Justice Dept.: FBI misused Patriot Act
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
The FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States, a Justice Department audit concluded Friday.
And for three years the FBI underreported to Congress how often it forced businesses to turn over the customer data, the audit found.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said he was to blame for not putting more safeguards into place.
"I am to be held accountable," Mueller said. He told reporters he would correct the problems and did not plan to resign.
"The inspector general went and did the audit that I should have put in place many years ago," Mueller said.
The audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on individuals without proper authorization. The 126-page audit also found the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.
The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.
Still, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," the audit concludes.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who oversees the FBI, said the problems outlined in the report involved no intentional wrongdoing. In remarks prepared for delivery to privacy officials late Friday, Gonzales said: "There is no excuse for the mistakes that have been made, and we are going to make things right as quickly as possible."
At issue are the security letters, a power outlined in the Patriot Act that the Bush administration pushed through Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The letters, or administrative subpoenas, are used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases. They allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers — without a judge's approval.
About three-fourths of the national security letters were issued for counterterror cases, and the other fourth for spy investigations.
Fine's annual review is required by Congress, over the objections of the Bush administration.
The audit released Friday found that the number of national security letters issued by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law.
In 2000, for example, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 letters. By 2003, however, that number jumped to 39,000. It rose again the next year, to about 56,000 letters in 2004, and dropped to approximately 47,000 in 2005.
Over the entire three-year period, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses, the audit found. But that did not include an additional 8,850 requests that were never recorded in the FBI's database, the audit found.
Also, Fine's audit noted, a 2006 report to Congress showing that the FBI delivered only 9,254 national security letters during the previous year — on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents — was only required to report certain types of requests for information. That report did not outline the full scope of the national security letter requests in 2005, nor was it required to, Fine's office said.
Additionally, the audit found, the FBI identified 26 possible violations in its use of the national security letters, including failing to get proper authorization, making improper requests under the law and unauthorized collection of telephone or Internet e-mail records.
Of the violations, 22 were caused by FBI errors, while the other four were the result of mistakes made by the firms that received the letters.
The FBI also used so-called "exigent letters," signed by officials at FBI headquarters who were not authorized to sign national security letters, to obtain information. In at least 700 cases, these exigent letters were sent to three telephone companies to get toll billing records and subscriber information.
"In many cases, there was no pending investigation associated with the request at the time the exigent letters were sent," the audit concluded.
In a letter to Fine, Gonzales asked the inspector general to issue a follow-up audit in July on whether the FBI had followed recommendations to fix the problems.
"To say that I am concerned about what has been revealed in this report would be an enormous understatement," Gonzales said in remarks prepared for delivery to the privacy officials. "Failure to adequately protect information privacy is a failure to do our jobs."
Senators outraged over the conclusions signaled they would provide tougher oversight of the FBI — and perhaps limit its power.
"The report indicates abuse of the authority" Congress gave the FBI, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt. "You cannot have people act as free agents on something where they're going to be delving into your privacy."
The committee's top Republican, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), said the FBI appears to have "badly misused national security letters." The senator said, "This is, regrettably, part of an ongoing process where the federal authorities are not really sensitive to privacy and go far beyond what we have authorized."
Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis., another member on the panel that oversees the FBI, said the report "proves that 'trust us' doesn't cut it."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the audit proves Congress must amend the Patriot Act to require judicial approval anytime the FBI wants access to sensitive personal information. "The Attorney General and the FBI are part of the problem and they cannot be trusted to be part of the solution," said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU's executive director.
On the Net:
The report is at: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/reports/FBI/index.htm
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Unemployment rate drops to 4.5 percent
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
The nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent in February even as big losses of construction and factory jobs restrained overall payroll growth. Wages grew briskly.
The latest snapshot, released by the Labor Department on Friday, offered a picture of an employment climate that remains in fundamentally good shape despite slower job growth in part due to bad winter weather in parts of the country, economists said.
The slight decline in the politically prominent jobless rate, from 4.6 percent in January, came as hundreds of thousand of people left the work force, a development that economists also believe was related to the bad weather in February that made it difficult to get out and look for jobs.
Employers, meanwhile, added 97,000 new jobs to their payrolls in February, the fewest in two years, as bad winter weather forced construction companies to slash 62,000 jobs, the most since 1991. Factories, feeling the strain of the troubled housing and auto industries, also continued to cut jobs. They eliminated 14,000 positions last month.
On a more encouraging note, job gains in the previous two months turned out to be stronger than previously estimated. Employers added 226,000 new jobs in December, versus the 206,000 last estimated. Payrolls grew by 146,000 in January, up from a previous estimate of 111,000.
The new tally of jobs added to the economy in February was close to economists' forecast for a gain of around 100,000. They had predicted the unemployment rate would hold steady at 4.6 percent.
"While we may not be creating as many jobs as we would like to see, the labor market is still in good shape," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics Advisors. "The job market is still tight enough to drive up workers' wages."
Wall Street investors also liked the latest employment news and gave stocks a lift. The Dow Jones industrials were up 12 points in morning trading.
Workers' wages grew quickly last month.
Average hourly earnings rose to $17.16, a 0.4 percent increase from January. That was slightly faster than the 0.3 percent gain economists were expecting. Over the 12 months ending in February, wages grew by 4.1 percent.
Strong wage growth is welcome by workers and supports consumer spending, a key ingredient to the country's economic health. But a rapid pickup — if sustained and not blunted by other economic forces — can raise fears about inflation. Spiraling inflation would whittle away any wage gains, hurting workers' wallets, and isn't good for the overall economy, either.
The Federal Reserve, which had steadily boosted interest rates for two years to fend off inflation, has left rates alone since August. The Fed — which said it will keep a close eye on inflation — meets later this month to consider interest rate policy. Economists said Friday's employment report didn't change their view that the Fed will probably continue to hold interest rates steady.
In other economic news, the Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit narrowed to $59.1 billion in January as U.S. exports climbed to an all-time high.
The latest batch of economic reports come as President Bush continues to get lukewarm ratings for his economic stewardship. Just 41 percent of the public approves of the president's handling of the economy, compared with 57 percent who disapprove, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
Democrats, who accuse Bush of not doing enough to close the gap on economic inequality, say a top priority is getting final agreement in Congress on legislation to boost the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. The wage hasn't budged for nearly 10 years. Democrats also are pushing legislation making it easier for workers to start unions against company wishes.
Although construction companies and factories eliminated jobs last month, other employers, including health care providers, financial firms and retailers boosted hiring. February's jobless rate was the lowest since December, when the unemployment rate also stood at 4.5 percent.
Analysts expect the unemployment rate, which dropped to a six-year low of 4.6 percent last year, will creep up this year as economic growth slows. Some believe the jobless rate could climb to close to 5 percent by the end of this year. The economy expanded by 3.3 percent last year, the best showing in two years. Growth, however, is expected to ebb to around 2.7 percent for all of 2007.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:36 PM
Friday, March 09, 2007
Robert J. Elisberg
The Glass is Half Full. Unfortunately, the Levee is Overflowing.
On Tuesday, my father sent me an email after he noticed the juxtaposition of two stories on the news page of his web provider, Comcast. The headlines were --
2 Suicide Bombers Kill 93 in Iraq
Bush: U.S., Iraqi Forces Making Progress
"That's sure some fine way of making progress!" he noted.
Well, personally, I thought he was being terribly cynical, and I told him so, explaining that the President didn't say they were making "fast" progress.
Or good progress. Or what kind of progress. So, in fact, the President was correct, and it was good news after all.
And it hit me that that's quite an impressive ability, to be able to turn 93 deaths into positive news.
And that's when it hit me again that this is an rare, impressive talent the White House has used over and over. I was absolutely floored. What a truly remarkable, valuable skill to have: at the moment when any bad news rams into you (indeed, not just "bad news," but truly mindnumbingly horrible news), that you're not only not run over by it, but that you can repeatedly turn it into Actual Good News without skipping a beat.
The Iraq War is going well.
There's no global warming.
Heck of a job, Brownie
Harry Whittington apologizes for getting in the way of Dick Cheney's buckshot.
George Tennant is given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Conservative Democrats helping win the House and Senate is a victory for Republicans.
The President has earned political capital.
Lewis Libby's conviction doesn't impact on the White House
It's all like the famous scene from the movie, "Jumbo." Jimmy Durante is sneaking a massive elephant out of the circus, when a guard stops him and demands, "Where are you going with that elephant?!" As the gigantic creature looms up inches behind him, Durante replies, his face the picture of innocence, "What elephant?"
There has been a giant elephant looming behind the Bush Administration for six years, and the best they can come up with is the same answer - "What elephant?" - not ever realizing that pleading ignorance doesn't make the elephant disappear.
