General Wesley Clark Takes on President Bush on Iraq and 9/11
The Young Turks are broadcasting live from The Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas. We interviewed General Wesley Clark this morning. He spoke very frankly (must run in the family) about the failures of the Bush administration in Iraq. He also talked about the neo-conservative plan to invade Iraq going back to more than a decade.
Finally, he discussed the failures that led up to 9/11, which was refreshing because the neglect the Bush administration showed to addressing Al Qaeda before 9/11 is almost never mentioned.
Here's the General Wes Clark interview on The Young Turks. (Note: Requires Windows Media Player.)
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Poll: Many support troops, but not the war
WASHINGTON (AP) — Support the troops, oppose the war. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that many Americans perceive the alleged atrocities against Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces as isolated incidents while saying the U.S.-led invasion was a mistake, a disconnect that sets this conflict apart from Vietnam.
The survey of 1,003 adults was completed Wednesday, shortly before the announcement that U.S. airstrikes had killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, and the Iraqi parliament's approval of candidates for ministers in charge of the army and police.
It remains to be seen how those events could affect opinion, especially among a public paying close attention to war dispatches.
Some 76% of those questioned said they were following reports about allegations that U.S. troops killed unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The military is investigating reports that a small number of Marines murdered 24 Iraqi civilians — including unarmed women and children — in the town of Haditha on Nov. 19. It also is conducting a probe of an incident in Hamdaniya following allegations that Marines pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home on April 26 and shot him to death without provocation.
Regardless of whether the allegations turn out to be true, 63% of those surveyed said they thought the killings of civilians were isolated incidents. That view was especially true among Americans over 35, whites and those living in the South, where the military has a strong presence.
"I think they're doing everything possible to avoid such things," said Christine Berchelmann, a retired nurse and Republican-leaning independent from San Antonio. "The people they are seeking out, they are in dwellings right in the middle of all these civilians. There are always going to be casualties."
Sixty-one% in the survey said the military is doing all it can to avoid killing Iraqi civilians.
While the AP poll found that most Americans are willing to give U.S. troops the benefit of the doubt, their misgivings about the war and the prospect of Iraq establishing a stable, democratic government are growing.
Fifty-nine% said the United States made a mistake in going to war, a new high and a significant jump from the 34% in December 2004.
"The biggest mistake was going into Iraq," said David Smith, 38, a salesman from Springfield, Mo., and Democrat who leans independent. "If hindsight was 20-20, they should have thought about the repercussions."
Despite President Bush's pronouncements about Iraq setting up a viable government, only 44% of those polled said it was likely they would see a stable government in Baghdad. It was a new low in the survey.
"I think this is the first time in recorded history where the American people wholeheartedly support the troops and support for the mission is waning," said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
The 15-term lawmaker cited the greater involvement of the National Guard and Reserves in the war. Some 25,000 members of the Guard and Reserve are in Iraq among the 132,000 U.S. troops.
"People have a neighbor or a cousin," Skelton said.
During Vietnam, growing opposition to the war paralleled disenchantment with American forces, many of whom had been drafted to serve. The conflict dragged on more than a decade, some 58,000 Americans were killed and the U.S. departed Saigon in April 1975 as the communists prevailed.
Capturing the public consciousness during Vietnam was the My Lai massacre, in which U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of innocent civilians in 1968.
In Iraq, the military has relied on an all-volunteer force of trained professionals.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said it is possible to oppose the war but "nonetheless see the military as divorced from that. The military is our sons and daughters and, of course, we wouldn't systematically engage in something that defiles American values."
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said he was not surprised by the view of the troops.
"These soldiers are the best we ever had. The American people understand it," said Kline, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
The survey also found that the war continues to take a toll on the public's opinion of Bush. Approval of the president was at 35%, essentially unchanged from his rating of 33% last month based on the poll's margin of error of 3 percentage points.
His handling of Iraq and foreign policy and the fight against terrorism hit new lows: Just 33% approved of his actions on Iraq and 39% on the commander in chief's fight against terrorism.
People had an even lower opinion of the Republican-controlled Congress. Only 24% approved of the way it's doing its job, essentially unchanged from last month but still a new low.
Fifty-two% want Democrats to capture control of Congress in November, about the same as last month's poll.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 1:50 AM
Data on nuclear agency workers hacked: lawmaker
By Chris Baltimore
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A computer hacker got into the U.S. agency that guards the country's nuclear weapons stockpile and stole the personal records of at least 1,500 employees and contractors, a senior U.S. lawmaker said on Friday.
[Editors Note: And as reported in the NY Times, the stolen data includes: "names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and information on where the people worked and their security clearances."]
The target of the hacker, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, is the latest agency to reveal that sensitive private information about government workers was stolen.
The incident happened last September but top Energy Department officials were not told about it until this week, prompting the chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to demand the resignation of the head of the NNSA.
An NNSA spokesman was not available for comment.
The NNSA is a semi-autonomous arm of the Energy Department and also guards some of the U.S. military's nuclear secrets and responds to global nuclear and radiological emergencies.
Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton said NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks should be "removed from your office as expeditiously as possible" because he did not quickly notify senior Energy Department officials of the breach.
"And I mean like 5 o'clock this afternoon if it's possible," Barton, a Texas Republican, said in a statement.
Earlier this week the Pentagon revealed that personal information on about 2.2 million active-duty, National Guard and Reserve troops was stolen last month from a government employee's house.
That comes on top of the theft of data on 26.5 million U.S. military veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs has said.
A spokesman for Energy Secretary Sam Bodman declined comment on the call for Brooks' resignation but said the secretary was "deeply disturbed about the way this was handled internally" and would make it a priority to notify workers about the lapse.
The "vast majority" of those workers were contractors, not direct government employees, said the spokesman Craig Stevens.
According to Barton, the NNSA chief knew about the incident soon after it happened in September but did not inform Energy Department officials, including Bodman, until Wednesday.
"I don't see how you could meet with (Bodman) every day the last seven or eight months and not inform him," Barton said.
He said Brooks cited "bureaucratic confusion" to explain the reporting lapse.
"It appears that each side of that organization assumed that the other side had made the appropriate notification," Brooks told the House energy panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee, according to a record provided by Barton's office.
"Just as the secretary just learned about this week, I learned this week that the secretary didn't know," Brooks said. "There are a number of us who in hindsight should have done things differently on informing."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:45 AM
The Iraq Effect
Zarqawi’s death is good news, but America’s war in the Middle East still looms large over U.S. politics. Just ask Joe Lieberman.
By Eleanor Clift
June 9, 2006 - The death of the top-ranking operative of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a welcome moment of clarity in a war desperately in search of a rationale. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi personified the face of evil and was controversial even among jihadists for staging large-scale attacks on civilians. The news out of Iraq has been gloomy for so long that Zarqawi’s demise, along with the agreement on the remaining cabinet ministers to fill out the new government, may buy some time with the American public, and give President Bush the breathing space to figure out what to do next when he meets with his advisers at Camp David next week.
Bush was subdued and didn’t overplay his hand when he stood in the Rose Garden early Thursday morning to commend U.S. forces for the successful bomb attack on the house where Zarqawi had been meeting with his lieutenants. The Jordanian-born Zarqawi led the foreign jihadists in Iraq and incited the sectarian violence against the Shia-majority population. His death is a major symbolic blow for the insurgency and a big win in the propaganda war for the West. But the carnage and the mayhem that defines Iraq today will not stop with Zarqawi’s passing, a reality that Bush acknowledged, along with a reflection of lessons learned from earlier victories that turned out to be less than enduring.
Weeks ago Karl Rove said Iraq “looms over everything.” That’s true not only for Bush but also increasingly for Democrats. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, is facing the first serious challenge in his 18-year Senate career. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Lieberman’s margin of victory dropped eight points in the last month, from 65 to 57 percent, and his favorable rating among Democrats slipped to 49 percent, a red flag for the upcoming Aug. 8 primary. Wealthy telecommunications executive Ned Lamont polled just 19 percent a month ago against Lieberman; he’s now at 32 percent and the darling of a growing antiwar movement to take back the party. The primary is in the dead of summer when only the most passionate turn out, which bodes ill for Lieberman, a Bush ally on the war and a middle-of-the-roader on most issues.
Here’s the dilemma for Lieberman: He could lose the primary, but if he ran as an independent, he would win. He polls much higher among all voters than Democrats. To get on the ballot as an independent, Lieberman needs 30,000 signatures, which would be no problem. The catch is that under the rules, he would have to present them on Aug. 9, the day after the primary. But if he starts to gather signatures now, he likely loses the primary.
