United States News Digest
Furious House Debate on Boehner Pension Bill
On Dec. 15, the House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 294 to 132, a bill sponsored by House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) to "reform" the pension system. During the debate leading up to the vote, every Democrat who spoke, expressed opposition to the bill, with the ranking member of the committee, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) telling the House that the passage of this pension bill would be the greatest assault on working people in the recent history of the Congress. He went further, saying that the bill doesn't address the relief needed for the airlines and doesn't stop companies from dumping their pensions on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The other point that the Democrats made, was that, unlike the Senate version, the House version of the bill doesn't address the airlines-pension crisis; the Republicans claimed that this would be fixed later, in conference committee.
Before the vote in the House on the pension bill, the White House issued a statement saying it supported passage, but that tougher pension-funding requirements must be added during negotiations with the Senate on a final version. If the tougher requirements are not added and the net effect of the conference report is to weaken funding requirements for pension plans, then the President's advisers will recommend a veto of that conference report.
Lyndon LaRouche, after being briefed on the UAW's recent shift to support the Boehner pension bill, said, "Some of the UAW bureaucrats made a big mistake. They obviously really don't understand what's at stake here. They're too simple-minded about these issues. Someone has to stand up for the working people."
As to the possibility that the White House may veto the Boehner bill anyway, LaRouche said it's because it's not going to kill enough people to make them happy.
Pelosi: Congress Must Address Americans' 'Unmet Needs'
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) blasted the House Republican leadership, on Dec. 15, over their plan to not call Congress into session, again, until Jan. 31, 2006. Pelosi said that she and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md) sent a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) saying that Congress should not adjourn unless it addresses some of the immediate needs facing the American people. She further stated that since they went out of session for Thanksgiving"what was it, Nov. 18? We have come into session for two weeks and now we will go out until Jan. 31. That is ten weeks and we have been in session for two weeks. While the American people have unmet needs, and it has been 100 days since Katrina and people still need help." Pelosi said that this is the most corrupt Congress in history and has a culture of corruption and cronyism that has caused much loss of life and damage in the Gulf Coast states.
Rice Contradicted DOD, FBI Briefings on Iraq
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn) recounted, for the House International Relations Committee, on Dec. 15, the first classified briefing she attended on Iraq in 2002. The briefing was given by career civil service officials from both agencies, and McCollum noted that those in attendance asked tough questions of the briefers, including whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and whether he had ties to the 9/11 hijackers. On the first question, the briefers said "yes," but probably not the capability to actually launch them. On the second question, they answered "no." That very same night, McCollum said, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appeared on PBS Newshour, and "contradicted everything we were told. That was the last time I was at a classified briefing without a political appointee being present."
The committee meeting at which McCollum reported this was called to complete the markup of a resolution of inquiry, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), requesting documents from the White House relating to President Bush's Oct. 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, and his Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union message. The committee voted 24 to 19 to report the resolution without recommendation, making it unlikely it will be taken up on the House floor.
Pentagon Expands Domestic Spying
NBC News has obtained a 400-page Defense Department report on domestic surveillance and spying on anti-war activities by the military, MSNBC.com reported Dec. 13. The document was generated by CIFA (Counter-Intelligence Field Activity), which is charged with protecting military installations and personnel; but many of the events monitored took place far from any military installation. "It means that they're actually collecting information about who's at those protests, the descriptions of vehicles at those protests," says military analyst William Arkin. "On the domestic level, this is unprecedented," he says. "I think it's the beginning of enormous problems and enormous mischief for the military."
But, in fact, it's not unprecedented, as former Army intelligence officer Christopher Pyle has reported. In 1970, Pyle (who has been interviewed by EIR), exposed a massive DOD program of domestic surveillance, resulting in extensive Congressional hearings. "The documents tell me that military intelligence is back conducting investigations and maintaining records on civilian political activity. The military made promises that it would not do this again," he said.
Supreme Court To Review DeLay's Texas Gerrymandering
The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Dec. 12 that it will consider the constitutionality of the 2003 Texas redistricting scheme orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). The new boundaries allowed DeLay's Republicans to win 21 of the state's 32 legislative districts in 2004, up from 15 in 2002. The case will likely be heard in April.
States are required, under the Constitution, to adjust their Congressional district boundaries every ten years, following the decadal census, to account for population shifts. But Texas has changed its Congressional districts twice since the 2000 Census, once by court order, and a second time by DeLay's operatives in the state legislature.
The Bush DOJ approved the DeLay plan, although DOJ staffers concluded that it diluted minority voting rights. Because of its years of discrimination against minorities, Texas is required to get DOJ approval of any voting changes.
Bush Admits 30,000 Iraqis Have Been Killed
On Dec. 12, President Bush gave the third of his scheduled four speeches peddling his Iraq policy, this time, to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia. After making some absurd comparisons between his democracy gambit in Iraq and the American Revolution, he gave a rendition of the political developments in Iraq from the founding of the CPA until the present, noting that democracy-building is not an easy or smooth process. He intoned his "staying the course" mantra, adding that U.S. forces will be able to "stand down" as quickly as Iraqi forces can be stood up. He gave no timetables for either.
He then took questions from the audience, which he rarely does. The first questioner asked him if he had any idea how many Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the invasion. This has been a figure that nobody has discussed since the U.S. launched the invasion. Somewhat taken aback, Bush did respond, "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."
Another questioner asked how his Administration could have linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11 when no Middle East expert had accepted such an assumption. First, Bush asked her to repeat the question, claiming not to have heard it. Then he went into a song-and-dance about how 9/11 had changed his views on these international problems, babbling about what a dangerous man Saddam Hussein was, and how good it was to have gotten rid of that threat, and how secure America was as a result. He never answered the question, and instead replied, "The 9/11 attacks extenuated that threat [i.e., Saddam Hussein] as far as I was concerned."
Pentagon Under-Reporting Iraq War Casualties
In a Dec. 7 letter to President Bush, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), notes that in its official casualty figures, the Pentagon reports only wounded in action, along with the total number of killed, even though the actual number of military personnel lost to their units for all reasons is far higher. Conyers notes that 101,000 of 431,000 Iraq veterans who have left military service, have sought help at Veterans Administration hospitals. "This figure shows that the Pentagon's official casualty count," which as of Dec. 12 stands at 2,144 killed and nearly 16,000 wounded, "to be inaccurate by several multiples. What we cannot understand is why you are reporting the total American casualty figures at just over 15,000 when you know that this figure is not an accurate representation of the facts and does not represent the entire picture of American lives affected by the war."
Two other indicators of the higher level of casualties include the following: U.S. Transportation Command reports that, as of Dec. 8, it has medically evacuated 25,289 service personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan just for non-battle injuries and illnesses. Separately, the Army is reporting that 20,748 soldiers have been evacuated to Army medical facilities, including 2,913 wounded in action.