Daily Archives: December 6, 2011

Six Presidential Hopefuls Faced Tough Questions at Saturday’s Forum

Six Republican Presidential candidates faced questions on their ideological bona fides during a policy-heavy forum on Fox News Channel on Saturday night.

Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, was pressed on how conservatives can “trust that a President Gingrich will not advance these sorts of big government approaches” that he advocated in the past, including his support for a mandate that citizens get health insurance.

Representative Michele Bachmann was asked how she would carry out her call to remove all illegal immigrants in the United States or pay the $135 billion to do so.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was asked questions about his health care overhaul there, and what he would say to President Obama if the President were to note during a general election debate its similarities to the federal health care law.

The candidates faced these questions from a roster of attorneys general who filed legal cases against the 2009 health care law: Pam Bondi of Florida, who brought the suit the Supreme Court agreed to hear; Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, a spokesman for legal action against the law; and Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma. They were gathered by the Fox News host Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas.

It was one of the more substantive events in the Republican contest. The candidates faced the panel solo and did not interact, leaving intraparty politics largely out of it, except for Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who urged the audience to give him “a second look,” a tacit acknowledgment of his drop in polls and a new opportunity after Herman Cain’s decision to suspend his campaign.

The attorneys general, new to Presidential politics, did not let their own general ideological agreement with the candidates get in the way of tough questions about how they would carry out their proposals.

They seemed to give Mr. Gingrich the hardest time. He was grilled on calls he has made to abolish federal courts whose rulings he disagrees with. It is a position that invariably wins applause from conservative audiences, but the attorneys general, conservative Republicans all, seemed to raise a collective eyebrow.

Mr. Cuccinelli had big disagreements with Mr. Gingrich, asking him how he would assure conservatives that his less ideologically pure positions would not trickle into his White House. Mr. Gingrich said he would introduce a “very clearly philosophically driven program” that would train his appointees and tell them “this is where this administration is going.”

Mr. Romney parried questions about the Massachusetts health care law, repeating that his policy was less ambitious and did not seek to upend the health care system the way he said Pres. Obama had hoped the federal law would.

Mr. Cuccinelli stayed with his line of questioning. “You would agree, wouldn’t you,” he said, “what you did in that bill in Massachusetts in 2006 affected the entire industry. Correct?”

Mr. Romney said that “for the 92% of us that were already insured, nothing changed.”

Mr. Cuccinelli asked Rep. Bachmann how she would handle environmental disagreements across state lines if she were to end the Environmental Protection Agency. When Ms. Bachmann answered that “a lot of these cases would be negotiated,” he pressed, “You cannot just negotiate without a legal foundation and thereby compel both sides to participate.”

Ms. Bondi asked former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania which environmental regulations he would allow. Mr. Santorum said the problem was that environmental laws that have been on the books for decades were overly broad, allowing regulators to craft many rules. He promised to have Congress rewrite the laws to be much narrower.

Mr. Pruitt asked Representative Ron Paul of Texas about his opposition to the PATRIOT Act. Mr. Paul responded by saying, “Are you going to put cameras in every household or whatever? I don’t think it’s a lack of laws that are our problem.”

Via The New York Times.

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Filed under Economy, Environment, Health, Law, National, Politics, Science Schmience

Nuon Chea: Khmer Rouge Not “Bad People”

The Number Two leader of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime told a court he and his comrades were not “bad people,” denying responsibility Monday for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during their 1975-1979 rule.

Nuon Chea’s defiant statements came as the U.N.-backed tribunal began questioning him for the first time since the long-awaited trial of three top regime leaders began late last month.

Nuon Chea and two other Khmer Rouge leaders are accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture stemming from the group’s reign of terror. All have denied wrongdoing.

Via the Associated Press.

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Massey to Pay $209 Million for Mine Explosion; Families of 29 Dead Get $47 Million

In the largest ever settlement of a mine disaster, Alpha Natural Resources agreed to pay $209 million in restitution and penalties for the role of its subsidiary, Massey Energy, in a 2010 mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in West Virginia.

That amount includes $46.5 million allocated to the families of the victims and those who were injured in the blast.

The settlement includes terms that protect Alpha, but not individual Massey executives, from prosecution.

The settlement, first reported by the Charleston Gazette, follows months of investigative work by officials from the Departments of Justice and Labor and an independent commission appointed by the former West Virginia governor. The findings placed the blame for the blast squarely on Massey and its reckless disregard for safety standards.

