Sunday, December 31, 2006

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

December the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq

Yahoo! News
Dec. the deadliest month for U.S. troops
By LAUREN FRAYER, Associated Press Writer

Three more Marines and a soldier were killed in battle in Iraq, the military said Friday, making December the year's deadliest month for U.S. troops with the toll reaching 108.

The Marines, all assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, died Thursday of wounds from fighting in western Anbar province, the U.S. military said. The soldier was killed in Karmah Thursday by small arms fire, the military said. Separately, the family of another soldier said he died Wednesday in Texas of injuries suffered in Iraq.

Their deaths pushed the toll past the 105 U.S. service members killed in October.

At least 2,997 members of the U.S. military have been killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an AP count. That count includes two soldiers the military has classified as Iraq casualties, but the AP has not confirmed as Iraq-related deaths.

Iraqis braced for possible violence as former dictator Saddam Hussein was executed for war crimes Saturday morning. Before the former Iraqi dictator was hanged, American and Iraqi officials expressed concern about the potential for a spike in unrest.

Friday's violence was not heavier than usual.

A suicide bomber killed at least nine people near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, and 32 tortured bodies were found across the country.

American troops killed six people and destroyed a weapons cache in separate raids in Baghdad and northwest of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. military said. One of the raids targeted two buildings in the village of Thar Thar, where U.S. troops found 16 pounds of homemade explosives, two large bombs, a rocket-propelled grenade, suicide vests and multiple batteries, the military said.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops entered a mosque southeast of Baghdad, capturing 13 suspects and confiscating weapons, the U.S. military also said.

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt detonated himself near a Shiite mosque in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding about a dozen, police said.

Twenty-two bodies showing signs of torture were found dumped on the streets of the Iraqi capital Friday, and 10 more were found in Baqouba northeast of Baghdad, police and morgue officials said.

December was shaping up to be one of the worst months for Iraqi civilian deaths since The Associated Press began keeping track in May 2005.

Through Thursday, at least 2,139 Iraqis have been killed in war-related or sectarian violence, an average rate of about 76 people a day, according to an AP count. That compares to at least 2,184 killed in November at an average of about 70 a day, the worst month for Iraqi civilians deaths since May 2005. In October, AP counted at least 1,216 civilians killed.

The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

Also Friday, gunmen killed two oil company employees in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said. A civilian was shot dead near his home in another attack in the same area.

Two more civilians and a policeman died in separate attacks in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, police said.

A round of mortar shells slammed into al-Maidan square in central Baghdad, wounding 10 people and damaging shops and buildings in the area, a police officer at Rissafa police station said on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.

A roadside bomb wounded three civilians in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.


Saddam Hussein hanged: witnesses

Saddam Hussein hanged: witnesses
By Claudia Parsons and Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein was hanged at dawn on Saturday, a dramatic end for a leader who ruled Iraq by fear for three decades before a U.S. invasion toppled him and was then convicted of crimes against humanity.

As day broke on one of the holiest days of the Muslim year and the call to prayer echoed out from minarets across a dark and bitterly cold Baghdad, officially-backed television channels flashed the news shortly after six a.m. (10:00 p.m. EST).

"It happened before my eyes," one Iraqi official said.

"He has been executed," said a senior U.S. official in Washington, where the death of a man branded a dangerous tyrant and threat to world security was welcomed by an administration facing mounting public dismay at a war in which the American death toll is fast approaching 3,000.

President Bush said Saddam's execution was an important milestone on Iraq's path to democracy.

"Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself," Bush said in a statement from his Texas ranch.

Details of the execution were scant but state television Iraqiya said Saddam, 69, had mounted the scaffold first, followed by his half-brother and a former judge who were convicted with him last month for killing 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail.

"The three men were executed. First Saddam Hussein, then Barzan al-Tikriti and then Awad al-Bander," an Iraqiya announcer said, reading what he said was an official statement.

The event was filmed but it was unclear when or if images would be shown to help convince Iraqis Saddam is dead.

It was not clear where the executions took place, although key officials who were to attend the hanging had told Reuters they had been told to gather in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone government compound.

An early execution will delight Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ites, who were oppressed under Saddam, but may anger Saddam's resentful Sunni minority as well as some Kurds who were hoping to see him convicted of genocide against him.

Some officials had believed the start of the week-long Eid al-Adha holiday at noon, coinciding with the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, would have caused a delay of the execution before a late night meeting between Maliki and U.S. officials agreed the final procedures.


Washington may also be hoping it marks the turning of a new page in Iraq as Bush prepares to unveil a new direction in Iraq policy amid public anger at the war.

The death of three Marines, announced on Saturday, took the American death toll since the March 2003 invasion to 2,996.

Defense lawyer Issam Jhazzawi told Reuters Saddam's exiled daughters in Jordan had braced for his imminent death. "The family are praying for him every minute and are calling on God that He let his soul rest in peace among the martyrs," he said.

His daughter Raghd, in Jordan, "is asking that his body be buried in Yemen temporarily until Iraq is liberated and it can be reburied in Iraq," a source close to the family said.

Seeking an 11th hour reprieve, defense lawyers asked a U.S. federal court to order a halt to the execution because Saddam is a defendant in a civil case in Washington. But a U.S. judge denied the move, saying Saddam was not being held in U.S. custody and as a result her court lacked jurisdiction.

U.S. troops are on alert for trouble from insurgents among Saddam's Sunni minority. While there were some protests at November's verdict by a U.S.-sponsored court, few Sunnis have deep feelings about the fate of the fallen strongman.

The governor of Salahaddin province said on Friday if Saddam was executed he would declare a four-day curfew in Tikrit, Saddam's home town. There was no word on whether Baghdad would be under curfew, as regularly happens at tense moments.

An execution at the start of Eid is highly symbolic. The feast marks the sacrifice the prophet Abraham was prepared to make when God ordered him to kill his son and many Shi'ites could regard Saddam's death as a gift from God. Such symbolism could further anger Sunnis, resentful of new Shi'ite power.

Saddam was found guilty over the killing, torture and other crimes against the Shi'ite population of the town of Dujail after Shi'ite militants tried to assassinate him there in 1982.

Saddam, who said in court he had no fear of dying, had a farewell meeting with two of his half-brothers on Thursday, his lawyers said, adding the fallen dictator was in high spirits.

International human rights groups criticized the year-long trial, during which three defense lawyers were killed and a chief judge resigned complaining of political interference.

The United Nations and many of Washington's Western allies called on Bush and Maliki not to go ahead with the execution.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Dubai and Mariam Karouny and Mussab Al-Khairalla in Baghdad)


Disputed Fla. election to spill into U.S. House

Disputed Fla. election to spill into U.S. House
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A disputed election result in a U.S. House of Representatives race in Florida will be one of the first items raised when the Democratic-controlled House convenes next week, injecting partisan politics into the start of the 110th Congress.

Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who has pushed for better safeguards on electronic voting machines, said on Friday he would make a procedural point to establish the swearing-in of Florida Republican Vern Buchanan does not prejudice ongoing challenges by his Democratic opponent, Christine Jennings.

"This is a district, Sarasota area in Florida, where there's no way of knowing whether the result presented by Florida's secretary of state is valid. In fact, I think there is significant evidence that it is not," Holt told reporters.

Buchanan was certified the winner of the November 7 election by a 369-vote margin. Oddly, about 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County had no votes recorded for the disputed House race, while other races on those ballots were voted on.

The disputed Florida seat had been held by Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who certified George W. Bush as the winner of the disputed 2000 presidential race in Florida over Al Gore.

Jennings suffered a legal setback on Friday when a Florida judge denied a request by her and groups including the ACLU and People for the American Way Foundation to examine the voting machine hardware and software.

Florida Circuit Court Judge William Gary said no evidence had been provided of malfunctions and that granting access to the machines would "result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets" associated with the equipment.

David Becker, senior attorney for People for the American Way Foundation, said a review of the judge's ruling would be requested. "We need to look inside these machines, just like if it was a ballot box eating ballots," Becker said.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner, said the matter was settled.

"Florida authorities conducted a thorough audit of the voting machines used in the district and found no system breakdowns or abnormalities." He added: "The election is over. Vern Buchanan won."


Holt said he would make the "formal inquiry" immediately after Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California is sworn in as speaker of the House on Thursday.

Democrats wrested the House and Senate from Republican control in November's elections.

Jennings has also asked the House Administration Committee to investigate the balloting. Ultimately, in disputed elections, the House has the last word on who is a member of the legislative body.

