United States News Digest
Louisiana Delegation Calls for 'Project Pelican'
On Sept. 22, the two Senators from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), unveiled their legislative package for disaster relief and recovery, a bipartisan plan which had been previously announced at a press conference a week earlier, held by the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation.
At the Sept. 15 press conference, the Louisiana delegation had called for a program of rebuilding Louisiana's hard and soft infrastructure and housing, requiring about $100 billion in investments. Landrieu said, "Our delegation is completely united today in our effort to lay down for our colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, a plan to begin rebuilding Louisiana and the Gulf Coast." Though "Marshall Plan" is the term being applied to several Senate rebuilding proposals, the Louisianans call their plan "Project Pelican," because of the pelican's habitation of the Gulf area and its ability to carry "food aid," i.e., fish, in its large basket-like beak.
The delegation's plan: $20 billion needed for the rebuilding and upgrading of New Orleans' levee and flood-control system; $14 billion needed to reroute watercourses and rebuild wetlands along the coast, a grand project to defend the land from hurricane storm surges; $50 billion in rebuilding grants to cities and communities, emphasizing elementary and secondary school construction, new hospital construction, and broad aid to the rebuilding of housing; and financial aid to schools taking in displaced pupils, at $4,000 per student.
The legislation introduced by Landrieu and Vitter is called the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act. One of its more significant aspects is the establishment of a PELICAN (Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens, and Nature) Commission, which would allocate $40 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers to implement "needed hurricane protection, flood control, coastal restoration, and navigation projects ... without having to come back to Congress for any other approval." The PELICAN Commission will direct the Corps to develop within six months, and annually thereafter, a work plan for designing and implementing these projects.
In the House, parts of the plan will be separately introduced by members of the Committees on Appropriations, Ways and Means, Transportation and Infrastructure, Education and the Workforce, and Financial Services.
Reid and Pelosi: 'A Marshall Plan for the Gulf States'
Senate and House Democratic Leaders Harry Reid (Nev) and Nancy Pelosi (Calif), joined with the Mississippi Congressional delegation in a joint press conference on Sept. 15, to demand that Congress act to create a TVA-style Cabinet-level agency for a $200 billion Gulf Coast reconstruction plan.
Reid, who opened the press conference, said, "We didn't leave Europe in ruin after World War II. We didn't leave San Francisco in rubble in 1989. And we shouldn't tell the people of the Gulf Coast that Katrina is their mess and they need to clean it up.
"We can do better. We support an American Marshall Plan to rebuild the Gulf, one that partners the resources and the know-how of the government with the vision and leadership of the people who live there.... We will rebuild the Gulf Coast, and billions of dollars, billions of taxpayer dollars will be spent in the process. We Democrats want to be certain that the money goes to help the victims, not to enrich the contractors."
Pelosi also noted pointedly that: "The Gulf Coast region does not deserve to be treated as a laboratory for political opportunism or ideological experimentation," referring to neo-con Heritage Foundation and right-wing Republican intentions.
Clinton, Kerry, Edwards Hit Bush Policies
Former President Bill Clinton was interviewed twice on Sept. 18, on ABC's "This Week," and on NBC's "Meet the Press," in which he strongly warned against the rampant U.S. borrowing to pay for the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, and now the Katrina disaster.
"I've gotten four tax cuts, in the top 1% since 2001," said Clinton on ABC, and these are responsible for "the big structural deficit." Americans have to understand that "that means every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts. We have never done this before. Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from someone else." Depending on China, Japan, South Korea, and the Middle East to lend us money for these matters is "wrong."
He also said, about the U.S. policy in Iraq, "it's not working right now, at least," adding, "I did not favor what was done" in Iraq, but only favored giving the power to use force if it was necessary because Saddam Hussein "never did anything he wasn't forced to do." The U.S. lost credibility, and the administration then decided to "launch this invasion virtually alone and before the UN inspections were completed, with no real urgency, no evidence that there were any weapons of mass destruction there...."
On Sept. 19, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) and his 2004 running mate, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), unleashed their own blasts against Bush. Speaking at Brown University, Kerry lit into Bush for the Katrina tragedy: "If 12-year-old Boy Scouts can be prepared," then why not the "59-year-old President of the United States?" Jabbing Bush for never admitting a mistake, Kerry pointed out that Bush taking responsibility for the Katrina mess was a first, adding that, "admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery"an oblique reference to Bush's mental illness. Kerry painted a vivid picture of people stranded by the hurricane, and then enumerated, in timeline fashion, all the warnings that Bush ignored. This is "the Katrina Administration" which has the ideology of "every man for himself," Kerry charged; he promised to present a real solution for reconstruction in the near future.
