Tag Archives: Bush

FEAR AND LOATHING IN O.C.: Bush Hawks His Wares in the Temple

For Hunter S. Thompson*, R.I.P.

Much as I hate to stray from the standards of objective journalism, you may as well know from the outset that I am writing this thing under duress, having been dragged out from under my bed by several thugs sent over by pencil-pushers in the editorial department – literal-minded bureaucratic types who do not appreciate my having spent three days straight in a coma, inhaling dust bunnies the size of small goats, instead of writing my article. This is a lamentable failure of imagination on the pencil pushers’ part, considering how on Monday I had to endure almost an hour and a half in the same room as George W. Bush, having to listen to him deliver platitudes and “jokes” to 3,100 devotees at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. It ought to be obvious that I have sustained lasting, severe damage from the experience, not least of all from the tension of sitting there, wanting to rush the stage, yet knowing that I’d be torn limb from limb by the Orange County multitude – and that’s just counting the old ladies. I was also afraid, as I sat there watching the whole Satanic ritual, that my eye sockets might get burned out of my skull. I have not yet precluded this possibility.

Ah, Jesus, I have to get a grip on myself. The apes sent by Editorial are watching me write this and they are not to be trifled with. More to the point, if I don’t finish, I believe they may take my liquor as a perverse form of compensation, and I’m not expecting a delivery for another two hours — so it will be very tough going if they do. The illicit substances I had in my pocket rolled out while I was under the bed and the dog may already have licked them up, so things are looking pretty dire. Come to think of it, where is that dog?

But I digress. The theme of the Bush appearance was “We are well and truly fucked,” although technically, it was called a “Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Service”, and the devout crowd in attendance left with big smiles on their faces. Pastor Rick Warren, who is “America’s most powerful religious leader” per a 2008 Time magazine cover, hosted the ex-Prez on a talk show-like stage set, and webcast the chit-chat live via his “Purpose-Driven” network to 164 countries (which is more countries than have signed the land mine ban treaty, but who’s counting?). This is the same Rick Warren who Obama picked to give the invocation at his inauguration, pissing off the LGBT community early so he could get to work pissing off other progressives on his list once his presidency officially began.

I looked for the picketers from CODEPINK and the Orange County Peace Coalition at Bush’s book promotion, but the 50 or so protesters were banished to the outer limits of the sprawling mega-church grounds. Tickets were free to go hear Bush sell his memoir, Decision Points, but they had been handed out over a week in advance, so I gazed uncertainly at the hordes pouring in. I considered just skipping the whole thing and going out on the town, but I wasn’t sure if Lake Forest knew that Prohibition had been repealed. Five minutes before the doors were about to close, I asked the Will Call table if they had an extra ticket, and a woman smiled and handed me one with a flourish: “It’s your lucky day.” That was not exactly my sentiment, but I obviously had to attend now. I went into an adjacent restroom and hid the protest sign that had been in my satchel, and made it through the bag-check without incident.

After a woman sang an extreme vibralto version of the national anthem that would not have been out of place in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rick Warren’s wife Kay expressed her gratitude that she was raised to love her country, and a video extolled Bush’s righteousness. Then Pastor Warren and the ex-Prez came out together.

Bush lounged comfortably in a recliner while the pastor all but drooled, asking him questions for which the word “softball” is inadequate – I’d call them “shuttlecock” questions but I think the LGBT community hates Pastor Warren enough as it is. The questions revolved around how to be a good leader, in ways that the audience could try at home or at the office, i.e.: “How do you deal with the egos of the people you are assembling?” (If there’d been more time, perhaps Warren would also have asked for tips on writing good memos and whether Casual Fridays are a good idea). I had gone in with a vague plan to guffaw loudly at every lame-brained thing the Crawford reptile said, but evidently the pastor was careful to only ask questions Bush was expecting, because the kind of stumblings and circuitous sentences we’re used to from Bush were in short supply. I also ended up changing my plan because my vocal chords are not in peak condition these days — for which I blame my attorney, who regularly insists that we go out after midnight to howl at the moon. I’ve noticed increasingly thick hair growing on his back, but I don’t like to be impolite.

Dammit, there I am on another tangent. Writing about politics has clearly sapped me of my moral strength, but the goons Editorial sent over are scratching up my wood floor with their jackboots, so I really do have to bite down and push through.

Bush kept describing what it was like to lead “an organization” – as if he’d been a high school principal, or the head of his neighborhood watch patrol. “There’s nothing worse than trying to lead an organization and be full of self-pity”, the Supreme Court’s anointed one remarked thoughtfully. “‘Why me?’ It just doesn’t work.”

The pterodactyl from Texas bragged that he did not believe in “surrounding” himself with “sycophants”, because there’s a “tendency for people to say ‘oh boy, you’re looking pretty’ when you’re not.” The audience took him at his word that he wanted advisors who were “willing to share opinions in an open and honest way”, conveniently forgetting about Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, and others who apparently tried to share opinions. The CIA also comes to mind, people I don’t normally feel a lot of sympathy for – and people who may very well have tampered with my GPS recently, since it told me to turn right when I needed to turn left, and when turning right propelled me straight into oncoming traffic. But nonetheless, the CIA comes to mind, as an agency whose skepticism about Saddam’s alleged WMDs and the wisdom of invading Iraq were not welcome in the Bush White House. Oh yes, and then there were the U.N. inspectors. And critics of the Administration’s policies of surveillance, detention, and torture. Somehow, they all missed the Decider’s open-mindedness.

