Domestic Policy

  Many VA Health Clinics Beset With Mold, Leaky RoofsMarch 21, 2007 18:55 The Veterans Affairs' vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says.

The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A copy of the report was provided to The Associated Press.

Democrats newly in charge of Congress called the report the latest evidence of an outdated system unable to handle a coming influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigators earlier this month found that the VA's system for handling disability claims was strained to its limit.

"Who's been minding the store?" said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "They keep putting Band-Aids on problems, when what the agency needs is major triage."
  Congress Gets Bush Plan To Boost U.S. Oil StockpileMarch 20, 2007 12:13 Hmm... I wonder how many Americans will realize that this will just needlessly drive up gas prices again.

The Bush administration sent Congress its plan to more than double the amount of crude oil held in the U.S. emergency petroleum stockpile to 1.5 billion barrels.

In his State of the Union speech to Congress in January, President George W. Bush called for boosting the capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ensure the U.S. market had sufficient backup supplies in case oil imports were cut off from unstable parts of the world.

"The United States' economic and national security are threatened by vulnerability to disruptions in world oil supply and volatility in oil prices," U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said in a letter accompanying draft legislation that was sent on Monday to the Senate Energy Committee.

"The nation's transportation sector, military, and major industries are largely dependent upon petroleum, and so it is crucial to minimize the effect of disruptions in the world oil supply," Bodman said.

The United States consumes about 21 million barrels of oil a day, with three of every five barrels imported.

  Old Complaints Get New Life In ScandalMarch 20, 2007 08:38 Jaws dropped on Capitol Hill last week when Rep. John Hall of New York wondered aloud if the Department of Veterans Affairs should be rolled into the Department of Defense.

The idea was a response to the month-old scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a military facility, which has bled like an ink stain into every facet of veterans' care and remote crannies at the civilian Department of Veterans Affairs.

Moving all or part of the VA under the Department of Defense - so that the cost of war is "seen as part of the same budget," Hall said - is such a radical concept it easily could be dismissed as an offhand remark at a hearing by a freshman Democrat.

But Hall is chairman of a veterans disability subcommittee, and a Democratic Senate aide on veterans issues said such thoughts indeed are being discussed these days.

That's only one far-reaching, although unlikely, idea being entertained after revelations that Iraq veterans were housed in deplorable conditions at a Walter Reed barracks and lost in a bureaucratic maze. Control of both chambers by Democrats eager to hit President Bush is certainly a factor as well.

The twist is that problems lawmakers are scrambling to address at the VA - with funding, access to health care, communication with the military, and backlogs and discrepancies in the disability claims system - are hardly new and had nothing to do with Walter Reed.

  Democrat Out-Of-Iraq Measure Clears Senate, But GOP Says They Will Stop ItMarch 14, 2007 20:23 President Bush has a one-word response to Democrats who want to set a timetable for a troop wthdrawal from Iraq: Veto.

Legislation to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq cleared its first Senate hurdle Wednesday, but Republicans confidently predicted they would soon defeat it and President Bush backed them up with a veto threat.

The legislation, calling for combat troops to return home over the next 12 months, 'would hobble American commanders in the field and substantially endanger America's strategic objective of a unified federal democratic Iraq,' the White House said in a written statement.

The strong veto message underscored the intensifying struggle between the administration and the new Democratic-controlled Congress and came on a day in which the Pentagon conceded in a report that 'some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a civil war.'

President Bush and other administration officials have avoided saying that U.S. troops had been thrust into the midst in a civil war among Iraqis. By whatever name, the war has so far has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops, cost more than $300 billion and propelled congressional Democrats to power in last fall's elections.
  LA Governor Outraged Over Faulty PumpsMarch 14, 2007 15:05 Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday for installing defective pumps at three major drainage canals just before the start of last summer's hurricane season.

"This could put a lot of our people in jeopardy," Blanco said. "It begs the question: Are we really safe?"

