Saturday, December 24, 2005

NSA Spying Broader Than Bush Admitted

Yahoo! News
NYT: NSA Spying Broader Than Bush Admitted

The National Security Agency has conducted much broader surveillance of e-mails and phone calls — without court orders — than the Bush administration has acknowledged, The New York Times reported on its Web site.

The NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained access to streams of domestic and international communications, said the Times in the report late Friday, citing unidentified current and former government officials.

The story did not name the companies.

Since the Times disclosed the domestic spying program last week, President Bush has stressed that his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al-Qaida.

But the Times said that NSA technicians have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorists.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunications data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the paper said, quoting an unnamed official.

The story quoted a former technology manager at a major telecommunications firm as saying that companies have been storing information on calling patterns since the Sept. 11 attacks, and giving it to the federal government. Neither the manager nor the company he worked for was identified.


Friday, December 23, 2005

NY Transit Strike: MTA's Violating Taylor Law

New York Daily News
NY Transit Strike: MTA's Violating Taylor Law
by Juan Gonzalez

Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg have vowed drastic penalties for the striking members of the Transport Workers Union for violating the Taylor Law.

Yet the mayor and the governor have been completely silent about violations of the same Taylor Law by their own appointed officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The most well-known portion of the law, Section 210, states that "no public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike."

That is not, however, the only provision of the law. Other sections also provide protections to public employees.

City union leaders and state lawmakers keep trying to point that out. They say the MTA itself trampled a key provision of the Taylor Law by demanding that TWU President Roger Toussaint accept an inferior pension plan for future members of his union as a condition of a new labor contract.

Section 201 of the law clearly states that "no such retirement benefits shall be negotiated pursuant to this article, and any benefits so negotiated shall be void."

Only the Legislature has the legal authority to approve changes in public employee pension systems.

Not the MTA. Not the mayor. And not the governor all by himself.

That's the way it always has been.

MTA officials have claimed for several days that reforming the union's pension plan became themain unresolved issue to a settlement.

"That's what's known as an impermissible subject of bargaining," said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), who is chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees the MTA.

Sure, unions and public agencies sometimes agree, as part of an overall labor settlement, to jointly petition the Legislature for pension changes, but management can't simply force a union to accept a worse retirement plan.

"If the governor is going to be a tough guy about the Taylor Law with the union, he should be tough as well on the law when it comes to the MTA," Brodsky said yesterday.

This crippling strike could be over in hours if Pataki ordered the MTA to adhere to the same Taylor Law he wants the union to respect.

Toussaint said as much to a group of 40 city labor leaders in a telephone conference around noon yesterday. He repeated it a few hours later in a meeting with several dozen black political and religious leaders and in a press conference later in the afternoon.

His plea is now being taken up by many leaders eager to bring labor peace back to the city.

Municipal union leaders, headed by teachers union chief Randi Weingarten, urged the mayor and the governor to set aside the pension issue for now. Meanwhile, several state legislators made the same pitch in Albany.

If there are reforms needed in public employee pensions, they say, they should be negotiated with all the unions involved in the city's retirement system, not by singling out the transit workers union as a test case.

But even before Toussaint spoke, Pataki delivered yet another blistering criticism of the strikers. Worse, he tried to escalate the conflict by urging no further contract talks until theunion returns to work.

In two previous illegal transit strikes during the past 50 years, union leaders and public officials always kept negotiating until they reached a settlement.

Thankfully, MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow moved forward yesterday with serious mediation efforts that continued late last night. Kalikow appears to be the only top MTA official eager to reach a deal.

His boss Pataki, on the other hand, is eager to prove to the nation what a tough-guy President he would make. In Toussaint and his 33,000 union members, he sees his ticket to fame.

So what if the public has to endure a few more days of a transit strike that never should have happened in the first place? Who will listen to a bunch of union members engaged in an illegal strike, the governor and the mayor seem to think.

We'll soon find out if they're right.

Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email Juan at

2005 New York Daily News


Alito Defended Officials From Wiretap Suits

Yahoo! News
Alito Defended Officials From Wiretap Suits

By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press Writer

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito defended the right of government officials to order domestic wiretaps when he worked for the Reagan Justice Department, documents released Friday show.

He advocated a step by step approach to strengthening the hand of officials in a 1984 memo to the solicitor general. The strategy is similar to the one that Alito espoused for rolling back abortion rights at the margins.

The release of the memo by the National Archives comes when President Bush is under fire for secretly ordering domestic spying of suspected terrorists without a warrant. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has promised to question Alito about the administration's program.

The Associated Press had requested documents related to Alito under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memo dealt with whether government officials should have blanket protection from lawsuits when authorizing wiretaps. "I do not question that the attorney general should have this immunity," Alito wrote. "But for tactical reasons, I would not raise the issue here."

Despite Alito's warning that the government would lose, the Reagan administration took the fight to the Supreme Court in the case of whether Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, could be sued for authorizing a warrantless domestic wiretap to gather information about a suspected terrorist plot. The FBI had received information about a conspiracy to destroy utility tunnels in Washington and kidnap Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser.

In its court brief, the government argued for absolute immunity for the attorney general on matters of national security.

"The attorney general's vital responsibilities in connection with intelligence gathering and prevention in the field of national security are at least deserving of absolute immunity as routine prosecutorial actions taken either by the attorney general or by subordinate officials.

"When the attorney general is called upon to take action to protect the security of the nation, he should think only of the national good and not about his pocketbook," the brief said.

Signing the document was Rex E. Lee, then the solicitor general, officials from the Justice Department and Alito, then the assistant to the solicitor general.

That case ultimately led to a 1985 ruling by the Supreme Court that the attorney general and other high level executive officials could be sued for violating people's rights, in the name of national security, with such actions as domestic wiretaps.

"The danger that high federal officials will disregard constitutional rights in their zeal to protect the national security is sufficiently real to counsel against affording such officials an absolute immunity," the court held.

However, the court said Mitchell was protected from suit, because when he authorized the wiretap he did not realize his actions violated the Fourth Amendment.

The decision was consistent with the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in 1972 that it was unconstitutional for the government to conduct wiretaps without court approval despite the Nixon administration's argument that domestic anti-war groups and other radicals were a threat to national security.

Alito had advised his bosses to appeal the case on narrow procedural grounds but not seek blanket immunity.

"There are also strong reasons to believe that our chances of success will be greater in future cases," he wrote. He noted then-Justice William H. Rehnquist would be a key vote and would recuse himself from the Nixon-era case.

The incremental legal strategy is consistent with the approach Alito advocated on chipping away abortion rights. In memos released Friday and last month, Alito said abortion rights should be overturned but recommended a roadmap of dismantling them piece by piece instead of a "frontal assault on Roe v. Wade."

He said of his plan: "It has most of the advantage of a brief devoted to the overruling of Roe v. Wade; it makes our position clear, does not even tacitly concede Roe's legitimacy, and signals that we regard the question as live and open."

The documents were among 45 released by the National Archives Friday as the Christmas weekend approached. A total of 744 pages were made public.

Abortion and the president's authority on eavesdropping will be central issues when the Senate Judiciary Committee opens confirmation hearings on Alito's nomination Jan. 9.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) of Vermont, the top Democrat on the committee, said the latest documents "fill in more blanks and deepen the impression of activism that colors Judge Alito's career" and raise issues critical to the panel.

"One of the most important, and one of the most timely, is the issue of unchecked presidential authority and the particular issue of warrantless eavesdropping on the American people," Leahy said.

Another committee Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) of New York, released a letter to Alito in which he questioned whether the nominee believes in absolute immunity for the attorney general and other government officials "from suits based on even willful unconstitutional acts."

Schumer vowed to question Alito on the issue and warned that if he refused to answer questions, it would make it harder for members of the panel to support his confirmation.

Bush picked Alito to take the Supreme Court seat held by Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring. The federal appellate court judge has been seeking to assure senators that he would put his private views aside when it came time to rule on abortion as a justice. O'Connor has been a supporter of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling affirming a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.

The June abortion memo contained the same Alito statements as one dated May 30, 1985, which the National Archives released in November — but with a forward note from Reagan administration Solicitor General Charles Fried acknowledging the volatility of the issue and saying it had to be kept quiet.

"I need hardly say how sensitive this material is, and ask that it have no wider circulation," Fried wrote.


