Take it off! Pols remove clothes tax
ALBANY - Starting today, the sales tax on clothing and shoes under $110 has been stripped to nothing at all.
The state's 4% levy was wiped from the books after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) persuaded the state Senate to resist Gov. Pataki's plea to keep the levy in effect.
But state officials are worried some shops may be unaware they're supposed to stop collecting the tax.
"We didn't have much time to react here because this just happened Wednesday night," said Tax Department spokesman Tom Bergin.
Consumers who believe they have paid the tax in error can seek reimbursement by obtaining state tax Form AU-11 from the agency's Web site - www.tax.state.ny.us - or by contacting the agency at (800) 225-5829 during weekday business hours.
The city dropped its 4% clothing sales tax Sept. 1.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
John Dean Blasts Warrantless Eavesdropping
Watergate Figure John Dean Tells Senate Panel Warrantless Eavesdropping Exceeds Nixon Wrongdoing
By LAURIE KELLMAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - John W. Dean, Richard Nixon's White House lawyer, told senators Friday that President Bush's domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss.
Bush, Dean told the Senate Judiciary Committee, should be censured and possibly impeached.
"Had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented," Dean said. "Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it."
Republicans and their witnesses rejected the comparison between Watergate and Bush's wiretapping program, and attributed Sen. Russell Feingold's censure resolution to posturing in a year of midterm elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the comparison to Watergate is "apples and oranges" because Nixon's actions were more about saving himself and his presidency than national security.
"Quit trying to score political points," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, shot across the aisle at committee Democrats.
In fact, only two Democrats have co-sponsored Feingold's resolution: Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California. The rest have distanced themselves from the proposal, with many saying the resolution is premature because a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the eavesdropping program has not concluded.
At issue is whether Bush's secretive domestic spying program violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Bush has said the National Security Agency's wiretapping program is aimed at finding terrorists before they strike on American soil by tapping the phones of people making calls overseas. He has launched a criminal investigation to find out who leaked the program's existence to The New York Times, saying the report in December tipped off anyone who might be planning attacks.
Critics say Bush already has the ability to conduct wiretaps under the FISA law and any information gathered without a court order may be inadmissible at a trial.
Feingold's measure would condemn Bush's "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required" by the FISA act.
"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking," Feingold, D-Wis., told the panel. "The resolution of censure is the appropriate response."
Feingold summoned Dean to the hearing in part because the former White House counsel made his suspicions about the Bush administration clear long before the wiretapping program became public.
In his 2004 book, "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush," Dean wrote that the former Texas governor began to evoke Nixonian memories with his strategies against Republican John McCain's primary challenge in South Carolina in 2000.
After The New York Times revealed the NSA program in December, Dean wrote that "Bush may have outdone Nixon" and may be worthy of impeachment.
"Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope," Dean wrote in a column for FindLaw.com in December.
Dean served four months in prison for his role in Watergate, a political scandal that involved illegal wiretapping, burglary and abuse of power aimed at Nixon enemies. Administration officials were implicated in the ensuing cover-up.
Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974, less than two weeks after the House Judiciary Committee began approving three articles of impeachment against him, charging obstruction of justice as well as abuse of power and withholding evidence.
Dean said Friday that the issue is one of checks and balances, adding Congress should pass some measure serving a warning to Bush if it can't stomach a censure resolution.
"The president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:56 AM
Questions About Carroll's Captivity
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
I spoke to David Bloom days before he died and then covered his memorial service. I wrote about the death of Michael Kelly. I said goodbye to Bob Woodruff before he went to Iraq and got badly injured by a roadside bomb.
In short, death and violence involving the brave journalists who have gone to Iraq is an ever-present part of my beat. And yet, like many people, I was especially floored by the kidnapping of Jill Carroll and greatly relieved by her release yesterday.
Reporters for big news organizations, after all, generally travel with security details, while Carroll is a 28-year-old freelancer who went to Baghdad on her own, became a stringer for the Christian Science Monitor and clearly was bent on understanding Iraqi culture.
This is a courageous young woman.
I must say, though, that I found her first interview yesterday rather odd. Carroll seemed bent on giving her captors a positive review, going on about how well they treated her, how they gave her food and let her go to the bathroom. And they never threatened to hit her. Of course, as we all saw in those chilling videos, they did threaten to kill her. And they shot her Iraqi translator to death.
Why make a terrorist group who put her family and friends through a terrible three-month ordeal sound like they were running a low-budget motel chain?
Now perhaps this is unfair, for there is much we do not know. We don't know why Carroll was kidnapped and why she was abruptly released. She says she doesn't either, but surely she must have gotten some clues about her abductors' outlook and tactics during her 82-day captivity. Maybe she was just shell-shocked right after being let go. Maybe she won't feel comfortable speaking out until she's back on American soil.
As my colleagues in Baghdad point out, when that interview was taped, Carroll was still in the custody of a Sunni political party with ties to the insurgency. It may have just made sense for her to be especially cautious. And they tell me that Carroll did cry -- off camera -- when the subject of her murdered translator came up. Still, people are buzzing because her taped remarks have been played over and over again on television. I hope she'll be able to share a fuller account of her ordeal soon.
Despite the happy ending, Carroll's kidnapping has driven home how dangerous Iraq remains for Western journalists, who admit it's getting increasingly difficult to do their jobs, even as they challenge the administration's claims that they are excessively focused on violence and negative news.
As CBS's Lara Logan told me in a CNN interview this week, "When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage . . .
"You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked . I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country."
Let's be grateful that Jill Carroll didn't wind up the latest victim.
Adding to the mystery:
"In a videotape posted Thursday on the Internet , made before her release, Ms. Carroll denounced the American presence in Iraq and praised the insurgents who were fighting here," says the New York Times .
"In the video, Ms. Carroll smiled, laughed once and gestured in a seemingly relaxed manner, saying she felt guilty about being released while so many Iraqis were still suffering.
"Ms. Carroll, still in captivity but apparently knowing she would be released, denounced what she described as the 'lies' told by the American government and predicted that the insurgents would defeat the Americans in Iraq.
" 'I feel guilty. I also feel that it just shows that the mujahedeen are good people fighting an honorable fight, a good fight. While the Americans are here, the occupying forces, you know, treating the people in a very, very bad way. So I can't be happy totally for my freedom because there are people still suffering in prisons, in very difficult situations.' . . .
"Ms. Carroll's seeming sympathy for her captors suggested either that she was pretending to gain her release or that, after suffering weeks of extreme duress, she had fallen under the sway of her kidnappers."
The Washington Post became part of the story:
"Just after noon Thursday, Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, called The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau to say that Carroll had been released by 'unknown people.' " 'I have sent armored cars to bring her to the [party] headquarters,' he said. 'She requested me to talk to you and inform you directly and will be here within half an hour. Will you come here? She is okay. She is safe. She is more or less scared. I told her to calm down and we would take care of her.' " What a phone call.
Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim says:
"The chorus of Muslim leaders condemning this kidnapping has been larger and louder than has been heard for some time. We hope that these voices of opposition to this crime will continue on behalf of all hostage victims until this practice stops."
Think Progress rips John Podhoretz for "attacking her mental state" with this comment:
" It's wonderful that she's free, but after watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn't beaten or killed -- while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is -- I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days .
"This is a day that we should celebrate Jill Carroll's courage. She put herself in danger to try to give the world a more accurate picture of Iraq. It is totally inappropriate to assume that her description of how she was treated is motivated by anything other than a desire to tell the truth."
Little Green Footballs drips with disdain: "She says the terrorists treated her well. Her interpreter, murdered during the kidnapping, was not available for comment."
Meanwhile, the GOP's split over immigration seems to be getting worse:
"House conservatives yesterday issued a dire warning to President Bush and Republican leadership that they will pay a devastating political price if they proceed with a guest-worker program or anything resembling amnesty for illegal aliens before securing the borders and enforcing existing immigration laws," says the Washington Times .
" 'They will remember in November,' Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, said of voters nationwide. 'And many of those who have stood with our Republican majority in the last decade are not only angry, many of them plan to be absent from the polls' this year when the entire House and one-third of the Senate is up for re-election."
And guess which Republican is taking it on the chin?
"As he prepares to leave the Senate and position himself for a presidential bid, Bill Frist faces mounting criticism that he has proved an ineffectual majority leader whose legislative agenda increasingly is dictated by his White House ambitions," says the Los Angeles Times .
"Complaints about the patrician Tennessean by fellow Republicans intensified this week, sparked by his decision to force Senate debate on illegal immigration. Some GOP lawmakers say his move spotlighted a squabble within the party over a hot-button issue in an election year."
Frist's Senate, you may recall, passed a pretty weak lobbying bill the other day. Arianna Huffington has her own ideas about lobbying reform and makes "a very simple suggestion, one most Americans can relate to -- and I do mean relate: Let's make it illegal for family members of legislators to work as lobbyists. The last few years have seen a surge in registered lobbyists with blood or marital ties to our nation's leaders. . . .
"To guarantee success they want their All Access Passes to include admission to the bedrooms and kitchen tables of those in power. Which is why a lobbyist's strongest resume-builder is not some relevant degree or work experience, but sharing DNA or a primary residence with a Capitol Hill power player. Among those lobbyists making friends and influencing family members in our nation's capital are Scott Hatch, and Joshua Hastert, the sons of Senator Orrin Hatch and House Speaker Denny Hastert; Abigail and Amy Blunt, the wife and daughter of GOP Whip Roy Blunt; Kimberly Dorgan and Bob Dole, the spouses of Senators Byron Dorgan and Elizabeth Dole; and Phyllis Landrieu, Sen. Mary Landrieu's aunt.
