Sep 24, 2005

Breakfast of Silverspoon Wusses

Saudi Warns U.S. Iraq May Face Disintegration

New York Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.
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Prince Saud's statements, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle Eastern leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments that the White House and the Pentagon have been offering.

But in an appearance at the Pentagon on Thursday, President Bush, while once again expressing long-term optimism, warned that the bloodshed in Iraq was likely to increase in the coming weeks.

"Today, our commanders made it clear," he said after a meeting on Iraq with senior military officers, "as Iraqis prepare to vote on their constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be prepared for more violence."

American commanders have repeatedly warned that insurgents would try to disrupt the voting, as they did before legislative elections in January.

Mr. Bush said that if the United States left Iraq now, it could turn into a haven for terrorists, as Afghanistan was before the fall of the Taliban.

"To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001," he said.

Prince Saud, who is in Washington for meetings with administration officials, blamed several American decisions for the slide toward disintegration, though he did not refer to the Bush administration directly.

Primary among them was designating "every Sunni as a Baathist criminal," he said.

Saudi Arabia styles itself as the capital and protector of Sunni Islam, and the prince's remarks - at times harsh and at other moments careful - were emblematic of the conflicted Saudi-American relationship.

A senior administration official, reacting to Prince Saud's remarks, said, "The United States values and respects his view, and we all share a common concern for the future and stability of Iraq." He declined to be identified, under administration policy.

Prince Saud said he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week and added that American officials generally responded to his warnings by telling him that the United States successfully carried off the Iraqi elections and "they say the same things about the constitution" and the broader situation in Iraq now. On Thursday, in fact, the senior administration official said, "The forward movement of the political process is the best answer."

Prince Saud argued: "But what I am trying do is say that unless something is done to bring Iraqis together, elections alone won't do it. A constitution alone won't do it." Prince Saud is a son of the late King Faisal and has been foreign minister for 30 years.

The prince said he served on a council of Iraq's neighboring countries - Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait as well as Saudi Arabia - "and the main worry of all the neighbors" was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict."

Turkey, he noted, has long threatened to send troops into northern Iraq if the Kurds there declare independence. Iran, he asserted, is already sending money and weapons into the Shiite-controlled south of Iraq and would probably step up its relationship, should the south become independent. Saudi Arabia has long been wary of Iran's influence in the region, given that it is a Shiite theocracy.

"This is a very dangerous situation," he said, "a very threatening situation."

David E. Sanger contributed reporting for this article.

Frist a Major Shareholder in Reputed For-Profit Abortion Provider

Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.)
, reportedly the White House choice to succeed Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) as Senate majority leader, is a major shareholder in HCA, a for-profit hospital chain founded by his father and brother. HCA reportedly provides abortions to its customers.

So now Republicans face this question: If it is disqualifying for their Senate leader to make offensive remarks interpreted as endorsing an immoral policy that denied African-Americans equal rights, is it also disqualifying for their Senate leader to make money from a hospital chain that denies unborn babies the right to life?

Frist has deposited his major stockholdings in a "blind trust" chartered Dec. 28, 2000. A schedule of the original assets in this trust filed with the Senate showed holdings in 16 companies. Frist reported the value of these assets, as per Senate rules, within broad ranges (e.g. $1,001-$15,001). If the lowest possible value is assigned to each holding, Frist at that time had invested a minimum of $566,015 in 15 other companies, while investing at least $5,000,001 in HCA.

That would mean that approximately 89% of his holdings were in this company.

Furthermore, on its face, the trust agreement appears structured to allow the administrators to maintain this heavy concentration in HCA stock. It also specifically instructs the administrators to inform Frist if they divest entirely from any holding, including HCA. And, finally, it gives Frist the power to directly order the administrators to divest from HCA or any other holding that Frist determines "creates a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof."

HCA does not trumpet its reported involvement with abortion. But, in April, Catholic Financial Services Corporation (CFSC), a mutual fund company, announced that it was starting an S&P 500 Index Fund that would "exclude companies on the abortion issue"—and that HCA was one of only six companies on the index that would be excluded on these grounds. A spokesman for the mutual fund explained to me last week that the company excludes hospital chains that perform abortions and pharmaceutical companies that deal in drugs that induce abortion.

On December 18 and 19, I placed several calls to HCA corporate spokesman Jeff Prescott, to ask him directly whether abortions were performed in HCA facilities, or whether the company refuted CFSC’s determination that they were. I left him voice messages to this effect, and repeatedly told his secretary my questions. At 5:00 p.m. on the 19th, as press time approached, the secretary left me lingering on hold with no answer. When I hung up and called back, I got Prescott’s voice mail again and left him one last message. He never returned my call.

