Archive for October 11th, 2006

Roll Call, a subscription-only DC insider paper, has got a long story on the INSA scandal. Highlights:

Over the last four years, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) has earmarked more than $8 million for a project ostensibly designed to make Montana a center for space-related research and industry. But despite the millions of dollars in federal funding, it appears to have produced few tangible results while spawning several state and federal investigations. It has also earned lobbyists and companies connected to Burns hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts and lobbying fees as well as more than $80,000 in campaign contributions for Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).

[snip]

It is unclear how much of the $8 million in earmarks Burns sought to steer to INSA either directly or through the University of Montana has been allocated to the group. However, INSA’s tax records, federal lobbying reports and an audit by Montana’s legislative auditor of earmarks funneled to the group through the university show that between 2003 and 2005, more than $761,000 has been spent on salaries and benefits. Additionally, more than $320,000 has gone to former Burns Chief of Staff Leo Giacometto and a company associated with him.

According to Montana State University professor Loren Acton, a former astronaut who has long been involved in the private aerospace industry, almost from its inception INSA was plagued by a lack of “competence” and the technical inability to meet its goal of turning Montana into a center of private space travel and exploration.

Not much new, just some jaw-dropping numbers on how much was donated to Burns and Rehberg from the money they appropriated from Congress. $80 thousand? That’s a new figure for me, but this report also tracks money donated to PACs, while the numbers I’d seen before were contributions made directly to the candidates.

But then comes the juicy stuff.

According to the report, in 2003, Burns and George Bailey agreed with Space Sciences, Inc, to create the “Free Flyer Consortium.” Space Sciences, Inc founder – and hotel magnate – Robert Bigelow, and SSI counsel Mike Gold then began making donations to Burns and Rehberg (“the first time either man had made contributions to Montana politicians”) to the tune of nearly $30K ($21.5K to Burns, $7K to Rehberg) in 2003 and 2004, and paid for trips for Rehberg, and Rehberg and Burns staffers to Las Vegas.

According to sources close to Bigelow and INSA, Bigelow was willing to commit as much as a half-billion dollars of his own money toward perfecting the inflatable space habitat technology required to build a private space station.

In order for Bigelow to commit to funding, according to these sources, the government had to also make a good-faith commitment to work on the project, a condition to which Burns agreed. In 2003, Burns inserted two earmarks into the Veterans’ Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and independent agencies portion of the fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill — a $1.5 million earmark for the University of Montana’s National Center for Space Privatization, which was used to fund INSA, and a $1.25 million earmark specifically for a Space Sciences Inc. microgravity pharmaceutical research initiative, according to a press release issued by Burns.

Burns stated in a letter to NASA officials that the new consortium would work on the inflatable space homes, and arranged a meeting between Bigelow officials and NASA. Meanwhile, the relationship between SSI and INSA was “cratering,” according to the report. Bigelow pulled out of the consortium for unknown reasons.

Nevertheless, Burns continued to use SSI’s name in pushing earmarks for INSA. On May 14, 2004, for instance, Burns wrote to O’Keefe regarding SSI’s “microgravity-related pharmaceutical development initiative” to inform NASA that because “SSI has not received federal grant money in any prior year … for reasons of expediency, as well as because INSA is based in Montana where the work will be conducted, INSA is preparing, submitting and administering the grant on SSI’s behalf.” Burns also added in the letter that, “This action is being taken with both the consent and approval of my office and SSI.”

Additionally, Burns included in the fiscal 2005 NASA spending bill a $3 million earmark for “INSA — Free Flyer Program, Space Sciences Inc.,” according to a Nov. 22, 2004, press release from Burns’ office. The bill also included $750,000 for the “National Space Privatization Program” at the University of Montana, according to the release.

According to Burns spokesman Jason Klindt – a master of absurdist drama and postmodern comedian/clown – Burns was just “trying to create jobs in Montana.” INSA, of course, was filled with friends and family of Burns and Rehberg staffers, while “…the bulk of the money received by INSA has gone toward compensating members of its board as well as to lobbying fees charged by former Burns Chief of Staff Giacometto.”

