Funeral held for 9-11 N.Y. firefighter, nearly 4 years after attacks
NEW YORK (AP) — A 30-year-old firefighter who rushed to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, was memorialized Saturday at a Manhattan church in one of the last funerals for the 343 firefighters killed that day.
Pallbearers place the coffin containing remains of 9-11 firefighter Keithroy Maynard on the back of a fire truck during the funeral service. By Adam Rountree, AP
Hundreds of firefighters stood in full dress uniform under an unforgiving June sun as a fire truck carrying Keithroy M. Maynard's remains paraded to the Church of the Master with a pipe and drum corps playing "Amazing Grace."
Like other relatives of Sept. 11 victims, Maynard's family held a memorial service two months after the attacks, but years more passed before his family felt that enough of his remains had been identified to hold a formal funeral, officials said.
The ceremony Saturday was the first funeral since 2003 for a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center.
It was prompted, in part, by a decision by city forensic investigators in February to end their efforts to identify remains collected from the Twin Towers rubble. More than 1,100 victims remain unidentified, but officials concluded they had exhausted all current DNA technology.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attending the funeral on his daughter's wedding day, was among the mourners who honored Maynard as a hero whose final gift to the city hasn't faded with time.
"If there is any comfort to be taken," Bloomberg said to Maynard's mother, "perhaps it is that your son died doing what he loved."
Maynard's late father, Reynold White, was a New York City fire captain. His twin brother, Kevin Maynard, became a firefighter in Houston after his brother's death. Another brother, Duane White, is a New York police officer.
He is also survived by his mother, another brother, two sisters and a 10-year-old son, Keithroy Maynard II, who was 6 when his father died.
Maynard, a naturalized U.S. citizen, will be buried in Montserrat, a Caribbean island where he lived until he was 15.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Several senators, namely Jon Kyl and John Cornyn, mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- If there is a Supreme Court vacancy this summer, President Bush may look no farther than the Capitol for a member of Congress who can be confirmed quickly. Past presidents have done it, more than two dozen times.
While admittedly long shots, GOP Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas are being talked up by some conservatives as possible nominees for the high court.
Seen as most likely to step down is Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who at 80 is fighting cancer. Retirement also might be attractive option for Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, 75, and John Paul Stevens, 85.
Kyl is a stalwart pro-business conservative and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cornyn is a former Texas Supreme Court justice and state attorney general. Both men have been at the forefront in fighting Democratic filibusters against Bush's federal appeals court nominees.
Like all potential Supreme Court nominees - most lists of would-be candidates have at least 10 judges, lawyers or lawmakers - the senators played down their chances.
"If I was on the president's short list, I think I would have heard about it by now," Kyl said with a laugh.
Cornyn said, "It's flattering, but I like my current job and I'm not looking for another one."
Twenty-six men who served in Congress - 10 only in the Senate, 12 only in the House and four in both chambers - later joined the Supreme Court. The revolving door has turned the other way only once: David Davis resigned from the court in 1877 to represent Illinois in the Senate as an independent.
Bush has looked to Congress when filling federal court vacancies.
He picked Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Cox withdrew after California's two Democratic senators opposed him. He is now awaiting confirmation to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Outsiders agree that Kyl and Cornyn are less likely to be selected by Bush for a Supreme Court vacancy if Rehnquist is the first to retire.
"I would be very surprised to see a Republican senator nominated to replace Rehnquist," said Sean Rushton of the conservative Committee for Justice. "It would make more sense to nominate a Republican senator like Cornyn to replace Sandra Day O'Connor or John Paul Stevens."
The president would be expected to replace Rehnquist with a non-Washington conservative because senators know that pick will not change the court's ideological balance, Rushton said.
But if O'Connor or Stevens leaves, Bush could swing the court further to the right by picking either Kyl or Cornyn. Both senators are considered more conservative than O'Connor and Stevens.
They both also have the advantage of being members of "the club." The Senate has never rejected one of its own for the high court.
Senators have just emerged from a partisan deadlock over Bush's picks for appeals courts. Choosing a conservative senator might be attractive because of "senatorial courtesy" - the idea that senators will not be overly harsh to one of their own during the confirmation process.
The downside is that, for a time, the Republicans' 55-vote majority could shrink if Kyl is a nominee. Arizona's Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, probably would appoint a Democrat to replace him until the 2006 election.
Of course, senatorial courtesy is never a guarantee.
Cornyn, for example, might find himself having to explain comments he made after several violent attacks on judges this year. He said he wondered whether frustration against perceived political decisions by judges "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification."
Critics said his comments could incite violence against judges and the remarks could come back to haunt Cornyn.
Several years ago, former GOP Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina tried his best to scuttle former Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun's nomination as ambassador to New Zealand, until Republican leaders made it clear they would not let him.
Former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., had a hard time getting past Democratic senators to become Bush's first attorney general. The Senate voted to confirm him 58-42, the narrowest margin ever for an attorney general.
On the Net:
Sen. Jon Kyl: http://kyl.senate.gov
Sen. John Cornyn: http://cornyn.senate.gov
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:37 PM
Ex-lobbyist leaves White House environmental job
Sat Jun 11, 2005 4:17 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior official at the White House Council on Environmental Quality has resigned, days after a newspaper reported he changed some government reports to downplay links between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
Philip Cooney, the council's chief of staff and a former energy industry lobbyist, resigned on Friday, two days after The New York Times reported he edited some descriptions of climate research in a way that cast doubt on links between greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino confirmed Cooney had resigned from the council but said it was unrelated to the Times story.
"Mr. Cooney has long been considering his options following four years of service in the administration," she said. "He had accumulated four weeks of leave and decided to resign and take the summer off to spend time with his family."
The Times said it obtained the environmental documents from the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that provides legal help to government whistle-blowers.
The White House has denied Cooney had watered down the impact of global warming.
The newspaper noted Cooney previously worked at the American Petroleum Institute, a lobby group for the oil industry.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:22 PM
Friday, June 10, 2005
The New York Times
June 10, 2005
An Important Election Safeguard
There are many problems with American elections, but none more serious than the rise of paperless electronic voting, whose results cannot be trusted. Grass-roots reformers are in the middle of a two-day lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill in support of a House bill that would require that electronic voting machines in federal elections produce voter-verifiable paper records. It is an important measure that should be passed without delay.
Electronic voting has been rolled out nationwide without necessary safeguards. The machines' computers can be programmed to steal votes from one candidate and give them to another. There are also many ways hackers can break in to tamper with the count. Polls show that many Americans do not trust electronic voting in its current form; such doubts are a serious problem in a democracy.
The solution is to require that each machine produce a paper record that can be inspected and verified by the voter. The paper records are then stored, and can be counted after the polls close. If the results on the machine do not match the tally of the paper records, it will be clear that there is a problem.
The states have taken the lead on electronic voting reform. Nineteen states have paper-trail requirements, including major states like California and Ohio. But a federal law is still badly needed. Any state can cast the deciding electoral votes in a presidential election. Voters across the country are entitled to know that the president was elected on machines that can be trusted.
The House resolution, sponsored by Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, would require not only paper trails, but also random audits of the machines' vote counts, and it would ban the use of undisclosed software. The bill, H.R. 550, has 135 co-sponsors, but it needs more support, especially from Republicans.
The lobbying effort that wraps up today - which is supported by groups like Common Cause and the Electronic Frontier Foundation - is aimed at winning that backing. Every member of Congress who cares about American democracy should get behind Mr. Holt's bill.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:19 PM
The Global Gilded Age
3 billion people live on less than 2 bucks a day.
According to a new report, just over 8 million people worldwide control $31 TRILLION in assets. In other words, one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population controls one-quarter of the world’s assets.
A strong global economy gave 600,000 people an entree last year into a highly envied group: the world’s millionaires.
The annual World Wealth Report…found that there were 8.3 million people worldwide with $1 million or more in financial assets at the end of 2004, up from 7.7 million a year earlier.
Their total wealth rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets, according to Petrina Dolby, vice president of Capgemini’s wealth management practice.
Read the full report here:
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:37 PM
Is Bush’s New Nominee A Bigot?
On May 10, 2005, the current director of the U.S. Mint, Henrietta Holsman Fore, was nominated by President Bush to be the next Under Secretary of State for Management. In announcing the nomination, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Fore would be instrumental in helping to “expand and support State Department management initiatives.”
The position of Under Secretary of Management is a vital one, as described by the State Department’s website. It is responsible for leading the offices of administration and human resources, which deal with the hiring and firing of personnel. Fore’s nomination to this post has raised many concerns due to her record of making racially-insensitive remarks.
Yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama grilled Fore over her previous comments in which she suggested blacks prefer pushing drugs on the street to working in factory jobs. Fore’s remarks came from a speech she gave at Wellesley University in 1987. Here’s how the New York Times covered that speech:
A Wellesley College trustee’s remark that blacks preferred pushing drugs to working in a factory has precipitated an emotional debate on this bucolic campus already grappling with charges of racial insensitivity…
The trustee, Henrietta Holsman, a 1970 graduate of Wellesley who runs a manufacturing concern in Los Angeles, resigned from the board last weekend after apologizing for her comments, which also cast aspersions on the work ethic of Hispanic and white employees. But in a letter to the college newspaper, Ms. Holsman reiterated her statement that she had trouble keeping black assembly-line workers from going ‘’back to the street to earn more money'’ selling drugs…
In her lecture, Ms. Holsman also said she had found Hispanic workers to be lazy, white workers resentful of having to work with machines, and Asians, while very productive, likely to move on to professional or management jobs. [NYT, 2/12/87]
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:36 PM
Minimum Facts From Washington Times
Morgan Spurlock – the guy who lived for a month on McDonalds in the movie “Super-Size Me” – has a new television project. In the first episode of his show, which will air on FX, Spurlock and his fiancée live on minimum wage for 30 days. In today’s Washington Times columnist John McCaslin has this to say about the episode:
The Department of Labor has set the federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, although many states have minimum wage laws that are higher. (If employees are subject to both the state and federal minimum wage, they are entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages.) Ohio, where Mr. Spurlock sought employment, is one of only two states with minimum wage rates lower than the federal rate, the other being Kansas, which might explain why he chose the state for filming. Had he chosen to stay home and look for work in California, he would have found the state’s minimum wage is higher than the federal rate.
McCaslin wants to give his readers the impression that Spurlock’s experience was uncommon because Ohio’s minimum wage is so low. That’s not true. Twenty-nine states have a minimum wage that is at or below the federal limit. Six states don’t have any minimum wage at all. In other words, 35 states have the exact same minimum wage as Ohio.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:34 PM
Cox Befriended Right-Wing Hate-Monger
Christopher Cox, Bush’s nominee to be the next chairman of the SEC, wrote the following review of a book entitled Back to Basics for the Republican Party:
The Republican heritage is shared by every American who cherishes universal suffrage, civil rights, and equality before the law. The pivotal role of the Republican party in this achievement - and the racist and sexist past of the Democratic party - are authoritatively presented in this eye-opening book.
Nice review. So what’s the problem? The author. The book is written by an individual named Michael Zak. What’s troubling about Cox’s association with Zak is that Zak has such a far-right, out-of-the-mainstream, hate-filled ideology. The Baltimore Sun today sampled some of his outrageous quotes:
“Mastery over blacks has always been Democratic policy,” the Calvert Recorder quoted Zak as saying during the dinner speech. In the book, Zak calls the Ku Klux Klan the “terrorist wing” of the Democratic Party.
Instead of rejecting this ideology, Cox has put his stamp of approval on it. In an 11/19/04 article by Congressional Quarterly Today entitled, Cox Liked This Book So Much, He Hired the Author and Commissioned a Calendar, Cox is reported to have so enjoyed reading Zak’s hate-mongering that he invited Zak to lunch, showered him with complements, and even offered him a job.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:33 PM
Philadelphia Schools Will Require African Studies
PHILADELPHIA -- In what could be a first in the United States, the Philadelphia school system will soon require that all high school students take a year of African and African American studies.
Leaders of the school district, where two-thirds of the students are black, hope the course will not only keep those students interested in their academic work but also give others a more accurate view of history.
"We have the opportunity . . . to do something under our watch that is really going to do right by our students, to say, 'We've come from some pretty great places,' " Assistant Superintendent Cecilia Cannon said.
The course, now offered as an elective at 11 of the city's 54 high schools, covers topics including classical African civilizations, civil rights and black nationalism, and teachers say it has captivated students.
Education groups said they did not know of other districts that require black studies, now a high-profile academic field at universities such as Harvard and Cornell.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:29 PM
Democrats Eye Unfolding Ohio Coin Scandal
Democrats Keeping Eye on Unfolding Ohio Coin Scandal Thanks to Bad Investment
By JOHN SEEWER
The Associated Press
Jun. 10, 2005 - A disastrous investment by the state in rare coins has erupted into both a financial and political scandal, with Ohio's Republicans running for cover and the Democrats seeing great opportunity.
At least $10 million is feared missing from a $55 million fund that the Ohio Workers' Compensation Bureau set up in a risky and highly unorthodox foray into the buying and selling of coins. The investment was managed by coin dealer Tom Noe, a prodigious fundraiser who has showered contributions on Republicans in Ohio and beyond.
In the past few weeks, a slew of Republicans, including President Bush and Gov. Bob Taft, have moved quickly to distance themselves from Noe by returning more than $100,000 in donations.
The Democrats have seized on the scandal, hoping it will enable them to break the GOP's decade-long grip on Ohio state government next year and even help them retake the White House in 2008.
"It's an example of the arrogance of power that comes with one-party rule," said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, one of two Democrats running in 2006 to succeed Taft, who cannot seek a third term. "It reinforces the need for change in Ohio."
No charges have been brought against Noe. But investigators say that at least 121 coins worth about $400,000 are missing, and they are looking into whether some of the money he handled went to Republican officeholders.
The financial scandal deepened in the past week with word that the state's insurance fund for injured workers lost $215 million in a hedge fund that was not handled by Noe.
Ohio Republicans are portraying Noe as just one "bad apple." Democrats say that the scandal is a symptom of GOP corruption and self-dealing, and that Noe received the state contract because of his political ties, which include raising more than $100,000 for Bush's re-election.
"This isn't necessarily the end of the Republican reign, but I'm sure it's got them very concerned," said William Binning, chairman of political science at Youngstown State University, who also works for Taft as a liaison in northeastern Ohio. "We just don't know what the fallout is going to be. It's potentially explosive."
The GOP has controlled the Ohio governor's office since 1991, has held all statewide non-judicial offices for 10 years, and dominates both houses of the Legislature. In Ohio, voters do not register by party, but based on the party affiliations given by primary voters, perhaps two-thirds of the electorate is independent, while Republicans and Democrats are close to even in numbers.
Democrats believe that if they can capture the governor's office, the party's presidential nominee will have a better shot at winning the state in 2008. Last year, the presidential election came down to Ohio, with Bush winning by 118,000 votes. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
"One of the reasons everybody's so worried about this is that it does have the potential to change not only Ohio politics but also national politics," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.
Republican National Committee spokesman Aaron McLear said it is too early to say whether the troubles in Ohio will hurt the GOP's chances in 2008.
The head of the state GOP, though, said the problems will have an effect next year when voters select a new governor and four other statewide officeholders.
"Of course it's an embarrassment," said Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett. But he said that "every once in awhile a bad apple does come along," and that party leaders are returning contributions and aggressively investigating the missing money.
At least 17 Ohio officials are returning contributions, including all three GOP candidates for governor: Attorney General Jim Petro, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Auditor Betty Montgomery. They have given back a total of $17,100.
Taft has returned $22,190, the most of any officeholder, saying Noe "has done a great disservice to the people of Ohio by mismanaging our public resources and abusing our trust." Bush returned $4,000. Five GOP justices on the Ohio Supreme Court said they, too, will identify and set aside campaign contributions from Noe.
Noe also gave $10,000 to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he is keeping the money.
On the Net:
Bureau of Workers' Compensation: http://www.ohiobwc.com
Ohio GOP: http://www.ohiogop.org
Ohio Democratic Party: http://www.ohiodems.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:25 PM
Citigroup to Pay $2B to Settle Enron Suit
Citigroup Paying $2B to Settle Suit Over Its Role in Helping Enron Orchestrate Fraud
By JOE BEL
The Associated Press
Jun. 10, 2005 - Citigroup Inc., the nation's largest financial services company, on Friday said it will pay $2 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit over its role in helping Enron Corp. orchestrate a massive accounting fraud that led to the energy trader's collapse.
The settlement marks the largest payout so far pledged to Enron investors, who claim they were bilked out of billions of dollars when the energy company went bankrupt in 2001. It also becomes one of the largest corporate settlements in history, but still below the $2.58 billion Citigroup agreed to pay WorldCom Inc. investors last year.
Some 50,000 stock and bondholders that filed claims as part of the lawsuit led by the University of California's board of regents alleges some banks helped Enron defraud investors, continue operations and raise money even as the company was imploding. The settlement marks the fifth made in the long-running Enron debacle, and was seen as a catalyst for future deals with eight other banks targeted in similar lawsuits including JPMorgan Chase & Co.
"We can't predict the future, we don't want to try and predict the future, but this development is obviously very favorable for our side of the case," said William Lerach, the lawyer representing the lead plaintiff, the University of California, which lost millions when Enron declared bankruptcy.
In addition to JPMorgan Chase, class-action suits are pending against Barclays PLC, Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch & Co., Toronto Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Deutsche Bank AG and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Citigroup's payment is more than four times the total of $491.5 million already received from settlements with Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Bank of America Corp., Andersen Worldwide, Enron's outside directors and Ken Harrison, Enron's former vice chairman.
As part of the settlement deal, Citigroup has denied committing any violation of law, saying it settled "solely to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation."
Citigroup shares fell 13 cents to $47.55 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $42.10 to $49.99.
It was the third major settlement by Citigroup of class-action litigation in little more than a year.
In May 2004, Citigroup agreed to pay nearly $2.6 billion as its part of the record $6.13 billion settlement by investment banks, auditors and former board members to settled class action claims stemming from the 2002 collapse of WorldCom Inc. The telecommunications company has since emerged from bankruptcy to operate as MCI Inc.
The WorldCom settlement which was negotiated by Citi chief executive Charles Prince covered allegations of misconduct by Citi and its investment divisions as well as former star telecom analyst Jack B. Grubman. That settlement also caused other banks to move into negotiations to settle similar suits filed on behalf of WorldCom shareholders.
