Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush Approved Eavesdropping

Yahoo! News
Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says

By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer

President Bush has personally authorized a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States more than three dozen times since October 2001, a senior intelligence official said Friday night.

The disclosure follows angry demands by lawmakers earlier in the day for congressional inquiries into whether the monitoring by the highly secretive National Security Agency violated civil liberties.

"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," declared Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He promised hearings early next year.

Bush on Friday refused to discuss whether he had authorized such domestic spying without obtaining warrants from a court, saying that to comment would tie his hands in fighting terrorists.

In a broad defense of the program put forward hours later, however, a senior intelligence official told The Associated Press that the eavesdropping was narrowly designed to go after possible terrorist threats in the United States.

The official said that, since October 2001, the program has been renewed more than three dozen times. Each time, the White House counsel and the attorney general certified the lawfulness of the program, the official said. Bush then signed the authorizations.

During the reviews, government officials have also provided a fresh assessment of the terrorist threat, showing that there is a catastrophic risk to the country or government, the official said.

"Only if those conditions apply do we even begin to think about this," he said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the intelligence operation.

"The president has authorized NSA to fully use its resources — let me underscore this now — consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution to defend the United States and its citizens," the official said, adding that congressional leaders have also been briefed more than a dozen times.

Senior administration officials asserted the president would do everything in his power to protect the American people while safeguarding civil liberties.

"I will make this point," Bush said in an interview with "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." "That whatever I do to protect the American people — and I have an obligation to do so — that we will uphold the law, and decisions made are made understanding we have an obligation to protect the civil liberties of the American people."

The surveillance, disclosed in Friday's New York Times, is said to allow the agency to monitor international calls and e-mail messages of people inside the United States. But the paper said the agency would still seek warrants to snoop on purely domestic communications — for example, Americans' calls between New York and California.

"I want to know precisely what they did," Specter said. "How NSA utilized their technical equipment, whose conversations they overheard, how many conversations they overheard, what they did with the material, what purported justification there was."

Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said, "This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every American."

Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush chief of staff Andrew Card went to the Capitol Friday to meet with congressional leaders and the top members of the intelligence committees, who are often briefed on spy agencies' most classified programs. Members and their aides would not discuss the subject of the closed sessions.

The intelligence official would not provide details on the operations or examples of success stories. He said senior national security officials are trying to fix problems raised by the Sept. 11 commission, which found that two of the suicide hijackers were communicating from San Diego with al-Qaida operatives overseas.

"We didn't know who they were until it was too late," the official said.

Some intelligence experts who believe in broad presidential power argued that Bush would have the authority to order these searches without warrants under the Constitution.

In a case unrelated to the NSA's domestic eavesdropping, the administration has argued that the president has vast authority to order intelligence surveillance without warrants "of foreign powers or their agents."

"Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority," the Justice Department said in a 2002 legal filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

Other intelligence veterans found difficulty with the program in light of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed after the intelligence community came under fire for spying on Americans. That law gives government — with approval from a secretive U.S. court — the authority to conduct covert wiretaps and surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies.

In a written statement, NSA spokesman Don Weber said the agency would not provide any information on the reported surveillance program. "We do not discuss actual or alleged operational issues," he said.

Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, former NSA general counsel, said it was troubling that such a change would have been made by executive order, even if it turns out to be within the law.

Parker, who has no direct knowledge of the program, said the effect could be corrosive. "There are programs that do push the edge, and would be appropriate, but will be thrown out," she said.

Prior to 9/11, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance activities to foreign embassies and missions — and obtained court orders for such investigations. Much of its work was overseas, where thousands of people with suspected terrorist ties or other valuable intelligence may be monitored.

The report surfaced as the administration and its GOP allies on Capitol Hill were fighting to save provisions of the expiring USA Patriot Act that they believe are key tools in the fight against terrorism. An attempt to rescue the approach favored by the White House and Republicans failed on a procedural vote.


Senate Rejects Extension of Patriot Act

Yahoo! News
Senate Rejects Extension of Patriot Act

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

In a stinging defeat for President Bush, Senate Democrats blocked passage Friday of a new Patriot Act to combat terrorism at home, depicting the measure as a threat to the constitutional liberties of innocent Americans.

Republicans spurned calls for a short-term measure to prevent the year-end expiration of law enforcement powers first enacted in the anxious days after Sept. 11, 2001. "The president will not sign such an extension," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and lawmakers on each side of the issue blamed the other for congressional gridlock on the issue.

The Senate voted 52-47 to advance a House-passed bill to a final vote, eight short of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster backed by nearly all Senate Democrats and a handful of the 55 Republicans.

"We can come together to give the government the tools it needs to fight terrorism and protect the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., arguing that provisions permitting government access to confidential personal data lacked safeguards to protect the innocent.

"We need to be more vigilant," agreed Sen. John Sununu (news, bio, voting record), a Republican from New Hampshire, where the state motto is "Live Free or Die." He quoted Benjamin Franklin: "Those that would give up essential liberty in pursuit of a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."

But Frist likened the bill's opponents to those who "have called for a retreat and defeat strategy in Iraq. That's the wrong strategy in Iraq. It is the wrong strategy here at home."

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said, "If 90-plus percent of the Democrats vote against cloture, and 90-plus percent of the Republicans vote for cloture, it is hard to argue it is not partisan." Cloture is a Senate term that refers to ending a filibuster.

In a statement, Bush said terrorists "want to attack America again and kill the innocent and inflict even greater damage" than four years ago. "Congress has a responsibility not to take away this vital tool that law enforcement and intelligence have used."

Congressional officials pointed to a provision in the existing law that said even if it expired, law enforcement agencies could continue to wield Patriot Act powers in existing investigations of all known groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Zarqawi group in Iraq.

Justice Department officials said no existing wiretap would have to be turned off. But they said expiration of the law would create confusion about whether information gleaned after Jan. 1 could be shared, even if it stemmed from an ongoing investigation.

Much of the controversy involved powers granted to law enforcement agencies to gain access to a wealth of personal data, including library and medical records, in secret, as part of investigations into suspected terrorist activity.

The bill also includes a four-year extension of the government's ability to conduct roving wiretaps — which may involve multiple phones — and continues the authority to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists who may operate on their own, without control from a foreign agent or power.

Yet another provision, which applies to all criminal cases, gives the government 30 days to provide notice that it has carried out a search warrant. Current law requires the government to disclose search warrants in a reasonable period of time.

During debate, several Democrats pointed to a New York Times report that Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on individuals inside the United States without first securing permission from the courts.

"Today's revelation makes it crystal clear that we have to be very careful, very careful," said Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y.

No Republican defended the reported practice, and the bill's chief Republican supporter joined in the criticism. "There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He pledged hearings in 2006.

Under the measure the Senate was considering, law enforcement officials could continue to obtain secret access to a variety of personal records from businesses, hospitals and other organizations, including libraries.

Access is obtained by order of a secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Specter told the bill's critics that before such permission is granted, a judge would have to "make a determination on a factual showing that there is a terrorism investigation that does involve foreigners."

On a second issue covered under the bill, a so-called National Security Letter, government investigators could continue to gain access to a more limited range of personal records without a court order of any kind.

Specter said the legislation permitted the recipient of a letter to appeal in court. "The essence of the protection of civil rights ... has been that you interpose an impartial magistrate between the policeman and the citizens. That protection is given," he said.

The recipient of such an order is barred from disclosing it, and Sununu said that in order to overturn the gag order, "you have to show...bad faith on the part of the federal government, and no individual or business will ever be able to show that."

On the Senate vote, two Democrats supported the GOP-led effort to advance the bill to a final vote, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Sununu and GOP Sens. Larry Craig of Idaho, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted to block the measure. Frist initially voted to advance the bill, then switched to opposition purely as a parliamentary move that enables him to call for a second vote at some point in the future.

On a separate issue, the House called for the Bush administration to give Congress details of secret detention facilities overseas. The vote was 228-187.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Sen. Russell Feingold, Lone Wolf Four Years Ago on Patriot Act, Now Finds Numbers on His Side

ABC News
Feingold Now Has Numbers on His Side
Sen. Russell Feingold, Lone Wolf Four Years Ago on Patriot Act, Now Finds Numbers on His Side
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - In Congress, where numbers are everything, the math on the Patriot Act suddenly seems to be moving in favor of Sen. Russell Feingold.