"The silliest symptom of this epidemic of nepotism on the Potomac has got to be the unlikely rise of Chet Lott, the son of erstwhile Majority Leader Trent Lott. Before getting into the lobbying game, Chet worked as a Domino's Pizza franchisee -- world renowned as the perfect training ground for future Washington power brokers. Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Domino's. Now instead of taking orders for extra cheese, he pushes the piping-hot agendas of clients like BellSouth, munitions maker Day & Zimmerman, and the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists."
Of course, it's probably unconstitutional to deprive someone of earning a living. And what do you do about a professional lobbyist who happens to marry a congressman?
Dick Polman offers a history lesson in explaining the importance of the Democrats' new national security plan:
"The goal is: No more jokes about John Kerry's 2004 flip-flop gaffe, 'I voted for it before I voted against it.' No more laughing about how puny Michael Dukakis looked riding around in a tank (1988). No more references to Jimmy Carter's botched attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages, complete with photos of the charred choppers in the desert (1980). No more footage of George McGovern and his peace movement pals (1972). The goal is to get skeptical Americans to skip the past 30 years, and think of today's Democrats as heirs to the tough-guy Democratic traditions of FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK.
"By releasing the somewhat sketchy agenda, 'Real Security: Protecting America and Restoring Our Leadership in the World,' Senate and House Democratic leaders are clearly trying to avoid the party's fatal errors of 2002 -- when, in the midst of congressional elections being staged in the shadow of 9/11, and with President Bush prepping the case for war in Iraq, Democrats basically tried to change the subject and run instead on domestic issues. They paid dearly on election day."
At Public Eye, Brian Montopoli questions the stance of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who told Time's Michael Ware that he should not have spent time reporting with Iraqi insurgents:
"Hewitt says he's 'fascinated by the question of whether or not it's ever good journalism to consort with the enemy in search of interesting stories,' and to explore said question, he compares Ware's reporting to that of a theoretical World War II reporter who has been given access to the Nazis. Hewitt seems to believe that exploring the true nature of enemies like the Nazis, or the jihadists, is absurd and unnecessary, since he's quite comfortable, as he said above in reference to the jihadists, that they're evil. And, really, what more do you need to know? But Ware sees things differently:
" I mean, imagine, okay, we know what we know about the German regime, or the Nazi party. We are inundated with their propaganda. We're listening to their chatter. We're getting their side of the story. Could you imagine having an objective view, go in and come out, and say this is what [it] really looks like? This is what it really feels like? This is what people in their quiet moments behind closed doors will actually tell you? Now imagine the value of that . . . .
"Hewitt's fear seems to be that because of his exposure to the enemy, Ware will report propaganda that ends up being harmful to America's cause. But while many of Ware's stories have painted the war in a negative light, it's hard to believe that's because al-Zarqawi is whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Consider the fact that when Ware came into possession of an audio tape of Zarqawi that showed division between Zarqawi and a leading Iraqi Sunni organization, he printed its contents -- Zarqawi's 'dirty laundry,' as he put it. And he earned a death threat for his trouble."
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum jumps in as well:
"Look at it this way: if the Western media had pulled out of Moscow during the Cold War we would have spent several decades thinking that the GUM department store was a treasure trove of consumer goodies instead of the cheerless and barren place it really was. In other words, of course it's a good idea to have someone providing us with a pro-Western view of what our enemies are doing -- especially when enemy propaganda is already available 24/7 just by watching al-Jazeera or surfing the web or reading non-American newspapers. You'd think a guy who broadcasts on the radio, extols the virtues of the blogosphere, and supposedly understands the global nature of the war on terrorism could figure that out."
Naive fellow that I am, I thought Bush was saying nice things about Andy Card when the chief of staff stepped down, but the New Republic's Ryan Lizza begs to differ:
"It was no surprise . . . that Bush concluded the problem was Card's inability to get information to him promptly. Hours after the Oval Office photo-op where Bush celebrated Card's service and announced his resignation, the president gave an interview to CNN in which he gently knifed Card in the back. One of his 'most important needs,' Bush said, 'is to make sure I get information in a timely fashion so I can make decisions.' The dig at Card made it clear that the White House intends to use him as a scapegoat for all of Bush's current ills."
Well, we'll see.
Washington Post Radio made its debut in D.C. yesterday -- I'm lending my mellifluous voice at 8:10 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. -- and it's an interesting work in progress. Some early reviews:
Media Bistro :
"So far, it's an awful lot of news. News, news, news. It's not nearly as polished as NPR's voice -- the station sounds a lot more like lunchroom chatter from a bunch of print journalists. Nevertheless, there's a lot of promise in the reporting and it's sure to give C-SPAN a run for its money for the wonkiness outlet in Washington."
DCRTV : "Good-sounding station. Lots of news and talk. Solid journalism. Sounds like what you'd get if you took what public radio talkers WAMU or WETA-FM do and throw in a bit more local content, some ads, and lots and lots of plugs for the Washington Post. If I was 88.5 or 90.9 I'd be a bit worried. . . . My guess is that the Post and [corporate partner] Bonneville will need to perform some heavy-duty tweaking if they want to attract the under-35 set, which advertisers crave. I wouldn't put a lot of stock in a newspaper-backed long-form radio news talker in any other American market, but in wonk-infested DC it might just work."
Finally, here's the Boston Herald photo of Antonin Scalia making that defiant Sicilian gesture. We link, you decide.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
Former DeLay aide pleads guilty in lobbyist fraud probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and promised to help with an investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud that has already netted three convictions and sparked calls for ethics reform in Congress.
Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, admitted conspiring with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff — both while Rudy worked for DeLay and after he left the lawmaker's staff to become a lobbyist himself.
He is the second former DeLay staffer to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the lobbying probe. The plea agreement makes no allegation that the Texas lawmaker did anything wrong.
Rudy faces up to five years in prison, but could receive much less based on the extent of his help with the investigation.
Court papers for the first time also referred to a third former DeLay aide, Ed Buckham. Buckham, a onetime DeLay chief of staff, is described only as Lobbyist B, but is easily identifiable because the documents say Rudy worked with him after a brief stint at Abramoff's lobbying firm.
Beginning in 1997, Abramoff, his clients and Buckham's clients plied Rudy with expensive meals, trips, sports tickets, golf games and clubs, according to the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The gifts included a trip to Hilton Head, S.C., in 1999 with Rudy's wife and a trip to Pebble Beach, Calif., for the 2000 U.S. Open. Rudy was given use of a suite and seven more seats to host a bachelor party at a Washington Redskins game in August 2000. He received tickets to the Daytona 500 stock car race.
Rudy also arranged payments through Abramoff and Buckham to a consulting firm that he created and his wife, Lisa, ran. Liberty Consulting received $86,000 in payments from or at the direction of Abramoff and others while Rudy worked for DeLay.
At the same time, according to the court document, Rudy agreed to "perform a series of official acts."
•Working to get federal money for the Northern Mariana Islands, which both Abramoff and Buckham wanted.
•Getting DeLay to oppose a postal rate increase that was opposed by magazine publishers who were represented by Abramoff.
•Persuading DeLay and other leading Republicans to defeat legislation that would have restricted Internet gambling.
Later, while working as a lobbyist, Rudy also was involved in arranging a golf trip to Scotland for Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican described as Representative 1, and congressional staffers, the court papers said. He also helped attract $50,000 from two Abramoff clients to Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation that eventually was used to pay for the Scotland trip.
Richard Cullen, DeLay's lawyer, called Rudy's plea good news for his client because there is nothing in it that suggested DeLay was aware of Rudy's actions. "DeLay has said repeatedly for many months that he took official actions and cast votes based only on his principles and his beliefs, and clearly nothing in the filing today indicates anything to the contrary," Cullen said.
Cullen said he has turned over to prosecutors e-mails from DeLay's congressional office that involve Abramoff, Rudy and Buckham.
Other ethics lawyers and experts, however, said the Rudy plea could be ominous for DeLay, who already is under indictment in Texas.
Prosecutors "are not going to lay out a case against him in this indictment," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer and former counsel to House Democrats. "There is a kind of well-worn method at the Justice Department to trade up by indicting the lower-downs."
After leaving DeLay's staff at the end of 2000, Rudy first joined Abramoff's lobbying team at the Greenberg Traurig law firm. Soon after, he signed on with Buckham at the Alexander Strategy Group. DeLay's wife, Christine, also worked there.
Rudy is the first person to plead guilty in the case since Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January. Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay press secretary who later became a lobbying partner with Abramoff, pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe public officials.
As part of the deal, Rudy pleaded guilty to the single conspiracy count and prosecutors agreed not to pursue other possible charges against him or his wife.
"The American public loses when officials and lobbyists conspire to buy and sell influence in such a corrupt and brazen manner. By his admission in open court today, Mr. Rudy paints a picture of Washington which the American public and law enforcement will simply not tolerate," said Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Rudy, a 39-year-old lawyer, answered U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle's questions in a strong voice but seemed more subdued when she asked if he understood that he was pleading guilty to a felony and would lose some rights.
