Domestic Policy

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  Court Presses For Quick Revision Of Texas District’s BordersJune 29, 2006 20:14 A three-judge federal panel signaled Thursday that it will move expeditiously to revise the boundaries of Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, as ordered a day earlier in a ruling by the Supreme Court.

An order issued by U.S. District Judge T. John Ward gave plaintiffs and defendants until July 14 — a 15-day period — to file proposed district maps and supporting documents with the federal court. Responses by interested parties to the proposals must be filed by July 21. Oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 3 in Austin. (read the court order)

The 23rd District must be redrawn because the Supreme Court found it was drawn in a manner that illegally weakened the voting strength of Hispanics.

The justices ordered this partial redistricting even as they upheld most of a controversial mid-decade redistricting plan that Texas Republicans had pushed through prior to the 2004 elections. The court rejected the arguments by Democratic plaintiffs who called it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering and questioned the constitutionality of remaps done mid-decade to replace legally valid redistricting plans drawn earlier based on the decennial census.

At issue was the decrease in the voting-age Hispanic population of the 23rd District, from 63 percent under a court-drawn map used in the 2002 election to 51 percent under the GOP-drawn map used in 2004. The new map replaced some of the removed Hispanic constituency with mostly non-Hispanic whites, most of whom were Republican voters
  Bush Ignores Laws He Inks, Vexing CongressJune 27, 2006 15:18 The White House on Tuesday defended President Bush's frequent use of special statements that claim authority to limit the effects of bills he signs, saying the statements help him uphold the Constitution and defend national security.

Senators weren't so sure.

"It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," said Arlen Specter, a Republican whose Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on the issue. "There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview."

At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "There's this notion that the president is committing acts of civil disobedience, and he's not. It's important for the president at least to express reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions."

  Mineta Resigns as Sec of TransporationJune 23, 2006 21:49 U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who overhauled aviation security after the Sept. 11 attacks, resigned after a 5 1/2-year tenure that was the longest for anyone in the job.

Mineta, 74, one of three remaining members of President George W. Bush's original cabinet and the only Democrat in the group, will pursue ``new challenges beyond public service,'' Robert Johnson, the secretary's spokesman, said today. He wouldn't be more specific. The resignation is effective July 7.

The former California congressman was responsible for the U.S. takeover of security at the nation's 425 airports after terrorists destroyed four jets Sept. 11, 2001. He deployed bomb- sniffing dogs, rifle-carrying security guards and pickup-truck sized devices that looked for plastic explosives in luggage.
  Study Finds High School Graduation Rates Lower Than Officials SayJune 22, 2006 07:50 Maine, like most other states, has overstated its high school graduation rate, according to a new study by a national education weekly newspaper that questions the methodology that states have used to come up with their figures.

Education Week estimates that 30 percent of the nation's high school class of 2006 failed to graduate this year and that the dropout rate is underreported.

Using 2003 data, the most current available, to estimate this year's graduation rate, the study found that 74 percent of Maine high school students graduated that year. That compared to a graduation rate of 87 percent that Maine reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

Christopher Swanson, director of the Education Week research center which conducted the study, blamed the disparity in part on the hodgepodge of methods used by states to determine how many of their high schoolers actually graduate.
  Republican-Run Senate Kills Minimum Wage IncreaseJune 21, 2006 19:34 The Republican-controlled Senate smothered a proposed election-year increase in the minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that it was past time to boost the $5.15 hourly pay floor that has been in effect for nearly a decade.

The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval under budget rules and came one day after House Republican leaders made clear they do not intend to allow a vote on the issue, fearing it might pass.

The Senate vote marked the ninth time since 1997 that Democrats there have proposed and Republicans have blocked a stand-alone increase in the minimum wage. The debate fell along predictable lines.

"Americans believe that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He said a worker paid $5.15 an hour would earn $10,700 a year, "almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three."
  ACLU Condemns U.S. For Failing To Uphold Civil And Political RightsJune 21, 2006 10:37 The American Civil Liberties Union today released a report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee condemning the U.S. government for failing to comply with its treaty obligations to protect and preserve a range of human rights protections at home and abroad. Drawing attention to some of the most vulnerable members of society, including women, children, minorities, immigrants and the accused, the ACLU offered detailed recommendations to bring the U.S. in line with universally recognized human rights standards.

"America should be a beacon of freedom throughout the world, not a country that violates the basic human rights of its own people," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU.

The report, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, documents the U.S. record on human rights in five areas: national security, women's rights, racial justice, immigrants rights and religious freedom.
  Audit Criticizes State Election Officials For Lack Of PreparationsJune 21, 2006 10:36 With a statewide election looming in September, Florida has not set up procedures designed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election fiasco, according to a state auditor general's report.

