Saturday, August 04, 2007

Court: FBI violated Constitution in raid of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's office

Yahoo! News
Court: FBI violated Constitution in raid
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer

The FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's office last year and viewed legislative documents in a corruption investigation, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The court ordered the Justice Department to return any legislative documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat's office on Capitol Hill. The court did not order the return of all the documents seized in the raid and did not say whether prosecutors could use any of the records against Jefferson in their bribery case.

Jefferson argued that the first-of-its-kind raid trampled congressional independence. The Constitution prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement powers to interfere with the lawmaking process. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker's documents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected that claim. The court held that, while the search itself was constitutional, FBI agents crossed the line when they viewed every record in the office without giving Jefferson the chance to argue that some documents involved legislative business.

"The review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive" and violated the Constitution, the court wrote. "The Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged."

The raid was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman's Washington home.

Jefferson pleaded not guilty in June to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. The Justice Department said it built that case without using the disputed documents from the raid.

The court did not rule whether, because portions of the search were illegal, prosecutors should be barred from using any of the records in their case against Jefferson. That will be decided by the federal judge in Virginia who is presiding over the criminal case.

"Today's opinion underscores the fact that the Department of Justice is required to follow the law, and that it is bound to abide by the Constitution," defense attorney Robert Trout, said, promising more legal challenges to "overreaching by the government in this case."

The Justice Department did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the decision. Officials have said they took extraordinary steps, including using an FBI "filter team" not involved in the case to review the congressional documents. Government attorneys said the Constitution was not intended to shield lawmakers from prosecution for political corruption.

The court was not convinced. It said the Constitution insists that lawmakers must be free from any intrusion into their congressional duties. Such intrusion, even by a filter team, "may therefore chill the exchange of views with respect to legislative activity," the court held.

The case has cut across political party lines. Former House Speakers Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and Thomas Foley, a Democrat, filed legal documents opposing the raid, along with former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, a Republican.

Conservative groups Judicial Watch and the Washington Legal Foundation were joined by the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in supporting the legality of the raid.

Following his indictment, Jefferson's supporters accused the Bush administration of targeting black Democrats to shift attention from the legal troubles of Republican congressmen.

"We are confident that as this case moves forward, and when all of the facts are known, we will prevail again and clear Congressman Jefferson's name," Trout said Friday.

Despite the looming investigation, Jefferson was re-elected to a ninth term in 2006. His win complicated things for Democratic leaders who promised to run the most ethical Congress in history.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stripped Jefferson of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and placed him instead on the Small Business Committee. He resigned that committee assignment after being indicted.

The case was considered by Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson and Judge Judith W. Rogers.

Ginsburg and Rogers served in the Justice Department and Henderson served as deputy South Carolina attorney general. None of the judges served in the legislative branch, though Rogers was counsel to a congressional commission formed to review Washington's municipal structure. Ginsburg and Henderson were appointed by Republican presidents, Rogers by a Democrat.


House, 411-8, Passes a Vast Ethics Overhaul

The New York Times
House, 411-8, Passes a Vast Ethics Overhaul

WASHINGTON, July 31 — The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping ethics rules that would require lawmakers to disclose the names of lobbyists who gather more than $15,000 in political contributions for them within a six-month period. The measure would also impose new restrictions on accepting gifts, discounted airfare and other long-held perquisites of office.

On a vote of 411 to 8, Democrats moved closer to fulfilling their pledge to change the culture of Washington, after a series of corruption scandals that played a role in Republicans’ losing control of Congress in last November’s elections. The legislation, to be considered by the Senate later this week, also calls for greater disclosure of legislators’ special projects, or earmarks, which are often shrouded in secrecy.

Although advocates for tightened lobbying and ethics rules applauded the bill, some of its more onerous restrictions had been softened in recent weeks by House and Senate Democratic leaders, who worked in closed-door sessions to resolve its differing versions. Two Republican senators say they plan to try to stop the bill on the ground that it does not go far enough, but Senate leaders predicted that the measure would receive enough support to win passage, and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.

“The American people spoke clearly for change in the way business is done in Washington,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said after the House vote. “They demanded not just high ethical standards but also transparency, disclosure and accountability to make these standards effective.”

Still, lawmakers left themselves some loopholes.

For instance, in January the Senate voted overwhelmingly for a “revolving door” provision that would have barred former lawmakers from all lobbying “activities” — among them plotting strategy or advising clients — for two years after leaving office. The provision would have seriously cramped the ability of legislators to cash out for big paychecks at K Street law firms as soon as they left office, and many complained that it would unfairly deprive them of their most natural occupation.

The House refused to pass a similar measure, and the final bill dropped the restriction. As a result, departing lawmakers, as well as their senior aides, will still be able to sell influence-seekers their insights and expertise immediately.

“As much as anything, it is a bow to the reality of life after Congress,” said Marc E. Elias, a lawyer who represents many senators. “There has to be a limit to what behavior we are going to criminalize after people leave Congress.”

Democratic leaders noted that the final bill retained provisions doubling the current one-year ban on former senators’ direct lobbying contacts with onetime colleagues and that former senior Senate aides, already barred from lobbying their previous office for one year, would now be forbidden to do so anywhere in the chamber during that period. House members must continue to honor a one-year ban against directly lobbying their former colleagues.

But the most far-reaching element of the bill — and the one that caused the most contentious behind-the-scenes negotiations — was the provisions requiring the disclosure of campaign contributions that lobbyists gather up from clients and associates to give to political candidates and the parties’ Congressional campaign committees. The bill requires lawmakers and the committees to disclose the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more within a six-month period.

“Trying to preserve those provisions was a sticking point in the negotiations all along,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who led the push for them.

Because campaign finance laws cap individual contributions, politicians have become increasingly dependent on so-called bundlers to fill their campaign coffers. And lobbyists hoping to curry favor have the greatest incentive to do the work of dunning clients, colleagues, family and friends for stacks of campaign donations.

Even with the new rules, a lobbyist could still bundle $14,000 every six months — $56,000 during a House member’s two-year term, a significant sum for a House re-election campaign — without any disclosure requirement.

And people involved in the final negotiations said House Democrats had blocked an effort by their Senate counterparts to weaken the rule by raising the threshold for disclosure to a significantly higher amount.

