The House on 11/17/05 eked out a narrow 217-215 approval of a budget that would cut access of working-poor families to food stamps, Medicaid, child support and child care in order to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cbpp.org) reported. Voting against the bill were 201 Democrats and just 14 Republicans.
More than 220,000 people, including at least 150,000 of the working poor whose job and housing expenses drop them below the poverty line, would lose food stamps, in addition to 70,000 legal immigrants who have been in the US from 5-7 years, primarily working poor parents and seniors, after $700 mln in cuts over 5 years. Low-income beneficiaries would have to pay more for health care and receive less services under Medicaid after $30 bln in cuts over 10 years. Deep cuts in child support enforcement efforts would reduce collections by an estimated $24 bln over 10 years. Low-wage working parents would lose child-care assistance for 330,000 children by 2010. While the House budget cuts would heavily affect low-income families, the accompanying tax bill would extend capital gains and dividend tax cuts, which would overwhelmingly benefit upper-income households, as 53% of the breaks will go to the top 0.2% of households that make more than $1 mln a year.
The Senate budget bill avoided cuts in programs for low-income families. Instead, it reduced overpayments to managed-care providers under Medicare and reduced prices Medicaid pays pharmaceutical companies for prescription drugs.
OIL EXECS LIE ABOUT WHITE HOUSE TALKS: When oil company executives testified at a joint hearing of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees 11/9/05, Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who presided over the hearing, was adamant that the businessmen would not be sworn in, despite Democratic protests. Under questioning from Sen. Frank Lautenburg, D-N.J., executives of ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, denied their firms participated in Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001; the president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know. But the Washington Post reported 11/16/05 that a White House document shows that executives from ExxonMobil Corp., Conoco (before it merged with Phillips), Shell Oil and BP America met in the White House complex with Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, some of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. Chevron was not named in the White House document, but the Government Accountability Office has found that Chevron was one of several companies that "gave detailed energy policy recommendations" to the task force. In addition, Cheney had a separate meeting with John Browne, BP's chief executive, the Post reported, according to a person familiar with the task force's work; that meeting is not noted in the document.
Environmentalists, who were shut out of the task force discussions, have long suspected that big oil companies participated but the meetings were held in secret and the White House refused to release a list of participants. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club unsuccessfully sued to obtain the records. Lautenberg said he will ask the Justice Department to investigate. "The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force," Lautenberg said. Although the executives are not vulnerable to charges of perjury, thanks to Stevens, a person may be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.
ILLINOIS OFFERS HEALTH TO KIDS: Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) signed a bill on 11/15/05 to allow all children in Illinois, including those in working-class and middle-class families, to obtain health insurance. Coverage will be free to lower-income families but middle-class families can buy into the plan. The state has 250,000 children who are now uninsured, about half of whom are from families earning more than $40,000 a year, because employers of the parents either do not offer health insurance or coverage is too expensive for families. Under the state plan, a family of four earning $41,000 a year will pay $40 a month for one child or $80 a month for two or more children. The co-payment for doctors' visits will be $10 each. A family of four earning $61,000 to $79,000 will pay $70 for one child and $140 for two or more children. The co-payment will be $15. The plan will cost $45 mln the first year and it is the most sweeping effort to provide health care for all children. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed a bill that would have provided access to coverage for all uninsured children in that state, saying the bill failed to detail how to pay for the plan. Massachusetts has a similar plan that offers coverage to all children, but the coverage is limited for benefits like prescription medicines, eyeglasses, hearing aids and mental health and substance abuse services that are not limited under the Illinois plan.
DIEBOLD EVADES ELECTION RULES: Diebold, the electronic voting machine maker criticized for its ties to the GOP, got a North Carolina court to exempt it from tough new election requirements designed to ensure transparency in the state's elections. Diebold obtained an extraordinarily broad order, allowing it to avoid placing its source code in escrow with the state and identifying programmers who contributed to the code. That prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) to ask the court to force Diebold and every other North Carolina vendor to comply with the law's requirements. A hearing on EFF's motion was set for 11/28/05. North Carolina experienced one of the most serious malfunctions of e-voting systems in the 2004 election when over 4,500 ballots were lost in a voting system provided by Diebold competitor UniLect Corp. Local officials were forced to re-run a portion of the election. The new transparency and integrity provisions of the North Carolina election code were passed in response to this and other documented malfunctions that have occurred across the country.