Close elections are not uncommon and fights over results sometimes poison the atmosphere between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

A glaring example was the 1984 race between Indiana Democrat Frank McCloskey and Republican Richard McIntyre. McCloskey was thought to have won narrowly, but a recount gave McIntyre an edge and Indiana's Republican secretary of state certified him the winner. Democrats in control of the House then ordered a recount by the U.S. General Accounting Office and McCloskey won by four votes.

Republicans were bitter about the result for years.


British technology pioneer Andrew Hopper becomes a CBE in the New Year Honours list

UK home computer pioneer honoured
British technology pioneer Andrew Hopper becomes a CBE in the New Year Honours list.

Professor Hopper has been made a Commander of the British Empire for services to the computer industry.

Now the head of the University of Cambridge computer lab, Prof Hopper is best known for his part in founding iconic British technlogy firm Acorn.

The personal computer maker was widely influential and developed technologies that are in wide use today.

Born in 1953 and educated at the University of Wales, Swansea and Cambridge, Prof Hopper won his PhD by doing early work on high-speed computer networks.

In 1978 along with Hermann Hauser, Prof Hopper founded Acorn Computers that went on to make machines which proved very popular in the UK.

It was behind the Acorn Electron and Archimedes machines and also built the fondly remembered BBC Micro. The machines found wide usage in the 1980s and early 1990s. Acorn was broken up in 2000.

One of the most influential subsidiaries that grew out of Acorn was Advanced RISC Machines which is now known as ARM. The chip designs of this firm are found in enormous numbers of portable gadgets - particularly mobile phones.

Prof Hopper has also done pioneering work on many high-speed wireless networking technologies and most recently founded a company called Ubisense that aims to develop sensor networks.

He is known to be a keen amateur pilot, owns a six-seater Cessna and has a runway in the grounds of his home in Cambridgeshire.


Immense ice shelf breaks off in Canadian Arctic

Yahoo! News
Immense ice shelf breaks off in Canadian Arctic

An enormous ice shelf broke away from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, researchers said, warning it could be another symptom of global warming.

The 66-square-kilometer (25.5-square-mile) ice island tore away from Ellesmere, a huge strip of land in the Canadian Arctic close to Greenland.

The actual break took place in August 2005 and was detected by sensors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away, but at the time no one was able to pinpoint what had happened.

The Canadian Ice Service contacted geographer Luke Copland at the University of Ottawa, who was able to reconstruct the chain of events by piecing together seismic data and satellite images supplied by Canada and the United States.

"This loss is the biggest in 25 years, but it continues the loss that occurred within the last century," Copland told AFP, noting that ice cover was down by 90 percent since this area was discovered in 1906.

"What is important and interesting is that it is sudden, quite large even. In the past, we looked to climate change (and) thought perhaps ice shelves ... would just melt apart by losing a little piece day by day, but it now seems that when you reach some kind of threshold, when you reach that level, the whole thing just breaks apart."


Friday, December 29, 2006

How Christians should respond to Holocaust denial
Gellman: Christians Must Reassert Holocaust Truth
How Christians should respond to Holocaust denial.
By Marc Gellman

Dec. 26, 2006 - The Bible has many names for what we call sin. At the top of the sin hierarchy is a Hebrew word, toevah, which is most often translated as “abomination.” An abomination is not just wrong, not just sinful. It is a knowing and ruthless corruption. The recent Holocaust-deniers meeting convened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not a conference, it was an abomination in the full biblical sense of the word.

The question is who ought to have the primary responsibility for correcting this abomination? I think it ought to be Christians, and not Jews, who lead the way in reasserting the truth of genocide.

American blacks do not need to understand the institution of slavery in the United States. Whites do. They need to try to comprehend how otherwise decent people could buy and sell human beings, like one might buy or sell chickens or pigs. How could anyone do this and still go to church and pray to God to bless their families? Selling another human being is not just a mistake. It is an abomination. American blacks understand slavery already. Slavery in the United States is a white problem.

What is true about slavery is also true about the Holocaust. The first response to Holocaust denial is almost always sought, or reflexively offered, from one or another Jewish organization. This is wrong. The Holocaust was a terrible wound for the Jewish people, but it is a supreme challenge to Christians, who need to understand how otherwise decent people could gas and burn and starve and torture and bury alive other human beings just because they were Jews or gypsies or homosexuals or socialists. How could a cultured people, the people of Beethoven and Goethe, do this and still go to church and pray to God to bless their families? Committing genocide is not just a mistake. It is an abomination.

Jews understand the Holocaust because one out of every three Jews who were alive in 1933 had been murdered by 1945. Six million dead out of 18 million. For Jews to respond to Holocaust denial is humiliating and ineffective. Christians must say that it happened and explain as best they can why it happened and why it must never happen again. The Christians who must fight the abomination in Tehran are not guilty. They are not the killers, and most of them are not the children or even the grandchildren of the killers. They must explain it, because the Holocaust was an abomination committed by Christians against Jews.

Christians must also fight Holocaust denial because they must understand that if it gains one iota in credibility among the merely semi-lunatic members of our world, as opposed to the fully lunatic ones who participated in the conference in Tehran, then something important will be broken in our moral calculus. If the Holocaust can be denied, then there is no radical evil that cannot be ignored. If Auschwitz was merely a detention stop for a few healthy Jewish workers, then the idea that the CIA was behind 9/11 suddenly seems reasonable. If the overwhelming historical documentation of genocide and mass murder means nothing at all, then we are all lost. If the Holocaust never occurred, then perhaps Rwanda and Bosnia and Cambodia and Uganda and Darfur and Biafra and the Gulags also never occurred, or at the very least all of them ought to be subjected to analysis by madmen.

Holocaust denial is not about Jews, it is about the truth, and supporting and defending the truth cannot be the burden of the Jewish people alone.

Holocaust denial must also be of primary significance to Christians, because now there is no difference between Jew hatred and Christian hatred. In the war against jihadism there is no difference any longer between being a Christian and being a Jew. When it was Christians killing Jews, we were separated by hatred. Now that it is Muslim fanatics killing Christians and Jews, we are united by hatred. And we are united with atheists and all freedom-loving people everywhere who do not want to see the world ruled by these fanatics' version of Sharia law. It is no coincidence that the convener of the Holocaust deniers is also the greatest threat to world peace. To believe in an abomination is the first step to committing an abomination.


Hundreds of laws kick in Monday

Hundreds of laws kick in Monday
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

In California, driving with people in the trunk will be illegal. In Alabama, landlords will have to provide livable conditions for tenants.

Illinois agencies will have to provide people to answer phones, not just automated messages.

These are among the hundreds of laws that will take effect Monday. Each New Year's Day, a flurry of legal experiments begin that shape Americans' lives.

The U.S. government spends twice as much money as state and local governments combined, but state government has the greatest effect on Americans' everyday lives — how they drive, how they get married and divorced, how they hunt and fish, and how they buy cigarettes and beer.

This year, new laws include minimum wage hikes, tighter protections on personal privacy and expanded health care rights for consumers. The minimum wage will rise Monday in eight states: to $6.15 an hour in North Carolina, to $7.65 in Connecticut and to somewhere in between in Delaware, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Raising the federal minimum wage — $5.15 an hour — is a priority of Democrats, who will take control of Congress in January.

More than a dozen states will move to protect personal privacy. Arkansas will make it illegal to publicly show someone's Social Security number.

Maryland will order Social Security numbers removed from paychecks. Eight states will let victims of identity theft freeze their credit reports, so the information can't be released in ways that would hurt their reputation or let crooks get more credit.

States also will address complex moral issues, such as how people die.

Idaho will become the 10th state to create a central registry for medical directives and living wills that control end-of-life care.

Other new laws:

•California: People are prohibited from riding in car trunks. High school kids have put friends in trunks to avoid limits on how many teens can ride with newly licensed drivers. "Trunking" has been linked to nine deaths since 2000.

•Louisiana: Couples with children will have to wait a year after separating to file for divorce. The waiting period is designed to encourage reconciliation.

•New York: "Timothy's Law" will require insurers to provide more mental health coverage. It is named after Timothy O'Clair, 12, who committed suicide in 2001.

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The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2006
The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2006

Hackable Passports

In October, the U.S. State Department began issuing biometric “ePassports” that contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag under the back cover. The tiny chip holds the usual passport data, including a digital photo. The motive behind adding the chips is ostensibly good: to combat counterfeiting and illegal immigration.

But a German hacker quickly found a vulnerability. With a laptop and a chip reader he bought for $200, he was able to steal data from an encrypted RFID tag, potentially allowing him to clone an ePassport. And it’s not just Americans who are at risk. Twenty-seven countries (mostly in Europe) that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are required by U.S. law to issue the new electronic passports to their citizens. The Dutch and British media have already reported major security flaws in the new IDs.

