Saturday, March 25, 2006

Pension freezes force workers to seek alternatives

Pension freezes force workers to seek alternatives
By Brian Tumulty, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — Peter Donahue planned to stay in his job at Verizon until he retired at age 62.

But that changed for the 54-year-old network design engineer after Verizon announced it was freezing its pension plan for 50,000 management and other salaried non-union employees at the end of June.

Donahue now plans to quit Verizon later this year, take his pension as a $500,000 lump sum and invest it in an IRA, and get another job — at a much lower salary — for a Verizon subcontractor.

Of the 44 million Americans covered by pension plans, Donahue and hundreds of thousands of workers like him are finding they need to come up with a "Plan B" for retirement.

Freezes vary by employer

A summary of how some pension freezes have played out:

Alcoa: As of March 1, 2006, all new non-union employees are eligible for only a 401(k) retirement savings plan with a more generous company contribution. Retirees and workers hired before March 1 are not affected. Most of Alcoa's 60,000 U.S. employees are unionized members of the United Steelworkers.

General Motors: About 42,000 salaried workers affected. Starting Jan. 1, 2007, pensions will be frozen for salaried employees hired since Jan. 1, 2001. Instead, the company will contribute an amount equivalent to 4% of their salary into a 401(k) savings plan. Salaried employees hired before Jan. 1, 2001, will have their traditional pensions frozen and will earn additional benefits under a less generous hybrid pension plan. Hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers union are not affected.

IBM: After Dec. 31, 2007, pensions will be frozen for about 117,000 U.S. employees. About 7,500 people hired since Jan. 1, 2005, have not had a pension and instead had a 401(k) retirement savings plan that provides a 6% dollar-for-dollar match to participants. Beginning in 2008, these recent hires, as well as employees who had a cash balance pension plan, also will get a 2% automatic contribution to the 401(k). Longer tenured employees who were in the company's pension equity plan will get an automatic 4% company contribution to their 401(k) plus the 6% company match.

Northwest Airlines: Since August 2005, salaried and management employees — about 10% of the airline's 32,000 employees — have had their pensions frozen. In its place, they have received a 401(k) plan. The airline also has been negotiating with its seven unions on a plan to freeze their pensions. Most of the unions have ratified or tentatively agreed to the change as part of a larger effort to avoid terminating the pension plans and having them put under the control of the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Sprint Nextel: Effective Dec. 31, 2005, pensions were frozen for 39,000 of the company's 80,000 employees. The company match for their 401(k) retirement savings plan was increased from 3% to 5%. Another 25,000 people employed in Sprint's local telephone division that will be spun off as a separate business known as Embarq have pensions that are not affected by the freeze. Former Nextel employees who joined Sprint in last August's merger did not have a pension plan.

Unisys: All but a few hundred unionized employees out of a U.S. workforce of 17,400 will have their pensions frozen after Dec. 31. The company will enhance its dollar-for-dollar matching contribution to the 401(k) retirement savings plan from 2% to 6% for employees who choose to participate.

Verizon: Effective June 30, 2006, pensions will be frozen for 50,000 management and salaried employees. The maximum company match for the 401(k) retirement savings plan will increase from 5% to 9% for those employees. Former employees of MCI who became part of Verizon Jan. 6 did not have a pension plan. Pensions for about 100,000 unionized workers, most of them represented by the Communications Workers of America, are not affected.

-- Brian Tumulty, Gannett News Service

Besides Verizon, well-known employers such as General Motors, IBM, Sears, Alcoa, Northwest Airlines, Sprint Nextel and Unisys have announced pension plan freezes, many of them just in the last few months.

Unlike pension plan terminations of the past, when companies such as Bethlehem Steel and United Airlines were in bankruptcy and struggling for survival, many of the recent freezes are occurring at profitable companies looking to save money and be more competitive.

"Every corporate office in America has it on the table," said Lynn Dudley, vice president for retirement policy at the American Benefits Council. "They have to. One reason is globalization. Europe has gone to this."

Dudley, whose trade group represents large employers with pension plans, thinks Congress could slow the trend with legislation giving employers incentives to keep their plans.

But the major pension legislation likely to emerge from Congress this spring doesn't include those incentives.

Instead, the major goal of the legislation that could be signed into law by Memorial Day is to shore up the finances of the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that insures private pension plans.

A booming stock market and high interest rates helped turn pension plans into profit centers in the 1980s and 1990s, but the swing in the stock market and lower interest rates have now made these retirement benefits a burden for many corporations.

"Now they recognize this is not a free lunch," said PBGC Executive Director Bradley Belt, who plans to leave his job at the end of May. "They are trying to control their costs by freezing their pension plans."

Through the end of 2003, about 2,900 of the nation's 31,000 private sector pension plans had frozen their benefits, according to a study the PBGC released in December. Industries where the freezes were most common: fabricated metals, apparel, textiles, rubber, plastics, primary metals and retail trade.

A few — like Alcoa — have targeted only new hires, leaving the pensions of current employees untouched. Some, such as General Motors and Verizon, have large unionized workforces that are unaffected by the freeze. Others, such as IBM and Sears, are freezing the pensions of all employees.

When a pension is frozen, it essentially stops growing. And workers need to make up the difference out of their own pockets.

How much they need to make up depends on their age and the type of pension plan they had.

Younger workers don't need to save as large a percentage of their wages as those in their 50s.

For older workers such as Donahue, of Lacey Township, N.J., the loss of future benefits is significant.

"I understand the situation the companies are facing," said Donahue, acknowledging that many of Verizon's telecommunications competitors don't have pension plans. "But my problem is that a promise is a promise. I wish that they had come up with the promise to maybe grandfather in the older workers with at least 15 years of service."

If the frozen plan offered a pension based on the final average pay of a worker, the average worker in that situation would need to start saving about 8% more of his income than he does now to make up for the loss, according to a recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The extra savings needed for a worker in other types of pension plans is less but still significant, according to the study.

Although many employers have softened the impact of a pension freeze by instituting a 401(k) retirement savings plan, or enhancing the employer contribution to an existing 401(k), it doesn't guarantee retirement security. Additionally, most workers can't take advantage of the 401(k) funds unless they also contribute part of their wages.

That's a dramatic difference from a traditional pension plan, which is ordinarily financed entirely by the employer.

Freezing a pension plan provides an employer with a double advantage — shifting the investment risk from an employer-managed pension fund to an employee-managed account and less cost.

Unisys said it expects to save $700 million over 10 years by freezing its pension plan after the end of this year.

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Personal bankruptcy filings up 30% last year

Personal bankruptcy filings up 30% last year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Personal bankruptcies soared 30% to a record high last year as financially strained people rushed to file before new restrictions took effect Oct. 17.

Bankruptcy petitions filed in federal courts totaled 2,039,214 in 2005, up from 1,563,145 in 2004, according to data released Friday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

A new law, which brought the most comprehensive revision of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in a quarter-century, made it more difficult to erase debts in bankruptcy. Before its enactment, the number of bankruptcy filings had been fairly stable.

The law bars those with above-average income from Chapter 7 — where debts can be wiped out entirely — except under special circumstances. Those deemed by a new "means test" to have at least $100 a month left over after paying certain debts and expenses must file instead a 5-year repayment plan under the more restrictive Chapter 13.

The figures showed that last year there were 1,631,011 personal bankruptcy filings under Chapter 7, up from 1,117,766 in 2004. Chapter 13 filings declined to 407,322 from 444,428.

In the final quarter of the year, which included the two weeks preceding the Oct. 17 deadline, filings under Chapter 7 ballooned to 560,654 from 254,518 in the October-December period of 2004. Chapter 13 filings fell to 93,714 from 109,116.

A group representing bankruptcy attorneys has contended, in a report released last month, that the law has failed to stop abuses and has stymied people who have legitimate reasons to file for bankruptcy.

The report by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys was based on an analysis of 61,335 people who had gone to credit counseling agencies, the required first step under the new law before filing bankruptcy. Of the 61,335, 97% were unable to repay any debts and 79% had gotten into financial trouble because of job loss, huge medical expenses or the death of a spouse, the report said.

Passage of the new bankruptcy law came after eight years of strenuous efforts by congressional backers, banks and credit card companies. Supporters said the new provisions were needed to curb abuses of the bankruptcy system. Opponents said the changes would be especially hard on low-income working people, single mothers, minorities and the elderly and would remove a safety net for those who have lost their jobs or face mounting medical bills.