In March, Citigroup agreed to pay $75 million to settle class action litigation brought on behalf of purchasers of Global Crossing securities. Global Crossing filed for bankruptcy in 2002.
The class-action suit had alleged some banks helped Enron set up partnerships with clandestine ties to the company, use offshore companies to disguise loans and facilitate sales of phony assets.
That allowed Enron to report higher cash flow from operations and lower debt, making its financial picture look better than it was and artificially inflating the company's stock and bond prices, the suit said.
New York-based Citigroup said its legal reserves are sufficient to cover the settlement, and that the remaining funds should be adequate for its future exposure to pending Enron- and research-related claims.
The settlement must be approved by the federal court, Citigroup's directors and the board of regents at the University of California.
"This agreement is a tremendous recovery for Enron investors and continues a pattern of highly favorable settlements," said James E. Holst, the university's general counsel.
Lerach said, "We continue to pursue other defendants, including other banks that have been charged with knowingly participating in the scheme to defraud Enron investors."
Goldman Sachs has also been named a defendant in the case because of its role as an underwriter of Enron securities, according to the University of California.
AP Business Writers Eileen Powell and Christopher Wang in New York contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:19 PM
GOP Leaders Weigh Raising Soc. Sec. Age
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
Key Senate Republicans privately reviewed suggestions Thursday for raising the Social Security retirement age while limiting future benefits for upper-wage earners, officials said, as they sought momentum for legislation atop President Bush's second-term domestic agenda.
At the same time, the prospects for swift Senate action on the controversial measure appeared to dim during the day, the result of internal GOP disagreement as well as implacable Democratic opposition to Bush's call for personal accounts under Social Security.
"I don't look for it until later on in the fall," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Lott made his comments after he and other Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee attended a meeting where the panel's chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (news, bio, voting record), R-Iowa, outlined suggestions to achieve financial solvency for the Social Security program.
Grassley declined afterward to provide details, telling reporters he wanted to build "a consensus proposal" among Republicans on the panel.
Republican officials familiar with the presentation said it included a gradual increase in the retirement age, as well as steps to hold down the cost of benefits paid to upper-wage earners who retire in the future.
Notably omitted from Grassley's presentation was an approach that Bush has cited favorably, these officials said. It would restrain the growth in benefits for middle-income as well as upper-income wage earners, and has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats as well as some Republicans.
Nor did Grassley discuss the element of Bush's proposal that sparked intense Democratic opposition, a call to allow younger workers to establish personal retirement accounts with a portion of the Social Security payroll taxes. At the same time, their guaranteed government benefit would be reduced.
The officials who described the items discussed in the Finance Committee spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the details were meant to be kept confidential.
Under the suggestions Grassley presented, upper-wage earners of the future could expect smaller benefits than they now are scheduled to receive.
Under current law, Social Security payroll taxes are levied on the first $90,000 of an individual's income, and a workers' beginning Social Security benefit at retirement is calculated based on the tax they have paid over their working life. The $90,000 figure rises annually, and the starting benefit along with it.
Under Grassley's suggestion, the $90,000 figure would continue to rise as current law provides, but the beginning benefit would not, according to officials who attended the meeting.
These officials declined to say how quickly Grassley was suggesting the retirement age be raised in the future. Once set at 65, it has been rising slowly under the terms of 1983 legislation, and is scheduled to reach 67 for individuals born after 1960.
As did Grassley, several senators said after the meeting the chairman stressed that his purpose was to begin a discussion about steps needed to achieve solvency for Social Security and emphasized he was open to changes. Under official projections, the trust fund is scheduled to pay out more in benefits than it receives in taxes in 2017, and become depleted in 2041.
Additionally, Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said there was agreement to adhere to Bush's call for making no change in benefits for anyone born before 1950.
At the same time, Republicans acknowledged that without Democratic support, they confront a daunting political challenge, according to officials in attendance.
Despite Bush's energetic nationwide campaign for Social Security legislation, Democrats remain opposed to personal accounts, and recent polling confirms widespread public skepticism.
Republicans hold an 11-9 majority on the Finance Committee and could send legislation to the floor without Democratic votes if they could unite behind a plan.
But Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is regarded as unlikely to support personal accounts, and conservatives are reluctant to embrace legislation that lacks them.
At the same time, several officials said Snowe, who faces re-election next year, had expressed concern at the meeting of committee Republicans about the steps needed to achieve solvency.
Asked afterward in a CNN interview about the prospects for legislation, she said, "Frankly, I think it's going to take a great deal of time, and we really shouldn't rush to judgment unless we can build the broad bipartisan support that's going to be essential on a key question."
Democrats have said they won't work with Republicans on bipartisan legislation until Bush and the GOP abandon their call for personal accounts paid from payroll taxes.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:02 AM
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Report Shows FBI's Missed Sept. 11 Chances
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
The FBI missed at least five opportunities before the Sept. 11 attacks to uncover vital intelligence information about the terrorists, and the bureau didn't aggressively pursue the information it did have, the Justice Department's inspector general says in a newly released critique of government missteps.
The IG faulted the FBI for not knowing about the presence of two of the Sept. 11 terrorists in the United States and for not following up on an agent's theory that Osama bin Laden was sending students to U.S. flight training schools. The agent's theory turned out to be precisely what bin Laden did.
"The way the FBI handled these matters was a significant failure that hindered the FBI's chances of being able to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks," Inspector General Glenn Fine said.
When the bureau did discover the presence of hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar in the United States shortly before the attacks, "the FBI's investigation then was conducted without much urgency or priority," the report concluded.
The five missed opportunities in regard to the two hijackers stemmed from information sharing problems between the FBI and CIA and problems inside the FBI's counterterrorism program.
The report gave an hour-by-hour description of how CIA and FBI agents assigned to the CIA's bin Laden unit on Jan. 5, 2000, reviewed incoming cables containing a substantial amount of information about Mihdhar, including that he was traveling and that he had a U.S. visa. According to internal e-mail traffic cited by the report, the deputy chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit never gave the necessary approval for disseminating the information about Mihdhar to the FBI. Less than two weeks later, Mihdhar was in California.
The CIA shares information with the FBI and other agencies through Central Intelligence reports, or CIRs, and such a document was drafted about Mihdhar on Jan. 5, 2000, at the CIA by an FBI employee working at the spy agency's bin Laden unit. The deputy chief of the bin Laden unit and a CIA desk officer who was following the issue told investigators "they did not recall the CIR, any discussions about putting it on hold or why it was not sent."
"When we interviewed all of the individuals involved with the CIR, they asserted that they recalled nothing about it," the report stated.
The report, a year old, is only now being released because of a court fight with lawyers for imprisoned terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui over how much of it should be disclosed. The report's findings mirror other investigations by Congress and an independent commission into why the U.S. government failed to thwart the attacks.
Without elaboration, the report faults the bureau for a lack of public candor.
"Shortly after the attacks, the FBI indicated that it did not have any information warning of the attacks," the report said. "However, information was soon discovered that had been in the possession of the FBI and the intelligence community before Sept. 11 that related to the hijacking of airplanes by extremists or that involved the terrorists who committed the Sept. 11 attacks."
The bureau said it has taken substantial steps to deal with the issues the IG raised.
Today, "no terrorism lead goes unaddressed," and new policies are in place to share information among intelligence agencies, the FBI said.
The report was especially critical of the bureau for not knowing about the presence of two of the 19 hijackers who were living openly in San Diego in 2000 and who "should have drawn some scrutiny from the FBI," the report said.
The two Saudis, al Hazmi and al Mihdhar, rented a room in home of a longtime FBI terrorism informant, and they also befriended a fellow Saudi who had drawn FBI scrutiny in the past.
If the focus of the FBI bureau in San Diego on counterterrorism and al-Qaida had occurred earlier "there would have been a greater possibility, though no guarantee, that Hazmi's and Mihdhar's presence in San Diego may have come to the attention of the FBI before Sept. 11," the report said.
The head of the San Diego FBI office responded that the report greatly exaggerates the possibility that local agents could have prevented the attacks.
The informant identified the two men to his FBI handler only by their first names, and the report criticizes the handler as "not particularly thorough or aggressive" in following up.
The two men also befriended Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had established himself in the area. The FBI briefly investigated him in 1998 when the manager of his apartment complex reported that al-Bayoumi had received a suspicious package, had strange wires in his bathroom and hosted frequent weekend gatherings of Middle Eastern men. The FBI closed its inquiry the following year, a decision the report found appropriate.
The IG also reviewed the FBI's handling of Moussaoui, who was in custody before the attacks. Those portions of the document were deleted because Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty in April, faces a sentencing proceeding next year that will put him on trial for his life.
Associated Press writer Seth Hettena in San Diego contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Federal court Web site on Moussaoui case:
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:56 PM
Survey: Congress falling down on data protection
By Joris Evers
Lawmakers have dropped the ball on keeping consumer data safe, D.C. area opinion leaders said in a survey published Wednesday.
In the survey, iQ Research and Consulting asked 400 "senior-level professionals" in government, policy, consulting, media and technology in and around Washington their opinion on protection of consumer data. It was commissioned by Adobe Systems and RSA Security.