So, what’s a security conscious citizen to do? Again, the answer may come out of Germany. A group of hackers there recommends that people microwave the new passports to destroy the chips. The State Department may want to go back to relying on a paper trail.

What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure.

In 2006, bird flu didn’t become the killer pandemic everyone feared. In fact, there were no confirmed deaths in developed countries from bird flu. But the alarm, stoked by Western media reports, led to an unexpected—and unfortunate—outcome: A rash of abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and even deaths attributed to Tamiflu, the medicine marketed as a key drug capable of fighting the disease. In November, the Canadian health ministry issued a warning on Tamiflu after 10 Canadians taking the drug had died suspiciously. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received more than 100 reports of injury and delirium among Tamiflu takers for a 10-month period in 2005 and 2006. That’s nearly as many cases as were logged over the drug’s five-year trial period. For now, the cure seems worse than the disease.

Petro Powers Drop the Dollar

If you thought record oil prices this year were a pain in your wallet, there’s more bad news on the horizon. The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. And Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars.

That decrease is swift and significant—and helps to explain why the dollar recently fell to a 20-month low against the euro and a 14-year low against the British pound. Holding dollars while other currencies gain strength means less profit for oil producers. But if they rapidly divest themselves of dollars, it may weaken the currency and push up inflation in the United States. “This new trend may be bigger trouble for the United States than high oil prices and surging Chinese exports,” says Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. If this year’s move away from the dollar is a sign of future thinking by oil producers, the pain felt at the pump may soon be the least of our worries.

The Gender Gap Gets Smaller

It was a good year for women in politics. Female heads of state took office in Chile and Liberia, and Hillary Clinton and Ségolène Royal set tongues wagging in Washington and Paris over their own presidential prospects. But it was also a great year for future female leaders, especially those in poor countries.

A report released in February by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau found that the gender gap in secondary education is closing or has closed in most developing countries. Particularly in Latin America and Asia, girls are attending school at the same rate—or higher—than boys. In 1990 in China, for example, 75 girls attended secondary school for every 100 boys. Today, that figure is 97. In India, girls’ enrollment shot up from 60 percent to 81 percent. Though sub-Saharan Africa lagged behind the rest of the world, it too saw more girls in the classroom.

The shift isn’t due to an unexpected worldwide surge in favor of gender equality. The more likely explanation is that urbanization and economic development has boosted girls’ likelihood of attending school, as has a number of innovative government and private-sector programs. In India, for example, UNICEF credits basic sanitation and hygiene education programs in Alwar with increasing girls’ enrollment by 78 percent over a five-year period. Given the clear link between girls’ education and a society’s economic success, it’s good news everyone can celebrate.

Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the better part of 2006 denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel, his country was sitting down with Israeli representatives to settle old debts. The clandestine talks, first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz this month, concern hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly owed to Iran for oil it supplied to Israel before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Iran severed the two countries’ economic ties dating back to the 1950s. According to the report, negotiations over the debt have been on-again and off-again for nearly two decades, and the two sides met recently in Geneva in an attempt to reach an agreement.

It’s unclear why Israeli and Swiss officials are now willing to confirm that the talks are taking place. However, there is one leading theory: The leak was timed to embarrass Iran by publicizing its cooperation with a country it refuses to recognize. And the strategy may have worked. Iran swiftly and vehemently denied it’s secretly talking to the Jewish state. It just goes to show, money talks.

United States Funds the Taliban

The Taliban’s resurgence brought the ongoing war in Afghanistan back onto the front pages in 2006. From record opium production to suicide bombings, the outlook has only grown dimmer in the past 12 months. What you probably didn’t hear is that some of the money the United States is spending to combat the resurgence of the Taliban is winding up in the hands of . . . the Taliban.

As recently as November, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting revealed that villagers in Afghanistan’s war-torn south were handing over U.S. cash meant for reconstruction projects to Taliban fighters, who then use the money to purchase weapons, cell phones, and explosives. As part of an effort to stimulate economic development in the country, the United States had committed $43.5 million for reconstruction as of September. One Canadian officer charged with helping to distribute cash said that “millions” has already gone missing in the five years since coalition troops arrived. Why? According to the report, local mullahs have urged residents to fight the foreign occupation and hand over the money in the hopes of gaining back the security they’ve lost. Others say it’s simple extortion from Taliban thugs. Either way, the United States may inadvertently be aiding the enemy in a fight that will almost certainly become more costly in the year ahead.

Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race

When Costa Rican President Oscar Arias spoke at a September conference sponsored by the Miami Herald, one sentence stood out: “Latin America has begun a new arms race.” He was referring to the sudden uptick in major arms deals in the region, largely between Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and their newest patron, Russia. The deals have left the region flush with shiny new tanks, fighter jets, and custom-built presidential helicopters.

The Latin arms trade is as much about politics as it is weapons. Not long after Brazil announced a deal to purchase roughly $300 million in Russian military equipment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would back Brazil’s bid for a seat in the U.N. Security Council. It’s not just Brazil’s military that has a hard time saying nyet to Russian firms. Venezuela inked a more than $1 billion deal in July for Russian jets and helicopters. There’s even talk of Moscow relocating Kalashnikov gun and ammo factories to Venezuela, next door to Colombia’s ammunition-strapped FARC rebels. With Venezuela’s populist anti-American president Hugo Chávez seeking to dominate Latin American politics, U.S. officials are concerned, especially given the United States’ sliding popularity in the region. More dangerous, though, is Latin America’s militarization. More guns and less butter is the last thing the troubled region needs.

Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab

When U.S. President George W. Bush signed the $532 billion federal defense spending bill in October, there were the usual budgetary turf battles on Capitol Hill. But largely overlooked was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law to restrict the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation.

Ostensibly, the move aims to streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies that left thousands of New Orleanians stranded last summer. Yet the Insurrection Act that existed when Katrina struck didn’t actually hinder the president’s ability to send federal troops. He simply chose not to.

Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Is martial law more likely than before? Perhaps not. But the fact that the revisions were slipped into a defense bill without a national debate gives ammunition to those who argue the administration is still trampling on civil liberties five years after 9/11.

China Runs up African Debt

The debt-relief deal struck at last year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit, where rich countries promised to forgive about $40 billion in debts owed by poor countries, was supposed to be a turning point in Africa’s development, a chance to wipe its economic slate clean. Then came China. The rapidly industrializing country has emerged as a top lender to poor African countries, and that has many international development organizations worried that years of campaigning for debt relief will be set back by a new wave of bad loans.

The World Bank estimates that Chinese loans for African infrastructure already total more than $12.5 billion. In November, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to provide another $5 billion in loans to Africa by 2009. Many of these deals are believed to be similar to commercial loans rather than the low-interest, long-term credits extended by multilateral development banks. It’s hard to know the full extent of the risk because China usually refuses to divulge the terms of the deals. Development experts now fear that aggressive lending by Chinese banks will land Africa back where it started—in the red.

India Helps Iran Build the Bomb, While the White House Looks the Other Way

The U.S. government usually takes a hard line against countries that assist Iran with its nuclear program. In 2006 alone, Washington sanctioned firms in Cuba, North Korea, and Russia for making it a little easier for Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction. But, when the proliferator is a close American ally, the United States seems to take a different approach.

Just after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to support a plan to provide India with nuclear technology, the Bush administration quietly imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for supplying Tehran with missile parts. Nor was the White House forthcoming with congress about other blots on India’s proliferation record: In the past two years, two other Indian companies have been penalized for allegedly passing chemical weapons information to Iran, and two Indian scientists who ran the state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after they allegedly passed heavy-water nuclear technology to Tehran. Far from scuttling India’s nuclear deal, the United States seems to have rewarded the country by overturning 30 years of nonproliferation policy in its favor.


Ford disagreed with Bush over Iraq invasion: WPost

Ford disagreed with Bush over Iraq invasion: WPost

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush and his top advisers made a "big mistake" in their justification for invading Iraq, Gerald Ford told journalist Bob Woodward in an interview embargoed until after the former president's death.

Ford, who died on Tuesday at his home in California at age 93, said he would not have gone to war, based on what was known publicly at the time, said the report on The Washington Post Web site on Wednesday.

"I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," Ford said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

In a four-hour tape-recorded interview in July 2004, Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq advocated and carried out by key Bush advisers and veterans of his own administration -- Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- reported Woodward.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said.

"And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

The Bush administration's initial justification for the war was that Iraq posed a threat because it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. None were found.

The interview and a subsequent conversation in 2005 were done for a future book project, although Ford, who became president in 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, said his comments could be published any time after his death, Woodward wrote.