W. did actually wrap up his declaration of tolerance with: “once you decide, they need to say ‘Yessir,’ or they’re out”. One of the few scraps of honesty in the whole evening. But his audience got off on the display of power. As did the fundamentalist pastor, who was getting a little flushed sticking his tongue that far up Bush’s fundament, and who interjected at one point: “it’s a theocracy, and you’re Theo.”

The worshippers noticed no disconnect when Bush advised using “good judgment” to put “people around you who you can trust.” In that crowd, I didn’t think it was prudent to bring up Donald Rumsfeld, who sent the troops to war without enough body or Humvee armor, or Alberto Gonzalez, who ‘couldn’t recall’ details of the firing of federal attorneys, or Michael Brown, the former unsuccessful horse commissioner turned disastrous FEMA administrator, or Harriet Miers, who Bush trusted to be a Supreme Court justice until senators were appalled at her ignorance of the law. Besides, as I’ve said, my voice was a little too hoarse to carry in that enormous stadium. I may have to change my cigarette brand.

But let’s not be uncharitable. Who would want to be a downer, when Bush was being so upbeat? The conversation did touch on the low points of his presidency – Warren, channeling Barbara Walters for a moment, asked him very sympathetically: “You clearly weren’t listening to the polls. What kept you going?”, but Bush replied “Belief.” #43 admitted that “it’s hard to relive those days”, but his faith kept him going – allowed him to endure the hardships of…he didn’t say, but I guess you’d call it ‘democracy’. He told the Saddleback Church: “you’ve got to tune those people out. They’re acting out of spite and…emotions that are negative.” With an approval rating below 30% by the end of his presidency, he must have had some industrial strength earplugs.

The most important thing about leadership, he told us, is to have “a set of principles you will not violate.” One of his key principles was: “All life is precious”. Warren smiled and nodded, discreetly refraining to mention the 1800+ lives lost in Katrina, the 3000 lost on 9/11, or the close to 5,000 troops lost in Iraq thanks to Bush. The ex-Prez shared another heartfelt principle, reposing leisurely: “to whom much is given, much is required”. He did not, however, explain how this principle related to his lack of any response to direct verbal warnings that Hurricane Katrina would breach the New Orleans levees. In fact, when Warren even mentioned Katrina, Bush quickly changed the subject — and Laura has probably since struck the pastor from their Christmas card list.

A slogan that came up often during the evening, causing a tremor just below my right eye, was “it’s not all about you” – a slogan, apparently, that Warren favors and which Bush feels is the secret of good leadership. King George made sure we knew that he did not view his job as “serving George Bush” but “serving the United States of America.” This from the guy who oversaw eight years of troubled times, yet told his wife that “the worst moment” of his presidency was being called a racist by rapper Kayne West in a Katrina telethon. But the horrors of Katrina, 9/11, economic collapse, two occupations, deterioration between Israel and the Palestinians, and the vilification of America worldwide seem to have vanished from W.’s mind. He exclaimed to Pastor Warren with religious conviction that every day in the White House had been “joyous” for him.

It was at that point that DeDe Miller’s brain exploded. Cindy Sheehan’s sister, unable to take anymore, stood up and harangued Bush at length from the back of the hall. Without a mike her words didn’t travel far, but it’s safe to guess she was demanding how Bush could’ve been joyous during a bogus war that had taken the life of her nephew Casey and thousands of others. About 15 minutes later, a second woman, in a CODEPINK-style Statue of Liberty tiara, disrupted the event and held up a sign. And near the end of the event, a third woman also stood up near the front and yelled at Bush. Each was mostly ignored by those on stage and in the audience, although one guy seemed to think the third protester was a lamp at home – he kept clapping abruptly in her face. Each woman was soon pulled out by dark-clad personnel and vanished behind a mysterious row of black curtains, never to be seen again.

W. did explain his reasons for the invasion of Iraq: to combat a dictator “enriched by oil”, with “the capacity to build weapons”, and worst of all, an “aggressive attitude toward the United States.” Many in the audience nodded encouragingly. It was all the explanation they needed.

Bush Jr. also recalled his emotions on 9/11: “anger”, “unspeakable sadness,” and feeling “helpless”, but then his “instincts kicked in” – though not immediately, because “The leader of an organization cannot overreact…I made the decision just to wait.” He made the decision to wait and then overreact, I guess (starting a new Cold War-like era of belligerence against the entire world, and so on). But at least, while he was in that classroom, he avoided upsetting the children. And when he made that first speech about 9/11, he “wanted to console and help people try to heal” — it was only on the next day and subsequent seven years that he wanted to scare the bejesus out of everyone.

But this crowd had a special relationship with Bejesus: when Bush recalled using his 9/14/01 cathedral speech to “try to start the grieving process” and yet also to “let the enemy know we’re going to come and get them,” the congregation jumped to their feet in a thunderous ovation. It may have been their favorite part of the whole evening. Bush had actually been trying to say that he was worried in 2001 about expressing a war-like sentiment in a church, but he looked at the bloodthirsty throng of Orange County citizens in the Saddleback Church on Mon., and didn’t even bother to finish his sentence.

After about an hour, my teeth had been ground down to nubs and I was beginning to suspect that the relentless glare of the lights on the audience was emitting brainwashing rays, but I was afraid my only chance to make it safely to the exits would be to blend in with the crowd, so I endured. Meanwhile, the congregation was applauding madly again — Bush had mentioned his tax cuts. The pastor grinned: “we like those. We want them to continue.” I wondered what tax cuts have to do with Christianity, until I remembered that the gigantic Saddleback Church, which is spread out over an estate of vast parking lots, eateries, and other buildings, serves one of the 100 most affluent cities with a pop. over 50,000 in the United States.