Alito documents on the Net:


Who told the worst political untruth of 2005? It’s a shame the list of contenders is so long.
Big Lies
Who told the worst political untruth of 2005? It’s a shame the list of contenders is so long.
By Eleanor Clift

Dec. 22, 2005 - Every holiday season, we on "The McLaughlin Group" hand out news awards. Some categories, like "Biggest Winner," are easy (My choice was Chief Justice John Roberts, with the oil companies as runner-up). Others are a struggle to fill, like who to insult with the “Overrated” award.

In compiling this year’s list, I had the highest number of entries for the category, “Biggest Lie.” I chose the White House declaration that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had nothing to do with leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent. They were the principal participants in the effort to discredit former ambassador Joe Wilson because he had raised doubts about one of the pillars of their argument for war, namely that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium to make a bomb.

Another favorite—heard all the time from the White House—is that “everybody saw the same intelligence we did.” Members of Congress don’t see the President’s Daily Briefing (one of them was the glossed-over pre-9/11 document that warned “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the U.S.”), and they didn’t see all the qualifying caveats about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, or the doubts about the credibility of the sources the administration was relying on.

Bush is good at stating the obviously untrue. “We do not torture,” he declared despite ample evidence to the contrary from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Vice President Cheney went to Capitol Hill repeatedly to lobby for the U.S. right to torture, capitulating only when the vote went against him 90 to 9. Sen. John McCain, who was tortured when held prisoner during the Vietnam War, took on Bush’s No. 2 and stood up for democratic principles. It’s a wonder Cheney has any credibility left after assuring the country in May, “the insurgency is in its last throes.”

The revelation that President Bush authorized spying on American citizens without warrants is a late entry to the year’s “Biggest Lies” list. Bush says he bypassed the law because of the need for speed. He may believe that, but the facts say otherwise.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 established a special FISA secret court designed to act expeditiously. The executive branch can tap anybody’s phone and not even get a warrant until 72 hours after the fact. The FISA court isn’t picky; it’s only turned down five requests out of 19,000 in its quarter-century existence. Bush publicly and proudly says he will continue to break the law. The Washington Post reported that one FISA court judge has resigned in apparent protest, and the others are asking why we have a secret court when it is ignored.

Bush’s explanation is riddled with lies. He says our enemies are watching and threatens The New York Times, which broke the spying story, with legal action. It takes a vivid imagination to believe that Osama bin Laden and his buddies are keeping up with the niceties of FISA courts and would otherwise have no idea their phones might be tapped. Bush says he talks to Congress all the time and that there was plenty of congressional oversight. Not true. The Gang of Eight (leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, plus the chair and ranking members of the Intelligence Committees) were forbidden to take notes or discuss what they were told with colleagues or staff. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s hand-written letter to Cheney expressed uneasiness about the program. Rockefeller couldn’t have its legality evaluated by staff. He couldn’t even have the letter typed because of the secrecy. That hardly qualifies as congressional oversight.

The cavalier attitude toward the checks and balance of a democratic society is a pattern with this administration. Bush and Cheney regard Congress and the judiciary as obstacles, not as equal branches of government. The polls show that a majority of Americans no longer trust this team, which is why Bush and Cheney are hitting back hard at their critics. If they lose this round over spying, the spillover effect will be devastating for their war policy and on any domestic agenda they hope to salvage. We have no mechanism to deal with a president who has lost the trust and confidence of the American people and has three years remaining in office. Impeachment is a nonissue; it’s not going to happen with Republicans in control of the House and Senate.

What will happen is more open insurrection on the part of senators—both Democrats and Republicans. Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito are scheduled to begin the first week in January. In the weeks since being named by Bush, there have been a series of stories about Alito’s early writings as a member of the Reagan administration. Alito wants us to believe he was a callow young thirtysomething who advocated far-right positions to curry favor for a job. The White House is telling senators that Alito didn’t mean all those things he wrote about disregarding privacy rights and overturning Roe v. Wade—another big lie. No wonder this year’s list was so easy to put together.



Bush’s Snoopgate
Bush’s Snoopgate

The president was so desperate to kill The New York Times’ eavesdropping story, he summoned the paper’s editor and publisher to the Oval Office. But it wasn’t just out of concern about national security.

By Jonathan Alter

Dec. 19, 2005 - Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on Dec. 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extraconstitutional action.

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

In the meantime, it is unlikely that Bush will echo President Kennedy in 1961. After JFK managed to tone down a New York Times story by Tad Szulc on the Bay of Pigs invasion, he confided to Times editor Turner Catledge that he wished the paper had printed the whole story because it might have spared him such a stunning defeat in Cuba.

This time, the president knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story.



The 'I Word'
The 'I Word'
Expect 2006 to offer up Nixon-era nastiness and a chorus of calls to impeach Bush.
By Howard Fineman

Dec. 21, 2005 - In the first weeks and months after 9/11, I am told by a very good source, there was a lot of wishing out loud in the White House Situation Room about expanding the National Security Agency’s ability to instantly monitor phone calls and e-mails between American callers and possible terror suspects abroad. “We talked a lot about how useful that would be,” said this source, who was “in the room” in the critical period after the attacks.

Well, as the world now knows, the NSA—at the prompting of Vice President Dick Cheney and on official (secret) orders from President Bush—was doing just that. And yet, as I understand it, many of the people in the White House’s own Situation Room—including leaders of the national-security adviser’s top staff and officials of the FBI—had no idea that it was happening.

As best I can tell—and this really isn’t my beat—the only people who knew about the NSA’s new (and now so controversial) warrantless eavesdropping program early on were Bush, Cheney, NSA chief Michael Hayden, his top deputies, top leaders of the CIA, and lawyers at the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office hurriedly called in to sprinkle holy water on it.

Which presents the disturbing image of the White House as a series of nesting dolls, with Cheney-Bush at the tiny secret center, sifting information that most of the rest of the people around them didn’t even know existed. And that image, in turn, will dominate and define the year 2006—and, I predict, make it the angriest, most divisive season of political theater since the days of Richard Nixon.

We are entering a dark time in which the central argument advanced by each party is going to involve accusing the other party of committing what amounts to treason. Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of destroying the Constitution; Republicans will accuse the Dems of destroying our security.

Some thoughts on where all of this is headed:

# The president says that his highest duty is to protect the American people and our homeland. And it is true that, as commander in chief, he has sweeping powers to, as his oath says, “faithfully execute the office” of president. But the entity he swore to “preserve, protect and defend” isn’t the homeland per se—but the Constitution itself.

# The Patriot Act will be extended, but it’s just the beginning, not the end, of the never-ending argument between the Bill of Rights and national security. The act primarily covers the activities of the FBI; the sheer volume of intelligence-gathering across the government has yet to become apparent, and voters will blanch when they see it all laid before them. The department most likely to get in trouble on this: the Pentagon, which doesn’t have a tradition of limiting inquiries, and which, in the name of protecting domestic military installations, will want to look at everyone.

# If you thought the Samuel Alito hearings were going to be contentious, wait till you see them now. Sen. Arlen Specter, the prickly but brilliant chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that the issue of warrantless spying by the NSA—and the larger question of the reach of the president’s wartime powers—is now fair game for the Alito hearings. Alito is going to try to beg off but won’t be allowed to. And members who might have been afraid to vote against Alito on the abortion issue might now have another, politically less risky, reason to do so.

# Arguably the most interesting—and influential—Republicans in the Senate right now are the libertarians. They’re suspicious of the Patriot Act and, I am guessing, pivotal in any discussion of the NSA and others' spy efforts. Most are Westerners (Craig, Hagel, Murkowski) and the other is Sen. John Sununu. He is from New Hampshire, which, as anyone who has spent time there understands, is the Wild West of the East Coast. All you have to do is look at its license plate slogan: “Live Free or Die.” It’ll be interesting to see how other nominal small-government conservatives—Sen. George Allen of Virginia comes to mind—handle the issue.

# For months now, I have been getting e-mails demanding that my various employers (NEWSWEEK, NBC News and include in their poll questionnaires the issue of whether Bush should be impeached. They used to demand this on the strength of the WMD issue, on the theory that the president had “lied us into war.” Now the Bush foes will base their case on his having signed off on the NSA’s warrantless wiretaps. He and Cheney will argue his inherent powers and will cite Supreme Court cases and the resolution that authorized him to make war on the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They will respond by calling him Nixon 2.0 and have already hauled forth no less an authority than John Dean to testify to the president’s dictatorial perfidy. The “I word” is out there, and, I predict, you are going to hear more of it next year—much more.



