds. But, seeing that the amendment passed by a slim margin, state Rep. Verla Insko stood up and asked to change her vote from yes to no. Speaker of the House Joe Hackney wouldn't allow it, because the one-vote flip would have changed the outcome. He suggested that Insko take another path, and she quickly called for reconsideration, which is basically a do over vote.

Reconsideration passed and, on the second try, Insko switched her vote to no. The amendment died.

Now, when it comes to vote switching, the Senate rules say that "a motion by any Senator to change that Senator's vote must be made on the same legislative day as the vote is taken." The House rules don't seem to have the same clause, but if you convince the speaker that there was a "malfunction" with the electronic voting button on your desk (something legislators claim frequently), you can switch your vote in the House with ease.

What's my point? I don't know. Are we sure the General Assembly passed a budget?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nothing good happens after 2 a.m., North Carolina

I thought the Georgia state legislature set the bar pretty high when it came to playing dangerous games with last minute legislation. But congratulations, North Carolina General Assembly. Because you take things to a whole other level.

How you think it's a good idea to debate and vote on major legislation at nearly 4 in the morning, I may never know.

I mean, some people would just come back Monday and keep working, since there's no mandated cap on your legislative sessions.

But not you. Someone says, "Hey, let's wait until between 2 and 4 a.m. to overhaul our ethics rules and require people who get arrested to either submit a DNA sample for our database or sit in jail," and you reply, "That is a brilliant idea."

I must say, though, you put on quite a show. Because during that DNA debate I'm pretty sure state Rep. Larry Womble was half a breath away from calling state Rep. Bill Faison a racist cracker. I know he accused him of having "the same kind of mentality" used to justify eugenics.

Of course, Rep. Faison, and his mustache, had just advocated inputting the DNA of every baby born in North Carolina into a crime-fighting database to "clean up" society.

Purple suit v. bolo tie. Did you guys hire stereotype consultants?

I also liked it when the state Senate sat there twiddling it's thumbs somewhere after 2 a.m. while the ethics bill was photocopied for members. Members who are all given a laptop computer courtesy of state taxpayers.

But maybe my favorite things you did were those "technical corrections" to the budget. I really respect how you passed a state budget this year before the fiscal year started, something you hadn't managed in like 7 years. It's only reasonable that you'd need to pass 19 pages worth of changes to that budget nine days later.

Just think, it could have been 10 days later. If only you'd waited until after midnight.

Update: They adjourned about 5:30 a.m. For the record, I left shortly before 3 a.m., and stopped listening to the Internet feed about 4:30, during a string of farewell speeches from retiring House members.

Friday, July 9, 2010

DNA testing

Crime policy issue of our lifetime?

From The New York Times, on DNA use in the 'Grim Sleeper' case:
Only two states, Colorado and California, have a codified policy permitting a so-called familial search, the use of DNA samples taken from convicted criminals to track down relatives who may themselves have committed a crime. It is a practice that district attorneys and the police say is an essential tool in catching otherwise elusive criminals, but that privacy experts criticize as a threat to civil liberties.

The information developed from the state’s familial search program suggested that Christopher Franklin was a relative of the source of the DNA from the old crime scenes. The police confirmed the association of Lonnie Franklin through matching of DNA from a discarded pizza slice. The match provided the crucial link in a seemingly unsolvable crime that struck terror and hopelessness throughout one of the city’s poorest areas for years.
North Carolina is debating mandatory DNA samples upon arrest for violent crimes, sex crimes and breaking into cars, which would be entered into the existing state DNA database.

It passed the Senate today, 46-1. It was a non-starter this year in the Georgia legislature. N.C. Legislature sine dies Saturday ... is what the Speaker of the House indicated today. The Senate's majority leader, Marc Basnight, went with Friday.

Monday, July 5, 2010

When everyone lives like an American

From The New York Times:
Consider that India, while far down the list of greenhouse giants — with a fifth of China’s emissions, measured per-capita or gross — is poised for greatly expanded energy demand. If you dare, please track down and read the 2009 paper by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan on projected air conditioning demand in big cities in hot places. A single finding is sufficient to make the point: “For example, the potential cooling demand in metropolitan Mumbai is about 24 percent of the demand for the entire United States.”