He was a minority of one four years ago, when the Wisconsin Democrat cast the lone Senate vote against the USA Patriot Act in the traumatic weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. The law, he said then, gave government too much power to investigate its citizens. Ninety-nine senators disagreed.

Now add more than two dozen senators to Feingold's side, including the leaders of his party and some of the chamber's most conservative Republicans, and the balance of power shifts.

The new Senate arithmetic that emerged this week is enough to place the renewal of major portions of the law in doubt. It was enough to inspire Senate Republican leaders to consider a backup plan in case Feingold's filibuster threat succeeded. Enough to prompt President Bush to dispatch Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Capitol Hill twice in two days to lobby on the accord's behalf.

No luck so far, said the chief Senate sponsor.

"We've got a battle on our hands," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters after Gonzales had departed Wednesday.

Bush weighed in personally Thursday, urging opponents of the renewal to abandon the filibuster threats.

"That is a bad decision for the security of the United States," the president said. "I call upon the Senate to end the filibuster and to pass this important legislation so that we have the tools necessary to defend the country in a time of war."

Moments later, the senior Democrat on the issue, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters that more than 40 votes exist to sustain a filibuster in a test vote Friday. White House allies said they would rather see the law's 16 temporary provisions expire entirely than give opponents another three months or more to keep whittling away at them.

"A short-term extension is irresponsible," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., a day after his chamber passed the conference agreement, 251-174.

Feingold finds himself with some unlikely allies, including the Christian Defense Coalition. Notably, the National Rifle Association has not endorsed the Patriot Act renewal that was personally negotiated by Vice President Dick Cheney. The NRA's non-position allows its Senate supporters to oppose renewing the law in its entirety.

"Folks, when we're dealing with civil liberties, you don't compromise them," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, an NRA board member.

The breadth of support gives Feingold, a possible presidential candidate, new reason to keep an eye on still other numbers: polls for the 2008 presidential election.

"It's just very gratifying," Feingold said, grinning during an interview this week in his office. "We've stood the test of time. Our concerns were legitimate."

On the eve of the crucial test vote, the Senate awarded Feingold a coveted seat on the terror-fighting Intelligence Committee, replacing New Jersey Gov.-elect Jon Corzine.

The opposition that began with Feingold's one vote has bloomed into a bloc of Democrats and Republicans concerned about a range of powers the original act gave the FBI, and how they are used. This group prefers the curbs on government power passed by the Senate but rejected in a compromise with the House. Now, faced with an up-or-down vote on the accord, they say no.

Chief among their concerns are the National Security Letters that the FBI can use to compel the release of such private records as financial, computer and library transactions. The bill for the first time explicitly says the third-party recipients of NSLs banks, Internet service providers and libraries can hire lawyers and challenge the letters in court.

Feingold and his allies want more reports from the Justice Department on how NSLs and other tools in terror investigations are used. They also want to set limits on how long law enforcement officials can continue to use NSLs in terror investigations.

Bush's allies who want the renewal passed as agreed by House and Senate negotiators say most concerns raised by opponents are "more hypothetical than real," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said late Thursday.

In the last week, Feingold has attracted important allies, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a possible presidential candidate in 2008. On Thursday he added another to his column: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Whatever happens with the renewal, the mere debate is a boost for Feingold and any presidential aspirations he may nurture after next year's midterm elections a development that carries some irony.

"People don't go to the well of the Senate and become the only senator to vote against something called the 'USA Patriot Act' five weeks after 9/11 because they're trying to get ready to run for president," Feingold said.

But four years later, during visits to the presidential proving grounds of New Hampshire and Iowa, Feingold says there's evidence his position has resonated with more than just the Democratic base.

"It's something that people like about me," he said. "We'll see where it goes."


Norman Lear: Letter to God
Norman Lear: Letter to God

Norman Lear

The Creator
Supreme Being
Et al

Dear God,

You are in the news so much lately, I figure you must be thinking a lot about what’s going on down here. Not that I need the news to remind me of you, I think of you more often than you know - - well maybe not more than you know - - but a lot. A whole lot. I’m Jewish, as you also know, but I don’t do the synagogue or church thing. I hope you think I’m as religious as the next guy, because I certainly feel I am, even though I approach you so informally. I grope for understanding through the tradition I was born in and every other tradition. Because I don’t belong to a congregation, I think of myself as an Unaffiliated Groper. Okay, so here’s a bit of understanding you may be willing to help me with:

Sometime after 9/11 the President and Commander-In- Chief (sometimes I think of him as your Evangelist-In-Chief) appointed a bipartisan 9/11 Commission to investigate that event and make recommendations for preventing such tragic occurrences in the future. It’s almost two years since they issued their report and just a couple of weeks ago the panel issued a “report card” about how well the administration and Congress has been doing with their recommendations. So what did we learn? To this date the Evangelist-In-Chief and the United States Congress have virtually ignored the 41 anti-terrorism recommendations made by the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission. On nearly half the most important actions needed to protect America’s safety the Administration and Congress earned a “D” and “F” or an incomplete grade.

Now you probably understand that, Dear Creator, because you made us and you know us inside out. But what must perplex even you is how these very clear anti-terrorist measures have yet to be taken, while at the same time the administration pushes hard to renew and expand the Patriot Act to protect us from the very same terrorists by limiting our rights to privacy along with other civil rights and liberties.

This is driving me nuts. Our leaders would like the FBI to have the right to know what books we’re reading, check out our medical records without our knowledge, monitor our telephone calls and emails, and continue to imprison anyone suspected of terrorism and hold them for indeterminate amounts of time without charging them with a crime. At the same time cargo ships are still entering our harbors with unchecked cargo; our nuclear plants are as unprotected as they ever were; the police are still unable to reach firemen attending the same emergency; and billions of dollars are being doled out based not on risk of attack but on Congressional spending formulas, generally recognized by the Congress as pork barrel spending.

So tell me Lord: In the Bible, you were known to test societies by forcing them to endure tribulations for seven years. Does this mean that we have only two more years to go? Our leaders seem so certain they are right about everything, even suggesting they are doing your will. Are they? I realize my questions will only be answered in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I offer you this ecumenical prayer which has its roots in what certain among us think of as your country, Texas: Dear Lord, please grant me strength, patience, wisdom, and humility. Help me always to search for the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it. Amen.

P.S. Unlike others we know, some in high places, I have no problem with the words
Merry Christmas and wish you the very merriest.


Bush eased domestic spy limits after 9/11- NY Times

Bush eased domestic spy limits after 9/11- NY Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After the September 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on people inside the United States without the court approval usually required for domestic spying, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

For several years after the presidential order was signed in 2002, the super-secret intelligence agency monitored the international telephone calls and e-mails of hundreds of people inside the country to search for evidence of terrorist activity, the Times said in an article on its Web site.

The Times said the previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represented a major shift in U.S. intelligence gathering. The NSA, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, is authorized to monitor communications on foreign soil.

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.

The newspaper said nearly a dozen current and former officials agreed to discuss the program, on condition of anonymity, because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

The newspaper cited the officials as saying that some of the questions about the agency's new powers led the administration to suspend the operation last year and impose more restrictions.

The New York Times said it was asked by the White House not to publish an article about the program, arguing it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists they were under scrutiny.

The newspaper said it delayed publication for a year and omitted some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists.

While many details about the program remain secret, officials familiar with it said the NSA eavesdropped without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time, the newspaper reported.

According to the Times, the Bush administration believed it needed the operation so the NSA could move more quickly to monitor communications that might reveal security threats.

The Times reported that only a small group of people knew of the program, including congressional leaders, several Cabinet members and officials at the NSA, the CIA and the Justice Department.

Americans have been wary of domestic monitoring by intelligence agencies since the Vietnam era when it was learned in the 1970s that the Pentagon spied on anti-war and civil rights groups. That lead to legislation imposing strict limits on intelligence gathering inside the United States.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pentagon denies undermining torture legislation

Pentagon denies undermining torture legislation

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon denied on Wednesday that it was trying to torpedo legislation intended to assure humane treatment of prisoners and said it had not completed a new directive on U.S. military interrogation of detainees.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita responded to a New York Times report that the Army this week approved classified interrogation techniques that could complicate talks between Congress and the White House on legislation to ban torture and other inhumane treatment.