Latest tax tool: 'Internet shaming'

Latest tax tool: 'Internet shaming'
By Ben Jones, USA TODAY

Tax scofflaws, beware. State governments are combining new technology with old-fashioned shame to goad delinquent taxpayers to pay up.

At least 18 states have launched websites to post the names of people and businesses that owe back taxes. Maryland calls its website "Caught in the Web." In South Carolina, it's "Debtor's Corner." Wisconsin on Jan. 3 will launch "website of Shame."

Advocates of so-called Internet shaming say it's an inexpensive way to capture millions of dollars at a time when many states have tight budgets and seek politically viable ways to find more revenue.

"Raising taxes is a very radioactive strategy," says Sujit CanagaRetna, a fiscal analyst with the Council of State Governments, a non-partisan group that provides policy information to states. "This is another way to bring in more (of) what is owed to the state in an innovative way that has proven to be fairly successful. It's gathering more popularity across the country."

Georgia's online delinquent tax list has collected at least $19.6 million since it went up in February 2004. Colorado's website has raked in $11 million. Kansas went online in March.

"NOTICE OF PENDING INTERNET POSTING," began the letter the Wisconsin Department of Revenue recently sent to more than 7,000 people and businesses who owe the state at least $25,000 each in sales, income, corporate or other taxes. Wisconsin is owed $771 million in back taxes, about 7% of the $11.5 billion it collected last year. The state isn't expecting the website to recoup all of it. Its goal: $1.5 million a year.

The threat of online exposure is working. At least 88 Wisconsin residents and 21 businesses have agreed to settle debts totaling $7.9 million. "The real success of the program is before the postings are made," says Geraldine Conrad, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue. "People are motivated to pay."

Some tax specialists worry about the Internet shaming trend. "How are people going to be compensated when, inevitably, mistakes are made?" says Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, a non-partisan watchdog group.

Jones reports for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis.


FEMA Slows Search for Kids From Katrina
FEMA Slows Search for Kids From Katrina

By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer

Efforts to locate 500 children still classified as missing after Hurricane Katrina are stalled because the Federal Emergency Management Agency, citing privacy laws, has refused to share its evacuee database with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to investigators tracking the cases.

Not until the White House and Justice Department intervened earlier this month did Department of Homeland Security officials agree to a compromise that grants FBI agents limited access to information that may provide clues to many of the unresolved cases.

In recent days, FEMA has released data that helped close 15 cases. Yesterday, after inquiries from The Washington Post, the agency sent the FBI a computer disk with the names of 570,000 evacuees.

But as the four-month anniversary of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history approaches, congressional leaders, law enforcement authorities and family advocates say FEMA's slow response has meant that many families that could have been reunited this holiday season instead remain apart.

"We are deeply disappointed by the low priority FEMA assigned to the cases of missing children," Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) wrote yesterday to FEMA's acting director, R. David Paulison. "And while FEMA may not have sole responsibility to investigate cases of missing children, it should do what is in its power to assist other agencies in completing the investigations."

Officials believe it is likely that many of the 500 children are safe, perhaps even in the care of a family member. But a case is not closed until the relative who reported the child missing learns the youngster's whereabouts and is assured the child is unharmed.

Under U.S. privacy laws, FEMA is prohibited from releasing information such as names and Social Security numbers to anyone.

"The information that people provide us when they are in the midst of, or recovering from, a life-altering event includes Social Security number, income levels, very personal information," said FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews. "We take our charge to protect that information very seriously."

Cornelius J. Armstead, 25, said he has spent the past four months wondering and worrying about what happened to his 2-year-old son, who was with his mother a mile away when New Orleans flooded.

"The storm came. We all evacuated. I don't know which way they went," he said, recounting his frantic attempt to get to the housing project where his son and the child's mother lived. "I tried to get to them, but the water rose so high."

After calling the Red Cross, several shelters and acquaintances, Armstead said, he dialed the missing-children hotline, 800-THE-LOST. "I call it every day," he said.

When Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, the Justice Department and Louisiana officials asked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to handle missing-person reports.

At the height of the chaos, the hotline received 5,500 reports of missing children. Many cases were particularly challenging because few families had managed to save photographs of the children. Others could not provide a telephone number or a permanent address, said the center's president, Ernie Allen. Time was critical, he said, because "we know predators will seek out these unaccompanied, unprotected children."

Although the majority of children are likely to be with adults, some may be with a relative who does not have legal custody of the child. Some may be runaway teens, said Walter Fahr, manager of the Louisiana Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children. Other scenarios are worse, he said.

"We are working on at least one case in which the mother says the child was with her evacuating from New Orleans in the floodwaters and the child slipped out of a life vest," he said. "She's still hanging on to the hope this child is alive."

The center, created by Congress 21 years ago to serve as a quasi-governmental clearinghouse for missing children, dispatched teams of former law enforcement officers to the four affected states and negotiated agreements with the Red Cross and U.S. Postal Service to share evacuee information.

In early October, as leads began to dwindle, the center requested access to FEMA's list of the 2.8 million families that had applied for federal disaster assistance. FEMA balked, saying it was illegal to share the private information. Lawyers at the center argued that because it was working on behalf of the Justice Department "it would fall within one of the exceptions of the Privacy Act for this limited purpose," Allen said. For years, investigators for the center have had access to FBI databases.

On Oct. 25, the center provided the list of 1,600 children missing at the time to FEMA and made its request for the database in writing. On Nov. 23, nearly three months after Katrina hit, FEMA rejected it.

FEMA did, however, run the center's names of missing children through its computers. It found 652 instances in which at least one identifier -- such as a surname or address -- matched an entry on the center's missing persons list, Andrews said. FEMA staff spent the weekend of Dec. 3 calling all 652. They reached 505 and made about 80 "exact matches," she said.

But experts at the center and the FBI said FEMA's social workers are not trained to resolve difficult cases, such as those in which the custody of the child is in dispute.

"That's not what FEMA's business is; that's what the national center does and what the FBI does," said David Johnson, chief of the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit. "I would want somebody who knows something about children's issues from a criminal perspective talking to the person and child, doing more verification."

When FEMA finally agreed to turn over its list of matches, it contained only 150 names, he said, of which 15 resulted in locating a missing child.

On Dec. 5, White House aides and an official at the Justice Department pressed FEMA to turn over more records, according to congressional investigators and a letter from a high-ranking Justice official.

Soon after, a trickle of additional names began arriving from FEMA, Allen said. Finally, the FBI received the list of 570,000 names, although about half appear to be duplicates, Allen said.

Yesterday evening, according to the center, the FBI searched that list for Armstead's son and the child's mother, Tyra McElvin. There was no match.


File the Bin Laden Phone Leak Under 'Urban Myths
File the Bin Laden Phone Leak Under 'Urban Myths'

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush asserted this week that the news media published a U.S. government leak in 1998 about Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, alerting the al Qaeda leader to government monitoring and prompting him to abandon the device.

The story of the vicious leak that destroyed a valuable intelligence operation was first reported by a best-selling book, validated by the Sept. 11 commission and then repeated by the president.

But it appears to be an urban myth.

The al Qaeda leader's communication to aides via satellite phone had already been reported in 1996 -- and the source of the information was another government, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time.

The second time a news organization reported on the satellite phone, the source was bin Laden himself.

Causal effects are hard to prove, but other factors could have persuaded bin Laden to turn off his satellite phone in August 1998. A day earlier, the United States had fired dozens of cruise missiles at his training camps, missing him by hours.

Bush made his assertion at a news conference Monday, in which he defended his authorization of warrantless monitoring of communications between some U.S. citizens and suspected terrorists overseas. He fumed that "the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak." He berated the media for "revealing sources, methods and what we use the information for" and thus helping "the enemy" change its operations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday that the president was referring to an article that appeared in the Washington Times on Aug. 21, 1998, the day after the cruise missile attack, which was launched in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa two weeks earlier. The Sept. 11 commission also cited the article as "a leak" that prompted bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, though it noted that he had added more bodyguards and began moving his sleeping place "frequently and unpredictably" after the missile attack.

