V.P. Fights Against Outlawing Torture

 Congress, Crime, Politics, Society, War  Comments Off on V.P. Fights Against Outlawing Torture
Oct 252005
 

The Bush administration wasn’t happy when the Senate overwhelmingly voted to limit and define U.S. interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects. Vice President Cheney is now attempting to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from this measure. His proposal "states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States government’ other than the Defense Department." The CIA is believed to be involved in several torture scandals in Iraq, including situations where detainees have died, but has refused to release any data on detainee abuse. "This is the first time they’ve said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they’ve only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment."

Congress Wants More Giveaways to Big Oil

 Congress, Corruption, Politics  Comments Off on Congress Wants More Giveaways to Big Oil
Sep 272005
 

Bush’s allies in Congress are using high gas prices as another excuse for massive giveaways to the oil industry. The Los Angeles Times reports that conservative "leaders in Congress announced plans to introduce new legislation or amend existing measures to bestow more tax breaks on the industry and provide other incentives left out of the big energy bill Bush signed into law in August." The oil industry hardly needs the help. Even before Katrina hit, oil companies were flush with cash. ExxonMobil’s profits are expected to exceed $10 billion in the third quarter of 2005, "more net income than any company has ever made in a quarter." Now the industry is using Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to jack up prices — and profit margins — even higher.

A right-wing plan to cut the federal budget by $500 billion over ten years would destroy nearly all existing programs that promote energy efficiency and conservation. The scheme, dubbed "Operation Offset," would eliminate the EnergyStar program, the Hydrogen Fuel initiative, the Freedom Car program, funds for research on renewable energy, and programs that support high-speed rail. A progressive approach would save more money in half the time and would preserve all of those programs. 

Katrina: Republican Excuse to Continue Regressive Agenda

 Congress, Corruption, Politics, Society  Comments Off on Katrina: Republican Excuse to Continue Regressive Agenda
Sep 222005
 
  • A nice little tax cut for your wealthy friends – $327 billion
  • Some corporate welfare for your campaign contributors in the oil business – $8.5 Billion
  • Having a king-sized natural disaster to help you try to cut the programs you don’t like for the old and poor – Priceless
  • For everything else, there’s the queers.

With great fanfare, and recalling the "Gingrich Revolution" of the 1990s, House conservatives yesterday proposed a broad set of spending cuts they said would help offset the costs of the Katrina reconstruction effort. Their plan reduces the budget by $500 billion over 10 years, and does so in large part by dismantling programs that invest in middle- and working-class Americans. Progressives can do better. It’s possible to cut far more unnecessary federal spending, accomplish it in half the time, and do so while upholding the principles of fiscal responsibility and concern for the common good.

The proposal announced yesterday cuts substantial funding from several "long-standing targets of conservative scorn," like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the foreign operations budget. The largest proposed cuts are targeted at Medicaid, "the health care safety net for low-income children, elderly, disabled, pregnant women and parents." The plan cuts $225 billion by converting the federal share of certain Medicaid payments into a block grant, and $8 billion more by increasing Medicaid co-payments. Eliminating subsidized loans to graduate students slices off an additional $8.5 billion. $11 billion more is saved by passing restrictive new rules for federal retiree health care and federal pension programs.

A progressive approach to trimming the budget could result in greater savings over a shorter period of time. For example, rolling back the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would save $327 billion over five years. Cracking down on offshore tax shelters would save $65 billion over the same time period. Simply allowing Medicare recipients to purchase drugs through the mail would save $43 billion over five years. Repealing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry contained in the recent energy bill would save $8.5 billion. Shelving costly and unnecessary weapons systems would save $200 billion. Getting rid of counterproductive agricultural export subsidies would save $30 billion over the first five years along. Giving up half of the 6,371 special earmarked projects of the 2005 transportation bill would save an additional $12 billion. A progressive approach to trimming the budget could cut $688 billion in federal spending over just five years.

 Republican Offsets      Progressive Offsets  
 Title III Program Cuts  $307B    Rollback Tax Cuts for the Wealthy  $327B
Other including DoD and DHS  $333B    Eliminate Offshore Tax Shelters  $  65B
 Cut Federal Share of Medicaid  $225B    Repeal Oil Industry Subsidies  $    8.5B
 Increase Medicaid Copayments  $    8B    Allow Medicare Mail Order Drug Purchases  $  43B
 Eliminate Loans To Graduate Students  $    8.5B    Shelve unnecessary Defense Systems  $200B
 Restriction on Federal Retiree Healthcare and Pensions  $   11B    Eliminate Agricultural Export Subsidies  $  30B
 Foreign Operations Budget  $   37B    Eliminate 1/2 of 6,371 Transportation Bill Projects  $  12B

 TOTAL After 10 Years

 $929B  

 TOTAL Savings after only five years

 $685.5B

Let’s take a special look at some of the cuts included in the Republican Plan. I think most agregious is their call to eliminate "Corporate Welfare." This from a Congress that gave the oil companies, already experiencing windfall profits, huge subsidies in the just passed energy bill. Take a look at a partial list and see if you notice any patterns:

  • Eliminate the Applied Research for Renewable Energy Sources Program
  • Eliminate the Clean Coal Technology Program
  • Eliminate the FreedomCAR Program
  • Eliminate the ITA’s Trade Promotion Activates
  • Eliminate the Advanced Technology Program
  • Repeal the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act
  • Eliminate the Foreign Market Development Program
  • Eliminate the Market Access Program
  • Eliminate the Export Enhancement Program
  • Eliminate the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative

Continue reading »

Texas Rep. Joe Barton Finds Silver Lining of Katrina Disaster

 Congress, Corruption, Politics  Comments Off on Texas Rep. Joe Barton Finds Silver Lining of Katrina Disaster
Sep 212005
 

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers of all political stripes have used the "political climate suddenly altered by the hurricane to try to advance long-stalled, sometimes controversial initiatives." For example, Texas conservative Rep. Joe L. Barton is once again fighting to open up fragile coastal regions to offshore oil drilling, an idea that languished in Congress earlier this year. "If there is a silver lining [to the disaster], and I’m not saying that there is, but if there is, it may be that our country is beginning to realize how fragile our energy sector is," Barton said. Meanwhile, bills that could improve future disaster relief efforts have died. The Senate rejected a bill authorizing $1.5 billion to improve communications equipment, even though Sen. Bill Frist had said that while in New Orleans, "people could not communicate from one side of that room to the other."

