The New York Times
A Protest, a Spy Program and a Campus in an Uproar
By SARAH KERSHAW
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The protest was carefully orchestrated, planned for weeks by Students Against War during Friday evening meetings in a small classroom on the University of California campus here.
So when the military recruiters arrived for the job fair, held in an old dining hall last April 5 - a now fateful day for a scandalized university - the students had their two-way radios in position, their cyclists checking the traffic as hundreds of demonstrators marched up the hilly roads of this campus on the Central Coast and a dozen moles stationed inside the building, reporting by cellphone to the growing crowd outside.
"Racist, sexist, antigay," the demonstrators recalled shouting. "Hey, recruiters, go away!"
Things got messy. As the building filled, students storming in were blocked from entering. The recruiters left, some finding that the tires of their vehicles had been slashed. The protesters then occupied the recruiters' table and, in what witnesses described as a minor melee, an intern from the campus career center was injured.
Fast forward: The students had left campus for their winter vacation in mid-December when a report by MSNBC said the April protest had appeared on what the network said was a database from a Pentagon surveillance program. The protest was listed as a "credible threat" - to what is not clear to people around here - and was the only campus action among scores of other antimilitary demonstrations to receive the designation.
Over the winter break, Josh Sonnenfeld, 20, a member of Students Against War, or SAW, put out the alert. "Urgent: Pentagon's been spying on SAW, and thousands of other groups," said his e-mail message to the 50 or so students in the group.
Several members spent the rest of their break in a swirl of strategy sessions by telephone and e-mail, and in interviews with the news media. Since classes began on Jan. 5, they have stepped up their effort to figure out whether they are being spied on and if so, why.
Students in the group said they were not entirely surprised to learn that the federal government might be spying on them.
"On the one hand, I was surprised that we made the list because generally we don't get the recognition we deserve," Mr. Sonnenfeld said. "On the other hand, it doesn't surprise me because our own university has been spying on us since our group was founded. This nation has a history of spying on political dissenters."
The April protest, at the sunny campus long known for surfing, mountain biking and leftist political activity, drew about 300 of the university's 13,000 students, organizers said. (Students surmise that, these days, they are out-agitating their famed anti-establishment peers at the University of California, Berkeley, campus, 65 miles northwest of here.)
"This is the war at home," said Jennifer Low, 20, a member of the antiwar group. "So many of us were so discouraged and demoralized by the war, a lot of us said this is the way we can stop it."
A Department of Defense spokesman said that while the Pentagon maintained a database of potential threats to military installations, military personnel and national security, he could not confirm that the information released by MSNBC was from the database. The spokesman, who said he was not authorized to be quoted by name, said he could not answer questions about whether the government was or had been spying on Santa Cruz students.
California lawmakers have demanded an explanation from the government. Representative Sam Farr, a Democrat whose district includes Santa Cruz, was one of several who sent letters to the Bush administration. "This is a joke," Mr. Farr said in an interview. "There is a protest du jour at Santa Cruz."
"Santa Cruz is not a terrorist town," he added. "It's an activist town. It's essentially Berkeley on the coast."
The university's chancellor, Denise D. Denton, said, "We would like to know how this information was gathered and understand better what's going on here."
"Is this something that happens under the guise of the new Patriot Act?" Ms. Denton asked.
As to the students' insistence that the university is monitoring their activities, Ms. Denton said that she had checked with campus police and other university offices and that "there is absolutely no spying going on."
The antiwar group is working closely with the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which plans to file a public records request with the federal government on the students' behalf, A.C.L.U. officials said.
Meanwhile, members of the campus's College Republicans, strongly critical of the protesters' tactics last April, are rolling their eyes at all the hubbub.
"I think it's worth looking into, but right now I think they are overblowing it," said Chris Rauer, internal vice president of the College Republicans. "I think people are taking their anger over the war out on this."
The Defense Department has issued a statement saying that in October the Pentagon began a review of its database to ensure that the reporting system complied with federal laws and to identify information that might have been improperly entered. All department personnel involved in gathering intelligence were receiving "refresher" training on the laws and policies, the statement said.
With this happening in academia, there has been a good deal of philosophical contemplation and debate over the socioeconomic and political dynamics underlying the uproar.
"I had multiple reactions," said Faye J. Crosby, a professor of social psychology and chairwoman of the Academic Senate.
"One reaction was, 'Gosh, I wonder if we're doing something right?' " Professor Crosby said. "Another reaction was it's a waste of taxpayer money. What are we a threat to?"
"The real sadness," she added, "is the breakdown in discourse of the marketplace of ideas."
Saturday, January 14, 2006
The New York Times
Bush Rejects Call to Shut Gitmo Prison
Bush Rejects New German Leader's Suggestion to Close Guantanamo Prison
By ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Bush rejected a suggestion by Germany's new leader that the U.S. close its prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying after a first meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that the facility is "a necessary part of protecting the American people."
Guantanamo has become a symbol in Europe for what many people see as Bush administration excesses in hunting down and interrogating potential terrorists. At least one German is among about 500 foreign-born men held indefinitely at the prison camp on Cuba's eastern tip.
"So long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there's a threat, we will inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm," Bush said at a White House press conference with Merkel.
The United States says the detainees are suspected Taliban or al-Qaida operatives or soldiers, but lawyers and rights groups say many were victims of circumstance who are not violent.
Bush and Merkel both had tough warnings for Iran over its nuclear brinksmanship.
"We will not be intimidated by a country such as Iran," Merkel said. She also condemned statements by Iran's leader challenging Israel's right to exist.
Iran threatened Friday to end surprise inspections and other cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency if it is hauled before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program. The country's new hardline president vowed his country won't be cowed by sanctions the council could impose.
Iran's tough line came as Europe and the United States were trying to build support for taking Iran's case to the Security Council. They faced resistance from China, which warned that the move could only escalate the confrontation.
"Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world," Bush said as he praised Germany for trying to help solve the crisis.
"We want an end result to be acceptable, which will yield peace, which is that the Iranians not have a nuclear weapon with which to blackmail ... or threaten the world," Bush said.
The two leaders seemed determined to get off to a good start after chilly relations between Washington and Berlin under Merkel's predecessor, the staunch Iraq war opponent Gerhard Schroeder. Their discussions also included Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.
Bush was fulsome in his praise of Merkel as smart, spirited and "plenty capable."
Merkel smiled, but showed she is no pushover. Both she and Bush called their 45-minute, one-on-one session "candid," diplomatic code for a meeting with real debate and differences.
"We also openly addressed that there sometimes have been differences of opinion," Merkel told reporters. "I mentioned Guantanamo in this respect."
Merkel said last week that while she thinks the prison should not remain open indefinitely, she did not plan to demand its closure when she met with Bush.
"We addressed this issue openly," Merkel said. "And I think it's, after all, only one facet in our overall fight against terrorism."
That is a fight Merkel said Germany agrees is vital, although "there may sometimes be differences as to the acuteness of that danger ... and how we face up to this threat."
Neither Bush nor Merkel mentioned the outrage in Europe over reports that the CIA operated secret prisons there, where terrorism detainees may have been mistreated in violation of European or international human rights law.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced a welter of questions on that topic when she visited Berlin and other European capitals in December, and public opinion in Europe remains strongly skeptical of Washington's motives and tactics in the terror fight.
The Guantanamo prison opened four years ago, after a U.S.-led force ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and scattered an extensive al-Qaida terror network in the country.
Dozens of prisoners have gone on hunger strikes a sign, according to U.N. officials and rights groups, that some have lost hope.
Bush challenged reporters to tour the base and see for themselves "how the folks that are being detained there are treated."
"These are people picked up off a battlefield who want to do harm," Bush said, adding that "a lot of folks have been released from Guantanamo."
Of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the military has released 180. It also has transferred 76 to the custody of other countries, such as Australia, Britain, Kuwait, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Only nine have been charged with a crime, and their cases are to go before special military tribunals that many lawyers say lack basic legal protections for defendants.
On the Net:
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:25 AM
Web Site Attacks Critic of War
Opponents Question Murtha's Medals
By Howard Kurtz and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the former Marine who is an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, has become the latest Democrat to have his Vietnam War decorations questioned.
In a tactic reminiscent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) during the 2004 presidential campaign, a conservative Web site yesterday quoted Murtha opponents as questioning the circumstances surrounding the awarding of his two Purple Hearts.
David Thibault, editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service, said the issue of Murtha's medals from 1967 is relevant now "because the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement." Thibault said: "He has been placed by the Democratic Party and antiwar activists as a spokesman against the war above reproach."