Two former Clinton administration officials first fingered the Times article in a 2002 book, "The Age of Sacred Terror." Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon wrote that after the "unabashed right-wing newspaper" published the story, bin Laden "stopped using the satellite phone instantly" and "the United States lost its best chance to find him."

The article, a profile of bin Laden, buried the information about his satellite phone in the 21st paragraph. It never said that the United States was listening in on bin Laden, as the president alleged. The writer, Martin Sieff, said yesterday that the information about the phone was "already in the public domain" when he wrote the story.

A search of media databases shows that Time magazine had first reported on Dec. 16, 1996, that bin Laden "uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East and Africa." Taliban officials provided the information, with one official -- security chief Mulla Abdul Mannan Niazi -- telling Time, "He's in high spirits."

The day before the Washington Times article was published -- and the day of the attacks -- CNN producer Peter Bergen appeared on the network to talk about an interview he had with bin Laden in 1997.

"He communicates by satellite phone, even though Afghanistan in some levels is back in the Middle Ages and a country that barely functions," Bergen said.

Bergen noted that as early as 1997, bin Laden's men were very concerned about electronic surveillance. "They scanned us electronically," he said, because they were worried that anyone meeting with bin Laden "might have some tracking device from some intelligence agency." In 1996, the Chechen insurgent leader Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed by a Russian missile that locked in to his satellite phone signal.

That same day, CBS reported that bin Laden used a satellite phone to give a television interview. USA Today ran a profile of bin Laden on the same day as the Washington Times's article, quoting a former U.S. official about his "fondness for his cell phone."

It was not until Sept. 7, 1998 -- after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone -- that a newspaper reported that the United States had intercepted his phone calls and obtained his voiceprint. U.S. authorities "used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic 'scramblers,' " the Los Angeles Times reported.

Officials could not explain yesterday why they focused on the Washington Times story when other news organizations at the same time reported on the satellite phone -- and that the information was not particularly newsworthy.

"You got me," said Benjamin, who was director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff at the time. "That was the understanding in the White House and the intelligence community. The story ran and the lights went out."

Lee H. Hamilton, vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, gave a speech in October in which he said the leak "was terribly damaging." Yesterday, he said the commission relied on the testimony of three "very responsible, very senior intelligence officers," who he said "linked the Times story to the cessation of the use of the phone." He said they described it as a very serious leak.

But Hamilton said he did not recall any discussion about other news outlets' reports. "I cannot conceive we would have singled out the Washington Times if we knew about all of the reporting," he said.

A White House official said last night the administration was confident that press reports changed bin Laden's behavior. CIA spokesman Tom Crispell declined to comment, saying the question involves intelligence sources and methods.


Bush Details Pay Raises for Federal Workers

ABC News
Bush Details Pay Raises for Federal Workers
Bush Signs Executive Order to Raise Federal Workers' Pay
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday outlined pay raises that take effect in January for federal workers, members of Congress, judges even Vice President Dick Cheney.

Congress passed the pay raises earlier this year, but Bush was required to sign an executive order detailing the pay hikes before the end of the year.

The president's annual salary of $400,000 is not affected by the legislation.

The cost-of-living raise lifts salaries for members of the House and Senate by 1.9 percent from $162,100 this year to $165,200 in 2006.

The measure provides most civilian white-collar civil servants with at least a 2.1 percent overall average pay increase.

Uniformed military personnel will receive a 3.1 percent increase in basic pay next year.

The 1.9 percent pay hike also applies to the vice president who is president of the Senate congressional leaders and Supreme Court justices.

The pay for Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who is now John Roberts, will go from $208,100 to $212,100. Associate justices move from $199,200 to $203,000 and House and Senate majority and minority leaders' pay jumps from $180,100 to $183,500.


Northeast Lawmakers Say Congress Failed to Deliver Home-Heating Funds

ABC News
Lawmakers: Congress Failed on Heating Funds
Northeast Lawmakers Say Congress Failed to Deliver Home-Heating Funds
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Millions of low-income families will face a bleak winter because Congress failed to deliver home-heating funds, Northeast lawmakers warned Thursday.

"It was the wrong choice for the American people in this cold holiday season," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who led a Senate fight for fuel assistance.

Home-heat advocates had been hopeful as late as Wednesday night that the Senate would approve two spending bills providing $4.1 billion in fuel assistance. But $2 billion in energy aid was stripped from a defense appropriations bill along with a GOP-backed provision to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

That left just $2.1 billion for this winter's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, slightly below last year's funding.

"It looked like Congress was going to do the right thing, but it never happened," said Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which represents state agencies that distribute heat aid.

In a separate budget-cutting bill Wednesday, the Senate approved $1 billion to help families heat their homes next winter. That money is stalled in the House.

All told, the Senate on Wednesday passed $3 billion in heat assistance for this winter and next.

"The Republican budget left America's neediest families out in the cold this winter," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said. "The priorities for working Americans were trumped by profits for oil company executives."

Senators, however, will have another chance to boost heating aid.

The Senate is expected to vote next month on $2 billion in supplemental funding for heating assistance.

Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Thursday they won a pledge for the vote from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Last summer, Kennedy said, Congress authorized $5.1 billion heating aid in the sweeping Energy Policy Act but then failed to follow through on the spending blueprint.

As the Arctic drilling fight flared in the Senate, home-heating aid was used as a sweetener by the GOP to win votes, Reed said. "It was a casualty of that battle," he said.

Noting record energy costs, Wolfe said many local heat aid agencies will run out of funds soon because of a flood of applicants.

Northern state lawmakers will try to boost funding for heating assistance when Congress returns from its holiday recess, Reed said.

About 5 million households nationwide receive the funds.


Kennedy Seeks Alito Docs on Princeton Case

ABC News
Kennedy Seeks Alito Docs on Princeton Case
Kennedy Seeks Documents on Alito's Involvement With Conservative Group
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Sen. Edward Kennedy is pressing for documents on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's involvement with a conservative group that argued Princeton University lowered its admission standards to accept women and minorities.

In a letter on Thursday, Kennedy, D-Mass., asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to make a formal request for files in the private papers of a founder and leader of Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

"In view of CAP's troubling opposition to equal educational opportunity for women, minorities and the disabled, it is important for the committee to learn more about Judge Alito's involvement in this organization," Kennedy wrote.

Alito said last month that he did not recall any involvement with the group, which two decades ago sparked controversy by saying school officials had lowered the Ivy League university's admission standards to allow enrollment of women and minorities.

"A document I recently reviewed reflects that I was a member of the group in the 1980s. Apart from that document, I have no recollection of being a member, of attending meetings or otherwise participating in the activities of the group," Alito wrote the Senate.

Alito's recollections differ from what he wrote when he was seeking appointment to the Reagan administration. In a 1985 job application letter, he wrote that he was currently a member of "the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, a conservative alumni group."

Alito graduated from Princeton in 1972, the same year the group was founded. Among the organization's leaders was William A. Rusher, who was publisher of the National Review. The Library of Congress has Rusher's papers from 1940-89.

In his letter, Kennedy said the Congressional Research Service has tried to get access to files in Rusher's papers that may relate to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Rusher has refused, citing his right to know who is seeking the material and how it will be used.

Kennedy argued that a formal request from Specter would result in greater cooperation.

The Massachusetts senator questioned why the information Alito disclosed in his 1985 job application never came up during his 1987 nomination as U.S. attorney for New Jersey and his 1990 nomination for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Surveillance, New York Style

The New York Times
Surveillance, New York Style

It's a sad day when a police force generally known for its professionalism is caught using underhanded tactics to spy on and even distort political protests and mass rallies. Yet that is precisely what an archive of videotapes shows New York City police officers or people working with them doing at seven public gatherings since August 2004. The sorry tale was laid out by Jim Dwyer in yesterday's Times in an article based on civilian and police videotapes gathered by a forensic analyst critical of the tactics.

The most disturbing instance of improper behavior occurred last year during the Republican National Convention when a sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police set off a bruising confrontation with demonstrators.

The man, who had vivid blond hair, was holding a sign at a march of poor people when the police suddenly moved to arrest him. Onlookers shouted at the police to let him go, and officers in riot gear responded by pushing against the crowd. Protesters were put on the ground, and at least two were arrested. Meanwhile, the blond-haired man spoke quietly with the police and was quickly led away. The same man was videotaped at an arrest scene a day earlier calling out words that seemed intended to rile the bystanders.

