Saturday, December 31, 2005

SHOULD THEY STAY OR SHOULD THEY GO?

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, prominent a Democratic hawk, began a spirited political debate when he said it was time for U.S. troops to start coming home from Iraq.

The retired Marine colonel delivered an emotional statement in November, saying he had concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq was counterproductive because they'd become a magnet for insurgent violence and that they should be redeployed over a period of six months.

That set off a firestorm in Washington in which many Republicans lambasted Murtha for his position, questioning his integrity and his mettle.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan compared the congressman to anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore.

McClellan said it is "baffling that [Murtha] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party."

The White House also accused Murtha of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."

Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Ohio who was obviously unaware of Murtha's combat record, venomously accused the war veteran of being a "coward."

To his credit, Murtha, earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry from the South Vietnamese.

It was just days later that President Bush, after initially criticizing Murtha's proposal, made an incrdible about face by suggesting the possibility of withdrawing some U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006. The change of heart was convenient because 2006 is an election year.

Yet in a confusing contradiction, Vice President Dick Cheney later forcefully argued that early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would be "unwise in the extreme" and increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and other nations.

So what's the story? Could there really be a troop reduction in the new year?

On his most recent trip to Iraq, Rep. Murtha found that U.S. "commanders are truly discouraged" and clearly angry. The following may illustrate why.

Virginia's John Warner, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called a meeting with 10 battalion commanders to get an honest portrayal of the situation in Iraq. The Marine and Army officers were quite frank in their assessments. Contradicting the Pentagon's repeated claims, the commanders said they not only needed more manpower, but that they'd also repeatedly asked for it -- as recently as this past August. Each time, they said, they were denied.

The commanders said they don't have enough troops to keep insurgents out of cities that have initially been cleared and secured. They also complained of lacking enough personnel to effectively deal with the problem of roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. casualties.

So it's hard to imagine the withdrawal of U.S. forces from a war in which there have never been enough forces to begin with. Of course there will be vigorous arguments both for and against, just as there have been up to this point, but it will get really interesting, and perhaps even more ugly, in an election year. At this point the administration can't even get its position straight.

But the ones truly suffering through this debate are our forces fighting in Iraq. I'm inclined to side with the commanders who've said they don't have enough numbers to be truly effective -- or at least as effective as they otherwise could be if they had our government's backing in their valiant effort to defeat this stubborn insurgency. Our troops are worthy of at least that much. That would genuinely be "supporting our troops."

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

JURY PUNISHES WAL-MART

Last week, an Oakland, California jury awarded $172 million to thousands of Wal-Mart employees who claimed they were illegally denied lunch breaks.

The news is just the latest blow to the world's largest retailer, which has been repeatedly stung by negative publicity regarding the manner in which it treat its workers.

Wal-Mart was ordered to pay $57 million in general damages and $115 million in punitive damages to about 116,000 current and former California employees for violating a 2001 state law that requires employers to give 30-minute, unpaid lunch breaks to employees who work at least six hours.

The practice is hardly uncommon. According to the New York Times, one week of time records from 25,000 employees in July 2000 found that there were 60,767 missed breaks and 15,705 lost meal times.

The class-action lawsuit is just one of more than 40 nationwide alleging workplace violations by Wal-Mart, and was the first to go to trial. The company had already settled a similar lawsuit in Colorado for $50 million. However, the company doesn't seem to have learned its lesson or changed its ways. But the latest award will hardly hurt the Arkansas-based retailer, since it earned $10 billion last year.

Fred Furth, the attorney who brought the case on behalf of the workers, seemed satisfied that the jury "held Wal-Mart to account."

Naturally, Wal-Mart's attorney said the retailer would likely appeal the jury's verdict, which was reached after nearly three days of deliberations and four months of testimony. His basis for appeal? That state law can only be enforced by California regulators, not by workers in a courtroom. An interesting, though dubious strategy. He also added that Wal-Mart did not believe the lunch law allowed for punitive damages.

Apparently Wal-Mart just doesn't get it. The company is so huge, and so powerful that it thinks it can just ignore the law. It's been caught denying employees fair treatment under the law, yet its corporate governors think that it's appropriate to simply begin following the law now, albeit by court mandate, without any punishment. They are indignant at notion that they should actually be punished for their illegal and unethical actions.

"We absolutely disagree with their findings," attorney Neal Manne said of the jury's verdict. He conceded that Wal-Mart made mistakes in not always allowing for lunch breaks when the 2001 law took affect, but he said the company is "100 percent" in compliance now.

Oh, so now they get it. Finally. I wonder what it took. Could it be the tens of millions in punitive damages? I'll be that had something to do with it. Fines can be somewhat motivational.

The verdict could hardly have come at a worse time for Wal-Mart. The company is waging an intense public-relations campaign to counter critics who are attempting to stop the retailer's expansion and make it boost workers' salaries and benefits.

Wal-Mart was so concerned about Robert Greenwald's new film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, that they hired a "war room" of public relations people to fight back. Apparently their efforts haven't paid off very well: a Zogby poll showed that Americans don't approve of Wal-Mart's worker-unfriendly policies.

Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, an union-affiliated advocacy group that believes Wal-Mart's policies over wages, health benefits and other issues harm families and communities, said he was delighted by the verdict.

"It is a sad day when Wal-Mart provides these so-called low prices by exploiting their workers and even the law," Blank said.

In 2003, sales associates, the most common job in Wal-Mart, earned on average $8.23 an hour for annual wages of $13,861. The 2003 poverty line for a family of three was $15,260, while the national median family budget in the United States for a two-person family (one parent and one child) in 1999 was $23,705.

This year, Harper’s Magazine reported that Wal-Mart employees were eligible for $2.5 billion in federal assistance in 2004. Yet, a national report documented at least $1 billion in subsidies to Wal-Mart from state and local governments.

But an analysis of Wal-Mart's 2005 annual report reveals that the company could cover the cost of a dollar an hour wage increase by raising prices a half penny per dollar. For instance, a $2.00 pair of socks would then cost $2.01. This minimal increase would annually add up to $1,800 for each employee.

After an internal memo surfaced that showed 46 percent of Wal-Mart employees' children were on Medicaid or uninsured, the company decided to add lower-cost health insurance this year. Wal-Mart has generally been content to let the government - meaning taxpayers - pay it's employees healthcare costs.

And Wal-Mart's President and CEO Lee Scott doesn't deny it. In fact, he admits that public health care assistance may be a “better value” than Wal-Mart's own employee healthcare program. Despite $10 billion in profits, Scott said, "In some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value - with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums."

It's repugnant for a mullti-billion dollar company, the number one employer in the US, to shamelessly pass the buck like that.

According to the Wall Street journal, Wal-Mart’s average spending on health benefits for each covered employee was 27% less than the industry average and 37% less than the national average.

And a federal lawsuit is pending in San Francisco that accuses the company of paying men more than women. The beat goes on, and on.

Earlier this year, the PBS series Frontline aired a documentary called "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" The answer from almost all of those interviewed was unequivocally, no.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

IMMIGRATION AT RECORD HIGHS

According to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies, both legal and illegal immigration are reaching record levels while Congress has done little to control America's borders. The report found that nearly 8 million people moved to the United States in the past five years, the highest five-year period of immigration on record.

Deriving its findings from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey from March, the report reveals that there are 35.2 million foreign-born people presently living in the United States. That's about 12.1 percent of the current U.S. population, and according to Census figures, the highest percentage since 1920.

The report also said an estimated 9 million to 13 million are here illegally, and that immigrants, on average, are less educated and more likely to live in poverty than people born in the United States.

"The 35.2 million immigrants living in the country in March 2005 is the highest number ever recorded -- two-and-a-half times the 13.5 million during the peak of the last great immigration wave in 1910," said the report by Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tougher policies on illegal immigration and favors attracting immigrants with needed job skills.

Camarota said the U.S. should work harder to expel people who are in the United States illegally.

"The obvious thing is to enforce the law, at the border and at the work site, and to deny access to bank accounts and driver licenses," Camarota said.

Those are key requisites to enforcement. People in the U.S. illegally shouldn't be able to obtain bank accounts, driver licenses, or anything else that helps ease or legitimize their status. Otherwise, how can the U.S. meaningfully enforce its laws?

Audrey Singer, an immigration fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, "There's no doubt that we are at a high in immigration to the United States." Singer says that immigrants come to the U.S. due to economic reasons, and because of social ties to people already living here.

"Look at places where people come from, these are places with very limited economic opportunities," Singer said.

