Friday, March 18, 2005

News for March 18th: Bulked Up Edition

Let’s start with the obvious: yesterday’s baseball hearings. You know, I understand the complaints. I really do. “What does Congress have to do with this?” “How does their authority cover this?” There are legitimate answers for this, but I’ll leave that to the pundits. The truth is, this was a triumph of representation in Congress. As a baseball fan, I wanted the answers to these questions. My Representative is at least making an attempt to find them, and he’s okay for that in my book.

That said, I have no question that McGwire was juicing now; he evaded questions and looks like a shell of the man that was just three years ago. I wonder how long he’ll stay with us.

Baseball Has A Day of Reckoning In Congress
McGwire Remains Evasive During Steroid Testimony
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A01

On an extraordinary day of words and images, a House committee investigating steroids in baseball forced the sport to confront its past and rethink its future -- encountering resistance on both counts -- and the most extraordinary image of all was that of Mark McGwire, once the game's most celebrated slugger but now the face of the steroid scandal, reduced to a shrunken, lonely, evasive figure whose testimony brought him to the verge of tears.

During the course of an all-day, nationally televised hearing, the House Government Reform Committee fulfilled its goal of examining baseball's oft-criticized drug-testing program and its impact on steroid use among teenagers. Committee members said baseball's policy was full of holes and threatened to legislate tougher testing policies if the sport doesn't come up with them itself.

In the process, however, the committee also ripped wide open the sport's most tender wound. Asked repeatedly by committee members whether he had used steroids in achieving unprecedented power numbers before his retirement in 2001, McGwire deflected each question -- his non-answers standing in stark contrast to the unabashed frankness of Jose Canseco, McGwire's former Oakland Athletics teammate and an admitted steroid user.

While McGwire acknowledged "there has been a problem with steroid use in baseball," he responded to questions about his own involvement by saying, "I'm not here to discuss the past," or, "I'm here to be positive about this subject."

The hearing came as baseball struggles to come to terms with what it admits is a steroid problem. In the past few months, leaked grand jury testimony by sluggers Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds showed them acknowledging steroid use and Canseco's book fingered some of the game's biggest stars as steroid users. Pressure from President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), among other national figures, forced baseball to strengthen its steroid policy this winter.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the committee chairman, opened the hearing at 10 a.m. and brought it to a close more than 11 hours later. Throughout the day, the panel threatened congressional action to bring the sport's testing program closer in line to the Olympic testing program, which includes regular testing and swift, tough sanctions.

More at the Washington Post

And since we’re in a Congress kind of mood, here are a few items from Congress.

Here’s a real conundrum of a decision. So the Senate decides to reject the spending cuts that Bush wanted (which is a good thing) AND decides to increase tax cuts (WTF?) So not only do they want to not reduce the deficit, they want to increase it. Here’s your party of fiscal responsibility.

Senate Rejects GOP Budget Cuts
House Deficit-Reduction Moves Thwarted

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A04

The Senate last night dealt a slap to President Bush and the Republican leadership, approving a 2006 budget that would gut much of the GOP's deficit-reduction efforts by restoring requested cuts to Medicaid, education, community development and other programs.

With their deficit-reduction targets disappearing, Senate Republicans also nearly doubled the budget plan's tax cuts to $134 billion over five years. The budget passed 51 to 49, with four Republicans voting no.

The Senate's actions set up a major fight over budget priorities, as the Senate, House and White House try to iron out an agreement that would allow for the first entitlement cuts since 1997, as well as oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The House yesterday narrowly passed a tough $2.6 trillion budget that includes $69 billion in entitlement cost cutting, with as much as $20 billion in savings from Medicaid, the government's primary health program for the poor.

"Certainly it appears it is going to be challenging," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa).

On Wednesday, the Senate budget plan barely survived an effort to strip out parliamentary language opening the refuge to oil exploration and drilling. The language would protect drilling legislation from a filibuster, allowing it instead to pass with a simple 51-vote majority. But that parliamentary protection will happen only if the House and Senate agree on a compromise budget resolution for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Likewise, House and Senate budget writers hope to use the same parliamentary protections to begin tackling the growth of entitlement programs, such as agriculture subsidies, student loans and especially Medicaid.

But the Senate signaled that it may not have the will. By a vote of 52 to 48, senators moved to strip $14 billion in Medicaid cuts and instead establish a commission to explore policy changes to slow the program's growth. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) implored his colleagues to stick with the cuts.

More at the Washington Post

Well, here we go…here comes the fun and games.

