Ohio Rep Jean Schmidt Violated Campaign Law

April 30, 2006

From CBS News:

Commission Reprimands Ohio Congresswoman

The Ohio Elections Commission on Thursday reprimanded U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt for claiming on her Web site last year that she had two college degrees when she had only one.

The commission in a unanimous ruling said Schmidt had violated campaign law.

The Republican went to Congress last year in a special election to replace Rob Portman, whom President Bush appointed U.S. trade representative and is set to take over the White House budget office.

Schmidt obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati in 1974. The Web site said she also had received a bachelor's in education from Cincinnati in 1986.

After a media call to the university revealed she had not, she said she had completed the course work for an education degree but had not received one, said her lawyer, William Todd.

Todd said Schmidt wasn't involved in the creation of her Web site and did not know its contents.

Schmidt campaign spokesman Allen Freeman said the ruling would be appealed.

Schmidt was booed on the House floor in November for her comments criticizing Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and is an opponent of the Iraq war.

She said: "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Schmidt later sent Murtha a note of apology and said she never intended to attack Murtha personally.


Sweedish Muslims Demand Separate Laws

April 28, 2006

From The Local:

Sweden's largest Muslim organisation has demanded that Sweden introduce separate laws for Muslims, according to Swedish television. Sweden's equality minister Jens Orback called the proposals "completely unacceptable".

The Swedish Muslim Association, which represents around 70,000 Muslims in Sweden, has sent a letter to all Sweden's main political parties suggesting a number of reforms, SVT's Rapport programme reported.

The proposals include allowing imams into state (public) schools to give Muslim children separate lessons in Islam and their parents' native languages. The letter also said that boys and girls should have separate swimming lessons and that divorces between Muslims should be approved by an imam.

The letter provoked an instant, and damning, response from integration and equality minister Jens Orback.

"We will not have separate laws in Sweden. In Sweden, we are all equal before the law. In Sweden, we have fought for a long time to achieve gender-neutral laws, and to propose that certain groups should not be treated like others is completely unacceptable."

Orback said he had spoken to representatives of the Swedish Muslim Council, and they did not support the association's position.

"We have freedom of speech, we have the right to opinions and we have the right to make proposals – but if a law is going to be changed, it must be the same for everyone."

Asked whether the proposal plays into the hands of racists, Orback said that it did.

"I think it is very problematic and unfortunate that people who have been in Sweden for so long make proposals such as this that are so opposed to our intentions, when we are fighting for women's rights and the right to divorce," Orback replied.

Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg also slammed the idea of separate laws.

"Sweden has equality between men and women. To introduce exceptions for Muslims so that women can be oppressed with the support of the law is completely unacceptable to me," Liberal leader Lars Leijonborg wrote in a statement.


11 House Members To Sue Over Budget Bill

April 28, 2006

Background:

On February 8, 2006, the President signed into law the Republican reconciliation spending cuts bill (P.L. 109-171). However, the version signed into law is not the same version that passed the House of Representatives on February 1, 2006, raising serious constitutional problems and calling into question whether the law is valid.

Good overview here.

This from USA Today:

Eleven House Democrats said Thursday they would sue the Bush administration, alleging the $39 billion deficit-reducing legislation signed by the president is unconstitutional because the House and Senate failed to approve identical versions.

The lawsuit, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states by an Alabama attorney and a Florida-based student loan consulting firm.

"Once again the administration is playing fast and loose with the Constitution," Conyers said. "Anyone who has passed the sixth grade knows that before a bill can become law, both Houses of Congress must approve it."

A version of the bill that was narrowly approved by the House on Feb. 1 contained a clerical error. That error was fixed when the bill was transmitted to Bush, who signed it Feb. 8.

The White House and House and Senate GOP leaders have said the matter is settled because the mistake was technical and top House and Senate leaders certified the bill before transmitting it to the White House.

Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., called it "another attempt by the Democrats to stop us from trying to stop spending. They'll go to all ends of the earth to make sure that Americans have less money in their wallets."

Bush administration officials declined comment.

House Democrats have sought another vote, accusing Republican leaders of abusing the legislative process. The 11 Democrats pursuing the Michigan lawsuit contend they were denied their right to vote on legislation signed into law by the president.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the act is not law and provide a temporary restraining order preventing it from being implemented.

In addition to Conyers, the plaintiffs include Reps. John Dingell of Michigan, George Miller of California, Charles Rangel of New York, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, James Oberstar of Minnesota, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Pete Stark of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Louise Slaughter of New York.

The defendants include Bush, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Treasury Secretary John Snow.