Not surprisingly, Mexico is the largest contributer of immigrants to the United States, followed by East Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and South America, according to the report.

Some immigrant rights activists argue that the American economy would collapse without the cheap labor provided by undocumented workers. Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, is one of them. She says it would be impossible to deport as many as 11 million illegally immigrants, who make up about 5 percent of the U.S. work force.

"There isn't fairy dust that is going to make the 11 million people go away," Kelley said. "It would be far more sensible to have them come out into the light of day ... and give them a chance to join the American family on a permanent basis."

But it's truly hard to imagine the U.S. economy collapsing due to the loss of 5 percent of its workforce.

For various reasons -- be they egalitarian, political, or economic -- members of both parties have ignored this issue for years, and polls show that Americans are fed up with their representatives lack of action. That frustration may finally be getting through.

A divided House Judiciary Committee approved a bill last week that would enlist military support for border surveillance and set new mandatory minimum sentences on smugglers and people convicted of re-entry after removal. Illegal presence in the country, now a civil offense, would become a federal crime. That would surely boost the U.S. prison population quite considerably.

Hopefully, the report will inspire the House as it considers a bill that would curb illegal immigration by boosting border security and requiring workplace enforcement of immigration laws. The full House is expected to take up the measure this week, before it adjourns for the year.

The bill doesn't include President Bush's proposed guest worker program, which would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country temporarily to fill jobs unwanted by Americans. The great mystery is what exactly would compel a guest worker to leave the U.S and go back home after a three year stay, and how immigration officials would find them to enforce the law. It would be very easy for these workers to go back 'underground', as many illegal immigrants presently are.

Experts contend that the only way to enforce the law is to mandate employers to comply under the threat of stiff penalties. At present, those laws are almost entirely ignored and go unenforced. That's the root of the problem. As long as there is a demand in the workplace for illegal immigrants, there will be an endless supply of them willing to come to the U.S. to take those jobs.
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE 2020

While the recent energy bill passed by the Republican controlled Congress did little to lower gas prices or make us less energy dependent, the Democrats have announced an "Energy Independence 2020" plan to reduce our reliance on foreign oil over the next 15 years. They claim their plan will "create innovative new jobs and build a cleaner, greener, and stronger America."

The plan is highlighted below:


ENERGY INDEPENDENCE 2020
FOR A CLEANER, GREENER, AND STRONGER AMERICA

Democrats believe the Federal government can and must do a better job of protecting consumers, businesses, and farmers burdened by today's skyrocketing energy prices. We must break our country's dangerous reliance on foreign energy. We believe our leadership and vision can help ensure low cost supplies of sustainable energy to improve American competitiveness and the security of our nation. That's why Democrats have a strategy to make America energy independent by the year 2020. We plan to:

Launch an Apollo Project for Energy
- Create a massive commitment to support research and development necessary to develop alternative energy sources to free us from foreign oil by 2020.

Diversify and Expand Our Energy Supplies
- Increase dramatically the production of domestically grown biofuels - Institute a national renewable portfolio standard
- Enhance incentives for energy production from solar, wind, and geothermal
- Utilize existing domestic oil and gas leases' for environmentally compatible extraction
- Encourage construction of the Alaskan natural gas pipeline
- Support the development of a hydrogen economy
- Increase the deployment of advanced clean coal technology like integrated gasification and coal-to-liquids, in conjunction with carbon capture and storage approaches

Protect Consumers and the Environment
- Prevent oil company price gouging, market manipulation, and disaster profiteering
- Increase energy market transparency and consumer choice at the pump
- Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to cover increased household energy costs
- Provide car buyers with accurate fuel economy information
- Protect pristine public lands from short-sighted oil and gas exploitation
- Enhance funding for weatherization and low-income energy assistance needs in all climates

Improve Energy Security and Prevent Price Volatility
- Create geographically diverse strategic gasoline and jet fuel reserves
- Streamline fuel specifications while maintaining state clean air protections
- Encourage the development of a smarter and more distributed electricity system
- Leverage trade relationships to maintain competitiveness of energy-intensive U.S. manufacturers

Reduce Demand for Oil and Natural Gas
- Lower petroleum use in the federal fleet and improve government conservation efforts
- Provide consumers with more fuel efficient vehicle choices
- Develop renewable substitutes to replace natural gas use in the petrochemical industry
- Improve infrastructure and electricity options for hybrids and plug-in hybrids
- Increase mass transit use and incentivize transit-oriented development
- Advance air traffic management to shorten flight times
- Reduce tractor trailer fuel needs by improving aerodynamics, logistics, and idling

Invest in Energy Efficiency and American Jobs
- Update efficiency standards for appliances and small engines
- Invest in math and science education for the next generation of energy engineers
- Ensure access to worker training and retraining in advanced energy technologies

Saturday, December 10, 2005

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY NEEDS AN APOLLO MISSION

When President Kennedy addressed Congress on May 25, 1961, he said the following:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind ... and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further — unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space."

For the last five years, President Bush and Congress have missed the opportunity to do something truly meaningful and historical with regard to our nation's energy policy. But there are still three years remaining in the President's second term, and it's not too late too act.

Following the example of President Kennedy's Apollo Moon Mission, the current President and Congress should make a pledge to dedicate all national resources — funding, research, technology, and manpower — toward the goal of developing viable, cost-efficient, renewable energy sources for the US.

These alternatives to oil and other fossil fuels would keep the US from remaining dependent on Middle East oil, and held hostage to the demands and whims of OPEC.

The rewards could be enormous in manifold ways.

Alternatives fuels would also be kinder to our environment and could potentially create millions of jobs and whole new industries. But it will require the same national will that drove the space program in the '60s.

Only the President has the pulpit, power and prestige to marshall this requisite will, as well as the necessary commitment of resources, toward the realization of this goal.

It may not be realized in his term, or even by the end of this decade, but it should be pursued with all determination and vigor nonetheless.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

THE VATICAN'S SEXUAL "INSTRUCTION" MANUAL

The Vatican's recently released document, "Instruction," reiterated its long-standing policy against gay priests. However, it does allow those who have "clearly overcome" homosexual tendencies to begin the process of becoming a priest.

Unfortunately, the Vatican didn't define how they could tell if a candidate for the priesthood had "clearly overcome" their homosexual tendencies. Priests can't date or marry women. That might be a good clue.

Church officials made a distinction between deep-seated homosexual tendencies and what they called "the expression of a transitory problem." In other words, the Vatican believes that some gays can just 'get over it.'

According to the document, "The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the Seminary and to Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture."

But the document said when "homosexual tendencies are only the expression of a transitory problem ... these must be clearly overcome at least three years prior to deaconate ordination." So those who aspire to be priests have three years to prove that they're not gay. Ready, set, go.

The highly anticipated 21-paragraph document, which advises bishops and seminary rectors on how to deal with potential gay priests entering the church, doesn't spell out how the "transitory problem" can be overcome, or how a potential priest can prove he no longer has such tendencies.

Reportedly, the new document reaffirms the church teaching that homosexual acts are "grave sins" which are intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law. "Therefore, in no case can they be approved," it says.

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, like his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination," it said.

The document is sure to create controversy in the church. Some will argue that it will root out homosexuality in the priesthood, while others will claim that it will cause gay priests to go underground -- which some say was one of the factors that led to the sex abuse scandal in the first place.

The Roman Catholic Church's policy against homosexual priests goes back to a 1961 document which proclaimed that homosexuals should be barred from priesthood. But the Vatican felt compelled to issue updated guidelines because of the 2002 sex abuse scandal, which involved the abuse of teenage boys by priests.

The scandal had an enormous financial cost and deeply embarrassed the US church. Its reputation and integrity may have been irreparably harmed. In 1972 49% of Catholics reported attending church weekly; in 2000 a mere 26% did. It could be a long time before the Church recovers -- if it ever fully does. Surely the sex abuse scandal wasn't the sole reason for the decline, but it didn't help reverse the trend.

In responding to one of the most sensitive issues facing the Church, the document did not mention men who are already priests but only those entering seminaries to prepare for the priesthood.

That's because beggars can't be choosers.

The number of annual vocations to the priesthood has halved from around 1000 in 1965 to around 500 today. The number of men and women entering religious orders, primarily as nuns or monks, has declined by over 50% since 1965. And as the priesthood has become older, it has also become sparser; there were just under 59,000 priests in 1965, compared to around 45,000 today. The priest shortage is greatly affecting churches around the country; the number of parishes without a resident priest has increased from around 550 in 1965 to well over 3000 today. Apparently, fewer men are hearing "the calling" these days.