In California, the new secretary of state appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger disbanded a state Voting Systems Panel that had criticized Diebold touchscreen machines proposed for use in California. Former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) decertified the Diebold TSX touchscreen system before he left office and was replaced by Bruce McPherson (R), who e-vote activists feared was preparing to recertify Diebold's flawed machines.
US BACKTRACKS ON WHITE PHOSPHORUS BOMB USE: When an Italian TV network reported in early November that US forces used white phosphorus shells on civilians in Fallujah, Iraq, the Pentagon at first denied that it had used white phosphorus, which melts skin and muscle on contact, for anything but illumination purposes. But the New York Times reported 11/12/05 that, confronted with "firsthand accounts" by two Americans officers who said white phosphorus shells were aimed at insurgent targets in Fallujah, the Pentagon is now acknowledging that troops directed white phosphorus at insurgents. "It's perfectly legitimate to use this stuff against enemy combatants," Lt. Col. Barry Venable told the Times. Venable couldn't rule out the possibility that some civilians were hit by white phosphorus, too. Tim Grive of Salon.com noted that in the early days of the Iraq war, the Pentagon denied reports that US troops used napalm during their march to Baghdad. Later it admitted that troops had, in fact, used a "napalm-like" substance in Mark-77 bombs.
Pentagon officials have insisted that phosphorus munitions are legal since they aren't technically "chemical weapons." But ThinkProgress.org noted that that in a classified report in 1995, the Pentagon raised the possibility that Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein, in 1991 "possibly employed phosphorous chemical weapons against the Kurdish population ... during the brutal crackdown that followed the Kurdish uprising..." Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons forbids using incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus against civilians or military targets amid concentrations of civilians. However, the US did not sign that protocol.
OHIO POLL DISAGREES WITH BALLOTS AGAIN: Ohio had more problems with polls that indicated different results than the election day vote count. Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman of FreePress.org noted 11/11/05 that the Columbus Dispatch's pre-election poll, which has been "uncannilly accurate for decades," predicted 53% approval of Issue 1; the final result was 54% in favor. But results were markedly different when it came to Issues 2 through 5, which were put forward by Reform Ohio Now, a bipartisan coalition pushing electoral reforms opposed by Republican officials and the Christian Right. On Issue 2, to allow easier absentee voting, the poll found 59% in favor; the final result was 36% in favor. On Issue 3, to revise campaign contribution limits, the poll found 61% support; the final result was 33% yes. On Issue 4, an independent commission to draw congressional districts, the poll found 31% in favor; the final result was 30% yes (but nearly all the 25% undecided in the poll apparently voted "no"). On Issue 5, an independent board to oversee elections instead of the partisan secretary of state, the poll found 41% in favor; the final result was 29% yes. Brad Friedman of HuffingtonPost.com noted that new touchscreen voting machines were used in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties, with 41 of them employing the same Diebold machines that California's secretary of state decertified after 20% failed this past summer in the largest test of its kind ever held.
PRIVATE HEALTH COSTS US JOBS: General Motors on 11/21/05 announced the closing of a dozen plants and the reduction of 30,000 manufacturing jobs, representing roughly 10% of its global workforce, but all the cuts are coming from North America. Noting that the announcement comes a month after the UAW agreed with GM to cut $1 bln from retiree health benefits, Scott Shields of MyDD.com said it confirmed his belief that the crisis at GM would lead the US down the path to universal health care.
GM refuses to endorse a single-payer universal healthcare program for the US, despite its support for a similar system in Canada, Shields noted. As In These Times reported 4/27/05, two years ago, GM Canada's CEO sent a letter co-signed by by Canadian Autoworkers Union president Buzz Hargrave to a Crown Commission studying reforms of Canada's national health program that said it was "vitally important that the publicly funded healthcare system be preserved and renewed, on the existing principles of universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration," and went on to call not just for preservation but for an "updated range of services." CEOs of Canadian units of Ford and DaimlerChrysler also endorsed the national health system.
"There's a reason GM is cutting thousands of jobs mostly in American factories," Shields wrote. "The executives will never admit it for political reasons, but the crushing burden of healthcare costs is taking away American jobs..."