Cindy Abram, a spokeswoman for Murtha, said, "We certainly believe that the questions being raised are an attempt to distract attention from what's happening in Iraq." As for how Murtha won the Purple Hearts, she said: "We think the congressman's record is clear. We have the documentation, the paperwork that proves that he earned them, and that he is entitled to wear them proudly."
Cybercast is part of the conservative Media Research Center, run by L. Brent Bozell III, who accused some in the media of ignoring the Swift Boat charges, but Thibault said it operates independently. He said the unit, formerly called the Conservative News Service, averages 110,000 readers, mainly conservative, and provides material for other Web sites such as GOPUSA. "We won't run anything against anybody if we don't have the goods," he said.
Former representative Don Bailey (D-Pa.), who was quoted in the article, confirmed his account to The Washington Post yesterday.
In a conversation on the House floor in the early 1980s, said Bailey, who won a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars in Vietnam, Murtha told him he did not deserve his Purple Hearts. He recalled Murtha saying: "Hey, I didn't do anything like you did. I got a little scratch on the cheek." Murtha's spokeswoman would not address that account.
Bailey, who lost a House race to Murtha after a 1982 redistricting, said "Jack's a coward, and he's a liar" for subsequently denying the conversation. "That just really burned me," he said.
While saying he has only responded to reporters' questions and is not bitter toward Murtha, Bailey said the congressman's approach to Iraq is "not responsible" and that "it just turned my stomach" to see Murtha acting as a spokesman for veterans.
He said he shared the information with Republican William Choby, who ran against Murtha four times beginning in 1990 and made the Vietnam decorations an issue. Choby raised the issue again during Murtha's 2002 reelection campaign.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, citing Marine records, reported that year that Murtha was wounded during "hostile" actions near Da Nang, Vietnam: "In the first incident, his right cheek was lacerated, and in the second, he was lacerated above his left eye. Neither injury required evacuation." The Cybercast article cites a 1994 interview in which Murtha described injuries to his arm and knee.
The article included a 1996 quote from Harry Fox, who worked for former representative John Saylor (R-Pa.), telling a local newspaper that Murtha was "pretending to be a big war hero." Fox, who lost a 1974 election to Murtha, said the 38-year Marine veteran had asked Saylor for assistance in obtaining the Purple Hearts but was turned down because the office believed he lacked adequate evidence of his wounds.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "The Swift Boat-like attacks on an American hero, Congressman Jack Murtha, are despicable and have no place in politics."
In November, when Murtha called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the congressman was endorsing "Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party" and called his stance a "surrender to the terrorists." Days later, President Bush called Murtha "a fine man" and said they simply disagreed about Iraq.
The Cybercast article appeared shortly before a segment scheduled for CBS's "60 Minutes" tomorrow in which Murtha predicts that the "vast majority" of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by year's end.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:22 AM
Pentagon to families: Go ahead, laugh
By Gregg Zoroya
When the stress of the war in Iraq becomes too severe, the Pentagon has a suggestion for military families: Learn how to laugh.
With help from the Pentagon's chief laughter instructor, families of National Guard members are learning to walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion and blurt "ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho."
"I laugh every chance I get," says the instructor, retired Army colonel James "Scotty" Scott. "That's why I'm blessed to be at the Pentagon, where we definitely need a lot of laughter in our lives."
Scott, 57, is certified as a laughter training specialist by the Ohio-based World Laughter Tour, a group that promotes mirth as medicine. It touts scientific research that suggests chuckling can boost the body's immune system and decrease stress hormones.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, says the Pentagon is committed to the program and values Scott's skills. "We sent him to the training," she says.
The laughter program was Scott's idea. It costs the military virtually nothing, because Scott already travels to states as a director of military family support policy.
KEEPING THEM IN STITCHES
Ways military families are being taught to laugh:
Penguin exercise: Waddle and flap hands as though they're fins.
Lion laugh: Open eyes and mouth wide while repeating "ha ha's."
Repeat "ho, ho, ha, ha, ha," while clapping on each sound.
He has taught National Guard family group leaders in Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho, and will do so in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, he says. Another laughter trainer is working with folks in North Carolina.
"We believe our program prevents hardening of the attitudes," says Scott, in one of his wordplay aphorisms that beg for a rimshot. The founder and chief executive of the World Laughter Tour is psychologist Steve Wilson, who calls himself "Cheerman of the Bored."
"The guiding principle is to laugh for no reason. And that's one of the reasons it works so well for military families," Scott says. "There's a lot they have to be stressed over, a lot of worries, a lot of concerns."
As foolish as students might feel, Scott says he's lost only one participant: a Marine sergeant major who, Scott says, fled the room with a bad case of the giggles.
Mary Frances Booth, the wife of a retired soldier, took the class last year and is an ardent devotee.
She and her two daughters — Meaghan, 10 and Sarah, 8 — were sobbing after Booth dropped her husband at the Boise airport Sunday; he was headed for Afghanistan for work as a civilian contractor, she says. Then Booth called for one of the laughing drills.
"They rolled their eyes at me and thought, 'Mom's on her laughing thing again,' " Booth says. "(But) it made it a little bit better."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:13 AM
Laura Bush sees woman president in future
WASHINGTON (AP) — Laura Bush predicted on Friday that the United States soon will have a female president — a Republican, and maybe even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "I think it will happen for sure," Mrs. Bush said about a woman in the Oval Office.
She made the comment in a CNN interview broadcast on Friday, the day before she leaves for Liberia to attend the inauguration of the first female president in Africa.
"I think it will happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States," Mrs. Bush said.
Rice has said she has no desire to be president when President Bush's second term expires, but Mrs. Bush said: "I'd love to see her run. She's terrific."
Mrs. Bush leaves Saturday night for Africa where she will visit Ghana and Nigeria to promote education and AIDS treatment after leading the U.S. delegation attending the swearing-in of Liberia's President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Monday in Monrovia.
Rice is part of the delegation, as is one of the president's daughters, Barbara, who worked recently at a pediatric AIDS hospital in South Africa. "She's interested in the policy surrounding AIDS and what we can do in our country and in other countries around the world to really stop AIDS," Mrs. Bush said.
During the 13-minute interview in the Map Room of the White House, Mrs. Bush talked about how she and the president try to comfort the families of fallen U.S. troops by saying that their service in the armed forces is helping to establish a stable democracy in the Middle East.
In another gesture of consolation, Mrs. Bush said that on Thursday she called to offer encouragement to the wife of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, who left her husband's testy Senate confirmation hearing in tears, eliciting sympathy from senators of both parties.
"I think it's very important for the Senate to have a very civil and respectful hearing for anyone that has been nominated for the Supreme Court or for the other jobs that require Senate confirmation," Mrs. Bush said.
"But on the other hand, my family has been in politics for a long time and I think you do develop a thick skin. Does it ever not hurt? You know, not really."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:12 AM
Ney may be forced from committee chair
Ohio congressman could be second casualty in Abramoff scandal
From Mark Preston and Ed Henry
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert is making moves to push fellow Republican Rep. Bob Ney from his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, Republican sources said Friday.
Hastert, who voiced his support for Ney just days ago, is under pressure from his own caucus to take a stand against ethical misconduct, the sources said.
Ney is linked in documents to the investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax-evasion charges stemming from an influence-peddling scheme. (Full story)
The Ohio congressman could be ousted from his post as early as next week, the sources said.
"There have been ongoing discussions between Speaker Hastert and Representative Ney about his role as chairman," said Ron Bojean, a spokesman for Hastert, R-Illinois.
Ney was in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Friday, chairing a congressional hearing on reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. He could not be reached for an interview, and his office had no comment.
A source close to Ney, however, said that the congressman has been in discussions with Hastert and is willing to step down from his post if it best serves his House GOP colleagues.
Ney could be second casualty
If Ney steps down, he will become the second high-profile Republican to give up his post amid the Abramoff affair. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a longtime associate of Abramoff, announced Sunday he would not seek to reclaim the leadership position he was forced to abandon in September. (Full story)
That decision followed the congressman's indictment in Texas on money-laundering and conspiracy charges. A judge dismissed the conspiracy charge in December. DeLay has pleaded not guilty.
DeLay's announcement Sunday followed a move by his Republican colleagues, who began pushing for a new leadership election that would have forced DeLay from his post.
According to court papers from the Abramoff case, the lobbyist and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, gave an unidentified member of Congress gifts in exchange for the lawmaker helping their clients. Included among the favors were agreements to support specific bills and place statements in the Congressional Record.
In pleading guilty earlier this month, Abramoff agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging bribery investigation.
