Friday, February 10, 2006

Brownie getting nervous, may "tell all"

Interesting. This letter from Brown suggests that he thinks that the White House may prefer for him not to talk, implying that there may be damaging information. So if he talks, that's bad for the administration. But now that this letter is out, if he doesn't talk it looks like he just extorted the White House for legal defense. That could be pretty bad for the administration too. It looks like a win-win from here.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.

Brown's stance, in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, follows senators' complaints that the White House is refusing to answer questions or release documents about advice given to Bush concerning the August 29 storm.

Brown quit as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency days after Katrina struck. He left the federal payroll November 2.

In a February 6 letter to White House counsel Harriet Miers, Brown's lawyer wrote that Brown continues to respect Bush and his "presidential prerogative" to get candid and confidential advice from top aides.

The letter from Andrew W. Lester also says Brown no longer can rely on being included in that protection because he is a private citizen.

"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications," the lawyer wrote.

Brown's desire "is that all facts be made public."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on the letter, instead pointing to remarks two weeks ago in which Bush avoided directly including Brown among his advisers.

At the time, Bush defended his administration's stance on withholding some information, saying that providing all the material would chill the ability of presidential advisers to speak freely. The White House said it has given 15,000 documents about the storm response to Senate investigators.

Brown is set to testify Friday at a Senate inquiry of the slow government response to Katrina.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut., who blasted the White House last month for what he called attempts to stonewall the Senate inquiry, said he expects Brown, now a private citizen, "to answer every question the committee puts to him truthfully."

"I see no basis for him to refuse to answer any of our questions, and I hope the White House will not try to direct him not to answer our questions," Lieberman said.

Contacted Wednesday, Brown referred questions about the letter to Lester. The lawyer described his client as "between a rock and a hard place" between the administration's reluctance to disclose certain high-level communications and Congress' right to demand it.

"Mr. Brown is going to testify before Congress. If he receives no guidance to the contrary, we'll do as any citizen should do -- and that is to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately," Lester said.

The letter set a 5 p.m. EST deadline Wednesday for the White House to reply to Brown. That passed without a response, Lester said.

Some administration officials have refused interviews by Senate investigators or have declined to answer even seemingly innocuous questions about times and dates of meetings and telephone calls with the White House.

The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have accused the White House of crippling their inquiry after FEMA lawyers prohibited Brown from responding to some questions during a January 23 staff interview.

At that interview, Brown told investigators he was aware of management problems at the agency that were highlighted in a consultant's report months before Katrina. He attributed some of the problems to the agency's merger with the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

"What I wish I had done was, frankly, just either quit earlier or whatever and gone to certain friends that I can't talk about and said we got to fix this -- I mean, what's going on is nuts," Brown said, according to a Senate transcript of the meeting.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said if the problems been addressed earlier, "the response to Hurricane Katrina could have been better organized and perhaps we could have lessened the devastating impact on the people of the Gulf Coast."

Posted by crimnos @ 10:26 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Republican Congress Robs From the Poor to Give to the Rich

This is related to the same story that I was covering back in December...the budget is just now coming around. Here's what the Boston Globe had to say in December:

This week they passed the final part of what amounts to $95 billion in tax cuts. It represents a height of taking from the poor to give to the rich. Out went billions for student loans, Medicaid, and food stamps. In came billions for stock dividends and capital gains...The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that $70 billion of the $95 billion in tax cuts will go to households making over $100,000. That category accounts for 14 percent of households. According to the center, that 14 percent will get 74 percent of the money.

The Brookings Institution's and the Urban Institute's Tax Policy Center calculate that the top 20 percent of American households would get 88.9 percent of the House's tax-cut benefits while the bottom 20 percent would get only 11.1 percent. Twenty-four percent of the benefits would go to Americans who make more than $1 million a year. Such people make up only 0.2 percent of the population.

So let's sum this up: Bush talks about maintaining competitive edges in education during the state of the union then his party approves cuts in financial aid to students. Absolutely brilliant.

WASHINGTON - The House on Wednesday narrowly approved Congress' first attempt in eight years to slow the growth of benefit programs like Medicaid and student loan subsidies, sending the measure to
President Bush.

The bill passed by a vote of 216-214, largely along party lines. Republicans hailed the five-year, $39 billion budget-cutting bill as an important first step to restoring discipline on spending. Democrats attacked the measure as an assault on college students and Medicaid patients and said powerful Washington lobbyists had too much influence on it.