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Barbara Bush earmarked hurricane donation for son Neil's company

Barbara Bush earmarked hurricane donation for son's company

HOUSTON (AP) — Former first lady Barbara Bush gave relief money to a hurricane relief fund on the condition that it be spent to buy educational software from her son Neil's company.

[Editor's Note: For those who may not remember, it was Neil Bush who was one of the people responsible for the collapse of Savings and Loan companies in the USA. Recommended reading:
Silverado: Neil Bush and the Savings & Loan Scandal by Steven K. Wilmsen ]

The chief of staff of former President George H.W. Bush would not disclose the amount earmarked for purchases from Ignite Learning.

Since Barbara Bush's gift, the Ignite Learning program has been given to eight public schools with high numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"Mrs. Bush wanted to do something specifically for education and specifically for the thousands of students flooding into the Houston schools," Jean Becker said Thursday.

The money was donated to the Bush-Clinton Houston Hurricane Relief Fund, said Steve Maislin, president of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which administers the fund. That fund has no connection to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, he said.

Barbara Bush chose to promote Ignite because she supports her son and has genuine enthusiasm for his company's program, Becker said.

Two years ago, the Houston school district board wrestled with conflict of interest concerns over the Ignite program. Neil Bush had helped raise $115,000 for the district's philanthropic fund from donors who insisted the money be spent on his company's software.

The district accepted the donations and used them to pay half the costs of new Ignite software, about $10,000 per school.

Currently, Houston public schools use 15 Ignite programs and the Houston area has 40 programs, said company president Ken Leonard.

Neil Bush founded the Austin-based company in 1999.

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Senate bill seeks oversight of foreign takeovers

Senate bill seeks oversight of foreign takeovers
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Senate Banking Committee proposed on Friday to give Congress more oversight of foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies, but stopped short of saying lawmakers should have the power to veto deals.

The executive branch of the U.S. government currently dominates the review approval process, a system that backfired badly on the Bush administration when Republican lawmakers objected to an approved contract under which an Arab company was to manage operations at U.S. seaports.

After an uproar in Congress over the possible national security implications of the Dubai Ports World deal, the company this month said it would sell the U.S. assets it had just acquired to a U.S. buyer.

Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who heads the Senate's banking panel, set out draft legislation on Friday that would require administration officials to report to Congress that they are reviewing such proposed deals.

The leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress, as well as heads of key committees, would be notified within 10 days of the start of a contract's review by the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). The panel, which vets contracts for national security concerns, normally completes it works within 30 days.

Shelby backed away from an option to let Congress overturn deals that get CFIUS approval. The White House and the U.S. business community opposed such a provision, saying it could scare away foreign investment.

A spokesman said Shelby sought to balance lawmakers' oversight, concerns for national security and "undue uncertainty" that could discourage foreign investors.

The bill, to be voted on in Shelby's panel next week, would require longer, 45-day CFIUS reviews of deals involving foreign state-owned companies or "critical" U.S. infrastructure.

It would make the Defense Department the vice chair of CFIUS. The panel is chaired by Treasury and has a number of other departments represented, including Homeland Security and State. The bill also makes the director of national intelligence a formal member of the CFIUS panel.

David Marchick, a lawyer at Covington and Burling who has represented companies seeking CFIUS approval, said there was "relief" in the business community that Shelby had not proposed a congressional veto over foreign takeovers.

"But it's still a very, very tough bill, that reflects the very difficult political environment on Capitol Hill," Marchick told Reuters.

Marchik said requiring 45-day reviews of deals that involve "critical" U.S. infrastructure could affect most proposed acquisitions considered by CFIUS.

Further, he said, the requirement that Congress be notified of all proposed transactions just 10 days into the review would create "a risk of greater politicization" of the process.

The draft bill says CFIUS should rank countries according to their nonproliferation control regimes, ties with the United States, and potential for transshipments of militarily-sensitive technologies. These rankings would be considered in all subsequent reviews.

There are other proposals on CFIUS already in Congress. Sen. Susan Collins, head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a Maine Republican, has called for the review of foreign takeovers to be headed by the Department of Homeland Security. Shelby opposes that idea, his spokesman said.

In the House, Missouri Republican Rep. Roy Blunt is working on CFIUS legislation as well, but the Senate is expected to move first. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, has introduced legislation to require U.S. ownership of all infrastructure deemed critical to national security.


Bush Quietly Says No Need Follow Patriot Act Oversight Measure; White House Says Signing Statement Is Normal and Constitutional

ABC News
Bush Quietly Says No Need Follow Patriot Act Oversight Measure
White House Says Signing Statement Is Normal and Constitutional

March 24, 2006 — - When President Bush renewed the revised USA Patriot Act on March 9, Congress added oversight measures intended to keep the federal government from abusing the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize documents.

The additional provisions require law enforcement officials to safeguard all Americans' civil liberties and mandate that the Justice Department keep closer track of how often and in what situations the FBI could use the new powers, and that the administration regularly provide the information to Congress.

However, it was not known at the time that the White House added an addendum stating that the president didn't need to adhere to requirements that he inform members of Congress about how the FBI was using the Patriot Act's expanded police powers.

After the bill-signing ceremony, the White House discreetly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law. In the statement, Bush said he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act's powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Presidential Power in Question

In doing so, it appears the president once again cited his constitutional authority to bypass the law under certain circumstances.

For example, after The New York Times reported last year that Bush had authorized the military to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without obtaining warrants, as required by law, the president said his wartime powers gave him the right to ignore the warrant law.

When Congress passed a law forbidding the torture of any detainee in U.S. custody, Bush signed off on it but issued a signing statement declaring that he could bypass the law if he believed using harsh interrogation techniques was necessary to protect national security.

Bush's actions have provoked increased grumbling in Congress from both parties. Lawmakers have pointed out that the Constitution gave the legislative branch the power to write the laws and the executive branch the duty to ''faithfully execute" them.

On Thursday Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, took issue with Bush's assertion that he could ignore the new provisions of the Patriot Act. He said it represented ''nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law."

''The president's signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word," Leahy said. ''The president's constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow." Leahy voted against renewing the Patriot Act this year after sponsoring the bill back in 2001.

The White House dismissed Leahy's concerns, saying Bush's signing statement was simply ''very standard language" that is ''used consistently with provisions like these where legislation is requiring reports from the executive branch or where disclosure of information is going to be required."

''The signing statement makes clear that the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. ''The president has welcomed at least seven inspector general reports on the Patriot Act since it was first passed, and there has not been one verified abuse of civil liberties using the Patriot Act."

The Patriot Act's renewal was viewed as a rare victory for the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House. The House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 280-138 after the Senate passed the controversial bill 89-10.


Lawmaker Seeks Assurances Over Hong Kong Firm's Port-Security Deal

ABC News
Assurances Sought on Port-Security Deal
Lawmaker Seeks Assurances Over Hong Kong Firm's Port-Security Deal
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee sought assurances Friday over a no-bid contract the Bush administration is finalizing with a Hong Kong conglomerate to help detect nuclear materials inside cargo passing through the Bahamas to the United States and elsewhere.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he was concerned there will be inadequate oversight in the Bahamas, just 65 miles from Florida's coast. He cited a story published Thursday by The Associated Press describing the $6 million contract involving radiation-scanning at the largest seaport in the Bahamas.

The administration acknowledges its contract with Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. represents the first time a foreign company will be involved in running sophisticated U.S. radiation-detection equipment at an overseas port without American customs agents present.

"I am concerned that under the arrangement detailed, a foreign company is responsible for screening containers for illicit materials without any government involvement," Thompson wrote in a letter to leaders at the Homeland Security Department and the Energy Department.

The Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, could not be reached Friday for comment.

The contract is being negotiated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department. It has said employees of Hutchison the world's largest ports operator will drive the towering, truck-like radiation scanner at the sprawling Freeport Container Port under the direct supervision of Bahamian customs officials.

Any positive reading would set off alarms monitored simultaneously by Bahamian customs inspectors at Freeport and by U.S. customs officials working at an anti-terrorism center in northern Virginia.

A spokesman for the NNSA said the agency had not yet received the letter from Thompson.

News of the contract surfaced just as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff prepared to leave on a trip to China, Japan and Singapore, where part of his mission will be to discuss air and sea port security.