Di Rita refused to discuss details of long-awaited changes in the Army field manual, which the Pentagon earlier said would include a ban on using guard dogs to intimidate detainees.

But "it way overstates the Army's position to say that they are done and now somebody else is working on it," Di Rita told reporters. "This is a document of the Department of Defense, not of the Department of the Army."

When asked if senior Pentagon officials were trying to pressure the Army to set rules that it might not fully support, the spokesman said, "It's immensely irresponsible to characterize it that way."

The United States has faced sharp criticism from rights groups and foreign governments over its treatment of prisoners in its declared war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq, because of reports of abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The issue boiled up again in recent weeks amid White House efforts to limit the scope of planned legislation banning abuse of detainees, and a newspaper report last month that the CIA has run secret prisons abroad.

The New York Times said the new addendum had been approved by the service and sent to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone for further approval. Di Rita confirmed that Cambone was among those studying the matter but that it was not complete.

Army officials told the New York Times that the addendum required interrogators to comply with the Geneva Conventions, but they did not give the newspaper examples of specific interrogation techniques authorized in the new guidelines.

The newspaper said some military officials argued that the move could be perceived as pushing the limits on legal interrogation and might anger Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose legislation banning "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of detainees passed the Senate 90-9 in October over White House objections.


Defense officials told Reuters that there was some concern that McCain, who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, would see the new guidelines as an attempt to weaken the amendment, which sets the Army field manual as the legal standard for interrogations by the American military.

"Apparently people are out pushing this notion that we are somehow trying to get in under the wire. And that just couldn't be further from the truth," Di Rita said.

McCain told reporters he was seeking a briefing on the guidelines. But he said they would not affect negotiations with the White House on his amendment.

"The field manual would flow from this rather than vice versa. If we pass this legislation then it would make it pretty clear what would have to be in the field manual," McCain said.

With Congress scrambling to complete its business in the next few days to adjourn for the year, McCain said his negotiations with the White House were "very intense."

The White House, which has argued that putting anti-torture rules into law would hamper interrogators' ability to obtain information from prisoners by making them less fearful, is seeking some protections from prosecution for interrogators.

McCain contends that would undermine his amendment. "We will not grant immunity. There will be no immunity for anyone," he said.

(additional reporting by Vicki Allen)


Pentagon collecting information on Americans who oppose the war

Pentagon erred in domestic security database - official

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon has built a massive security database to help protect U.S. military bases and troops that includes unwarranted information on Iraq war opponents and peace activists in the United States, a defense official said on Wednesday.

The official said the database included police reports and law enforcement tips in a legitimate domestic security effort, but that it had mistakenly swept up and kept information on people who were not threats to launch terror attacks.

"We held onto things that should have been expunged because they weren't a threat," the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone planned to send a letter to Congress explaining the error and promising to clean up the database and protect the privacy of innocent persons, the official added.

NBC television reported on Tuesday that it had obtained a database that indicated the military might be collecting information on Americans who oppose the war and may be also monitoring peace demonstrations.

The database, obtained by the network, lists 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the United States over a 10-month period and includes four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, some aimed at military recruiting, NBC's Nightly News said.

Such a document would be the first inside look at how the Pentagon has stepped up intelligence collection in the United States since the September 11, 2001, attacks.


Americans have been wary of any monitoring of anti-war activities since the Vietnam era when it was learned that the Pentagon spied on anti-war and civil rights groups and individuals.

Congress held hearings in the 1970s and recommended strict limits on military spying inside the United States.

The Defense Department has already acknowledged the existence of a counterintelligence program known as the "Threat and Local Observation Notice" (TALON) reporting system.

The system, the department said earlier, is designed to gather "non-validated threat information and security anomalies indicative of possible terrorist pre-attack activity."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Wednesday that the department had a right to get information from the police to help protect troops and bases. But he did not confirm the building of a major database.

"The Defense Department does have legitimate interests in protecting its installations, in protecting its people," Whitman said.

"And to the extent that they use information collected by law enforcement agencies to do that, that's an appropriate activity of the United States military," he added in response to questions on the NBC report.

Whitman stressed that any collection of civilian law enforcement information was "within very narrow parameters of force protection" under the law.

Whitman declined to comment on specifics of the broadcast report, which quoted what NBC said was a secret briefing document as concluding: "We have noted increased communication between protest groups using the Internet," but not a "significant connection" between incidents.

(Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen)


House votes to renew Patriot Act

House votes to renew Patriot Act

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to renew the USA Patriot Act, setting up a showdown with the Senate over a centerpiece of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

On a 251-174 vote, the House approved the measure, with supporters saying it would properly balance civil liberties with the need to bolster national security.

But a number of Democrats and Republicans vowed to oppose the legislation in the Senate. They charged that despite increased congressional and judicial oversight, it would still give the government too much power to pry into the lives of Americans, including their medical, gun and library records.

Opponents have threatened a Senate procedural roadblock known as a filibuster. It was unclear if they could prevent backers from mustering the needed 60 votes in the 100-member, Republican-led chamber to cut off such a tactic.

A vote was set for Friday.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said opponents seemed to have from 40 to 46 votes to sustain a filibuster. Republicans said it was uncertain how many votes they would have.

"It's going to be close," a Senate Republican aide said.

Bush weighed into the fray, saying, "The Patriot Act is scheduled to expire at the end of the month, but the terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule."

"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment. I urge the Senate to pass this legislation promptly and reauthorize the Patriot Act," Bush said in a statement.

If Senate proponents are unable to pass the measure, one option suggested by opponents would be to approve a temporary extension of the act as currently written until a new agreement could be reached between the House and Senate.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said, "I am opposed to a short-term extension," and called on senators to pass the House-passed measure.

"Today's overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House for the Patriot Act -- with the support of 44 Democrats, including members of the House Democratic leadership -- shows that we can all unite to make America safer from terrorism while safeguarding our civil rights and civil liberties," Frist said.


The Patriot Act was first passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States to expand the power of the federal government to track down terrorists.

The House-passed compromise would make permanent 14 provisions set to expire on December 31, including ones allowing the sharing of information by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In a concession to critics, the legislation would extend three others by four years rather than seven years as proposed earlier.

Those provisions cover rules for tracking "lone-wolf" terrorists, who operate independent of outside groups, as well as wiretaps and court orders for records from businesses, libraries and others in intelligence cases.

The legislation would amend the ability of law enforcement agents to obtain library records, requiring a court to be satisfied the records were relevant to a terrorism investigation.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter, nine senators -- five Democrats and four Republicans -- called for additional changes.

They charged the measure would allow "fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans," and said the government should be "required to convince a judge" that records they want are connected to a "suspected terrorist or spy."

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Reuters during a visit to New York the Patriot Act "has proven to be a very effective tool in fighting terror."

"I don't think there has been any real case made that it's been abused," he said.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York)


Labor, disabled oppose Alito

Labor, disabled oppose Alito

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nation's largest labor federation along with a coalition of groups that represent disabled Americans on Wednesday said they opposed U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, describing the 55-year-old conservative as a threat to worker and civil rights.

The AFL-CIO and National Coalition for Disability Rights criticized Alito's work as a federal appeals judge the past 15 years, charging he has often sided with employers over labor with an excessively restrictive view of federal law.

"Working families need and deserve Supreme Court justices who understand and respect the importance of hard-fought rights and protections, not justices who take an unduly narrow view of the law," John Sweeney, president of the more than 9-million-member AFL-CIO, wrote in a letter to U.S. senators.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is to begin a confirmation hearing on January 9 on President George W. Bush's nomination of Alito to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, with the full Senate expected to decide whether to approve him late next month.

Jim Ward, head of the National Coalition for Disability Rights, urged rejection of the nominee, saying Alito could shift the balance on the high court.

"Judge Alito's record places him well outside the mainstream and clearly to the right of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a frequent swing vote on cases involving disability rights," Ward told a Capitol Hill news conference.

The battle over Alito has begun to look like a political campaign with conservative and liberal advocacy groups coming out for and against him, many as they air television and radio ads and circulate competing petitions.