“It’s like saying to Democrats, ‘I’m going to run anyway.’ It’s a slap in the face and an admission of weakness,” says Matt Bennett with Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. On the other hand, if Lieberman doesn’t follow through on a fallback position, “He’s gambling with his Senate career,” says Bennett. Party regulars worry that if Lamont is their candidate, he could lose and take Democratic House challengers with him. Republicans have an appealing local district attorney waiting in the wings if Lamont is the candidate. History shows from George McGovern to Howard Dean that doves are not rewarded at the ballot box. If Lieberman were to lose the primary, or to start collecting signatures, it would be evidence of the power of the antiwar grass roots—something the Democratic leadership has been working hard to keep a lid on.
The death of Zarqawi is a reminder of how fast things can change in a war Americans still want to win. GOP pundit Monica Crowley told talk-show host Don Imus, “This news is better than sex.” The GOP was also heartened by former Republican congressman Brian Bilbray’s win in a special election to succeed Randy (Duke) Cunningham, who’s in prison for taking $2.4 million in kickbacks from defense-industry lobbyists. Democrats had hoped to take the seat in a show of momentum that could carry them to power in November. Bilbray squeaked through with a 49 percent plurality. The culture-of-corruption message that Democrats cultivated for months may not yield partisan advantage. There’s too much bad behavior to go around. The Republican excesses with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project are more systemic, but the images associated with Democrats are flashier—money stashed in Rep. William Jefferson’s freezer along with a video of the offending congressman accepting a bribe, a picture of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid at a boxing match after accepting free ringside seats from a state agency trying to influence him.
A new Democracy Corps poll says Democrats are “under performing,” and if they fail to show voters something more, they could fall victim to a “stay-away protest vote.” Positive views of the party have actually declined over the past few months, and the advantages Democrats have are “not big enough for Democrats to recapture the House or Senate,” according to the poll. It’s sobering but not surprising for a party still adrift in Bush’s war.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
'MySpace' teen back from Middle East
By DAVID N. GOODMAN, Associated Press Writer
A 16-year-old honor student from Michigan tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then flew off to the Mideast to be with a West Bank man she met on MySpace.com, authorities say.
U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded her to turn around and go home before she reached the West Bank. She returned home Friday.
Katherine R. Lester is a straight-A student and student council member, her father said. "She's a good girl. Never had a problem with her," Terry Lester said.
MySpace.com is a social networking Web site with more than 72 million members that lets users post photos, blogs and journals. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.
Katherine disappeared Monday after talking her family into getting her a passport by saying she was going to Canada with friends, sheriff's officials said. She apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho, Undersheriff James Jashinske said.
The FBI traced the teenager to a Wednesday flight from New York's Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv, Israel. At a scheduled stop in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials persuaded her to return home, FBI agent Robert Beeckman said.
Television news footage showed Katherine waving as she walked across a tarmac at Bishop International Airport in Flint late Friday. She was taken to a private area to be reunited with her family.
Katherine apparently contacted the man from Jericho about three months ago, Jashinske said. Jericho, a city of 17,000, is a relatively calm area of the volatile West Bank.
MySpace forbids youngsters 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 — only people on their list of friends can view their profiles. Older users also have the option of restricting certain personal data so it can be seen only by people they have identified as friends.
Shawn Lester told The Saginaw News that her daughter has "never given me a day's trouble. ... I just don't understand with all these new laws protecting America how a 16-year-old kid could get out of the country." She said her daughter never had a boyfriend and seemed to be content with that.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he could say little about the girl because of privacy rules.
Katherine and her mother live in Gilford, a village about 80 miles north of Detroit in Michigan's agricultural Thumb region. Her father lives in Grand Blanc Township.
The age of consent in Michigan is 16; Katherine turns 17 on June 21.
"I'll be honest with you, we don't know if a crime's been committed," Jashinske said Friday.
Associated Press Writer Shafika Mattar in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
Wind-Power Projects Halted
Supporters See Political Motive Behind Defense Dept. Study
By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
CHICAGO -- More than 130 wind turbines are proposed for the hilltops of central Wisconsin, but that project and at least 11 others have been halted by the Defense Department as it studies whether the projects could interfere with military radar.
Wind farm developers, Midwestern legislators and environmentalists say the farms pose no risk, noting that there are already numerous wind farms operating in military radar areas. They say a renewable, domestic source of energy such as wind is crucial to energy security and independence.
They say their wind turbines are victims of the ongoing dispute between Cape Cod residents and developers of the proposed Cape Wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The Defense Department study was put in the 2006 Defense Authorization Act -- inserted, say wind farm developers, by senators who want to block Cape Wind.
"This legislation was intended to derail Cape Wind, but it had a boomerang effect and affected a lot of projects around the country," said Michael Skelly of Horizon Wind Energy, a Texas company constructing the country's largest wind farm near Bloomington, Ill.
This spring, facilities in the works in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin received "proposed hazard" letters from the Federal Aviation Administration saying the projects must be halted pending the Defense Department study.
FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the letters are in keeping with the agency's usual review process, which has been slowed by the quickly increasing number of permit applications for wind turbines nationwide.
The FAA has received more than 4,100 wind turbine applications so far this year, compared with about 4,300 in 2005 and 1,982 in 2004. An offshore wind farm of as many as 170 turbines is planned in the Gulf of Mexico off South Padre Island, Tex. The $2 billion project will generate enough electricity for 125,000 homes. At meetings in Madison, Wis., and Toledo this month, industry and government officials will discuss an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Defense Department study could have a chilling effect on the development of wind power nationwide.
A June 2 letter to the Defense Department signed by Durbin and five other Midwestern senators said, "Since much of the nation is in radar line of sight, this interim policy has a sweeping effect." It noted that multiple wind farms are already operating in the radar line of sight of military and Homeland Security installations, "without any problems that we are aware of."
Mark Jacobson of Invenergy LLC, the company developing the Forward Wind Energy Center in central Wisconsin, points to the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center near Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Tex.
"There are half a dozen Air Force sites that have wind projects next to them," he said. "There seems to be little consistency in how they're identifying whether a project is impacting a radar site or not. It's a wide net being cast out to stop any project in its tracks until this study is complete, and there's no clear deadline being adhered to for the study."
Critics of Cape Wind, including Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), have said that the 130 proposed turbines about six miles offshore would hurt views, tourism and migratory birds.
Some neighbors of the Midwestern projects oppose them on similar grounds. Opponents of the Forward Wind Energy Center say it could harm wildlife, including sandhill cranes and bats that nest in a nearby mine. A lawsuit has been filed trying to block construction of Horizon Wind Energy's Bloomington wind farm, which received a "proposed hazard" letter but was cleared to continue. The lawsuit said huge moving shadows from the turbines could nauseate residents.
Defense and FAA officials said the "proposed hazard" letters are not prohibiting the wind farms, just delaying them until any risks to military operations can be assessed and resolved.
"We're not saying, 'No, you can't do this,' " Spitaliere said. "We're looking to work with the proposals to mitigate the hazard."
Ed Blume, spokesman for the nonprofit renewable energy group Renew Wisconsin, lamented that the local economy could lose out during the bureaucratic process.
"In this part of the country, we have a certain construction season, and if you get beyond that season you're looking at a whole year's delay," he said. "A farmer who has a turbine on their land gets $4,000 to $5,000 per year for that turbine. This comes down to the individual farmer losing money they thought they'd have this year."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:29 AM
Gingrich May Run in 2008 If No Front-Runner Emerges
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) expects to run for president in 2008 if the contest for the Republican nomination still seems wide open late next year, he said yesterday.
In remarks that were critical of both parties' recent performance, Gingrich told a luncheon group of scholars and reporters at the Brookings Institution that he will make a decision in the fall of 2007 about running.
"If at that point there's still a vacuum . . . then we'll probably do something," Gingrich said, adding that his policy pronouncements have more weight if he is seen as a potential presidential candidate. "If you're interested in defining the idea context and the political context for the next generation of Americans, which I am, the most effective way to do that is to be seen as potentially available."
Gingrich's entry would shake up a Republican presidential field that now includes Sens. George Allen (Va.), Bill Frist (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.). Many Republicans still revere Gingrich for engineering the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994, though members of his own party pushed him to resign in 1998 after his drive to impeach President Bill Clinton cost them seats in that year's election.
Though he came to power as a fiery conservative, Gingrich has softened some of his partisanship since leaving office. He has criticized the current House leadership for cracking down on dissent, he appeared last year with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to back changes in how medical data are shared, and he supports federal funding for alterative energy sources.