This was a deliberate effort to incite violence that would in turn justify a tough police response.

Another disturbing incident occurred last year when a police helicopter, attempting to track bicycle riders at night through the Lower East Side, recorded nearly four minutes of a couple's intimate moments on the secluded terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse. The night-vision camera did not catch the couple's most personal moments, but the invasion of privacy proved deeply upsetting and brought a formal complaint from one of the victims. It was a sobering reminder for those who generally favor surveillance, as the penthouse owner does, that covert spying often sweeps up innocent victims.

The questionable police tactics may have been fostered by a national mood that favored tough antiterrorism measures after Sept. 11, 2001, even if that meant an erosion of civil liberties. The same impulse to overreach that led the Bush administration to intercept Americans' international communications without warrants, and that emboldened the F.B.I. to spy on groups like Greenpeace and Catholic Worker members, was surely at work in New York when the police spied on people protesting the Iraq war, bicyclists riding in a mass rally and even mourners at a street vigil.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record on free speech is already pretty poor. Unless he wants to make a disregard for New Yorkers' rights part of his legacy, he should make sure that the police understand what civil liberties mean in a democracy.


Mr. Cheney's Imperial Presidency

The New York Times
Mr. Cheney's Imperial Presidency

George W. Bush has quipped several times during his political career that it would be so much easier to govern in a dictatorship. Apparently he never told his vice president that this was a joke.

Virtually from the time he chose himself to be Mr. Bush's running mate in 2000, Dick Cheney has spearheaded an extraordinary expansion of the powers of the presidency - from writing energy policy behind closed doors with oil executives to abrogating longstanding treaties and using the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq, scrap the Geneva Conventions and spy on American citizens.

It was a chance Mr. Cheney seems to have been dreaming about for decades. Most Americans looked at wrenching events like the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the Iran-contra debacle and worried that the presidency had become too powerful, secretive and dismissive. Mr. Cheney looked at the same events and fretted that the presidency was not powerful enough, and too vulnerable to inspection and calls for accountability.

The president "needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," Mr. Cheney said this week as he tried to stifle the outcry over a domestic spying program that Mr. Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks.

Before 9/11, Mr. Cheney was trying to undermine the institutional and legal structure of multilateral foreign policy: he championed the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow in order to build an antimissile shield that doesn't work but makes military contactors rich. Early in his tenure, Mr. Cheney, who quit as chief executive of Halliburton to run with Mr. Bush in 2000, gathered his energy industry cronies at secret meetings in Washington to rewrite energy policy to their specifications. Mr. Cheney offered the usual excuses about the need to get candid advice on important matters, and the courts, sadly, bought it. But the task force was not an exercise in diverse views. Mr. Cheney gathered people who agreed with him, and allowed them to write national policy for an industry in which he had recently amassed a fortune.

The effort to expand presidential power accelerated after 9/11, taking advantage of a national consensus that the president should have additional powers to use judiciously against terrorists.

Mr. Cheney started agitating for an attack on Iraq immediately, pushing the intelligence community to come up with evidence about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda that never existed. His team was central to writing the legal briefs justifying the abuse and torture of prisoners, the idea that the president can designate people to be "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely, and a secret program allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants. And when Senator John McCain introduced a measure to reinstate the rule of law at American military prisons, Mr. Cheney not only led the effort to stop the amendment, but also tried to revise it to actually legalize torture at C.I.A. prisons.

There are finally signs that the democratic system is trying to rein in the imperial presidency. Republicans in the Senate and House forced Mr. Bush to back the McCain amendment, and Mr. Cheney's plan to legalize torture by intelligence agents was rebuffed. Congress also agreed to extend the Patriot Act for five weeks rather than doing the administration's bidding and rushing to make it permanent.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court refused to allow the administration to transfer Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been held by the military for more than three years on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks, from military to civilian custody. After winning the same court's approval in September to hold Mr. Padilla as an unlawful combatant, the administration abruptly reversed course in November and charged him with civil crimes unrelated to his arrest. That decision was an obvious attempt to avoid having the Supreme Court review the legality of the detention powers that Mr. Bush gave himself, and the appeals judges refused to go along.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have insisted that the secret eavesdropping program is legal, but The Washington Post reported yesterday that the court created to supervise this sort of activity is not so sure. It said the presiding judge was arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges and that several judges on the court wanted to know why the administration believed eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants was legal when the law specifically requires such warrants.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues. Still, the recent developments are encouraging, especially since the court ruling on Mr. Padilla was written by a staunch conservative considered by President Bush for the Supreme Court.


Judge dismisses Pope from sexual abuse case

Judge dismisses Pope from sexual abuse case

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday dismissed Pope Benedict from a civil lawsuit lodged against him and other Roman Catholic church officials that accused them of covering up sexual abuse of a minor by a seminary student.

In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal agreed with a motion filed by the Vatican that Pope Benedict enjoyed "head-of-state immunity" in the case.

Three unnamed plaintiffs in the case have said church officials ignored their pleas to investigate Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, who they accused of sexual abuse, and that the clergy helped him leave the country.

The church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly called the Holy Office of the Vatican, headed by Pope Benedict when he was a cardinal, played a central role in the conspiracy to conceal the abuse that occurred in 1995 and 1996, the plaintiffs said.

The Church has been hit by numerous lawsuits since the 2002 scandal in the United States when it was discovered that priests accused of molesting children were moved from parish to parish to hide the abuse.


Democrats post wins as Congress adjourns

Democrats post wins as Congress adjourns

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. Congress on Thursday sent President George W. Bush its last legislation for the year after Democrats scored unexpected victories on spending, anti-terrorism legislation and the environment.

On a day of chaotic wrangling between parties and the two houses of Congress, the U.S. Senate gave final passage to a five-week extension of the USA Patriot Act that buys Democrats time to press for more civil-liberties safeguards in the counterterrorism law.

It acted after the House of Representatives scaled back a six-month extension initially passed by the Senate.

The extension was a defeat for Bush, who had fought for a permanent renewal but ran into an outcry over revelations that he had authorized eavesdropping on Americans suspected of links to terrorism without a court order.

The House also gave final passage to a $453.3 billion defense-spending bill that includes $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and sent the measure to Bush. Democrats had forced the Senate's Republican majority to strip from the measure a provision opening up an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling.

In addition, a nearly yearlong battle to cut spending was further delayed when Democrats forced the House put off a vote until next year on a nearly $40 billion spending-cut package Republicans had hoped would showcase a commitment to reducing deficits as they push for lower taxes.

Despite the last-minute Democratic gains, Republicans touted successes in upgrading roads and mass transit, expanding trade, revamping bankruptcy laws, enacting a comprehensive energy policy and confirming John Roberts to head the U.S. Supreme Court as the 17th chief justice.

Bush said he would sign the extension to the Patriot Act.

"It appears to me that the Congress understands we got to keep the Patriot Act in place, that we're still under threat, there's still an enemy that wants to harm us," Bush said.

The act was passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks and key provisions were due to expire at the end of this month. It expanded federal authority to conduct secret searches, obtain private records, intercept telephone calls and take other actions in the effort to track down suspected terrorists.


House and Senate Republican leaders negotiated a compromise that would have permanently renewed the law, but that was blocked in the Senate by Democrats joined by a handful of Republicans.

After some last-minute wrangling between the House and Senate, lawmakers agreed to extend the act until February 3 and all sides declared victory.

"We kept Senate Democrats from killing the Patriot Act," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Democrats took a different view.

"We always said that we would accept a short-term extension to give negotiators time to get the final bill right," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. "We will use the extension to seek a Patriot Act that gives the government the tools it needs to fight the terrorists, while still protecting the rights of innocent Americans."

Bush, who has been battling sinking approval ratings, has seen his clout in Congress diminished by recent scandals affecting top Republicans, as well as the eavesdropping revelation.

The spending-cut measure had been narrowly approved by the House and Senate, but Senate Democrats forced small changes that meant the House will have to take it up again next year.

The delay means the spending cuts, which affect some anti-poverty programs, might be considered as congressional Republicans try to push through tax cuts for investors and prepare for November 2006 congressional elections.

After adjourning for the year, Congress returns in January and the Senate plans confirmation hearings on Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has said he would also like to hold a hearing on the eavesdropping disclosure.

