United States News Digest
Dems Mobilize Against Two Judicial Nominees
The "Gang of 14," the seven Republican and seven Democratic members of the Senate who blocked Dick Cheney's "nuclear option," in spring 2005, met again on May 10 on the nomination of Terrence Boyle to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Coming out of the meeting, the Democrats said they would send a letter, requesting that the Senate Judiciary Committee hold a second hearing on Boyle's nomination. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said that she was very concerned about conflict-of-interest allegations raised against Boyle, adding that, "if they are true, they are potentially disqualifying." Lindsey Graham (R-NC) expressed his view that another hearing on Boyle would be helpful.
Democrats also intend to mobilize against Michael Wallace for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, who is so bad that the American Bar Association rated him "unqualified."
But the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, 41, the forgetful deputy to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, and to Kenneth Starr before that, was sent to the Senate floor on May 11 on a party-line, 10-8 vote in the Judiciary Committee. "Mr. Kavanaugh himself is neither seasoned enough or independent enough at this early stage in his career to merit a lifetime appointment to the second-highest court in the land," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). In his second hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh was almost comically evasive, claiming to know nothing about torture, rendition, or NSA spying, except what he'd read in the newspaperseven though he was in the White House Counsel's office at the time these policies were approved. Even the usually unflappable Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa) became exasperated with Kavanaugh late in the hearing, when the nominee would not respond directly to questioning from Schumer.
Senate Dems Hold Hearing on Energy Market Manipulation
At Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearings on, "Lessons from Enron: An oversight hearing on gas prices and energy trading," May 8, committee chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) noted the similarities between the present energy crisis and the Enron scandal. Dorgan noted that price fixing and price manipulation were included among the criminal charges against many of Enron's former officials. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) put the blame squarely on the Bush Administration: "Its failed energy policy, its failed foreign policy, its failure to quickly reconstruct New Orleans and the surrounding energy infrastructure there and in Iraq, and the Administration's wildly misplaced budget and enforcement priorities have left America unprepared and with an unresponsive government," he said.
The witnesses included Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, West Coast utility regulators, and others. Their testimony demonstrated how unregulated speculation in the commodities markets is responsible for the catastrophic rise in energy prices, "contrary to common media reports" that place the blame on supply and demand.
Madigan testified that, upon receiving warnings from the natural gas supply companies in her state, she got together with attorneys general in Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin to investigate the reasons for the expected price hikes. They found that there is a complete lack of transparency in the largely unregulated financial markets for natural gas, and that the regulations that do exist are far more lax than for less-essential commodities. "The reality is that approximately 80% of natural gas trading is done on the unregulated over-the-counter markets," she said, and that these markets are the major factor "in setting the price of natural gas."
Vote Fraud Hijinks Continue in Ohio
The May 2 primary election in Ohio was again marred by complications in vote counting, and again, the problems were centered in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous, including the depressed city of Cleveland. In the interim period since the 2004 election, Cuyahoga County had converted from a punchcard system to an optical scan system, run by Diebold. Test runs on the Diebold-run system produced "inconsistent tabulations," forcing the hand-counting of 18,000 ballots, a process which was not completed until Sunday, five days after the election. While there were no reports of understaffing or long lines, there were other shades of 2004, with many polling places open late, and poll workers not showing up on time. Election workers also lost 70 "memory cards," which held voting results from hundreds of precincts.
After four days in which many local elections were still undecided, on May 5, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell called for an investigation by the County Board of Elections. On May 8, Chris Redfern, chairman of the state Democratic Party, called on Blackwell (who is currently also a candidate for Governor) to recuse himself from the process, along with Bob Bennett, who is chairman of both the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and the Ohio GOP. The commission is scheduled to make a report in July.
Schumer Wants Anti-Trust Study of Big Oil
During his April 27 webcast, Lyndon LaRouche said, "If you're not prepared to go in and so some trustbusting, you're not going to solve the problem." On May 8, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he is filing legislation that will make the Government Accountability Office study the feasibility of breaking up the biggest oil companies. Schumer said that five "vertical" petroleum companies engage in pricing practices that have customers reeling. The Senator said the country needs a "trust-busting spirit," and blamed a succession of Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, for allowing mergers like the one that created ExxonMobil.
Abramoff Scandal: Former Aide to Ney Pleads Guilty
Neal Volz, who worked as an aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) from 1995-2002, and then went to work for Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty, on May 8, to conspiracy to corrupt Ney, Congressional staffers, and other members of Congress with trips, free tickets, jobs, and other things of value. Volz listed 16 actions that Ney undertook on behalf of Abramoff and the lobbyist's clients, in exchange for these things of value. Volz now joins Abramoff, and former Tom DeLay aides Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, as government witnesses in the expanding corruption probe centering on Abramoff and DeLay.
Among the corrupt acts cited in the "Information" filed by the U.S. Attorney in Washington:
* Ney and Volz inserted a provision into the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), lifting a ban on gambling for the Tigua Indian tribe in Texas, a client of Abramoff, and then Ney signed a letter opposing the creation of a commission to investigate Indian gambling.
* Volz and Ney, using Ney's position as chairman of the House Administration Committee, arranged for an Israeli telecommunications company, Foxcom Wireless, also a client of Abramoff, to obtain the contract to install a wireless communications system in House office buildings. At the same time, it's been reported elsewhere, Foxcom donated $50,000 to Abramoff's phony Capital Athletic Foundation.
Hagel Calls for Engagement with Iran
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) authored an op-ed in the May 7 Financial Times of London in which he argued as follows: "The U.S. should engage Iran directly with an agenda open to all areas of agreement and disagreement. The lone world superpower must not act precipitately. The U.S., in partnership with our allies, should work towards a package of issues for discussion with Iran. A military option is not a long-term solution to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Attacking Iran and destroying its nuclear facilities would not destroy Iran's ability and knowledge to come back at nuclear capability again and again. A U.S. military strike in Iran would make Iran's determination that much stronger. A military option would also inflame the Middle East and the global Muslim population, crippling U.S. security, economic and strategic interests worldwide."