When Americans look at the current roster of Republican and Democratic leaders, Gingrich said, they face an unappealing dilemma.
"We have a choice between those who are failing to deliver and those who are unthinkable," he said, adding that he would put "even money" on the Democrats taking back the House this fall. "Neither party currently is where the country is."
Gingrich also took a parting shot at Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who retired from Congress this week after two of his top aides and a close associate, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Although DeLay embraced the nickname "The Hammer" while serving as both majority whip and majority leader, Gingrich said he favors a more tolerant form of leadership.
"The Gingrich model of an idea-led, contentious majority . . . is a lot better than a model of 'The Hammer.' A hammer is a relatively dumb symbol," he said, adding that now that DeLay is gone, "the House will become healthier with every passing week. You'll see an emergence of an idea-led Republican majority. The question is whether they'll do it fast enough to save the majority."
Gingrich also questioned some of the administration's tactics, noting that he had warned the White House privately in the fall of 2002 to put only a small force on the ground in Iraq and move quickly to install Iraqis in power. Given the current situation, however, he said the United States can take just one course of action in Iraq: "Grind it out."
Ever since federal authorities raided Rep. William J. Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office last month, Gingrich has criticized the Justice Department for overreaching, and he delivered another sharp rebuke yesterday.
"It is an example of the arrogance of this administration toward the legislative branch, and it's intolerable," he said. "If I was speaker, there would be no appropriations to the Justice Department until this is resolved."
Gingrich congratulated his successor, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), for becoming the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.
"I feel very warm every time I turn on C-SPAN and see Denny Hastert as speaker and Nancy Pelosi as minority leader," he said. "I just feel good all day."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:28 AM
The New York Times
Gathering Highlights Power of the Blog
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
LAS VEGAS, June 9 — If any more proof were needed of the rising influence of bloggers — at least for the Democratic Party — it could be found here on Friday on the Las Vegas Strip, where the old and new worlds of American politics engaged in a slightly awkward if mostly entertaining clash of a meeting.
There were the bloggers — nearly a thousand of them, many of them familiar names by now — emerging from the shadows of their computers for a three-day blur of workshops, panels and speeches about politics, the power of the Internet and the shortcomings of the Washington media. And right behind them was a parade of prospective Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders, their presence a tribute to just how much the often rowdy voices of the Web have been absorbed into the very political process they frequently disdain, much to the amazement, and perhaps discomfort, of some of the bloggers themselves.
"I see you guys as agents of advocacy — that's why I'm here," said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat and a prospective 2008 presidential candidate, who flew here at the last minute to attend the YearlyKos 2006 Convention. Bloggers, Mr. Richardson said later, "are a major voice in American politics."
They may think of themselves as rebels, separate from mainstream politics and media. But by the end of a day on which the convention halls were shoulder to shoulder with bloggers, Democratic operatives, candidates and Washington reporters, it seemed that bloggers were well on the way to becoming — dare we say it? — part of the American political establishment. Indeed, the convention, the first of what organizers said would become an annual event, seems on the way to becoming as much a part of the Democratic political circuit as the Iowa State Fair.
"It's 2006, and I think we have arrived," Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the Daily Kos and the man for whom the conference was named, announced after being greeted with the kind of reception Elvis, or at least Wayne Newton to a more traditional Las Vegas audience, might have received had he walked into the dowdy ballroom at the Riviera Hotel and Casino. (Mr. Moulitsas was accompanied by a media adviser and bloggers snapped his picture whenever they spotted him.)
"Both parties have failed us," Mr. Moulitsas said. "Republicans have failed us because they can't govern. Democrats have failed because they can't get elected. So now it's our turn."
The ceremony and self-celebration notwithstanding, the actual extent of the blogging community's power is still unclear. For one thing, it was hard to find a single Republican in the crowd here, though organizers insisted that a few had registered. For another, as the presidential campaign of Howard Dean demonstrated in 2004, the excitement and energy of the Web does not necessarily translate into winning at the polls.
"I do believe that each day, they have more impact," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, who will deliver the keynote speech to the group on Saturday night. "Now how far that will go, I don't think we know that yet."
But, Mr. Reid added: "One of the reasons I so admire them is they have the ability to spread the truth like no entities I've dealt with in recent years. We could never have won the battle to stop privatization of Social Security without them."
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, widely viewed as a leading candidate for her party's presidential nomination, declined an invitation to attend. Her spokeswoman, Lorraine Voles, said Mrs. Clinton had obligations in New York this weekend. Mrs. Clinton is highly unpopular with this crowd, in no small part because she supported going to war in Iraq.
"Oh my God, no way!" Mr. Moulitsas said when asked whether Mrs. Clinton was popular here.
Still, there was no shortage of Democratic luminaries on display. Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia and a likely candidate for president in 2008, invited everyone on hand to a reception at the Stratosphere Hotel Casino on Friday. He and Mr. Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, are scheduled to speak on Saturday.
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who ran for president in 2004 and said he might run again in 2008, was spotted on Thursday night looking somewhat out of place as he roamed the halls in a pin-striped suit before heading to the Hard Rock Cafe to hold his own reception for bloggers. ("I just flew in from Washington from a business meeting," he explained, promising that the suit was old and tattered.)
Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, another potential 2008 Democratic candidate, was on the way to participate in a forum on education.
And for whatever disdain that could be picked up toward mainstream politicians and news media, it seems fair to say that the bloggers and the people who love them were fascinated by their favorite targets. Jennifer Palmieri, a deputy White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, held a "pundit project training," where she told bloggers how to present themselves in television interviews — what to wear, how to sit and what to say.
And a well-known columnist from a major metropolitan newspaper — this one — was repeatedly stopped by bloggers requesting that she pose for photos with them, as they expressed admiration for her work. (That would be Maureen Dowd.)
As became clear from the rather large and diverse crowd here, the blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters. Blogging is nowhere near the force among Republicans as it is among Democrats, and talk radio is a much more effective tool for Republicans.
"We don't spend a lot of time in cars, but we do spend a lot of time on the Internet," said Jerome Armstrong, a blogging pioneer and a senior adviser to Mr. Warner, who has been the most aggressive among the prospective 2008 candidates in courting this community.
Their political opinions were, not surprisingly, hard to mistake. With little doubt, the most unpopular Democrat around was probably Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, scorned for his frequent support of President Bush's policies. Mr. Lieberman is facing a primary challenge from Ned Lamont, a cable television executive, that should offer a pretty good test of the political impact of this world. Lamont T-shirts and buttons were in abundance.
"Lieberman is going to lose this one," Mr. Moulitsas said.
This unlikely location for a bloggers' convention was chosen not because this crowd has any particular affinity for gambling, organizers said, but because rooms were cheap ($99). The floors were filled with people, laptops perched on their legs, typing away.
Mr. Richardson's visit was interesting in that he decided to come so late that his name did not appear on any programs; a hand-lettered sign announced a breakfast with him on Friday morning. Still, Mr. Richardson arched an eyebrow when asked whether he had suddenly decided to fly in after learning that many of his prospective rivals for 2008 were here and that Mr. Warner, in particular, was giving a major address on Saturday.
"Warner?" Mr. Richardson responded with a hint of a smile. "Is he here?"
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:24 AM
Court gives legal victory to abortion foes
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court handed a legal victory on Friday to medical groups working on behalf of health-care providers who refuse to offer abortion services.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allows private groups of health care providers to partner with the U.S. federal government to defend the federal Weldon Amendment from a lawsuit brought against it by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
The Weldon Amendment, which Lockyer says is unconstitutional, prevents federal, state and local governments from receiving federal funds if they discriminate against health-care providers that refuse to offer abortion services.
The court's decision allows the Alliance for Catholic Health Care and the Medical Groups, which represents health organizations opposed to abortion under nearly all circumstances, to work with the Bush administration to defend the rights of health-care providers opposed to abortion.
California's health code may be construed to require abortions in emergencies to preserve the life or health of a patient, so the state is challenging the Weldon Amendment to prevent the loss of federal funds in those cases.
The panel ruled the two health-care groups should be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit because, if the Weldon Amendment is declared unconstitutional, they may be forced to choose between their beliefs and losing medical licenses.
"Congress passed the Weldon Amendment precisely to keep doctors who have moral qualms about performing abortions from being put to the hard choice of acting in conformity with their beliefs, or risking imprisonment or loss of professional livelihood," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the panel.
He noted the panel believed California was moving toward such sanctions because state employees were probing complaints about a hospital that will not provide emergency abortions.
"Should California prevail in this lawsuit, it will be free to prosecute health care providers for failure to provide emergency abortion services, however it defines that phrase," Kozinski wrote.
