Karl Rove Refuses To Testify To Congress

July 10, 2008

Former White House adviser Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena and refused to testify Thursday about allegations of political pressure at the Justice Department, including whether he influenced the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairman of a House subcommittee, ruled with backing from fellow Democrats on the panel that Rove was breaking the law by refusing to cooperate – perhaps the first step toward holding him in contempt of Congress.

Lawmakers subpoenaed Rove in May in an effort to force him to talk about whether he played a role in prosecutors’ decisions to pursue cases against Democrats, such as former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, or in firing federal prosecutors considered disloyal to the Bush administration.

Rove had been scheduled to appear at the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday morning. A placard with his name sat in front of an empty chair at the witness table, with a handful of protesters behind it calling for Rove to be arrested.

A decision on whether to pursue contempt charges now goes to the full Judiciary Committee and ultimately to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Republicans called Thursday’s proceedings a political stunt and said if Democrats truly wanted information they would take Rove up on an offer he made to discuss the matter informally.

The House already has voted to hold two of President Bush’s confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with its inquiry into whether the administration fired nine federal prosecutors in 2006 for political reasons.

The case, involving White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, is in federal court and may not be resolved before Bush’s term ends in January.

The White House has cited executive privilege, arguing that internal administration communications are confidential and that Congress cannot compel officials to testify.

Rove says he is bound to follow the White House’s guidance, although he has offered to answer questions specifically on the Siegelman case – but only with no transcript taken and not under oath.

Democrats have rejected the offer because the testimony would not be sworn and, they say, could create a confusing record.

Rove has insisted publicly that he never tried to influence Justice Department decisions and was not even aware of the Siegelman prosecution until it landed in the news.

Siegelman – an unusually successful Democrat in a heavily Republican state – was charged with accepting and concealing a contribution to his campaign to start a state education lottery, in exchange for appointing a hospital executive to a regulatory board.

He was sentenced last year to more than seven years in prison but was released in March when a federal appeals court ruled Siegelman had raised “substantial questions of fact and law” in his appeal.

Siegelman and others have alleged the prosecution was pushed by GOP operatives – including Rove, a longtime Texas strategist who was heavily involved in Alabama politics before working at the White House. A former Republican campaign volunteer from Alabama told congressional attorneys last year that she overheard conversations suggesting that Rove pressed Justice officials in Washington to prosecute Siegelman.

The career prosecutors who handled Siegelman’s case have insisted that Rove had nothing to do with it, emphasizing that the former governor was convicted by a jury.

Story by Ben Evans

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Bush Freezes Cuts in Medical Fees

June 30, 2008

The Bush administration said Monday it is freezing a scheduled 10 percent fee cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients, giving Congress time to act to prevent the cuts when lawmakers return from a July 4 recess.

Physicians have been running ads hinting that as a result of the cuts, patients may find doctors less willing to treat them. The administration’s delay in implementing the cuts, which had been scheduled to go into effect Tuesday, spares lawmakers from having to use the recess to explain to seniors why they didn’t do the job before leaving town.

Kevin Schweers, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will hold doctors’ Medicare claims for services delivered on or after July 1. Claims for services received on before June 30 will be processed as usual, he said.

Congress, not willing to face millions of angry seniors at the polls in November, will almost certainly act quickly when it returns to Washington the week of July 7 to prevent the cuts in payments for some 600,000 doctors who treat Medicare patients. The cuts were scheduled because of a formula that requires fee cuts when spending exceeds established goals.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt had promised Friday that his agency “will take all steps available to the department under the law to minimize the impact on providers and beneficiaries.” On Monday, the department used its administrative tools to delay implementing the scheduled 10.6 percent cuts.

“By holding claims for health care services that are delivered on or after July 1, CMS will not be making any payments on the 10.6 percent reduction until July 15 at the earliest,” Schweers said.

Almost every year, Congress finds a way to block such cuts. But last week the Senate fell just one vote short of the 60 needed to proceed to legislation that would have stopped the cut.

In a particularly vitriolic exchange, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for what Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association, said has put the country “at the brink of a Medicare meltdown.”

“Seniors need continued access to the doctors they trust. It’s urgent that Congress make that happen,” the AMA said in ads taken out in Capitol Hill newspapers read by members of Congress and their aides.

Doctors have complained for years that Medicare payments have failed to cover rising costs.

This year majority Democrats homed in on cutting the Medicare Advantage program, which is an ideological issue for both parties. The Bush administration and Republicans like Medicare Advantage because it lets the elderly and disabled choose to get their health benefits through private insurers rather than through traditional Medicare. Democrats argued that government payments to the insurers are too generous.

The White House warned that President Bush would be urged to veto a bill that contained cuts to Medicare Advantage.

