United States News Digest
Democrat Wins 44% in California Special Election
In the wealthy 59th Congressional District of Southern California, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 3 to 2, a Democrat, running in a field of 18 candidates, captured 44% of the vote in a special election to replace disgraced GOP Rep. Randy Cunningham. Francine Busby far outran all the other candidates, with the closest runners-up, Republicans Brian Bilbray and Eric Roach, each getting only 14% to 15%. The run-off election is scheduled for June 6.
CENTCOM Begins Building 'Long War' Headquarters
Groundbreaking has begun on "long war" headquarters at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), in Tampa, Fla., according to AFP April 13. The U.S. military is building a permanent base for the military attachés of 63 countries who have shown their willingness to support the fight against terrorismthe al-Qaeda network, and its allies across the Eurasian and African continents. "If the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is stabilized, the Long War will continue. It will continue to be a Long War until this ideology is defeated," said top CENTCOM official, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit.
GOP Lawmakers Want Closed Hearing on Iran
Republican Reps. Walter Jones (NC) and Ron Paul (Texas) sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) requesting a classified hearing on Iran which should be open to all members of Congress, according to Jones' website. The North Carolina Congressman writes, "Recent media accounts of possible U.S. military actions in Iran have provoked concerns among Americans. Yet the President himself recently stated publicly that diplomacy is still an option in our dealings with Iran." Jones further states, "If no military action is planned, the Administration needs to make this clear to Congress by refuting the factual contentions made by some journalists, and the full Congress deserves to know what military or diplomatic plans are being made or considered for Iran, and what intelligence information supports those plans."
Iraq Study Group Begins Its Work
The Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James Baker III, a Republican, held its first meeting on April 11, and afterwards met with reporters. The ISG is still in the phase of organizing itself, developing a list of those it wishes to interviewwho, Hamilton said, will include current and former Administration officials, current and retired military officers, journalists with extensive experience in Iraq, and a broad range of private sector and academic leaders. Members of the groupwho are largely former Clinton and Bush 41 officialshave already met with Thomas Finger, head of the intelligence community's National Intelligence Council. The list will also include prominent Iraqis and other leaders in the region. Baker and Hamilton also announced the makeup of the expert working groups and the senior military advisory panel that will aid the ISG in its work.
"We'll proceed with a great sense of urgency," Hamilton said, "but the complexity and scope of this issue means that we have to be careful and deliberate." He and Baker made clear that they aren't seeking recriminations for what's gone wrong. Baker said, "We have to determine where we are now, then we will try to come up with insights and recommendations to move forward." When asked if the Iraq Study Group plans to talk to leaders in Iran about the situation in Iraq, Baker said, "That's a bridge we haven't crossed, yet, but we have to consider it and will do that in consultation with Congress and the Administration."
Four Republicans Demand Iraq War Debate
On April 5, Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and Wayne Gilchrist (R-Md) announced that they would be signing a discharge petition which, should it gain the required 218 signatures, would force the House to debate a resolution introduced by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hi) requiring the President to develop a strategy for withdrawal from Iraq. All three, along with Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), are also co-sponsors of the resolution, but they took the unusual step of signing the Democrat-initiated discharge petition because, as Jones put it, we have never debated this issue since we voted to send the troops to Iraq.
Both Jones and Paul denounced the debate on a sham withdrawal resolution last November, run by the Republican leadership in order to embarrass Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa). That bill was never put through regular order, Jones noted, and the debate on it lasted just one hour and 11 minutes. In contrast, if the discharge petition succeeds, it would require, under the House rules, 17 hours of debate, which would be fully open, with no limitations on amendments.
We owe it to the American people and the troops on the ground in Iraq, that we in Congress not be asleep on this issue, Jones said. There are those of us in both parties who want to meet our Constitutional responsibility, and that is to discuss and debate the present and the future of our commitment in Iraq.
Abercrombie, who also participated in the press conference with Jones, Paul, and Gilchrist, echoed the demand for a debate on U.S. policy in Iraq. We put in the discharge petition, he said, because we are unable to move the resolution through the regular committee process.
So far, the discharge petition has 95 signatures.
Two More West Virginia Miners Killed
Two more West Virginia coal miners were killed on April 7, in separate mishaps. The number of 2006 deaths of American miners (23) now exceeds all of last year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported April 8. West Virginia lost three miners on the job last year, and 18 so far this year.
The two mines where these latest fatal incidents occurred are both in the state's southwestern coalfields, where four other miners were killed in three mishaps this year. One miner was killed at Jacob No. 1 in Mingo County, owned by the non-union Jacob Mining Co. and operated by the Jeffrey Wolford firm. The other lost his life at the Candice No. 2 mine in Boone County, owned by Mystic Energy, Inc. There, the workers are represented by the United Mine Workers.
In 2005, Mystic was fined all of $9,500, under the Cheney-Bush relaxed regulations, for 87 separate violations, including 42 listed as "significant and substantial." Two miners were killed at the Jacob No. 1 mine in 1995, when it was owned by Eastern Mingo Coal Co.
NSA/AT&T Data Mining Challenged in Court
A suit filed in January by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is challenging AT&T for its cooperation with the NSA in its national data mining operations, Wired News April 10 reported. Mark Klein, a retired technician at AT&T, has come forward as a witness to the installation of special equipment in its own secure room. According to his affidavit, the NSA came to the AT&T offices in San Francisco, and hired its own technician to do all the installation, which none of the other trained staff was allowed to participate in. Rumors were that similar operations were being carried out throughout the West Coast, from Los Angeles to Seattle, in major call switching centers.
From Klein's affidavit, it is clear that he is concerned that this NSA program is getting out of control. "Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA's spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA's charter or with FISA" (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), Klein wrote. "And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals' phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of internet communications of countless citizens."
On April 5, the EFF sought an injunction to prevent AT&T from continuing the alleged wiretapping, until the lawsuit is decided.
Vermont Democrats Call for Bush Impeachment
Leaders of the Vermont State Democratic Party on April 8 voted for the impeachment of President Bush, the Baltimore Sun reported April 9. This makes Vermont the fifth state, following New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, in which Democrats have done so. Committee member Margaret Lucenti said Bush misled the country on the Iraq war, illegal spying, and torture. "I would hope that any one of these infractions would bring the Administration down."