(That the G.O.P mascot is an elephant only shows that God has a sense of whimsy.)
Actually, it's even more than this. Because when I read all the gumfummery coming from right-wing pseudo-experts trying to explain away the Libby conviction as A Good Thing, it hit me once more what it was. (Side note: I've been getting hit so often lately that I'm beginning to understand how Harry Whittington felt. But - no apologies!!)
Here's what I realized:
The Bush Administration is Chicken Little in Reverse. The worst imaginable disasters can crush them, and they'll run around yelling how good it is to be caught in the middle of a tsunami that's surrounded by fire as an earthquake collapses the ground underneath a village wiping it out. ("Natural disasters are part of nature, and nature is good and important to life, so we are pleased that our environmental policies have helped life progress.")
The sky could actually be falling, and George Bush and his troupe of Administration Apologists would race around crying out, "The sky isn't falling! The sky isn't falling!"
As water rushes over the top of the levees, "The sky isn't falling," as bombs destroy villages and lives, "The sky isn't falling," as polar icecaps melt and polar bears drown, "The sky isn't falling," as the assistant to the Vice President of the United States is convicted of obstructing justice, "The sky isn't falling."
The problem with being Chicken Little in reverse is the exact same problem as being Chicken Little period, except that you're going backwards - after a while, people catch on and stop believing anything you say. Anything. The President, Administration, Republicans in Congress, right-wing pundits can all explain how the conviction of Lewis Libby, who worked more closely with Vice President Dick Cheney than anyone in America and received handwritten memos from him on Valerie Plame, doesn't mean anything bad for the Vice President or the Administration, that it's even good because it supposedly shows no one else was involved, and it was a bad jury anyway, and...and...and - and even if they somehow can convince themselves of this hallucination, that's as far as it will go. Because people get it. People have more common sense than that. Rocks have more common sense than that. People can actually grasp basic concepts..
And this is just one more basic concept about this Administration that people grasp. When you have 70 percent of the American public saying this war is bad - and the President says "U.S. and Iraqi forces are making progress" - people have long since grasped the truth. Two suicide bombers killing 93 people is not good.
And the tragedy (okay, one of the tragedies) of being Chicken Little in Reverse is that when the next real, serious, important event comes along, and the President opens his mouth, no one will believe him. Because when he squeaked through in 2004, winning by the smallest margin in history for a President up for re-election during a war, he spent all that vaunted political capital.
Eighteen cents just doesn't go as far these days as it used to.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:43 PM
The "Surge" Farce
Those congressmen who accepted the "surge" and the media who supported it were sold a bill of goods. One of the top U.S. commanders in Iraq admits it.
According to the New York Times, Lt. Gen Raymond Odierno, "the day-to-day commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has recommended that the heightened American troop levels there be maintained through February 2008."
That's if the "surge" is to have any chance of success: bring material benefits to the people of Baghdad, give them a sense of calm and security, put a damper on the civil war and allow Iraqi political leaders a chance to somehow patch thier country together.
Otherwise, the Times article makes clear, the consensus in the Pentagon is that the buildup will fail. Indeed, the surge to date is "little more than a trickle" and will only reach its goal of an additional 28,000 troops on the ground by June. Yet, under previously-announced plans, troops were supposed to be withdrawing from Iraq already by September 2007.
According to many experts, even maintaining troop levels through next February is far from enough. An unclassified version of the latest National Intelligence Estimate states that "the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the Iraqi police, will be hard pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success."
So--the question which has to be asked--and answered.
1. Are we really to believe that General Odierno and his bosses-General David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the gang in the White House--that they just discovered that the surge, as sold to congress and the media, would not work? That the build up by a U.S. military already stretched to the breaking point would have to continue many months longer than indicated?
The answer to that question is a no-winner. If the generals didn't realize just a few months ago that the concept of a limited surge as presented to the public was a farce, they were woefully ignorant of the situation in Iraq and should have never been given command. If they did lie--for that's what we're talking about--then they should lose their jobs.
The obvious White House strategy was this: Let's at least get this surge thing rolling. Once underway, we simply oblige our weak-kneed congress to up the ante. If not, we accuse them of refusing to support our boys on the ground.
We win the 2008 elections with that. ( As Tom Englehardt among others has so clearly pointed out)
Indeed, the administration has already been able to increase the build up from 21,000 to 28,000.
2. The administration has never been obliged to specify how long the buildup would continue. When recently asked that question, for instance, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs blandly told Pentagon reporters: "We're looking, as we should, at each of the three possibilities: hold what you have, come down, or plus up if you need to,"
C'mon guys. Your generals on the ground have already told you the current policy is doomed. It's truth time. It's also time for everyone trying to avoid that issue--in congress and the median not to mention most of the herd running for president--to pull their heads out of the sand.
Do the folks in the Pentagon or anyone really believe that the U.S. public and Congress will support higher troop levels well into an election year? So what's the point of the whole exercise? Sending more American troops, not to mention thousands of Iraqis, to death and dismemberment, pouring hundreds of billions more dollars down the Iraqi drain.
And to what end?
To maintain a charade that will ultimately allow George W. Bush and the Republicans to blame a lilly-livered Democratic congress and/or the next occupant of the White House for America's "defeat" in Iraq.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:41 PM
The Weekly Worst In McCain Pandering
Another week, more McCain flip-floppery. We the folks at The Real McCain are once again happy to bring it to you:
* Apparently many McCain staffers up and quit when he flip-flopped on his own presidential announcement plans. Did I mention he didn't thell them? What a straight-shooter!
* McCain also was for using the word "wasted" when referring to lives lost in Iraq before he was against it.
Now he's for "sacrificed." As in, how many more lives do you intend to sacrifice in this failed, trumped up war, senator?
*"I will take responsibility for being a member of the Armed Services Committee and not knowing about it and not doing anything about it," the Republican 2008 contender told a group of county officials from across the country today. "I apologize for my failure" to act, the Arizona Republican added. "I should be held accountable."
This is the current McCain on Walter Reed. Here is McCain during the 2006 election cycle when campaigning against Tammy Duckworth (yes, he campaigned against a vet who lost both legs in combat--nice way to show you're for the troops first and party second):
"Mr. McCain demanded the apology while electioneering for a Republican congressional candidate in Illinois...He was speaking of how often he had been to Walter Reed Hospital to see the wounded Iraq veterans, of how many of them have lost limbs. "
No senator, the residents of Walter Reed should be demanding much more than just an apology from you. If you were there numerous times, and did NOTHING about the situation there, how about we hear from you as to why you did NOTHING.
Thanks as always, and hope you enjoyed this week's edition.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:39 PM
Obama pays 17-year-old parking tickets
BOSTON (Reuters) - As he prepared to announce his campaign for the White House, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama took care of some unfinished business at Harvard University -- paying about $400 in parking fines dating back to his days as a law student.
Two weeks before the Illinois senator officially entered the presidential race on February 10, he paid parking fines he received while attending Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a Cambridge city official said on Thursday.
"I think it's great, we always like to collect," said Susan Clippinger, director of Cambridge's Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.
Obama paid Cambridge $375 on January 26 for 17 parking tickets received between 1988 and 1990, she said. He paid neighboring Somerville another $45 for late fees on two parking tickets from the early 1990s, a Somerville official added.
Obama also paid a $73 auto excise tax he owed Somerville, said city spokesman Tom Champion.
The Boston Globe reported in January that he owed Somerville the money.
A spokesman for Obama was not immediately available to comment but the Globe quoted Jen Psaki of the Obama campaign as saying the senator had paid for the tickets out of a personal account.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:36 PM
Thursday, March 08, 2007
The difference between and idiot and a jackass: The politics of Kate O'Beirne.
Innocent until proven guilty is no longer good enough for Kate O'Beirne. It's now, innocent until you confess. On Hardball last night, Chris Matthews was as incredulous as the rest of us who watched the same conservatives pounding their fists about perjury and obstruction of justice during their attacks on Bill Clinton, only now it's not a real offense.
Now it's "the criminalization of politics" as Kate-O described it last night. When Chris correctly asked her what the difference is between the Clinton situation and the Libby one, Kate-O's response (numerous times) was that the difference is "Clinton admitted his guilt and Libby maintains his innocence."
Really? Is that how it works now? You're only guilty if you admit it? Chris pointed out to her that the prisons are full of convicted felons who maintain their innocence, so she naturally responded that some of them really are innocent. What's her point, you ask? She has none - at least none outside of the notion that Libby should be pardoned because he's a nice guy and sits on her side of the political spectrum.
And therein lies the essential problem - there is no longer a shared truth in our culture. There are two truths and they have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with ideology and politics. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have an independent judiciary, so that decisions about "truth" can be made by people who don't have a political stake in the outcome.
