United States News Digest
Texas Prosecutor Issues Subpoenas on DeLay Golf Trip
Austin prosecutor Ronnie Earle has issued multiple subpoenas for information about deposed House Majority Leader Tom Delay's golfing trip to Scotland in 2000, and its connection to his vote against a ban on Internet gambling, according to the Austin American-Statesman and NBC News Feb. 2. Prosecutors are looking for ties between former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's gambling clients, and DeLay's opposition to the bill. Among those subpoenaed were DeLay's wife Christine, former aides Tony Rudy and Edwin Buckham (all of whom accompanied Tom DeLay on the trip) for travel itineraries, bills, and other paperwork relating to the trip. Subpoenas were also issued to Abramoff's former law firm, and to British Airways, Continental Airways, and American Express, for all statements and information about the trip. Other subpoenaed material includes correspondence between DeLay's entourage and Abramoff's clients, specifically the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and e-Lottery.
It is as yet unknown whether the prosecutors have focussed on the ties to Internet gambling of Abramoff partners Grover Norquist and now-indicted GSA official David Safavian.
Senate Dems Call for Special Counsel To Probe Abramoff
On Feb. 2, Democratic Senators Harry Reid (Nev), Charles Schumer (NY), and Ken Salazar (Colo), called on President Bush to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Abramoff scandal. Schumer said they had sent a letter to President Bush, signed by 38 Democratic Senators. While indicating that they didn't think they would get a quick response on the matter, Schumer stated, "I had the experience from the Valerie Plame affair when I also asked for a Special Counsel. It took a lot of time to get a response." But he ultimately got it. Schumer also indicated that it would be totally inappropriate for the investigation to be conducted by the Justice Department, especially since Alberto Gonzales had been the Counsel to the President during the period when Abramoff had his meetings with White House staff, and would therefore be involved in a clear conflict of interest. This is especially important as the FBI had indicated that the Abramoff affair involved "systematic corruption at the highest levels of government," said Salazar, a former state attorney general.
During hearings today with Paul McNulty, Bush's appointee for the Deputy Attorney General position, Schumer had asked if he would be willing to appoint a Special Counsel to lead the Abramoff investigation. McNulty had indicated that that would be an option.
Murtha Again Calls for Iraq Withdrawal Plan
Representative John Murtha (D-Pa) again went on the warpath in a press conference Feb. 1, calling on the President to put forward a concrete plan for withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. Murtha's original proposal last November, which called for a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq on a six-month timetable, triggered a national debate on a viable exit strategy. When asked how much support his bill had received, he said that it now had 90-95 supporters, and more would be forthcoming. But he was unfazed that there were not more who had signed on. "The public is way ahead of them on this," he said. "I meet the support wherever I go."
Murtha also warned that the military was entirely overstretched and would not be capable of a sustained deployment if a crisis broke out anywhere in the world, including any major domestic natural or other crisis within the United States. Murtha has written a letter to President Bush, in which he encourages Bush to fire those responsible for the policy. "I believe," Murtha writes, "in order to restore our credibility, you must hold accountable those responsible for so many missteps, and install a fresh team that demonstrates true diplomatic skill, knowledge of cultural difference, and a willingness to earnestly engage other leaders in a respectful and constructive." He also expressed concern that with the cuts now being proposed in defense spending, the Pentagon will have to choose between weapons systems and health care. He was very concerned that the health care would suffer the biggest cuts.
In response to a question from EIR on the murmurings in certain circles about a "military option," with respect to Iran. Murtha replied that "Iran is three times as big as Iraq. They have a radical government. I can understand that the President won't say take the military option off the table, nobody expects him to say that. But it is hard for anybody to imagine that we would consider making military moves against Iran."
House Democrats Push Relief for Medicare Beneficiaries
On Jan. 30, House Democrats announced emergency legislation to provide emergency relief for seniors and the disabled who are having trouble with President Bush's new Medicare prescription drug plan. The plan, which went into effect last month, left thousands unable to get their prescription drugs previously paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) said, "A culture of corruption between Congressional Republicans and drug companies' lobbyists produced the confusing, special interest-driven Medicare prescription drug bill that put seniors last. This is an emergency measure...."
The legislation, "The Medicare Prescription Emergency Guarantee Act":
* Ensures the receipt of medications.
* Guarantees recipients will receive their medicine at an affordable price, despite being told their prescription is not covered by the plan, until they can complete an appeal.
* Prohibits private plans from removing needed medications from their formulary.
* Requires Medicare to pay pharmacies and reimburse anyone that made payments on behalf of a Medicare recipient.
GAO Chief Denounces Poor Response to Hurricane Katrina
Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office, said, on Feb. 1, that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should have appointed an official to oversee the Federal response before the storm hit Aug. 29. "No one was designated in advance to lead the overall Federal response ... despite clear warnings from the National Hurricane Center," insisted Walker in prepared testimony to a select bipartisan Congressional committee. Federal officials, Walker charged, "did not act decisively or quickly enough to determine the catastrophic nature of the incident." They failed to label it a "catastrophic event," which would have required a faster and more comprehensive Federal effort. Instead, the Federal posture was to wait for affected states to request assistance. Citing "disjointed" efforts of all Federal agencies, Walker denounced the Administration's "absence of timely and decisive action and clear leadership responsibility and accountability."
Senate Panel Targets FEMA Criminal Negligence
On Nov. 7, 2005, Assistant Interior Department Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett wrote a response to an investigative questionnaire, which response was made public, on Jan. 30, at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me). Scarlett wrote that just a few days before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last Aug. 29, the Interior Department offered to provide to FEMA, hundreds of its expert search-and-rescue workers, a sizeable contingent of 300 flat-bottom boats, 11 aircraft, and 119 pieces of heavy equipmentall for flood protection and post-storm rescue. But FEMA never used much of the personnel and equipment; what it did deploy, it used ineffectively. It was further disclosed that before the storm hit, Amtrak had offered to carry out New Orleans residents, but its train was barely used.
Collins reported an internal Sept. 1 FEMA e-mail, in which FEMA reported it put a halt to rescue operations in New Orleansonly three days after the stormfor "security concerns."
At the same time, this past week, the Cheney-Bush Administration rejected a proposed bill by Rep. Richard Baker (R-La), which would have established a U.S. government corporation to buy back the mortgages of storm-damaged homes in the New Orleans area; most of the residents holding these mortgages did not have flood insurancemost could not get it because, technically, they did not live in the flood plain.
Five months after Katrina, only 37% of the "officially" estimated 90,000 displaced Louisiana families have been provided with trailers; the price of a trailer ballooned from $19,000 to $75,000 apiece.
Bush Administration Expanding Targetted Assassinations
The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 29 that the Bush-Cheney Administration is expanding the use of Israeli-style targetted assassinations against "suspected terrorists" overseas, using Predator drone aircraft firing Hellfire missiles. These "extra-judicial killings" have been carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and other countries.
"We have the plans in place to do them globally," admitted a former U.S. counterterrorism official to the L.A. Times "In most cases we need the approval of the host country to do them. However, there are a few countries where the President has decided that we can whack someone without the approval or knowledge of the host government."
There are disagreements within the intelligence community as to the legality and the wisdom of the program, but the Administration claims the right to do targetted killings under the same "Commander in Chief" argument that it has used for torture and the NSA wiretap program.