Saturday, October 09, 2004

Plan vs Failure

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have failed America's families. John Kerry and John Edwards have a plan to make America stronger.

The Kerry-Edwards Plan for America

* Create millions of new jobs and keep them at home, and cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans.

* Restore America's respect in the world and win the peace in Iraq. Refocus on the real threat to America: al Qaeda.

* Keep health care costs down, cutting family's premiums by $1,000 and extending coverage to 95 percent of Americans.

The Bush-Cheney Record of Failure

* Rushed to war in Iraq based on faulty intelligence and wasted $200 billion with no exit strategy.

* The first administration since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs.

* Five million more Americans without health care while costs skyrocket.


Bush's Civil Rights Record Is Criticized, Silently

The New York Times
October 10, 2004

Bush's Civil Rights Record Is Criticized, Silently

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (AP) - The United States Commission on Civil Rights voted on Friday to wait until after next month's election to discuss a report critical of the Bush administration's civil rights record. Republican members had objected to the report's timing.

The report remains posted on the commission's Web site (, despite objections from Republican commissioners.

The report says Mr. Bush "has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words" on the subject. It finds fault with Mr. Bush's funding requests for civil rights enforcement; his positions on voting rights, educational opportunity and affirmative action; and his actions against hate crimes.

The report said, however, that Mr. Bush is committed to help people with disabilities and praised him for "a commendably diverse cabinet and moderately diverse judiciary."

A White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, said, "President Bush is fully committed to making a real difference in the lives of all Americans, and his record reflects that goal."

The commission chairwoman, Mary Frances Berry, who lists her political affiliation as independent, said that the report's timing had nothing to do with the election, a view disputed by a Republican commissioner, Jennifer C. Braceras.


Bush: "God told me to strike"

I was watching Real Time with Bill Mahr and Tony Snow of Fox News said Bush never said he talked to God. So I did a search and here is an interesting item I found:

From the Washington Post
By Al Kamen
Friday, June 27, 2003; Page A27

Imagine our surprise Wednesday to read in the Israeli paper Haaretz (online), that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen, meeting recently with militants to enlist their support for a truce with Israel, said that, when they met in Aqaba, President Bush had told him this: "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [ Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

So who needs to find WMD or a link with al Qaeda when the orders come from The Highest Authority?





Washington D.C.

Congress today announced that the Office of President of the United States will be outsourced overseas as of October 31st, midway through this fiscal year. The move is being made to save $400K a year in salary, a record $521 Billion in deficit expenditures and related overhead. "The cost savings will be quite significant" says Congressman Adam Smith (R-Wash)who, with the aid of Congress research arm, the General Accounting Office, has studied outsourcing of American jobs extensively. "We simply can no longer afford this level of outlay and emain competitive on the world stage,"
Congressman Smith said. Exporting American jobs has been a popular trend lately, ironically at the urging of President Bush.

Mr. Bush was informed by email this morning of the termination of his position. He will receive health coverage, expenses and salary until his final day of employment. After that, with a two week waiting period, he will then be eligible for $240 dollars a week from unemployment insurance for 13 weeks. Unfortunately he will not be able to receive state Medicaid health insurance coverage as his unemployment benefits are over the required limit.

"I'm in shock," Mr. Bush stated. "I thought for sure I'd have some job security around this here place. I have no idea what I'll do now," he further lamented.

Preparations have been underway for some time for the job move. Sanji Gurvinder Singh of Indus Teleservices, Mumbai, India, will be assuming the Office of President of the United States as of Nov. 1. Mr. Singh was born in the United States while his parents were here on student visas, thus making him eligible for the position. He will receive a salary of $320 USD a month but with no health coverage or other benefits.

Due to the time difference between the US and India, Mr. Singh will be working primarily at night, when offices of the US Government will be open. "I am excited to serve in this position," Mr. Singh stated in an exclusive interview. "Working nights will let me keep my day job at the American Contract Programmer. I always knew I could be President someday."

Congress stressed patience when calling Mr. Singh as he may not be fully aware of all the issues involved with his new position. A Congressional Spokesperson noted that Mr. Singh has been given a script tree to follow which will allow him to respond to most topics of concern. The Spokesperson further noted that "additional savings will be realized as these scripting tools have already been used previously by Mr. Bush here in the US. Such scripts will enable Mr. Singh to provide an answer without having to fully understand the issue itself."

Congress continues to explore other outsourcing possibilities including that of Vice-president and most Cabinet positions.







How many internets are there?

Responding to a question during the second Presidential debate about reinstating the draft, George W Bush said he had heard that there were such rumors on the "internets."


Bush still can't think of one mistake!

At the second Presidential Debate, George W. Bush was asked to state three (3) mistakes he's made since taking office. He could have picked any -- large or small. He couldn't think of one.


Kerry-Edwards 3, Bush-Cheney 0

Based on an instant polls:

Who won the debate?
548617 responses
Pres. Bush 28%
Sen. Kerry 72%

Orlando Sentinel

Which candidate made the best case for his domestic agenda?
Bush (1208 responses)

Kerry (55520 responses)

Which candidate was most successful in projecting the image of being a strong leader?

Bush (1269 responses)

Kerry (55167 responses)

Which candidate was just plain more likable?

Bush (1654 responses)

Kerry (54375 responses)

Which candidate benefited the most from this debate?

Bush (1950 responses)

Kerry (54057 responses)


Friday, October 08, 2004

Ignorance Isn't Strength

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Ignorance Isn't Strength

I first used the word "Orwellian" to describe the Bush team in October 2000. Even then it was obvious that George W. Bush surrounds himself with people who insist that up is down, and ignorance is strength. But the full costs of his denial of reality are only now becoming clear.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have an unparalleled ability to insulate themselves from inconvenient facts. They lead a party that controls all three branches of government, and face news media that in some cases are partisan supporters, and in other cases are reluctant to state plainly that officials aren't telling the truth. They also still enjoy the residue of the faith placed in them after 9/11.

This has allowed them to engage in what Orwell called "reality control." In the world according to the Bush administration, our leaders are infallible, and their policies always succeed. If the facts don't fit that assumption, they just deny the facts.

As a political strategy, reality control has worked very well. But as a strategy for governing, it has led to predictable disaster. When leaders live in an invented reality, they do a bad job of dealing with real reality.

In the last few days we've seen some impressive demonstrations of reality control at work. During the debate on Tuesday, Mr. Cheney insisted that "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11." After the release of the Duelfer report, which shows that Saddam's weapons capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing, at the time of the invasion, Mr. Cheney declared that the report proved that "delay, defer, wait wasn't an option."

From a political point of view, such exercises in denial have been very successful. For example, the Bush administration has managed to convince many people that its tax cuts, which go primarily to the wealthiest few percent of the population, are populist measures benefiting middle-class families and small businesses. (Under the administration's definition, anyone with "business income" - a group that includes Dick Cheney and George Bush - is a struggling small-business owner.)

The administration has also managed to convince at least some people that its economic record, which includes the worst employment performance in 70 years, is a great success, and that the economy is "strong and getting stronger." (The data to be released today, which are expected to improve the numbers a bit, won't change the basic picture of a dismal four years.)

Officials have even managed to convince many people that they are moving forward on environmental policy. They boast of their "Clear Skies" plan even as the inspector general of the E.P.A. declares that the enforcement of existing air-quality rules has collapsed.

But the political ability of the Bush administration to deny reality - to live in an invented world in which everything is the way officials want it to be - has led to an ongoing disaster in Iraq and looming disaster elsewhere.

How did the occupation of Iraq go so wrong? (The security situation has deteriorated to the point where there are no safe places: a bomb was discovered on Tuesday in front of a popular restaurant inside the Green Zone.)

The insulation of officials from reality is central to the story. They wanted to believe Ahmad Chalabi's promises that we'd be welcomed with flowers; nobody could tell them different. They wanted to believe - months after everyone outside the administration realized that we were facing a large, dangerous insurgency and needed more troops - that the attackers were a handful of foreign terrorists and Baathist dead-enders; nobody could tell them different.

Why did the economy perform so badly? Long after it was obvious to everyone outside the administration that the tax-cut strategy wasn't an effective way of creating jobs, administration officials kept promising huge job gains, any day now. Nobody could tell them different.

Why has the pursuit of terrorists been so unsuccessful? It has been obvious for years that John Ashcroft isn't just scary; he's also scarily incompetent. But inside the administration, he's considered the man for the job - and nobody can say different.

The point is that in the real world, as opposed to the political world, ignorance isn't strength. A leader who has the political power to pretend that he's infallible, and uses that power to avoid ever admitting mistakes, eventually makes mistakes so large that they can't be covered up. And that's what's happening to Mr. Bush.


Working for a Pittance

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Working for a Pittance

Reality keeps rearing its ugly head. The Bush administration's case for the war in Iraq has completely fallen apart, as evidenced by the report this week from the president's handpicked inspector that Iraq had destroyed its illicit weapons stockpiles in the early 1990's.

Coming next week are the results of a new study that shows - here at home - how tough a time American families are having in their never-ending struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. The White House, as deep in denial about the economy as it is about Iraq, insists that things are fine - despite the embarrassing fact that President Bush is on track to become the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs during his four years in office.

The study, jointly sponsored by the Annie E. Casey, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, will show that 9.2 million working families in the United States - one out of every four - earn wages that are so low they are barely able to survive financially.

"Our data is very solid and shows that this is a much bigger problem than most people imagine," said Brandon Roberts, one of the authors of the report, which is to be formally released on Tuesday. The report found that there are 20 million children in these low-income working families.

For the purposes of the study, any family in which at least one person was employed was considered a working family. Very wealthy families were included.

The median income for a family of four in the U.S. is $62,732. According to the study, a family of four earning less than $36,784 is considered low-income. A family of four earning less than $18,392 is considered poor. The 9.2 million struggling families cited by the report fell into one of the latter two categories. And those families have one-third of all the children in American working families.

Not surprisingly, the problem for millions of families is that they have jobs that pay very low wages and provide no benefits. "Consider the motel housekeeper, the retail clerk at the hardware store or the coffee shop cook," the report said. "If they have children, chances are good that their families are living on an income too low to provide for their basic needs."

Neither politicians nor the media put much of a spotlight on families that are struggling economically. According to the study, one in five workers are in occupations where the median wage is less than $8.84 an hour, which is a poverty-level wage for a family of four. A full-time job at the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is not even sufficient to keep a family of three out of poverty.

Families with that kind of income are teetering on the edge of an economic abyss. Any misfortune might push them over the edge - an illness, an automobile breakdown, even something as seemingly minor as a flooded basement.

For the families in these lower-income brackets, life is often a harrowing day-to-day struggle to pay for the bare necessities. According to federal government statistics, the median annual rent for a two-bedroom apartment in major metropolitan markets is more than $8,000. The annual cost of food for a low-income family of four is nearly $4,000. Utility bills are nearly $2,000. Transportation costs are about $1,500. And then there are costs for child care, health care and clothing.