Woodward's reporting with fellow Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein played a key role in uncovering the Watergate scandal.

Ford was quoted as saying he understood the theory of "wanting to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest."

He added, "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

Woodward said Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld, while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

"He (Cheney) was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president.

According to the article, Ford said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."


Messages to Spies Are Coded but Not Hidden Over Shortwave, Anyone Can Listen
Messages to Spies Are Coded but Not Hidden
Over Shortwave, Anyone Can Listen
By James Gordon Meek
New York Daily News

It turns out that anybody can tune in to the world's top spy agencies talking to operatives. All you need is a cheap shortwave-radio receiver, the kind available at any drugstore.

Tune it to 6855 or 8010 kHz.

On the hour, you might hear a girlish voice repeating strings of numbers monotonously in Spanish. "Nueve, uno, nueve, tres, cinco-cinco, cuatro, cinco, tres, dos . . .," went one seemingly harmless message heard last month on a Grundig radio.

It was the Cuban Intelligence Directorate or Russian FSB broadcasting coded instructions from Havana to spies inside the United States.

Turn the dial up to 11545 kHz, and you might hear a few notes of an obscure English folk song, "Lincolnshire Poacher," followed by a voice repeating strings of numbers. That's believed to be British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, broadcasting from Cyprus.

On 6840 kHz, you may hear a voice reading groups of letters. That's a station nicknamed "E10," thought to be Israel's Mossad intelligence.

Chris Smolinski runs and the "Spooks" e-mail list, where "number stations" hobbyists log hundreds of shortwave messages transmitted every month. "It's like a puzzle. They're mystery stations," explained Smolinski, who has tracked the spy broadcasts for 30 years.

While hobbyists guess at the meaning of each cryptic message or which spy service sent it, it's no mystery to intelligence officials, who confirmed the purpose is espionage.

The signals are too strong to be made by amateurs and are often on licensed frequencies. The State Department once complained to the Israeli Embassy in Washington that "E10" was blocking a U.S. broadcast, a source said.

"I can't imagine who else would waste the time in front of a microphone reading numbers" but a spy, said James Bamford, who has written about intelligence. Bamford calls number stations "simple but effective" spycraft.

"It's extremely effective," agreed a senior intelligence official. "If you have a one-time pad, the code can't be broken, and you can send out dummy broadcasts as much as you want to confuse your enemy."

A "one-time pad" is the key to unlocking coded shortwave messages that the CIA calls "one-way voice link."

It is low-risk because it's known only to the sender and the recipient and used just once before being destroyed, said retired CIA officer Tony Mendez.

Mendez said he would often imprint the code on microfilm or even a cigarette paper. Once inside the target country, a CIA operative could make a shortwave receiver out of simple materials. "The voices are not real people," he added. "They're computer-generated."

A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.

One-time pads and coded radio began in World War I, said Thomas Boghardt, a historian at the International Spy Museum. Little has changed since, judging by recent espionage cases involving shortwave radios, including that of a man detained in Canada last month and accused of being a Russian spy.

In Miami last week, Carlos and Elsa Alvarez pleaded guilty to lesser charges after the United States accused them of spying for Cuba. A prosecutor alleged in a court hearing this summer that they received shortwave "messages in five-digit groupings." An FBI interview transcript shows Alvarez admitted going into his bathroom "on Fridays to listen at 11" for messages aimed at the couple, code-named "David" and "Deborah."


My "McLaughlin Awards" For 2006 (Part 2)

Huffington Post
Chris Weigant
My "McLaughlin Awards" For 2006 (Part 2)

[This is the second article of a two-part series. The first installment ran yesterday.]

Yesterday, I listed my choices for the award categories given yearly by the McLaughlin Group show on PBS. All of the categories in yesterday's article were featured on last week's show.

Today, I offer my selections for winners of the rest of the McLaughlin Awards (assuming they haven't changed categories since last year).
These categories can be seen on this upcoming weekend's McLaughlin Group, on your local PBS station. The transcript, when it becomes available some time next week, will be posted at the show's website).

And now, the envelope please....

Eliot Spitzer. All eyes are currently on Barack Obama, but Eliot Spitzer may wind up being the one to watch. He just won a landslide (69%) victory in his campaign for New York governor, and many suspect he has set his sights even higher. He would likely annoy New Yorkers by jumping into the presidential ring in 2008 (after only serving one year of his term), but if the other frontrunners are damaged early, he may decide to jump in late in the campaign. Safer money is on him running in the future (2012 or 2016). But he is definitely a Democrat to watch in the future.

Karl Rove. While other names suggest themselves (John Bolton, Tom DeLay, George Allen), I believe Rove is going to be tossed overboard by Bush at some point in the next year. Some have suggested that Rove's not going anywhere because he knows where the bodies are buried and which closets the skeletons are in, but I don't buy it. Rove didn't singlehandedly lose the House and Senate for the Republicans, but he was the one whispering in Bush's ear that everything was going to be OK, and that they weren't going to lose either house. Look for Bush to "accept his resignation" on a very slow news day, like the Friday before a holiday.


Barack Obama's recent television ad (which ran a couple weeks ago on ESPN, before a Chicago Bears game on Monday Night Football). The other contenders for this award were Latino voters marching en masse last spring (very impressive, but not very productive after the dust settled, in terms of new voters registered), and the giant rubber stamp (hilarious, but didn't make much of a splash). But Barack's ad tops them both. It was funny, both poking fun at himself and at the media frenzy which now surrounds him.

George Allen's "Macaca" moment. One stupid unscripted and revealing comment from Senator Allen, and he's out of a job and his dreams of running for president have been crushed forever. A cautionary note to all politicians from now on: no matter how "safe" an audience you think you have, resist the urge to reveal your true self by saying something idiotic. Because it will be on YouTube the next day. Honorable (dishonorable?) mention to the "Call me, Harold" ad run in the Tennessee Senate race.

Mark Foley. His trolling for Congressional pages helped suppress the Republican turnout nationwide. Denny Hastert learned Watergate Lesson #1 the hard way: it isn't the crime, it's the coverup. The media predictably went nutso-crazy over the story, since it was so salacious a scandal. Nothing else comes close this year.

I have to give a three-way tie for this category, since I just couldn't pick between these three: Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban; former Guantanamo prisoners (and other "extraordinary rendition" prisoners) speaking out and telling the world their first-person stories of abuse at American hands; and the gradual disappearance of our "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. There were many other stories that were underreported by the mainstream (corporate) media, but these three are the most egregious examples.

For the sixth straight year... Paris Hilton. No, seriously, I would have to say bird flu. I've heard rumors that Dick Cheney has financial interest in the company that makes Tamiflu, which sure could explain a lot, but for two or three months all the media could yammer about was the deadliness of a disease that killed a couple hundred people world-wide, none of them in the United States. Of course, over in Celebrityland, there were countless stories that could also qualify -- from Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson and Kramer to weddings to babies to adoptions to Katie Couric. Yawn.

Iraq. Not just the war, but the reconstruction money that was supposed to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure, but instead wound up in contractors' pockets (and Swiss bank accounts). One can only hope some Congressional committees will soon be holding hearings on the massive and widespread waste and fraud of our tax dollars.

The last dollar in Donald Rumsfeld's last paycheck. No? How about tsunami relief money then? Or perhaps the state money that is starting to flow into stem cell research, as different states compete to create research jobs.

Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy. I guess this is technically a "strategy" not a "tactic," but it still was the most brilliant political maneuver of the past year. Dean had to fight with centrists (Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic Leadership Council, et al) in the Democratic Party over this concept, but it paid off big time in November.

Firing Donald Rumsfeld. It came about four years too late, but still, a wonderful idea.

George Bush's "stay the course." With a runner-up mention for the Dubai Ports deal.

James Brown. Also Ann Richards, Robert Altman and Bo Schembechler (Go Blue!). If there were a "not sorry to see you go" category, Pinochet would top the list, followed closely by Ken Lay.

Harry Whittington, who caught a face full of Dick Cheney's birdshot, and then subsequently apologized for causing such a fuss. Only the second person shot by a Vice President in American history!

Jack Murtha, with special mention for Keith Olbermann.

Ned Lamont. Once he won the primary, he just couldn't get any traction whatsoever. Honorable mentions for Katie Couric, and for Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller, Sasha Cohen (the ice skater, not "Borat") and all the rest of the over-hyped American Winter Olympic athletes.

The Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents. By Bush, of course. In the political world, Virginia's Senator-elect Jim Webb and, of course, Howard Dean.

Speaker Pelosi will do a great job.
Karl Rove will be booted from the White House.
Congress will censure Bush and Cheney and "move on," but will not impeach.