Lawyers for the health-care groups were not available for comment.
"Regardless of who is to intervene in this case, the Weldon Amendment remains an unconstitutional infringement of California's sovereignty as well as a threat to the reproductive health care rights of the state's women," said Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM
Iraq war bill deletes US military base prohibition
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country, a lawmaker and congressional aides said on Friday.
The $94.5 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $65.8 billion to continue waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to be approved by Congress next week and sent to President George W. Bush for signing into law.
As originally passed by the House of Representatives, the Pentagon would have been prohibited from spending any of the funds for entering into a military basing rights agreement with Iraq.
A similar amendment passed by the Senate said the Pentagon could not use the next round of war funding to "establish permanent United States military bases in Iraq, or to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq."
The Bush administration has said it does not want to place any artificial timelines on a U.S. presence in Iraq and that it wants to begin withdrawing troops when Iraqi security forces are better able to protect the country. But it has not ruled out permanent bases in Iraq.
While the Pentagon does not necessarily plan to use any of the emergency funds to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq, congressional Democrats wanted Congress to be on record against such a long-term military arrangement.
Doing so, they argued, could help overcome Middle East fears that the United States intended to control the region militarily, at least in part to oversee foreign oil reserves.
"The perception that the U.S. intends to occupy Iraq indefinitely is fueling the insurgency and making our troops more vulnerable," said Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who won House approval of her amendment on permanent bases.
"The House and Senate went on record opposing permanent bases, but now the Republicans are trying to sneak them back in the middle of the night," Lee said.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the Senate language.
Senate aides said Republican staffers removed the provisions from the bills before House and Senate negotiators convened this week in a late-night work session to write a compromise spending bill.
Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, tried to reinsert the language, but it was opposed by Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican responsible for foreign affairs portions of the spending bill.
Next week, the House is scheduled to have a wide-ranging debate about the Iraq war at which time Democrats are likely to raise this issue again.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:15 AM
US court backs government broadband wiretap access
By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the government's authority to force high-speed Internet service providers to give law enforcement authorities access for surveillance purposes.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a petition aimed at overturning a decision by regulators requiring facilities-based broadband providers and those that offer Internet telephone service to comply with U.S. wiretap laws.
In a split decision, two of three judges on the panel concluded that the 2005 Federal Communications Commission requirement was a "reasonable policy choice" even though information services are exempted from the government's wiretapping authority.
The FCC has set a May 14, 2007, deadline for compliance, and the ruling drew praise from the FCC and the Justice Department, which sought the access.
"Today's decision will ensure that technology does not impede the capabilities of law enforcement to provide for the safety and security of our nation," the department said in a statement.
But the chief author of the 1994 wiretapping law, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, criticized the court's decision, saying Congress had deliberately excluded the Internet when it wrote the wiretap law.
"The court's expansion of (the wiretapping law) to cover the Internet is troubling, and it is not what Congress intended," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement.
The ruling comes at a time when some lawmakers have voiced concern that the Bush administration's communications surveillance program violates civil liberties.
The administration has countered that it needs the program, which allows the National Security Agency to monitor international telephone calls of U.S. citizens, as part of its broader war on terrorism.
Authorities want to be able to access e-mails and other communications because of concerns that the proliferation of Internet communications could allow criminals to circumvent wiretaps by using e-mail and Internet phone services instead of traditional telephone services.
Private networks would not be subject to the wiretap requirements, but those connected with a public network would have to comply with the law.
The FCC decision last year prompted an appeal by universities and libraries. The groups, including the American Library Association and Association of American Universities, challenged the agency's authority to extend such requirements to high-speed Internet services.
The FCC has considered broadband Internet in the category of an "information service," insulating it from many regulations.
But in an opinion written by Judge David Sentelle, the appeals court said the same words could be defined differently by the FCC in applying the wiretapping law.
In a dissenting opinion, one of the judges, Harry Edwards, called the argument "convoluted."
"The agency has simply abandoned the well-understood meaning of 'information services' without offering any coherent alternative interpretation in its place," Edwards said.
A lawyer who represents some of the groups that challenged the FCC said Edwards' dissent makes the case a good candidate for appeal.
"We will give serious consideration to asking for Supreme Court review," said Andrew Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, a co-counsel for the groups.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:16 AM
Friday, June 09, 2006
Defeat for net neutrality backers
US politicians have rejected attempts to enshrine the principle of net neutrality in legislation.
Some fear the decision will mean net providers start deciding on behalf of customers which websites and services they can visit and use.
The vote is a defeat for Google, eBay and Amazon which wanted the net neutrality principle protected by law.
All three mounted vigorous lobbying campaigns prior to the vote in the House of Representatives.
The rejection of the principle of net neutrality came during a debate on the wide-ranging Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (Cope Act).
Among other things, this aims to make it easier for telecoms firms to offer video services around America by replacing 30,000 local franchise boards with a national system overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Representative Fred Upton, head of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said competition could mean people save $30 to $40 each month on their net access fees.
An amendment to the Act tried to add clauses that would demand net service firms treat equally all the data passing through their cables.
The amendment was thought to be needed after the FCC ripped up its rules that guaranteed net neutrality.
During the debate House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, said that without the amendment "telecommunications and cable companies will be able to create toll lanes on the information superhighway".
"This strikes at the heart of the free and equal nature of the internet," she added.
Critics of the amendment said it would bring in unnecessary government regulation.
Prior to the vote net firms worried about the effect of the amendment on their business lobbied hard in favour of the amendment. They fear their sites will become hard to reach or that they will be forced to pay to guarantee that they can get through to web users.
Meg Whitman, eBay chief executive, e-mailed more than one million members of the auction site asking them to back the idea of net neutrality. Google boss Eric Schmidt called on staff at the search giant to support the idea, and film stars such as Alyssa Milano also backed the amendment.
The ending of net neutrality rules also spurred the creation of activism sites such as Save The Internet and Its Our Net.
Speaking at a conference in late May, web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned that the net faced entering a "dark period" if access suppliers were allowed to choose which traffic to prioritise.
The amendment was defeated by 269 votes to 152 and the Cope Act was passed by 321-101 votes.
The debate over the issue now moves to the US Senate where the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote on its version of the act in late June. The debate in that chamber is also likely to centre on issues of net neutrality.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:00 PM
Reflections of a retired justice
Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in January after a quarter-century on the bench, where she was viewed in many cases as the pivotal vote. In the ensuing months, the court has added two justices, judicial independence has come under attack and critics have questioned the wisdom of citing foreign court decisions in U.S. rulings. In the meantime, the immigration debate has ignited legal challenges, protests and a political firestorm. O'Connor, a border state native, discussed these and other issues with members of USA TODAY's editorial board. Her comments were edited for length and clarity.
Q: The issue of judicial independence has been much in the news. How serious a threat is such "court bashing" in the country today?
A: It's very serious. There were "Impeach Earl Warren" signs in the western United States when he was chief justice, but it never amounted to anything truly threatening. But the concerns today are not only at the national but at state levels. Have you watched what's happening in a proposal in South Dakota? They're looking to remove all judicial immunity from judges for their judicial decision-making and want to subject them to civil and criminal lawsuits for their actions on the bench. The sponsors want to take it elsewhere.
Q: What might be the effect of such a proposal?
A: That would be a remarkable change in direction from what the framers of our Constitution intended. They went to enormous effort to set up three separate branches of government? each with power to affect the other two but providing for independence of each of the branches, in effect letting them do their jobs.
Q: Do you see other instances today in which the separation of powers has been breached?
A: Some leaders in Congress have expressed concerns about the service of the search warrant in the office of a member of Congress (Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record), D-La.) as being a breach. Similarly, the notion of cutting budgets of courts, impeaching a judge who would cite a foreign judgment in an opinion, stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over whole categories of cases because of concerns about individual decisions. These are not the types of actions the framers would have envisioned as consistent with judicial independence.
Q: Do you think money has polluted the process in some states in which judges are elected?
A: In some states, very much. I came from Arizona, which provided for the election of all judges. I did not think that was a good system because when judges ran they had to spend money for advertising and campaigning to win the nomination and then the election. Where did that money come from? It came from lawyers. And what lawyers? The lawyers most likely to appear before them. I think that's a lousy system.
Q: Did you do anything to change that system?
A: I served in the Legislature, and I tried to get the Legislature to amend Arizona's constitution to put before the people a system of merit selection of judges. I could not get that out of the House of Representatives. I could get it out of the Senate. So I helped organize an initiative drive to get voters' signatures to put it on the ballot. We got enough signatures, we put it on the ballot, and I had decided that I was going to try to be a judge, and I ran for office as a trial judge in the same election the same year that that ballot went before the people. And it passed by a very narrow margin.
