The Progress Report

20 Things You Need to Know About the Tragic Killing of Trayvon Martin

On February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old African-American named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida. The shooter was George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old man. Zimmerman admits killing Martin, but claims he was acting in self-defense. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, passed in 2005, allows people to use deadly force if they believe they’re in imminent danger. Three weeks after Martin’s death, no arrests have been made and Zimmerman remains free.

Keep reading... Show less

Swift Response to Times Square Plot Shows We Can Handle Terror Suspects Without Unconstutional Maneuvers

At approximately 6:30 p.m. on May 1, a Muslim street vendor in New York City's Times Square alerted a police officer to white smoke collecting inside an idling Nissan Pathfinder. By 7 p.m., the bomb squad had arrived, and the area was cordoned off. A mere 53 hours later authorities apprehended a suspect, Faisal Shahzad, aboard an Emirates Airlines jet bound for Dubai, just as it was about to pull away from the gate at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. Shahzad, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year, "is from a military family in Pakistan, where he spent five months before returning in February to his home" in Shelton, CT. According to law enforcement sources, Shahzad admitted to "training in explosives in the past year with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan" in Pakistan's North Waziristan region and said he had been driven to terrorism by the recent killings of Taliban leaders in Pakistan. 

Keep reading... Show less

Immigration Agents Are Going Rogue

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Andrea Nill, and Alex Seitz-Wald.

Keep reading... Show less

Right-Wing Hate Machine Launches Vicious Campaign of Racist and Sexist Attacks on Sotomayor

This piece was written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Brad Johnson.

The radical right wing has launched a vicious campaign of racist and sexist attacks against Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's selection to replace the retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor's "compelling life story" involves a brilliant legal career after being raised in a South Bronx public housing project by parents who moved from Puerto Rico. Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude, edited the Yale Law Journal, then served as a "fearless and effective" New York City prosecutor and corporate lawyer before being appointed to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1992. "Since joining the Second Circuit in 1998, Sotomayor has authored over 150 opinions," only three of which have been overturned by the Supreme Court's conservative majority. During her time as an appeals judge, "her influence has grown significantly." Public reaction to the nomination of the first Latina and third woman to the nation's highest court is "decidedly more positive than negative." Former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon remarked, "If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff." However, "the same right-wing extremists who drove the country into the ground," Salon's Glenn Greenwald writes, "continue to attack Sonia Sotomayor with blatant and ugly stereotypes." Right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan called Sotomayor an "affirmative action candidate," and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes claimed she "has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously." As hate-radio extremist Glenn Beck described the nomination: "Hey, Hispanic chick lady! You're empathetic ... you're in!"

'Wise Latina Woman'

"[L]ess than 24 hours after President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor," right-wing hate merchants seized on a 2001 speech about her Latina heritage and the courts, calling her "a racist" and a "bigot." In a 2001 speech before the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal's annual symposium, Sotomayor argued that judges' gender and race can influence their decisions on gender and race discrimination cases, saying she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

However, she cautioned she owes the parties who appear before her "constant and complete vigilance in checking [her] assumptions, presumptions and perspectives." Pulling out the "wise Latina woman" phrase, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked Sotomayor on his Twitter feed as a "Latina woman racist." "Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist," hate-radio host Rush Limbaugh complained, "and now he's appointed one...to the U.S. Supreme Court." Former Republican House member and anti-immigration extremist Tom Tancredo agreed that Sotomayor "appears to be a racist" and called La Raza the "Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."

Curt Levey, executive director of Committee for Justice, "a conservative legal group active in judicial nominations," said that "I wonder whether she knows the difference" between being a Puerto Rican advocate -- Sotomayor served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in the 1980s -- and being a judge. Some of the racist attacks on Sotomayor are simply absurd. Mark Krikorian of the right-wing Center for Immigration Studies blogged on the National Review's Corner about his outrage over people "[d]eferring" to Sotomayor over the "unnatural pronunciation" of her own name.

'Sort of a Schoolmarm'

Right-wing extremists have also launched vicious attacks on her intelligence, temperament, and demeanor.  Karl Rove, President Bush's "political brain," has led the sexist slurs, claiming that Sotomayor is "not necessarily" smart and has acted "like sort of a schoolmarm" on the Second Circuit. "I'm not really certain how intellectually strong she would be," he opined on Fox News. In the Wall Street Journal, Rove argued she is one of those judges selected "for their readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them."

Citing anonymous attacks promoted by the New Republic, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the smartest." The New York Times writes that "to detractors, Judge Sotomayor's sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner -- some lawyers have described her as 'difficult' and 'nasty' -- raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen." But a fellow Second Circuit judge, Guido Calabresi, "kept track of the questions posed by Judge Sotomayor and other members of the 12-member court" and found that her "behavior was identical." "Some lawyers just don't like to be questioned by a woman," Judge Calabresi added. "It was sexist, plain and simple."

Republican Senators Step Back

Although Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that Sotomayor may be subject to the "undue influence" of her race and gender, Republican senators have attempted to distance themselves from the hatred. Even Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who announced he would vote against Sotomayor's nomination, said, "I think that we should be judging people not on race and gender, or background or ethnicity or a very compelling story."

Some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct hearings on Sotomayor's nomination this summer, have directly denounced the worst invective. Responding to the attacks on Sotomayor calling her "racist," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told NPR's "All Things Considered," "I think it's terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent." 

"I don't agree with" the "racist" smear, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said recently. "If there are no otherwise disqualifying matters here it appears to me she will probably be confirmed," Hatch told CNN Radio yesterday.

Top 5 Myths About Closing Guantanamo

On his second day in office, President Obama took a bold step away from the Bush administration and signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within one year while suspending all military tribunals for six months. Obama said that the United States was sending the world a message that the "struggle against violence and terrorism" would be fought "in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals." Each day that Guantanamo remains open is another day that U.S. troops are put in further unnecessary danger. One U.S. military officer wrote in the Washington Post that he "learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo." Obama has taken the first crucial step in shutting down this stain on America's reputation. As the Center for American Progress has outlined, the next steps -- including arranging for trials in federal or military courts, finding homes for detainees who can't return to their native countries, transferring detainees who will stand trial into the United States, and establishing a lawful military detention regime for the small number of remaining detainees -- won't be easy, but they're not impossible. Nevertheless, conservatives are coming up with a number of inaccurate -- and often outright ludicrous -- excuses for why Guantanamo needs to remain open. The Progress Report debunks some of the most ill-informed myths.

Keep reading... Show less

Obama Unveils Plan to Kick-Start Economy

Today, President-elect Obama is moving forward with what he has billed as his top priority: an economic stimulus package called the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." He is scheduled to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and possibly the Republican leaders in both chambers. In his weekend radio address, Obama said that his goal is to put together a plan that "not only creates jobs in the short-term but spurs economic growth and competitiveness in the long-term." The package will focus on providing assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, strengthening the nation's infrastructure, and investing in states that are struggling with falling revenues, with the goal of creating or preserving at least 3 million jobs over the next two years. Underscoring the urgency of addressing the nation's faltering economy, Pelosi has said that her goal is to pass a bill that is ready to be signed by Obama once he takes office on Jan. 20. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has cast doubt on such an expedited timeline, and many conservatives are already indicating that they plan to block this progress. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs conceded that the stimulus package is "unlikely" to be ready by the inauguration.

MIDDLE-CLASS ASSISTANCE:

Nations Go Head-to-Head at Climate Conference in Poznan

This piece was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers.

Keep reading... Show less

Conservatives Wage War on the Employee Free Choice Act

Half of all workers would join a union if they could. But as director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund's American Worker Project David Madland writes, "Existing laws make joining a union a Herculean task that few are able to undertake." Indeed, just 8 percent of workers in private industry are union members today, down from just over 30 percent after World War II. The decline in union membership paralleled with a decline in real wages, retirement benefits, and quality of health care. To ensure that workers who wish to organize are able to do so, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in March 2007 with bipartisan support. In the Senate, however, a group of 48 conservatives successfully blocked the measure with a filibuster threat three months later. As the next Congress approaches, conservatives have renewed their campaign against the EFCA. Across the nation, right-wing pundits and politicians are using hyperbolic language to mischaracterize the legislation and paint the EFCA's supporters as anti-worker and anti-business.



AN ASSAULT ON THE WORK FORCE:

The Three Biggest Myths the Bush Administration Wants You to Believe About Offshore Drilling

This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, Benjamin Armbruster, and Brad Johnson.

Yesterday, citing the "squeeze of rising prices at the pump," President Bush rescinded the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling.

The moratorium on lease sales in the Outer Continental Shelf was established in 1990 by his father, George H.W. Bush, in response to the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill and extended by President Clinton.

Bush's action pressures Congress to follow him in "capitulation to the oil companies" by lifting their moratorium, which must be renewed annually. In response, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said at a press conference that Bush "is invoking the specter of another WMD: wells of mass deception."

At the Huffington Post, activist Martin Bosworth wrote, "Americans are smarter than we are often given credit for, and many of us do realize that destroying precious environmental resources and wildlife reserves to allow more domestic drilling is a psychological panacea -- a placebo to make us feel like 'something is being done.'"

However, polls show increasing support for expanded offshore drilling. Conservatives are preying on Americans' concern overskyrocketing gas prices by propagating false myths that drilling for oil off our coasts will allow us to "pay less" at the pump, that it's "environmentally safe," and that drilling is already underway by communist China.

Because "only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land," their political allies must resort to selling falsehoods.


MYTH #1 -- 'DRILL HERE, DRILL NOW, PAY LESS'

Newt Gingrich's 527 organization, American Solutions, is promoting a "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less" campaign, collecting over one million signatures on its petition to Congress to act immediately to lower gasoline prices" by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves" off our coasts.

American Solutions is funded by right-wing Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who wants Americans to place another bad bet on oil drilling. As the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has explained, "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030."

But because United States demand for oil far outstrips production -- we consume 25 percent of the world's supply but have two percent of the proven reserves -- further exploitation of domestic resources will not have a long-term impact either. After 2030, the EIA found, "any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

There are numerous ways to immediately affect prices, from use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to improved oversight of the oil markets. Over the long term, we must fight global warming and break our addiction to oil through modern technology like plug-in hybrids and smart growth planning.

MYTH #2 -- CHINA ON OUR COASTS

Conservatives from Rudy Giuliani to Dick Cheney have repeatedly claimed that the United States needs to start drilling for off-shore oil because China is taking "American oil" off the coast of Cuba, just "60 miles off the coast of Florida."

Cheney exhorted, "Even the communistshave figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply." That same day, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) wrote that Castro was allowing drilling "45 miles from the Florida keys."

Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) have also raised the specter of Chinese drilling just off U.S. shores. However, this modern invocation of the Red Scare the claim is completely false.

As Cheney was forced to acknowledge, "no Chinese firm is drilling" off Cuba's coast. Talking Points Memo has recorded the large number of conservatives hyping the false story.The Washington Post's Ben Pershing said the China/Cuba oil drilling claim is the "myth that keeps on giving," calling it "just too juicy not to repeat."

MYTH #3 -- 'NOT A DROP WAS SPILLED'

Offshore drilling advocates know that the specter of oil-slicked beaches would doom their campaign, so they are desperate to wish its environmental impact away.

Yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed "not a drop of oil was spilled during Katrina or Rita." This myth has been told again and again by the likes ofGov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Mike Huckabee, George Will, and Bill O'Reilly.

There were, in fact, major onshore and offshore spills due to the hurricanes. According to the official Minerals Management Service report, the hurricanes caused 124 offshore spills for a total of 743,700 gallons, six spilling 42,000 gallons or more.

The largest of these spills dropped 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a "major spill." In addition, the hurricanes caused disastrous spills onshore throughout southeast Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast as tanks, pipelines, refineries and other industrial facilities were destroyed, for a total of 595 different oil spills.

The nine million gallons reported spilled were comparable with the Exxon Valdez's 10.8 million gallons, but unlike the Exxon Valdez, they were distributed throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast states, many in residential areas.

Will the Senate Move Us Toward Legislation To Cap Global Warming Emissions?

This piece was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, Benjamin Armbruster, and Brad Johnson.

Today, the Senate begins an historic floor debate on legislation that calls for mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) version of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 3036). This is the first time the Senate will engage in full debate on legislation to cap global warming pollution and create a multi-billion-dollar market of tradeable pollution permits.

Lieberman-Warner would limit emissions from coal-fired power plants, oil refiners, and other major carbon polluters, reducing total U.S. emissions by 18 to 25 percent below current levels by 2020, and 62 to 66 percent lower by 2050. Such legislation would mark an important first step in the transition away from a fossil-fuel economy.

Although the bill is "by no means perfect," as Daniel J. Weiss, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, argues, "the Climate Security Act is the most comprehensive and potentially effective global warming bill ever before the U.S. Senate." Not surprisingly, this fundamental restructuring is encountering stiff opposition from industry polluters. As former British prime minister Tony Blair wrote, this week's debate represents "a hugely important signal of intent on behalf of U.S. legislators."