Hutchison's ports subsidiary said in a statement Friday from its headquarters in Hong Kong that the U.S. contract was not yet finalized and that it was confident Bahamian customs inspectors will notify U.S. authorities whenever it is appropriate.

Under the contract, no U.S. officials would be stationed permanently in the Bahamas with the radiation scanner. Separately, there are no U.S. customs agents checking cargo containers in Freeport under a related U.S. port-security program known as the Container Security Initiative run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In his letter, Thompson urged better coordination between the two security programs run by agencies within the departments of Energy and Homeland Security.

"A coordinated policy between your departments would ensure that our government would have oversight over the deployment and operation of equipment in any event, especially if involvement of a foreign company is necessary," Thompson wrote to Chertoff and to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

Thompson said he will support upcoming legislative efforts to combine the two programs under offices within the Homeland Security Department "to create a more streamlined security system."

Hutchison Whampoa is among the shipping industry's most-respected companies and was an early adopter of U.S. anti-terror measures. But its billionaire chairman, Li Ka-Shing, also has substantial business ties to China's government that have raised U.S. concerns over the years.

The Homeland Security Department has worked since last year to include Freeport in its Container Security Initiative program, which would include stationing U.S. customs agents at the ports. Thompson asked when those efforts will be completed. Other Hutchison-run ports in other countries already participate in that program.


NSA Could've Legally Monitored Doctors' and Lawyers' Calls, Justice Department Says

ABC News
DOJ: NSA Could've Monitored Doctor's Calls
NSA Could've Legally Monitored Doctors' and Lawyers' Calls, Justice Department Says
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The National Security Agency could have legally monitored ordinarily confidential communications between doctors and patients or attorneys and their clients, the Justice Department said Friday of its controversial warrantless surveillance program.

Responding to questions from Congress, the department also said that it sees no prohibition to using information collected under the NSA's program in court.

"Because collecting foreign intelligence information without a warrant does not violate the Fourth Amendment and because the Terrorist Surveillance Program is lawful, there appears to be no legal barrier against introducing this evidence in a criminal prosecution," the department said in responses to questions from lawmakers released Friday evening.

The department said that considerations, including whether classified information could be disclosed, must be weighed.

In classified court filings, the Justice Department has responded to questions about whether information from the government's warrantless surveillance program was used to prosecute terror suspects. Defense attorneys are hoping to use that information to challenge the cases against their clients.

Since the program was disclosed in December, some skeptical lawmakers have investigated the Bush administration's legal footing, raising questions including whether the program could capture doctor-patient and attorney-client communications. Such communications normally receive special legal protections.

"Although the program does not specifically target the communications of attorneys or physicians, calls involving such persons would not be categorically excluded from interception," the department said.

The department said the same general criteria for the surveillance program would also apply to doctors' and lawyers' calls: one party must be outside the United States and there must be reason to believe one party is linked to al-Qaida. The department's written response also said that these communications aren't specifically targeted and safeguards are in place to protect privacy rights.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, complained about the department's evasiveness in answers to questions from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, submitted to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. All but two of 45 answers to the House Judiciary Democrats were vague and unresponsive, Conyers said.

He found the response regarding doctor-patient and attorney-client privilege particularly troublesome. More generally, the "need for oversight is especially glaring," he said in a statement.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department "has been extremely forthcoming and clear about the administration's legal analysis through multiple briefings with Congress, three hearings with the Attorney General, multiple letters to Congress, a 42-page white paper and dozens of questions for the record."

Responding in 75 typed pages, the department clarified some points in the three-month-old debate over the program. But it also left many questions unanswered, citing the need for national security.

The House Democrats asked if any other president has authorized wiretaps without court warrants since the passage of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs intelligence collection inside the United States.

Choosing its words carefully, the department said, "if the question is limited to 'electronic surveillance' ... we are unaware of such authorizations."

The department also made clear that the program as confirmed by President Bush has never been suspended since it began in October 2001. That would include 2004, when reports indicate serious doubts about the program were raised by Justice Department officials.

But the department refused to discuss, or even confirm, a meeting in 2004 at then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bed. News reports indicated that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Gonzales, then White House counsel, needed his help to quell dissent about the program.

Lawmakers also asked whether federal judges on a secretive intelligence court objected to the program and, if so, how the administration responded.

The department wouldn't answer, citing the need to protect classified information. "We assure you, however, that the department keeps the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court fully informed regarding information that is relevant to the FISA process," the response said.

The department also avoided questions on whether the administration believes it is legal to wiretap purely domestic calls without a warrant, when al-Qaida activity is suspected. The department wouldn't say specifically that it hasn't been done.

"Interception of the content of domestic communications would present a different legal question," the department said.

Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.


State Department Is Criticized for Purchasing Chinese PC's

The New York Times
State Department Is Criticized for Purchasing Chinese PC's

HONG KONG, March 23 — A State Department purchase of more than 15,000 computers built by the Lenovo Group of China is starting to draw criticism in the latest sign of American unease about the role of foreign companies in the American economy.

The computers, worth more than $13 million, are coming from factories in Raleigh, N.C., and Monterrey, Mexico, that were part of the personal computer division that Lenovo purchased from I.B.M. last May. Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said at the department's daily media briefing on Wednesday that the computers were intended for unclassified systems and would be serviced by the former I.B.M. division.

The computer contracts are drawing heat from a diverse group of liberal and conservative critics who have been warning about China's growing power for years. These critics have been encouraged by the Congressional scrutiny given to a plan by a company controlled by the royal family of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to acquire operations at six American ports; the company has since agreed to give up those operations.

The critics warn that the deal could help China spy on American embassies and American intelligence-gathering activities, using hardware and software planted in the computers.

"The opportunities for intelligence gains by the Chinese are phenomenal," said Michael R. Wessel, a member of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was created by Congress to monitor and report on the bilateral relationship. Larry M. Wortzel, the commission's chairman, said in an interview two weeks ago that while he would not be concerned if Airbus moved an aircraft production line to China, he would be worried if Lenovo ever started to sell computers to American government agencies involved in foreign affairs. Responding on Thursday to the Lenovo deal, he predicted that, "Members of Congress, I think, will react very strongly when they see a deal like this come through."

Lenovo is a publicly traded company controlled by Legend Holdings, which was started with Chinese government backing in 1984; the government-controlled Chinese Academy of Sciences now holds 65 percent of Legend, while Legend's employees own the rest. Lenovo declined on Thursday to comment on the computer sales to the State Department.

Word of the computer deal began to trickle out on Monday when a Lenovo distributor, CDW Government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the CDW Corporation, sent a press release to members of the business news media announcing its contracts to help the State Department modernize its information technology systems. CDW, based in Vernon Hills, Ill., said that it had been carrying out an $11.65 million contract to supply the State Department with more than 15,000 Lenovo ThinkCentre M51 desktop computers, plus a $1.35 million contract to provide nearly 1,000 Lenovo ThinkCentre M51 minitower computers.

Max R. Peterson II, the vice president of federal sales at CDW Government, said in a telephone interview that the State Department had approved a list of specific computer models, including the Lenovo models, and had asked computer systems integrators to bid for contracts to meet the department's needs and make their own choices among approved models. CDW won the contracts and chose to begin delivering 500 Lenovo computers a week starting in November, he said.

Chinese ownership of Lenovo was never discussed with the State Department through the contract process and the computer deliveries, Mr. Peterson said.

He noted that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had approved the Lenovo acquisition of the I.B.M. division.

David Barboza contributed reporting from Shanghai for this article.


Cheney's Needs on the Road: What, No NPR?

The New York Times
Cheney's Needs on the Road: What, No NPR?

WASHINGTON, March 23 — Vice President Dick Cheney may be a rock star only to his most ardent Republican supporters, but he has on-the-road demands just like the Rolling Stones. Still, Mr. Cheney appears easier to please than Mick Jagger or Keith Richards.

At least that was the evidence from "Vice Presidential Downtime Requirements," the heading of a document posted Thursday on the Smoking Gun Web site and confirmed as authentic by Mr. Cheney's office.

The document listed 13 requirements. Among them were these: All televisions sets in Mr. Cheney's hotel suite should be tuned to Fox News, all lights should be on, and the thermostat set at 68 degrees. Mr. Cheney should have a queen- or king-size bed, a desk with a chair, a private bathroom, a container for ice, a microwave oven and a coffee pot, with decaf brewed before arrival.

