United States News Digest
Bush Stumps for His Energy Bill
Speaking in Washington on April 27 before a conference sponsored by the Small Business Administration, President Bush tried to bully the Congress into passing his energy program, which it has refused to do for the past four years. Locating the problem as the United States' "growing dependence on foreign sources of energy," Bush promoted his stale litany of tens of billions of dollars of incentives for the oil and gas industries, funding for hydrogen and clean coal technologies, and his "nukuler" program. The mention of increased use of nuclear energy drew the loudest applause from the businessmen in the audience.
One of the tell-tale elements within the Bush-Cheney bundle of goodies (remember, this is the one that goes back to 2001), is the final repeal of FDR's landmark PUHCA, the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, which, although eviscerated over years, represents an institutional block to total deregulation/looting.
Reporting that no new oil refineries have been built in the U.S. since 1976, Bush proposed that new ones be built at closed military facilities. He pushed his tax credits for a gas pipeline from Alaska and for oil drilling in Alaska, which have been part of the reason Congress has never passed his energy program. He said that the bill passed by the House on April 21, needs to be passed by the Senate by August.
The bill passed by the House includes Bush's oil and gas pork, and has not only been attacked by Democrats, but was also voted against by the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Sherood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). But unfortunately, opposition to the Bush plan from Democrats and the GOP alike remains based on the most inane and irrelevant issues, such as not enough funding for conservation, fights about environmental additives for gasoline, and, in Boehlert's case, complaints that it increases the deficit.
While pointing out that France gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, Bush has added little or no new funding in next year's budget request for the Nuclear Power 2010 program to build new power plants, the R&D to develop the next-generation nuclear reactors, the program to produce hydrogen fuel using high-temperature reactor technology, or fusion power. He also warned that we must help nations in Asia reduce their demand for energy, which he said he will discuss at the G-8 meeting in July in Great Britain.
Rummy's Bunker Busters Would Cause Massive Damage
A new report issued by the National Research Council states that the nuclear bunker-buster bombs favored by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would cause huge death and destruction above ground. This was one of the most striking conclusions from the report's executive summary, the Washington Post reported April 28. This conclusion is based on the fact that the design of these bunker busters is most effective when the weapon penetrates only a few meters, and this will produce a large ground-level shockwave. Such a ground-level detonation also has the maximum potential for radioactive fallout from the blast. This condition could produce anywhere from thousands of deaths to 1 million, depending on the yield of the weapon used.
This estimate is for a nuclear bunker buster used in a heavily populated urban area. The report further states that the damage would be the same as an above-ground explosion. The report also estimates how far these bunker busters can go in certain soil types, with the range being from about 100 meters in clay soil to about 12 meters in medium-strength rock.
Rumsfeld Responsible for Torture, Say Retired Officers
In the wake of the March report on prisoner interrogation and detention policies issued by Vice Adm. Albert Church, two retired flag officers, Adm. John Hutson and Gen. James Cullen, issued a statement elaborating the concept of "command responsibility," and declaring that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should be held accountable for the abuse and torture of prisoners. Their statement, reported in Legal Times April 18, is even more important in the aftermath of the completion of the Army Inspector General's report, which is now being reviewed by Congress.
"It's not sufficient for a leader to claim, 'I did not commit the criminal act,' or 'I did not personally order it.' Command bears distinct responsibilities to make decisions and be held accountable for their consequences," they write. "The militaryan organization that relies on discipline in the midst of chaoscannot function without such accountability for decisions."
They point to the case of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese commander of the Philippines, who was tried and executed for war crimes committed by his forces during World War II, even though there was some doubt about his actual control and communication with his forces. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction in 1946. "Our country argued that Yamashita was responsible for abuses by his forces, and no one can persuasively argue that we should exempt ourselves from the same standard," the two officers write.
Hutson and Cullen document the policies which Rumsfeld put in place, undercutting long-standing prohibitions on the use of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, and document how he ignored and failed to act on reports of abuses. They call for the creation of an independent commission to conduct a full investigation, concluding that "The honor of our military is at stake."
Weapons Inspectors Find No WMD in Iraq
Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey group, issued the final report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq on April 25, having found none. And, although Syria did ship some military and other products across its borders from Iraq, the investigators "found no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD." The final report, refuting many of the Administration's principal arguments for going to war in Iraq, can be seen on the Government Printing Office's web site at www.gpo.gov.
Conyers Petitions for Civil Rights Intervention in Georgia
Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has initiated a letter to Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, demanding preemptive intervention against a law pending in the state of Georgia. The law would require Georgians to present photo identification at the polls before voting. Other states have passed similar laws, but the Georgia measure lacks the additional "authentication options" (i.e., non-photo) written into other statutes. As Conyers makes clear, "The burden of this requirement would fall disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minority voters," exactly what the Voting Rights Act was designed to address.
The bill has been passed by the General Assembly and is set to become law unless it is vetoed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, something he has said he will not do. Along with Conyers, there are 21 cosigners to the letter.
U.S. Prison Population Hits 2.4 Million
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released figures on the U.S. prison population on April 24, showing that, despite lower crime rates, the prison population has increased at a rate of 900 per week between mid-2003 and mid-2004, a 2.3% increase. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, followed by Britain, China, France, Japan, and Nigeria.
One of every 138 U.S. residents is incarcerated, over 2.1 million people. Sixty-one percent are racial or ethnic minorities.
Combine that with the fact that prisons have eliminated Pell Grants for college courses and (in most states) nearly all rehabilitation programs, with parole eliminated in many states, and you see yet another moral atrocity and a ticking timebomb in the American economy.
ACLU Documents Show Confusion on Geneva Conventions
The latest tranche of documents in the ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Defense, shows that soldiers who abused prisoners in Iraq thought they were doing so with the approval of higher levels of command. Several of the documents link the abuses to a command climate that encouraged brutality, something that Army and Pentagon investigators have so far resolutely failed to consider. One soldier with the 4th Infantry Division, accused of having failed to properly supervise an interrogator who assaulted an Iraqi prisoner, replied that statements made by senior leaders that detainees were not enemy prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions "have caused a great deal of confusion as to the status of detainees."
"In hindsight," he wrote, "it seems clear that, considering the seeming approval of these and other tactics by the senior command, it is a short jump of the imagination that allows actions such as those committed by [name redacted] to become not only tolerated but encouraged." He also criticized his commanders for soliciting a "wish list" of alternative interrogation techniques and for using phrases such as "the gloves are coming off."