The measure is a leftover item from the GOP fall agenda. Bush is eager to sign it into law.

It blends modest cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and student loan subsidies with a renewal of the 1996 welfare reform bill and $10 billion in new revenues from auctioning television airwaves to wireless companies. There's also $1 billion in new spending to extend an income subsidy program for dairy farmers and a reprieve for physicians who had faced a 4 percent cut in Medicare fees.

The $39 billion in cuts are generally small — a 0.4 percent cut in Medicaid funding and 0.3 percent cut in Medicare over five years — compared with deficits expected to total $1.3 trillion or more through 2010. Still, the bill set off a brawl between Democrats and Republicans and whipped up opposition from interest groups like AARP.

The House passed a nearly identical bill on Dec. 19, but the chamber held an unusual revote because Senate Democrats forced technical changes that the House needed to accept before the bill could be sent to Bush's desk.

Republicans said the measure is a necessary first step to reining in the burgeoning growth of so-called mandatory spending programs like Medicare, which threaten to swamp the budget as the baby boom generation starts retiring.

"The Deficit Reduction Act seeks to curb the unsustainable growth rate of mandatory programs that are set to consume 62 percent of our total federal budget in the next decade if left unchecked," said Rep. Adam Putnam (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla. He said many such programs "are outdated, inefficient and excessively costly."

But Democrats attacked the measure, especially for its cuts to the federal child support enforcement program and for allowing states to reduce Medicaid coverage and charge increased fees for the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

Democrats contend the budget cut bill concentrates spending cuts on vulnerable groups like Medicaid beneficiaries while protecting powerful corporate interests such as drug makers and health insurance companies, which won big victories in end-stage negotiations carried on behind closed doors.

"This is a product of special interest lobbying and the stench of special interests hangs over the chamber," said Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich.

Democrats also said the measure, when combined with an upcoming bill cutting taxes by about $70 billion, would lead to an increase in the deficit.

As if on cue, the Senate kicked off debate on a tax cut bill that would revive some expired tax breaks and safeguard millions more families from paying the alternative minimum tax. The House version of that bill would extend tax cuts for capital gains and dividends.

The powerful AARP seniors lobby, student groups, pediatricians and others have mounted a monthlong campaign against the bill, making some lawmakers uncomfortable with their votes in December.

"Over the intervening month, people that I know and respect have gone through the details of this legislation ... and they've said, 'This is really a disaster,'" said Rep. Rob Simmons, D-Conn., who switched his vote from "aye" to "nay." Simmons was one of 13 Republicans to oppose the bill, joining 200 Democrats and liberal Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

The bill comes as Capitol Hill Republicans are trying to burnish their party's budget-cutting credentials amid increased concern about the rising deficit and the costs of the
Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

Bush is anxious to sign the bill and move on to next year's budget cycle. On Feb. 6, he is to release his 2007 budget plan, which is likely to call for new cuts to benefits programs like farm subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps and Medicare. Many lawmakers and budget experts are skeptical of the chances for another budget-cut bill during an election year.

AARP is opposed to a provision tightening Medicaid nursing home care rules regarding people who shed assets to qualify for such care. It argues that money given to charities, churches and family members within the previous five years could unfairly disqualify seniors from long-term care.

Pediatricians say provisions allowing states to eliminate some guaranteed Medicaid child health care services and charge new and increased co-payments end up hurting children. Their argument was bolstered by a new
Congressional Budget Office study that predicts that much of the Medicaid savings would accrue because new co-payment requirements would drive tens of thousands of beneficiaries out of the program.

Student groups charged the bill harmed college student through $11.9 billion in cuts to the student loan program, including higher fees on student and higher interest rates on parent loans. But Republicans countered that the lions share of the savings came from lender subsidies.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:12 AM :: (1) comments

Bush Appointee to NASA lied on Resume. Did not graduate A&M. Unqualified.

First, apologies for not updating personal life has been a bit hectic, and interfering with regular updates. I plan to get back on schedule today.

Now, then, surprise, surprise, another Bush Appointee chosen because of cronyism rather than qualifications. Now how is it that this man and his administration keeps getting the benefit of the doubt?

A Young Bush Appointee Resigns His Post at NASA
Published: February 8, 2006

George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said.

Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted.

Officials at NASA headquarters declined to discuss the reason for the resignation.

"Under NASA policy, it is inappropriate to discuss personnel matters," said Dean Acosta, the deputy assistant administrator for public affairs and Mr. Deutsch's boss.