That didn’t stop the House last Tuesday from approving the legislation 355-59, well above the margin needed to override a veto. Every Democrat supported it, and Republicans, bucking their president, voted 129-59 for it.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Bush Vetos Farm 300 Billion Dollar Farm Bill AGAIN

June 18, 2008


President Bush vetoed a $300 billion farm bill again Wednesday after a clerical error forced Congress to send the measure to his desk for a second time. Even after realizing the bill was missing 34 pages when it was sent to Bush’s desk originally, Congress hoped he might sign it into law although it was highly unlikely since they had voted to override his veto the first time.

The discovery of the missing section, “Title III,” prompted concerns from House Republicans that the override vote was improper. In order to put “Title III” into effect, Congress re-passed the entire legislation, including the missing pages, and resent it to Bush. The House voted 306-110 at the end of May. The Senate voted 77-15 for the bill at the beginning of June.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the sections of the bill that were originally sent to the president had become law after Congress voted to override Bush’s first veto. The veto will almost assuredly be overturned again, especially after the bill was passed both houses by margins greater than the two-thirds majority required to override a veto by the Constitution.

Two-thirds of the $300 billion in spending allocated in the bill would be for nutrition programs such as food stamps. An additional $40 billion would go toward farm subsidies, and $30 billion will be allocated for payments to farms to keep land idle.

After vetoing the latest version of the farm bill, Bush on Wednesday scolded Congress for not “modifying certain objectionable, onerous, and fiscally imprudent provisions. … I am returning this bill for the same reasons as stated in my veto message.”

When he vetoed the first version of the farm bill, Bush said it “continues subsidies for the wealthy and increases farm bill spending by more than $20 billion, while using budget gimmicks to hide much of the increase”, suggesrting that it would hurt efforts to improve American farmers’ access to overseas markets.

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Bush Urges Congress to Lift Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

June 18, 2008

With gasoline topping $4 a gallon, President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to lift its long-standing ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, saying the United States needs to increase its energy production. Democrats quickly rejected the idea.

“There is no excuse for delay,” the president said in a statement in the Rose Garden. With the presidential election just months away, Bush made a pointed attack on Democrats, accusing them of obstructing his energy proposals and blaming them for high gasoline costs. His proposal echoed a call by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to open the Continental Shelf for exploration

“Families across the country are looking to Washington for a response,” Bush said.

Congressional Democrats were quick to reject the push for lifting the drilling moratorium, saying oil companies already have 68 million acres offshore waters under lease that are not being developed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Bush’s proposals “another page from (an)… energy policy that was literally written by the oil industry – give away more public resources.”

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, rejected lifting the drilling moratorium that has been supported by a succession of presidents for nearly two decades.

“This is not something that’s going to give consumers short-term relief and it is not a long-term solution to our problems with fossil fuels generally and oil in particular,” said Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, lumping Bush with McCain, accused them of staging a “cynical campaign ploy” that won’t help lower energy prices.

“Despite what President Bush, John McCain and their friends in the oil industry claim, we cannot drill our way out of this problem,” Reid said. “The math is simple: America has just three percent of the world’s oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto retorted: “Anyone out there saying that something can be done overnight, or in a matter of months, to deal with high gasoline prices is trying to fool people. There is no tool in the toolbox out there that will lower gas prices overnight, or in weeks, or probably not even in months.”

Bush said offshore drilling could yield up to 18 billion barrels of oil over time, although it would take years for production to start. Bush also said offshore drilling would take pressure off prices over time.

There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by Bush’s father in 1990. Bush’s brother, Jeb, fiercely opposed offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida. What the president now proposes would rescind his father’s decision – but the president took the position that Congress has to act first and then he would follow behind.

Asked why Bush doesn’t act first and lift the ban, Keith Hennessey, the director of the president’s economic council, said: “He thinks that probably the most productive way to work with this Congress is to try to do it in tandem.”

Before Bush spoke, the House Appropriations Committee postponed a vote it had scheduled for Wednesday on legislation doing the opposite of what the president asked – extending Congress’ ban on offshore drilling. Lawmakers said they wanted to focus on a disaster relief bill for the battered Midwest.

Bush also proposed opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, lifting restrictions on oil shale leasing in the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and easing the regulatory process to expand oil refining capacity.

With Americans deeply pessimistic about the economy, Bush tried to put on the onus on Congress. He acknowledged that his new proposals would take years to have a full effect, hardly the type of news that will help drivers at the gas stations now. The White House says no quick fix exists.

Still, Bush said Congress was obstructing progress – and directly contributing to consumers’ pain at the pump.

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past,” Bush said. “Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions.”

Bush said that if congressional leaders head home for their July 4 recess without taking action, they will need to explain why “$4 a gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act. And Americans will rightly ask how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it.”

Bush said restrictions on offshore drilling have become “outdated and counterproductive.”

In a nod to the environmental arguments against drilling, Bush said technology has come a long way. These days, he said, oil exploration off the coastline can be done in a way that “is out of sight, protects coral reefs and habitats, and protects against oil spills.”

Congressional Democrats, joined by some GOP lawmakers from coastal states, have opposed lifting the prohibition that has barred energy companies from waters along both the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for 27 years.