The vice president should also have four cans of caffeine-free Diet Sprite and four to six bottles of water. He must have the hotel restaurant menu, with a copy faxed ahead to his advance office. If his wife is with him, she should have two bottles of sparkling water, either Calistoga or Perrier.

For his reading material, Mr. Cheney should have The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the local newspaper.

"The vice president maintains an active schedule, which requires regular travel throughout the United States and at times involves a hotel stay," said Jenny Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney. "Our advance office provides guidelines for our volunteers in the field. This is just a routine little check list."

The downtime requirements said nothing about exercise equipment, but aides to Mr. Cheney have been spotted on his travels loading and unloading a stationary bicycle from Air Force Two.


Battle to overturn S. Dakota abortion ban begins

Battle to overturn S. Dakota abortion ban begins

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota (Reuters)- Abortion-rights supporters launched a referendum drive on Friday to overturn a South Dakota abortion ban designed to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing the practice nationwide.

A new coalition, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said it would try to collect thousands of signatures aimed at giving state voters a chance decide in November on what it called "the nation's most extreme abortion law."

"This law clearly endangers the health of women in South Dakota and violates the right of women and families to make private, personal health-care decisions," the group said.

With at least nine other states also considering strict abortion limits, the issue is expected to gain renewed national visibility in the November midterm elections, when Democrats are seeking to recapture both houses of Congress from Republicans.

The issue could energize both parties, analysts said.

"It is about South Dakota, but it ultimately is a national issue," said Ted G. Jelen, a DePaul University professor of political scientist. "This is the type of thing that... might pry open some checkbooks."

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, signed the law March 6. The measure bans nearly all abortions, even when pregnancies result from incest or rape, and says that if a woman's life is in jeopardy, doctors must try to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman. Doctors who perform an abortion could receive a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.

The ban's supporters have said they hoped for a court challenge that would allow a more-conservative U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman's right to an abortion.

But a successful petition drive could delay any lawsuit against the ban by several months, and if voters reject the law in November, the courts would not be involved. A recent poll showed South Dakota voters were split, with 45 percent supporting the ban and the same share opposing it.


The coalition announced the referendum drive before about 45 supporters in a Sioux Falls library as a small group of abortion opponents protested outside.

"This legislation is extreme and does not reflect the values of South Dakotans who want families to be able to make personal decisions about health care without government interference," campaign spokeswoman Jan Nicolay said in a statement.

The petitioners need more than 16,700 signatures by June 19 to block the law from taking effect on July 1. The law would not be enacted if voters reject it on November 7.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families lists 15 co-chairs in a group that includes Republican and Democratic state legislators, medical professionals, a Methodist minister and a representative from the state's Sioux Tribe.

Campaign leaders cited a flood of calls and mail from people wanting the law overturned. They said a referendum campaign would cost millions of dollars but put the issue where it belongs - in the voters' hands.

Judie Brown, president of anti-abortion American Life League, predicted a referendum would uphold the ban. "The people of South Dakota want to end all medical and surgical abortion," Brown said.

Democrats may benefit most from a higher-profile abortion debate, with the majority of Americans favoring some form of abortion rights, Jelen said.

A FOX News poll issued earlier this month found 59 percent of Americans said they would oppose a law in their state like the new South Dakota legislation.

(additional reporting by Mike Conlon)


Cheney: If Democrats can lead, then I can sing

Cheney: If Democrats can lead, then I can sing
By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday rejected charges by Democrats that the Bush administration was mishandling Iraq and said: "If they are competent to fight this war, then I ought to be singing on American Idol."

During a campaign stop in Orlando, Cheney predicted that national security would dominate congressional elections in November and sought to rally Republicans amid dwindling popular support for President George W. Bush.

In Washington, Democratic National Committee spokesman Luis Miranda called the criticism of his party an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Iraq, which is torn by violence three years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Referring to a notoriously acerbic judge on the American Idol television talent contest, Miranda said, "Simon Cowell is more loved than this administration and its failed Iraq policy. Cheney wouldn't last long on American Idol."

Speaking to a Republican crowd at a fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Ric Keller of Orlando, Cheney dismissed accusations that the administration was "dangerously incompetent" and defended the war in Iraq and Bush's anti-terrorism tactics.

He spoke in favor of Bush's controversial executive order allowing the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps within the United States without warrants.

"Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy and the terrorist surveillance program is grounds for censuring the president," Cheney said, adding, "The American people have already made their decision. They agree with the president."

A hunting accident in February, in which Cheney shot and injured a fellow quail hunter and Republican donor in Texas, also provided some stand-up comedy at the Orlando event.

While introducing the vice president, Keller said Cheney had responded to Keller's recent votes against the administration on three issues by telling him: "Don't be too hasty. Let's go hunting. We'll talk about it."

Cheney himself said that when he returned to the White House from the hunting trip, Bush told him, "Dick, I'm 38 percent in the polls and you shot the only trial lawyer who supports me."

Cheney said the man he shot, 78-year-old Harry Whittington, is in good condition.


Supreme Court to rehear death penalty case

Supreme Court to rehear death penalty case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Friday that it would hear arguments a second time before ruling on the constitutionality of a Kansas death penalty law, apparently so new Justice Samuel Alito can break a tie.

The case is the second one that deadlocked the court following Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement in late January. The other one involves government whistle-blowers.

Justices heard arguments on Dec. 7 in the Kansas case, which involves rules for how juries weigh evidence for and against the death penalty.

The 1994 law says if the evidence for and against imposing a death sentence is equal, Kansas juries must impose death instead of life in prison. The state Supreme Court struck it down, invalidating the death sentences of six convicted killers.

The Supreme Court did not say when a new argument would be scheduled.

Alito could vote differently than O'Connor would have in the case.

O'Connor was a swing vote in death penalty cases, sometimes joining the four more liberal members in throwing out death sentences.

Fifteen states had filed friend-of-the-court briefs, predicting that a ruling against Kansas would require states with capital punishment to set up special systems for juries to weigh evidence at sentencing.

The case is Kansas v. Marsh, 04-1170.

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Same-sex marriage battles escalate

Same-sex marriage battles escalate
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Gay rights advocates are pushing to legalize same-sex marriage with an unprecedented wave of lawsuits in state courts, while those seeking to ban such unions are gaining ground in state legislatures.

The contrasting strategies reflect how judges have begun to show a willingness to expand the rights of same-sex couples at a time when many state lawmakers — and most Americans — are cool to the idea.

Several key developments are likely soon. The top state courts in Washington state and New Jersey have heard arguments brought by gay men and lesbians. Either court could open the door to a second state joining Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriages. (Related story: Lawsuits target bans)

Other lawsuits backed by the ACLU, Lambda Legal and other gay rights groups are wending their way through courts in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland and New York. The groups want courts to declare that same-sex couples have a right to marry based on state constitutional protections for equality and due process of law. The groups also hope to win legal precedents that could influence the U.S. Supreme Court to endorse a constitutional right to same-sex unions nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Marriage and other groups against same-sex marriage hope to win legislative ballot initiatives this year in Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. The measures would amend state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages.

Nineteen states have such bans. Most have been adopted since November 2003, when Massachusetts' highest state court said same-sex couples have a right to marry under state law. Massachusetts then became the first state to give marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The legislative moves against gay marriages aren't limited to the states. In June, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin debating a measure intended to lead to a U.S. constitutional amendment banning such marriages. The proposals in legislatures and in Congress partly reflect public-opinion polls, which for five years have indicated that about 60% of Americans oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

The ACLU and others supporting same-sex marriages hope to turn public opinion by casting the ability to marry one's chosen partner as a basic right. They also are trying to tie their campaign with the efforts against bans on interracial marriage four decades ago.

A few judges, including Manhattan Judge Doris Ling-Cohan, have made such a link in backing same-sex marriages. Her ruling was reversed in December, however, by an appeals court that said the state has "a strong interest in fostering heterosexual marriage."

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Former first lady's donation aids son; Katrina funds earmarked to pay for Neil Bush's software program
Former first lady's donation aids son
Katrina funds earmarked to pay for Neil Bush's software program

Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil.

