Domestic Policy

  Questionably, Pickups, Suvs To Guzzle Less GasMarch 30, 2006 16:24 New goals to raise the fuel economy of light trucks were announced Wednesday by the Bush administration, which called them the most ambitious changes in the history of mileage regulations.

The plan sets higher standards for pickups, vans and SUVs from the current 21.6 miles per gallon to an overall average of 24.1 by 2011.

"The numbers proposed by the federal government are going to be a challenge for automakers, but the automakers are committed to meeting them," said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, D.C.

But environmentalists labeled the plan as a weak cure for an "oil-addicted" nation.

"This is extremely modest," said Rob Smith, Southwestern representative for the national Sierra Club. "This will not have the impact we need both for oil independence or climate-change concerns."

  License To DrillMarch 29, 2006 18:05 AS YOU pull up to the pump, where gas prices are now approaching $3 a gallon, it's bad enough to know that oil companies are enjoying record profits. But it's even worse to learn that they're still enjoying an offshore-drilling tax break that was designed to give them an incentive to explore and produce when prices were depressed.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, was one of the few lawmakers who stood up to object to 1995 legislation that carved out what was supposed to be a limited, temporary exemption on royalties for oil and gas companies that drill in public waters off the Gulf of Mexico.

At the time, crude oil was selling for $16 a barrel and powerful legislators for the region -- notably, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La. -- were predicting that the royalty relief would more than pay for itself in additional revenue from the drilling it would induce. Those companies would otherwise have been charged a standard 12 percent royalty on oil and gas extracted from federal leases on public waters.

  A GOP Faceoff Over Illegal ImmigrationMarch 28, 2006 20:53 Senate majority leader Bill Frist and GOP Sen. Sam Brownback stood together on trade, war, judges, guns, energy, abortion, and war, but they are bookends in this week's debate on "earned" amnesty for illegal aliens - the toughest issue before the Senate this year.
They illustrate the rift that runs through both parties, but especially the GOP, which controls both the House and Senate. That rift yawns so large that it could keep Congress from passing any immigration legislation this year.

  U.S. To Finish Revising Fuel Economy RulesMarch 28, 2006 16:46 Focusing on better gas mileage, the Bush administration is expected to complete its overhaul of fuel economy rules for pickup trucks, minivans and most sport utility vehicles next week.

Under the current system, automakers must maintain an average of 21.6 miles per gallon for 2006 model year light trucks, a number that grows to 22.2 mpg for 2007 vehicles. Passenger cars, which would not be covered by the new rules, need a 27.5 mpg average.

Nearly two months after President Bush President Bush declared that "America is addicted to oil," environmental groups said a stronger plan could help the administration advance its goal of reducing the nation s dependence on imported oil amid high gas prices and worries about energy security.

  US judge says Guantanamo inmates have 'no rights'March 27, 2006 23:41 A US Supreme Court judge has ridiculed legal claims by detainees of Guantanamo Bay as "crazy" in a tape recording of a lecture obtained by the American magazine Newsweek.

The comments attributed to Judge Antonin Scalia were published a day before the Supreme Court begins hearing a challenge to the legality of special military tribunals for suspects held at the US prison camp in Cuba.

The case, brought by Osama bin Laden's driver, is the greatest challenge yet to President Bush s powers to detain and try terrorist suspects.

  Big Oil Companies Reap Windfalls On U.S. Incentives For Drilling - BusinessMarch 27, 2006 17:35 It was after midnight, and every lawmaker in the committee room wanted to go home, but there was still time to sweeten a deal encouraging oil and gas companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"There is no cost," declared Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, who was presiding over Congressional negotiations on the sprawling energy bill last July. An obscure provision on new drilling incentives was "so noncontroversial," he added, that senior House and Senate negotiators had not even discussed it.

Barton's claim had a long history. For more than a decade, lawmakers and administration officials, both Republicans and Democrats, have promised there would be no cost to taxpayers for a program allowing companies to avoid royalties on oil and gas produced in publicly owned waters in the gulf.