She called for a congressional investigation into how the Corps allowed it to happen.

Citing internal documents, The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Corps installed the 34 pumps last year in a rush to fix the city's flood defenses, despite warnings from one of its experts that the machinery was defective and likely to fail in a storm.
  From Bush's Favourite to a National DisgraceMarch 13, 2007 19:27 The story begins in 1919 with Erle Halliburton sitting up late one night with his wife, Vida, worrying about money. Squeezed together in their one-room home in the Oklahoma dustbowl town of Wilson, the couple were trying to work out how to meet the next payment on Halliburton's fledgling business, the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company.

At about 1am, so the story goes, the pale light from a small lamp reflected off his wife's wedding ring. "I sat there admiring it when the thought came to me," Vida would later tell Jeffrey Rodengen, author of The Legend of Halliburton. "Here is the money we need. At first hubby would not listen to me... but I argued we could get it back. So we went to sleep all thrilled with the new idea of cementing, the new means of getting jobs, and the money."

The rest, as is so often said, is history. Halliburton pawned his wife's wedding ring and set to work servicing drilling operations not just on the Healdton oilfield close to where they lived in Oklahoma, but also in Louisiana and Texas. The following year he changed the company's name to the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company.

Today, almost 90 years after Vida Halliburton's eyes glanced upon the gold band around her finger, the company that took the family name is now a vast multinational with operations in more than 120 countries. It enjoys a remarkably close relationship with the Bush administration whose Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was its CEO between 1995 and 2000, and holds no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars. Last year it made $2.6bn (£1.3bn) in profits from revenues of $22.6bn.

But Halliburton also comes with plenty of controversy and the company has been at the centre of numerous inquiries over alleged accounting malpractice, suspicious payments to officials and overcharging. It has been accused of breaching US sanctions that prohibit companies from operating in places such as Iran and was also blamed for damaging the historic Iraqi site of Babylon, where it helped establish a US base. Currently the company is being investigated by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of improper dealings in Kuwait, Nigeria and Iraq. And this week the company fuelled even more controversy when it announced that it was moving its chief executive and its corporate headquarters from Houston, Texas, to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It has insisted that it would remain incorporated in the US - actually in the state of Delaware - and that its move would not affect its tax position. It also emphasised that it would retain a corporate office in Houston from where most of its executives would continue to operate.
  Trial Begins On City's Illegal Immigrant LawsMarch 12, 2007 22:48 The nation's first trial debating the rights of local governments to curtail illegal immigration began Monday in federal court, with officials from the city of Hazleton defending laws that would make life difficult for undocumented residents there, and civil liberties attorneys charging that the measures unfairly targeted Latinos.

Attorneys defending the Hazleton ordinances argued that the city wanted to take control of immigration law in their city because the federal government has failed to deal with problems caused by undocumented residents.

They said illegal immigrants brought crime and gangs to the community, drained funding for public schools and caused longer waiting periods in hospital emergency rooms.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups that filed the lawsuit against Hazleton claimed the city's laws discriminated against Latino residents, no matter their legal status. The ordinances conflict with the federal government's authority to regulate immigration, attorneys argued.
  Army Medical Chief Quits as Walter Reed Fallout GrowsMarch 12, 2007 11:36 Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the U.S. Army's surgeon general, has submitted his resignation, becoming the third official to lose his job after disclosures last month of substandard care for injured soldiers, the Army announced today.

Major General Gale Pollock, the current deputy surgeon general, immediately assumed the top post, the Army said in a statement. Kiley was the Army's top uniformed medical official and commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington between 2002 and 2004. Walter Reed is the focus of the disclosed problems.

Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren asked for Kiley's resignation yesterday, a senior Defense Department official who asked not to be identified told a group of reporters at the Pentagon.

Kiley, 56, was under intense congressional criticism for alleged leadership failures in allowing outpatient services and facilities at Walter Reed to deteriorate, until the shortcomings were exposed last month in stories by the Washington Post.

