United States News Digest
New Democrat Moneybags Still in Disarray After the Election
A carefully vetted group of millionaires and billionaires met in Scottsdale, Ariz., over the weekend of April 16-17, to discuss how to do for the Democratic Party, what neocon millionaires have done in establishing and maintaining long-standing think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, for the Republican Party. The meeting was organized by Ron Stein, a Clinton Administration Commerce Department official and New York investment banker, and the only speaker, so far admitted to, was George Soros, who poured $23 million into Democratic "527" groups last year.
Soros reportedly told the gathering that they must be patient if they want to realize long-term political and ideological yields from an expected massive investment in "start-up" progressive think tanks. A spokeswoman for Stein told the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill April 20, that the gathering "was a very preliminary meeting of committed donors interested in building a community to support progressive infrastructure," but she refused to name any other participants, although former White House spokesman Mike McCurry and New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg are both reported to have been there. Otherwise, Stein kept the meeting low profile, and excluded Democratic Party officials, such as DNC chairman Howard Dean, although Dean is said to have been briefed on it.
Revolt Brewing vs. Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' Law
"I wish they'd take the stinking money and go back to Washington," is how one Utah Republican State Representative responded to the threats of Bush's new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to withhold Federal education funds to the state. The Republican-controlled Utah state house voted up a bill last week which orders state officials to ignore provisions of Bush's premier education "No Child Left Behind" act. Utah's Republican Governor said he will sign it. In response, Spellings, in a letter to Utah Senator Orin Hatch, threatened to cut $76 million dollars of the state's $107 million in Federal education funds.
Utah isn't the only state to revolt against Bush's "education" program. School districts in Michigan, Texas, and Vermont joined with the National Education Association in a federal lawsuit, filed April 19, charging the Department of Education has failed to provide adequate funding for No Child Left Behind.
The New York Times of April 20 wrote that Federal officials now fear that this will "embolden" other states to resist the law. The Attorney General of Connecticut has already announced he will sue the Department of Education over the law's finances, and Texas has rejected NCLB's testing of disabled children.
Bush's No Child Left Behind is also proving to leave minority students behind. The April 18 Washington Post reported a study commissioned by the Virginia Department of Education which found that in 2004, the first year that the Standards of Learning test was required for graduationpart of Bush NCLB lawthe graduation rate for black and Hispanic students dropped significantly. The graduation rate for white students was 77.4% compared to 61.3% for blacks, and 66.5% for Hispanics. A drop of 4.9% from 2003 for blacks, and 11.6% for Hispanics.
Appellate Court Rejects Appeal by Two Plame Journalists
The Appellate Court in Washington, D.C. ruled, on April 19, that the appeal by two journalists to block a lower court's order that they testify to the grand jury probing the Valerie Plame leak, was rejected. Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine had refused to appear before the grand jury probing the July 2003 leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Plame is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who exposed the fraud of the Niger uranium yellowcake story, promulgated by the Bush Administration to prove the now-discredited claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Independent Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald argued before the lower court and the Appellate Court that he had completed his investigation, and now needed the Miller and Cooper testimony. The two journalists refused to reveal their sources on the information about Plame, and Washington, D.C. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan had ordered that they be jailed for as much as 18 months. The appellate ruling puts the case back before Judge Hogan as early as April 26. Attorneys for Miller and Cooper say they will take the case to the Supreme Court and try to avoid jail until the higher court has ruled.
As EIR has reported for the past two years, the Plame case centers around the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney. It was in Cheney's office that the dirty tricks campaign against Plame and Wilson originated.
Reid: Bush Doesn't Get It on Energy Crisis
"We cannot drill our way out of this problem," Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) said in an April 20 press release calling on President Bush to take effective action against high oil and gas prices.
"It's as if the President doesn't understand the problem. Families are paying record prices for energy, and the country's dependence on foreign oil continues to grow. Yet the President has an energy plan that does nothing to relieve the strain on America's families, or move us closer to energy independence."
The statement proposes no specific solution, other than calling for deferring deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until oil markets stabilize.
Reid cites the rising prices of gasoline and other fuels, the record profits for big oil companies (Exxon Mobil up 218%; ConocoPhillips up 145%, Shell up 51%), and the increase in foreign oil dependency (up from 58.2% in 2000, to 61.7% today).
The day after Reid issued his statement, the House of Representatives voted 249-183 for an energy bill that gives massive tax breaks to the oil-and-gas industry, and repeals the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act. House Democrats charged that the bill would actually cause pump prices for gasoline to rise, and it would do nothing to protect consumers against Enron-style manipulation of the electricity market.
Marines, Army Face Equipment Shortages
The collapse of the U.S. industrial base means, among other things, that the U.S. military is waging war without enough equipment. This came out, on April 20, during a hearing of the Readiness Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee when Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hi) asked Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, what effect equipment problems are having on readiness. Sattler, whose force recently returned from one year in Iraq, had already reported that military equipment is being subjected to about ten years worth of wear and tear during one year of operations in Iraq. In response to Akaka's question, Sattler explained that when the III MEF left Iraq, it turned over most of its equipment to the II MEF, which replaced it. That meant that when the III MEF arrived back at its home base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., it had no equipment to train on.
The Marines are now in the process of "crossleveling" equipment, moving it around among stateside bases in order to give the III MEF enough equipment for it to resume training. Even after that process is complete, there will still be equipment shortages that will have to be made up through procurement, Sattler explained. If there were a new contingency requiring deployment of combat forces, the III MEF wouldn't be able to go, because it doesn't have the necessary equipment.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of the Army's III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, which also recently returned from Iraq, said the Army is in a similar situation. "It will be a continuing problem as we leave vehicles in theater," he said.
Bipartisan Pro-Labor Bill Introduced in Congress
Reporters and labor union members were subjected to a rare sight on Capitol Hill, on April 19, when a Democrat and a Republican joined together to defend the rights of labor unions to organize free of intimidation and coercion by targeted corporations. Representatives George Miller (D-Calif) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) both spoke at an event moderated by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney to announce their support for the "Employee Free Choice Act," which would strengthen the penalties against employers for violating provisions of the National Labor Relations Act pertaining to union organizing activity by employees. It also simplifies certification of union representation and provides that if an employer and a union engaged in bargaining for their first contract cannot reach agreement after 90 days, the dispute can be referred for mediation and arbitration.
Miller told the assembled crowd, "The right of working men and women to freely organize and bargain collectively is a fundamental human right," yet a 2000 Human Rights Watch report found "rampant violations" of the right of free association in the United States. "Many workers who try to form and join trade unions to bargain with their employers are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported, or otherwise victimized in reprisal for their exercise of the right of free association." King seconded Miller's comments, saying that "it's really an issue of basic human rights" to be able to organize and bargain collectively.
The bill also has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate, from Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) and Arlen Specter (R- Pa). Kennedy noted in a press release that the U.S. economy has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs. "Our economy may be growing," he said, "but workers aren't benefitting and wages are stagnant."