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."

Sovereignty For Iraq Missing From Study Group Recommendations

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has join the ranks of people attacking the Iraq Study Group's report recommendations. His chief concern has more to do with tone than substance, but I think the concern is worth hearing:

"If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on," Talabani said. "We are a sovereign country."

His largest specific complaint is the notion of a shifting emphasis away from combat and into training but not for the reasons you might expect. He blames the slow rate at which the army and police are achieving training goals on U.S. involvement in the training process:

"If we can agree with the U.S. government to give us the right of organizing, training, arming our armed forces, it will be possible in 2008 (for U.S.-led forces) to start to leave Iraq and to go back home"

This is a situation where the U.S. is in a tough ethical spot. As much as the Bush administration would like to deny that the U.S. is an occupying force in Iraq, it is. Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying force is responsible for security.

Study Group Has Plans For Iraq Oil

While the Iraq Study Group report is short on specifics on how to achieve the goals it sets forth, it is specific on one thing: Oil.

Some interesting, but no doubt partisan, analysis of the report conducted by AlterNet looks into the specific four-point plan they group has for Iraqi oil and the motivation of some of the groups key members to see it happen.

The four point plan, apparently aimed at western control of Iraqi oil assets, is as follows:

  • Assist in the privatization of Iraq's oil industry.
  • Open Iraq to private foreign oil and energy companies
  • Assist in drafting a new "oil" law for Iraq
  • Assure that all oil revenue accrue to the central government

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.

U.S. Middle East Diplomacy Continues To Unravel

Fuelled Partially by the ineptitude of the Bush Administration and partially by a Democratic takeover of congress, which some might argue is the result of the former, the political fabric of the middle east is starting to seriously fray and come apart at the seams.

Iran was once held in check partially by the Taliban to the east and Saddam Hussein to the west. The United States has eliminated both opponents for them. If you think that that is an exaggeration, consider this quote from Mohsen Rezai, an adviser to Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran:

"The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us — no superpower has ever done anything similar. America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Hussein… The Americans got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back to Washington in one piece, they should thank God. America presents us with an opportunity rather than a threat — not because it intended to, but because it miscalculated. They made many mistakes".

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.

Iran To Aid Iraq With Security

On Wednesday, the presidents of Iran and Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Jalal Talabani respectively, held a joint press conference to announce that three days of talks between them had produced a security agreement to help stabilize Iraq.

"We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete," Talabani told reporters. "This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon."

As expected, Ahmadinejad took the opportunity to again urge the United States to withdraw its forces.

"I advise you to leave Iraq. Based on a timetable, transfer the responsibilities to Iraqi government. This will agree to your interests, too."

This announcement appears timed to preempt a planned meeting, in Jordan, between president Bush and Iraqi prime minister Al-Maliki on the same topic.

NATO Seeks More Forces For Afghanistan Amid Talks Of A 2008 Exit

Ahead of a NATO summit in Riga, George W Bush is pressing NATO allies for more troop commitments to bolster forces in Southern Afghanistan that are as much as 20% below the levels NATO commanders feel are appropriate to accomplish their mission.

The forces are ostensibly to aid the reconstruction effort, but a resurgent Taliban force in the area requires that the committed forces also be combat ready -- something several fledging NATO nations, like Estonia, are unwilling or unprepared to commit to.

Meanwhile, some of the largest NATO nations, the U.S., Britain, and France are facing political situations that make further troop commitments difficult to impossible. Bush faces a Democratic congress, while Blair and Chirac are almost certainly on their way out in coming months.

Flooding Creates Humanitarian Crisis In Somalia

The worst flooding of the Juba River has displaced some 300,000 people in Somalia resulting in the contamination of wells in the process.

Much of the country had been suffering under a pro-longed draught. While the flooding may provide some relief to the draught stricken areas, it has, for the moment, precipitated a humanitarian crisis in a nation full of strife and on the brink of all out war.

This flooding may be only the beginning for East Africa:

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.

Democrats To Move To Cut Medicare Waste

When the Democrats take office in January, another priority will be the removal of the so-called Medicare Advantage program that puts the dispersal of Medicare funds into the hands of insurance companies.

The idea behind Medicare Advantage was to have people's use of Medicare managed in an effort to be more preventative and ultimately reduce costs; however, a recent study by the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Panel has shown that patients treated through the program cost an average of 11% more than those treated through the traditional program.

[The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission] recommended lowering the reimbursement levels for managed care so that the rates would be the same as the fee-for-service program. Many Democrats want to act on that recommendation, which would save about $18 billion over five years.

Iraq and Syria To Establish Relations

After a break of over 20 years, Iraq and Syria have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties. It is hoped that this agreement will lead to greater cooperation in securing the border between the two countries.

This news is likely part of a general political initiative between Iraq, Syria and Iran that will culminate in a summit between the three parties this coming weekend.

Such a summit can only be good news for the Iraqi government as it may signal an acceptance on the part of Syria and Iran that the government is legitimate and that they will have to deal with it.

The United States is, of course, skeptical of dealing with Syria and Iran. The U.S. continues to pursue sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities, calling it part of an "Axis of Evil." The U.S. also has problematic relations with Syria over its ongoing fight with Israel.

Exposed as the U.S. is in Iraq, to begin to negotiate with Syria and Iran over the security of Iraq would no doubt lead to demands by those nations of reduced belligerence on the part of the Bush Administration -- something that seems unlikely to occur.

A Look At The Draft

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York is again pushing to reinstate the draft. His assertion is that privileged Americans are sending the less fortunate among us to die in our stead and that there would be less war if everyone were to share in the risk of being the ones to fight.

His argument, on its surface, seems compelling. Anecdotally, when we look at the military recruiting sales pitch of having the military pay for your education and the like, it is easy to assume that this is targeted to appeal to the poorer amongst us. Unfortunately, when you look at demographics for the military, it is difficult to impossible to draw meaningful conclusions about the income levels of volunteers.

One thing you can compare is the racial make up the military compared to the general population. Here there is a clear bias toward minorities in the makeup of the enlisted ranks of the Army (active/guard/reserves):

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."

Duplicitous U.S. Nuclear Policy

While chastising Iran and North Korea for pursuing nuclear ambitions, the United States has decided to share nuclear technology with India -- even though India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Some excerpts:

The agreement, negotiated by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in March, calls for the United States to end a decades-long moratorium on sales of nuclear fuel and reactor components. For its part, India would divide its reactor facilities into civilian and military nuclear programs, with civilian facilities open to international inspections.

After the vote, the White House issued a statement from President Bush praising passage of the bill.

“The United States and India enjoy a strategic partnership based upon common values,” the statement said. “The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement will bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of India’s entire civilian nuclear program.”