Government sources have told CNN that the unidentified member of Congress is Ney, who has acknowledged being subpoenaed in connection with the investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation say that as many as six people -- including Ney, another member of Congress and current and former staff members -- could face charges. The sources would not identify the other member of Congress. (Full story)
Laws brewing in Senate
In another sign that congressmen are scrambling to formulate plans to curb lobbyist influence, Senate Democrats and Republicans are thinking about taking measures to ban gifts, meals and private travel, according to working drafts of the proposals.
Among other initiatives, the drafts indicate senators are considering: eliminating floor privileges for lobbyists who are former legislators; increasing public disclosure requirements for lobbyist activities; and imposing strict rules on lawmakers and staffers considering employment in the private sector.
A Republican proposal adds that legislators' spouses and relatives would be prohibited from lobbying, while Democrats would like a 24-hour window to review legislation before Congress acts.
"Next week, House and Senate Democrats will unveil an aggressive series of proposals designed to highlight their commitment to reforming Republican-run Washington so that the abuses we have seen over the past number of years can never happen again," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "We will put the American people's interests first and bring honesty and integrity back to government."
A senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, confirmed the working components of the GOP proposal.
Details of the plans emerged after Speaker Hastert indicated his interest in banning privately funded travel as a means of lobbyist reform.
Reform, however, could prove difficult as relations between the two parties are strained.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced on Thursday the formation of a task force to "address the Republican culture of corruption" in Congress.
Republicans responded by noting that Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, was "implicated in an international bribery scheme" this week by a former aide.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:02 AM
Friday, January 13, 2006
EXCLUSIVE: List of Alito “Murder Board” Participants; Includes Lawyers Who Approved Warrantless Surveillance
During this morning’s hearing, Sen. Russ Feingold noted that the same lawyers who created the legal justifications for Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program coached Alito about how to answer questions during the confirmation hearings:
I’m going to say that I am still somewhat troubled by the idea that you were prepared for this hearing by some lawyers who were very much involved in promoting the purported legal justification for the NSA wiretapping program….
I note, for example, that one of the people who participated in these sessions was Benjamin Powell. He recently advised President Bush on intelligence matters and was just given a recess appointment as general counsel to the national intelligence director.
I also see the name of White House Counsel Harriet Miers on the list. And she, obviously, is involved in the president’s position on this matter.
This a serious ethical issue.
Miers personally approved Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program as White House Counsel. The evidence suggests that Powell is also a strong proponent of the program. In July, before Bush’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program was revealed by the New York Times, Powell testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to indicate that he wanted to expand the rules that limited intelligence agencies’ authorities to collect and share intelligence about U.S. citizens.
Bush’s warrantless surveillance program may soon come before the Supreme Court. Now we have key lawyers who created legal justifications for the program, such as Powell and White House counsel Harriet Miers, suggesting to Alito how he should respond to senators who ask questions about it. It is hard to imagine that these recommendations were not highly suggestive of how he should adjudicate the issue.
ThinkProgress has obtained a full list of everyone who attended Alito’s “murder boards.” You can check it out here:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:56 AM
"The GOOD OLD PARTY line" - Republicans create millions of job opportunities
WASHINGTON D.C. - (NEWSWIRE) - January 13, 2006 - Save your country and get paid to help your fellow Americans have their voice heard.
Millions of positions available for the Bush administration's new "Reach Out and Tap Someone" program. According to a white house spokesman "The key to having your view heard in America is now as simple as picking up the phone, calling any friend, and mention words like terror, Jihad, or Guantanamo.
Once the government begins listening in you can mention bringing the troops home from Iraq, medical care for our citizens, and protecting the Alaska wilderness."
If the more than half of our country that didn't vote for George W. Bush begin to take advantage of this exciting new method of utilizing the first amendment it will require thousands of listeners. Not since the introduction of phone sex operators has a business opportunity been introduced that allows US workers to sit at home, watch TV, and make a living on the couch. Make money, and make a difference.
Apparently this offer is not void where prohibited.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 AM
Birdflu spreads, World Bank approves funds
By Paul de Bendern and Gareth Jones
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish authorities struggled to contain a spreading outbreak of avian influenza on Thursday, setting up quarantine zones around infected areas and sending samples of virus to laboratories for testing to ensure it is not evolving into a more dangerous form.
Neighboring countries expressed concern the virus might spread to its poultry flocks. Iraq said it was on high alert, but officials conceded that poor border controls would make it difficult to enforce a ban on importing birds.
Global officials said they were gathering steam to help fight the virus, with the board of the World Bank endorsing $500 million in aid to help countries hit by the virus or that are at high risk.
The World Health Organization said Turkish officials had now documented 18 human cases of H5N1 avian influenza infection and said three children had died. One boy who was found to be infected without being sick had begun to show symptoms, WHO officials said.
"Human cases have now been reported from nine of the country's 81 provinces," the WHO said in a statement posted on its Web site.
The two newest patients are young children, aged 4 and 6, WHO said. "Both have a documented history of direct contact with diseased birds," it said.
"Altogether, agricultural officials have confirmed poultry outbreaks in 11 provinces and are investigating possible outbreaks in an additional 14 provinces across the country."
CLOSE CONTACT WITH BIRDS
The more birds are infected, the more likely that people could become infected through close contact. Experts said as cold weather forced animals and people indoors together, especially in rural areas, animal-to-human infections could become even more common.
A British lab found that two of the first Turkish victims were infected with a slightly mutated strain of H5N1.
Although it did not seem to be more dangerous, the mutation in theory could help the virus more easily pass from a chicken to a human. Of gravest concern is that the H5N1 virus will mutate so it passes from human to human.
WHO said its experts were working with Turkish officials to study the virus and its patterns of attack. More samples of virus were en route to labs, WHO said.
"These studies should deepen understanding of the epidemiology of the disease, including the possibility that any human-to-human transmission may have occurred, the vulnerability to infection of health care workers and other occupationally-exposed groups, and the possibility that milder forms of the disease might be occurring in the general population," WHO said.
The good news was that the virus seems sensitive to the few drugs available to treat patients, WHO said.
Turkish officials said they had set up a 2-mile (3-km) quarantine zone around infected areas, and information was being broadcast via television commercials and vans fitted with loudspeakers.
They said they had culled more than 350,000 birds in the past two weeks.
Fears hit poultry markets. The U.S. Agriculture Department said chicken meat exports would be 315 million pounds (143 million kg) less than previously forecast because consumers in Turkey and other countries affected by the deadly bird flu disease were eating less poultry.
Globally H5N1 has infected 147 people and killed 78 of them, according to the latest official WHO tally, which includes only four of the Turkish cases.
NOT MORE DANGEROUS -- YET
Scientists stressed they have no evidence the virus has become more, and said the same mutation has been seen before without causing a big outbreak. But it shows the need for careful watching and testing, they said.
"When we have a child infected we are giving the virus more chance to adapt to human beings and giving it this chance could help create conditions of the emergence of a new virus," Rodier said in an interview.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the mutation affected the ability of the virus to infect cells. "It is really unclear what this means," Fauci said in a telephone interview.
"This same mutation was identified in 2003 in Hong Kong and yet did not take off in a way that led to greater transmissibility either from chicken to human or human to human."
The World Bank was pressing for funding to help the worst-affected countries cope, and endorsed spending $500 million, ahead of a meeting of donors next week in Beijing where it was hoped $1 billion more would be pledged.
World Bank Vice President Jim Adams told Reuters that Kyrgyzstan would be the first beneficiary and would get $5 million to prepare for bird flu. He said Turkey could be in line for some money, too.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Van, Richard Waddington and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, and Lesley Wroughton, Christopher Doering and Maggie Fox in Washington)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Bill Clinton announces HIV/AIDS drug initiative
By Jamie McGeever
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced on Thursday an initiative with nine drug companies he said would cut the cost of HIV/AIDS testing and treatment in 50 developing countries and help save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The agreement between the Clinton Foundation and the drug companies aims to halve the cost of HIV/AIDS diagnosis and lower the price tag of second-line anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs by 30 percent or more.
"This is only the first step," Clinton said. "We expect to lower the cost of more second-line drugs later this year."
Clinton said the deal with the nine companies was a "step in the right direction" but admitted he would like to see more of the world's biggest drug companies on board. The deal Clinton announced involves smaller companies.
"This agreement today can help to save hundreds of thousands" of lives, Clinton said.
First-line drugs are used in the earliest stage of treatment. When patients become resistant to first-line treatment, more-expensive second-line drugs are given.
Some quarter of a million people already benefit from first-line treatment resulting from Clinton Foundation agreements announced in 2003, the former president said.
Clinton said up to 1 million people could receive first-line treatment at reduced cost through the new initiative by the end of the year.