Q: Should U.S. courts pay attention to what courts around the world are deciding?
A: We share a common law system developed originally in Great Britain, so it might be of some interest to know how British courts are dealing with the same issues that we're addressing. Does it govern what we do? No. Do their decisions speak authoritatively to the meaning of our Constitution? No. Might they say something sometimes in an opinion that we say, "Oh, well that's an interesting argument"? Now, if you read it in a judicial opinion of another country, is it somehow off limits to look at it? I don't think so.
Q: The confirmation process for the court is extremely contentious. How did it get that way?
A: There is an intersection of the political process with the judicial. And the selection process the framers installed makes the political process involved at the selection stage. That was a choice the framers made. The thing that's different today is television coverage of the hearings. That is why it is so contentious today. Without that gavel-to-gavel coverage, believe me, it probably would be a different scene.
Q: Do you think it would be a good idea to have cameras in the courtroom?
A: You can (already) listen to the arguments. And every word is written down, so you can read it. I think (cameras are) going to be slow in coming. Courts don't like to make changes very rapidly, and that would be a massive change for how the courts operate.
Q: Having grown up in El Paso and lived in Arizona, how do you view the current debate on immigration and the influence of Hispanics today?
A: In my part of the country, the Hispanic influence is enormous. I remember in El Paso we would go across the border to Juarez all the time. My grandmother grew up in northern Mexico because her father ran a freight service to the mines. She spoke Spanish before she spoke English. And we had lessons in Spanish from kindergarten on. So in Arizona, I arranged to have each of our children live for a short time during the summer with a Mexican family and work on their Spanish and then bring the children of that family back to us for a time so they could work on their English. This was a pattern of life.
Q: Do you agree with the concern that immigrants are retaining too much of the language and culture of their original country?
A: I do think it's helpful if people can learn the language effectively if they're going to come live here. If I went to live in France, believe me, I'd want to learn to speak French fluently. And I hope people coming to live here want to learn to speak English fluently.
Q: How is retirement suiting you?
A: I need to retire from retirement. I'm too busy!
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:13 AM
Poll: U.S. disapproves of war in Iraq
The death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq came as more Americans than ever thought the war in Iraq was a mistake, according to AP-Ipsos polling.
The poll, taken Monday through Wednesday before news broke that U.S. forces had killed al-Zarqawi, found that 59 percent of adults say the United States made a mistake in going to war in Iraq — the highest level yet in AP-Ipsos polling.
Approval of President Bush's handling of Iraq dipped to 33 percent, a new low. His overall job approval was 35 percent, statistically within range of his low of 33 percent last month. The poll of 1,003 adults has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Among other findings:
_More than half, 54 percent, said it's unlikely that a stable, democratic government will be established in Iraq, a new high in AP-Ipsos polling. The survey was completed before Iraq's parliament approved three key new government ministers. Just 67 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of conservatives, and 57 percent of white evangelicals believed a stable, democratic government is likely.
_Only 68 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of white evangelicals and 51 percent of self-described conservatives — key groups in Bush's base of support — approved of his handling of Iraq. Those most likely to disapprove are Democrats (89 percent), women (70 percent), minorities (84 percent), city dwellers (72 percent), those with household incomes under $25,000 (71 percent), and unmarried men (70 percent).
_Those most likely to believe the war in Iraq was a mistake are Democrats (84 percent), women (63 percent), especially suburban women (67 percent), minorities (76 percent), city dwellers (66 percent), self-described liberals (82 percent), moderates (64 percent), and Catholics (62 percent).
AP Polling Director Mike Mokrzycki, AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:05 AM
New campaign stop on road to White House
By DONNA CASSATA and MIKE GLOVER, Associated Press Writers
One government-issued helmet and body armor. Check.
One trip to Iraq to visit the troops. Check.
Those are typically the two boxes marked off in the national security category on any White House hopeful's resume.
More than half the nation's governors, including many with presidential aspirations, have traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign hotspots in recent years. These Pentagon-arranged visits provide opportunities to meet military leaders, visit hometown soldiers and reservists, and get at least a taste of the experience of war.
In a post-Sept. 11 world, the nation wants its presidential candidates to be prepared to become the next commander in chief. A military background, expertise in foreign policy or at least a solid understanding of national security is a necessity.
Senators seeking the presidency often can cite years on a congressional panel focused on the military or foreign affairs. Some wonder if even that's enough, and point to trips overseas by two well-known faces on the Senate Armed Services Committee — Vietnam veteran John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Governors can't offer a similar Washington background, and that's where the visits to Iraq and Afghanistan come in.
"You can stand there with potential competitors and say, 'The last time I was in Baghdad ...'" said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
"It's hard to talk about the elephant if you haven't seen the elephant."
Krepinevich recalled how a young senator from Massachusetts with little more than one term in the Senate — but World War II experience — traveled to Vietnam before the 1960 presidential election. The senator was John F. Kennedy.
The most recent governor to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan was Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney, who is considering a White House run. Romney, 59, has no military background; he received a Vietnam-era deferment as a Mormon missionary in France, was eligible for the draft upon his return to the states but was never selected.
His last major opportunity to rub elbows with foreigners came when he ran the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
His Iraq itinerary late last month included meetings with Gen. George Casey, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, as well as servicemembers from Massachusetts.
Another potential presidential candidate, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, said the governors travel under tight security, sleep at the compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and often get a chance to question troops as well as military leaders. Huckabee, 50, visited in January with three other governors.
"All of us had troops there," Huckabee, who was 18 when Saigon fell in April 1975, said in an interview. "What was most valuable to me was being able to pull my own folks aside and ask, 'Are you getting equipment?'" and other questions.
These tend to be cursory visits and it's an open question whether the politicians really learn very much or merely come back with their party-line views reinforced. Republicans return more upbeat than Democrats about progress in getting Iraqis to stand on their own, for example.
Huckabee said he wouldn't pretend that he has all the answers after just a few days in the region, but he spoke of the confidence he heard from Iraqis about shouldering more of the responsibilities and his conviction that U.S. troops cannot be entirely withdrawn before the end of the year.
He also asserted it is shortsighted to think of governors as too provincial to handle foreign policy.
"I've been to 40 countries around the world," he said. "I deal regularly with the consulars and ambassadors who come to our state. ... My first trip to the Mideast was in 1973 when I was 18. I've been to Israel nine times."
Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, another possible presidential candidate, recalled a spooky helicopter ride in April with Republican Govs. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Jeb Bush of Florida, flying from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone.
"At one point in the trip there was this rather significant and brilliant flash of light that occurred, as if someone had put a spotlight on the helicopter," Vilsack, 55, said in an interview.
He said the group was told it was a defensive feature of the helicopter aimed at preventing attackers from locking onto the craft. Utility wires and microwaves can trigger the device, which is designed to sense when a weapon's tracking system has found the craft.
The Democrat observed major shortcomings in Iraqi logistics.
"There were roughly 250,000 individuals who were trained to be members of the Iraqi army," Vilsack said. "What was not in place was an Iraqi support system so the Iraqi army could basically function on its own."
Vilsack, who received a Vietnam-era college deferment and then a relatively high draft lottery number, said the number of U.S. troops is adequate, but he expressed concern about an equipment drain for the National Guard.
"I think the equipment issue is not so much Iraq and Afghanistan as it is Mount Pleasant, Iowa," Vilsack said. "When our National Guard troops come back, they don't bring their equipment back with them."
Vilsack, who made the trip while his state legislature was struggling to adjourn, brushed off questions about the timing or his motive. He said his purpose in going was to see his National Guard troops.
"What I wanted to do was to convey to them ... as their commander in chief, the pride I had in them," Vilsack said. Governors frequently refer to themselves as commander in chief — of their National Guard units.
It's a term that resonates with voters and surely stirs a governor's bigger dreams.
Associated Press writer Mike Glover reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Glen Johnson in Boston contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:01 AM
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Keith Olbermann slams Coulter: Shameless
(Transcript by Lynne)
Olbermann: Honestly, if you were Ann Coulter's attorney at a sanity hearing where could you possibly start? Our #2 story on the Countdown, eclipsing even Bill O'Reilly and Malmedy, the Connecticut Screech has continued her assault on 9/11 widows. After calling them "witches who acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them" she has now told Reuters news that they are, quote, "professional victims." All as part of the promotion of a book in which she claims *liberals* are, quote, "godless."