I also spoke with Sen. Frist’s spokesman, Nick Smith. I explained to Smith my understanding that the terms of Frist’s "blind" trust allowed the administrators to maintain a heavy concentration in HCA, while allowing Frist to order the sale of this stock, and while also compelling the administrators to inform Frist if they divested entirely from HCA or any other holding. I cited the specific passages in the trust to this effect. I also asked Smith to clarify Frist’s position on abortion—which has confounded pro-lifers over the years—and why Frist would not divest, since he apparently could, from a company that reportedly performs abortions.

When Frist first ran for the Senate in 1994, the Nashville Banner reported that he "frequently" said he "does not believe abortion should be outlawed." In a May 1994 radio interview, the Banner reported, Frist said, "It’s a very private decision." One of Frist’s Republican primary rivals, Steve Wilson, the Banner said, "demanded that Frist sell his millions of dollars in stock in the Hospital Corporation of America [HCA], which Frist’s family founded. Some of the hospitals in the chain perform abortions."

Tennessee Right to Life PAC Director Sherry Holden, however, told the Banner that Frist had told her organization he was pro-life. "He said he’s against abortion, period—no exceptions, except rape and incest," said Holden.

Yet, an Oct. 10, 1994, Memphis Commercial Appeal report on a debate between Frist and incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser (D.-Tenn.) said: "There were some topics on which the candidates agreed—both said they’re personally opposed to abortion but don’t think the government should prohibit abortions."

I asked Smith whether Frist wanted to prohibit abortion either by constitutional amendment or by over-turning Roe v. Wade and enacting prohibitions in the states, including Tennessee.

Smith responded by faxing me a statement. The White House, pro-life Republican senators, and their grassroots supporters can decide whether it is responsive:

"These two issues [the HCA investment and abortion] are separate and distinct," wrote Smith.

"On his own accord, by placing his assets in a federally qualified blind trust, Sen. Frist took a step above and beyond to ensure there is no conflict of interest," wrote Smith. "He believes this was the proper and responsible thing to do. He has never been employed by, or served on the board of, HCA or any of its hospitals.

"As a U.S. senator who acts on public policy each and every day, his record on abortion is clear," Smith continued. "He is opposed to abortion except in the instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is threatened. He is opposed to federal funding of abortion. And in the Senate, he led the fight against partial-birth abortion."

His Senate website includes a statement saying, "No one can deny the potential human cloning holds for increased scientific understanding. But . . . I am unable to find a compelling justification for allowing human cloning today."

As Bill Clinton might say, that doesn’t rule out tomorrow—when he may be Senate majority leader.

Sep 23, 2005

Senate Leader Explains His Sale of a Stock That Then Plummeted

Published: September 22, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 -
Senator Bill Frist offered an explanation on Wednesday for the timing of his sale in June of his stake in HCA, the giant hospital company that his family founded, as its shares reached a peak and began a steep slide.

An aide to Mr. Frist, majority leader of the Senate and brother of the HCA chairman emeritus, disclosed the sale on Monday in an interview with Congressional Quarterly.

The senator's spokesman, Bob Stevenson, said Wednesday that Mr. Frist "made a conscious decision to divest himself of all HCA assets" so he could pursue an ambitious agenda of health care legislation free of any appearance of self-interest.

Since joining the Senate, Mr. Frist had been dogged by accusations about conflicts of interest from his HCA holdings, including "no fewer than 19 instances" of articles or other public accusations, Mr. Stevenson said.

Mr. Frist, who has said he will not run for another term as Tennessee senator, is widely considered to be weighing a presidential bid. That may give him another incentive to put some distance between himself and the company.

"Good fortune, isn't it?" asked Prof. John C. Coffee, an authority on securities law at Columbia.

Professor Coffee said such well-timed sales in the families of top executives were a red flag of possible insider trading and often drew regulatory inquiries, although just a small fraction of such instances lead to formal investigations.

The question, Professor Coffee said, is whether Mr. Frist received private information about the company performance from his brother or other insiders.

"There is no prohibition against a family member's dumping his stock in a company, unless it can be shown that the family member was tipped as to material nonpublic information," he said. "That seems to be the missing link."

Five years ago, the company pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts for filing fraudulent Medicare reports and paying doctors kickbacks for referrals. It eventually paid $1.7 billion in fines and penalties in connection with the case.

Mr. Frist's brother Thomas F. Frist Jr. had left the management and was vice chairman. But he returned as chief executive to help HCA recover. He remains its largest individual shareholder and chairman emeritus.

The stock bottomed out under $20 a share in 1999 in the federal fraud investigation, but it climbed back steadily. Over the first six months of this year, the stock rose, from about $40 a share to more than $58 at its peak in June.