In a gee-shucks way that his audience lapped up, Bush also stressed that he didn’t know much about economics, but when told of the fiscal crisis, “didn’t want to gamble on whether or not we had a depression.” And so, this former friend of Ken Lay, “decided to use your money to bail out Wall Street, and I was really unhappy about it, but nonetheless I do believe that decision saved the country from a depression.”

The Clowner-in-Chief spent a fair amount of time talking about humor and how important it is to him, since it’s a “sign of a relaxed personality” — quite evidently a priority for him in times of national crisis. He joked frequently during the dialogue, impressing the audience with his modesty and folksiness while turning it around at the same time. For example, he quipped that people are surprised he can write a book, since they don’t even think he can read one. Then he casually mentioned that the way he read 92 history books in one year was to read on the exercise machine and wherever he could. Warren did not ask if TinTin comics count as history books.

The evening was almost over when Bush proclaimed that “Everyone loves America.” His audience seemed momentarily confused, since after all he’d spent his presidency telling us that we were surrounded by people who hate us for our freedom. Then, a Middle Eastern-looking man in a somber suit, sitting by himself, stood up from the very back of the auditorium and began purposefully walking forward. It was at this dramatic moment that I remembered there had been no metal detectors at the entrance; security seemed to remember it at just that moment too. But the gentleman turned to the nearest exit and went to find the restroom. Later it turned out he was Latino.

When it was all over, a complete stranger said to me, beaming: “It doesn’t get any better than that.” By that point I had lost all ability to form words, so I merely glowered back. Before crawling into my car with its “Jesus called: he wants his religion back” bumper sticker, I checked all my tires and lights for damage. Then I realized that they would have had no need to assault my car. Decision Points is currently at #1 on the L.A. Times hardcover non-fiction list.

Our efforts to move the book to the True Crime, Fantasy, and Psychotherapy sections of our local bookstores have clearly been inadequate. And when a man that the Mayor of London has warned might be arrested as a war criminal if he shows his face in the borough can get away with telling such whoppers — and the public’s response is to think it would make a good Christmas gift – then it would indeed seem that we are well and truly fucked.

However, one small glimmer of hope struck me. Twice during the book talk, Bush referred to the time when “it looked like Iraq was lost.” Bush said that. As in, Mr. Chauncey Gardiner, who kept perpetually saying that the U.S. was just about to claim victory in Iraq, any minute now. He didn’t even believe it himself? It seems like a chink in the armor. Perhaps there are others. Of course he’s trying to resurrect his image, but he clearly is aware of his unpopularity; when the Saddleback Church audience stood and cheered one of his remarks, he ad-libbed “Thanks. I forgot what it was like.” That lifts the gloom a little, to hear that the delusional narcissist is aware he’s not universally admired.

Hell, I might even be persuaded to place a bet on justice being done and the old man getting a fair trial some day. Sometimes you just have to place your bets on principle. In any case, I’ve been known to back a few losing causes in my day.

(* by Jennifer Epps, in tribute to Dr. Gonzo)

Washington and Sacramento

At the risk of oversimplification, I think that the national problems we have now are a manifestation of Republican excesses in the White House and Congress for WAY too long.  The cumulative effect of destroying regulatory oversight, budget deficits, foreign policy blunders, anti-science policy and the general lawlessness within the Bush Administration has brought us this horrible situation.  I worked hard for Obama since February 2007 and have great faith in his ability to lead us out of this mess.  I have hope for us nationally.

California’s problems are certainly related, but generally the budget problems in Sacramento are a manifestation of Democratic excesses for WAY too long.  The unions played a major role in electing many of the key political figures and they expected (and received) a good return on their investment.  It is unfair to call this a complete manifestation of Democratic excesses because Republicans fed liberally at the CCPOA and PORAC trough and delivered for law enforcement.  When it comes to SEIU, the Democrats delivered.

I’m not as hopeful for a solution in California.  We cannot continue along these lines.  We must change.  When comparing taxes among various states, some states have high sales tax but low income tax.  Others have high corporate tax but low property tax.  California is either at the top or near the top of every kind of tax.  Why is that? Do we have such superior services compared to the rest of the states?  If so, can we afford them?

I don’t know the details of all the pension agreements, but many employees get 3% per year for their last year of service.  This means that if they begin working at age 20, they can retire at age 53 at full salary for the rest of their lives.  In fact, if they continue working after 33 years of service I really don’t know why.  They are in essence working for free.  They go out and get another job.

Is there some company that anyone knows about that offer this kind of pension?  I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Public employees have health benefits, overtime rules, job security provisions that are rather generous when you look at it in the context of the economic pain that’s out there.

I know that people will ask me if I have no sympathy for the 219,000 working men and women of this state.  The answer is that I have more sympathy for the 1.7 million Californians who are currently unemployed (and the many more who have given up).  

We need real change and, frankly, I don’t know where it’s going to come from.  Republicans make me want to puke and Democrats have no ability to stand up to their benefactors, public employee unions.  So, I am not hopeful.

Ask President-Elect Obama not to let the outgoing Bush Admin Steal Farm Worker Protections

The Bush Administration has released midnight regulation changes that make it easier for growers to slash the pay of domestic farm workers and hire imported foreign laborers instead of U.S. field workers. They will weaken government protections in an industry known for violating the minimum wage, housing requirements and other rules. We must do everything we can to avoid having these regulations implemented. Please help!