[Today Show interview tape]
Let's return to *this* planet. To recap Coulter's argument: The wives of those who died in the worst attack in this nation's history enjoyed their husband's deaths and profited off them, they have politicized 9/11, their positions as widows immunize them from any criticism or debate over their opinions. All of this stated by a commentator much of whose income in the last four and a half years has derived from *her* speeches and writings about the deaths of those same men on 9/11. All this stated by a commentator who has staunchly, repeatedly, and enthusiastically defended an administration that began to politicize 9/11 within a month of the nightmare and has never paused for a moment since. All of this stated by a commentator who has called those who have criticized her and her party "un-American" and now, "godless." All of this stated by a commentator who is bitching that these 9/11 widows can't be criticized while she is writing a book and going on TV and venomously criticizing them.
[Tucker Carlson interview tape, ending with Coulter saying, "these women got paid, they ought to take their money and shut up about it."]
The way Ann Coulter always does when she's criticized.
Ms. Coulter's walk on the swaying tightrope of her own emotional stability did not end there. In her book she also wrote, "And by the way, how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy..."
Appearing in Playboy and getting divorced -- neither of those being scenarios that Ann Coulter is ever going to have to deal with in *her* life.
Five of the most politically active 9/11 widows, including Kristen Breitweiser and Lorie Van Auken, have responded in a written statement.
And lastly, back to my allusion about having to defend Ann Coulter in a sanity hearing, that was inappropriate -- because it was insufficient. Imagine, in fact, defending her on Judgment Day -- and trying to find her soul.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:44 AM
Republicans opposed to abortion ban lose in S.D.
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
Four Republican state senators who voted against South Dakota's abortion ban lost their primary elections, raising questions about support for an effort to repeal the controversial state law.
"There's certainly no good news in the outcome for pro-choice advocates," Bob Burns, a political science professor at South Dakota State University, said Wednesday.
The defeat Tuesday of half of the eight Senate Republicans who opposed the nation's most restrictive abortion law might mean trouble for a planned referendum in November to rescind the ban, Burns says. The other four had no primary challengers.
The results "mean that the state of South Dakota is very pro-life," says state Sen. Bill Napoli, who voted for the ban and won his primary.
In March, Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation banning all abortions in the state unless the mother's life is endangered. The ban will take effect July 1 unless the referendum qualifies for the ballot.
Last month, referendum organizers submitted petitions with 38,416 signatures — more than double the number required. Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Wednesday that the verification process will be completed before July 1.
The large number of signatures, Burns says, might be evidence of broad unhappiness with the ban. Even some abortion opponents, he says, "see a need to add exceptions" such as incest and rape.
"There's a lot of work to be done between now and November," says Jan Nicolay of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which organized the petition drive. Tuesday's low turnout means the results might not be a good gauge of voters' thinking, she says.
State Sen. Duane Sutton, one of the GOP senators who voted against the ban, lost his primary. He says abortion was the top issue even though he talked mostly about the economy and schools.
Sutton doesn't regret his vote. "I would not change it," he says. "If we have good turnout in November, voters ... will overturn what the Legislature did."
Leslie Unruh of the Sioux Falls Alpha Center, which counsels women on alternatives to abortion, said in a statement that the results "show that South Dakotans know abortion harms women."
Rounds was unopposed in the GOP primary. The Democratic winner was Jack Billion, a retired surgeon who says on his campaign website, "Making abortions illegal only makes abortions unsafe."
Monday, the Louisiana Legislature sent an abortion ban to Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She is likely to sign it, but it would take effect only if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, or if a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban abortion is ratified. Ohio will debate an abortion ban next week.
In all, 14 states have considered bills that would ban abortion in all or most cases, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The South Dakota ban prompted threats of tourism boycotts, but there is little evidence of them. The state offered 35,000 vouchers for $20 of ethanol-blended gas, and all were snapped up.
"Quite a few people sent in upset e-mails" at first, says Tyler Lamphere, a coordinator of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. After a few weeks, "we didn't hear from anybody." Ted Hustad of Wall Drug, a tourist spot in Wall, S.D., says, "I expect a great summer."
Find this article at:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:42 AM
Pentagon holds brain injury data
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
The Pentagon is refusing to release data on how many soldiers have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. It says disclosing the results would put the lives of those fighting at risk.
The data come from screenings of 1,587 soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and 9,000 at Fort Carson in Colorado. Army Medical Command spokesman Jaime Cavazos said Wednesday that the results of the tests represent "information the enemy could use to potentially make soldiers more vulnerable to harm." He declined to elaborate.
FROM MILD TO SEVERE: Brain injuries add up
Pentagon scientists and other health officials have already made public similar data from other installations. Those results show that about 10% of combat troops — and 20% in front-line infantry units — suffered concussions during their tours. The injuries frequently go undiagnosed; multiple concussions can lead to permanent brain damage.
The screening is done with a questionnaire prepared by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, a research arm of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The questionnaire is used at four military bases, and center director Deborah Warden has urged that it be used throughout the military. So far, the Pentagon has declined to do so because it questions whether troops can accurately answer the questions in the screening.
Naval Medical Center San Diego, which has been screening Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton for two years — and, more recently, soldiers from the Army's Fort Irwin — released data this week.
Those data show that 10% of 7,909 Marines with the 1st Marine Division suffered brain injuries. Researchers tried to follow up with 500 Marines who suffered concussions. They reached 161 of them and found that 83% were still suffering symptoms on average 10 months after the injury.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 AM
Silence Angers Judiciary Panel
Justice Official Mum on Possible Prosecution of Journalists
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Senior Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sharply criticized a Justice Department official yesterday for refusing to say whether the Bush administration has ever considered prosecuting journalists for publishing leaked national security information.
The senators also bristled when Deputy U.S. Attorney Matthew W. Friedrich declined to answer questions about the rationale for the FBI's attempts to review the papers of the late columnist Jack Anderson.
"You're basically taking what would be called a testifying Fifth Amendment. You should be ashamed of yourself, or your superiors should be ashamed of themselves," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told Friedrich after he declined to answer questions from committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).
The purpose of the hearing, Specter said in opening the session, was to examine Justice Department efforts to control leaks, explore suggestions that newspapers and their reporters can be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act and take comment on legislation that would protect reporters through a shield law. The law would provide an exception if national security matters were involved.
Friedrich, in his opening statement, confirmed that the Justice Department was prepared to investigate and prosecute leaks, but referred to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's recent statement that the "primary focus is on the leakers of classified information, as opposed to the press."
When Friedrich confirmed that the department thought that journalists or "anyone" could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing classified information, Specter asked specifically about whether the law could be applied to reporter James Risen of the New York Times, the newspaper that published an article in December about the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program.
"Obviously, Senator, I can't comment as to any particular case or specific matter," Friedrich said. He added that espionage laws "do not exempt . . . any class of professional, including reporters, from their reach."
Specter then asked, without specifying a particular case, whether the department, under Gonzales or former attorney general John D. Ashcroft, ever considered prosecuting a newspaper or reporter for publishing leaked classified information.
"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to give an indication one way or another, and I hope people don't read anything into my answer one way or another," Friedrich said. But after a short lecture from Specter, he added that it was his "understanding" that there were historical examples of officials considering whether to prosecute journalists.
"I'm not interested in history this morning," Specter responded. "I'm interested in current events."
Grassley sought to follow up on questions he had posed to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III at a hearing last month about the bureau's attempts to access Anderson's files. Friedrich declined to answer but said that "hopefully the bureau will be submitting some type of factual submission to you on that."
Grassley responded: "I would think that the department would send somebody here to testify that could answer our questions if they [had] any respect for this committee whatsoever."
Friedrich told Specter that the department is studying a policy on issuing subpoenas for documents from the estate of a deceased reporter such as Anderson. He also said that Justice continues to maintain that no new legislation is needed to protect reporters, but said he will "take a closer look" at a bill now before the committee that would shift the decision to subpoena journalists from the executive branch to a judge.
Yesterday afternoon, Specter also put off a vote on issuing subpoenas for executives of three telephone companies to testify on whether they cooperated in the NSA warrantless surveillance program by providing records of millions of phone calls.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
Technology Sharpens the Incumbents' Edge; Redistricting Also Complicates Democrats' Effort to Take Control of House
Technology Sharpens the Incumbents' Edge
Redistricting Also Complicates Democrats' Effort to Take Control of House
By Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
In Ohio's 1st Congressional District, Republican incumbent Steve Chabot is running up against his toughest reelection challenge in years. But his Democratic opponent is running up against Chabot's computer.