[Editor's Note: For those who may not remember, it was Neil Bush who was one of the people responsible for the collapse of Savings and Loan companies in the USA. Recommended reading:
Silverado: Neil Bush and the Savings & Loan Scandal by Steven K. Wilmsen ]

Since then, the Ignite Learning program has been given to eight area schools that took in substantial numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

"Mrs. Bush wanted to do something specifically for education and specifically for the thousands of students flooding into the Houston schools," said Jean Becker, former President Bush's chief of staff. "She knew that HISD was using this software program, and she's very excited about this program, so she wanted to make it possible for them to expand the use of this program."

The former first lady plans to visit a Houston Independent School District campus using the Ignite program today to call on local business leaders to support schools and education.

The trip to Fleming Middle School is intended to showcase Bush's commitment to education for both Houston-area and New Orleans evacuee students, according to a press release issued Wednesday by Ignite.

Fleming, which has more than 170 New Orleans students, was one of eight area schools chosen by the Harris County Department of Education to receive a donated COW, or Curriculum on Wheels, multimedia program after Hurricane Katrina.

Neil Bush founded Austin-based Ignite Learning, which produces the COW program, in 1999.

Becker said she wasn't at liberty to divulge how much money the Bush family gave to the hurricane funds, but said the "rest of their donation was not earmarked for anything."

Nationally, some other donors also specified how they wanted their donations spent, Becker said.

For example, one man wanted his money to go to Habitat for Humanity but via the former presidents' fund. Nearly $1 million has been raised for the local fund and more than $120 million for the national.

Regarding the fact that Bush's earmarked donation also benefited her son's company, Becker said, "Mrs. Bush is obviously an enthusiastic supporter of her son. She is genuinely supportive of his program," and has received many letters from educators who support it. Bush "honestly felt this would be a great way to help the (evacuee) students."

Barbara and Neil Bush presented the donated programs to Houston-area schools this winter.

Districts that received the free curriculum include Houston, Alvin, Katy, Pearland and Spring and the New Orleans West charter school.

There are 40 Ignite programs being used in the Houston area, and 15 in the Houston school district, said Ken Leonard, president of Ignite.

Information about the effectiveness of the program, through district-generated reports, was not readily available Wednesday, according to an HISD spokeswoman.

Two years ago, the school district raised eyebrows when it expanded the program by relying heavily on private donations.

In February 2004, the Houston school board unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations from businesses and individuals who insisted the money be spent on Ignite. The money covered half the bill for the software, which cost $10,000 per school.

The deal raised conflict of interest concerns because Neil Bush and company officials helped solicit the donations for the HISD Foundation, a philanthropic group that raises money for the district.

HISD school principals decide for themselves whether to spend their budgeted money on Ignite.

Leonard said that in the past six to eight months, the company has hired national sales representatives across the country — in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — in hopes of expanding beyond Texas. Currently, about 80 percent of the company's customers are from Texas.

Last year, Neil Bush reportedly toured former Soviet Union countries promoting Ignite with Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

According to the Times of London, Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider now living in Britain, is wanted on criminal charges in Moscow accusing him of seeking to stage a coup against President Vladimir Putin.

The purpose of today's event is to showcase everyone's efforts in helping the hurricane evacuee students who ended up in Houston, Leonard said.

"We have a role, but we're not the leader in this," Leonard said. He also acknowledged that his company will benefit from the former first lady's visit.

Barbara Bush is expected to observe both teachers and students using the Ignite Learning program while touring classrooms, according to the Ignite press release.

During a short reception, teachers and students will give testimonials about the program and Bush will "encourage community business leaders to have a stronger presence in supporting schools and education," the press release said.

The free-standing instructional tools that are not dependent on the Internet. They include a built-in computer, projector and speakers and come pre-loaded with science and social studies courses.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pentagon mulls torture rule on Guantanamo evidence

Pentagon mulls torture rule on Guantanamo evidence
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In what would be a key change in U.S. policy, the Pentagon may formally require military prosecutors to observe a U.N. convention against torture in their use of evidence during tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Such a move would represent a formal bar on the use of any evidence obtained by torture in prisoner tribunals at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, where the United States has held hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects since early 2002.

Washington has faced steady criticism over the Guantanamo camp from the United Nations, rights groups and some foreign governments. Former detainees have charged U.S. authorities use torture at the camp, which the Pentagon denies.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Wednesday the administration up to now has relied on prosecutors to ensure that their cases before tribunals, known as military commissions, reflect President George W. Bush's stated policy that the United States not condone torture.

"Up to this point, it's not believed to have been necessary because of the way in which prosecutors and the commission members have been able to proceed in their trials," Whitman told reporters.

"But it is something that is being looked at as a possible way to eliminate any doubt that the Convention Against Torture, Article 15, is understood and is applicable to these prosecutions," he said. "The department is taking a look at it and may issue a separate instruction on it."

Article 15 of the U.N Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires states to ensure that evidence invoked in proceedings not be the result of torture.

But Air Force Maj. Jane Boomer, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters at Guantanamo earlier this month that current tribunal rules hypothetically could allow the use of evidence obtained through torture because such evidence was not explicitly banned.

"It is not specified in the rulebook, period," she said at a March 2 news conference at the camp.

However, she said such evidence could not be admitted if it would deny the accused a fair trial.

Bush authorized the military tribunals after the September 11 attacks, but the system has come under fire from human rights activists and some military lawyers as fundamentally unfair to defendants.

U.S. officials have vigorously and repeatedly denied any claim that they engage in torture.

But word of the possible policy change, which some officials expect soon, comes a month after five United Nations special envoys called for closing the Guantanamo prison in a report that accused the United States of violating bans on torture, arbitrary detention and the right to fair trial.

Most of the roughly 500 inmates at Guantanamo have been held for four years without trial.

Ten Guantanamo prisoners have been charged with war crimes and six have undergone pretrial hearings. But no case has yet reached the trial stage before a military commission.

Guantanamo inmates have challenged their detention in more than 180 cases filed in federal district court.

Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in an important legal challenge to the tribunal system by Guantanamo prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the first inmate to face a military tribunal.

Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver, is challenging Bush's authority to use military tribunals to try Guantanamo prisoners for war crimes.

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami)


RNC Mischaracterizes Feingold's Censure Resolution
RNC Mischaracterizes Feingold's Censure Resolution

A GOP radio ad falsely characterizes Sen. Feingold's censure resolution as reprimanding the President for pursuing Al Qaeda


A GOP radio ad accuses Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin of proposing to censure President Bush "for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda," which isn't true. Feingold has stated he supports wiretapping suspected terrorists. His measure would censure Bush for ordering wiretaps on US soil without a court warrant, for failing to notify all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, and for "efforts to mislead the American people" about the legality of the program.


The Republican National Committee (RNC) released the radio advertisement on March 21. The RNC would not disclose how much they spent on the ad, but an RNC spokesperson said the advertisement is scheduled to run for a week on Wisconsin radio stations.

RNC AD: "Censure"

Announcer: September 11th changed our country.
And it changed how America responds to terrorists.
President Bush is working to keep American families safe.
Passing the PATRIOT Act which has disrupted over one hundred and fifty terrorist threats and cells making sure the US is monitoring terrorist communications.
But some Democrats are working against these efforts to secure our country, opposing the PATRIOT Act and terrorist surveillance program.
Their leader is Russ Feingold.
Now Feingold and other Democrats want to censure the President. Publicly reprimanding President Bush for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda.
Some Democrats are even calling for President Bush’s impeachment.
Is this how Democrats plan to win the War on Terror?
Call Russ Feingold and ask him why he’s more interested in censuring the President than protecting our freedom.
Paid for by the Republican National Committee not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee
The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

The ad characterizes President Bush as "working to keep American families safe," while accusing Sen. Feingold of leading Democrats who are "working against . . . efforts to secure our country." The ad claims that "Feingold and other Democrats want to censure the President. Publicly reprimanding President Bush for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda." That is a false characterization.

Mischaracterizing the Censure Resolution

When Feingold introduced his resolution to censure the president on March 13 he stated clearly on the Senate floor:

Feingold: No one questions -- no one questions -- whether the government should wiretap suspected terrorists. Of course we should and we can under the current law.

He also stated in a March 12 press release :

Feingold: This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists -- of course it should, and it can under present law.

The resolution would censure Bush for the way in which he ordered wiretaps, not for the wiretaps themselves. It would condemn him for "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required " (emphasis added), and also for "failure to inform the full congressional intelligence committees," and for "his efforts to mislead the American people" about the legalities of the program.