You do the math. How are these millions of poor and low-income families making it?

(A lot of those families are going to get a shock this winter as price increases for crude oil get translated into big jumps in home heating bills.)

The economy relies heavily on the services provided by low-wage workers but, as the report notes, "our society has not taken adequate steps to ensure that these workers can make ends meet and build a future for their families, no matter how determined they are to be self-sufficient."

Mr. Roberts said he hoped the study, titled "Working Hard, Falling Short," would help initiate a national discussion of the plight of families who are doing the right thing but not earning enough to get ahead. "Seventy-one percent of low-income families work," he said. More than half are headed by married couples. But economic self-sufficiency remains maddeningly out of reach.

Even in a presidential election year, these matters have not been explored in any sustained way. We're quick to give lip service to the need to work hard, but very slow to properly reward hard work.


After Ethics Rebukes, DeLay's Fortunes May Lie With His Party's

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

After Ethics Rebukes, DeLay's Fortunes May Lie With His Party's

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 - While Republicans vigorously defended Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, in the wake of a series of ethics rebukes, members of both parties said on Thursday that Mr. DeLay, a tough-talking Texan who holds a tight rein over the House, could have difficulty retaining his leadership job if his party loses seats in next month's elections.

Democrats and independent watchdog groups, reacting to the House ethics committee's decision Wednesday night to admonish Mr. DeLay for the second time in less than a week, called on him Thursday to resign the majority leader job. But the real test for Mr. DeLay will come next month, when lawmakers return to Washington after the elections to choose their leaders for the next Congress.

The extraordinary back-to-back admonishments, coming little more than three weeks before Election Day, provoked intense partisan recriminations on Capitol Hill, where Democrats regard Mr. DeLay as the symbol of the Republicans' bare-knuckles leadership style and Republicans believe Democrats are gunning for their leader.

A lawyer for Mr. DeLay wrote a 33-page letter to the chairman of the House Rules Committee accusing Representative Chris Bell, the Texas Democrat who filed the second ethics complaint against the leader, of libel. The lawyer, Ed Bethune, who is a former representative, suggested that Mr. Bell be held in contempt of the House for filing a "disingenuous ethics complaint."

Mr. Bell, in turn, accused Republicans of engaging in a "shoot-the-messenger strategy."

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, pronounced Mr. DeLay "ethically unfit," and Democratic leaders vowed to make him a campaign issue. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly attacked Representative Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican from Connecticut, for a statement praising Mr. DeLay.

"Our candidates are going to talk all over the country about an ethical Congress," Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic whip, told reporters. Of Republicans, Mr. Hoyer said: "They're afraid that this is going to resonate. I think that's a proper fear."

But he acknowledged that it would take Republican disenchantment for Mr. DeLay to lose his leadership post, as was the case with Newt Gingrich, who faced an ethics inquiry in 1998 but stepped down as speaker only after his party lost seats in the midterm elections. One prominent Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity, echoed Mr. Hoyer's assessment, saying the elections - and not the ethics rebukes alone - would determine Mr. DeLay's fate.

Mr. DeLay has been an extremely effective Republican leader, and though he is not personally close with President Bush, the White House relies on him to push its agenda through Congress. So Mr. Bush is not likely to distance himself from Mr. DeLay, as he did with Senator Trent Lott, the former Republican leader, when Mr. Lott faced political trouble over racially charged remarks.

"Without Tom DeLay it would be complete and total chaos," said one Republican strategist with close ties to the White House. "The House would descend into 'Lord of the Flies.' "

In the Capitol, though, Republicans are keeping a close eye on events in Texas, where three of Mr. DeLay's aides have been indicted in an investigation of fund-raising by one of his political action committees. Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican, said that only an indictment would cost Mr. DeLay his leader's job. "I think he'll be elected majority leader unless something happens in Texas," Mr. LaHood said, adding, "Nobody in our conference has even suggested that he resign or step down."

Mr. DeLay himself faced reporters only briefly Wednesday afternoon. He said he was "very pleased" that "these honorable people that served on that ethics committee have dismissed those frivolous charges brought against me"- a reference to the panel's decision to dismiss the most serious charges of bribery and special favors.

Other Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the ethics committee, which reached its decision on Mr. DeLay unanimously and is composed of five Republicans and five Democrats, had been tainted by politics and pressured by outside watchdog groups that helped Mr. Bell file his complaint.

"I don't know why the Republicans went along with this political hatchet job," said Representative Tom Feeney, Republican of Florida.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert called Mr. DeLay "a good man" and said he was "troubled by the intimidation tactics of outside groups and organizations who have tried to influence the decision of those upstanding members of the Ethics Committee."

The remark brought sharp criticism from Representative George Miller, a California Democrat.

"You now have the speaker of the House of Representative becoming an enabler of abusive behavior," Mr. Miller said angrily, adding, "I think this is a very dangerous situation in this country."

Mr. DeLay's brushes with the ethics panel began in 1999, when he was privately rebuked by the committee for threatening to retaliate against a trade group that hired a Democrat as its top lobbyist. Then, last week, the committee admonished Mr. DeLay for pressuring a Michigan Republican, Representative Nick Smith, to change his vote on an important health care bill.

Wednesday's admonishments stem from a complaint filed in June by Mr. Bell, who is leaving Congress because he lost a primary election after a controversial redistricting engineered by Mr. DeLay.

The committee faulted Mr. DeLay for appearing to link political contributions to support for legislation and also for sending federal officials to look for Texas state legislators when they fled to Oklahoma to avoid a contentious vote on the redistricting plan. The panel warned him to "temper your future actions.''

On Thursday, several watchdog groups held a conference call with reporters to urge Mr. DeLay to resign; one, Common Cause, said it would begin a nationwide petition drive calling for his ouster.

"Americans will not tolerate his blatant and repeated disregard for Congressional ethics rules," said Chellie Pingree, the group's president.


Iraq Disk Mentions U.S. Schools

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Iraq Disk Mentions U.S. Schools

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 - A computer disk found in Iraq with diagrams and photographs of some American schools has prompted the F.B.I. to contact several districts around the country, but officials said Thursday that they saw no immediate threat.

"We are unaware of any information that indicates a specific terrorist plot toward any school in the United States," said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

American military officials in Iraq discovered the computer disk several months ago. It had photos of schools in about a half-dozen states, including New Jersey, Florida and California, as well as diagrams and emergency information for the school districts that had apparently been downloaded from government Web sites, officials said.

In what officials described as a precautionary move, the F.B.I. several weeks ago began contacting school districts to alert them to the material found on the disk and determine where the information had originated.

"We don't know what any of it means, and we don't have any information on actual threats to U.S. schools," said a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But we take everything seriously these days, and we wanted to ascertain where this information came from, so the schools could help us with that."

The existence of the computer disk was first reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune after a school district there was contacted by the F.B.I.

Peri Lynn Turnbull, the director of communications for the San Diego school system, said school districts across the country received a bulletin from the federal Department of Education asking that they be vigilant in their safety procedures.

"We're very comfortable with the practices we have in place," she said, adding that the fatal school siege in Beslan, Russia, over the summer "has certainly raised the level of awareness.''

Homeland Security officials said the alert issued by the Education Department was not related to the discovery of the disks in Iraq.


Nader Ballot Petitions Present a Phone Book Full of Problems

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Nader Ballot Petitions Present a Phone Book Full of Problems

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 7 - In the rush to collect enough signatures to put Ralph Nader on the ballot in the swing state Pennsylvania, one father and son signed the petitions 60 times between them. Other names were paired with addresses that do not exist - unless, as a judge noted, they are in the middle of the Delaware River.

In four courtrooms in this city alone on Thursday, a team of judges tried to sort it all out, puzzling over hundreds of names to determine whether Mr. Nader should appear on thousands of ballots waiting to be printed and sent out.

"I can't allow this dispute to disrupt an election throughout the entire commonwealth," the president judge of Commonwealth Court, James G. Colins, declared in a courtroom where he has been examining signatures for two weeks. "I'm getting calls from counties, from election officials and judges. We have to move along."

Ralph Nader's access to the ballot has been a hard-fought battle in state after state, with Republicans helping him in hopes that he will steal votes from John Kerry, and Democrats pulling out the stops to prevent that. But no effort has been as complicated and fraud-ridden as the one here, with judges across the state examining more than 40,000 signatures that challengers have said are forged or otherwise invalid.

Already judges have declared invalid about 10,000 signatures collected statewide for Mr. Nader, and there are still 25,000 to be ruled on here in Philadelphia. Judge Colins has said he expects some 70 percent of the city signatures to be declared illegal.

Mr. Nader needs 25,697 signatures to qualify for the Pennsylvania ballot.

If there are no hanging chads, there is a black crayon, as well as handwriting experts, magnifying glasses and plenty of chaos. Two of Mr. Nader's lawyers have quit, and while he does have several Republicans running between courtrooms on his behalf, he has had to rely on the occasional law student to make his case. A group of homeless people is suing the campaign, claiming they were not paid the money they were promised for collecting signatures.

The Nader campaign, in turn, accuses Democrats of stealing blank petitions, then paying homeless people twice as much to fill them in with fake names.

To examine the thousands of disputed petitions, the Commonwealth Court in Philadelphia has had to summon a judge from another county and open two makeshift courtrooms, and judges have worked until midnight several nights in a row, squinting at scribbled signatures to decipher names and addresses that in many cases do not exist.

Elections officials, already struggling to deal with an unexpected surge in voter registrations, complain that they are up against tight deadlines for printing and sending out absentee ballots.

Mr. Nader's campaign and the Democrats fighting him here agree that this battle is crucial; in polls Mr. Nader has had support as high as 4 percent in Pennsylvania, a state Al Gore won only narrowly in 2000.

The Nader campaign, which hired people to collect signatures, insists that it is the victim and that the fraudulent signatures are the result of sabotage, though it has no evidence beyond a story from one homeless man who said Democrats offered him double the pay the Nader campaign did for signatures.

"We're seeing the results of a plan that was hatched by the Democrats, and now all the king's horses and all the king's men and all the king's lawyers are being brought in to prevent Ralph Nader from getting on the ballot," said Basil Culyba, a lawyer for Mr. Nader.

The Democrats, however, accuse Mr. Nader of knowingly committing fraud. While it is not illegal to pay people to collect signatures, lawyers argue that the campaign submitted signatures despite knowing that the people who collected them had simply copied names, alphabetically, from the phone book.

"We think that signing papers to get someone on the ballot is a sacred process, and people ought to follow the law," said Efrem Grail, a lawyer on the team that disputed signatures in Pittsburgh. "Ralph Nader ought to know better. And you know what, he does know better."

Mr. Nader is now on the ballot in more than 30 states, and fighting in courts in 10 states. In Ohio, more than half the 5,000 signatures he needed to get on the ballot were ruled invalid, in several cases because of forged signatures, and in Oregon, about two dozen voters signed statements saying their names were on petitions they did not sign.