Kate O'Beirne is not an idiot. She knows the difference between right and wrong, she just can't say it out loud. Why? Because she's a jackass. What's the difference between an idiot and a jackass? An idiot might admit to their own stupidity. A jackass can't.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:38 PM
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
California to move presidential primary to February
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Seeking to give voters in the nation's most populous state a greater voice in choosing the next U.S. president, California's state assembly agreed on Tuesday to move its presidential primary to February 2008.
In recent years, California has had little impact in choosing presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties as smaller states such as New Hampshire and Iowa with much earlier contests have taken a leading role.
This year, more than a dozen U.S. states are considering moving their primaries to February 5, 2008, including big states like New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, Michigan and Texas.
The national election to decide who will succeed George W. Bush as president takes place in November 2008.
California's Democratic-dominated assembly voted along party lines by 46 to 28 to move the state's primary from June, a move already backed by the state senate last month.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said he would sign the legislation, which Republican legislators said they opposed because of the cost to counties.
"We want to let the presidential candidates know: don't come out here just fund-raising," Schwarzenegger told Reuters in an interview last week. "We're going to move the primary up to February and you've got to go answer those questions from the California people and to me."
With expectations rising of an early California primary, prominent candidates including Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain have made visits to the state in recent weeks.
If other states also move up their primaries, candidates with lots of money and high visibility may have an advantage.
In past years, once little-known candidates such as Jimmy Carter gained the world's most powerful job after years of shaking hands and retail campaigning across the towns of smaller states with early primaries.
"We deserve it because of our size," California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez told a news conference. "California, as you know, has 16 million voters who ought to get a first bite at that apple, not simply being the recipient of other states' legislative and electoral leftovers."
The earliest primary and caucus contests are to be held in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina prior to February 5.
(With reporting by Jenny O'Mara)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Senators to shine light on credit card practices
By John Poirier
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation may be needed to stop overzealous credit card companies from piling on interest rates and fees that have plunged millions of American families deeply into debt, a senior Democratic senator said on Tuesday.
On the eve of a hearing on the industry's practices, Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, said too many consumers are suffering from what he called predatory practices and murky fees.
"Millions of families... are kept in debt and are in over their heads not just because of their own purchases... but because of the abusive practices and the excesses of the credit card companies," Levin told reporters.
Testifying before Levin's panel on Wednesday will be executives from Bank of America Card Services, JPMorgan Chase's Chase Bank and Citigroup's Citi Card.
The three companies did not immediately respond to messages asking to comment on the hearing.
Last week, Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. credit card issuer, said it will no longer automatically raise interest rates for cardholders who fail to make payments on other bills. Known as "universal default," the practice has long been criticized by consumer advocates who argue that it victimizes poorer borrowers.
Norm Coleman of Minnesota, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said Citigroup's recent move was encouraging.
"But we need to do more and take a closer look at certain practices and create a more consumer-friendly lending environment," Coleman said.
Levin said the hearing will illustrate how credit card companies calculate interest rates to extract the largest possible payments from consumers.
For example, if a credit card holder has a monthly bill of $5,020 and repays $5,000 on time, the customer could owe $55.21 in the next billing cycle, based on an interest rate of 17.99 percent, Levin said.
That new balance includes 43 cents of interest from the $20 balance. But it also includes another $34.78 in interest that was based on the original amount of $5,020 even though $5,000 was paid on time, Levin said.
Another industry practice the senators called "trailing interest" would add an extra interest charge of 38 cents even if a customer pays off the $55.21 balance on time, Coleman said.
"I also believe (these practices) are predatory and confusing," Coleman said.
Consumer advocates estimate based on Federal Reserve figures that outstanding credit card debt amounted to between $750 billion and $800 billion in November 2006. The industry has more than 640 million credit cards in circulation.
Levin said he hoped credit card issuers would voluntarily halt the practice of charging interest on the money paid on time. But legislation may be needed to force the industry to change its ways and to pressure banking regulators to tighten consumer laws about disclosure of fees.
"I'm not naive. I don't think they are going to do all that is needed," Levin said, referring to the credit card industry.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
U.S. won't seek seat on U.N. rights council
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it would not seek a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council, saying it was not a "credible body," a decision that immediately drew harsh criticism from a veteran Congressman.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would retain its observer status on the 47-member council, created last year over objections from the United States that rules were not strong enough to prevent rights violators from getting a seat.
"We believe that the Human Rights Council has thus far not proved itself to be a credible body in the mission that it has been charged with," McCormack told reporters. "Our decision is that we do not plan to run (for a seat)."
The announcement came on the day that the State Department issued its 2006 report on human rights worldwide.
McCormack said Washington supported the promotion of human rights globally and would "remain a forceful advocate in the promotion of human rights."
He complained there had been a "nearly singular focus" by the council on issues related to Israel to the exclusion of other areas, such as rights abuses in Myanmar or North Korea.
"We hope over time this body will expand its focus and become a more credible institution," said McCormack.
Last November, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also criticized the council for focusing too much on Israel and neglecting other parts of the world such as Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, which had what he termed "graver" crises.
But he as well as human rights groups have lobbied to have the United States join the council.
On Tuesday, Congressman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, called the decision "an act of unparalleled defeatism" by letting "a cabal of military juntas, single-party states and tin-pot dictators retain their death grip on the world's human rights machinery."
"This is the worst possible time for a U.S. retreat from its rightful role as the world's champion of human rights," Lantos said in a statement.
"At a time when we are attempting to marshal the civilized world to stand up to extremism and terror, a retreat from Geneva sends exactly the wrong signal to those who are trying to defeat us," Lantos said. "It is particularly appalling that the administration would select the day it is releasing the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to announce this decision."
"Eleanor Roosevelt surely must be turning over in her grave today," he said.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the body's first chair and the main author of the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Bombers massacre Iraq Shiite pilgrims
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer
Two suicide bombers turned a procession of Shiite pilgrims into a blood-drenched stampede Tuesday, killing scores with a first blast and then claiming more lives among fleeing crowds. At least 106 were killed amid a wave of deadly strikes against Shiites heading for a solemn religious ritual.
Hours after the attack in Hillah — in the Shiite heartland south of Baghdad — boys used long-handled squeegees to push pools of blood off the road. The victims' shoes and sandals were gathered in haphazard piles.
"In an instant, bodies were set ablaze, people were running and the ground was mixed with teapots, kettles and other supplies for pilgrims," said Mahdi Kadim, one of the survivors.
But there was also a louder message in the carnage that left at least 130 pilgrims dead throughout Iraq: U.S.-backed authorities remain virtually powerless to stop suspected Sunni insurgents trying to push Iraq toward a sectarian civil war.
U.S. forces, too, continue to tally losses at the hands of extremists despite signs of more successful raids against bases and weapon stockpiles. The military said nine soldiers were killed Monday in two separate roadside bombings north of Baghdad, making it the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Iraq in nearly a month.
"A brutal massacre against people who are only practicing their faith" was how Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Askari described the Hillah attacks, which wounded at least 151 people.
Dr. Mohammed al-Temimi, at Hillah's main hospital, said some of the injuries were critical and the death toll of 106 could rise.
The Hillah strike came after gunmen and bombers hit group after group of Shiite pilgrims elsewhere — some in buses and others making the traditional trek on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. At least 24 were killed in those attacks, including four relatives of a prominent Shiite lawmaker, Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati.
This weekend, huge crowds of Shiite worshippers will gather for rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein died near Karbala in a 7th-century battle.
In Hillah, southeast of Karbala, a long line of pilgrims marched toward a bridge checkpoint on the edge of the city. Food and cool drinks were distributed at nearby tents.
The first suicide bomber killed dozens and touched off a mad dash away from the bridge, said witness Salim Mohammed Ali Abbas. As the fleeing crowd grew thicker, another suicide bomber among them blew himself apart. An Associated Press cameraman at the scene said ambulances and Iraqi police swarmed the area.
A police commander, Brig. Gen. Othman al-Ghanemi, said the attackers joined the procession outside Hillah and waited until it reached the checkpoint bottleneck to try to maximize the damage.
"The government bears some responsibility for this," complained a Shiite parliament member, Bahaa al-Araji. "It has not provided enough security to protect the pilgrims."
In the past two years, the powerful Mahdi Army militia watched over pilgrimages to Karbala. But the group agreed to put down its arms under intense pressure from the government, which wanted to avoid any confrontations with U.S.-led forces during a Baghdad security crackdown launched last month.
"This year, things are sadly different," said al-Araji.
But the Mahdi Army has been unable to protect other religious pilgrimages. In February 2005, a suicide car bomber hit mostly Shiite police recruits in Hillah, killing 125 people.
U.S. forces, meanwhile, suffered their deadliest day since Feb. 7, when 11 troops were killed — seven when their helicopter was shot down north of Fallujah and four others in combat operations.