The overall package of rule changes was trumpeted by Democrats as a beam of sunlight on the murky ways in which lobbyists and interest groups influence legislation, but the process was hardly a model of open government. The final bill did not emerge until Monday, after a weekend of tense negotiations. Even as the House voted Tuesday to approve the rewritten legislation, lawyers and advocacy groups were still scrutinizing the text to decipher its implications.

The measure will require 67 votes to pass in the Senate, because it entails a change in Senate rules. At least two Republicans, Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, oppose the bill, saying it is too weak on disclosure requirements for earmarks. But Republican aides said they expected it to be easily approved.

The legislation would for the first time require the disclosure of all earmarks — the pet projects lawmakers insert into spending bills — and their sponsors. It would also require that lawmakers certify that they are not adding a spending item intended only to provide a “pecuniary” benefit to themselves or their family.

The House has already adopted similar measures in its own internal rules. But while earlier bills had required a neutral Senate parliamentarian to validate the earmark disclosure in the Senate, the final bill shifted the enforcement authority to the Appropriations Committee chairman and the party leaders.

Democrats said they had made the revision to prevent bogging down the office of the parliamentarian with earmark inquiries, but some critics said putting enforcement in the hands of party leaders would dull much of the new rules’ bite.

“You have somebody who has a vested interest making the call,” said Steve Ellis, a vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks. “It is like an N.B.A. referee betting on games.”


Friday, August 03, 2007

Dean Announces Election Protection Project

Huffington Post
Dave Johnson
YearlyKos- Dean Announces Election Protection Project

At the YearlyKos Convention tonite Howard Dean announced a national Election Protection Project, working with every single county in the country to get ahead of election problems NOW, rather than just before and after the 2008 election. They will identify problems like providing too few voting machines in precincts as a way to keep the vote count down, etc. From a press release e-mailed to me about the project,

Through its 50 State Strategy, Voting Rights Institute and National Lawyers Council, the DNC is conducting an in-depth nationwide survey to collect critical data on voting practices and procedures at the local level. The goal of the project is to map the often confusing and complex sets of administrative practices and decisions governing election administration in every state. Working with local election boards, the DNC is examining the election mechanics in each state, flagging potential problems and election administration issues that threaten to deprive citizens of their right to register, vote and have their vote counted. Once these issues are identified, the DNC will work to resolve potential problems well in advance of the 2008 election. Election laws, while written on the federal and state level, are often subject to interpretation at the local level. This decentralized process results in varied administration and supervision of the elections themselves, which can be potentially problematic considering that in 2008, there will be at least 13,000 elections run by localities.

[. . .] The goal of this unprecedented project is to protect and ensure our voting rights, by working now to identify and attempt to resolve election administration issues that threaten to deprive citizens of the right to register, vote and have their vote counted."


Rep. Waxman Releases Drafts Of Global Health Report Reportedly Blocked By Bush Administration Official

Medical News Today
Rep. Waxman Releases Drafts Of Global Health Report Reportedly Blocked By Bush Administration Official

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Monday released two different drafts of a 2006 surgeon general report on global health that reportedly was withheld from the public by a Bush administration political appointee, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who commissioned the report while serving in the position from 2002 to 2006, at a July 10 House committee hearing testified that the report was suppressed. Carmona told lawmakers that as he attempted to release the report, he was "called in and again admonished ... via a senior official," who said the report "will be a political document, or it will not be released." HHS' Office of Global Health Affairs head William Steiger, who according to newspaper reports blocked the report from being released, said he disagreed with Carmona's statements regarding the report (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30).

Waxman on Monday released both Carmona's draft and the HHS outline of the report. According to the Times, the differences between the two versions have "added fuel to the controversy over whether the Bush administration has politicized science and medicine," as well as placed "political and ideological messages ahead of scientific information." The Times reports that the HHS outline included "praise" for "President Bush's initiative against AIDS in poor countries" and U.S. initiatives to improve public health in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Carmona's report included condoms as an effective way to prevent HIV transmission, "decried global pollution and violence against women."

HHS spokesperson Bill Hall said the report was not released because a review raised "strong concerns (from) multiple agencies." Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that information from the HHS outline was inaccurate, according to the Times. For example, it highlighted microbicides "near final development" that women could use to protect themselves from HIV. Waxman in a letter to HHS said that this information is misleading because no "microbicide has been approved for reducing HIV infection." He added that an "international microbicide development organization predicts five to seven years until a product is available."

Carmona on Monday would not comment on the situation but said that he is willing to testify again before Congress if asked (Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Hall said that Steiger's outline was meant to serve as guidance for Carmona while he drafted the report (Lee, Washington Post, 7/31).

The two versions of the report and Waxman's letter to HHS are available online.


Katrina floods not covered by insurance: court

Katrina floods not covered by insurance: court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday that three major insurers are not responsible for flood damages in New Orleans -- even if "negligence" caused flooding that inundated the city during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina pounded the low-lying port city with powerful winds and a storm surge that breached levees constructed to protect from surrounding waters.

The flooding that followed cost billions in damages and hundreds of lives in August and early September that year.

Residents of the area, along with Xavier University, sued property insurers Allstate Corp, Travelers Cos Inc and mutual insurer State Farm.

Residential property insurance policies exclude flood coverage, which is provided under a federal program. But the plaintiffs said that, because the negligent design, construction and maintenance of the levees was responsible for the breaks, the insurers should pay claims on their homes and property.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, however, ruled the insurers' contracts were valid. Even if the construction of the levees was faulty, the resulting floods were excluded from coverage, the court said.

"Regardless of what caused the failure of the flood-control structures that were put in place to prevent such a catastrophe, their failure resulted in a widespread flood that damaged the plaintiffs' property," Judge Carolyn King wrote.

"This event was excluded from coverage under the plaintiffs' insurance policies, and under Louisiana law, we are bound to enforce the unambiguous terms of their insurance contracts as written."

The decision, which overturned an earlier lower court ruling, was welcome, said Michael Siemienas, a spokesman for Allstate, the second largest residential insurer in the U.S. behind State Farm.

"We are pleased that the court concluded that policy exclusions for flood damage are unambiguous and enforceable," he said.

But an attorney for Xavier University, James Garner, said the case was not over.

"The issue will be argued again on September 12 in the Louisiana State Court of Appeals and, ultimately, at the state supreme court," Garner said.

Two years after the hurricane, State Farm, Allstate and other insurers face a continuing battle with Gulf Coast homeowners who claim they were shortchanged.

