The Week in Review
November 10, 2007
As Veterans Day approached, the Senate approved a Defense Department funding bill that includes $3 million for an innovative Vermont outreach program for soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time, Congress overrode a veto by President Bush of a bill that includes water restoration projects from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. Sanders spoke out against privatization of military missions at a Capitol press conference. In Burlington, the senator teamed up with business and consumer groups in a fight to protect access to reliable and affordable cell phone service throughout Vermont.
Veterans Congress approved $3 million for a national outreach program to assist returning service members and their families. The Sanders initiative, developed with Senator Patrick Leahy, is modeled on a first-of-its-kind program. Vermont is in line for $3 million to expand its pilot project. "We have a moral responsibility to reach out to these soldiers and their families and to help them," Sanders said. The measure included another $10 million Sanders sought for a Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Research Program.
No More Blackwaters Sanders joined Representative Jan Schakowsky at a press conference in the Capitol to unveil legislation that would phase out the use of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their measure would restore vital military functions to the military, reducing the reliance on unaccountable private security contractors in the war zones. As many as 48,000 heavily armed guards are among the private security contractors now operating in Iraq, performing sensitive functions that should be undertaken by U.S. military personnel. High-profile killings of innocent Iraqis, like the September 16, 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 24, have severely damaged the U.S. mission in Iraq. To watch the senator at the press conference, click here. To read the Brattleboro Reformer article, click here.
The Attorney General Sanders was the first senator to declare his opposition to the nomination of Michael Mukasey to head the Department of Justice. By the time of the confirmation vote late Thursday night, 40 senators cast votes against the nominee. The 53-40 vote to confirm Mukasey was the lowest level of Senate support for any attorney general nominee in half a century. Sanders opposed Mukasey because he was unwilling to say unequivocally that the president must obey laws passed by Congress. Under President Bush, Sanders noted, the government used librarians to snoop on Americans' reading habits; the National Security Agency undertook a warrantless wiretapping program; privacy rights were abused when personal records were mined for data; prisoners were denied the right to face their accusers, and the Justice Department condoned torture by interrogators in violation of the Geneva Conventions. To watch, click here.
Water Projects The Senate dealt President Bush the first veto override of his presidency on Thursday and passed a $23.2 billion water resources bill that authorizes popular projects across the country. Under the bill, Lake Champlain restoration efforts got an $80 million boost. The bill authorized funds to help restore the ecosystem of the lake as well as the Connecticut River watershed. "This is a really big bill for Vermont," Tom Berry, director of the Lake Champlain program at the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, told The Burlington Free Press. The legislation also provides for dam construction and other flood control projects, added Sanders. "As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I am delighted that Congress was able to override the president's veto in a strong, bipartisan way," the senator said. To read the article, click here.
Global Warming Sanders continued to work for improvements in a global warming bill under consideration by the Environment and Public Works Committee. At a hearing on Thursday, he emphasized ways solar, wind and other renewable fuels could curb greenhouse gas emissions. A solar energy plant is being built in California that will generate as much electricity as a small nuclear power plant. The new plant will harness energy from the sun to provide electricity for 400,000 homes in a way that is economical, efficient and environmentally friendly. To watch the senator at the hearing, click here.
Cell Phones in Vermont Business and consumer advocates were brought together on Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders to press for better cell phone coverage throughout Vermont . "Anyone who drives around the State of Vermont knows the coverage is spotty," Sanders said. "If Verizon is allowed to buy out Unicel and create a monopoly in the state of Vermont, it seems to me that we have to attach requirements to that. At the very least we have got to demand that Verizon provides universal geographical coverage in every area of our state," the senator said. He was joined at a press conference at the senator's Burlington office by Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce president Tom Torti, Vermont Public Interest Research Group executive director Paul Burns, and state Representative Al Perry (D-Richford). "What leverage Vermont might have to prevent the state from becoming a telecommunications backwater is best exercised now before the deal is sealed. A statewide consumer advocacy group, a business organization and an independent senator are taking the lead," The Burlington Free Press editorialized. To read the editorial, click here.