Today’s LA Times describes the situation well.

Los Angeles Times, 12/16/08:

Not content to leave office as the most unpopular president in recent history, Bush is cementing his legacy of hardheaded autocracy by pushing through a record number of last-minute and particularly noxious changes in federal regulations. Bypassing congressional debate and often receiving public comments through government websites, the administration has in recent months issued dozens of “midnight regulations” that in some cases could take years to reverse. This isn’t just leaving a stamp on the country, it’s more like inking a tattoo.

Please join the UFW in appealing to President-Elect Obama to act quickly to reverse these harmful regulatory changes once he is sworn in to office and protect farm workers from these callous regulations. Sign the online petition to his transition team today!

More excerpts from Today’s LA Times editorial:

Los  Angeles Times, 12/16/08:

Bush rewrites the rules-Last-minute changes being pushed through by the administration, such as altering H-2A visa rules, are creating disasters that Barack Obama will have to reverse beginning Jan. 20.

Although other presidents have crafted rules the next administration might not, none has been so aggressive or destructive as Bush. His administration has attacked environmental safeguards, reproductive rights and public safety. It has acted to permit uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, curtail women’s access to birth control, allow visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks — which are among the safest public places in the country — and open millions of acres of unspoiled land to mining.

Last week, the Department of Labor weakenedthe nation’s already flawed agricultural guest worker program. The new H-2A visa rules, which take effect in January, revise the way wages are calculated and will lower them substantially. In California, farmworker advocates say, the current $9.72 hourly wage would drop by 18%. The new rules also reduce requirements for growers to prove they have made a good-faith effort to recruit U.S. workers and limit how much they have to reimburse workers for their trips home. This is precisely what opponents of immigration reform feared: policies that disadvantage citizens and encourage the easy exploitation of migrants…

The LA Times is not the only newspaper that has spoken out. The following excerpts comes from yesterday’s Miami Herald editorial.

Miami Herald, 12/15/08

Rule changes target vulnerable workers.

OUR OPINION: Don’t allow last-minute regulations to erode standards

The torrent of new rules being issued by the Bush administration as it heads out the door is turning into a regulatory fiasco. The changes have lowered the bar on environmental review across the board, from limiting worker exposure to toxins to ignoring provisions of the Clean Water Act and softening, if not gutting, the Endangered Species Act. Late last week, new rules targeted vulnerable members of the labor force — farmworkers.

…Rules that are to be published this week and which would take effect just days before President Bush leaves office would: make it easier to hire foreign ”guest workers” — to the detriment of Americans willing to work in the fields; lower wage standards; and weaken oversight of farm hiring. This revision will hurt those who can least afford any cuts in pay or erosion of job protections…

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial said:

New York Times, 12/15/08

A Cheap Shot at Workers

The Bush administration is doing a last-minute overhaul of the visa program for temporary farmworkers to make it easier to hire foreigners over Americans, to lower workers’ wages and to erode their rights. You would think that after failing for eight years to fix immigration, the administration would pack it in rather than make one last listless stab at a solution. But this plan isn’t even that – it’s just midnight meanness, right in time for the holidays…

There are many more newspaper articles and editorials on this subject, but the bottom line is the same. These regulations are horrific for farm workers and we need the Obama administration to do everything it can to make sure they are not enacted.  

That is why we are asking you to please join the UFW in appealing to President-Elect Obama to act quickly to protect farm workers by reversing these harmful regulatory changes once he is sworn in to office . Sign the UFW’s online petition to his transition team today!

* For more specific information on these regulations click here to see Farm Worker Justice’s 2 page Summary of H-2A Regulations, entitled “The Bush Administration’s Shameful Legacy for Farmworkers: Midnight Regulations on the H-2A Guestworker Program” & click here to see their White Paper, “Litany of Abuses: Why we need more–not fewer–labor protections in the H2A Guestworker Program and click here to go to the UFW’s guestworker page where we will be posting the latest information.

Enough is Enough

(Welcome Assemblyman Ted Lieu to Calitics!  And yes, enough is enough. – promoted by David Dayen)

“Enough is Enough”

Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street famously said, “Greed is good . . . Greed is right, greed works.”  Real life Wall Street, however, reminds us that excessive and unregulated greed wrecked havoc in the mortgage industry and took down our economy.  The core cause of the chaos in our financial sector was the unregulated selling of unsuitable and risky subprime home loans that resulted in a massive wave of foreclosures.

During the mortgage boom, industry players became addicted to the drug of high-yield, adjustable rate subprime mortgages that they foisted on borrowers.  Raking in massive quarterly and annual bonuses, corporate executives didn’t care if borrowers could repay the mortgages a few years later.  It was greed on speed, the future be damned, and now all of us are suffering the consequences.  

More in the extended entry….

The collapse of financial giants Lehman Brothers, Ameriquest, IndyMac Bank, and New Century Financial; the fire sales of the venerable Merrill Lynch, the lawsuit-challenged Countrywide, and WaMu and Wachovia; and the existing taxpayer bailouts of AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac would NOT have happened if effective laws were in place to prevent predatory and unsuitable home loan products and practices from occurring in the first place.  

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan contributed to the financial meltdown by taking actions that artificially inflated the housing bubble; promoting risky, adjustable rate mortgages; and worst of all keeping government from effectively regulating the mortgage industry.  In hindsight his decisions were absolutely and categorically wrong in every way possible.  