On Monday, McCain made lifting the federal ban on offshore oil and gas development a key part of his energy plan. McCain said states should be allowed to pursue energy exploration in waters near their coasts and get some of the royalty revenue.

Obama retorted that the Arizona senator had flip-flopped on that issue.

This story is courtesy of Associated Press

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Should Menthol Be Illegal in Cigarettes?

June 17, 2008

Is menthol a flavor that should be banned from cigarettes? That’s a tricky question, according to the American Medical Association whose members on Tuesday found themselves opposing some government health heavyweights.

Menthol flavoring would not be banned under a bill before Congress that gives control of tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration. The bill would ban flavor additives such as mint, clove and vanilla, which appeal to young people.

Menthol is preferred by more than 75 percent of black smokers, according to government estimates. Fewer than 25 percent of whites smoke it.

“If we’re banning things such as clove and peppermint, then we should ban menthol,” said Dr. Louis Sullivan, health secretary from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and one of seven former health secretaries who sent a letter to lawmakers voicing opposition to the menthol exemption. “If it doesn’t happen, this bill will be discriminatory against African-Americans.”

Normally, the nation’s largest organization of doctors probably would agree. But in this case, the AMA president and many delegates support the menthol exemption pushed by the cigarette industry. The AMA voted Tuesday to refer the decision on menthol to its board, effectively silencing the doctors who wanted the organization to speak out against the exemption.

The reason is that the menthol exemption helped congressional leaders reach a bipartisan compromise on legislation that would put cigarettes under government regulation. Supporters say it would give the FDA authority to reduce harmful ingredients in cigarettes, require new health warnings and bar misleading labels such as “light” and “mild.”

Dr. Ron Davis, a preventive medicine specialist who is wrapping up his one-year term as president, said removing the menthol exemption from the bill might derail the legislation.

And while other flavor additives are aimed at luring young smokers, menthol is different, he said. Banning it would merely drive mature black smokers to other brands, said Davis. “It would change the entire political dynamic.”

Menthol cigarettes such as Kool were marketed during the 1960s in advertising campaigns targeting urban blacks, according to the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. That group withdrew its support from the tobacco control bill last month over the menthol exemption and found allies in the former health secretaries.

The exemption harms the black community, said Robert McCaffree of the American College of Chest Physicians, the group that introduced the AMA proposal. He noted that cigarette maker Philip Morris USA supports the bill and the exemption.

William S. Robinson, executive director of the African American Tobacco Prevention Network, said the group believes a superior tobacco control bill could be crafted without the support of Philip Morris, which makes several menthol brands.
“We understand from an industry perspective why menthol is off the table,” Robinson said. “We think part of it is because menthol represents almost 30 percent of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.”

Philip Morris spokesman Bill Phelps said the bill would give the FDA authority to remove ingredients that are determined harmful to health.

“Based on our scientific judgment, menthol does not increase the inherent hazards of smoking,” Phelps said.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Top 3 News Stories that Need to Go Away

March 6, 2008

There are over 200 countries in the world. We are supposedly in an era of globalization. Then why not take a big step back, take a look at the world news, and report on issues that affect us globally?

A lot of people in the News business will tell you that Americans want to hear about the latest kidnapped college student, office shooting spree, or politician’s extramarital affair. I call bullshit. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Whatever.

It may be subjective what is or is not relevant to one’s daily life. But here are 3 stories I would argue that get WAY too much coverage, given what little significance they have on the average American.

1. Fat Baseball Players, Steroids, and the U.S. Congress

Roger Clemens

Apparently, the use of  drugs to cheat AT A GAME is worth the time of the U.S. Congress and every cable news channel. Think about all the lying and cheating from the Bush administration alone that Congress could be spending it’s time on. Nope. Baseball. It’s pure, it’s American — it’s bullshit. This isn’t just a waste of time and energy, it’s a waste of our tax dollars. The next time this soap opera rears it’s ugly head, ask yourself: do you really care if Roger Clemens (or anyone else) shoots steroids in their ass?

2. Drew Peterson and His Missing/Dead Wives

Drew Peterson

He’s a slimeball ex-cop. He kills his wives. He makes it look like an accident. How could this possibly affect the world at large? Why follow this story on the news? Put it in the tabloids and get over it.

3. Murder Suicides

It happens everyday, yet it is still eagerly reported as “breaking news”: someone who is mentally ill, desperate, or just plain evil shoots a bunch of people before killing themselves. Sometimes it’s a family, sometimes it’s a school, sometimes it’s a random public place, but it’s always the same report: Why did they do this? What drove them to the edge?

Funny how easy it is for the news to raise the questions and then not even think about really addressing them. They just show the same footage of police tape over and over again. When was the last time you heard one of these violent stories reported in the context of gun control? Diminishing social services? Mental illness and the taboo of clinical therapy to treat it? If these tragedies aren’t going to be used to help us understand ourselves and the environment we live in, then they might as well not be reported as news — they’re really just CSI sensationalized drama filler.