What makes this really a sad story is that it comes as no surprise.

Sen. Frist; Insider Trading Or Sudden Bout of Ethics?

 Congress, Corruption, Politics  Comments Off on Sen. Frist; Insider Trading Or Sudden Bout of Ethics?
Sep 212005
 

Stock prices for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) fell 15 percent in late July, but not before Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist unloaded his family’s shares. HCA is the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, founded by Frist’s father and directed by Frist’s brother, who is also a leading stockholder. The senator sold his shares in the corporation by July 1, two weeks before the prices fell, followed by the shares of his wife and children by July 8. His spokeswoman explained Frist’s decision to sell his stocks as an attempt to "avoid any appearance of conflict of interest [with his work in the Senate]" and that the reason he chose that particular moment to sell as "he’s [never] been worried about it in the past." HCA has donated a total of $83,450 since 1989 to the senator’s campaigns. Trading on insider information is illegal.

So, he’s been in the Senate for how long? And its just now a possible conflict of interest? Yeah…right!

Alaska Lawmaker Refuses to Give Up Pork for Katrina Relief

 Politics, Weather  Comments Off on Alaska Lawmaker Refuses to Give Up Pork for Katrina Relief
Sep 212005
 

While Sen. John McCain has raised the idea of "charitable pork" — lawmakers giving up pet projects to help Hurricane Katrina victims — and Montana is considering giving up the $4 million it received in a federal bill for a downtown parking garage, Alaska Sen. Don Young is proud to remain a "little oinker." Young, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has made sure that this year’s $295 billion transportation bill is "stuffed like a turkey" with projects for Alaska, including $223 million for a bridge larger than the Brooklyn Bridge and almost as long as the Golden Gate, to connect a town with 8,900 people to a town with 50 people. Another "bridge to nowhere" will cost $200 million, a project which the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce opposes. But in response to calls for giving up these pieces of pork to help efforts for Katrina reconstruction, Young has said, "They can kiss my ear!" and that he has "raised enough money to give back to them voluntarily."

The John Roberts' Hearings

 Politics, The Courts  Comments Off on The John Roberts' Hearings
Sep 162005
 

Well, I was prepared to give Roberts the benefit of the doubt, but his self-serving attitude about answering questions during his confirmation hearing make me issue a solid "thumbs down".

At one point, I heard him say that he’d been very forthcoming because he’d answered every question that was related to issues he did NOT expect to come before the court…well golly ghee whiz…I guess I’m supposed to think those are the really relevant and important ones. Sorry John, I think you owe us answers to your opinions on matters that will come before the damned court you are going to be running. Those just might have some importance.

Roberts repeatedly and emphatically refused to give answers to questions about his views on "specific cases." At one point Roberts said, "I do feel compelled to point out that I should not … agree or disagree with particular decisions. And I’m reluctant to do that. That’s one of the areas where I think prior nominees have drawn the line when it comes to, Do you agree with this case or do you agree with that case? And that’s something that I’m going to have to draw the line in the sand." Later, when it suited his purposes, Roberts gave his views on particular cases. Responding to question by Sen. Herb Kohl, Roberts said, "I agree with the Griswold court’s conclusion that marital privacy extends to contraception and availability of that." On multiple occasions Roberts "said that he believed Brown against Board of Education was correctly decided." (At one point he called the decision "genius.") But Roberts refused to answer questions about Roe v. Wade and related cases, like Casey. Roberts claims that the distinction is that Roe and other cases are "live with business." As Sen. Arlen Specter noted, there have been 38 cases where Roe has been taken up and had its core holding upheld but Roberts considers that case "live" and off-limits. There is no principle. Roberts talked about cases when it was politically convenient; when it wasn’t he clammed up.

Roberts and his staunch supports continually make reference — either explicitly or implicitly — to the so-called "Ginsburg precedent" to justify Roberts’ refusal to answer questions that he decided were related to specific cases. Roberts said, "My understanding, based on reading the transcripts not just of Justice Ginsburg’s hearing, but of the hearings for every one of the justices on the court, is that that was her approach; that she would generally decline to comment on whether she viewed particular cases as correctly decided or not." His understanding is wrong. As Sen. Joe Biden pointed out, Justice Ginsburg "commented specifically on 27 cases." Roberts also refused to respond to specific legal issues that Ginsburg had written on and answered questions about.

The White House "has refused to give the Senate memos that Roberts wrote when he was deputy solicitor general for the president’s father, President George H.W. Bush, from 1989 to 1993." Roberts dismissed the Reagan-era documents the White House agreed to disclose as out-of-date. Responding to a sharp line of questioning by Sen. Kohl, Roberts said, "I certainly wouldn’t write everything today as I wrote it back then, but I don’t think any of us would do things or write things today as we did when we were 25 and had all the answers."

Again, I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt on these. After all, he was an "employee" but, I think we have a right to see them.