"Yes your honor," he said quietly.
His lawyer, Laura Ariane Miller, objected when Huvelle described the allegation that he took things "in exchange" for official acts. Instead, Miller said that her client sought and received gifts.
Rudy was allowed to remain free pending the sentencing. He and his lawyer left the courthouse without commenting to reporters.
While the court papers said nothing damaging about DeLay, prosecutors again alleged that Ney took action in exchange for trips, meals and tickets provided by Abramoff, Rudy and others.
Ney's lawyer, Mark Tuohey, said a guilty plea by Rudy doesn't change Ney's situation. The congressman continues to maintain his innocence. Tuohey said he hadn't seen the court papers filed Friday and couldn't comment in detail on them.
Find this article at:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
Friday, March 31, 2006
The New York Times
By HART SEELY
These are the men
That fleeced the tribes
That paid the money
That made the bribes
That purchased the Congress that
This is the Duke
That sailed the yacht
That raised the eyebrows
And got him caught,
Who helped Mitch Wade,
Who bought Duke's land
And kicked in 700 grand;
Which raised Duke's taxes,
And gave Duke pain;
So Wade paid the tab
On Duke's capital gain.
Bigger than Abscam:
Randy "Duke" Cunningham!
Top gun in the Congress that
This is Bob Ney,
Who knew the fine print
That could pass a casino
And rev up its mint,
Who spawned the e-mail
Where Jack foretold:
"Just met with Ney.
"We're [expletive] gold!"
And Ney in 2000,
A moment quite checkered
Ripped magnate Gus Boulis
In the Congress'nal Record.
His tirade was meant
To frighten the fellow,
Who cops say was shot
By Big Tony Moscatiello,
Who got a small fortune
From Jack's pal in D.C.,
A guy Ney said was known
For his "honesty."
Their pal was indicted
And then copped a plea
Guilty of fraud
For creating the vibes
That condoned the bribes
That corrupted the Congress that
This is DeLay,
Who built the machine
That redrew the districts
And raised the green,
That decided the races
That claimed the new seats,
That made the new friends
That owned luxury suites,
That held big galas
That brought the donations
That helped him to greet
The great Coushatta Nation!
With 800 members
And fund-stream support
From the famous Coushatta Casino Resort!
Which paid several million
For Jack to abort
A rival tribe's parlor
In nearby Shreveport,
Which prompted the letter
That outlined their claims
That went to Gale Norton,
Co-signed by these names:
Tom DeLay, Eric Cantor,
Roy Blunt, the chief whip,
Speaker Dennis Hastert.
That's the House leadership!
That played the game
And wears the shame
That hangs over the Congress that
This is the Jack,
Who bought the souls,
Then sold them off,
Who shook the hands
And financed the houses
And feted the staffs,
And hired the spouses,
And fleeced the tribes
And spread the bribes
That ransomed the Congress that
Hart Seely is the editor of "Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:51 AM
Antarctic air is warming faster than rest of world; New finding could have implications for sea level rises
Antarctic air is warming faster than rest of world
New finding could have implications for sea level rises
By Mark Henderson
AIR temperatures above the entire frozen continent of Antarctica have risen three times faster than the rest of the world during the past 30 years.
While it is well established that temperatures are increasing rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula, the land tongue that protrudes towards South America, the trend has been harder to confirm over the continent as a whole.
Now analysis of weather balloon data by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that not only are the lower reaches of the Antarctic atmosphere warming, but that they are doing so at the fastest rate observed anywhere on Earth.
Temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest 8km (5 miles) of the atmosphere — have increased by between 0.5C and 0.7 C (0.9F and 1.3F) per decade over the past 30 years.
This signature of climate change is three times stronger than the average observed around the world, suggesting that global warming is having an uneven impact and that it could be greater for Antarctica.
It is already known that temperatures in the Arctic are rising steeply, but with the exception of the Antarctic peninsula, the data for the southern ice-cap are more mixed.
Although the Antarctic peninsula has warmed by more than 2.5C during the past 50 years, most surface measurements suggest that there have been no pronounced temperature changes elsewhere on the continent, while some have indicated a small cooling effect.
The new research, led by John Turner, of the BAS, shows that the air above the surface of Antarctica is definitely warming, in ways that are not predicted by climate models and that cannot yet be explained. The results are published today in the journal Science.
“The rapid surface warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the enhanced global warming signal over the whole continent shows the complexity of climate change,” Dr Turner said.
“Greenhouses gases could be having a bigger impact in Antarctica than across the rest of the world and we don’t understand why.
“The warming above the Antarctic could have implications for snowfall across the Antarctic and sea level rise. Current climate model simulations don’t reproduce the observed warming, pointing to weaknesses in their ability to represent the Antarctic climate system. Our next step is to try to improve the models.”
The weather balloons from which the data has been collected have been launched daily from many of Antarctica’s research stations since 1957. These balloons carry instrument packages known as radiosondes, which measure temperature, humidity and winds at altitudes of 20km and beyond.
The radiosonde data showed a pronounced warming effect throughout the troposphere during the winter months, while the stratosphere above cooled appreciably.
There is increasing evidence that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are creating a blanket about the Earth that traps heat at lower levels, warming the troposphere and surface, while cooling the stratosphere above.
The study is the third to be published this month to suggest that the effects of global warming on Antarctica are likely to be more pronounced than has often been predicted.
Research has indicated that the melting of the Greenland ice-cap in the Arctic could produce sea level rises that destabilise Antarctic ice-shelves, and Nasa satellite data have shown the internal Antarctic ice-sheets to be thinning.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:47 AM
Baghdad. Istanbul. What’s the Difference? The blogosphere nails a California Republican for his view of Iraq
Baghdad. Istanbul. What’s the Difference?
The blogosphere nails a California Republican for his view of Iraq.
By Daren Briscoe
March 29, 2006 - Online sleuths can claim another victory. Howard Kaloogian, a Republican candidate in California’s 50th Congressional District, has removed a picture from his campaign Web site that he claimed was evidence that journalists are distorting how bad conditions are in Iraq. The photo purported to show a placid street scene in downtown Baghdad, including a hand-holding couple in Western dress and shoppers out for a stroll on a cobblestone street in an unmarred business district.
As it turns out, the photo is a genuine street scene—from Istanbul, Turkey.
The photo originally featured on Howard Kaloogian’s Web site
“I’m sorry, we’ll correct it,” Kaloogian told NEWSWEEK after being contacted about the picture. “It appears like this is one of the photos from Istanbul.” Kaloogian said that some members of a group that traveled to Iraq with him in July 2005 had a brief layover in Turkey’s largest city. “We turned over literally hundreds of photos to our Webmaster, and apparently he chose one from the Istanbul layover.” (Click here to view a PDF of the site, then scroll down to see view the Istanbul-as-Iraq photo.)
Kaloogian, a candidate to replace the vacated seat of disgraced former congressman Randall (Duke) Cunningham, traveled to Iraq on what his Web site calls the “'Voices of Soldiers' Truth Tour." The photo in question had the following caption, “We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it—in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.”
The photo had been on the site for several months without drawing scrutiny, but on Mar. 28 bloggers on Daily Kos and other sites questioned its authenticity, noting the Roman script of several street signs (“Noter” is apparently Turkish for “notary,” and “Edo” is a Turkish brand of ice cream) as well as the “spaghetti-strap sleeves” and exposed shoulders of the woman holding hands with her male companion. “Am I crazy, or is this [photo] not of Baghdad at all?” wrote a poster on Daily Kos.
The question set loose a legion of online sleuths, who set about translating the street signs, comparing the colors of Iraqi and Turkish taxis and finding photographs from other sources depicting the same intersection in Istanbul. As they gathered evidence, the topic began pinging around the blogosphere. By midday, it was a front-page item on the Huffington Post Web site.
This photo replaced the original ‘Baghdad’ picture
Kaloogian is no stranger to controversy. He was one of the architects of the successful recall drive against former California governor Gray Davis. But he seemed annoyed at the sudden onslaught of attention. “Journalists weren’t interested in our trip for nine months afterwards, and now they’re trying to find one picayunish mistake [on my Web site],” he complained to NEWSWEEK. “It’s one itty-bitty picture. The Associated Press gave us a Mark Twain Award for a broadcast we did from Iraq, and nothing was written about that at all.” (Kaloogian is not named on the Web site of the Associated Press Television and Radio Association of California-Nevada as a Mark Twain Award winner, although several radio talk-show hosts who accompanied Kaloogian on the Iraq trip are named. “We invited these talk-show hosts to go with us, it was our trip, but they were on it,” Kaloogian told NEWSWEEK.)
By Wednesday, Kaloogian had replaced the photo from his campaign Web site, which was inaccessible due to heavy traffic Wednesday afternoon. The new photo is an aerial view of Baghdad—or at least, Kaloogian says it is.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 AM
Intelligence Redo Is Harshly Judged
A Judge Critiques 9/11 Overhaul, and Finds It Top-Heavy
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner sharply criticized the restructuring of U.S. intelligence agencies last week, telling CIA lawyers that the overhaul has done nothing to rectify flaws exposed by al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that the changes "in the end . . . will amount to rather little."
Posner, who has written extensively on intelligence matters, questioned "the wisdom and consequences" of the intelligence overhaul passed by Congress in December 2004, which he said was based on "a deep misunderstanding of the limitations of national security intelligence."