Eight out of 10 respondents believe that Congress has done too little to protect social security numbers, and three-quarters say the same for financial data and credit card numbers. A majority also said that lawmakers fall short when it comes to safeguarding credit reports (68 percent), phone numbers and addresses (59 percent), and tax and salary records (54 percent).
The survey comes in the wake of several high-profile data security failures. On Monday, CitiFinancial said tapes with unencrypted information on 3.9 million customers were lost by UPS while in transit to a credit bureau. CitiFinancial is the consumer finance subsidiary of Citigroup.
Other recent data loss incidents affected a variety of institutions, such as Bank of America and Wachovia, data brokers ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, and the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.
Congress is not sitting idle. After the LexisNexis breach in April, members started a series of discussions and have not ruled out the possibility of legislation.
For protection of consumer data, a majority of survey respondents see a "strong impact" role for technology (86 percent), consumer education (73 percent), corporate action (72 percent), federal legislation (68 percent) and industry action (57 percent), according to the survey.
In the Adobe/RSA survey, a vast majority of respondents said that Congress has not done enough to protect consumer information. Only 8 percent believed it is "very likely" Congress will pass legislation increasing security requirements for companies that collect consumer data. Such legislation is "somewhat likely," according to 47 percent of respondents.
Among those who believe legislation is coming, 22 percent said it is very likely that Congress will pass laws increasing penalties for data theft. Forty-three percent said it was only somewhat likely and a about a third calls it unlikely.
Survey sponsors Adobe and RSA Security both sell products, such as document management and encryption software, that could help protect data.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:01 PM
N. Korea Admits Building More Nuclear Bombs
Top Official Discusses Nuclear Ambitions; Millions of N. Koreans Forced Into Farming
Jun. 8, 2005 - In an exclusive interview with ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan said the country is in the process of building additional nuclear bombs and would neither confirm nor deny the missiles' ability to hit the United States.
Woodruff is part of an ABC News team recently granted rare access to the country. During the interview, Gwan -- the country's chief nuclear negotiator -- spoke openly about North Korea's nuclear ambitions:
BOB WOODRUFF: Do you have a nuclear bomb?
KIM GYE GWAN: We do have.
WOODRUFF: How many do you have?
GWAN: I should say that we have enough nuclear bombs to defend against a U.S. attack. As for specifically how many we have, that is a secret.
WOODRUFF: Are you building more bombs now?
Despite those claims, many analysts are not convinced North Korea has nuclear weapons because it has not conducted any nuclear tests. In the past several years it has tested long-range missiles, however.
WOODRUFF: Do have a missile capable of hitting the mainland United States?
GWAN: I think I've said our nuclear program is ... not aimed at attacking the U.S.
WOODRUFF: It's not aimed there, but does it have the capability of reaching there?
GWAN: We don't have any intention at all of attacking the U.S. So you can't even speculate about that kind of thing.
WOODRUFF: Do have the ability to put a nuclear warhead on your long range missiles?
GWAN: I want you to know that our scientists have the knowledge, comparable to other scientists around the world.
WOODRUFF: Is that a yes or a no?
GWAN: You can take it as you like.
Struggles of Daily Life
Life remains very difficult in North Korea, where food shortages and occasional blackouts are common occurrences. To save power, the traffic lights in the capital, Pyongyang, have been turned off for more than four years. Highly trained police direct the traffic at intersections instead.
The campus at Kim Il Sung University, normally teeming with 12,000 students, is empty. The students, along with an estimated 3 million other North Koreans, were ordered out of the cities this month and directed into rice fields to help plant the new crop.
North Korea is in the midst of a major food crisis, and is working to increase its agricultural production.
"Our leader Kim Jung Il told us to mobilize," one North Korean engineer-turned-farmer told ABC News. "A person cannot work without food."
The North Koreans cannot return to the city until the farming is done, and they work without farming equipment -- using only their hands.
ABC News' Bob Woodruff filed this report on "World News Tonight."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:17 AM
Court Upholds 9-11 Suspect's Acquittal
German Court Upholds Acquittal of Man Suspected of Helping Hijackers in Sept. 11 Attacks
By DAVID RISING
The Associated Press
Jun. 9, 2005 - A German appeals court Thursday upheld the acquittal of a Sept. 11 suspect in a case decided partly by U.S. refusals to allow the use of testimony from captured al-Qaida members.
Abdelghani Mzoudi was acquitted in 2004 of charges he helped hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah in their plot to attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The five-judge panel did not immediately say why it had upheld the verdict.
Mzoudi's case will now be handed over to immigration authorities. With his student visa no longer valid, Mzoudi has two weeks to leave the country, said Norbert Smekal, a spokesman for the Hamburg state immigration department.
The process could be delayed, however, if Mzoudi decides to apply for political asylum or take other legal steps, said Hartmut Jacobi, one of his attorneys.
"He has not yet decided whether he will remain here," Jacobi told The Associated Press.
Mzoudi had been charged with more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly providing logistical support to the three Hamburg-based suicide hijackers.
Testimony at his trial showed that Mzoudi trained at the same al-Qaida camps as the hijackers and was close friends with them in Hamburg. But Hamburg state court judges ruled that the prosecution failed to prove he knew anything about their plot.
In their appeal, prosecutors argued that the Hamburg judges failed to rule on whether Atta's group constituted a terrorist organization, making it impossible to determine whether Mzoudi was a member.
Mzoudi's friend and fellow Moroccan, Mounir el Motassadeq, was convicted in 2003 of identical charges and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison.
The same panel that heard Mzoudi's case at the Federal Court of Justice overturned el Motassadeq's conviction last year and ordered a retrial, ruling that he had been unfairly denied testimony from al-Qaida captives in U.S. custody an issue that also contributed to Mzoudi's acquittal.
A verdict in the el Motassadeq case is expected in August. Hamburg authorities have said that if he is also acquitted, they will move to expel him to Morocco as well, once his appeals are exhausted.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:15 AM
New Questions About Al Qaeda Training Camps in Pakistan
Terror Video Shows Al Qaeda Fighters Launching Attacks From Pakistan
By BRIAN ROSS and JILL RACKMILL
Jun. 8, 2005 - The arrest of two suspected al Qaeda agents in Lodi, Calif., today raises new concerns about the existence of al Qaeda training camps inside Pakistan.
According to an FBI affidavit, one of the suspects, Hamid Hayet, admitted to attending an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan for six months in 2003 and 2004. His father, Umer Hayat, also in custody, told agents that he had visited other operational training camps around Pakistan.
"Wiping out the training camps in Afghanistan was one of the reasons we went into Afghanistan," said Richard Clarke, a former antiterrorism official and an ABC News consultant. "It was also one of the reasons we went into Iraq. And yet the whole time there were training camps in an ally, Pakistan."
Videotapes obtained by ABC News last week contain the only known images of al Qaeda training camps inside Pakistan. The al Qaeda-made tape shows fighters conducting a variety of exercises with automatic weapons, as they once did at similar camps in Afghanistan. The fighters are identified as coming from nine different countries in Africa and the Middle East, with many from Saudi Arabia.
During nighttime sessions, a leader tells the men in Arabic they must use violence to defend and impose Islam. Later in the video, the men are seen on an actual operation to attack a remote army outpost just before dawn.
Camp Near Pakistani Military Headquarters
Earlier this year, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claimed that his nation's army had attacked and shut down such remote al Qaeda sanctuaries. "They are now on the run in the mountains, in small groups," said Musharraf.
The FBI affidavit in today's case claims that the training camp attended by the Hayets was located near the city of Rawalpindi, the country's military headquarters.
"That's a bit like having a terrorist training camp on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.," said Clarke.
According to the affidavit, the man running the Rawalpindi training camp was identified as Maulana Fazlur Rehman, which is also the name of prominent Pakistani opposition leader. Rehman is considered an Islamic fundamentalist, and is known for his close ties to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime.
Authorities in the United States and in Pakistan are investigating whether the opposition leader is the same man identified by the al Qaeda suspects.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:11 AM
Australia scare closes embassies
Several embassies in the Australian capital closed on Thursday, after they received suspicious packages.
The British High Commission, and the US, Japanese and South Korean embassies were shut down, but the UK mission has now reopened.
Part of the parliament was also closed for the second time in a week after a package of white powder was received.
The Indonesian embassy has twice received such packages, but tests showed that the material was harmless.
"ACT (Australian Capital Territory) policing has received reports of suspicious pacages at a number of foreign missions and parliament house... the packages have been secured," a police spokesman told Reuters.
The BBC understands that the powder sent to the British High Commission was harmless.
Last week, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer received a similar package addressed to him at parliament.
Tests revealed the powder to be non-toxic.
Australian authorities have linked the packages sent to the Indonesian embassy with public anger at the jailing of a 27-year-old Australian woman for smuggling drugs into Bali.
The case of Schapelle Corby, who was given a 20-year sentence, generated huge public sympathy in Australia, with many people convinced of her innocence.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:16 AM
Paul Krassner: The Trial of Abbie Hoffman's Shirt
In 1776, American hero Nathan Hale, before being executed by the British, said, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
On a recent Sunday, as if to honor that statement, hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists from across the United States converged on Washington for the annual Rollling Thunder memorial ride to honor America’s war veterans. Gathered at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlilngton National Cemetery, the bikers were wearing vests, black T-shirts and leather jackets with Vietnam pins.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, joined the parade, which rumbled toward the national mall for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial. He was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the American flag.