Duke Cunningham Bribery Case To Expand

April 28, 2006

From The Wallstreet Journal:

Cunningham Is Suspected Of Asking for Prostitutes; Were Others Involved?

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.

Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.
 
In recent weeks, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have fanned out across Washington, interviewing women from escort services, potential witnesses and others who may have been involved in the arrangement. In an interview, the assistant general manager of the Watergate Hotel confirmed that federal investigators had requested, and been given, records relating to the investigation and rooms in the hotel. But he declined to disclose what the records show. A spokeswoman for Starwood Inc., Westin's parent company, said she wasn't immediately able to get information on whether the Westin Grand had been contacted by investigators.

Mr. Cunningham, a Republican from San Diego, was sentenced March 3 to more than eight years in federal prison after he admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes. The bribes were taken in exchange for helping executives obtain large contracts with the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Mr. Cunningham, who resigned from Congress in November, pleaded guilty to two criminal counts, one of tax evasion and one of conspiracy.

In documents filed in federal court in San Diego, prosecutors listed four "co-conspirators" in the bribing of Mr. Cunningham. The two who allegedly played the biggest role, listed as co-conspirators No. 1 and No. 2, have been confirmed by Justice Department officials and defense lawyers to be Mr. Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, the founder and former head of MZM Inc., a software and computer-services firm that Mr. Cunningham helped to gain federal contracts.

The charges against Mr. Cunningham had alleged that "Co-conspirator #1" — Mr. Wilkes — had given the congressman more than $600,000 in bribes, including paying off a mortgage on Mr. Cunningham's house.

Mr. Wilkes hasn't been charged with any crime, and people with knowledge of the investigation say he recently decided he would fight any charges that might be filed rather than plead guilty and cooperate with the investigation. Michael Lipman, Mr. Wilkes's lawyer, denied his client had been involved in procuring prostitutes. "There was no such conduct. It did not happen," Mr. Lipman said. The lawyer added that "Mr. Wilkes and ADCS strongly believe that all of their actions have been proper and appropriate. They are confident that the government will come to the same conclusion."

Mr. Wilkes, of Pohway, Calif., founded a series of companies that obtained federal contracts, including ADCS Inc., which won contracts to convert paper military records to computer images.

Mr. Wade in February pleaded guilty to giving bribes of more than $1 million to Mr. Cunningham, including cash, antiques and payment for yachts. Mr. Wade, who hasn't been sentenced yet, is cooperating with prosecutors. According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Mr. Wade told investigators that Mr. Cunningham periodically phoned him to request a prostitute, and that Mr. Wade then helped to arrange for one. A limousine driver then picked up the prostitute as well as Mr. Cunningham, and drove them to one of the hotel suites, originally at the Watergate Hotel, and subsequently at the Westin Grand.

Mr. Wade told investigators that all the arrangements for these services had been made by Mr. Wilkes and two employees of Mr. Wilkes's company, according to people with knowledge of his debriefing. He said Mr. Wilkes had rented the hotel suites and found the limousine driver, who had "relationships" with several escort services. Mr. Wade told prosecutors that sometimes Mr. Cunningham would contact him to request these services, and he would pass on the request to Mr. Wilkes or his employees, who then made the actual arrangement. Mr. Wade said that other times Mr. Cunningham called Mr. Wilkes directly to make the requests.

If investigators find that any other members of Congress or their staffs received services at so-called hospitality suites, that could help make a case that they had illegally taken action to benefit Mr. Wilkes in return for favors from him. Mr. Wilkes, his family members and his employees were heavy campaign contributors to several members of Congress. But prosecutors so far apparently haven't found any evidence that other members of Congress had been bribed.

Mr. Wade told investigators that he had knowledge only of the service being provided to Mr. Cunningham, not anyone else, and has said he doesn't know whether Mr. Wilkes may have provided prostitutes or other free entertainment to anyone besides Mr. Cunningham.

K. Lee Blalack II, Mr. Cunningham's lawyer, said, "I have no comment on that" when asked about his client's alleged use of prostitutes. Mr. Cunningham, 64 years old, currently is undergoing a routine medical evaluation at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

People close to the case said prosecutors had hoped that Mr. Wilkes, like Mr. Wade, would plead guilty and turn over information relevant to the investigation. Now that he has indicated he won't do so, prosecutors are hunting for evidence to bolster any potential case against him.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are looking at whether they can make corruption cases against other lawmakers based on Mr. Wilkes's campaign contributions to them. But lawyers expert in campaign-finance and criminal law say such cases are far more difficult to prove than those involving outright bribery. The government must show a direct "quid pro quo" that a lawmaker has taken action on a particular bill solely because of a campaign contribution.