That misunderstanding, Posner said, came from a naive belief that intelligence agencies can somehow be made infallible. "Failure in a democratic society," he said, "demands a response that promises, however improbably, to prevent future failures. [And] the preferred response is a reorganization, because it is at once dramatic and relatively cheap."
Posner made his remarks last Friday at an off-site conference of the CIA's office of general counsel, and a revised text was made available to The Washington Post.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said yesterday that the judge was invited because he is a well-known writer on intelligence issues and that "the CIA believes its officers should hear a range of informed opinion on issues affecting their work." Posner has a book being published next week, "Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform." His book "Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11" was published last spring.
In Posner's analysis, the director of national intelligence (DNI), created by Congress to be the president's top intelligence adviser, was given too much to do. DNI John D. Negroponte oversees the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies, including those at the Pentagon. Negroponte's staff, which has grown to about 1,000, "has become a new bureaucracy layered on top of the intelligence community," Posner said.
In the process, he said, the DNI's office has absorbed "many of the responsibilities of the CIA and demoted the agency to little more than a spy service." He points out that Negroponte runs the National Counterterrorism Center, which used to be part of the CIA. The agency also prepared the President's Daily Brief, the most sensitive intelligence delivered to President Bush and his top national security team each morning, but that now is prepared by the DNI.
At the same time, the DNI has floundered in its task of coordinating the agencies within the intelligence community, according to Posner, in part because of "three distinct and largely incompatible intelligence cultures that are poorly balanced: military intelligence, civilian intelligence and criminal investigation intelligence."
The military culture, with its "up-and-out promotions system . . . discipline and strong mission orientation," views the CIA with "a degree of hostility and disdain, which the agency reciprocates," Posner said. In addition, CIA and Pentagon intelligence officers compete in strategic intelligence work, a situation aggravated by the fact that the military operates the spy satellite agencies, whose capabilities it often does not wish to share.
Meanwhile, the FBI culture, focused in the past on catching criminals, is having problems with intelligence gathering because, as Posner put it, "the aim is to prevent the crime, not punish the criminals." Counterterrorist intelligence, he said, requires "casting a very wide net, following up on clues, assembling bits of information, and often failing because there is as yet no crime."
Complicating these differences, he noted, was the "profound political imbalance" extant among the three intelligence cultures. The military "is immensely popular, immensely powerful politically" and "ambitious to expand its intelligence activities under the forceful leadership of Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld and Under Secretary for Intelligence [Stephen A.] Cambone." Posner added that for "all these reasons" Pentagon intelligence is "out of the practical control of the DNI."
He said the FBI "is also immensely popular . . . and politically powerful . . . and stubbornly resistant to change." The CIA was left, Posner said, "in a situation of considerable vulnerability, as an unpopular agency and therefore a natural scapegoat" for intelligence failures of Sept. 11 and prewar Iraq.
Posner said that the DNI should have been given only a coordinating role in U.S. intelligence, and that the CIA director, now Porter J. Goss, should have remained the president's senior intelligence adviser. That approach would have eliminated the requirement that the DNI's office build its own bureaucracy of analysts, he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
First Amendment Issues Raised About Espionage Act
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
The federal judge overseeing prosecution of two former lobbyists charged with receiving and transmitting national defense information under the 1917 Espionage Act has given the government until today to respond to defense claims that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and may violate the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered the government to provide the additional support for the charges filed last August against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The two were accused of receiving classified information during conversations with government officials, one of whom, then-Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin, warned Weissman that the information he was giving was highly classified.
At a hearing last Friday on the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictments, Ellis directed a series of questions to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory expressing concern that the government had not dealt with constitutional issues raised by the defense.
"I didn't find your response in writing to match up with the fairly extensive attack by the defendants . . . so I am going to have further briefing," Ellis said. Last January, at the hearing where he sentenced Franklin to 12 years for passing classified information to the two lobbyists, Ellis called attention to the imprecise nature of the almost 90-year-old statute that restricts disclosure of "national defense information" that could harm U.S. interests or help enemies.
Ellis also said he had thought there would be well-established precedent he could follow, since the statute had been around for so long. But it has turned out that Rosen and Weissman are the first nongovernment employees to be indicted under the act for receiving classified information orally and not through documents or other tangible items.
"I think we are a bit in new, uncharted waters and that's why I'm going to consider this matter extremely carefully," Ellis told DiGregory and attorneys Abbe Lowell and John Nassikas, who represent Rosen and Weissman.
The case is drawing the attention of First Amendment attorneys because both Ellis and prosecutors have noted that the two lobbyists -- in receiving and disseminating the information -- are doing what journalists, academics and experts at think tanks do every day.
Floyd Abrams, a New York attorney who has represented the New York Times in a variety of high-profile cases, said in an interview this week that the AIPAC case "is the single most dangerous case for free speech and free press." Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, wrote on his Web site this week: "Anything other than a dismissal of the charges would mark a dramatic shift in national security law and a significant reduction in First Amendment protections."
Attorneys for the AIPAC lobbyists argue that First Amendment protections bear on the case because their clients were exercising their free speech rights.
DiGregory argued that oral disclosure of defense information was not protected speech because someone could be telling the contents of a classified document.
To read the statute that narrowly "would do great damage to our ability to protect national security," DiGregory said.
Ellis said the government must respond to the defense argument that the statute, which does not define "national defense information," is so vague "that men of common intelligence necessarily must guess at its meaning and differ as to its application."
The judge also told prosecutors to deal with another defense argument: that the statute does not provide "fair warning," since this is the first time it has been applied to civilians. Due process "bars courts from applying a novel construction of a criminal statute to conduct that neither the statute nor any prior judicial decision has fairly disclosed to be within its scope," Ellis said.
DiGregory conceded that every case up to now cited by the government has involved either government employees or the passing of classified papers.
Ellis also raised the question of what would happen if people to whom Rosen passed the defense information relayed it to someone else. "Would it [the criminal liability] continue to apply ad infinitum?" he asked. DiGregory replied, "That's a difficult question to answer in the abstract."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:37 AM
Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada's desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive -- the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site -- as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.
The test, code-named "Divine Strake," will occur on June 2 about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in a high desert valley bounded by mountains, according to Pentagon and Energy Department officials.
"This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing," said James A. Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is conducting the test.
The test is aimed at determining how well a massive conventional bomb would perform against fortified underground targets -- such as military headquarters, biological or chemical weapons stockpiles, and long-range missiles -- that the Pentagon says are proliferating among potential adversaries around the world.
Tegnelia said there is a range of technical hurdles to overcome. He suggested that big conventional bombs are unlikely to solve the overall problem of buried threats. "It's a lot easier to dig your tunnel 50 feet deeper" than to develop weapons that can destroy it, he told a meeting of defense reporters.
Such a bomb would be a conventional alternative to a nuclear weapon proposed by the Bush administration, which has run into opposition on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon for several years has sought funding for research into the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) -- also known as the "bunker buster" -- after the administration's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review stated that no weapon in the U.S. arsenal could threaten a growing number of buried targets. Congress, however, has repeatedly refused to grant funding for a study on a nuclear bunker buster, instead directing money toward conventional alternatives.
The June test will detonate 700 tons of heavy ammonium nitrate-fuel oil emulsion -- creating a blast equivalent to 593 tons of TNT -- in a 36-foot-deep hole near a tunnel in the center of the Nevada Test Site, according to official reports. It aims to allow scientists to model the type of ground shock that will be created, and to weigh the effectiveness of such a weapon against its collateral impact.
"To my knowledge, this will be the largest open-air chemical explosion that we've conducted," said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the Energy Department's test site. Larger blasts have been carried out at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, including the nation's biggest open-air detonation, in 1985, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
The blast is not likely to be felt or heard outside the 1,375-square-mile test site, and the cloud of dust is expected to dissipate quickly from view, Morgan said. "They don't think people will see it in the base camp on the south end of the test site," he said.
Officials took pains to differentiate between the June conventional experiment and past nuclear testing. "The U.S. has no plans to conduct a nuclear test. President Bush supports a continued moratorium on nuclear testing," said Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The Pentagon agency is charged with countering threats to the United States from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
On a related topic, Tegnelia said the State Department and the Pentagon are developing a proposal for a $100 million effort to help Libya get rid of tons of mustard gas and some precursor chemicals being stored in the Libyan desert. "The Libyans requested some support" from the U.S. government, and a DTRA team has visited Libya to consider various options for eliminating the weapons, he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
Tuning In to Anger on Immigration
Rep. Tancredo's Profile Grows With Push to Secure U.S. Borders
By Shailagh Murray and T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
The first time Rep. Tom Tancredo got really angry about immigration, the year was 1975, and he was a junior high school social studies teacher in Denver. The state had recently passed the nation's first bilingual education law, and Hispanic kids were taken from his class to study in Spanish.
That idea made zero sense to Tancredo, the grandson of Italian immigrants. He believed that newcomers should be assimilated into the country, as they had been for generations. The image of America as a beacon for people from all over the world uniting under one flag and one language was threatened, he contended, if the country started adapting to immigrants, instead of the other way around.
A year later, Tancredo launched a political career animated by his obsession to stem the tide of immigration from Mexico and Central America that he feared would change the character and security of the country. Today, the four-term Republican House member stands at the center of a national debate over how best to deal with the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Tancredo helped the House pass a bill in December that would impose criminal sanctions on illegal immigrants and those who employ them and that would erect a wall along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border to keep others out.