The military said six soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division were killed Monday in a bombing in Salahuddin province. It was the single largest loss of life in the past three years of combat for the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based unit, said division spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt.
Three other soldiers died the same day in a roadside bomb attack in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
Both provinces are Sunni-dominated and have seen a rise in violence since additional U.S. forces moved into Baghdad as part of security sweeps. The Pentagon has pledged 17,500 additional combat troops for the capital.
The latest phase brought U.S. and Iraqi troops into the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City. Its militias have so far stuck to their agreement with the government to keep their weapons stowed away.
U.S. forces also kept to their bargain of low-key patrols. Some 600 American soldiers searched the neighborhood, knocking on doors and searching homes, according to an Associated Press reporter traveling with them.
The U.S. forces are seeking a "reconciliatory approach" to avoid sparking a backlash on the streets, said Col. Richard Kim. One small gesture seemed to show appreciation: a child offered soldiers ice cream bars.
In a speech to the American Legion in Washington, President Bush said it was "too early to judge the success" of the Baghdad crackdown.
"But even at this early hour there are some encouraging signs," Bush said. Still, he added: "There are no shortcuts in Iraq."
Near the northern city of Mosul, gunmen stormed the Badoosh prison and freed about 140 inmates, but most were recaptured soon afterward, said Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Wakaa. All but 47 fugitives were seized within hours. Local security officials said the attackers were insurgents, but the prison has a poor security record.
Saddam Hussein's nephew, Ayman Sabaawi, escaped from the same prison in December. He was serving a life sentence for financing insurgents and possessing bombs. He remains at large.
In Baghdad, parliament failed to reconvene as scheduled after only about two dozen of the 275 lawmakers showed up. Political leaders claim that talks between various parties kept the deputies away.
But it was seen as another sign of political stagnation when key issues are facing the parliament, including a proposed law to divide Iraq's oil revenue among its three main groups: Sunnis, Shiites and the northern Kurds.
Associated Press Writer Ryan Lenz with U.S. troops in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:23 AM
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Libby found guilty in CIA leak trial
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writers
Once the closest adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted Tuesday of lying and obstructing a leak investigation that shook the top levels of the Bush administration.
He is the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since National Security Adviser John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair two decades ago.
In the end, jurors said they did not believe Libby's main defense: that he hadn't lied but merely had a bad memory.
The CIA leak case focused new attention on the Bush administration's much-criticized handling of intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war. The case cost Cheney his most trusted adviser, and the trial revealed Cheney's personal obsession with criticism of the war's justification.
Trial testimony made clear that President Bush secretly declassified a portion of the prewar intelligence estimate that Cheney quietly sent Libby to leak to Judith Miller of The New York Times in 2003 to rebut criticism by ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson. Bush, Cheney and Libby were the only three people in the government aware of the effort.
More top reporters were ordered into court — including Miller after 85 days of resistance in jail — to testify about their confidential sources among the nation's highest-ranking officials than in any other trial in recent memory.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said the verdict closed the nearly four-year investigation into how the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and her classified job at the CIA were leaked to reporters in 2003 — just days after Wilson publicly accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence. No one will be charged with the leak itself, which the trial confirmed came first from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
"The results are actually sad," Fitzgerald told reporters after the verdict. "It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did."
One juror, former Washington Post reporter Denis Collins, said the jury did not believe Libby's main defense: that he never lied but just had a faulty memory. Juror Jeff Comer agreed.
Collins said the jurors spent a week charting the testimony and evidence on 34 poster-size pages. "There were good managerial type people on this jury who took everything apart and put it in the right place," Collins said. "After that, it wasn't a matter of opinion. It was just there."
Libby, not only Cheney's chief of staff but also an assistant to Bush, was expressionless as the verdict was announced on the 10th day of deliberations. In the front row, his wife, Harriet Grant, choked out a sob and her head sank.
Libby could face up to 25 years in prison when sentenced June 5, but federal sentencing guidelines will probably prescribe far less, perhaps one to three years. Defense attorneys said they would ask for a retrial and if that fails, appeal the conviction.
"We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated," defense attorney Theodore Wells told reporters. He said that Libby was "totally innocent and that he did not do anything wrong."
Libby did not speak to reporters.
The president watched news of the verdict on television at the White House. Deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Bush respected the jury's verdict but "was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family."
In a written statement, Cheney called the verdict disappointing and said he was saddened for Libby and his family, too. "As I have said before, Scooter has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction through many years of public service."
Wilson, whose wife left the CIA after she was exposed, said, "Convicting him of perjury was like convicting Al Capone of tax evasion or Alger Hiss of perjury. It doesn't mean they were not guilty of other crimes."
Libby was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury to the grand jury and one count of lying to the FBI about how he learned Plame's identity and whom he told.
Libby learned about Plame from Cheney in June 2003 about a month after Wilson's allegations were first published, without his name, by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Prosecutors said Libby relayed the Plame information to other government officials and told reporters, Miller of the Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine, that she worked at the CIA.
On July 6, 2003, Wilson publicly wrote that he had gone to Niger in 2002 and debunked a report that Iraq was seeking uranium there for nuclear weapons and that Cheney, who had asked about the report, should have known his findings long before Bush cited the report in 2003 as a justification for the war. On July 14, columnist Robert Novak reported that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and she, not Cheney, had suggested he go on the trip.
When an investigation of the leak began, prosecutors said, Libby feared prosecution for disclosing classified information so he lied to investigators to make his discussions appear innocent.
Libby swore that he was so busy he forgot Cheney had told him about Plame, and was surprised to learn it a month later from NBC reporter Tim Russert. He swore he told reporters only that he learned it from other reporters and could not confirm it.
Russert, however, testified he and Libby never even discussed Plame.
Libby blamed any misstatements in his account on flaws in his memory.
He was acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI about his conversation with Cooper.
Collins said jurors agreed that on nine occasions during a short period of 2003, Libby was either told about Plame or told others about her.
"If I'm told something once, I'm likely to forget it," Collins recalled one juror saying. "If I'm told it many times, I'm less likely to forget it. If I myself tell it to someone else, I'm even less likely to forget it."
Libby is free pending sentencing. His lawyers will ask that he remain so through any appeal.
Associated Press writer Natasha T. Metzler contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:56 PM
Walter Reed? That's News To Them!
TVNewser, always on top of this sort of thing, points out an interesting and telling statistic reagarding cable coverage of the widening and deepening Walter Reed scandal: CNN & MSNBC are covering the story more than TWICE as much as Fox News:
Between Feb. 18 and March 5, FNC has mentioned "Walter Reed" 93 times -- about six mentions per day. CNN has covered the story 224 times, and MSNBC has covered it 257 times.
These numbers were obtained by a TVNewser source searching cable transcripts using TVEyes.
Also on TVNewser: Walter Reed also loses out next to Anna Nicole Smith, who enjoys a robust popularity on both FNC & MSNBC as compared to the beleaguered veteran's hospital.
This is made apparent courtesy of ThinkProgress which has a highlight reel comparing the two has compiled a highlight reel of Anna Nicole vs. Walter Reed coverage. They ran the numbers on Friday, March 2nd, and here's what they got:
FOX NEWS: Anna Nicole - 121 Walter Reed - 10
MSNBC: Anna Nicole - 96 Walter Reed - 84
CNN: Anna Nicole - 40 Walter Reed - 53
Per ThinkProgress: "The most lop-sided coverage by far was aired by Fox News, which featured only 10 references to Walter Reed compared to 121 of Anna Nicole — roughly 12 times the coverage..."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:59 AM
Monday, March 05, 2007
Bush Picks Top Manufacturing Lobbyist to Guard Product Safety; Many Fear Nominee Would Undercut Agency's Mission and Endanger the Public
Bush Picks Top Manufacturing Lobbyist to Guard Product Safety
Many Fear Nominee Would Undercut Agency's Mission and Endanger the Public
By BRIAN HARTMAN
WASHINGTON, March 3, 2007 — - President Bush has picked the manufacturing industry's top lobbyist to lead the agency that guards consumers from defective baby cribs and exploding laptop batteries.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates the safety standards of more than 15,000 consumer products, has been without a leader since last July. If the White House has its way, Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, will fill that void.
But the nomination felt like a slap in the face to Ann Brown, who held the same job under President Clinton.
"I just think it shows in what low esteem the Bush administration holds health and safety in this country," Brown said. "The National Association of Manufacturers has been the most active … in trying to undermine any of the powers of CPSC."
Brown said that during her tenure, NAM "was always trying to undercut the powers of CPSC."
"We knew when I was at CPSC that anything that NAM offered us was nothing that would enhance our performance, which would enhance our structure. It was always something that would undercut CPSC."
Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America, said Baroody appears above board ethically, but his nomination raises serious concerns because he represents "positions that are in contradiction with what's in the consumers' interest.
"The issue is whether someone who has represented manufacturers can uphold the mission of the agency without a bias, without a predisposition to always think in terms of what's good for manufacturers," Weintraub said. "There's a conflict between manufacturers and consumers. It's really hard to imagine that he would be able to come to this position without a bias."
In defending the nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said it's unfair to presume Baroody would be biased just because of his current role.
"Where is the presumption that Mike Baroody does not have sympathy for the Consumer Product Safety Commission," Fratto said. "I mean, having an understanding of business and the work of manufacturers should not be an indictment of a candidate for this position. I mean that's just … absurd."
The nomination comes at a tough time for the agency. The acting head of the CPSC, Nancy Nord, faced a grilling about her agency's shrinking staff at a House subcommittee hearing. The agency will cut 19 positions this year, in what Consumers Union says is the third consecutive year of cuts at the agency.
The dwindling staff size prompted Consumer Reports to report on its Web site that the agency no longer includes childhood drowning as a top strategic priority, though it is the No.2 accidental killer of children in the United States.
And critics say talented staff have been fleeing an emasculated CPSC that is beset by deep internal problems.
"What I have heard from people who have left and from some people who are still there," Brown said, "is that there is not very much activity. Nothing much is being done. And instead of being very active, or proactive, they really have harassed the staff in many ways and created much busy work and reorganization, but not really any substantive advocacy on behalf of consumer safety."
But Fratto asks, "Where have they failed to be active? They've been forcing the recall of record amounts of products. They have incredible tasks before them."
Baroody faces a tough task as well, as Democrats who control the Senate promise they will challenge him to prove that he is ready to uphold the mission of the agency.
Asked whether the Senate ultimately would confirm Baroody, Fratto said, "We'll see. We're hopeful."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:05 AM
The New York Times
Time Change a ‘Mini-Y2K’ in Tech Terms
By STEVE LOHR
Two years ago, when Congress passed a law to extend daylight saving time by a month, the move seemed a harmless step that would let the nation burn a little less fossil fuel and enjoy a bit more sunshine.
Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, predicted that children would rejoice at the prospect of an extra hour of daylight trick-or-treating on Halloween. But there is no rejoicing among corporate technology managers.
The change takes effect Sunday, as daylight saving time begins three weeks earlier (and ends a week later, on the first Sunday in November). And many companies are scrambling to reset BlackBerry e-mail devices, desktop PCs and big data-center computers used to automate payrolls, purchasing and manufacturing.
This puts the United States out of sync with the rest of the world for longer than usual this spring, almost certainly disrupting not only computers but also the business and travel schedules of companies, workers and travelers. Most of Europe goes to daylight saving time March 25, two weeks after America, while most of Asia, Africa and South America do not observe daylight saving time at all.
Any device that has an internal clock looms as a potential problem and must be tweaked for the time change, usually with a software patch. Most internal clocks in computing devices are programmed for the old daylight-time calendar, which Congress set in 1986.
“It’s a massive amount of work to get everything in order,” said Kim Stevenson, a vice president at Electronic Data Systems, a large technology services company. “And the do-nothing plan is a high-risk plan.”
The daylight-time shift, according to technology executives and analysts, amounts to a “mini-Y2K.” That is a reference to the rush in the late 1990s to change old software, which was unable to recognize dates in the new millennium, 2000 and beyond.
The fear was that computers would go haywire, and there were warnings of planes falling from the skies and electronic commerce grinding to a halt. Billions of dollars were invested to fix the so-called millennium bug, and there was no wave of computer-related disasters.
This time, with extended daylight saving time, the problem is subtler. The potential pitfall is a disruption of business, if the clocks inside all kinds of hardware and software systems do not sync up as they are programmed to do. In a business world that is increasingly computerized and networked, there could be effects on everything from programmed stock trading to just-in-time manufacturing to meeting schedules.
National hotel chains, one technology consultant said, have often automated their wake-up call services in one or two data centers. Having wake-up calls made an hour late for a couple of weeks, he noted, would certainly tarnish a hotel’s reputation for customer service.
For consumers, the greatest potential impact will be on e-mail and calendar programs like Microsoft Outlook, used to schedule dentist visits, soccer practices, evening entertainment and other appointments.
The latest Windows operating system, Vista, is not affected, and for those running Windows XP Service Pack 2, online software updates have been pushed out automatically to correct the problem. Microsoft and Apple are also making software patches and instructions available on their Web sites.
“This is mainly an annoyance for consumers, but it’s a major headache for corporate technology departments,” said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research.
For the roughly 7,000 public companies in the United States, Mr. Hammond estimates the total cost of making computer fixes to deal with the daylight saving time shift at more than $350 million. “It’s causing a lot of corporate technology people sleepless nights,” he said.
The impact extends beyond computers themselves. For example, utilities have begun deploying sophisticated time-of-use meters that measure electricity consumption, often at 15- or 30-minute intervals. They charge different rates at different times of day — mainly for large commercial customers — as part of the utilities’ programs to manage peak loads on their grids.
Those meters have to be reprogrammed for the daylight saving time shift, sending technicians out for on-site visits costing $40 to $200 each, according to Rick Nicholson, an analyst at the IDC research firm.
The energy savings from extending daylight time are not great, but could mount, according to studies. A report last year by the Energy Department projected savings in electricity at four-tenths of a percent each day of extended daylight savings time — or three one-hundredths of a percent of annual electricity use. Daylight saving time modestly reduces evening electricity use.
Still, tiny savings each year could add up in the long run. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit group, estimates that the cumulative benefit through 2020 of longer daylight saving time would be a saving of $4.4 billion and 10.8 million metric tons less carbon spewed into the air.
The 2005 energy bill gives Congress the option of repealing the daylight saving time extension, if energy savings are not achieved.
But there is no turning back for the technology sector. The major software suppliers are offering patches and assistance to customers. The largest software company, Microsoft, has a Web site to help corporate customers and consumers, the Daylight Saving Time Help and Support Center, at microsoft.com/dst2007.
“This is a challenge for the whole industry,” said Rich Kaplan, vice president for customer service at Microsoft. “But for most users, this is mainly a nuisance issue. It’s not as if you’re going to lose any data — your documents, e-mail, digital music or pictures.”
Gregor S. Bailar, chief information officer at Capital One, a large bank and credit card company, has led a lengthy program to get all its data centers and PCs ready for the daylight saving time shift.
For most people in business, Mr. Bailar said, the main problem is going to be synching calendars and meeting schedules. “My advice to the common Luddite is to confirm, confirm and reconfirm your appointments in March and April,” he said.
Or perhaps not. Mr. Bailar suggested another option: “What better excuse to miss that boring budget meeting, at least for a month?”
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 AM
In the past few days - the media has been reporting with some amazement that the public has a high interest in this upcoming presidential election. Why do you think that is?
Well, the last time I checked - 2006 was as clear a mandate as the Democrats could ever hope to receive. The American public has made its voice clear both in the election booth and at the polls. They want us out of Iraq - NOW. They want to change course on foreign affairs - immediately. They do not accept the fact that the Bush administration created what we now know (and frankly knew then) was a fictitious argument to launch an unprovoked war on Iraq.
While Congress may not be able to see the forest for the trees, voters can. We are able to remember Colin Powell standing in front of the UN with 'evidence'. We remember "mission accomplished." We understand that Scooter Libby was doing the administrations bidding when he 'outed' an undercover CIA agent. We remember that the Bush administration created a program of secretly wire-taps on law abiding American's. We remember that his troops conducted atrocities at Abu Ghraib, and then had the good graces to photograph those abominations and shared the pictures with the world. The list goes on - from the rape and torture of the civilians we were supposedly 'liberating' to the extraordinary hubris to force John Bolton on the UN.
But it seems that Congress does not. Perhaps they should read the newspaper. Todays paper would be a good place to start. The cover of the New York Times reports that Federal Prosecutors who weren't willing to do the Administration bidding have been finding themselves unemployed. This would be shocking - if the phrase 'Great Job Brownie" weren't already part of the vernacular. Or we didn't remember Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court.
Nicolai Ouroussoff's piece on Defensive Architecture reminds us that the impact that the Bush Administration has had won't be erased once they've been evicted from The White House. Already the effect has been indelibly etched in the streets and the structures of our cities. Ouroussoff's reports on nifty ways that architects are hiding bomb barriers and concrete reinforcements - ending by saying; "Our streets may be prettier, but the prettiness is camouflage for the budding reality of a society ruled by fear."
Society ruled by fear. Wow.
So, if the Democratic congress, or the Democratic Senate read todays paper, maybe they'll figure out what we've been trying to tell them.