To get paid for writing these columns. I love writing them, and now I'm ready for my paycheck!


Thursday, December 28, 2006

My "McLaughlin Awards" For 2006 (Part 1)

Huffington Post
Chris Weigant
My "McLaughlin Awards" For 2006 (Part 1)

I'll have you know that (as a rule) I never watch any of what I call the "screamfests" -- the snarling dogfights which pass for "news commentary" on cable television. My position has always been: if O'Reilly and Scarborough and Hannity and Colmes and all the rest of their ilk annoy you; then just stop watching them and the problem is solved. The triumph of the free market!

But I must admit that I do watch The McLaughlin Group on PBS every week. Sure, it can be a "screamfest" at times; but watching Tony Blankley and Pat Buchanan froth at the mouth is worth it, in order to hear what John McLaughlin has to say each week.

And, while I do try to be creative with the columns I write, I've come to the conclusion that I really can't improve much on the categories of the yearly "McLaughlin Awards" (now celebrating a 25-year run, given out each December).

So, as an homage, this week I hand out my own selections for winners of the McLaughlin Awards.

[Note: This is a two-part column. Part 2 will run tomorrow. See the transcript of this week's McLaughlin Group to read their selections for each category.]

Howard Dean. In one year, he turned the Democratic National Committee (DNC) around, successfully raised a pile of money, and then spent it on what he believed in -- to spectacular effect. It should be noted that Dean is a winner in multiple award categories this year, for his "50-State Strategy," which paid off handsomely by winning both the House and Senate for the Democrats.

Tom DeLay. Not only did he lose his leadership position, he also lost his House seat, and (with it) the opportunity to lead the Republican House to a bigger and better majority. But the most embarrassing loss for "the Exterminator" this year was losing his own House district to a Democrat. Almost as big was the surprise upset in the Texas 23rd district by the Democratic challenger. Both of these losses, importantly, were made possible (to some degree) by DeLay's own Texas redistricting efforts. The irony's so thick here, you can bale it up and feed it to the cattle.

Nancy Pelosi. She did a wonderful job of shepherding in a huge victory in the House for the Democrats, and (in my humble opinion) will surprise all the naysayers by being both a shrewd and effective Speaker next year. Pelosi has lived and breathed politics her entire life, and will use her political skills to great effect, after being seated as the first female Speaker in American history.

Karl Rove. Hey, Karl... what happened to your October Surprise? You even bragged about it in late September... but then you never pulled it off. A slightly shady land deal by Harry Reid? Saddam Hussein's verdict delivered just days before our election? That was it?!? Karl's stature as "boy genius" and "Bush's brain" was severely tarnished by the midterm election fiasco he engineered for the GOP. Fearmongering worked well in 2002 and 2004; but in 2006 his "always play to the base" strategy couldn't overcome the reality of Iraq, which Americans saw on their televisions each night.

Bush firing Rumsfeld (excuse me... "accepting Rumsfeld's resignation") was a defining political moment. The midterm election was also a defining political moment. However, both of these followed the point when the tide truly turned for good in the election: the Mark Foley page scandal. Pre-Foley, the pundits were all saying: "Well, the Democrats may have a chance this year, but it also looks like the Republicans are coming back significantly, with only one month to go before the elections." Pundits just love a good horse race. But post-Foley, conventional wisdom had the Republicans irreversibly losing the House, with few dissenting voices in the media. Pastor Ted Haggard put the icing on the cake, but the Foley revelations sank the Republican domination of the House more than any other factor. Sure, only five percent or less of the Republican base (evangelical Christians, for instance) were so disgusted with the scandal that they stayed home and didn't vote; but in a close election, that's all it took for Democrats to win big everywhere -- and not lose a single seat in Congress.

Joe Lieberman. No question whatsoever about this one.

Harry Reid. Look for Nancy Pelosi to absolutely eclipse Reid next year in terms of press coverage.

Barack Obama. No surprise here. This one is almost unanimous at this point, but keep in mind he could wind up being just a flash in the pan. Next year will be the proof.

George W. Bush, before the election: "...the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses." Got that? A vote for Democrats is a vote for the terrorists to win in Iraq. As Samuel Johnson famously said, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and George W. Bush certainly proved that in his pre-election speeches last year. Thankfully, the voters saw through his jingoistic smokescreen, and they voted the Democrats in anyway.

George W. Bush is the worst president ever. He should give up his delusions that history is going to treat him as kindly as Truman. If he's not at the absolute bottom of the "worst" list (Nixon is indeed hard to beat in this category), he is most assuredly going to be in the bottom five.

Joe Lieberman. With special mention for both Howard Dean as DNC chair, and also for Arnold Schwarzenegger who went from the bottom of the political heap to getting reelected as Governor of California (quite a feat for a Republican, in a very blue state, in a very Democratic year). But, however much Lieberman raised the ire of the online community, he did win back his Senate seat on the strength of his name alone (as an independent candidate). This is an almost impossible feat for anyone to pull off, and he must be recognized for doing so.


Howard Dean (once again), for his 50-State Strategy. Instead of endless voter triangulation, Dean had a vision of not just campaigning in a handful of "battleground" states; but instead of building the party's foundation across all of America -- in the hopes of reaping some votes in the future. Even Dean himself probably didn't anticipate how well it would turn out this year. He (most likely) was thinking more about the long term, and about building nationwide support for the 2008 presidential contest. But the stunning and immediate success of his efforts should be recognized, for the brilliant and original thinking that it was.

George W. Bush. His "inside the bubble" thinking was finally acknowledged by even the mainstream media this year. Nowhere was this more evident than his Iraq plan, which could be summed up as: "If we truly believe we're winning, and if we can convince the media and the American public that we're winning... then we really are winning." No matter what the facts on the ground say. Don't look for Bush to change this thinking much early next year, as he's already publicly shot down most of the Baker-Hamilton report recommendations. Special mention in this category also goes to Karl Rove for trying to use the same election tactics this year that worked so well for him in the past, without realizing that the political winds were obviously blowing in a different direction.

Bush stepping on a flag image on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.


Special mention also to the Bush/Lieberman "kiss" which was used very effectively by the Lamont campaign in the primaries.


The Republican echo-chamber news. Enough already with the big fat lie that Republican values are more "mainstream" -- because voters just love Republicans and conservatives so much. Poll after poll keeps showing that over 60% of the American people now don't trust the Republicans on any subject. The mainstream media needs to pick up on this, and start calling such anti-GOP views "mainstream thinking;" rather than buying the Fox News mantra that it is some sort of "fringe" position. 60% isn't fringe. 60% is the mainstream. Get over it. Enough already!

All the different variations of Bush saying: "absolutely, we're winning in Iraq." We're not. Deal with it. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you've got a problem. And when "the problem" is an absolute refusal to acknowledge reality... and you're the President of the United States... then it becomes a problem for us all.

Al Gore. It's not easy (even in the best of times) to get Americans to pay attention to bad news. Or to science. Or to go see documentary films, for that matter. Al Gore's outstanding success with An Inconvenient Truth deserves the award in this category. I don't even care whether he gave the money to charity or just kept it -- it's just so astounding (to me) to see anyone actually make money by telling Americans they have to change their habits. He deserves this award hands down. It's like getting people to pay you to tell them to eat their broccoli.

HONORABLE MENTION Not for being sold for gazillions of dollars -- but for providing instantaneous public scrutiny to so many different video events over the past year. From stupid celebrity foibles all the way to Senator George Allen's "macaca" moment, YouTube created a new channel for video clips to be distributed to the public, to great effect. Ned Lamont's political team in Connecticut should be noted for being the one of the first political campaigns to recognize the power of this new media channel, and to attempt to exploit it.

Jack Murtha. He's been right about Iraq all year, and he has not wavered from his position one tiny little bit. He missed out in the leadership battle after Democrats took the House, but I expect to see him as the point man marshalling Democrats in Congress into a political tidal wave to get our troops out of Iraq next year.

In true McLaughlin fashion, until tomorrow's column, I bid you all: "bye-bye!"


Ike Was Right

Huffington Post
Robert Scheer
Ike Was Right
Originally posted at

The public, seeing through the tissue of Bush administration lies told to justify an invasion that never had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 or weapons of mass destruction, now has begun a national questioning: Why are we still in Iraq? The answers posted most widely on the Internet by critics of the war suggest its continuation as a naked imperial grab for the world's second-largest petroleum source, but that is wrong.

It's not primarily about the oil; it's much more about the military-industrial complex, the label employed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower 45 years ago when he warned of the dangers of "a permanent arms industry of vast proportions."