But there has been nothing on the scale of the fraudulent signatures here. In Pennsylvania, candidates had from mid-February to Aug. 2 to collect signatures, but when Dan Martino, the state campaign coordinator, took his job on June 18, he testified, the campaign had collected only 1,500.

Mr. Martino phoned the campaign's Washington headquarters, he testified, and warned that it had to hire professionals as it had in other states. They called John Slevin, the owner of ElectionGypsies, a small firm in Oregon. Mr. Slevin sent one associate to Pittsburgh and opened an office himself here on Chestnut Street in early July. He put out a notice in Center City: "CASH NOW!" He promised the chance to earn $100 to $200 a day, giving 75 cents each for the first 300 signatures, a dollar for each one after that.

Within a month, the campaign turned in about 52,000 signatures. In mid-August the Commonwealth Court knocked Mr. Nader off the ballot, saying state law prevented him from running as an independent when he was a Reform Party candidate in other states. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision in late August and ordered the lower court to examine the next challenge: the charge that 41,000 signatures - about 9,000 in Pittsburgh and 30,000 in Philadelphia - were invalid.

In Pittsburgh, about 6,000 signatures were declared invalid when the examination ended earlier this week. Here in Philadelphia, one of the most devastating admissions came last week, when Mr. Martino was asked about an article in The Philadelphia Weekly in which one of the homeless men, Ed Seip, complained that Mr. Slevin had not paid him. Mr. Slevin was quoted as saying that Mr. Seip had committed "voter fraud" and that many of the people hired were simply writing in names they took from the phone book, alphabetically.

Mr. Martino acknowledged under oath that he had known about the case but that the campaign had submitted signatures collected by Mr. Seip anyway. Mr. Martino also told the court that Mr. Slevin had used a black crayon to strike out apparently fraudulent signatures before submitting them.

Gregory Harvey, a lawyer challenging the signatures, asked why the campaign submitted some petitions on which only half the names were crossed out in crayon, when it was clear the entire page had been forged, apparently by a group of people sitting around a table taking turns signing. Mr. Martino said the campaign simply did not have enough people to go through all the petitions. "We just didn't have the staff," he testified.

Mr. Slevin could not be reached for comment; a voice mailbox at a phone number he provided in an e-mail message was full.

In a sampling done in late August, Mr. Nader's lawyers acknowledged that 70 percent of the Philadelphia signatures were flawed - that voters were not registered or did not exist. About the same percentage have proved invalid in court.

"We know that if present trends continue, your client will not have the required amount of signatures," Judge Colins told Mr. Culyba on Thursday.

Still, the examination continued. The judge and an elections official held up magnifying glasses to ballots, checking all different possible spellings for names and addresses that might be indicated by scribbles.

The judge has promised to finish by Tuesday, if it means working around the clock, so that county officials who are waiting can send out the proper absentee ballots.

Mr. Martino and Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for Mr. Nader in Washington, said Thursday they would appeal if the court refused to put Mr. Nader on the ballot.

Lawyers challenging the campaign insisted that Mr. Nader was using the kind of loopholes he has crusaded against since "Unsafe at Any Cost."

"It's fun to think what a book about this case might be called," one of the lawyers, Daniel Booker, said. "Maybe, 'They'll Never Catch Us.' "


Arms Report Spurs Bitter Bush-Kerry Exchange

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Arms Report Spurs Bitter Bush-Kerry Exchange

WAUSAU, Wis., Oct. 7 - President Bush and Senator John Kerry engaged in a bitter long-distance debate on Thursday about a report by the C.I.A.'s top weapons inspector, with Mr. Bush arguing that it demonstrated he was "right to take action" in Iraq despite its findings that Saddam Hussein had eliminated stockpiles of illicit weapons years before the invasion.

Mr. Kerry, emboldened by the report's unraveling of the administration's main rationale for going to war, shot back with his sharpest indictment yet, telling reporters that Mr. Bush and his vice president "may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth about Iraq."

Mr. Bush's statement in Washington, and a more impassioned case he made here late Thursday afternoon, were his first responses to the 918-page report by Charles A. Duelfer. Both Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney focused on sections of the report saying that Mr. Hussein had wanted to reconstitute his weapons programs at some point and that he had found his way around economic sanctions.

Unbowed and defiant in an appearance on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Bush said of the Iraqi dictator, "He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction." And, he added, "he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies."

Speaking to reporters in Englewood, Colo., Mr. Kerry said that "this week has provided definitive evidence" for why Mr. Bush should not be re-elected. The president, Mr. Kerry said, was "not being straight with Americans."

Both the speed and the heat of the exchanges paved the way for the second presidential debate, to be held Friday night in St. Louis. Perhaps more important, they underscored how both candidates have staked their electoral fates to how voters judge them on Iraq, even as the debates nominally turn to questions of the economy and domestic policy.

Talking to a cheering partisan crowd here in the afternoon, the president quoted at length from a statement the Massachusetts senator made on the floor of the Senate almost exactly two years ago, warning of the danger that Mr. Hussein might spread nuclear technology around the world.

After reading from Mr. Kerry's statement, the president looked up at his crowd in a park here and asked, "Just who is the one trying to mislead the American people?"

The Kerry campaign said Mr. Bush had yanked its candidate's words out of context, and noted that in the same speech, Mr. Kerry had said: "Regime change in and of itself is not sufficient justification for going to war, particularly unilaterally, unless regime change is the only way to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction pursuant to the United Nations resolution. As bad as he is, Saddam Hussein, the dictator, is not the cause of war."

On Iraq, Mr. Bush has chosen to give no ground, even after a week that his own aides concede has brought nothing but bad news, from the C.I.A. report to a declaration by the former American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, that the administration committed too few troops to secure Iraq after the invasion was over.

For Mr. Kerry, who has struggled throughout his two-year quest for the presidency to defend himself against charges that his voting record on the war was one of vacillation, the Duelfer report and Mr. Bremer's comments have provided the opportunity to attempt to refocus the debate on Mr. Bush's rationale for going to war, and his competence in executing the occupation.

On Thursday Mr. Kerry described Saddam Hussein as an enemy the Bush administration had "aggrandized and fictionalized," and he warned that if Mr. Bush does not recognize the severity of problems in Iraq, the violence in the Middle East will escalate. "If the president just does more of the same every day and it continues to deteriorate, I may be handed Lebanon, figuratively speaking," Mr. Kerry said, a reference to the civil wars that racked that country for many years.

Standing on a grassy lawn with the snow-topped Rockies in the distance, he said, "My fellow Americans, you don't make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact."

"Ambassador Bremer finally said what John Edwards and I have been saying for months," Mr. Kerry continued, referring to an acknowledgment this week by the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority about shortcomings of the American military operation in Iraq. "President Bush's decision to send in too few troops, without thinking about what would happen after the initial fighting was over, has left our troops more vulnerable, left the situation on the ground in chaos and made the mission in Iraq much more difficult to accomplish."

Mr. Bush was clearly ready for the senator's attack, and he arrived in Wisconsin armed with statements made by Mr. Kerry before the 1991 Persian Gulf war and in the debate that led up to last year's war in Iraq.

"Just a short time ago, my opponent held a little press conference and continued his pattern of overheated rhetoric," Mr. Bush said within minutes of arriving here. "He accused me of deception. He's claiming I misled American about weapons, when he himself cited the very same intelligence" in voting to authorize Mr. Bush to threaten war.

Then he quoted Mr. Kerry's statement in the Senate, where he asked, rhetorically, "Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction, even greater, a nuclear weapon, then reinvade Kuwait or push the Kurds out, attack Israel, any number of scenarios to try to further his ambitions," or "allow those weapons to slide off to one group or another."

The heart of the difference between the two candidates is how they dealt with that assessment.

Mr. Bush says he saw such intelligence as a justification for pre-emptive war - a long-established international practice that permits a nation to strike just prior to being struck itself. The Duelfer report now indicates that the intelligence was wrong in major respects.

Mr. Kerry says that the pre-war intelligence was a reason to press for further inspections and pressure on Mr. Hussein, and that the vote to authorize war was part of that pressure. But he faults Mr. Bush for acting before that process had a chance to work.

Mr. Kerry also responded Thursday to a statement by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, that the Pentagon, not the White House, was responsible for determining troop deployment. He noted that Ms. Rice works in the White House, "the place that used to have a sign that said 'The Buck Stops Here.' "

"For President Bush, it's always someone else's fault - denial, and blaming someone else," he declared. "It is wrong for this administration to blame our military leaders, particularly when our military leaders gave him the advice that he didn't follow. The truth is, the responsibility lies with the commander in chief."

Mr. Kerry had spent Wednesday in seclusion, drilling with a large team of aides in a nondescript hotel ballroom transformed to resemble Friday night's debate set, leaving the response to the C.I.A. report and to a biting speech by Mr. Bush to his running mate, Senator John Edwards.

But on Thursday he did not resist the opportunity to frame the Iraq issue in advance of Friday's debate.

To underscore the broader case he is trying to make against Mr. Bush's credibility, Mr. Kerry used the word "truth" eight times in as many minutes. "You'll always get the truth from me," he vowed, "in good times and in bad."

Asked about the section of the Duelfer report that suggested Mr. Hussein would have rebuilt his weapons if sanctions waned, Mr. Kerry said it "underscores the failures of this administration's diplomacy."

Vice President Cheney, appearing in Miami, had the opposite interpretation, saying the report showed that "as soon as the sanctions were lifted he had every intention of going right back" to resuming his illicit weapons program. "To delay, defer, wait wasn't an option,'' he said. "The president did exactly the right thing.''

Mr. Edwards similarly echoed his running mate, charging of the Bush administration in an appearance in Bayonne, N.J., that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney "are willing to say left is right, up is down."

David E. Sanger reported from Wausau, Wis., for this article, and Jodi Wilgoren from Englewood, Colo. Raymond Hernandez contributed reporting from Miami and Randal C. Archibold from Bayonne, N.J.


Reporter for Times Is Facing Jail Time

Robert Novak is the reporter who outed the CIA Agent. Why isn't he the one being persued??

The New York Times
October 8, 2004

Reporter for Times Is Facing Jail Time

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 - A federal judge held a reporter for The New York Times in contempt of court on Thursday for refusing to name her sources to prosecutors investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. agent.

The reporter, Judith Miller, published no articles about the agent, Valerie Plame. Even so, the judge, Thomas F. Hogan, of United States District Court in Washington, ordered her jailed for as long as 18 months, noting that she had contemplated writing such an article and had conducted interviews for it.

Judge Hogan suspended the sanction until a planned appeal is concluded, and he released Ms. Miller on her own recognizance.

"We have a classic confrontation between competing interests," Judge Hogan said, speaking from the bench. "Miss Miller is acting in good faith, doing her duty as a respected and established reporter who believes reporters have a First Amendment privilege that trumps the right of the government to inquire into her sources."

