United States News Digest
Hagel, Chafee Blast Rice on Bush Southwest Asia Policy
In Feb. 16 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Congress to increase the funds for "democracy" in Southwest Asia. Rice said that the U.S. would confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime, while working to support the move for internal regime change.
"I don't see, Madame Secretary, how things are getting better," responded Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb). "I think things are getting worse. I think they are getting worse in Iraq. I think they are getting worse in Iran." Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) also commented on the lack of progress towards peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
These Republican criticisms underscore a widespread frustration in Congress with the Bush Administration's profound mishandling of the crises in the region.
Senate Overwhelmingly Invokes Cloture on Patriot Act
On Feb. 16, the Senate voted overwhelmingly (96-3) for cloture on the Patriot Act reauthorization, ending the one-man filibuster by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc). Feingold had fought valiantly to change the language in five provisions of the legislation which unduly threaten the rights and privacy of American citizens. The other Senators voting against cloture were Robert Byrd (D-WVa) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt).
Feingold was critical of his fellow lawmakers, who had accepted a few cosmetic changes rather than fight for the substantive amendments needed. He vowed to continue to use every maneuver at his disposal to try to get the needed amendments into the bill, which will come up for debate on Feb. 28.
Said Feingold to the Senate: "The Senator from Alabama said on the floor yesterday: 'They're not large changes, but it made the Senators happy and they feel comfortable voting for the bill today.... Yesterday, [Senate Judiciary Committee chairman] Arlen Spector (R-Pa) had said, 'But sometimes cosmetics will make a beauty out of a beast and provide enough cover for Senators to change their vote'.... No amount of cosmetics is going to make this beast look any prettier."
House Katrina Report Blasts Everybody, Except Cheney
Congressman Tom Davis (R-Va), the chairman of the House Select Katrina Committee, released the Committee's report on Feb. 15, saying that, "Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare. At every level, individual, corporate, philanthropic, and governmental, we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina."
From Davis's description, the report spares almost nobody, from the President on down to state and local officials in Louisiana. However, as Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La), one of the Democrats who participated in the Committee's investigation, pointed out, it only focusses on the events in August and September, just before and just after the hurricane hit. Even today, there's still no significant rebuilding activity going on, Melancon said. "The situation is getting worse, not better," for the people of the Gulf Coast, he said.
What's left out is that the reorganization which downgraded disaster preparedness, and submerged FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security, was championed by the Vice, Dick Cheney, as part of his scheme to take over all counterterrorism planning in order to destroy it.
The House Democratic leadership had delivered its response to Davis's report after its caucus meeting. In effect, the Democrats said the report was surprisingly good, but limited by the fact that Davis did not compel cooperation from the White House, which refused to provide documents and witnesses. Democrats are also calling for DHS head Michael Chertoff to resign, as well as for the separation of FEMA from the DHS, a proposal also endorsed by Davis and some other Republicansbut which will not accomplish anything, unless Cheney himself is dumped.
Iraq War Vet Hackett Pulls Out of Ohio Senate Race
Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran, electrified the 2005 Ohio Congressional special-election race with his denunciation of the Bush Administration's war policy, and won 48% of the vote. Because of that showing, Democratic Party leaders including Senators Harry Reid (Nev) and Chuck Schumer (NY) urged him to run for the U.S. Senate this year. But on Feb. 14, he said, party leaders urged him to drop out of the primary campaign, in favor of Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) as the candidate to face incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. Hackett also charged that Democratic leaders were calling his donors and asking them to stop funding his campaign. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern explained that the party thought seven-term Congressman Brown has a better chance against DeWine, noting that by the end of last year, Brown had raised ten times Hackett's contributions.
An analyst for the Cook Political Report is quoted by the New York Times Feb. 14 as saying that one of the things that made Democratic leaders nervous about Hackett, was precisely what made him popular with voters: "Hackett is seen by many to be a straight talker. On the other hand, the Senate is still an exclusive club, and the party expects a certain level of decorum that Hackett has not always shown." The Times notes that during Hackett's campaign, he was widely criticized for using salty language about President Bush, and for saying the Ohio Republican Party had been hijacked by fundamentalists who were not all that different from Osama bin Laden. When Republicans demanded an apology, Hackett said, "I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it."
Lyndon LaRouche commented that this silly pre-election season, is the time that politicians are making deals; they get a whiff of such deals, and they go for them. Cliqueishness, he said, is not just lyingit's the mother of lying.
Bush Budget Puts 'Teeth' in Caps on Medicare Spending
The so-called Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) mandates that, at the point when Federal actuaries project that six years hence (when a demographic explosion of seniors is likely) the Federal share of Medicare spending will exceed an arbitrary 45% of the total cost of the system, an automatic trigger would alert the President to deal with the situation. That trigger mechanism, as it now exists, does not require any particular action by Congress.
But in the 2007 budget, according to Joshua Bolton, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, "[W]e're proposing that that provision be strengthened so that in the event there is not action to bring the Federal share of Medicare below 45% of the total cost in the system, that a sequester go into place, not unlike the Gramm-Rudman sequester." The sequester would cut Medicare spending and stay in place year after year thereafter until spending is brought below the 45% level. "[W]e think it would be a very useful device to try to force reform."
Cheney-Bush Spent $1.6 Billion on Public Relations
The Government Accountability Office, in a report released on Feb. 13, calculates that the Cheney-Bush regime spent at least $1.6 billion on public relations and advertising contracts. That was for just the seven departments the Government Accountability Officean arm of the U.S. Congressstudied. Over the course of 2003, 2004, and the first two quarters of 2005, the Departments of Commerce, Defense; Health and Human Services; Homeland Security; Interior; Treasury; and Veterans Affairs, signed 343 contracts with PR firms, advertising agencies, media organizations, and individual members of the media.
The GAO report did not evaluate whether the contracts complied with Federal law, including the prohibition of covert propaganda.
Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform, and other Democrats asked the GAO to conduct the survey after it was revealed that the Department of Education had paid columnist Armstrong Williams to propagandize on behalf of the No Child Left Behind Act, and that HHS had hired a PR firm to develop "video news releases" that were then broadcast as "news" without identifying them as government propaganda.
Neither the Education Department, nor the seven other cabinet-level departments, nor any of the independent agencies, was included in the study. Nor did the study include subcontracts, previously existing contracts, nor public relations and media work done by government employees.
As the Bush-Cheney regime's approval ratings have nosedived, the money spent on PR has shot up. Those Departments studied spent $39 million in 2000, and $88 million in 2004, a 128% increase.
Another Bush 'Pioneer' in the Dock
Tom Noe, the former head of the Lucas County (Toledo) Ohio Republican Party, faces state charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, 11 counts of theft, 11 of money laundering, eight of tampering with records, and 22 of forgery, the Feb. 13 Columbus Dispatch reported. Noe, who served as chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney election campaign in Northwest Ohio, also faces Federal charges of illegally funneling thousands of dollars to President Bush's reelection campaign by giving money to friends and associates to contribute in their names.
As early as February 2003, Noe, a big-time coin dealer, was reportedly meeting with Karl Rove to plan the Bush Ohio campaign strategy. Democrats point to Noe's Lucas County as one of the prime examples of vote suppression and other election thuggery, in the state that tipped the Electoral College count to Bush.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has accused Noe of stealing as much as $6 million from coin funds that Noe operated. His Vintage Coins and Collectibles was entrusted with $50 million to manage for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. "Tom Noe pilfered millions intended for injured workers," said Petro.
The question is: Will Noe also defend himself by going "up the ladder" to Rove, et al.?