The Cold War had provided the rationale for the first peacetime creation of a militarized economy. While the former general, Eisenhower, was well aware of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union, he chose in his farewell presidential address to the nation to warn that the war profiteers had an agenda of their own, one that was inimical to the survival of American democracy:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Ponder those words as you consider the predominant presence of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the councils of this White House, and how his old company has profiteered more than any other from the disaster that is Iraq. Despite having been found to have overcharged some $60 million to the U.S. military for fuel deliveries, the formerly bankrupt Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative contracts.

There is more. Military spending has skyrocketed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, returning to Cold War levels. A devastating report by the Center for Defense Information, founded by former top-ranking admirals and generals, reveals that in the most recent federal budget overall defense spending will rise to more than $550 billion. Compare that to the $20 billion that the United Nations and all of its agencies and funds spend each year on all of its programs to make this a safer and more livable world.

That U.S. military budget exceeds what the rest of the world's nations combined spend on defense. Nor can it be justified as militarily necessary to counter terrorists, who used primitive $10 box cutters to commandeer civilian aircraft on 9/11. It only makes sense as a field of dreams for defense contractors and their allies in Washington who seized upon the 9/11 tragedy to invent a new Cold War. Imagine their panic at the end of the old one and their glee at this newfound opportunity.

Yes, some in those circles were also eager to exploit Iraq's oil wealth, which does explain the abysmal indifference to the deteriorating situation in resource-poor Afghanistan, birthplace of the Sept. 11 plot, while our nation's resources are squandered in occupying Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.

Yes, some, like Paul Wolfowitz, the genius who was the No. 2 in the U.S. Defense Department and has been rewarded for his leadership with appointment as head of the World Bank, did argue that Iraq's oil revenue would pay for our imperial adventure. A recent study by Nobel Prize-wining economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University's Linda Bilmes marked that absurdity by estimating the true cost of the Iraq adventure to U.S taxpayers at a whopping $2.267 trillion, in excess of any cost borne by the Iraqis themselves.

The big prize here for Bush's foreign policy is not the acquisition of natural resources or the enhancement of U.S. security, but rather the lining of the pockets of the defense contractors, the merchants of death who mine our treasury. But because the arms industry is coddled by political parties and the mass media, their antics go largely unnoticed. Our politicians and pundits argue endlessly about a couple of billion dollars that may be spent on improving education or ending poverty, but they casually waste that amount in a few days in Iraq.

As Eisenhower warned: "We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ... We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Too bad we no longer have leading Republicans, or Democrats, warning of that danger.


Murders Up in New York, Other Big Cities

Hickory Daily Record
Murders Up in New York, Other Big Cities
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- After many years of decline, the number of murders climbed this year in New York and many other major U.S. cities, reaching their highest levels in a decade in some places. Among the reasons given: gangs, drugs, the easy availability of illegal guns, a disturbing tendency among young people to pull guns when they do not get the respect they demand, and, in Houston at least, an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

In New York, where the city reported 579 homicides through Dec. 24 - a nearly 10 percent increase from the year before - the spike is mostly the result of an unusually large number of "reclassified homicides," or those involving victims who were shot or stabbed years ago but did not die until this year. Thirty-five such deaths have been added to this year's toll, compared with an annual average of about a dozen.

At the same time, Police Department spokesman Paul Browne noted that this year's total is only slightly higher than last year's 539 homicides - the city's lowest death toll in more than 40 years.

Browne blamed the rise in part on the availability of guns, particularly weapons from out of state. The city this year sued dozens of out-of-state gun shops that it says are responsible for many of the illegal weapons on the streets of New York.

In Chicago, homicides through the first 11 months of the year were up 3.3 percent compared with the same period in 2005, reversing a four-year decline. A police spokeswoman said gang violence has been a contributing factor.

In New Haven, Conn., there were 23 homicides as of Tuesday, compared with 15 in 2004 and in 2005. Police Chief Francisco Ortiz said that about half of this year's killings involve young people settling disputes with guns instead of fists.

"They're all struggling with this thing about respect and pride," Ortiz said. "It's about respect. It's about revenge. It's about having a reputation. It's about turf and it's about girls."

Houston police attribute the 15 percent increase in the homicide count to the influx of Katrina evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

"So we expect that to settle," Lt. Murray Smith said. "We're hoping it will go down."

New Orleans, with its post-Katrina exodus, is the only major U.S. city that saw a sharp decline in the number of homicides. There were 154 in New Orleans this year as of Monday, said police spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson, down from 210 in 2005. But the city was largely empty during the fall and winter of 2005-06, and even now has only about half of its pre-Katrina population of 455,000.

Some cities, like Cincinnati - which has had 83 homicides so far, up from 79 in 2005 - posted their highest numbers ever. Others saw their highest death tolls in years.

Oakland, Calif., had 148 homicides as of Wednesday, up 57 percent from last year and the highest in more than a decade. Philadelphia's 2006 homicide total was 403 as of Wednesday, the first time the number has topped 400 in nearly a decade. There were 380 killings in all of 2005.

Philadelphia officials have struggled all year to reduce the violence. In July, Mayor John F. Street gave a televised address in which pleaded with young people: "Lay down your weapons. Do it now. Choose education over violence."

A few cities reported slight decreases in murders. Los Angeles' total was down about 4 percent to 464 homicides through Dec. 23. San Francisco's fell about 15 percent. San Francisco Police Sgt. Steve Mannina said the drop is partly due to increased patrols in violence-prone areas and more overtime approved by the police chief.

The FBI does not release its national crime statistics until several months after the end of the year. The bureau's statistics for the first six months of 2006 showed an increase of 1.4 percent in the number of murders in the first half of 2006 compared with the first six months of 2005.

Andrew Karmen, a criminologist at John Jay College in New York, said that while there are various theories for the drop in murders in New York and other cities in the 1990s, no one knows for sure why it happened. And if they are going up again, no one knows the reason for that, either, he said.

He noted that police departments tend to take credit when the murder rate goes down. "When crime goes up it will be interesting to see whether they will accept responsibility," Karmen said.


John Edwards Joins Presidential Race
John Edwards Joins Presidential Race
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards jumped into the presidential race Wednesday a day earlier than he'd planned, prodded by an Internet glitch to launch a candidacy focused on health care, taxes and other domestic issues.

The North Carolina Democrat's campaign accidentally went live with his election Web site a day before an announcement Thursday that was supposed to use Hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as a backdrop.

The slip-up gave an unintended double-meaning to his campaign slogan on the John Edwards '08 Web site: "Tomorrow begins today."

Aides quickly shut down the errant Web site but could not contain news of the obvious, even in the shadows of former President Ford's death.

"Better a day earlier than a day late," said Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards adviser.

Earlier Wednesday, Edwards visited the site of his planned announcement for a photo opportunity. He did yard work at the home of Orelia Tyler, 54, whose house was gutted by Hurricane Katrina and is close to being rebuilt.

The campaign Web site featured some of Edwards' expected campaign themes.

"This campaign is about changing America," the Web site read, listing five priorities that fit neatly with Edwards' message of economic equality. Among them: "Providing universal health care for all Americans," "Rebuilding America's middle class and eliminating poverty," and "Creating tax fairness by rewarding work, not just wealth."

Edwards, 53, also issued a statement on Ford's death, saying he was deeply saddened by the news and calling the former Michigan Republican a "true leader."

"He called on us to never lose faith that we can change America," Edwards said.

Taking turns with about 30 young people shoveling loads of dirt in Tyler's backyard, Edwards declined to discuss the campaign, focusing instead on the slow recovery in New Orleans, where whole neighborhoods remain a wasteland.

"Anyone who's not concerned with the rate of recovery is not paying attention," said Edwards. He said finger-pointing is part of the problem, adding that the student volunteers he worked with provided an example of what can be accomplished through cooperation.

Edwards arrived promptly at 1:30 p.m., clad in jeans and a khaki work shirt. His aides kept more than two-dozen reporters and photographers at bay as he and the students prepared Tyler's yard for landscaping.

Tyler is still living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in her yard.

"I feel like a child with Santa Claus," Tyler said before Edwards arrived.

The son of a textile mill worker, Edwards has been on a fast track most of his life despite his up-by-the-bootstraps roots.

A standout law student who became a stunningly successful trial lawyer, Edwards vaulted from nowhere politically into the U.S. Senate and then onto the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket - all in less than six years.

In 1998, in his first bid for public office, Edwards defeated incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., a leading advocate for impeachment of President Clinton.

Edwards began building support for his first presidential bid shortly after arriving in the Senate. He quickly made a name for himself in Congress, using his legal background to help Democratic colleagues navigate the impeachment hearings.