According to Senate lobbying records, INSA paid Giacometto’s firm, Gage LLC, $80,000 in 2004 and 2005. While INSA previously has insisted the funds were for “consulting,” a June 2006 report by Montana’s Legislative Audit Division found that INSA did in fact use federal funds for lobbying and that “to date, INSA has not submitted a lobbying activity disclosure form” to University of Montana officials as required by federal law.INSA also paid Compressus Inc. — which at one time included both Giacometto and Keely Burns on its board of advisers — $270,760 in “project management” fees in 2004, according to INSA’s tax returns. Although Keely Burns’ contract with Compressus included compensation in the form of stock options, Burns said in a statement released by the Senator’s campaign to the Lee Newspaper company this summer that she never exercised the options.

George Bailey was paid $153K, and Lucy Chesnut – wife of University administrator Lloyd – got $117K.

Although federal investigators have not named Burns as an official “target” of an investigation, sources close to the state’s investigations said the FBI has been looking into INSA and its relationship with both Burns and Giacometto. A source familiar with the legislative auditor’s work also said the auditor has given the FBI evidence not included in its June report that indicated “there was clear criminal activity” involved in the operation of the alliance. Because of the narrow scope of the auditor’s report, investigators did not include that evidence in the June findings, this source explained.

Nice dig by Roll Call there with the “target” reference. All I can say is no wonder federal investigators are taking so long to nail Burns and the other crooked Republicans. With the number of scandals Burns is involved in, feds obviously have too much work on their hands.

Call me crazy, but it looks to me as if Burns recognized an opportunity to set up a slush fund for friends and family when the INSA/SSI consortium fell through, and used SSI’s name after it backed out to pry earmarks from the federal government. And the evidence seems to show that INSA officials weren’t too interested in their mission: promoting and seeding space technology business in Montana.

Classy.

And how many of these appropriations does the drunken sailor consider “his” when touting his ability to “deliver” for Montana? If INSA is evidence of Burns’ delivery, I say we get the southpaw on the mound.

Greetings, Blackbirders! It’s good to be back. First, I’d like to thank all of the guest bloggers that filled in while I was gone, allowing me to do whatever the h*ll I wanted and to take a break from the day-to-day musings of election season. Of course, I didn’t really get to do what I “wanted.” Most of the time I was captive to my children’s bidding.

In any case, here are a few things I observed, learned, or re-learned on my trip to the Berkshires to visit my folks.

I had forgotten how cold the people of rural New England can be. I grew up in a small town of around 1,500 in the foothills of the Appalachians, and the people there can be downright hostile. It’s this sense that things must be done the right way, and if you step out of line, or make yourself visible, frowns abound. Needless to say, with two two-and-a-half year-olds in constant tow, I was visible.

Conversely, New Yorkers are very outgoing and friendly. They’re also hostile, nuts, silent, brash, rude, and extremely helpful. That is, they’re everything.

I learned just exactly how far it is from Brooklyn to 82nd Street. I walked it. It’s a long, long walk. My feet went numb at about 50th Street. But I recommend the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Beautiful.

New York City is crowded.

If the number of lawn signs are any indication, Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is going to be destroyed by Democratic nominee Deval Patrick in the Massachusetts’ gubernatorial campaign and become that state’s first African-American governor, and the first Democrat since Dukakis.

That’s right…Dukakis!

Mitt Romney is a sleazy flip-flopper on every important issue. He was a social moderate when he ran for governor, and now he’s a religious right-winger. Incidentally, his state budget policies severely hurt the school system, especially in rural areas like the Berkshires, where local government had to raise property taxes and were still underfunded. (Why do Republicans hate schools and libraries?)

The East Coast is lush. I know this; I grew up there. But it’s easy to forget that Montana is essentially a desert. The average rainfall for Adams, Massachusetts – adjacent to my home town, Lanesborough – is over 44 inches a year. Here in Missoula, it’s 13.8. (For a point of reference, Seattle averages just over 37 inches a year.) Creeks and streams are everywhere; the forests are densely thicketed; the air is moist and sweet-smelling.

No one’s going to save the country from the Bush administration in Massachusetts. That struck home last week. Bay Staters aren’t the future of the country. It’s places like Montana that will decide what direction our country will go in. It’s here we can make a difference. It’s here we can demand honesty, integrity, competency. It’s here we can make a stand against the Bush administration and hold Conrad Burns accountable for his record in the U.S. Senate. Let’s do it. Let’s send a good, honest man to Washington.

Children are insane.