While we wait for Mr. Greenspan to apologize, his successor, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Paulson have unveiled the largest government intervention in the free market in the history of the world.  Taxpayer bailouts of large corporations do nothing to reform the broken mortgage system.  While we may be forced to do a short-term fix, ultimately what is needed is fundamental reform.  

Several states have passed effective laws to prevent predatory practices and the making of bad loans.  California’s legislature put on Governor’s Schwarzenegger’s desk AB 1830 (Lieu), a comprehensive subprime mortgage reform bill.  This bill, which received bipartisan support, bans predatory subprime loan practices and exotic, overly risky and unsuitable loan products.  Unfortunately, Governor Schwarzenegger catered to a few special interest groups in the mortgage industry and vetoed AB 1830.

Despite Governor Schwarzenegger’s mistake, there is an opportunity nationally for fundamental reform.  If the Bush Administration wants to use your hard-earned money to bail out Wall Street, then taxpayers should demand major industry reforms.  First, industry should agree that they will no longer fight mortgage reforms such as those contained in AB 1830.  Second, industry should agree to fix executive compensation so that the Gordon Geckos of Wall Street are not incentivized to place short-term profits above long-term financial health.  

Third, we need to slow down the number of foreclosures and stabilize home prices or the problems will get even worse.  This can be done by granting bankruptcy judges the ability to modify loans on the borrower’s place of residence, and by following the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s lead of imposing a foreclosure moratorium.

Approximately 1,300 foreclosure filings occur every day in California, the worst in the nation.  By the time you finish reading this article, another foreclosure filing would have occurred.  This is unacceptable and has to stop.  

If we are going to give massive corporate welfare to banks, then taxpayers better get something in return.  It is time to reform the mortgage industry and Wall Street.  Enough is enough.

Assemblymember Ted W. Lieu represents the 53rd Assembly District.  Prior to his elevation to Chair of the Assembly Rules Committee, he was Chair of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee.

The Collapse of Federal Firefighting

As my recent diaries have shown there is a shortage of firefighters to meet the unprecedented amount of fires burning across our state. As I began digging into this yesterday I came across the same report highlighted in today’s Monterey Herald – that US Forest Service firefighting efforts have been cut to the bone and left the nation vulnerable to massive fires. Deliberate staffing shortages have left the USFS unable to do vital off-season brush clearance, and left them without the staffing to get a quick jump on fires in their crucial initial stages.

The federal firefighting system is “imploding” in California, due to poor spending decisions and high job vacancy rates, as the region struggles to keep pace with what looks to be a historic fire season, a firefighters’ advocacy group charges.

As a result, the firefighters say, small fires have exploded into extended, multimillion-dollar conflagrations because the U.S. Forest Service has been unable to contain them during the early “initial attack” stage…

As the “sheer number” of California wildfires pushed the nation to its worst measurable level of wildland-fire preparedness last week – Level 5 – a national multiagency coordinating group announced in a memo Monday that firefighter staffing levels in Northern California “cannot be maintained.”

The report, by the FWFSA, has been around for a few months now. Wildland firefighters have been screaming about the issue to anyone who would listen, including Dianne Feinstein:

After facing pressure from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers last spring, the Forest Service promised it would immediately fill its vacancies and launched a “Fire Hire” campaign to attract firefighters in Sacramento that concluded two weeks ago.

“I believe the agency should have been able to muster a stronger force,” Feinstein said. “All signs indicate that things will only get worse.”

Feinstein said that despite promises of full staffing from [USFS Administrator Mark] Rey, only 186 of the agency’s 276 engines were manned at the start of the 2008 fire season.

Ron Thatcher, president of the union that represents 20,000 Forest Service employees, has estimated that attrition has left the service at 70 percent to 80 percent of its authorized staffing levels, and that up to 39 percent of fire crew leader positions were vacant as the 2008 fire season kicked off.

Rey, Bush’s USFS administrator, has a long background in the timber industry. He blames environmentalists for the problems, but firefighters and those who know the issue are having none of it.

The problem, as the report and the article make clear, is that the USFS is not making an aggressive effort to recruit new hires during the offseason, and particularly their pay is low. The average USFS firefighter makes $56,000 a year whereas Cal Fire averages $64,000 a year. Further, Cal Fire offers better benefits than the USFS, which has resorted to absurd penny pinching to oversee its budget:

Another issue that firefighters say may come back to bite the region is a brand-new budgetary program – called “accountable cost management”- that was just introduced throughout the Forest Service. Judd said it should have been initiated well before the 2008 fire season started….

“The Indians Fire commander had no clue about this program, and they’re looking at (cutting) the least expensive resources. The bean counters are looking at these folks and basically timing them as to how long they spend on dinner. Accountable cost management is you’re looking at minutiae and ignoring the real costs,” Judd said.

The Herald article does not explain what the underlying reason is, but the FWFSA and its members aren’t shy about calling it out – privatization:

I recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with an old friend of mine who is an SFR2 with CALFIRE. He is no stranger to interagency response and the inherent problems that sometimes arise. We got on the subject of the USFS retention issue and he shed some light that I thought was interesting. In his dealings with the R-5 admin’s, the common thread, vocally expressed behind office doors, is that upper level USFS is purposefully and intentionally “gutting” the agency. The Washington folks are being pressured to eliminate the “fire” responsibility from the USFS and cover it up with budget cuts and the “we are fine” statements. There are plans in the works for a general privatization in R-5 in the near future.

According to him, CALFIRE is not happy to be in a position to accommodate any private contractors that will come along should there be a hardcore failure of the USFS, nor are they prepared to assume responsibility for the expanded response area that would be created. Sound’s like CATCH 22 to me.