The report released Friday listed a dozen findings of problems with the state's efforts to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. Among them: The secretary of state's office should improve the way it identifies duplicate voters and felons in a central voter database; also, it must track the types of voting machines each county uses.

"This was an audit the department asked for to get a roadmap to make sure we are in compliance," said Gov. Jeb Bush.

"On Election Day we will be in compliance."

  Senior US Senate Democrat Blasts New Telecom BillJune 20, 2006 08:56 The top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Monday rejected a proposed compromise on access to high-speed Internet networks and said the effort to pass a broad telecommunications reform bill could fall apart.

Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii said the revised Republican legislation did not go far enough to ensure that Internet network providers cannot discriminate against unaffiliated Web sites or services, an issue known as "Net neutrality."

Inouye also said the Democrats on the committee were worried that the draft bill could help companies evade state consumer protection laws.

"We believe the latest draft of communications legislation marks a further step backward for consumers, and it calls into question our commitment to passing a bipartisan communications reform package in this Congress," Inouye said.
  Ethanol Not Such A Great Savior After AllJune 20, 2006 08:46 With the Bush Administration touting ethanol as the great hope for easing gasoline prices, just the opposite is true.
No less an economic expert than J.P. Morgan analyst James Glassman claims that "retail gasoline prices would probably be between $2.30 and $2.40 a gallon," if not for the governmental mandate of an increasing percentage of ethanol as a gasoline additive.

Although other economists may not agree on the exact amount of such a price premium, all believe that the required use of ethanol does push up the total price per gallon. The cost of ethanol has soared 65 percent to $4.50 a gallon since early in May when the required ethanol demand far exceeded the available supply. This has resulted in an unexpected price total per blend, which has been pegged at the 10 percent use of ethanol required by congressional decree.

A comment by Shell Oil's CEO John Hofmeister during a Sunday "Meet the Press" television appearance with moderator Tim Russert also asserted that the achievement of energy independence by Brazil was a distortion of facts.

  NASA Cutbacks Cause Uncertainty Among Space ResearchersJune 16, 2006 20:43 NASA's space science program is at risk, according to a recent report from a National Research Council (NRC) panel. The panel, which was tasked with assessing the impact of the proposed FY 2007 NASA budget, concluded that the budget provides the agency with insufficient funds to allow it to meet all of its mandates while remaining strong in science. "NASA is being asked to accomplish too much with too little," says the report.

That message isn't lost on NASA. In February, the agency announced that science-program cutbacks of $3 billion over 5 years will be needed if NASA's budget is funded at proposed levels. In order to meet the mandates laid out in the Administration's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), NASA says it will have to scale back or eliminate many of its science projects.

But it's not just today's science that's at risk, the report suggests. According to the NRC report, NASA's 2007 budget request would require eliminating "whole research areas and research communities," continuing a process that began in 2005 when the Administration mandates first began to exert an impact on NASA's budget. Particularly worrisome is the impact these continued cuts would have on the workforce and, above all, on early-career researchers. The number of researchers likely to be affected isn't known, but just in NASA's life and physical sciences programs, 240 NASA grants have been eliminated--mostly at universities--affecting 500 postdoctoral fellows and Ph.D. and undergraduate students.
  Illegal Police Entry Doesn't Bar Evidence, Court SaysJune 16, 2006 15:21 Prosecutors can use evidence seized by police during a home search even though officers violated the Constitution by failing to knock or announce their presence before entering, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The justices, voting 5-4 in a Michigan case, today put new limits on the so-called exclusionary rule, which in some circumstances bars prosecutors from using the product of an illegal search. The majority said the exclusionary rule doesn't apply to violations of the "knock and announce" requirement for home searches.

"Resort to the massive remedy of suppressing evidence of guilt is unjustified," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito joined Scalia's majority opinion.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

"The court destroys the strongest legal incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce requirement," Breyer wrote for the four dissenters.

  Bad, Stupid, Bad: House Panel Approves Line-Item Veto BillJune 14, 2006 23:50 Congress is moving to give President Bush and his successors greater power to try to weed bills of certain spending, though the new power would pale compared with the line-item veto law struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998.

The House Budget Committee on Wednesday approved by a 24-9 vote a bill to allow the president to single out wasteful items contained in appropriations bills he signs into law, and it would require Congress to vote on those items again.

Under the proposal, it would take a simple majority in both House and Senate to approve the items over the president's objections.

The idea is that wasteful "pork barrel" spending would be vulnerable since Congress might vote to reject such items once they are no longer protected by their inclusion in bigger bills that the president has little choice but to sign.

  Fox News Issues Preemptive Spin On Feds' Pay RaiseJune 14, 2006 23:06 Nothing gets a conservative American's dander up like the thought of politicians getting a pay raise. Now that the federal government is in Republican hands, however, it's a different story entirely. Fox News' "Dayside" on Wednesday (June 14, 2006) defended the pay raise as well deserved for a bunch of hard-working folks.