Top executives took advantage of the run-up to exercise options and sell shares worth $165 million in the first six months of the year, with the heaviest selling in February and April, according to data from Thomson Financial, which tracks insiders' sales. Thomas Frist did not have any significant transactions.

Senator Frist had reported this year that he owned $7 million to $35 million in assets, including his HCA shares, that were in blind trusts managed by others to reduce the appearance of conflicts. Although more than $10 million of the initial holding of the trusts was shares in HCA, Mr. Frist's spokesman said Wednesday that he could not determine how many shares remained.

On June 13, his spokesman said, Mr. Frist told the managers to sell all his shares. The stock hit its peak at $58.22 a share nine days later, on June 22. By July 8, all the shares held by Mr. Frist and his wife and children were sold, his spokesman said, adding that Mr. Frist did not control the exact timing.

Five days after that, on July 13, HCA announced that its second-quarter earnings would fall below Wall Street projections because of lower than expected hospital admissions and higher than expected numbers of patients lacking insurance. Its stock fell 9 percent, to $50.05 a share, that day on the New York Stock Exchange, and closed on Wednesday further down, at $47.41 a share.

Also on Wednesday, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights of Santa Monica, Calif., said it sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking for an investigation of the sale.

Sep 22, 2005

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Could it be that Rep. Sweeney has higher Aspirations

Rep. Sweeney meddling in down-state affairs; could he be eyeing the governor's mansion? If he did throw his hat into the ring it would probably bring a smile to Spitzer's face since he would be the fourth republican looking to fill Pataki's shoes. Former Governor of Mass. Bill Weld, Businessman Tom Galisiano, NYS Sec of State Randy Daniels, and State Assemblyman Pat Manning are all announced Republican candidates. Spitzer is the only Democratic candidate.

Sweeney, Fossella, & King Issue Ultimatum to Int’l Freedom Center

Prospect of Congressional Hearing Looms As Friday Deadline Approaches

Washington, D.C. - Congressman John Sweeney, joined by Congressmen Peter King and Vito Fossella, today gave the International Freedom Center (IFC) a Friday ultimatum: Either present an acceptable plan for a museum at Ground Zero or face a Congressional hearing/investigation into the $2.7 billion in federal funding that will be spent at the site.

The lawmakers were joined at a press conference this morning by Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 widow, Steve Cassidy, President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) and Edie Lutnick to raise the stakes in the ongoing battle to ensure that any museum at Ground Zero focuses exclusively on the events of 9/11. The IFC is expected to publicly present its final plan for the museum this Friday.

The hearing would be conducted by the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, The Judiciary, District of
Columbia. Sweeney is Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee.

Sweeney said, “Ground Zero is sacred, hollowed ground,” Sweeney said. “Federal tax dollars have been secured by the American people to rebuild Lower Manhattan and honor those who lost their lives on September 11th. It is our duty to ensure that the intent of Congress, the memory of the fallen, and the will of the American people is not thwarted by a museum that could diminish the heroic efforts witnessed in a location where thousands of Americans were brutally killed.”

Fossella said, “It’s now or never for the IFC. The museum can do what is right or face the consequences of their actions. We have forewarned the IFC that it must offer a vision for the museum that reflects the heroism and tragedy that marked the most deadly attack ever on American soil. We will not allow the American people to subsidize a museum that blames this nation for the attacks of 9/11. The IFC should either honor the lives of all those lost on 9/11 or not exist at all.”

King said, “There is no place at Ground Zero for anything other than a memorial, an historic record of what occurred on September 11th. Anything else desecrates sacred ground.”

The IFC has been at the center of controversy for several months since Burlingame first revealed that museum officials planned to include anti-American programming. Fossella, King and Sweeney have taken the lead in Congress to block the IFC’s efforts, including pledging to withhold federal funding unless the museum is focused on September 11th and its aftermath.

Sep 19, 2005



September 19, 2005 -- REPUBLICAN superstar Jeanine Pirro's month-old campaign for Senate election has stumbled badly, has failed to catch on with voters and is having difficulty raising cash, GOP insiders contend.

The Westchester County district attorney, who is seeking the right to challenge U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in next year's balloting, held several tense private meetings with potential backers and contributors in recent days, leaving some convinced her campaign is in trouble.

Pirro conceded to The Post that her gaffe-marred August campaign announcement had created some unexpected problems, but she insisted she had recovered her stride.

"Am I happy with how the announcement went? No. Could it have gone smoother? Absolutely. I'm much better than that," she said. "I'm the one ultimately responsible for my campaign and I am thrilled with the way it is now going."