That's why church officials in the US allowed the sex abuse problem to fester for so long. They have a shortage of candidates and few other good options. So they just prayed for the predators, hoping their deviant ways would magically go away. Well, all the prayers in the world aren't turning gay people straight either.

Rev. Donald Cozzens, an author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," estimates that the number of gays in U.S. seminaries and the priesthood ranges from 25 percent to 50 percent. But other estimates have ranged from as low as 10 percent to as high as 60 percent.

The flamboyantly gay 70s group, The Village People, wrote campy songs that made light of the places that gay men might like to meet other men - the YMCA and the Navy. They could have just as well written a song called "In the Seminary."

It's little surprise that gay men have flocked to seminaries over the years. Some have tried to hide their sexuality. Becoming a priest would end the tedious, "When are you going to get married?" questions from family and friends. Others surely thought that they could just pray their sexuality away. Clearly that hasn't been working; the Church feels that it has a major problem on its hands. And still others chose to lead a cloistered life that provides lots of male companionship -- and sexual opportunities.

The answer is for the Church is to end the celibacy requirement for priests. Think of all of the worthy and wonderful candidates that are shut out because they want to be sexual beings who can have a wife and children. Married priests could raise other priests. It could become a family business, so to speak. Fathers are often their sons best role models. Priests, well....not exactly these days.

Celibacy leads nowhere -- except to unhappiness and declining numbers. The Vatican may eventually be forced to rethink its policy -- out of necessity.

Celibacy for priests wasn't even required until the Twelfth Century. The rule grew out of concerns for protecting Church property from inheritance. Pope Pelagius I made new priests agree that offspring could not inherit Church property. Pope Gregory then declared all sons of priests illegitimate (daughters couldn't inherit anyway). In 1022 Pope Benedict VIII banned marriages and mistresses for priests, and then in 1139 Pope Innocent II voided all marriages of priests and made all new priests divorce their wives.

The Vatican has always had issues with sex. But it's important to remember that it's comprised of men who aren't sexually active -- and some who never have been. Its hierarchy often seems overly rigid, out of touch, and hypocritical. While the Church teaches that sexual intimacy is designed for procreation (hence the restriction on contraception), infertile couples are still allowed to marry and post-menopausal spouses are allowed active sex lives. And the Church's ban on contraception is leaving many third world countries permanently in the third world, while contributing to the spiraling AIDS rate.

So the Church can issue documents, reaffirm old teachings, and do whatever else it wishes, but that isn't going to get at the root of its problems. They have a priest shortage that is only getting worse, and steadily declining numbers of parishioners. Allowing heterosexual priests to marry might just reverse both trends. Catholics would probably love a less rigid, more open-minded Church. It would certainly increase the pool of qualified, interested candidates to the priesthood. That'd be a great start. Rebuilding their reputation might take a little longer, but that would be another benefit of a much needed change.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TIME TO ACT

Illegal immigration has become such an urgent and critical problem that in August the governors of Arizona and New Mexico were prompted to declare states of emergency along their borders.

It's estimated that 4,000 illegal aliens cross the 375-mile border between Arizona and Mexico every day. Last year, more than half of all illegal aliens apprehended were caught in Arizona. For every person the border patrol picks up, at least three slip into the country safely. Most obtain phony identification papers, including bogus Social Security numbers, to create new identities and mask their unlawful presence.

Transporting illegal immigrants requires fleets of stolen cars, which explains why Arizona ranks No. 1 in cars stolen per capita, with 56,000 vehicles ripped off in 2003.

In September, the commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, resigned in frustration over US policy after four years on the job. It was obvious to him just how impotent US border control efforts are.

Bonner had clashed with the Bush administration over his support for the use of civilian "minutemen" along the U.S.-Mexico border to assist border patrol agents. President Bush, who's disregard of the problem forced concerned civilians to act in the first place, has equated the volunteer group with "vigilantes."

Saying that he was not asked to resign, Bonner indicated that it was just "a good time to move on."

His departure left three of the top positions within the Department of Homeland Security vacant: the chiefs of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Having vacancies at the top positions in the departments that oversee immigration and border control just make a bad situation worse.

The government recently announced that the U.S. Latino population has increased 17% in the past four years. Latinos now number 41 million people in the US, or one out of every seven people. And presently, Latinos account for fifty percent of all US population growth, a percentage they are expected to maintain for the next 20 years.

No one knows exactly how many illegals are living in the U.S., but estimates run as high as 15 million.

Experts contend that 3 million illegal aliens flooded into the U.S. last year alone. It was roughly three times the number of immigrants who came to the U.S. legally. And at least 4 million people who arrived in the U.S. legally on work, tourist or education visas have decided to ignore immigration laws and stay permanently.

Many Americans are upset that illegal aliens often receive government-funded health care, education benefits and subsidized housing, and public-opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor a crackdown on illegal immigration.

But Latinos appear conflicted in their views of illegal immigration. A TIME Magazine poll found that 62% of US Latinos think illegal immigration is a "very" or "extremely" serious problem. Yet, 62% think that illegal immigrants should be able to get a US driver's license.

Other Americans think that the problem has clearly gotten out of hand. And situations like the following only fuel the fire.

In August, a US court granted two illegal El Salvadoran immigrants a civil judgment that gave them possession of a 70 acre Arizona ranch owned by a "vigilante" leader who they claim threatened them with a gun in March 2003 when he caught them sneaking into the US.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has done nothing to help the US with this problem, in fact he may have encouraged it. In 2000, Fox made his position clear when he called for a fully open border within 10 years, with "a free flow of people, workers" moving between the two countries. That free flow would quite clearly move in just one direction.

Under U.S. immigration law, illegal immigrants can be imprisoned after the second offense, but that almost never happens no matter how many times they're caught. The U.S. legal and prison systems would be completely overwhelmed.

While proponents of illegal immigration contend that illegals take jobs that Americans won't, evidence suggests that it is low wage rates, not the type of job, that American workers reject. The greatest impact of illegal immigration is on unskilled American workers at the bottom of the wage scale.

Of the 400,000 illegal aliens who have been ordered to be deported, 80,000 have criminal records—and the agency in charge, the Homeland Security Department, has no idea where any of them are, including those from countries that support terrorism.

Most illegals, including those with arrest records, are not jailed while awaiting a hearing. That's because Congress has failed to appropriate enough money to build sufficient holding facilities. Rather, the immigrants are released on their promise to return. But they don't.

As for illegals already serving time in U.S. jails, state law-enforcement authorities are not permitted to keep prisoners beyond their original sentence. When Homeland Security agents fail to show up promptly, which is often, the alien convicts are released back into the community.

There are two competing bills in the Senate that would deal with the illegal immigration problem. A number of Republican Congressman have told the White House that stronger enforcement is their top priority this Fall, and Tom Delay has said that President Bush has privately admitted making a mistake in how he's dealt with the issue in the past.

Experts contend that if the government simply issued a counterfeit proof Social Security card with an embedded photograph, and if all U.S. employers were mandated to require it under penalty of law, the illegal immigration problem could be solved.

Hopefully things will soon change. The time for our government to get serious about this problem is long since overdue.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

ANWR LEASES TO BE SOLD

Despite being set aside for protection 44 years ago, the Senate approved requiring the Interior Department to begin selling oil leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska refuge within two years.

Though past attempts had failed, this time drilling supporters attached language ending the ban on drilling in the refuge to a budget measure that is immune from filibuster.

It is estimated that 10.5 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the coastal tundra of northeastern Alaska. At present, the US uses about 7.3 billion barrels of oil a year. Do the math: that's less than a year and half's supply.

Experts predict that oil will not flow from ANWR for 10 years, and according to the Energy Department peak production of about 1 million barrels a day isn't expected until about 2025. Currently, the United States used about 20 million barrels of oil a day, and consumption is expected to increase an additional 32% by 2025. It's hard to see how ANWR will make any difference at all. In truth, it won't. The leases are clearly a giveaway to oil interests.

Environmentalists have cited a report by DOE's Energy Information Administration that concluded that ANWR oil would only slightly affect gasoline prices and marginally lower the growth of imports by 2025, when imported oil would account for 64 percent of U.S. demand instead of 68 percent without ANWR's oil. How about that for energy independence - a whopping 4% decrese in foreign oil reliance. Wow, let's celebrate!