Today’s announcement, which will be made public after federal investigators meet with families of the victims, will detail criminal responsibility, that Alpha and Massey accept.

Massey, which Alpha purchased in June, dismissed charges that its actions led directly to the disaster.

The settlement does not protect Massey managers. Eighteen executives refused to be interviewed by federal investigators, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

In addition to the $46.5 million payout to victims and families, the agreement includes $80 million to bolster safety and infrastructure in underground mines owned by Alpha and Massey; $48 million to set up a foundation to be used to finance academic research on mine safety; and about $35 million in fines and fees that Massey owed to the Mining, Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the Department of Labor.

Alpha also must put in place enough safety equipment, ventilation, and methods of clearing explosive rock dust out of all its underground mines within ninety days.

The company will be required to build a state-of-the-art training facility in West Virginia, including a mine lab where it will be able to simulate mining disasters.

A report released in March by the team appointed by former Governor Joe Manchin III determined the disaster could have been prevented if Massey observed safety standards. The report accused Massey of a pattern of negligence, which allowed a “perfect storm” of poor ventilation, non-functional safety mechanisms, and combustible coal dust.

The investigators dismissed Massey’s claims that the blast had occurred because a sudden burst of methane bubbled from the ground, saying evidence contradicting that theory included the bodies of the miners found near the main explosion.

Federal officials have said that in the year prior to the explosion, safety inspectors cited Upper Big Branch 515 times and ordered it to shut down operations fifty-two times. Federal investigators have also said that Massey kept two sets of books so that accounts of hazardous conditions in Upper Big Branch would be kept hidden from inspectors.

Via The New York Times.


Filed under Crime and Punishment, Notable Passings, Sick Sad World, Technology

On This Day…

On Dec. 6, 1923, a Presidential address was broadcast on radio for the first time as President Calvin Coolidge spoke to a joint session of Congress.

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Republicans Make Border-Fence Promises They Can’t Keep

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have promised to complete a 1,950-mile fence. Michele Bachmann wants a double fence. Ron Paul pledged to secure the nation’s southern border by any means necessary. Rick Perry says he can secure it without a fence.

A border that is sealed off to all illegal immigrants and drugs flowing north is a promise none of them could keep.

Governor Perry, the governor of a state that makes up roughly 65% of America’s border with Mexico, knows that. What he’s actually pledging is achieving “operational control” of the border, defined by the U.S. Border Patrol as areas where it can detect, respond to and interdict illegal activity either at the border or after entry into the U.S.

The U.S. Border Patrol says 873 miles of the border, about 44%, are under operational control. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that “the border is better now than it ever has been.”

Even getting this far required bolstering the ranks of the Border Patrol to the highest levels ever, nearly double the 9,500 in 2004. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a record number of agents on the border. Five Predator drones patrol strategic parts of it, with a sixth coming by the end of the year. About 650 miles of fencing has been constructed, and 1,200 National Guard soldiers dispatched last year to Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico have had their deployment extended through the end of 2011.

Last week, Mr. Gingrich signed a pledge to build a fence stretching the length of the border by 2013. That may help him recover from a statement that illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for many years should be allowed to stay in the country.

Gov. Perry has opposed the fence, saying it would take ten to fifteen years to build, cost $30 billion, and wouldn’t work anyway. He wants to flood the border with more National Guard troops. He also wants to build fencing in high-traffic areas and make better use of surveillance. Gov. Perry claims that would mean operational control by January 2014.

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has publicly agreed with Perry that tackling larger immigration policy reform is impossible without first securing the border.

U.S. authorities already have made strides toward that goal. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. peaked at 12 million in 2007, but then dropped by almost 1 million through 2009, and has largely held steady since then at about 11.1 million.

Apprehensions of illegal immigrants have fallen. In 2011, the Border Patrol captured the lowest number of illegal immigrants on the southwestern border in four decades.

The U.S. economy makes would-be illegal immigrants less likely to come. Those who do must contend with Mexico’s drug war, which has seen cartel gunmen slaughter people heading north and dump their bodies in mass graves. The trip is now so risky that the number of illegal immigrants using pricey people smugglers has spiked.

Spillover into the U.S. of Mexican drug violence is difficult to measure. El Paso, Texas, ranks among the safest cities in the U.S., even though it’s across from violence-torn Ciudad Juarez.

Via Yahoo!


Filed under Crime and Punishment, Politics, World