Saturday, April 30, 2005

Today's Papers

The big story this morning is Social Security, which is probably just the way President Bush wanted it after his Thursday evening press conference. The Washington Post headlines "Bush Plan Greeted With Caution," noting that the House Way & Means Committee is preparing to begin drawing up a bill based on Bush's means-testing proposal first floated this week. This article, by Jonathan Weisman, outlines how the Bush plan would impact wage earners at all levels, and features quotes from Republicans expressing a wide range of support or lack thereof for the idea. Richard Stevenson in the New York Times calls Thursday's announcement Bush's "big Social Security gamble", but manages to fish out a few more positive quotes about the idea, or at least the idea that something concrete is now on the table as a discussion item. The Washington Times plays up Bill Thomas' comments that he'll "have a bill by June." Another piece in the Post, by Peter Whoriskey, covers Bush's last stop on his sixty-day Social Security crisis tour. Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" today takes a look at the "mixed messages" being sent by Bush and the Democrats in the Social Security debate. The Times profiles Robert Pozen, the Democrat behind Bush's new "progressive indexing" plan. On the west coast, the LA Times analyzes the Bush plan as "aids poor, squeezes the rest."

On the Bolton front Saturday, the ever-watchful Douglas Jehl at the New York Times reports that "a fourth senior member of Colin L. Powell's team at the State Department expressed strong reservations on Friday about the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations." A. Elizabeth Jones, who was assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia until February, said "I don't know if he's incapable of negotiation, but he's unwilling." The most worrisome issue, Jones told Jehl, is "a reluctance on [Bolton's] part to make the kinds of minor, symbolic concessions necessary to build consensus among other governments and maintain the American position." Other top officials from the Powell team who have expressed concerns include Larry Wilkerson, Carl Ford, John R. Wolf, and Powell himself. Mr. Bolton, please do the country a favor and withdraw your name from consideration before this goes any further.

This must-read article in the Washington Post, by Dan Morgan and Marc Kaufman, outlines a striking example of over-the-line congressional interference in the federal regulatory process on behalf of drug company Bayer. The pharmaceutical giant, appealing a ban on its drug Baytril by the FDA (because the antibiotic drug, used in chickens, was found to be "reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics vital to human health") sought assistance from its allies in Congress. Twenty-six members of the House (eighteen Republicans, eight Democrats) signed a letter to the acting FDA Director urging him to reverse the ban; the director, Lester Crawford, says the letter was "improper", as it came during part of a "formal, trial-type proceeding." But isn't it nice to know that our representatives care about Bayer getting its way more than they do about the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the New York Times that backers of drilling in ANWR are rejoicing after Thursday's budget victories, calling the opening of the refuge a "near fact." But at least one procedural hurdle remains, a reconciliation bill that must be passed by both houses of Congress (it cannot be filibustered). With a 51-49 vote in the Senate over ANWR most recently, there is still hope, opponents of drilling argue, that the refuge can be preserved.

Also from the New York Times, word that political watchdog groups have called on Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, the House Ethics Committee member charged with heading up any investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, should step aside. Hart has received more than $15,000 from DeLay's leadership PAC in the past, and recently held a campaign fundraiser for herself at a D.C. restaurant owned by Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who paid for several of DeLay's questionable trips abroad and who is "now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation." Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday of Hart "Her conclusions are automatically suspect because she has her own potential ethics issues come into play." Also Friday, says the Times, an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded that Hart's "dogged party loyalty could cloud the independence she needs to follow the facts. She also needs to overcome the reality that she accepted $15,000 from one of Mr. DeLay's political action committees." I agree. The ethics process against Tom DeLay must be unclouded by personal, political, or financial ties, and while Melissa Hart may be able to judge DeLay fairly those ties notwithstanding, that shouldn't be a risk the House is willing to take. For her own good and to preserve the fairness of an investigation, Ms. Hart should step aside.

Lynndie England, probably best known as "the girl with the leash" from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos, will plead guilty on Monday to two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners, and one count of dereliction of duty stemming from her role in the horrific and thus-far-unresolved scandal. Under the plea agreement, England faces a maximum of 11 years in prison. The 22-year old England is "the seventh enlisted soldier to face criminal penalties in the Abu Ghraib case. No commissioned officers at the prison, and no senior officer in the chain of command, has been charged," says the Washington Post today. England's defense team argues that she was following orders from higher-ranking officers and CIA agents at the prison when she posed for photographs in which abuse of Iraqi prisoners is depicted. Wouldn't it be nice to know if she's telling the truth? The NY Times also covers the plea agreement here.

More on the op/ed sections of the papers later on, this post is too long.


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