We remember, and we don't like the direction the Country is going in. And we voted for them so that they would be leaders - and with our clear mandate... act.
Now to be fair, we understand that this is complex. We know that getting our troops out of Iraq won't solve the broader and more complex issues facing us in the world. But it would be a start. And while the House has practically broken it's institutional arm patting itself on the back for the non-binding resolution - the reality is that American's are expecting more than lame proclamations from the Hill. Simply running the clock until the Bush's are evicted doesn't count as leadership - and expecting the next President to be able to do what the House and Senate can't isn't realistic or likely. Political will needs to be exercised, rather than simply pantomimed. Watching Hillary Clinton embroider complex stories in order to avoid being tagged a 'flip flopper' is painful and heartbreaking. She was wrong to vote for the war. She knew it then, but with a Senate race ahead of her she did what many Democrats did - she supported the President. But that was then. But even then, Bush's motives were transparent. With the wind of 9/11 at his back, he took every opportunity to create an imperial Presidency and shift the power of the Military, The Courts, and the Executive Branch into a monolithic power machine. Anyone who challenged him or his neo-con henchmen were dealt with swifty and with the full force of the White House. She had reason to fear reprisals - and acknowledging that her vote was a mistake would hardly be seen as change in position.
Which brings me to the endless banging drum that ending funding of Iraq would be equal to not supporting our troops. This perhaps the most disturbing hogwash that has been delivered via the media time and time again. It simply makes no sense. It's hardly like cutting off your kids credit card mid-way into a cross country car trip. If congress ends it's cowardly ways, and acts with the mandate and mission that the electorate provided it - it will set a date by which funding will end for troops in Iraq. That date won't be tomorrow, or the day after. There will be plenty of money for return airfare for each and every service man and woman. We won't leave them stranded in a war zone without a return ticket. But Congress CAN act, can set a date at which funding will end, and military leadership can begin to deploy funds that remain to plan for an orderly transition.
The idea that an endless stream of dollars 'supports' our troops is nonsense.
And if the Democrats in Congress think that American voters will reward them by putting a Democrat in the White House after two years of inaction and empty non-binding resolutions, they're about to face a very angry electorate.
It's time for Congress to earn our trust, and act.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:02 AM
Global warming is human rights issue: Nobel nominee
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It sounds like a sick joke about global warming, with a series of horrible punch lines:
How hot is it? So hot that Inuit people around the Arctic Circle are using air conditioners for the first time. And running out of the hard-packed snow they need to build igloos. And falling through melting ice when they hunt.
These circumstances are the current results of global climate change, according to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit born inside the Canadian Arctic, who maintains this constitutes a violation of human rights for indigenous people in low-lying areas throughout the world.
Watt-Cloutier and Martin Wagner, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, argued this case on Thursday before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States in Washington.
"We weren't going to go to court," Watt-Cloutier said in a telephone interview after her testimony to the commission. "It wasn't about lawsuits and suing for damage or compensation.
"It was more about really trying to get the world to pay attention and see this as a human rights issue."
Their best hope is that the commission will write a report on this issue, though even getting a hearing in Washington is a victory of sorts. The commission earlier rejected a petition to hear about alleged rights violations based solely on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
The human rights commission has scant powers and can do little more than publicize its findings and propose a resolution to the 35-member organization.
In her address to the panel, Watt-Cloutier acknowledged the challenge of connecting climate change and human rights, but noted a practical purpose for protecting the people she called "the sentinels of climate change."
ENVIRONMENTAL EARLY-WARNING SYSTEM
"By protecting the rights of those living sustainably in the Amazon Basin or the rights of the Inuit hunter on the snow and ice, this commission will also be preserving the world's environmental early-warning system."
Watt-Cloutier reckons there are millions of such environmental sentinels at risk, ranging from the Inuit to residents of low-lying islands that are subject to sea level rise caused by melting ice sheets.
They chose the Organization of American States as a forum because two of the countries where Inuit communities live -- the United States and Canada -- are members. Inuit also live in Russia and Greenland.
For Inuit communities, ice and snow are intrinsic to physical and cultural survival, Watt-Cloutier said after the hearing. Even the building of igloos is under threat.
"You can just imagine the brilliance and the genius and the ingenuity of building a home out of snow, warm enough to have your baby sleep in," she said. "And now all of that is starting to leave because snow conditions are so changed."
Many Inuit live in more conventional buildings, which are constructed mainly to keep the cold out. Unfortunately, with longer and warmer summers with 24-hour-a-day sunlight, this has turned many into ovens, Watt-Cloutier said. For the first time, air conditioners are in use in the Arctic.
Seasoned Inuit hunters used to be able to tell where the ice was safe, but because warmer seas have started to melt sea ice from its underside, even the most experienced hunters find it hard to gauge, and some fall through, she said.
"The glaciers are melting so quickly that where our hunters used to be able to cross safely, now it's so unsafe that it's become torrent rivers ... and we've had a drowning as a result of that as well," she said.
Watt-Cloutier quoted a hunter in Barrow, Alaska, to sum up the impact climate change has had on Inuit life: "There's lots of anxieties and angers that are being felt by some of the hunters that no longer can go and hunt. We see the change, but we can't stop it, we can't explain why it's changing. ... Our way of life is changing up here, our ocean is changing."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:01 AM
Former Sen. Eagleton dead at 77
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, briefly a running mate of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern until revelations of his treatment for depression forced him out of the race, died on Sunday at age 77, his family said.
The cause of death was a combination of heart, respiratory and other problems. The former Missouri senator had been in declining health for many years, the family said in a statement.
Eagleton, a leading opponent of the Vietnam War, withdrew from the Democratic presidential ticket days after being chosen in July 1972 when it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression and underwent electric shock treatments.
McGovern, a U.S. senator from South Dakota, went on to lose the general election to Richard Nixon in one of the worst presidential election defeats in history, losing 49 of the 50 states including his home state.
While Nixon was seen as virtually unbeatable, McGovern's wavering on whether to keep Eagleton -- a junior senator chosen after several more prominent politicians turned McGovern down -- was a major stumble that contributed to the debacle.
McGovern at first said he backed Eagleton "1,000 percent" and had no intention of dropping him from the ticket. But facing an uproar, McGovern then worked behind the scenes to let word go out that Eagleton should withdraw.
McGovern then replaced him with Sargent Shriver, an in-law of the Democratic powerhouse Kennedy family.
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in a statement called Eagleton a "Missouri senator in the great tradition of Harry Truman," and said Eagleton "made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam."
Eagleton was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968, was re-elected twice and served until 1987.
In 1973, Eagleton offered an amendment to a defense spending bill to cut off funding for bombing Cambodia, a move that played a key part in ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
He also was instrumental in major environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
After his retirement from the Senate, Eagleton practiced law, and from 1987 until 1999 he was a professor of public affairs at Washington University in his home city of St. Louis.
(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
Controversial columnist draws fire for gay slur
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outspoken U.S. conservative columnist Ann Coulter is drawing fire from Republicans and Democrats alike after publicly using a derogatory gay slur in reference to Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards.
"Ann Coulter not only once again went out of her way to use a nasty epithet, she pushed her offensiveness up a notch," Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, said on Sunday.
Coulter made the comments on Friday during a speech at the influential American Conservative Union's Political Action Conference, calling Edwards a "faggot."
"We conservatives have enough trouble overcoming the false things that are said about us without paying for a platform upon which we shoot ourselves annually in the foot," Ridenour, whose group helped sponsor the conference, said in a statement on the center's Web site.
Coulter said the comment was a joke and on her Web site she carried the speech with the comment, "I'm so ashamed, I can't stop laughing." She then said Edwards' campaign chairman's main job was "fronting for Arab terrorists."
Edwards, a 2008 presidential contender and the party's 2004 vice presidential candidate, said Coulter's comments were "un-American and indefensible."
"The kind of hateful language she used has no place in political debate or our society at large," he wrote in comments posted to his Web site on Saturday.
"I believe it is our moral responsibility to speak out against that kind of bigotry and prejudice every time we encounter it," Edwards added.
The candidate also posted a video of Coulter's comments, asking supporters to raise $100,000 in so-called "Coulter Cash" for his campaign to "fight back against the politics of bigotry."
Coulter's Friday speech raised objections from Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as well as Democrats.
In a statement on Sunday, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said, "It was an offensive remark. Political discourse ought to be more substantive and thoughtful." McCain, the only contender who did not attend the event, and Giuliani called Coulter's words inappropriate, according to the New York Times.
"Ann Coulter's words of hate have no place in the public sphere much less our political discourse," Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said in a statement released on Saturday.
Several conservatives were also quick to denounce Coulter's comments in a variety of online columns.
Coulter is no stranger to controversy.
