Domestic Policy

  Critics Decry New EPA Soot RulesSeptember 21, 2006 10:45 The government on Thursday announced new limits on how many tiny particles of soot that people safely can breathe each day, rejecting tougher standards recommended by its own experts.

The Environmental Protection Agency kept some of its 1997 standards for soot particles -- those smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair -- that lodge in the lungs and blood vessels.

Experts advising the agency had said that the science supports tougher standards than EPA chose. Other air pollution experts and advocates complained of political tinkering.

The health-based limits on soot are considered an important part of the Clean Air Act, helping save 15,000 people a year from premature deaths due to heart and lung diseases.

EPA officials expect their decision will cut by roughly half the allowable particulate emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes. The advisory panel said they should be cut slightly more.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called them ``the most health protective national air standards in U.S. history.''

  Senator Dorgan To The Cheney/Halliburton Pentagon: Nobody Seems To Give A DamnSeptember 19, 2006 10:58 The Bush Administration's war on America was exposed in full today at hearings here in Washington chaired by Senator Dorgan's Democratic Policy Committee, attended by Senators Reid, Durbin, Bingaman and Leahy. The hearings followed a press conference we held with Senator Dorgan and two of the truck drivers featured in "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers."

The events took place in the Everett C. Dirksen Building, named for an elegant Republican statesman who died in 1969, having been the Minority Leader of the Senate for more than a decade. Senator Dirksen face none other than Lyndon Johnson who could have run rough shod over the Senator and his minority. In those days, minorities in the senate and in society were respected, but that was another time.

A standing room only crowd gathered beneath thirty foot ceilings capped by Zodiac-encrusted cameos, in turn supported by light-walnut paneled walls lit by Volkswagen-sized sconces emblazoned with Mercury's wings. In this imposing hall, we listened to the testimony of a few brave souls who would talk to an isolated Senate minority about corporate abuse in Iraq that may indeed be the worst in American war time history. Five witnesses - two truck drivers, one former Halliburton employee who had the audacity to tell the truth about waste and two lawyers - spoke in turn about their pieces of the shards that form the Halliburton looking glass in Iraq.

The irony, of course, was voiced by Senator Dorgan who said, "Nobody seems to give a damn," about the abuses ongoing in Iraq due to no bid, unsupervised contracts. Senator Dirksen, whose son in law and successor as Republican leader in the Senate, Howard H. Baker, Jr., used to be my business partner, would spin in his grave if he saw what was not happening under a roof named for him. Here was Julie McBride, formerly a KBR Morale, Welfare and Recreation Coordinator, who was put under armed guard and then flown out of Iraq by Halliburton for having the temerity to tell Army officials that Halliburton literally stole money from our troops and the tax payers.
  McCain Continues To Oppose Changes To Interrogation RulesSeptember 18, 2006 11:45 Senator John McCain continues to oppose a Bush Administration push to redefine rules on CIA interrogations of terrorism prisoners.

Speaking yesterday in New Hampshire, McCain said prisoners deserve the fundamental rights afforded prisoners under the Geneva Convention.

He was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam war and was held captive for five years and tortured by the North Vietnamese.

He says Americans will be captured in future wars, and the U-S must not set a bad example by allowing harsher interrogation techniques than permitted by the Geneva Conventions.

  Put Rumsfeld Out To PastureSeptember 18, 2006 10:43 It is my sad duty to report that anyone who questions the American military's continuing role in Iraq, or seriously doubts the Bush administration's contention that fighting in Iraq somehow makes us safer from acts of international terror at home, is "morally and intellectually confused," and no better than the folks who "ridiculed or ignored" the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.

"How's that?" you ask. "We're morally confused? We're like the Nazi appeasers of the 1930s?"

Yes, indeed. With one fetid verbal blast, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has likened a vast segment of the American public to "Nazi appeasers" of yesteryear.

To my way of thinking, Secretary Rumsfeld has a faulty understanding of history at best, or at worst, has taken total leave of his senses. His contention is as dangerous and as gross an assault on the intelligence of the American people as any conceived since the days of the late, unlamented Sen. Joe McCarthy.
  Whistle-Blower Slams Iraq ContractorSeptember 11, 2006 11:08 Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root charged millions to the government for recreational services never provided to U.S. troops in Iraq, including giant tubs of chicken wings and tacos, a widescreen TV, and cheese sticks meant for a military Super Bowl party, according to a federal whistle-blower suit unsealed Friday.

Instead, the suit alleges, KBR used the military's supplies for its own football party.

Filed last year in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by former KBR employee Julie McBride, the lawsuit claims the giant defense contractor billed the government for thousands of meals it never served, inflated the number of soldiers using its fitness and Internet centers, and regularly siphoned off great quantities of supplies destined for American soldiers.

McBride was hired by KBR in 2004 as a "morale, welfare and recreation" coordinator at Camp Fallujah, a Marine installation about 35 miles west of Baghdad. She was fired the next year after making several complaints about KBR's accounting practices, the suit says, and was kept under guard until she was escorted to an airplane and flown out of the country.

  In N.Y. And Around U.S., A Solemn Day To Remember 9/11September 11, 2006 08:54 The fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States began today with tributes of silence and a recitation of the names of the 2,749 people who were killed at ground zero, ushering in one of many memorial gatherings around New York and the United States where thousands of Americans are observing a solemn day of remembrance.

Go to Complete Coverage » “It surely cannot be easy to come to this site,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking at ground zero, after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. marking the moment that the first plane struck the World Trade Center.

“Who can know what is in your hearts,” he said.

In the silence, under a clear blue sky, families and friends of people killed in the attacks lowered their heads. Some clutched flowers and photographs as tears fell.
  US Bans Horse Slaughter For MeatSeptember 07, 2006 16:01 The US House of Representatives has overnight voted to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption, which could bring an end to a $US40-billion industry exporting horse meat to Europe and Japan.