  Rats Leaving a Sinking Ship: Halliburton To Open New HQ In DubaiMarch 12, 2007 10:47 This is just amazing... shouldn't they have to drop all current US govt contracts as a result?

U.S. oil services firm Halliburton Co. is moving its headquarters and chief executive to Dubai in a move that immediately sparked criticism from some U.S. politicians.

Texas-based Halliburton, which was led by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995-2000, did not specify what, if any, tax implications the move might entail. It plans to list on a stock exchange in the Middle East once it moves to Dubai — a booming commercial center in the Gulf. The company said it was making the moves to position itself better to gain contracts in the oil-rich Middle East.

“This is an insult to the U.S. soldiers and taxpayers who paid the tab for their no-bid contracts and endured their overcharges for all these years,” said judiciary committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
  Zell Miller Has It Wrong, Eliminating Abortion Would Not Cure Our National ProblemsMarch 12, 2007 10:09 Arguments like this are just stupendous... All of our problems would be better cured by overpopulation than by better fiscal and environmental management. Amazing.
Former U.S. Senator Zell Miller stated the obvious and compelling reality that those many needed people in America, are actually missing because of the continued practice of abortion. In an article dated March 9th, 2007, from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Says Zell: Military shortages, Social Security crisis, and illegal immigration all linked to abortion, Mr. Miller was speaking at a pro life fundraiser, in which he addressed the issue of the crisis that is created by abortion.
"How could this great land of plenty produce too few people in the last 30 years? Here is the brutal truth that no one dares to mention: We're too few because too many of our babies have been killed," Miller said.
"Over 45 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. If those 45 million children had lived, today they would be defending our country, they would be filling our jobs, they would be paying into Social Security," the former Georgia governor said. "Still, we watch as 3,700 babies are killed every single day in America. It is unbelievable that a nation under God would allow this."
BFA, Biblical Family Advocates, applauds the statements of former Senator Miller who is attempting to address one of the most compelling reasons that America is suffering the fate of those who do not consider the value of human beings in general.

  Statement In Response To The Bush Administration's National Aquaculture PolicyMarch 11, 2007 19:39 As reported by the Associated Press today, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez will unveil the Bush administration's offshore aquaculture policy at the International Boston Seafood Show on Monday, March 12. The following is a statement by Christopher Mann, senior officer, environment at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Mr. Mann is an aquaculture expert who recently served as the executive director of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force, which released its recommendations for national aquaculture policy in January 2007.

"If done correctly, aquaculture can be an important and sustainable source of seafood. However, the scientific evidence shows finfish farming causes considerable damage to the marine environment. Before the federal government allows aquaculture in the open ocean, it must first address the substantial environmental problems that continue to plague the industry.

"Some forms of aquaculture, such as shellfish farming, contribute positively to the global seafood supply. Raising salmon or tuna as currently practiced does not appear to be environmentally sustainable. The Pew Charitable Trusts is particularly concerned about the dependence of marine fish farming on wild fish for food, which results in farmed fish consuming many times their weight in wild fish. This is no way to feed the world, as it ultimately reduces the amount of fish available for human consumption. In addition, escaped farmed fish can compete with wild fish, transmit disease, and harm the genetics of struggling wild fish stocks. This is no time to jeopardize the modest gains we are making in restoring wild fish populations.

  Diminished Voter Count in Denver?March 11, 2007 18:39 Denver’s Jan. 30 special election cost $543,000, about $150,000 less than some had estimated.
A City Council committee today endorsed a supplemental appropriation to cover the costs, including $95,400 for postage and $309,900 for printing.

John Gaydeski, the commission’s executive director, said he expects the May election to cost less than January’s because inactive voter files have been purged.

Denver now has about 178,000 active registered voters, nearly 117,000 fewer than in January.

In the January special election, voters approved a measure to replace the Denver Election Commission with a clerk and recorder who would also be responsible for supervising elections.
  Colorado Files Lawsuit Against Feds For Immigration Enforcement FailuresMarch 10, 2007 11:18 State Attorney General John Suthers on Friday filed a lawsuit against the federal government.