At the same conference last year, she used the word "raghead" -- a slur against Muslims -- in referring to U.S. homeland security policies. In a column published in the National Review after the September 11 attacks she urged an invasion of Muslim countries and forced conversion to Christianity.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Bush Shows New Willingness to Reverse Course
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
He was against it before he was for it.
The same president who mocked the idea of talking with Iran and Syria as recently as two weeks ago is now sending emissaries to a regional conference to talk with Iran and Syria.
For President Bush, last week's decision was the latest of several reversals on issues on which he once refused to budge. Since Democrats captured Congress, Bush has fired Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, authorized direct talks with North Korea, sent more troops to Iraq, agreed to discuss the contours of a Palestinian state in Middle East peace negotiations, and even proposed a tax increase for millions of Americans -- all ideas he rejected earlier.
"It's not really surprising to me that they're beginning to change," said former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose report in December recommended opening talks with Iran and Syria. "The realities of the situation are becoming more apparent to them. . . . Presidents begin to focus very much on their legacy, and he recognizes that insufficient progress has been made on some of these international issues."
Some of Bush's shifts are being welcomed by Democrats and some Republicans, although often with the caveat that, in their view, he has not gone far enough. "Any administration, including this one, has to face reality that changes over time," said former senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), an ally of the president's father. "They should. Circumstances change. I'd hate to see an administration that was so rigid that it didn't react to that."
But it can be a bitter pill for a politician who got to the nation's highest office by stressing his unwavering fidelity to core principles and painting his opponents -- first Al Gore, then John F. Kerry -- as flip-floppers who changed their minds depending on the political currents. Now, suddenly, it is George W. Bush -- the stubborn, resolute, "never give in" leader -- who finds himself explaining how he can reject a position one moment and embrace it the next.
All politicians flip-flop at times, of course, though few characterize it that way. Governance sometimes requires it and, if skillfully presented, it can be seen as thoughtfulness or growth in office. As Gore and Kerry showed, though, it can be a political killer if it becomes central to one's image. That's why Republican Mitt Romney is struggling to explain his changing positions on abortion and gay rights, while Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton refuses to apologize for her 2002 vote for the Iraq war despite pressure from liberal activists.
In Bush's case, he sometimes acknowledges a shift and attributes it to evolving conditions, such as his decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq after years of insisting he had sent enough to do the job. In other instances, though, the White House denies any change of position at all, offering nuanced arguments for why the latest move is consistent with past statements.
Bush's new health-care plan, for example, would raise taxes on 30 million Americans. The White House says this is not a real tax increase, because the proceeds would finance tax cuts for 100 million other Americans and the overall plan would be revenue-neutral.
Likewise, after the announcement that U.S. envoys will attend an Iraqi-sponsored conference of its neighbors, White House spokesman Tony Snow complained that the move was being portrayed as a policy switch. At a briefing, he read a list of multinational meetings attended by U.S. and Iranian diplomats in the past and chastised reporters for mischaracterizing the situation.
"You guys are getting it wrong, and I don't know how to get you to get it through your heads that it's not new," Snow said. "I mean, it's not new. What's going on here is something that has a long-seated precedence. There are multilateral forums where, if the Iranians are there, we're not going to walk out."
The same list of past meetings, though, has been cited repeatedly by critics in recent months in asking why Bush has refused to talk with Iran and Syria lately. Until last week, the president had said he would not talk with either until Tehran suspended its uranium enrichment, Damascus stopped interfering in Lebanon, and both dropped support for terrorist groups.
He made his attitude abundantly clear at a news conference last month when he mocked those calling for him to negotiate. "This is a world in which people say, 'Meet! Sit down and meet!' " Bush said in a sarcastic tone. "And my answer is: If it yields results, that's what I'm interested in." Just two weeks later, he agreed to sit down and meet in the context of a conference of Iraq's neighbors and major powers -- even though none of his previous conditions has been met.
Conservatives expressed exasperation. "I have never seen an administration with such an enormous gulf between the president's public statements and its actions," said Michael A. Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Presidential statements should reflect policy. They don't seem to in this administration."
Ledeen said Bush should not talk with Iran, given the charges that it is arming Iraqi militants: "They're killing our kids. They're in open warfare against us. So we're going to sit around a conference table with them to talk about the security of Iraq, which they have no interest in?"
Other Bush allies say that the president flip-flopped on North Korea's nuclear program. Whereas he used to reject one-on-one talks with Pyongyang, insisting that negotiations take place in a six-nation forum, he reversed himself and authorized direct talks in Berlin in January, which ultimately led to a breakthrough agreement.
John R. Bolton, Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations, said the Berlin meeting "was clearly a shift" that yielded a deal rewarding North Korea for bad behavior.
Bolton was further disturbed by reports last week about administration officials backing off assertions about North Korea's uranium enrichment. "There's a risk that the administration looks weak through the media spin," Bolton said, "and if the president doesn't like the media spin, he should correct it immediately."
Bush has strategically changed positions in the past when it suited him, perhaps most notably when he embraced the creation of a Department of Homeland Security after initially opposing it. But he has cultivated an image of a leader who rarely veers from course -- to the point of irritating many who wish he would, particularly on Iraq.
That could immunize him now to an extent from charges of flip-flopping. "It actually may be greeted warmly, and you may see his poll numbers tick up," said Scott Reed, who ran Republican Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.
More important to Bush, Reed added, is burnishing the record before his term expires: "They're really playing for the history books now."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:57 AM
White House Backed U.S. Attorney Firings, Officials Say
By John Solomon and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday.
The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said.
One of the complaints came from Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who specifically raised concerns with the Justice Department last fall about the performance of then-U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, according to administration officials and Domenici's office.
Iglesias has alleged that two unnamed New Mexico lawmakers pressured him in October to speed up the indictments of Democrats before the elections. Domenici has declined to comment on that allegation.
Since the mass firings were carried out three months ago, Justice Department officials have consistently portrayed them as personnel decisions based on the prosecutors' "performance-related" problems. But, yesterday, officials acknowledged that the ousters were based primarily on the administration's unhappiness with the prosecutors' policy decisions and revealed the White House's role in the matter.
"At the end of the day, this was a decision to pick the prosecutors we felt would most effectively carry out the department's policies and priorities in the last two years," said Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
Officials portrayed the firings as part of a routine process, saying the White House did not play any role in identifying which U.S. attorneys should be removed or encourage the dismissals. The administration previously said that the White House counsel recommended a GOP replacement for one U.S. attorney, in Arkansas, but did not say that the White House approved the seven other firings.
"If any agency wants to make a change regarding a presidential appointee, they run that change by the White House counsel's office," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "That is standard operating procedure, and that is what happened here. The White House did not object to the Justice Department decision."
The seven prosecutors were first identified by the Justice Department's senior leadership shortly before the November elections, officials said. The final decision was supported by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his deputy, Paul J. McNulty, and cleared with the White House counsel's office, including deputy counsel William Kelly, they said.
The firings have sparked outrage from Democrats and some Republicans in Congress as details emerge about the unusual decision to remove so many at once on Dec. 7, in the middle of the administration's term. The issue escalated this week with the allegations from Iglesias, who has said he will name the two New Mexico lawmakers who called him if he is asked under oath.
The House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas for Iglesias and three other fired prosecutors, who are set to testify in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday. Lawmakers plan to press for answers, including what triggered the creation of the list and who else was involved.
Most of the prosecutors have said they were given no reason for their dismissals and have responded angrily to the Justice Department's contention that they were fired because of their performance. At least five of the prosecutors, including Iglesias, were presiding over public corruption investigations when they were fired, but Justice Department officials have said that those probes played no role in the dismissals.
Domenici's office confirmed yesterday that it had raised concerns with the Justice Department about Iglesias's office, particularly on immigration.
"We had very legitimate concerns expressed to us by hundreds of New Mexicans -- in the media, in the legal communities and just regular citizens -- about the resources that were available to the U.S. attorney," said Steve Bell, Domenici's chief of staff.
Domenici and his aides have declined to comment on whether the lawmaker called Iglesias. Any communication by a senator or House member with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation is a violation of ethics rules.
The fired prosecutors in San Diego and Nevada are registered independents, while the rest are generally viewed as moderate Republicans, according to administration officials and many of the fired prosecutors.
In a recent briefing with lawmakers, McNulty said one factor in the decision to create the list of U.S. attorneys was the concern raised by various members of Congress and law enforcement officials that some U.S. attorneys were not following Bush administration policies or federal sentencing rules, administration officials said.
The Justice Department received several letters dating to 2005 and signed by more than a dozen California lawmakers, mostly Republicans, raising concerns about then-U.S. Attorney Carol S. Lam's approach to prosecuting immigration cases. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, also wrote Gonzales in June, saying that the "low prosecution rates have a demoralizing effect on the men and women patrolling our nation's borders."