Key Issues

Three core principles by which to judge climate legislation are whether it is scientifically sound, whether it makes polluters pay, and whether it ensures social equity. Lieberman-Warner takes major steps in the right direction with its mandatory reductions framework, assistance for low-income households, and many provisions to spur new jobs, renewable technology, and energy efficiency. Yet it falls short in a key aspect: auctioning revenues.

A Center for American Progress report released today explains the clear benefits of auctioning 100 percent of the greenhouse gas emission permits, as reflected in a bill introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) last week. In contrast, Lieberman-Warner directs hundreds of billions of dollars of "transitional assistance" to polluters and allows 30 percent of the allowance market to be "offsets" instead of direct reductions.

A new call to action signed by 1,700 top climate scientists and economists calls for significantly deeper greenhouse emissions reductions than the bill would achieve. Last year, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that industrialized nations like the United States, whose prosperity is built on a century of unlimited greenhouse pollution, need to reduce emissions by at least 36 percent from current levels by 2020 and at least 85 percent by 2050 to have an even shot at avoiding climate catastrophe.

Polluter Allegiance

Even after recent lobbyist purges, Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) campaign is still run by corporate lobbyists who represent foreign and domestic oil interests -- such as top adviser Charlie Black. McCain's corporate tax cut would save just the 20 largest energy and utility companies around $3 billion a year,in addition to the $4 billion tax break for America's five largest oil companies. His voting record shows consistent opposition to renewable technologies and support for big oil.

McCain has stated his opposition to the Climate Security Act -- authored bytwo of his closest allies, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) -- because it doesn't offer enough aid to the nuclear industry. CAP Senior Fellow Joseph Romm explains in a new Center for American Progress Action Fundreport, "Since nuclear power is a mature electricity generation technology with a large market share and is the beneficiary of some $100 billion in direct and indirect subsidies since 1948, it neither requires nor deserves significant subsidies in any future climate law." In fact, "Many other technologies can deliver more low-carbon power at far less cost."

The Mantle of Leadership

All three remaining candidates for president -- Sens. McCain, Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Barack Obama (D-IL) -- believe that climate change is an issue of primal urgency. But their role in the upcoming Senate debate is unclear. Despite arguing on the stump that he "will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears" on global warming,McCain "will miss the entire proceedings because he will be campaigning all week."

In 2003 and 2005, climate legislation sponsored by McCain was voted down by the Senate under terms that limited debate. "[I]t seems if he can't be the star, he won't bother with so much as a walk-on part," Gristmill's Kate Sheppard wrote. While McCain has criticized Lieberman-Warner for insufficient nuclear subsidies, Clinton and Obama unveiled plans months ago that call for stronger emissions reductions and a broad, society-wide approach to global warming that goes far beyond capping emissions to reform the transportation and electricity infrastructure, prioritize energy efficiency, transform the housing industry, and create millions of new high-paying jobs.

However, neither Democratic candidate has committed to participating in today's debate or votes, as the final primaries in the contested campaign take place tomorrow.

The Gas Crisis May Be About to Get a Whole Lot Worse

Rising gas prices are hitting Americans hard, while oil companies rake in record profits. As the economy falters, calls to deal with the price of gasoline have reached the halls of Washington, D.C. "[L]awmakers are considering ideas they might have nixed months ago, including temporarily lifting the federal gas tax and halting deposits of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve." Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have called for a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax. McCain has not specified how to make up the $11 billion; Clinton has proposed a tax on windfall profits from oil companies to recoup losses to the federal highway fund. Economic analysts of all stripes have responded with horror, pointing out that "the benefits will flow to oil companies, not consumers." Even if a suspension of the gas tax led to lower prices, the rich would benefit the most, since "the more a family earns, the more they drive," notes Sam Davis of the Center for American Progress. Len Burman of the non-partisan Urban Institute calls the proposal "a huge windfall for refiners." New York Times columnist Tom Friedman argues, "This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter agrees, stating, "Suspending the federal gas tax is a crass ploy for votes." The Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows calls cutting the gas tax "destructive nuttiness" and "embarrassing." Economist Gilbert Metcalf called it "very short-sighted," noting, "If we want people to invest in energy-saving cars, we need some assurance that the higher price paid for these cars is going to pay off through fuel savings."

What's to blame for high gas prices

President Bush said Tuesday that he has no "magic wand" to affect gas prices. But as Steve Hargreaves of CNN Money writes, gas price is "all about government policy." Since the United States has some of the lowest gas taxes in the world, the price at the pump is dominated by the cost of oil. In congressional testimony one month ago, Exxon Mobil senior vice president Stephen Simon said his company believes the price of oil involves four components. The effects of supply and demand accounts for "somewhere around $50-55 a barrel," or about half the current price. The second factor is the weaker dollar; since 2001, "the dollar has lost 45% of its value" against the euro. The third is "geopolitical risk"; since 2003, the United States has been committed to a three-trillion-dollar war in Iraq, the heart of the turbulent oil-producing world. And the final component is "speculation"; investors have "looked to commodities not only as a hedge against inflation but as a hedge against the tumbling greenback."

Immediate action

When asked by Reuters abot the gas tax proposal, conservative economist Greg Mankiw recommended, "If you want to provide households tax relief, a direct rebate ... is more effective." Center for American Progress analysts Sam Davis and Daniel J. Weiss describe how a fast-acting "reliefbate" plan would work. Applied progressively, the "reliefbate" would provide reprieve to 80 percent of American households as well as all independent truckers, at a total cost of $23.2 billion, which "could easily be paid for by closing several oil tax loopholes and recovering lost royalties." The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin further recognizes that there are "two hugely significant factors" that Bush could take action on immediately: "the war in Iraq and the value of the dollar."

Long-term solutions

The fundamental solution to gas prices is to reduce dependence on oil. As conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin said, "You have to price oil on a permanent basis to provide incentives to shift away from it. It's the key issue -- and the hardest one to make progress on." This year, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission submitted a comprehensive plan for the future of the transportation infrastructure, which fuel taxes fund. But the federal fuel tax is but one brushstroke in a much broader picture. The Center for American Progress's Energy Opportunity Agenda states, "The realities of global warming and our growing dependence on oil, much of it imported, will make energy more pivotal than ever to our economic, environmental, and national security fortunes in the 21st century. The challenge we face is nothing short of the conversion of an economy sustained by high-carbon energy -- putting both our national security and the health of our planet at serious risk -- to one based on low-carbon, sustainable sources of energy. The scale of this undertaking is immense and its potential enormous."

Climate Change Deniers Converge

This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, Benjamin Armbruster, and Brad Johnson.

This week, two "international conferences" are convening to discuss markedly different responses to global warming. In New York City, 500 people met for the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change from Sunday to Tuesday.

The keynote address came from Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has said, "Global warming is a false myth."

Although this conference for climate change "skeptics" achieved its mission of attaining widespread media coverage, the world has moved on to discussing solutions.

Tuesday marked the beginning of the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC). This global, ministerial-level conference was organized by the U.S. government for top officials from dozens of nations, the heads of BP, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and other corporations, and representatives from multiple NGOs.

The keynote address will be delivered today by President Bush. Although Bush has been forced to concede the threat of human-induced climate change since 2005, now the question is whether the president will stop "globally talking and nationally postponing" positive action on global warming.

FLAT EARTH REDUX

Unfortunately for the Heartland Institute -- which has been heavily supported by ExxonMobil and right-wing foundations -- the success in drawing mainstream coverage to its sham scientific conference has only emphasized the fact that global warming deniers resemble a Flat Earth Society meeting.

The only product of the convention was a self-published report -- the "work of 23 authors from 15 nations, some of them not scientists" -- "arguing that recent climate change stems from natural causes."

This "yawn fest" of attendees with inflated bios and industry ties were cheered by a presentation from a staffer to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who blamed belief in global warming on Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbara Streisand.

As Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author and Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer said, climate change skeptics "have to get together to talk to each other, because nobody else is talking to them."

ADMINISTRATION'S WRONG PRIORITIES

In today's keynote address to WIREC, Bush will likely repeat his State of the Union call to "increase the use of renewable power" consistent with the WIREC mission "to promote widespread adoption of renewable energies such as biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower."

However, Bush has a consistent record of "renewable energy subterfuge" -- lauding the promise of new technologies whileworking instead for the interests of coal, oil, and nuclear industries.

This pattern, established in the days of Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force, continues unabated. A month ago, Bush submitted a budget to Congress that cuts the Department of Energy energy efficiency and renewable energy budget by 27 percent, including eliminating the Renewable Energy Production Incentive program.

The Bush budgetcalls for hundreds of millions of dollars more for coal and nuclear projects.

TAX CREDITS FOR OIL VS. RENEWABLES

A week ago, Bush threatened to veto the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act, H.R. 5351. This bill, passed by the House last week, would extend tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies by eliminating billions in tax subsidies for oil and gas companies.

In 2005, with the price of oil at $55 per barrel, Bush said the incentives were unnecessary. This week, as oil prices hit historic highs above $102 pe barrel, Bush reversed his stance.

On Tuesday at WIREC, more than 500 companies, investors, and environmental organizations called on Bush to support the House bill. Without passage, which extends many past energy measures, over 116,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion in U.S. investment could be lost.

This represents the fourth time Congress has attempted to pass this legislation; it previously died twice by a single vote in the Senate.

Bad News for Big Coal

This story was written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Benjamin Armbruster.

So far, 2008 has been a rough year for the coal industry. Just 24 hours after Bush touted clean coal in his January State of the Union address, the Department of Energy pulled the plug on the ambitious FutureGen project, which aimed to build the first zero-emissions coal plant.

Days later, major banks such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, stated their concern over coal's enormous carbon footprint with emissions caps on the horizon, a consideration that "make[s] it less likely the banks will finance other coal-fired plants."

The next week, Bank of America agreed that coal plants were a bad investment. Soon after, the New York Times reported, "With opposition to coal plants rising across the country -- including a statement by three investment banks ... saying they are wary of financing new ones," utilities "are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand."

Big Coal is now making a stand in Kansas, where it has been trying to get approval for two new coal plants near Holcomb, KS -- a fight that has been marked by contention since Kansas' Department of Health and Environment denied the necessary air quality permits in October. The coal industry is desperate for a win in a year that, so far, has brought bad news.

Sunflower Pressures Sebelius

Sunflower Electric, the company behind the Holcomb coal project, refused to take Kansas's October decision lying down. Weeks after the state's Department of Health and Environment's denial -- supported by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) -- Sunflower, working through a front group called Kansans for Affordable Energy (KAE), published newspaper ads comparing Sebelius to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez.

The front group was financed almost completely by Peabody Energy, "the world's largest private-sector coal company." Of the $145,400 in contributions KAE received, $120,000 came from Peabody and $25,000 came from Sunflower. "In other words, all but $400 of the money provided to this group of Kansans 'concerned' about 'affordable energy' came from Big King Coal," notes Kevin Grandia of the site DeSmogBlog.

Sunflower Bribes Legislature

Last week, the Kansas Senate passed a bill allowing the coal plant development, gutting the legislation of the very small carbon tax and modest energy efficiency standards. A different version passed the House, and now the bills move to a conference committee where state representatives are facing enormous pressure to bend to Big Coal's will.

Kansas State Speaker Melvin Neufeld Tuesday urged his colleagues to approve Sunflower's plans by reminding them that the state -- namely, Kansas State University -- had a lot to gain from the bargain. Sunflower has offered a quid pro quo agreement to donate $2.5 million for energy research to the university, but only if the state approves the coal plants first. Rep. Paul Davis (D) called the bribery scheme "in poor taste."

Ratcheting up the pressure, Sunflower president and CEO Earl Watkins declared this week "that if the Legislature doesn't approve the project by June 1, it may not go forward." Legislators should keep in mind a January poll that found that Kansans agreed with the state's permit denial by a 2-to-1 margin, and a majority of citizens who live in the Holcomb area support the state's decision as well.

Greenwashing Coal's Impact

When Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Roderick Bremby rejected Sunflower's air quality permits in October, he said, "[I]t would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing." In response, Sunflower has tried to link its dirty coal with clean energy, in a TV spot promoting the "Holcomb expansion."

The ad -- which never mentions the word "coal" -- insists the plant "will be one of the cleanest, most efficient power plants of its kind." In fact, even with the best available technology, the plant will emit massive amounts of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and ash wastes. Moreover, there are no standards to limit the amount of carbon dioxide pollution emitted, and the new plants are estimated to emit at least 11 millions tons of greenhouse gases ever year.

Some representatives are falling for the misleading, unscientific campaign. Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) declared, "CO2 is not a harmful substance. It's an average, ordinary part of our human life anywhere on this Earth. ... I'm a farmer, and we love CO2. It's a good thing." Rep. Don Myers (R) agreed: "It is all around us and you breathe it."