Pirro contended she "didn't know" how much money her campaign had raised so far. But a leading GOP activist insisted that Pirro "seems to be off stride" and "has been expressing disappointment in how things have been going, including her fund-raising."

Another GOP insider said Pirro "looks strained these days, and she is clearly not happy with the progress of her campaign."

Pirro and campaign strategist Kieran Mahoney held a dinner meeting Thursday night with Conservative Party leader Michael Long, but walked away with no commitment of support.

"Long was not very encouraging about the difficult task she has in front of her," the insider said. "He also told Kieran he thought Jeanine's campaign was launched too soon, that she wasn't ready."

Pirro claimed the dinner went well and insisted that there was "absolutely no truth" to claims that she'd told people she was disappointed with the campaign.

Meanwhile, one of the state's best-known Democratic operatives said Pirro's campaign appeared to be facing "major trouble."

"Where has she been?" asked the operative. "Where are the promised Pataki and Giuliani endorsements? Where are the big fund-raisers?"

Sep 14, 2005

Hynes sheds tears of joy in win

With tears in his eyes, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes declared victory in a close race last night - but slammed his challengers for going negative in the bruising campaign.

In a squeaker, Hynes beat his main challenger, state Sen. John Sampson, 41% to 37%.

"I cry a lot. It was a hard-fought race," Hynes said as he walked into the Bay Ridge Manor. "I think it's not a good idea for lawyers to engage in the type of vitriol this campaign saw.

"This collective group demonstrated that progressive programs triumph over negative campaigning," he added.

Hynes spent $1 million to remain Brooklyn's top prosecutor as he battled Sampson, Mark Peters, who took 15% of the vote, and Arnold Kriss, who got 7%.

Sampson consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the close vote was a "stinging rebuke of the incumbent. What it tells you is that the majority of Brooklyn prefer a change."

The challengers in the contentious race all questioned Hynes' integrity during the campaign and pointed to Brooklyn's low felony conviction rates.

Hynes countered by boasting a 73% drop in crime in the borough since he took office in 1990, and touted his innovative drug rehabilitation programs.

Hynes had seven challengers at one point. Hopefuls apparently were encouraged after Sandra Roper, a virtually unknown lawyer, snagged 37% of the vote against Hynes in 2001.

With Sampson the only African-American in the race, some political experts said Hynes was vulnerable. But he won key endorsements from the watchdog group Citizens Union, the teachers union and a slate of elected officials.

The ongoing trial of Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman also served as a backdrop to the race.

Hynes investigated Norman - a former political ally - in 2002 and brought corruption charges against him. Norman backed Sampson, who pledged to reexamine all indictments if elected.

Sep 9, 2005

Brownie your doing a great job! Just stop it and go home now.

FEMA Director and former Director of the International Arabian Horse Assoication (IAHA) Michael D. Brown is being replaced as the point man for Katrina relief effort by Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, the third-ranking officer in the Coast Guard. But in usual Bush arrogance, the President will not admit to any failure.


Sep 2, 2005

Bush does a fly over the states devastated by Hurrican Katrina: it saddened him that his summer vacation was cut short by 2 days

It's a shame that there were no women that had been brain dead for fifteen years, since that would actually have gotten Bush and the GOP up and running to the rescue. But alas there were no national guardsmen helping to evacuate the poor of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, they have been sent 7,000 miles east and probably will not be available for their expressed purpose of helping out their state in case of natural disaster, and civil unrest.

The national debt rising higher and higher (of course Bush and his administration will blame the 10 Billion in aid to Hurricane victims and the war of choice in Iraq) and this won't stop the GOP drive to permanently eliminate inheritance tax, make the government revenue cuts from Bush's first term permanent, and ever expanding defense department budget to pay for missile defense systems that will never work, the latest stealth technology (as if Al queda had any use of radar stations), and the payoffs to Haliburton and other defense contractors that have stolen billions ...that's with a B... from the American tax payer.

Gas prices will of course go up despite Hugo Chavez' offer to give millions of discounted barrels of oil to poor neighborhoods, as well as Bush tapping the strategic petroleum reserve. Why, you may ask would prices go up while the market is being flooded with cheaper oil. First Bush will decline the Venzuluan President's offer out spite. Second he is not tapping our strategic petroleum reserve of that many barrels of oil when considering how much oil is use in the United States. Third the oil companies despite record breaking fiscal quarters of profit for last 2 years see this as another opportunity to gauge the America public.

Looting after the Bush adminstration fails to plan for the aftermath... I think I heard this one already 2 years ago

New Orleans Mayor, in Tears, Blasts Washington's ResponseBy JOSEPH B. TREASTER and TERENCE NEILAN

Published: September 2, 2005NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 2 - Fires and explosions jolted an area across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter this morning in a city... (Read Article)