That legislation has triggered massive protests throughout the country and prompted a Senate committee this week to pass an alternative measure with a guest-worker program that would help many illegal immigrants eventually win permanent residency or even U.S. citizenship.
Tancredo, 60, has so effectively tapped into the anger of millions of Americans who favor a crackdown on illegal immigrants and tougher measures at the border that the back-bench Republican is considering making a bid for president in two years. But in Washington, he is viewed warily by Democrats, the White House and even some of his Republican colleagues as a loose cannon or even a zealot.
After Tancredo suggested in 2002 that President Bush's views on immigration amounted to a national security threat, White House political adviser Karl Rove told him, "Don't ever darken the door of the White House" -- although Tancredo later was invited to the White House for a bill signing.
Democrats have criticized him for stoking anti-immigration sentiment, although some see his tactics as helping them by driving Hispanic American voters in Florida, California and other states away from the Republican Party. "I'm all for more and more nuts in their party speaking up," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Democrats' congressional campaign committee. "I want more of those guys."
Tancredo shrugs off the criticism. "It's not a secret that I have burned a lot of bridges here," he said in an interview this week. "My ability to get anything done around here is based around my ability to make this into a national issue. My megaphone is pointed at the ear of America."
A ubiquitous presence on the airwaves, Tancredo has appeared more than 1,000 times on radio talk shows in recent years and has become a television news mainstay. He has traveled widely around the country, including the early presidential caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. His office averaged 4,566 pieces of mail per month during the first quarter of this year. When Tancredo was scheduled as a guest on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday, he received 300 "good luck" e-mail messages before his appearance and 700 "good job" e-mails after the show.
The relentless media exposure, along with polls indicating that many Americans support a border crackdown and the deportation of illegal immigrants, has given Tancredo considerable influence over the immigration legislation now unfolding in Congress. "He's a force because he represents what a lot of people think," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors less immigration. "He's only a gadfly in Washington."
For many frustrated, scared and angry suburbanites and small-town residents, Tancredo is a hero, one of the very few Washington politicians who take their fears seriously. They believe undocumented, mostly Hispanic workers are taking jobs that ought to go to citizens, flooding schools and boosting the crime rate, and that the country's open borders pose a security threat.
"My parents were immigrants," says Mark Solinsky, an independent voter from the sprawling Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, a part of Tancredo's suburban Colorado district. "Came from Poland. In the '20s. But I think now, this new wave of immigration poses a problem. We've got to have tougher laws. And, you know, that's what Tancredo always talks about. So I would say, yeah, he's right on that. We need some leadership on that."
Republican Ed Clousing, of Littleton, a suburb at the foot of the Rockies, said: "I am so mad at our government. And I know Tom Tancredo is mad, too. Because there's nobody up there trying to protect what's right about our country."
Tancredo's congressional district includes suburb after suburb, an expanse of new homes, schools, shopping malls and golf courses spreading across the high plains south and west of Denver. The district is about 88 percent white, and the residents are prosperous, with a median income ($74,000) almost twice the national average. The share of Hispanic residents, 6 percent, is the lowest of any Colorado district.
Tancredo, a self-described religious right Republican, grew up on the north side of Denver, taught in junior high school, and was elected to the state House in 1976 at the age of 30. He was part of a group called "the crazies," who advocated the elimination of the sales tax on food and utilities, and was a critic of public education.
But immigration has always been his chief preoccupation, and he made a name for himself after winning election to Congress. Tancredo strongly opposes any programs to accommodate illegal workers already living in the country and, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he supported the most stringent possible border enforcements.
Tancredo helped to shape a House bill, approved in December, that would impose stiff penalties on employers who hire illegal workers and would require businesses to eventually run the names of every employee through a national database to confirm their legality. The bill would end the "catch and release" policy for immigrants other than Mexicans who are caught sneaking into the country. Five double-layer border fences would be built in California and Arizona, stretching 698 miles at a total cost of more than $2.2 billion.
The House proposal has sparked huge protests in Phoenix, Detroit, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The Senate is now debating legislation that would take a more permissive and forgiving approach, by creating a guest-worker program and issuing more visas for professionals.
Tancredo is particularly riled at the business community, which he says has become "addicted to cheap labor." Employers are a driving force behind the guest-worker program and other Senate provisions that amount to "nearly universal amnesty" for the 12 million people currently living in the United States illegally, Tancredo says. He routinely chides Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other GOP colleagues for bowing to corporate pressure, despite the potential social problems and security threats.
Polls indicate that about 60 percent of Americans oppose guest-worker programs and three-quarters of Americans believe the government is doing too little to secure the nation's borders.
Democrats acknowledge concerns about the issue, but it is Republicans who are in the most difficult spot. One lawmaker trying to juggle law-and-order voters with business pressures is Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is fighting for reelection in November. His state is the birthplace of the Minutemen, a citizens' border patrol founded after Sept. 11. It was also the site of one of the biggest rallies against the House bill, held last week in Phoenix.
To keep the heat on Kyl, Tancredo issued a news release titled "Tancredo to Kyl: Just Say No to Amnesty," urging the senator to vote against the guest-worker proposal in committee, which Kyl did. But the Arizona Republican refused to comment about Tancredo's influence over the immigration debate. "I don't want to talk about it," he grumbled while dashing for an elevator.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:33 AM
A Rebuke Rarely Exercised
As a Weapon, a Censure Motion Lacks Muscle
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
When the nation was still young and the Constitution only 11 years old, Congress tried for the first time to censure a president.
The British Royal Navy was alleging that a seaman in custody in South Carolina was a fugitive. Without an investigation, President John Adams instructed a judge to turn the man, who said he was an American, over to the British.
This infuriated some in the House. Adams's opponents there sought in the spring of 1800 to adopt a resolution declaring his action "a dangerous interference of the Executive with Judicial Decisions."
But Adams had powerful defenders, including Rep. John Marshall, who later set many of the nation's founding constitutional principles as chief justice of the United States. Rep. William Craik argued that the House had neither "the power to censure or to approbate the conduct of the Executive," according to the Annals of Congress, but only to impeach him. The debate lasted two weeks, and in the end a vote to censure failed by nearly 2 to 1.
The question of censure is once again before Congress. This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to discuss a resolution introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) that would rebuke President Bush for his secret surveillance program. Old newspaper clippings and historical writings show that censure has a mixed record as an effective means for Congress to express disapproval of presidents.
Thirty-four years after the Adams episode, in March of the second year of the second term of President Andrew Jackson, the Senate rebuked the president in what remains the most famous case of censure.
In the campaign of 1832, Jackson and his opponent, Whig Party leader Sen. Henry Clay, had debated vigorously the merits of the Second Bank of the United States -- whose recharter Jackson had vetoed. After the president was reelected, the Whigs, who held a Senate majority over Jackson's Democrats, demanded a document he had read to his Cabinet regarding the bank.
When the president refused, according to Senate historians, the Senate voted 26 to 20 to declare the president "in derogation" of the Constitution. Jackson responded with a lengthy protest.
That was not the end of the story.
Three years later, Democrats regained the Senate majority and sought to repeal the censure. They called for the 1834 Senate journal to be brought forward, and the "secretary took up his pen, drew black lines around the censure text, and wrote 'Expunged,' " Senate historians have noted. "The chamber erupted in Democratic jubilation. . . . Dressed in the deep black of a mourner, Henry Clay lamented: 'The Senate is no longer a place for any decent man.' "
One reason censure has not had much legitimacy as a tool for rebuke is that it is expressed by a congressional resolution without the force of law, and "you can express a resolution that apple pie and motherhood are good for American life," says professor William W. Van Alstyne of the College of William & Mary law school. Yet it has kept on coming up.
In the 1860s, the House adopted a resolution censuring President James Buchanan for letting politics influence government contracts. The Senate, after Buchanan left office, debated whether to censure him for not stopping the Southern states from seceding from the Union, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
In the spring of 1951, Republicans were enraged that President Harry S. Truman had fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. A senator with White House ambitions, Richard M. Nixon (R-Calif.), suggested censuring the president. The call failed to gain support.
Censure has been proposed in more recent history by the president's supporters as an alternative to impeachment. During the Watergate scandal, House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) signed on to a petition to consider censuring President Nixon, and a resolution was introduced, but the debate moved to impeachment.
During the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal eight years ago, censure as an alternative to impeachment was floated seriously in Congress. President Bill Clinton's supporters hoped that a compromise would avert removal from office and pay off politically because polls showed most Americans preferred censure.
A phrase coined during the debate, "censure-plus," would have involved a rebuke and a financial penalty. But ultimately House Republicans approved two articles of impeachment.
In the Senate in late 1998 and early 1999, censure seemed to have more support from Republicans, but Democrats were beginning to sense that the Senate would not vote to impeach. "We are now navigating in previously uncharted waters," Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said at the time. Ultimately, the Senate voted not to convict Clinton -- and that was it.
For George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, the Clinton episode, as well as the pending Feingold proposal, are characteristic of what censure is -- and is not.