In one of the lesser-known perks of power on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are using taxpayer-funded databases to cultivate constituents more attentively than ever. Chabot -- a six-term legislator from Cincinnati who finds himself imperiled this year after years of easy races -- has a list of e-mail addresses of people who are most interested in tax cuts. His office recently hit the send button on a personal message to alert them to the congressman's support for extending tax breaks on dividends and capital gains.
Chabot's computer is one factor to keep in mind when assessing the odds that Republicans will get evicted this November from their 12-year majority in the House. Anti-incumbent sentiment, as measured by polls and voter interviews, is stronger than it has been in years. But so, too, are certain structural advantages that overwhelmingly favor incumbents.
Some are well known, such as the superior ability of incumbents to raise campaign funds and the fact that most lawmakers come from districts that have been carefully drawn to favor one party. Other benefits -- including the ways that lawmakers are using the latest "micro-targeting" techniques in their official communications -- are more obscure, virtually unheralded beyond the people who use them.
"A major reason fewer incumbents lose is we have perfected the use of information technology," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "As incumbents, we have unlimited access to the most up-to-date technology in the world" free of charge, he said.
One way to think of this midterm election year, analysts say, is a collision between a wave and a wall.
The wave overwhelmingly favors Democrats: an unpopular war in Iraq, job approval ratings for President Bush at record lows, corruption scandals that have engulfed GOP congressional leaders, and polls showing voters favoring Democrats and their positions on the issues by distinct margins.
But Republicans still benefit from the wall: a long-term trend that for years has led to steadily fewer competitive districts.
Democrats are growing increasingly confident that this year the wave will be higher than the wall, but they acknowledge that the challenge of picking up the 15 seats they need to take control is daunting. Analysts have been watching yesterday's special election in California to replace resigned and convicted representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) for an early indicator of the year's trend. The San Diego area district is traditionally Republican, but recent polls have shown Democrats well positioned for an upset. No result was expected until early today Washington time.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), head of the House Democrats' reelection efforts, said that the party faces a "rigged system" and that only a pitched level of public discontent gives them a "fighting chance" to overcome it.
In a memo delivered to House Democrats last week, Emanuel told lawmakers that redistricting could impede their takeover hopes, noting that respected political handicapper Charlie Cook estimates there are 35 truly competitive races -- compared with 100 in 1994.
One way to look at how incumbents have grown entrenched is to compare this election year with 1994 -- the year Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and his "Republican Revolutionaries" roared to victory by picking up 54 House seats. Although Democrats had held the majority for four decades, there was ample evidence long before Election Day of how vulnerable many of them were.
Democrats that year defended 61 seats in which the lawmaker had won no more than 55 percent of the vote in the previous election, a threshold many strategists and political scientists use to identify at-risk incumbents. Democrats lost 29 of the 61 seats.
This year, Republicans are defending only 19 seats in which their House member won 55 percent or less in the previous election.
In 2004, only five of the 404 incumbents seeking reelection lost -- a reelection rate of 99 percent.
In California, all 101 incumbents who ran for reelection in 2002 and 2004 won, and all but two clobbered their opponents by 20 percentage points or more. The story is the same in most states.
At the same time, the polarized electorate tends to reduce fluidity on Capitol Hill, an advantage for the party that benefits from the status quo. Thanks to packed districts and a decline in split-ticket voting, there are fewer districts that vote for a president of one party but elect a member of Congress from the opposite party. Bush carried 255 House districts in the past presidential election, compared with Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's 180. "There has been a big increase in party-line voting at all levels," said Gary C. Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego who studies political trends.
In many state legislatures, which draw congressional districts, politicians have joined in an unspoken bipartisan alliance to protect incumbents. Often this has been accomplished by packing Democratic-trending voters -- especially African Americans -- into a few urban districts, rather than spreading them in ways that would make more districts truly competitive. Some Democrats, including Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), lament the trend. Sherman said he fears that "a majority of those casting votes will vote Democratic in November" but that votes will be distributed in a way that does not necessarily produce a majority of House seats.
Chabot is an illustration of the way lawmakers settle into their seats. He won by campaigning against then-President Bill Clinton's tax increases in 1994, taking 56 percent of the vote. He had tight races in 1996 and 1998. But after the 2000 census, Ohio's Republican governor and the GOP-led state legislature made life easier for him. His new district was shaped to include more Republican neighborhoods. In an interview, Chabot said he estimates the new lines added about five percentage points to his November returns.
Democrat John Cranley, a Cincinnati City Council member, is bidding to change that. He and other Democrats have been hitting Chabot for supporting the Iraq war and an overhaul of Social Security.
The national winds are gusting in Cranley's direction. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 56 percent of voters said they want Democrats to control the House, and a majority said they preferred Democrats to handle every domestic and foreign issue they were asked about. But these broad trends in public opinion will not mean much, strategists say, unless Democrats succeed in translating them into an expanded number of truly competitive races.
Chabot said he is not concerned about the toxic political environment because "I know my district very well."
Like all incumbents, he has some important tools in knowing his district, ones not easily replicated by challengers trying to reach the roughly 600,000 people who live in a typical congressional district.
One of these tools is the congressional account each lawmaker can use to communicate with constituents. In the past, this money went mainly for sending newsletters or other mailings to voters, who often turned around and tossed them in the trash. But technology has allowed lawmakers to track the interests of individual voters, file the information into a database and then use e-mails or phone calls to engage directly with voters on issues they know they care about. In essence, this is the traditional "franking" privilege updated -- and made far more powerful -- for the digital age.
There are some restrictions, such as requirements that official office communications are not overly political. But there is a fine line between politics and constituent service, legislators acknowledge.
The practice is so commonplace that a cottage industry of consultants has emerged to assist House members in their micro-targeting strategies. Aris McMahon of Constituent Services Inc. advises several lawmakers on the latest techniques, including increasingly popular "virtual town halls" or "tele-town halls."
Using taxpayers' money, legislators employ a new technology that allows them to call thousands of households simultaneously with a recorded message, asking people in their districts to join in on a conference call with their representative. With the push of a button, the constituent is on the line with the House member -- and often 1,000 or more fellow constituents. More important, the lawmaker knows from the phone numbers where the respondents live and, from what they say on the call, what issues interest them.
At a retreat in St. Michaels, Md., in January, Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.) briefed Republicans on how to host these tele-town halls using their office budget, participants said. Information gathered from the events, as well as e-mails and phone calls from constituents, gets plugged into a database, giving the incumbent something a challenger could only dream of: a detailed list of the specific interests of thousands of would-be voters. E-mail then allows for personal interaction -- and a free reminder of why the incumbent should be reelected.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:36 AM
Retirement Account of DeLay's Wife Traced; With Disclosure, Family's Known Benefits From Ties With Lobbyist Exceed $490,000
Retirement Account of DeLay's Wife Traced
With Disclosure, Family's Known Benefits From Ties With Lobbyist Exceed $490,000
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
A registered lobbyist opened a retirement account in the late 1990s for the wife of then-House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and contributed thousands of dollars to it while also paying her a salary to work for him from her home in Texas, according to sources, documents and DeLay's attorney, Richard Cullen.
The account represents a small portion of the income that DeLay's family received from entities at least partly controlled by lobbyist Edwin A. Buckham. But the disclosure of its origin adds to what was previously known about the benefits DeLay's family received from its association with Buckham, and it brings the total over the past seven years to about half a million dollars.
Buckham was DeLay's chief of staff before he became a lobbyist at the end of 1998, shortly before the account was opened and the flow of funds began. He has come under scrutiny from federal investigators because his lobbying firm received hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from clients of indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Buckham's financial ties to DeLay's family -- and the retirement account in particular -- have recently attracted the interest of FBI agents and others in the federal task force probing public corruption by lawmakers and lobbyists, according to a source who was questioned in the course of the government's investigation.
Cullen said the retirement account was required for Buckham's employees under Internal Revenue Service rules. But investigators are looking at Buckham's role in establishing the account and at whether the lawmaker may have performed official acts in return for any of the income arranged by Buckham, according to the source. DeLay denies any wrongdoing.
Another lawmaker, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), has similarly come under Justice Department scrutiny in the past year because of fees paid to his wife's consulting firm -- in that instance as compensation for soliciting corporate campaign contributions.
Abramoff, who was friendly with both DeLay and Doolittle, put Julie Doolittle's firm on his lobbying firm's payroll to plan a fundraising event for a nonprofit group he created. A nonprofit organization that Buckham created also hired her firm to keep its books; the organization subsidized a $28,000 trip to South Korea by DeLay and his wife.