On Tuesday, the 12,000-member National Association of Manufacturers, the country's largest industrial trade group, announced its support of Alito's nomination, hailing him as a fair-minded judge.

A coalition of civil rights groups -- led by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- arranged to declare its opposition to Alito on Thursday when it also planned to release a report assessing his record on such matters as voting rights and employment discrimination.


Bush backs Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove

Bush backs Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush offered strong endorsements on Wednesday to two architects of the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, and said he was as close as ever to top political adviser Karl Rove despite his role in the CIA leak case.

Rebuffing Democratic calls for a shake-up over Iraq war strategy and speculation about rifts within the White House, Bush said he had no intention of removing Rumsfeld as defense secretary, crediting him with doing a "heck of a job." Rumsfeld and the vice president, Cheney, have been frequently accused by critics of pushing the war on false pretenses.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush said his relationship with Cheney had "only gotten better," and he remained "very close" to Rove, who could face charges in the criminal investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

"We're still as close as we've ever been," Bush said of Rove, brushing aside reports he was angry at his deputy chief of staff, who initially denied any role in the Plame leak. "We've been through a lot. You know, when we look back at the presidency and my time in politics, no question that Karl had a lot to do with me getting here, and I value his friendship."

Bush also said he hoped indicted Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay would regain his post as House of Representatives majority leader. But Bush added, "I don't know whether I can expect that."

Bush's words of praise for Rumsfeld were similar to those he used to describe Michael Brown, when Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, faced criticism for the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Bush said of Rumsfeld, "He's conducted two wars and at the same time has helped transform our military from a military that was constructed for, you know, the post-Cold War to one that is going to be constructed to fight terrorism."

Asked if Rumsfeld would stay in the administration until the end of his second term, Bush said: "Yes. Well, (the) end of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he's done a heck of a good job, and I have no intention of changing him."

Rumsfeld has been criticized for the conduct of the Iraq war, with some prominent Democrats, including Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry demanding his resignation. Rumsfeld has also had frosty relations even with fellow Republicans in Congress.

Last week, Rumsfeld said he had no plans to retire from the post more than 2 1/2 years into the Iraq conflict.


Bush acknowledged there was "massive speculation" about his relationship with Cheney -- "whether I like him or don't like him."

"The truth of the matter is that our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all. He's a very close adviser. I view him as a good friend," Bush said. "I'd say the relationship -- it's only gotten better."

DeLay was forced to step down as House majority leader in September when he was first indicted for his suspected role in the Texas campaign financing controversy.

Bush said he believed DeLay was innocent and hoped the powerful Texas Republican would return to being majority leader "cause I like him, and plus, when he's over there, we get our votes through the House."

Bush said he was not that familiar with the federal investigation into the dealings of Jack Abramoff, a once-powerful lobbyist who also had links to DeLay.

"But it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties," Bush said.


Bush finally admits mistake, but with caveats

Bush takes blame for Iraq war on bad intelligence

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush took the blame on Wednesday for going to war in Iraq over faulty intelligence but said he was right to topple Saddam Hussein and urged Americans to be patient as Iraqis vote.

"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq, and I am also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities and we're doing just that," he said.

But he said, "My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision" because he was deemed a threat and that regardless, "We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator."

Bush's new admission was significant in that he rarely admits mistakes, although he has acknowledged failures in U.S. intelligence on Iraq before.

His administration touted Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a reason for going to war in March 2003, but such weapons were never found.

In an interview with Fox News to be aired on Wednesday night, Bush gave strong endorsements to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, both frequently accused by critics of pushing the war on false pretenses.

"He's done a heck of a job," Bush said of Rumsfeld, "and I have no intention of changing him." As for Cheney, "my respect for him has grown immensely," Bush said.

Bush's Iraq comments came in the last of a series of four speeches outlining his Iraq strategy and trying to bolster American support for the war, came a day ahead of an Iraqi election that will pave the way for formation of a permanent government.

Bush, facing both low popularity ratings and waning public support for the war, hopes a smooth election would help him build a sense of progress in Iraq, where more than 2,100 U.S. troops have died.

His comments quickly drew fire from 40 Senate Democrats and one independent who sent him a letter demanding he provide a plan that identifies "the remaining political, economic, and military benchmarks that must be met and a reasonable schedule to achieve them."

"The president's speech today failed to provide the American people with any insight into his strategy for completing the mission," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

The liberal group said it delivered petitions bearing 400,000 signatures to 248 district congressional offices, urging support for an exit strategy plan with a timeline to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.


Bush and other officials have talked of bringing home some troops in 2006 once commanders on the ground deem that Iraqi units are ready to take on greater responsibilities.

Bush asked for patience from Americans to give Iraqis time to form their new government after the election. After the vote, he said, there will be "days of uncertainty" and the winners may not be clear until the early part of January.

He reiterated his dismissal of Democratic calls for a phased U.S. pullout and accused Democrats who charge him with manipulating prewar intelligence of playing politics.

As part of an effort to have more contact with members of Congress who feel the administration makes decisions with little of their input, Bush joined several Democratic members of the House of Representatives for an Iraq briefing complete with U.S. commanders participating by videoconference.

New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said Bush talked of a need to change tactics. "Frankly, I found it refreshing," he said afterward.

Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while Bush's Iraq speeches were better than some in the past, he still did not see a "total conversion from spin to leadership" and that Bush did not sufficiently explain past mistakes.

Top members of the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees the defense budget said they heard the Pentagon would seek another $80 billion to $100 billion for the Iraq war next year, although they said the figure could change.

That would come on top of the $50 billion for the war Congress was expected to approve in the next few days.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Adam Entous and Vicki Allen)


Bush puts Rice in charge of post-conflict strategy

Bush puts Rice in charge of post-conflict strategy

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it had put the State Department in charge of U.S. efforts to stabilize and rebuild nations roiled by war or civil upheaval, seen as an attempt to avert the inter-agency bickering that plagued the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

President George W. Bush signed the directive last week giving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the lead in such missions, a White House statement said.

"(This will) empower the Secretary of State to improve coordination, planning and implementation for reconstruction and stabilization assistance for foreign states at risk of, in, or in transition from conflict or civil strife," it said.

The Bush administration was criticized for poor planning after the 2003 Iraq invasion, when disagreement between the Pentagon and State Department over rebuilding the shattered state was rife.

The statement said clarifying responsibility in this area would enable Washington to help governments prevent their territory being used as a haven for "terrorists, organized crime groups" or others posing a threat to the United States.

The announcement follows a recent Pentagon directive, also growing out of the Iraq experience, under which U.S. forces will add to their fighting skills the capability to restore and maintain order and meet humanitarian needs.

Bickering between the Pentagon and the State Department marked the early period of the Iraq occupation, when civil order broke down, facilitating the growth of the insurgency.

The new measure "puts on paper a very clear mandate that says that the Secretary of State has the responsibility to lead and coordinate the U.S. government response (in conflict zones)," said Carlos Pascual, the State Department official in charge of coordinating these efforts.


Asked whether the directive was aimed at preventing the kind of problems faced in Iraq, Pascual said: "We are now forcing ourselves to grapple with some of those tough issues in advance rather than actually dealing with it at game time."

Pascual said his office would draw from lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq but that it was not responsible for coordinating operations there because many more staff were needed.

The White House said when the U.S. military was involved in conflicts, Rice would coordinate with the Secretary of Defense "to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict."

The statement said the United States would work with other countries and organizations to anticipate state failure and "avoid it whenever possible."

Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the move to give Rice the lead and said over the years U.S. governments had "cobbled" together plans in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our ad hoc approach has been inadequate to deliver the necessary capabilities to deal speedily and efficiently with complex emergencies," Lugar said.

The State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction Stabilization, led by Pascual, will lead the effort. It has already been working on projects in trouble zones Sudan and Haiti, where teams are drawing up strategic plans on how to cope with crises in those countries.

The office, while not yet fully funded, comprises 55 people and has staff from the defense, labor and justice departments as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

((BUSH-CONFLICT-PLANNING, Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by David Storey; Reuters Messaging:; +1202 898 8393)


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Investigator: U.S. Shipped Out Detainees

Yahoo! News
Investigator: U.S. Shipped Out Detainees

By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer

A European investigator said Tuesday he has found mounting indications the United States illegally held detainees in Europe but then hurriedly shipped out the last ones to North Africa a month ago when word leaked out.