In June, Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood sued State Farm for violating a court agreement to settle 35,000 claims by victims of the hurricane who were insured by the carrier. State Farm has said it is handling the suits outside the court process.

(Reporting by Ed Leefeldt)


Pentagon sold plane parts sought by Iran

Pentagon sold plane parts sought by Iran: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon has mistakenly sold the public about 1,400 aircraft parts that Iran is known to be seeking for its aging fleet of U.S. F-14 "Tomcat" fighter planes, according to a government report.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, told lawmakers the aircraft parts were subject to controls that should have kept them from the public but that a technical glitch allowed for their sale.

The Pentagon suspended the sale of all F-14 related parts, including simple nuts and bolts, in January. But the GAO said the aircraft parts were sold to unidentified buyers in February.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb and helping destabilize Iraq. On Monday, it announced a military aid package worth more than $43 billion for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to bolster them against Iran and others.

All but two of the 1,385 parts in question have been retrieved and the owners of the two parts still at large have been contacted, said Jack Hooper, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency.

General hardware nuts and bolts accounted for 1,362 of the parts, Hooper said in an e-mail.

There was no indication any of the parts were obtained by Iran, which maintains Tomcat fighters from the 1970s.

The Defense Department "had identified these items as parts that could be used on the F-14 fighter aircraft," the GAO said in a July 6 report to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"One country with operational F-14s, Iran, is known to be seeking these parts. If such parts were publicly available, it could jeopardize national security," it said.

The GAO released the document on Wednesday.

According to the GAO, the sales took place because the Pentagon was unable to update an automated control list on a Defense Department Web site.

The F-14 Tomcat, used primarily by the U.S. Navy, ended 32 years of service as an American warplane in 2006.


House votes for more leave for troops in Iraq

House votes for more leave for troops in Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to require more leave for U.S. troops in Iraq, defying a veto threat from the White House that said it infringed on President George W. Bush's authority as commander in chief.

The legislation, part of a stream of votes on the unpopular war, passed the Democratic-led House by 229-194. It was unclear if it would advance in the more closely divided Senate where a similar bill failed last month.

Supporters said overstretched U.S. forces were ground down by repeated redeployments in the 4 1/2-year Iraq war, often without adequate rest in between.

"We all know there are people on their third or fourth deployment" in a war that began in 2003, the bill's sponsor, California Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, said in a telephone interview with Reuters. "It's obvious they are not getting enough downtime."

U.S. soldiers were "deployed, depleted, desperate," said Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, one of six Republicans to vote for the bill.

The legislation requires that active-duty troops spend as much time at home as the length of their previous deployment before they could be sent back to Iraq. National Guard and Reserve troops could not be sent back without having been home at least three times the period of their previous deployment.

It contains an emergency waiver for the president. But critics said it would tie the hands of commanders and infringe on the president's constitutional authority -- including that of the next president, who will be elected next year.

Pointing out that Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama said this week the United States must be willing to strike at al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller asked: "How would this legislation affect his ability to do that?

"Could they immediately be deployed to Pakistan by a President Obama?"

She and other Republicans said the House action was pointless just weeks before a September update on the war from U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

Separately, an administration proposal for military aid packages worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states drew more skepticism.

Rep. Mike Ferguson, a New Jersey Republican, and other lawmakers said they had collected signatures from more than 100 colleagues in both parties vowing to stop the deal when it goes to Congress later this year.

The Pentagon on Thursday gave members of the Senate Armed Services Committee a closed-door briefing on contingency planning for troop withdrawals from Iraq.


Senate approves children's health bill

Senate approves children's health bill
By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would raise tobacco taxes to pay for expanding a children's health program, shrugging off a veto threat from President George W. Bush who wants a more limited plan.

The Senate voted 68-31 for the bill that would provide an extra $35 billion to provide health insurance for more children under the popular state grant program. The Senate acted a day after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $50 billion increase financed by higher tobacco taxes and cuts in payments to private insurers in the Medicare Advantage program for the elderly.

The Senate and House must reconcile their differences before sending a final bill to Bush sometime after lawmakers return from their monthlong August recess.

Bush has threatened to veto either version, which he and Republican allies have called a step toward nationalized health care.

The program is designed to help working families who cannot afford health insurance but who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid health-care program for the poor.

Senate Democrats said their bill would provide health insurance coverage for 3.2 million more children and ensure continued coverage for the 6.6 million children already enrolled in the program.

"For the life of me I can't understand why the president would want to veto this legislation," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who helped write the bipartisan bill. "It is moderate. It is bipartisan. It helps low-income kids. ... It's just the right thing to do."

Bush wants to add just $5 billion over five years to the current $25 billion funding level. He advocates using tax breaks to help more Americans afford health insurance.

Democrats hope to spend the month building public support for the plan to extend health-care coverage to millions of uninsured children, setting up what could be a politically unpopular veto for Bush. The Senate vote on Thursday would be enough to override a veto.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who backs the Senate bill, said government spending on the children's health program accounted for only a tiny fraction of the $2 trillion U.S. health-care industry.

Most of the states contract with private insurers to run the program.

The Senate bill would raise taxes on cigarettes by 61 cents a pack to $1. It would also raise taxes on other tobacco products, including cigars. The House bill calls for a 45 cent- per-pack increase in taxes.


Obama, Clinton in new flap, over nuclear weapons

Obama, Clinton in new flap, over nuclear weapons
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama found himself embroiled in a new foreign policy flap with rival Hillary Clinton on Thursday, this time over the use of nuclear weapons.

Obama ruled out the use of nuclear weapons to go after al Qaeda or Taliban targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan, prompting Clinton to say presidents never take the nuclear option off the table, and extending their feud over whether Obama has enough experience to be elected president in November 2008.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, told a reporter after a Capitol Hill event that he would not use nuclear weapons in those countries, an aide said.

"His position could not be more clear," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "He would not consider using nuclear weapons to fight terror targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

That position came a day after Obama vowed he would be willing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan with or without the approval of the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Obama struck the tough tone after Clinton accused him of being naive and irresponsible for saying in a debate last week he would be willing to meet without preconditions the leaders of hostile nations Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela in his first year in office.

Clinton's position was that she would only meet those leaders after careful lower-level diplomacy bore fruit. Obama said she represented conventional thinking in line with that of the Bush administration and would not bring the fundamental change Americans need.