But Ms. Miller was mistaken, Judge Hogan ruled. "Miss Miller has no right to decline to answer these questions," he said.

The investigation seeks to determine who told the syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other journalists that Ms. Plame was a C.I.A. official. A 1982 law makes it a crime to disclose the identities of undercover agents in some circumstances.

Ms. Miller spoke briefly at the hearing, affirming that she would indeed refuse to answer questions about confidential communications.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse afterward, she said: "I'm very disappointed that I've been found in contempt of court for an article I never wrote and The Times never published. I find it truly frightening that journalists can be put in jail for doing their jobs."

According to an earlier decision in the case, Ms. Miller conducted reporting about Ms. Plame and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat. She contemplated writing an article, Judge Hogan wrote, but she never did.

The investigation has its roots in an Op-Ed article Mr. Wilson wrote for The Times in July 2003. It was critical of a justification offered by the Bush administration for the war in Iraq.

Ms. Plame's identity was disclosed by Mr. Novak in his column eight days later. "Two senior administration officials," Mr. Novak wrote, identified Ms. Plame as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." They spoke, he suggested in the column, in reaction to "the fire storm" that Mr. Wilson ignited.

The federal appeals court here is likely to hear arguments in Ms. Miller's case in November, her lawyers said. The case has been put on a fast track, and a decision could come by the end of the year or in January.

At the hearing Thursday, a prosecutor, Jim Fleissner, cited Branzburg v. Hayes, a 1972 Supreme Court case that, he said, required reporters to answer questions from grand juries about their confidential sources. The special counsel in the Plame investigation, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, had moved methodically and deferentially, Mr. Fleissner added, turning to journalists as a last resort.

"She was obligated to give evidence in relation to an investigation of matters concerning national security," Mr. Fleissner said of Ms. Miller. "We think confinement is the only sanction which has any hope of achieving what civil contempt means to achieve, which is a coercive influence."

Prosecutors have relied on secret filings in the case to explain to the judge why Ms. Miller's testimony is required. They have not disclosed the filings to Ms. Miller and her lawyers.

One of her lawyers, Floyd Abrams, asked Judge Hogan to release at least a summary of those filings to allow Ms. Miller to rebut them. "We haven't the faintest idea what their submission said," Mr. Abrams told Judge Hogan. The judge rejected the request, saying that grand jury rules require secrecy.

If Ms. Miller loses her appeal and the Supreme Court does not intercede, she could be jailed until the investigation is concluded, until she names her sources or for 18 months, whichever is soonest.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The Times, said he was dismayed by Judge Hogan's decision.

"The pending imprisonment of Judy Miller is an attack on the ability of all journalists to report on the actions of governments, corporations and others," he said in a statement. "The protection of confidential sources was critically important to many groundbreaking stories, such as Watergate, the health-threatening practices of the tobacco industry and police corruption."

In August, Judge Hogan ordered a reporter for Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, to be jailed in the Plame investigation, suspending the sanction pending appeal. Mr. Cooper then negotiated an agreement with the special prosecutor and testified about his conversations with I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. He said that Mr. Libby had authorized him to testify.

Mr. Cooper received a second subpoena last month, this one seeking information about conversations with other government officials. He has refused to cooperate and will appear before Judge Hogan next week for a second contempt hearing.

Mr. Novak, who first published Ms. Plame's name, has declined to discuss what, if anything, he has done in the investigation.

Prosecutors in the Plame matter have asked people suspected of disclosing her identity to sign waivers that instruct journalists to reveal confidential conversations. Tim Russert of NBC and Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post also testified. They and Mr. Cooper said they relied on direct assurances from their sources or the sources' lawyers that they were free to do so rather than on the waivers.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, said Ms. Miller would also not take waivers at face value. The officials who signed them, he said, may have done so because they feared that refusing would cast suspicion on them or endanger their jobs.

"This business of sources' signing waivers deserves a lot more attention," Mr. Keller said, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse. "This is going to be all the rage in both government and corporate circles as a way to intimidate employees into not letting reporters know when they see something amiss."


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Getting Junior's Goat

The New York Times
October 7, 2004

Getting Junior's Goat

How strange that George W. Bush had his appointment in Samarra: his commanders taking a stand against the relentless Iraqi insurgents, trying once more to turn the corner in a war with endless corners.

Mr. Bush is reminiscent of the protagonist of "Appointment in Samarra," by John O'Hara - Julian English, the son of a WASP-y, aristocratic, renowned, ineffectual father. Julian's pals were "the spenders and drinkers and socially secure, who could thumb their noses and not have to answer to anyone except their own families."

Bristling with filial tension and nurturing the chip on his privileged shoulder, the son refuses to follow in the proper father's footsteps and instead engages in, as John Updike put it, "impulsive bellicosity," falling into a self-destructive spiral that starts when he throws a drink into an ally's face at the club.

O'Hara prefaced the novel, his most brilliant, with a quotation from Somerset Maugham about the futility of using a reverse playbook to avoid your fate: The servant of a Baghdad merchant runs into Death at the marketplace and gallops off as fast as he can to Samarra, thinking Death will not find him. But, it turns out, their appointment is not for Baghdad on that day, but for Samarra that night.

W. has rocked the nation and the world as he gallops fast, frantically trying to avoid his dad's electoral fate.

He no longer has to chafe at his father's imposing shadow. If he wants to go to war with Saddam without even discussing it with his dad, he can. If he wants to keep his dad from having a speaking slot at the Republican convention, he can.

Even though the president, waving off any attempts to put him "on the couch," refuses to acknowledge any Oedipal sensitivities, John Kerry artfully drilled into the sore spot in the first debate.

Senator Kerry evoked the voice of Bush 41 to get under 43's thin skin. The more Mr. Kerry played the square, proper, moderate, internationalist war hero, the more the president was reduced to childish scowling and fidgeting, acting like a naughty little boy who refuses to sit in his seat and eat his spinach and do all the hard things a parent wants you to do.

"You know, the president's father did not go into Iraq, into Baghdad beyond Basra," Mr. Kerry said, as W. blinked and burned. "And the reason he didn't is, he said, he wrote in his book, because there was no viable exit strategy. And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land. That's exactly where we find ourselves today. There's a sense of American occupation."

Mr. Kerry told the now-and-then Guardsman about the "extraordinarily difficult missions" of our troops in Iraq: "I know what it's like to go out on one of those missions where you don't know what's around the corner. And I believe our troops need other allies helping."

Playing the Daddy card was part of the Kerry makeover by the Clintonistas - Bubba eye for the Brahmin guy.

In their '92 debate, Bill Clinton used the same psychological trick to rattle Bush 41. Objecting to the Republican pinko innuendo about a trip he had taken as a young man to Moscow, Mr. Clinton reminded the first President Bush that his father, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, had stood up to Joe McCarthy: "Your father was right to stand up to Joe McCarthy. You were wrong to attack my patriotism."

The Bushes get very agitated when confronted with the specters of fathers who made them feel that they never measured up.

And even though Mr. Kerry is more of a stiff loner than Poppy Bush, they share enough - that patrician, dutiful son, star of the class and the playing fields, hero on the killing fields, stuffed résumé, Council on Foreign Relations, multilateral mojo - that he can easily get W.'s goat.

It was a sign of how unnerved W. was that he had to rely on his own dark, foreboding and pathologically unapologetic surrogate Daddy, Dick Cheney, to clean up his debate mess and get the red team back in the game.

The vice president shielded the kid by treating John Edwards as even more of a kid.

Mr. Kerry may take on the voice of Daddy Bush again in Friday's domestic debate, pointing out that W.'s father tried to fix the deficit, rather than mushrooming it to $415 billion.

The Clintonistas have infused the Kerry campaign with a new motto: "It's the couch, stupid!"


The Battle of the Pump

The New York Times
October 7, 2004

The Battle of the Pump

Of all the shortsighted policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, none have been worse than their opposition to energy conservation and a gasoline tax. If we had imposed a new gasoline tax after 9/11, demand would have been dampened and gas today would probably still be $2 a gallon. But instead of the extra dollar going to Saudi Arabia - where it ends up with mullahs who build madrasas that preach intolerance - that dollar would have gone to our own Treasury to pay down our own deficit and finance our own schools. In fact, the Bush energy policy should be called No Mullah Left Behind.

Our own No Child Left Behind program has not been fully financed because the tax revenue is not there. But thanks to the Bush-Cheney energy policy, No Mullah Left Behind has been fully financed and is now the gift that keeps on giving: terrorism.

Mr. Bush says we're in "a global war on terrorism.'' That's right. But that war is rooted in the Arab-Muslim world. That means there is no war on terrorism that doesn't involve helping this region onto a more promising path for its huge population of young people - too many of whom are unemployed or unemployable because their oil-rich regimes are resistant to change and their religious leaders are resisting modernity.

A former Kuwaiti information minister, Sad bin Tefla, wrote an article in a London Arabic daily, Al Sharq Al Awsat, last Sept. 11 entitled "We Are All Bin Laden.'' He asked why Muslim scholars and clerics had eagerly supported fatwas condemning Salman Rushdie to death after he wrote a novel deemed insulting to Islam, "The Satanic Verses,'' but to this day no Muslim cleric has issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden for murdering nearly 3,000 innocent civilians, badly damaging Islam.

Building a decent Iraq is necessary to help reverse such trends, but it is not sufficient. We need a much more comprehensive approach, particularly if we fail in Iraq. The Bush team does not offer one. It has treated the Arab-Israeli issue with benign neglect, failed to find any way to communicate with the Arab world and adopted an energy policy that is supporting the worst Arab oil regimes and the worst trends. Phil Verleger, one of the nation's top energy consultants and a longtime advocate of a gas tax, puts it succinctly: "U.S. energy policy today is in support of terrorism - not the war on terrorism."

We need to dramatically cut our consumption of oil and bring the price back down to $20 a barrel. Nothing would do more to stimulate reform in the Arab-Muslim world. Oil regimes do not have to modernize or govern well. They just buy off their people and their mullahs. Governments without oil have to reform to create jobs. People do not change when you tell them they should - they change when they tell themselves they must.

The Arab-Muslim world is in a must-change human development crisis, "but oil is like a narcotic that kills a lot of the pain for them and prevents real change,'' says David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Where is all the innovation in the Arab world today? In the places with little or no oil: Bahrain is working on labor reform, just signed a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and held the first elections in the Arab gulf, allowing women to run and vote. Dubai has made itself into a regional service center. And Jordan has a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and is trying to transform itself into a knowledge economy. Who is paralyzed or rolling back reforms? Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, all now awash in oil money.

