Daily MoJo


What Cheney Wants
Cheney and crew want to see offshore drilling restrictions eased. Think he talked about that at his top-secret energy task force meetings?

Skimping on Our Boys
Despite the heroic rhetoric, the Republicans seem to be stalling on a bill that would actually increase pay for the troops and help disabled veterans.

The Dictator and the Televangelist
TV preacher and Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson and African tyrant Charles Taylor: Best friends forever?

What’s Cheney Hiding?
Natural gas prices aren’t going to get better any time soon , and could seriously effect the stability of the US economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate on Wednesday. And to nobody’s surprise, Republicans have been on the move to slash natural gas prices by rolling back environmental restrictions.

Republicans have been trying to tap into domestic natural gas resources for some time. Now, by easing environmental restrictions that protect coastal regions from intrusive drilling and pipelines, the GOP claims they can stimulate the economy. Following suggestions from Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, the legislative body that regulates the oceans (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) is proposing changes to the Coastal Zone Management Act. The GOP argues that with wholesale gas prices climbing, the Management Act could put a damper on the already sluggish US economy, as CBS reports:

“Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., are heading an effort to roll back environmental restrictions that they say prevent gas companies from tapping new domestic supplies.

The restrictions ‘threaten our nation’s economic health and American jobs, just as our economy is showing signs of recovery,’ they wrote in a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Unless the government takes steps to allow drilling in currently closed or restricted areas, primarily in the West, the nation could become more dependent on foreign energy supplies, the Republican lawmakers said. “

But this is nothing new. Bush et. al.’s fight to restrict environmental rules is ubiquitous — affecting everything from Yellowstone to the fragile coastal ecosystems. The federal government — in conjunction with the energy and gas industries — has been attempting to usurp states’ power to prevent offshore drilling on their coasts. In its nascent proposal from the NOAA, the Bush administration is hoping to close loopholes that have allowed states to delay drilling projects, sometimes until the projects were defeated in court or abandoned.

According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Cory Reiss, the Coastal Zone Management Act gives states considerable leverage over coastal and offshore development, and the proposed changes could weaken states’ rights:

“Critics say NOAA’s proposed changes and the inventory would ease exploration in waters where drilling is banned.

Changing the Coastal Zone Management Act is groundwork for the day those restrictions are lifted. Energy companies have dozens of existing leases off Florida and California.

‘Right now we’re seeing things falling in place for opponents of the moratoria,’ said Ellen Athas, director of the clean oceans program at the Ocean Conservancy.

Pro-drilling members of Congress have made no secret of their support for reining in obstinate states to increase domestic energy supplies. Coastal lawmakers are evaluating the NOAA proposals, but one Democratic Senate aide said the changes appear to be part of a general trend toward letting the oil and gas industry do what they want.”

But Democrats argue that cutting environmental restrictions to tap into domestic resources will do nothing to help us in the short term. According to MSNBC’s Miguel Llanos, Democrats argue that the best option is conservation:

“Environmentalists countered that Republicans were using prices as a smokescreen.

The [Natural Resources Defense Council] group countered that the United States should instead encourage energy conserving air conditioners and heaters, as well as greater use of wind and solar power. Both ‘can deliver big savings at times of peak power demand, when power companies are running gas-fired plants full tilt,’ the NRDC said in a statement.

The solar industry says that if it were provided financial incentives it could replace a third of the natural gas supply shortage predicted for 2005.”

Meanwhile, Cheney may soon be in hot-water in an emerging controversy over the very same energy task force that wants to meddle with the Coastal Zone Management Act. Cheney lost a preliminary battle in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to keep his energy task force documents under lock and key. The question, of course, is what does Cheney have to hide?

Judicial Watch — which was joined by the Sierra Club — has filed suit against the government. They claim that energy industry representatives were essentially members of Cheney’s task force. Cheney’s failed attempt at blocking the discovery process was predicated on the fact that the task force conversations were protected by executive privilege. As Forbes’ Dan Ackman writes:

“The idea behind executive privilege is that the president’s conversations with his advisers should be private, allowing all involved to be candid while formulating initiatives. But the task force allegedly included consultations with outsiders, including Enron executives, which may weaken its claim and also increase the suggestion that the governmental process was corrupted by private interests. This concern is persistent when the vice president is a former CEO of oil service firm Halliburton and the president also toiled in the oil patch.”

The court didn’t agree with Cheney and ruled that the Bush Administration could not convert executive privilege into immunity from this suit. The court’s opinion, writes the Telegraph’s Simon English, was a blow to the administration:

“Judicial Watch said in a statement: ‘The court has affirmed that the vice-president is not above the law. This ruling is a legal blow to the Bush administration’s arrogant view of executive branch power. We look forward to finally gaining access to the inner workings of the energy task force.'”

Skimping on Our Boys
We’ve all heard the White House praising the brave Americans fighting for Iraqi liberation. During last week’s Independence Day celebrations, President Bush told an Air Force crowd: “Millions across the world today are free because of the unselfish courage of America’s veterans.” But as it turns out, Bush’s flag-flying and ribbon-wearing is only skin deep, at least when it comes to rewarding our troops financially.

In April the US Senate passed a bill to increase payments for soldiers who are classified as facing imminent danger. The bill would have given these soldiers a 50 % increase and a 150 % increase for family separation. Although the Senate didn’t pass the measure with flying colors, the bill passed in the Senate. In the House, the bill had only one co-signer and was quickly relegated to the Armed Services Committee, where it is now stalled.