"You're going to see an enormous explosion in 2006," Clinton said about the number of people receiving ARV treatment.
He said 40 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS and 8,000 people die from the disease every day.
Four companies - Chembio Diagnostics Inc, Orgenics, a subsidiary of Inverness Medical Innovations, Qualpro Diagnostics and Shanghai Kehua - will offer rapid HIV/AIDS testing at half the current cost and provide results within 20 minutes.
He said cutting the cost of the rapid tests would save "tens of millions of dollars" over the next four years.
Another four companies - Cipla, Ranbaxy, Strides Arcolab and Aspen Pharmacare - will offer the first-line drug Efavirenz, with ingredients supplied by Matrix Laboratories, at below-market rates. Cipla will also provide the second-line drug Abacavir at lower cost.
The drug firms involved will lower drugs costs by improving and modernizing the production process, moving production to countries with lower labor costs and reducing profit margins while increasing the volume of output, he said.
Over 90 percent of HIV carriers are unaware they are infected, so raising AIDS awareness is a fundamental priority, Clinton said.
Clinton cited the African country Lesotho, where every child under the age of 12 is now being tested, as an example of the progress that has been made in raising AIDS awareness.
The Clinton Foundation provides access to reduced prices for drugs and testing in 50 developing countries, and works with directly with 20 governments in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia in the fight against the disease.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
Documents tie shadowy US unit to inmate abuse case
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newly released military documents show U.S. Army investigators closed a probe into allegations an Iraqi detainee had been abused by a shadowy military task force after its members used fake names and asserted that key computer files had been lost.
The documents shed light on Task Force 6-26, a special operations unit, and confirmed the existence of a secret military "Special Access Program" associated with it, ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said on Thursday.
The documents were released by the Army to the American Civil Liberties Union under court order through the Freedom of Information Act. They were the latest files to provide details of the numerous investigations carried out by the Army into allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq.
A June 2005 document by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command in Iraq described its investigation into suspected abuse of a detainee captured in January 2004 by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, deposed President Saddam Hussein's hometown. His name was redacted, but he was mentioned as the son of a Saddam bodyguard.
The man was taken to Baghdad international airport, documents stated. The United States maintains a prison there for "high-value" detainees.
He told Army investigators that U.S. personnel forced him one night to remove his clothes, walk into walls with a box over his head connected to a rope around his neck, punched him in the spinal area until he fainted, placed him in front of an air conditioner while cold water was poured on him, and kicked him in the stomach until he vomited, the documents stated.
Investigators could not find the personnel involved or the man's medical files, and the case was closed, the files stated. A memo listed the suspected offenses as "aggravated assault, cruelty and maltreatment."
"The only names identified by this investigation were determined to be fake names utilized by the capturing soldiers," the memo stated. "6-26 also had a major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 percent of their files; therefore they can't find the cases we need to review."
The memo said the investigation should not be reopened. "Hell, even if we reopened it we wouldn't get anymore information than we already have," the memo stated.
Singh said previous documents indicated Task Force 6-26 was linked to other instances of detainee abuse in Iraq.
"This document suggests that Task Force 6-26 was part of a larger, clandestine program that we think may have links with high-ranking officials, because obviously someone high up had the authority to put this program in place," Singh said in a telephone interview.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the Army had taken allegations of detainee abuse "extremely seriously."
"The Army has gone to great extent in travel, interviews, documentation and concern to make sure that each and every allegation was thoroughly reviewed, thoroughly examined and, when appropriate, acted upon either through nonjudicial or judicial punishment," Boyce said.
A document stated Army investigators were not able to fully investigate suspects and witnesses because they were involved in the Special Access Program and due to the classified nature of their work.
The task force is stationed out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the document said. The base houses the Army Special Operations Command.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:50 AM
Bush's domestic spy plan looms as election issue
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's extension of domestic spying on Americans has inflamed Democratic critics, but public opinion is split on the issue and analysts say it could reinforce traditional Republican advantages with voters on national security.
Bush has vigorously defended his decision to circumvent the courts and allow government eavesdropping on international telephone calls and emails by suspected terrorist collaborators in the United States after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Critics say this an illegal violation of civil liberties.
Republicans contend Bush was taking any step necessary to protect American lives, and many party strategists welcomed a renewed political debate on security and terrorism -- the one issue where the public still favors Republicans in most polls.
"It is a big mistake for Democrats to think they can gain some sort of political traction by running against the security of the United States," Republican strategist Jim Dyke said.
Democratic critics say the effort is another example of the Bush administration's broad misjudgments and abuse of power after September 11. Bush's decision to skip court authorization for the wiretaps and surveillance has drawn fire even from some Republicans.
"We haven't seen this kind of abuse of power since Richard Nixon," Democratic Party chief Howard Dean said, adding the efforts could lead to some terrorism-related cases being thrown out of court.
"It could play to the image of a president who is overreaching and not succeeding -- going to war without a clear purpose or credible proof in retrospect, isolating America, wiretapping," Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said.
But he said without evidence of a broader pattern of domestic surveillance by the administration the issue was unlikely to play a big role in November's elections, when control of Congress will be at stake.
"We're a long way away from saying this is a front-burner, hot-button issue that would have an impact on the elections," Schoen said.
"If it is just about Al Qaeda and terrorism, I'm not sure it is a positive for the Democrats. If there is a degree of overreaching by Bush that goes beyond that, then we have an issue," he said.
Bush, who has refused to backpedal on the issue, defended himself again on Wednesday in Kentucky.
"I understand people's concerns about government eavesdropping, and I share those concerns," Bush said. "I had to make the difficult decision between balancing civil liberties and, on a limited basis -- and I mean limited basis -- try to find out the intention of the enemy."
Polls show a sharp split among the public. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week found 51 percent favored the domestic eavesdropping as a way to fight terrorism, while 47 percent did not. A Pew Research Center poll found 48 percent of respondents thought Bush's actions were generally right, and 47 percent thought they were generally wrong.
Both polls found a partisan divide, with Republicans supporting the effort by much larger margins than Democrats.
"The overall finding of public opinion since the September 11 attacks is that the American public is willing to see the rules bent a little bit in the war on terrorism," said Pew pollster Andrew Kohut.
The Pew poll found security and terrorism was the only one of five major issues facing the country that the public felt Republicans could handle best. Democrats were favored to handle the economy, Iraq, domestic and social issues and foreign policy.
"The Democrats have a much stronger case on domestic issues than they do on this one, unless it begins to look a little more dicey in respect to its effects on civil right of a broader base of people," Kohut said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:48 AM
US asks top court to dismiss Guantanamo case
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss a challenge to President George W. Bush's power to create military tribunals to put Guantanamo prisoners on trial for war crimes.
The administration's argument was based on a law signed by Bush on December 30 that limits the ability of Guantanamo prisoners caught in the president's war on terrorism to challenge their detentions in federal courts.
Administration lawyers said the new law applied to the Supreme Court case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver.
He had challenged the military tribunals before his actual trial, but administration lawyers said that under the new law he could bring a court appeal only after the commission proceedings against him had been completed.
The Hamdan case is considered an important test of the administration's policy in the war on terrorism. The tribunals, formally called military commissions, were authorized by Bush after the September 11 attacks and have been criticized by human rights groups as being fundamentally unfair.
There are about 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Charges have been brought against nine people, including Hamdan. Pretrial hearings were held in two cases this week.
The administration cited the same new law in moving last week to dismiss more than 180 cases in U.S. district court in Washington involving Guantanamo inmates who have challenged their detention.
The legislation signed by Bush on December 30 bans cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The anti-torture law also curbs the ability of prisoners being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba to challenge their detention in federal court.
HAMDAN LAWYERS SAY CASE CAN GO AHEAD
One of Hamdan's attorneys, Neal Katyal, had no immediate comment on the Justice Department's motion to dismiss the case.
Hamdan's lawyers previously told the high court the new law did not prevent the justices from considering the merits of his claims.
They also filed a request for habeas corpus relief directly with the Supreme Court in a bid to get around the jurisdictional problems and make sure the case can go forward.
It was not known when the court would decide whether to dismiss the case.
Justice Department lawyers told the Supreme Court that Hamdan's appeal should be dismissed without reaching the merits of the issue because of a lack of jurisdiction.
"Under well-settled principles, Congress's decision to remove jurisdiction over this action and others must be given immediate effect," Solicitor General Paul Clement said in 23-page motion filed with the Supreme Court.
"By establishing an exclusive review procedure for military commission challenges, Congress has made plain its judgment that judicial review of military commission proceedings should occur only after those proceedings have been completed," he said.