DEM FATCATS WHINE ABOUT DEAN: Democratic consultants and lobbyists are grumbling about Howard Dean's leadership of the Democratic National Committee because he is not paying enough attention to the D.C. establishment. The Washington Post in a front-page story on 11/12/05, "Democrats Losing Race for Funds Under Dean," noted that the Republican National Committee is outraising Dean by nearly 2 to 1. But Markos Moulistas of DailyKos.com notes that Dean has cut the RNC's traditional 3:1 advantage in fundraising and raised $11 mln more than former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe raised in 2003. Dean also has invested in building up state parties, putting DNC stafferes in 38 states and planned to be staffed in all 50 states by the end of the year. "So what's the source of all the kvetching?" Moulitsas wrote. "The big donors are upset that Dean hasn't kissed enough ass." As the Post's Chris Cillizza wrote: "As some see it, Dean's larger problem is with the care and feeding of wealthy contributors, people capable of giving the maximum $26,700 allowed annually under federal law. Bob Farmer, a past DNC finance chairman, said that 'where the chairman can make an impact is with the big donors and the big fundraisers.'" One high-dollar donor in the Washington area said the outreach by Dean has been "woeful." Moulitsas replied, "What, did this high-dollar donor lose the address to the DNC? ... High dollar donors who care about the party and the nation should be able to give without getting wined and dined by Dean. Long term, that is where the Democratic Party needs to go -- funded by small dollar donors and supplemented by big donors who have their priorities in the right place." Kos concludes:
"Again, Dean has already surpassed McAuliffe's vaunted presidential-cycle numbers. Period. And they'll only get better. Dean has started rebuilding the state parties -- something DC Democrats could care less about (considering they never bothered trying to do it before). And as to establishment and DLC fears that Dean would be an electoral disaster for Dems? Two words: 2005 elections. 'Nuff said."
DEMS OUTRAISING GOP FOR SENATE: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is outraising the counterpart National Republican Senatorial Committee as the Dems have lined up strong challengers for every targeted 2006 Senate race while the GOP has failed to come up with top-ranked challengers for Democratic incumbents in Nebraska, North Dakota, Michigan, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia and have what Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com termed "underwhelming candidates" in Florida and New York. As of October, according to *Hotline on Call* the DSCC had raised $35.1 mln for the year to date and had $20.39 mln in the bank, while the NRSC had raised $30.58 mln and had $9.13 mln on hand.
Democrats have lined up at least 12 veterans to run for Congress on the Democratic ticket, not including incumbent House members who served in the military prior to service in Congress.
SENATE NIXES HABEAS CORPUS: The Senate on 11/10/05 voted 49-42 to strip Guantánamo detainees of their right to challenge their detentions in US courts. Jeanne d'Arc of ThisModernWorld.com notes that the provision, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "who previously seemed to understand that throwing away your country's values in the name of protecting your country is neither decent nor wise," got votes not only from "moderate" Republicans such as Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, but also Democrats such as Kent Conrad (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is introducing a substitute amendment that would remove the ban on prisoners challenging their incarceration. Jeanne d'Arc notes: "This is urgent. If this amendment goes through, we're handing the government power to throw anyone into prison for any reason. This would be a frightening power to give to anyone, under any circumstances, but today it isn't a theoretical threat. They've already abused this power. We've seen completely innocent people murdered while in military detention. Many prisoners at Guantánamo were guilty of nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were sold into detention...."
In a related story, federal officials finally brought charges against Jose Padilla, a US citizen held by the military without charges for more than three years on suspicion of plotting a "dirty bomb" attack in the US. He was denied lawyers or visitors for two years after he was arrested in Chicago in 2002 after returning from Pakistan. But the indictment announced 11/22/05 alleges only that Padilla was part of a US-based terrorism conspiracy and that he traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.