The provision in the budget bill assumed $2.5 billion in federal revenue from oil lease sales over the next five years. Alaska would get a like amount as well as half of future oil royalties from the refuge. That's one reason Alaska's senators have fought for years to approve oil exploration in the refuge, which was set aside in 1961 for special protection.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

SENATE BILL FIXES PENSION SHORTFALLS

In an effort to shore up deficits in the pension plans that cover 44 million Americans, the Senate voted Wednesday to force companies to make up underfunding estimated at $450 billion and live up to promises made to employees.

The Senate legislation, which passed 97-2, would compel companies with defined-benefit plans to live up to their funding obligations, preventing them from abandoning the retirement benefits of millions of Americans. The near unanimous support for the bill, an anomally in Washington these days, reveals the importance of this issue to both parties.

The vote came a day after the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit plans of 44 million people and takes over the plans of bankrupt companies, reported a deficit of $22.8 billion at the end of the 2005 fiscal year on Sept. 30, and predicted a troubled future. A shortfall has been reported in each of the last four years.

The PBGC said it assumed responsibility for the pension benefits of an additional 235,000 workers and retirees in 2005, bringing the total to 1.3 million, and paid benefits of $3.7 billion, up from $3 billion in 2004.

Premiums per participant, paid by companies, totaled $1.5 billion. In an effort top offset some of the deficit, those premiums would increase from $19 to $30 a year under the Senate bill.

The Senate legislation, unlike the House version, would also extend special relief for debt-ridden airlines. Bankrupt steel and airline companies have been a significant reason for the PBGC's mounting financial woes. But the White House, while saying it supports most of the bill, opposed including extended relief for the airline industry.

Earlier this year, United Airlines and US Airways filed for bankruptcy and forced their employee pension liabilities -- a combined $9.6 billion -- onto the PBGC. Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines , which both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, could follow suit.

PBGC-covered single-employer defined-benefit plans, under which workers receive fixed monthly benefits based on their salaries and tenure, declined from 95,000 in 1980 to 30,000 in 2004 as companies either stopped offering plans or switched to 401(k)-type programs.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

EXXON MOBIL'S CORPORATE GREED REVEALED

Prepare yourself for this one. Exxon Mobil hauled in a remarkable $100 billion in just three months, and $10 billion of it was pure profit. Astonished? Well consider this; Exxon Mobil's profit actually exceeded Microsoft's first-quarter sales. And how about this mind-boggling nugget; the company earned $4.48 million an hour - in profit - during the quarter.

The oil company's third-quarter revenue and profit were both records for any publicly traded company. Given the current climate of gas prices, the company's gains were so gigantic that even Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, called for hearings on the higher fuel prices.

The company is quite concerned that Congress will level a windfall profit tax on the industry, which would spoil the party. In an effort to fend off the likely political backlash, not to mention the PR mess that will surely ensue, the company took out full page ads in newspapers claiming that its profit is not all that different from other industries. You buying that?

Exxon Mobil's reported earnings were up 75% from the same quarter a year ago. Feeling gouged? With gas prices exceeding $3 per gallon in many states, it's little surprise if you are. The Exxon Mobil earnings report destroys the argument that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the sole reasons for the severe gas price hikes that followed in their aftermath. Apparently Exxon Mobil, and perhaps other oil giants as well, was the primary reason.

Providing a fine example of Wall Street's schizophrenic nature and obsession with expectations, despite this eye-popping earnings report, Exxon Mobil's stock price actually fell 1%. That's because the $1.32 per share earnings were below the $1.38 per share that had been anticipated. Go figure. But I'll bet the execs aren't complaining.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.
WAITING FOR THE HAMMER TO FALL

Texas Congressman Tom Delay has faced so many legal problems over the past few years that he actually set up a legal defense fund to take contributions for his legal bills. Like many politicians, Delay loves contributions - and that's what's gotten him inso much trouble...again.

Already facing two indictments for violating Texas campaign laws, Delay has now acknowledged that he failed to comply with House rules which require him to disclose all contributions to his defense fund . According to Delay, $20,850 contributed in 2000 and 2001 was not reported.

The "Hammer", as he is known, did remember to include another $17,300 in the defense fund's quarterly report, but he forgot to list it in his 2000 annual financial disclosure report -- a separate requirement. Other donations were understated as totaling $2,800, when the figure should have been $4,450.

All of this occurred during a period when DeLay was the subject of several House ethics investigations. During such a period, one would expect a government official to be squeaky clean while avoiding all legal and ethical troubles or any potential conflicts of interest.

But not Delay. His sense of entitlement and grandiosity are remarkable even in the world of American politics. Now facing two felony charges, Delay's current legal woes forced him to step down from his position as the powerful House Majority Leader.

And those aren't all of of Delay's problems.

The House Ethics Committee is also reviewing allegations that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a man Delay once described as "one of my closest and dearest friends," may have paid, or arranged payment for, some of DeLay's overseas travel expenses - a violation of House rules. Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, and thousands more for DeLay and other Republican members of Congress. One hand washes the other.

Delay's "close and dear friend" Abramoff is also facing bank fraud charges alleging that he and his business partner, New York businessman Adam Kidan, 36, used a fake wire transfer to defraud two lenders out of some $60 million. The money was to be used to finance the purchase of a fleet of gambling ships from entrepreneur Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis in September 2000. But the deal soon fell apart when the parties became involved in a bitter legal battle over the sale.

Five months later, Boulis was shot to death in what police described as a hit. Last month, three men were charged with his gangland-style murder. Court papers allege that, for unspecified reasons, Kidan - Abramoff's partner - paid $240K to two of the accused killers. That doesn't sound good, but maybe there's a perfectly good explanation. I'm sure Kidan is working on one right now, and I wonder if it involves Congressman Delay's dear old pal.

But that's not all. Abramoff is also under federal investigation by a Washington grand jury looking into whether he and a lobbying partner overcharged Indian tribes by millions of dollars for their work.

Abramoff's extraordinary access to Washington power brokers, like Delay, earned him millions for his work on behalf of groups as disparate as Indian Tribes, Fortune 500 companies, and foreign governments. Power and money always seem to go together like hand and glove, and Delay was the hand doing much of the back room dealmaking and manipulating that allowed Abramoff to operate so freely and smoothly in Washington.

Like a moth to a flame Delay seems to be drawn to scandal.

Last year, Delay was rebuked by his House colleagues three times in one week for ethical reasons. And in 1999 he was rebuked by the same House panel for threatening a Washington trade association that planned to hire a Democratic lobbyist. Delay is widely viewed as a bully, hence his nickname - the "Hammer."

It was just a year ago that Delay's colleagues chastised him for facilitating and participating in an energy company golf fundraiser that benefited his political action committees. Delay had the audacity to hold the event as House and Senate negotiators were about to meet in conference on major energy legislation in June of 2002. Say what you will, but the man's got balls.

Delay is so megalomaniacal that he apparently believes he's beyond reproach, and that he's untouchable. But like many who came before him, Delay may soon find out that he is indeed accountable to the people, his colleagues, and the legal system. He's made a mockery of his office and his duties as a lawmaker because he sees himself as being above the law. He hasn't chosen his friends very wisely either, and all of this may soon come back to haunt him - in spades.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

IN IRAQ: 2K KIA

Though the caskets have been ordered hidden from view by a White House desperate to diminish the affects of war, today marked a sad passing with the announcement that 2000 U.S. military personnel have now been killed as a result of fighting in Iraq. Though the U.S. military does not publish a cumulative tally of war deaths, news outlets have kept their own records.

According to the Defense Department, more than 15,000 American service members have been wounded since the start of the war in March 2003.

President Bush responded to the deaths by saying, "We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror.... each of these patriots left a legacy that allowed generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty."

Many of us had no idea that our liberty was actually being defended in Iraq, or that it ever needed to be defended there in the first place.

Actually it's been quite disheartening to hear key military leaders say that the U.S. presence is actually fueling the insurgency and drawing foreign fighters from throughout the Muslim World. Insurgent attacks have swelled to as many as 80 a day.

The war shows no signs of ending any time soon. Even with U.S. elections looming next year, the Bush Administration says it is poised to stay the course.

At last week's Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted that rebuilding the entire Middle East has been the Bush Administration's mission ever since 9/11. That's a very noble goal, though perhaps quite unrealistic. It's especially odd given that the President spearheading this very effort is the same man who said, during the 200 Presidential campaign, that he was opposed to "nation building." Well region building dwarfs nation building in the same way that rebuilding New Orleans dwarfs rebuilding a few houses. As a result, the mission in the Middle East appears quite open-ended.