Dick Marty, a Swiss senator looking into claims the CIA operated secret prisons in Europe, said an ongoing, monthlong investigation unearthed "clues" that Poland and Romania were implicated — perhaps unwittingly.

Both countries have denied any involvement and Marty said he believes no prisoners are now being held by the U.S. in Europe. The CIA declined to comment.

"To my knowledge, those detainees were moved about a month ago, maybe a little more," he told reporters after briefing the legal committee of the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, on his findings. "They were moved to North Africa."

Asked by The Associated Press on the sidelines of the meeting to which North African country detainees might have been moved, he said: "I would imagine that it would be Morocco — up to you to confirm it."

Moroccan government spokesman Nabil Benabdellah denied any connection to such prisons when reports of the transfers surfaced last week. "We have nothing to do with and we have no knowledge about this subject," he told the AP.

The Washington Post first reported the alleged existence of secret prisons in eastern Europe and other countries on Nov. 2.

The newspaper did not name the countries, but the New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania. The conclusion was based on an analysis of flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004 obtained by the group.

European officials say such prisons would violate the continent's human rights principles.

Marty told the council's legal committee information gathered so far "reinforced the credibility of the allegations concerning the transfer and temporary detention of individuals, without any judicial involvement, in European countries."

"Legal proceedings in progress in certain countries seemed to indicate that individuals had been abducted and transferred to other countries without respect for any legal standards," he said. Marty was expected to present a full report to the council's parliamentary assembly in late January.

The investigator told reporters he could not offer proof that secret detention centers existed. But he cited two suspected cases of detainees held by U.S. authorities in Europe as signs that suspects were held at least temporarily in Europe.

The cases cited were the alleged February 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr by the CIA in Milan, Italy; and claims by Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German, that the agency took him to Afghanistan and tortured him after mistakenly identifying him as being linked to al-Qaida. Al-Masri said he was released in Albania in May 2004.

Marty told reporters that his aim was not to expose any U.S. wrongdoing but to ensure that the Council of Europe's 46 member states did not violate its rules.

He said he had asked the council's members for better cooperation in the investigation, expressing concern that some may not want to ruffle feathers in Washington for political or economic reasons. Marty singled out Switzerland as a country that did not seem "very motivated to shine all the light" on the issue of alleged CIA overflights and landings in Geneva.

Marty has asked for air traffic logs from European countries as he seeks to trace flight patterns for several dozen suspected CIA airplanes. He also has asked for satellite images of the Sczytno-Szymany airport in northeastern Poland and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania.

"We have clues that show that (Poland and Romania) — and perhaps others — were implicated, insofar as people were temporarily held there. Not in camps or classic prisons, but temporary stays," Marty said.

After hearing Marty's presentation, legal committee member Tony Lloyd said: "The really difficult thing is the idea that there is a kind of legal black hole in the middle of Europe."

Marty said some governments may not have known of detention centers on their own soil and it was "still too early to assert that there had been any involvement or complicity of member states in illegal actions."

The senator also was critical of the United States, saying he "deplores the fact that no information or explanations" were provided by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who faced repeated questions about the CIA prison allegations on her recent visit to Europe.

Rice has said the United States acts within the law and argued that Europeans are safer because of tough U.S. tactics, but she refused to discuss intelligence operations or address questions about clandestine CIA detention centers.


American Red Cross President Resigns

Yahoo! News
American Red Cross President Resigns

By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

American Red Cross President Marsha Evans announced her resignation Tuesday because of friction with the board of governors, shortly before witnesses and lawmakers at a congressional hearing assailed the charity's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Red Cross spokesman Charles Connor said the board was not unhappy with Evans' handling of the hurricane crisis, "but had concerns about her management approach, and coordination and communication with the board." It was the second time in three years that such feuding led to a leadership change after a national disaster.

At the hearing in Washington, lawmakers said the Red Cross's uneven response to Katrina calls for major changes in how the charity coordinates with local groups, handles its finances and distributes aid to the disabled. A Louisiana congressman even suggested the possibility of stripping the Red Cross of its dominant role in major relief campaigns.

Jack McGuire, executive vice president of the charity's Biomedical Services, was named to serve as interim president while a search for Evans' permanent successor is conducted.

A former Navy rear admiral who previously ran the Girl Scouts of the USA, Evans took over at the Red Cross in August 2002 as the organization was shaking off criticism of how it handled some donations sent in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Evans's predecessor, Dr. Bernadine Healy, said she was forced to resign partly because of disagreements with the board over whether money coming in after Sept. 11 should be placed in a separate fund or a general disaster fund. Some donors were upset that $200 million was set aside for future terrorist incidents.

Healy, now a health columnist with U.S. News & World Report, said in a telephone interview that her departure and Evans' removal reflected serious problems in how the 50-member Red Cross board addresses its internal conflicts and clashes with its top executives.

"You can't have 50 people making decisions," Healy said. "The Red Cross is a public treasure that belongs to America and must serve America. Until these governance problems can be sorted out, it won't be able to do so effectively."

She noted that the Red Cross is chartered by Congress, and the U.S. president is its honorary chairman. "The only people who can fix it are at that level," she said.

After the Sept. 11 donation dispute, the Red Cross promised greater accountability. But the unprecedented challenges posed by this year's hurricanes raised new problems.

Critics said the Red Cross failed to respond quickly enough in some low-income, minority areas; others faulted it for balking at cooperation with grass-roots organizations even as it collected the bulk of hurricane relief funds — more than $1.8 billion to date.

On the positive side, the group mobilized roughly 220,000 volunteers in response to the hurricanes, accommodated hundreds of thousands of evacuees in shelters, and provided financial aid to about 1.2 million families.

Evans, 58, acknowledged in September that the organization's response to Katrina and Hurricane Rita had been uneven, saying the destructive power of the storms "eclipsed even our direst, worst-case scenarios."

In recent weeks, the organization has vowed to address some of the criticisms by seeking greater diversity within its ranks and establishing partnerships with local groups.

At the congressional hearing, Rep. Jim McCrery (news, bio, voting record), a Louisiana Republican, called on Congress to reconsider whether to continue giving the Red Cross a lead role in responding to natural disasters. Having such a designation gave the organization a substantial boost in fundraising, absorbing about 60 percent of all donations, he said.

"If it is not the responsibility of the National Red Cross to step in when a Category 4 hurricane decimates a major metropolitan area and overwhelms one of their local chapters, whose responsibility is it?" asked McCrery.

Joseph C. Becker, senior vice president for response and preparedness for the Red Cross, said the group did its best. "We chose to help those whom we could without delay, while striving to serve all who needed us," he said.

Evans said in a message to her colleagues that she had been thinking about leaving the Red Cross earlier, but stayed on after Katrina struck to "lead our pivotal response to that epic tragedy."

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, who chairs the Red Cross board, praised Evans' performance, including a reorganization at the Washington headquarters and a strengthening of local disaster response practices. Her statement did not elaborate on the board's friction with Evans.

Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said the rapid turnover at the helm of the Red Cross raised serious questions about the board of governors, which he described as too large and disjointed. "Sacking the president isn't the panacea for what ails the Red Cross," he said.

He said the group needs to upgrade its technology and organization, and recruit new volunteers "who are representative of the communities hit hardest by disasters."

McGuire, the interim leader, has been with the Red Cross since March 2004; he previously was president of Whatman, PLC North America, a British-based manufacturer.

As head of Biomedical Services for the Red Cross, he has sought to improve relations with the Food and Drug Administration, which has charged the Red Cross with repeatedly violating federal safety rules in its handling of blood collection.


On the Net:

American Red Cross:


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Democrats seek energy independence by 2020

Democrats seek energy independence by 2020

By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democrats launched a plan on Monday for energy independence by 2020 that seeks to relieve historically high oil and gas prices by cutting reliance on foreign sources of energy.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid Pennsylvania's Gov. Ed Rendell said greater use of renewable energy, mass transit and domestic fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel could cut oil and gas imports. A plan they unveiled on Monday is called Energy Independence 2020.

President George W. Bush is seeking more domestic production of oil by pushing Congress to include opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling in a bill that could see a vote this week. He also supports heavy investment in hydrogen energy.

Some energy analysts say the United States, which consumes about a quarter of the 80 million barrels of oil the world uses daily, will be dependent on imports for many decades into the future because alternatives only provide a percentage point or two of the country's energy.

Last week homeowners suffered record prices for natural gas as a nationwide cold spike pushed the heating and cooking fuel to above $15 per million British thermal units. Analysts say low temperatures through December could keep a fire under prices.

U.S. oil hit a record over $70 a barrel this summer. They have since fallen as supplies swelled but prices rose above $60 on Monday as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries paved the way for a cut in output early next year.

Rendell cited Brazil, which has slashed its dependence on crude by making fuel from sugar cane and by producing cars that run on gasoline or ethanol. "If Brazil can do it, so can we," he Rendell.

In unveiling the plan, Clinton told reporters that U.S. dependence on oil makes up one third of the country's trade deficit.

The U.S. spends $50 billion a year to deploy U.S. forces in the Mideast Gulf and to supply military assistance to countries to secure the flow of oil to the United States, Clinton told reporters. "And that does not include the lives and dollars we are spending in Iraq," she said.

Robert Ebel, the head the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the huge number of cars and service stations that currently make up the U.S. energy infrastructure make dubious the goal of energy independence in 15 years.

He said politicians called for energy independence in 1990. But since then oil imports have risen about 10 percentage points. "We have to recognize that oil producers and consumers need each other. What we need is more energy interdependence, not energy independence."

He said the money the United States sends abroad to procure oil "is an expense that the U.S. bears to keep the world going ahead in ... economic terms."

While the U.S. has crude and heating oil reserves, more supply safeguards could be on the horizon. U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman has said in recent weeks that the White House was preparing a new U.S. energy plan that could include creating emergency stockpiles of natural gas and gasoline.


Fight looms if Republicans change Senate rules

Fight looms if Republicans change Senate rules

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd warned on Monday that he would bring the U.S. Senate to a virtual standstill if Republicans carry out a threat to change its rules by outlawing filibusters on judicial nominations.

Byrd of West Virginia, a staunch defender of the Senate's often arcane rules and procedures, was responding to a comment by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who said Sunday he might move to restrict filibusters if Democrats try to block the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minutes after the Senate returned from a three-week vacation Byrd challenged Frist, a Tennessee Republican, in an unusually pointed floor debate.

"If the senator wants a fight, let him try. I'm 88 years old but I can still fight and fight I will for freedom of speech," Byrd said.

Byrd said he did not expect a filibuster against Alito, but complained, "I'm tired of hearing this threat thrown in our faces if we decide we want to filibuster."

The filibuster is a tactic used to indefinitely prolong debate on the Senate floor. The debate can be stopped if 60 senators vote to do so. The Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, not necessarily enough to end a filibuster.

"My principle is an up or down vote ... that's all I'm arguing for, is an up or down vote," Frist told Byrd.

Byrd shot back, "That's never been the rule here. Senators have the right to talk, the right to filibuster."

If Frist tries to limit that right, "He's going to see a real filibuster," Byrd warned.

The filibuster and the Republican's so-called "nuclear option" for limiting it have been hotly debated all year as senators girded for President George W. Bush's nominations to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

Democrats have already blocked some of Bush's choices of conservatives to serve as judges on lower courts.

Earlier this year a group of 14 Republican and Democratic senators reached a pact to reserve the filibuster only for "extraordinary circumstances."

The pact held and Democrats did not stage a filibuster this fall over the Senate's confirmation of John Roberts as a replacement for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The Senate is due in January to begin debate on whether to confirm Alito to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Sandra O'Connor.


Democrats seek classified briefing with Rice

Democrats seek classified briefing with Rice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats said on Monday that Republicans were denying lawmakers a chance to get new information on Iraq and the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners by having Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice give an unclassified briefing.

But Republicans said they were giving lawmakers a chance to hear from Rice about the administration's plans in Iraq and discuss that freely with their constituents in her briefing scheduled for Wednesday.

Senate Minority leader Harry Reid accused Majority leader Bill Frist of disregarding "our normal, long-standing protocol" by limiting Rice's scheduled briefing to non-classified matters, and said it will deny members a chance to "fully and thoroughly question" Rice.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he could "only conclude" that Frist took the step "to protect the administration and prevent it from being held accountable for its performance."

But Amy Call, spokeswoman for Frist, said it was an opportunity for senators to talk with Rice about the administration's strategy for Iraq. "By doing a non-classified briefing, it allows members to discuss that plan with the American people," she said.

Reid, in a letter to Frist, said the Tennessee Republican's decision meant senators will be "unable to fully discuss the security situation in Iraq."

Reid said it also would prevent a "far-reaching exchange on the administration's torture policies and alleged secret prisons, which press reports indicate the secretary discussed at length with our European allies during her recent trip."

Traveling in Europe last week, Rice faced questions over the U.S. treatment of detainees and reports that the CIA has run secret prisons in Eastern Europe for its war on terror.


Monday, December 12, 2005

President Under-Reports Casualties in Iraq

The president appeared to take random questions today, but he was way too prepared with answers for them to be unexpected questions. For the most part, the press will likely not point out that fact, nor will they point out that his estimate of Iraqi casualties is low, or that he did not answer the question about why he and his administration said Iraq and Saddam Hussein were tied to the attacks on the US on 9/11/01 when neither Iraq nor Saddam Hussein had anything to do with it.

See the article:

"Pentagon Covering Up Tens of Thousands of U.S. Casualties In Official Reports"

regarding reported casualty estimates.


SAFE exhibit is just too risky
SAFE exhibit is just too risky

Usually a museum visit leaves you feeling pretty great. You've seen some art, some genius and you feel high on mankind's creativity, as well as on your own classy, museum-going self.

Stop by the Museum of Modern Art anytime soon, however, and be prepared to leave feeling fetid.

"SAFE: Design Takes On Risk" is the show that'll do it - room after room of smart, slick items, all beautifully designed to protect us from the sicko world we are stuck in. Items like bulletproof blankets, because who knows who's gonna climb through the fire escape? And tiny hermetically sealed tents for babies to sleep in - during bioterror attacks.

You've got your bombproof windows (invented in Israel - big surprise), and your bulletproof face masks, because bulletproof vests leave the head a tempting target. Then there are the stilt-like shoes built to walk the wearer safely through a minefield. The little card next to them notes that every 20 minutes, someone, somewhere is killed or maimed by a mine.

"From paper cuts to genocide" is how curator Paola Antonelli describes the range of threats her show addresses. And she really does have some paper-cut level doodads thrown in to buoy the soul. The "banana bunker," for instance, is a curved, clear plastic case built to protect a single banana from bruising. Then there's the Swiss Fondue Earthquake Safety Table. This looks like a cheery red kitchen table, but attached to its underside are disaster necessities ranging from clean water and a fire extinguisher to fondue forks and cheese.

Silly, funny, cute. And real.

But then you're back to other real stuff, like the interlocking silver rings that double as brass knuckles. (This Christmas, for her?) And high-tech camouflage that allows warriors to infiltrate any environment. (For him?)

The weapons and armor are new, but great minds throughout history have always been devising new ways to keep us alive. Many a museum show has been devoted to their handiwork, but these were never as shocking because the objects were antique. The suits of armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, just look shiny and cool. Most of us don't give much thought to how miserable it must have been living in an era when young men jousted each other to death.

Likewise, if you tour pretty much anywhere in the world, your guide will eventually bring you to a breathtaking castle. How beautiful it is! How you'll wish it contained a reasonably priced bed and breakfast! But roll back the clock 500 years and this was the place crazed peasants were clamoring to get into before the guys behind them slit their throats. Moats, drawbridges, canons, swords - these may seem romantic today, but they were all lifesaving breakthroughs in their day.

Which only means that sometime in the future museumgoers may ooh and ahh over the varied stuff on display at SAFE. How cute the baby gas mask will seem! Maybe they'll buy a postcard of it.

Then again, that's only if the SAFE devices do their job, right?


Supreme Court to Review Texas Redistricting

Comment: The court will have it's first opportunity to prove to the country and the world whether they will continue to be a rubber-stamp for the right wing in terms of political issues (such as appointing Bush to be president), or if they will properly reverse Tom Delay's gerri-rigging the Texas congressional map.

Yahoo! News
Supreme Court to Review Texas Redistricting

By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the constitutionality of a Texas congressional map engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay that helped Republicans gain seats in Congress.

The 2003 boundaries helped Republicans win 21 of the state's 32 seats in Congress in the last election_ up from 15. They were approved amid a nasty battle between Republican leaders and Democrats and minority groups in Texas.

The contentiousness also reached Washington, where the Justice Department approved the plan although staff lawyers concluded that it diluted minority voting rights. Because of past discrimination against minority voters, Texas is required to get Justice Department approval for any voting changes to ensure they don't undercut minority voting.

Justices will consider a constitutional challenge to the boundaries filed by various opponents. The court will hear two hours of arguments, likely in April, in four separate appeals.

The legal battle at the Supreme Court was over the unusual timing of the Texas redistricting, among other things. Under the Constitution, states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts.

But in Texas the boundaries were redrawn twice after the 2000 census, first by a court, then by state lawmakers in a second round promoted by DeLay.

DeLay had to step down as House Majority Leader earlier this year after he was indicted in Texas on state money laundering charges.

DeLay and two people who oversaw his fundraising activities are accused of funneling prohibited corporate political money through the national Republican Party to state GOP legislative candidates. Texas law prohibits spending corporate money on the election or defeat of a candidate.

The alleged scheme was part of a plan DeLay and others set in motion to help Republicans win control of the Texas House in 2002 elections. The Republican Legislature then adopted a DeLay-backed congressional voting district map.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, called lawmakers back for three special sessions in 2003 to tackle the map, despite vehement opposition from Democrats who walked out and even left the state to halt progress. In the end, DeLay brokered a redistricting agreement.

DeLay was later rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for using the Federal Aviation Administration to track down a private plane that shuttled some Democratic lawmakers out of the state.

The Texas case has been to the Supreme Court once before, and justices ordered a lower court to reconsider the boundaries following a decision in another redistricting case from Pennsylvania. Justices in that splintered opinion left little room for lawsuits claiming that political gerrymandering — drawing a map to give one political party an advantage — violates the "one-person, one-vote" principle protected in the Constitution.

However, now the court will have a chance to revisit that issue and the outcome could change because the court's membership is changing. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring, and Chief Justice John Roberts has been on the bench just a few months.

A lower court panel ruled that the map is constitutional and does not violate federal voting rights law.

The map was used in 2004 elections, and Texas elected one additional black congressman besides the six additional GOP members. Of the 32 seats, six delegation members are Hispanic and three are black.

After Texas decided to redraw its lines, two other states — Colorado and Georgia — also undertook a second round of redistricting.

Paul M. Smith, a Washington attorney representing challengers to the Texas map, told justices that the redoing of maps "is a symptom of the excessively partisan approach to redistricting now in vogue."

"When legislators choose to take such actions, they should be required to demonstrate some legitimate governmental purpose," he wrote in a filing.

The cases are League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 05-204; Travis County v. Perry, 05-254; Jackson v. Perry, 05-276; GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, 05-439.


Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report.


Hiding behind a crystal

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition
Hiding behind a crystal

On Thursday, the 192 signatories of the Geneva Conventions decided to adopt a new international symbol - the Red Crystal - alongside the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Now it seems, for the first time, Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) can join the 182 members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The vote "reflects Israel's improved international standing … This is yet another achievement for Israel's diplomacy," gushed Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. MDA itself worked hard to achieve this result, which paves the way for Israel to join international rescue missions.

The new Red Crystal is a simple, bold diamond shape - called a "crystal" at the request of South Africa, since "diamond" had connotations of slavery. MDA will continue to use its current symbol, the red Star of David, in Israel, and internationally can use either an empty crystal or one with a Star of David inside it.

MDA and Israeli diplomats have been working toward such a solution for years, though it clearly does not give the symbol of the Jewish people the same status as the cross and the crescent. Those other two symbols do not have to appear within the crystal when operating internationally; the Star of David will.

Advocates of the crystal point out that the International Committee of the Red Cross was actually looking for such a symbol, even leaving aside the "problem" of Israel's membership, since the Red Cross was having trouble operating in some Muslim countries under its own symbol. Presumably, therefore, MDA will not be the only member society operating under the crystal in some hot spots; so will the Red Cross.

Despite these pragmatic considerations, we cannot help but feel deeply offended by both this international verdict and our own nation's puzzlingly obsequious embrace of it. Why could there not have been four recognized symbols: a cross, crescent, crystal and the Star of David? Or alternatively, why were the cross and crescent not - like our star will be - forced inside the crystal when operating internationally? There are no good answers to these questions. Evidently even a humanitarian movement, and one which perhaps more than any international body purportedly prides itself on neutrality and impartiality, can baldly discriminate against the Jewish state for decades, and then adopt a "solution" that continues to discriminate against the symbol of the Jewish people.

There is, furthermore, a wider problem with the new arrangement: Rather than rejecting and combatting hatred, it accommodates violence and intolerance. It is no coincidence that, after over half a century of tolerating the rejection of the Star of David, the Red Cross has itself in recent years found it increasingly difficult to operate, and began to seek cover.

Though the crystal is being portrayed as the solution to a general problem, namely places where one symbol or another is not tolerated, in practice the intolerance flows almost entirely in one direction: from the Muslim world against the Star of David and, recently, against the Red Cross too. It is almost impossible to conceive of a situation in which a Christian country, by contrast, would take violent offense to a rescue mission operating under a Red Crescent.

By bowing for so long to the utter rejection of the symbol of the Jewish people, and then devising for it a second-class status, the international community legitimized a hatred that is the antithesis of the Red Cross mission and the cause of many of the casualties it treats.

Why should a Red Cross ambulance, whose only mission is to save lives, not be able to operate in Muslim areas? Why does Israel have to beg Muslim countries for the right to openly help their peoples recover from national disasters? Most perplexingly, how has this blinding intolerance become so "normal" that such questions are not even asked?

Thursday's decision on the new symbol was, in a step almost unheard on such issues, taken by a vote rather than by consensus. Over 20 Muslim countries, led by Syria, voted no. For these countries, even hiding Israel behind a crystal was plainly too much tolerance. And in the end, it was not just Israel that attempted to hide itself from a hatred in many Islamic countries so deep it extends even to those who would save their own peoples' lives. It was the entire West as well.

This article can also be read at


Time Reporter Told Rove's Lawyer in 2004 That Top Bush Aide May Have Revealed Plame's CIA Status

ABC News
Time: Rove's Lawyer Told of Conversation
Time Reporter Told Rove's Lawyer in 2004 That Top Bush Aide May Have Revealed Plame's CIA Status
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Months before Karl Rove corrected his statements in the Valerie Plame investigation, his lawyer was told that the president's top political adviser might have disclosed Plame's CIA status to a Time magazine reporter.

Rove says he had forgotten the conversation he had on July 11, 2003, with Time's Matt Cooper. But the magazine reported Sunday that in the first half of 2004, as President Bush's re-election campaign was heating up, Rove's lawyer got the word about a possible Rove-Cooper conversation from a second Time reporter, Viveca Novak.

Novak described her conversation with the lawyer, Robert Luskin, in a first-person account released Sunday on Time's Web site.

Luskin declined comment. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Rove's legal team, said the deputy White House chief of staff has cooperated fully with prosecutors.

"The integrity of the investigation requires that we not discuss the substance of any communications with the special counsel," Corallo said in a statement. "Out of respect for the investigative process, we have abided by that rule and will continue to withhold comment on our interactions with the special counsel."

Six weeks ago, in a so-far successful effort to avert Rove's indictment, Luskin disclosed his conversation with Novak to the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald. Rove remains under investigation.

In her first-person account, Novak wrote that Luskin clearly thought disclosing their discussion "was going to help Rove, perhaps by explaining why Rove hadn't told Fitzgerald or the grand jury of his conversation with my colleague Matt Cooper."

Fitzgerald questioned Novak under oath Thursday, the day after the prosecutor began presenting evidence to a new grand jury considering evidence in the leak investigation.

The prosecutor is investigating the Bush administration's leaking of Plame's CIA status to the news media in 2003, as Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Novak says Luskin appeared surprised when told in 2004 of a possible Rove-Cooper conversation about the CIA status of Wilson's wife.

Luskin said in effect that "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt," Novak wrote. "I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me."

Novak said she told Luskin "something like, 'Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around Time.' He looked surprised and very serious" and at the end of their discussion that day said, "Thank you. This is important."

Novak said the conversation with Luskin occurred anywhere from January 2004 to May 2004; she thinks it was perhaps in March.

It was not until October 2004 sometime between five months and nine months after Novak's conversation with Luskin that Rove disclosed his conversation with Cooper to the prosecutor.

Rove's disclosure followed Luskin's discovery of a White House e-mail from July 11, 2003. The message, from Rove to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, referred to Rove's conversation earlier that day with Cooper.

It is not known publicly whether Fitzgerald's investigators had the e-mail all along and simply overlooked it or whether the White House had not produced the e-mail for the prosecutor.

By the time Rove stepped forward to disclose the Cooper conversation to investigators, Cooper was under intense pressure from the prosecutor to reveal the original source of his information that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

Five months ago, his court appeals exhausted and after receiving a personal waiver from Rove, Cooper disclosed that his source had been the president's top political adviser.

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is under indictment in Fitzgerald's probe on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. Libby has pleaded not guilty.

On the Net:



Abuse Cited In 2nd Jail Operated by Iraqi Ministry
Abuse Cited In 2nd Jail Operated by Iraqi Ministry
Official Says 12 Prisoners Subjected to 'Severe Torture'

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 -- An Iraqi government search of a detention center in Baghdad operated by Interior Ministry special commandos found 13 prisoners who had suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday night.

An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones.

"Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," the official said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

A government spokesman, Laith Kubba, said Sunday night that any findings at the prison would be "subject to an investigation," but he declined to comment on the allegations.

The site, which was searched Thursday, is the second Interior Ministry detention center where cases of prisoner abuse have been confirmed by U.S. and Iraqi officials.

U.S. troops found the first site last month when they entered an Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad to look for a Sunni Arab teenager they believed had been detained, officers said at the time. Several prisoners at that site appeared to have suffered beatings, and many were emaciated, U.S. and Iraqi officials and witnesses said.

The abuse alleged at the prison found this week appeared to have been more severe. Asked specifically what types of torture were found in the commandos' prison, the official cited breaking of bones, torture with electric shock, extraction of fingernails and cigarette burns to the neck and back.

International law, including the U.N. Convention Against Torture, bans torture in all cases. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issued a sharp public rebuke of the Iraqi government after the secret prison was discovered last month, demanding in a statement that all detainees nationwide be treated in accord with human rights.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, under heavy pressure from Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered a nationwide investigation of detention centers after that discovery. The prison investigated Thursday was the first center examined as part of the government-ordered inquiry.

Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for U.S. military detention issues, said American authorities had already been aware that the prison searched Thursday existed. U.S. forces had not known about the previous facility.

Prison inspectors from the Ministry of Human Rights and representatives of other ministries participated in the commando prison search, the ministry said in a statement. Authorities did not say whether any Americans were involved in the inquiry.

Investigators said they found 625 prisoners at the center but declined to give details about them. Most of the detainees found at the secret prison last month were Sunni Arabs who had been picked up by forces of the Shiite Muslim-dominated Interior Ministry.

"The team discovered a number of problems, which the ministries of Interior and Human Rights are working together to correct," the statement said. "The facility was overcrowded: As a result, the Ministry of Justice has agreed to receive 75 detainees from this facility at Rusafa Prison; Iraqi judges released 56 detainees directly following the inspection. . . . Thirteen of the detainees were removed from the detention facility to receive medical treatment.''

Rudisill said the 56 freed prisoners were released on the recommendation of Iraqi judges who took part in the inspection. "They quickly looked through and found in these cases specifically there were no reasons to hold these individuals," he said.

U.S. diplomatic and military officials said Iraqi officials were leading the investigation and declined to offer further comment.

Torture was routine in Iraqi prisons under former president Saddam Hussein. U.S. forces in Iraq drew international criticism for abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in which military guards photographed themselves humiliating naked Iraqi detainees. There was no suggestion of U.S. involvement in the latest abuses at the Interior Ministry prisons. The Iraqi government, led by Shiite parties with strong ties to Iran, has strongly rejected allegations of Iranian intelligence involvement in Interior Ministry prisons.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has a significant number of former militia members and members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party that is the largest in the government.

The country's Sunni minority has accused the Interior Ministry of taking a leading role in severe abuses, including the targeting of Sunnis by alleged death squads. Since the current government took office in late April, the bodies of scores of Sunni men have been found dumped on roadsides, in dry riverbeds and in fields. Most of the men were found handcuffed and shot. In several cases, family members have said the men were taken away by people in Interior Ministry uniforms and vehicles.

The government has repeatedly said it was investigating the allegations. No results of any investigations have been announced.

"The investigation was extended," Jafari, a member of another Shiite religious party in the governing coalition, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday. "It is not finished. We are investigating all violations. We do not accept any violations committed against any Iraqis."

Last week, the Interior Ministry fired its top human rights official, Nouri Nouri, without providing an explanation.

Sunni political leaders charge that similar incidents of torture are occurring at other Interior Ministry detention facilities and have identified some of the sites by name.

Shiite political leaders say the U.S. military frequently visits the facilities and suggest that American authorities would know about any abuse.

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered military commanders to come up with clear rules for how U.S. forces should respond if they witness detainee abuse. The order followed an exchange between Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, at a news conference Nov. 29.

Pace said then that it was "absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted to intervene to stop it."

Rumsfeld said, "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

Pace responded, "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

U.S. officials have said the FBI and the U.S. military are aiding the prison investigation. Authorities have identified more than 1,000 detention centers across Iraq.


DuPont Proves the Bush Administration Wrong on the cost of reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Laurie David
DuPont Proves the Bush Administration Wrong

A T-shirt worn by a young protester at the climate conference in Montreal read: “Stop asking how much it will cost you, and start asking how much it will cost us”. That is the only coherent question we should be considering. For proof that the Bush administration’s constant refrain that “our economy can’t afford the price tag of regulating CO2” is just plain false, look no further than the giant DuPont corporation.

According to the December 12 issue of Business Week, DuPont has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 65 percent since 1990 -- and, in the process, actually saved itself over $2 billion. That’s right, SAVED.

So the Bush talking points need a rewrite:

we can’t afford to not start regulating CO2 emissions. The arguments against stopping global warming are ringing hollower and hollower. And faux U.S. representatives and Exxon stooges like Harlan Watson are looking stupider and stupider. The problem is, in the eyes of the rest of the world, he is taking us down with him.


Republicans Plan to Use "Nuclear Option"

US Senate leader says Alito vote may need rules change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Majority Leader Bill Frist said on Sunday he is prepared to change the U.S. Senate's rules if Democrats seek to block the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Yes," the Tennessee Republican said on "Fox News Sunday," when asked if he would move to impose the so-called "nuclear option" to restrict use of the filibuster, in which members of a minority party can block a vote by using the right to virtually unlimited debate.

Barring the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees would require approval of a rule change by a majority of the full Senate in which Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats. Democrats have said they would wait until after Alito's questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January before deciding whether they will use the procedural roadblock to stop a vote on his nomination.

President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a conservative appeals court judge, to replace the more moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring from the Supreme Court.

O'Connor often has been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other social issues and many Senate Democrats and advocacy groups have raised concerns, largely based on memos Alito wrote two decades ago, that he would oppose abortion and efforts to ease discrimination against members of minority groups.

Conservative groups have dismissed such opposition to Alito as knee-jerk and predictable.

Alito "has a modest judicial temperament," Frist said, citing his extensive record in 15 years as an appeals court judge.

"I have stood from day one on principle that these Supreme Court justices -- nominees deserve an up or down vote, and it would be absolutely wrong to deny him that. And that's what the constitutional option is," he said.

Leading Republican senators have spoken out repeatedly against the possibility of a filibuster. It takes 60 votes to stop the extended debate, while only a majority is needed to approve a nomination.

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who will preside over Alito's confirmation hearings as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week he saw no "extraordinary circumstances" that could provoke a filibuster against Alito.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Excess Weight


Repeat after me


Do I make myself clear?


Condi's Gap