Proof of the prostitution scheme, on the other hand, could provide potentially damaging evidence that Mr. Wilkes had taken illegal steps in exchange for legislative favors, people involved in the investigation said.


Congress & The Worlds Oldest Profession

April 28, 2006

From Think Progress:

Last night on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, Dean Calbreath of the San Diego Union Tribune – which recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Cunningham case – said that “as many as a half a dozen” members of Congress could ultimately be implicated in the prostitution scandal.

Transcript:

SCARBOROUGH: Dean Calbreath, he’s from the San Diego Union Tribune. The Tribune was just awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into the Cunningham Scandal. Also let me bring in Melanie Sloan from the government watchdog group Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Dean, let me go to you first. You have obviously and your papers been all over this Cunningham scandal from the very beginning — What are your sources telling you about this latest information that the Wall Street Journal reported on today about possible trading of prostitutes for votes?

CALBREATH: We and a number of other papers have been on this for about six months or so. We have all been looking for the break in this and the Wall Street Journal found it, which is the confirmation that the feds were actually looking at this. For the past six months there we have been hearing a lot of rumors that not only the Congressman Cunningham but as many as a half dozen other Congressmen may have been involved in this. And we’ve also been hearing about the limousine service that Brent Wilkes used to bring prostitutes to the Watergate hotel and the Grand Westin in Washington.

SCARBOROUGH: Your sources are telling you that he used these limousines to bring prostitutes to the hotel. Also, apparently, he is cooperating with investigators. Is there a possibility that this black book with information may be turned over to the FBI and other high ranking Republican congressmen could be in big trouble?

CALBREATH: Well now, Mitchell Wade is cooperating with the investigators, but the guy who supposedly has the black book, Brent Wilkes he is hanging tough. He is so far not cooperating. I think that he is going to hang tough until he is indicted. So, I think it will be a while before other names come out. Like I say, the rumor mill is alive with names. The rumor mill is alive with at least half dozen names. Congressman Cunningham in today’s story in the Wall Street Journal that is really the first solid confirmation we have gotten of an eyewitness report.


Islam Failing?

April 26, 2006

From Fox News:

A Peaceful Koran?
by Father Jonathan Morris

The appearance yesterday of another tape of Usama bin Laden should make us rethink, for a moment, our stance on theology.

You probably remember it was always considered an easy “A” — a GPA booster par excellence. We knew there was no fudging in chemistry class; the table of elements loomed large. Accounting I, II, and III fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle — miss a lesson or two and things just wouldn’t add up. History class had a little more wiggle room, but the best professors always asked for short answers — dates, names, and places — just to make sure.

But “theology?” The study of God? We doubted any professor could tell us for sure when we got it wrong. Yes, an easy “A!”

And yet some people still fail. When Usama calls all Muslims to go to Sudan and fight United Nations’ peacekeepers, as he did yesterday, he has failed. When he points his finger at the West and calls for indiscriminate violence, he has failed. When he promises heavenly rewards for the killing of the innocent, he has failed.

And sadly, Islam is failing with him.

The problem? Believe it or not, it’s a theological one.

To study God, we must first distinguish him from other beings. Animals may be smart, but they do not reason. They may be affectionate, but they do not love. Human beings reason and love, but they do both poorly. God does both perfectly. That’s what makes him God. He is perfect.

Muslim leaders like bin Laden have attached imperfect qualities to God. By doing so, they and their followers have become incapable of differentiating his perfection from man’s own misery. Their object of worship is not the perfect being that calls us to become more like our creator, but a grandiose image of their self-serving ego that values vice, not virtue.

Religion has a way of turning theology inside out. History is full of bad Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Muslims, Hindus, and Evangelicals. Religion turns bad when we get in the way of God, when we attribute to him and his will our own good and bad wishes. Getting in the way of God is bad theology and it’s dangerous.

What’s even more dangerous is a religion that refuses to correct itself when some of its members error. Islam as a religion is failing alongside its most outspoken spokesmen, because nobody from within dares to wrestle with the idea of bad theology.

The Muslim tradition leaves no room for interpretation or theological development. The Koran is what it is. Those who dare to interpret are considered untrue Muslims, or Westerners in disguise. This tradition of cemented theology can almost work if all play by the rules. But they don’t. The radical imams of the ilk of bin Laden have a monopoly on theological interpretation. And their grip is tightening, on Islam and on the world.

