Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dept. of Justice stalls on DNA testing

In 2004, Congress overwhelmingly passed the "Justice for All Act," which established a grant program for states to conduct post-conviction DNA testing in cases where it could prove guilt or innocence. But since the program was established, the Department of Justice has yet to hand out a single dollar. Justice officials claim the problem is with the law itself, which they say is written in such a way that it makes it almost impossible for states to qualify. But others, such as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) say the problem is with the Justice Department. I spoke to Leahy about the dispute earlier this week in a piece for Vermont Public Radio, which you can find by going here.

The piece also includes interviews with Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) and Stephen Saloom, the Policy Director for the Innocence Project.

The cost of war

Back in 2003, the Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels estimated that the war in Iraq could cost between $50 and $60 billion dollars. That prediction followed an earlier estimate from Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey that the war could cost $200 billion dollars; Lindsey was soon thereafter out of the White House, which dismissed his estimate as "the upper end of a hypothetical."

Five years later President Bush is now asking Congress to approve another $196 billion dollars to continue the war through 2008. And in a new report, the Congressional Budget Office now says that the total cost of the war in Iraq over the next 10 years could be as high as $2.4 trillion dollars. That study was the focus of a House Budget Committee hearing yesterday that I covered for Capitol News Connection -- you may read and/or listen to the piece by going here.

What I found particularly interesting is that the Committee's Ranking Republican, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, gave an opening statement that sounded an awful lot like something antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan might say:
"[Since Democrats took over Congress] we’ve heard comparisons about how much we are spending on the war as opposed to children’s health insurance or education programs, or what have you. But nothing has really changed. The President continues to send his war funding requests to the Hill, and in the end, he continues to get what he asks for.”
Ryan also noted that none of the Democratic frontrunners for president would pledge to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of their first term in 2013. Congressman Ryan's purpose was not to point out the Democratic Party's complete unwillingness to oppose the war in Iraq in anything but a rhetorical sense, but to highlight the need for Congress to be aware of the long-term costs of the war. That said, it's easy to see how some, particularly those opposed to the war, might see his statement differently.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Who ya gonna call?

Terrorist Busters!

This is the CIA's official counterterrorism logo:

Of course, it should not to be confused with the one found in the hit 1980s comedy starring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd:


Friday, October 19, 2007

Senate increases funds for mine safety

Yesterday Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced an amendment to a major appropriations bill that increases funding for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) by $10 million dollars. In a speech on the Senate floor, Byrd said the money was needed to pay for more mine inspections and to speed up MSHA's certification process for potentially life-saving emergency rescue technologies, such as a wireless communication system. I filed a story on Byrd's amendment, which passed the Senate by a vote of 89-4, for West Virginia Public Radio. To listen to an mp3 of the story, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Compare and Contrast

Washington Post editorial on Sunday, October 14th:
A congressional study and several news stories in September questioned reports by the U.S. military that casualties were down. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), challenging the testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, asserted that "civilian deaths have risen" during this year's surge of American forces.

A month later, there isn't much room for such debate, at least about the latest figures. In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 -- down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.
[I]t's looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus's credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq's bloodshed were -- to put it simply -- wrong.

McClatchy article from October 10th, "Increased violence continues in Iraq":
BAGHDAD — A recent jump in violence across Iraq continued Wednesday, with at least 16 people killed and 45 wounded in various attacks, including seven involving improvised bombs. More than 55 people were killed and more than 110 were wounded on Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the attacks were part of what's become an annual increase in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend. He said the attacks were mounted mainly by al Qaida in Iraq, which he said is trying to reverse a growing movement among fellow Sunni Muslims who are turning against it.

"This spike in violence largely targets those it sees as most threatening to it — Iraqi security force leaders, concerned local citizens and other local citizens in areas that are in the process of rejecting al Qaida," he said.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Michigan Primary

Earlier this week, the leading Democratic candidates for president -- with the notable exception of Hillary Clinton -- withdrew from competition in the Michigan primary set for January 15th. This comes after the Democratic National Committee threatened not to seat Michigan's delegates at the nominating convention because the state violated the official DNC primary schedule.

I asked Michigan Democratic Congressman Dale Kildee for his reaction. He stood by his state's decision, saying the primary system is "broken," and that Iowa and New Hampshire have unfairly benefited from their "first-in-the-nation" status in the presidential primary process.

My full report on the story, which aired on WMUK in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and on WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan, can be found here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blackwater hearing

Earlier today the House Oversight committee questioned Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of defense contractor Blackwater USA, over reports that employees of his company routinely acted recklessly and with little concern for civilian life. The hearing was prompted by an incident that took place on September 16h in which Blackwater employees opened fire on a crowd of Iraqi civilians, killing 11 people. But before the hearing began, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that there would be no specific questions about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice. Still many Republicans objected to the hearing anyway, even attempting to force the committee to adjourn -- a motion that was rejected. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) was typical of the Republicans in attendance, attempting to paint criticism of Blackwater as merely a continuation of the antiwar group's criticism of General Petraues, saying Democrats were just interested in attacking the war in Iraq. Earlier in the morning, Issa went on C-Span's "Washington Journal," where he went so far as to suggest that Chairman Waxman was placing his own life in jeopardy by even holding the hearing:
"If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?" (link -- 1:07:20 into clip)

The exception among Republicans was Representative Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), a staunch conservative who has long opposed the war in Iraq (something I discussed with the Congressman back in May). He pointed out that Blackwater derives more than 90% of its income from the federal government, and argued that fiscal conservatives should be concerned about the ever-increasing amount of money private contractors are receiving in Iraq. Democrats, for the most part, pressed Blackwater CEO Erik Prince over what steps his company took to ensure accountability among its employees.

I filed a full account of the hearing for Capitol News Connection, which you may find by going here.