The New York senator and former first lady quickly pounced on Obama's remark about nuclear weapons at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"I think presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use, or non-use, of nuclear weapons," she said.

"Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons," she said.


Obama's campaign clarified its stance later in the day.

"If we had actionable intelligence about the existence of high-level al Qaeda targets like Osama bin Laden, Senator Obama would act and is confident that conventional means would be sufficient to take the target down," Psaki said. "Frankly we're surprised that others would disagree."

The sharpest disputes of the Democratic race have come as Obama, aiming to become the first black U.S. president, struggles to close a big polling gap on Clinton.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center said Clinton now holds a nearly two-to-one lead over Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with the support of 40 percent of Democrats to 21 percent for Obama.

Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, a senator from Connecticut, also criticized Obama, saying that over the last several days, "Senator Obama's assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused. He has made threats he should not make and made unwise categorical statements about military options."

"We are facing a dangerous and complicated world. The next president will require a level of understanding and judgment unprecedented in American history to address these challenges," Dodd said.

Nuclear deterrence has been a tenet of American foreign policy since the Cold War.

Obama, outlining his foreign policy ideas in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, said the United States and Russia should work together to "de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons," and avoid rushing to produce a new generation of atomic weapons, while still "maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent."

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Andy Sullivan)


Thursday, August 02, 2007

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort; Intelligence Chief Says Bush Authorized Secret Activities Under One Order
NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort
Intelligence Chief Says Bush Authorized Secret Activities Under One Order
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more."

"This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged," McConnell said.

The program that Bush announced was put under a court's supervision in January, but the administration now wants congressional approval to do much of the same surveillance without a court order.

McConnell's letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on "other intelligence activities" than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush's executive order.

But in doing so, McConnell's letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA's surveillance program under Bush's order has not been revealed. The TSP described by Bush and his aides allowed the interception of communication between the United States and other countries where one party is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, so other types of communication or data are presumably being collected under the parts of the wider NSA program that remain hidden.

News reports over the past 20 months have detailed a range of activities linked to the program, including the use of data mining to identify surveillance targets and the participation of telecommunication companies in turning over millions of phone records. The administration has not publicly confirmed such reports.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the letter. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Specter was noncommittal yesterday on whether McConnell's explanation resolved his questions about the accuracy of Gonzales's previous testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Specter is the ranking Republican. Specter said he was waiting for a separate letter from the attorney general to provide additional clarification.

"If he doesn't have a plausible explanation, then he hasn't leveled with the committee," Specter said on CNN. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that "the department will continue to work with Senator Specter to address his concerns" but declined to comment further.

McConnell's letter leaves maneuvering room for both sides in the political fracas over whether Gonzales has been truthful in his testimony. On the one hand, the NSA was clearly engaged in activities that were distinct enough to require different "legal bases" authorizing their use, according to McConnell's account.

"If you think about it technically, it is pretty clear that the NSA desk that does communications intercepts is separate from the desk that does data mining of call records," said Kim Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, a New York-based nonprofit group. "Those are separate processes, and to think of them as separate programs is not a stretch."

On the other hand, the activities were authorized under a single presidential order and were all part of an NSA effort to gather communications about suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. That helps explain why many Democratic lawmakers and administration officials -- including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III -- viewed the wiretapping as part of a larger NSA program, rather than a separate effort, as Gonzales's testimony has suggested.

"Both sides have a legitimate case, if you want to be legalist about it," Taipale said.

The 45-day reauthorization of a single presidential order was probably a "bureaucratic convenience" that eliminated the need to issue multiple authorizations, he added.

Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that Gonzales and other administration officials have "repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public" about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts.

"They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," Martin said. "Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?"

Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), who was among a group of four Democratic senators who called last week for a perjury investigation of Gonzales, said: "The question of whether Attorney General Gonzales perjured himself looms as large now as it did before this letter.

"This letter is no vindication of the attorney general," he said.

Staff writer Joby Warrick and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


Bush won't let aide Rove testify to Congress

Bush won't let aide Rove testify to Congress
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Citing executive privilege, President George W. Bush on Wednesday rejected a subpoena for his close adviser Karl Rove to appear before to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a probe over fired federal prosecutors.

Bush's move sets up a possible court showdown between the White House and Democratic lawmakers, who have sought to force Rove and other Bush aides to testify about the firing last year of nine federal prosecutors. Critics say they were fired for political reasons.

"Mr. Rove, as an immediate presidential advisor, is immune from compelled congressional testimony about matters that arose during his tenure and that relate to his official duties in that capacity," White House Counsel Fred Fielding wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. Leahy made the letter available to Reuters.

"It is a shame that this White House continues to act as if it is above the law. That is wrong," Leahy said in a statement. "The subpoenas authorized by this Committee in connection with its investigation into the mass firings of U.S. Attorneys and the corrosion of federal law enforcement by White House political influence deserve respect and compliance."

The committee had subpoenaed Rove to testify at a hearing on Thursday morning, along with another White House aide, deputy political director Scott Jennings.

Rove will not appear at the hearing, while Jennings will appear but not testify about the fired prosecutors, Fielding said. Fielding also said the White House would not hand over documents requested by the committee.

Democrats say the firings may have been intended to influence investigations of Democratic or Republican lawmakers.

Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who signed off on the firings, have said that they were justified but mishandled.

Gonzales also faces calls for a perjury investigation over the truthfulness of his testimony to Congress about the firings and the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic-spying program.

With the support of Bush, Gonzales has rejected bipartisan calls to resign.

Gonzales said in a letter to Leahy he had been truthful with the committee last week when testifying about the surveillance program, which contains elements that remain classified.

"I was discussing only that particular aspect of the NSA activities that the President has publicly acknowledged," Gonzales wrote. "I recognize that ... my shorthand reference to the 'program' publicly 'described by the President' may have created confusion."

At least one member of the committee was unsatisfied with the explanation.

"The Attorney General has done far more than create confusion, he's placed his office in disrepute," New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement. "After reading the letter, we renew our call for a special prosecutor with vigor."


China warns of alarmism amid new U.S. toy scare; Mattel recalling 1.5 million Fisher-Price toys made in China

China warns of alarmism amid new U.S. toy scare

BEIJING (Reuters) - China fears alarm over product safety could stoke trade protectionism, a senior official told visiting U.S. officials as a massive toy recall threatened to intensify consumer worry about the "made in China" brand.