"The Constitution places an obligation upon Congress to impeach a president who has committed a high crime or misdemeanor," he said. "We're often left with these ambiguous actions. Even if a censure vote passed, the president would simply blame it on politics."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 AM
The New York Times
Lobby Reform Lite
With the ghost of Jack Abramoff, the recently sentenced rogue lobbyist, wafting above the debate, the Senate has voted for a halfhearted package of reforms that would come nowhere near curing the easy money, quid pro quo culture that now bedevils the Capitol.
Facing voters' flagging confidence, the Senate chose to emphasize greater disclosure by lobbyists while rejecting such vital reforms as the creation of an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. The instinct to protect privileged clubbiness carried the day, most glaringly when the Senate spiked any idea of ending lawmakers' shameless use of the executive jets so eagerly offered by corporate officials bent on insider access.
Constituents who are grateful to see even the slightest sign of reform will be happy that the senators have voted to extend to two years the mandatory waiting time before a former lawmaker can strike it rich as a lobbyist. The current wait is one year. The bill also takes the first steps toward uncovering the stealthy world of grass-roots lobbying investments in lawmakers' home districts.
The Senate bill would make it harder — but by no means impossible — for members to quietly "earmark" pork projects in the budget at the behest of lobbyists. But even such an obvious reform as banning meals and gifts from lobbyists came equipped with a gaping loophole so the corporate employers of lobbyists could still pick up those checks.
The unfinished ethics agenda begins with the most critical issue of all: an end to the pervasive role of lobbyists as campaign finance brokers and money bundlers for incumbent politicians. It's reached the point where the people's representatives blatantly designate lobbyists to head their fund-raising teams. This moneyed back-scratching is the seedbed for scandal, but neither house shows any appetite to confront it.
Also ignored was a ban on lawmakers' junketeering at the expense of special-interest check writers. The Senate chose instead to require prior approval of private trips by its spineless ethics committee, a step that would hardly mitigate the cheesiness. Taxpayers, not corporate sponsors, should pay for global fact-finding.
For all its shortcomings, the Senate is a light-year ahead of the House. There, reform proposals have been parceled out to committees for indefinite marination as Republican leaders face rebellious members who want no part of real reform. The chances seem slim for two-house action that truly dents the clout of the booming lobbying industry.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:26 AM
The New York Times
At Sept. 11 Trial, Tale of Missteps and Management
By SCOTT SHANE and NEIL A. LEWIS
WASHINGTON, March 30 — Three weeks of testimony and dozens of documents released in the sentencing of Zacarias Moussaoui have offered an eerie parallel view of two organizations, Al Qaeda and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and how they pursued their missions before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Al Qaeda, according to a newly revealed account from the chief plotter, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, took its time in choosing targets — attack the White House or perhaps a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania? Organizers sized up and selected operatives, teaching them how to apply for a visa and how to cut a throat, a skill they practiced on sheep and camels. Despite the mistakes of careless subordinates and an erratic boss, Osama bin Laden, Mr. Mohammed tried to keep the plot on course.
Mr. Mohammed, a Pakistani-born, American-trained engineer, "thought simplicity was the key to success," says the summary of his interrogation by the Central Intelligence Agency. It is all the more chilling for the banal managerial skills it ascribes to the man who devised the simultaneous air attacks.
If Mr. Mohammed's guiding principle was simplicity, the United States government relied on sprawling bureaucracies at feuding agencies to look for myriad potential threats. The C.I.A. had lots of information on two hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, but the F.B.I. did not know the men had settled in San Diego, where Mr. Mohammed had instructed them to "spend time visiting museums and amusement parks" so they could masquerade as tourists.
At the F.B.I., a few agents pursued clues that would later prove tantalizingly close to the mark, but they could not draw attention from top counterterrorism officials. A Minnesota F.B.I. agent, Harry M. Samit, warned in a memorandum that Mr. Moussaoui was a dangerous Islamic extremist whose study of how to fly a Boeing 747-400 seemed to be part of a sinister plot.
"As the details of this plan are not yet fully known, it cannot be determined if Moussaoui has sufficient knowledge of the 747-400 to attempt to execute the seizure of such an aircraft," Mr. Samit wrote on Aug. 31, 2001. He had already urged Washington to act quickly, because it was not clear "how far advanced Moussaoui's plan is or how many unidentified co-conspirators exist."
But to high-level officials, the oddball Moroccan-born Frenchman in Minneapolis was only one of scores of possible terrorists who might be worth checking out. An F.B.I. official in Washington edited crucial details out of Mr. Samit's memorandums seeking a search warrant for Mr. Moussaoui's possessions, and said that pressing for it could hurt an agent's career, Mr. Samit testified.
The picture of a large and lumbering bureaucracy trying to defend against a small and flexible enemy is striking, said Timothy J. Roemer, a member of the national Sept. 11 commission.
"It's like the elephant fighting the snake," said Mr. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "One of the impressions of Al Qaeda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is their ability to change course and put new people into their plan and dynamically respond to the challenges day to day."
The United States government, he said, "is almost the opposite."
"We're slow to change," he said, "slow to adjust, and we're building a huge bureaucracy."
The court testimony, Mr. Roemer said, has reinforced his belief that "Moussaoui was an Al Qaeda mistake and a missed opportunity for the F.B.I."
The jury at Mr. Moussaoui's sentencing trial in federal court in Alexandria, Va., began deliberating on Wednesday about whether he qualifies for the death penalty for not telling American officials of the approaching terrorist attacks. If jurors decide he does qualify, they will then have to make a second decision as to whether he should be executed.
The outlines of the events on both sides in the weeks leading to the Sept. 11 attacks are well known. But the voluminous evidence presented at the trial have added details and color to the public history of the plotters and how American counterterrorism officers failed to stop them.
There are snippets of highly classified National Security Agency cables and glimpses of the C.I.A. inspector general's report on the agency's performance before the attacks, which remains secret. There are numerous new F.B.I. e-mail messages and memorandums that fill in the details of agents' suspicions and why they were not heeded.
But the 58-page "Substitution for the Testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," a detailed account of what Mr. Mohammed has told investigators since his capture in Pakistan in 2003, and an attached two-page statement written by him, give the most direct view to date of the man who conceived and organized the attacks.
"I know that the materialistic Western mind cannot grasp the idea, and it is difficult for them to believe that the high officials in Al Qaeda do not know about operations carried out by its operatives, but this is how it works," Mr. Mohammed wrote in his statement to his interrogators. "We do not submit written reports to our higher ups. I conducted the September 11 operation by submitting only oral reports."
Mr. Mohammed comes across as a hands-on, midlevel manager who sometimes handled details, like perusing a San Diego telephone book he bought at a market in Karachi, Pakistan, for English-language schools and flight schools.
But he delegated what he could to others. He had Abu Turab al Jordani, a Qaeda veteran from Jordan, train the less sophisticated "muscle" hijackers, teaching them to use their knives on animals and how to storm a jetliner cabin. He allowed Mohammed Atta, appointed "emir" of the hijackers, to make final decisions on targets and on the date of the attack.
Mr. bin Laden repeatedly pressed Mr. Mohammed to move ahead with the hijacking plot, the document says. He pushed, for example, to strike on May 12, precisely seven months after the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Ever the pragmatist, Mr. Mohammed put him off. In fact, Mr. Mohammed "noted that he disobeyed bin Laden on several occasions by taking operatives assigned to him by bin Laden and using them how he best saw fit."
One restriction on the plot was the small number of Qaeda devotees who had, or could get, visas to enter the United States. Mr. Mohammed used Mr. Midhar and Mr. Hazmi because they had visas — despite his doubts about their minimal English and lack of sophistication.
But he also considered Mr. Moussaoui less reliable because of time he had spent in the West. Mr. Mohammed "stated that Westerners have a different point of view because of their freedom," the summary says.
The sentencing trial made clear the frustration of the Minneapolis F.B.I. office in its repeated efforts to interest bureau headquarters in Mr. Moussaoui.
Gripping testimony came from Mr. Samit, who arrested Mr. Moussaoui on Aug. 16 and quickly became convinced that he was a terrorist who knew about an imminent hijacking plot. Mr. Samit said that he had sent about 70 warning messages about Mr. Moussaoui, but that they had produced no results.
The agent said he had been puzzled at the reluctance of Michael Maltbie, a supervisor with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at bureau headquarters, to seek a search warrant for Mr. Moussaoui's belongings from a special intelligence court.
Mr. Samit seemed unable to satisfy Mr. Maltbie's demand that he provide a tangible link between Mr. Moussaoui and a foreign power, a requirement for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He thought he had sufficient evidence from two French intelligence reports showing Mr. Moussaoui had recruited someone to fight in Chechnya for an Islamist group allied with Mr. bin Laden.
But on Aug. 24, 2001, a frustrated Mr. Samit sent an e-mail message to Charles Frahm, a friend and, at the time, an F.B.I. liaison to the C.I.A., asking for information to help make his case. "We're trying to close the wiggle room for F.B.I. headquarters to claim there is no connection to a foreign power," he wrote.
Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers asserted that Mr. Maltbie had undermined the effort to obtain a search warrant by deleting some details from Mr. Samit's requests. Mr. Samit said Mr. Maltbie had told him he was reluctant to press for a warrant because doing so would be risky for his career and "he was not about to let that happen to him."
At the time, the bureau had become wary of applying to the intelligence court because a well-regarded supervisor had angered the court's chief judge in a previous case.