The Senate may also take up immigration legislation in February. The House approved a bill last week that focuses mostly on border controls and punishing businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

The Senate is likely to include some kind of temporary-worker program that many conservative House Republicans say would amount to giving amnesty to illegal immigrants.

(additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan)


Scandals cast light on congressional lobbying

Scandals cast light on congressional lobbying

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As a U.S. lawmaker steps down for taking bribes and others face a separate corruption probe, the relationship between money and power in Washington is coming under increased scrutiny.

California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham faces 10 years in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes to help secure Defense Department contracts.

The Justice Department also is seeking to prove that other lawmakers accepted campaign contributions, lavish trips and other gifts from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for favorable treatment for his clients.

Abramoff's expected cooperation in the probe could spell trouble for Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also a Republican, who have ties to the lobbyist.

The investigation has highlighted the close relationship between the 535 members of Congress and the 27,000 registered lobbyists who shower them with sports tickets and other perks.

"It does seem like there's been a terrible gray area, a lot of money floating around Washington, and a lot of things that are borderline acceptable," said Penn State political science professor Frank Baumgartner. "It would not surprise me if a number of people end up implicated in this."

Lobbying firms took in $2.14 billion in 2004, up from $1.47 billion in 1999, according to the PoliticalMoneyLine Web site.

General Electric Co. alone paid $17.24 million to 17 different lobbying firms last year. "We think it's wise to ensure that our employees, retirees and investors are well-represented when there are issues that are discussed that affect them," company spokesman Gary Sheffer said.

Many lobbyists are former lawmakers or their aides, who can exchange contacts for hefty paychecks after leaving office.

Forty-three percent of the 198 lawmakers who have left for the private sector since 1998 have become lobbyists, according to the public-interest group Public Citizen.

When Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin stepped down as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2004, he took a job heading a drug-industry trade group that reportedly pays him $2.5 million per year.

Top staffers now expect starting lobbyist salaries of $300,000, according to the Washington Post.

That sets up a conflict of interest, because lawmakers and staffers may be reluctant to push policies that hurt their future job prospects as lobbyists, Baumgartner said.

Lawmakers' relatives, including a son of Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and four sons of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, often work as lobbyists.

Bonds between lobbyists and lawmakers have been tightened in recent years by a Republican effort to fill top lobbying jobs with congressional staffers and other party loyalists who can raise money and help Republicans stay in power.

With weak ethics oversight in Congress, it is no surprise that something like the Abramoff scandal would arise, said Mike Surrusco, director of ethics campaigns for the nonprofit group Common Cause.

Lawmakers have moved to clean up their act as Congress enters an election year. Several have returned campaign contributions from Abramoff clients; others have proposed tougher lobbying rules.

The House Ethics Committee plans to end its partisan gridlock and take up several reforms next year, said a senior Republican aide familiar with the issue.

"The Republicans need to demonstrate that there's a functioning ethics process in the House, and the Democrats ... they'd like to get some scalps on the wall," the aide said.


Evolution named 2005's top scientific breakthrough

Evolution named 2005's top scientific breakthrough

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two days after a U.S. judge struck down the teaching of intelligent design theory in a Pennsylvania public school, the journal Science on Thursday proclaimed evolution the breakthrough of 2005.

Wide-ranging research published this year, including a study that showed a mere 4 percent difference between human and chimpanzee DNA, built on Charles Darwin's landmark 1859 work "The Origin of Species" and the idea of natural selection, the journal's editors wrote.

"Amid this outpouring of results, 2005 stands out as a banner year for uncovering the intricacies of how evolution actually proceeds," they wrote. "Ironically, also this year, some segments of American society fought to dilute the teaching of even the basic facts of evolution."

The journal's editor in chief, Don Kennedy, acknowledged this was a reference to the rise of the theory of intelligent design, which holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they must be the work of an unnamed creator rather than the result of random natural selection, as Darwin argued.

Opponents, including many scientists, argue it is a thinly disguised version of creationism -- a belief that the world was created by God as described in the Book of Genesis -- which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled may not be taught in public schools.

"I think what arouses the ire of scientists (about intelligent design) is ... the notion that it belongs in the same universe as scientific analysis," Kennedy said in a telephone interview.

"It's a hypothesis that's not testable, and one of the important recognition factors for science and scientific ideas is the notion of testability, that you can go out and do an experiment and learn from it and change your idea," said Kennedy. "That's just not possible with a notion that's as much a belief in spirituality as intelligent design is."

Intelligent design theory came under review in two U.S. states this year, with a federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday banning the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in the Dover Area School District.

In Kansas, the state Board of Education approved public school standards that cast doubt on evolutionary theory.

Kennedy said Science picked evolution as the year's biggest breakthrough in part because it was a "hot topic," but stressed there was a wealth of research that justified the choice.

Other breakthroughs in the journal's Top 10 include research in planetary exploration, the molecular biology of flowers, the violent ways of neutron stars, the relationship between genetics and abnormal human behavior, the new field of cosmochemistry, a protein that controls the flow of potassium ions to cells, fresh evidence of global warming, an engineering approach to molecular biology and superconductivity.

Areas to watch for in 2006, according to Science, include the avian flu, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays and the possible sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long presumed extinct but rediscovered in 2004.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Toussaint to Bloomberg: You are Shaming NYC

[You will want to read the entire article, to see the hypocrisy of Bloombergs statements. It is presented in full below:]
Toussaint to Bloomberg: You are Shaming NYC

Dec. 21- Yesterday you used your position as Mayor of New York to call us "thuggish"and "selfish." How dare you?

Our children turn on the TV to see the Mayor denouncing their parents as "morally reprehensible." Have you no shame?

As you know better than most, this strike was forced on us by the MTA. You know this because you share much of the blame. It is your provocative rhetoric about what givebacks we transit workers must accept for the next generation of transit -- our children and new immigrants -- that has pushed our members beyond the limits of their patience.

You all but demanded this confrontation, and now you act angry and surprised. You owe all New Yorkers an apology for poisoning the atmosphere around difficult labor negotiations.

You call us “irresponsible.” New York City and New York State have slashed their subsidies for mass transit. Mayors and Governors have created a seemingly permanent Structural Deficit for transit which much be filled by costly borrowing. Wall Street has profited, but Main Street has suffered. But you knew that already from your previous career. Now that the debt-servicing bill has come due, the MTA demands that we pay the price: worse health care and worse pensions.

But what about our conducting an "illegal" strike? What about the law? You are all over the media with high-minded talk about "illegal" behavior, castigating criminals and screaming that no one is above the law. Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. You must hope everyone has forgotten your biography: "Bloomberg on Bloomberg." You boast on Page 59 on how you started your rise to great wealth, great enough to enable you to buy the Mayor's office twice. You set up your office "...all without permission, violating every fire law, building code and union regulation on the books."

I guess illegality is in the eye of the beholder. A confessed lawbreaker has the gall to lecture 34,000 hard working people whose only crime is standing up for their families and for dignity and respect on one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs in New York.

Stop using transit workers as a punching bag to undo decades of pension gains for city workers. Stop demonizing transit workers in the eyes of the public.

Stop bullying and start acting like the Mayor you promised to be.


Mayor's 'Thuggish' Comment Rankles Some

Yahoo! News
Mayor's 'Thuggish' Comment Rankles Some

By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer

The war of words over the transit strike took an ugly turn after Mayor Michael Bloomberg described union heads as "thuggish," a remark some said was racist in the context of a predominantly black union.

During his first briefing on the strike Tuesday at City Hall, Bloomberg complained that union leaders had "thuggishly turned their backs on New York City and disgraced the noble concept of public service."

A group of City Council members and black leaders said Wednesday that Bloomberg's comment was racist because it was directed at leaders of a union that is less than 30 percent white.

"We resent the idea that you would characterize a predominantly black and Latino union as a bunch of thugs," said City Councilman Charles Barron.

Ed Skyler, the mayor's spokesman, replied: "It's despicable to inject race into this situation."

Bloomberg has no official role in the labor negotiations, since city subways and buses are managed by the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But he is responsible for keeping New York running during the shutdown of the nation's largest transit system.

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, an influential black minister, said the mayor, governor and MTA leaders were risking comparisons to Eugene "Bull" Connor. The Birmingham, Ala., segregationist police commissioner turned fire hoses and police dogs on black civil rights marchers in 1963.