GOP Sets 1st Vote on Blocked Nominee
Associated Press
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A03

Republicans yesterday cleared the first of President Bush's blocked judicial nominees for a Senate vote after Easter, a move that Democrats say could lead to a filibuster confrontation that could shut down the chamber.

The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 8 along party lines to send the nomination of former Interior Department counsel William G. Myers to the floor.

Although Republicans say Myers, a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, would make a good judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Democrats say he is too anti-environment.

Democrats blocked his nomination in the last Congress and vow to do the same this year.

Republicans have threatened to change the Senate rules to stop Democrats from blocking judicial nominees, a move Democrats have dubbed the "nuclear option" because they say it would blow up Senate relations.

From the Washington Post

Bush moves to put mark on World Bank, U.N.
Thu Mar 17, 2005 07:01 PM ET
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's move to put leading conservative advocates of U.S. power in key international institutions is an attempt to impose his activist foreign policy agenda on the world, analysts say, but administration partisans are playing down this interpretation.

"I don't think there is any grand design or message here" except picking strong candidates who share Bush's vision and merited reward with second-term jobs, one Republican insider insisted.

Still, after playing it safe with his initial second-term nominations, Bush's appointments of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank president and John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations were extremely controversial.

Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary, was a key architect of the Iraq war. Bolton, undersecretary of state for non-proliferation, is an outspoken critics of the United Nations and has championed a hard line towards Iran and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"People may not like Bush's multilateralism but he's not pushing those institutions off to the side," said Gary Schmitt, executive director of the pro-Bush Project for the New American Century which promotes assertive American global leadership.

"If the president didn't care about the U.N., he would have left (former U.S. ambassador John) Danforth there and if he didn't care about the World Bank, he would have picked some economist friend who needed a job," he said in an interview.

But Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy adviser in the Clinton White House who considers Bush's foreign policy revolutionary, does not believe Wolfowitz and Bolton were named to strengthen their respective institutions.

Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. presidents have believed that building effective international institutions would enhance the likelihood of other countries making common cause with America and thus advance U.S. interests, Daalder said.

More at Reuters

Here’s one of those things that make you go “hmm”. A fake cable has emerged that accuses a prominent journalist of being a spy. The Pentagon confirms that it’s a fake, so where did it come from? The bigger question is, is this the beginning of the wedge that’ll be used to take out journalists who cause too much trouble for the administration? I don’t like to think about it, but this seems to confirm some of my thoughts lately…

Fake Cable Labeled Writer a Spy for Iraq
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page C01

Someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to produce a document accusing journalist and activist William Arkin of serving as a spy for Saddam Hussein.

The Pentagon says the supposed Defense Intelligence Agency cable is a forgery. Arkin says it's "chilling" and is demanding an investigation. The NBC News military analyst says he became aware of the bogus document when a Washington Times reporter called about the spying allegation and sent him a copy.

"There are a lot of reasons, I guess, why people would want to do me harm," Arkin said yesterday. One, he said, is the recent publication of his book "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World." Another, he noted, is a series of past scoops that embarrassed the Bush administration.

Bill Gertz, the Times national security reporter who called Arkin, did not respond to two messages. Managing Editor Francis Coombs said: "We don't talk about stories we haven't put in the paper. But at this point, we do not have a story scheduled to run."

The document, filled with military jargon and described as "classified," says that "preliminary reporting . . . indicates possible US citizen William Arkin received monthly stipend for period 1994-1998 to report on quote United Nations Special Commission activities unquote. Entry in SSO [special security organization] ledger captured in Baghdad, no additional information."

Arkin said he did look into the U.N. operation known as UNSCOM, but as a consultant to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Someone who put this together obviously tried to make it plausible enough to do harm and endanger me," he said. Arkin found, and U.S. officials later confirmed, that the Clinton administration had eavesdropped on Iraqi communications through equipment carried by UNSCOM weapons inspectors.

The purported cable also says that "CIA exploitation of Source 8230 from Office of President SH confirms Arkin traveled to Baghdad February 1998 and November 1998 to provide information about UNSCOM plans and to discuss Desert Fox targeting," a reference to the 1998 U.S. bombing of Iraq. Arkin said he did not visit Iraq in 1998.

At the Defense Department, spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "The Pentagon has looked into this and does not believe the document to be authentic." Larry DiRita, the department's chief spokesman, added that "we certainly appreciated the fact that the journalist who had it in his possession took the time to seek a better understanding of it before filing a story on it."

More at the Washington Post

Posted by crimnos @ 9:23 AM