Days later, with the attacks in New York and Washington, the scale of the destruction astonished even Mr. Mohammed. According to the summary, he said he "had no idea that the damage of the first attack would be as catastrophic as it was."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:20 AM
Poland wants the official name of Auschwitz-Birkenau changed to remind the world that the death camp was built and run by Nazi Germany
Poland seeks Auschwitz renaming
Poland wants the official name of Auschwitz-Birkenau changed to remind the world that the death camp was built and run by Nazi Germany.
The government in Warsaw is anxious that the grim history of the Auschwitz site, listed as a Unesco world heritage site, is not linked to Poles or Poland.
Poland wants Unesco to change the official name to "Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau".
More than a million people, almost all Jews, died there between 1940 and 1945.
The Nazi regime killed some six million Jews during World War II.
The twin camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, built in occupied Poland near the town of Oswiecim, were designed, built and operated by Nazi Germany.
However, Polish officials have become unsettled by media references to Auschwitz as a "Polish concentration camp".
German newspaper Der Spiegel this week called the camp "Polish", prompting anger in Warsaw.
"In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany," Polish government spokesman Jan Kasprzyk told a Polish news agency.
"However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal."
Unesco's current description of Auschwitz says that the "fortified walls, barbed wire, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and cremation ovens show the conditions within which the Nazi genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest in the Third Reich."
However, Mr Kasprzyk added: "The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was."
The Polish government made the request to change the name in writing to Unesco - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The body added Auschwitz-Birkenau to its list of world heritage sites in 1979.
Poland said it expected an answer later this year.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM
Bird flu expected to hit West Coast by summer
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California officials expect bird flu to arrive on the U.S. West Coast this summer in what could be the first sign in the United States of the deadly virus, which has already swept from Asia across Europe and down to Africa.
"The H5N1 virus in birds is expected in the next couple of months in the United States," California Health and Human Services Secretary Kim Belshe told reporters on Thursday at a state bird flu pandemic preparedness meeting.
Officials said the virus was likely to be carried into either the east or west coast of the United States by migrating birds starting their journeys south, either from Alaska on the Pacific Flyway, or the Atlantic Flyway on the other side of North American continent.
They said some 60,000 birds, mostly waterfowl, would begin their migration south from Alaska in mid-August, working their way down through Oregon, Washington and into California.
Although both coasts have set up monitoring systems for any signs of the avian virus "we expect there will be access (to the United States) through Alaska rather than upstate New York," said Ryan Broddrick, director of the California Department of Fish and Game. He did not elaborate.
The H5N1 virus overwhelmingly infects birds but has sickened 186 people in eight countries and killed 105 of them. Experts believe it poses the greatest threat in recent years of a global flu pandemic that could kill millions, if it acquires the ability to pass easily from human to human.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt warned against panic when avian flu hits U.S. shores for the first time, saying it would not inevitably mean the start of a human pandemic.
"It is almost certain that a wild bird will find its way into the United States with H5N1 on board. That will not be a crisis," Leavitt told reporters in Los Angeles.
But he warned states to lay the groundwork for possible human to human transmission. "There is clearly a lot of buzz (but) I worry there is not enough busy-ness," he said.
Leavitt said research published on Wednesday finding that an experimental vaccine against bird flu in humans works only at very high doses was "not unexpected."
"We are working to develop adjuvant technology that will allow us to boost the effects of vaccine and we are optimistic that that can be part of the solution," he said.
GlaxoSmithKline on Thursday announced the start of human trials of two new bird flu vaccines using adjuvants -- additives that are put into vaccines that boost the immune system and make it respond more efficiently.
If the vaccines work they would be ready to manufacture by the end of the year, the company said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:06 AM
Father of man beheaded in Iraq runs for Congress
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Almost two years after the videotaped beheading of U.S. contractor Nick Berg in Iraq, his father is running a third-party race for the U.S. Congress on a platform seeking a complete withdrawal of American troops.
Michael Berg, a veteran anti-war activist and retired schoolteacher who campaigns in jeans and a T-shirt, is the Green Party candidate for the Delaware seat of seven-term Republican Rep. Michael Castle.
Berg, 61, acknowledges that his late entry into politics is a result of his son's grisly death at the hands of hooded captors in May 2004. The event brought the elder Berg worldwide media attention, especially after he publicly blamed U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"Other than stopping this war, I have no political ambitions," Berg said. "Let's face it, I would not be running if my son had not died in Iraq. People would not have known my name, and the Green Party would not have asked me to run."
His low-budget campaign comes as Democrats have enlisted Iraq war veterans in the battle for Congress this year in a challenge to Bush on Iraq. At least nine veterans of the Iraq war are running for Congress, all but one as Democrats.
Berg said he was more than a protest candidate with no serious prospect of unseating Castle, who won about 70 percent of the vote in 2004.
"I'm in this to win," Berg told Reuters in an interview.
If elected, Berg would be the Green Party's first representative in Congress. In the 2004 general election, the party won 0.3 percent of the national vote.
Berg chose to run against Castle because of the Republican's support for the war and said Castle's loyalty to Bush will harm the incumbent in the November election. Democratic lawyer Dennis Spivack is seeking that party's nomination for the race.
Berg cultivates his status as a political outsider, railing against corporate interests, riding his bicycle to campaign speeches, and habitually wearing an anti-war T-shirt.
He owns a 13-year-old car. "If I took the anti-war stickers off, it would probably fall apart," Berg said in a telephone interview.
Berg pledged that he will keep wearing his trademark attire if elected. "If I get sworn in wearing a suit and tie, I have lied to people," he said.
BUSH SEEN AS LIABILITY
Voter opposition to the Iraq war and Bush's growing unpopularity mean that any candidate who has supported both will be vulnerable, even to a maverick with no previous political experience, Berg said.
"This is the year that Castle can be beaten," Berg said. "He has allied himself so closely with President Bush that he will go down with the president."
He said the war not only kills U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, but increases the risk of terrorist attacks on American soil.
Elizabeth Wenk, a spokeswoman for Castle, said the congressman differs with the White House on several major issues and that "Mr. Castle is arguably the most independent member of the House of Representatives."
Berg did not consider running as a Democrat, even though that would have meant more funding than his meager campaign resources, currently about $5,000.
"I would rather run on my shoestring budget than on the silver slipper of the Democrats," he said.
Prominent Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Kerry want to "escalate" the war in Iraq by sending in more troops, Berg argues.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 AM
Senate panel OKs foreign investment overhaul but waters down some provisions amid pressure from Wall Street, the Bush administration and U.S. allies
Senate panel OKs foreign investment overhaul
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Banking Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to tighten rules on foreign takeovers of American companies but watered down some provisions amid pressure from Wall Street, the Bush administration and U.S. allies.
Trying to steer a middle path between national security and maintaining foreign investment, the committee's bill would require the U.S. government to spend an extra 45 days examining deals with state-owned companies for national security concerns.
The recent purchase of U.S. port facilities by state-owned Dubai Ports World caused an outcry in Congress.
The Senate bill would force the executive branch of government to notify Congress about pending acquisitions. It would also make the U.S. government take more time examining deals involving "critical" infrastructure, such as airports or bridges, even if the buyer is not state-owned.
But in a concession to Wall Street and corporate lobbyists, it mandates the delay for critical infrastructure contracts only if there is a demonstrated national security concern.
The panel acted the same day Treasury Secretary John Snow warned that foreign investment, which is linked to more than 5 million U.S. jobs, was threatened by legislation. "We need foreign investment in the United States, but it's being put in jeopardy now by legislation that is well-intended," he said.
The bill was drafted by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, the panel's head. He rejected charges of economic nationalism.
"As critical as foreign investment is, our national security is paramount," Shelby told the committee.
The bill would require the executive branch to notify key lawmakers of proposed deals within 10 days of the start of a government review. It also requires state governors to be notified of deals that could have security implications.
But Shelby stopped short of proposing a congressional veto of deals.
The Senate banking panel approved the legislation, 20-0. However, it is unclear how quickly it will be taken up on the Senate floor, and the House has yet to start work on similar reforms. The chairman of the relevant House committee, Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Oxley, is skeptical of the need for changes.
Congress was in an uproar when it found out after the fact that the Bush administration had approved the Dubai Ports World purchase of terminal operations at major U.S. ports without consulting lawmakers or officials in the areas involved. Earlier this month the company agreed to unwind the contract.
The Senate legislation is in part a result of this outcry.
It revamps the rules under which the inter-agency panel of the executive branch, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), reviews foreign acquisitions. Currently, CFIUS takes 30 days to examine a proposed deal, and can extend that period by an extra 45 days if needed.
The bill also would allow an interim step of a second 30-day review in some cases, and it sets up a ranking system that would be used for reviews, listing countries according to their ties to the United States and stance on arms control.
Some members of the business community expressed relief with the outcome.
The bill "goes a long way toward restoring confidence in the CFIUS process, while not raising undue burdens to foreign investment and its economic benefits to Americans" said Todd Malan, head of the Organization for International Investment.
But the Business Roundtable and other groups said it was still worried that the reporting requirements could "increase the risk of transactions becoming political."
David Manning, Britain's ambassador to Washington, warned that the United States risked losing its dominant economic position by adopting protectionist policies. Some 20 percent of foreign investment in the United States comes from Britain, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:02 AM
Senate panel set to consider bid to censure Bush
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former White House counsel John Dean, who helped push President Richard Nixon from office during the Watergate scandal three decades ago, heads to Capitol Hill on Friday to back an uphill attempt to censure President George W. Bush.