Feingold and the PATRIOT Act

The radio ad says the PATRIOT Act "has disrupted over one hundred and fifty terrorist threats and cells," a claim that rests solely on statements from the Department of Justice and which hasn't been independently verified. The ad also says Feingold is leading Democrats in "opposing the PATRIOT Act and terrorist surveillance program."

The surveillance program is separate from the Patriot Act, however. It is true that Feingold has twice opposed enactment of the PATRIOT Act. In 2001, Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the original act and in 2006 he was one of ten Senators who voted against the bill that renewed the act with modifications. Feingold says on his website : "the [PATRIOT] Act contains many provisions that are needed to help protect our nation against terrorism," and says he voted against the act because "the bill went too far in allowing the government to obtain personal information about law-abiding Americans and in undermining constitutional rights and protections." As for the surveillance program, as we've noted, Feingold does oppose the nature of Bush's program but not surveillance of suspected terrorist.

Who is Calling for Impeachment?

The ad also says that "some Democrats are even calling for President Bush’s impeachment ." That's true, but there aren't many. Rep. John Conyers introduced a bill last December to create a select committee to "make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment." As of March 21, Conyers had attracted 31 additional sponsors.

Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats intend to impeach the President if they gain control of Congress. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said March 20 on CNN's Situation Room: "the [impeachment] talk originally came up from a number of different people, including John Conyers, a gentlemen who if the Democrats took control, would be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. And what I think is important for people to understand is this is their agenda."

— by Emi Kolawole


Congressional Record, 13 March 2006, S2011-S2015.

"Feingold Introduces Resolution Censuring the President," Press Release. 12 March 2006.

"Fourth Year of War in Iraq Begins; Could Democrats Launch Impeachment Campaign Against Bush?" The Situation Room. CNN. Transcript. 20 March 2006.

"RNC Release New Radio Ad Entitled 'Censure'." Press Release. 21 March 2006.

U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session, H.Res. 635, Proposed 18 December 2005.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 29

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 313

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session, S.Res. 398, Proposed 13 March 2006.


Iraq war veteran wins Congress primary race

Iraq war veteran wins Congress primary race
By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in the conflict narrowly won her bid to run for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in a district held by Republicans for 32 years, returns showed on Wednesday.

Tammy Duckworth, 37, is among several Iraq veterans running for the U.S. Congress this year in a challenge to President George W. Bush's Iraq policy and the traditional perception that Democrats are weaker on national security issues.

With 98 percent of the ballots counted she squeezed out a win, holding a 1,080-vote lead over her closest opponent for the right to face Republican Peter Roskam, a state senator, for whom Vice President Dick Cheney made a campaign appearance.

She will be a long shot in November to take the seat in a heavily Republican suburban Chicago district being given up by Rep. Henry Hyde, who is retiring after 32 years in Congress.

Duckworth, a former officer in the Illinois Army National Guard, was wounded in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter she was piloting. She is one of nine Iraq war veterans running for Congress this year. Eight are Democrats and the ninth is a Republican running in Texas who backs the Bush administration over the war.

Duckworth has argued that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was wrong and that the administration has mismanaged the war. She was backed by big name Democrats, including Illinois' two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

Voters in Tuesday's primary also chose the state's Republican treasurer to face first-term Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich in November's race for the governorship, returns showed.

Judy Baar Topinka, the only Republican holding statewide office, beat four challengers to win a primary contest slowed by the introduction of new touch screen and scanned paper ballot voting systems.

Blagojevich, the state's first Democratic governor in a quarter century, had only token opposition in seeking nomination for a second term.


N.Y.C.'s crime fight to get more eyes

New York Daily News
N.Y.C.'s crime fight to get more eyes

New Yorkers, get ready for your closeup.

The NYPD is installing 505 surveillance cameras around the city - and pushing to safeguard lower Manhattan with a "ring of steel" that could track hundreds of thousands of people and cars a day, authorities revealed yesterday.

The police cameras will constantly keep watch over neighborhoods plagued by crime and monitor potential terror targets as the city moves to put another 1,200 cops on the street, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The exact locations of the cameras were not revealed, but the electronic eyes will be set up in 253 spots, including many Operation Impact zones - high-crime areas already targeted by teams of cops.

"They'll serve to reinforce safety already stabilized by Operation Impact, and serve as a high-visibility deterrent and investigative tool in other outdoor, public places," Kelly said.

Recording high-quality images, the electronic sentinels will help the city's Finest track down criminals and terrorists as well as provide valuable evidence to convict them.

Most of the cameras will be clearly marked so crooks know that their every move is being recorded by the cops.

The NYPD is also testing audio sensors that would allow the cameras to point in the direction of gunshots, sources said. The cameras will be put up in Brooklyn first before spreading to other boroughs.

City Hall is paying for the cameras using $9.1million in homeland security funds.

The NYPD also has applied for $81.5 million in federal aid to install surveillance cameras, computerized license plate readers and vehicle barriers around lower Manhattan, Kelly said.

The security measures would be similar to London's "ring of steel," which gained worldwide recognition after that city's terror attacks of last July, when police cameras provided images of the suspected bombers.

The NYPD has no comprehensive system to monitor the Financial District - considered the nation's No. 1 terror target - and a team of five NYPD experts visited London in September to get a look at the "ring of steel."

Aboveground, London has cameras posted at 16 entry points and 12 exits from the City of London, an enclave that includes that city's financial district and landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral.

The cameras capture images of license plates and drivers' faces. Officials then run the license plates through a database of stolen cars and terrorism suspects. Last year, the system read 37 million cars and got 91,000 hits, leading to 550 arrests.

The NYPD will find out by the end of May whether it will receive the federal money. New York officials have also discussed the possibility of creating a similar surveillance system for midtown Manhattan.

Law enforcement and transportation agencies already have about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras are monitoring city housing projects.

Thousands of other cameras at private buildings and apartment towers also train lenses on New Yorkers and often provide valuable clues to cops.

But don't expect the NYPD to install its cameras without battling the New York Civil Liberties Union. The watchdog group's associate legal director, Chris Dunn, questioned the plan.

"Commissioner Kelly may be ready to launch us all into a surveillance society, but we believe cameras are not a cure-all for crime and terrorism," Dunn said. "It is far from clear that cameras deter crime."


Court: No police search if one resident says 'yes,' other 'no'

Court: No police search if one resident says 'yes,' other 'no'
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police may not enter a home to conduct a search if one resident gives permission but the other says no.

The 5-3 decision in a Georgia drug case that involved a feuding husband and wife drew a sharp dissent from Chief Justice John Roberts. He said the majority, led by the high court's more liberal justices, misapplied the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and set a rule based on "random" circumstances.

The ruling, written by Justice David Souter, says that if police search a home after being invited in byone resident over the protest ofanother, the evidence that is seized cannot be used in court. Thedecision emphasized respect for privacy in the home.

The ruling ensures that a straw coated with what police said appeared to be cocaine that was found in a bedroom at the home of Scott Fitz Randolph cannot be used in any prosecution of him. During a domestic dispute, Randolph's wife, Janet, had called police to their house in Americus. After telling the officer that her husband used drugs, she led the officer to the straw. Scott Randolph had refused an officer's request to allow a search.

Souter referred to social custom and property law that gives spouses and co-tenants equal claim on who enters a person's property. He said no guest would enter at one occupant's invitation if another occupant told the guest to stay out — and police, absent a search warrant, should not either.

"There is no common understanding that one co-tenant generally has a right or authority to prevail over the express wishes of another," Souter wrote, "whether the issue is the color of the curtains or invitations to outsiders."

The ruling was narrowly crafted to affect only situations in which the objecting tenant is present and there isno evidence of abuse or other circumstances that would justify an immediate entry by police entry. However, the decision reverses a pattern among lower U.S. courts that had favored police if one resident allowed the search over the objections of another.

Wednesday's decision affirmed a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court that favored Scott Randolph. The ruling had blocked his trial on cocaine possession charges from going forward.

Souter was joined by the court's three other more liberal justices, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate conservative at the court's ideological center. Dissenting with Roberts were fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. New Justice Samuel Alito was not on the court when the case was argued, so he did not take part in the ruling.

In his dissent, Roberts said people who share a home have a reduced expectation of privacy and assume the risk that another resident might agree to a search by police. He said the ruling could endanger spouses who are abused and want police to come in a home, but do not make clear to police that a threat exists.