Ah, if only Abbie Hoffman could have witnessed that.
In October 1968, he was arrested in Washington for wearing a shirt that resembled the design of an American flag. Authorities at the maximum security penitentiary did their worst to harass and humiliate him. They gave him a preventive de-lousing. They took a blood sample against his will, without affording him the sterile courtesy of a disposable syringe.
Two months later, Abbie was hospitalized in New York City for serum hepatitis. The recuperative process didn’t prevent him from helping doctors to organize themselves against some of the oppressive tactics of the medical profession.
When the flag-shirt case came to court, defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt asked, “Is wearing a shirt dishonoring the flag? Does Uncle Sam, when he marches in the parade on July 4th, dishonor?”
Prosecutor Benton Becker argued, “Uncle Sam himself is a national symbol, just as the the flag is a national symbol, and one national symbol, recognized as such, cannot deface and defile and cast contempt upon another national symbol....the Government has a legitimate interest in maiantaining the sanctity of its symbols.”
Hoffman testified, “I was playing with a Yo-Yo, and I had on a shirt that resembled the American flag. I wore the shirt because I was going before the un-American Activities Committee of the House of Representatives, and I don’t particularly consider that committee American, and I don’t consider that House of Representatives particularly representative. And I wore the shirt to show that we were in the tradition of the founding fathers of this country.”
“And were you subsequently arrested?”
“Well, the police approached me, and proceeded to rip the shirt. There was a struggle. I was trying to get the Yo-Yo off my finger. They got the Yo-Yo, see, and it was pulling my finger. It hurt. My wife saw that I was struggling and tried to come to my aid a little, and then a whole fracas broke out, in which the police ripped the shirt off my back.”
On his back, incidentally, was a painted Viet Cong flag.
When the judge declared him guilty, Abbie uttered the immortal words, “I only regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country.”.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 AM
Bush Open to Possibly Closing Gitmo Camp
President Bush Leaves Open the Possibility of Closing the U.S. Prison Camp at Guantanamo Bay
By JENNIFER LOVEN
The Associated Press
Jun. 9, 2005 - President Bush on Wednesday left open the possibility that the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be shut down.
"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," Bush told Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto in an interview.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know of anyone in the administration who was considering closing Guantanamo.
The military provides "a stable and secure and safe environment," he told reporters traveling with him in Norway. "Information gained from detainees there has saved the lives of people from our country and from other countries."
The Pentagon disclosed last week that U.S. guards or interrogators at Guantanamo kicked, stepped on and splashed urine on the Quran. That followed a report in Newsweek, later retracted, that U.S. investigators had confirmed that a guard had deliberately flushed a prisoner's Quran in a toilet. The White House blamed that report for violent protests in Muslim nations.
The prison holds about 540 detainees. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with any crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in hope of extracting useful intelligence about the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Former President Carter said at a human rights conference Tuesday that closing the prison would demonstrate the U.S. commitment to human rights at a time when Washington's reputation has suffered because of reports of prisoner abuses from Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amnesty International has branded the facility the "the gulag of our time," which Bush dismissed again Wednesday.
"It's just absurd to equate Gitmo and Guantanamo with a Soviet gulag," he said. "Just not even close."
Irene Khan, secretary-general of organization, said she was interested in Bush's remark that he is exploring all alternatives on Guantanamo. She urged him to close the prison, charge the detainees under U.S. law or release them.
"He should order full disclosure of U.S. policies and practices on detention and interrogation of prisoners and support an independent investigation into abuses," she said. "This would reassert the basic principles of justice, truth and freedom in which Americans take so much pride."
Bush said the Guantanamo detainees are being treated in accordance with international standards and that any allegations of mistreatment are fully investigated. He defended the policy of holding enemy combatants.
"It's in our nation's interest that we learn a lot about those people that are still in detention, because we're still trying to find out how to better protect our country," he said. "What we don't want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us."
On the Net:
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:08 AM
N.C. GOP Must Repay $100G Illegal Donation
Republican Party in North Carolina Must Repay $100,000 Illegal Contribution
By MARTHA WAGGONER
The Associated Press
Jun. 9, 2005 - The state Republican Party must repay a $100,000 illegal contribution from a national group and the group must pay a $10,000 fine under a consent agreement reached Wednesday with the state Elections Board.
The Republican State Leadership Committee a group formed to help elect GOP state legislators, attorneys general and lieutenant governors borrowed the money from Wachovia bank a day before setting up in North Carolina in October.
The organization then donated the cash to the N.C. Senatorial Trust, which works to elect Republican state senators; the trust passed it along to the state Republican Party.
State Democrats filed a complaint.
Under state law, political committees in North Carolina can take donations only from individuals and other political organizations.
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the state Elections Board, said that since the leadership committee borrowed the money before it set up the political action committee and co-mingled corporate and individual contributions the contribution to the state GOP was illegal.
"With this consent agreement, Republicans have admitted that they acted illegally," state Democratic Party chairman Jerry Meek said in a statement.
The leadership committee did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Bill Peaslee, chief of staff for the state GOP, argued his group never broke the law.
"Essentially, we did as the state Board of Elections requested and none of the money which was sent to us was ever spent in support of any candidates once it became questionable," he said.
The fine likely would have been higher if the GOP had spent the money up to $300,000, three times the amount of the donation, Bartlett said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:08 AM
Fed's Gramlich says US can't grow out of deficits
Wed Jun 8, 2005 11:20 AM ET
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - The United States cannot grow its way out of its budget deficit problem despite recent improvement in budget and trade numbers, Federal Reserve Governor Edward Gramlich said on Wednesday.
"Fortunately, the budget numbers and the trade numbers have gotten a bit better recently but that doesn't solve the long-term problem," Gramlich said in response to audience questions after a speech to Milwaukee-area business leaders.
He did not discuss the economy or monetary policy in his remarks, which centered mostly on a proposal to rescue Social Security by raising the retirement age in a measured fashion.
Gramlich said the structural problems created by impending retirement costs for the baby boom generation would continue to exist, even if some of the White House's proposals for reform are enacted.
"Individual accounts may or may not be a good idea, but they won't solve the basic actuarial problem" facing Social Security, Gramlich said.
Moreover, "the stock market can be an uncertain mistress," he said, in reference to the level of share prices when retirees actually tap into their accounts.
Gramlich said he was "worried on the fiscal side" and said the country should work to balance the federal budget outside of Social Security.
"Over time, on average, we should try to get the non-Social Security part of our budget in balance," he said.
The United States would go a good way toward fixing the Social Security retirement system by increasing the retirement age, Gramlich said.
He said his proposal to raise the retirement age by a year for each decade of age -- for example, 67 for workers who are now 40; 68 for those who are now 30 -- "is not huge" and that doing this alone would go a long way toward making the system fair across generations.
"As long as we don't confront the retirement age issue, we're putting in a system that just isn't fair," he said.
Of cutting benefits, Gramlich said: "It would cause a lot of difficulties and politically I don't think it's going to happen. You realize in your heart that it isn't the great way to do it."
Gramlich said Medicare was a bigger problem and should actually be dealt with before Social Security. He also said Americans needed to save more.
"In a macroeconomic sense, I would argue that we are not saving. But we ought to."
The Fed governor will step down from his central bank post at the end of August.
"Just one more Federal Open Market Committee meeting and I'll be no different from the man on the street," he quipped.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM
Judge queries reason behind tobacco remedy cut
Wed Jun 8, 2005 8:47 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The judge in the racketeering case against cigarette makers on Wednesday questioned whether "additional influences" prompted the government to drastically reduce a sanction it is seeking against the industry.
During a second day of closing arguments in the trial, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler speculated about the Justice Department's decision to seek a $10 billion, 5-year quit-smoking program, far smaller than a $130 billion, 25-year program proposed last month by a government witness.
"Perhaps it suggests that there are some additional influences being brought to bear on the government's position in this case," Kessler said.
The government's reduced request, outlined in court on Tuesday, has provoked speculation by tobacco analysts and some lawmakers that politics played a role in the decision.
"Big Tobacco is one of the top donors to Republicans, and it is getting what it paid for," New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg said in a statement.
A Justice Department spokesman said the $10 billion proposed quit smoking plan is "only an initial requirement." Spokesman Eric Holland said the smoking cessation program could be extended beyond the five-year term if a court-appointed monitor thinks it is necessary.
In his statement, Holland said the administration had argued "vigorously" for a much larger $280 billion remedy earlier in the case before that idea was ruled out by a federal appeals court.
A lawyer for Philip Morris told Kessler that the drastic change in the government's position proved the entire idea of imposing a national quit smoking program was ill-conceived.
"Whether the price of the smoking cessation program is $130 billion or $10 billion or 99 cents, it is still a fatally flawed program," Philip Morris lawyer Ted Wells told the judge.
Wells said the quit smoking program was a public health initiative that should be debated by Congress, and not a legal remedy designed to prevent any future wrongdoing.
"Your honor should not take up the government's invitation to engage in social policy engineering," Wells said.
Targeted in the lawsuit, filed in 1999, are Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group ; Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit and British American Tobacco Plc unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.