Speaking in Washington, Edwards went after the longer-term policies of increasing poverty that we have seen from the Bush Administration. Edwards had made his own trip to the Gulf Coast where he described helpless, and hopeless men, standing outside the emergency centers, every morning at 5 a.m., because they heard that a truck picking up day-laborers would come by to give them work. The job trucks had not come. Edwards says Bush is wrong about saying the people want a "Wealth America." We want a "Working America." On Sept. 18, in Iowa, Edwards called for an FDR-style Work Projects Administration to give jobs to the poor.
Cheney Should Give Up His Halliburton Financial Interest
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has repeated his call for Dick Cheney to forfeit his continuing financial interest in Halliburton, noting that all of Cheney's 433,333 stock options are now worth $9.2 million. In addition, Cheney has received between $162,392 and $205,298 in deferred salary each year he has served as Vice President.
Rumsfeld Blocks Witnesses in 'Able Danger' Hearing
Despite the fact that the Pentagon had ordered military and civilian personnel involved in the Able Danger data-mining program not to testify, the Senate Judiciary Committee went ahead with a Sept. 21 hearing on the military intelligence program which reportedly had identified Mohamed Atta and three other of the 9/11 hijackers during the 1999-2000 period. On three occasions, Able Danger officials were blocked from sharing their information with the FBI, and the data was later destroyed.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), the committee chairman, accused the Defense Department of "stonewalling," and charged that DOD actions "may be obstruction of this committee's activity." Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del) said that he does not understand the purpose of the DOD's cover-up. On Sept. 1, the DOD had acknowledged that it had found five people who recalled seeing the Able Danger chart.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa), the lead-off witness, said the DOD was using denial, deception, threats to DOD employees, and character assassination.
Two of those who were barred from testifying under what is being called "Rumsfeld's gag order," were introduced at Specter's request; these were Army reservist Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, and a defense private contractor, J.D. Smith. Their lawyer, Mark Zaid, did testify, and he described the Able Danger program as far as he could, while not disclosing classified information. Saying he wanted to clear up two misconceptions from the media, Zaid said that: (1) there was no information that Atta was physically present in the U.S. in 1999-2000; (2) there was no information that there was any criminal or terrorist activity taking place.
It is clear that Rumsfeld and the Pentagon are desperate to keep more information about the Able Danger program from being made public, raising questions as to what else is being covered up. One of Shaffer's and Smith's lawyers told EIR that only about one-fourth of what Able Danger was involved in, has so far come to light.
BRAC Commission Report to Congress; Rejection Urged
President Bush sent the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) report to Congress on Sept. 15, with his certification of approval. Congress has 45 days in which to decide to reject it, otherwise it becomes law.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who had vigorously opposed the BRAC plan while Ellsworth Air Force Base was on the closure list, is still undecided about whether he's going to pursue his amendment to delay BRAC when the defense authorization bill comes back to the Senate floor.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va) is reportedly having second thoughts about BRAC as a result of Hurricane Katrina, however, given the size of the military deployment to the affected area. He suggested that, in light of that fact, the base closing recommendations should be reviewed. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) and Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) had written to President Bush, asking him to overturn the recommendations to close Ingleside Naval Station in Texas and Pascagoula Naval Station in Mississippi, both of which have played a large role in the rescue and recovery operations after the hurricane.
On Sept. 20, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill), introduced a resolution to reject the BRAC report. During a speech on the floor of the House, LaHood gave two reasons for rejecting the base closure report: One, the country is at war; and, two, bases (meaning Air National Guard units) cannot be closed without the consent of the state's governor. The 183rd Fighter Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard is based in Springfield, in LaHood's district, and is slated to be closed.
The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a mark-up on LaHood's resolution for Sept. 27.
Specter, Reid Urge Bush To Keep O'Connor on High Court
President Bush should leave Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court until next June, when the 2005-06 term ends, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), said on Sept. 21. "I talked to her, and she's prepared to do that if asked," said Specter, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after attending a meeting at the White House. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's office said that he agrees. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) disagreed, and urged Bush to announce his choice to replace O'Connor over the next ten days, in order to try and get the nominee confirmed before the Thanksgiving recess.