Suthers filed the suit as directed by Referendum K, which was approved by Colorado voters last November.

"As directed by voters, my office has filed suit against the federal government for its failure to protect and secure the borders. Although similar lawsuits initiated by other states have failed, we believe 9/11 has changed the way we must look at border security and whether the federal government is meeting its constitutional obligations," said Suthers in a statement.

The referendum stated that federal failures are costing state taxpayers when local government has to pay for health care, incarceration and criminal defense of suspected illegal immigrants.
  Gas Price Battle Revs Up At Colorado CapitolMarch 10, 2007 11:15 Strangely, this protectionism is driven by some of Colorado's conservative roots, just like the arcane blue laws.

All over the Front Range this weekend, people like Alec Brewster are going car to car at grocery store gas stations delivering a simple message: If you want discounted gas, call your State Senator in favor of House Bill 1208.

In addition to passing out fliers at gas stations in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder, tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls will be made in anticipation of a vote on the measure in the State Senate early next week.

HB 1208 changes Colorado's Unfair Practices Act to allow grocery stores to sell gas at prices below cost, as well as allow stores like Wal-Mart and Target to sell discounted prescription drugs.

"I cannot understand how anyone can vote against giving cheaper gas to consumers. It's inconceivable to me," said Rep. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge), who was the House sponsor of the bill. "This is about consumers. It's about giving them discounts on gas that's going up as we speak."
  Clinton Fights For Gi 'Bill Of Rights'March 09, 2007 13:21 Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a new GI Bill of Rights for men and women in uniform, arguing that Democrats can do a better job of protecting and providing for U.S. troops than the Republican administration.

``This administration is frankly unable to run a two-car parade,'' the Democratic presidential candidate said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a think tank run by former Clinton White House aide John Podesta.

The New York senator, who leads early polls of Democratic contenders for the party's nomination, said she would put together a package of proposals designed to ensure troops have all the equipment they need when they're deployed, to ensure they receive proper health care, and to provide for families.

``I am here to say the buck does stop with this president and if he doesn't take responsibility, I can assure you that the next president will,'' the Democratic senator said Thursday.
  Study Finds 'Alarming' Rise In Violent CrimeMarch 09, 2007 08:23 The murder rate jumped by more than 10 percent among dozens of large U.S. cities since 2004, a study shows in the latest sign of the end of a national lull in violent crime.

Robberies also spiked, as did felony assaults and attacks with guns, according to the report to be released Friday by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based law enforcement think tank.

FBI data similarly has shown a rise in violent crime -- if not as dramatic -- since 2004. The Justice Department says crime was historically low that year.

"Two years worth of double-digit increases in violent crime demonstrates an unmistakable change in the extent and the nature of crime in America," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the nonprofit think tank that is financed in part by the Justice Department, as well as corporations and private foundations.

"There are those that say this is a statistical blip, an aberration," Wexler said. "After two years, this is no aberration."

The report surveyed crime rates in 56 large U.S. metropolitan areas including Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Washington. It did not include violent crime rates in New York, the nation's largest city, which did not participate in the voluntary survey. An advance copy of the report, titled "Violent Crime in America: 24 Months of Alarming Trends," was obtained by The Associated Press.
  Senator Craig Proposes Private Sector Health Care For VeteransMarch 08, 2007 15:10 Citing a problematic military health care system, a Republican senator on Thursday introduced a bill to allow veterans to receive care from the private sector.

Stories about outpatient issues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have led lawmakers to express outrage over conditions for wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he thought Walter Reed Army Medical Center's problems were isolated, but he wants service men and woman to have the additional option just in case.

"There may be that concern, there may be that unique problem, and if there is and if it puts someone's life at risk, then they darn well ought to be cared for in a timely and appropriate way and that may be private access," Craig said.