The companies deny they illegally conspired to promote smoking and say the government has no grounds to pursue them after they drastically overhauled marketing practices as part of a 1998 settlement with state attorneys general.
A lawyer for the Justice Department made the scaled-back request on Tuesday as the government summed up its case in the eight-month trial that accuses major tobacco companies of conspiring to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking.
"Our concern is that now there are political considerations," said William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
A group of Democrats, including Lautenberg, called at a news conference for an inspector general investigation into possible political interference in the case.
Even with the reduced figure, Kessler on Tuesday questioned whether the quit smoking program would satisfy an appeals court ruling from February that required any remedies to stop future misconduct rather than punish past behavior.
In that ruling, the appeals court threw out the Justice Department's initial remedy proposal which would have allowed the government to seize $280 billion in past industry profits that it said were ill-gotten.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM
Lawmaker's bill aims to bolster pension funding
Wed Jun 8, 2005 7:20 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation to ensure U.S. companies properly fund their pension plans and to bolster the agency that insures those plans will be introduced on Thursday, the chairman of the committee that oversees labor issues said.
Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said his bill would tighten rules for funding pensions that promise a fixed payout at retirement, to try and avoid more companies defaulting on their plans as United Airlines recently has done.
The bill also aims to improve the finances of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which had a $23.3 billion deficit last year, by reducing the number of weak plans and raising the premiums paid by employers, Boehner's office said.
The premium increases would be spaced out over three to five years instead of taking place immediately as the Bush administration urged in a proposal earlier this year.
Boehner's bill, to be described in detail at a news conference on Thursday, is the first major pension bill in either chamber of Congress this year. It appeared to try to steer a middle path between stricter White House reforms and pressure from companies to relax the existing pension rules.
It lacks any provisions targeted to help airlines, despite pleas from airline executives on Capitol Hill this week for more time to catch up on their pension obligations so they could avoid joining United Airlines in bankruptcy court.
"The pension terminations at United Airlines underscore the need for fundamental pension reform to protect workers and taxpayers, and the time to act is now," Boehner said.
"Without comprehensive reform, more companies will default on their plans or simply stop offering benefits to workers altogether, and taxpayers will be at greater risk than ever of being stuck with a multibillion dollar bailout," said Boehner, who chairs the Education and Workforce Committee.
Boehner said he wanted to prevent a taxpayer bailout of the PBGC. His bill would also improve disclosures to workers about their pensions plans. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas will co-sponsor the bill, Boehner's office said.
Reaction from businesses was cautiously positive.
"He clearly avoids some of the major pitfalls of the administration's proposal, which made it very difficult for companies to stay in the system," said Janice Gregory, senior vice president at the ERISA Industry Committee, whose member companies provide benefits to 25 million workers.
"The question will be: does it work when companies run the numbers," she said. "We'll have to see."
The core of Boehner's plan would seek to make pension funding more realistic by introducing a "yield curve" formula, under which companies would take into account the age of employees and when they are likely to retire when working out how much money to put into their plans.
Employers would be required to use three different interest rates when calculating pension obligations -- one for those due within five years, another for those due between five and 20 years, and a third for those obligations due after 20 years.
This appeared to be less complex than the administration proposal, which some business lobbyists feared could force companies to use a different interest rate for each year.
Boehner also omitted a White House proposal that companies at higher risk of default, as measured by their credit ratings, should be required to fund their pensions even more robustly.
Boehner's bill would raise premiums the PBGC charges employers to $30 per year for each participant in a pension plan from $19 currently.
Instead of putting the raise into effect immediately, as the White House wants, Boehner proposes phasing it in over three years for companies whose pension plans are less than 80 percent funded, and over five years if their plans are more than 80 percent funded.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:05 AM
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
U.S. Limits Prosecutions Under Privacy Law
- By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
(06-07) 17:45 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --
The Justice Department has decided that most health care employees can't be prosecuted for stealing personal data under a privacy law intended to protect medical information.
The ruling could jeopardize the lone conviction obtained under medical privacy rules that took effect in 2003 and could stop federal prosecutors from pursuing some of the more than 13,000 complaints that have been filed alleging violations of those rules.
The health care industry has long sought to limit the effect of the rules and the 1996 privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, on which they are based, although officials at several industry trade groups said Tuesday they did not lobby the Justice Department on this topic.
Hospitals, insurers, doctors and other health care providers that bill for their services are subject to criminal prosecution under the law, according to the June 1 memo signed by Steven G. Bradbury, the Justice lawyer who heads the office of legal counsel.
But a hospital clerk, for example, and other employees cannot face criminal penalties because the law doesn't apply to them, Bradbury wrote.
The memo was the subject of extensive internal debate within the Bush administration, with at least one federal prosecutor voicing opposition to its conclusion.
"As prosecutors in the field, we're disappointed with the opinion," said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney John McKay in Seattle.
Last August, McKay's office obtained a guilty plea from a technician at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Richard W. Gibson was sentenced to 16 months in prison after admitting that he stole the identity of a cancer patient and used the information to obtain credit cards in the patient's name. Gibson bought $9,100 worth of jewelry, video games and a barbecue grill using the cards.
"This case should serve as a reminder that misuse of patient information may result in criminal prosecution," McKay said at the time.
Langlie said prosecutors are waiting to see if Gibson attempts to withdraw his plea or a federal judge intervenes. She said he could be prosecuted for identity theft.
Peter Swire, who was the Clinton administration's top privacy law expert, called the opinion bad law and public policy.
"It looks like they decided on the outcome for political reasons, namely the health care industry's desire to get out from criminal prosecution," said Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University.
Officials at the Justice and Health and Human Services departments declined to comment Tuesday. The existence of the memo was first reported by The New York Times.
Robert Gellman, a consultant on privacy and information policy, said the memo leaves the bulk of the health care work force outside that interpretation.
"In terms of the misuse of records, it's not health care professionals who are the likely problems," Gellman said. "This didn't seem to be such a big issue just a few months ago, when they had the prosecution. I find it puzzling."
On the Net:
Justice Department memo:
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:35 PM
Senate Impasse on Bolton Persists
The White House rejects Democrats' proposal to obtain information on the U.N. nominee. The GOP seeks the 60 votes needed to end debate.
By Mary Curtius
Times Staff Writer
June 8, 2005
WASHINGTON — The Senate standoff over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations continued Tuesday, with the administration rejecting what Democrats said was their latest compromise offer.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) searched for the 60 votes he would need to cut off debate on the nomination, but it was unclear whether he would seek a Senate vote this week or delay the confirmation battle until at least next week.
Democrats narrowly blocked a confirmation vote on Bolton late last month, saying the administration was unfairly withholding information. At the time, Democrats insisted they would be prepared to vote once the administration answered questions about State Department disputes over Bolton's 2003 congressional testimony on Syria and about top-secret electronic surveillance reports Bolton sought over the last four years.
But prospects of an early vote seemed unlikely Tuesday. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) told colleagues at a closed-door luncheon that the administration had rejected a plan he offered over last week's recess to provide Democrats with information on reports sought by Bolton about National Security Agency intercepts of overseas communications. The agency electronically monitors such contacts on a regular basis.
Although it is not unusual for senior officials to seek edited transcripts of NSA intercepts, Bolton sought unedited versions that included the names of U.S. officials whose conversations were recorded. Democrats have said they want to be sure that Bolton did not do so to intimidate intelligence analysts.
Democrats have pressed for weeks to see the versions of the intercepts given to Bolton. Dodd said he had several conversations with John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, during the recess. Dodd then proposed in a letter to Negroponte that Democrats would prepare a list of names and submit them to the administration to be checked against the names included in the intercept transcripts provided to Bolton.
Negroponte said, according to Dodd, that he "spoke to higher authorities" and was told the administration could not accept the proposal.
"I got a response saying, 'No, they're done with it,' " Dodd said. "They've said no to everything we've asked for."
The White House dismissed Dodd's appeal as "another political stalling tactic."
"It is just more politics; it's not about documents," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "The Democratic leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee has already seen the information and said there was nothing improper."
Democrats have complained that the administration has refused to act on their request for the names of those who were monitored. As part of weeks of talks about Bolton, Senate Intelligence Committee leaders were shown the documents with the names edited.
Senate Republicans pointed out that ever since President Bush nominated Bolton in March, the administration has provided the Foreign Relations Committee with hundreds of documents and access to more than two dozen witnesses. Bolton has testified before the committee, answered written questions and met individually with many senators.
Bolton's nomination has suffered a string of setbacks, most notably when Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) joined with Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee to delay an April vote on the nomination and then force the committee to take the unusual step of sending it to the full Senate without recommending approval. Voinovich has agreed with Democrats' portrayal of Bolton as a heavy-handed manager who intimidated intelligence analysts.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Bush could end the impasse if he chose to. "This is not a standoff yet," he said after the luncheon. "It's up to the president. We're not the obstructionists. He is."
Three Democrats joined with the Republican majority before the Memorial Day recess to vote for cutting off debate on the Bolton nomination, but the 56-42 vote in favor of limiting debate fell short of the 60 votes needed.
Frist, who in a procedural move had voted in favor of continuing debate, this time would join the majority.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who missed the vote, is expected to vote in favor of limiting debate. Republican strategists say that if they hold on to every senator who voted to limit debate and Specter joins them, they need to gain only two more Democratic votes to prevent a filibuster. They then would be expected to easily confirm Bolton.