Theological problems don’t vanish with good public relations, political dialogue, or military force. They are resolved with good theology. Healthy Muslim clerics, who love God and love their religion, have a choice to make — either remain quiet and prepare to witness a clash of civilizations of epic proportion, or be willing to wrestle with the bad theology of their boisterous spokesmen. Can you provide to your fellow Muslims a convincing interpretation of a peaceful and loving Koran? We hope you can.

Our prayers are with you.

God bless, Father Jonathan


Arianna On Bush’s Energy Policy

April 26, 2006

From The HuffPO:

The president may turn to God when it comes to shaping his foreign policy, but his energy policy is strictly courtesy of the Men Upstairs at Big Oil.

Which is why it is beyond comical to watch Moe, Curly, and Larry — sorry, I mean Bush, Hastert, and Frist — getting all blue in the face about skyrocketing gas prices, and calling on the Energy and Justice Departments to look into possible market manipulation by oil companies.

It’s the least believable call for an investigation since O.J. set out to find the real killers.

For those of you experiencing a sudden wave of déjà vu, yes, the GOP demand for a federal probe of potential oil industry price-gouging was a carbon copy of the demands Chuck Schumer made last week. Hey, maybe they just unconsciously “internalized” Schumer’s words.

If it wasn’t so despicable it would be laughable.

There was Frist on Good Morning America today, putting aside his video diagnostic skills to become one of the “Car Talk” guys. Among Frist’s helpful money saving tips for drivers forced to consider taking out a second mortgage in order to fill up their tanks: get a tuneup, drive slower, and carpool. Thanks, Dr. Goodwrench!

But Frist was just the gassy second banana. The clear headliner was Bush, who had them rolling in the aisles at a meeting of the Renewable Fuels Association, with zingers like his claim that “large cash flows” mean that “these energy companies don’t need unnecessary tax breaks”. A sentiment that didn’t stop the president from signing a GOP energy bill stuffed with some $14.5 billion in tax breaks, tax subsidies, and tax deductions for his cash-rich energy industry chums. I guess those tax breaks were “necessary.”

Bush also scored big with his impression of a guy who cares about conservation, highlighting the need to “promote greater fuel efficiency”: “And the easiest way to promote fuel efficiency,” said the president, “is to encourage drivers to purchase highly efficient hybrid or clean diesel vehicles.” As the proud owner of a pair of hybrids, I say “hear, hear.” As a sentient human being I say, "Isn't this the same guy whose administration hasn't increased fuel efficiency standards for passengers cars even a single m.p.g. in six years?” Maybe now that former GM-lobbyist (and fuel efficiency opponent) Andy Card has left the White House, Bush has finally allowed his inner-Prius owner to run free. Or maybe the lure of touting vehicles that can run on alternative energy sources to an alternative energy trade association was just too hard to resist.

How gullible do they think we are? Memo to the White House: it’s not working. Bush’s approval rating just dropped to 32% — a number at which both water and political clout freeze.

All this huffing and puffing about manipulated markets and record gas prices scream of a blatant attempt to inoculate Republicans from consumer rage over the massive earnings oil companies are scheduled to announce this week. Industry analysts predict that ExxonMobil will report first-quarter earnings of only $9.1 billion on Thursday — down from the record $10.7 billion posted in the fourth quarter of 2005. With profits like that, Lee Raymond’s $400 retirement package is starting to look a little stingy. Except to those paying through the nose at the pump.

The most honest comment on the gas price crisis came from Scott McClellan (freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, eh, Scottie?) who said: “This is not something we got into overnight.” Exactly. These levels of oil company profits took years of careful lobbying and planning to orchestrate.

Our oil-man president may want us to think that he’s shocked, shocked by the “large cash flows” of the oil companies, and the sticker shock drivers are experiencing at the pump, but even before Team Bush was dreaming of toppling Saddam, it was laying the groundwork for the gargantuan windfall the oil industry is seeing — starting with Dick Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force.

It’s not a coincidence that the oil and gas industries donated over $25 million to Congressional campaigns in 2004 (with 80% of that money going into Republican coffers), and another $7.2 million so far in the 2006 cycle (with 84% going to the GOP). They also doled out over $4.5 million to Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential runs.

And what did they get for their largess? According to Public Citizen, the top five oil companies have pocketed over a quarter of trillion (that’s with a “T”) in profits since Bush took office. Talk about a return on investment. That’s a gusher!

So for American consumers, payback is a bitch. And three bucks a gallon at the gas pump. The Bush administration has turned the White House into a full service filling station for Big Oil. And we’re the ones being forced to pick up the tab.

So don’t let the empty rhetoric and the phony outrage pouring out of the White House and the Republican Congress fool you: America isn’t facing a shortage of fuel; it’s facing a shortage of leadership.