Edwards launched a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2003 and quickly caught the eye of Democratic strategists. Although he won only the South Carolina primary, his skills on the trail, his cheerful demeanor, and his message of "two Americas" - one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of the hardworking common man - excited voters, especially independents and moderate-leaning Democrats.

Edwards' handsome, youthful appearance also gave him a measure of star quality.

Those were among the qualities that led Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 standard bearer, to select Edwards as his runningmate. It was a stunning success for someone who had majored in textile management as an undergraduate as a kind of insurance policy in case a law career didn't pan out.

Republicans have sought to cast Edwards as a money-chasing trial lawyer. It is an image that Edwards has tried to counter by arguing that he represented ordinary people wronged by big corporations.

"I spent most of my adult life representing kids and families against very powerful opponents, usually big insurance companies," he liked to say. "And my job was to give them a fair shake, to give them a fair chance."


Associated Press Writer David Scott in Raleigh, N.C. contributed to this story.


Pentagon says to send 3,500 troops to Kuwait

Pentagon says to send 3,500 troops to Kuwait

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Wednesday it will send about 3,500 troops to Kuwait to serve as a standby force for use in Iraq or elsewhere in the region.

The Bush administration is weighing force increases as it considers alternative strategies in Iraq.

The deployment order was sent to a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

That unit will serve as the "call-forward force" for the commander of U.S. Central Command, the command group responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Central Command also holds responsibility for the part of Africa that includes Somalia and Ethiopia, where a week of fighting has spiraled into open war.

The Fort Bragg troops replace a force that was moved into Iraq this year. There are 134,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.


Facing gallows, Saddam offers "sacrifice" for Iraq

Facing gallows, Saddam offers "sacrifice" for Iraq
By Mariam Karouny and Claudia Parsons

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein, due to be hanged within 30 days, said his execution should be seen as a sacrifice for the nation and called on Iraqis to unite and fight U.S. forces in the country.

"Here I offer myself in sacrifice," Saddam said in a letter obtained from his defense lawyers in Jordan on Wednesday. "If my soul goes down this path (of martyrdom) it will face God in serenity."

The defense team said he had dictated it shortly after he was sentenced to death in November for crimes against humanity. The Iraqi High Tribunal appeals court upheld the sentence on Tuesday and said Saddam should be hanged within 30 days.

Saddam's execution will come as President Bush looks to usher in a new era for U.S. policy in Iraq amid public anger at home over rising U.S. casualties.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist who heads a national unity government that also includes Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds, has said Saddam's execution cannot come soon enough. But he faces the challenge of implementing the sentence without fuelling sectarian and political tensions.

Saddam's Baath party threatened to retaliate if the ousted leader was executed: "Our party warns again of the results of carrying out such a verdict, on the situation in Iraq and America in particular," read a statement posted on the Internet.

"It is the most dangerous red line that the American administration should not cross," said the statement, which could not be independently verified.

In his letter, which was also posted on a Web Site on Wednesday, Saddam called on Iraqis to unite.

"O brave, pious Iraqis in the heroic resistance. O sons of the one nation, direct your enmity toward the invaders. Do not let them divide you ... Long live jihad (holy war) and the mujahideen against the invaders."

But he said Iraqis should not blame the populations of the United States and its allies: "I urge you not to hate the peoples of the countries that committed aggression against us, but instead to differentiate between the decision-makers and the peoples."


There were no major celebrations or protests against the decision to execute Saddam as many Iraqis, preoccupied with sectarian violence and shortages in basic services, had expected the appeal to fail.

"This is a just sentence because Saddam oppressed the Iraqi people but I think it came at the wrong time because we're living through a cycle of violence," said Mohammed Nasir.

With the government silent on how Saddam would be executed, speculation ranged from a swift hanging within days, announced only after the fact, to a public execution broadcast on television -- though few believed the latter was likely.

Political professor Hazim al-Naimi said the government appeared to want to dampen down media coverage. "..they are playing a clever game by not commenting and letting it cool down," Naimi told Reuters.

A car bomb in Baghdad killed eight people on Wednesday and 40 bodies were discovered, most shot and tortured, serving as a reminder of the daily carnage in the capital.

The United States said its troops were braced for any violence over the execution.

"The enemy has always used just about any excuse they could find to foment violence," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said in Texas. "That's something that we're monitoring."

Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who beat Bush's close ally Silvio Berlusconi at an April election and pulled Italian troops out of Iraq, condemned the decision to execute Saddam.

"Without wanting to minimize the crimes Saddam Hussein committed and the ferocity with which he wielded power during his reign ... I can only express the firm opposition of the Italian government and of myself, to the death sentence for the former dictator," he said in a statement.

Anti-American anger bubbled to the surface when a spokesman for radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc called for a government investigation into the killing by U.S. forces of a senior Sadrist official near Najaf. Thousands of angry Sadr supporters marched through Najaf chanting anti-American slogans.

Two U.S. soldiers died on Wednesday from their injuries, the U.S. military said, bringing the total U.S. military death toll to 2,983 since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Two soldiers from Latvia, which has 113 troops in Iraq, also died on Wednesday.

The Pentagon said it would send about 3,500 troops to Kuwait as a standby force for use in Iraq or elsewhere in the region.

(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla, Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Dubai and Dina al-Wakeel in Amman)


Court won't force Massachusetts gay marriage vote

Court won't force Massachusetts gay marriage vote
By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - In a setback to gay marriage opponents, Massachusetts' highest court said on Wednesday it would not require lawmakers to vote on a proposal that could ban gay marriage in the only U.S. state where it is legal.

Responding to a lawsuit spearheaded by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the state's Supreme Judicial Court said it could not force another branch of government to act after lawmakers recessed last month without deciding to put the gay marriage issue on a 2008 statewide ballot.

"I certainly hope we do move on," said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which successfully sued in 2003 for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. "The court cannot force a vote."

Romney, who has taken increasingly conservative stands on social issues such as gay marriage ahead of an expected bid for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential race, charged that legislators had subverted the state constitution on November 9 when they took no action on the proposal.

More than 170,000 people signed a petition that asked lawmakers to put the culturally divisive issue before voters in 2008. The initiative seeks to reverse a 2003 decision by the same court that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Lawmakers voted 109 to 87 to recess before deciding whether to put the amendment on the 2008 ballot, a step that appeared to kill the proposal.

By adjourning the constitutional convention until January 2, the last day of the legislative session, the Democratic-controlled legislature virtually guaranteed the proposed amendment will not be taken up, prompting protests by gay marriage opponents and celebrations by supporters.


Although Romney has consistently opposed gay marriage, the one-term governor has been criticized for shifting his position on gay rights. During a failed 1994 run for U.S. Senate, he promised a gay Republicans group he would be a stronger advocate for gays than Democratic rival Sen. Edward Kennedy.

But gay marriage foes including Romney found some solace in the language of the ruling, which said lawmakers had a constitutional obligation to vote on the proposal, even if the court could not force them to do so.

"I applaud the court's unanimous decision that the Legislature has a constitutional duty to vote on the merits of the marriage amendment," Romney said in a statement.

Kristian Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization, said the ruling sends a strong message to lawmakers. "These lawmakers and leaders have a moral obligation to see that the convention on January 2 follows the constitution."

If 25 percent of Massachusetts' 200-member legislature approves the measure on January 2, it will go to a second legislative vote in 2007. If it clears that hurdle, it will be added to a 2008 ballot for a popular vote.

"Beyond resorting to aspirational language that relies on the presumptive good faith of elected representatives, there is no presently articulated judicial remedy for the Legislature's indifference to, or defiance of, its constitutional duties," the court wrote in its decision.

In 2003, the court ruled that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, paving the way for America's first same-sex marriages the following year. More than 8,000 gay and lesbian couples have since married.

Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut recognize same-sex civil unions. California, Maine, the District of Columbia and Hawaii each offer gay couples some legal rights as partners.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Breaking News: Former President Ford dies at 93

Yahoo! News
Former President Ford dies at 93
By JEFF WILSON, Associated Press Writer

Gerald R. Ford, who picked up the pieces of Richard Nixon's scandal-shattered White House as the 38th and only unelected president in America's history, has died, his wife, Betty, said Tuesday. He was 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Mrs. Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

The statement did not say where Ford died or list a cause of death. Ford had battled pneumonia in January 2006 and underwent two heart treatments — including an angioplasty — in August at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

He was the longest living president, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93. Ford had been living at his desert home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.

Ford was an accidental president, Nixon's hand-picked successor, a man of much political experience who had never run on a national ticket. He was as open and straight-forward as Nixon was tightly controlled and conspiratorial.

