Saturday, April 08, 2006

Political news of the week, take 8

[See also: political news of the week take 7, take 6, take 5, take 4, take 3, take 2, and take 1.]

California Considers Bill to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions - There are times when I'm proud to live in California:
California may become the first state to impose limits on the emissions of all greenhouse gases, under legislation introduced today in the State Assembly.

The bill would require that emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming be reduced by 145 million tons, or 25 percent less than the current forecast, by 2020. That would bring the emissions back to the 1990 level.


The bill, which was introduced by the speaker of the State Assembly, Fabian Nuñez, Democrat of Los Angeles, would also require the California Air Resources Board to set up a mandatory emissions reporting and tracking system to ensure compliance with the limits, which many of the state's business leaders have opposed.


"The speaker said this bill was his top legislative priority this year," said Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that is supporting the bill. "The governor has said he wants to reduce emissions. That means we have a very good chance of getting a first law in the nation to set statewide limits on emissions."
Attorney General Won't Rule Out Warrantless Wiretaps of Purely Domestic Telephone Conversations of Americans:
During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today [April 6, 2006], Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the NSA's secret domestic wiretapping program.


After citing his concerns that there was no limiting principle to the Administration's claim of authority in the War on Terror, Rep. Schiff asked the Attorney General whether the Administration believes it has the authority to wiretap purely domestic calls between two Americans without seeking a warrant.

"I’m not going to rule it out," responded the Attorney General.

"This is very disturbing testimony," Rep. Schiff commented later, "and represents a wholly unprecedented assertion of executive power. No one in Congress would deny the need to tap certain calls under court order -- but if the Administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers."
Cheney's Aide Says President Approved Leak:
Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff testified that he was authorized by President Bush, through Mr. Cheney, in July 2003 to disclose key parts of what until then was a classified prewar intelligence estimate on Iraq, according to a new court filing.

The testimony by the former official, I. Lewis Libby Jr., cited in a court filing by the government made late Wednesday, provides an indication that Mr. Bush, who has long criticized leaks of secret information as a threat to national security, may have played a direct role in authorizing disclosure of the intelligence report on Iraq.
White House: Bush did not flip-flop on leaks - within a day of the story above breaking, the White House was responding:
... White House spokesman Scott McClellan argued Friday that the president staunchly opposes releasing classified information that could affect U.S. security. And he pointed out that the president reserves the right to declassify material.

Looking at the specific 2003 case, McClellan said, "Because of the public debate that was going on and some of the wild accusations that were flying around at the time, we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified be declassified, and that's exactly what we did."

But the court documents show that Bush approved the release of the information 10 days before the White House said the information was declassified.

The information was released on July 8, 2003, according to the documents.

On July 18 of that year, McClellan told reporters "this information was just, as of today, officially declassified."
U.S. Rolls Out Nuclear Plan:
The Bush administration Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the nation's decrepit nuclear weapons complex, including restoration of a large-scale bomb manufacturing capacity.

The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation's massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War.

Until now, the nation has depended on carefully maintaining aging bombs produced during the Cold War arms race, some several decades old. The administration, however, wants the capability to turn out 125 new nuclear bombs per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires older bombs that it says will no longer be reliable or safe.
Hurricane Relief From Abroad Was Mishandled - A New York Times article summarizing a House Government Reform Committee's report on the use of foreign aid after Katrina.
Confusion over how to handle the emergency supplies, offers of military assistance and $126 million in cash that poured in from foreign governments after Hurricane Katrina meant delays, and in some cases wasted opportunities, in aiding storm victims, federal officials acknowledged Thursday.


Thousands of ready-to-eat meals donated by governments, as well as loads of medicine, were never used, because officials learned only after they arrived in the United States that they did not meet federal health standards. Instead of distributing the supplies, the federal government spent $60,000 to store them.

Of the $126 million in cash donations received, only about $10.5 million has been spent. Nearly half sat in a noninterest-bearing account until last month, when it was transferred to the Department of Education for a grant program to help damaged schools and colleges, although no grants have yet been awarded.

An additional $66 million was earmarked last October for United Methodist Committee on Relief, a charity based in New York City which promised, in an alliance with other nonprofit groups, to take on 2,060 paid and volunteer workers to provide counseling to 101,000 displaced families over the next two years.

Just over $10 million has been spent, an official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said, and the charity's records show that only about half of the staff has been hired and that 3,100 families have signed up for help.
Big Gain for Rich Seen in Tax Cuts for Investments: The New York Times analyzed the effect of Bush's tax cuts on investment income and found the following:
  • Among taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million, the amount by which their investment tax bill was reduced averaged about $500,000 in 2003, and total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million.
  • These taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000 because of the lowered rates on investment income.
  • Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003.


Those making less than $50,000 saved an average of $10 more because of the investment tax cuts ...

... I.R.S. data show that among the 90 percent of all taxpayers who made less than $100,000, dividend tax reductions benefited just one in seven and capital gains reductions one in 20.
In Massachusetts, Health Care for All? - Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature have just passed a bill that has Rep. Conyers interested:
The bill, approved by the heavily Democratic Massachusetts legislature on Apr. 4, marries conservative and liberal ideas. For the first time ever in the U.S., all state residents would be required to have health insurance -- dubbed an individual mandate. Gov. Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican expected to run for the White House in 2008, champions this as a conservative victory that leads residents to take responsibility for their own health insurance.


The legislation also includes such liberal measures as huge government subsidies to help low-income individuals buy insurance. What's more, all companies with 11 or more workers are required to help pay for health insurance -- a so-called employer mandate.


Those earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level would get what amounts to a free ride -- they wouldn't have to pay any premiums or any deductibles. Those making between 100% and 300% of the poverty level would pay part of their premiums, based on a sliding scale.
Smithsonian becomes Showtime's exclusive first-refusal archive - A post by BoingBoing about a questionable deal being made by the Smithsonian; BoingBoing also has a detailed follow-up post, complete with replies from the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian has sold exclusive first-refusal rights to its enormous film archive (including tons of public-domain material) to Showtime, a commercial network. This means that anyone who wants to use Smithsonian footage in a documentary will have to take a back seat to Showtime's execs.

What's more, if the US signs the evil WIPO "Broadcast Treaty," it means that Showtime will get a new, 50-year copyright over the public domain material they air as part of this deal, so doc-makers won't even be able to piece together works from the crumbs that Showtime chooses to air.

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