When did Jordan begin privatizing and deregulating its economy and upgrading its education system? In 1989 - after oil prices had slumped and the Arab oil states cut off Jordan's subsidies. In 1999, before Jordan signed its U.S. free-trade accord, its exports to America totaled $13 million. This year, Jordan will export over $1 billion worth of goods to the U.S. In the wake of King Abdullah II's reforms, Jordan's economy is growing at an annual rate of over 7 percent, the government is installing computers and broadband Internet links in every school, and it will soon require anyone who wants to study Islamic law and become a mosque preacher to first get a B.A. in something else, so mosque leaders won't just come from those who can't do anything else. "We had to go through a crisis to accept the need for reform," says Jordan's planning minister, Bassem Awadallah.

We have the power right now to stimulate similar trends across the Arab world. It's the best way to fight a global war on terrorism. If only we had a president and vice president tough enough to fight this war.


Split (Screen) Decision

The New York Times
October 7, 2004

Split Decision

San Francisco

In the spin that followed the first presidential debate, many commentators referred to the "split screen" effect, when the cameras would show one candidate's reaction as the other spoke. It was when President Bush was huffing, blinking and scowling at John Kerry's answers that he looked most petulant. In the vice-presidential debate on Tuesday, both speakers appeared to have learned from Mr. Bush's antics, and so they generally looked at each other as if they were auditioning for the job of bodyguard.

But it is vital for viewers to see how the candidates react to each other's remarks, and the networks were right to ignore the party rules that restricted what could be shown during the debates. Still, the networks used different techniques to break the rules. A true split screen was employed only by some networks, like ABC and C-Span, whereas others, like PBS, honored what might be called a spatial relationship between the two contestants.

A split screen is two or more separate images put together in one image, or one screen. Thus it was a split screen on ABC when similar images of Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry were set side-by-side with a clear dividing line. But on PBS the shots were actually what are called two-shots: a single image in which we see two people at the same time with the space between them. Such a shot may not accommodate the full figures, but as the first debate revealed, an ingenious director with a good camera angle could show one person speaking, with another (in the background, or to one side) listening, reacting and generally behaving like a natural idiot.

In film studies, and once upon a time in filmmaking, the two-shot was a staple. Indeed, the shot of two or more people, not quite full length, but conversing and interacting, was often called "the American shot" in French film commentary. That is because it used to be a staple of good American movie-making. It can be found everywhere in the films of Howard Hawks, for example, a director whose work includes "Bringing Up Baby," "His Girl Friday," "To Have and Have Not," "The Big Sleep" and "Red River," among others. I could praise him at length. Let me just say here that he is both "cool" and "neat," and on both accounts because of his skill with the group shot.

I realize that we live in an age when many in the news media, to say nothing of the audience, take it for granted that film and television require nothing but the close-up. And I don't want to knock the close-up. It is a splendid and lovely thing, even when it shows a linebacker spitting out a few of his own teeth.

But the two-shot and the group shot teach us another lesson: that there are spatial relationships in life. People in conversation look at each other; they listen or try not to. The variety of body language and posture is enormous and beautiful, and there was once a way of making movies that thrived on those bonds. If you care to check this out, I would recommend just about anything by Jean Renoir, Kenji Mizoguchi, Max Ophüls, Otto Preminger, Orson Welles, Yasujiro Ozu - and all of these guys are O.K., too.

I'll go a step further, if I may. There was once a set of theories on film direction, or mise en scène, that attested to the aesthetics and the ethics of using spatial relationships in movies. You can find this spelled out beautifully in the work of André Bazin.

I will simplify the matter here, but Bazin (and others) believed that the cinema (and why not television?) had (or has?) a natural affinity for showing people together and people in places so that we understand both better. The close-up (vital as it may be to storytelling) tends to emphasize the glamour, drama (or melodrama?) of lone people; it has the seed of dictatorship in it. The cinema was based for decades on the notion that all people are equal, alike but different, and it found glory in the group shot that allowed us to look from one person to another, and feel the kinship and the difference.

I have sometimes heard elections described in the same way. And it is worth stressing that the effort before the debate to restrict the way of showing the speakers was a gross intrusion on a kind of free speech integral to film and the society that uses it. I congratulate the networks for ignoring it and for sometimes using two shots in which the spatial bond trembled with animosity and the two men involved behaved naturally - i.e., they let us see how much they dislike each other, and they gave us the opportunity to look into their inner nature.

The vice-presidential debate was awkward in its rare two-shots. Why were the two men sitting down? I'd guess that many viewers felt that Mr. Cheney's crouch and lowered glance spoke for themselves. And tomorrow night is the great test the famous "town hall setting" - a real spatial arena, with onlookers and questioners sharing the debaters' space. Watch to see if George Bush isn't as ingratiating and mobile as Gene Kelly. But pray for directors who know their cinema, and who can view the town hall with the comprehensive gaze of a Jean Renoir.

David Thomson is the author of the forthcoming book "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood."


The Poll Tax, Updated

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
The Poll Tax, Updated

When members of Mi Familia Vota, a Latino group, were registering voters recently on a Miami Beach sidewalk outside a building where new citizens were being sworn in, the Homeland Security Department ordered them to stop. The department gave all kinds of suspect reasons, which a federal court has since rejected, but it looked a lot as if someone at Homeland Security just didn't want thousands of new Latino voters on the Florida rolls.

The suppression of minority votes is alive and well in 2004, driven by the sharp partisan divide across the nation. Because many minority groups vote heavily Democratic, some Republicans view keeping them from registering and voting as a tactic for victory - one that has a long history in American politics. It is rarely talked about publicly, but John Pappageorge, a Republican state legislator from Michigan, recently broke the taboo. He was quoted in The Detroit Free Press as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle." Detroit's population is more than 80 percent black.

A recent report by the N.A.A.C.P. and People for the American Way includes page after page of examples of how this shabby business works. On Election Day, "ballot security" teams head for minority neighborhoods. They demand that voters produce identification when it is not required, take photographs of voters and single out immigrant voters for special scare tactics.

Two years ago in the governor's race in Maryland, leaflets appeared in Baltimore saying that before voters showed up at the polls, they had to pay off all parking tickets and overdue rent. The same year in Louisiana, fliers were distributed in African-American areas to tell voters, falsely, that if they did not want to vote on Election Day, they could still vote three days later.

What is particularly discouraging this year is the degree to which government officials have been involved in such efforts. In South Dakota's hard-fought statewide Congressional race, poll workers turned away Native American voters who could not provide photo identification, which many of them do not have, even though the law clearly says identification is not required. In one heavily Native American county, the top elections official, who is white, wrote out instructions saying no one could vote without photo identification. In Texas, a white district attorney threatened to prosecute students at Prairie View A&M, a large, predominantly African-American campus, if they registered to vote from the school, even though they are entitled to by law.

And in Florida, the secretary of state, Glenda Hood, had a list prepared to purge felons from the voter rolls; the list had many errors and would have turned away an untold number of qualified black voters. She abandoned the list only when news organizations sued to make it public, then pointed out its many inaccuracies.

In addition to these blatant forms of vote suppression, elections officials have been adopting policies that appear neutral on their face but often have the effect, and perhaps the intent, of disproportionately disenfranchising minorities. With huge registration drives under way among minorities in swing states, some secretaries of state have adopted bizarrely rigid rules for new registrations.

In Florida, Ms. Hood is insisting that thousands of registration forms on which a citizenship box is not checked are invalid, even though elsewhere on the forms each applicant has sworn that he or she is a citizen. In Ohio, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was insisting until recently that any registration form that came in on anything less than 80-pound paper stock had to be rejected. The continued disenfranchisement of convicted felons in many states also has an unmistakable racial component.

The suppression of minority votes has continued because it is perceived as a winning tactic, and because it is rarely punished. This needs to change.

Trying to prevent members of minorities from voting can be a violation of federal and state law. Election officials, poll watchers and voters should be on the lookout for vote suppression, and should report it. And prosecutors should look for criminal cases to pursue. A few high-profile prosecutions of political operatives, and even elections officials, would go a long way toward ending a disgraceful American tradition.


The Verdict Is In

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
The Verdict Is In

Sanctions worked. Weapons inspectors worked. That is the bottom line of the long-awaited report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, written by President Bush's handpicked investigator.

In the 18 months since President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, justifying the decision by saying that Saddam Hussein was "a gathering threat" to the United States, Americans have come to realize that Iraq had no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. But the report issued yesterday goes further. It says that Iraq had no factories to produce illicit weapons and that its ability to resume production was growing more feeble every year. While Mr. Hussein retained dreams of someday getting back into the chemical warfare business, his chosen target was Iran, not the United States.

The report shows that the international sanctions that Mr. Bush dismissed and demeaned before the war - and still does - were astonishingly effective. Mr. Hussein hoped to get out from under the sanctions, and the report's author, Charles Duelfer, loyally told Congress yesterday that he thought that could have happened. But his report said the Iraqis lacked even a formal strategy or a plan to reconstitute their weapons programs if it did.

For months, administration officials have tried to deflect charges that they invaded Iraq under false pretenses and have urged critics to wait for Mr. Duelfer's verdict on the weapons search. The authoritative findings of his Iraq Survey Group have now left the administration's rationale for war more tattered than ever. It turns out that Iraq destroyed all stockpiles of illicit weapons more than a decade ago and had no large-scale production facilities left after 1996, seven years before the invasion. This was a matter of choice by Saddam Hussein, who desperately wanted an end to sanctions and feared that any weapons programs, if discovered by inspectors, would only keep them in place.

Even after U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, a period when Western intelligence experts assumed the worst might be happening, the Hussein regime made no active efforts to produce new weapons of mass destruction. The much-feared nuclear threat - that looming mushroom cloud conjured by the administration to stampede Congress into authorizing an invasion - was a phantom. Mr. Duelfer found that even if Iraq had tried to restart its defunct nuclear program in 2003, it would have needed years to produce a nuclear weapon.

Since any objective observer should by now have digested the idea that Iraq posed no imminent threat to anyone, let alone the United States, it was disturbing to hear President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to try to justify the invasion this week on the grounds that after Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq was clearly the most likely place for terrorists to get illicit weapons. Even if Mr. Hussein had wanted to arm groups he could not control - a very dubious notion- he had nothing to give them.

Administration officials will no doubt point to sections of the report citing evidence that front companies were supplying Iraq with banned materials, and that Iraq had money and expertise that could be used to make weapons. They will also point to Mr. Duelfer's speculation that support for the sanctions was eroding. But nothing in the voluminous record provides Mr. Bush with the justification he wanted for a preventive war because the weapons programs did not exist. And as the war continues to bog down, the power of nonviolent international sanctions looks more muscular every day.


Prosecutors Won't Pursue Cases of 227 in Disputed Protest

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
Prosecutors Won't Pursue Cases of 227 in Disputed Protest

The Manhattan district attorney's office said yesterday that it would not prosecute cases against 227 protesters who were arrested in one of the most disputed demonstrations of the Republican National Convention, saying it would be difficult to prove that the protesters had deliberately defied orders.

The decision effectively throws out one of the largest group arrests to occur on Aug. 31, the second day of the convention, when nearly 1,200 people were arrested around the city.