Department lawyers said Hamdan under the new law may seek review in the U.S. appeals court in Washington of any final decision rendered against him by a military commission.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
Airline bans Bibles to avoid offending Muslims
Carrier to Saudi Arabia also precluding crucifixes, teddy bears
A British airline banned its staff from taking Bibles and wearing crucifixes or St. Christopher medals on flights to Saudi Arabia to avoid offending the country's Muslims.
British Midland International also has told female flight attendants they must walk two paces behind male colleagues and cover themselves from head to foot in a headscarf and robe known as an abaya, the Mirror newspaper of London reported.
Teddy bears or other cuddly toys also are not allowed.
Airline officials, who have sparked outrage, the paper says, explain the Islamic kingdom's strict laws – enforced by religious police – prohibit public practice of Christianity and figures of animals.
BMI spokesman Phil Shepherd said: "In providing air services people want, demand and use, we have an obligation to respect the customs of the destination country."
An airline employee who asked not to be named told the Mirror: "It's outrageous that we must respect their beliefs but they're not prepared to respect ours."
The employee said his grandmother gave him a crucifix shortly before she died that he wears at all times.
"It's got massive sentimental value and I don't see why I have to remove it," he said.
The airline's staff handbook says: "Prior to disembarking the aircraft all female crew will be required to put on their company issued abaya. It will be issued with the headscarf which must be worn."
The employees' union wants staff members to be able to opt out of the flights, but the airline says the only option is to transfer from overseas staff to domestic flights, which could mean a loss of about $30,000 a year in wages.
About 40 staff members have filed complaints since the route began in September.
Some of the male members who are homosexual have called in sick, because they are afraid of traveling to Saudi Arabia, where homosexual activity is punishable by flogging, jail or death.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:12 AM
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Israel pulls plug on Pat Robertson deal
Officials angry over evangelical leader's comments about Sharon's stroke
The Associated Press
JERUSALEM - Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson after the evangelical leader suggested Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was divine punishment, a tourism official said Wednesday, putting into doubt plans to develop a large Christian tourism center in northern Israel.
Avi Hartuv, spokesman for Israel's tourism minister, said officials are furious with Robertson's suggestion that the stroke was retribution for Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer. "We can't accept this kind of statement," Hartuv said.
Robertson is leading a group of evangelicals who have pledged to raise $50 million to build the Christian Heritage Center in Israel's northern Galilee region, where tradition says Jesus lived and taught.
Under a tentative agreement, Robertson's group was to put up the funding, while Israel would provide land and infrastructure. Israeli officials believe the project will generate tens of millions of tourism dollars.
But the project now is in question in light of Robertson's comments, said Hartuv.
"We will not do business with him, only with other evangelicals who don't back these comments," Hartuv said. "We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him."
A day after Sharon's stroke on Jan. 4, Robertson suggested the prime minister was being punished for "dividing God's land," a reference to the August pullout from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.
"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said on his TV program "The 700 Club." "You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No, this is mine."'
Robertson's comments also drew condemnation from other Christian leaders and even U.S. President George W. Bush.
The ministry's decision was first reported in Wednesday's edition of The Jerusalem Post.
Christian center planned near Galilee
Robertson's Christian Heritage Center was to be tucked away in 35 acres of rolling Galilee hills, near key Christian sites such as Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes, where tradition says Jesus delivered the Sermon of the Mount, and Tabgha -- on the shores of the Sea of Galilee -- where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fish.
The project underlines how ties have strengthened in recent years between Israel and evangelical Christian groups that support the Jewish state.
Israel was considering leasing the land to the Christians for free. Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson predicted it would annually draw up to 1 million pilgrims who would spend $1.5 billion in Israel and support about 40,000 jobs.
Hirschson, however, is one of Sharon's biggest supporters, and a member of the centrist Kadima party recently founded by the prime minister.
Hartuv left the door open to continuing the project, but only with people who don't back Robertson's statements.
"We want to see who in the group supports his (Robertson's) statements. Those who support the statements cannot do business with us. Those that publicly support Ariel Sharon's recovery ... are welcome to do business with us," Hartuv said. "We have to check this very, very carefully."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:55 AM
Interior Department to Open Alaskan Land to Oil Drilling
Environmentalists Question Statement That Exploration Can Have Minimal Impact on Wildlife
By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Interior Department yesterday agreed to open about 400,000 acres on Alaska's North Slope for exploratory oil drilling, an area that previously had been off limits because of concerns about the impact on wildlife.
Officials said they would lease acreage in the northeastern corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil companies to provide access to domestic oil supplies.
"We recognize . . . the energy needs of this nation," said Susan Childs, an official with the Bureau of Land Management. "So, hopefully, this will alleviate some of the pressure."
Government officials said that the area of the preserve opened yesterday has significant potential for oil development. They estimate it contains about 2 billion barrels of oil that is economically recoverable, along with 3.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil per day.
Much of the 23.5 million-acre petroleum reserve already is open to oil development. The reserve, created in 1923, is located west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long a flashpoint in the debate over allowing oil drilling versus protecting the environment.
Childs said the land opened yesterday could be drilled with "minimal" impact on wildlife, a conclusion that environmentalists dispute.
The area -- particularly near Teshekpuk Lake -- has been a focal point of concern among environmentalists. They say oil operations would disrupt an area where thousands of brant geese and white-fronted geese molt. They also predicted harm to caribou and tundra swans.
"This is the single most important goose molting area in the arctic," said Stanley Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska. "It will mean fewer birds."
The Bureau of Land Management proposed opening the area a year ago. But it was not until yesterday that an Interior Department official, Deputy Assistant Secretary Chad Calvert, approved a modified version of that plan.
The area near Teshekpuk Lake was put off limits to drilling during the Reagan administration. The Clinton administration expanded the restricted area.
But the Bureau of Land Management says technological advances in oil drilling allow drilling to occur without the impact previously feared. Drilling will be allowed about a quarter-mile from the lake.
Bureau officials said they would conduct further study on the impact to molting geese before allowing permanent drilling.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:52 AM
Bush Fields Questions About Spy Program
President Bush Fields Questions About Spy Progam, War and Other Administration Policies
By DEB RIECHMANN
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After initial reservations, President Bush said Wednesday that he isn't bothered by congressional hearings into his domestic spying program as long as they don't aid the enemy.
"That's good for democracy," Bush said, provided the hearings don't "tell the enemy what we're doing."
In the days after the secret wiretapping without warrants was revealed, Bush cautioned against hearings, saying that congressional leaders had been privately consulted and that he had worked within the law to authorize eavesdropping on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has promised hearings on the issue, and the Senate Intelligence Committee could also investigate. House Democrats have asked their Intelligence Committee for hearings, and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a forum on the monitoring program's legal ramifications on Jan. 20.
In Louisville, Bush hosted a casual, town hall-type event reminiscent of his campaign stops. Bush paced, with microphone in hand, like a talk show host in front of signs that left no doubt about the administration's message of the day: "Winning the War on Terror."
Bush's approval rating bumped up slightly to 42 percent in December, but it remains low, with 40 percent of Americans approving and 59 percent disapproving of the way he's doing his job, according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll conducted the first week of January.
After his opening remarks, Bush fielded about 10 questions from the audience of invited groups. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the questions were not prescreened. Bush said no topics were off-limits, and even invited a question about Iran, but nobody asked one.
Instead, the audience wanted to know about the war, terrorism and a host of domestic issues, including health care, education and immigration.
Bush acknowledged differences over Iraq. "Whether you agree with me or not, we're doing the right thing," Bush said, adding that terrorists or insurgents fighting democratic reform in Iraq are "not going to shake my will."
A 7-year-old boy's question "How can people help on the war on terror?" gave Bush an opening to score some political points against his critics and try to keep Democrats from using Iraq as an issue in this year's midterm elections.
"It's one thing to have a philosophical difference and I can understand people being abhorrent about war. War is terrible," Bush said. "But one way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006 elections is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way, and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening an enemy."
It was the second day in a row that Bush warned his critics to watch what they say or risk giving comfort to U.S. adversaries. On Tuesday, before a gathering of Veterans of Foreign Wars, he said Democrats who do will suffer at the ballot box in November.
Bush appeared in a Kentucky district where Andrew Horne, an Iraqi war veteran who opposed the invasion, is hoping to unseat Republican Rep. Anne Northup, a strong Bush supporter.
None of the questions Bush received at the Kentucky International Convention Center were combative. Viewpoints were different across the street, where about 200 noisy demonstrators protested Bush's policies.
Renee Woodrum of Louisville said, "When I think it can't get any worse and then I hear some other scandal or some corrupt thing that's going on or more soldiers are dying, and I can't believe it."
"I just don't know how much longer America can afford to have George Bush as our president. I think the war is causing more hatred toward America and encouraging terrorism."
Associated Press writers Malcolm C. Knox and Bruce Schreiner contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:49 AM
GOP Group to Donate Abramoff-Related Funds
AP Newsbreak: GOP Group to Give Up $500,000 in Abramoff-Related Donations
By GLEN JOHNSON
The Associated Press
BOSTON - Days after calling on his party to exhibit higher ethical standards, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association said his group will donate to charity $500,000 in campaign contributions linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, said Wednesday the association will give the money to American Red Cross chapters in five hurricane-ravaged states.
"When influence peddling is alleged, a political institution like the Republican Governors Association wants to be above any possible shadow of complicity," the governor said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
The move allows Romney and the association to avoid questions about the contributions while they are trying to help Republican governors win elections in 36 states this fall.
The Republican Governors Association received the $500,000 in October 2002 from a public affairs company owned by Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's business partner.
Scanlon, like Abramoff, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges as part of a federal probe of influence peddling on Capitol Hill. President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert all Republicans have already given charities sums equal to donations they received from Abramoff or his associates.
Nationally known groups including the Salvation Army and American Heart Association as well as organizations such as shelter for battered women in Colorado, will share more than $430,000 in now-unwanted campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates.
Romney said an internal review, triggered by questions about the donations from the AP, deemed the donations legal. But he and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, the association's vice chairman, decided not to keep the money.
Romney on Monday urged his party to emerge from what he termed its "ethical scandal" by seeking resignations of top leaders associated with Abramoff, and by pushing for a line-item budget veto. He said that would allow the president to eliminate special-interest spending supported by lobbyists.
Romney, who gained national prominence for his work to repair the scandal-ridden 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, announced last month that he would not seek re-election this fall and has already visited early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire.
Romney also said he would continue to travel on corporate aircraft, as he did in December when he flew to a governors association meeting on a Gulfstream jet owned by Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical firm. Massachusetts is currently debating a health care overhaul, although Romney said Pfizer is not a party to the deliberations and the use of the plane was legal.
"I'm not going to propose to you a new series of laws," he said. "But I can say the best efforts in campaign finance reform to date seem to have driven money into secret corners, and it's had unintended consequences."
On the Net:
Republican Governors Association: http://www.rga.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:46 AM
Houston TV stations withhold ads attacking DeLay
By Jeff Franks
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Several Houston television stations withheld a political ad on Wednesday accusing U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of corruption after a lawyer for the former House majority leader said the ad was false and could lead to legal action.
The ad, sponsored by public interest groups Campaign for America's Future and Public Campaign Action Fund, calls for DeLay to resign because of his indictment in Texas on campaign finance charges and his links to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"All four of the major broadcast stations (in Houston) contacted to air the ad, as well as Time Warner cable, have stated they either will not run the ad or will keep it off the air for further review," according to a statement sent out by DeLay's office.
Some of the stations said during their newscasts they were looking at the ad to determine its credibility or that they had found some of the allegations to be questionable. The ad was supposed to run for a week, starting on Wednesday.
(Question: Were these stations just as cautious during the election campaign or did they run the Swift Boat Liar ads?)
In a letter to the stations, DeLay attorney Donald McGahn said the ad was "reckless, malicious and false, casting Mr. DeLay in a false light by accusing him of unsubstantiated criminal conduct. Such accusations are actionable."
"We demand that you refuse or otherwise cease airing the advertisement, so as to avoid any liability," the letter said.
Public Campaign Action Fund national campaigns director David Donnelly said DeLay was trying to prevent people in his Houston-area district from knowing what "he's up to with corrupt lobbyists in Washington."
"When powerful lawmakers corrupt the political process and get caught, they often try to bully the media to try to prevent them from doing their job," he said in a statement.
Despite the menacing language in the letter, DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said McGahn was not threatening to sue the television stations, although at least one of them reported he was.
Abramoff sent shock waves through Washington last week when he pleaded guilty to fraud charges and admitted giving lavish gifts and trips to lawmakers in return for special treatment. He has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating corruption in Congress.
DeLay, who received campaign contributions from Abramoff and associates over the years, has described the lobbyist as a good friend.
After Abramoff's guilty plea, DeLay announced he was giving up trying to regain his position as House majority leader, which is the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives.
He stepped down from the post in September after he was indicted in Texas on charges of conspiracy and money laundering linked to campaign contributions raised by his Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee for the 2002 Texas Legislature elections. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:36 AM
(Guess the US wants to bar itself!)
US says UN should bar rights abusers from new body
By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador John Bolton warned U.N. members on Wednesday that allowing countries that had committed gross human rights abuses to serve on a new rights council would mock the legitimacy of the United Nations itself.
Bolton, speaking at a closed meeting, presented several proposals on how to create the new council that would replace the discredited Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, known for giving seats to such countries as Sudan and Zimbabwe who then make deals to block resolutions against various offenders.
"The current situation is untenable and must not be allowed to continue," Bolton said, according to a copy of his written text. "Membership on the Commission by some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers mocks the legitimacy of the Commission and the United Nations itself."
World leaders at a U.N. summit in September agreed to replace the Geneva commission with a new council as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has suggested. But they left nearly all details to the General Assembly, which still has deep differences in the debate that began on Wednesday.
South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, one of the key negotiators for the new council, was optimistic and said "there is beginning to be movement" on the size of the council and how members should be chosen.
Bolton spelled out U.S. terms for the new rights council but did not repeat earlier comments that the five Security Council powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- should automatically get seats. If the United States make this a key condition, diplomats said, the reform would be derailed.
"At this stage all are talking about them serving one or two terms and then leaving," Kumalo said. "They are not talking at all about permanent seats."
Still in dispute are the size of the new council, its mandates mandate, and how members should be elected.
On size, Bolton said the United States wanted no more than 30 members. Kumalo said most members want at least 38 seats and many advocated the number stay at 53 nations.
A major dispute is whether the General Assembly, dominated by developing nations, would choose members by a majority or a two-thirds vote. Western nations want a two-thirds vote on grounds this would make it harder for abusers to get a seat.
"Any country under Security Council sanctions for human rights violations or terrorism should be categorically excluded," Bolton said.
On selection of members, Bolton agreed that while they would be chosen primarily on the basis of their commitment to human rights, he conceded there should be a fair distribution of seats among various regions, as is currently the case.
Other negotiators proposed elections had to include more than one candidate from each region so that regional groups would not decide on one candidate only.
But Bolton rejected any reference to the right to development, advocated by most members, and said the focus of the new council should be on "civil and political rights."
And in an oblique reference to criticisms that the United States invoked double standards when its own military had committed torture in Iraq, Bolton said, "When the United States falls short of the high standards we set for ourselves, we move swiftly and decisively to vigorously prosecute offenders who are U.S. citizens in our courts."
Bolton also advocated regular meetings throughout the year instead of the current one six-week session in Geneva.
"As new crises unfold, where there is credible evidence of gross abuses of human rights, the United States does not feel the United Nations can be authoritative if the response is 'do not worry, the Human Rights Council will take up this issues in two to three months when in next reconvenes,'" he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:33 AM
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
NSA Whistleblower Alleges Illegal Spying
Former Employee Admits to Being a New York Times Source
By BRIAN ROSS
Jan 10, 2006 — - Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet.
For 20 years, Tice worked in the shadows as he helped the United States spy on other people's conversations around the world.
"I specialized in what's called special access programs," Tice said of his job. "We called them 'black world' programs and operations."
But now, Tice tells ABC News that some of those secret "black world" operations run by the NSA were operated in ways that he believes violated the law. He is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department and the National Security Agency in the post-9/11 efforts to go after terrorists.
"The mentality was we need to get these guys, and we're going to do whatever it takes to get them," he said.
Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call as they are switched through centers, such as one in New York, and to search for key words or phrases that a terrorist might use.
"If you picked the word 'jihad' out of a conversation," Tice said, "the technology exists that you focus in on that conversation, and you pull it out of the system for processing."
According to Tice, intelligence analysts use the information to develop graphs that resemble spiderwebs linking one suspect's phone number to hundreds or even thousands more.
Tice Admits Being a New York Times Source
President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants.
But Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used.
"That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum," Tice said.
The same day The New York Times broke the story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants, Tice surfaced as a whistleblower in the agency. He told ABC News that he was a source for the Times' reporters. But Tice maintains that his conscience is clear.
"As far as I'm concerned, as long as I don't say anything that's classified, I'm not worried," he said. "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed."
The NSA revoked Tice's security clearance in May of last year based on what it called psychological concerns and later dismissed him. Tice calls that bunk and says that's the way the NSA deals with troublemakers and whistleblowers. Today the NSA said it had "no information to provide."
ABC News' Vic Walter and Avni Patel contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:33 AM
Bush says some war critics irresponsible
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush denounced some Democratic critics of the Iraq war as irresponsible on Tuesday and he wanted an election-year debate that "brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries"
In a speech, Bush made clear he was girding for battle with Democrats in the run-up to the mid-term congressional election in November, when he will try to keep the U.S. Congress in the hands of his Republican Party amid American doubts about his Iraq policy.
"There is a difference between responsible and irresponsible debate and it's even more important to conduct this debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas," Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The president predicted more tough fighting and more sacrifice ahead in Iraq in 2006 but said he believed progress will be made against the insurgency and on the Iraqi political process and reconstruction.
He also urged all governments to follow through on promised aid to Iraq, saying $13 billion had been pledged but not all of it delivered to date.
Bush, who has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of Iraq, said Americans know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being handled "and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."
He added, "So I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries."
Bush did not mention names, but aides said he was referring to Democratic Party chief Howard Dean, along with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, among others.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was irresponsible for Democrats to claim, as Dean, Reid and others have done, that Bush has no strategy for Iraq.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy used Bush's argument against the president.
"I wholeheartedly agree with President Bush about the need for accountability in the debate on the war in Iraq. 2006 must be the year when the American people demand that President Bush and other high government officials be held accountable for their mistakes," he said.
Reid said it was outrageous that Bush was using U.S. troops as a shield from criticism in an address to veterans and also had refused to address a recent Pentagon report on the inadequacy of body armor for American soldiers in Iraq.
"Patriotic Americans will continue to ask the tough questions because our brave men and women in Iraq, their families and the American people deserve to know that their leaders are being held accountable," Reid said.
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who was in Iraq in December, said he agreed with Bush's call for a reasoned discussion of the war and the need for constructive criticism.
"But the administration cannot question the patriotism of those who disagree on war strategy and at the same time call for greater civility," Schiff said, adding, "We should be exploiting the divisions among our enemies, not among ourselves."
Bush is trying to convince skeptical Americans that his strategy for Iraq will work even as the U.S. death toll continues to mount nearly three years after the invasion to oust President Saddam Hussein.
The president also urged disaffected Sunni Arabs to join in the governing process in Iraq, saying "compromise and consensus and power-sharing are the only path to national unity and lasting democracy."
"A country that divides into factions and dwells on old grievances cannot move forward and risks sliding back into tyranny," he said.
On concerns Iraqi security forces are engaging in torture against minorities, Bush called it "unacceptable" and said adjustments were being made in the way forces are trained.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Wilson and Tabassum Zakaria)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 AM
Chavez: Venezuela may not buy U.S. jets
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that Venezuela would consider buying Russian or Chinese warplanes if the United States fails to honor a contract to supply his country with parts for its F-16 jets.
The Venezuelan leader also accused Washington of blocking Venezuela's acquisition of Super Tucano military planes from Brazil because the jets are built with U.S. technology.
"The contract for Brazil to make us some planes, which are for training, could not be signed because of the United States," said Chavez, speaking to hundreds of soldiers at military fort in Caracas.
"We will have to wait to see if Brazil can resolve the problem. If not, well, they produce fighter jets and bombers in China too," he added.
Chavez said the United States has failed to supply the parts needed to keep Venezuela's F-16s flying and suggested he could turn to Russian-built MIGs. But U.S. officials said replacement parts for U.S.-made warplanes have recently been sent to the South American nation.
"If we have to substitute the fleet of F-16s with a modern fleet of MiGs we will do it, nothing is going to stop us," said Chavez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Penn denied the United States has failed to send replacement parts.
Cartridges for F-16 ejector seats arrived at Caracas' La Guaira international airport on a C-17 cargo plane in November, Penn said in a telephone interview. He said shipping documents were available to back those claims.
Penn said he did not have any information about Venezuela's plans to purchase planes from neighboring Brazil.
Venezuela purchased its fleet of 21 F-16s in 1983. U.S. officials have said the 1982 contract does not obligate the United States to supply parts indefinitely to Venezuela or to upgrade the planes.
At the same event, the Venezuelan leader claimed that the U.S. was conspiring against Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales, his close friend and leftist ally. But Chavez didn't back up his claims with any evidence.
"I'm sure the United States Embassy in Bolivia has already started the conspiracy against Evo. ... I'm also sure that American military personnel are holding talks, looking for coup leaders," he said without elaborating.
Penn, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, rejected Chavez's comments. "The U.S. has had good relations with Bolivia in the past, and we are prepared to build a similar relationship with the new administration," he said.'
There was no immediate response from Bolivian officials.
Chavez, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, also urged Venezuela's military to prepare for a possible invasion by the United States, saying the best way to avoid an armed conflict is being ready for war.
He said Venezuela would never enter an armed conflict with any of its Latin American neighbors, but could eventually be forced to repel a military invasion by U.S. troops.
"If we are going to war, the only war possible for us would be the one that we are obliged to make against an invasion by North American imperialism," said Chavez.
U.S. officials repeatedly denied any plans to invade Venezuela, but Chavez has called on his countrymen to prepare for a conflict by learning to use a firearm and joining the military reserves.
Chavez, who says he is creating a new socialist system in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, accuses the United States of attempting to dominate Latin American countries through economic and cultural "imperialism."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 1:26 AM
Differing Views on Terrorism
Americans Divided on Eavesdropping Program, Poll Finds
By Dan Balz and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Americans overwhelmingly support aggressive government pursuit of terrorist threats, even if it may infringe on personal privacy, but they divide sharply along partisan lines over the legitimacy of President Bush's program of domestic eavesdropping without court authorization, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly two in three Americans surveyed said they believe that federal agencies involved in anti-terrorism activities are intruding on the personal privacy of their fellow citizens, but fewer than a third said such intrusions are unjustified.
At the same time, however, those surveyed are more narrowly divided over whether the federal government is doing enough to protect the rights of both citizens and terrorism suspects.
Republicans offer far greater support for actions directly attributed to the Bush administration in the campaign against terrorism than do Democrats, who worry that the president will go too far and ignore civil liberties.
But the broad issue of protecting the country vs. preserving personal privacy splits each party's coalition, according to the poll.
Some Democrats are willing to support tough anti-terrorism policies at the expense of personal privacy, and some Republicans fear that individual rights may be compromised.
Revelations last month about Bush's program of warrantless electronic surveillance of conversations between the United States and foreign countries have heightened interest in the trade-offs involved in the fight against terrorism.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the president authorized a program that overrode requirements that the government seek approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before listening in on overseas telephone conversations or reading U.S. citizens' e-mail.
Critics have accused the administration of breaking the law in pursuing the domestic spying program, but the president has defended it, saying that it is necessary to protect Americans and that it is lawful and consistent with the Constitution. Congress has signaled its intention to hold hearings to investigate the program.
So far, recent disclosures about domestic spying have not hurt Bush's public standing. According to the poll, his job approval rating stands at 46 percent, down one percentage point from last month.
Most Americans said they have paid close attention to the controversy over the program, and a bare majority of those surveyed, 51 percent, said it is an acceptable way to fight terrorism, while 47 percent said it is not. Beneath those overall findings, however, were sharp partisan divisions.
Among Republicans, 75 percent said the Bush program is acceptable, while 61 percent of Democrats said it is unacceptable.
Independents called the program unacceptable by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
More generally, two in three Americans said it is more important to investigate possible terrorist threats than to protect civil liberties. One-third said the respect for privacy should take precedence.
Republicans overwhelmingly favored aggressive investigation, with more than four in five saying that is their preference, while Democrats were split 51 percent to 47 percent on which should take precedence. Independents favored relatively unfettered pursuit of possible terrorism by nearly 2 to 1.
Democrats and Republicans were at odds over how Bush is striking the balance between counterterrorism and privacy protection.
Two in three Republicans said they worried that concerns about rights would stop the president from being aggressive enough, while three in five Democrats worried that he would compromise rights.
Similarly, Republicans were less likely than Democrats and independents to say that federal agencies are trampling on civil liberties. Even among the 50 percent of Republicans who said they believe such actions were taking place, few said the intrusions are unjustified.
The poll found Americans divided over how the federal government is dealing with protecting the rights of both citizens and suspected terrorists in the post-Sept. 11 environment.
A plurality said they believe the government has struck the right balance in protecting rights. But a sizable percentage, about four in 10 in each case, said the government is not doing enough.
A total of 1,001 randomly selected adults were interviewed Jan. 5 to 8 for this survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.