The Bush policy in Iraq has been an abject failure. Current and former intelligence officials have concluded that the Administration clearly didn't anticipate or adequately prepare for the insurgency, sent soldiers into combat with insufficient resources, and never put enough troops in Iraq to win the war from the beginning. That's still the case.

If that's the best this administration could do up until now, just imagine how much worse it could get with the amount of pressure now building on the White House from so many angles. Presently, the White House is dealing with the CIA leak investigation, the looming Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination hearings, and the ire of disappointed conservative leaders, groups and publications. That's not to mention the eventual fallout from the federal deficit, the trade deficit, the health care problem, the exporting of millions of jobs overseas, rising interest rates and the subsequent weakening of a housing market that has sustained the economy for the past few years.

No key players in the war effort have been fired, with the exception of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff who had the courage to tell the administration that they didn't have enough troops to successfully fight the war. He's since been vindicated, but that surely wasn't what he was hoping for. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has bungled and misjudged this war from the outset, still has his job and that isn't building confidence in anyone, except for those who are equally inept and hoping to keep their jobs as well.

Now that the alleged Sadddam / al-Qaeda link has been dispelled, and the Administration seems to have "cooked the intelligence" on Saddam's alleged nuclear weapons program, people are asking the obvious question: why have 2000 of our military people died in this escapade? As of today, the appropriate qustion might be Y2K?

It's like the blind are leading the blind in this war, and we Americans have never been given an honest account of the war's true costs in both dollars and lives. That's shameful and reprehensible. It's hard to know who to trust or believe in our government. But one thing we should all count on is that things will continue to get worse in Iraq before they get better. If they ever get better.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Clock Is Ticking

According to an Oil Daily report issued prior to Hurricane Katrina, the ten major oil companies are on pace to post an astounding $100 billion plus in profits in 2005.

While the oil companies are reaping record profits, Americans are paying 50% more at the pump than they did one year ago. That's called price gouging.

In a free market economy, prices are directly correlated to supply and demand. As demand increases, supply must keep pace or else prices will inflate.

In the past four years, the worldwide demand for oil has increased by 8.6%. Meanwhile, worldwide production has essentially kept pace, increasing 8.3%. Despite this, crude oil prices have spiked an incredible 242% during the same period. Again, that's price gouging.

While some Americans might believe that the U.S. gets almost all of its crude oil from overseas, that is not the case. The U.S. produces 42% of its own oil and our neighbors Canada and Mexico are tied as our number one sources, each providing 11% of U.S. oil imports.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia is the number two exporter to the U.S., accounting for just 9% of U.S. oil.

Our appetite for oil seems to be nearly insatiable. Presently, the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil each day, or 400 million gallons. That's a quarter of all the oil used around the world each day. And experts predict that U.S. consumption will increase 32% by 2025.

But we are not alone in our demand for oil. China and India, each with populations of over 1 billion people, are home to two of the world's most rapidly developing economies. And, as such, the demand for oil in those countries is also developing rapidly.

China's oil consumption is projected to rise 119% by 2025. But even then, they'll still be using only about half as much as the U.S. will be. At that time, it's anticipated that worldwide oil usage could increase to 120-130 million barrels a day, up from 85 million barrels today.

The question most experts ask is, where will all of that additional oil come from? Many have supposed that Saudi Arabia's giant oil fields would account for much of the supply.

But according to Matthew Simmons, the author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," that's highly unlikely.

Simmons believes that Saudi Arabia, now producing around 9 million barrels a day, may soon begin to lose production capacity. According to his research, the Saudi oil fields have matured, leading to their inevitable decline.

As a result, Simmons concludes that worldwide oil production has peaked and instead of increasing to 120 million barrels a day by 2025, it could in fact be half that rate — meaning less than what it is today.

Some have concluded that the U.S. must, in the effort to achieve oil independence, begin drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. But unfortunately, experts have countered that such a tactic would result in 250-800 million barrels a year, the amount the U.S. currently consumes in just 12-38 days.

Obviously, that's not the answer.

Simmons asserts that the world needs to considerably reduce its consumption of transportation fuels to fend off a potential crisis, a contention other experts in the field support.

Since 70% of the world's oil is used as transportation fuel, new forms of fuel are required, as well as a reduction in the number of people and goods moved by cars and trucks. Simmons calls for an increase in the use of trains and ships to make shipping more efficient and to reduce worldwide oil consumption.

Obviously, the U.S. oil industry has a huge stake in seeing to it that American consumers do not decrease the gluttonous consumption of their product. But if Simmons is correct, the clock is ticking on world oil supplies, and the time to act is now.

Biodiesel, which is manufactured from vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases and oils, or animal fats, is one possibility. It can be used in any diesel engine, usually without any engine modifications, and is the safest of all fuels to use, handle, and store. It's also non-toxic, biodegradable, and free of sulphur.

Soybeans, one of the largest and most abundant U.S. crops, are one of the principle sources. And believe it or not, biodiesel is already being used in busses and other municipal vehicles in numerous U.S. cities such as St. Louis, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Portland, Oregon and Lexington, Kentucky.

The Department of Energy calls biodiesel the fastest growing alternative fuel in the nation, as it's use has increased 5000% since 1999.

One way or the other, it's time to start exploring alternatives to crude oil for a variety of reasons: its limited, and perhaps dwindling, supply; various environmental factors; and the economic prospects from a new industry, including jobs.

There are lots of good reasons to wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, not the least of which is our national security, so we shouldn't let U.S. oil companies stand in our way. In fact, if they're wise they'll recognize the opportunities at hand and lead the way themselves.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

IN A RACE AGAINST TIME



Between 1347-1350, a time known as the Middle Ages, approximately 20 million people, a third to half of Western Europe's population, died in what became know as the Black Plague or Black Death.

That calamity had an enormous impact on the European economies. It created a widespread morass of dread and futility, inspired long-lasting fear and panic, and forever changed European history. It took hundreds of years for European population levels to recover.

The last century saw three separate pandemics, or worldwide epidemics.

The 1957 outbreak began in China and was a hybrid of a human and an avian, or bird flu. Because humans had no immunity for a bird virus, the strain was particularly lethal killing approximately 2-4 million people worldwide. Then, in 1968, another hybrid virus emerged from China and killed about one million people around the globe.

While the latter two events paled in comparison to the Black Death of the Middle Ages, that epidemic pales in comparison to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. That particular outbreak created panic, prompting widespread quarantines.

Nonetheless, the pandemic killed as many as 50 million people worldwide.

Those infected during the 1918 outbreak died very quickly, usually within two to four days of the onset of symptoms. People without symptoms could be struck suddenly and be rendered too feeble to walk within hours; many would die the next day.

That virus was closely related to the kind of influenzas that infect swine, suggesting that it entered the human population through pigs.

The Spanish Influenza is estimated to have infected up to one billion people — half the world's population at the time — and to have killed more people than any other single outbreak of disease, surpassing even the Black Death.

Now scientists around the globe are concerned about another possible pandemic. They are particularly concerned that it could be triggered by a strain of the avian flu called H5N1.

At present, H5N1 is mostly passed directly from bird to human, but health experts have warned that it is just a matter of time before it mutates into a form that is easily transmissible between people. When that happens, it may result in as many as 150 million human deaths.

So far, the virus has only killed about 60 people — mostly poultry workers — because as of now it doesn't spread easily from person to person. The fear is that H5N1 will mutate to spread easily, which would be catastrophic because it is so different from annual flu strains that people have no natural immunity to it.

Whereas the global mortality rate from the 1918 outbreak was estimated at 2.5%–5% of the population, the avian bird flu presently has a 50% mortality rate.

World heath officials appear to be genuinely concerned.

This week President Bush commented on the worrisome potential of H5N1. Then Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the administration's top health official, said that "no one in the world is ready" for a potentially catastrophic outbreak of Avian bird flu. He added that U.S. officials and their counterparts around the globe recognize that a pandemic is possible and are working hard on ways to protect people from it.

Apparently the world is taking this threat seriously. More than 65 countries and international organizations participated in discussions on Thursday at the State Department about preparations for the possibility of an outbreak of bird flu.

According to a federal plan, U.S. health officials would rush overseas to wherever a bird flu outbreak occurred and work with local officials to try to contain it. If that fails, the plan calls for closing schools, restricting travel and other old-fashioned quarantine steps, depending on how fast the super-strain was spreading and the degree of its virulence.

Unfortunately, Leavitt says that state and local authorities aren't prepared to deal with the prospect of a quarantine — isolating the sick and closing large gatherings where diseases might spread.