In the latest scare, Mattel Inc. said it was recalling 1.5 million Fisher-Price toys globally because their paint could contain too much lead.

The Chinese product quality watchdog told the U.S. delegation that the country was tackling food and drug safety after a string of health scares have shaken consumer confidence.

"We won't avoid problems, but we disapprove of ignoring the facts and of alarmism that takes isolated things for the whole, and we oppose trade protection and discrimination," said a deputy chief of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Wei Chuanzhong, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Wei said disagreements between countries over product quality and food safety should be settled "through dialogue, negotiation, investigation and seeking out the facts".

His words appeared unlikely to shift Washington from tougher scrutiny of Chinese-made goods, especially after toys joined a growing list of problem products.

Mattel said the toys, which include characters like Elmo and Big Bird, were made by a contract manufacturer in China using non-approved paint pigment containing lead.

The United States stepped up inspections of imports from China after a chemical additive in pet food caused the death of some pets there this spring.

Since then, poisonous ingredients have been found in Chinese exports of toys, toothpaste and fish, while the deaths of patients in Panama was blamed on improperly labeled Chinese chemicals that were mixed into cough syrup.


"Our U.S. regulatory agencies are concerned about what they see as insufficient infrastructure across the board in China to assure the safety, quality and effectiveness of many products exported to the United States," the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an earlier statement announcing its fact-finding visit.

But Beijing has complained that it is the victim of biased news reports that have grossly overstated the depth of the quality problem and are being used to stoke protectionist demands.

It has said 99.2 percent of its food exports to the United States in 2006 met quality standards. Critics say the United States inspects only a sliver of the food shipments from China and other big suppliers.

Wei said Beijing was taking quality issues seriously. But he stressed that China did not want to be singled out.

"Improving overall product quality and food safety is a shared task of the international community," he said.

The U.S. delegation, led by Department of Health and Human Services chief of staff Rich McKeown, arrived in China on Tuesday for a five-day visit. The department has said it is preparing the way for fresh agreements with China on food and medical product safety.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

White House says spying broader than known

White House says spying broader than known: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration's top intelligence official has acknowledged that a controversial domestic surveillance program was only one part of a much broader spying effort, The Washington Post reported in its Wednesday edition.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell wrote in a letter that other aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program remain classified, the Post said.

"That is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged," McConnell wrote, according to the Post.

Bush acknowledged the existence of a program that monitored domestic phone calls and e-mails without court oversight in December 2005. The administration has not confirmed other secret spying efforts reported by news outlets, such as one that searched millions of telephone records.

Bush signed an executive order that authorized "a number of ... intelligence activities" following the hijacking attacks of September 11, 2001, McConnell wrote.

The warrantless wiretapping program was put under court supervision in January but the administration now wants Congress to allow it to do many of the same activities without a court order.

The letter was sent on Tuesday to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The letter was written to defend Attorney General Alberto

Gonzales, who has been under attack over his testimony to Congress about the warrantless spying program, the Post said.


Iraq role to last years, cost more: Bush's nominee to be top military adviser

Iraq role to last years, cost more: officials
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's nominee to be top military adviser said on Tuesday the United States would be in Iraq for "years not months" and a Pentagon official said the war was costing even more than expected.

Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, picked as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned U.S. lawmakers unhappy with the conflict against seeking a rapid pullout from Iraq, saying it could turn the country into a "caldron."

While prudence dictated planning for an eventual pullout, Mullen said that under one scenario it could take three to four years just to halve the 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. Many Democrats want to pull out combat troops by April.

"I do think we will be there for years, not months," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing. "But I don't see it (Iraq) as a permanent -- you know, on a permanent base at this point."

Mullen, 60, now chief of naval operations, was nominated last month after the Bush administration decided against seeking a second two-year term in the job for Marine Gen. Peter Pace. Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded Pace's role in the unpopular Iraq war would have led to contentious hearings to reconfirm him. Mullen appeared headed for approval.

In testimony to the House Budget Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said next year's war tab would exceed the administration's existing request for $141.7 billion. That's on top of over $600 billion in war checks already written for Iraq and Afghanistan, with 70 percent for Iraq.

Besides needing more money to build and deliver mine-resistant vehicles to repel insurgent attacks, England said Bush's request did not include next year's costs for the extra 30,000 U.S. troops sent into combat this year.

Bush later on Tuesday sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter asking for an additional $5.3 billion for the armored vehicles, bringing the current total request to at least $147 billion.


House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt complained, "We're actually spending more and more each year" on the war.

Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, called it an "ominous indication the costs are continuing to increase."

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha said he thought next year's war tab would rise by $30 billion to $40 billion.

Murtha told reporters the extra cost was likely even though he also thought the Pentagon might announce a drawdown of 30,000 troops in the autumn. "They say things are going better in Iraq; if things are going better, they can get them out."

The Pennsylvania Democrat had planned to offer an amendment this week to start withdrawals in 60 days. But he said he would wait until fall, when he hoped for more Republican support.

In the Senate, Mullen said Bush's troop buildup brought more stability to Iraq but there was not much political progress.

"Based on the ... lack of political reconciliation at the government level, obviously ... I would be concerned about whether we'd be winning or not," he said.

Ultimately "no amount of troops" could solve Iraqi political problems, Mullen acknowledged, but he said strategic decisions should wait until U.S. Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus report in September.

Mullen expressed concern about the "increasingly hostile" role played by Iran. He said Tehran supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and was trying to drive the United States out of Iraq but he hoped the issue could be solved diplomatically.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office provided an analysis for long-term war costs. It estimated that if troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were reduced to 75,000 over the next five years and stayed at that level through 2017, it would cost the U.S. Treasury $845 billion over the 10-year period.

"We don't have that sort of assumption," England said of the 75,000 troop estimate. He did not give any estimate of how large a U.S. force would be over the next 10 years.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)


Study finds Florida optical scan voting machines still flawed

Orlando Sentinel
Study finds Florida optical scan voting machines still flawed
The Associated Press


Florida's optical scan voting machines are still flawed, despite efforts to fix them, and they could allow poll workers to tamper with the election results, according to a government-ordered study obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

At the request of Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Florida State University information technology laboratory went over a list of previously discovered flaws to see if the machines were still vulnerable to attack.

"While the vendor has fixed many of these flaws, many important vulnerabilities remain unaddressed," the report said.

The lab found, for example, that someone with only brief access to a machine could replace a memory card with one preprogramed to read one candidate's votes as counting for another, essentially switching the candidates and showing the loser winning in that precinct.

"The attack can be carried out with a reasonably low probability of detection assuming that audits with paper ballots are infrequent," the report said.

Browning sent Diebold a letter Tuesday asking the flaws be fixed by Aug. 17.

"To Diebold's credit, they have come to the table and been willing to get these changes made and get them made timely," Browning told The Associated Press.

A company spokesman said the deadline will be met.

"These are not major changes and we are confident we can meet the deadline," said Mark Radke, who also said the company has worked well with the state. "We look forward to continuing this relationship and to continuing to improve the security of our elections systems."

Browning said the memory cards are locked in machines and only a few people have access to them in a setting where others wouldn't see them unscrewing machines, breaking seals and switching cards.

"It is not where you just walk up to a machine and pop out a card," he said.

Tampering with the software is much easier in a laboratory than trying to carry out the same actions during an election, Browning said. Still, he said, his office will advise county elections supervisors on steps that should be taken to ensure machines won't be tampered with.

Florida's voting system drew national attention in 2000, when dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads on punch card ballots held up a final count in the presidential election. Florida was eventually decided by 537 votes after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, handing the election to George W. Bush. The state has since banned the punch cards.

Currently, 15 of Florida's 67 counties use paperless touch-screen voting machines, while the rest use optical scan machines where a voter marks a paper ballot with a pencil and it is electronically scanned. Touch-screen machines are being scrapped because of a newly signed state law that requires a verifiable paper trail for all voting machines.


Today Show Helps Frank Luntz Roll Out The Right Wing's Latest Hit Job on Edwards

Huffington Post
Steve Young
Today Show Helps Frank Luntz Roll Out The Right Wing's Latest Hit Job on Edwards

Republicans have been outstanding in couching the debate, quick to label issues, persons or an entire political party's position in terms so simplistic, yet deviously potent. A facile catchphrase feeds into the voters' darkest fears without engaging the least amount of analytical thought.

If you believe attacking terrorism where and how the Bush administration has is a disaster, you're "soft on terror."

If you feel the failure in Iraq is a failure you're the party of "cut and run."

If you present the facts from both sides of an issue, you're part of the "liberal media."

You can always tell when the Republican Party believes something can hurt them. They attack it like you'd wish a Michael Vick pitbull would attack its owner.

By the second or third time it's uttered, catchphrase rhetoric becomes obvious. But there are times when they are more insidious, building momentum under the radar. Oh, you know it's an attack, but it comes in so many different shapes and sizes it's difficult to notice until they all meet at one place: the target.

And one big target in the Republican cross-hairs is John Edwards.

He's presently a third place longshot in the Democratic race, but there's strong evidence that the Republican Party may be more afeared of Edwards then they are of Obama or Clinton. They both may have bulls-eyes painted on them, but it is Edwards who has been under unrelenting assault.

It started with tagging Edwards as the "personal injury attorney." Next, the subtle, Coulter "Edwards is a fag" strategy. Bill O'Reilly deemed Edwards "out of the race" even though he polls higher than Mitt Romney who O'Reilly believes is a keeper. It moved into the "$400 haircut," and then to the "30,000 square foot house." Finally, settling on, "How can a man fight poverty when he lives in a 30,000 square foot house?"

But Monday you knew it was no longer a disconnected series of attacks, but a full-fledged offensive when the Republican's Master of Maxims, the Sultan of Slogans,, King of Katchphrases, Frank Luntz - father of "Death tax," "Contract for America," "Climate Change - went on the Today Show to get on the "stop John Edwards train."

It was a bizarre segment with Meredith Viera setting up Luntz on politicians using humor. In every case, from John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, Rudy Guiliani and Hillary Clinton. Democrat or Republican, every single president and presidential candidate received a positive review from Luntz. Everyone but one: John Edwards.

When it came to Edwards, they played a clip of him on the Tonight Show where he quipped about his expensive haircut. It received a big laugh from the Leno audience. For some baffling reason, Viera asked Luntz, "Why didn't that work?" What? A huge laugh, but both Viera and Luntz somehow ignored what we had just seen and heard to whack Edwards.

I've been in the business of comedy and satire - stand-up and written - for most of my career and I guess that I've been under the misconception that when you tell a joke and it gets a big laugh, people thought it was funny. In the comedy biz, we say, "it worked." But in the world of Luntz and the slamming of Edwards, it didn't.

As far as Viera buying that the Edwards joke didn't work, my guess is that she was given the question to ask, but didn't actually listen to the audience reaction. If she had, she would have found her question incredulous.

I imagine Viera and her producer were duped; that Luntz asked for Viera to use that clip to pose a negative about Edwards.

Luntz pointed out that "you can't discuss poverty with people when you get a $400 haircut." Luntz said that Edwards "shouldn't be making jokes about it. He should be apologizing."

This after he set up the segment with saying that for politicians to be funny "they must poke fun of themselves."

Why Viera didn't ask why Edwards can't discuss poverty when he gets and expensive haircut? Ring that one up to gross infotainment negligence.

Now I appreciate what Frank Luntz does - in a sports fannish kind of way. The same way I felt about Larry Bird as a Philadelphia 76er fan. I hated his guts but wouldn't mind at all to have him on my team.

But even so, when Luntz is sicked on someone or something, you know what the intent is as sure as Karl Rove is behind all evil in the universe. And don't be surprised if Karl Rove is behind the stop Edwards effort.

"John Edwards...Personal Injury Attorney"

"John Edwards...Poverty Hypocrite"

"John Edwards...Not Funny"

You can understand Luntz's motive.

Why the Today Show decided to help with its in depth analysis of political funny?

That's a question for the comedy gods.


Tucker Carlson Called Me A 'Freak' -- Woo Hoo!

Huffington Post
Art Brodsky
Tucker Carlson Called Me A 'Freak' -- Woo Hoo!

I was driving to the subway, listening to the radio, when Tucker Carlson, of all people, called me a "freak."

He didn't say that I, individually, was a "freak," but I certainly fit into a class of people that he did label as "freaks." I am proud to have submitted a video question to YouTube for the Republican candidates debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube. In the eyes of the person who may have brought the show, Dancing With the Stars, to its lowest level ever, I and many others are to be condemned. What kind of people do this sort of thing, Carlson said, as he noodled around about people sitting in front of their Mac-cams taking videos of themselves or others. Perhaps we should leave the question asking to the professionals.

Let me try to clarify the situation not only for Carlson, but also for the rest of the Republicans who seem intent on dodging their version of the debate. The kinds of people who do this are imaginative, thoughtful, fun loving, off-the-wall, politically astute and just a little bit tech-savvy. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing that springs readily to mind.

Perhaps there is a problem with some Republicans in distinguishing reality from video. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney complained that he shouldn't have to answer questions from a snowman (after not having seen the snowman video). Silly Governor. It wasn't a snowman asking the question. It was a couple of brothers animating a snowman to ask a question about global warming in a fun and cute way.

Saying that a snowman was asking the question would be like saying Jack Bauer and his gang on 24 are real government agents who employ real interrogation techniques. On second thought, perhaps I could find a better example. After all, there are some people who think that Fox's show is an instructional video for torture. Some Republican candidates have even endorsed the whole torture scenario.

But I digress. The point is that Republicans shouldn't be scared of answering questions from snowmen, or even from middle-aged suburbanites like myself. Granted, it is a bit different from answering pre-screened questions from a pre-selected audience in a scripted-out "town meeting" or some such Kabuki. On the other hand, the videos are entertaining, and they provide an insight into what Americans are thinking about, expressed in a way that provides a little more relief than standing up with a microphone in hand. The questions are on the same topics as many of the questions asked by the "professionals," but have more meaning because they are presented more personally.

My question (number 85--see here) raises the quite serious issue of technology policy. Lots of candidates take Silicon Valley seriously when it comes to raking in their cash. But where are they on issues like a free and open Internet? Granted, the 30-second version that's posted on YouTube isn't as funny as the longer one my colleague Alex Curtis and I put together, but it fit the bill, and we had fun making it. And I go to play with Alex's iPhone.

There are a couple of reasons why the Republicans are shying away from the debate. It could be that Republicans are technophobes - at least when it comes to technology other than that generated by major companies like AT&T. They should be aware that this how people express themselves these days. They should embrace it.

Another possibility is that they could be humor-impaired. After all, Fox's attempt to do its own Daily Show-like show went down in flames faster than Tucker on his Dancing debut. The people who find "humor" in Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin aren't likely to catch on to YouTube.

Or it could be that the Republicans equate the YouTube debate with the refusal of Democrats to take part in a debate sponsored by Fox News. That's a serious miscalculation. Democrats boycotted the Fox events not because they were afraid of the questions, but because they believed the debates would grant a legitimacy to Fox that wasn't warranted.

YouTube is different. It's neither left nor right, makes no bogus claims about "fair and balanced." It is what the people make of it. That's democracy in its truest form. YouTube is about American capitalism, having gone from not existing to being worth $1.6 billion in a little over two years (thanks to a free and open Internet). And it has a place in politics as it does in music, or TV or anything else on the site. It is, in short, something Republicans should celebrate, not avoid.

It is about American expression in all its silliness and seriousness. Sort of like "Dancing With the Stars."


Cheney admits was wrong about "last throes" in Iraq

Cheney admits was wrong about "last throes" in Iraq
By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged on Tuesday he was wrong in 2005 when he insisted the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes."

It was Cheney's most direct public admission of how badly the administration had underestimated the strength of America's enemies in the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

But Cheney, an architect of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, otherwise gave no ground in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" as he defended President George W. Bush's Iraq policy.

He said the Bush administration would still send troops into Iraq if it could do it all over again, even knowing what it knows now, including that more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel would be killed.

"I firmly believe," Cheney said, "that the decisions we've made with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan have been absolutely the sound ones in terms of the overall strategy."

But Cheney made clear he no longer held to a May 2005 assessment, widely mocked by political satirists and Democratic politicians, in which he said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Since then, unrelenting attacks have brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Cheney's words were among many oft-cited quotes marking the U.S. pursuit of the war, which has damaged U.S. credibility around the world. They include Bush's taunting insurgents after the invasion by declaring "Bring 'em on!" and the banner stating "Mission Accomplished" behind Bush as he spoke aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003.


Cheney, known for his secretive ways and rarely one to admit mistakes publicly, said:

"My estimate at the time -- and it was wrong, it turned out to be incorrect -- was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq, elected an interim government, then ratifying a constitution, then electing a permanent government, that they had had significant success, we'd rounded up Saddam Hussein.

"I thought there were a series of these milestones that would in fact undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point. That clearly didn't happen. I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust."

Cheney said it had also been made before al Qaeda in Iraq had stepped up attacks, including the 2006 bombing of a Shi'ite mosque that sparked a wave of sectarian killings.

The Bush administration is facing growing pressure from a Democratic-led Congress and a war-weary American public for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, something Bush firmly rejects.

In a further blow to Bush's strategy, Iraq's parliament went into summer recess for a month on Monday after political leaders failed to agree on a series of laws that Washington sees as crucial to stabilizing the country.

"It's better than taking two months off, which was their original plan," Cheney said. "I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May that we didn't appreciate the notion that they were going to take a big part of the summer off and they did cut that in half."

He insisted that since the U.S. Congress takes the month of August off, "I don't think we can say that they (Iraqi lawmakers) shouldn't go home at all."


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Parsing Purgatory

Huffington Post
Jayne Lyn Stahl
Parsing Purgatory

Too bad Dante isn't around to see some of the political posturing, and chicanery coming out of the mouths of embedded hypocrites, and purveyors of the status quo, in the Bush administration. He would have especially liked the specious reasoning now used to rationalize Attorney General Gonzales' testimony before the Senate.

Instead of discussing the Terrorist Surveillance Program, current and former "officials" who were "briefed" on the program now contend that Gonzales met with Ashcroft, in 2004, to discuss data mining. (NYT) And what, pray tell, is data mining if not a form of "terrorist" surveillance. My, my, isn't there a visible point of confluence between the collection of personal information and the monitoring of so-called terrorists? One sure would think so.

If checking out people's web surfing habits doesn't constitute surveillance then what does, or does that, too, depend upon what one's "definition of the word sex is?" Anyone who suggests that eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails and collecting personal information aren't part and parcel of the same process is using the same kind of twisted logic that justified hanging Saddam Hussein and razing Baghdad despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction because Saddam was a bad guy, after all.