The demonstrators affected by yesterday's decision were arrested near ground zero after announcing their plan to march up Broadway to Madison Square Garden. They did not have a permit, but they held discussions with local police commanders, who allowed the march after protesters agreed to obey all traffic laws. But they were arrested almost immediately when, the police said, they violated the agreement by blocking the sidewalk.

Civil liberties advocates hailed yesterday's decision and said the dismissals proved the arrests were illegal. "It's so important that they did that," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "When people are arrested for lawful activity, it has a lasting chill. When the activity is protest, then the harm is all the greater."

But Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly defended the officers' actions, saying they had worked hard to accommodate the protesters, even those who did not have permits. The protesters broke the law when they unfurled a banner while on the sidewalk on Fulton Street, violating an agreement to walk two abreast, he said in a statement.

The decision "does not cast any doubt about the actions of the defendants, who were blocking pedestrian traffic in violation of the law, but reflects the difficulty of proving their intent in doing so," Mr. Kelly said.

The decision comes amid a continuing dispute between the city and civil libertarians over how long protesters were held in custody during the convention. Lawyers for the protesters have said that one of the city's goals was to stop the protesters from being heard during the convention, an argument that city and police officials have vociferously denied.

At a hearing yesterday for three of the protesters in Manhattan Criminal Court, William Beesch, an assistant district attorney, said his office had decided not to pursue the cases after reviewing the behavior of the officers and the protesters in the tangle of events that day.

While acknowledging that the protesters had "failed to heed the directives of the police," their vast numbers - there were several hundred at the site - would make it difficult to prove that every person arrested was deliberately defying police orders, Mr. Beesch said.

"The police likely created the impression among the participants that the march had official sanction," he said, reading from a statement.

What is more, the protesters behaved well in police custody, he said.

A Manhattan Criminal Court judge dismissed charges in the three cases before her yesterday, and Mr. Beesch said the district attorney's office would move to dismiss all the other cases.

In all, about 1,100 people who were arrested during the convention have been arraigned, out of the 1,784 cases the district attorney's office reviewed, said Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the office.

One protester who appeared in court yesterday, Richard Hardie, a 73-year-old furniture designer from Northampton, Mass., said he was held for 49½ hours in a holding area on a Manhattan pier and in the courthouse.

Mr. Hardie, who grew up and went to college in New York City, said he was elated that his case was dismissed.

"I feel great," Mr. Hardie said. "I didn't think the city had a case. I was never told why I was arrested. The city should realize, and the mayor should realize, that they violated us."

But a criminal justice official for the city defended the arrests, pointing out that before yesterday, the district attorney's office had decided not to bring charges in only three of the nearly 1,800 arrests during the convention.

"The decision to dismiss the 227 says nothing about the quality of the arrests," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, adding that District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau "felt he could not prove the intent of the protesters beyond a reasonable doubt."

Yesterday's decision applied to 227 cases, but more than 100 of those had already been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, a common outcome of minor arrests.

A lawyer representing other protesters who were arrested that week, Norman Siegel, said that those who accepted the adjournment of their cases would still be able to join a class action suit or file a lawsuit saying they were held for too long before arraignment.

Martin R. Stolar, president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who represents about 80 of the 227 protesters, said the protesters planned to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city by the end of the month. For example, many of the protesters claim that they were held for longer than the 24 hours the law allows.

"Just saying, 'Oops, sorry,' is not enough,'' said G. Simon Harak, a coordinator for the War Resisters League, the group that organized the Fulton Street protest, and one of those arrested. "There has to be some kind of redress for the violation of our civil rights."


Negotiators Approve Big Tax Cuts for Business

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
Negotiators Approve Big Tax Cuts for Business

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - In an act of pre-election largess, House and Senate negotiators approved a sprawling corporate tax bill on Wednesday that would shower corporations and farmers in politically sensitive states with about $145 billion worth of new tax cuts.

In an attempt to get backing from Southern Democrats, Republican leaders included a $10 billion buyout for tobacco farmers, but they rejected a Senate provision to link that buyout with a requirement that cigarette companies be subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.

Without the F.D.A. link, the bill could be jeopardized on the Senate floor, where opponents have threatened to stretch the debate to run down the clock as Congress tries to adjourn on Friday.

But Republican leaders said they had more than enough votes to stop a filibuster, contending that the overall tax bill has provisions sought by so many different lawmakers that it was almost assured of final passage by the end of this week. President Bush is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The agreement involves the cozy deal-making that often characterizes pork-barrel politics, with lawmakers from both parties insisting on breaks for hometown industries in return for their support of the overall measure.

The big winners include General Electric, Exxon Mobil, electric utilities, movie producers and agricultural producers.

Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a public advocacy group in Washington, said, "This legislation is an early Christmas gift for corporate fat cats."

The bill was initially intended to compensate exporters for the loss of $50 billion in tax breaks that the World Trade Organization had declared illegal, but Congressional negotiators approved a 633-page behemoth that doled out tax breaks worth nearly three times the original subsidy.

Supporters said the bill would resolve a trade dispute that has led the European Union to impose tariffs on up to $4 billion worth of American exports, while promoting job creation at American manufacturing companies.

"It also gives a real shot in the arm to U.S. factories and farmers, at home and abroad," said Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "We need to give permanent relief to the nation's job creators and lift the sanctions burden from our exports."

Not all lawmakers were happy. "This is a disgrace," said Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who had backed the proposal to make tobacco products subject to F.D.A. regulation. "They have removed the linchpin in the passage of this legislation in a complete sellout to the tobacco companies."

Displaying candy-flavored cigarettes like Kool's Mocha Taboo and Camel's Twista Lime, a bipartisan group of senators led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, threatened to drag out debate on the bill as long as possible to prevent the Senate from voting before Congress is supposed to adjourn this weekend.

However, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate Democratic leader, conceded that he would vote to stop a filibuster because the bill had too many good provisions. For Mr. Daschle, who is in a difficult re-election battle, the bill's most appealing provisions are a series of tax breaks for ethanol that are badly sought by corn farmers in his home state.

The bill also includes $20 billion in tax cuts on the foreign earnings of multinational corporations. Companies that have accumulated billions of dollars in untaxed overseas profits, from computer companies like Hewlett-Packard to pharmaceutical producers like Eli Lilly, would be given a one-year holiday to bring those profits back to the United States at a small fraction of normal tax rates.

Railroad companies like the CSX Corporation, which was headed by John W. Snow before he became Treasury secretary, would get a 50 percent tax credit for the cost of maintaining their tracks. The cost would be $501 million over 10 years.

The overall measure is technically cost-free, because it would also raise money by tightening rules against tax shelters and imposing new customs duties. But Mr. Ashdown and other critics contend that the full costs have been glossed over and disguised by delaying the starting date of some provisions and scheduling others to end after several years. Once Congress passes a tax break, lawmakers typically extend it when it comes up for renewal.

"This bill was three years in the making, and we need to finish the job," Mr. Grassley said. "Every day of delay means more sanctions freezing U.S. businesses out of the European markets, and more jobs in danger."

The centerpiece of the bill would abolish a tax break for American exporters, from Boeing and Caterpillar to Microsoft, that the W.T.O. declared an illegal export subsidy.

The European Union has begun imposing retaliatory tariffs on about $4 billion worth of American exports, from agricultural products to jewelry and leather goods. The tariff rates, which have been climbing monthly since March, are now 12 percent.

To compensate companies for the lost tax break and to provide new incentives for domestic manufacturers, who have shed more than two million jobs over the last three years, the bill would give companies a 9 percent tax deduction on profits from products made in the United States.

That tax break is worth about $76 billion over the next 10 years, and many of its biggest beneficiaries would be companies that never qualified for the original tax break for exporters. The definition of manufacturing, for example, includes oil and gas drilling, as well as mining and timber.

In a curious tussle between House and Senate tax writers, House Republicans dropped and then replaced a provision declaring that restaurants did not qualify as a form of manufacturing. But after replacing the stricture against restaurants, lawmakers added in a provision sought by Starbucks, the giant chain of coffee shops. The bill now declares that coffee roasting, though not coffee preparation, is a form of manufacturing.

With hundreds of business lobbyists circling the House-Senate negotiations this week, lawmakers inserted so many subtle last-minute changes in wording that it will take weeks if not months for even the most skilled tax experts to identify all the deals that took place.

To help pay for all the new tax breaks, the bill would raise about $26 billion over 10 years by closing several major tax shelters, $14 billion from new customs duties and more than $10 billion by reducing the evasion of fuel taxes for aircraft and heavy equipment.

But House Republicans rejected an entire bloc of Senate provisions that were intended to tighten the Internal Revenue Service's grip on tax shelters even more and would have raised more than $40 billion in additional revenue, according to Congressional tax analysts.

The one Senate provision that House Republicans did accept on Wednesday was a move to limit the tax break for small businesses and self-employed people who buy Hummers and other big sport utility vehicles.


DeLay Is Faulted by Ethics Panel for Second Time

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
DeLay Is Faulted by Ethics Panel for Second Time

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, was admonished by the House ethics committee on Wednesday night for the second time in less than a week, this time for appearing to link legislative action to political donations and for sending federal officials to search for Texas legislators during a fracas over redistricting in that state.

In a long-awaited report that provoked an angry reaction from House Republicans, the committee dismissed the most serious charges of bribery and special favors. But the back-to-back admonishments marked an extraordinary turn of events in the House, and Mr. DeLay moved quickly to defend himself even as good-government groups were calling for him to resign as leader.

"For years, Democrats have hurled relentless personal attacks at me, hoping to tie my hands and smear my name,'' he said in a statement shortly after the committee released its report. "All have fallen short, not because of insufficient venom, but because of insufficient merit.''

The rebukes on Wednesday came on the heels of another admonishment, issued last Thursday, to Mr. DeLay for pressuring a Michigan lawmaker to switch his vote on an important health care bill. In a seven-page letter to the majority leader - who was also admonished by the committee several years ago - the ethics panel, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats, issued Mr. DeLay a stern warning.

"In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions,'' the panel wrote.

The committee faulted Mr. DeLay for participating in, and helping facilitate, a two-day golf fund-raiser held by a Topeka-based energy company, Westar, to raise money for one of his political action committees. The event took place just as the House was considering energy legislation from which Westar stood to benefit; the panel said that at a minimum, it "created an appearance that donors were being provided special access to you regarding the then-pending energy legislation.''

In addition, the panel found that Mr. DeLay had wrongly exhorted officials of the Federal Aviation Administration to look for Texas state legislators when they fled to Oklahoma last year to avoid a contentious vote on redistricting. The panel said the action "raises serious concerns" under House rules that "preclude use of government resources for a political undertaking."

The report immediately engendered bitter partisan fighting in the House, where Democrats regard Mr. DeLay as the personification of the bare-knuckles style of Republican leadership. Republicans rushed to Mr. DeLay's defense Wednesday night, heaping criticism on Representative Chris Bell, the Texas Democrat who filed the complaint against the majority leader.