How We Can Save Money and Cut Our Dependence on Foreign Oil

This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, and Ali Frick.

The last time Congress set corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards -- mandating a 25-mile-per-gallon standard for cars -- Gerald Ford was in the White House, Jaws was showing in movie theaters, and disco was king.

But on Friday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a historic new agreement with House Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), supported by the major automakers, that allows the House to move forward with its stalled energy bill.

The agreement would set CAFE standards at a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon, but would separate standards for SUVs and light trucks in an important compromise to automakers. The proposed energy bill, in the final stages of negotiation, would also vastly increase the use of biofuels, such as "cellulosic" ethanol, a more efficient biofuel than corn ethanol, and require utility companies to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar.

Despite the hard-fought bipartisan support for this bill, the White House has threatened to veto it.

When he signed the first CAFE standard into law in 1975, President Ford admitted the law was hardly perfect, yet he recognized that "[t]he single most important energy objective for the United States today is to resolve our internal differences and put ourselves on the road toward energy independence." "If I were to veto this bill, the debates of the past year would almost surely continue through the election year and beyond. The temptation to politicize the debate would be powerful, and the Nation could become further divided," Ford said.

Hopefully, Congress can push ahead to pass this historic bill and President Bush can recognize, as Ford did, how even what he may deem an imperfect energy bill serves the national interest.

CAFE Standards

With oil futures "up about 76 percent from this year's lowest levels, in January," and Americans concerned about global warming and national security, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said the timing presented "a perfect political moment" to take action.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) forecasted that the new CAFE standards would result in a lifetime savings to car owners of roughly $4,500 and, more importantly, cut oil imports by 1.1 million barrels per day in 2020, equal to half the amount currently imported from the entire Persian Gulf.

Had these standards been fully implemented today, the average driver would have used 160 fewer gallons of gas, and saved $420 this year. "This agreement breaks 30 years of gridlock on fuel economy. ... This is a victory for Americans struggling with $3 per gallon gasoline and would deliver savings of more than $20 billion in 2020," said UCS's David Friedman.

The support of the auto industry, along with Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI),  is key to the measure's success. Rick Wagoner, chairman and CEO of General Motors called the CAFE measures "tough" but assured that "GM is prepared to put forth its best effort" to meet them.

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents Detroit's Big Three, Toyota, Daimler AG, and five other automakers, said that "this tough national fuel economy bill will be good for both consumers and energy security. We support its passage." "This vehicle fuel economy agreement is the single most important step Congress can take to reduce our energy costs and dependence on Mideast oil," said Mark Cooper, Director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America. " Now it's up to Congress and President Bush to leave the past behind once and for all by prompt passage of and signature on these 21st Century fuel economy standards," said Dan Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Renewable Fuels

Another provision of the bill would require "20.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels like ethanol to be mixed with U.S. motor fuel supplies by 2015, with 5.5 billion gallons of that coming from non-food sources like cellulosic ethanol."

Automakers will continue to receive credits to encourage the development of "flex fuel" cars, which can run on a mixture of gasoline and other fuels, even though there is "no way to tell if such vehicles actually use biofuels or regular petroleum-based gasoline," and few gas stations sell such fuels.

Oil companies have successfully blocked gas stations from selling E85. As the Center for American Progress noted yesterday, although there are currently only 1,261 gas stations nationwide selling E85, a mixture of ethanol and gasoline, this figure represents a 9 percent increase since June.

The final energy bill may include incentives to sell E85 at more service stations.

Renewable Electricity

Pelosi is also pressing for a controversial provision that requires utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy predicted such a measure would save $35 billion on energy bills through 2030.

The measure has powerful enemies, including the utility trade group the Edison Electric Institute and southern Congressmen who mistakenly fear their states don't have enough renewable fuel sources to meet the 15 percent threshold.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the provision would make the bill "very troublesome for all of us in the Southeast," and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) "says Southerners' outrage makes Senate passage a 'worst-case scenario.'"

Yet the bill would allow utilities "to purchase credits if renewable fuels are not available and allows efficiency programs as a partial substitute." Even though his state has implemented its own successful renewable electricity standard, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) is leading the fight to oppose the measure, telling reporters yesterday, "At this time, I have instructed my staff to cease their work on the energy bill, since the final bill apparently will not be the product of our bipartisan negotiations."

Yesterday, Bush's outgoing economic adviser Al Hubbard threatened a White House veto of the entire energy bill, objecting to the utilities provision and the CAFE standards. He wrote to Pelosi that the bill "should rely on market innovation" rather than legislated standards. "It appears Congress may intend to produce a bill the President cannot sign," Hubbard wrote.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he expected the provision to pass the Senate. "I think, yes, we do have enough votes, but time will tell," Reid said. The House is expected to vote on the energy bill this Wednesday, with a Senate vote on an identical version -- thereby eliminating the need for a conference committee -- to follow next week.

Will Bush Stop Congress from Creating a New Energy Future?

This story is written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley.


After six years of rhetorical puffery from President Bush about making the United States "less dependent on foreign oil," the new leadership of the 110th Congress took the initiative last weekend and passed a pair of "far-reaching," forward-looking energy bills that "will increase the use of renewable energy, reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of energy, and decrease global warming pollution." In a rare Saturday session, the House approved the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act, putting the nation on a path toward greater energy independence and security. Congress also passed a companion tax package totaling nearly $16 billion to help transition to a new energy economy. Bush has threatened to veto the bills. In 1986, the United States imported 27 percent of its oil; today, it imports 60 percent. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) heralded the bipartisan legislation as "just the ambitious first phase in what will be a series of revolutionary actions for energy independence." Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said the bill's passage moves America away not only from our "over-dependence on fossil fuels, but from our dependence on fossilized ideas."




RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY: The House energy bill passed an amendment requiring electric suppliers to produce 15 percent of their electricity using renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, by the year 2020. Requiring cleaner, renewable energy is a necessary and effective response to the urgency of our global warming and energy dependence problems. More than 20 states already have similar standards in place or under development. The federal standard is necessary to drive increased use of renewable energy, and "it would be the first such requirement to apply to all the states." While defenders of the energy industry fought vigorously to deny this important provision, one conservative lawmaker -- Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) -- explained to his colleagues, "We need to set this goal and then strive every day to reach it. And it is not as hard as the opponents would have us believe." In addition to the renewable electricity standard, the House energy bill "includes new efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and buildings as well as tax breaks and subsidies for plug-in hybrid cars." The House bill also included a measure to create new "green collar jobs." The "Green Jobs Act" makes $125 million available for community-based job training programs at a time when the utility industry faces an aging workforce and the booming renewable and energy efficiency industries sees a skills shortage as a looming bottleneck to their growth.




A CLEANER RIDE: The Center for American Progress Action Fund's Clean My Ride campaign has called for requiring cars and light trucks to get 35 miles per gallon by 2020, while also increasing the number of service stations that sell ethanol for flexible fuel cars. The energy bill passed by the House this weekend omits the gas mileage standards, deferring the question to a conference committee with the Senate, which has passed the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, vowed to fight for the fuel efficiency amendment. "As this debate moves to negotiations between the House and Senate over the specifics of the final energy bill," he said, "I look forward to working with all parties to ensure that the final energy bill this Congress sends to the president contains a strong 35 miles per gallon fuel economy standard." Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has said he is confidence that the final bill sent to Bush will contain a significant increase in automobile fuel economy requirements. The House bill does contain tax credits for "installing ethanol pumps at gas stations, support for development of cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, and funds to study carbon sequestration."




PAYING FOR PROGRESS: The House "approved $16 billion in taxes on oil companies, while providing billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and conservation efforts." The bill provides incentives for the production of electricity from renewable energy - "including energy derived from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, river currents, ocean tides, landfill gas, and trash combustion resources." One conservative lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) bemoaned "the pure venom felt against the oil and gas industry." In reality, the energy bill acknowledges the reality that oil companies have not done their part to pave the path towards a new energy future. Even while the big five oil conglomerates have enjoyed record profits, they have spent only one half of 1 percent of their profit -- $2.5 billion -- on investments in clean alternative energy solutions.



Gonzales Tried to Get John Ashcroft to Sign on to Wiretapping Program on His Sickbed

In March 2004, President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program was temporarily suspended after then-acting Attorney General James Comey refused to sign onto an extension of the program, citing an "extensive review" by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, stating "that the program did not comply with the law." In "gripping testimony" yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey†revealed extraordinary details about the efforts made by Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card -- then-White House counsel and chief of staff, respectively -- to persuade John Ashcroft to overrule Comey, even as Ashcroft was debilitated in an intensive care unit with pancreatitis. The Washington Post calls Comey's "account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." Indeed, Comey's revelations confirm the worst fears about Gonzales's dangerously flawed judgment, and provide further evidence of the administration's -- including the President's -- contempt for basic legal restraints.

Race to the hospital: Describing the events as "the most difficult of my professional career," Comey explained yesterday how the ordeal began on the evening of March 10, 2004, hours before the authority for the spying program was set to expire. A top aide to Ashcroft alerted Comey that Gonzales and Card had arranged a visit with†Ashcroft, who was then hospitalized with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey "ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair." Comey said yesterday, "I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to that." He described how he "literally ran up the stairs" to Ashcroft's room, and had FBI Director Robert Mueller order the agents on Ashcroft's security detail not to evict him from the room if Gonzales and Card objected to his presence.

Ashcroft, 'barely conscious,' rejects power play: Comey "arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious." Minutes later, Gonzales and Card arrived, envelope in hand, and explained that they were seeking his approval to extend authority for warrantless spying.†"Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me," Comey said yesterday. "He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact...and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general'ˇ�?and he pointed to me." The White House effort to overrule Comey had failed. "The two men did not acknowledge me," Comey said. "They turned and walked from the room." Comey added, "I was angry. I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man. ... I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."


White House Caves only after mass resignation threat: Shortly afterwards, a "very upset" Card called Comey "and demanded that I come to the White House immediately." Comey told Card that, after the conduct he had just witnessed, he would not meet with him without a witness present. Card apparently replied, "What conduct? We were just there to wish him well." Comey insisted on having then-solicitor general Ted Olson accompany him to the White House, but Card "would not allow Mr. Olson to enter his office." Comey was informed that White House officials (including Vice President Cheney and Cheney's then-general counsel David Addington) wanted to continue the program. The next morning, March 11, the program was reauthorized "without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality." Comey had seen enough, and wrote up his resignation letter. "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn't stay." Comey said yesterday that he believed both Mueller and Ashcroft were prepared to resign with him, along with all of their top aides. One day later, on March 12, facing a threat of mass resignations, the administration cracked. Bush informed Mueller that he would authorize the changes in the program sought by the Justice Department. Comey said he signed the reauthorization "two or three weeks" later. "It was unclear from his testimony what authority existed for the program while the changes were being made."

Bush and Gonzales in the spotlight: The Washington Post notes that "the bottom line" of Comey's revelations is "the administration's alarming willingness...to ignore its own lawyers." After all, the Justice Department's conclusions "are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department's supervision." The fact that Gonzales "is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all." Moreover, Bush's direct role in this affair remains to be fully explored. Last year, Newsweek reported that Bush dubbed Comey "with a derisive nickname, 'Cuomo,' after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s"; Bush was "[m]iffed" that Comey, "a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a 'team player' on this and other issues." Comey noted yesterday that Ashcroft's wife "had banned all visitors and all phone calls" to the hospital, but that Card and Gonzales were permitted to visit Ashcroft after a direct call from the White House. "I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself," he said.

An Unhappy Anniversary

1,833 lives lost. 270,000 homes destroyed. $55 billion in insured damage. Up to $1.4 billion in American tax dollars wasted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Today, the costs of Hurricane Katrina are still staggering. But even more staggering has been the slow pace of recovery on the Gulf Coast. No one was happy with the federal government's initial response to the hurricane. Eighty percent of the American public think the federal government's response could have been "much better," and in September President Bush stated, "This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina."

But at Katrina's one-year anniversary, it is clear that the nation is still waiting for the help Bush promised. Sunday, as part of the White House's "public relations blitz," Bush trumpeted in his weekly radio address that the federal government has "committed $110 billion to the recovery effort."

But those billions of dollars have yet "to translate into billions in building." Perhaps most disappointingly, Bush has forgotten about his promise to the nation to confront poverty "with bold action."

As Newsweek's Jonathan Alter writes, "The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor." Lessons haven't been learned, and time has run out for excuses. (The Progress Report has compiled a comprehensive timeline of the past year's events and American Progress has developed a list of actions America needs to ensure preparedness and recovery capacity for natural disasters.)