Ms. Marvelous and Mr. Proud – despite their insanity – were darling on the two plane flights we took each way. In fact, on the way to Massachusetts, Mr. Proud emerged from the second flight with a hop in his step and asked, “is there another plane?” He was disappointed when I told him, no. On the way back, Mr. Proud asked if he could play on the tarmac. Again, no, from his father.

More Mr. Proud: though he exited the dramatic showing of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in haste and for fear of the dark, he then admirably mimicked the duties of a baseball pitcher with his glove for the local museum staff and even fielded several imaginary ground balls for the onlookers.

Ms. Marvelous, meanwhile, is an apparent avid theater-goer. She was entranced by the play and forced many re-readings of the original text afterwards. She’s working on a memorization of the script.

I missed blogging… Go figure.

Links…

Moorcat responds to 4&20 blackbird guest poster, Widomaker.

Jaime sifts through the MT Supreme Court briefs on the case of the terrible trio of initiatives.

Jeff Mangan nails it in his assessment on the Missoulian editorial about the plethora of initiative-based lawsuits in court. Some good suggestions, but blaming the courts is ridiculous.

Nicole’s stirring tribute to the Amish how they contrast to the disturbing hypocrisy of right-wing Christians in power.

There was a debate in Bozeman while I was gone! ID’s posts: Senate debate part 1, part 2, and impressions; the House debate and impressions. Shane: Senate Debate and the House debate. Colby on the House debate. JEFF on the Senate debate. And a lil’ live blogging from Debate Scoop. Naturally the debate is on You Tube.

Evans-Novak email newsletter claims “worst-case scenario” for Republicans shaping up this election cycle.

Chris Bowers has a brilliant analysis of why Republicans are losing the 2006 election. It’s not because of “mistakes” the GOP is making: it’s because of GOP policy.

And here’s the “dumbest Democrat” on the Foley scandal.

And lest you think the Foley scandal was the Democrats’ “October surprise,” read about how knowledge about the case unfolded.

And surely this isn’t Karl Rove’s “October Surprise” either.

Let’s face it: the blame for our disastrous relations with North Korea and its impending nuclear test lies squarely on the Bush administration. Digby’s take.

And then there’s this little peachy article about the Washington Times owner and Bush-backer, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and his multi-million dollar gift to the North Korea regime.

Five years later, in the middle of a Middle East war, Arabic linguists still in short supply.

If you favor torture, you should read the accounts of what was done to “dirty bomber,” Jose Padilla, for 3 ½ years.

Did you see this? In excess of 665,000 “excess” Iraqi dead because of the U.S. invasion? That essentially means U.S. occupation is setting a faster pace for killing Iraqis than Saddam Hussein…

Bush says that’s okay, because the Iraqis are willing to tolerate the violence.

Tester is asking Burns to explain his support for a national sales tax, which would replace the federal income tax. Good for him, because the plan by National Taxpayers Union seems like yet another attempt to use government to give hand outs to big corporations.

The 23 percent national retail sales tax would replace the revenue of these taxes. Under the plan, all taxpayers would receive a monthly “prebate” so no one would pay taxes for consumption up to the poverty line.

It would apply only to new purchases, making “used” purchases tax-free. Business purchases would be exempt, thereby eradicating corporate tax compliance costs currently hidden in retail prices, according to the union. Theoretically, that should reduce the cost of retail items.

Hm…you think corporations will lower their prices to offset the tax? Yeah, me neither. Seems like just another plan to give a temporary and artificial boost to stock prices, but it also seems it would also discourage people from purchasing.

And then let’s talk who would be shouldering the tax burden. Assuming that the same folks who set the current and ridiculously low poverty rate would set an equally low rate for a national sales tax, that means that the middle class would be paying a disproportionate amount of their income to taxes.

The thing with the sales tax is, that the amount that people spend on consumables isn’t really all that much different, regardless of income. Sure, the insanely wealthy buy Lexuses (Lexii?) while we buy Pintos, but proportionally we pay more of our income for a Pinto than Denny Rehberg pays for his Lexus. That 25 percent of our Pinto is more of our income – a lot more – than 25 percent of a Lexus is of Rehberg’s income. That is, under this national sales tax system, we’ll be in the high tax bracket.

The income tax, at least, taxes somewhat fairly across all income levels. Sure, there could be an argument made for a more of a flat-tax system, but that’d have to include the elimination of payroll taxes, of course, and universal health care.

Enough of this pandering to the upper classes already. Away with Burns and his “ilk.”




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