"Tom DeLay is a good man and a strong leader and these politically motivated attacks will not deter him,'' said Representative Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Shame on Chris Bell."

In his response to the accusations, Mr. DeLay complained that Mr. Bell had engaged in innuendo; in its report, the committee pledged to look into that complaint.

Whether the rebukes will spell political trouble for the majority leader is unclear. Democrats, who are already making Mr. DeLay a campaign issue, have planned press briefings for Thursday morning to discuss the matter. Mr. DeLay enjoys broad support in the Republican caucus, but some Republicans have said privately that his ethics record could complicate any plans he might have to become speaker of the House, as many assumed he would when the current speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, retires.

Already, two outside groups - Democracy 21, an independent watchdog group, and Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest group - have called for Mr. DeLay to step down as leader. "It is time either for Representative DeLay to step down as majority leader or else for the House Republican Conference to remove him,'' said Fred Wertheimer, who heads Democracy 21.

Mr. DeLay has long maintained that the accusations against him are politically motivated; the inquiry that prompted Wednesday night's admonishments is deeply intertwined with Texas politics and the redistricting that has reshaped the political landscape there. The complaint was filed in June by Mr. Bell, who lost a primary election after the redistricting.

In addition to the allegations regarding Westar and the Federal Aviation Administration, Mr. Bell also complained that Mr. DeLay funneled contributions from one of his political action committees to the Republican National Committee "in an apparent money-laundering scheme.''

The committee deferred action on the third allegation, because that matter is being investigated by a grand jury in Texas. The grand jury recently indicted some of Mr. DeLay's aides, as well as Westar and seven other companies, in that case.

Last Thursday, the panel formally admonished Mr. DeLay for improperly trying to persuade a Michigan Republican, Representative Nick Smith, to change his vote on prescription drug legislation that passed the House by a narrow margin last year. The panel said it had determined that the majority leader offered to endorse Mr. Smith's son in a Congressional primary if the elder Mr. Smith voted in favor of the measure, which was then teetering on the edge of defeat.

Mr. Smith did not change his vote, but the legislation passed. His son lost the primary.


Senate Approves 9/11 Bill at Odds With House Version

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
Senate Approves 9/11 Bill at Odds With House Version

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve a sweeping bipartisan bill to reorganize the way the nation gathers and shares intelligence, enacting the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, including the creation of the job of national intelligence director and the establishment of a national counterterrorism center.

The lopsided Senate vote, 96 to 2, is likely to increase pressure on House Republican leaders to adopt a similar measure, especially since the Senate bill had the support of all 51 Senate Republicans, as well as the endorsement of both the White House and the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission. The pair of votes against the bill were cast by Democrats.

Opinion polls show that the independent commission, which used its final report in July to catalog years of incompetence and turf battles among the nation's intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, has widespread support among likely voters in next month's election. And the commission's members have proved themselves potent lobbyists for their recommendations.

Still, House Republican leaders insisted again on Wednesday that they intended to press forward this week with their own, very different version of the bill that includes law enforcement provisions that were not recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. Those proposals have drawn harsh criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups.

The House bill, which was drafted without the involvement of House Democratic leaders, would also more sharply limit the budget and personnel authority of the national intelligence director.

The partisan split in the House became more theatrical on Wednesday, with the House majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas, calling a news conference at which he held up a summary of the House bill and ripped the papers in two, suggesting that Democrats were trying to shred the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. "The Democrats want to rip up the 9/11 commission recommendations that they don't like and throw them out," he said.

The rancor in the House was in stark contrast to the harmony on the floor of the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties praised the spirit of bipartisanship that allowed them - like the Sept. 11 commission - to reach agreement on the need for the most comprehensive changes in the structure of the nation's intelligence community since the creation of the C.I.A. in 1947.

"We are now on the threshhold of getting the job done and getting it done right," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the principal Republican author of the bill.

In a separate joint statement with the bill's key Democratic author, Senate Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator Collins said, "Our legislation reorganizes an intelligence program designed for the Cold War into one designed for the war against global terrorism."

The Senate bill would establish the job of national intelligence director to serve as the president's chief intelligence adviser and to oversee the coordination of all 15 of the government's intelligence agencies, including the C.I.A., the National Security Council and the intelligence units of the F.B.I. The intelligence director would take over the oversight job now held nominally by the director of central intelligence, Porter Goss, who would answer to the new cabinet-level intelligence director.

The establishment of the job was the key recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, which harshly criticized the C.I.A. and F.B.I. and found that lack of communication among intelligence agencies explained why Qaeda terrorists were able to enter the United States undetected and carry out the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. The commission showed that several clues warning of an imminent terrorist attack were ignored or not shared about intelligence agencies in the months before the attacks.

The Senate bill would enact another key recommendation of the commission: establishment of a national counterterrorism center, where all intelligence involving terrorist threats would be drawn together and acted on. The bill would also create a civil liberties oversight board to "ensure privacy and civil liberties concerns are being protected," a provision House Republicans have said they may not support.

In a statement, the Republican chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, Thomas H. Kean, and the Democratic vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, praised the Senate bill and its authors, describing the legislation as "a giant step forward in implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission."


After Convictions, the Undoing of a U.S. Terror Prosecution

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
After Convictions, the Undoing of a U.S. Terror Prosecution

DETROIT, Oct. 6 - Publicly, federal prosecutors declared in the summer of 2002 that they had thwarted a "sleeper operational combat cell" based in a dilapidated apartment here.

Privately, senior Justice Department officials had doubts about the strength of the case even as they were moving to indict four Middle Eastern immigrants on terrorism charges. The evidence was "somewhat weak," an internal Justice Department memorandum obtained by The New York Times acknowledged. It relied on a single informant with "some baggage," and there was no clear link to terrorist groups. But charging the men with terrorism, the memorandum said, might pressure them to give up information.

"We can charge this case with the hope that the case might get better," Barry Sabin, the department's counterterrorism chief, wrote in the memorandum, "and the certainty that it will not get much worse."

But the case did get worse. After winning highly publicized convictions of two suspects on terrorism charges in June 2003, the Justice Department took the extraordinary step five weeks ago of repudiating its own case and successfully moving to throw out the terrorism charges. In a long court filing, the government discredited its own witnesses and found fault with virtually every part of its prosecution.

The blame, the department suggested in its filing, lay mainly at the feet of the lead prosecutor in Detroit, Richard G. Convertino, whom it portrayed as a rogue lawyer. But documents and interviews with people knowledgeable about the case show that top officials at the Justice Department were involved in almost every step of the prosecution, from formulating strategy to editing the draft indictments to planning how the suspects would be incarcerated.

President Bush himself said the Detroit case was one of several critical investigations around the country that had "thwarted terrorists.'' But the wreckage of the case reveals that it was built on evidence that has since been undermined. A series of missteps and in-fighting weakened the case further, documents and interviews show. The first line of the government's indictment now appears to have been copied without attribution from a scholarly article on Islamic fundamentalism. Government documents that cast doubt on a critical piece of evidence - what was described as a surveillance sketch of an American air base overseas - were not turned over to the defense. And tensions between prosecutors in Detroit and Justice Department officials in Washington escalated into open hostility.

Mr. Convertino angered the Justice Department by testifying at a Congressional hearing held by a powerful Republican senator who is a vocal critic of the department. Mr. Convertino, who was ultimately removed from the prosecution, is now suing the department and is under investigation for his handling of this case and others. That inquiry led to the public disclosure of the name of an Arab informant in the case, who then fled the country because, he said, he feared for his safety.

The miscalculations and bad blood so overshadowed the case that the truth about the defendants' intentions may never be known.

Some law enforcement officials, however, continue to insist that the prosecution was a good one. In an internal e-mail message, an F.B.I. supervisor in Detroit told agents last month that they should be proud that their work "may have prevented another attack."

But the Justice Department's critics say that the prosecution was overzealous and that it demonstrated how the Bush administration's pre-emptive approach to fighting terrorists by disrupting plots before they materialize can clash with legal principles of due process and the right to a fair trial.

"This case became a poster child for the Justice Department in the war on terrorism, and it had no institutional checks and balances in place to really look hard at the evidence," said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island who has written extensively about terrorism.

The Justice Department declined to discuss the case publicly, citing a judge's gag order and pending investigations. But internal documents show that from its early days, the case never appeared as strong as the department's public enthusiasm for it.

In August 2002, just days after Mr. Sabin's internal memorandum expressed doubts about the evidence, the suspects were indicted on terrorism charges, prompting a supervisor in Washington to send the prosecutors in Detroit e-mail congratulating them on the indictment "and the nice media coverage."

"For what it's worth," the supervisor, Jeff Breinholt, wrote, "the higher-ups in D.C. are pleased."

Willing a Sept. 11 Tie

Six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, just before nightfall, seven federal agents appeared at an apartment on the outskirts of Detroit looking for Nabil al-Marabh, an Arab immigrant on the terrorist watch list.

Mr. Marabh no longer lived there, but agents found three other Arab immigrants. They were detained after agents combing through the apartment found false identification papers, crude sketches that the authorities came to see as outlines of possible targets, religious audiotapes and a videotape that they believed held surveillance of the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, The New York Times headquarters and other sites.

Agents also found expired badges from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport belonging to two of the men, who had once worked there. A fourth suspect, a Moroccan wanted for credit card fraud, was arrested later.

The arrests received worldwide attention as part of a nationwide terrorist dragnet. But for almost a year, the only charges brought were for document fraud.

Mr. Convertino, the lead prosecutor, said the interest in Washington was swift. Senior Justice Department officials, he said, "must have asked me a hundred times" if the men had links to the Sept. 11 attacks. His answer, he said, was that though he believed the men had ties to terrorists, he had no evidence linking them to Sept. 11. Nevertheless, at a press conference on Oct. 31, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the men were "suspected of having knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks" before they happened.

The statement generated a fresh round of news coverage, but it was baseless. It also violated a week-old gag order by the judge, Gerald E. Rosen, who later rebuked Mr. Ashcroft in an 83-page opinion. The Justice Department retracted Mr. Ashcroft's statement within two days.

Prosecutors continued to pursue a terrorism investigation, however. It was based largely on circumstantial evidence, including the sketches and tapes, and primarily tied together by someone who knew the men, Youssef Hmimssa, a Moroccan wanted on fraud charges. Internal Justice Department memorandums show that the doubts about the case among officials were growing even as prosecutors prepared a new indictment in August 2002, this one charging the men with material support of terrorism. In an e-mail message to Justice officials days before this indictment, David Nahmias, a senior counterterrorism prosecutor in Washington, wrote that "the charge is somewhat aggressive, but worth pursuing," adding, "this case has received press attention before."

In a six-page memorandum attached to e-mail, Mr. Sabin, the Justice Department's head of counterterrorism, said the case was "not as strong as other terrorist financing cases" and the chance of success was "a close call.''

But Mr. Sabin said the men's behavior "fits the pattern of what we know about global jihad planning."