He took office minutes after Nixon resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal and flew off into exile and declared "our long national nightmare is over." But he revived the debate a month later by granting Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president. That single act, it was widely believed, cost Ford election to a term of his own in 1976, but it won praise in later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.

The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the U.S. during his presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In a speech as the end neared, Ford said: "Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned." Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was time to "look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Ford also earned a place in the history books as the first unelected vice president, chosen by Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew who also was forced from office by scandal.

He was in the White House only 895 days, but changed it more than it changed him.

Even after two women tried separately to kill him, the presidency of Jerry Ford remained open and plain.

Not imperial. Not reclusive. And, of greatest satisfaction to a nation numbed by Watergate, not dishonest.

Even to millions of Americans who had voted two years earlier for Richard Nixon, the transition to Ford's leadership was one of the most welcomed in the history of the democratic process — despite the fact that it occurred without an election.

After the Watergate ordeal, Americans liked their new president — and first lady Betty, whose candor charmed the country.

They liked her for speaking openly about problems of young people, including her own daughter; they admired her for not hiding that she had a mastectomy — in fact, her example caused thousands of women to seek breast examinations.

And she remained one of the country's most admired women even after the Fords left the White House when she was hospitalized in 1978 and admitted to having become addicted to drugs and alcohol she took for painful arthritis and a pinched nerve in her neck. Four years later she founded the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, a substance abuse facility next to Eisenhower Medical Center.

Ford slowed down in recent years. He had been hospitalized in August 2000 when he suffered one or more small strokes while attending the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The following year, he joined former presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton at a memorial service in Washington three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. In June 2004, the four men and their wives joined again at a funeral service in Washington for former President Reagan. But in November 2004, Ford was unable to join the other former presidents at the dedication of the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.

In January, Ford was hospitalized with pneumonia for 12 days. He wasn't seen in public until April 23, when President Bush was in town and paid a visit to the Ford home. Bush, Ford and Betty posed for photographers outside the residence before going inside for a private get-together.

The intensely private couple declined reporter interview requests and were rarely seen outside their home in Rancho Mirage's gated Thunderbird Estates, other than to attend worship services at the nearby St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert.

In a long congressional career in which he rose to be House Republican leader, Ford lit few fires. In the words of Congressional Quarterly, he "built a reputation for being solid, dependable and loyal — a man more comfortable carrying out the programs of others than in initiating things on his own."

When Agnew resigned in a bribery scandal in October 1973, Ford was one of four finalists to succeed him: Texan John Connally, New York's Nelson Rockefeller and California's Ronald Reagan.

"Personal factors enter into such a decision," Nixon recalled for a Ford biographer in 1991. I knew all of the final four personally and had great respect for each one of then, but I had known Jerry Ford longer and better than any of the rest.

"We had served in Congress together. I had often campaigned for him in his district," Nixon continued. But Ford had something the others didn't, he would be easily confirmed by Congress, something that could not be said of Rockefeller, Reagan and Connally.

So Ford it was. He became the first vice president appointed under the 25th amendment to the Constitution.

On Aug. 9, 1974, after seeing Nixon off to exile, Ford assumed the office. The next morning, he still made his own breakfast and padded to the front door in his pajamas to get the newspaper.

Said a ranking Democratic congressman: "Maybe he is a plodder, but right now the advantages of having a plodder in the presidency are enormous."

It was rare that Ford was ever as eloquent as he was for those dramatic moments of his swearing-in at the White House.

"My fellow Americans," he said, "our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

And, true to his reputation as unassuming Jerry, he added: "I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers."

For Ford, a full term was not to be. He survived an intraparty challenge from Ronald Reagan only to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter in November. In the campaign, he ignored Carter's record as governor of Georgia and concentrated on his own achievements as president.

Carter won 297 electoral votes to his 240. After Reagan came back to defeat Carter in 1980, the two former presidents became collaborators, working together on joint projects.

Even as president, Ford often talked with reporters several times a day. He averaged 200 outside speeches a year as House Republican leader, a pace he kept up as vice president and diminished, seemingly, only slightly as chief executive. He kept speaking after leaving the White House, generally for fees of $15,000 to $20,000.

Ford was never asked to the White House for a social event during Reagan's eight years as president.

In office, Ford's living tastes were modest. When he became vice president, he chose to remain in the same Alexandria, Va., home — unpretentious except for a swimming pool — that he shared with his family as a congressman.

After leaving the White House, however, he took up residence in the desert resort area of Rancho Mirage, picked up $1 million for his memoir and another $1 million in a five-year NBC television contract, and served on a number of corporate boards. By 1987, he was on eight such boards, at fees up to $30,000 a year, and was consulting for others, at fees up to $100,000. After criticism, he cut back on such activity.

At a joint session after becoming president, Ford addressed members of Congress as "my former colleagues" and promised "communication, conciliation, compromise and cooperation." But his relations with Congress did not always run smoothly.

He vetoed 66 bills in his barely two years as president. Congress overturned 12 Ford vetoes, more than for any president since Andrew Johnson.

In his memoir, "A Time to Heal," Ford wrote, "When I was in the Congress myself, I thought it fulfilled its constitutional obligations in a very responsible way, but after I became president, my perspective changed."

Some suggested the pardon was prearranged before Nixon resigned, but Ford, in an unusual appearance before a congressional committee in October 1974, said, "There was no deal, period, under no circumstances." The committee dropped its investigation.

Ford's standing in the polls dropped dramatically when he pardoned Nixon unconditionally. But an ABC News poll taken in 2002 in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in found that six in 10 said the pardon was the right thing to do.

The late Democrat Clark Clifford spoke for many when he wrote in his memoirs, "The nation would not have benefited from having a former chief executive in the dock for years after his departure from office. His disgrace was enough."

The decision to pardon Nixon won Ford a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), acknowledging he had criticized Ford at the time, called the pardon "an extraordinary act of courage that historians recognize was truly in the national interest."

While Ford had not sought the job, he came to relish it. He had once told Congress that even if he succeeded Nixon he would not run for president in 1976. Within weeks of taking the oath, he changed his mind.

He was undaunted even after the two attempts on his life in September 1975. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson, was arrested after she aimed a semiautomatic pistol at Ford on Sept. 5 in Sacramento, Calif. A Secret Service agent grabbed her and Ford was unhurt.

Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political activist, was arrested in San Francisco after she fired a gun at the president. Again, Ford was unhurt.

Both women are serving life terms in federal prison.

Asked at a news conference to recite his accomplishments, Ford replied: "We have restored public confidence in the White House and in the executive branch of government."

As to his failings, he responded, "I will leave that to my opponents. I don't think there have been many."

Ford spent most of his boyhood in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He was born Leslie King on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb. His parents were divorced when he was less than a year old, and his mother returned to her parents in Grand Rapids, where she later married Gerald R. Ford Sr. He adopted the boy and renamed him.

Ford was a high school senior when he met his real father. He was working in a Greek restaurant, he recalled, when a man came in and stood watching.

"Finally, he walked over and said, `I'm your father,'" Ford said. "Well, that was quite a shock." But he wrote in his memoir that he broke down and cried that night and he was left with the image of "a carefree, well-to-do man who didn't really give a damn about the hopes and dreams of his firstborn son."

Ford played center on the University of Michigan's 1932 and 1933 national champion football teams. He got professional offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose to study law at Yale, working his way through as an assistant varsity football coach and freshman boxing coach.

Ford got his first exposure to national politics at Yale, working as a volunteer in Wendell L. Willkie's 1940 Republican campaign for president. After World War II service with the Navy in the Pacific, he went back to practicing law in Grand Rapids and became active in Republican reform politics.

His stepfather was the local Republican chairman, and Michigan Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg was looking for a fresh young internationalist to replace the area's isolationist congressman.

Ford beat Rep. Bartel Jonkman by a 2-to-1 margin in the Republican primary and then went on to win the election with 60.5 percent of the vote, the lowest margin he ever got.

He had proposed to Elizabeth Bloomer, a dancer and fashion coordinator, earlier that year, 1948. She became one of his hardest-working campaigners and they were married shortly before the election. They had three sons, Michael, John and Steven, and a daughter, Susan.

Ford was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.

Clifford, an adviser to presidents since Harry Truman, summed up his legacy: "About his brief presidency there is little that can be said. In almost every way, it was a caretaker government trying to bind up the wounds of Watergate and get through the most traumatic act of the Indochina drama.

"Ford ... was a likable person who deserves credit for accomplishing the one goal that was most important, to reunite the nation after the trauma of Watergate and give us a breathing spell before we picked a new president."


Associated Press writer Harry F. Rosenthal, who retired from the AP Washington bureau, contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Gerald Ford presidential library site: