The New York Times
New Details Revealed on C.I.A. Leak Case
By DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 — Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff told prosecutors that Mr. Cheney had informed him "in an off sort of curiosity sort of fashion" in mid-June 2003 about the identity of the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak case, according to a formerly secret legal opinion, parts of which were made public on Friday.
The newly released pages were part of a legal opinion written in February 2005 by Judge David S. Tatel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. His opinion disclosed that the former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., acknowledged to prosecutors that he had heard directly from Mr. Cheney about the Central Intelligence Agency officer, Valerie Wilson, more than a month before her identity was first publicly disclosed on July 14, 2003, by a newspaper columnist.
"Nevertheless," Judge Tatel wrote, "Libby maintains that he was learning about Wilson's wife's identity for the first time when he spoke with NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert on July 10 or 11." Mr. Russert denied Mr. Libby's account. Ms. Wilson is married to Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who has criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
Over all, the new material amplified and provided new details on charges outlined in the October 2005 indictment against Mr. Libby. The indictment accused Mr. Libby of falsely telling investigators that he had first learned about Ms. Wilson from reporters, when he had, according to the charging document, learned of it from other government officials like Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Libby appeared in federal court in Washington on Friday for the first time in several months. A federal trial judge, Reggie B. Walton, set a calendar that means Mr. Libby's trial will not begin for at least 11 months, with jury selection to begin on Jan. 8, 2007.
Judge Walton had hoped to start the trial in the fall of 2006 but Mr. Libby's chief lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said he would be involved in another trial at that time.
Judge Tatel's comments in the formerly secret legal opinion were largely drawn from affidavits supplied by the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, that were written nearly two years ago, in August 2004. At that time, Mr. Fitzgerald was seeking to compel grand jury testimony from two reporters, Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times, and Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine.
By that point, the newly disclosed pages showed, Mr. Fitzgerald had centered his inquiry on possible perjury charges against Mr. Libby, although that was not publicly known at the time. Mr. Fitzgerald had abandoned a prosecution based on a federal law that makes it a crime to disclose the identity of a covert officer at the C.I.A. Such charges, Judge Tatel wrote, were "currently off the table for lack of evidence."
Judge Tatel wrote his opinion as part of a unanimous decision by the three-judge panel which ruled on Feb. 15, 2005, that Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper had potentially vital evidentiary information and could not refuse to testify to the grand jury in the leak case on First Amendment grounds.
In a separate affidavit filed by Mr. Fitzgerald and disclosed Friday, the prosecutor wrote that Mr. Libby had testified that he had forgotten the conversation with Mr. Cheney when he talked to Mr. Russert. "Further according to Mr. Libby, he did not recall his conversation with the Vice President even when Russert allegedly told him about Wilson's wife's employment."
About eight pages of Judge Tatel's concurring opinion were deleted from the opinion released in 2005. After Mr. Libby's indictment, lawyers for The Wall Street Journal went to court and succeeded in obtaining the material released Friday by order of the same three-judge panel.
Not all of the previously withheld material was released. Several pages, which apparently contained information about Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation of Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, remained under seal. Mr. Rove has not been charged, but remains under investigation although his lawyer has expressed confidence that Mr. Rove will be cleared.
The release of new material represented an important First Amendment ruling for the right of public access to court records, said Theodore J. Boutros Jr., a lawyer for The Journal. "We're pleased that the court recognized that grand jury secrecy is not absolute and that there's an important public interest in the public being able to scrutinize the basis for a judicial decision."
The newly disclosed information provides new details about other events, like a previously reported lunch on July 7, 2003, in which Mr. Libby told Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, about Ms. Wilson.
In his opinion, Judge Tatel said that Mr. Fleischer said that Mr. Libby had told him that Ms. Wilson sent had her husband on a trip to Africa to examine intelligence reports indicating that Iraq had sought to buy uranium ore from Niger.
Judge Tatel wrote that Mr. Fleischer had described the lunch to prosecutors as having been "kind of weird" and had noted that Mr. Libby typically "operated in a very closed-lip fashion." Judge Tatel added: "Fleischer recalled that Libby 'added something along the lines of, you know, this is hush hush, nobody knows about this. This is on the q.t.' "
Neil A. Lewis contributed reporting for this article.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
The New York Times
The New York Times
Halliburton Subsidiary Gets Contract to Add Temporary Immigration Detention Centers
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 — The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a contract worth up to $385 million for building temporary immigration detention centers to Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that has been criticized for overcharging the Pentagon for its work in Iraq.
KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space, company executives said. KBR, which announced the contract last month, had a similar contract with immigration agencies from 2000 to last year.
The contract with the Corps of Engineers runs one year, with four optional one-year extensions. Officials of the corps said that they had solicited bids and that KBR was the lone responder.
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Jamie Zuieback, said KBR would build the centers only in an emergency like the one when thousands of Cubans floated on rafts to the United States. She emphasized that the centers might never be built if such an emergency did not arise.
"It's the type of contract that could be used in some kind of mass migration," Ms. Zuieback said.
A spokesman for the corps, Clayton Church, said that the centers could be at unused military sites or temporary structures and that each one would hold up to 5,000 people.
"When there's a large influx of people into the United States, how are we going to feed, house and protect them?" Mr. Church asked. "That's why these kinds of contracts are there."
Mr. Church said that KBR did not end up creating immigration centers under its previous contract, but that it did build temporary shelters for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
Federal auditors rebuked the company for unsubstantiated billing in its Iraq reconstruction contracts, and it has been criticized because of accusations that Halliburton, led by Dick Cheney before he became vice president, was aided by connections in obtaining contracts. Halliburton executives denied that they charged excessively for the work in Iraq.
Mr. Church said concerns about the Iraq contracts did not affect the awarding of the new contract.
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, who has monitored the company, called the contract worrisome.
"With Halliburton's ever expanding track record of overcharging, it's hard to believe that the administration has decided to entrust Halliburton with even more taxpayer dollars," Mr. Waxman said. "With each new contract, the need for real oversight grows."
In recent months, the Homeland Security Department has promised to increase bed space in its detention centers to hold thousands of illegal immigrants awaiting deportation. In the first quarter of the 2006 fiscal year, nearly 60 percent of the illegal immigrants apprehended from countries other than Mexico were released on their own recognizance.
Domestic security officials have promised to end the releases by increasing the number of detention beds. Last week, domestic security officials announced that they would expand detaining and swiftly deporting illegal immigrants to include those seized near the Canadian border.
Advocates for immigrants said they feared that the new contract was another indication that the government planned to expand the detention of illegal immigrants, including those seeking asylum.
"It's pretty obvious that the intent of the government is to detain more and more people and to expedite their removal," said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.
Ms. Zuieback said the KBR contract was not intended for that.
"It's not part of any day-to-day enforcement," she said.
She added that she could not provide additional information about the company's statement that the contract was also meant to support the rapid development of new programs.
Halliburton executives, who announced the contract last week, said they were pleased.
"We are especially gratified to be awarded this contract," an executive vice president, Bruce Stanski, said in a statement, "because it builds on our extremely strong track record in the arena of emergency management support."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 AM
The New York Times
Increasingly, Internet's Data Trail Leads to Court
By SAUL HANSELL
Who is sending threatening e-mail to a teenager? Who is saying disparaging things about a company on an Internet message board? Who is communicating online with a suspected drug dealer?
These questions, and many more like them, are asked every day of the companies that provide Internet service and run Web sites. And even though these companies promise to protect the privacy of their users, they routinely hand over the most intimate information in response to legal demands from criminal investigators and lawyers fighting civil cases.
Such data led directly to a suspect in a school bombing threat; it has also been used by the authorities to track child pornographers and computer intruders, and has become a tool in civil cases on matters from trade secrets to music piracy. In St. Louis, records of a suspect's online searches for maps proved his undoing in a serial-killing case that had gone unsolved for a decade.
In short, just as technology is prompting Internet companies to collect more information and keep it longer than before, prosecutors and civil lawyers are more readily using that information.
When it comes to e-mail and Internet service records, "the average citizen would be shocked to find out how adept your average law enforcement officer is at finding information," said Paul Ohm, who recently left the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual property section.
The issue has come to the fore because of a Justice Department request to four major Internet companies for data about their users' search queries. While America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft complied with the request, Google is resisting it. That case does not involve information that can be linked to individuals, but it has cast new light on what privacy, if any, Internet users can expect for the data trail they leave online.
The answer, in many cases, is clouded by ambiguities in the law that governs electronic communication like telephone calls and e-mail. In many cases, the law requires law enforcement officials to meet a higher standard to read a person's e-mail than to get copies of his financial or medical records.
Requests for information have become so common that most big Internet companies, as well as telephone companies, have a formal process for what is often called subpoena management. Most of the information sought about users is basic, but very personal: their names, where they live, when they were last online — and, if a court issues a search warrant, what they are writing and reading in their e-mail. (Not surprisingly, the interpretation of voluminous computer records can be error-prone, and instances of mistaken identity have also come to light.)
AOL, for example, has more than a dozen people, including several former prosecutors, handling the nearly 1,000 requests it receives each month for information in criminal and civil cases. The most common requests in criminal cases relate to children — threats, abductions and pornography. Next come cases of identity theft, then computer hacking. But with more than 20 million customers, AOL has been called on to help in nearly every sort of legal action.
In recent years, "we found ourselves involved in every imaginable classification of traditional crimes, from murder to the whole scope of criminal behavior, because AOL was used to communicate or there is some trace evidence," said Christopher Bubb, assistant general counsel at AOL.
Investigators have found new ways to identify people who visit Web sites anonymously or use a false identity. Many Web sites keep a log of all user activity, and they record the Internet Protocol address of each user. I.P. addresses are assigned in blocks to Internet service providers, who use them to route information to the computers of their users. If an investigator determines the I.P. address used by a suspect, he can subpoena the Internet provider for the identity of the user associated with that address at a particular date and time.
For example, in investigating a bomb threat at a Canadian high school in 2002, Mr. Ohm approached the operator of a message board in California on which the threats were placed. He asked to review the log monitoring each user's activities, which showed the Internet Protocol address of the person who left the threatening message. Mr. Ohm used that address in turn to determine the suspect's Internet service provider, who identified a teenager who had posted the message. (As a minor, he was not prosecuted.)
While Internet evidence has been used to solve some crimes, there have also been examples of mistakes in the process. Last year, Manchester Technologies, a company in Hauppauge, N.Y., sued Ronald Kuhlman Jr. and Kim Loviglio, claiming they had posted messages on a Web site that defamed its chief executive.
Manchester had identified Mr. Kuhlman and Ms. Loviglio based on information provided by Cablevision, their Internet provider, which incorrectly associated their account with the Internet Protocol address used to make the postings. Manchester dropped its suit against Mr. Kuhlman and Ms. Loviglio, who in turn sued Cablevision. That case was settled for undisclosed terms, their lawyer, Mark Murray, said.
The 1996 law that governs privacy for telephones, Internet use and faxes — the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — provides varying degrees of protection for online information. It generally requires a court order for investigators to read e-mail, although the law is inconsistent on this, treating unopened items differently from those previously read. The standard to compel an Internet service provider to provide identifying information about an Internet user is lower — in general, an investigator needs a subpoena, which can be signed by a prosecutor, not a judge. (And the USA Patriot Act allows some of these procedures to be waived when lives are at risk.) By comparison, domestic first-class mail requires a search warrant to be opened.
In cases in which investigators want to intercept Internet communication as it occurs, they must get the same authorization needed for a telephone wiretap, which requires continuing court monitoring. In 2004, there were 49 cases of computer or fax transmissions being monitored under these procedures, according to federal statistics (which exclude national security cases).
Mr. Ohm, now an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School, said those statistics undercounted the instances of such monitoring, especially cases in which an Internet company was tracing attacks on its own system.
"The Wiretap Act has enough loopholes built into it that you can often do a wiretap without having to get a court order," he said.
The law for civil cases, like divorces or employment disputes, is also a bit unclear. Litigants can generally subpoena the identifying information of a user behind an e-mail account or an I.P. address.
AOL says that only 30 of the 1,000 monthly requests it receives are for civil cases, and that it initially rejects about 90 percent of those, arguing that they are overly broad or that the litigants lack proper jurisdiction. About half of those rejected are resubmitted, on narrower grounds. Generally, AOL gives its members notice when their information is sought in civil cases. If the member objects, the issue is referred back to the court. (In criminal cases, there is often no notice, or notice is given after the information has been given to investigators.)
"Subpoenas come in all the time that ask for everything," said Kelly Skoloda, an AOL lawyer. "We engage in an active dialogue to determine what they want and what we can give in compliance with our privacy policies."
AOL and most other Internet providers take the view that the content of e-mail messages cannot be turned over to lawyers in civil suits. The most significant exception is that e-mail can be turned over with the consent of the account owner, and litigants often persuade judges to order their opponents to authorize the disclosure of e-mail.
A gray area that has recently gained prominence involves the pages that users read online and the terms of their searches.
Yahoo, Google and the new free AOL.com site, for example, maintain records of user surfing behavior. Google also keeps a log file that associates every search made on its site with the I.P. address of the searcher. And Yahoo uses similar information to sell advertising; car companies, for example, place display advertising shown only to people who have entered auto-related terms in Yahoo's search engine.
It is unclear what standard is required to force Internet companies to turn over this search information to criminal investigators and perhaps civil litigants.
"The big story is the privacy law that protects your e-mail does not protect your Google search terms," said Orin S. Kerr, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and a former lawyer in the computer crime section of the Justice Department.
Other lawyers argue that the law that provides protection for e-mail content, or even the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, could be applied to data about Web searching, but the issue has not been tested in court.
The break in the St. Louis murders came in 2002, when a reporter received an anonymous letter with a map generated by Microsoft's MSN service — marked with the location where a body could be found.
The F.B.I. subpoenaed Microsoft for records of anyone who had searched for maps of that area in the days before the letter was sent. Microsoft discovered that only one user had searched for precisely that area and provided the user's Internet Protocol address. That address, in turn was provided by a unit of WorldCom, which identified the user as Maury Troy Travis, a 36-year-old waiter. (Mr. Travis was arrested and hanged himself in jail without ever admitting guilt.)
While requests for search data have been few, computer experts expect them to increase.
"It is rare that those links will be a slam-dunk that will make a case," said John Curran, a former cybercrime investigator for the F.B.I. "But when you are putting together a larger case, you are trying to connect the dots, and it is the little things that actually help."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:30 AM
Wounded Soldiers Told They Owe Money to Army; Troops Face Financial Crises After Learning Army Overpaid Them During Hospitalization
'Nightline' Investigation: Wounded Soldiers Told They Owe Money to Army
Troops Face Financial Crises After Learning Army Overpaid Them During Hospitalization
By BRIAN ROSS
Jan. 31, 2006 — - It was one of the thousands of roadside bombs in Iraq that paralyzed Staff Sgt. Eugene Simpson.
"My first instinct was to jump farther back into the Humvee, you know, for protection," Simpson said. "But in doing that, I opened my back up to all the scrap metal and debris, which hit my spine and severed my spine, paralyzing me."
He was soon on a plane home.
Fast-working, skilled Army doctors saved his life, as they have so many.
Slow, bumbling Army bureaucrats would make his life miserable, as they have so many.
"And the military basically is, like, they turn their back on you, you kind of feel that you've just been used," Simpson said.
No Pay for Four Months
It started with a phone call from his wife, home with their four children. She didn't have enough money to pay the bills.
"And she was like, well, we haven't been paid," Simpson said. "And you know, instantly I was like, I don't know what to do. You know, I'm still in the hospital. I can't actually get up and go around and talk to these different people."
And until "Nightline" inquired at the Pentagon, Simpson said he could not find out what happened.
"Every day is something different," he said. "Well, this person isn't in. I'll have them call you back, give it a couple days. Couple days go by, I call back, well I got somebody else for you to talk to. And days lead to weeks, and weeks lead to months."
It turns out the Army had mistakenly continued to pay Simpson a combat duty bonus while he was in the hospital.
He had been overpaid thousands of dollars, and the Army wanted the money back.
"By law, he's not entitled to the money," said Col. Richard Shrank, "so he must pay it back."
Shrank said although that is the law, soldiers can apply for debt forgiveness if they believe the debt is a mistake. So far, more than 800 soldiers have done so. More than 600 of those requests have been granted, amounting to more than $600,000.
So, the Army said it withheld the paralyzed soldier's pay until it got back the amount he owed -- with no advance notice, Simpson said.
"Four months," he said. "I didn't get paid for four months."
An Ongoing Problem
Simpson is not the only one. A study commissioned by the First Infantry Division estimated that eight out of 10 of its wounded soldiers from Iraq have gone through the same or a similar ordeal.
Capt. Michael Hurst, now out of the Army, conducted the study.
"You have to understand that these soldiers are suffering from incredible injuries, some of them have lost limbs, some of them may never walk again," Hurst said. "And in the midst of that struggle, to then get a paycheck for nothing really hurts morale."
And the Army can play tough to get its money back.
In the case of Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who lost his leg in Iraq, he had just finished going through rehabilitation when the Army sent a letter threatening to ruin his credit and call in debt collectors.
He had been overpaid by $2,200 while in the hospital, but, like most, never realized it.
It took Kelly almost a year to cut through the red tape and get the debt forgiven.
"Soldiers receive a paycheck and reasonably think that this is their accurate pay for the month," Hurst said. "And being in the situation they're in, having just been injured and in some cases spouses have to quit jobs in order to spend time at Walter Reed, many of these families are really hurting for funds. So a lot of that money gets spent right away."
The Government Accountability Office described the Army as having failed the test of taking care of its wounded from Iraq.
The report concluded that the soldiers fighting to defend the nation have paid the price for that failure.
Shrank disagreed, however. "No, I would not agree that we have failed the test, because we are making the fixes to bring it up to standard," he told "Nightline."
Shrank took over as commander of the United States Army Finance Command last summer to help fix the problem, a problem the GAO said had been ignored until the soldiers went public.
"Nightline" asked when the problem was first realized and why it took so long to realize it.
"We first realized it was a problem when it came into our view through many different channels," Shrank said. "You see it on [television], read about it in the papers. A soldier without a paycheck is a situation that nobody wants to see."
Shrank was asked if it had happened thousands of times. "I, no, I do not think thousands of times," he said. "It happened, one time is too many."
Shrank could not name an exact number, but the Army told "Nightline" that 5,549 soldiers, or about one out of five soldiers who were removed from battle for medical reasons later had payroll problems.
'Nobody Planned for This to Happen'
"You know, as a West Pointer and as a leader in the Army that one of the main things that we're taught is when you have soldiers that you are responsible, you have to take care of them, you have to take care of their family," Hurst said.
"And that's kind of the exchange that takes place between leaders and soldiers. And for a lot of these soldiers this is just a betrayal really. They feel abandoned, when they're in such a vulnerable position and their leaders aren't taking care of them."
Shrank said the process failed the soldiers, "but the leaders didn't fail the soldiers because we are making the changes to improve the processes to take care of our soldiers and their pay."
Shrank said he is not aware of anyone losing their command over the thousands of incidents. When asked if the problem could not have been anticipated, he said, "As we experienced taking care of pay for our wounded soldiers, we saw that the, what we had in place did not work. As I told you."
"Well," he added, "nobody planned for this to happen."
Shrank said, "It was planning that did not meet the standard and the execution that we wanted to achieve."
Fixing the Problem
Shrank said he's moving fast to fix the problem.
There's still no integrated payroll computer system, but now wounded soldiers are assigned a finance officer once they arrive at the Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany to help keep track of payroll changes and problems.
And the colonel says wounded soldiers like Kelly will no longer be reported to credit agencies or have debt collectors go after them.
"The soldiers have a right to feel that the system let 'em down," he said. 'And it did let them down. This, we know this. We see this. This is why we fixed the system."
Meanwhile, Simpson gave up trying to rectify the situation. "I mean, I've had people on the phone just flat out tell me, I can't help you, no need for you to call here anymore," he said.
Shrank said for those like Simpson, "I would tell those soldiers that I care about them," he said, adding, "And I want to see that they received their proper pay."
In fact, he told "Nightline," he wants soldiers in this situation to call him. "Yes," Shrank said. "If that's what it takes, yes."
Update: Feb. 3, 2006 -- After this story aired on "Nightline," the Army immediately gave Eugene Simpson his long-awaited back pay. It will go a long way towards paying his bills.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:27 AM
Libby trial conveniently (for Republicans) not set to start until months after the mid-term elections
Trial date set in CIA leak case
A US judge has set a trial date of next January for a top White House aide who faces charges relating to the leaking of a CIA agent's identity to the press.
Jury selection for the trial of Lewis Libby starts on 8 January 2007, pushing the case back beyond crucial mid-term elections in November.
The delay stems from the defence lawyer's engagement in another trial.
Valerie Plame's identity was leaked in 2003. Her husband, a former diplomat, had criticised the US Iraq war policy.
District Judge Reggie Walton said in Washington he had hoped to start the trial in September, but defence lawyer Theodore Wells was committed to another case.
"I hate having the case linger for that long, but I guess there is no alternative," said Judge Walton.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, denies five charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice.
Ms Plame's identity was revealed in a column by journalist Robert Novak in July 2003.
Critics of the government of George W Bush say it was leaked by senior officials to blow Ms Plame's cover as a punishment for her husband, the former diplomat Joseph Wilson.
He had criticised the government's reasons for going to war with Iraq.
Mr Libby's only word in the 45-minute hearing was to say "yes" to agreeing to the trial date.
The trial is expected to take about one month.
The chief adviser to President George W Bush, Karl Rove, is still under investigation in connection with the leaking of the agent's identity.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:24 AM
Post-9/11 air quality cover-up continues: Democrats
By Christian Wiessner
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House continue to mislead the public about air quality in the Ground Zero area immediately after the September 11 attack and have not properly decontaminated the area, two congressional Democrats said on Friday.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said the Bush administration's motive for initially lying about the air quality was economically driven, noting the New York Stock Exchange and major brokerage and financial firms were in the area.
"Initially, it was probably an economic decision," he said. "Get Wall Street running, get the economy going immediately and if the people of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn have to be casualties, so be it."
Nadler and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said Thursday's decision by a judge to allow a class-action lawsuit against the EPA validates charges that the EPA lied about air quality in the days after the attack.
"From day one, it was obvious that (former EPA Administrator) Christie Todd Whitman and the EPA were lying to the people of New York when they started saying within two days after the disaster that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink," Nadler said at a press conference.
"They said it before there was any data to indicate that and they kept saying it when there was plenty of data to indicate that the air was not safe.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, in a written opinion handed down on Thursday, blasted the EPA and Whitman for reassuring people that it was safe to return to their homes and workplaces. She said Whitman's statements encouraging residents to return "shock the conscience."
"If this country were operating properly, we would be having criminal prosecutions of some of the federal officials involved in this and maybe we eventually will," Nadler said.
Clinton said it had been more than two years since a report from the EPA inspector general concluded the agency has misled the public about Ground Zero air quality.
She said the EPA was "under pressure from the White House" to make residents and workers believe air quality was much better than it was in the days after the attacks.
Nadler said indoor areas around Ground Zero still need proper decontamination and the government's failure to do so will lead to countless future deaths of people who breathed air fouled asbestos insulation, computers, furniture, carpet and other materials from the destroyed buildings.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:23 AM
Democrats want intelligence on N Korea published
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats asked President George W. Bush on Friday to publish U.S. intelligence on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and questioned the president's commitment to dealing with the issue.
In a letter to Bush, the lawmakers said the communist state was a greater danger to U.S. security than in 2002 when he described Pyongyang as part of an "axis of evil". Pyongyang has since said it has nuclear weapons.
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the top Democrats on the Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees.
They criticized Bush for not mentioning North Korea in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, saying the omission called "into question the credibility of your commitment to addressing this threat."
The Democrats wrote: "We are now faced with the real possibility that North Korea may have perhaps as many as a dozen nuclear weapons. We have no guarantee that North Korea will not export fissile material or even finished nuclear weapons."
They said experts believed North Korea had the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on missiles that could threaten South Korea and Japan.
The Democrats urged Bush to release a declassified version of a newly crafted national intelligence estimate on North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs.
National intelligence estimates are reports that reflect the views of the entire 15-agency U.S. intelligence community.
The administration drew up such a report on Iraq's weapons capabilities in 2002 in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and released a declassified version to the public. Both versions were later widely criticized for claiming that Iraq possessed unconventional weapons which have never been found.
U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte told the Senate on Thursday that it was "probably true" that North Korea possessed nuclear weapons and described Pyongyang as a threat to international security in a historically volatile region.
A Negroponte spokesman on Friday declined to confirm the existence of any recent national intelligence estimate on North Korea. But a spokesman for the White House national security council said "We've received the letter and will respond."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:21 AM
Friday, February 03, 2006
The following is from an organization called IPac
Your Senator Needs an iPod
Last week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the "Broadcast Flag" and "Audio Flag," a set of proposals by the MPAA and RIAA that would stifle innovation by giving content holders a virtual veto over new technologies and existing user rights.
But Senator Stevens, the 82-year old committee chairman from Alaska, surprised the audience by announcing that his daughter had bought him an iPod, and suddenly Stevens had a much greater understanding of the many ways innovative technology can create choice for consumers. Content industry representatives at the hearing found themselves answering much tougher questions than they typically receive.
That's why we think all Senators ought to join Stevens' esteemed company as iPod owners. Rather than wait for every Senator's daughter,
we're taking matters into our own hands and buying a video iPod for the campaigns of Senators who work on legislation affecting technology. Plus, we're going to pre-load each one with examples of the cultural richness made possible by sharing and collaboration - public domain content, Creative Commons content, and audio messages about the importance of balanced copyright policy. It will be engraved with the words "listen to the people." And it will arrive at each Senator's campaign office with a letter of explanation and a list of all the people who helped pay for it.
Each Video iPod costs $324.42, and you can buy a whole iPod or chip in a portion of the cost. We'll take care of the rest.
Go to the link below for more details:
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:33 PM
Federal judge blasts former EPA chief Whitman for saying it was safe to return to homes/offices shortly after 9/11
Judge Slams Ex-EPA Chief Over Sept. 11
By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer
A federal judge blasted former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman on Thursday for reassuring New Yorkers soon after the Sept. 11 attacks that it was safe to return to their homes and offices while toxic dust was polluting the neighborhood.
U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts refused to grant Whitman immunity against a class-action lawsuit brought in 2004 by residents, students and workers in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn who said they were exposed to hazardous materials from the destruction of the World Trade Center.
"No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws," the judge said.
She called Whitman's actions "conscience-shocking," saying the EPA chief knew that the collapse of the twin towers released tons of hazardous materials into the air.
Whitman had no comment, according to a spokeswoman. A Justice Department spokesman said the government had no comment.
Spokeswoman Mary Mears said the EPA was reviewing the opinion but was pleased that the court had dismissed two of four civil claims against the agency, including allegations brought under the federal Superfund law.
"The EPA will continue to vigorously defend against the outstanding claims," she said.
The judge let the lawsuit proceed against the EPA and Whitman, permitting the plaintiffs to try to prove that the agency and its administrator endangered their health.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and reimbursement for cleanup costs and asks the court to order that a medical monitoring fund be set up to track the health of those exposed to trade center dust.
In her ruling, Batts noted that the EPA and Whitman said repeatedly — beginning just two days after the attack — that the air appeared safe to breathe. The EPA's internal watchdog later found that the agency, at the urging of White House officials, gave misleading assurances.
Quoting a ruling in an earlier case, the judge said a public official cannot be held personally liable for putting the public in harm's way unless the conduct was so egregious as "to shock the contemporary conscience." Given her role in protecting the health and environment for Americans, Whitman's reassurances after Sept. 11 were "without question conscience-shocking," Batts said.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said in a statement that New Yorkers are still depending on the federal government to describe any ongoing risk from contaminants.
"I continue to believe that the White House owes New Yorkers an explanation," she said.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (news, bio, voting record), a Democrat whose district includes the trade center site, said the many people who worked at the site and developed respiratory diseases deserve answers.
"It is my assumption that thousands of people — workers and residents — are being slowly poisoned today because these workplaces and residences were never properly cleaned up," Nadler said in a telephone interview.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:27 AM
Bush and the Straw Men
If Republicans during the Clinton Administration were frustrated by the former president's ability to use triangulation, Democrats must be equally irritated by President Bush's use of the Straw Man fallacy.
The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.
The president has perfected his role as politics answer to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen using the Democrats as the Charlie McCarthy. At the State of the Union, with the nation watching, the president placed a facsimile of the Democrat's argument on his lap and proceeded to effectively put words into the dummy's mouth.
In addressing the NSA eavesdropping scandal the president stated: "It is said that prior to the attacks of Sept. 11 our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy.
"So to prevent another attack, based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute, I have authorized a terrorist-surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected Al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed.
"This terrorist-surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again."
This "terrorist-surveillance program", in which the president admitted in a press conference last week requires that he circumvent the existing laws, is necessary; and to follow the Straw Man Democrat's way of thinking could result in another attack.
In order to believe that we are safe, we must have bankruptcy legislation that benefits primarily the banking and credit card industries while punishing those who cannot pay catastrophic medical expenses, tax cuts ad infinitum that have furthered the gap between rich and poor while adding to record deficits, and a war that the administration has shrewdly manipulated so that only a very few actually feel its pain.
This administration was wrong about WMD, wrong about torture, and is being proven wrong about democracy in the Middle East, as recent elections will attest. But it is the Straw Man Democrat who doesn't mind if we are attacked again that offset these facts.
Where are the courageous Democrats willing to stand up to Karl Rove's nonsensical assertion that there is a Mason-Dixon line that delineates a pre-9/11 versus a post -9/11 worldview?
Is Rove suggesting that in this Post-9/11 world we can attack countries with flawed intelligence, bankrupt our own nation, a pay lip service to the victims of natural disasters and that's okay?
This administration loves to point out that there has not been another attack on America since 9/11--this somehow justifies their otherwise dubious behavior.
Suppose, god forbid, there is another attack.
Will the administration cease and dissent its present course? Or will it use fear to become a bigger, stronger, less caring version of itself?
The tragedy of 9/11 does not change everything. It does not make the president above the law. Nor does it suggest that we must forgo our values in order to hang onto to the slender thread of perceived safety.
As for the Democrats, to call them an opposition party would be an insult to every member that has gone before them who has risen on behalf of those in the minority. By capitulating through their willingness to accept their Straw Man role, they have become the "Costello" to the GOP's "Abbot."
This does not bode well for a party that is hoping to gain seats in the Senate and House this fall. Frankly, if they cannot break out of the Straw Man mold I question whether they deserve to be put in control.
It is not enough to be right on the issues. For as the president has successfully demonstrated it is possible to be wrong on the issues and merely appear to provide leadership--especially when you can also put words in the other party's mouth.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:24 AM
Iraq pact 'decided before war': Tony Blair and George W Bush had already decided to invade Iraq in January 2003
Iraq pact 'decided before war'
Tony Blair and George W Bush had already decided to invade Iraq in January 2003, a new book by a human rights lawyer has claimed.
The book - an updated edition of Lawless World by Philippe Sands - says the two leaders discussed going to war regardless of any United Nations view.
The book quotes a note the author said was made after a meeting of the two.
Downing Street said on Thursday it did not comment on discussions that "may or may not have happened" between leaders.
The first edition of the book by Professor Sands, a QC and professor of international law at University College London ,caused political controversy on its publication in February 2005.
In the new version of the book, due out on Friday, Professor Sands publishes an account of the meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair at the White House on 31 January 2003.
The two-hour meeting was also attended by six advisers. In the book Professor Sands quotes from a note he says was prepared by one of the participants.
According to the note, President Bush said that the military campaign was pencilled in for March. Mr Blair is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".
The book claims Mr Blair only wanted a second UN Security Council resolution because it would make it easier politically to deal with Saddam.
'Will not re-litigate'
It also claims the note reveals the two leaders discussed a number of options.
A Downing Street spokeswoman told the BBC on Thursday that the events leading up to the war had been thoroughly investigated.
A spokeswoman said the prime minister only committed UK forces to Iraq after securing the approval of the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.
The decision to resort to military action into Iraq fulfilled the obligation imposed by successive UN Security Council resolutions after other routes to disarm Iraq had failed.
The spokeswoman said Number Ten did not comment on conversations between the prime minister and other leaders.
In a response from the US, Frederick Jones, chief spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House will not comment on what was said or not said in alleged private conversations between President Bush and foreign leaders.
Mr Jones said the White House "was not going to re-litigate how the nation went to war".
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:23 AM
Congressman's Aide Admits to Embezzling
Former Aide to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Acknowledges Embezzling More Than $166,000
The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas - A former aide to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has acknowledged embezzling more than $166,000 from the Democrat's campaign fund and from other groups, according to her attorney.
Kristi Willis, 37, has apologized and intends to pay the money back, her lawyer said. Meanwhile, Travis County prosecutors are investigating.
Willis is a longtime ally of Doggett's and a well-known figure in Austin political circles.
She has acknowledged taking the money from Doggett; another $17,000 from state House candidate Andy Brown; and at least $10,000 from the Capitol Area Democratic Women, an organization she once served as treasurer.
Her attorney, Charles Grigson, issued a statement saying Willis "deeply regrets her action. ... She has a serious personal psychological problem that has manifested itself in a spending addiction for which she is seeking long-term professional help."
Willis worked in Doggett's Austin office from 1998 to 2004, most recently as his district director, said James Cousar, Doggett's campaign treasurer.
Grigson said the misappropriated money was for meals and nights out, not big-ticket items.
"If it was something expensive like a Mercedes, we could sell the car and pay some back," he said.
Willis or her family has already paid back $40,000 to Doggett's campaign, all the money to Brown's campaign and $2,000 to the Capitol Area Democratic Women, officials said.
Claire Dawson-Brown, chief of the Travis County district attorney's grand jury division, said her office is investigating.
Brown has said he does not intend to press charges. Cousar said that no decision has been made whether Doggett will pursue charges.
Brown and Doggett's offices and the Capitol Area Democratic Women said Wednesday that they now have policies in place to verify their spending.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:20 AM
US official admits Iraq aid theft
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington
In the United States, a former official has admitted stealing millions of dollars meant for the reconstruction of Iraq.
Robert Stein held a senior position in the Coalition Provisional Authority, which administered Iraq after American and allied forces invaded in 2003.
In a Washington court, he admitted to stealing more than $2m (£1.12m) and taking bribes in return for contracts.
He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Robert Stein's story is one of extraordinary corruption and excess amid the ruins of Iraq.
He was in charge of overseeing money for the rebuilding of shattered infrastructure in south-central Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
Suitcases of cash
Mr Stein admitted in court to conspiring to give out contracts worth $8m to a certain company in return for bribes.
He also received gifts and sexual favours lavished on him at a special villa in Baghdad.
But it didn't stop there.
Robert Stein admitted to stealing $2m from reconstruction funds.
Some of that money, the court heard, was smuggled onto aircraft and flown back to the United States in suitcases.
The case is an ugly twist in the tale of post-war Iraq.
The Coalition Provisional Authority, which ceased to exist in 2004, has already endured some tough criticism over the way it managed funds and handed out contracts.
A report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction on how the authority went about its business is expected in the coming weeks.
The signs are it could make embarrassing reading for many of those involved.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:19 AM
Tempers Flare Over Spy Program at Rare Public Intel Hearing
Brooklyn Bridge, Reagan Discussed During Senate Session
By Z. BYRON WOLF
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2006 — - The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's hearings are usually held behind closed doors, open only to people with top-secret security clearances or clearances so secret their names can't even be revealed.
But today its Democratic members made the most of their first chance to grill administration officials and the intelligence community on the secret domestic surveillance program enacted by President Bush shortly after 9/11 terror attacks.
The program was known only to the intelligence officers who administer it, the administration members who OK'd it, and the eight members of Congress who were informed but sworn to secrecy.
Secrets are hard enough to keep in Washington. So the revelation of a clandestine spying program kept quiet for four years has been a political focus in Washington since it was leaked to the New York Times late last year.
'Trust, But Verify,' Say Democrats
The hearing opened with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's slow monotone, describing worldwide threats of nuclear peril from Iran and North Korea to how al Qaeda is sustaining itself both in Iraq and elsewhere.
Sen. Ron Wyden , D-Ore., cut Negroponte off in mid-sentence as he described the internal NSA and administration checks on the domestic spying program.
"That's not good enough," Wyden snapped. "You're asking us to trust you. Ronald Reagan put it well, 'Trust but verify.' And the American people and Congress can't verify."
Most Democrats -- and Republicans such as intelligence committee member Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, and Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter -- have raised questions about the secrecy of the program and the fact that it circumvents the Foreign Intelligence Security Act, which requires warrants for domestic wiretapping from a secret court.
Democrats walked a fine line in their criticism, trying to criticize the program without appearing soft on national security matters. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., for instance, said today he is not opposed to the wiretapping, but to the secrecy with which the program was enacted and conducted.
How Many Saved? Look at the Brooklyn Bridge
For their part, Republicans forcefully defended the program. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., zinged off some excellent one-liners about the need for secrecy regarding the program.
"I can tell you how many people have been saved by this program," he said, when Gen. Hayden of the Department of National Intelligence declined to say how many people were saved from death at the hands of terrorists by the program. "It's everybody who was on the Brooklyn Bridge when it would have been blown up."
Caught in the middle were the intelligence community representatives, who generally declined to comment on the program at all, saying they could elaborate later today when they met in a closed hearing.
Today's hearing marked the first of several shots senators will have at the political appointees who approved and administer the NSA program. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will likely undergo a similar haranguing next Monday when he goes before the Senate Judiciary committee.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:17 AM
Sheehan Not Only One Kicked Out of Speech - Republican Congressman's Wife and Anti-War Activist Both Thrown Out of State of the Union
Sheehan Not Only One Kicked Out of Speech
Republican Congressman's Wife and Anti-War Activist Both Thrown Out of State of the Union
By LIZ MARLANTES
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2006 — - Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was not the only one ejected from the House chamber during the president's State of the Union address for wearing the wrong T-shirt. Republican Rep. Bill Young's wife, Beverly, was also told to leave by Capitol police for wearing a shirt that read "Support the Troops: Defending Our Freedom."
Today Young, the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, decried the incident on the House floor, saying, "shame, shame," and holding up the shirt his wife had been wearing.
Young later told reporters he agreed with the rule prohibiting demonstrations in the Capitol but said he doesn't think wearing a T-shirt constitutes a demonstration. His wife regularly goes to visit wounded soldiers at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, he said, and she "wears this T-shirt or something like it everywhere she goes," adding that she was "insulted" and "embarrassed" by what happened.
He also noted that no one complained about the shirt when she went through security and that she wasn't actually asked to leave until some 45 minutes of the speech had elapsed.
Sheehan, who attended the speech as a guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., was arrested and charged with demonstrating within the Capitol, a misdemeanor. She was wearing a T-shirt that read "2245 Dead: How Many More?"
On ABC's "Good Morning America," Sheehan described what happened: "This man was yelling at me, 'Protester, you have to get out of here,'" she said. "They grabbed me out of my seat and put my arms behind me and rushed me out and handcuffed me. I thought that was a little excessive for wearing a T-shirt."
Young emphasized that he did not know the circumstances that led to Sheehan's arrest. But he added: "If she was just sitting there wearing a shirt then she should not have been kicked out."
He also said he called both White House adviser Karl Rove and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, along with Capitol police Chief Terrence Gainer, to complain.
Capitol police have requested that the U.S. attorney's office drop the charges against Sheehan.
"As the department reviewed the incident, it was determined that while officers acted in a manner consistent with the rules of decorum enforced by the department in the House Gallery for years, neither Mrs. Sheehan's manner of dress or initial conduct warranted law enforcement intervention," said Gainer in a statement today.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:13 AM
Lawmakers push bill to cut aid to Palestinians
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of House of Representatives members introduced legislation on Thursday to halt U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority because the militant group Hamas, dedicated to destroying Israel, was expected to form a new Palestinian government.
The main sponsors of the bill, which would take a tougher stance than the Bush administration, said they expected it to get broad support in the wake of Hamas' stunning victory in Palestinian elections over the Fatah party.
Aid and diplomatic relations would be restored under the bill if Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist, renounces terrorism, and lays down its arms.
"We've got to make sure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not used to assist directly or indirectly those who are carrying out terrorist attacks or those who allow these attacks to continue by doing nothing to stop terror," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.
Beside cutting off direct aid, the bill would restrict non-humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians through non-governmental organizations, cut diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian Authority and treat it as a terrorist entity, close its offices in the United States other than its United Nations representative, and limit travel of its representatives.
The bill also would withhold U.S. funds to the United Nations equal to the amount the world body provides the Palestinians.
The Bush administration has said Hamas' role in a Palestinian government threatened U.S. aid, although it has urged the aid continue to an interim government.
MONEY FOR PALESTINIANS
For 2006, the United States has budgeted $150 million in assistance to the Palestinians, and a further $84 million to the U.N. fund.
Ros-Lehtinen and California Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos at a news conference said the bill, which had 30 co-sponsors, showed the determination in Congress to confront Hamas.
"Our desire to continue humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people will of course continue," said Lantos, top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.
"But the notion that an organization which is hell-bent on destroying the one democratic state in the Middle East should be receiving ... assistance from the United States is unacceptable," Lantos said.
Congressional aides said the White House recognized the pressure building among lawmakers to take action in the wake of the Palestinian elections.
But they said the administration wanted the bill to provide President George W. Bush broad discretion to waive provisions, while lawmakers wanted the waivers on a tight case-by-case basis.
"Any time you get this kind of legislation that proposes restrictions on the president's ability to conduct foreign policy you're always going to bump into balance of power issues," said a State Department official, who did not want to be named to avoid upsetting ongoing negotiations with lawmakers on the bill.
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert)
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:03 AM
[Clearly Bush is in another reality, as millions of technologists and others in the USA have either taken lower paying non-tech jobs or are out of work so long that they are no longer counted among the unemployed (a totally inaccurate number that the government constantly readjusts to suit their needs).
Bush tells Americans not to fear global competition
By Tabassum Zakaria
MAPLEWOOD, Minnesota (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Thursday said Americans should not fear global competition from rising economic powers like China and India, and called on Congress to allow more foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs in the United States.
In a trip to the Midwest Bush expanded on the election-year theme set in his State of the Union address that America must maintain its competitive edge in a global economy. He has proposed a program to support research and development in new technologies, and improve science and math education.
To fill vacant high-tech jobs in the United States, Bush called on Congress to lift the current limit on H-1B visas that allow foreign workers to get jobs in the United States.
"The problem is, is that Congress has limited the number of H-1B visas that can come and apply for a job," Bush said in a speech at 3M, which makes products such as office supplies Scotch tape and Post-it notes.
"I think it's a mistake not to encourage more really bright folks who can fill the jobs that are having trouble being filled here in America, to limit their number," Bush said. "So I call upon Congress to be realistic and reasonable and raise that cap."
Congress in 2005 capped at 65,000 the number of H-1B visas, a third of the 195,000 allowed during the technology boom. Bush did not say by how much he wanted the limit lifted.
U.S. employers use the visas to recruit foreigners for jobs in medicine, engineering, education, research and programming, among other fields.
A tech-industry official said Bush's statement was a significant step up from the administration's past position.
"He's been supportive, but he hasn't specifically addressed the numbers like he has today," said Jeff Lande, a senior vice president at the Information Technology Association of America.
Bush said Americans should not fear competition because as wealth spreads overseas, there will be growth in demand for U.S. products. At the same time he acknowledged that there was some feeling of "uncertainty" as they see jobs moving abroad.
"It's important for us not to lose our confidence in changing times; it's important for us not to fear competition, but welcome it," Bush said.
Bush is proposing a $5.9 billion "American Competitiveness Initiative" that includes $1.3 billion in new federal funding and an additional $4.6 billion in research and development tax incentives. The program aims to support science research and improve math and science education.
He also touched upon other themes from his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, including the need to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"I'm confident that we'll be able to say to the American people when this research (on alternative fuels) is complete, that the United States is on our way to no dependence on oil from the Middle East."
Bush is hoping his election-year agenda will help provide a route for Republican victory in the November congressional and Senate races where the control of Congress is at stake.
Bush made his speech on Thursday in Minnesota where Republicans have targeted the Senate race for the seat of incumbent Democrat Mark Dayton who is retiring.
Republicans have recruited Rep. Mark Kennedy for the race. Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney, is favored to win the primary in September and take on Kennedy.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, and Andy Sullivan in Washington)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:57 AM
Thursday, February 02, 2006
'St. Jack' and the Bullies in the Pulpit
John Danforth Says It's Time the GOP Center Took On The Christian Right
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Jack Danforth wishes the Republican right would step down from its pulpit. Instead, he sees a constant flow of religion into national politics. And not just any religion, either, but the us-versus-them, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God, velvet-fist variety of Christian evangelism.
As a mainline Episcopal priest, retired U.S. senator and diplomat, Danforth worships a humbler God and considers the right's certainty a sin. Legislating against gay marriage, for instance? "It's just cussedness." As he sees it, many Republican leaders have lost their bearings and, if they don't change, will lose their grip on power. Not to mention make the United States a meaner place.
Danforth is no squalling liberal. He is a lifelong Republican. And his own political history shows he is no milquetoast.
A man of God and the GOP, he is speaking out for moderation -- in religion, politics, science and government. The lanky figure once dubbed "St. Jack," not always warmly, for the perch he seemed to occupy on Washington's moral high ground, expects people will sour on the assertive brand of Christianity so closely branded Republican.
"I'm counting on nausea," he says.
In a political year that promises a fresh battle for the national soul, religion is emerging as a tool and a test, with Danforth's words marking a fissure within the GOP. The conservative evangelical Christian movement that helped propel President Bush and congressional Republicans into power has become a big, fat target, even as Democrats and GOP moderates agonize about how to capture more votes from the faithful.
"The Republican Party has been taken over by something that it's not," Danforth says over a suitably austere lunch of steamed vegetables in a well-appointed 40th-floor St. Louis club overlooking the Mississippi. "How do traditional Republicans put up with this? They put up with this because it's a winning combination, for now. It won't last."
Why won't it last?
"It won't stand the light of day," Danforth says in one of several conversations. "The more people think about it, the more people will resist it. People do not want a sectarian political party, including a lot of people who are traditional Republicans."
Richard Land gets a big laugh out of that.
The combative voice of the Southern Baptist Convention and confidant of White House political guru Karl Rove has little use for Danforth, however grand his religious and political pedigrees. He describes the former senator as "what was wrong with the Republican Party and why they were a minority party."
"Votes reflect moral values. The struggle for hearts and minds gets reflected in the ballot box," Land says, setting up the twist of the knife. "It just sounds to me like Danforth's sore that he lost the argument with a majority of the American people."
The Turning Point
It seems like another era when John Claggett Danforth was perceived as one of the most publicly pious players in Washington. He led weekly worship at St. Albans and served as the eulogist for former president Ronald Reagan and former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
When asked in 1991 to respond to critics who used "St. Jack" as a pejorative to suggest sanctimony, he told a Post interviewer, "I think anyone who felt that he was, you know, Mr. Wonderful, with an agenda that is the God-given agenda for the country to be accomplished at all costs -- he would be both sick and ineffective."
Danforth was talking about himself. Little did he imagine that there was a battalion of evangelical Mr. Wonderfuls marching on the nation's capital, which they would soon rule. Now he wishes that part about ineffectiveness were only true.
Danforth, 69, is out of government after 18 years in the Senate, service as a peacemaker in Sudan and investigator in Waco, Tex., and a recent stint as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. An heir to the Ralston Purina fortune, who received degrees in religion from Princeton and law and divinity from Yale, he largely focuses on good works in St. Louis while delivering the occasional sermon.
One morning last spring, as he walked with his wife, Sally, in Palm Springs, Calif., where they are building a house, his dismay with the Republican Party turned to dissent.
The trigger was the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead Florida woman whose husband wanted to disconnect her from life support. Schiavo's parents fought to keep her alive, backed by prominent Christian conservatives, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
"If you turned on Fox News, you would hear relentless talking heads talking about, 'They're killing Terri!' and 'This is murder!' " Danforth says, recalling the campaign to remove the case from Florida courts that had ruled she should be allowed to die. "I thought, 'This is not what the Republican Party does. The only explanation for it was an effort to appease the Christian right.' "
Danforth saw the Schiavo case as meshing with the right's opposition to gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research.
"I think a marriage is between a man and a woman, but it's beyond me how the whole thing has become so politicized and people have become so energized by it. Because, what difference does it make? How does it constitute a defense of marriage to legislate in this area?"
In Missouri, where Danforth won five statewide elections, a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage passed overwhelmingly last year. Yet he believes most people would say no if asked, "Do you believe we should just be nasty and humiliate people and degrade them because of sexual orientation?"
"The Ten Commandments in the courthouse?" he says of another front in the culture wars. "Talk about much ado about nothing."
Danforth is appearing in television and radio advertisements on behalf of a state constitutional amendment that would legalize a type of embryonic stem cell research known as therapeutic cloning, in which the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is replaced with an ordinary body cell. In a few days, this develops into the beginnings of a human embryo that contains stem cells able to become any type of cell in the human body.
The goal of the research is therapy for some of the world's most devastating diseases and injuries. The goal of the proposed amendment, now being contested in a Missouri court, is to avoid the annual effort by conservative Republican legislators to criminalize research into a procedure that opponents consider tantamount to killing babies.
It is an issue that affects Danforth personally. One of his brothers, Donald, died in 1998 of Lou Gehrig's disease, a focus of stem cell work.
"What is the thinking behind saying that we should criminalize research that can prevent Parkinson's or juvenile diabetes?" Danforth asks. "We should criminalize research because we want to save cells in a petri dish that will never be implanted in a uterus and never become people?"
All of this and much of the paralyzing polarization on Capitol Hill he traces to "my fellow Christians."
"With confidence that it is the mouthpiece for God, it endorses candidates, supports constitutional amendments and mobilizes campaigns to keep poor souls hooked up to feeding tubes," Danforth says. "It calls its opponents 'enemies of the people of faith.' Today that is the style and, I think, the sin of the Christian right."
Soldier for a Cause
Lest there be any doubt, Danforth's politics hardly come from the left. He opposes abortion and earned disdain in progressive circles as chief steward of conservative Judge Clarence Thomas's bitter 1991 Supreme Court nomination. By his own admission, he pushed so hard, and with so little regard for decency, that loyal members of his staff threatened to quit.
"I fought for Clarence. I fought dirty in a fight without rules," Danforth wrote in his 1994 memoir, "Resurrection," a remarkably intimate look at the nomination fight. His principal target was Anita Hill, the law professor whose allegations of sexual harassment he decided were sexual fantasies.
"People were just dumping stuff on Clarence," Danforth says in an interview. "So I was trying to tarnish the reputation of his accuser by dumping stuff in the record where she didn't have any chance to cross-examine or confront. The whole thing was a mess."
Wall Street Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer spent three years investigating the allegations against Thomas, concluding in their 1994 book "Strange Justice" that "the preponderance of the evidence suggests" Thomas lied under oath. The book sits on Danforth's shelf, unread.
Danforth says he never questioned the nominee, or doubted him. They did not talk details.
"I'm Clarence Thomas's friend. I'm not his critic," explains Danforth, who hired him onto his legal staff in Missouri and again in Washington. "There is no more kind or gentle person on Earth than Clarence Thomas. The idea that he would treat somebody meanly or try to humiliate someone or put someone in a humiliating situation is absolutely the opposite of who he is."
Religion and prayer infuse Danforth's telling of the Thomas story. It is largely a private faith, not a standing-before-the-microphones public declaration of righteousness, yet the calls for divine intervention are plenty impassioned. At one point, just as Thomas was to testify, Danforth herded Sally along with Clarence and Ginni Thomas into his Senate bathroom in search of quiet. He cued a tape recorder.
"Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war," the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang. "With the cross of Jesus, going on before."
Danforth draws no connections between the divisions bared in the Thomas debate and the polarization that bedevils Congress today. He recalls a more pleasant era of coalitions and compromises that gave way to ever fiercer partisanship starting in the early 1990s after Thomas was already on the bench. He dates the beginning of the downslide to the arrival in the Senate of sharp-tongued former House Republicans.
His sense that the legislative branch is unable to answer large questions -- the fate of Social Security, health care or the world order, for example -- crystallized in March when he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. It opened with the blunt assertion that "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians."
In that essay and another in June, Danforth argued publicly for the first time that the Republican right is a divisive force in the party and the nation. He traced a relationship between increased activism by Christian conservatives and the collapse of collegiality. He said occupants of the Christian middle are honorably uncertain about translating their beliefs into laws because they are mindful of their own fallibility.
Danforth urged GOP moderates to show that "we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative."
The articles rocketed around the Internet. Liberals, along with a raft of lonely Republican moderates, loved them. One person wrote Danforth in relief, having worried "that the Republican Party was being taken over by crackpots." But Danforth has also heard derisive snipes from Republicans who consider him naive, at best. A stranger imposed a curse on him before signing a four-page screed, "Have a nice day. Bob."
"Have a nice day," Danforth muses, "but one hell of an eternity."
Commentator Z. Dwight Billingsly, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointed out a cold calculus, that when Danforth took office in 1977, there were 143 Republicans in the House and 38 in the Senate, compared with 232 in the House and 55 in the Senate last year: "Danforth-style Republicans can forgive our own party anything except success, probably because they never knew it and didn't bring it about. In fact, it happened in spite of them."
Or, as a Texas correspondent warned in an e-mail to Danforth: "The Republicans never fail to take the Christian conservative vote for granted. Watch what happens when the Christians sit at home in the upcoming elections. I will let you get back to your cocktail party with all your fat cat clients who stand around and demean people that understand our country's problem is spiritual."
Fronting the Center
Does it matter what Jack Danforth thinks? He commands no political army and rules no territory beyond his writing desk and the occasional pulpit. He is up against the most polished political operation of modern times, facing the likes of Rove and House Republican disciplinarians such as Tom DeLay.
Jim Wallis, the left-leaning author of "God's Politics," declares hopefully that "the monologue of the religious right is finally over and the new dialogue has just begun. The answer to bad religion isn't secularism, it's better religion. Moderate and centrist evangelicals and Catholics are going to shape the future."
Boston College professor Alan Wolfe thinks Danforth is a suitable messenger because "he just seems to embody an America that many Americans feel was lost and we ought to get back." Samuel T. Lloyd III, Episcopal dean of Washington National Cathedral, thinks Danforth's work "could not be more timely" for the church or the nation. Anger is running so high, he says, that even the cathedral leadership is accused of being a lackey of the Republicans or the Democrats, sometimes both in the same week.
"Through very careful calculation," Lloyd says, "people in politics have decided that tolerance doesn't mobilize a base for a campaign, and what does is making people angry. My hope and my guess is that there is a fair amount of revulsion and that the moment is right for one or more candidates who want to appeal to a more generous spirit in the American people."
That certainly dovetails with the argument of Baptist Sunday school teacher and certified Democrat Jimmy Carter, who pursues the theme in his hot-selling recent book, "Our Endangered Values," with 750,000 copies in print. He quotes Danforth and accuses the GOP of building an intolerant, uncivil agenda from "narrowly defined religious beliefs." Hardliners, he says, are deepening the social divide by "imposing their minority views on a more moderate majority."
In an interview, Carter praises Danforth as "one of my heroes" and says modern-day fundamentalism is identifiable by superiority, exclusivity and narrow-mindedness. The current alignment reminds him of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting frenzy of 50 years ago. He says the country licked McCarthy and will beat the Christian conservatives, "once the American people realize accurately what is happening."
Yet conservative academic John J. Pitney Jr., author of a book on political warfare, simply does not buy the Danforth-Carter analysis. He also says religion has long been influential in politics and he questions whether moderates could power a movement.
"Moderation is no more an ideology than pastel is a color. It's just a muted version of something else," says Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College. "The moderates need to learn that the conservatives have the upper hand. But the conservatives need to learn that the moderates are there, too, and that the Republican majority is not so large that they can do without the moderates' support."
Thus, the future influence of religion in politics -- and which shade of religion gains the greatest political traction -- likely comes down to an old-fashioned electoral equation. Just as Richard Land says, and he is betting on the influence of voters who like their lines clearly drawn. He thinks the very certainty that Danforth disdains is what will carry the Christian right to greater heights.
"We do believe God has a side, that he's not a moderate or relativist on everything," says Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I'm not a prophet. They may convince the American people they're right. We may continue to convince the American people we're right. I'd be happy to debate John or Jimmy anytime, anywhere."
The retired senator might prefer it otherwise, but he accepts the paradox that the hustings and the nave are where his fight must be waged if religion is to assume a less prominent place in the political arena. He is writing a book to be released during this year's political campaign, and he is counting on the anguished, the aggrieved and the annoyed to push back against the Christian right.
"What I hope is somebody runs for president on this theme," Danforth says. "I do hope it's a Republican."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:01 AM
Administration Faulted on Katrina; GAO Report Blames Bungled Response on Failures That Started at the Top
Administration Faulted on Katrina
GAO Report Blames Bungled Response on Failures That Started at the Top
By Spencer S. Hsu and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Responsibility for the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina extends widely but begins at the top of the Bush administration, which failed before the storm to name a White House, homeland security or other senior aide to take command of disaster relief, congressional investigators reported yesterday.
Four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, administration officials did not establish a clear chain of command for the domestic emergency; disregarded early warnings of a Category 5 hurricane inundating New Orleans and southeast Louisiana; and did not ensure that cities and states had adequate plans and training before the Aug. 29 storm, according to the Government Accountability Office.
"A single individual -- directly responsible and accountable to the president of the United States -- should be dedicated to act as the central focal point to lead and coordinate the overall federal response," GAO chief David M. Walker said, summarizing the preliminary findings of 30 pending Katrina-related studies.
The blistering report contains the first assessments of the government's performance after Katrina. It is the first of a series of reviews in the coming weeks that are expected to fix blame and refocus scrutiny on the administration's handling of the nation's costliest natural disaster, which killed 1,307 people and caused more than $150 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast.
The report comes as President Bush prepares to unveil another hurricane relief and Iraq war budget request as early as Feb. 13, which could total well over $50 billion. The government has already allocated $85 billion to respond to the hurricane, according to the White House.
Bush aides, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and designees such as Michael D. Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at that time, did not fill a leadership role during the hurricane, Walker said, underscoring "the immaturity of and weaknesses" of national preparations for terrorism and disaster.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who asked Walker to report to a House investigation whose work is due to be completed on Feb. 15, said Bush aides including Vice President Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend "were just not prepared for a storm of this magnitude.
"The director . . . of the National Hurricane Center said this was the big one," Davis said, but "when this happened . . . Bush is in Texas, Card is in Maine, the vice president is fly-fishing. I mean, who's in charge here?"
A spokesman for Chertoff, who has largely escaped criticism after the storm, called the GAO report "premature and unprofessional." He said it is filled with basic errors because investigators have not yet spoken with department leaders.
"We have already acknowledged that Katrina revealed problems in national response capabilities, stretching back more than a decade," spokesman Russ Knocke said. "DHS will announce a comprehensive strategy" for improvements "in the very near future," he said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Buchanan said that Townsend's deputy, Ken Rapuano, was the White House "point man" throughout the crisis and that Card's deputy was serving as the top staffer with Bush in Crawford, Tex.
"The Homeland Security Department and the rest of the government -- meaning not the White House -- were the ones in the lead for operations," Buchanan said.
Townsend is completing a White House review of what went wrong. Congressional aides expect the findings to be announced about the time Chertoff reveals the plans for retooling FEMA, probably on Feb. 13.
Members of Congress have cautioned that the White House report will not be independent and objective. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of a Senate Katrina investigation panel, as well as Davis, repeated criticisms that the White House is not cooperating fully. The senators asked Card to weigh the Senate findings before proposing any changes.
"If we produce separate agendas, we risk conflict and a fragmented approach," Collins and Lieberman wrote to Card on Tuesday. "But if we work together, our chances of achieving success multiply."
House Democrats, who were given an update by Rapuano last month, said the administration review has identified more than 60 flaws, including breakdowns in the new emergency National Response Plan, in federal command and control, in communications and homeland security planning, as well as an overemphasis on terrorism at the expense of natural threats.
Brown and his Clinton administration predecessor, James Lee Witt, praised the GAO report yesterday. Brown has said FEMA should be freed from the Department of Homeland Security's budget cuts and bureaucracy, while Witt has suggested that its head's Cabinet-level status should be restored.
At a hearing of the Senate panel yesterday, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) acknowledged that his government was overwhelmed by Katrina. He said evacuation plans will be upgraded and levees repaired before the June 1 start of the hurricane season.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:58 AM
Senators oppose National Guard reductions
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 70 senators have signed a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasting the Pentagon's plan to cut National Guard troop levels, Senate aides said on Wednesday.
In the House of Representatives, a leading Democrat also said the plan would be rejected.
"What they're doing is trying to fit into a budget a plan knowing full well the Congress is not going to accept it," said Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
The Pentagon has proposed reducing the Army National Guard's total troop level authorized by Congress from 350,000 to 333,000 as part of a broader Army restructuring effort.
The Air National Guard also would be reduced by an unspecified level as part of the Pentagon's fiscal 2007 proposed budget Congress is scheduled to get next week.
Senate aides said the letter had 72 signatures as of Wednesday, and may get more before it goes to Rumsfeld by the end of the week. The Senate has 100 members.
Lawmakers said they were stunned at the plan that came as Army and National Guard forces have been strained by prolonged deployments in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the need for a force to deal with domestic disasters.
But Rumsfeld said he expected lawmakers eventually would go along.
"When they see what the facts are, they'll see it's perfectly rational and that the Guard's going to be funded and the Guard's going to be manned," Rumsfeld told Reuters on Tuesday after he spoke to a closed meeting of conservative House Republicans.
The National Guard is made up of part-time soldiers under command of state governors to respond to natural disasters and other crises, but also can be mobilized for overseas duty by the Pentagon.
The senators' letter said the "proposed cuts would undermine the Guard's ability to fulfill its diverse missions, shrinking the pool of available personnel."
It also said the cuts would not be cost-effective because "a properly trained, equipped, and supported National Guard provides an unrivaled level of capability when compared to the cost of maintaining a similarly equipped active duty force."
The Army National Guard now has about 333,000 troops, short of the 350,000 authorized by Congress. The Army National Guard, the active Army and Army Reserve all missed their recruiting goals last year.
Critics said reducing the authorized troop total could put the National Guard in a downward spiral for recruiting and funding for equipment.
But Rumsfeld said there "shouldn't be any concern about the National Guard because they're going to be funded and they're going to be equipped, and they're going to be equipped in ways that are advantageous to the governors of the states."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 AM
House passes, sends Bush $39 bln spending cuts
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly won passage on Wednesday of a controversial bill to trim about $39 billion from domestic spending over five years, capping a yearlong push to cut health care for the poor and elderly and other programs.
By a partisan vote of 216-214, the House approved the bill, sending it to President Bush for signing into law.
Bush said in a statement he was eager to sign the measure and that he would propose further "spending restraint" in the fiscal 2007 budget he will unveil on Monday.
The bill, approved in the Senate in December after Vice President Dick Cheney cast a rare tiebreaking vote, was approved by the House late last year. A small change made by the Senate forced another House vote.
The spending cuts are a high priority of conservative Republicans who want to continue cutting taxes amid huge budget deficits, which could top $400 billion this year.
"Today we can begin the process of controlling out-of- control government spending," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a conservative Republican.
Referring to $70 billion in proposed Republican tax cuts, Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said, "You don't have to be much beyond sixth grade to know that's going to add to your deficits" when offset by only $39 billion in spending cuts.
The Senate on Wednesday began debating a $70 billion tax-cut measure that would extend alternative minimum tax relief through 2006, ensuring that millions of middle-class families will not end up paying the tax that originally was intended for the very wealthy.
Besides the debate over whether the "Deficit Reduction Act" would actually live up to its name, lawmakers argued over how the spending cuts were being carried out.
Republicans said the reductions would begin to rein in "entitlement" programs that will account for a growing part of federal spending as the baby-boom generation qualifies for government health benefits.
"These programs need our reform," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican, who said the spending cuts would force improvements.
Democrats blasted provisions to save about $8 billion over 10 years by cutting federal enforcement of child-support payments and saving billions by allowing college student loan costs to rise.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this week that cuts to Medicaid spending would affect 13 million poor people, 20 percent of the program's participants. Many of those would be children, the CBO said.
The savings would include higher out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and other medical care for the poor.
Lonny Lefever, 53, who lives in the small town of Rosewood in western Ohio, is a Medicaid participant diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1995.
Lefever told Reuters in a telephone interview that higher co-payments on the $1,800 in life-saving prescription drugs he takes each month would erode his only source of income, Social Security disability payments.
Asked how he would cope with higher out-of-pocket costs, Lefever said: "I'll be honest with you. My thought would be to get it (money for prescription drugs) any way I could. But I don't want to go to jail." He added: "I would just hope I'd last until we got some other responsible government in position to change these laws. It's scary."
Besides slowing the growth in many domestic programs, the legislation has a wide impact on U.S. policies.
It would change some banking regulations and increase the premiums companies would pay to the federal pension insurer, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.
It also would end a U.S. trade law, declared illegal by the World Trade Organization, that let the government distribute duties it collects on foreign goods to American companies.
The bill also sets February 17, 2009, as the deadline when television stations must switch to airing only new digital broadcasts. It provides up to $1.5 billion to help some consumers buy converter boxes so existing televisions do not go dark after the transition.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Misstatement of the Union
The President burnishes the State of the Union through selective facts and strategic omissions.
The President left out a few things when surveying the State of the Nation:
He proudly spoke of "writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the number of democracies in the world is growing. He failed to mention that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan yet qualify as democracies according to the very group whose statistics he cited.
Bush called for Congress to pass a line-item veto, failing to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as unconstitutional in 1998. Bills now in Congress would propose a Constitutional amendment, but none have shown signs of life.
The President said the economy gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, failing to note that it had lost 2.6 million jobs in his first two-and-a-half years in office. The net gain since Bush took office is just a little more than 2 million.
He talked of cutting spending, but only "non-security discretionary spending." Actually, total federal spending has increased 42 percent since Bush took office.
He spoke of being "on track" to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. But the deficit is increasing this year, and according to the Congressional Budget Office it will decline by considerably less than half even if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to lapse.
Bush spoke of a "goal" of cutting dependence on Middle Eastern oil, failing to mention that US dependence on imported oil and petroleum products increased substantially during his first five years in office, reaching 60 per cent of consumption last year.
We found nothing that was factually incorrect in the President's Jan. 31 State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. However, we did note some selective use of statistics. We also found that Bush omitted some relevant facts that tended to make the state of the union look less rosy than he presented.
Bush: In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government -- with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.
Democracy & Freedom
The President spoke of the growing number of nations in the world that live under democratic governments, and said "we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The President's numbers come from Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks levels of democracy and freedom around the globe.
It is true, just as the President said, that there were 122 democracies in the world in 2005, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet counted among them by Freedom House.
Also, Freedom House rates neither Iraq nor Afghanistan as "free." It rates Iraq as "not free," with scores on civil liberties and political freedom as low as those of Egypt. "Iraq gets points taken away for the chaos that is associated with the insurgency, among other things," Freedom House's Arch Puddington told FactCheck.org. Afghanistan is rated somewhat better but still only "partly free."
We asked Puddington why the highly publicized elections in Iraq and Afghanistan don't yet qualify those countries to be counted as democracies. "It’s a flawed way of thinking to believe that elections alone guarantee democracy," Puddington said. "You have to have a reasonable rule of law, a reasonable amount of freedom of the press, personal security. You have to have a fair and consistent electoral process in place, and you have to have the people who are elected then effectively governing the society."
Bush: I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto.
Line Item Veto
The President called for enactment of line-item veto power, but failed to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as a violation of the Constitution in 1998, after President Clinton exercised the power once. The vote was 6 to 3, and one of the three Justices who wanted to uphold the power was Sandra Day O'Connor, whose resignation from the high court took effect earlier on the same day Bush spoke. The President offered no explanation of how the veto might be revived by legislation in a form that the current, more conservative Supreme Court would approve, nor did he call specifically for a Constitutional amendment.
This was Bush's first mention of a line-item veto in a State of the Union address, though he and several of his subordinates have made mention of his support for such a veto throughout his presidency. Congress has so far shown very little interest, however. A bill to amend the Constitution to create a line-item veto has been introduced in every Congress during Bush's presidency, but all died in committee without so much as a hearing. In the current Congress, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina introduced such a bill in late September to amend the Constitution to include the line-item veto, and it currently sits dormant in the Judiciary Committee. There are no co-sponsors. In the House, Republican Rep. Todd Russell Platts of Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill in the House on Sept. 21, 2005 which was promptly referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it still sits. There is one co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey.
Bush: Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs -- more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.
The President noted that the US has gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. That's true. However, most of that gain merely made up for the 2.6 million jobs that were lost during Bush's first two-and-a-half years.
The graph below shows the cumulative change in jobs starting in January 2001, when Bush first took office, and ending in December 2005, the most recent month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released figures for total nonfarm employment. (New figures for January are due to be announced Feb. 2.)
However, when the President said "the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world," he was standing on firm ground. The US unemployment rate for December was 4.9 per cent. That's significantly lower than most other industrialized democracies. Unemployment in Germany stands at 9.3 per cent, France at 9.2 per cent, Canada at 6.5 per cent. Only Japan's rate of 4.6 per cent and the United Kingdom's 4.8 per cent were better than the US, according to latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Bush: Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
The President, speaking of being "good stewards of tax dollars," focused on one small part of the budget and did not mention rapid growth in overall federal spending that has taken place under his tenure.
He said "we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending," which is true. However, that category accounts for only about 16 per cent of the whole federal budget, and it too has grown, though not as rapidly as other categories.
Bush said bills were passed last year that would actually cut this category, and that is correct. The decline is projected to be 0.5 per cent, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.
Overall federal spending is up 42 per cent under Bush, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office. And CBO projects further upward pressure on spending, including rising interest rates pushing up the cost of servicing the swelling national debt, and rising medical costs and Bush's new prescription drug benefit pushing up the cost of Medicare. (Neither item is counted in the "discretionary" category). CBO projects interest costs will increase 18 per cent in the current fiscal year, and Medicare will go up 17 per cent.
The President proposed cutting $14 billion worth of programs and said this would keep the US "on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." Not mentioned is that the deficit is going up this year. It was $317 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Oct. 30, and CBO projects that this year's deficit will be at least $337 billion, and probably $360 billion by the time added money is approved for flood insurance and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CBO currently projects the deficit to decline to $241 billion in fiscal 2009, but that doesn't include the effects of making Bush's tax cuts permanent, something Bush urged strongly in his speech.
Bush: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
The President voiced a "goal" of replacing more than three-quarters "of our oil imports from the Middle East" by the year 2025. He did not mention that the US has grown more dependent on imported oil and petroleum products since he took office.
According to most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, the US imported 60 percent of its oil and petroleum products during the first 11 months of last year, up from just under 53 percent in President Clinton's last year in office. Last year, of all the oil and petroleum products consumed in the US, 11.2 percent came from Persian Gulf countries, according to the EIA. That is actually down somewhat from Clinton's last year, when the Persian Gulf countries supplied 12.6 percent.
Whether imports from the Middle East can ever be "a thing of the past" is open to question. It is true that the US currently imports nearly as much oil from nearby Canada (2.1 million barrels per day last year) as it does from all Persian Gulf countries combined (2.3 million barrels per day), but that's still a lot of oil to do without.
--By Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, James Ficaro and Emi Kolawole
"President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 31 Jan 2006.
"Freedom in the World 2006: Select Date from Freedom House's Annual Global Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties." Freedom House. 2006.
Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U. S. 417, 429 (1998)
"Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006 ." Summary Tables. Office of Management and Budget. February 2005. Table S.2
"Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006." Office of Management and Budget. February 2005. Pp. 52, 97, 105, 125, 146.
Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.7: " Overview of U.S. Petroleum Trade " US Energy Information Administration 25 Jan 2006.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM