Friday, August 12, 2005

Guns of August
Russ Baker
Guns of August

Can you hear the footsteps growing louder?

Mounting anecdotal evidence suggests that civil libertarians were not exaggerating when they began long ago to worry about prospects for dangerous excess in the ‘response’ to 9/11. If it ever was just about the government poking into our requests for library books on the history of timing devices, those days are long past. In the past week alone, the following troubling developments and revelations were reported, but not necessarily widely discussed or appreciated for their collective import:

-On August 7, we could read in the New York Times (Metro Section) about the case of a longtime naturalized American citizen, a New York area-translator, an apparently peaceable fellow, working on a doctorate, with no personal involvement with or sympathies with terror activity, who has been convicted of providing material aid to terrorism and conspiring to deceive the government – and faces a possible 20 years in prison. His boss, Lynne Stewart, defense attorney for the jailed Sheikh Abdul Rahman, was convicted of passing along communications from the cleric. But the translator claims he was simply following her instructions. And it’s far from clear that he understood that anything he did could be seen as aiding terrorism – or that this was his intention.

-On August 8, the Washington Post reported on plans being developed by the Pentagon to have normal military troops intervene domestically in various crisis scenarios. No matter that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 severely restricts the use of troops in domestic law enforcement. The big concern here is that, of course, introducing active-duty troops into the streets of the United States could at least in theory lead to military government. Beyond that, one could raise credible concerns about the transferability of skills troops utilize in war zones, in highly volatile situations where civil liberties and other niceties play little or no role, to the streets of, say, Washington, D.C. or Cleveland. The article contains various reassurances that there’s no cause for alarm. But the Post got this story from “officers who drafted the plans.” Assuming they spoke to the reporter with the permission of their superiors, that means the military is floating the idea to see whether it actually bothers anyone.

-On August 9, we learned about an Illinois student from Qatar being held as an enemy combatant under conditions that, if true, channel Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. Except that he’s in a navy brig in Charleston, SC. His lawyer claims that he is held in isolation, nearly round-the-clock, in a dark 6-by-9-foot cell; being deliberately exposed to extreme cold, and denied basic necessities like a toothbrush, toilet paper, adequate bedding, and medical and psychological care, an denied any contact with his family. He further claims to be denied access to any books, newspapers, radio, television or religious material except for the Koran (which he says was placed on the floor, with other items heaped atop it), and says that threats have been made against his family.

-On August 10, we learned that the US government has been seizing foreign citizens who simply change planes at airports in the United States -- detaining them for days without charges, depriving them of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denying basic necessities like food. One naturalized Canadian citizen alleges that he was grabbed at JFK Airport, held in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and then shipped off to his native Syria to be interrogated under torture because officials suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda. Since then, Syrian and Canadian officials have said that the man had no terrorist connections, but US officials steadfastly maintain otherwise. According to the New York Times, they are seeking dismissal of his lawsuit, in part through the rare assertion of a "state secrets" privilege.

Personally, I have twice been pulled into an interrogation room after coming off foreign flights. The first time, the officers involved released me soon after, but declined to explain why I had been flagged. The second time, one confessed that my name was ‘similar’ to that of someone on a watch list (“Sheikh Ras al-Bakr”?) – this despite a unique passport number and a history of decidedly nonjihadist overseas travel. Can I – or any of us – learn more about what is going on?

No, we can’t. No administration in history has come close to the Bush White House in its zeal to block the routine release of information, and to stamp “classified” on pieces of paper – millions upon millions. It’s worth noting that this policy went into effect long before 9/11 – indeed, within days of Bush taking office in early 2001.

One has to wonder when a hero will emerge from among our elected officials to loudly take up the cudgel for freedom and liberty – the protection of which is presumably the purpose for which we all fight. When will someone (ideally from the party in power) boldly begin demanding answers about how the growing police state is substantively protecting our ‘national security’ – and insist that the government be forced to publicly define that vague term with much, much greater specificity?


Washington lobbyist Abramoff charged with fraud

Washington lobbyist Abramoff charged with fraud

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Washington lobbyist who is a central figure in investigations involving House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was charged on Thursday with defrauding two lenders of $60 million to buy a casino cruise line.

Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist, and Adam Kidan, his partner in the $147.5 million buyout of SunCruz Casino five years ago, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta said.

The two were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five counts of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors are also seeking restitution of the $60 million.

Federal authorities said they were in the process of arresting Abramoff in Los Angeles and Kidan in Florida.

The indictment alleges that Abramoff and Kidan duped specialty lenders Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd by pledging to invest $23 million in the purchase of SunCruz in return for the $60 million loan. The indictment alleges the two men offered a fake wire transfer document as proof they had invested the money.

"That document was counterfeit. The defendants never transferred the funds," Acosta, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told reporters at a news conference in Miami.

Abramoff and Kidan bought the casino cruise empire from Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, a Greek-immigrant entrepreneur who built the cruise line and the Miami Subs restaurant chain. He was shot to death in his car on a Fort Lauderdale street in a gangland-style hit in 2001.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, has faced questions about his ties to lobbyists, foreign trips funded by outside groups and the use of campaign funds. Opponents claim he has engaged in unethical behavior. He has denied the allegations. DeLay's office had no comment on the charges against Abramoff.

The Washington Post reported in April that a plane trip to London and Scotland by DeLay was charged to a credit card issued to Abramoff. Under House ethics rules, lawmakers are prohibited from accepting payment of trips and related expenses from registered lobbyists.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Blog postings may be sparse over the next few days

Blog postings may be sparse over the next few days . . .

while the proprietor of this blog takes a vacation.

However, as time and connectivity permit, some new articles

may appear, so please check daily.

Thank you.


NARAL Falsely Accuses Supreme Court Nominee Roberts
NARAL Falsely Accuses Supreme Court Nominee Roberts

Attack ad says he supported an abortion-clinic bomber and excused violence. In fact, Roberts called clinic bombers "criminals" who should be prosecuted fully.


An abortion-rights group is running an attack ad accusing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts of filing legal papers "supporting . . . a convicted clinic bomber" and of having an ideology that “leads him to excuse violence against other Americans” It shows images of a bombed clinic in Birmingham , Alabama .

The ad is false.

And the ad misleads when it says Roberts supported a clinic bomber. It is true that Roberts sided with the bomber and many other defendants in a civil case, but the case didn't deal with bombing at all. Roberts argued that abortion clinics who brought the suit had no right use an 1871 federal anti-discrimination statute against anti-abortion protesters who tried to blockade clinics. Eventually a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court agreed, too. Roberts argued that blockades were already illegal under state law.

The images used in the ad are especially misleading. The pictures are of a clinic bombing that happened nearly seven years after Roberts signed the legal brief in question.

Full article available at:


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Roberts Papers Being Delayed
Roberts Papers Being Delayed
Bush Aides Screen Pages for Surprises

By Jo Becker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005; A01

Thrown on the defensive by recent revelations about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s legal work, White House aides are delaying the release of tens of thousands of documents from the Reagan administration to give themselves time to find any new surprises before they are turned into political ammunition by Democrats.

Before Roberts's July 19 selection by President Bush, there was no comprehensive effort to examine the voluminous paper trail from his previous tours as an important legal and political hand under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, administration officials said.

Three weeks later, these officials say they recognize that Roberts's record is going to be central to Senate confirmation hearings scheduled to begin Sept. 6, and lawyers and political aides are urgently reviewing more than 50,000 pages -- at the same time denying requests from Democrats for an immediate release.

While the White House plays catch-up in studying Roberts's past, it is facing complaints from some of its conservative supporters about what they feel has been a stumbling campaign for the nominee.

Sean Rushton, director of the conservative Committee for Justice, said in the days after the nomination "there was a drop-off of message and focus."

"Merely saying 'He's a lawyer's lawyer' isn't enough," Rushton said. "This is the moment to explain why so many of us feel so strongly about the judicial system in ways that can change hearts and minds of swing voters who could be added to the Republican column."

Although Rushton said the White House has belatedly begun to "ramp up" its campaign, his complaint was echoed by several other conservative activists. They think Bush aides have reacted defensively about revelations highlighting Roberts's role as an advocate for conservative causes rather than making an unapologetic argument that he was on the right side of these issues.

While serving in the Reagan and Bush administrations, for instance, Roberts argued against affirmative-action quotas and other civil rights remedies that conservatives regarded as reverse discrimination, and he expressed deep skepticism about what he called the "so-called right to privacy" that underpins the constitutional right to abortion.

"They should be embracing those memos," said Bruce Fein, who worked with Roberts in the Reagan Justice Department. "They are squandering the opportunity to move public perception."

The administration had little control over the release of most of the documents that have come to light from Roberts's time as a special assistant to then-Attorney General William French Smith and later as an associate counsel to the president. That's because these papers had already been made public by the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library in California before the nomination or had been cleared for release by the National Archives under previous administrations.

But White House aides are exerting full control over the documents still under their authority. Under an executive order signed by President Bush in 2001, the White House has the right to review, and in some cases block, the release of presidential papers from previous administrations. White House lawyers have been dispatched to the Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif., where they are combing through documents that have not been released.

With the exception of documents that will be withheld for national security or privacy reasons, the White House said it plans to turn over all the documents by the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and those that Senate Democrats have identified as priorities as early as Aug. 22.

In the meantime, one senior Republican strategist said, Bush advisers are attempting to anticipate "which documents will be used by people committed to being against John Roberts" and preparing to counter expected attacks. "We will be prepared," the strategist said.

A prominent conservative strategist working closely with the administration on the nomination said some of the carping among Republicans that the White House has been flat-footed in handling questions about Roberts is unfair. Officials could not have carried out an exhaustive review of documents in government archives without involving large numbers of people and tipping their hand that Roberts was a likely nominee.

But the White House's delay in releasing Reagan-era documents has angered Senate Democrats, coming as it has on top of the refusal to disclose documents they have requested from Roberts's 1989-1993 tenure as principal deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration.

Citing attorney-client privilege, the administration similarly has declined to release roughly 7,700 pages of documents from the same era that The Washington Post requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The requested documents cover advice Roberts gave then-Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr on cases involving public school prayer, abortion, affirmative action and voting rights.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wrote President Bush yesterday, asking that Reagan-era documents be released on a rolling basis, as the White House completes its review. "Timely cooperation from the Administration is essential to the Committee's preparations for the upcoming hearings," Leahy said.

In other news, a major business organization, the National Association of Manufacturers, is expected to endorse the Roberts nomination, business lobbyists said.

The announcement is likely to be the beginning of a series of trade association nods to the Republican nominee and would represent the start of a first-ever lobbying campaign for a Supreme Court nominee by the corporate lobbying elite.

A spokesman for the association declined to comment. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also studying Roberts's record and is considered likely to endorse him, possibly early next month, a chamber official said.

Staff writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.


Bush Bypasses Senate to Install Edelman

ABC News
Bush Bypasses Senate to Install Edelman
President Bypasses Senate to Install Eric S. Edelman As Top Policy Aide to Rumsfeld
The Associated Press

Aug. 9, 2005 - President Bush for the second time in a week used a constitutional power to bypass the Senate and fill a senior Pentagon post with an official whose nomination was stalled in the Senate.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Bush named Eric S. Edelman to be undersecretary of defense for policy, the chief policy adviser to the secretary of defense. Edelman replaces Douglas J. Feith, whose battles with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., over the release of documents related to Iraq stalled Edelman's nomination.

Edelman is a career foreign service officer. He served as ambassador to Turkey from July 2003 to June 2005 and he was a national security assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney from February 2001 to June 2003.

Edelman's nomination to replace Feith was sent to the Senate on May 16.

The Constitution gives the president the authority to put an official in a position without waiting for Senate confirmation when Congress is in recess. The official then can serve until the end of the current Congress, which in this case is January 2007.

Last week Bush approved a recess appointment for Peter Flory to be assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, a post that had not been filled by a Senate-confirmed official since J.D. Crouch left in 2004.

On Aug. 1 Bush used the same power to install John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

On the Net:

Defense Department:


Judge Supports Charges Vs. DeLay Colleagues

ABC News
Judge Supports Charges Vs. DeLay Colleagues
Judge Refuses to Dismiss Charges Against DeLay Associates
The Associated Press

Aug. 9, 2005 - A state district judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss charges of money laundering and accepting illegal political contributions against two associates of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Judge Bob Perkins denied arguments from attorneys for John Colyandro and Jim Ellis that the charges were based on an unconstitutionally vague law and that the indictments were improperly worded.

The attorneys said they would appeal, a move that likely would delay any trial for several months.

The charges stem from the 2002 Texas legislative elections. Colyandro worked for DeLay's fundraising committee Texans for a Republican Majority, and Ellis worked for Americans for a Republican Majority.

The money laundering charges are based on $190,000 in corporate money that was sent to the Republican National State Elections Committee. That committee then gave the same amount of money in donations to seven Texas House candidates.

Colyandro and Ellis each were indicted on one count of money laundering, and Colyandro faces 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.

DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land, has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Another defendant, Warren RoBold, a Washington consultant who helped raise money for the committees, also has been indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions. RoBold was not part of Tuesday's court proceedings.


Conservative Group Pulls Roberts Support

ABC News
Conservative Group Pulls Roberts Support
Conservative Group Withdraws Support of Supreme Court Nominee Because of Work on Gay Rights Case
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

Aug. 10, 2005 - A conservative group in Virginia said Tuesday it was withdrawing its support for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' confirmation because of his work helping overturn a Colorado referendum on gays.

The group, Public Advocate of the United States, is one of the first conservative organizations to announce anything but support for the judge

Eugene Delgaudio, the president of the group, said in an interview that he hopes his stance will prod others.

"I know that others feel the same way. I know they believe as I do. They're just not going to act," the 50-year-old Northern Virginia man said. "But once I've done it, then they can't claim that no one's opposing Roberts."

"We can't take our limited resources and put it toward a candidate who is not a strict constructionist when we were told he is," Delgaudio said.

The stance by his group, which describes itself as a pro-family organization, puts it in opposition to conservative groups that have endorsed Roberts. A number of liberal groups already oppose President Bush's high court nominee.

Roberts met Tuesday with one senator who is undecided on his nomination, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who said the nominee "would not look favorably" on Congress acting to intervene in an end-of-life case like Terri Schiavo.

Wyden said Roberts told him during their hourlong meeting that Congress can prescribe standards, "but when Congress starts to act like a court and prescribe particular remedies in particular cases, Congress has overstepped its bounds," Wyden said.

Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life by allowing the case to be reviewed by federal courts. The courts rejected that effort.

Delgaudio said his group had planned to send out more than 1 million pieces of direct mail for Roberts, as well as work telephones, poll and conduct petition drives.

But now, "canceling our mail campaign is the least we can do," he said. He said he would poll his group to see if members want him to be neutral, spend money to oppose Roberts or reinstate support.

This is not the first time Delgaudio has gone up against the Bush administration. He criticized Vice President Dick Cheney last year after the vice president, when asked about gay marriage, said, "Freedom means freedom for everyone."

Delgaudio said then: "'Freedom' is not embracing perversion."

The Colorado gay rights case involved Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992 that would have barred laws, ordinances or regulations protecting gays from discrimination by landlords, employers or public agencies such as school districts.

Gay rights groups sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court declared the measure unconstitutional in a 6-3 ruling in 1996.

Roberts' role in the case included helping develop a strategy and firing tough questions during a mock court session at Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice who argued the case on behalf of the gay rights plaintiffs.

Arguments that Roberts' work on the case does not equal support for gay rights doesn't wash with Delgaudio.

"Nobody's forced to help your opponents," he said. "I can't believe that a senior attorney would voluntarily help somebody he doesn't agree with. I don't believe it. It's not credible."

Other conservative groups, including the Traditional Values Coalition and Focus on the Family Action, the political arm of the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family, are still supporting Roberts.

"We support President Bush and his choice for the Supreme Court, John Roberts," said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Other groups also are taking public stands on Roberts' candidacy.

NARAL Pro Choice America plans to start running television ads opposing Roberts on Wednesday, and other abortion rights groups including the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Federation and the Feminist Majority all have announced their opposition to Roberts.

The conservative Progress for America is launching a counteroffensive against NARAL's ads, spending $300,000 for one week's worth of ads on broadcast television in Maine and Rhode Island and on national cable television networks. The ads criticize NARAL's ads, calling them "a desperate and false attack recklessly distorting Judge Roberts' record."

The National Association of Manufacturers, led by Republican John Engler, is expected to announce an endorsement of Roberts on Wednesday.

Associated Press reporter Matthew Daly contributed to this report.


Falwell's 'Vote Christian' Criticized

ABC News
Falwell's 'Vote Christian' Criticized
Falwell Draws Fire for Saying 'Vote Christian in 2008' in Fundraising Letter for Ministries
The Associated Press

Aug. 10, 2005 - A Jewish organization is calling on the Rev. Jerry Falwell to retract a "vote Christian in 2008" statement made months ago in a letter raising money for his ministries.

The criticism of Falwell appeared Monday on the Web site of the Anti-Defamation League, a group organized in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism.

Falwell, founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and Moral Majority, included with his mass fundraising letter for Falwell Ministries a sticker that reads, "I Vote Christian."

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's national director, said Falwell's statements are "directly at odds with the American ideal and should be rejected."

"Understanding the danger of combining religion and politics, our founding fathers wisely created a political system based on individual merit and religious inclusiveness," Foxman said.

Falwell told The News & Advance of Lynchburg Tuesday that his statement was misunderstood.

"What I was saying was for conservative Christian voters to vote their values, which are pro-life and pro-family," Falwell said. "I had no intention of being anti-Jewish at all."


Ohio Critics of G.O.P. Start Battle to Change Election Process

The New York Times

Ohio Critics of G.O.P. Start Battle to Change Election Process

Critics of the Republican grip on Ohio politics filed petitions on Tuesday that seek a statewide vote on three constitutional amendments that would overturn the way elections are run and strip elected officials of their power to draw legislative districts.

The move, by the group Reform Ohio Now, is an effort to tap into sentiment across the country to remove political influence from the mechanics of elections. The movement has been sparked in part by partisan lines that are sharply reducing electoral competition in Congress and by efforts by political outsiders like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to upend the established order.

The Ohio group is backed by so-called good-government organizations like Common Cause, though Republicans insist it is little more than a front for disgruntled Democrats frozen out of power.

If its petitions are successful, a vote on the proposed amendments would be held in November in a campaign that Republicans and Democrats predicted would draw intense interest and millions of dollars from outside the state.

"People are fed up," Scarlett Bouder, a leader of Reform Ohio Now, said in a telephone news conference from Columbus, where the petitions were filed. "They want change."

The most significant of the amendments would effectively strip Republican elected officials of their control over redistricting, the reverse of an effort in California intended primarily for Democratic lawmakers that is backed by Mr. Schwarzenegger, who himself came into office through an recall election.

In both states, redistricting would be handed to an independent panel appointed by Republicans and Democrats, though a vote on the California measure is likely to be delayed until next year because of a legal challenge. A California appeals court, in a 2-to-1 decision, sided on Tuesday with opponents of the redistricting measure, ruling that it should not appear on the November ballot. The proponents are appealing to the State Supreme Court.

While officially nonpartisan, the Ohio group is dominated by Democrats and independents who have complained about the conduct of Republican officials in the state as well as about the handling of the presidential election in Ohio last fall by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state who is seeking his party's nomination for governor.

In addition to the redistricting measure, the proposed amendments would remove the secretary of state from oversight of elections, instead giving the power to an appointed election master. And it would lower some campaign contribution limits. Republicans in Ohio control the governor's office, the State Legislature, the attorney general's office, the Supreme Court and the state auditor and secretary of state's offices.

Jason Mauk, political director of the Ohio Republican Party, said the party had not taken a formal position on the amendments, but would undoubtedly work to defeat them.

"Quite frankly, the Democrats have failed to run competitive candidates in this state for two decades now and suddenly they are seeking to manipulate the Constitution because they have been impotent as a political party," Mr. Mauk said in an interview.

A former Republican president of the Ohio Senate, Richard Finan, last week filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court pre-emptively challenging the petitions because they did not identify the passages that would be deleted from the Constitution.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Finan said if the suit failed, a new group he had founded, Ohio First, would take up the cause with the expected backing of Republicans in Washington. Mr. Finan predicted that if the redistricting amendment became law, Republicans would lose six seats in the House of Representatives and that "you'll see this idea spread to other states."

"Right now, we have 12 Republican congressmen and 6 Democrats," he said. "If this passes, in 2008 you will see 6 Republicans and 12 Democrats."

Herb Asher, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University and a leader of Reform Ohio Now, said it was impossible to predict how the redistricting amendment would change the makeup of the Congressional delegation, only that it would make elections more competitive.

"Competitive districts doesn't necessarily mean the Democratic Party is going to do all that well," Mr. Asher said. "I wish both political parties would be looking at this from the perspective that competition is good."

The group delivered to the secretary of state's office petitions bearing the signatures of 520,789 people, said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the office. A vote is required on the proposed amendments if the secretary of state determines 322,899 of the signatures are those of qualified voters, Mr. LoParo said. A deadline of Aug. 25 has been set for the verification process.


Nominee Is Pressed on End-of-Life Care

The New York Times

Nominee Is Pressed on End-of-Life Care

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 - Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose case provoked Congressional action and a national debate over end-of-life care, became an issue on Tuesday in the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. when a Democratic senator pressed him about whether lawmakers should have intervened.

The senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said that Judge Roberts, while not addressing the Schiavo case specifically, made clear he was displeased with Congress's effort to force the federal judiciary to overturn a court order withdrawing her feeding tube.

"I asked whether it was constitutional for Congress to intervene in an end-of-life case with a specific remedy," Mr. Wyden said in a telephone interview after the hourlong meeting. "His answer was, 'I am concerned with judicial independence. Congress can prescribe standards, but when Congress starts to act like a court and prescribe particular remedies in particular cases, Congress has overstepped its bounds.' "

The answer, which Mr. Wyden said his aides wrote down word-for-word, would seem to put Judge Roberts at odds with leading Republicans in Congress, including the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and the House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay, who both led the charge for Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case this spring. Mr. DeLay said at the time that the federal judiciary had "run amok."

Mr. Wyden has a keen interest in end-of-life issues because his home state, Oregon, has a law providing for physician-assisted suicide. That law is the subject of a Supreme Court case, on the docket for Oct. 5, about whether the federal government has the right to withdraw prescribing privileges for doctors who follow the Oregon law and prescribe lethal doses of medicine to their dying patients.

Mr. Wyden said that he asked Judge Roberts whether he believed states should take the lead in regulating medical practice, and that the nominee replied that "uniformity across the country would stifle the genius of the founding fathers."

Mr. Wyden said, "I came away with the sense that he was somewhat sympathetic to my notion that there should be a wide berth for states to take the lead."

In discussing how the law was evolving on end-of-life care, Mr. Wyden said Judge Roberts cited a dissent by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1928 Supreme Court case, in which he famously spoke of "the right to be left alone." Legal scholars view that dissent as a pithy formulation of the right to privacy - a principle that, years later and in a different context, formed the basis for the court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Senator Wyden said he also asked Judge Roberts what he meant when, in his 2003 confirmation hearings for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he told senators he viewed the Roe decision as "settled law." Mr. Wyden said Judge Roberts replied that "settled law depends to a degree on the bench on which you sit," meaning that while it may be settled for a circuit judge, the same may not be true for justices of the Supreme Court.

"His definition of settled law based on what he told me this afternoon is not settled," Mr. Wyden said, adding, "That is certainly something that needs to be followed up on."

The meeting between Judge Roberts and Mr. Wyden came as Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said the White House was dragging its feet in providing thousands of pages of documents, promised two weeks ago by President Bush. The documents, which cover Judge Roberts's tenure as a young Justice Department official in the administration of Ronald Reagan, are housed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the judiciary panel, reminded Mr. Bush that Democrats had put a priority on receiving certain documents, and asked that they "be produced to us on a rolling basis."

But the records have not been forthcoming, and Mr. Leahy said it appeared that the request had been "ignored or rejected."

Also Tuesday, abortion-rights advocates and opponents traded barbs, and national television advertisements, about Judge Roberts's involvement in a 1971 Supreme Court case, Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, that involved Operation Rescue, a group that staged protests at abortion clinics.

The Bray case unfolded while Judge Roberts was working for the office of the solicitor general under the first President Bush, and he filed a friend-of-the-court brief that argued, successfully, that a century-old statute designed to quell the Ku Klux Klan could not be used to quash the abortion clinic protests.

Citing that case, the abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America has begun a national advertising campaign intended to link Judge Roberts with advocates of clinic violence. The advertisement will begin running Wednesday on cable television and networks in two states, Maine and Rhode Island, that are home to centrist Republican senators. It immediately prompted an advertisement by Progress for America, a conservative advocacy group, defending Judge Roberts.

Judge Roberts has been quoted as saying that lawyers do not always share the views of their clients. But the Bray case - which prompted Congress to enact a law barring abortion clinic blockades - is particularly upsetting to advocates for abortion rights because the lead plaintiff, Michael Bray, had been convicted for his involvement in 10 bombings at health centers in the 1980's.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Smoking Gun on Roberts - Part 2

Smoking Gun on Roberts - Part 2
Bob Moss

In a previous posting , having been tipped off by Findlaw columnist Julie Hilden, I explained why, contrary to media accounts, and even the testimony of some Democrats, D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts is as extreme as they get. Having re­viewed his dissent in the Rancho Viejo case, I regret to inform you that he’s even worse than I thought.

We saw that Roberts considered the act of digging, as a necessary step in building a hous­ing development, to be an intrastate, non-commercial act, separate from the overall act of build­ing, market­ing, and selling units in a development, which he concedes involves interstate com­merce. The digging could thus not be regulated under the Endangered Species Act, even though the habitat of an endan­gered species was being de­stroyed. We saw that the consistent application of this theory would eviscerate virtually all Fe­deral regulations, not only the ones we don’t like, but also health, safe­ty, and consumer-pro­tection regulations.

Well, add crossing state lines to commit a crime, e.g. for the purpose of impairing the mor­als of a minor. I personally know of a 14-year-old girl who met an adult over the internet, told him when she would be traveling with her family to a state in which neither of them lived, and which hotel they would be staying in. The man booked a room next to hers and appeared on the scene. (Fortunately, that was as far as it went.) I would much rather that such a sicko be guilty of a Federal offense than not. But under Roberts, an entire class of federal criminal legis­lation would have to be tossed. He all but says this explicitly.

For purposes of confirmation to the Supreme Court, not only does the outcome of a judge’s reasoning have to be bad, but the reasoning itself has to be bad. Roberts aces that requirement, twisting legal precedents to suit his needs, as if he were arguing a weak case for a wealthy client, rather than impartially judging from the bench. I have to admit that Roberts’ argument is clever, but being clever is not the same as being right. My explanation is going to be somewhat like high school geo­metry, so please bear with me—it’s important.

When looking for a precedent, Roberts obviously wanted one in which the definition of in­ter­state commerce was restricted rather than expanded. He chose United States v. Lopez (1995). There, the Supreme Court struck down an act of Congress prohib­iting possession of firearms near a school, on the ground that the proscribed behavior had such a tenuous connection with interstate commerce that, should the law be upheld, there would be no practical limit on Con­gress’ power to reg­u­late matters which the Constitution has left to the states.1

However, as we shall see, Lopez by itself was not sufficient. To achieve his purpose, Rob­erts raised a conundrum by testing the holding in Lopez against a principle allegedly enun­ciated in U. S. v. Salerno (1987)—that in order for a law to be found uncon­stitu­tional, there must be “no circum­stances” in which the prohibition might be constitu­tion­al. How could the ban on firearms near a school satisfy this restriction? As Roberts ac­knowledged, a person possess­ing a firearm might be “part of an interstate ring,” and may have “brought it to the school to sell it.” Roberts solved the puzzle by assuming that the Court in Lopez considered the possession of a firearm near a school to be a separate, intrastate act, no matter where the offender came from and what kind of interstate crime ring he belonged to. This assumption created an alleged pre­cedent for declaring that digging up the toads’ habitat is a separate, intrastate act, even if all the building materials and labor came from out-of-state, and all the houses are marketed and sold out-of-state.

Pretty neat, except for one thing—it’s totally, objectively wrong.

Even though Roberts quoted Salerno correctly, the words “no circum­stances” in Salerno clearly were not meant literally. The question in Salerno was whether Congress could mandate pre-trial de­tention of de­fendants charged with serious crimes and found to be a danger to the community. The consti­tutionality of such a law, according to the Court, turned on whether the purpose of the de­tention was to punish the defendant for acts not yet committed, or to protect the community.2 The Court held that so long as the law could reasonably be interpreted as being designed to protect the com­munity, it was constitutional. In other words, the principle enunciated in Salerno was a long-stand­ing and un­dis­puted one: in order for a law to be unconstitutional, there must be no reason­able inter­pretation of it that would render it constitutional. “No cir­cum­stances” was merely a poor choice of words.

Reading Lopez bears this out. Roberts is just plain wrong. As we saw, he wants us to as­sume that the Court in Lopez considered the act of possessing a firearm near a school to be always distinct and separate from interstate com­merce, no matter where the offender came from and what sort of interstate firearms ring he be­longed to. However, the second sentence of the Lopez opinion says, “The Act neither regulates a commercial activity nor contains a requirement that the pos­session be connected in any way to interstate commerce.” After much discussion, the opinion expressly states that the Constitutional problem with the ban on fire­arms near schools was that it contained no language that could reasonably be interpreted to require a connection with interstate com­­merce. Thus if it did, it would pass constitutional muster.

Clearly, no rational person could infer from Lopez that possession of a firearm near a school is always, in every circumstance, an isolated, intrastate act. Assuming that Roberts is ra­tional, he deliberately mangled Lopez to provide a fig leaf for his op­posi­tion to the Endan­gered Species Act. Did he realize that in doing so, he also advanced a nearly explicit argument for overturning any law mak­ing it a federal crime to cross state lines to commit untoward acts with a firearm? Perhaps he opposes all controls on firearms, as well as on killing endangered spe­cies. In any case, he was not just wrong, he was maliciously wrong.

To be fair, it is not uncommon for judges to deliberately misinterpret the law in order to ad­vance their ideologies. But that’s no excuse for Roberts. Whenever it’s done, the offender should be excoriated publicly until he or she reforms or resigns—and in no case should such a miscreant be elevated to the Supreme Court.


1 He also relied on United States v. Morrison (2000), in which the Court struck down the Violence against Women Act, for the same reason. In our discussion, we need only mention Lopez.
2 There were actually several issues to be considered, but this is the only one that bears on Rob­erts’ argument


The Real Roberts?
The Real Roberts?
By Richard Cohen

John G. Roberts Jr. is out of the closet.

President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, on the basis of the available evidence and all we know about human behavior, is not -- and I emphasize not ! -- a bigot. Specifically, he seems to harbor no prejudice against gay men and lesbians, who are, as we all know, anathema to social conservatives, who are anti-gay and pro-Bush, in about equal measures. Roberts, amazingly and inexplicably, seems to be a man of tolerance.

The evidence for this was the revelation by the Los Angles Times last week that Roberts volunteered his time on behalf of gay rights. As a partner in the prestigious Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson, Roberts helped prepare lawyers who were challenging a Colorado law that specifically exempted gays from state anti-discrimination measures. In other words, a landlord or employer in Colorado could not have discriminated against blacks or Muslims or Asians or Jews or whites or greens or penguins, but could against gays. This odious exception to the law was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, 6 to 3, in 1996. Roberts played a role.

According to the Times and others, Roberts helped develop the winning legal strategy and prepared Jean Dubofsky, the lead lawyer for the gay rights groups, for the tough questioning that might come her way -- especially from Justice Antonin Scalia. "Roberts was just terrifically helpful in meeting with me and spending some time on the issue," Dubofsky said. "He seemed to be very fair-minded and very astute."

He may even have endorsed her cause. Who knows? After all, Roberts was not compelled to volunteer his time. Hogan & Hartson encourages pro bono work, but it hardly compels its lawyers to take cases that they might find morally or politically repugnant. Clearly, a lawyer who, say, agreed with the likes of the Rev. Pat Robertson or Rep. Tom DeLay (Rev., Rep., it's all the same nowadays) would not have taken the case. What's more, there's evidence to suggest that Roberts knew what he was doing. He made no mention of the case in the 83 pages he submitted to the Senate outlining his finances, pro bono work and other matters of interest. He knows the political peril of tolerance.

The White House and its allies, understandably alarmed at implications of moderation and enlightenment, were quick to suggest that Roberts was not, as some might slander him, a reasonable man. Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, pointed out that Roberts had spent less than 10 hours working on the gay rights case. She made it sound like a one-night stand, a youthful indiscretion for which no adult should be held accountable. Hell, we've all been young.

Jay Sekulow, a leader in the movement to make the high court intellectually indistinguishable from the Inquisition, rushed to explain Roberts to his constituency. This was something lawyers did. "A lot of people are commenting who don't know about Supreme Court practice," Sekulow said. "There's a high degree of collegiality." In other words, it meant nothing. Still, maybe Roberts could prove himself by beating up some gays.

Sean Rushton, director of the Committee for Justice, a right-wing group, characterized the revelation about Roberts's inexplicable pro bono work as "a red herring meant to divide the right." What he meant by this is not entirely clear unless, of course, evidence surfaces to show that Roberts ingested a mushroom and temporarily lost his mind. That might explain why he awkwardly found himself on the side of human rights.

As for Focus on the Family, possibly the premier organization in such matters, it portrayed Roberts as a mindless puppet of his law firm. "That's what lawyers do -- represent their firm's clients, whether they agree with what those clients stand for or not," it said in a statement. Of course, that's not the case at all. "Anyone who didn't want to work on a case for whatever matter, they didn't have to," said Walter A. Smith Jr., the Hogan & Hartson partner who ran the pro bono program. Oh.

The spectacle of conservative groups and the White House rushing to assure their constituencies that Roberts is not -- really and truly -- a tolerant man is both repulsive and absurd. In the end, this tethering of conservatism to the lost cause of homophobia will earn the rebuke of history. In the meantime, though, it puts Roberts on the spot. He might assert that he has been cruelly mischaracterized and, for benefit of career, renounce the work he had once done. But more likely his pro bono work speaks for itself. Until he says otherwise, on gay rights, he's out of the closet.


Why Won't Scooter Libby Grant Judith Miller a Personal Waiver?

Why Won't Scooter Libby Grant Judith Miller a Personal Waiver?
Rep. John Conyers

August is typically a month of no news. Congress goes on its summer recess. The President takes a long vacation. A very long one. For those in the White House press corps who are not so fortunate to be assigned to bake in the Crawford, Texas sun, they too take vacations (though not as long as the President's).

This August is different. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the slow drip of scandal turning into a waterfall of corruption and coverups in the Bush White House. On the internet, new pieces of the puzzle are coming together. My friend and the proprietor of this blog, Arianna Huffington seems to have the best sources inside the New York Times newsroom and has led many of us to begin asking whether Judith Miller's refusal to testify is not what it seems.

Picking up this thread over the weekend is an overlooked investigative piece
in the American Prospect Magazine's online edition. In case you missed it, in a piece entitled "The Meeting," investigative reporter Murray Waas uncovers some new information about Treason-gate, Miller's refusal to testify and Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby's possible complicity in a coverup.

The article should be read in its entirety, but here are a few highlights:
-- Libby met with Judith Miller on July 8, 2003 and discussed CIA operative Valerie Plame. This meeting, six days before the publication of Robert Novak's infamous column outing Mrs. Joe Wilson (Valerie Plame), is a "central focus" of the Fitzgerald investigation.

-- The kicker: "Sources close to the investigation, and private attorneys representing clients embroiled in the federal probe, said that Libby's failure to produce a personal waiver may have played a significant role in Miller's decision not to testify about her conversations with Libby, including the one on July 8, 2003."

The President has, of course, directed his staff to "fully cooperate" with the probe. Make no mistake about it, if Waas's sources are right, Libby is not cooperating. In fact, while right wing pundits continually claim that the White House has not obstructed the Fitzgerald investigation, these new disclosures indicate that a top White House staffer is essentially directing a reporter to invoke a privilege on his behalf to keep the Special Prosecutor from learning the truth. Remember the hue and cry from conservatives when it was the Clinton Administration invoking privileges on what was not a matter of national security, but a private sexual affair? Where are they now?

The course for Libby is clear. He should obey the President's directive and immediately give Miller his personal waiver to testify about any conversations he may have had with her that are within the purview of the Grand Jury. Today, I and along with my colleagues Louise Slaughter, Maurice Hinchey and Rush Holt, wrote to Libby asking him to do just that. Waas has the letter
on his blog.

If he refuses, the President faces a choice. He can show he means what he says and fire an employee who is so obviously obstructing the search for the truth. Or he can continue to tolerate such behavior and thereby make clear what many suspect -- when it comes to getting to the bottom of who did this vile act, he is all talk.


White House Sides With N.H. on Abortion
White House Sides With N.H. on Abortion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration jumped into the legal dispute over a New Hampshire abortion law Monday, arguing that the outcome could affect a final ruling on a federal abortion law that has been struck down by three courts.

In a legal brief filed with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said New Hampshire's parental notification law for minors seeking abortion does not violate the Constitution, and urged justices to uphold it.

The court decided in May to review the 2003 New Hampshire law. An appeals court ruled it was unconstitutional because it didn't provide an exception to protect the minor's health in the event of a medical emergency.

The court's decision "may have direct relevance to the government's defense of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act," Solicitor General Paul D. Clement wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The law Congress passed and President Bush signed in 2003 also lacks an exception when the health of the mother is at risk. Judges in Lincoln, Neb., New York and San Francisco have overturned the law on that basis.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has upheld the Nebraska ruling. The other decisions also have been appealed and are expected by many legal experts to eventually reach the Supreme Court.


Sen. Specter asks Roberts about judicial activism


Sen. Specter asks Roberts about judicial activism

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was warned on Monday that he will face questions at his confirmation hearings about whether he agreed with "judicial activism" on the court that sought to scale back Congress' authority.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, who will be running the hearings, wrote to the nominee to say he would be asking about two landmark Supreme Court decisions in the last decade that limited Congress' powers under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"What is your thinking on the jurisprudence of U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison, which overturned almost 60 years of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause?" Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, asked.

He said he wanted to give Roberts some "advance notice" of questions he would raise at hearings starting on Sept. 6.

"I do see a great deal of popular and Congressional dissatisfaction with the judicial activism; and, at a minimum, the Senate's determination to confirm new justices who will respect Congress' constitutional role," Specter wrote.

President Bush nominated Roberts, a federal appeals judge, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream conservative who often cast the decisive vote on the closely divided court.

O'Connor ruled with the majority of the court in both the Lopez and Morrison decisions, which were decided 5-4 and limited Congress' ability to use the commerce clause to intervene in non-commercial interstate matters.

In the 1995 U.S. v. Lopez case, the court struck down a law banning firearms near schools, while in the 2000 U.S. v. Morrison case, the court invalidated part of the federal Violence against Women Act.

Specter's letter to Roberts made no mention of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and is expected to be a subject at the confirmation hearings.

Instead Specter complained of the "abrupt reversals" of the Lopez and Morrison cases and added that members of Congress were irate about the Court's "denigrating and really, disrespectful statements about Congress' competence."

Specter is not the first senator to mention the commerce clause issue since Roberts' nomination. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a judiciary committee Democrat, pressed Roberts about it in a recent meeting and said afterwards he was convinced Roberts would not "shrink the commerce clause."

The Senate's leading Democrat meanwhile asked the Bush administration to reconsider its refusal to release internal documents written by Roberts while at the Justice Department.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said senators needed to see the documents from the years Roberts served as deputy solicitor general in order to examine 50-year-old conservative's candidacy effectively.

"I urge the White House to reconsider this initial decision, and to work cooperatively with Judiciary Committee Democrats so that the Senate can do its job more effectively," Reid said in a statement.


U.S. foresees autumn rise in troop levels in Iraq


U.S. foresees autumn rise in troop levels in Iraq

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects to raise its troop levels in Iraq this fall to bolster security for the planned October constitutional referendum and December elections for a new government, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Planning for a short-term bulge in troop levels comes as U.S. commanders, according to defense officials, also are working toward cutting the current force by 20,000 to 30,000 troops next spring and summer, contingent on progress in Iraq's political process and in developing Iraqi security forces.

The increase in troops also coincides with a spike in the number of Americans killed fighting the insurgency after a U.S.-led invasion toppled President Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since July 30, at least 41 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, including 18 on Aug. 3 alone.

A Pentagon tally released on Monday listed 1,829 U.S. military deaths since the start of the war in March 2003. Another 13,700 troops have been wounded in action.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the Defense Department may delay the scheduled departure of an unspecified number of the 139,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, achieving a short-term increase in the size of the force as more troops flow into the country as previously planned.

Di Rita did not say how big an increase was envisioned. The Pentagon temporarily raised U.S. troop levels by about 20,000 to roughly 160,000 ahead of the historic Jan. 30 elections.

Asked if the size of the U.S. force this fall would reach 160,000 again, Di Rita said, "It could be more. It could be less."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon leaders have predicted a rise in violence by insurgents attempting to disrupt the upcoming voting.

The Iraqis have an Aug. 15 deadline for drafting a new constitution, which would face a referendum on Oct. 15. Elections for a new government are scheduled for two months later.

"We'll have a lot of flexibility to be able to let the forces stack on top of one another during the rotation (of troops in and out of Iraq) so that we can have a greater capability during key points," Di Rita said.

"We altered the rotations of units during the January election. And I think it's perfectly plausible to assume we'll do the same thing for this election," said Di Rita, who said final decisions had not been made.

The military previously announced it was augmenting the U.S. force in Afghanistan ahead of Sept. 18 parliamentary elections by sending an airborne battalion of 700 to 800 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to join the 17,600 American troops already in the country.

Di Rita did not rule out the possibility of dispatching a similar unit from the United States to Iraq but said it was more likely an increase in troop levels would come about as a result of delaying the scheduled departure of soldiers already serving there while new ones arrived as planned.

U.S. Army soldiers generally serve tours of no more than a year on the ground in Iraq at a time, with Marines serving seven-month stints.


FCC hires anti-porn advocate as adviser


FCC hires anti-porn advocate as adviser

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An outspoken anti-pornography advocate has been hired by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to advise the agency on consumer issues involving the cable and broadcast industry, which has been under scrutiny for airing racy material.

Penny Nance, who previously ran the "Kids First Coalition" which advocates on the issues of adoption, crime, pornography, abortion and computer safety, has been hired as a part-time adviser in the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, an agency spokesman said.

Nance, a self-described religious conservative, has testified before Congress and has been interviewed on cable television about Internet child pornography. She did not return calls seeking comment.

A FCC spokesman was unable to say when she was hired or what her specific duties would be beyond providing advice and acting as a liaison to Congress, public interest groups and the industry. Her new job was first reported by Mediaweek.

The FCC this year has not yet proposed any fines against broadcasters though complaints are pending. In 2004, under then FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the agency proposed fines totaling almost $8 million.

One of the most recent complaints was by a parents group upset that the ABC television network failed to censor a swear word during one broadcast of the Live 8 concert, an event aimed at drawing attention to poverty in poor nations.

Federal regulations bar the broadcast of obscene material and limit indecent content, such as sexually explicit or profanity laden material, to late night hours when children are less likely to be in the audience.

Spokesmen for the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined to comment on Nance's new job.

FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin became chairman in March and immediately prodded the cable industry to address concerns by parents worried about the content of programing.

The cable industry has responded with a $250 million campaign to better inform parents about their options to control what their children watch and the television and radio industry plans to issue guidelines to stations this summer.

Congress has been contemplating increasing the maximum fine for indecent incidents on broadcast television and radio to as much $500,000 per violation. The current maximum is $32,500.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to raise fines but legislation in the Senate has not been considered.


Parts of Patriot Act are offensive-lawyers group


Parts of Patriot Act are offensive-lawyers group

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The president-elect of the nation's largest lawyers group on Monday said some of the federal government's investigative powers included in the anti-terrorism Patriot Act are a threat to constitutional rights.

Michael Greco criticized aspects of the act, passed to bolster security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, at the American Bar Association convention, where U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged the U.S. Congress to renew it.

"We support the (Bush) administration in its efforts to secure the nation but we have taken policy positions, four or five of them, where we think due process has not been followed," Greco said in an interview with Reuters.

He criticized exceptions the law makes to the constitution's privacy protections that give law enforcement the power to search a home without the homeowner's knowledge and without a judge-approved search warrant.

"The ABA position is that some of these provisions are so invasive of individual liberties that there has to be a sunset provision. They're offensive, I think, to democracy," Greco said.

Members of a conference committee in Congress seeking to reconcile competing versions of the law's renewal are debating whether to include a four-year or 10-year "sunset" clause that would allow some of those provisions to expire.

In his address, Gonzales insisted the Patriot Act was essential to fighting terrorism and accused critics of clouding the debate with "a litany of misstatements and half-truths."

"We are fighting terrorism with the tools and techniques provided for in the Patriot Act, tools that have long been available to fight crime," he said. "We are doing this in a manner that protects individual rights and liberties.

"We are not interested in the reading habits of ordinary citizens (and) we are subject to the oversight of federal judges," Gonzales said, citing an oft-ridiculed provision that gives law enforcement powers to review library records and bookstore sales.

Although delegates to the group's annual convention did not single out President Bush, several resolutions appeared aimed at administration stances.

The group, which represents more than 400,000 attorneys, judges and law students, passed by unanimous voice vote a resolution calling for respect for judges.

Bush, for instance, has complained in the past about "activist judges" whose rulings have allowed gays to marry and otherwise angered conservatives. An outcry led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also followed judicial rulings in the right-to-die case involving Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead Florida woman whose former husband ultimately succeeded in having her feeding tube removed.

ABA delegates this week were expected to approve a halt to a perceived erosion of attorney-client privilege and a federal shield law for reporters seeking to protect their sources.


NYC tests for biochemical attack

NYC tests for biochemical attack
By Jeremy Hillman
BBC News, New York

Officials in New York City have begun conducting a large-scale anti-terror test aimed at simulating the effects of a major biochemical attack.

Scientists released a harmless gas in the city's underground railway system.

Hundreds of devices across New York are now tracking the way the gas is being carried by the airflows between Manhattan's skyscrapers.

Officials hope the exercise will help in planning how and where people should be evacuated in case of a real attack.

The exercise comes as the city has raised security following the bombings London's transport system last month.


Monday is the first of six days of testing this month when gas will be released at different locations and times of day.

A spokeswoman for a programme involved in the project said "it went very well".

Around 100 scientists are working on the simulation.

The gas will be collected and analysed by hundreds of devices placed in baskets and on rooftops across the city, including in Times Square.

This exercise is one of the most complex gas trials ever conducted.
Story from BBC NEWS:


Judge-only terror courts mooted

Judge-only terror courts mooted
Judge-only courts are being considered for pre-trial hearings in terror cases, the Home Office has confirmed.

Sitting in secret, judges would look at whether there was enough evidence against suspects for cases to proceed.

On Friday, Tony Blair said the government was looking into a new court procedure allowing a pre-trial process, as he unveiled new terror measures.

Commons home affairs committee chairman John Denham has criticised ministers for putting forward "half-baked" ideas.

The Home Office said details of how terror cases would be tried were still being worked out, but confirmed a move to judge-only courts was under active consideration.


Sources told the BBC one possibility was a model similar to the Special Immigrations Appeals Tribunal, which sits in secret and keeps the details of charges from those accused of them.

In those cases defendants are represented by special advocates, who have access to the evidence but do not brief their 'clients' on the details.

BBC Political Correspondent James Hardy said: "A change of that nature might allow the authorities to use phone-tap evidence, currently inadmissible in court."

However, the Home Office said there was no truth in newspaper reports that the courts would be able to use such evidence.

James Hardy also said the changes could underpin police requests to be permitted to hold suspects without charge for longer than the current maximum of 14 days

For Muslims there, they have a duty to fight occupiers, whether they are British soldiers or American soldiers
Omar Bakri Mohammed

A similar system used to detain foreign terrorist suspects without trial was ruled unlawful by the law lords last year.

Ministers made little secret then of their anger at its defeat in the courts and now believe the London bombings may have changed the legal climate, our correspondent says.

Liberal Democrat President Simon Hughes suggested there "may be a case" for security-vetted judges to undertake special work.

But he doubted a major extension of the time suspects were held could be justified.

Tory spokesman Edward Garnier urged the government to "calm down and think these things through" and to consult other parties on the detailed proposals.

Unveiling a raft of counter-terror proposals on Friday, Mr Blair said British hospitality had been abused but people should know the "rules of the game are changing".

He also announced plans to extend powers to deport or exclude foreigners who encourage terrorism, perhaps through changing human rights laws.


There could also be new powers to close mosques and automatic refusal of asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism.

Police and lawyers are also meeting this week to discuss the possibility of charging some outspoken Islamist radicals with treason.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have accused the government of confusion by announcing different measures on different days.

Mr Denham said the ministers had initially produced a considered response to the London attacks, but that it now looked like they were acting in a knee-jerk fashion.


"I think they have got to get a grip on it very, very quickly, stop floating half-baked ideas and get back a proper cross-party consensus on the serious measures that have to be taken."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Tony Blair had made it clear how he wants to proceed.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald have discussed action for treason against three clerics.

Abu Izzadeen, Abu Uzair and Omar Bakri Mohammed, who is now understood to have left the country, were all expected to come under scrutiny.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Monday, August 08, 2005

Army whistleblower draws fire

Army whistleblower draws fire

AP National Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the world as Bunnatine Greenhouse sees it, people do the right thing. They stand up for the greater good and they speak up when things go wrong. She believes God has a purpose for each life and she prays every day for that purpose to be made evident. These days she is praying her heart out, because she is in a great deal of trouble.

Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse is the Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting ("PARC" in the alphabet soup of military acronyms) in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lest the title fool, she is responsible for awarding billions upon billions in taxpayers' money to private companies hired to resurrect war-torn Iraq and to feed, clothe, shelter and do the laundry of American troops stationed there.

She has rained a mighty storm upon herself for standing up, before members of Congress and live on C-SPAN to proclaim things are just not right in this staggeringly profitable business.

She has asked many questions: Why is Halliburton - a giant Texas firm that holds more than 50 percent of all rebuilding efforts in Iraq - getting billions in contracts without competitive bidding? Do the durations of those contracts make sense? Have there been violations of federal laws regulating how the government can spend its money?

Halliburton denies any wrongdoing. "These false allegations have been recycled in the media ad nauseam," the company said in response to a list of e-mailed questions from The Associated Press.

Now Bunny Greenhouse may lose her job - and her reputation, which she spent a lifetime building.

She is a black woman in a world of mostly white men; a 60-year-old workaholic who abides neither fools nor frauds. But she is out of her element in this fight, her former boss said.

"What Bunny is caught up in is politics of the highest damn order," said retired Gen. Joe Ballard, who hired Greenhouse and headed the Corps until 2000. "This is real hardball they're playing here. Bunny is a procurement officer, she's not a politician. She's not trained to do this."


Greenhouse has known for a long time that her days may be numbered. Her needling of contracts awarded to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) predated the war in Iraq, beginning with costs she said were spiraling "out of control" from a 2000 Bosnia contract to service U.S. troops. From 1995 to 2000, Halliburton's CEO was Dick Cheney, who left to run for vice president. He maintains his former company has not received preferential treatment from the government.

Since then, she had questioned both the amounts and the reasons for giving KBR tremendous contracts in the buildup to invading Iraq. At first she was ignored, she said. Then she was cut out of the decision-making process.

Last October 6, she was summoned to the office of her boss. Major Gen. Robert Griffin, the Corps' deputy commander, was demoting her, he told her, taking away her Senior Executive Service status and sending her to midlevel management. Not unlike being cast out of the office of bank president into the cubicle of branch manager. Griffin declined to be interviewed by the AP.

Her performance was poor, said a letter he presented. This was a surprise. Her previous job evaluations had been exemplary, she said. The basic theme was that she was "difficult," and "nobody likes you," she said.

If she didn't want the new position, she could always retire with full benefits, the letter noted.

Over my dead body, said Greenhouse.

"I took an oath of office. I took those words that I was going to protect the interests of my government and my country. So help me God," she says. "And nobody. Has the right. To take away my privilege. To serve my government. Nobody."

She has hired lawyer Michael Kohn, who successfully represented Linda Tripp in her claim that the Pentagon leaked personal information after she secretly taped Monica Lewinsky's confessions of a sexual affair with President Bill Clinton.

Two weeks after Greenhouse's trip to the woodshed, Kohn wrote an 11-page letter to the acting Secretary of the Army, requesting an independent investigation of "improper action that favored KBR's interests."

He also asked that his client be protected against retaliation under whistleblower statutes.

Then he reminded the Army secretary of Federal Acquisition Requirement 3.101: "Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach ... with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none."

The status of an independent investigation by the Defense Department is unclear. "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on open and ongoing investigations," said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch.

Halliburton is also under federal investigation for alleged favoritism by the Bush administration. FBI agents questioned Greenhouse for nine hours last November about that probe. In March, a former employee was indicted for taking bribes while working for KBR in Iraq.

Company spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said KBR has "delivered vital services for U.S. troops and the Iraqi people at a fair and reasonable cost, given the circumstances."

Meanwhile, Greenhouse has been placed under a 3-month performance review ending in September.


When Gen. Ballard hired her in 1997 she was overqualified - three master's degrees and more than 20 years of contracting experience in private industry, the Army and the Pentagon.

"She is probably the most professional person I've ever met, " Ballard said. "And she plays it straight. That created problems for her after I left."

Ballard used her, he said, to help him revolutionize the Corps - by ending the old-boys practice of awarding contracts to a favored few, and by imposing private industry standards on a mammoth, 230-year-old government agency with 35,000 workers. He felt the Corps, which had overseen everything from building hydroelectric dams to the Soo Locks to the Manhattan Project, needed a hard boot into the new age of contracting.

"The Corps is a tough organization. And I'll tell you, it's not easy to be a woman in this organization, and a black one at that," said Ballard, who was the first black leader of the Corps.

He is not optimistic about her future.

"I think you can put a fork in it," he said. "Her career is done."

At Corps headquarters, few speak to her, she said, and her bosses write down what she says at departmental meetings.

Sometimes, as she walks down a hall, someone will mutter, "Go for it, Bunny," or "Give 'em hell," she said. "They pass by saying this while they're looking straight ahead," she recounted, and chuckled.

In a city where politics is everything, including blood sport, she refuses to play. Right down to her clothes.

Bunny Greenhouse does not subscribe to the Capitol chic of a dowdy Janet Reno jacket and skirt or a boxy Hillary Clinton suit with buttons the size of quarters. On a sweltering summer day, seated in her lawyer's Georgetown office, Greenhouse wears a vibrant pink-and-black shirt, tight-fitting trousers with creases that could cut butter, and a blazer with a shredded-fabric flower.

Her bag - overflowing with files, papers, pens, wallet, cell phone - rivals the weight of a bound copy of the federal budget. Underestimate her at your peril.

"I have never gone along to get along. And I'm willing to suffer the consequences," she said.

Her contracting staff was sharply reduced, she said, and her superiors have gone behind her back, most notably in issuing an emergency waiver - on a day she was out of the office - that allowed KBR to ignore requests from Department of Defense auditors who issued a draft report in 2003 concluding KBR overcharged the government $61 million for fuel in Iraq.

"They knew I would never have signed it," she said.

The Army Corps of Engineers declined to comment on Greenhouse's complaints. "It's a personnel matter," said Corps spokeswoman Carol Sanders. "We're not going to go point-by-point with Ms. Greenhouse's accusations.

"They want me out," Greenhouse said.


In her job, Greenhouse is mandated by Congress to get the best quality at the cheapest price from the most qualified supplier. Over her objections, KBR was awarded three multibillion-dollar war-related contracts, two of them without competitive bidding.

Together, they are worth as much as $20 billion - the entire cost of the Manhattan Project, adjusted to today's dollars.

Greenhouse's most strenuous complaints were over the Restore Iraqi Oil contract, estimated at $7 billion, originally planned to handle oil field fires that might be started by Saddam Hussein's troops. When that failed to happen, it morphed into an agreement to repair oil fields and import fuel for civilians and soldiers.

The contract was given to KBR in March 2003. In Greenhouse's view, that process violated federal regulations concerning fair and open bidding. Halliburton denies that.

A month before KBR got the contract - and three weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq - she had demanded KBR officials be ejected from a Pentagon meeting attended by high-ranking officials from the Corps and the Defense Department. "They should not have been there," she said. "We were discussing the terms of the contract."

Later, she would tell Democratic members of Congress: "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have ever witnessed during the course of my professional career."

At the Corps, Greenhouse said she was told KBR was the only qualified firm.

With the country on the brink of war, she reluctantly signed the RIO contract. But next to her signature, she boldly wrote an objection to the only thing she felt she could challenge - the contract's length, five years. One year would have been more than fair, she said. After that, it should have been put out for bid among contractors with top security clearances.

"I caution that extending this sole source contract beyond a one-year period could convey an invalid perception that there is not strong intent for a limited competition," she penned in neat cursive.

In June, she was asked to testify before the Democratic Policy Committee - formed by Democrats who said their efforts to get the Republican-controlled Congress to investigate alleged war profiteering had been repeatedly denied.

She was joined by a former Halliburton employee who said KBR fed spoiled food to American troops and charged the government for thousands of meals it never served.

Halliburton would not specifically address the former employee's claims. Norcross said taking care of troops is "our priority."

"I thought she was very courageous to come forward and blow the whistle," Rep. Henry Waxman of California said of Greenhouse. "The administration ran around her and ignored her. We owe her a debt of gratitude."

And if she is forced out?

"I would find that outrageous," Waxman replied. "They should be promoting her."

Greenhouse is a registered independent. Her husband, Aloyisus Greenhouse, is retired after a long Army career as a senior procurement officer. They have three grown children.

Bunny grew up in the segregated South, where her parents taught her and her siblings to be proud and hardworking. Her brother is Elvin Hayes, the Hall of Fame basketball player. She followed her husband's military postings, moving and moving and then moving again. In each place she found her own way, and her own job.

Her husband watches what is happening to her and tries to bite his lip.

"Bunny has a lot of faith. She really believes that someone will stand up and say, 'This is wrong.' But I don't think a person exists like that in the Department of Defense."

But in her world, Bunny Greenhouse's faith still beams.

"I simply believe that we have callings and purposes in this life. I walk through this life for a purpose. I wake up every day for a purpose. And every day I say, 'Here I am. Send me.' "


Justice Stevens criticizes death penalty

Justice Stevens criticizes death penalty

Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens steered the debate over President Bush's nominee to a new subject: capital punishment, sharply condemning the country's death penalty system.

The court has been closely divided in death row cases, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor often in the middle.

President Bush's choice to replace her, John Roberts, has a limited track record. Roberts, 50, showed little sympathy for prisoner appeals as a government lawyer in the Reagan administration, but later did free legal work for a death row inmate.

In a February 1983 memo while serving in the Reagan White House, Roberts suggested that the high court could cut its caseload by "abdicating the role of fourth or fifth guesser in death penalty cases."

Stevens used a weekend speech to the American Bar Association to underscore the matter's prominence at the court, noting evidence of "serious flaws."

His remarks provide the first sign of internal dismay over the retirement of O'Connor, a 75-year-old pragmatist who has been a key voter in affirmative action, abortion rights and the death penalty.

So far, much of the focus of the Roberts nomination has been on matters like abortion and civil rights - not the death penalty. His Senate confirmation hearings begin Sept. 6.

"It doesn't appear to be shaping up as a major issue," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro-death penalty group.

Scheidegger said that although Roberts' wife, Jane, is a member of a group that opposes capital punishment, Roberts has had no opportunities to vote on death cases in his two years on a federal appeals court.

Stevens has evolved into the Supreme Court's most liberal member, in the 30 years since his nomination by Republican President Ford.

Another justice who made a similar transformation was Harry A. Blackmun, who months before his 1994 retirement declared: "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death."

Stevens, who at 85 is the oldest justice, has given no hints that he will retire soon. A Stevens retirement while Republicans control the White House and Senate would likely dramatically reshape the court.

