100 Hours: Draining The Swamp

The first of the incoming speaker's 100 Hours initiatives is something she calls "draining the swamp" to break the connection between lobbyists and legislation. Since the election, speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has yet, as far as I can find, to put forth specifics on this issue.

It is likely however, that whatever will be put forth will bear some resemblance to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006, which was authored by Pelosi. That bill, which never made it through the 109th Congress despite had 162 cosponsors, calls for sweeping reforms. Here are some significant highlights:

  • Denies access to the house floor to any past member or officer who is now a registered lobbyist.
  • Bans privately funded travel by house members, delegates, officers and employees.
  • Creates an Office of Public Integrity and Office of Inspector General of the House
  • Requires that congressional travel be certified to meet certain conditions and be subject to fines for false certification

A Peak At The First 100 Hours Of The 110th Congress

Incoming Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has a legislative agenda for the first 100 hours of democratic rule in the next congress. Many of the proposals sounds straight forward and I will look at each in depth over the coming weeks leading to the start of the 110th Congress. In no particular order, here's her agenda:

  • "We will start by cleaning up Congress, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation and commit to pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending.
  • "We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
  • "We will make our economy fairer, and we will begin by raising the minimum wage. We will not pass a pay raise for Congress until there is an increase in the minimum wage.
  • "We will make health care more affordable for all Americans, and we will begin by fixing the Medicare prescription drug program, putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices. We will also promote stem cell research to offer real hope to the millions of American families who suffer from devastating diseases.
  • "We will broaden college opportunity, and we will begin by cutting interest rates for student loans in half.
  • "We will energize America by achieving energy independence, and we will begin by rolling back the multi-billion dollar subsidies for Big Oil.
  • "[and,] We will guarantee a dignified retirement, and we will begin by fighting any attempt to privatize Social Security."

Bush, Bloomberg Stump For Changes In No Child Left Behind Act

Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are together pushing for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for renewal at the end of 2007.

Their chief criticism of the Act championed by Bush's brother, president George W Bush, is essentially that the Act is all stick and no carrot.

Two specific changes they would like to see include a grading system for school performance and the linking of teacher pay to their performance. Both of these things are being used in Bush's Florida and are under consideration in New York City's massive school district.

The No Child Left Behind Act gives schools a pass/fail grade of sorts and punishes schools that are failing. The Florida system grades schools like students with grades from A to F. This, they claim, gives schools passing with a C the desire to strive for an A.

There is a desire to grade teachers as well with some part of their pay dependent on their performance. With the strength of education unions, it is unclear how such a system would be implemented.

1 In 32 Americans Are Criminals

A startling figure from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that just over 7 million Americans were either in prison or jail, on parole, or on probation. The numbers break down like so:

  • 2.2 million in prison/jail
  • 784 thousand on parole
  • 4.1 million on probation

The statistics disparities from years past continue: The ratio of men to women in prison is an astounding 93 to 7, 1 in 13 of all black men between the ages of 25-29 are in prison, etc.

Rumsfeld May Be Behind Abu Ghraib Torture

Colonel Janis Karpinski, the commander at Abu Gharib during the torture, alleges that Outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the torture of prisoners at the hands of civilian contractors.

"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished,""

Karpinski was a Brigadier General at the time but has since been demoted on allegedly unrelated charges.

Bush Appoints Birth Control Opponent To Family Planning Post

Continuing to further the agenda of the evangelical right, Bush has appointed Eric Keroack, an OB-GYN doctor who believes that contraceptives are "demeaning to women," as the deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sound like news from Bizarro World? It gets worse. This isn't just a token policy position:

Keroack ... will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to HHS, are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons."

Congress Moving To Restore Iraq Oversight Office

During an earlier report I mentioned that a provision was slipped into a defense appropriations bill to close the office of the people responsible for auditing the way the money is being spent in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Well, news comes today that a measure has passed the Senate to restore the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. A similar measure is on its way toward consideration in the House.

Keeping the office around can only be a good thing when you consider tidbits like this:

Recent reports by the inspector general's office have found that major contractors billed U.S. taxpayers more than twice as much for administrative costs as they spent on reconstruction work.

Indefinite Detention Possible For Immigrants In U.S.

The Bush Administration, citing a new anti-terrorism bill, claims that they can detain foreigners arrested on U.S. soil indefinitely "on suspicion of terrorism."

Detainees would have no right to have a U.S. court hear an appeal for their release.

Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was arrested in 2001 while studying in the United States. He has been labeled an "enemy combatant," a designation that, under a law signed last month, strips foreigners of the right to challenge their detention in federal courts.