Laura Blackann, a spokeswoman for John Doolittle, confirmed that a grand jury investigating Abramoff's lobbying activities subpoenaed Julie Doolittle's firm in 2004 to obtain some of its records. In February, the FBI subpoenaed another nonprofit group created by Buckham, seeking records of any dealings with DeLay, his wife and his daughter, according to a copy of the subpoena.
From 1998 until recently, Buckham, an evangelical minister, met regularly with DeLay, occasionally attended staff meetings in his office, made scheduling recommendations or decisions for the office, and served as DeLay's chief political and spiritual adviser, even though he was not formally employed by him. At the time, Buckham's clients included a host of companies with regulatory and legislative business before Congress, and whose interests DeLay supported.
Under congressional ethics rules, lobbyists such as Buckham are barred from providing gifts or gratuities with a total value exceeding $50 to lawmakers in a single year. No similar prohibition exists for payments to a lawmaker's family members, but the pay must be a reasonable wage for real work and not be meant to influence a lawmaker's votes. Nothing in pending House and Senate lobbying reform legislation addresses the issue of such lobbyist payments to lawmaker's families.
DeLay, who was indicted in October 2005 on charges of money laundering related to the 2002 elections in Texas, announced in April that he would resign from Congress on June 9. He stepped down as House majority leader after the indictment, relinquishing a post he held from 2002 to 2005. DeLay has not disclosed his future employment plans but has said he plans to continue to promote conservative causes in Washington.
Buckham, who co-owned his lobbying firm with his wife, initially opened the retirement account for Christine DeLay at First Union bank. In 2001, he transferred it to the Charles Schwab & Co. office near his home in Frederick, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. From 1999 to 2000, DeLay listed the account as a spousal asset on his financial disclosure forms without specifying its value.
In his 2001 disclosure, DeLay said for the first time that the account was valued at between $15,000 and $50,000. Beginning in 2003, he listed it as a joint asset, though Cullen said in an interview that it remained in Christine DeLay's name and that such a listing was not required. "I believe the IRA has remained in Christine's name since the inception and that [the joint] designation must have been an error," Cullen said.
DeLay's salary from the House during this period ranged from $136,700 to $180,100. He will receive a pension starting at about $56,000 annually, and he is eligible for a defined-contribution retirement program, according to the National Taxpayers Union.
Cullen said that the Schwab account was a routine way for Buckham to contribute to an employee's retirement needs and that Christine DeLay, like others who worked at Buckham's now-defunct lobbying firm, received funds for the account as a percentage of her income during her employment. Charles Wm. McIntyre, a colleague of Cullen's at the McGuireWoods law firm, said DeLay and his office are unaware of any particular interest in the retirement account by federal investigators.
Besides financing the retirement account, Buckham played a role in two other streams of income that indirectly benefited DeLay.
One involved payments to DeLay's family by his principal political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), which drew its largest donations from corporations. Three former DeLay staffers with firsthand knowledge of Buckham's activities have described him as a decision maker for the group, even though it was formally run by its executive director.
An arm of the group paid Buckham a monthly consulting fee, and Buckham in turn employed its executive director as a consultant to his lobbying firm. The two of them shared a single office on the top floor of a townhouse owned by a nonprofit organization that Buckham created and directed. Buckham's role is relevant because from 2001 to Jan. 31, 2006, ARMPAC paid Christine DeLay; DeLay's daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro; and Ferro's Texas firm a total of $350,304 in political consulting fees and expenses, according to public records.
The Washington Post previously disclosed that from 1998 to 2002, Buckham's lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, paid Christine DeLay a monthly salary averaging between $3,200 and $3,400. Cullen initially said the payments were for telephone calls she made periodically to the offices of certain members of Congress seeking the names of their favorite charities. Christine DeLay then forwarded that information to Buckham, along with some information about those charities.
Last week, Cullen said the payments were also for general political consulting Christine DeLay provided to her husband. Cullen said he does not have complete records of the salary payments or the dates when Christine DeLay performed the work from the couple's home in Sugar Land, Tex. But a source familiar with the pay records said the total she received from the Alexander Strategy Group was about $115,000.
Together with the retirement account worth about $25,000, this means the family's total financial benefits from entities at least partly controlled by Buckham exceeded $490,300.
Before being paid by ARMPAC for political consulting, Christine DeLay, a homemaker and advocate for foster care, had not done paid work of that type. That circumstance has figured in government investigations of payments to other lawmakers' spouses, on the grounds that, if the compensation began after a lawmaker's election, it might have been meant to influence official acts.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that has criticized payments to lawmakers' spouses, said that "the real scandal in Washington is what is legal."
"This is a prime example of that," she said. "But there is a distinction between what is legal and what is right. . . . What was DeLay doing for all that money? Even Ed Buckham was not paying DeLay and his family out of the goodness of his heart."
Buckham's lobbying clients during the period in question included Enron, AT&T, the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Freddie Mac, Nextel, United Parcel Service, Time Warner, Microsoft, BellSouth, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Coalition to Preserve Dietary Supplements.
Several groups represented by Buckham also helped sponsor lavish overseas travel by DeLay and his family.
"Tom DeLay has never taken an official act that was not based on his strongly held principles," Cullen said. Buckham and his attorney did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.
Database editor Derek Willis, researcher Madonna Lebling and research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
House panel clears another $50 billion for Iraq
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee approved a bill on Wednesday that would give another $50 billion next year to President George W. Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The House Appropriations defense subcommittee cleared a $427 billion bill to fund the Pentagon next fiscal year starting on October 1, including the additional $50 billion which was primarily for Iraq.
The subcommittee passed its bill as House and Senate negotiators put final touches on an emergency measure for about $67 billion the Pentagon wants immediately to cover the wars' rising costs.
The next $50 billion bridge fund, which lawmakers expect to cover about six months, would bring the cost of both wars to nearly $450 billion, and many expect that to reach $500 billion by the end of next year.
Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the Pentagon was spending about $8 billion a month on Iraq, where costs have climbed, and about $1 billion a month in Afghanistan.
The House subcommittee approved its spending bill in a closed session. Congressional aides said the bill provides an additional $500 million to the National Guard to repair and replace equipment worn out in the wars.
The Senate has not yet taken up its version of the bill to fund the Pentagon next year.
As lawmakers dealt with mounting public frustration over the Iraq war and its stunning cost, the full House was scheduled next week to debate a resolution on the war.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said Republicans on the International Relations Committee were preparing a resolution discussing reasons for the Iraq war as well as "our goals and views in fighting against terrorism."
Hastert's spokesman Ron Bonjean said the resolution was intended to be "very explicit -- Iraq is the main front" in the war on terror.
Many Democrats contend that by invading Iraq, Bush diverted resources from fighting al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks. They say Bush falsely tried to link toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with al Qaeda as an excuse for the war.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:34 AM
Republican senator blasts Cheney over NSA oversight
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Republican senator accused Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday of undermining his Senate panel's plan to subpoena telephone executives for a hearing on President George W. Bush's domestic spying program.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said in a bluntly worded letter to Cheney that the vice president's actions were part of a larger White House effort to keep the courts and Congress from examining constitutional questions raised by the warrantless eavesdropping program.
Specter wrote to Cheney a day after he said the vice president's action prompted him to delay a plan to subpoena telephone company executives to testify about what role, if any, their companies played in the spy program.
"I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the committee without calling me first, or at least calling me at some point," Specter told Cheney in the letter.
He said Cheney had asked Republicans to oppose "any ... hearing, even a closed one" and advised lawmakers the companies were "not to provide any information to the committee as they were prohibited from disclosing classified information."
The domestic spying program, which Bush ordered soon after the September 11 attacks, allows the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants if in pursuit of al Qaeda suspects.
Specter and other critics say the program violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which requires warrants from a secret federal court for intelligence-related eavesdropping inside the United States.
Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corp. have denied a USA Today report that they gave tens of millions of phone records to the National Security Agency. AT&T Inc., which was also named in the report, has not addressed the issue.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said the vice president had not yet studied the letter. But she said the White House was prepared to consider congressional measures to bring the program under federal law, including one from Specter.
Specter has crafted legislation that would compel the Bush administration to submit the program for constitutional review by the FISA court.
In his letter, Specter said he had been unable to get any White House response to the measure, "including a 'no.'"
Specter says questions about the spying program's legitimacy under the U.S. Constitution cannot be determined until the administration discloses details of its operation to his committee or the FISA court.
The White House has instead shared details of the program with the intelligence oversight committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"The administration's continuing position on the NSA electronic surveillance program rejects the historical constitutional practice of judicial approval of warrants before wiretapping and denigrates the constitutional authority and responsibility of Congress," Specter said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:32 AM