Thomas dissented separately, saying the action at the Randolph house should not be considered a police search because the wife led the officer to the evidence.

Thomas Goldstein, who represented Randolph, praised the decision as an affirmation of the Fourth Amendment's privacy protection. Russ Willard, spokesman for the Georgia attorney general's office, called the ruling a "roadblock" to law enforcement and said it could diminish officers' ability to investigate domestic disputes.

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Critic of Bush's Eavesdropping, Sen. Specter, to Shepherd Bills Through Senate

ABC News
Specter to Shepherd Bills Through Senate
AP Interview: Critic of Bush's Eavesdropping, Sen. Specter, to Shepherd Bills Through Senate
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A vocal Republican critic of the Bush administration's eavesdropping program will preside over Senate efforts to write the program into law, but he was pessimistic Wednesday that the White House wanted to listen.

"They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it," Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong."

Specter was one of the first Republicans to publicly question the National Security Agency's authority to monitor international calls when one party is inside the United States without first getting court approval. Under the program first disclosed last year, the NSA has been conducting the surveillance when calls and e-mails are thought to involve al-Qaida.

Earlier this month, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., expressed interest in handling NSA legislation.

But Specter will stay in the spotlight.

The Senate Parliamentarian last week gave Specter jurisdiction over two different bills that would provide more checks on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.

One bill, written by Specter, would require a secretive federal intelligence court to conduct regular reviews of the program's constitutionality. A rival approach drafted by Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine and three other Republicans would allow the government to conduct warrantless surveillance for up to 45 days before seeking court or congressional approval.

Specter said the House and Senate intelligence committees could have had authority over the program under the 1947 National Security Act, which lays out when the spy agencies must tell Congress about intelligence activities.

But, Specter said, the committees haven't gotten full briefings on the program, instead choosing to create small subcommittees for the work.

"The intelligence committees ought to exercise their statutory authority on oversight, but they aren't," Specter said. "The Judiciary Committee has acted. We brought in the attorney general. We had a second hearing with a series of experts, and we are deeply involved in it."

Specter added that his words should not be seen as critical of Roberts, but rather the administration for not briefing the full committees.

Roberts was known to be unhappy that his committee was bypassed.

An aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's political sensitivity, said all members of the Intelligence Committee have been briefed on the program's general outline, and seven members of an intelligence subcommittee have been fully briefed on the details.

The aide said Roberts plans to hold more sessions, and he will likely demand that Specter refer any legislation passed by Judiciary Committee to the intelligence panel for review.

Specter's bill would require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide a broad constitutional review of the surveillance activities every 45 days and evaluate whether the government has followed previous authorizations that are issued.

DeWine, however, wants to give the administration as much as 45 days to operate without a court warrant. If at any point the attorney general has enough information to go to the intelligence court, he must.

Under that approach, Specter said the administration can still "roam and roam and roam, and not find anything, and keep roaming. ... I think that's wrong."

Specter plans to hold a hearing on Tuesday about the bills. He said his plan is to pass both out of the Judiciary Committee and allow the full Senate to consider them as soon as May.

"I think my position will prevail," Specter said, noting that he will have Democratic support.


Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues; Federal Programs Direct At Least $157 Million
Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues
Federal Programs Direct At Least $157 Million
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

An example is Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C. A decade ago, Heritage was a tiny organization with deeply conservative social philosophy but not much muscle to promote it. An offshoot of an antiabortion pregnancy crisis center, Heritage promoted abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base. The budget was $51,288.

By 2004, Heritage Community Services had become a major player in the booming business of abstinence education. Its budget passed $3 million -- much of it in federal grants distributed by Bush's Department of Health and Human Services -- supporting programs for students in middle school and high school in South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.

Among other new beneficiaries of federal funding during the Bush years are groups run by Christian conservatives, including those in the African American and Hispanic communities. Many of the leaders have been active Republicans and influential supporters of Bush's presidential campaigns.

Programs such as the Compassion Capital Fund, under the Health and Human Services, are designed to support religion-based social services, a goal that inevitably funnels money to organizations run by people who share Bush's conservative cultural agenda.

"If what you are asking is, has George Bush as president of the United States established priorities in spending for his administration? The answer is yes," said Wade F. Horn, who as assistant secretary for children and families at HHS oversees much of the spending going to conservative groups. "That is a prerogative that presidents have."

Horn and other officials said politics has not played a role in making grants. "Whoever got these grants wrote the best applications, and the panels in rating these grants rated them objectively, based on the criteria we published in the Federal Register," he said. "Whether they support the president or not is not a test in any of my grant programs."

"These are just slush funds for conservative interest groups," countered Bill Smith, vice president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex-education programs. "These organizations would not be in existence if not for the federal dollars coming through."

H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said politics plays no role in grant-making decisions. "We don't have that kind of calculation," he said.

Most, but not all, of the money going to conservative groups has come from two programs that did not exist before Bush took office in 2001. The Compassion Capital Fund, which distributed $148.3 million from 2002 to 2005, was created "to expand the role that faith-based and community groups play in providing social services to those in need," according to the White House.

The Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program was enacted by Congress in 2001, and $391.7 million has been appropriated for it.

Beneficiaries of more than $2 million each from the compassion fund include five organizations run by black and Hispanic leaders who endorsed Bush and Operation Blessing, a charity run by television evangelist Pat Robertson. It has received $23.5 million, which includes $1.5 million from the Compassion Capital Fund and $22 million in surplus dry milk from the Agriculture Department.

Hundreds of struggling antiabortion and pregnancy crisis centers have received federal grants that often doubled or tripled their annual budgets, allowing them to branch out and hire staff, especially for abstinence education.

The Door of Hope Pregnancy Care Center in Madisonville, Ky., a small outfit of four part-time employees committed "to the belief in the sanctity of human life, primarily as it relates to the protection of the unborn," operated on an annual budget of $75,000 to $79,000, most of it raised from an annual banquet and a "walk for life." Last year, Door of Hope got an abstinence education grant of $317,017, allowing it to hire staff and expand.

In Dyersburg, Tenn., the Life Choices Pregnancy Support Center, where the staff believes "without reservation or qualification that the Scriptures teach that human life begins at conception," had revenue of $81,621 and could pay Executive Director Natalie Wilson $12,247 in 2001. Two years later, the center got a $534,339 grant for abstinence education. By 2004, annual revenue totaled $617,355.

Altogether, local antiabortion and crisis pregnancy centers have received well over $60 million in grants for abstinence education and other programs, according to a Post review of federal records.

The distribution of new money to conservative organizations is a small part of an estimated flood of $2 billion a year in federal grants to religious and religiously affiliated organizations. For decades, in Democratic and Republican administrations, well over $1 billion annually has been going to such groups, most of it to mainline organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and Lutheran Social Services.

The shift under Bush in part grows out of the administration's Faith and Community Based Initiative. Under the initiative, White House officials and new offices in 10 Cabinet-level departments have aggressively sought to widen the "pool" of applicants for federal grants for all kinds. Faith-based organizations are encouraged to apply for grants to operate Head Start and subsidized housing programs.

In a Dec. 12, 2002, executive order, Bush addressed one of the major concerns of religious groups considering applying for public money. Bush declared that religious groups receiving federal grants would not be required to comply with certain civil rights statutes, and could discriminate by hiring employees of specific religious faiths.

Skepticism about the distribution of money under the religion-based initiatives abounds in both parties.

Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.), chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, said the effort "has gone political."

"Quite frankly, part of the reason it went political is because we can't sell it unless we can show Republicans a political advantage to it, because it's not our base," he said, referring to the fact that many of those receiving social services are Democratic voters.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) was more outspoken. "I believe ultimately this will be seen as one of the largest patronage programs in American history," he said.

The Compassion Capital Fund has disbursed many multiyear grants of $1.5 million to $7.5 million to groups designated as "intermediary organizations" empowered, according to the White House to "issue sub-awards directly to qualified faith- and community-based organizations."

In effect, this designation turns the recipient organization into a major dispenser of federal money.

The Institute for Youth Development in Sterling, which is run by Shepherd Smith and his wife, Anita M. Smith, has been awarded $7.5 million over three years. In turn, the institute has parceled out $4.5 million of the federal money in grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to smaller organizations.

Shepherd Smith, who was a top strategist in Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential bid, said the institute's grants were "not an effort on my part to make the right stronger; this was an effort to help little people" who have difficulty getting access to federal money.