Skyrocketing housing costs: In his Sept. 15 speech, Bush stated that his administration "will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives" and promised to "get the work done quickly." But one year after the storm, repopulation in New Orleans has slowed to a trickle, leaving the city with well under half its prestorm population of 460,000." Lacking the resources to return to the city are many African-Americans who formed the "working-class backbone" of the city. The Houston Chronicle notes, "Vast sections of New Orleans are still devoid of life, populated by endless rows of broken, empty houses waving "for sale" signs like flags of surrender."

By tomorrow, many New Orleans property owners may lose their former homes. The one-year anniversary of Katrina is the deadline when property owners "must have gutted the buildings or shown some signs they intend to rebuild when they can. If they don't, the city can take it as a given they do not intend to return." The average selling price for homes in areas that weren't affected by flooding has risen 25 percent. Rental rates have risen 40 percent, disproportionately affecting black and low-income families. In Biloxi, Miss., 70 percent of renters affected by the storm are black, according to an NAACP study, and another report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights noted that almost "100 percent of public housing families in New Orleans are African-American." Approximately 112,000 low-income homes were damaged, but only a fraction of federal housing assistance has been earmarked for rental units.

Slow economic recovery: More than 81,000 regional businesses were impacted by the storm, resulting in the loss of 450,000 jobs. In advance of his two-day trip to the region, Bush over the weekend touted the government's $110 billion commitment to Katrina recovery, noting the administration is "playing a vital role" in the Gulf Coast's reconstruction. But in reality, just $44 billion has been spent and a new ABC News poll finds that 60 percent of Americans believe the recovery money has so far been "mostly wasted."

Approximately 60 percent of the businesses in New Orleans have still not reopened. According to a report by the Democratic members of the House Small Business Committee, "80 percent of small businesses on the Gulf Coast have not yet received loans promised by the federal government." Some business owners have had to wait as long as 100 days for a decision on a loan application. "These long delays have not only caused many viable small businesses to fail that would have otherwise survived, but has contributed to the slow recovery of the local economy," noted the report.

A 'nonfunctioning city': A White House "Fact Sheet" released in advance of Katrina's one-year anniversary notes that FEMA has provided $5.6 billion to repair and replace damaged public infrastructure. But Gulf Coast Recovery coordinator Donald E. Powell has admitted that nearly a third of the trash in New Orleans has yet to be picked up. Sixty percent of New Orleans homes still lack electricity and just 66 percent of public schools have reopened. Only 17 percent of the city's buses are operational, causing severe problems for the many residents who don't own cars -- "a major factor in the government's failure to evacuate residents before the storm." "Look at what we're getting in terms of services," said Janet Howard of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit group in New Orleans. "It's basically a nonfunctioning city." Crime has risen again in New Orleans -- the homicide rate is nearly 10 times the national average -- but only seven of 13 courtrooms have reopened and judges have a backlog of nearly 7,000 cases. A recent report by the Department of Justice found that in New Orleans, "justice is simply unavailable." But where the federal, state, and local governments have been absent, citizen activism has surged in the wake of the storm, "chipping away at some of this city's unhealthy institutions." Many schools -- formerly in "the control of a corrupt district office" -- are now being managed by parents and community activists as charter schools, and newcomers are pushing for reform and tighter ethics in the city council.

Poverty forgotten: One of the president's boldest promises after Hurricane Katrina was his promise to fight poverty nationwide: "As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality." But as soon as Katrina disappeared from the headlines, "poverty and antipoverty policy disappeared once again from the public agenda." Most recently, the Senate voted down a minimum wage increase because the conservative leadership, in a political ploy, tied it to a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. The federal minimum wage hasn't been raised since 1996 and eight million Americans continue to live on $5.15 an hour. Since Bush took office, the number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million and an additional 1.4 million children fell into poverty between 2000 and 2004. The poverty rates for African-Americans and Hispanics (23 percent) continues to be far higher than the poverty rate for whites (8.6 percent). While Bush did follow through on his promise to create Gulf Opportunity Zones -- tax incentives for regional business development -- Alter notes that they have become "mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans." To date, Congress has taken no action on Bush's call for Worker Recovery Accounts, which would provide $5,000 for evacuees seeking education and job training, or on the Urban Homesteading Act, which would provide free building sites via a lottery to low-income evacuees.

More ailments, less medical care: Health care is an increasing problem in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals estimated that "New Orleans has lost half of its physicians and suffers from a shortage of 1,000 nurses." Forty-four percent of adult caregivers now lack health coverage and "34 percent of children in FEMA-subsidized communities have at least one chronic health condition that requires treatment, but half of the affected children no longer have a medical provider." Even though the population of New Orleans is at less than half of its pre-storm population, the suicide rate has tripled and there is no capacity to deal with mental health and substance abuse problems. The people of New Orleans are also suffering from a lack of hospitals and the inability to receive immediate care from emergency rooms.

Federal waste and mismanagement: The federal mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has permanently damaged Bush's approval rating. White House counselor Dan Bartlett recently said, "It was a setback at the time, but it was recoverable and has been." But the American public disagrees. Bush's approval rating before Katrina was at 60 percent. Immediately after the hurricane hit, it fell to 52 percent and in mid-Sept. 2005, it dropped to 49 percent. It is now at just 36 percent. Sixty-six percent of the American public (and 84 percent of New Orleans residents) rate the government's recovery efforts negatively, according to a recent ABC News poll. A June Government Accountability Office report found that between $600 million and $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars has been wasted on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments." Payments went to Katrina evacuees to pay for items such as Dom Perignon champagne, New Orleans Saints season tickets and adult-oriented entertainment. A recent report by the House Committee on Government Reform found that 19 Katrina contracts -- worth $8.75 billion -- "experienced significant overcharges, wasteful spending or mismanagement."

Levees not ready: Yesterday, Powell said, "I believe that the levees are ready for hurricane season. ... The levees are back to where they were pre-Katrina, and they're on their way to being the best, better and stronger then they have ever been." But Powell's upbeat rhetoric contradicts assessments by the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, who recently expressed skepticism that the New Orleans levees could withstand a hurricane with a heavy storm surge this year. In order for the levees to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and for residents of New Orleans to finally feel safe, another $30 billion will need to be spent. Unfortunately, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes, the federal government's "commitment to the long-term protection of South Louisiana is still uncomfortably murky.

The Estate Tax and Political Blackmail

On Friday, the Senate will vote on a bill that increases the minimum wage for the first time in nine years. Conservatives "who never voted for the minimum wage before, you'll see them vote for this," explained Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Why? Because the minimum wage increase -- which is at its lowest buying power in 51 years -- is being coupled with an unnecessary and costly reduction in the estate tax for the super-wealthy, a windfall for a small number of powerful legions in the conservative base.

The Senate leadership, demonstrating that it cannot act on behalf of low-wage workers without bribing the rich, has said it will prevent any attempts to strip the estate tax provision from the bill and allow a straightforward vote on the minimum wage increase. In a moment of candor last week, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) revealed the political motives behind the bill, informing proponents of the minimum wage increase that "you have seen us really outfox you on this issue tonight."

Editorials across the nation, however, have taken note, decrying the pairing of the minimum wage with the estate tax as a "cynical move," a "political ploy," and a "minimum wage, maximum gall" effort that "screams of unfairness, hypocrisy and economic disaster."Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) added, "It's political blackmail to say the only way that minimum wage workers can get a raise is to give a tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans. Members of Congress raised their own pay -- no strings attached. Surely, common decency suggests that minimum wage workers deserve the same respect."

Why the Paris Hilton Tax Cut should be a deal-breaker

The estate tax reduction -- aka the "Paris Hilton tax cut" -- would exempt the first $10 million of a couple's estate ($5 million for an individual) from taxation entirely by 2015. Amounts above this and up to $25 million would be taxed at the capital gains rate, while amounts above $25 million would be taxed at 30 percent. Wealthy heirs who stand to receive a $10 million inheritance would receive a tax break of as much as $2.76 million. Center for American Progress Director of Tax and Budget Policy John Irons explains that the "the heirs of the $10 million estate would get a tax break worth as much as 183 years of the income of a full-time minimum wage earner."

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that while 6.6 million minimum wage earners nationwide stand to gain an average benefit of $1,200 if the increase passes, a small number of ultra-wealthy beneficiaries (8,200 individuals) stand to reap an average of $1.3 million. CBPP also concluded that the estate tax provision would cut government income by $753 billion in the first 10 years, forcing lower spending for Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance, which help low-wage workers. (By comparison, the White House estimates the federal deficit for this year will be $296 billion.)

Over a million low-wage workers would get a wage cut

While the proposed minimum wage-estate tax cut bill raises the wage for most employees, it results in a wage cut for approximately 1.1 million workers. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explains that the proposed bill would strike down state laws that require employers to "pay a full minimum wage without relying on tips from customers to reach the minimum level." Currently, seven states -- Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- mandate that their employers pay the applicable minimum wage without factoring in tips.

If the bill is passed, employers in these states could begin paying their minimum wage earners as little as the federally-allowable $2.13 an hour for tipped employees, assuming tip earnings make up the difference to add up to the federal minimum wage. EPI calculates that states that have those laws will see the minimum wage for tipped employees (restaurant workers, hotel maids, parking attendants, etc.) fall as much as $5.50 per hour. "Everything that has been achieved in seven states to support low-wage workers who earn tips is destroyed by this bill," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "This bill would slash the salaries of thousands of workers."

Frist stands to personally benefit

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said the proposed legislation would be the only opportunity this year to increase the minimum wage. Frist declared, "It's now or never," stating his unwillingness to strip the estate tax reduction from the bill. His stance is sullied by the fact that he possibly stands to personally benefit from a cut in the estate tax -- a tax that he has been trying to escape for years.

Frist Family Foundation, whose sole trustees are Bill Frist and his wife, had more than $2 million in assets in 2004. Up until 2001, the foundation had very little money. At that time, Frist transferred stocks of HCA Inc. that he inherited from his mother to the foundation. The move appears to have been an effort by Frist to dodge paying the estate tax on his inherited HCA stock. "Janne Gallagher, vice president and general counsel at the Washington-based Council on Foundations, said assets that go directly from an estate into a private family foundation, as in this case, are generally not taxed, unlike money distributed directly to heirs. She said once in the foundation, the money is largely tax exempt." The only charitable contribution the foundation made was an $877,000 donation to a private boys' school in Nashville that Frist once attended.

Sweetening the pot with special interest tax breaks

In June, a Senate vote to permanently repeal the estate tax failed by three votes needed to receive the 60 vote required to overcome a filibuster. Indications are that this Friday's vote on the minimum wage-estate tax bill will be similarly close. Realizing three votes are needed in the Senate, the House-passed version of the bill includes a number of new special-interest tax breaks, unrelated to the estate tax, that are clearly intended to buy votes.

"The bill is sprinkled with incentives drafted with particular lawmakers in mind. A rural bonds provision is aimed at Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR). A tax break for timber interests is a possible lure for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). A provision benefiting coal mines is targeted at Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)." In June, Pryor, Cantwell, and Byrd all voted against the the irresponsible estate tax cut, which would have cost the government $71.6 billion a year by 2015. Their support will be crucial in turning back this ill-conceived piece of political blackmail.

Bolton Is Still Unfit to Serve

This Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Bolton was nominated to the post last year by President Bush but failed to win Senate confirmation after a series of problematic disclosures about his past, particularly a record of mishandling intelligence and a pattern of intimidating subordinates.

The timing of this week's hearings is no accident. The White House is attempting to rally support for the Bolton nomination by politicizing the escalating conflict in the Middle East, arguing that this moment of geopolitical peril requires a permanent representative at the U.N. But the truth is that Bolton's record over the past year has highlighted the desire of an individual who was sent to the U.N. not to make it stronger, but to undermine it. Bolton is no more worthy for the U.N. post now than he was a year ago.

Un-Diplomatic

Bolton has managed to offend many U.S. friends and allies in just over a year at the U.N. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) said, "Bolton's performance at the U.N. confirms my conviction that he is the wrong person for this job." Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) added, "Many ambassadors at the U.N. feel that he hasn't done a good job there. He's polarized the situation." Prior to being appointed to the U.N., Bolton was described by a former State Department colleague as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." Representatives of the U.N. member-states now appear to agree.

The New York Times reported that "many diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself." Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia who closely follows the United Nations, said Bolton's "confrontational tactics have been very dysfunctional for the U.S. purpose." After a confrontation with Bolton, Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Baali said the U.S. stance that "you take it or you leave it is not helping the Security Council, and is not helping the cause of peace in the Middle East."

An ambassador with close ties to the Bush administration told the Times that he originally tried to work with Bolton, but complained that, "all he gives us in return is, 'It doesn't matter, whatever you do is insufficient.' … He's lost me as an ally now, and that's what many other ambassadors who consider themselves friends of the U.S. are saying." "He is not an easy man to get close to," Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece said. "Some people have the possibility to build consensus. Others operate in other ways." Ambassador Oswaldo de Rivero of Peru said, "He lives in another world, with this belief that he is morally superior and the U.S. is more moral than all the countries around the world. It is a pity."