Dean, author of a book about Bush titled "Worse than Watergate", was to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a resolution to rebuke Bush for a domestic spying program introduced secretly after the September 11 attacks.
Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, introduced the resolution earlier this month.
He argues that the program, which allows eavesdropping on international telephone calls and e-mails involving Americans when one party is suspected of links with terrorism, violates the law because it is conducted without court warrants.
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, contends there are no grounds for censure, but has agreed to hold the hearing to debate the matter.
"I think that there's absolutely no merit in it, and that the hearing will expose it because of the president's broad (constitutional) authority," Specter said.
Feingold's censure resolution has rallied the support of a number of liberal groups, but it has also galvanized conservatives in support of the embattled war-time president.
Republicans have dismissed the resolution as a political stunt, while many Democrats have distanced themselves from it as they jockey for position for the November congressional elections.
So far, just two of Feingold's 43 fellow Senate Democrats, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have co-sponsored his resolution.
Nixon became the first president to resign from office in August 1974 after a congressional impeachment investigation aided by Dean, who had earlier been his White House counsel.
The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to send the censure resolution against Bush to the Republican-led Senate where it seems to have virtually no chance of being approved.
The Senate has censured a president, which amounts to a formal rebuke, only once before and that was Andrew Jackson in 1834 in a banking dispute.
Dean was one of five witnesses called to testify before the Judiciary Committee -- two by Democrats, three by Republicans.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:00 AM
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Miller helped free land for a business partner
By Susan Crabtree
Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) pushed for a provision in last year’s transportation bill that allowed the city of Rialto, Calif., to shut down its airport.
By doing so, he paved the way for his business partner, Lewis Operating Corp., one of his top campaign contributors, to buy the land from the city and make plans to build Renaissance, a community consisting of 2,500 homes, parks and 80 acres of retail space on the former airport property and adjacent land.
Normally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has sole authority to close airports.
“This is the first time … an airport has been closed through the legislative process,” said FAA spokesman Hank Price. “We follow Congress’s direction.”
Miller’s relationship with Lewis Operating and its president of Southern California operations, Richard Lewis, dates back more than three decades, to Miller’s years as a developer of planned communities. He founded G. Miller Development Co. in his early 20s, and he and Lewis were competitors, Miller said.
Miller, 57, went on to be elected to the Diamond Bar City Council, the mayor’s office, the California Assembly and Congress, beating scandal-scarred Republican Rep. Jay Kim in 1998. Just months earlier, Kim and his wife had pleaded guilty to accepting and concealing $230,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
Miller said he prides himself on his efforts to disclose his campaign contributions fully. He said he sees nothing wrong with his work to close Rialto’s airport, even though it freed land that his business partner wanted to develop.
“I’ve known Richard Lewis for 30 years,” he said. “Richard’s son and my daughter went to high school together. If knowing somebody is bad, I guess that’s bad.”
Miller denied that his actions created a conflict of interest.
“There was no quid pro quo,” he said.
But Theis Finlev, a policy advocate for Common Cause, argues that members of Congress must go out of their way to avoid using their offices to benefit private business partners directly, especially if they also are major campaign contributors.
“Even if it’s legal, it’s horribly unseemly,” Finlev said about Miller’s work to shut down the airport. “It’s not something that inspires confidence in the political process, and should not happen.”
This election cycle, employees of Lewis Operating including Richard Lewis and several Lewis family members have donated a combined $8,100 to Miller’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making the company his top contributor.
Employees of Lewis Operating and members of the Lewis family have donated $19,300 to Miller’s campaign committee since 1998.
Lewis Operating is also a member of the National Association of Home Builders, Miller’s No. 1 contributor since he was elected. The group has donated $44,000 to Miller’s campaign committee since 1998.
ACROSS DISTRICT LINES
Rialto tried for years to close the airport, arguing that it was underused and losing money.
In August 2004, the City Council passed an amendment giving the city the exclusive right to negotiate with Lewis and its partner, Hillwood Development Corp., to purchase and develop the airport land if it should become available. The council approved the prospective sale eight months later.
But finalizing that transaction would have to wait until the city could find a way to close the airport, and the transportation bill provided it last year.
The price tag for the 450 acres of airport land will likely be tens of millions of dollars, but the purchase is still in the appraisal stage, according to Rob Steel, Rialto’s redevelopment director.
“We have entered into contracts of sale with Lewis-Hillwood Rialto,” Steel confirmed.
When it is sold, it will be at fair market value, which the appraiser will determine, a requirement that Miller included in his version of the provision and was in the final bill.
Lewis and Hillwood, founded and chaired by Ross Perot Jr., formed Lewis-Hillwood Rialto LLC when they became interested in the project. There is no way to know how much money the two companies would make on the deal. Lewis Operating and Hillwood officials declined to comment for the story.
Rialto is not in Miller’s district but in that of nearby Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.). Miller said Baca backed his efforts to shut down the airport. Baca did not respond to requests for comment.
Other development companies besides Lewis-Hillwood tried to offer bids for the development but were told by a Rialto City Council member that Hillwood’s strong ties to Washington could help the city find a way to shut down the airport. The company was already working with the FAA on developing San Bernardino airport 8.5 miles to the east, and the city thought that relationship could help influence the FAA’s decision.
According to minutes from Aug. 9, 2004, City Councilman Joseph Sampson reminded other members that “based upon knowledge of Hillwood Corp. they do have extremely close ties in Washington, which provides them with inroads on what a final outcome may be in regards to how they might treat the airport.”
But the FAA did not support closing Rialto airport. Since 1984, the city has taken out $15 million in federal government loans to improve the airport. Traditionally, the FAA opposes closing an airport when it has invested in it until it earns a return on the investment.
The provision in the transportation bill requires Rialto to pay back the federal government 90 percent of any unpaid portion of the federal loans it had taken out.
In an interview, Miller said he is not responsible for the final airport language in the bill because Senate conferees struck his provision from the measure. Working with Rep. Jim Oberstar (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the transportation panel, Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) managed to insert his own language closing the airport into the final bill.
Rep. Lewis’s provision relocates airport business and equipment to San Bernardino Airport, in his district.
John Scofield, a spokesman for Rep. Lewis, said there are many good reasons for closing Rialto airport, noting that both the city and the county want it closed.
“There are a lot of airports in the area, such as the San Bernardino National Airport and the Redlands airport, which are both better facilities,” he said. “Because of the Santa Ana winds, the [Rialto airport] is only open half of the time anyway.”
Rep. Lewis is not related to anyone at Lewis Operating Corp.
Miller, the only California Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a senior member of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee, said he helped push for the inclusion of Rep. Lewis’s provision in the final version of the measure.
Employees of Lewis Operating and other members of the Lewis family also have donated $19,900 to Baca this election cycle, making the company his top contributor as well. Rep. Lewis has received $3,000 since 2000.
Before Lewis Operating joined with Hillwood on the Rialto project, Miller had not received any campaign contributions from Hillwood employees. But after Miller started working on language in the transportation bill, John Magness, senior vice president of Hillwood Investments, cut him a check for $500 dated May 12, 2005, according to Federal Election Commission records.
“I guess they were saying thank you. … I guess that’s what that was,” Miller said.
He said that the city of Rialto chose Lewis Operating, one of the largest real-estate developers in Southern California, for the airport job on its own.
He could not recall, however, when he discovered that Lewis Operating was seeking the airport property. Rialto contacted him about shutting down the airport because he had done business with the city years earlier before becoming a congressman, he said.
He was asked to help because Rialto’s efforts to convince the FAA to shut down the airport had failed.
“The FAA doesn’t want anything closed,” Miller said. “I don’t think the FAA has ever closed an airport. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to close an airport.”
He also said he does not see how he benefited from any of his business dealings with Lewis Operating Corp.
A CONTROVERSIAL PAST
Watchdog groups have criticized a number of land deals between Lewis Operating and Miller, as well as his role in helping secure other provisions in last year’s $286.5 billion transportation transportation bill.
As first reported by the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, Miller helped secure $1.28 million in the bill for street improvements in front of a planned housing and retail center that he co-owned with Lewis Operating in his district.
Lewis-Diamond Bar LLC, a company formed to buy the land, is the developer. Miller owns $1 million-$5 million of the company. The other partner is Lewis Operating Corp.
The same year, Miller took out a promissory note from a subsidiary of Lewis Operating Corp., Lewis Investments, for $1 million to $5 million, according to his 2004 financial disclosure records.
The Los Angeles Newspaper Group also ran a critical story about a real-estate deal involving Miller, Lewis Operating and the Southern California city of Fontana.
In July 2005, Fontana’s redevelopment agency spent $5 million to buy land from Miller without notifying the public, an apparent violation of state open-meeting laws.
Miller said that he was outraged about it and that he has since demanded that the city insert a written pledge in the sales contract to make public the sale of the last parcel he owns to the city .
Some six months earlier, Miller had bought the same land from Lewis Operating. He said he did so to avoid tax penalties on profit from a land sale to Monrovia, another Southern California city, two years before.
That profit is estimated at $10 million, according to Miller’s 2003 financial disclosure record and knowledgeable sources.
He said he only made $50,000 on the sale to Fontana, barely enough to cover taxes and real-estate transaction fees.
“I needed to find property, and that property was available,” he said.
Jonathan Allen contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:45 AM