United States News Digest
Schwarzenegger Lies, as California Plunges into Chaos
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 29 (EIRNS)As the state of California plunges deeper into an economic/financial collapsewhich Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls a "budget crisis"the governor was once again caught lying yesterday, when he addressed business leaders here. In his speech, Schwarzenegger endorsed proposals from legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill to close tax loopholes. Hill argued that his budget, which calls for 10% across-the-board cuts, is unfair, as it places too much emphasis on slashing or eliminating programs designed to protect those most dependent on government aid.
"I think we should go after those tax loopholes," he said, which Hill estimated would give the state an extra $2.7 billion. Schwarzenegger added that the extra revenue from closing the loopholes could go "straight to education." However, immediately following the event, he changed his tune. When asked if that means he will go immediately to the legislature and ask them to close the loopholes, he said, "I'm not for the recommendations she made." When there was a follow-up question, asking how he could keep a $21 million loophole for owners of yachts, when necessary state programs were being slashed, Schwarzenegger shrugged, saying that, "some of my colleagues are very strong in lobbying for keeping that."
Arnie was thus caught, again, lying to the public. And while he continues to insist that the only way to balance the budget is by destroying the social safety net built up since the 1930s Depression, thereby throwing millions of poor, elderly, and disabled onto a human scrap heap, the state's economy continues in free fall. The official number of unemployed jumped by 20,300 in January, with the capital city, Sacramento, hitting an official unemployment rate of 6.4%, the highest level since January 1997, when the state was coming out of a recession. In addition, Sacramentowhich has one of the highest rate of homes posted for foreclosure in the nationannounced a plan to cut 500 jobs from the city's payroll, to deal with a growing budget crisis.
Torturers Are 'Using a Playbook from the Middle Ages'
Feb. 29 (EIRNS)Two retired generals joined with Human Rights First during a conference call briefing today, to call on President Bush to sign the Intelligence Authorization Bill; the measure has a provision in it that makes the U.S. Army Field Manual the standard for all interrogations of individuals in U.S. custody across all agencies. Gen. Harry Soyster (ret.), a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that the Field Manual's approach to interrogations works, and permits all of the techniques needed to get reliable information, while defining the lines that interrogators cannot cross. Those who promote the use of harsh techniques, such as waterboarding, "are naive and living in a fantasy world," he said, and "they're using a playbook from the Middle Ages."
All of the speakers emphasized the need for a single interrogation standard, as opposed to the current situation where the Army has one standard and the CIA has another. The fact that the CIA is able to use torture, and the Army may not, undermines the Army's higher standards. Alex Gibney, another retired general, and producer of the documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side" (see review, EIR, March 7), recounted how, because of the "fog of ambiguity" as to what the rules were early in the "war on terror," a technique that had been authorized for one prisoner only at Guantanamo, Cuba, migrated to the U.S. base at Bagram in Afghanistan. Having a single standard applied to everybody would eliminate such ambiguities.
The White House threatened, on Feb. 14, that Bush would veto the bill.
Cuyahoga County, Ohio Needs an Urban 'Marshall Plan'
Feb. 25 (EIRNS)Ohio's Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis (D) called for an urban Marshall Plan to deal with the devastation caused by home foreclosures across the nation. "I've got 8,000 to 12,000 rotting houses, primarily in Cleveland and East Cleveland, and these won't go away by themselves. We need an urban Marshall Plan," Rokakis told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When asked today by EIR what he means by a "Marshall Plan," Rokakis said, "We all know what the Marshall Plan did for Europe after World War II. We have cities hereCleveland, Buffalo, Detroitwhich look like Dresden did after the war. Wall Street and the Federal Reserve have failed for seven years." Rokakis told EIR that just for the Greater Cleveland area, which Cuyahoga County covers, he needs $100 million to take control of the cost of fire, police, demolition, etc., for the devastated communities. But then there is the cost of reconstruction too. Bush's foreclosure fixes are "useless political gestures," he said, and "the nation needs an indefinite foreclosure moratorium."
When Bloomberg TV came to his offices today to ask him to compare and contrast the candidates' plans, Rokakis told them "none of them go far enough." The Cleveland area had the sixth-highest foreclosure rate in 2007, nationally. Ohio had 153,200 foreclosures last year an 88% increase from 2006.
New Budget-Slashing Medicaid Rules Threaten Public Health
Feb. 24 (EIRNS)Even as its last days come closer, the Bush Administration has lost none of its zeal for targeting the lower 80% of income brackets in the United States. The latest proposed changes in Medicaid would curtail the use of Federal money to train doctors, set new limits on hospitals and nursing homes operated by states, cities, and counties, and limit rehabilitation services for people with disabilities, including serious mental illnesses. All of this is being done, in the words of Dennis G. Smith, the director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to "protect the fiscal integrity of the Medicaid program," and save an estimated $15 billion over five years.
The Bush Administration has been complaining for some time that states are using "creative financing techniques" to get more Federal money through Medicaid than they are entitled to, but state and local officials from both parties call the rules changes devastating. Larry Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals, told the New York Times that the new rules would compromise the ability of public hospitals to provide vital services like trauma care and burn treatment. Dr. Rhonda Meadows, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health, added that these rules, taken together, "would undermine the health-care safety net for the entire state of Georgia, reducing federal Medicaid payments for hospitals, nursing homes, and school clinics." State governors from both parties oppose the rules, especially as their own revenues are already declining because of the collapsing economy.
The rules changes come on top of fiscal 2009 budget proposals targeting Medicaid for $14 billion in budget cuts over the next five years, and Medicare for $91 billion.
Will Authors of 'Torture Memo' Be Prosecuted?
Feb. 24 (EIRNS)The authors of an infamous 2002 Justice Department memorandum that authorized torture, including waterboarding, are finally being investigated by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), it was disclosed on Feb. 22. The DOJ's acknowledgement of the internal probe, came in response to a Feb. 12 letter from Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), requesting an investigation, following Attorney General Michael Mukasey's claim that those who conducted waterboarding wouldn't be investigated, because they were acting under a DOJ authorization. Durbin asked the right question: Did those who authorized waterboarding violate the law? The laws that were violated would include the Federal War Crimes Act and the anti-torture statute.
Whitehouse and Durbin also asked OPR to determine if the DOJ memo writers had consulted the military Judge Advocates General (who were known to be adamantly opposed to the Cheney-Rumsfeld policies), and whether the DOJ was subject to outside pressure, which everyone knows originated with Vice President Dick Cheney. The OPR can refer the matter for criminal prosecution, or can recommend that DOJ lawyers be disbarred.