Undermining the U.N.

On many of the key issues before the U.N., Bolton has worked against the consensus of the international body. In March, the U.N. overwhelmingly approved the creation of a much-improved council to protect human rights. While the measure gained the support of 170 nations, the U.S. was one of only four nations to vote against it.

"The U.S. position ruffled feathers at the United Nations. Jan Eliasson, president of the General Assembly, had delayed the creation of the council for weeks in an effort to persuade the United States to support it." Mark Malloch Brown, deputy to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said when the "U.S. chose to stay on the sidelines, the loss was everybody's [PDF]."

Bolton also distanced the U.S. from its allies on the issue of Sudan. He insisted that a list of names proffered by the U.K. of individuals involved in genocide be whittled down, leaving only one mid-level Sudanese government official on the list. Bolton's actions were "responsible for failing to hold any senior member of the Sudanese regime accountable for their role in the genocide."

Also, the U.S. put up great resistance to a plan to restore the aging, dilapidated, asbestos-coated headquarters of the United Nations, a building that fails to meet New York state building codes because it lacks sprinklers and fire alarms. Bolton was the only representative to resist the renovation project.

Waning Influence

In an impassioned speech last month, Malloch Brown constructively criticized the U.S. approach to the U.N., arguing, "[T]he prevailing [U.S.] practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the U.N. one way or another." (The video is available on SecurityPeace.org.) Brown argued that the constant attacks against the U.N. have made its role "in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world."

Bolton has been part of the problem. He once quipped, "If [the UN Secretariat building] lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Demonstrating that he could dish it out but not take it, Bolton overreacted to Brown's comment, calling it a "very, very grave mistake" that would result in the U.N. being the "victim." In the wake of dissension between the member-states over the Iraq war, Brown argued that "what you needed was an ambassador who would heal, not deepen, rifts."

But the rift has indeed widened, causing the U.S.'s influence to wane. Bolton recently admitted that he could not disclose who he would support to replace Annan when his term expires at the end of the year because "it would probably be the kiss of death for that person."


Old problems continue to linger

Dodd said of the Bolton renomination, "This is going to be a bruising fight." He said, "I'm sorry the administration wants to go forward with this," given that "problems still persist" about Bolton that went unresolved last year.

Among the issues that arose was a revelation that Bolton requested 10 National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts of conversations between U.S. government officials and foreign persons. The Bush administration at the time refused Senate requests to turn over the intercepts. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) said Bush should have provided the disputed documents.

Since that time, the NSA warrantless surveillance program has been revealed, which Biden recently argued, "makes these intercepts even more relevant." He added, "Unless the Administration provides the Senate with the documents it is entitled to see, Mr. Bolton should not get a vote." Also, last year, the Senate was informed that Bolton once tried to replace two intelligence analysts that disagreed with him. Referencing this incident, Dodd said, "In my view, I don't care what the administration or what party, if a high official does that, you don't deserve to be confirmed for a high post."

Voinovich's flip-flop is old news

Bolton's nomination failed to gain Senate passage last year due largely to the opposition of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who poignantly asked: "[W]hat message are we sending to the world community when we…appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves? These are the very characteristics that we're trying to dispel in the world community."

Last week, Voinovich penned an op-ed in the Washington Post stating that he would now vote for Bolton and argued that merely questioning the nomination would "jeopardize" the U.S.'s national security agenda. Bolton has tried to leverage Voinovich's reversal to build support for his own nomination, representing the turnabout as "a fairly dramatic change in the political dynamic."

In fact, it is not a "dramatic change" at all; Voinovich publicly announced nearly four months ago that he had changed his perspective on Bolton and would consider voting for him. But Voinovich's eloquently-stated concerns about Bolton, expressed nearly a year ago, have proven to be accurate.

Stem Cell Research Could Make Miracles Happen

Stem cell research "could lead to treatments that save millions of lives and improve the quality-of-life for millions more." In fact, the benefits are already evident. Two weeks ago, scientists were able to transform embryonic stem cells "into immune cells known as T-cells -- offering a way to restore immune systems ravaged by AIDS and other diseases," and last month, "a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore transplanted stem cells from mouse embryos into paralyzed rats and helped them walk again." Today, the Senate will begin debate on H.R. 810 (the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act), the best chance for our country to vigorously pursue research that scientists believe could revolutionize modern medicine. Make sure your senator supports H.R. 810.

The facts about H.R. 810
H.R. 810 "would override rules put in place by Bush five years ago that restrict federal funding to research on only those embryonic stem cells that were in existence as of August 2001." Under the new rules, the government could "pay for studies on stem cell colonies, or lines, derived from embryos that are in cold storage at fertility clinics and scheduled for destruction." The act maintains the federal ban on funding for the destruction of human embryos, and includes ethical guidelines that are "tighter than those under the President’s policy," according to the Parkinson's Action Network. "In fact, some of the 21 stem cell lines that are currently eligible for stem cell research might not meet the strict guidelines in H.R. 810." The legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives last May.

Sham bills cover anti-stem cell senators
Two other bills nominally related to stem cell research will be voted on this week. The Fetus Farming Prohibition Act would ban the development of embryos solely for use in research, and the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act promotes research using stem cells not derived from embryos. The bills are harmless but scientifically meaningless and "will not make substantive changes in policy." The National Institutes of Health, "which doles out federal research dollars, already has the authority to do what the bill boosting stem-cell research without embryonic cells purports to do," while "the bill outlawing the practice of 'fetal farming' is not needed, scientists say, since researchers do not use such methods to generate cells."

The true function of the bills is to provide cover to right-wing senators voting against embryonic research that is favored by 67 percent of Americans, mostly irrespective of sex, race, age, political affiliation and religion. Conservative lawmakers "acknowledged that the alternate measures...are calculated in part to give [conservatives], including the president, something to support," and "hope that passing something dealing with stem cells will provide election-year insulation against charges" that they are anti-science.


President Bush is expected to cast the first veto of his presidency if the Senate passes H.R. 810, and chances are low there will be enough votes to overturn it. "The president is emphatic about this," senior advisor Karl Rove told the Denver Post recently. Rove's comment recalled Bush's remarks shortly after he announced his restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in August 2001: “I laid out the policy I think is right for America. And I’m not going to change my mind." Indeed, Bush's mind hasn't changed, even though the facts have. Bush originally justified his position by claiming there were "more than 60" stem cell lines for researchers to work with; now we know that "many if not all of the...lines are now contaminated and unusable" because they were developed using mouse cells. (Bush's restrictions are in fact "driving scientists to seek out cells from privately funded programs," whose stem cell lines are newer, grow faster, and are sometimes provided for free.)

Last week, Bush rejected an offer to meet with the House co-sponsors of H.R. 810, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Mike Castle (R-DE), to discuss the issue and reach a sensible compromise. Castle says he intended to tell Bush that the embryos funded by H.R. 810 "are blastocysts, created for the purposes of in vitro fertilization...which are spare or in excess of clinical need and in every single case are slated for medical waste. In keeping with your principles, the 'life and death' decision has been made -- the donors have decided to discard these embryos and they will be discarded."

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research frequently cite David Prentice, “a scientist with the conservative Family Research Council," who claims scientific papers prove that adult stem cell lines could be useful treatments "for at least 65 diseases." Prentice’s research is used to argue that enhanced embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary. On June 30, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) -- one of the leading opponents of embryonic stem cell research, and sponsor of the "fetus farming" act -- said "we have derived over 70 peer-reviewed and published medical treatments from adult stem cell research."

It’s not true. On Friday, "in one of the more incendiary volleys" of the recent stem cell debate, three stem cell experts published a letter in the journal Science debunking Prentice’s claim, claiming he "not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites. ... By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients." Only 9 of the 65 examples cited by Prentice hold up to scrutiny. For example, “a study cited by Prentice as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with testicular cancer is in fact a study that evaluates methods of isolating adult stem cells.” As a group of 80 Nobel laureates stated in a letter to President Bush last year, “current evidence suggests that adult stem cells have markedly restricted differentiation potential.”

College Just Got a Lot Costlier

On July 1, interest rates on student loans experienced the greatest jump in history, with the variable rate on common Stafford loans shooting up almost two percent for students and graduates. The rate hike comes as a result of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was signed into law by President Bush on Feb. 8, 2006 as part of an effort to save the federal government more than $22 billion over the next five years. (By comparison, the Department of Defense spends approximately $8.1 billion a month in Iraq).

In today's global technology and information-driven society, obtaining a college diploma is more important than ever. The average college-educated worker [PDF] earns about 73 percent more over a working lifetime than a high school graduate, and faces a 40 percent lower risk of unemployment. A college education opens up windows of opportunity, while leaving school prior to earning a post-secondary credential closes doors. But rising costs and shrinking financial aid are making higher education increasingly inaccessible for many Americans. Lack of academic preparation, inability to pay for a full college experience, and economic pressures to seek full-time employment already prevent many students from completing a post-secondary program [PDF]. The student loan interest rate hikes will only exacerbate the problem.

Putting higher education out of reach

As of last Saturday, the new variable rate for Stafford loans will be 6.54 percent for students and 7.14 percent for graduates. In the 2004-2005 school year, the rates on the same loans were just 2.77 percent for students and 3.37 percent for graduates, and in 2005-2006, the rates were 4.7 percent for students and 5.3 percent for graduates. The interest rate hikes are estimated to add an additional $2,000 in loan payments to the average borrower's debt.

The rate hikes are only the latest blow to students trying to overcome the economic hurdles of earning a post-secondary degree. As a new report by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-MA) office [PDF] explains, "The cost of attending a public four-year college increased 32 percent between the 2000-2001 and 2004-2005 school years. The cost of attending a private school has also risen considerably -- a 21 percent increase -- and has reached nearly $26,500 a year."

Compounding the problem is the fact that family incomes have not been able to keep up with the exorbitant costs. According to the Kennedy report, "Median family income increased less than six percent" over the same period of time. This fall, Campus Progress will be launching a campaign focusing on the issues of student debt and access to higher education. Click here to sign up for more information.


Help is not on the way

Financial aid has been lagging behind for families in need of help. Federal grants have not kept pace with tuition growth. "While the maximum Pell Grant [which makes it possible for thousands of low-income students to attend college every year] covered 51 percent of the cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a public four-year college during the 1986-1987 school year, it covered only 35 percent of those costs in 2004-2005." As a result, more students are taking out loans to pay for college, leaving them to shoulder a larger debt burden than ever before.

From 1997-2002, the average undergraduate debt rose 66 percent [PDF]. By another measure, "The average amount of federal student loan debt upon graduation has increased from $8,946 in 1992-1993 to $17,400 in 2003-2004." The debt that students are shouldering is increasingly limiting their career choices. An April 2006 report by the State PIRG's Higher Education Project shows that 37 percent [PDF] of public four-year college graduates have too much debt to manage as a starting social worker, and 38 percent of private four-year college students would face an unmanageable debt burden as a starting teacher. Furthermore, reports show that students are delaying buying a home and putting off marriage due to educational debt.

One solution advocated by the Center for American Progress is to increase funding for the Pell Grant program so that it covers as much as it did two decades ago -- 50 percent [PDF] of the average tuition, fees, room and board at four-year, public universities. The funding can be partially obtained by shifting student loans from bank-subsidizing programs to more cost-effective ones.


The expanding achievement gap

The gap in enrollment rates between low-income and high-income groups is distressing. The graduation rate for high-income students is 60 percent higher than the rate for low-income students. It is estimated that between 2001 and 2010, 4.4 million low- and moderate-income [PDF] academically-qualified students will opt not to enroll in a four-year university, and 2 million of them will forgo college entirely -- all because the cost of a college education is beyond their reach.

American Progress Senior Fellow Gene Sperling has advocated addressing the growing achievement gap by promoting a nationwide educational early-intervention effort through partnerships between private and state universities and local communities. Part of the universities' commitment to long-term early intervention programs would entail offering free tuition to any qualified student admitted from a participating program. In addition, schools should be rewarded with cash bonuses for improving the performance of their disadvantaged students.

GOP Ignores Danger of Global Warming

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case that "could be one of the court's most important ever on the environment." The case emerged in 2003 after the EPA rejected a petition calling for the federal government to restrict emissions of greenhouse gases -- most notably, carbon dioxide.

The EPA's general counsel argued in a memo that "[carbon dioxide] and other [greenhouse gases], as such, are not air pollutants," and "substantial scientific uncertainty" still exists about the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment. The statement meant the Bush administration would not have to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this view. (The Washington Post would later report that "two of the jurists who helped decide the case" had "attended a six-day global warming seminar ... sponsored by a free-market foundation and featuring presentations from companies with a clear financial interest in limiting regulation.")

Twelve states, three major cities, and several environmental groups appealed the decision, arguing the case "goes to the heart of the EPA's statutory responsibilities to deal with the most pressing environmental problem of our time."

