United States News Digest
Arnie as Nero: Firestorms Ravage Southern California
Oct. 25 (EIRNS)Sixteen wildfires continue to burn across southern California and over the border into Mexico. The firestorms have claimed more than 420,400 acres (about 650 square miles); and more than 1,600 homes and hundreds of businesses have been destroyed. Damage estimates for San Diego alone are over $1 billion; 881,500 people have been evacuated. This includes the evacuation of over 350,000 households across six counties in southern California. So far, at least six people have died directly or indirectly as a result of the fires.
Though drought conditions, extremely low humidity, and hurricane gusts of the Santa Ana winds (some over 80 mph) were pre-existing potentials for the firestorms, the current extent of the damage and potential damage is due to the woeful lack of infrastructure on the local and state level to deal with these types of disasters.
San Diego County accounts for the overwhelming majority of the loss of structures and evacuation. This case establishes clearly that the present disaster is not simply natural, but a failure of human action. In many respects, these fires are worse than the 2003 fire, which had been the worst fire in the county's history. In 2003, 50,000 people had to be evacuated; currently, more than half a million have been forced out of their homes. Shades of the Bush Administration's Katrina disaster are seen, as all hotels in the county are filled to capacity with evacuees, while thousands more have to be sheltered at the Del-Mar racetrack and Qualcomm Stadium.
After the 2003 fire, a blue ribbon commission was set up by the state, to investigate and present a report. On May 20, 2007, State Senator Christine Kehoe (D) warned that the commission's recommendations were not implemented, hence, the danger of fire devastation remained as large as ever.
According to an Oct. 23 article in the Los Angeles Times, since 2003, only one fire station has been built in San Diego County, and many of the county's fire departments are chronically underfunded and understaffed. Aside from an automated call system, little progress has been made in improving the fire-fighting equipment and infrastructure over the past four years.
The common theme heard at the fire sites from those responsible for fighting the fires, was lack of resources. Jeff Bowman, chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department during the 2003 fire, resigned a year and a half ago because the city refused to provide necessary additional equipment and manpower. While the city of San Diego has a professional fire department, the county doesn't. This means that most suburban and rural communities rely on volunteer fire departments.
California Gov. Arnie Schwarzenegger held a press conference Oct. 24 to slap the backs of all the firefighters for doing a great job. The state fire-fighting and -prevention infrastructure has been looted by budget-cutting done by the Governator under the advice of George Shultz. It is also a reflection of the Enron crisis, from which both George Shultz and the Governator benefitted.
Move To Restore Congressional Power To Declare War
Oct. 25 (EIRNS)Representatives Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), and Ron Paul (R-Tex.) announced today, the filing of H.J. Res. 53, The Constitutional War Powers Act Resolution. The bill, drafted by Jones, is a fundamental revision of the existing war powers resolution, to reinstate the constitutional requirement that the Executive branch cannot go to war without the explicit approval of Congress. In addition to the above-named Congressmen, two additional Democrats, Robert Brady (Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (Hi.), are also co-sponsors. Delahunt, who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to get hearings on the bill as soon as possible. (Jones had authored legislation last Spring, requiring the President to get Congressional approval before an attack on Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised Jones a vote on the bill, but reneged on her commitment after addressing the pro-Israel AIPAC).
Delahunt, the only Democrat present, praised the courage of the three Republicans, especially as, in the case of Gilchrest and Jones, they are facing stiff opposition in upcoming primaries, and have been under brutal attack by the Administration and Republican leadership.
All of the Congressmen cited the immediate danger of a pre-emptive strike against Iran, with Paul demanding that this bill move as quickly as possible, given the fact that we're about to have another war (referencing today's sanctions, etc.) He said we could wake up tomorrow and have something going on in Iran, which will spread all over the world.
Right-Wing Moneybags Scaife Caught in Dirty Scandal
Oct. 22 (EIRNS)The eccentric right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who bankrolled a multimillion-dollar investigation of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton the 1990s, to dig up any dirt which could be used in an effort to drive Clinton from office, is now revealed to be in the center of a tawdry sex scandal in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
According to sealed court documents which were inadvertently made public a few weeks ago, Scaife has been involved in a bitter divorce battle with his second wife, Margaret "Richie" Scaife, after she caught him in flagrante delicto in their home, with a prostitute; Scaife had been meeting the woman twice a week at a local motel which rents its rooms for $28 for three hours (what used to be called the "hot sheet trade"). "Scaife would show up in a chauffeured car, dressed in a suit, wearing cuff links, always bearing flowers...." Scaife would stay two hours, return to his chauffeured car and leave.
Having a little fun at the humorless Scaife's expense, the Washington Post listed some of the beneficiaries of Scaife's "philanthropic" largesse, such as the Heritage Foundation which promotes "traditional values" and has published papers on topics such as "Restoring a Culture of Marriage," and Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Research and Educational Foundation, which asks, "Will America return to the culture which made it great, our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture? Or will we continue the long slide into ... cultural and moral decay?"
Unmentioned by the Post, but otherwise well-known, is that Scaife bankrolled the public-private "Get LaRouche" task force in the 1980s as well.
Waxman Accuses Blackwater of Tax Evasion
Oct. 22 (EIRNS)In addition to its other transgressions against the general welfare, Blackwater USA has, according to an IRS ruling in March 2007, violated Federal tax laws by treating its armed guards in Afghanistan and Iraq as "independent contractors," rather than as employees, as DynCorp and Triple Canopy do.
In a letter to Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and CEO, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, charges Blackwater with failing to pay millions of dollars in Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and related taxes for which it is legally responsible. Waxman also charges Prince with concealing the IRS ruling and the company's tax evasion from Congress and law enforcement officials. Blackwater is now required to submit relevant papers describing its contracts and taxes.
Senate Judiciary Leaders Again Demand White House Hand Over Documents on Warrantless Wiretap Program
Oct. 22 (EIRNS)Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the White House today, again demanding access to documents on the Administration's warrantless surveillance program, which are needed in order for the Committee to consider the White House demand for immunity for telecommunications companies. The Bush Administration had previously agreed to make the documents available by today.
Last week, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly capitulated to the Administration's demand for retroactive immunity, while Specter and Leahy said that they must have access to the relevant information as to what the program was, before they would consider immunity.
According to the Specter-Leahy letter, the White House is insisting that the Senate first agree to provide immunity, and then Senators could see the key documents. "That is unacceptable and would turn the legislative process upside down," the Leahy-Specter letter says.