To prepare for a potential outbreak, last month HHS began spending $100 million for the first large-scale production of a bird flu vaccine. But the department has been criticized because there isn't nearly enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu to treat the potential threat.

Tamiflu is the primary antiviral drug that countries around the world are now stockpiling to fend off the looming threat. Last week, the Senate passed legislation that would increase those purchases by $3 billion. Presently, U.S. health agencies have about 2 million doses of Tamiflu — enough to treat only about one percent of the population.

Leavitt cautioned that while there is a vaccine for H5N1, officials do not currently have the ability to mass produce it or get it to people quickly. Officials are concerned about a lack of ability to quickly create a vaccine to match whatever pandemic flu strain erupts.

That currently takes months. If an outbreak were to occur, that amount of time would be disastrous. Whereas AIDS killed 25 million in its first 25 years, the Spanish flu may have killed an equal number in just 25 weeks, beginning in September 1918.

Leavitt says the government's new plan will focus on refining vaccine production to speed the process.

There is also a real concern that as the virus mutates, the vaccines may continue to lose their effectiveness. Already a strain of the H5N1 virus is showing resistance to Tamiflu. Two reports in The Lancet medical journal this month said that resistance to anti-flu drugs was growing worldwide. In places such as China, drug resistance exceeded 70 percent.

Drug manufacturers are being urged to make more effective versions of an inhaled antiviral called Relenza that is also known to be effective in battling the much feared H5N1.

In an effort to help them better understand and develop defenses against the threat of a future worldwide epidemic, scientists have made from scratch the Spanish flu virus that caused the 1918 worldwide outbreak. It is the first time an infectious agent behind a historic pandemic has been reconstructed.

Scientists hope their efforts will lead to effective vaccines that can thwart a global catastrophe.

Officials around the world share that hope, but many fear that they are in a race against time.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

THE PARTY'S OVER

There are a number of things about the Republican platform that I've traditionally favored; personal responsibility, individual enterprise, fiscal responsibility, a tough anti-crime stance, and a strong national defense.

But lately I've been wondering what happened to the Grand Old Party. The party that came to power behind the Contract With America, during the Republican Revolution of 1994, has become as entrenched, as bloated, and as corrupt as the system it vowed to change.

With former House Leader Tom Delay under two criminal indictments - one for money laundering and one for conspiracy relating to illegal campaign donations - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist under investigation by Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading, and the President's chief advisor Karl Rove being investigated by federal prosecutors for his role in the leak of a of a CIA operative's name, the Republican leadership is in crisis. The party has major problems, not the least of which is ethics, the very thing they claimed made them different from Democrats, and which they swore to uphold.

But thats not all. The Republican Party has quietly paid nearly three quarters of a million dollars to provide private defense lawyers from a high-powered Washington law firm to James Tobin, President Bush's 2004 campaign chairman for the northeastern U.S. Tobin is charged with four felonies accusing him of conspiring to keep Democrats from voting in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race. Republican John Sununu won a close race to become New Hampshire's newest senator. A top Republican Party official in New Hampshire and a Republican consultant have already pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors. Their testimony directly implicates Tobin, who has pleaded innocent.

The Republican party has gotten far too close, uncomfortably close, to Big Business. The Republicans allowed Big Energy to help draft energy legislation, and they let the pharmaceutical industry have their way with the Medicaid Prescription Drug Bill. It's just more of the same that we've come to expect from Washington politicians. They're bought and paid for by business interests, while the needs and concerns of ordinary Americans are ignored. That's not a revolution.

But Big Energy and the pharmaceutical industry aren't the only big businesses to get special treatment. Farm interests, mining interests, timber interests and other well-heeled, well-connected industries get enormous tax subsidies that amount to corporate welfare. Even the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, calls agriculture subsidies the nation's biggest corporate welfare program. However, that's debatable now that Big Energy has been granted $14.5 billion in tax breaks in the new energy bill. The Republicans railed against welfare mothers sucking off the system, but that money was a pittance compared to what these multi-billion dollar industries receive in tax breaks. Where is the justice? Where is the outrage?

The Republican Party also panders to the religious right, which hopes to use government to enforce their moral viewpoints on the country. However, they don't speak for millions of Americans. While the U.S. is facing is largest federal debt in history, continuing budget deficits, an ill-advised war in Iraq which has become an unmitigated disaster, spiraling health care and energy costs, the siphoning of jobs overseas, and a global warming threat, the religious right is concerned with gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, and the private family matters of Terri Schiavo.

What happened to Republican priorities? What happened to smaller government and fiscal responsibility? Under President Bush, the federal government has grown larger, and at a faster rate, than any President in history. More than President Johnson, the classic big-spending liberal! He was the guy Republicans loved to hate, and he represented everything that Republicans have fought against for over 30 years. According to the Office of Management and Budget, spending growth under Bush has been more than twice that of Clinton. Imagine that - a Republican outspending his Democratic predecessor. And don't be fooled. It's not all because of Sept. 11, as Bush supporters love to claim. That event was responsible for less than half of new budget growth. The fact is that over half of all new spending in the past two years is from areas unrelated to defense and homeland security.

Based on budget data, the number of full-time federal employees in fiscal 2006 will be 8% higher than when the president took office. In fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, the executive branch, excluding the Postal Service, will have nearly 1.9 million employees. In fiscal 2006, executive branch payrolls will require $129.4 billion, an 8.9% increase from 2004. Annuity payments for federal retirees are projected to reach $60 billion in fiscal 2006, a 12% increase from 2004. Retiree health benefits will cost $8.4 billion in 2006, a jump of 14.7% from two years earlier.

Democrats frequently complain that too many Americans have no health care. The number of people without health insurance grew from 45 million to 45.8 million last year. At the same time, the number of people with health insurance coverage grew by 2 million. You know why? It's because 1 in 3 Americans now have their health care covered by the U.S. government via Medicaid, Medicare, federal employee plans, or the military. And Republicans claim to despise the notion of a national health care system. Well, a third of Americans are already covered by one.

Health care costs have spiraled out of control and beyond the reach of millions of Americans. It's not a new problem. It's an old one that's been ignored for far too long. But Republicans don't want to disrupt the free market. In 2003, health care spending was 15.4% of the US economy and it's predicted to reach 19%, or $3.6 trillion, in 2014. That's an untenable situation. By that time, Medicare and Medicaid will represent 49% of health care costs, up from 45.6% in 2003.

Many Republicans contend that tort reform is necessary to curb the soaring costs of healthcare. Yet, the 15 leading insurance companies had a 5.7% increase in malpractice payouts from 2000 to 2004, while increasing premiums by 120% during that same period. It's just thievery and lies.

This is not a shrinking government, and it's certainly not fiscally responsible government. Republican priorities are out of line and need to be reconsidered. Ronald Reagan, if he were alive and well, would be quite disappointed by what has become of his beloved party. Republicans have come to represent many of the things they claimed loath, and vowed to fight. Right now, with the way things look, it seems the party's over.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SCIENCE & FAITH

I believe in God. And I believe that through God's will, the Universe was created. I can't prove it, but still I believe it. Some people speak of a personal relationship with God. I wish I had that same experience. So far it's been a very one-sided relationship. I talk to God, and as of yet, he/she hasn't talked back. I'm a rational person, yet this hasn't deterred me. No one I know has died, gone to heaven, and returned to tell me about the experience. Yet, I still believe in Heaven. Why do I believe? It's called faith.

The belief in God, Jesus, or in any other Higher Power is an article of faith, and as such is improvable. Faith is an illogical act, and possibly one that is purely emotional or instinctual. I like to believe that we are all accountable to a Higher Authority in this life, and that there is a God in the Universe who is responsible for us being here, and for giving order and reason to the universe. I don't believe our existence, the known universe or world that we live in are random.

Despite being a person of faith, I'm very disturbed by the trend of "intelligent design", which is simply creationism in disguise. Presently there are battles going on in Pennsylvania and Kansas over the science curriculums taught in those states, and the outcome could have national ramifications.

Faith is not science. They are not the same thing. In fact, they are polar opposites.

According to the dictionary, science is defined as 1.) The state or fact or knowing knowledge. 2.) Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.

By it's very nature, science is objective. It is not arbitrary, it is not prejudiced, and it is not biased. It is empirical. Science is not subjective. It does not pre-draw its conclusions and maintain them despite evidence to the contrary. Science seeks to establish facts. Science is systematic and exacting.

Faith is everything that science is not.