Ultimately, the Supreme Court's ruling "could determine how the nation addresses global warming." Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) is optimistic about the court's decision. "It is encouraging that the high court feels this case needs to be reviewed," said Jeffords, a supporter of carbon dioxide regulation. "It is high time to stop relying on technicalities and finger pointing to avoid action on climate change."


Industry is polluting science

In 1999, President Bush called carbon dioxide "one of four main pollutants" that needed "mandatory reduction targets for emissions." But he changed his position in a 2003 letter that claimed it "is not a 'pollutant' under the Clean Air Act." (Not surprisingly, the American Petroleum Institute agrees: "Fundamentally, we don't think carbon dioxide is a pollutant.")

Meanwhile, the EPA's own website defines carbon dioxide as "Industrial Air Pollution" that contributes to "global climate change." Jennifer Bradley and Timothy Dowling, who have co-written an amicus brief for the case, argue the "EPA's statutory justification depends on a rather tortured reading of the Clean Air Act [PDF]." First, the Act says the EPA must regulate any "air pollutant" that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The statute defines "air pollutant" broadly as "substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air." (No doubt carbon dioxide emissions fit within this broad definition.)

Also, the Act explicitly refers to CO2 as a pollutant when it states "pollution prevention" should be carried out with "improvements in nonregulatory strategies and technologies for preventing or reducing multiple air pollutants, including ... carbon dioxide." Second, Bradley and Dowling argue, the "Clean Air Act does not allow the EPA to weigh policy considerations [PDF] in deciding whether to regulate." (For example, the EPA did so in 2003 when they "questioned the wisdom of a 'piecemeal' approach to greenhouse gases.") "Policy considerations such as the costs and benefits of regulation or the existence of alternative methods more to the current administration's liking," they write, "are far outside those statutory boundaries."

New studies strengthen the case for action

Several recent studies demonstrate both humanity's impact on climate change and the effects these changes have on the environment. The National Academy of Sciences, a "private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters," found in their comprehensive study of climate change data that "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."

More importantly, the study "supports the conclusion that human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." The National Center for Atmospheric Research revealed one of the consequences of our actions: stronger hurricane activity.

"Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor," the report found." The study contradicts recent claims that natural cycles are responsible for the upturn in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995. It also adds support to the premise that hurricane seasons will become more active as global temperatures rise." Finally, researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas recently reported that Greenland's glaciers "are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago." If Greenland's ice sheet thaws, scientists predict that sea levels could rise 21 feet and "swamp the world's coastal cities, home to a billion people."


The Right manufactures the debate about global warming

"There is a debate over whether [climate change is] manmade or naturally caused," Bush said yesterday. Yet among scientists, the debate has long been over. Rather than argue the science, the right has resorted to manufacturing scientific doubt where there is none. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a column from a prominent climate skeptic that argued, "There Is No 'Consensus' On Global Warming."

Commentators on CNBC picked up on the theme later in the day, saying, "There is not scientific consensus." (One network anchor said there is no way "puny, gnawing little humans" could change the climate in "70 years.") The right wants the public to ignore scientific research that find "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming," and instead believe that we should wait for more research before we take action.

The moral imperative

"If only the U.S. administration could flip from denial to acceptance, it could save the world," said John Houghton, a former senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "If the Americans continue to do nothing, then we have a big problem -- therefore they must do something."

Despite the best efforts from the right, the American public does want the government to act. A CBS News poll found that 66 percent of Americans think global warming is impacting us now, and in a Gallup poll conducted in March, 75 percent of Americans favored "mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases."

Despite campaign promises to the contrary, Bush opposes mandatory reductions. Instead, he favors "voluntary measures" that "have yet to deliver promised results."

Others are filling the leadership void. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released the Safe Climate Act last week that aims to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. (The International Climate Change Taskforce recommended this target in a report [PDF] sponsored by the Center for American Progress.) The bill sets out emission goals "through a flexible economy-wide cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, along with measures to advance technology and reduce emissions through renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cleaner cars."

And as concern over the impacts of climate change increase, there is a growing consensus that reducing carbon emissions may no longer be a sufficient response to the impending reality of global warming, creating greater need for attention to how we will manage the potentially disastrous impacts of increased warming that may already be upon us. American Progress has called for a policy of global warming preparedness to addresses likely impacts and accompany immediate action on reducing emissions.

Outcry as Bush Nominates Illegal Spying Advocate for CIA

On Friday, Porter Goss unexpectedly resigned as head of the CIA, leaving behind an "utterly irresponsible" 18-month tenure at the agency and unanswered questions about his hurried departure. Today, the White House nominated deputy director of national intelligence Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden as Goss's successor. "Bottom line, I believe he's the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time. We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) yesterday on Fox News Sunday, voicing the bipartisan concerns of lawmakers.

Hayden has demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution and has misled Congress under oath. His close ties to Vice Presidency Cheney, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, and the Department of Defense have led many members of Congress to conclude he is wrong man to gain the trust of the intelligence community and clean up the CIA after the "chaos" left by Goss.


'Under the sway' of Rumsfeld

Over the weekend, a bipartisan group of lawmakers spoke out opposing the nomination of a military officer to a civilian agency. If Hayden is confirmed, "military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency." One former intelligence official said, "It seems to me the Pentagon grows even stronger now.... Every time there's a change, it moves in that direction." "I think...putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington, but also to our agents in the field around the world," said Hoekstra yesterday, who also added that there will "be the perception in the CIA" that Hayden would be under the sway of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

One of Goss's largest challenges at the CIA was gaining the trust of career officers, who resented that he brought in a group of his unqualified aides -- called "the Gosslings" by CIA insiders -- and appointed them to top positions. Even if Hayden retires from the military, he is unlikely to be trusted as the committed independent advocate that the CIA needs. "Now, just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an air force uniform, I don't think makes much difference," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Senate Intelligence Committee Pat Roberts (R-KS), who in 2005 called Hayden "outstanding," yesterday refused to offer his endorsement of the administration's nominee: "I'm not in a position to say that I am for General Hayden and will vote for him."

Hayden unfamiliar with the Fourth Amendment

Hayden has demonstrated an "astounding lack of knowledge" about his job as an intelligence official, fundamentally misunderstanding constitutional protections. In a speech on Jan. 23, Hayden boasted that he was knowledgeable on the Fourth Amendment: "[B]elieve me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth."

But in a question at that same speech, Knight-Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay noted that Hayden "repeatedly referred to the Fourth Amendment's search standard of 'reasonableness' without mentioning that it also demands 'probable cause'"; Hayden continued to deny that the amendment contained any such clause. When Landay asked Hayden if the amendment contains the phrase "probable cause," Hayden bluntly replied, "No." (Read the full text of the Fourth Amendment here.)

Lying to Congress

In January, Karl Rove promised to make the midterm elections focus on wiretapping. Hayden -- as one of the administration's "most forceful" defenders of President Bush's warrantless domestic eavesdropping and director of the National Security Agency (NSA) when the program was implemented in 2002 -- will likely bring that issue to the forefront. "We have no concerns about a public debate over the terrorist surveillance program," said a senior White House official. Hayden misled Congress and the public about the administration's domestic spying. In his Oct. 17, 2002 testimony, Hayden told a congressional committee that any surveillance of persons in the United States was done consistent with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required a court-approved warrant for wiretapping. As American Progress Senior Fellow Morton Halperin pointed out, "At the time of his statements, Hayden was fully aware of the presidential order to conduct warrantless domestic spying issued the previous year," making Hayden's misleading statements to Congress illegal.

An Agency in Turmoil

Goss's chaotic departure encapsulated his chaotic tenure. "A 'reform' that was supposed to improve coordination and coherence among our intelligence agencies has had the opposite effect," said Robert L. Hutchings, former National Intelligence Council chairman, about Goss's term. While the Bush administration has tried to spin Goss's resignation as a lost turf battle with Negroponte, there has been little indication that Goss ever fought hard against the administration for his turf.

In reality, Goss's tenure was noted for "bleeding talent" away from the struggling agency: "At least a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- have resigned, retired early or requested reassignment. The directorate's second-in-command walked out of Langley last month and then told senators in a closed-door hearing that he had lost confidence in Goss's leadership." Now the agency has been drawn into a federal criminal investigation over Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's third-ranking official, handpicked by Goss.

The CIA Inspector General has opened an investigation into Foggo's contacts with defense contractors accused of bribing lawmakers. Foggo has admitted that he attended poker games -- where prostitutes may have been present -- set up by Brent Wilkes, who is implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Additionally, Frank Bassett, a CIA agent identified as "Nine Fingers," was also at the poker parties and was a former Goss aide. "Supposedly the [Cunningham] scandal was the last straw [in deciding that Goss should resign].... This administration may be on the verge of a major scandal," said a congressional source involved in oversight of U.S. spy agencies.

Americans Rally to Save Darfur

"It is in the realm of domestic politics that the battle to stop genocide is lost," Harvard University's Samantha Power wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of why the post-Holocaust pledge of "Never Again" is so rarely kept. "American political leaders interpret society-wide silence as an indicator of public indifference. They reason that they will incur no costs if the United States remains uninvolved but will face steep risks if they engage." It is therefore of great significance that "public outrage, sporadic before, is growing over the continuing bloodshed in Darfur," as the New York Times reports today. This Sunday, tens of thousands of Americans -- including actor George Clooney, U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Joey Cheek, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) -- will join rallies around the country urging the Bush administration to step up its efforts to end the genocidal violence in Darfur. (Watch an excellent new short video on Darfur featuring Pelosi and others.)

The rallies are backed by an "unusually broad coalition of 164 humanitarian and religious groups, including Amnesty International and the National Association of Evangelicals," and its message is clear: "What we cannot do is turn our heads and look away and hope that this will somehow disappear," as Clooney put it yesterday. "It's the first genocide of the 21st century." Take a moment to sign up with SaveDarfur.org and the Genocide Intervention Network, and attend a rally in your area.

Not just symbolism

"What we do about Darfur says a lot about us and the conscience of our generation. We don't have that excuse anymore, saying we didn't know about it, there's nothing we can do," says Adam Zuckerman, 18, a senior at Deering High School in Portland, Maine, who "raised $6,000 to bring a busload of Reform Jews and Sudanese immigrants from Maine" to one of the rallies on Sunday. High school and college students have been among the most active in organizing grassroots efforts around Darfur. Universities nationwide are waging a successful effort to divest their financial holdings in oil firms and other corporations doing business with Sudan's government. (Sudan gets 43 percent of its revenue from oil-related sales and pours 60 percent of all oil revenue into military expenditures.)

The campaign "also aims at states and municipalities. Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon have approved divestment, and legislation is pending in several other states." And there are signs that the efforts are working. "Seeking to counter the divestment campaign," the New York Times reports, "Sudan's ambassador to the United States issued a statement on April 5, calling on American companies and universities to increase investments in Sudan."

Violence getting worse

By now, the scope of the atrocities in Darfur is well known; in this "slow motion genocide," which the United Nation calls the "world's greatest humanitarian crisis," 2.5 million have been driven from their homes and up to 400,000 have died. But after a relative downtick in violence in 2005, the situation has drastically deteriorated. "I don't think the world has understood how bad it has become of late," U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said last week, claiming the violence is "as bad as ever." He warned that many U.N. humanitarian operations are "in danger of collapsing within the next few weeks or months." Already, U.N. officials say the international community is "keeping people alive with our humanitarian assistance until they are massacred." Just yesterday, analysts warned of a "new military offensive by the Sudanese government" -- one that included the use of "an Antonov plane and two helicopter gunships" -- that has put "the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk."

President Bush must show leadership

In her book, Power writes, "No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on." Under pressure from religious and student groups, Bush has at least been prodded to speak publicly about the issue on occasion. Unfortunately, his words have not been followed by decisive action, which fuels a dangerous dynamic: the Sudanese government believes that there is no price to pay for inaction, that there is "no connection between the U.S. bark and its bite." Even the U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed this week on four Sudanese individuals show the inconsistency of U.S. policy.

On the one hand, the United States pushed harder for the sanctions than any other country. On the other hand, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton successfully managed "to keep top Sudanese commanders" from being targeted. Thanks to Bolton, the sanction list was whittled down to four from eight, only one of whom "is a Sudanese government official, and a mid-level official at that."

A real security threat

Increasingly, Darfur is having a direct impact on U.S. national interests. An executive order signed by Bush just this week states that the "persistence of violence in Sudan's Darfur region" poses "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." Sudan is the "single most unstable country in the entire world" according to Foreign Policy magazine's latest Failed States Index.

The ongoing violence there is not only fueling regional instability in states like Chad and the Central African Republic, but creating "exactly the kind of place al-Qaeda has successfully exploited in the past and might again," according to experts. Helping curb the violence would also demonstrate to the Arab and Muslim worlds that U.S. foreign policy does not have the anti-Muslim bent that Osama bin Laden and others claim, since "nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim." With strong action on Darfur, the U.S. could improve its own security, "literally save tens of thousands of lives and…enable, over time, literally two and a half million people to go home again." But urgent action is needed now.