But last month, the Bush administration confirmed that it expected to waive about $7 billion in royalties over the next five years, even though the benefits were conceived of for times when energy prices were low. And that number could quadruple to more than $28 billion if a lawsuit filed last week challenging one of the program's remaining restrictions proves successful.
  Homeland Security Group To Meet Away From Public Eye | Cnet News.ComMarch 27, 2006 14:26 CNet is reporting that a newly created branch within the Homeland Security Department that brings together many different federal agency employees and private sector players has been given the go-ahead to disregard a law requiring meetings to be open and proceedings public. From the article: "The 1972 law generally requires such groups to meet in open sessions, make written meeting materials publicly available, and deliver a 15-day notice of any decision to close a meeting to the public. The last is a particular point of concern for Homeland Security officials, who anticipate that private emergency meetings may need to be scheduled on short notice."
  Detroit Teachers Stage Sick-OutMarch 23, 2006 14:42 Hundreds of Detroit teachers stayed home Wednesday, forcing more than 50 schools to close in what school officials described as a sick-out to protest a temporary pay cut.

The teachers are upset because some principals are getting raises while they are giving up five days of pay to help balance the district's budget, district spokeswoman Mattie Majors said.

  Senate Republicans Break Ranks On SpendingMarch 17, 2006 14:41 Senate Republicans deserted President Bush's budget for the coming year, only hours after sending the White House a bill raising the Treasury's borrowing authority by $781 billion to cope with the mounting national debt.

Party discipline broke on a series of votes adding $16 billion above the administration's proposed caps for appropriations for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The increased spending -- together with promises of sharing energy royalties with Gulf Coast states -- helped the package win approval, but severely weakened the Republicans' five-year budget plan, which already forecast the national debt ballooning to $11.3 trillion by 2011.

  Cnn.Com - Ex-White House Aide Admits To Fraud - Mar 14, 2006March 14, 2006 17:19 Police allege that Claude Allen, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bush, made fraudulent returns worth at least $5,000 at Target and other stores in the Washington suburbs on 25 different occasions.

Target Corp. investigator Pete Schomburg said he stopped Allen on January 2 outside the company's Gaithersburg store after Allen allegedly received a refund for items using a receipt from an earlier purchase.

"Allen had receipts from previous purchases at Target stores and admitted to Agent Schomburg that he was committing fraudulent returns," according to the charging documents filed March 7, two days before Allen was charged with theft and theft scheme.

The integrity issue is present yet again. If the leader of your company or your father was associated with people who steal and cheat what would youthink of them.

  Search Thy Neighbor?March 14, 2006 16:40 Who's your neighbor? Do many of us really know much more than "Hi, how are ya?" about the people next door?

Well, Steve Prator, the sheriff of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, has made it his mission to get to know some of his new neighbors. He's trying to do background checks on hundreds of Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in his jurisdiction -- the area around Shreveport, Louisiana, about a five hour drive from New Orleans.

Is this right? Think about it. A sherrif is asking for background checks on residents of his communicty at random. The residents are living in government provided housing which requires background checks. What if the sherrif checked out your background? What if you knew that 30 known people from this group the sherrif is inquiring about have prior criminal records and arrests totaling more than 320. What woudl you do?

  Math Divides Critics As Startling Toll Of Torts Is Added UpMarch 14, 2006 05:54 It's easy to raise the blood pressure of an American chief executive. Just talk about rising tort costs and the burdens of asbestos exposure, medical malpractice, product defects and other lawsuits. The tort system is designed to compensate people who feel they've been wronged -- and rightfully so. But the extremes of litigation and the volume of lawsuits considered frivolous drive CEOs nuts.

The U.S. tort liability system is the most expensive in the world, more than double the average cost of other industrialized nations that have been studied

The latest study puts the cost in 2004 at $260 billion, almost equal to the annual sales of Wal-Mart -- nearly $900 for every man, woman and small child in the nation. It projects that cost will rise to nearly $315 billion by 2007, outpacing the expansion of the overall economy.

the number and the projections that come with it are deeply flawed. For instance, they include payments that don't involve the legal system at all. Say somebody smashes his car into the back of your new SUV and his insurance company sends you a $5,000 check to fix the damage. That gets counted as a tort cost in Tillinghast's number. Critics say it's just a transfer payment from somebody who wasn't driving carefully to somebody who has been legitimately wronged. How is that evidence of a system run amok?

  Md. House Approves Paper BallotsMarch 10, 2006 21:06 The Maryland House of Delegates unanimously passed legislation yesterday to ditch the state's touch-screen voting machines for the coming election in favor of a system that uses paper ballots.

The 137 to 0 vote in the House and the endorsement of the plan this week by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. represents a stunning turnaround for a state that was on the leading edge of touch-screen voting in 2001, and it reflects a national shift toward machines that provide a paper record.