The resignation came as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was preparing to review its policies for communicating science to the public. The review was ordered Friday by Michael D. Griffin, the NASA administrator, after a week in which many agency scientists and midlevel public affairs officials described to The New York Times instances in which they said political pressure was applied to limit or flavor discussions of topics uncomfortable to the Bush administration, particularly global warming.

"As we have stated in the past, NASA is in the process of revising our public affairs policies across the agency to ensure our commitment to open and full communications," the statement from Mr. Acosta said.

The statement said the resignation of Mr. Deutsch was "a separate matter."

Mr. Deutsch, 24, was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee, according to his résumé. No one has disputed those parts of the document.

According to his résumé, Mr. Deutsch received a "Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003."

Yesterday, officials at Texas A&M said that was not the case.

"George Carlton Deutsch III did attend Texas A&M University but has not completed the requirements for a degree," said an e-mail message from Rita Presley, assistant to the registrar at the university, responding to a query from The Times.

Repeated calls and e-mail messages to Mr. Deutsch on Tuesday were not answered.

Mr. Deutsch's educational record was first challenged on Monday by Nick Anthis, who graduated from Texas A&M last year with a biochemistry degree and has been writing a Web log on science policy,

After Mr. Anthis read about the problems at NASA, he said in an interview: "It seemed like political figures had really overstepped the line. I was just going to write some commentary on this when somebody tipped me off that George Deutsch might not have graduated."

He posted a blog entry asserting this after he checked with the university's association of former students. He reported that the association said Mr. Deutsch received no degree.

A copy of Mr. Deutsch's résumé was provided to The Times by someone working in NASA headquarters who, along with many other NASA employees, said Mr. Deutsch played a small but significant role in an intensifying effort at the agency to exert political control over the flow of information to the public.

Such complaints came to the fore starting in late January, when James E. Hansen, the climate scientist, and several midlevel public affairs officers told The Times that political appointees, including Mr. Deutsch, were pressing to limit Dr. Hansen's speaking and interviews on the threats posed by global warming.

Yesterday, Dr. Hansen said that the questions about Mr. Deutsch's credentials were important, but were a distraction from the broader issue of political control of scientific information.

"He's only a bit player," Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Deutsch. " The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies. That's what I'm really concerned about."

"On climate, the public has been misinformed and not informed," he said. "The foundation of a democracy is an informed public, which obviously means an honestly informed public. That's the big issue here."

I believe there needs to be a reivew of all Bush appointees to audit their resumes. This is getting a bit absurd. First FEMA, The Supreme Court, and now NASA. Bush is continually appointing unqualified personel due to personal connections. Link was already posted in a Creationism thread but I think this trend of appointing unqualified people deserves its own topic.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:06 AM :: (4) comments

Monday, February 06, 2006

Exclusive: Can the President Order a Killing on U.S. Soil? - Newsweek Politics -

Here's a scary thought: could Bush order a killing on U.S. Soil?

Feb. 13, 2006 issue - In the latest twist in the debate over presidential powers, a Justice Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

Current and former government officials said they could think of several scenarios in which a president might consider ordering the killing of a terror suspect inside the United States. One former official noted that before Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, top administration officials weighed shooting down the aircraft if it got too close to Washington, D.C. What if the president had strong evidence that a Qaeda suspect was holed up with a dirty bomb and was about to attack? University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein says the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Al Qaeda empowered the president to kill 9/11 perpetrators, or people who assisted their plot, whether they were overseas or inside the United States. On the other hand, Sunstein says, the president would be on less solid legal ground were he to order the killing of a terror suspect in the United States who was not actively preparing an attack.

A Justice Department official, who asked not to be ID'd because of the sensitive subject, said Bradbury's remarks were made during an "academic discussion" of theoretical contingencies. In real life, the official said, the highest priority of those hunting a terrorist on U.S. soil would be to capture that person alive and interrogate him. At a public intel-committee hearing, Feinstein was told by intel czar John Negroponte and FBI chief Robert Mueller that they were unaware of any case in which a U.S. agency was authorized to kill a Qaeda-linked person on U.S. soil. Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told NEWSWEEK: "Mr. Bradbury's meeting was an informal, off-the-record briefing about the legal analysis behind the president's terrorist-surveillance program. He was not presenting the legal views of the Justice Department on hypothetical scenarios outside of the terrorist-surveillance program."

—Mark Hosenball

Posted by crimnos @ 8:25 AM :: (0) comments