Color me shocked. Bush is trying to destroy a government agency in order to turn it over to private contractors. As I explained last fall, destroying public firefighting and leaving folks to fend for themselves on the private market is a core conservative goal. Private military contractors rightly scare us, but private firefighting should be even more frightening – what incentive would they have to protect the homes of the poor?

The immediate effect of the intentional gutting of federal firefighting, however, is fires that burn hotter, larger, and longer. And in the absence of sufficient firefighting resources, some individuals take matters into their own hands, as with the family that set their own backfires in Big Sur over the weekend. In Mendocino County and other parts of our state volunteers are trying to pick up the slack but as hard as they work there’s no way volunteers can be a long-term substitute for professional full-time firefighters.

The situation is about to get worse in California. Many of the firefighters in our state are on loan from other states, especially USFS staffs from other Western states. They are due to be rotated out soon, and aren’t likely to return, as the fire season across the West is about to begin in earnest.

Here in California we face another problem: conservatives who oppose new firefighting revenues, preferring to close schools and hospitals to provide enough firefighters. We’re being squeezed between those California conservatives and the conservatives and timber interests in the federal government that have destroyed the USFS’ firefighting capacity.

We are in for a long, hot, destructive summer. Unless we beat back conservative anti-government philosophies and begin restoring federal firefighting to its past staffing levels, more homes will be destroyed, more lives ruined.

Down the Blackwater Wormhole

Disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

There’s a protest from 3-5pm today at Blackwater’s new Otay Mesa facility, and tomorrow Jeremy Scahill will be doing a special Courage Campaign Conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

In a little noticed vote yesterday, the Merida Initiative passed easily through the House of Representatives 311-106. It provides $1.6 billion with an emphasis on training and equipment to fight drug cartels in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, because as Rep. Brian Bilbray explained:

“Either we can go after these cartels in Ensenada, or we can fight them in Escondido,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), who voted for the plan. “I’d prefer that we move now and take care of this problem south of the border. The drug wars in Mexico and in other regions have grown horrendously violent, and their destructive ways must be quashed.”

It’s tough to directly take issue with any of that, but where does it lead? Potentially to some unpleasant places. In September, the Defense Department opened up five year contracts in support of counter-narcoterrorism efforts to five private companies, including Blackwater USA. “The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract could be worth up to $15 billion for the awardees.” The Army Times analyzed the content of the contracts, describing:

a series of task orders covering a wide range of products and services. These could include anti-drug technologies and equipment, special vehicles and aircraft, communications, security training, pilot training, geographic information systems, and in-field support.

Now back up for a second and compare that to the State Department description of the Merida Initiative:

   *  Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners and canine units for Mexico and Central America to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.

   * Technologies to improve and secure communications systems that collect criminal information in Mexico.

   * Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and witness protection programs to Mexico.

   * Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid response of law enforcement agencies to Mexico.

   * Equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures.

Quite a bit of overlap. However, in a May 22 press release from Blackwater, it asserted

What it isn’t. Critics of the project have used blatant fabrications —       claiming that the facility will be used for border security or immigration purposes — to build support for their opposition of the facility. The proposed facility will be used for training alone…

This might be comforting if there was any reason at all actually trust Blackwater’s integrity. As just one example, Post-Katrina investigations by expert Jeremy Scahill discovered that Blackwater deployed to New Orleans without a government contract. They just showed up, fully armed, and went to work of their own accord. Leaving aside local San Diego concerns (where private firefighters are already being used to combat wildfires), Blackwater’s contempt for law and oversight in New Orleans is hardly an isolated incident. When Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nusoor Square,

the first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene have told military investigators that they found no evidence the contractors were fired upon, a source familiar with a preliminary U.S. military report told CNN.

The soldiers found evidence suggesting the guards fired on cars that were trying to leave, and found that weapon casings on the scene matched only those used by U.S. military and contractors.

Yet there have been no successful prosecutions and Blackwater’s contracts with the U.S. government continue to grow and it’s existing Iraq contracts renewed. Why? Because every time a government function is outsourced, the capacity (at least short term) for the government to retake that responsibility is lost. Which means that without dramatic top-down action (the Stop Outsourcing Security Act would be a good start), every step forward by Blackwater is one that’s exceptionally difficult to take back.

Which circles back to San Diego in a number of ways. If Blackwater establishes itself locally, it’s exceptionally difficult to push them out again. With a local base of operations, not only are they positioned for “narcoterrorism” contracting and unauthorized deployments on the streets of downtown San Diego, but it’s a base of marketing operations for what Blackwater itself describes as a private CIA offering “surveillance and countersurveillance, deployed intelligence collection, and rapid safeguarding of employees or other key assets.”  In a land of Minutemen and giant contracts for virtual border fences that “failed to perform as expected,” outside-the-law private intelligence organizations are unlikely to help anything.

Activists are keeping up the fight in San Diego, but this is not a local issue. The Bush Administration and its allies have been trying to sell off the entire government without any concern for functionality or accountability, and the front lines of resistance have extended to San Diego. There’s a protest from 3-5pm today at Blackwater’s new Otay Mesa facility, and tomorrow Jeremy Scahill will be doing a special Courage Campaign Conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

Two small but important steps to avoid the Blackwater wormhole.

Californians Priced Out of Grocery Stores as Bush Stimulus Package Fizzles

Wasn't the economic stimulus package supposed to prevent things like this from happening?