"The weaknesses in this case," he wrote, "reflect the fact that what was a fledgling scheme was disrupted at an early stage." He concluded, "From a nationwide enforcement standpoint, taking a chance on this case is probably worth the risk."

The indictment meant more headlines and coincided with news of an unrelated terrorism case in Seattle.

"I'm enjoying speculation that the Detroit and Seattle cases are linked and part of an orchestrated nationwide enforcement program," Mr. Breinholt, the Justice Department supervisor, said in congratulating the prosecutors. "The press gives us much more credit than we deserve, not knowing that the timing was largely happenstance."

Mr. Convertino said he was surprised to discover that the opening line of the new indictment and a second passage - both written in Washington, he said - had been taken almost verbatim from a scholarly article on terrorism by Quintan Wiktorowicz, a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis.

"It looked like they had just lifted parts of my article word for word," Professor Wiktorowicz said in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, cooperation between Detroit and Washington was fracturing. Keith Corbett, Mr. Convertino's superior, bristled at Washington's intense oversight.

"In the 25 years that I have worked for the Department of Justice, I have never seen anything approaching this level of micromanagement," Mr. Corbett wrote in e-mail to Jeffrey Collins, the top federal prosecutor in Detroit, on Feb. 26, 2003. "Every act was subject to review by petty bureaucrats," Mr. Corbett wrote.

A 2003 departmental review of the Detroit office, obtained by The Times, cited an "us versus them" attitude between Mr. Corbett's unit, which normally focused on organized crime, and Joseph Capone, a senior terrorism prosecutor sent from Washington to monitor the case. The report also said that Mr. Corbett's unit was "not adequately supervised," and it made Mr. Collins, who had no experience as a prosecutor before being named United States attorney in 2001, appear out of touch, saying he "was surprised to hear that there were still problems" between his office and Washington. Mr. Collins, who did not return calls for comment, resigned this August shortly before the government repudiated the case.

In a rebuttal to the review, Mr. Corbett wrote that Mr. Capone had made it clear that "he had no intention of participating" in the trial and had spent 10 weeks "in a hotel at taxpayers expense, when he was not playing basketball in the evenings" with prosecutors. Neither Mr. Corbett nor Mr. Capone would comment.

There were also protracted disputes between prosecutors in Washington and Detroit over the Justice Department's desire to impose extraordinary custody measures on the suspects, an idea that Mr. Convertino said was unworkable and unnecessary. Officials in Washington even floated the idea of declaring the suspects "enemy combatants,'' he said. Mr. Convertino said officials in Washington would not give him the resources he needed, assigning only one full-time F.B.I. agent. Unable to get an adequate computer for closing arguments, "we bought a laptop from Costco," he said. "It was bubble gum and shoestring. Every day we'd come back and say, 'If the American public only knew.' ''

Mr. Convertino was known for an intense and self-righteous manner. Three former attorneys general had praised his dedication in letters, and Mr. Corbett wrote in a performance review, "For Rick, all trials are major." Opposing lawyers found him sharp-elbowed and complained throughout the trial that he was making it difficult for them to see evidence and have access to witnesses. Judge Rosen sometimes exhorted him to be forthcoming.

"There seems to be a significant amount of evidence that was known by Mr. Convertino that was withheld," said James Thomas, a lawyer for one of the suspects. Senior Justice Department officials said in interviews that they did not believe Mr. Convertino was sharing important information with them, either. One official said Washington had directed supervisors in Detroit to "rein him in" before the trial started.

During a nine-week jury trial, the government presented the men - Karim Koubriti, Abdel Ilah Elmardoudi, Ahmed Hannan and Farouk Ali-Haimoud - as a clandestine group that was collecting intelligence for potential terrorist plots and that might even have carried out an attack. The theory was bolstered by the testimony of agents and officials from the F.B.I., the Air Force and the State Department.

But it was Mr. Hmimssa, who once lived with the men, who offered the most chilling testimony. He said the suspects had communicated in a code involving names of Moroccan soccer players and talked about obtaining Stinger missiles, shooting down commercial airplanes and staging an attack in Las Vegas. Mr. Elmardoudi, he said, told him, "Soon, what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza is going to happen here.''

Defense lawyers said Mr. Hmimssa was simply telling the government what it wanted to hear so that he could obtain a favorable plea agreement. One defense lawyer showed that part of a purported sketch of an American air base in Turkey, which the government said was a hangar, actually bore a resemblance to a map of the Middle East.

On June 3, 2003, the government received a split decision. Two of the four defendants were convicted of terrorism and document fraud charges. A third was convicted only of document fraud, and a fourth, Mr. Ali-Haimoud, was acquitted.

"None of us had links with terrorists in any way,'' Mr. Ali-Haimoud, then 22, said in an interview after the verdict. "I'm just a regular Muslim.''

During the trial, the increasingly chilly relations between Mr. Convertino and Mr. Capone, the lawyer sent by Washington to monitor the case, were on display. Instead of joining Mr. Convertino at the prosecution table, Mr. Capone watched from a bench behind the press gallery.

A Political Tangle

Mr. Ashcroft hailed the convictions as "a clear message" that the government would "work diligently to detect, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorist cells." But there was unfinished business for the prosecution. That became clear for Mr. Convertino when he was called into Mr. Collins's office the next month and dressed down because of his frosty and "unacceptable" relations with Justice Department supervisors in Washington.

"I've been ordered to reprimand you," Mr. Convertino quoted his boss as saying.

It was the beginning of a spiral that would ultimately derail the terrorism prosecution.

In late August 2003, Mr. Convertino received a phone call from a Senate Finance Committee investigator looking into document fraud by terror suspects. Within days, Mr. Convertino was told that he and his star witness would be subpoenaed to appear before a hearing and explain how such fraud was done.

His testimony, in early September, was an innocuous recitation of the case, but his appearing before the panel set off a firestorm at Justice. The Finance Committee's chairman, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, a frequent critic of the Justice Department, had held up several high-level appointments at the department because of objections over its treatment of whistleblowers. In a lawsuit against the department filed this year, Mr. Convertino says he was told by Mr. Nahmias, the senior department official, that Mr. Grassley was not "our friend" and "hates the F.B.I."

Mr. Convertino was removed as lead prosecutor on Sept. 4, three days before he was even served with the subpoena. The department also began what became a criminal investigation of his handling of the terrorism case as well as previous cases.

Dissension within the department broke into the open last December at a hearing that was called because a new prosecutor on the case, Eric Straus, had produced two pieces of evidence that had not been turned over to the defense. The most prominent was a letter from Butch Jones, a cellmate of the government's key witness, Mr. Hmimssa. Mr. Hmimssa had said he had lied about the case, Mr. Jones wrote.

At the hearing, Judge Rosen asked five federal prosecutors why he had not been made aware of the evidence. In responding, they hardly presented a united front.

Mr. Convertino called the letter "absurd" and said Mr. Jones, a drug lord facing capital charges, had no credibility. Mr. Corbett agreed with his assessment. But Alan Gershel, the No. 2 prosecutor in Detroit, said he had ordered Mr. Corbett to disclose the letter, calling it a "no-brainer.'' Mr. Corbett said he had "no recollection of that conversation.'' The judge then chastised Mr. Capone, the prosecutor from Washington, for not making sure the letter was turned over.

Judge Rosen ordered the government to review the case in a formal report. "Folks, this is a fine kettle of fish," he said.

Trading Ethics Charges

In the aftermath of the hearing, The Detroit Free Press in January, quoting anonymous Justice Department officials, detailed a range of accusations of legal and ethical misconduct by Mr. Convertino, apparently taken straight from an internal investigation of him.

To Mr. Convertino's detractors, the accusations confirmed their suspicions that he was willing to play rough to win a case. But to his supporters, it showed that Justice Department officials, upset at Mr. Convertino over his dealings with Senator Grassley, were intent on marginalizing him, even if it meant muddying up the Detroit prosecution and disclosing sensitive information in violation of department policy.

"This was all part of an attempt to discredit him," said a senior Democratic aide in Congress who was involved in the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Judge Rosen's gag order.

In the fracas, Mr. Grassley went so far as to put a hold last year on the nomination of James Comey to be Mr. Ashcroft's top deputy. The senator agreed to let Mr. Comey's nomination go through only after the Justice Department agreed to assign Mr. Convertino to work on Mr. Grassley's Congressional drug caucus, officials disclosed.

"It is amazing that the very people within the Justice Department accusing this employee of unethical conduct appear themselves to be committing unethical acts," Mr. Grassley said in a January statement. He declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Convertino has submitted to the Justice Department a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations against him in a three-inch-thick dossier. The department, meanwhile, has opened an investigation to determine how the accusations were leaked to The Free Press.

The Free Press article also disclosed the names of two confidential informants in the terror-cell case. "I've slept in my truck two nights in a row; I'm afraid for my life," one of them said in an interview with The Times this year. The handling of that informant, who has since fled the country, as well as other informants, has also prompted an internal F.B.I. investigation.

'A Three-Legged Stool'?

On Aug. 31, the Justice Department made public the results of its court-ordered review of the case. It was a scathing critique. Craig Morford, the federal prosecutor in Cleveland assigned to lead the review, described the case as "a three-legged stool" that was built on shaky evidence from the start and that had denied the defense numerous bits of information that pointed to the possible innocence of the defendants.

Some military and intelligence officials, for instance, doubted that the sketches actually represented the Turkish air base or a Jordanian hospital, despite "misleading testimony" that suggested there was a consensus among officials about what they depicted, Mr. Morford said.

Had State Department photos of the Jordan site been turned over to the defense, they would have undermined the prosecution's argument that one of the sketches depicted a hospital there, Mr. Morford wrote.

Moreover, Mr. Morford's assessment gave credence to the newly disclosed testimony of a Tunisian man in Los Angeles who said that the Las Vegas videotape - purported to represent a surveillance operation - was an "innocent" sightseeing memento.

The prosecution, Mr. Morford said, "created a record filled with misleading inferences.''

Some Congressional officials question why Mr. Morford's catalogue of missteps focused so squarely on Mr. Convertino without assessing responsibility in other Justice Department officials. Mr. Morford said his report "was not about blame."

With the terrorism charges dropped, Mr. Hannan, Mr. Koubriti and Mr. Elmardoudi remain in custody, facing a new trial on document fraud and deportation proceedings.

But law enforcement and Congressional officials who continue to believe that the Detroit men represented a terror cell take issue with many of Mr. Morford's key findings, saying he appeared to present the prosecution's evidence in the worst light.

Mr. Convertino said: "If there were mistakes, then I shoulder the responsibility, but this is still a good case. I believe it, the agents believe it.''

James Thomas, the defense lawyer, said he believed that someone should be held accountable in the case.

"To the extent these guys have been vindicated, maybe we should look at people who bang that drum of fear," Mr. Thomas said. "We as United States citizens were vulnerable to that fear, and it was played on."