Under the pay raise as explained by co-hosts Juliet Huddy and Mike Jerrick, an average member of Congress will make $168,500 a year. The Speaker of the House (currently Dennis Hastert) will make $212,000, the same as the vice president. The president will make $400,000.

Huddy, of course, couldn't get her facts straight. "Our lawmakers just gave themselves a raise," she said. The 27th amendment, however, says that pay raises cannot take effect until after the next election. So unless Huddy is predicting that all members of Congress will be re-elected, they are not voting themselves a pay raise. The 27th amendment was designed to prevent exactly that.

Huddy apparently missed the drift of the segment because she went on to claim that lawmakers used to say no to pay raises, and appeared on the verge of being critical of the idea when Jerrick noted: "I don’t know that I have a big problem with this because they do work hard.” (Yeah, running the deficit up to record levels and cutting taxes for the rich by day while fending off corruption prosecutions by night is tough duty. Hardly have time to work in a poker game and romp with a prostitute at the Watergate with a schedule like that.) After hearing Jerrick, Huddy added that the raise was "just a couple percentages."

Jerrick also stuck up for Bush's $400,000 salary, as Fox News played video of Bush coming back from his fast trip to Iraq."There he’s in the same suit as when he left a couple days ago. The poor guy has to sleep on these trips of 6,000 miles. It’s a tough job. I think it’s worth that.” Poor Bush, sleeping in couch for 6,000 miles. Not!

  Bogus Hurricane Aid Hit $1.4 Billion, GAO SaysJune 14, 2006 23:00 The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus claims to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting hoodwinked to pay for football-season tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer, congressional investigators have found.

Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address, and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to wrongly get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster-relief agency.

Federal investigators informed Congress that one man apparently used assistance money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a sex-change operation.

Agents from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, went undercover to expose the ease of receiving disaster expense checks from FEMA.

  Death Row Cases May Be ReheardJune 13, 2006 14:39 The Supreme Court opened the doors of the federal courts Monday to state death-row inmates who wish to challenge their convictions based on new DNA evidence or to claim that a poorly administered lethal injection would cause them great pain.

The court’s two rulings were narrow and procedural, and they are not likely to affect a large number of convicted murderers. In neither case did the justices say the inmate deserved to win. Rather, they said only that his claim deserved a full hearing.

Nonetheless, the court made it clear again that the death penalty was special and said federal judges should reopen old cases when “new reliable evidence” raises real doubts about the defendant’s guilt.

DNA evidence has already freed scores of prisoners, including some who were on death row. Lawyers for the New York-based Innocence Project predicted Monday’s ruling would have a broad national effect by removing a barrier to having some of these cases heard in federal court.

  Justices Open Door For Injection CaseJune 13, 2006 14:38 The Supreme Court gave the green light for a Florida death row inmate to challenge that state's lethal-injection procedures through a federal civil rights lawsuit, in a unanimous ruling that underscored the pivotal role of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the court's death-penalty jurisprudence.

Clarence E. Hill, convicted in 1982 of murdering a police officer, did not claim that lethal injection, in and of itself, is cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, he asserted that Florida's method of executing inmates -- which, like that of most other states, employs three chemicals in sequence -- could subject him to excruciating but undetected pain, in violation of his civil rights.

Earlier this year, an Atlanta-based federal appeals court threw out Hill's case, ruling that it was a disguised attack on his death sentence.

But in a 10-page opinion written by Kennedy, the court said Hill's suit was a good-faith challenge that might delay his execution without "necessarily" foreclosing it, because the state has other lethal-injection options. The court sent the case back to the lower courts to rule on the merits of Hill's claim.

  Violent Crime Rises In U.S.June 13, 2006 04:14 Violent crime in 2005 increased at the highest rate in 15 years, driven in large part by a surge of killings and other attacks in many Midwestern cities, the FBI reported yesterday.

The FBI's preliminary annual crime report showed an overall jump of 2.5 percent for violent offenses, including increases in homicide, robbery and assault. It was the first rise of any note since 2001, and rape was the only category in which the number of crimes declined.

  U.S. House Shoots Down Net Neutrality ProvisionJune 09, 2006 17:19 The U.S. House of Representatives has defeated a provision to require U.S. broadband providers to offer the same speed of service to competitors that’s available to partners, a major defeat to a coalition of online companies and consumer groups.

The 269-152 House vote against the so-called net neutrality amendment late Thursday came after a last-minute push for the measure from many technology companies. After the House defeated the net neutrality amendment, it passed the underlying bill, a wide-ranging broadband bill focused partly on speeding the rollout of television over IP.