The Veterans Health Care Empowerment Act would allow veterans with "service connected disabilities" to seek treatment from the hospital or medical center of their choice at a "slight increase in cost." Craig added that veterans who qualify should be able to use the VA health care card for treatment.
Citing a problematic military health care system, a Republican senator on Thursday introduced a bill to allow veterans to receive care from the private sector.

Stories about outpatient issues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have led lawmakers to express outrage over conditions for wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he thought Walter Reed Army Medical Center's problems were isolated, but he wants service men and woman to have the additional option just in case.

"There may be that concern, there may be that unique problem, and if there is and if it puts someone's life at risk, then they darn well ought to be cared for in a timely and appropriate way and that may be private access," Craig said.

The Veterans Health Care Empowerment Act would allow veterans with "service connected disabilities" to seek treatment from the hospital or medical center of their choice at a "slight increase in cost." Craig added that veterans who qualify should be able to use the VA health care card for treatment.
  Senate Panel Slams Bush Fuel Economy PlanMarch 07, 2007 11:17 The Bush administration's plan to revise fuel economy standards appears to have stalled on Capitol Hill, with both Democrats and Republicans criticizing the proposal as timid and inadequate. The White House wants authority to set new standards for passenger cars, but members of the key Senate panel on Tuesday argued a specific mandated increase in fuel economy is needed to reduce oil consumption and address global warming.

"I sense a great deal of footdragging, reluctance and frankly bureaucratic obstacles to this process," said Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue. "We should be rising to the occasion and that is frankly not happening."

Raising the fuel economy standards for passenger cars is part of President Bush's 20 in 10 plan, which aims to reduce gasoline consumption 20 percent by 2017.
  Walter Reed Officials Aware Of ProblemsMarch 01, 2007 11:26 procession of officials from the Pentagon and Walter Reed Army Medical Center expressed surprise last week about the living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares faced by wounded soldiers staying at the Washington, D.C., facility.
But top officials at Walter Reed have heard complaints about outpatient neglect from family members, veterans groups and members of Congress for more than three years.

As far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews.

Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, said he ran into Kiley in the foyer of the command headquarters at Walter Reed shortly after the Iraq War began and told him that "there are people in the barracks who are drinking themselves to death and people who are sharing drugs and people not getting the care they need."

"I met guys who weren't going to appointments because the hospital didn't even know they were there," Robinson said.

  Shrunk Budget For Nasa Causes Delays In Manned Moon-FlightMarch 01, 2007 11:08 The $545 million reduction from NASA’s budget for 2006 could delay the agency’s plans to send a man back to the moon in 2014, NASA's boss Michael Griffin told the Congress on Thursday.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin told lawmakers that the planned cut of $545 million would be a serious setback for the nation’s plans to send a man back to the moon by 2014. He warned that the shortages could translate into a four to six months delay (pushing the 2014-planned flight to early 2015) and into a “brain drain” of specialists.

NASA had plans to send the Orion space shuttle on a trip to the moon in the summer of 2014, with a human crew onboard. Orion is a spacecraft currently under development by the United States as one element of NASA’s Project Constellation, which plans to send human explorers back to the Moon, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

Orion, previously known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle or CEV, will carry a crew of four to six astronauts, and will be launched by the new Ares I launch vehicle. The new spacecraft will launch from the same launch complex at Kennedy Space Center that currently launches the Space Shuttle.

Congress’ refusal to accept the initial budget for the project could postpone the first launch of the new manned spacecraft until December 2014 at the "very best", said NASA’s administrator Griffin.

Griffin also expressed his fears concerning a “brain drain” that could take place in the event of a budget-shrinking. NASA is trying to replace its aging fleet of space shuttles by 2010 with next-generation space vehicles that will cost less and will be more efficient. Congress’ refusal to accept President’s Bush funding plan for America’s space ambitions could lure away specialists.

President Bush's $2.9 trillion fiscal 2008 space and science budget includes more than $6 billion for NASA.