On the job less than a year, McNulty consulted his predecessor as deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, about some of the prosecutors before approving the list, officials said. Comey, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday, praised Iglesias earlier this week as one of the department's best prosecutors.
The seven prosecutors outside Arkansas were informed about their ousters on Dec. 7, after the White House counsel's office signed off.
A few days before the firings, administration officials began the traditional process of calling lawmakers in the affected states to inform them about the decisions and to gather early input on possible successors, officials said.
Although the White House approved the firings, two administration officials said the counsel's office did not suggest replacements. But the officials said White House political affairs officials keep databases on potential job candidates that Justice Department officials could have accessed if they chose.
An administration official said White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten does not recall whether he was briefed about the firings before they occurred.
Privately, White House officials acknowledged that the administration mishandled the firings by not explaining more clearly to lawmakers that a large group was being terminated at once -- which is unusual -- and that the reason was the policy performance review.
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz, washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:54 AM
The New York Times
Antiwar Caucus Wants to Be Heard Now
By MICHAEL LUO
WASHINGTON, March 2 — About a dozen members of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus gathered on a sunny day last summer on the terrace outside the Capitol for a news conference. The only problem: no reporters showed up.
The members of the group, made up entirely of House Democrats, cracked jokes among themselves before heading back inside, chalking it up as another failed attempt to get noticed.
“I had 30 press conferences where no one showed up,” said Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who leads the 75-member caucus in the House.
Now, with a change in power in Congress and a new military strategy to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, the members of the group — most of them liberals — are suddenly much in demand, finding themselves at the center of the debate over the war.
Yet even with a majority of Americans opposing the war, the caucus is struggling to overcome its fringe image and is becoming increasingly frustrated by what its members say is the Democratic leadership’s unwillingness to heed their calls for decisive action to the end the war.
At the same time, though the members are united in their desire to bring American military involvement in Iraq to a speedy end, they are still debating the best way to do so. In that sense, they reflect the broader struggle among Democrats in Congress, who have been unable to coalesce around a single position on how strongly to confront President Bush over the war.
House Democratic leaders this week seemed to back away slightly from a proposal by Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, to limit Mr. Bush’s latest supplemental spending request for the war. Mr. Murtha’s proposal would have required strict readiness for troops sent to Iraq, essentially limiting the president’s ability to follow through on his plan to deploy an additional 21,500.
Mr. Murtha’s conditions were favored by caucus members, though it has come under fire from Republicans who labeled it a “slow bleed” strategy. The proposed strategy has also run into opposition from conservative House Democrats, who argue that their concerns need to be taken seriously because they helped deliver the Democratic majority in the midterm elections. The Murtha proposal, they said, would leave the party vulnerable to charges of abandoning troops.
“My concern, representing the state where we’ve got the highest percentage call-up of guard and reserve in the country, I want to make sure Congress does not do anything that hamstrings troops on the ground,” said Representative Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat who is a member of the Blue Dogs, a coalition of party moderates and conservatives.
Democratic leaders have responded to critics by floating a new plan that would allow Mr. Bush to waive the readiness standards, a possibility that has left many of the party’s vocal left wing unhappy. About 30 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus met Thursday to plot strategy. They warned that they might vote against any supplemental bill that did not more strictly limit the president’s options, a vote that could prove embarrassing for a Democratic leadership trying to preserve a fragile majority.
“Nothing is going to happen unless we use the power of the purse,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. “It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”
The House minority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said Republicans would oppose any measure that “restricts the president’s ability to win the war in Iraq.”
Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, is drafting an amendment that would allow financing only to protect American troops in Iraq pending a full withdrawal under a set timetable.
Assuming the supplemental bill is unsatisfactory to the caucus, war opponents are discussing whether to threaten to vote against it when it comes to a vote in the House floor in mid-March, unless the House leadership also permits a vote on the amendment from Ms. Lee.
Ms. Lee said her goal was to shift the discussion to a “fully funded withdrawal” from “cutting off funding.”
“There’s a distinction between cutting off funding and using the funding to begin a speedy and secure withdrawal within a specific timeframe,” she said.
Created as an offshoot of the Progressive Caucus in the summer of 2005, the Out of Iraq group began with about 50 members. Its slow climb began when Mr. Murtha, an influential lawmaker and Vietnam veteran, unveiled his first plan calling for redeployment of troops in late 2005.
“The Out of Iraq Caucus grabbed onto Murtha,” Ms. Waters said. “Don’t forget, we were considered liberals and/or progressives that did not present a real threat to the administration, or even to the leadership.”
Suddenly, though, they had Mr. Murtha’s backing. The group’s numbers have since swelled, and now include a third of the Democratic majority.
The roster includes nine House committee leaders. Also among its membership are Representative George Miller of California, a trusted confidant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and Representative John B. Larson of Connecticut, the vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus and the only member of the leadership in the group.
But many members rarely attend meetings. Some of its active members are lawmakers who play easily into Republican characterizations of some Democrats as peaceniks far from the mainstream. Ms. Lee was the lone dissenting vote in Congress against the resolution authorizing the president to use force to respond to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2005, she co-sponsored a bill with Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio (also a caucus member), and others to create a cabinet-level office called the Department of Peace.
With such a large tent, caucus members are hardly uniform in their views. Some are pondering whether they should simply continue to be patient. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, who heads the influential Ways and Means Committee, said he was not sure how he would vote on the supplemental measure.
He called the war “morally wrong” and said “it goes even beyond the brutality of slavery and the lynchings.” At the same time, he said, Democratic leaders must be careful to carve out a consensus path.
Governing as a majority requires compromise, said Representative James P. Moran of Virginia, a caucus member who also sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “Hopefully we don’t have to compromise too much.”
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:45 AM
U.S. Projects 19 Percent Emissions Rise
WASHINGTON — By 2020, the United States will emit almost one-fifth more gases that lead to global warming than it did in 2000, increasing the risks of drought and scarce water supplies.
That projection comes from an internal draft report from the Bush administration that is more than a year overdue at the United Nations. The Associated Press obtained a copy Saturday.
The United States already is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world's carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases that scientists blame for global warming.
The draft report, which is still being completed, projects that the current administration's climate policy would result in the emission of 9.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, a 19 percent increase from 7.7 billion tons in 2000.
But an authoritative U.N. report last month from hundreds of scientists and government officials said global warming is "very likely" caused by mankind and that climate change will continue for centuries even if heat-trapping gases are reduced. That report was approved by 113 nations including the United States.
It was the strongest language ever used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose last report came in 2001.
Despite the dire outlook, most scientists say huge sea level rises and the most catastrophic storms and droughts may be avoided if strong action is taken soon.
"We're on a path to exceeding levels of global warming that will cause catastrophic consequences, and we really need to be seriously reducing emissions, not just reducing the growth rate as the president is doing," Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the nonpartisan Climate Institute in Washington, said Saturday. Until 2001, he coordinated the government's studies of the consequences of global warming,
The administration's internal draft covers inventories of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, projected environmental consequences and policies to limit emissions and risk. The New York Times reported on the draft in Saturday's editions.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality has been coordinating the draft report. A spokeswoman, Kristen Hellmer, said it "will show that the president's portfolio of actions and his financial commitment to addressing climate change are working. And the president is always looking at ways to address our energy security and environmental needs."
Hellmer blamed the delay in completing the fourth U.S. Climate Action Report on the "extensive interagency review process" the draft must go through. The report, which was due no later than Jan. 1, 2006, is required under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Among the consequences of a warming world anticipated in the report is "a distinct reduction in spring snowpack in the northwestern United States," which supplies much of the water in that region, the report says.
Warmer temperatures expected from more greenhouse gases would only "exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation," it says.
Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch, a nonprofit watchdog program, said Saturday he expects the final report will evade a full discussion of how global warming might affect the nation.
"I think it is very likely that the main reason the report has been held up for more than a year beyond the deadline is because the administration is reluctant to make an honest statement about likely climate change impacts on this country," said Piltz, a former senior associate with the federal Climate Change Science Program.
The U.S. spends $3 billion a year to research technologies to cut global warming and $2 billion on climate research. Bush has formed a partnership with Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea _ producers of half the world's greenhouse gases _ to attract private money for cleaner energy technologies. He envisions using more hydrogen-powered vehicles, electricity from renewable energy sources and clean coal technology.
Shortly after taking office, Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a U.N. treaty that requires industrial nations to cut global warming gases by 2012 by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels.
He argued that cutting the U.S. share to below 6 billion tons a year, as the treaty would have required, would have cost 5 million U.S. jobs. He objected, too, that such high-polluting developing nations as China and India are not required to reduce emissions.
On the Net:
U.S. Climate Change Science Program: http://www.climatescience.gov/default.htm
Climate Science Watch: http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:43 AM