Stevens, speaking in his hometown of Chicago, started his Saturday night speech to lawyers with what he called the "sad news" that O'Connor was leaving the court.

"It's really a very, very wrenching experience," he said.

The comments were not part of his prepared remarks for the evening, to honor liberal former judge and congressman Abner Mikva, nor were the remarks about capital punishment.

Stevens said DNA evidence has shown "that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously."

"It indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice," he said.

Death penalty cases dominate the work of the high court. Week after week justices deal with final emergency appeals, sometimes filed in the late night hours.

In their last term which ended in June, justices overturned the death sentences of four inmates, ruled that states cannot put to death killers who were not at least 18 years old at the time of the crime and held that it was unconstitutional to force defendants to appear before juries in chains during a trial's penalty phase.

Justices already have four capital cases on their docket when they return to work in October, including a potentially significant issue of letting inmates have a new chance to prove their innocence with DNA evidence.

Other Supreme Court justices, including O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have also spoken out about concerns that defendants in murder cases are not adequately represented at trial.

But Stevens told the ABA that the problems were more dramatic.

He said the jury selection process and the fact that many trial judges are elected work against accused murderers. He also said that jurors might be improperly swayed by victim-impact statements.

Stevens was speaking in Illinois, his home state and a place that has been roiled by controversy over the death penalty. In 2000, wrongful convictions led then-Gov. George Ryan to halt all executions.

It also came just a day after a Virginia jury decided against the inmate whose case led to a 2002 Supreme Court ban on executing the mentally retarded. The jury said Daryl Atkins was mentally competent and could be put to death.

Stevens wrote that 2002 Atkins decision, which was joined by O'Connor. One of the three dissenters was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who hired Roberts as a law clerk in 1980. A year later, as a Justice Department lawyer, Roberts wrote in a memo that the availability of federal court appeals, "particularly for state prisoners, goes far to making a mockery of the entire criminal justice system."

Stevens, however, laid out the case for close review of appeals, pointing to "special risks of unfairness" in capital punishment.

According to the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center, more than three dozen death row inmates have been exonerated since 2000.

Said Scheidegger, "I wouldn't say that 20 or 30 cases out of 8,000 constitutes a broken system."


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Roberts' Senate hearing to raise many questions


Roberts' Senate hearing to raise many questions

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will be grilled on matters from abortion to civil rights when his Senate confirmation hearing opens, but a key issue is how much the 50-year-old conservative will answer.

Getting responses from Roberts on where he stands on issues may be Democrats' only hope of blocking what opponents view as a move by President Bush to shift the nation's top court to the right.

If confirmed, Roberts, a federal appeals judge, will replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream conservative who often cast the decisive vote on the closely divided court.

"Federal court candidates, who serve for life, should explain their judicial philosophy and their method of legal reasoning," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee member who has already given Roberts a seven-page list of questions.

Key to the process will be committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who will run the televised hearings that begin Sept. 6.

Specter wrote in his 2000 book "Passion for Truth" that "the Senate should resist, if not refuse, to confirm Supreme Court nominees who refuse to answer questions on fundamental issues."

He notes, however, that "nominees tend to answer just as many questions as they have to in order to be confirmed."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and former chairman of the committee, said panel members can ask what they want. "But we must realize, as we have in the past, that simply asking a question does not mean a judicial nominee should answer it," he said.

Republicans also contend Roberts should not have to prejudge any case that could come before him.

That means he could refuse to answer many questions. The nation's top court deals with virtually every major issue affecting Americans, from terrorism and church-state disputes to the balance of power between the federal and state governments.


"Historically, nominees have not been asked particularly probing questions, and when asked they have not answered," said Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA.

Hatch noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, had a rule when asked to prejudge issues or cases: "No hints, no forecasts, no previews." She was confirmed, 96-3.

Republican party Chairman Ken Mehlman said last week, "I believe Judge Roberts has the right to expect the same treatment, and the same swift confirmation."

While no Democrats have announced plans to oppose him, they want to know where Roberts, who served in the administrations of two previous Republican presidents, stands on some landmark Supreme Court rulings such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said he doubts a nominee could be confirmed unless he or she views Roe v. Wade as "settled law of the land."

Roberts said just that before being confirmed two years ago to the federal appeals court. However, he is unlikely to repeat it, because he is now bidding for a place on the high court, which can reverse earlier precedents.

Democrats have also demanded access to internal documents on Roberts relating to divisive issues including school desegregation, the death penalty and civil rights. The Justice Department on Friday refused to release some of the requested documents from Roberts' work for the agency, saying it was not in the public interest.

Volokh said an exception to the pattern of nominees not answering questions was Robert Bork, "who answered questions in great detail and got rejected."

Bork was nominated in 1987 by Republican President Ronald Reagan and viewed by critics as a conservative extremist.

Specter, not chairman at the time, opposed Bork, saying, "I believe there is substantial doubt as to how he would apply fundamental principles of constitutional law."


Calif. drug proposals spark huge campaigns

Calif. drug proposals spark huge campaigns

AP Political Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The soaring price of prescription drugs has led federal and state lawmakers to seek ways to ease the burden on uninsured residents. But in California, the land of direct democracy, drug companies and consumer groups are going straight to the voters with dueling initiatives in one of the costliest campaigns in U.S. history.

Both measures on California's Nov. 8 special election ballot would cover uninsured residents of all ages who are not eligible for Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. But they differ on how many people would be eligible and whether drug companies would be forced to participate.

Proposition 79, backed by a coalition of consumer groups and unions, would offer prescription drug discounts to uninsured individuals and families making up to four times the federal poverty level - up to $37,000 for an individual and $75,000 for a family of four. It would discourage any companies that refuse to provide discounts from participating in the state's $4 billion Medicaid program, and would allow residents to sue drug companies for "illegal profiteering."

"Proposition 79 is the wrong proposition for the people of California," said Jan Faiks, vice president for government affairs at the Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America. "We will spend as much as it takes to educate the voters. It is that important to us."

PhRMA has made good on that promise. Since June, the California Initiative Fund, an industry-controlled account, has collected more than $59 million, according to campaign finance reports released this past week, a figure that should rise significantly. Drug companies including Pfizer, Merck & Co. and Glaxosmithkline each made identical contributions of nearly $8.4 million to the fund.

By contrast, the pharmaceutical industry spent a total of $9.4 million to affect federal elections in 2004, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

At this pace, drug companies' spending will easily surpass the previous record for a state initiative campaign, of $66 million, spent by Indian tribes in 1998 to legalize casino gambling on tribal land in California.

"The amount they've collected is breathtaking, and it shows how scared they are and how much trouble they think they're in," said Anthony Wright of Health Access California, a consumer group backing Proposition 79. "Is this a David and Goliath fight? Yes. But there are lots of Davids out there who are suffering through high drug costs - and remember, David won."

The drug industry's alternative is Proposition 78, based on legislation supported last year by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who as governor has received over $377,000 in contributions from drug companies.

It would allow drug companies to voluntarily participate in a plan offering discounts to uninsured residents earning three times the federal poverty level - up to $28,000 for an individual and $56,000 for a family of four.

Many states, including California, have programs that provide drug discounts to senior citizens and the disabled, but only Hawaii, Maine and Michigan have programs that cover people of all ages. Arkansas, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Rhode Island have recently passed laws creating low-cost drug programs for uninsured of all ages, but none have yet launched.

But as the nation's most populous state, California presents more of a threat to the drug companies' bottom line, and the idea of allowing people to sue over "illegal profiteering" has mobilized industry lobbyists like never before.

A statewide Field poll released last month showed voters favoring both initiatives, with 64 percent saying they support the industry initiative and 54 percent supporting the consumer measure.

That deeply concerns both sides. Under state law, voters can say yes or no to either or both of the initiatives - and if both pass the measure with the most votes becomes law.

Both sides have tried to negotiate a way out of this political war. The obstacle, both sides say, is that the propositions can't be removed from the ballot.

That means that even if a compromise were reached, it would have to be placed on the ballot as a third alternative to compete with the other two - a recipe for even more voter confusion.

State Sen. Deborah Ortiz co-sponsored the industry-backed bill last year. She said a legislative solution could have been reached that would have eliminated the need for an expensive ballot showdown, but "heavy handed" campaigning by opponents got in the way.

"What's really unfortunate is, all this aggressive opposition really had to do with politics, not policy," Ortiz said. "Shame on all of them."

Sofya Rubinshteyn, 58, who lives in San Francisco with her husband on a combined income of about $30,000 per year, cares less about politics than about getting help - and soon. She takes three separate medications to control her high blood pressure. Her husband, a diabetic, takes numerous drugs every day.

"We need whatever it takes to reduce the cost of medication - it's a necessity to survive, it's not just a luxury," Rubinshteyn said.