But, the larger question here is why is it that an attorney general who has made a career of unabashed butt-kissing, who has alluded to even more pernicious intelligence programs which Congress never bothered to investigate, who has attempted to obstruct independent inquiry into his own misconduct, and egregiously misrepresented a totally inappropriate, and unwarranted visit to the hospital bed of his predecessor, why is he being given an opportunity to "correct" his misstatements? For cripe's sake, the guy has done more ducking, dodging, and evading than has been witnessed since the Iran-Contra days. Tweaking testimony, and censoring inconvenient facts in scientific reports appears to be an irrevocable Bush Co. legacy.

That said, how is it that a former president, William Jefferson Clinton, was impeached, and disgraced, for lying under oath before a grand jury about what amounts to little more than a love tryst in the Oval Office while an attorney general can not only get away with lying under oath before Congress, but have key congressional figures give him the ammunition to get away with doing so. One would expect to find the practice of covering one's ass only in hell, and surely not in purgatory.

One can only wonder how it is that the chief law enforcement officer of a country can not only lie under oath, but be aided and abetted by official enablers, many of whom we've elected, who are working overtime to help him cover his tracks.

Yes, Dante would have loved a day like this, and he would have devised a special circle in hell for those who sodomize the truth, and condemn it to political purgatory. Clearly, the vice president isn't the only one in Washington, D.C. who needs to have his battery replaced.


FBI searches home of Alaska Sen. Stevens

FBI searches home of Alaska Sen. Stevens
By Yereth Rosen

GIRDWOOD, Alaska (Reuters) - The FBI and IRS have searched the home of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in a ski resort in Alaska as part of an investigation into his links with an oil-services company, officials said on Monday.

"All I can really say is we are conducting a search at the residence. We can't go any deeper into detail than that," said Dave Heller, spokesman for the FBI in Anchorage.

The FBI and IRS entered the senator's Girdwood, Alaska home in the early afternoon with a search warrant. Television and news media swarmed the two-story alpine ski lodge in the shadow of Mt. Alyeska while agents combed the grounds.

The longest-serving Republican in U.S Senate history, known for delivering billions of federal dollars to his home state, Stevens in a statement said: "My attorneys were advised this morning that federal agents wished to search my home in Girdwood in connection with an ongoing investigation.

"I continue to believe this investigation should proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence the outcome," it said.

Girdwood is about 40 miles south of Anchorage, the state's largest city. The vacation enclave is nestled between Turnagain Arm, a glacial-fed body of water, and densely forested mountains.

Stevens, 83, is the subject of a grand-jury investigation into his links with managers of VECO Corp., the state's largest oil-services company, as well as numerous unrelated fisheries matters.

In May, Bill Allen, then the chief executive of VECO, along with a vice president, Rick Smith, pleaded guilty to several federal corruption charges. The two admitted paying over $400,000 to bribe Alaskan lawmakers.

Allen had been a financial supporter of Stevens' campaigns and a partner with him on a race horse. He also oversaw a project to remodel Stevens' Girdwood home in 2000, vetting bills and construction work.


The Anchorage Daily News has reported that contractors who worked on the remodeling of Stevens' home had their records subpoenaed by the federal grand jury.

Stevens told reporters two weeks ago money for the remodeling came out of his own pocket, the paper reported on its web site. "Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that's all there is to it," Stevens told reporters. "It's our own money."

The investigation of the senior Republican comes as Democrats, who won power last year with the help of voter disgust over mostly Republican scandals, offered legislation to clean up congressional ethics.

Democrats have accused Republicans of a "culture of corruption," citing bribery convictions of Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California and the downfall of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana also was indicted on bribery charges this year after $90,000 was found in his freezer. He has pleaded innocent.

Stevens is the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and still has considerable clout as the senior Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee. Through the committee, he has delivered billions of federal funds to public works projects in the state.

Stevens, affectionately known as "Uncle Ted" in Alaska, has also been a champion of the oil industry, and pressed tirelessly to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska to oil development.

One of the few remaining World War II veterans left in Congress, Stevens served in the Eisenhower administration before being appointed to the Senate in 1968. He has been re-elected six times.

(Additional reporting by Dai Wakabayashi in Seattle and Vicki Allen in Washington)


Democrats offer bill to clean up Congress

Democrats offer bill to clean up Congress
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional Democratic leaders, who won power last year with the help of voter disgust over mostly Republican scandals, offered legislation on Monday to clean up how lawmakers do business.

Democrats said they hope to win passage of the measure in the House of Representatives and Senate -- and send it to President George W. Bush to sign into law -- before Congress begins a monthlong recess at the end of this week.

"We are fighting to enact the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in history so we can deliver to the American people a government as good and honest as the people it represents," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

It would require disclosure of campaign donations collected by lobbyists and delivered to lawmakers in so-called bundles, deny pensions to members of Congress convicted of bribery and prohibit lobbyists from providing lawmakers gifts or travel.

The measure would also prohibit members from attending lobbyist-paid parties in their honor at national political conventions, and require greater disclosure of pet projects, known as earmarks, slipped into big spending bills.

But some Republicans, whose party had controlled Congress much of the past 12 years, charged that the earmark disclosure provision was woefully inadequate.

Under it in the Senate, they complained, the majority leader could certify if earmarks met disclosure requirements.


"This bill allows the fox to guard the henhouse and makes a joke of ethics reform," said Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican.

But Democrats noted the majority leader's certification could be appealed to the Senate parliamentarian, and subjected to a vote by the full chamber. House certification could be made by the committee chair with jurisdiction over the bill.

An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said his office was still reviewing the sweeping measure but "it sounds like the earmark provision will be really quite strict."

It would require that all earmarks in bills and in House-Senate conference reports, along with sponsors, be identified on the Internet before final congressional passage.

Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a public advocacy group, said, "It's a good bill. I'm pretty excited about it."

"Democrats are following through on our promise to change the way business is done in Washington," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

Reid and Pelosi took the lead in drafting the measure after lawmakers haggled over changes and Republicans blocked efforts to begin final negotiations on the ethics and lobbying bills earlier passed by the two chambers.

While the war in Iraq was a major factor in last year's congressional elections, so was what Democrats denounced as a Republican "culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill.

This culture saw bribery convictions of Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California and the downfall of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But the perception of such problems has not been confined to Republicans. Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana was indicted on bribery charges this year after $90,000 was found in his freezer. He has pleaded innocent.