But one of the Democrats the GOP is said to be wooing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said the administration's refusal to accept Dodd's proposal had made her more determined to vote against limiting debate on the Bolton nomination.
"I think Chris Dodd made a very reasonable and practical proposal," said Feinstein, who voted before the recess against limiting debate on the nomination. "At best, this is a questionable nominee, and I think the questions should be answered."
Asked whether she was prepared to join in a Democratic filibuster of the nomination, Feinstein said: "At this stage, yes."
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who voted last month to cut off debate on the nomination, said that after hearing Dodd, he was uncertain how he would vote.
"Sen. Dodd tried to be very reasonable in finding a compromise solution here," Pryor said.
Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:36 PM
Pentagon Wasted Supplies, GAO Finds
By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 8, 2005; D01
The Defense Department spent at least $400 million in recent years buying boots, tents, bandages and other goods at the same time it was getting rid of identical items it had paid for but never used, government investigators told House members yesterday.
That finding came as part of a broader inquiry by the Government Accountability Office that uncovered deep flaws in the Pentagon's system for determining when it needs to buy new supplies and how it disposes of supposedly excess inventory.
Investigators discovered that out of $33 billion of goods the Defense Department marked as excess from 2002 through 2004, $4 billion was in excellent condition. Only about 12 percent of that was reused by the department. The other $3.5 billion "includes significant waste and inefficiency," the GAO said, because new or good-as-new items were "transferred and donated outside of DOD, sold for pennies on the dollar, or destroyed."
Investigators brought some of that equipment with them to the hearing of a House Government Reform Committee subcommittee yesterday. Among the items on display were unused military uniforms and medals that GAO had purchased off of a publicly available Web site intended for disposing of unwanted government property. The GAO also obtained the power-supply system for a component of a nuclear submarine that was on the Pentagon's "critical shortage" list at the time.
"We're not sure why DOD would be letting GAO have that. We don't have any nuclear submarines at GAO," said Gregory D. Kutz, the GAO's managing director for special investigations.
Subcommittee members reacted angrily to the findings.
"Waste on this scale affects our ability to meet the immediate needs of men and women in uniform," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who chaired the hearing. "The $400 million spent on unneeded equipment could have bought body armor, medical supplies or more than 1,700 fully armed Humvees to protect coalition forces against deadly improvised explosive devices."
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the only beneficiaries of the Pentagon's mismanagement are the companies that sell equipment to the government. "Federal contractors are reaping a bonanza while taxpayers are being gouged," Waxman said.
Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said the GAO's findings involved the waste of "an unbelievably staggering amount of money."
"Anybody who's not horrified by this does not deserve to be called a conservative," he said.
Pentagon officials testified that they generally agreed with the GAO's findings, saying new items had been accidentally labeled in some cases as excess inventory. The officials said they have made improvements, however, and plan to have a computer system up and running by January that would prevent Pentagon officials from buying new equipment that is already available internally.
"We do have a fix on the horizon," said Maj. Gen. Daniel G. Mongeon, director of logistics operations at the Defense Logistics Agency.
Yesterday's report followed GAO inquiries that uncovered evidence the Defense Department was selling unused biological- and chemical-weapons-resistant suits for $3 each. At the same time it was buying hundreds of thousands more for $200 apiece.
Investigators found that example typified a broader problem. For instance, they paid $2,898 for $79,649 worth of tires, badges, circuit cards and medical supplies. In some cases, the goods had been marked as junk but were delivered in their original packaging. At the same time, the Pentagon continued to order more of the same items from its suppliers.
The GAO concluded that the Pentagon could have saved $400 million in fiscal 2002 and 2003 had it used what it already owned, rather than buying more.
GAO investigators also found that at contractor-operated facilities where excess equipment was supposed to be liquidated, items were left exposed to rain and wind. Much of it ended up damaged beyond repair.
In addition, the Defense Department said that between 2002 and 2004, $466 million of equipment marked as excess -- including sensitive equipment such as missile warheads -- had been lost, stolen or damaged. Kutz, who said he believes the total of unaccounted-for equipment could be far higher, said the GAO will continue to investigate where those items ended up.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:32 PM
Details on Boeing Deal Sought
Senators Raise Questions About White House Involvement
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 8, 2005; A19
Senators urged the Pentagon's inspector general yesterday to release more information about the involvement of White House officials and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in an aborted $30 billion air-tanker deal that exposed gaping holes in the government's controls on large purchases.
The inspector general, Joseph E. Schmitz, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to present a 257-page report that concluded that Pentagon officials broke laws and regulations as they worked with Boeing Co. to complete a lease deal for 100 refueling planes. The deal was later canceled by Congress.
The report, released with 45 deletions of references to White House officials, called the existing controls inadequate and said the Defense Department "must change the cultural environment" of its purchasing bureaucracy. It shows in unprecedented detail how Pentagon officials worked with Boeing to tailor an expensive lease for the aircraft, which outside experts had said were not urgently needed.
A former Air Force acquisitions official, Darleen A. Druyun, is serving a prison term for violating ethics rules by negotiating a job with Boeing while she represented the Pentagon in the tanker deal. Former Boeing executive Michael M. Sears pleaded guilty to violating conflict-of-interest laws and is also in prison. Schmitz said that "at least" one other potential criminal violation may be referred to the U.S. attorney's office.
Former Air Force secretary James G. Roche said in a January letter to Schmitz, included in the report, that the tanker talks had included "senior White House staff" and President Bush's budget office.
Committee members said they may subpoena testimony from Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., who approved the deal when he was the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. Aldridge, who has since joined the board of directors of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., did not respond to inquiries from the inspector general.
Rumsfeld and his former deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, were among the 88 witnesses the inspector general's staff interviewed for the report, but Schmitz said he included nothing about them because he was told that, "in both cases, there wasn't much" that came out of the conversations.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) said he was "somewhat perplexed" that Schmitz had left the interviews to underlings. He expressed incredulity that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had nothing relevant to say about what the chairman called "the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Navy aviator who spearheaded the congressional investigations, said he found it "disturbing to find so much uniformed involvement in this issue" because he was "brought up that people in uniform stayed out of politics."
Two Air Force officials who testified yesterday -- including Gen. John P. Jumper, the chief of staff -- apologized to McCain for the snide references to his motivations in some e-mails cited in the report.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the committee's top Democrat, called the report "totally inadequate." He complained that too many e-mails from and about Bush's aides had been blanked out, even from the classified copy that senators could view in a secure room. "Critical gaps in this report have placed a cloud over it -- indeed, over the inspector general's office," he said.
The report is riddled with redactions of material concerning White House officials, lawmakers, Boeing executives and lower-ranking Pentagon officials who had roles in the lease deal. "There is no legal authority that would conceivably justify the redaction of this material from the report," Levin said.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. has previously been identified as playing a role in the negotiations. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Card had served "simply as an honest broker to make sure that all views were represented and to make sure that it was completed in a timely matter, because it was relating to a national security need that was pressing."
McClellan brushed off questions about whether the White House should be more transparent about its role. "Those who were involved in wrongdoing are being held accountable," he said.
Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that has been studying the case, said the report "throws cold water on the lone-gunman theory that Darleen Druyun is entirely to blame for this mess."
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:30 PM
Judging This Court
By George F. Will
Wednesday, June 8, 2005; A21
With the parties warring over the composition of the federal judiciary, and with a Supreme Court vacancy perhaps impending, Americans should use the court's end-of-term decisions as whetstones on which to sharpen their sense of the ambiguities in the categories -- "liberal," "conservative," "activist," "practitioner of judicial restraint" -- used when judges are discussed. Consider the case arising from the destruction, by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, of Diane Monson's homegrown marijuana plants, a case about which the court's two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, disagreed.
Monson, and another woman using homegrown marijuana recommended by her doctors, sought an injunction against enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act. Both said they had a right to their plants under California's Compassionate Use Act. Passed overwhelmingly by referendum in 1996, that act allows marijuana use by individuals whose doctors recommend it for the relief of pain or nausea. But this law -- 10 other states have similar ones -- runs contrary to the federal statute.
The two women argued against enforcement of that law, saying that the private use of homegrown marijuana has nothing to do with interstate commerce; hence Congress has no constitutional power to regulate it. On Monday the Supreme Court disagreed. In a 6 to 3 ruling, the court held that Congress's claim to exclusive regulatory authority over drugs, legal and illegal, fell well within its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This was predictable, given what the court said 63 years ago about an Ohio farmer's 239 bushels of homegrown wheat.
That, used for food, seeds and feed for livestock, was raised and used entirely on Roscoe Filburn's farm. None of it entered intrastate, let alone interstate, commerce. So Filburn argued that although the 239 bushels exceeded his production quotas under the federal Agricultural Adjustment Act, they were none of the federal government's business, and he refused to pay the stipulated penalty.
A unanimous Supreme Court disagreed, arguing that the cumulative effect of even minor and local economic activities can have interstate consequences. The court said even a small quantity of grain "supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Homegrown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce." That said, clearly Congress's power under the Commerce Clause is vast enough to permit Congress to decide that the use of even homegrown marijuana can affect the interstate market.