Polling director Richard Morin contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:14 AM
Supreme Court Allows Disabled Inmate's Lawsuit in States' Rights Case
By Gina Holland
States can sometimes be sued for damages by disabled inmates, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in resolving the first clash over states' rights under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said Georgia inmate Tony Goodman may use a federal disabilities law to sue over this allegation that prison officials did not accommodate his disability. Goodman contends that he was kept for more than 23 hours a day in a cell so narrow that he could not turn his wheelchair.
His case has become the latest test of the scope of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, a law meant to ensure equal treatment for the disabled in many areas of life.
The Supreme Court had ruled previously that people in state prisons are protected by the law, and the follow-up case asks whether individual prisoners have recourse in the courts.
Georgia argued that states should be immune from inmate lawsuits brought under the law.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said that states can be sued under the disabilities act over constitutional rights violations. The court put off deciding whether state corrections departments can face suits over general violations of the law, a more significant and contentious issue.
"This tells states they don't have free rein. They don't have carte blanche," said Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University professor of civil rights law.
"If we are looking for some signal of what a Roberts court might be, this is a very solid, careful approach," she said.
A dozen states had urged the court to bar general suits by inmates under the disabilities law. Their attorney, Gene Schaerr of Washington, said that justices probably "recognized Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her resignation and they'd rather wait until they have a full court in place until they address that issue head on." Schaerr added: "I think that's very good news for the states."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting this week on President Bush's nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to replace O'Connor. She will leave the court as soon as her successor is confirmed.
O'Connor was the deciding vote the last time the justices ruled on the 1990 law. She sided with the four more liberal court members in a 2004 decision that held that states could be sued for damages for not providing the disabled access to courts.
Goodman is supported in the latest case by the Bush administration, which has argued that there was a history of mistreatment of disabled prisoners when Congress passed the legislation.
The court could have used the case to shield states from federal government interference, something that had been a hallmark of the court under then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Rehnquist died in September and was replaced by Roberts.
The cases are United States v. Georgia , 04-1203, and Goodman v. Georgia , 04-1236.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:13 AM
Indian film-maker sues New York
A award-winning Indian film-maker has sued the city of New York after police stopped him from filming in the street.
Rakesh Sharma was shooting footage for a film on New York taxi drivers in May 2005 when officers stopped him.
The suit, filed on Rakesh Sharma's behalf by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said his constitutional rights had been violated.
According to his lawsuit he was held by police and "searched and harassed" before being told he needed a permit.
'Scared and humiliated'
Mr Sharma won several awards for his 2002 documentary Final Solution, which looked at religious rioting in the Indian state of Gujarat.
"It's a sad day when the police think they can detain and mistreat someone simply for making a film on a public street in New York City," Mr Sharma said on Tuesday.
"I cooperated with them and answered all their questions, but they treated me like a criminal. It was wrong, and I was scared and humiliated," he said.
Mr Sharma returned to New York last November and applied for a permit to film but was denied permission.
Restrictions on taking photos and filming in public have come into force in New York city since the 11 September attacks in 2001.
"The police can and should investigate suspicious activity," said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn, "but that does not give them license to arrest people for public photography."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/01/11 02:43:12 GMT
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
World Health Org. - Flu's on first
Rove: I am really worried.
Bush: What about?
Rove: The bird flu.
Bush: The bird flew? Where?
Bush: The bird flew everywhere?
Rove: According to WHO.
Bush: I don't know.
Rove: You don't know what?
Bush: Who said where.
Rove: That's right. WHO has a list.
Bush: How would I know?
Rove: Because I just told you. The latest word is Turkey.
Bush: A Turkey flew?
Rove: If you want to call it that.
Bush: How is it possible, a Turkey flew everywhere?
Rove: That would be complicated.
Bush: Then why did you tell me that?
Rove: WHO just reported it. I was filling you in.
Bush: Then I'm asking you. Who reported it?
Rove: That's right.
Bush: Let's start from the beginning.
Bush: What about Vietnam?
Rove: The beginning. The bird flu.
Bush: The bird flew all the way from Vietnam?
Rove: Yes. According to WHO.
Bush: That's what I want to find out.....
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
US learns from Dutch flood dykes
By Geraldine Coughlan
BBC News, The Hague
A US delegation is in the Netherlands to study the flood control systems protecting a country that lies further below sea level than New Orleans.
The 50-member delegation includes the Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, US senators and business leaders.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the US is looking to learn from the experience of the Netherlands.
Water management experts will be showing the US visitors its massive system of dams and sea walls.
In the flood of 1953, 2,000 people died in the Netherlands.
The Delta Project, with twin gates the size of the Eiffel Tower, can seal the mouth of Rotterdam Harbour in case of a sea surge.
But the government admits, that no matter what you do to prepare, something can always go wrong.
"You can never say a 100%," says Annelie Kohl, a spokesperson for the water ministry.
"That doesn't exist anywhere in the world - that would be unwise to say," she says.
"But obviously it's a very important part for our defence here in the Netherlands.
"As you know, most of our country is below sea level, so it's of the utmost importance for us to have safe dykes and other measures to protect us."
The US delegates will be looking at how the Dutch now designate land for rivers to flood when the water level rises, instead of building dykes and levees.
But to be sure, they have just completed an entire network of flood defences here to protect against any storm - except one so severe it can happen only once in 10,000 years.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:48 AM
Poll: Majorities See Widespread Corruption
Most People Want Tougher Lobbying Restrictions
Analysis by JON COHEN and GARY LANGER
Jan. 9, 2006 — - Nearly six in 10 Americans see lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea deal as a sign of widespread corruption in Washington, and a majority supports legislation that, if enacted, would end political lobbying as it's currently practiced.
The political fallout of the still-evolving case is unclear -- at this stage, neither party holds an advantage in perceptions of its ethics and honesty. But there could be benefit in getting in front on reform: A whopping nine in 10 Americans across the political spectrum favor banning lobbyists from giving members of Congress anything of value.
Abramoff pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy and fraud charges in an unfolding scandal in which investigators are reported to be focusing on six or more members of Congress and as many congressional aides. While a third of Americans see his case as limited to a few corrupt individuals, 58 percent call it evidence of widespread corruption in Washington.
That view could be influenced by other recent criminal cases involving federal officials -- the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on campaign finance charges, and even the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in the CIA leak investigation (a false statement, not corruption, case). Indeed, most Americans see corruption as an endemic problem in Washington, but a limited one, confined to a few corrupt individuals, in their state and local governments.
This poll also finds a growing sense (albeit not held by a majority) that innate dishonesty among Congress members is part of the problem: Forty-four percent now think members of Congress are more dishonest than most people, up from 33 percent in a 1993 poll. While 52 percent say they're about equally honest (perhaps more tempted, though), that's down from 65 percent 13 years ago.
Members of Congress, Compared to Most People
More honest 2% 2%
More dishonest 44% 33%
About the same 52% 65%
Abramoff (like DeLay) is a Republican, and the Democrats have sought to turn the ethics issue to their advantage. There's no sign yet that it's working: Essentially, no more people say the Democrats are more ethical and honest than the Republicans (15 percent) as say the opposite (11 percent). Nearly three-quarters, instead, say there's not much difference between them.
Indeed, this skepticism engenders rare bipartisanship. About six in 10 Democrats say there's no real difference in honesty and ethics between the parties, so do seven in 10 Republicans and even more independents, 84 percent. Similarly, about seven in 10 liberals and conservatives alike agree on this point, as do nearly eight in 10 moderates.
Overall, congressional approval is low (41 percent), but about matches its 2005 average. If Congress needs to watch its back on ethics, so does George W. Bush: A slim majority, 52 percent, disapproves of the way he's handling ethics in government.
The public's dim view of Washington ethics is backed by broad support for legislation to ban lobbying largess. As noted, 90 percent would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to members of Congress. Two-thirds also would bar lobbyists from making direct campaign contributions. And 54 percent would make it illegal for lobbyists even to organize fund-raisers on behalf of congressional candidates.
The first two proposals win support from majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Republicans, though, are evenly split on whether lobbyists should be allowed to organize fundraisers, while most Democrats and independents would ban it.
State and Local
As noted, on ethics and honesty in government, as in other matters, public suspicions are focused more on Washington than on state and local governments.
While nearly six in 10 see the Abramoff case as evidence of widespread corruption in Washington, fewer suspect widespread corruption in their state (35 percent) and local (27 percent) governments; most there instead see it as isolated.
Republicans are the least likely to see widespread corruption at each level of government. Among other groups, young adults are less likely than their elders to see widespread corruption at the federal level, or to support legislation limiting lobbying in Washington.
Federal 58% 34%
State 35% 60%
Local 27% 68%
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 5-8, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM