Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT): This marks two years in a row for Senator Dodd, who made the 2008 "Ten Most Corrupt" list for his corrupt relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and for accepting preferential treatment and loan terms from Countrywide Financial, a scandal which still dogs him. In 2009, the scandals kept coming for the Connecticut Democrat. In 2009, Judicial Watch filed a Senate ethics complaint against Dodd for undervaluing a property he owns in Ireland on his Senate Financial Disclosure forms. Judicial Watch's complaint forced Dodd to amend the forms. However, press reports suggest the property to this day remains undervalued. Judicial Watch also alleges in the complaint that Dodd obtained a sweetheart deal for the property in exchange for his assistance in obtaining a presidential pardon (during the Clinton administration) and other favors for a long-time friend and business associate. The false financial disclosure forms were part of the cover-up. Dodd remains the head the Senate Banking Committee.
Senator John Ensign (R-NV): A number of scandals popped up in 2009 involving public officials who conducted illicit affairs, and then attempted to cover them up with hush payments and favors, an obvious abuse of power. The year's worst offender might just be Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign. Ensign admitted in June to an extramarital affair with the wife of one of his staff members, who then allegedly obtained special favors from the Nevada Republican in exchange for his silence. According to The New York Times: "The Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee are expected to conduct preliminary inquiries into whether Senator John Ensign violated federal law or ethics rules as part of an effort to conceal an affair with the wife of an aide…" The former staffer, Douglas Hampton, began to lobby Mr. Ensign's office immediately upon leaving his congressional job, despite the fact that he was subject to a one-year lobbying ban. Ensign seems to have ignored the law and allowed Hampton lobbying access to his office as a payment for his silence about the affair. (These are potentially criminal offenses.) It looks as if Ensign misused his public office (and taxpayer resources) to cover up his sexual shenanigans.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): Judicial Watch is investigating a $12 million TARP cash injection provided to the Boston-based OneUnited Bank at the urging of Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank. As reported in the January 22, 2009, edition of the Wall Street Journal, the Treasury Department indicated it would only provide funds to healthy banks to jump-start lending. Not only was OneUnited Bank in massive financial turmoil, but it was also "under attack from its regulators for allegations of poor lending practices and executive-pay abuses, including owning a Porsche for its executives' use." Rep. Frank admitted he spoke to a "federal regulator," and Treasury granted the funds. (The bank continues to flounder despite Frank's intervention for federal dollars.) Moreover, Judicial Watch uncovered documents in 2009 that showed that members of Congress for years were aware that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were playing fast and loose with accounting issues, risk assessment issues and executive compensation issues, even as liberals led by Rep. Frank continued to block attempts to rein in the two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs). For example, during a hearing on September 10, 2003, before the House Committee on Financial Services considering a Bush administration proposal to further regulate Fannie and Freddie, Rep. Frank stated: "I want to begin by saying that I am glad to consider the legislation, but I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis. That is, in my view, the two Government Sponsored Enterprises we are talking about here, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are not in a crisis. We have recently had an accounting problem with Freddie Mac that has led to people being dismissed, as appears to be appropriate. I do not think at this point there is a problem with a threat to the Treasury." Frank received $42,350 in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac between 1989 and 2008. Frank also engaged in a relationship with a Fannie Mae Executive while serving on the House Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Dude comes up with a great idea for a business, and keeps drunk drivers off the streets. Naturally, the local government sut him down.
Entrepreneur Karim Varela had an idea that might alleviate that problem. In 2008, he started an online business called i-Booze.com. Customers ordered beer, wine, and cigarettes from their home, and Varela would deliver it to them in about an hour.
He came up with the business idea after he had spent a night in jail for drinking and driving. “I thought maybe there’s some way I could prevent other people from having the same kind of predicament,” he told FOX Seattle. Customers liked the idea, saying it’s good to keep drunk drivers off the road.
But, of course, no business is ever too useful or clever for government to hassle:
[I]n April, the city of Bellevue told him the business was violating its home-base business zoning standards because it had more than two employees.
Varela relocated to an Eastlake warehouse and filed for a new liquor license, but kept running the business.
"I wasn't going to stop the business and shut it down,'' he said.
While he waited for the license, a state liquor board conducted a sting, placing an order in Seattle.
"Five minutes later they stormed the warehouse with three officers," Varela said.
Why wouldn’t the city give him a liquor license? According to City Attorney Tom Carr, businesses with liquor licensees are prohibited from selling to intoxicated people. Even if these intoxicated people were at home, the city took offense. Misdemeanor charges were brought against Varela.
Many didn't believe Edwards. But today, Michael Barone writes that according to a recent Rasmussen poll, there may be two Americas; one of government workers, the other private-sector workers.
The poll found that many more government workers are optimistic about their financial futures and rated their personal finances higher than private-sector employees.
It's not surprising. Private-sector employment is down 6 percent since December 2007, when the recession officially began. Government workers? Holding steady with less than a 1 percent decline in jobs. And government workers are paid on average $30,000 more than private-sector workers.
Barone knows why this has happened.
This is not an accident; it is the result of deliberate public policy. About one-third of the $787 billion stimulus package passed in February 2009 was directed at state and local governments...
The policy aim, Democrats say, was to maintain public services and aid. The political aim, although Democrats don't say so, was to maintain public-sector jobs -- and the flow of union dues to the public employees unions that represent almost 40 percent of public-sector workers.
Those unions in turn have contributed generously to Democrats... The total union contribution to Democrats has been estimated at $400 million.
The fear, says Barone, is what happens in the next decade.
At some point -- and this already has occurred in much of Western Europe -- public sector spending tends to choke off private-sector growth. America's current high unemployment levels have been commonplace in much of Western Europe for the last 25 years.
The question now is whether they will become commonplace in the United States in the decade ahead. The decision by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress to hold public-sector employees in place while the private sector is gravely weakened has the potential to place us on that trajectory.
There’s an old saying about poverty: Give me a fish, and I’ll eat for a day. Give me a fishing rod, and I’ll eat for a lifetime.
There are many variations in that theme. In Somalia, I heard a darker version: If I buy food, I’ll eat for a day. If I buy a gun, I’ll eat every day.
But these days, there’s evidence that one of the most effective tools to fight global poverty may be neither a fishing rod nor a gun, but a savings accounts. What we need is a savings revolution.
Right now, the world’s poor almost never have access to a bank account. Cash sits around and gets spent — and, frankly, often spent badly.
“We used to buy a three-liter bottle of Coke every day,” recalled Socorro Machado, a 49-year-old homemaker in a village here in northwestern Nicaragua. That was a bit less than a gallon, and the cost of $1.75 consumed a large share of the family’s budget.
Then Catholic Relief Services, an aid organization, arrived in the village with a new program to promote savings. It provided a wooden box with a padlock and organized savings groups of about 20 people who meet once or twice a month, typically bringing 50 cents or $1 to deposit in the box.
Some of the money is lent out to start a small business, but the greatest benefit of these programs seems to be that they provide a spur to save.
Last Nov. 11, sharp-eyed African Union troops, who serve as airport security in the failed state of Somalia, pinpointed a terrorist with a syringe detonator, lethal powder and explosives in his pants trying to board a Dubai-bound jetliner in Mogadishu.
They yanked him out of line and stopped him from getting on.
It's eerily similar in detail to the Christmas Day terror attack on a Northwest Airlines jetliner headed from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The chemicals and detonator were the same. The syringe and underwear were similar. It was consistent with the warning the al-Qaida-associated Nigerian arrested in Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, gave upon his arrest — that many more airline attacks like his were on the way. And by one news account, it happened on 11/11, a date favored by al-Qaida for strikes.
But the difference is in how it ended — in the U.S., with an unscripted passenger leaping onto the terrorist in the act of detonating himself amid burning chemicals, and stopping him.
In Somalia, the rudimentary security apparatus in the nation that ranks rock-bottom on every major development indicator stopped him before he even got on. Incredibly, it means that in this case passengers would have been safer flying out of Mogadishu than depending on elaborate U.S. security measures coming into Detroit.
How did they spot him?
Instead of going after the elderly, they zeroed in on a curiously acting young man with a terrorist profile, and gave him the extra pat-down in all the right places. That was all it took to bag a terrorist.
The Africans didn't have any special intelligence from Nigerian relatives on the other end of the continent that could be transmitted securely. They didn't have no-fly lists with expensive computer systems for accessing them. They didn't have clearance to obtain electronic intelligence of al-Qaida chatter from Yemen, which signaled that "a Nigerian" was going to try to take out a U.S. airliner.
But they did have a seriousness of purpose about stopping terror even in a garden spot like Mogadishu. "We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," a Somali police spokesman told the Associated Press. Unlike the White House, he wasn't afraid to use the word "terrorist."
It comes down to the fact that Somalia has seen what terrorists do.
I think it comes down to the fact that Somalia understands how to fight intelligently.
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.
Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.
If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?
We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.
Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.
On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been “a systemic failure” and a “catastrophic breach of security.”
But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days — just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to “Total Recall.”
All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the president’s disembodied voice, talking about “deficiencies.”
Citing the attempt of the Nigerian’s father to warn U.S. authorities six months ago, the president intoned: “It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
No reasonable person believes that terror screening can ever be foolproof. But Americans need full confidence that their government is addressing the problem as vigorously as possible.
This would require Obama to order two basic changes in anti-terror policy:
* Captured terrorists need to be treated as such -- and not as common criminals. Abdulmutallab needs to disappear down a black hole somewhere, and stay there until the war on terror is over. No criminal trials for terrorists.
* Homeland Security needs to quit pretending little old ladies from the heartland pose a security threat and institute an intelligent traveler-profiling policy that targets Middle Eastern males.
Certainly, Abdulmutallab's attack was instructive: Who knew it was so easy to waltz through security with high explosives stuffed down one's pants?
But while odds are that some equally imaginative jihadist will someday succeed, a comprehensive, focused anti-terror policy will make that much less likely.