Writing for Monday's majority, Justice John Paul Stevens, perhaps the most liberal justice, was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy. Scalia concurred separately. Stevens said that one does not need "a degree in economics to understand why a nationwide exemption" for large quantities of marijuana cultivated for personal use could have a "substantial impact on the interstate market" for a commodity that Congress aims to "conquer." Scalia, responding to the two women's and the court minority's invocation of states' sovereignty, cited a previous court ruling that Congress may regulate even when its regulation "may pre-empt express state-law determinations contrary to the result which has commended itself to the collective wisdom of Congress."
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a former Arizona state legislator, dissented, echoing Justice Louis Brandeis's judgment that federalism is supposed to allow a single state to be a "laboratory" to "try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." Her dissent was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote the court's opinion in a 1995 case that conservatives mistakenly hoped would signal substantial inhibitions on Congress in the name of federalism. In that case, the court overturned, as an invalid exercise of the power to regulate commerce, a federal law regulating the possession of guns near schools.
Thomas, the justice least respectful of precedents, joined O'Connor's dissent and also dissented separately, disregarding many precedents giving almost infinite elasticity to the Commerce Clause. He said that the women's marijuana was never bought or sold, never crossed state lines and had no "demonstrable" effect on the national market for marijuana: "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything," including "quilting bees, clothes drives and potluck suppers." Thus "the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers." But that has been the case at least since 1942.
In Monday's decision, which of the justices were liberal, which were conservative? Which exemplified judicial activism, which exemplified restraint? Such judgments are not as easy as many suppose.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:28 PM
Poll: Bush Performance Ratings Plummet
Concerns on Iraq and Domestic Policy Underlie a Rising Political Alienation
Analysis by Gary Langer
Jun. 7, 2005 - The corrosive effects of the war in Iraq and a growing disconnect on political priorities have pushed George W. Bush's performance ratings -- notably on terrorism -- to among the worst of his career, casting a pall over his second term and potentially over his party's prospects ahead.
For the first time, most Americans, 55 percent, say Bush has done more to divide than to unite the country. A career-high 52 percent disapprove of his job performance overall, and, in another first, a bare majority rates him unfavorably on a personal level. Most differ with him on issues ranging from the economy and Social Security to stem-cell research and nuclear power.
Iraq is a major thorn. With discontent over U.S. casualties at a new peak, a record 58 percent say the war there was not worth fighting. Nearly two-thirds think the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, up 11 points since March. Forty-five percent go so far as to foresee the equivalent of another Vietnam.
Fifty-two percent, the first majority to say so, think the Iraq war has failed to improve the long-term security of the United States, its fundamental rationale. As an extension -- and perhaps most hazardously in political terms -- approval of Bush's handling of terrorism, the base of his support, has lost 11 points since January to match its low, 50 percent in June 2004 when it was pressured both by the presidential campaign and the kidnapping and slaying of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.
All these underscore a broad sense of lost promise for the president: In January, 55 percent of Americans expected Bush to do a better job in his second term than in his first. Today, vastly fewer, 30 percent, say in fact he's doing so.
And even though they remain staunchly supportive, the letdown in expectations is biggest in Bush's own back yard, among Republicans.
Parties and Politics
These views are accompanied by a sense of alienation not just from the president but from both parties in Washington. Disapproval of Congress, at 54 percent, is its highest in more than six years, and six in 10 Americans say Bush and the Republicans, who control both Houses, are not making good progress in solving the nation's problems.
About as many also say neither Bush nor the Republicans are concentrating on what's important to them personally. And the Democrats in Congress barely fare better: Fifty-three percent say they're not concentrating on the right issues either.
On balance, Americans now slightly favor the Democrats over the Republicans, by 46 percent-41 percent, in trust to deal with the country's problems, the first Democratic advantage in this question, however slight, in ABC/Post polls since 9/11. Nonetheless, the Democrats seem to have capitalized only marginally at best on the current discontent. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of the job performance of both parties in Congress, and both have seen their basic favorability ratings slide to about the 50-50 mark.
The impact on the still far-off 2006 mid-term elections is hardly clear. Whatever their views of Congress, Bush and the political parties, 61 percent approve of the way their own representative in Congress is handling his or her job. That is well above the low of 49 percent shortly before the earth-shaking midterms of 1994.
Current sentiment may give the Democrats an opportunity, but it's one they haven't yet seized to any notable extent. For Republican candidates, meanwhile, these results suggest the safest course may be at a respectful distance from the president.
Among specific domestic issues, Social Security may best underscore Bush's difficulties. In terms of public attitudes, his assiduous sales campaign has come to naught: Sixty-two percent disapprove of his work on Social Security.
Support for a stock-market option, once the most attractive component of Bush's proposals, is stuck at about 50-50. And if establishing a stock-market option means reducing the growth of guaranteed benefits, support falls steeply, to just 27 percent.
Moreover, Americans perceive pain, but without gain, from the president's plans. Fifty-six percent think Bush's proposals would decrease the total amount of retirement income most seniors receive. Yet even more, 63 percent, do not believe the plan would improve the long-term financial stability of Social Security.
Young adults are more receptive than others to Bush's proposals; in particular, among those under 30 years old, 71 percent like the idea of a stock-market option. But even in this group, support falls to 40 percent if establishing a stock-market option required reducing the rate of growth in guaranteed benefits. And 57 percent of young adults think Bush's proposals would not improve the system's long-term finances.
Handling the retirement system isn't the only domestic issue on which Bush has trouble. Ratings of the economy have grown a bit less sour -- 44 percent positive, up seven points from April -- and most people are optimistic about the economy in the year ahead. Yet a majority, 58 percent, disapproves of how Bush is handling it, one point from his career worst in March 2004.
Most, 55 percent, also disapprove of Bush's handling of the issue of stem-cell research, an issue he has chosen to highlight recently. And on energy policy, the public divides on allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and by 64 percent-34 percent broadly oppose building new nuclear power plants. That represents a drop in support for more nuclear plants since 2001, contrary to Bush's efforts to promote their construction.
Another result underscores the conundrum Bush faces as 9/11 grows more distant: His success in preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil tends to move the issue down as a public priority. Just 12 percent call it the top issue facing the country, compared with 30 percent who cite the economy; 24 percent, Iraq; 16 percent, health care; and 13 percent, Social Security.
In what's likely a related result, Americans now divide, 50 percent-46 percent, on whether, as it conducts the war on terrorism, the United States is or is not doing enough to protect the rights of American citizens. In 2002 and 2003 polls, by contrast, anywhere from 61 percent to 74 percent said it was doing enough.
Previous polling has indicated that Americans are willing to sacrifice some rights and privacy in times of national crisis, but then tend to demand an end to any such intrusions as the crisis passes. To the extent that's beginning to occur, it opens the door for further skepticism about administration policy.
In a basic measure of personal popularity, 48 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Bush overall, 51 percent unfavorable, the first time he's gotten a majority unfavorable rating, however slightly.
Of two other political figures tested, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a rating of 51 percent-46 percent, favorable to unfavorable, marginally better than Bush's, but hardly powerful. Better overall is Sen. John McCain, with 57 percent favorable, 32 percent unfavorable. McCain, a Republican, and Clinton, a Democrat, are possible candidates for president in 2008.
McCain's favorability crosses ideological and party lines in a way Bush's and Clinton's do not -- a good profile for a general election campaign, but not necessarily for winning primaries. Indeed, reflecting his 2000 campaign difficulties, McCain is weaker among conservatives (48 percent favorable) than among moderates or liberals (63 percent and 62 percent, respectively), and conservatives account for a disproportionate share of Republican primary voters. Clinton, by contrast, is much more popular among liberals (75 percent favorable) than among moderates (55 percent) or conservatives (31 percent).
Roughly equal numbers of Americans in this survey identify themselves as Republicans (31 percent) and Democrats (30 percent). These groups very sharply differ on many of these issues; it's the center -- independents -- where some of Bush's negatives turn into majorities.
Overall, for instance, while 84 percent of Republicans approve of Bush's performance, just 38 percent of independents (and 21 percent of Democrats) agree. And intensity is greater on the negative side: Among all Americans, 38 percent disapprove "strongly" of Bush's performance, compared with 27 percent who approve strongly.
Ideology tells a similar story: Bush has 68 percent approval from conservatives, but that drops to 44 percent among moderates, and further among liberals, to 24 percent.
There are other gaps, including a huge regional difference: Sixty percent of Southerners approve of Bush's work, compared with 32 percent in the Northeast, and 44 percent in the Midwest and West alike.
On terrorism, the decline in Bush's ratings since April occurred among men (approval down 12 points) and non-whites (down 20 points). It's also fallen twice as far among independents, down 14 points, as among Democrats or Republicans.
As noted, the biggest letdown in expectations of Bush's second-term performance has been among Republicans: In January, 82 percent thought he'd do a better job; today, 44 percent say he is -- 38 points fewer. The letdown is 24 points among independents, and 17 points among Democrats, who had particularly low expectations.
Another result describes the increasing narrowness of Bush's support. The only population groups in which majorities say he's concentrating on issues that are important to them personally are Republicans, evangelical white Protestants, conservatives and better-off Americans, those with household incomes of $75,000 a year or more.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone June 2-5, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
Go to this link:
for a PDF version with full questionnaire and results.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:33 AM