I read in Monday's Press-Telegram that food pantries across California are beginning to see more and more brand new clients:

Like nearly a third of the first 50 customers to arrive at the Emergency Food Bank of Stockton, Hoffman was new to the pantry…

"I'm down on my luck," Hoffman said, squeezing and sniffing the bread. "And food is going through the roof. I need help."

And this is not an isolated occurrence. Edit by Brian: More over the flip.

A survey conducted of 180 food banks in late April and early May found that 99 percent have seen an increase in the number of clients served within the last year. The increase is estimated at 15 percent to 20 percent, though many food banks reported increases as high as 40 percent.

Yet while demand has gone up, food pantries are facing difficulties due to the necessity to transport the food from one site to another, sometimes up to 150 miles. Like so many other problems with the country, food banks are citing soaring gas prices as one of the main reasons why they are having so many problems.

"The way it's going, we're going to have a food disaster pretty soon," said Phyllis Legg, interim executive director of the Merced Food Bank, which serves 43 food pantries throughout foreclosure-ravaged Merced County.

"If gas keeps going up, it's going to be catastrophic in every possible way," said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America's Second Harvest.

The cost of a bag of flour is up 69 cents from 2007. A dozen large eggs are 55 cents more expensive. A loaf of white bread rose 16 cents. All in the wake up a stimulus package that was supposed to make life easier.

We have already reached the point where anything is possible with President Bush. He could announce tomorrow that the key to ending global warming is to place the sun on the axis of evil list and I wouldn't be surprised. But with that said I still find it hard to believe that President Bush's plan in pushing through his Economic Stimulus Package earlier this year was to price people out of buying their food at grocery stores and super markets.

So with more and more people turning to food pantries, or as demonstrated by this articlefrom the Green Bay, changing the type of meat as the main course for their dinner, it is clear that the Bush Administration can add the "stimulus" package to the long list of its failed economic policies.

In one of the first of what will be many polls giving the big thumbs down to Bush’s 2008 “stimulus package”, Rasmussen reports that 56% of voters nationwide say it had no impact on the economy. Furthermore only 24% of people thought that the stimulus package helped the economy.

The report shows that the public’s mind is just about as clouded as Bush’s when it comes to how to respond to the continuing economic crisis.

Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 57% believe that if Congress and the President do nothing more, the economy will be in even worse shape a year from now.

However, if another stimulus package is passed, just 17% believe the economy will get better and 21% say it will get worse. Most voters say that if another stimulus package is passed, the economy will be about the same a year from today.

Its clear that the "stimulus package" didn't stimulate much economic activity and that further action by the federal government is necessary to prevent this recession from spiraling into something much worse.

Generally I agree with the opinions of the American public expressed in the Rasmussen survey. The "stimulus package" obviously did jack and another stimulus in the same vein as the first would just be more wheel spinning.

But the rub comes in the part of the results that show most Americans still have their heads up their rear ends when it comes to figuring out what to do next.

54% of people polled said that reducing regulation and taxes is the best thing the government can do to help the economy.

Clearly three decades of relentless GOP propaganda still has people mouthing empty Newt Gingrich era platitudes.

This model of achieving a balanced budget is exactly what is crippling the states today. It's not as though this is some sort of new and improved way of tackling the problem from a different angle. Many states have tried this practice as recently as last year to no avail. If this method sounds familiar, it's because this is exactly what Governor Ahnold attempted to do last year. This piece “California Budget 101: What went wrong, when” outlines why this approach goes no where:

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state budget last summer, he all but declared "mission accomplished" in his administration's biggest battle. The spending plan not only eliminated the state's perpetual deficit, he said, it also boasted a record $4 billion reserve.

Suddenly though, the Governor found himself in a predicament where the reserve fund was drained and the state was still facing a projected $17 billion shortfall. What went wrong?

Employment growth flattened. Corporate profits sagged. The crash in the housing market slowed consumer spending. Tax revenues that last summer had been expected to total more than $102 billion now figure to come in under $98 billion for the year.

Spending is up, too, though. The forecast for the current year was about $102 billion. The latest figures now put the cost of the state's commitments at more than $104 billion.

But the economic issues only worsened a basic, structural problem in the state budget: Spending is programmed by law to grow each year at a rate that is generally faster than tax revenues can match. Current state law would push general fund spending to $113 billion next year if nothing is done to slow it, according to the Schwarzenegger administration. Revenues, meanwhile, are projected to decline further, to about $95 billion. The budget Schwarzenegger celebrated last summer would have bridged the gap for one year at best.

The government rightfully decided that increasing the money spent per pupil in K-12 education and the money spend on health care for the poor, physically or mentally disabled, and the elderly was a good idea. Yet we are supposed to believe that the plan of reducing regulations and slashing taxes that is being pushed by such enlightened organizations as the Hoover Institution (Conservative Think Tank) and the Club for Growth (100% endorsement of Republican candidates in 2008) is what the economy and the American people need? Because these policies have been so beneficial since they were enacted almost across the board 5 years ago?

In reality, all that reduction of regulations and taxes will do is force dramatic cuts in education, healthcare, and other essential services, which is what we are now being forced to do.

Instead of proposing a long-term, viable solution to California's budget deficit, Gov. Schwarzenegger called for a ten percent across the board cut for all departments and the Legislature passed it. When pressed about this strategy, he stated that he did this to "rattle cages" to get the Legislature and all Californians to think about alternative solutions to the budget crisis. (Emphasis added)

However, his "solution" has caused a firestorm of anger with educators, labor unions, and health care advocates among others who have come out fighting. There's not a group out there who won't feel the stinging effects of these cuts beginning July 1, 2008.