AMTRAK HEAD OUSTED: In a move that likely will accelerate the breakup of the national passenger railroad system, the Amtrak board fired President David Gunn on 11/9/05, saying the system needs "a leader with vision and experience" to proceed with the Bush-appointed board's goals of privatizing the system. Gunn, who assumed leadership of Amtrak in 2002 after heading transit systems in New York City, Washington and Toronto, had struggled to maintain the railroad service while the Bush administration reduced subsidies and pushed to recast it as a group of regional inter-city companies. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., praised Gunn as "a brilliant manager" and said his removal would be "a crushing blow to Amtrak's hopes for success and reform." Amtrak has never been profitable in its 34-year history and had an operating loss of more than $500 mln for the fiscal year that ended 9/30/05, but it has increased ridership and upgraded equipment under Gunn. Congress granted Amtrak $1.2 bln this past fiscal year. While Bush proposed to end the subsidies, the House appropriated $1.17 bln for this budget year and the Senate approved $1.4 bln. The New York Times editorialized 11/10/05, "For Amtrak's 25 million passengers, this should be a call to arms. Amtrak should be a public transportation trust. It will never be self-sufficient, nor show a conventional profit, any more than the airline industry can fly without federal help. The Bush administration long ago threatened to disassemble Amtrak. Yesterday it began at the executive suite."
R'S NIX SPRINGSTEEN HONOR: An effort by New Jersey's two Democratic senators to honor Bruce Springsteen was shot down 11/18 by Republicans who apparently are still miffed that the Boss supported Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry last year. According to the Associated Press, the Senate's GOP leaders refused to bring up a resolution introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine that honored Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album *Born to Run*. No reason was given, said Lautenberg spokesman Alex Formuzis. "Resolutions like this pass all the time in the US Senate, usually by unanimous consent," he said.
GA. REP: BLACKS VOTE WHEN PAID: The chief sponsor of Georgia's controversial voter identification law, state Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the law, it is only because it woud end such voter fraud, according to a Justice Department memo reported by the *Atlanta Journal-Constitution* 11/18/05. Despite Republican assurances the law would not disenfranchise elderly, poor and black voters, the staff adviser for the Georgia House of Representatives told the Justice Department "the Legislature did not conduct any statistical analysis of the effect of the photo ID requirement on minority voters." It cited analyses showing that the law -- which will require Georgians seeking to vote to present a driver's license or an identification card for which they must pay -- could fall disproportionately on blacks. It concluded that the state had failed to show the law would not weaken minority voting strength, as the Voting Rights Act requires, and recommended that the attorney general's office formally object to it. However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in August approved the law. In October, a federal judge suspended the photo ID requirement after finding the law imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and will not effectively combat voter fraud. A lawsuit in the case continues.
US FALLS IN PRESS RANKING: The US has slipped to 44th place among all nations in the World Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders. The low position has a lot to do with the jailing of Judith Miller of the New York Times for 85 days for refusing to reveal one of her sources and other legal moves to undermine the privacy of journalistic sources. Marc Gruber, acting director of the Press Center in Brussels, a section of Reporters Without Borders, told the *Prague Post* freedom of press in the US has suffered as a result of the ongoing war on terrorism, during which government institutions are demanding greater access to private information. At the top of the Index with the freest presses are northern European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, where robust press freedom is firmly established. The top 10 countries are all European. New Zealand (12th), Trinidad and Tobago (12th), Benin (25th) and South Korea (34th) are the highest-ranked countries in other continents. North Korea had the lowest score, beating out Eritrea and Turkmenistan among the "black holes" for news where privately-owned media are not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist.
TEXAS KILLED INNOCENT YOUTH: Ruben Cantu went to his death at the hands of Texas executioners in 1993, continuing to proclaim his innocence of murder. Now the only eyewitness against Cantu, has recanted and says he was pressured by police to identify Cantu, who was 17 at the time of the murder and 26 when he was executed, the Houston Chronicle reported 11/20/05. Juan Moreno, an illegal alien at the time of the shooting, had twice told police Cantu was not the one who shot him and killed other man in a 1984 robbery but police came back a third time and pressured him to name Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio who in the meantime had been involved in an unrelated barroom shooting with an off-duty police officer. Charges were never filed in that case because officers apparently overreacted and tainted the evidence, the Chronicle reported, but a friend of the injured officer reopened the murder case, brought Moreno into the police station and convinced him to finger Cantu as the killer. Cantu's co-defendant, David Garza, who'd been reluctant to talk about the murder-robbery since his trial, has now signed a sworn affidavit saying he allowed Cantu to be falsely accused. Key players in Cantu's death -- including the judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney -- now acknowledge that his conviction seems to have been built on omissions and lies.