By a vote of 263-146, the House voted to amend the Horse Protection Act, yielding to animal rights activists and average American horse enthusiasts for whom the animals are best enjoyed at the racetrack or on the riding trail.

The law would "prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption and for other purposes."

The legislation was co-sponsored by more than 200 members in the 435-member House.

Opponents fear that the bill could make it more difficult to humanely dispose of thousands of aging or infirm horses each year.

Some 90,000 horses were slaughtered last year in three US plants which the legislation, if also passed in the Senate, could force to be shuttered. Almost all of the meat is for foreign consumption, as most US states have outlawed the sale of horse meat.
  US Averages F on College ExpensesSeptember 07, 2006 14:29 New Mexico is one of two states that got an F in a recent national report card for how well it prepares high school students for college, but it received an A for the number of adults taking college-level courses.

The new independent report on higher education fails most states on the issue of affordability, and gives mixed grades in areas such as college participation and completion rates.

The biennial study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education evaluates how well higher education is serving the public - and leaves little doubt where the system is failing.

Forty-three states, including New Mexico, received F's for affordability, up from 36 two years ago. The others got D's, except Utah and California, both of which eked out a C.

The report card evaluates states on the performance of their public and private colleges. The affordability grade is based on how much of the average family's income it costs to go to college.
  Measuring Up | The National Report Card On Higher EducationSeptember 07, 2006 14:28 Measuring Up 2006 consists of the national report card for higher education and fifty state report cards. Its purpose is to provide the public and policymakers with information to assess and improve postsecondary education in each state. Measuring Up 2006 is the fourth in a series of biennial report cards.

This Web site provides state leaders, policymakers, researchers and others with access to the national report card as well as access to all fifty state report cards. In addition, the site can compare any state with the best-performing states in each performance category, compare indicator scores and state grades for any performance category, obtain source and technical information for indicators and weights, and allow visitors to download the reports. Further, the Measuring Up Web site has the capacity to view previous report cards from 2000, 2002, and 2004.
  Security Will Be Big Issue As Both Parties Seek ControlSeptember 05, 2006 08:52 "Security September" comes to Congress today, courtesy of congressional Republicans groping for a winning issue. Increasingly confident Democrats say: Bring it on.
Facing daunting poll numbers in their quest to keep their congressional majority, Republicans hope that touting national security -- their party's trump card in two elections since Sept. 11, 2001 -- will once again rally voters to their side.

"Polling obviously still shows that it's their strongest card in a year where they don't have much of a hand," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

At the same time, congressional Republicans must try to stress national security issues outside the context of the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, Duffy said.
  Tree-Planting Drive Seeks To Bring A New Urban CoolSeptember 04, 2006 21:47 Sacramento, CA, believes an answer for global warming is growing on trees.

About 375,000 shade trees have been given away to city residents in the past 16 years, and there are plans to plant at least 4 million more. To receive up to 10 free trees, residents simply call the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a publicly owned power company.

"A week later, they are here to tell you where the trees should be planted and how to take care of them," said Arlene Willard, a retired welfare case worker who with her husband, John, has planted four SMUD trees in the back yard of their east Sacramento house.

Perhaps the most arresting feature of Sacramento's shade crusade is its rarity, despite federal research showing that carefully planted trees can lower summertime temperatures in cities, significantly reduce air-conditioning bills and trap greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

  Congress Set For Combative, Pre-Election PushSeptember 04, 2006 21:46 U.S. lawmakers return to work on Tuesday from a month-long recess with time running out for Republicans to pass legislation, impress unhappy voters and retain control of Congress in the November 7 elections.

With the stakes so high, both parties will jockey for political advantage in the coming weeks, particularly over the increasingly unpopular Iraq war and the battle against terrorism, as the majority Republicans and minority Democrats debate who can best protect the United States.

Amid the rancor, Congress is expected to pass little more than big spending bills for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Deadlocks appear certain to remain on such efforts as ones to raise the federal minimum wage, revamp U.S. immigration laws and reduce inheritance taxes.

  Next Trip To Moon Gets CloserSeptember 03, 2006 10:40 Lockheed Martin Corp. won a multibillion-dollar contract Thursday to build a space vehicle to return humans to the moon and be the precursor to a manned ship to Mars.

The award marks NASA’s most concrete step to fulfill President Bush’s two-year-old, $230 billion promise that the space agency would return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 and restore excitement about space exploration. NASA has planned to replace the shuttles since the mid-1980s, and has spent almost $5 billion to do so — with little success so far.

The vehicle, known as Orion, is the embodiment of the “very future of human space flight,” said Skip Hatfield, NASA’s project manager.

Although similar in shape to the Apollo vehicles that flew three-man crews to the moon from 1968 to 1972, Orion would be three times larger, carrying as many as six astronauts. The new capsule will be built with proven technology that would allow it to be reused as many as 10 times.
  FBI Raids Alaska Lawmakers, Including U.S. Senator'S Son - Sep 1, 2006September 01, 2006 13:14 The offices of at least six Alaska legislators, including the son of Sen. Ted Stevens, were raided by federal agents searching for possible ties between the lawmakers and a large oil field services company, officials and aides said.

Tam Cook, the Legislature's top attorney, said the company named in the search warrant was VECO Corp., an Anchorage-based oil field services and construction company whose executives are major contributors to political campaigns.

Four different teams of at least six federal agents each spent hours searching offices on each floor of the Capitol.

Among the offices searched was that of Republican Senate President Ben Stevens, the son of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Agents left Stevens' Capitol office Thursday evening with 12 boxes of documents labeled "Evidence" and loaded them into a vehicle.