At least the Governor is right about one thing. It’s time for a new brand of thinking, not a reversion back to the line of thought that helped guide us into the muck in the first place.

Oh, and in case any further evidence was needed:

Five years ago: President Bush signed a 10-year, $350 billion package of tax cuts, saying they already were "adding fuel to an economic recovery."

How’s that working for ya?

Animation Celebrates Bush Departure

Finally something we can all agree on!

The Waiting Is Over    While the outcome of the 2008 presidential election remains unknown, one certainty goes unappreciated: the Bush presidency will soon be over! A new animated film offers a joyful musical tribute to the end of an era.

   “The Waiting Is Over” shows a glimpse of what the future may hold with the passing of the presidential torch. It’s a hand-clapping, foot-stomping celebration guaranteed to lift your political spirits.

     Americans have finally found something they can all agree on: the end of the Bush presidency will be a welcome event. And a new animated film musically celebrates the end of this unprecedented era. How many have dreamt that terms like “warrantless wiretapping” and “troop surge” might one day vanish from our vocabulary? This nonpartisan sing-a-long reassures us that dreams become reality the closer we get to this long anticipated finale.

    “The Waiting Is Over” features presidential candidate, “Sheep”, who proclaims that a new America is just around the corner. “We need to remember that no matter the outcome of the election,” says Sheep, “things are going to get a whole lot better. That’s something to celebrate.” He also believes the film serves to remind Bush’s successor of the country’s expectations of the next administration.

    If all the debates and campaign promises of the presidential contenders have left you a little disappointed, don’t despair. Now you can stop singing the campaign rhetoric blues and lift your voice in song to a new chorus. The revival of America has been a long time coming. The waiting’s nearly over. Let the celebration begin!

Visit www.Sheep2008.com

(Don’t see anything? Go HERE)

Bush Administration “Mistakes were made” hits California

The Bush Administration’s Dept. of Interior “lost” the indian gaming agreements for three months, according to the SD U-T. So, the federal government didn’t even cast more than a cursory glance at them before they were approved by the federal government. I suppose it’s just one more chit in the incompetency jar for the Bush Administration. No worries, you’ll hardly notice it amongst all the others.  In fact, the Department’s Response was pretty much standard Bush operating procedure:

“Somebody made a mistake; we don’t know who,” said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of Interior. “This is a very busy office. There was a mistake made and we’re moving on.”

So, I guess it’s all over and done with, right? Oh, except the fact that we are left to deal with this POS in California. But, we’ll just move on, no need to fix the problems, or anything like that. Now, I think i’ve heard the phrase “mistakes were made” before, where was that? Ah, yes. Abu Gonzales.  That ended well.

Bush’s Environmental Obstruction: The Gang that Couldn’t Plot Straight

(Great stuff. – promoted by David Dayen)

(Cross-posted from Warming Law, which focuses on covering and analyzing the fight against global warming from a legal perspective. My name is Sean Siperstein, and I run Warming Law as part of my work for Community Rights Counsel, a non-profit, public interest law firm that assists communities in protecting their health and welfare. Given the blog’s focus, a lot of what I write about ends up having to do with efforts by the administration and the auto industry to hold up California’s pioneering efforts in fighting global warming (here’s our full archive of posts about the EPA waiver application), and as such I’m (belatedly) taking up a suggestion to post select items here. Thanks for the opportunity to join the discussion; I really look forward to it!)

Reacting to last week’s lawsuit challenging the EPA’s failure to produce a timely decision on California’s waiver application to enforce its own auto emissions standards, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson cited– as he had many times before– the need to painstakingly evaluate thousands upon thousands of in-depth public comments on the waiver.

However, a quick look at Thursday’s lawsuit filing reveals that while the White House, Transportation Secretary Peters and the auto industry might have schemed to politicize that process, they nevertheless failed to significantly influence it (at least in a formal sense):

5. The comments submitted to USEPA overwhelmingly support the GHG Regulation. Of the approximately 98,000 comments referenced in the USEPA’s docket, more than 99.9% support the GHG Regulation. Only one automaker subject to the GHG Regulation [Editor’s note: General Motors] submitted any opposition to the USEPA. Two automaker trade groups submitted opposing comments.

This is noteworthy (and, frankly, laugh-inducing) because, as emails obtained by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee indicate, a central purpose of the administration’s surreptitious lobbying effort was to encourage negative comments from governors and members of Congress. Indeed, the communications in question took place rather hurriedly over the weeks leading up to EPA’s June 15 deadline for public comment. 

In other words, if EPA does ultimately rule against California, it will actually have little analysis to stand on besides the against-the-grain rationale contained in the results of a bumbling effort to politicize the process.

And then, the conversation would inevitably turn not only to the legalistic flaws of such a decision, but the implication– as stated by Rep. Waxman in a September 24 letter to White House environmental advisor James Connaughton, citing “multiple emails that contain references to communications between EPA, the Transportation Department, and the White House”– that this lobbying campaign suggests that EPA had essentially made up its mind prior to reviewing public comments.

Johnson obviously didn’t help himself by claiming, when pressed by Waxman last week, that he didn’t know about the lobbying effort “to the best of my recollection.” He might do better, at the very least, to directly reassure the public and Congress that he’s been reading objective analysis such as the Congressional Research Service report noting the strength of California’s application. Better yet, after over two years of delay, he could just reaffirm the Clean Air Act’s embrace of federalism and grant the waiver.