Daughtry said Bloomberg was using as his "bully club" the state law prohibiting strikes by public employees.

"Be cautious how you use the law to beat people into submission," Daughtry said.

In the past, Barron and Daughtry have used the word "thug" to describe white attackers involved in bias crimes. Barron stressed that the context of the predominantly black union is what made Bloomberg's comment racially insensitive.

Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint stopped short of joining the accusations of racism, but said Wednesday that the "thuggish" remark showed the mayor's "lack of respect" for his members.

"We wake up at three and four in the morning to move trains in this town," Toussaint said. "That's not the behavior of thugs and selfish people."


Clash Is Latest Chapter in Bush Effort to Widen Executive Power
Clash Is Latest Chapter in Bush Effort to Widen Executive Power

By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers

The clash over the secret domestic spying program is one slice of a broader struggle over the power of the presidency that has animated the Bush administration. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney came to office convinced that the authority of the presidency had eroded and have spent the past five years trying to reclaim it.

From shielding energy policy deliberations to setting up military tribunals without court involvement, Bush, with Cheney's encouragement, has taken what scholars call a more expansive view of his role than any commander in chief in decades. With few exceptions, Congress and the courts have largely stayed out of the way, deferential to the argument that a president needs free rein, especially in wartime.

But the disclosure of Bush's eavesdropping program has revived the issue, and Congress appears to be growing restive about surrendering so much of its authority. Democrats and even key Republicans maintain Bush went too far -- and may have even violated the law -- by authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens' overseas telephone calls in search of terrorist plots without obtaining warrants from a secret intelligence court.

The vice president entered the fray yesterday, rejecting the criticism and expounding on the philosophy that has driven so many of the administration's actions. "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it -- and to some extent that we have an obligation as the administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good of shape as we found them," Cheney said. In wartime, he said, the president "needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired."

Speaking with reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force Two to Oman, Cheney said the period after the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War proved to be "the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy" and harmed the chief executive's ability to lead in a complicated, dangerous era. "But I do think that to some extent now we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency."

For Cheney, the post-Watergate era was the formative experience shaping his understanding of executive power. As a young White House chief of staff for President Gerald R. Ford, he saw the Oval Office at its weakest point as Congress and the courts asserted themselves. But scholars such as Andrew Rudalevige, author of "The New Imperial Presidency," say the presidency had recovered long before Cheney returned to the White House in 2001. The War Powers Act, the legislative veto, the independent counsel statute and other legacies of the 1970s had all been discarded in one form or another.

"He's living in a time warp," said Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and Reagan administration official. "The great irony is Bush inherited the strongest presidency of anyone since Franklin Roosevelt, and Cheney acts as if he's still under the constraints of 1973 or 1974."

Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) said: "The vice president may be the only person I know of that believes the executive has somehow lost power over the last 30 years."

The tug over executive power traces back to the early years of the republic, and presidents have traditionally moved to expand their reach during times of war. John Adams, fearing a hostile France, presided over the imprisonment of Republican critics under the Alien and Sedition Acts. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson jailed Socialist Eugene V. Debs, who had run against him for president, for protesting the entry into World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt sent Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II. And Ronald Reagan circumvented a Cold War congressional ban on providing aid to contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The Bush administration rejects comparisons to such events and says its assertions of authority in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been carefully tailored to meet the needs of a 21st-century war against a nebulous foe. At his news conference Monday, Bush bristled at the notion that he sought "unchecked power" and said he had consulted with Congress extensively.

Yet Bush supporters believe that other branches should take a subsidiary role to the president in safeguarding national security. "The Constitution's intent when we're under attack from outside is to place maximum power in the president," said William P. Barr, who was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, "and the other branches, and especially the courts, don't act as a check on the president's authority against the enemy."

Even before the NSA surveillance program, the Bush administration has asserted its war-making authority in detaining indefinitely U.S. citizens as enemy combatants, denying prisoners access to lawyers or courts, rejecting in some cases the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, expanding its interrogation techniques to include harsher treatment and establishing secret terrorist prisons in foreign countries.

"The problem is, where do you stop rebalancing the power and go too far in the other direction?" asked David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "I think in some instances [Bush] has gone too far."

Taken alone, the expansion of executive wartime power may seem an obvious outflow of confronting the new threat of global terrorism. But when coupled with the huge expansion of the federal government in general under Bush -- the budget has grown by 33 percent and his administration has broadened the federal role in education and the scope of Medicare -- a growing number of conservatives are expressing concern about the size and reach of government on his watch.

Many conservatives in Congress came to office in the 1980s and 1990s with visions of shrinking government and protecting individual freedoms. The Sept. 11 attacks, however, prompted Republicans to shift their priorities and emphasize fighting terrorism. With both houses of Congress in Republican hands, lawmakers generally have been willing to yield to Bush's views on the balance of power.

"Defending the country is preeminently an executive function," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "He is the commander in chief, and you have to move with speed and dispatch."

At the same time, some believe, Congress has abrogated its duty to provide a check on the White House. Rarely has the Republican Congress used its subpoena power to investigate Bush policies or programs or to force administration officials to explain them. Even when lawmakers are inclined to challenge the White House, they are restricted by secrecy rules in cases such as the NSA program, which was known to only a handful of key members briefed by the administration.

"When you have unified party government, the oversight tends to be very timid," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "It's not just the president pushing for more power. . . . The Congress has not done its job of careful evaluation of giving the president more power post-9/11."

Thurber and others think that may be changing. Led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Congress just forced Bush to accept a ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, and a handful of Republican senators have joined Democrats to block the renewal of the USA Patriot Act until more civil liberties protections are built into the law. "Congress needs to do some introspection about whether oversight is serious or basically political," Cole said

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) is one of several Republicans lobbying Bush to use the debate over NSA to work with Congress on striking the right balance of power on security issues. "The question is: Should the administration and Congress sit down and talk about where presidential authority begins and ends and congressional blessing begins and ends?" he said. "I think yes."


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Religious Right's Phony 'War on Christmas': Mything in Action
The Religious Right's Phony 'War on Christmas': Mything in Action

Religious Right leaders and their allies in the right-wing news media claim there is a “war on Christmas.” To prove their charge, they have rolled out a series of allegations involving bias against Christmas by government officials and public schools. Researchers at Americans United for Separation of Church and State looked into the most common examples of supposed hostility toward Christmas and found them largely baseless.

Religious Right claim: The Saginaw, Mich., Township schools oppose red and green clothes and prohibit singing Christmas songs.

Response: Superintendent Jerry Seese says no such policies exist and pointed out that the school’s color is green.

Religious Right claim: Watchung, N.J. they have begun referring to their Christmas tree as a “Mitten Tree” and have replaced ALL references to Christmas with “Holiday.”

Response: Mayor Albert Ellis said the “Tree of Lights” (not a mitten tree) is sponsored by the local rescue squad as a fundraiser. The tree is placed in the town green and people can buy a light in honor of or in memory of someone. The town has been doing it for 15 years and no one has ever raised an issue. The town also negotiated a holiday display policy with the two local churches and developed a policy so private citizens can erect holiday displays. There is no conflict in the community over this.

Religious Right claim: A Plano, Texas, school told the students they could not wear red and green because they were Christmas colors.

Response: A spokeswoman for the district said this is not true and never has been true. She expressed frustration that this story continues to circulate and said she does not know its origin. The school debunks the claim on its website and instructed its attorney to write to Bill O’Reilly, requesting a correction.

Religious Right claim: Ridgeway, Wisc., elementary school’s “winter program” has changed the name of “Silent Night” to “Cold in the Night.” Sung to the tune of “Silent Night,” the lyrics now read: “Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm.”

Response: The school is not located in “Ridgeway” Wisconsin but is named Ridgeway Elementary School in the town of Dodgeville, Wisc. This school has several times over the past 18 years presented a play titled “The Little Tree’s Christmas Gift.” The play, copyrighted in 1988, is about a scraggly Christmas tree that worries it will not find a home for Christmas; it uses several Christmas carols with different lyrics to make it easier for children to learn the words. “Silent Night” was not rewritten by the school because of its religious content. Diane Messer, administrator of the Dodgeville School District, said, “Somebody totally misunderstood and had the belief that one of our teachers took it upon herself to rewrite the words to ‘Silent Night.’ This program is well within our district’s policy which allows us the use of both religious and secular content in our curriculum and in our productions and performances.” The school has posted an item on its Web site calling the entire story “a fraud.” (See and click on “News & Information.”)