Instead of rushing to defend the 150,000 servicemen and women in Iraq, the Bush administration favors not increasing, but actually decreasing imminent danger pay. At the end of June anArmy Times editorial slammed the Bush administration, calling their “support” for servicemen and women mere lip service:

“In recent months, President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military. But talk is cheap — and getting cheaper by the day, judging from the nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting lately.

Taken piecemeal, all these corner-cutting moves might be viewed as mere flesh wounds. But even flesh wounds are fatal if you suffer enough of them. It adds up to a troubling pattern that eventually will hurt morale — especially if the current breakneck operations tempo also rolls on unchecked and the tense situations in Iraq and Afghanistan do not ease.”

And if it wasn’t enough to be skimping on our soldiers on the ground, the Bush administration is now cutting back on veterans’ benefits and giving the servicemen and women shoddy tax breaks. No one will be spared, apparently, not even disabled veterans. The Retired Pay Restoration Act would allow retired vets to keep all of both their retirement and disability benefits — something not permitted under current law. Alas, the bill is stuck in the Republican-controlled House and the Bush administration is hard-bent on cutting back the budget, even if it includes cutting income for disabled veterans.

These are hard times, so hard, it seems, that even our Texas homeboy is ready to be a cheapskate with Americans in uniform.Funny, there always seems to be an extra $4.3 billion for next year’s military hardware budget.

The Dictator and the Televangelist
Poor Charles Taylor. These are dark days for the Liberian dictator. Rebels control most of the country, he’s under indictment for war crimes, and George W. Bush has called for his ouster, though the White House hasn’t yet committed troops to the effort. Everyone, it seems, has abandoned West Africa’s most notorious warlord.

Everyone, that is, except Pat Robertson. Indeed, the televangelist and GOP stalwart is loudly defending Taylor — a human-rights nightmare known for recruiting child soldiers to help him with the massacre and mutilation of thousands, whose regime is linked not just to the “conflict diamond” trade in neighboring Sierra Leone but to Al Qaeda and destabilization campaigns against its neighbors. Robertson, however, is having none of it. As he declared on his TV show, the 700 Club, last month:

“‘This country has had a close relationship with the United States over the years, but of late — the last oh, four, five, six years — the United States State Department has tried as hard as it can to destabilize Liberia and to bring about the very outcome we’re seeing now. They had no endgame, they have no plan of what to do, they only wanted to destroy the sitting president and his government, and as a result, the place is being plunged into chaos.'”

Why would Robertson defend such a man? Well, perhaps Robertson is simply standing up for a fellow evangelical. After all, Taylor is a born-again Christian, an ex-con turned Baptist preacher who frequently compares himself to Jesus (“Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time,” he told the BBC in defense of his human rights record). To be sure, Robertson’s ministry has a history in Liberia. Last year, his Christian Broadcasting Network held a massive, three-day rally in Monrovia, the capital city, an event described (rather puzzlingly) by one of Robertson’s ministers as “the atomic bomb of peace.” And in recent broadcasts of the 700 Club, Robertson has characterized Liberia’s civil war as a battle between Taylor’s God-fearing regime and fanatical Islamic rebels — a gross oversimplification, the Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman reports.

There’s something else at work besides the Christian connection, though — something Robertson hasn’t mentioned in his broadcasts. As it turns out, Robertson and Taylor are business partners. Robertson’s mining company, Freedom Gold, holds the prospecting rights to a large swath of Liberian jungle, and over the years Robertson has poured millions of dollars into his investment. So far, that investment hasn’t panned out, but as Robertson told the Post, “Hope springs eternal”:

“‘Once the dust has cleared on this thing, chances are there will be some investors from someplace who want to invest. If I could find some people to sell it to, I’d be more than delighted.'”

This isn’t Robertson’s first foray into the world of African dictators and diamond mines. Depite recent condemnations of Zaire (now Congo)’s late strongman, Mobutu Sese Seko, Robertson cut a deal with Mobutu’s dying regime in 1994. As Bob Drury and Aram Roston reported for GQ, Robertson was so enthusiastic about his new diamonds-and-timber business that he diverted cargo planes intended to help alleviate the crisis brought on by Rwanda’s genocide to his mines in Zaire.

“According to an investigation by the Virginia attorney general’s office, Robertson employed airplanes from one of his charitable, not-for-profit organizations, Operation Blessing, to improperly ferry supplies in and out of his diamond camps. The attorney general’s investigation found that while Robertson was appealing for donations to Operation Blessing to aid the victims of the Rwandan genocide on The 700 Club, Operation Blessing’s fleet of aircraft was in fact flying a total of forty-four hours for the charity while logging 272 hours for Robertson’s for-profit African Development Company. Virginia law-enforcement officials declined to prosecute when Robertson — who had contributed $35,000 to the attorney general’s election campaign — agreed to reimburse Operation Blessing for the flight time.”

Given Robertson’s history, it seems likely that he will defend Taylor — a “sincere” Christian (despite the crimes against humanity charges) who just happens to have a lot of gold — to the end. All of which leaves just one question, Drury and Roston write.

“What is Pat Robertson, self-professed Christian leader and American patriot, doing in bed with a dictator who may soon face an international war-crimes tribunal? In doing business with this warlord even as the noose tightens around Taylor, is Robertson guilty of something more than mere alleged contract manipulation? Some might even say that as a man of God, Robertson has committed an unforgivable sin.”