The touch-screen system, for which Maryland has committed more than $90 million, would be put aside for one year while the state spends at least $13 million to lease optical scan machines.

  Norton Quits to Cash InMarch 10, 2006 21:03 U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said on Friday she was stepping down after serving five years overseeing federal lands, a tenure in which she often clashed with environmentalists.

Norton, 51, is the first woman to head the 156-year-old department and one of the original members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet. She previously served as Colorado's attorney general.

In her resignation letter to Bush, Norton said she would be moving to the private sector at the end of March.

  U.S. Trade Deficit Widens In January - More cars & More GasMarch 09, 2006 21:20 The nation's trade deficit widened to another record in January, the government reported today, as the strengthening American economy attracted a surge of imported cars, household goods and petroleum products.

Americans imported $68.5 billion more in goods and services than they exported at the start of the year, up 5.3 percent from December, the Commerce Department said. It exceeded the previous record in October, when the deficit swelled to $67.8 billion.

A 3.5 percent jump in imports in January appear to reflect the sharply higher consumer spending during the month and rising price of oil, gasoline and other energy products. Automobile and car parts imports increased 5.3 percent during the month and the country spent 4.3 percent more on petroleum-based imports.

Exports rose 2.5 percent from December, with soybean shipments doubling and airplane sales up 44 percent. But sales of most other American goods and services changed only modestly in January.

  President to Kill Katrina Funding, Allow Ports Deal with VetoMarch 08, 2006 19:47 President George W. Bush renewed his threat to veto legislation that would block a state-owned Dubai firm's takeover of some terminal operations at six U.S. ports as leaders in his own party prepared a measure to kill the plan.

Republican leaders said the House later today will attach language preventing DP World from assuming control of the U.S. operations of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to an emergency measure that provides $92 billion for military operations in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

The House plans to pass the funding bill next week. If the Senate follows suit, the president will use his first veto to reject it, his spokesman said today.

  Bush To Try For Line Item VetoMarch 06, 2006 16:25 Distraction alert! President Bush has formally announced he's trying to take the focus off of his 2nd term woes by sending controversial legislation to Congress calling for reinstatement of the line item veto.

The White House says the proposal would overcome constitutional questions by allowing an up or down Congressional votes on spending items singled out for the line veto.

The president, who has not vetoed any legislation during five years in office, asked Congress in his State of the Union address to give him line-item veto power.

  Arizona Passes 15 Percent Renewable Energy StandardMarch 02, 2006 19:42 Renewable energy technologies got a boost in an Arizona Corporation Commission vote this week. In a state known for its sunshine but not as well known for large, swiftly moving rivers and streams or large-scale geothermal opportunities, state regulators set high standards for renewable energy, hoping to capitalize on Arizona's sunshine and other renewable energy technologies.

On Monday, Commissioners Marc Spitzer, Bill Mundell and Kris Mayes voted to require regulated electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025. For 2006, utilities must generate 1.25 percent of retail energy sold from renewable resources.

  Bush Was Warned About Threat Of Katrina, Video ShowsMarch 02, 2006 16:53 A new videotape of a U.S. government briefing on hurricane Katrina is raising new questions about President George W. Bush's handling of the hugely destructive storm last summer.

The tape is of a briefing on Aug. 28 just one day before Katrina roared ashore, unleashing its fury and destruction on the city of New Orleans and along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The video shows Bush and his federal disaster officials being warned that the levees in New Orleans could be breached.

  Congress to Change Copyright Law in Favor of Big BusinessMarch 01, 2006 17:45 In a nutshell, it looks like congress is proposing to change copyright law to exempt so-called orphan works of no commercial value from copyright. Amazing...
  Democrat Prods Jeb Bush On Role In Katrina DealMarch 01, 2006 17:24 A top House Democrat released e-mails Tuesday detailing Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in a $236 million federal contract for Carnival Cruise Lines to house Hurricane Katrina victims.

In a letter, Rep. Henry Waxman of California called on Bush to explain his role in the award of the "lucrative contract," which was given to the Florida-based company without a full competitive-bid process.

The e-mails Waxman released were provided to Congress by Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Sept. 3 deal with Carnival for three full-service cruise ships -- which sat half-empty for weeks in the Gulf Coast -- has been criticized by lawmakers of both parties as a prime example of wasted spending in Hurricane Katrina-related contracts.