How Not to Prepare for a Hurricane

In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as "among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

Yesterday, disaster struck.

One of the strongest storms in recorded history rocked the Gulf Coast, bringing 145 mph winds and floods of up to 20 feet. One million residents were evacuated; at least 65 are confirmed dead. Tens of thousands of homes were completely submerged.

Mississippi's governor reported "catastrophic damage on all levels." Downtown New Orleans buildings were "imploding," a fire chief said. Oil surged past $70 a barrel. New Orleanians were grimly asking each other, "So, where did you used to live?" (To donate to Red Cross disaster relief, call 1-800-HELP-NOW).

While it happened, President Bush decided to … continue his vacation, stopping by the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort in El Mirage, Arizona, to hawk his Medicare drug benefit plan.

On Sunday, President Bush said, "I want to thank all the folks at the federal level and the state level and the local level who have taken this storm seriously." He's not one of them. Below, we present "How Not to Prepare for a Massive Hurricane," by President Bush, congressional conservatives, and their corporate special interest allies. 

SLASH SPENDING ON HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS IN NEW ORLEANS:  Two months ago, President Bush took an ax to budget funds that would have helped New Orleans prepare for such a disaster. The New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suffered a "record $71.2 million" reduction in federal funding, a 44.2 percent reduction from its 2001 levels.

Reports at the time said that thanks to the cuts, "major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. … Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now." (Too bad Louisiana isn't a swing state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Frances -- and the run-up to the 2004 election -- the Bush administration awarded $31 million in disaster relief to Florida residents who didn't even experience hurricane damage.)

DESTROY NATURAL HURRICANE PROTECTIONS: The Gulf Coast wetlands form a "natural buffer that helps protect New Orleans from storms," slowing hurricanes down as they approach from sea.

When he came into office, President Bush pledged to uphold the "no net loss" wetland policy his father initiated. He didn't keep his word.

Bush rolled back tough wetland policies set by the Clinton administration, ordering federal agencies "to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands and an untold number of waterways nationwide."

Last year, four environmental groups issued a joint report showing that administration policies had allowed "developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands."

The result? New Orleans may be in even greater danger: "Studies show that if the wetlands keep vanishing over the next few decades, then you won't need a giant storm to devastate New Orleans -- a much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could destroy the city too." 

GUT THE AGENCY TASKED WITH DEVELOPING HURRICANE RESPONSES: Forward-thinking federal plans with titles like "Issues and Options in Flood Hazards Management," "Floods: A National Policy Concern," and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management" would be particularly valuable in a time of increasingly intense hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the agency that used to produce them -- the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) -- was gutted by Gingrich conservatives several years ago.

As Chris Mooney (who presciently warned of the need to bulk up hurricane defenses in New Orleans last May) noted yesterday, "If we ever return to science-based policymaking based on professionalism and expertise, rather than ideology, an office like OTA would be very useful in studying how best to save a city like New Orleans -- and how Congress might consider appropriating money to achieve this end."

SEND OUR FIRST RESPONDERS TO FIGHT A WAR OF CHOICE: National Guard and Reserve soldiers are typically on the front lines responding to disasters like Katrina -- that is, if they're not fighting in Iraq. Roughly 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is currently deployed in Iraq, where guardsmen and women make up about four of every 10 soldiers.

Additionally, "Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators" used by the Louisiana Guard are also tied up abroad. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," Louisiana National Guard Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider told reporters earlier this month. "Recruitment is down dramatically, mostly because prospective recruits are worried about deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan or another country," the AP reported recently. "I used to be able to get about eight people a month," said National Guard 1st Sgt. Derick Young, a New Orleans recruiter. "Now, I'm lucky if I can get one."

HELP FUEL GLOBAL WARMING: Severe weather occurrences like hurricanes and heat waves already take hundreds of lives and cause millions in damages each year. As the Progress Report has noted, data increasingly suggests that human-induced global warming is making these phenomena more dangerous and extreme than ever.

"The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service," science author Ross Gelbspan writes. "Its real name is global warming."

AP reported recently on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis that shows that "major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific … have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent" since the 1970s, trends that are "closely linked to increases in the average temperatures of the ocean surface and also correspond to increases in global average atmospheric temperatures during the same period."

Yet just last week, as Katrina was gathering steam and looming over the Gulf, the Bush administration released new CAFE standards that actually encourage automakers to produce bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles, while preventing states from taking strong, progressive action to reverse global warming.

The Case Against Chris Cox

Meet Chris Cox, the man who helped produce the Enron scandal. Orange County Weekly reported that "Cox, as part of conservative Republicans' so-called Contract With America, spearheaded efforts to torpedo protections for corporate investors and shield companies -- like Enron -- and their accountants -- like Arthur Andersen -- from investor lawsuits." Cox's sustained effort to provide protections to corporate bad actors was successful; the nation's economy was not. Moreover, Cox pushed his securities reform bill through Congress at the same time he was a named defendant in two lawsuits for securities fraud. Cox's conduct raises serious questions about his ethical suitability for the job. For the last two-and-half years, outgoing SEC Chairman William Donaldson has worked to repair the damage Cox helped produce. But Cox remains committed to his ideological agenda, and, should he be confirmed, is ready to take the country back into the Enron era.

Cox's crusade to weaken investor protections

Cox claimed on the floor of the House on 3/7/95 that securities law was "a legal torture chamber ... more suitable to the pages of Charles Dickens' 'Bleak House' than a nation dedicated to equal justice under law." Cox's efforts to weaken protections for investors culminated in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which provided extensive legal protection to corporate executives, accountants and lawyers who made misleading statements. The bill was enacted into law over President Clinton's veto "after heavy lobbying from Andersen [and] the rest of the accounting industry." Duke University Law Professor James Cox (no relation) called the law "the ultimate in special-interest legislation." Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, said Chris Cox's law "made it not only possible but likely that something like Enron would occur."

How the Cox law protects corporate crooks

According to OC Weekly, "[i]ndependent legal analyses and securities lawyers agree" that Cox's bill "significantly raised the bar at several points in the litigation process, making it much harder for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits." Specifically, plaintiffs "would have to prove there was a 'strong inference' that the defendant acted with the required state of mind for fraud. Securities lawyers refer to this requirement as "'scienter' - a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud." It's an extremely difficult standard to meet. When the standard was interpreted by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals it "even forgave executives who said they forgot to disclose bad financial news to investors."

How the Cox law protects Kenneth Lay

Cox's law provided additional protections for executives who made inaccurate "forward looking statements" about the future of the company to investors. So when, 12 weeks before the company declared bankruptcy, former Enron CEO Ken Lay told a reporter from Business Week, "We think the company is on solid footing, and we're looking forward to continued strong growth," he was unlikely to face legal consequences.

Cox misrepresents the impact of law

Cox has blatantly misrepresented the impact of the law. For example, according to Cox, his law "requires a company and its officers to constantly update and correct any forward-looking statement once made." The official Congressional Research Service summary of the law, however, "[s]tates that there is no duty upon any person to update a forward-looking statement."

Cox was sued for alleged involvement in Ponzi Scheme

Cox's efforts to limit the ability of investors to sue for fraud was informed by his personal experience. Cox worked for the law firm of Latham & Watkins from 1978 to 1986 before leaving to join the White House counsel's office. On 9/17/94, the LA Times reported, Cox was sued for his work at Latham that involved him in a business scheme that robbed nearly 8,000 investors of approximately $136 million. The scheme cheated customers out of their retirement nest eggs by enticing them to invest in phony mortgages. High-level officers at First Pension Corporation, the company at issue, pled guilty to fraudulently diverting funds. The charge against Cox was that he helped write a deceptive plan to sell mutual fund shares. Cox claimed ignorance and said he was only distantly involved in the case, but information uncovered later revealed him to be more involved with the convicted dealer than he previously let on.

Details murky on resolution of class action lawsuit against Cox

Two suits were filed against Cox: a class action by the investors of First Pension Corp. and another by the court-appointed receiver. On 6/15/96, the LA Times wrote that although Cox was dropped as a defendant from the receiver's case (a move that was meant to "streamline the case," according to the receiver), Cox remained a defendant in the class action. The other major defendant, the accounting giant Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) was found guilty in July 2000 by a California Superior Court jury, according to the LA Times, for having "misrepresented First Pension's condition, concealed material information and abetted the company's managers in the fraud." In August 2000, the LA Times reported that the class action was settled before the damages phase could be entered into, but "terms of the agreement were not disclosed."

Conflict: Cox sought to pass Class Action Reform Bill while named in class action suit

Cox was named in a class-action suit brought by the defrauded investors of First Pension. At the same time he was named in the suit, Cox was holding hearings on the Hill on the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, a bill that, according to the WSJ, would "sharply limit the circumstances in which investors could bring class-action lawsuits." The AP noted, "Cox was informed one week before the bill was introduced that attorneys were threatening to add him as a defendant in a securities lawsuit." Although the bill did not directly affect the case against him because the case was filed in state court, the AP noted, "it could affect future legal actions brought in federal court against him or his former law firm, Latham & Watkins, which is named as a defendant in the suit." Despite there being an obvious conflict of interest involved with Cox's legislation, the House took no action against him.

Conflict: Cox amended the legislation after learning of his own liability

Though Cox claimed he only performed a small amount of legal work for one of the convicted securities dealers, the AP uncovered documents that showed Cox had actually worked with the felon in another major transaction. When confronted with the new evidence of the relationship, Cox said, "I don't have any independent recollection of that work." Back on Capitol Hill, Cox added an additional protection for targets of securities fraud lawsuits. "The day after the AP questioned Cox about [the relationship between him and the convicted dealer,] the congressman amended his legislation to prevent lawyers and others from being sued if they 'genuinely forgot to disclose' important information."

Cox's questionable campaign contributions

Throughout his career in Congress, Cox has received more than $254,000 from the securities and investment industry, the fourth-largest industry contributor to Cox. He received another $206,000 from the accounting industry. Taken together, the securities and accounting industries combine to form the largest industry contributor to Cox. Cox's single largest contributor is the law firm of Latham & Watkins, the former employer that both involved him and absolved him of his personal legal troubles. Cox received $2,000 from William Cooper, owner of First Pension, but was forced to return the funds as controversy surrounding Cox's involvement in the scandal grew. Cox received a campaign contribution from ethically challenged lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 1996. He also received $2,000 from an Andersen Accounting executive in the 2001-02 cycle.

Hammer Nailed

It's a big day for the ethically-challenged Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) today, with two front-page stories in national newspapers dealing with different scandals. One bombshell detonated on the front page of today's Washington Post: according to four different people with firsthand knowledge of the vacation, a six-day trip to Moscow DeLay took in 1997 was "underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government." (Remember, the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives on Gifts and Travel state that "a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from 'a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal.'") Not to be outdone, The New York Times fronts its own DeLay disgrace. According to records, since 2001, DeLay's wife and daughter have been paid over a half million dollars by DeLay's political action and campaign committees.

According to The Washington Post, DeLay may have taken an expense-paid, six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 set up by the scandal-riddled Jack Abramoff and footed by a shadowy, off-shore lobbying group. While in Russia, he had dinner with Russian oil and gas executives as well as Washington-based lobbyists (including Abramoff). The trip, which cost more than $57,000, was paid for by "a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas" which was actually a front for a $440,000 intensive lobbying campaign financed by the Russians. At the time, however, DeLay reported the trip was paid for by a Washington non-profit. He tried to slide the trip under the government radar, however; "breaking with traditional practice for congressmen traveling overseas," DeLay "did not contact the State Department in advance or meet with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow" regarding his meeting with the Russian execs.

The tab for DeLay's Russia trip was paid by an obscure firm called Chelsea Commercial Enterprises, which was deeply involved with Russian oil executives. It's a purposely tangled web, but here's how to get from Point A to Point B: Registered in the Bahamas, Chelsea was paid by a Russian oil and gas company known as Naftasib to lobby Congress for on its behalf. Chelsea then turned around and hired two Washington, D.C. lobbying firms, Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds, to do the actual lobbying. One of the Rouvelas Meeds lobbyists -- Jack Abramoff -- then set up a trip for Tom DeLay to meet the Naftasib executives in Moscow, using a D.C. nonprofit, the National Center for Public Policy Research. NCPPR paid for the trip ... then, according to sources, was paid back by the Russian-paid Chelsea.

In 1997 and 1998, the Russians were worried about losing the billions of dollars in aid from the West on which they depended heavily. At the time, House Conservatives, who scorned such aid as "corporate welfare," were becoming increasingly critical of U.S. and international lending institutions. Not DeLay! According to The Washington Post, he was consistently "a 'yes' vote for institutions bolstering Russia in this period. For example, DeLay voted for a bill that included the replenishment of billions of dollars in IMF funds used to bail out the Russian economy in 1998."