Religious Right claim: The Glendale-River Hills School District in Wisconsin has expressly prohibited any song close to the Christmas holiday from having any religious “motive or theme.” While banning Christian Christmas songs, the district permits secular holiday songs as well as songs celebrating Hanukkah

Response: The district says this is not true. It has posted a notice on its website reading, “Recently, there have been a number of reports in the media that the upcoming Holiday Program at the Parkway School doesn’t include songs or music recognizing the Christian religious tradition. This is simply not the case.” The school also posted the holiday program on its site. Songs being sung include “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

Religious Right claim: The Raleigh, N.C., town council has recently voted to erect a Christmas display on public property (which includes a Nativity scene, snowmen, reindeer and a menorah). Apparently the ACLU has contacted the city attorney to let him know they’d fight it.

Response: This display was erected by a private religious group, not the city. North Carolina ACLU Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger says her group never threatened to sue and does not oppose this type of balanced display.

Religious Right claim: A kindergarten room-mother in Niskayuna, N.Y., was informed that the Christmas party was changed to a “Holiday” party and that no one was to send in any treats that had any religious connotation attached. No Christmas-shaped cookies, no angels. She was directed to “think snowman.”

Response: Superintendent Kevin Baughman says this is not true. He said the district is diverse and that it recognizes several holidays.

Religious Right claim: Christmas concert has songs in which the words are changed to avoid referring to Christmas and even replaces the word Christmas with "xmas" in Mine Hill, N.J.

Response: The school’s spokeswoman says this is not true.

Religious Right claim: The Jackson County, Ga., school district has prohibited teachers from wearing "any pins, angels, crosses, clothing" that contain any religious connotation or affiliation, referring to any party as a "Christmas" party, or displaying a Bible in their rooms.

Response: The district has no such policy. The superintendent sent a message to principals reminding them not to include religious material in class unless it was tied to a lesson plan. One principal misunderstood and told teachers to stop wearing religious jewelry. The district quickly clarified the policy.


Untold--Or Undertold--Stories
Untold--Or Undertold--Stories
Harry Shearer

My colleague Michelle tipped me to this list. These lists, of undercovered stories, have become a year-end staple, but I hadn't seen one from this source before. And one really does merit more attention: It involves our "ally", Pakistan. Why the quotes? At the time we invaded Iraq, one country in the most troubled part of the world really did (a) have weapons of mass destruction, (b) a history of armed conflict with its neighbor, and (c) a known record of supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban, including supporters high in the country's intelligence apparatus--and that country was Pakistan.

So, this passage stands out:

...reports that terrorist camps are reopening in Pakistan received only scant attention in 2005. In July, the Herald, a Pakistani magazine, reported that previously abandoned terrorist training camps were open for business in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Islamabad denied that the camp in question existed, though the Herald’s reporter received a guided tour of a “fully rehabilitated” camp in Mansehra that was complete with office space, four residential halls, a volleyball court, and, of course, young men carrying AK-47s. Although there’s no sign that the camps have Islamabad’s backing, one militant told the Herald that they operated in a “regime of controlled freedom.”

Don't all human beings yearn to live in a regime of controlled freedom? Sorry, I was thinking of something else.


Strict construction v. inherent powers
Strict construction v. inherent powers
Robert Schlesinger

Conservatives' ultimate goal for the judiciary branch of the government is a bench full of strict constructionists. Conservatives loudly decry judges who peer into the Constitution and find new rights, laws, etc.

We now know that the Bush administration -- which lays claim to the title of conservative, though many honest cons that I know either shudder or chuckle at the notion -- has been spying on U.S. citizens at home in apparent contravention of publicly-known law.

How are they able to do this? At least in part because , according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the president has "inherent authority under the Constitution" to institute the program.

Does anyone else see any tension between decrying jurists who find new powers/rights/etc in the Constitution and chief executives (or their lawyers) who do so?


Senators seek spying probe

Senators seek spying probe

By Adam Entous and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic and Republican calls mounted on Tuesday for U.S. congressional hearings into President George W. Bush's assertion that he can order warrantless spying on Americans with suspected terrorist ties.

Vice President Dick Cheney predicted a backlash against critics of the administration's anti-terrorism policies. He also dismissed charges that Bush overstepped his constitutional bounds when he implemented the recently disclosed eavesdropping shortly after the September 11 attacks.

Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine joined Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Ron Wyden of Oregon in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees into whether the government eavesdropped "without appropriate legal authority."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he would prefer separate hearings by the Judiciary Committee, which has already promised one, and Intelligence Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, was noncommittal, saying he first wanted to further explore the matter.

"I have been in discussion with the various chairmen and will continue that discussion," Frist said. "And then decisions will be made as to whether or not (there will be) hearings, and where such hearings would be carried out."

Bush, Cheney and other senior administration officials have defended the policy of authorizing -- without court orders -- eavesdropping on international phone calls and e-mails by Americans suspected of links to terrorism.

They argue it was legal and provided the agility -- beyond a 1978 law allowing court-warranted eavesdropping -- to help defend the country after the September 11 attacks.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called the administration's policy an abuse of power.

"Americans need a president who will keep them safe and enforce the law, we don't need a big brother. Americans know we don't have to sacrifice our basic liberties in order to fight the terrorists," Dean said in a videotaped statement.

The administration has also contended it was authorized to order the eavesdropping under a congressional resolution to respond with all necessary force.

"I have grave doubts as to its applicability," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, adding Bush's order "raises very fundamental questions ... about privacy and the Bill of Rights."

Fellow Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, however, said, "I have no doubt that hearings will show that the president was within his rights."

The White House brushed aside calls for hearings. "This is still a highly classified program and there are details that it's important not be disclosed," spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The White House also sought to play down the impact on civil liberties, arguing the program was narrow in scope and that key congressional leaders were "briefed in the appropriate way" about it.

Senior Democrats said those briefings left out key details and that Congress was prevented from exercising its oversight authority because the information was classified.


Cheney, speaking to reporters during an overseas trip, defended the eavesdropping program as necessary to combat "a hell of a threat."

"And I don't think that there is anything improper or inappropriate in that and my guess is that the vast majority of the American people support that," he said.

The senators calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees requested detailed information.

"It is critical that Congress determine, as quickly as possible, exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period, and what was the asserted legal authority for such activities," they wrote in a letter to the Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats on the two panels.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Muscat, Oman, Patricia Wilson in Washington)


High-court nominee asked about Bush spy program

High-court nominee asked about Bush spy program

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key Republican senator asked Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Monday about President George W. Bush's domestic spying order and whether war gives the president a blank check when it comes to civil liberties.

In a letter to Alito, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, who will preside at Alito's Senate confirmation hearing next month, also asked what approach he would use to assess Bush's authority.

"Historically, the court has shied away from checking executive power while a military conflict was going on," Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, wrote the 55-year-old conservative in preparation for the hearing set to begin January 9.

"Pursuant to your jurisprudential framework and understanding of the separation of powers, do you believe the court's reluctance to decide these issues is justified?" Specter added.

With lawmakers in both parties raising questions, Specter has promised a separate hearing on Bush's recently disclosed order to permit eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, without court approval, on Americans with suspected terrorist ties.


Specter noted that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in a separate matter, recently said, "war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

"Do you agree?" Specter asked Alito, who if confirmed by the full Senate would replace the retiring O'Connor on the high court.

Specter added: "In light of Justice O'Connor's statement, what jurisprudential theory would you invoke to evaluate the limits on the president's authority to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens without going through the court system?"

Bush has maintained the U.S. Constitution provided him the authority to permit the eavesdropping to defend the nation.

The administration also argued Bush obtained such authority in the congressional resolution passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks to respond with "all necessary and appropriate force."

Specter wrote Alito: "What jurisprudential approach would you use to determine whether this resolution gives the president the power to issue an executive order permitting the National Security Agency to conduct domestic surveillance on international communications without first obtaining a search warrant?"

Specter also asked Alito under what "jurisprudential theory" would he determine Bush's power to have taken such action as commander in chief.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, also wrote Alito on Monday, saying he planned to ask him about Bush's eavesdropping order at his confirmation hearing.