Without a net neutrality law, the Internet will turn into a two-tiered network in which the fastest speeds are reserved for content produced by the large broadband providers and companies that pay extra fees, net neutrality backers said. Customers who want to go to Web content from competing Internet companies will end up in a "slow lane," net neutrality backers said.

"It is a shame that the House turned its back on the open essence of the Internet," Gigi Sohn, president of consumer rights group Public Knowledge, said in an e-mail. "Instead, the House ... voted to allow the telephone and cable companies to discriminate by controlling the content that will flow over the network."

  Harvard Defies Bush With Therapeutic Cloning ProgramJune 07, 2006 17:23 THE richest university in the US has thrown its reputation and financial resources behind efforts to clone human embryos for medical science.
Scientists at Harvard University were yesterday awarded ethical approval and private funds to pursue therapeutic cloning experiments that are strongly opposed by the Bush administration and the US's religious Right.

The researchers hope their work could lead to cures for conditions such as diabetes and motor neurone disease.

The Harvard team will seek to clone embryos using cells from patients with these disorders and then create "disease-specific" colonies of embryonic stem cells that can be used to develop new treatments.

The work is contentious in the US, where experiments on embryonic stem cells created since 2001 cannot receive federal funding and attempts to outlaw the use of cloning for medical research have narrowly failed to pass in Congress. The Bush administration has campaigned for a global ban on all forms of human cloning.

  Big Business, Not Religion, Is The Real Power In The White HouseJune 07, 2006 17:22 Well, it gave George Bush the presidency once before, so why not use it again? Our old friend gay marriage is back, evoked anew by the man in the White House to scare "values voters", most of them Christian conservatives, into voting Republican one more time. It did the business in 2004, when Bush's efforts to turn the election into a referendum on same-sex unions may well have tipped the pivotal state of Ohio, chiefly by persuading social conservatives to get out and vote.

So it's no surprise to see a beleaguered Bush, facing second-term poll numbers in the Nixon depths, reaching for the same stick now. The Republicans could get whipped in November's midterm elections, unless they can persuade God-fearing values voters to turn out to halt the devil of gay marriage all over again.

Bush wants to amend the constitution so that that precious charter of rights and liberties will include a new sentence defining marriage exclusively as an arrangement between a man and a woman. Such an exclusion clause would demean the document, like graffiti scrawled across a sacred text. The constitution has been altered before - but usually to expand rights, not to restrict them.

  The War on Terror: Are we destroying what we're fighting for?June 07, 2006 17:16 Decent commentary discussing whether the ends really do justify the means in our War on Terror.
  Swan Song For The Greenback?June 04, 2006 02:08 The great dollar sell-off has begun in earnest, although to a large extent, it's being concealed from the public.

Wary currency traders have been expecting a dollar-slide for months but were nervous about the possibility of widespread panic. Everyone from Bill Gates to Paul Volcker has predicted that the current trade deficit of $800 billion (7% of GDP) would inevitably produce a weaker dollar, so it is only natural that China, Japan and other foreign lenders would begin to cut back on their purchases. The danger to the United States, however, remains extreme. If the transition doesn't go smoothly, it could precipitate a run on the dollar and trigger economic pandemonium. No one wants to see the world's economic powerhouse pirouetting through the ether in flames. By the same token, no one wants to be the last man holding onto stockpiles of scrip that are diminishing in value.

The delicacy of the situation explains the sudden appointment of Henry Paulson as Treasury Secretary. Paulson is a brainy insider who has the bone fides to manage a very tricky "retreat" from the dollar. America's economic future will depend heavily on his ability to steer the ship of state through troubled waters.

  An ominous decision for whistleblowers and the nationJune 01, 2006 19:25 If government had its way, much of what our public servants do would never be known by the public.

We wouldn't know that Marines are suspected of killing innocent civilians in Iraq. We wouldn't know that the Department of Veterans Affairs let confidential files on 26 million veterans get stolen.

We wouldn't know that President Bush signed 750 orders saying he was secretly reserving the right not to abide by congressional legislation he publicly signed. We wouldn't know that the National Security Agency engages in domestic surveillance.

We wouldn't know that the true cost of the administration's Medicare drug plan is hundreds of billions more than it was supposed to cost.

We wouldn't know how environmental regulations are shaped by the industries affected or the shenanigans behind which prescription drugs get approved.

We wouldn't know how former lobbyist Jack Abramoff influenced lawmakers or how Tom DeLay fiddled with redistricting to benefit his party. We wouldn't know the United States runs secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

We wouldn't know that the FBI ignored information about the 9/11 hijackers. We wouldn't know that the government knew the levees supposed to protect New Orleans were inadequate.

Now a divided Supreme Court has issued a decision that potentially could make it much more difficult for Americans to know what is really going on in government.

The justices ruled 5-to-4 against a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office who is claiming he was subjected to retaliation for writing an internal memo that said a police affidavit for a search warrant contained lies.