Anyone who thinks last Tuesday's election marked a return to democracy should keep stories like this in mind.

Congress Ends Investigations Into Iraq Reconstruction Malfeasance

Buried in the latest defense bill, just signed by president Bush, are orders to close down the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. This auditing group has been responsible for the jailing of officials in the American Occupation on various charges including bribery and conspiracy in their mishandling of billions of dollars in funds for reconstruction.

The obscure clause in the bill that ends the offices came as a surprise to many lawmakers as they had not been aware that it was slipped into the final bill:

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.

“It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time.”

Federally Funded Anti-Abortion Efforts

It seems the crusade against abortion goes beyond the courts for the Bush Administration. It has been alleged that the "Compassion Capital Fund", which is managed by the White House as part of their Faith-Based Initiatives program is responsible for some $30 million in funding so called "pregnancy resource centers."

These centers are alleged to be providing false and misleading information to women about abortion, particularly the risks:

Some center personnel suggested, contrary to scientific evidence, that abortion would lead to increased risk of suicide, cancer and psychological trauma.

That's not all this administration does to tie money to abortion. While they give money in the U.S. to the aforementioned centers, they withhold foreign aid to any international family planning group unless they agree to not offer abortions or abortion counseling.

Will Efforts To Suppress Voter Turn Out Work For The GOP?

According to a new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Century Foundation, and Common Cause, there are more efforts underway to keep voters away from the polls on election day.

Some states have enacted criminal penalties and/or fines for submitting voter registrations that violate rules that are deliberately complicated. In Florida, any third party organization that submits registrations late is subject to fines. In Ohio, any technical violation of their registration laws is considered a felony.

Further ID restrictions are being added including the requirement to have photo identification (likely to alienate the poor who cannot afford cars and therefore do not have driver's licenses.) In the past, having your signature match your registration, or showing a utility bill used to suffice.

Arizona now requires proof of citizenship to vote. This led to 70% of registrations being rejected during a two-month period in Phoenix. Ohioans who suffered long waits because of an uneven distribution of voting machines can take heart that plans to remedy the situation will take effect in 2013.

Bush Nominated Judges Made Contributions To Republicans While Under Consideration

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, in conjunction with, 6 appellate court judges and 18 district court judges, nominated by the Bush Administration, since 2001 made donations to either Bush himself, or key republicans, while being considered for their current posts.

Republicans who received money from judges en route to the bench include Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Gov. George Pataki of New York.

While these donations are not technically illegal, they do raise some ethical questions. Making donations of this sort, were they seated judges, would violate the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges.

Justice Department Violent Crime Probe Coverage

For anyone who missed the story, there has been a spike in violent crime; and, the Justice Department, under Attorney General Gonzales, has vowed to investigate. Kind of a non-story really, but it has gotten its share of column inches in the papers, enough so that it provides some interesting fodder for contrasting the writing styles of the iconic liberal and conservative media for bias.

First, the criticism from the left:

Washington Post: Some police officials have blamed the rise in crime on federal budget cuts. The Bush administration has cut grants for state and local crime-fighting programs on the grounds that they have outlived their usefulness or have underperformed.

U.S. Lax In Product Safety

While countries around the world move toward tighter restrictions on products that contain toxic chemicals, the U.S. Is falling behind to the point of accepting imports of products that cannot be sold in their country of origin. L.A. Times quote:

Destined for American kitchens, planks of birch and poplar plywood are stacked to the ceiling of a cavernous port warehouse. The wood, which arrived in California via a cargo ship, carries two labels: One proclaims "Made in China," while the other warns that it contains formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical.

Because formaldehyde wafts off the glues in this plywood, it is illegal to sell in many countries — even the one where it originated, China. But in the United States this wood is legal, and it is routinely crafted into cabinets and furniture.

The Hidden Toll Of Immigration Enforcement

Still think illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans? Consider this New York Times story.

Consider these quotes from the article:

The tightening of the border with Mexico, begun more than a decade ago but reinforced since May with the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops, has forced California growers to acknowledge that most of their workers are illegal Mexican migrants. The U.F.W. estimates that more than 90 percent of the state’s farm workers are illegal.

For years, economists say, California farmers have been losing their pickers to less strenuous, more stable and sometimes higher-paying jobs in construction, landscaping and tourism.

“If you want another low-wage job, you can work in a hotel and not die in the heat,” said Marc Grossman, the spokesman for the United Farm Workers of America. The union calculates that up to 15 percent of California’s farm labor force leaves agriculture each year.

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