Faith is defined as the unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence. Faith is a complete trust, confidence and reliance in the absence of proof or evidence.

This is the Jewish New year. Happy Rosh Hashana to my Jewish friends. According to the Jewish calendar, the one that corresponds with the Book of Genesis and the alleged creation of the world in just six days, the year is 5766. By that account, the world is less than six thousand years old. Of course not all Jews believe this - just the ones who are literalists, the ones who accept the entire Old Testament as fact. And those Jews are not alone. There are millions more fundamentalist Christians who share that same absolute faith, and who believe that everything in the Bible is literal and true.

The only problem with this is that science has proven that the world is older than six thousand years. Much older.

Using radiometric dating methods, scientists have discovered rocks on the Earth that date to about 3.8 to 3.9 billion years ago. And it is scientific consensus that the earth is approximately 4.55 billion years old - give or take 1%. Fossilized dinosaur embryos recently discovered in South Africa have been dated at 190 million years. They are the oldest ever found.

A new study has revealed that humans and chimpanzees share 96% of the same genomes. That's a pretty close cousin. Sounds like evolution to me. Scientists have also discovered that even fruit flies share nearly 60% of human genes.

This sort of evidence should shake the biblical literalists, but it doesn't. Upon further reflection, why should it? They believe what they believe despite evidence to the contrary. Remember, it's called faith.

Evolution is heresy to these biblical literalists. And by the way, they are not small in number. According to a Harris Poll, 54% of Americans do not believe that humans developed from a earlier species.

But scientists know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons and humans existed at the same time, and that they are separate species within the genus Homo - meaning we are all related cousins. Neanderthals reigned from about 230,000 to 29,000 years ago, Cro-Magnons existed from 35,000 to 10,000 years ago, and anatomically modern humans are known to have developed around 100,000 years ago. Both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons used language and had larger brains than humans. They crafted tools, made jewelry, built huts, wove clothing and painted cave walls. It is believed that Cro-Magnons created the first calendar around 32,000 B.C., and Neanderthals buried their dead in a ritual manner. Primates aside, these other species, our human cousins, are fine examples of evolution.

Science is best taught in schools. Faith is best taught at home, and in churches, temples, and other places of worship. Faith is not science and should not masquerade as such. Faith should not be taught in public schools as science. If parents want to send their kids to religious schools to get that sort of education then that is their right. But their children will not be getting a genuine education in science, and they will not, therefore, be America's next generation of scientists.

Copernicus was considered a heretic by Christians because he had the audacity to propose the then controversial and offensive notion that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. Other scientists were burned at the stake for adopting and furthering his observations. The educated world once believed that the earth was flat. This was common wisdom 500 years ago. Many natural phenomena (thunder, lightning, floods, earthquakes etc.) were once explained by superstition and myth but have long since been provided a rational explanation by modern science. Regarding these matters, religious fundamentalists have since changed their tune in the intervening centuries, but they are still stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to evolution. For the sake of promoting creationism, the Kansas state board of education is actually seeking to change the basic definition of science to include the supernatural.

Evolution and a belief in God are not mutually exclusive. You can believe in both without conflict. In my opinion, as well as that of millions of other people - including many leading scientists - God is the intelligent designer of all things, including evolution. It was through divine intervention that evolution was allowed to proceed. So man may not have been created in God's image, but then again, Adam was not created from dirt, and Eve was not created from one of Adam's ribs either.

That is not science and neither is creationism, or what is now conveniently being referred to as "intelligent design" by religious fundamentalists. We've come too far for this kind of pseudo controversy, or for such primitive ideas to be promoted and promulgated. For the sake of science and reason, for the good of our country, and the advancement of learning and knowledge, lets please keep science and religion distinct and separate.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

SPIN CITY

During Congressional testimony this week, military commanders revealed that the number of battle-ready, or "Level-1", Iraqi battalions had shrunk from three to merely one during the course of the summer. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress that only one Iraqi army battalion is presently ready to go into combat without U.S. support. Strangely, Casey said he did not know the specific reasons for the decline in Level 1 Iraqi forces. Admissions of this type are unusual during war, and estimates of troop strength and preparedness are normally classified. The revelation stunned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who were in attendance.

Casey said that one brigade and two battalions had originally been rated in the top category, but that there is now just a single battalion with a Level 1 rating, and it is not even one of the three original units.

Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee recently returned from a briefing in Iraq where he was told that the Iraqis need 107 battalions of combat-ready, trained soldiers to fully take over the military duties in their country. By that indication, it seems there's a long way to go.

Despite Casey's testimony, the very next day Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld angrily insisted, "The important fact is that every day, every week, every month, the Iraqi security forces are larger, they're better equipped, they're better trained and they're more experienced."

Initially labeling the decline in Level 1 units as "irrelevant", minutes later Rumsfeld retracted the remark, saying that "its relevance is minimal" compared with other factors.

Also during his testimony, Gen. Casey made it clear that aside from the Iraqi troop inefficiencies, Sunni Arab opposition to Iraq's draft constitution has increased the potential for instability and lowered the possibility of substantially reducing U.S. troop strength next spring.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released last week revealed that 63% think that U.S. troops should be partially or completely withdrawn, up 10 percentage points from August. But while at his Crawford, Texas ranch this August, President Bush said that "when the mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home."

Bush's plan for bringing US troops home from Iraq is tied to training the Iraqi military to handle their own security matters. And on Saturday, in the face of Casey remarks, Bush said he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces.

"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."

The President's comments came at the end of a week in which more than 200 people were killed in Iraq - including 13 U.S. servicemen - and the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is now approaching 2000. As has become customary, Bush's remarks directly conflicted with the news from Iraq and the assessments of his top commanders.

"We are constantly adapting our tactics to the changing tactics of the terrorists, and we're training more Iraqi forces to assume increasing responsibility for their country's security," said the President on Saturday.

Oddly, whereas the President claims that maintaining a strong U.S troop presence on the ground in Iraq is critical to building and adequately training the Iraqi military, Gen. Casey insists that U.S. troop reductions are necessary to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency - that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

The General made the case that a smaller U.S. presence could diminish some of the anger that feeds the insurgency. Casey also said that reducing American forces is essential in order to force more Iraqi troops onto the front lines and to encourage a greater self-reliance among them in their fight against an an insurgency that could last a decade or more.

A Central Command advisor said that U.S. commanders were concerned that Iraqi troops could become too dependent on American forces. "There's a line between what constitutes casual dependence and what constitutes not being ready to fight," he said. "For the most part, [Iraqi troops] are not ready to do the job. And stepping back is just going to leave them vulnerable to a battle-tested army of insurgents."

The U.S. is effectively caught in a catch-22. Because the Iraqis are not yet capable of battling the insurgency on their own, U.S. troops must stay and fight for them. But the mere presence of U.S. troops is actually compelling and nurturing that very insurgency.

The President's sinking approval ratings have resulted in constant damage control by the White House, and a twisting and distorting of truth and facts.

There is so much inconsistency among the players that the public's confidence has been lost. In August, White House officials admitted that their aims for a model democracy in Iraq, a self-supporting oil industry, and a secure and economically stable society have essentially been dashed. Furthermore, the administration also admitted that it no longer expects to be able to defeat the insurgency before withdrawing, but just to weaken it. You may not have heard any of this, bit that's because the contradictions are constant and unyielding. In fact, during a Rose Garden speech earlier this week, Bush claimed he had a "plan to win" in Iraq.

The President and Secretary Rumsfeld make arguments about U.S. and Iraqi troops that fly in the face of commanders on the ground. During a visit to iraq this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells troops, "This war came to us, not the other way around." Vice President Cheney says that the insurgency is in its last throes, while Donald Rumsfeld asserts that it could go on for a long as 12 years.

The contradictions are as disturbing as they are disheartening, and the deviations from truth (some would less politely call them lies) have bred a national cynicism regarding this war and the Administration that has waged it. From its outset, this has been a war built on lies and deception, and like a house of cards, the walls of denial are starting to crumble. When and how to get out of Iraq, no one seems to know for sure. But one thing seems sure; the trust and patience of the American people is waning, if not already gone. And trust is a very difficult thing to get back one it's been lost.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

THE FUTURE IS NOW

If you believe the coal and oil industries, global warming isn't a genuine concern. Those industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public skeptical about the issue.

That's because in order for the climate to stabilize, a 70 percent reduction in the use of coal and oil would be required. That would obviously threaten the very survival of a multi-billion dollar industry.