The recipients listed on the institute's Web site include many socially conservative groups, among them at least 15 pregnancy crisis and counseling centers that oppose abortion.

The Rev. Luis Cortés's Esperanza USA has received three $2.5 million grants. Cortés is an evangelical Protestant; many of the grants from his organization have gone to Protestant Hispanic providers.

Among organizations run by ordained ministers, every Latino group receiving a large grant is headed by a Protestant. Protestant Hispanics are a key Republican target constituency. From 2000 to 2004, Bush's support among Hispanic Protestants grew from 44 percent to 54 percent, while remaining unchanged among Hispanic Roman Catholics, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In Milwaukee, a 2004 presidential battleground state, Pentecostal Bishop Sedgwick Daniels's Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ was awarded $626,598 in 2003 and $824,471 in 2004 from the Compassion Capital Fund. Daniels, a Bush supporter, was a 2004 Republican National Convention delegate.

In Florida, another presidential battleground state, the National Center for Faith Based Initiatives, run by one of Bush's earliest 2000 supporters in the black community, Bishop Harold Calvin Ray, has received $1.75 million over three years from the compassion fund.

HHS is not the only department making such grants.

The Education Department awarded a $750,000 discretionary grant to the GEO Foundation, run by Kevin Teasley, a former staffer at the libertarian Reason Foundation and conservative Heritage Foundation, and conservative Center for the Study of Popular Culture, to "provide outreach and information" on public-school choice. The department also awarded $1.5 million over three years to the conservative Black Alliance for Educational Options, which was created in 2000 with support from such funders on the right as the Bradley, John M. Olin and Walton Family foundations, to provide information about the No Child Left Behind Act.

In addition to liberals, there are conservative critics of taxpayer funding of groups on the right.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the grant-making is "corrupting."

"The danger is that any group that gets money from the government will end up serving the interests of the state rather than the constituencies they are trying to serve," he said. "The guy who writes the check writes the rules."


Spending Measure Not a Law, Suit Says; Senate, House Versions Are Different

Washington Post
Spending Measure Not a Law, Suit Says
Senate, House Versions Are Different
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer

For anyone who took fifth-grade social studies or sang "I'm Just a Bill," how legislation turns to law always seemed pretty simple: The House passes a bill, the Senate passes the same bill, the president signs it.

"He signed ya, Bill -- now you're a law," shouts the cartoon lawmaker on "Schoolhouse Rock" as Bill acknowledges the cheers.

But last month, Washington threw all that old-fashioned civics stuff into a tizzy, when President Bush signed into law a bill that actually never passed the House. Bill -- in this case, a major budget-cutting measure that will affect millions of Americans -- became a law because it was "certified" by the leaders of the House and Senate.

After stewing for weeks, Public Citizen, a legislative watchdog group, sued yesterday to block the budget-cutting law, charging that Bush and Republican leaders of Congress flagrantly violated the Constitution when the president signed it into law knowing that the version that cleared the House was substantively different from the Senate's version.

The issue is bizarre, with even constitutional scholars saying they could not think of any precedent for the journey the budget bill took to becoming a law. Opponents of the budget law point to elementary-school civics lessons to make their case, while Republicans are evoking an obscure Supreme Court ruling from the 1890s to suggest a bill does not actually have to pass both chambers of Congress to become law.

"We believe that the law is constitutional and that this is yet another political attempt by the Democrats to stop us from cutting spending," said Ronald D. Bonjean Jr., a spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

But liberal interest groups hoping to bring down the budget law have the backing of many legal scholars, who say that a $2 billion mistake cannot be ignored.

"The Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 may be something, but it is not law within the meaning of the Constitution," said Jamin Raskin, an American University law professor.

No one disputes the central facts of the lawsuit: Last December, Vice President Cheney broke a tie vote in the Senate to win passage of a bill that would cut nearly $40 billion over five years by reducing Medicaid rolls, raising work requirements for welfare, and trimming the student loan program, among other changes.

Among those other changes was a provision to restrict Medicare payments for durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. Under the Senate bill, government-funded leases for such equipment could last only 13 months.

As the measure was being sent to the House last month, a Senate clerk inadvertently changed that 13-month restriction to 36 months, a $2 billion alteration. With the mistaken change, the measure squeaked through the House, 216 to 214.

Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law.

"This is simple elementary-school civics," said Public Citizen lawyer Adina H. Rosenbaum, announcing that the group had filed suit in U.S. District Court to nullify the law. "The courts should declare void laws passed in an unconstitutional manner."

The suit has the sympathy of constitutional scholars.

"I think it's an open-and-shut case," agreed Michael J. Gerhardt, director of the Center on Law and Government at the University of North Carolina School of Law. "It would be a horrible precedent to set if this is how Congress is allowed to make laws."

For their part, congressional leaders and administration officials point to an 1892 Supreme Court decision, Field v. Clark , to argue that as long as the speaker of the House and the leader of the Senate certify a bill passed, it is passed. In that case, a bill signed by President Benjamin Harrison and authenticated by the leaders of the House and Senate was different from the version printed in the official journals of Congress, known now as the Congressional Record.

"Congress presented a bill certified by both chambers. It's been signed into law, and we consider the matter closed," said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House budget office.

In the 1892 case, the Supreme Court did not rule that the law really was a law but instead said the dispute was not a matter for the courts to decide, said Michael C. Dorf, a professor of constitutional law at Columbia University. The main problem for Public Citizen will not be showing that the budget law is technically not a law, but getting the courts involved, Dorf said, especially with a measure as sweeping as this one.

"An honest application of precedents would probably lead to the conclusion that the courts should strike this down," Dorf said. But, he added, "the courts will probably try to find a way to not throw the law out because it is so broad."

The issue would be solved if the House voted again, this time on the version that passed the Senate. But that would mark the third time House members would have to cast their votes on a politically difficult bill, containing cuts in many popular programs, and it would be that much closer to the November election.

But the issue may be snowballing. On Feb. 13, James Zeigler, a Republican lawyer in Alabama who specializes in elder-care issues, filed a similar suit, challenging the budget measure's constitutionality.

"The Constitution is broad and vague on a number of things; this is not one of them," Zeigler said. "The same bill must be passed by House and Senate and signed by the president. Otherwise it's not law. Case over."


1,889 days and no vetoes: Bush gaining on Jefferson

1,889 days and no vetoes: Bush gaining on Jefferson
By Richard Benedetto, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — President Bush Thursday becomes the longest-sitting president since Thomas Jefferson not to exercise his veto, surpassing James Monroe. (Related: Republicans work together)

Monroe was in office 1,888 days before he vetoed his first bill on May 4, 1822, a measure to impose a toll on the first federal highway. Jefferson never exercised his veto during two terms in 1801-09.

Thursday is Bush's 1,889th day in office, and no veto is in sight. As of Wednesday, Congress had sent him 1,091 bills. He signed them all.

Bush came close to a veto last month when Congress threatened to block a deal to turn over operations at ports in six states to a company owned by the Arab emirate of Dubai. He threatened a veto, but he avoided a showdown when the Dubai company decided to sell that part of its business to American interests.

"After that, we're not likely to hear a veto threat from him that much again," says G. Calvin Mackenzie, government professor at Maine's Colby College.

Some analysts say Bush's failure to use his veto shows an unwillingness to confront fellow Republicans who control Congress. "He doesn't want to fight battles unnecessarily and create a distance between himself and his party," says Mark Rozell, a George Mason University political scientist who has studied presidential vetoes.

Others say Bush's avoidance of the veto is a sign of strength. "Bush and his party are so close on most issues that there's no need to veto," Mackenzie says.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., scoffs at that: "This is a rubber-stamp Congress. Why would he veto anything?"

Still others say it is a matter of Bush's management style. "He's a CEO kind of guy. He gives his orders, delegates the negotiating to others and is willing to live with the outcome," says Robert McClure, a political scientist at Syracuse University's Maxwell School.

Bush has used veto threats to shape bills more to his liking. For example, the House wanted $370 billion for last year's highway bill; the Senate, $318 billion. Bush drew the line at $256 billion, then compromised at $286.4 billion, more than he wanted but far below the House and Senate levels.

Bush said Tuesday that the veto threat has helped him reduce the rate of domestic spending: "One reason why I haven't vetoed any appropriation bills is because they met the benchmarks we've set."

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