The Russia trip is just the latest in a long list of lobbyist-funded exotic vacations for this jet-setting congressman. He enjoyed a luxurious British vacation in mid-2000, set up by lobbyists and paid for by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company to the tune of about $70,000. And in 2001, he was off to Asia, on an expense-paid trip to South Korea which, in direct violation of House rules, was paid for by a South Korean lobbying group. The cost to send his entourage to Seoul for three days? A cool $106,921.

The New York Times leads with DeLay's apparent nepotism. According to disclosure forms (which are legally required by the Federal Election Committee), DeLay's wife, Christine DeLay, and daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, received more than $500,000 from DeLay's national political action committee, AMPAC, his House campaign committees, and the closely aligned Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC. The payments were merely described as for "fund-raising fees," "campaign management" or "payroll"; there were "no additional details about how they earned the money." DeLay's wife made over $4,000 a month from AMPAC. His daughter also got a sweet chunk of the pie. Since 2003, she received over $3,500 each month from DeLay's national political action committee, AMPAC. Through her consulting firm, she also raked in $222,000 in fees from DeLay's House campaign committees. And while so far there is "no suggestion from prosecutors" that she is personally under investigation by a grand jury in Austin, her records have been subpoenaed in an inquiry focused on the fund-raising activities of TRMPAC, which is the state version of AMPAC. Ferro made close to $30,000 off of that group. (Her father is currently embroiled in a separate scandal with TRMPAC for his alleged participation in illegally funneling corporate funds to the group in order assist state political campaigns.)

DeLay Exposed

Majority Leader Tom DeLay began the month of March besieged by charges of corruption and ethics violations. In the past, the Hammer had weathered such storms by scurrying back into the tool shed – avoiding press coverage and public appearances, and using surrogates to deflect accusations. Not this time. Instead, DeLay sought out media attention, assuming a highly visible leading role as Congress politicized the tragic case of Terri Schiavo and intervened in the family's private end-of-life decision. Now, as public attention shifts away from Schiavo, DeLay's political calculations seem to have backfired. In the past weeks, as many Americans were introduced to DeLay for the first time, the House leader has been exposed as the very picture of political opportunism and hypocrisy.

Tom DeLay leveled some of the most extreme and inappropriate charges regarding the Schiavo case. He described the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube as an "act of medical terrorism," demagogued Schiavo's husband Michael on the floor of the House of Representatives, and said to a group of Christian conservatives that "God has brought [Terri Schiavo] to us ... to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," referring to "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others." Yet, for all his bombastic rhetoric, it appears DeLay's involvement in the case was tied to politics, not principle. The Texas native apparently had little to do with the Schiavo controversy prior to the past few weeks. According to a search of LexisNexis, the first article mentioning both DeLay and Schiavo appeared on 3/11/05, while the first documents mentioning Schiavo on DeLay's web site were published March 18. And now, "in the face of the legal setbacks and of polls that show overwhelming disapproval of Congressional intervention, as well as a perception among the public that lawmakers trying it were motivated by politics," DeLay has once again "slipped out of the spotlight."

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Tom DeLay personally endured an end-of-life crisis similar to the tragic Schiavo case. In 1988, DeLay's 65-year-old father Charles was seriously injured during a freak tram accident at the family's home in Canyon Lake, Texas. His injuries left the DeLay patriarch suspended in a coma, with doctors advising "that he would 'basically be a vegetable,'" according to the congressman's aunt, JoAnne DeLay. After several weeks, as Charles' organs began to fail, his family "confronted the dreaded choice so many other Americans have faced: to make heroic efforts or to let the end come." And, in a decision that belies his bellicose rhetoric of recent weeks, Tom DeLay "quietly joined the sad family consensus to let his father die."

As the last straw of hypocrisy, the Times detailed how DeLay's family later filed suit against two companies responsible for a machine part that the family said had caused the accident. The case was resolved in 1993 with payment of about $250,000, compensation for the dead father's "physical pain and suffering" and the mother's grief and loss of companionship, among other things. "Three years later," the Times notes, "DeLay cosponsored a bill specifically designed to override state laws on product liability such as the one cited in his family's lawsuit." Despite the benefits for his family, DeLay has taken a leading role promoting tort reform. He condemns trial lawyers who "get fat off the pain" of plaintiffs with "frivolous, parasitic lawsuits" that raise insurance premiums and "kill jobs."

The Politicization of Terri Schiavo

Just like countless other families, the family of Terri Schiavo has struggled for years with the intensely difficult decision of how to match her course of treatment to her wishes. Now President George W. Bush, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are using the tragic case of Schiavo – a severely brain-damaged woman who has been incapacitated for the past 15 years – as an opportunity for political grandstanding. A memo, which the AP reports was distributed by Senate leadership to right-wing members, called Schiavo "a great political issue" and urged senators to talk about her because "the pro-life base will be excited." Over the weekend, DeLay and Frist held special sessions of Congress to facilitate passage of a bill that would allow a federal court to overturn years of Florida jurisprudence – encompassing seven courts and 19 judges – and intervene in the Schiavo case. (Underscoring that this was about the politics of the Schiavo case and not policy, the bill was written explicitly to apply only to Terri Schiavo.) President Bush played his part in the spectacle, flying to Washington from his ranch in Crawford to sign the bill, even though waiting a few hours for the bill to be flown to him would likely "have made no difference in whether Ms. Schiavo lives."

In a statement released early this morning, President Bush said he will "continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans." But the facts make it hard to believe that Bush is standing on principle. In 1999, then Gov. Bush signed a law that "allows hospitals [to] discontinue life-sustaining care, even if patient family members disagree." Just days ago the law permitted Texas Children's Hospital to remove the breathing tube from a 6-month-old boy named Sun Hudson. The law may soon be used to remove life support from Spiro Nikolouzos, a 68-year-old man. Bush has not commented on either case.

At every opportunity, Tom DeLay has sanctimoniously proclaimed his concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo, saying he is only trying to ensure she has the chance "we all deserve." Schiavo's medications are paid for by Medicaid. Just last week, DeLay marshaled a budget resolution through the House of Representatives that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion, threatening the quality of care for people like Terri Schiavo. Because the Senate voted to restore the funding, DeLay is threatening to hold up the entire budget process if he doesn't get his way.

Bill Frist has been positioning himself in the media as a champion for Schiavo's interests. Yet, much of Schiavo's medical care has been financed by $1,000,000 from two medical malpractice lawsuits Schiavo won after her heart attack 15 years ago. Frist has been leading the charge to limit recovery for people like Schiavo who are severely debilitated. If Frist is successful, people like Schiavo would not be able to recover any punitive damages no matter how severe their injuries.

The White House Fakes It

Continued violence in Iraq, a struggling economy, an unpopular plan to privatize Social Security, homeland security left underfunded while the rich get giant tax cuts ... what's a White House to do when the news about its policies isn't favorable? Fake it. An explosive, front-page New York Times story this weekend exposes President Bush's vast manipulation of the media and White House attempts to manipulate public opinion. Over the past four years, it turns out at least 20 different federal agencies have been involved in producing hundreds – yes, hundreds – of fake TV news segments, many of which were "subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production." In fact, since President Bush took office, the White House has spent at least $254 million on these fake segments and other public relations ploys to spread positive propaganda about his policies. President Bush has paid lip service to the concept of a free press, saying in January 2005, "there needs to be a nice, independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press." He also claimed "our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet." Here's what happens when it can't.

Lose Your Identity: One of the largest concerns about these fake news segments is that they obscure the fact that they are paid for using taxpayer money and contain a one-sided, purely positive take on administration policy. In a now-infamous segment by the Department of Health and Human Services, a PR official named Karen Ryan posed as a reporter interviewing then-Secretary Tommy Thompson. (Her role in the well-rehearsed spot was to give Thompson "better, snappier answers" to her pre-approved questions.) The Government Accountability Office found the agency "designed and executed" her segments "to be indistinguishable from news stories produced by private sector television news organizations."

Office of B.S.: The Office of Broadcasting Services is a branch of the State Department which traditionally has acted as a clearinghouse for video from news conferences. That all changed three years ago. In 2002, "with close editorial direction from the White House," the unit started producing fake news segments to back up President Bush's rationale for going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. As one senior official told Congress, the phony segments were "powerful strategic tools" used to influence public opinion. In all, the office produced nearly 60 segments, which were then distributed around the world for local stations to use as actual news footage. Although the White House has claimed ignorance about the use of fake news, it was well aware this was happening. A White House memo in January 2003 actually said segments the State Department disseminated about the liberation of Afghan women were "a prime example" of how "White-House led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror."

Ignore the GAO: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a nonpartisan branch of Congress that investigates government fraud. The GAO criticized the administration's role in creating phony news three separate times in the past year, saying unless viewers are aware that what they're watching is government produced, it constitutes "covert propaganda." The GAO also forbade federal agencies from creating prepackaged news reports "that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials." The administration's response? The New York Times reports that on Friday, "the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget circulated a memorandum instructing all executive branch agencies to ignore the GAO findings."

Ignore Federal Law: These fake news spots are produced with taxpayer money by outside public relations firms. Federal law warns federal agencies away from doing exactly that; the U.S. Code states "appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose." However, the GAO, which monitors the law, has no enforcement power. That responsibility lies with Congress and the White House. U.S. federal law also contains the Smith Mundt Act of 1948, which prohibits the spread of government propaganda in the United States (although it allows groups like Voice of America to broadcast it to foreign audiences.) According to the NY Times, State Department officials claim that provision doesn't apply to them.

The Terror of TABOR

Around the country, right-wing radicals are working feverishly to undermine public services in health, education, public safety and every other area. Their weapon of choice is something called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (or TABOR), which severely and artificially limits revenue and spending for all services, no matter how great the need. (This document provides a concise description of exactly how TABOR works.) The Heritage Foundation orchestrated the passage of TABOR in Colorado in 1992. The impact on Colorado has been disastrous. Now, Heritage, Grover Norquist and their radical right-wing allies are pushing hard to pass laws that would bring the terror of TABOR to the entire country.

Right-wing ideologues try to present TABOR as reasonably limiting government spending based on a combination of population growth and inflation. But here is the trick: "No existing measure of inflation correctly captures the growth in the cost of the kind of services purchased in the public sector." That means "the inflation adjustment generally is not sufficient to allow the continuation of existing services." Also, "subpopulations that state government serve tend to grow more rapidly that the overall population growth used in the formula." For example, "while the total population grew by 15.4 percent from 1990 to 2002 ... the number of elderly and disabled persons on Medicaid grew by 70 percent." Make no mistake about it: The goal of TABOR is not to restrain the growth of government; it is to undermine every vital government service.

Since 1992, TABOR has severely limited funding for health care in Colorado, and the people of Colorado are suffering as a result. For example, the number of the state's low-income children who lack health insurance has skyrocketed from 15 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2003. During the same time period, the national proportion of low-income children without health insurance declined. Also, around the time of the passage of TABOR, the on-time vaccination rate for children in Colorado was above the national average. Now, Colorado is last in the nation for on-time immunization rates. (Now there is a bill [HB 04-1194] in the state legislature that will give Coloradans a chance to take back their government. If you're a Colorado resident, write to your state legislators and ask them to reform TABOR.)

TABOR has wreaked havoc on Colorado's schools. Today, "the ratio of teacher salaries to average private-sector earnings is lower in Colorado than in any other state," impeding the recruitment of quality teachers. Since the passage of TABOR the high school graduation rate has fallen 6 percent. Colorado now ranks 48th in the nation for "state funds for higher education per $1,000 of personal income." And while funding for state schools has plummeted, tuition has shot through the roof and scores of faculty are being lured away by states that can offer more reasonable salaries.

The Heritage Foundation, which is seeking to impose TABOR on the entire country, claims that it has been a boon to the Colorado economy. It's not so. Over a 44-month period ending in December 2004, Colorado hemorrhaged 68,000 jobs, a decline of 3.0 percent. Meanwhile, in ever other Mountain state – none of which has TABOR – the median job growth has been 4.5 percent during the same period. TABOR proponents dishonestly compare the growth rate in Colorado from 1980-1992 (a time period that featured three national recessions) with the growth rate from 1992-2004 (when there was just one national recession).

Even Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) – who considers himself a champion of "low taxes and restrained government spending" – is now publicly critical of TABOR. In his recent State of the State address Owens said, "General Fund dollars available under TABOR ... will not keep pace with the demands on the budget. As a result, we cannot take the steps we must take to build a brighter future for all of Colorado, and particularly our children." Now conservative ideologues like Bob Novak are lashing out at Owens for acknowledging the needs of his constituents. In a Jan. 8 column, Novak opined that Owens' "once bright prospects ... are taking another hit" because he supports amending TABOR.

BRAND NEW STORIES
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.