In 1995, during public utility hearings in Minnesota, it was revealed that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists to speak out publicly against global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, "big energy" got a tremendous boost when President George W. Bush was elected president and subsequently allowed the industry to shape climate and energy policies.

But experts say that the most direct solutions to the problem of global warming could come directly from the auto industry. There are alternatives and solutions to fossil fuels presently available, just not the will to execute them on a national scale.

A dozen known experimental hybrid cars have gotten up to 250 mpg. A California-based company, Energy CS, has converted two Toyota Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by using powerful lithium ion batteries.

University of California, Davis engineering professor Andy Frank built a plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban. Extra batteries allow the vehicles to store extra power by plugging them into a wall outlet when not in use.

This wouldn't be ideal for a long-haul trip, but the average daily usage of a car in the U.S. is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. These types of vehicles would be more than adequate to meet those demands. And plug-in hybrids are ideal for companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central location at night. Federal and state governments would also be ideal candidates for such vehicles.

These private efforts have gotten the support of not only environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks as well. These security experts insist that Americans are fueling terrorism through their gas guzzling.

As a result, plug-in hybrids are getting the backing of prominent hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil dependence.

Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern governments that support terrorism.

"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent on our destruction or helping those who are … the more we are enabling those who are trying to kill us," says Gaffney .

So it's not just tree-hugging environmentalists that are concerned, but domestic security experts as well. The technology is not as developed or as affordable as it could be if the government would only make a genuine commitment to the effort. Don't count on it with this administration, but it's nice to know that there are conservatives voices out there who back the movement.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil would be good for all Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike. Big Energy might not yet have warmed to the idea, but there's a whole industry awaiting them which has enormous, and very lucrative, potential. With their deep resources, they are poised to exploit this burgeoning technology and profit from it generously. Our government should join with the oil and auto industries in a joint effort to make the technology commercially feasible by the end of the decade.

This is the future, and to those who are willing to make the commitment will go the spoils.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A LACK OF EDUCATION IS THE PROBLEM

The images of abject poverty that we all witnessed in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shocked the nation. Most Americans seemed unaware of just how poor people in the Crescent City really were. I use 'were' in the past tense, and of course those people are still poor, they're just no longer in New Orleans. They've moved on to other states and brought their poverty with them.

But perhaps America shouldn't have been surprised. The Census Bureau recently announced that the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. rose by 1.1 million people last year, the fourth consecutive year that the nation's poverty rate has risen. Overall, 12.7 percent of the population, or 37 million people, now lives in poverty.

The South is the nation's poorest region, and it's been reported that 125,000 New Orleans residents subsisted on less than $8,000 per year. Just for a point of reference, the national poverty level for a family of four with two children is considered $19,157 or less. For a family of two with no children, it's $12,649, and for a people 65 and over living alone, it's $ 9,060. People in New Orleans are the poorest of the poor.

To get an idea of just how poor those people truly are, consider this; According to the same report, median household income in the U.S. stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003. Among racial and ethnic groups blacks had the lowest median income and Asians the highest. Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.

So to be considered as living in poverty, a family of four must make less than half the national median income. And people in New Orleans were making less than half as much as the poverty level. Now that's truly poor, and truly shocking.

The question is, why? Mostly it's education, or a lack of it. Many people are quick to point fingers and blame President Bush, or the government. Though I'm not generally a Bush supporter, responsibility for this inequity can not be laid squarely at his feet - or the government's for that matter. While it's absolutely true that poverty has been a continually worsening problem under Bush's reign and he's not sought a national dialogue on the matter, or convened the nation's best and brightest minds to tackle the issue, I'm not sure what exactly what the government can do.

Poverty is a class problem, and usually a generational problem as well. But poverty isn't the only generational problem here. Being uneducated and ignorant is another. The government can't force people in the underclass to value education. That's the job of parents. But sadly, too many parents are totally disconnected from their children's education. They don't attend parent-teacher conferences, and they don't assist their children with homework or test preparation. Heck, many don't even encourage their children to do better, or to be the best they can be. Ask any teacher in any big city school system.

For example, the graduation rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District's are alarming. Just 39% of Latinos and 47% of African Americans graduated in 2002. That's pathetic and has consequences for the entire city, not just poor blacks and Latinos.

Any reasonable person would agree that all public schools should be adequately funded and receive all of the basic necessities such as books, paper, chalk etc. Classrooms should not be in disrepair, but should be well-maintained, well-lit, and properly cooled or heated, according to the time of year and environment. But beyond that, more money won't get parents to care or get them involved. And if parents don't care, who can reasonably expect their kids to? Most kids simply don't like school. It's always been that way. But kids need to given a sense of consequences and understand the implications of not graduating. To not seek a higher education, or vocational training, after high school is an act of self-destruction that will only continue the cycle of poverty as well as the resentment of those who have. Their parents, grandparents and neighbors are often the finest examples, yet it doesn't seem to matter.

This is a class problem and, according to the Census Bureau, it's also a race problem. But this isn't something that white people are doing to black people. This is something that black people are doing to themselves.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A NO MAN'S LAND OF BARBARISM AND BUTCHERY

Hurricane Katrina has swept news of the war in Iraq from the headlines, but the insurgents haven't taken a break from their acts of slaughter and mayhem.

Wednesday marked one of the bloodiest days in the two and a half-year-old war, as insurgents killed at least 151 people in more than a dozen attacks. And once again today, at least 30 people - many of them police officers - were killed in a series of attacks.

This type of carnage in the U.S. would be historical and would occupy front pages for weeks. But atrocities like these have become typical in Iraq. Things have gotten so bad that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani asked the world for help in defeating terrorists in a speech Thursday at the United Nations in New York.

"Iraq's war on terror requires diverse international help, not only for the sake of Iraq, but also for the sake of the whole world," he said.

The U.S. military seems helpless to stop the insurgents, and the White House admitted last month that it cannot defeat the insurgency, but only hopes to quell it.

The atmosphere of lawlessness is so pervasive in Iraq, that the murder rate among ordinary citizens, not insurgents, has skyrocketed. Death squads ride around Baghdad killing indiscriminately in an effort top spark sectarian hatred. Bagdad, a city of 5 million people, saw 880 murders in July alone. Most victims were shot to death while others were beheaded. These killings do not include those that resulted from the numerous terrorist attacks, such as car bombs and suicide bombs, that occur on a daily basis. In comparison, New york City, a metropolis of more than 8 million people had a total of 571 homicides in all of last year.

Iraq has become a no man's land of barbarism and butchery. It is now an apocalyptic landscape of atrocities and organized chaos. People in a civilized society likely can't conceive of an environment with such a staggering level of murder and mayhem. But harrowing days of epic violence have become commonplace in Iraq. And for its citizens, sadly, such is life these days.

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THE GLOBAL WARMING THREAT

Despite the best attempts by 'big energy' interests, there is no longer a reasonable ideological debate on the subject of global warming. In fact, there isn't even a valid scientific debate anymore. Those who argue otherwise are just plain wrong.

The jury is in on this matter. I'm not a scientist, but I'm inclined to defer to them. To ignore the evidence is pure ignorance. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the United Nations - have weighed in. Humans are the primary reason for global warming and the subsequent climate change. Natural disasters always have, and always will occur. But the pace and the magnitude of storms, and the melting of the polar ice caps, are occurring at an alarming rate. According to US scientists, there has been an "overall increase in Atlantic basin major hurricane activity of the past ten years (1995-2004)." We can ignore it at out own peril, or we can ban together and seek solutions for the sake of humanity.

The Kyoto Protocol is a bad agreement because it doesn't hold China and India to the same standards at the U.S. I understand Bush's reasons for not signing. But that doesn't mean that more can't be done, or that the problem can be ignored. In 2002 the Bush administration's own EPA reported on the human contributions to global warming.

I'm not a tree hugger, and I don't belong to any environmental group. But there is reason for concern. Four U.S. Senators (Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsay Graham - the last three all Republicans) recently returned from a trip to Alaska and all of them said they were shocked by the devastation to the region. Polar ice is retreating and glaciers are receding. Entire forests are being eroded by bugs that weren't present in the past due to the previously uninhabitable environment. The sea is encroaching upon and inundating villages that have existed for hundreds of years. The permafrost is melting - so much so that whereas the dead could formerly be buried only two months out of the year, they can now be buried year round. McCain called what he saw "a little scary", Clinton said "We saw devastation as far as the eye can see," and Collins warned that the Arctic "is crying out to us to pay attention to the impact." They saw the evidence with their own eyes, and just as with the scientists, I'm inclined to believe them.

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