Saturday, April 22, 2006

RNC Ad Mischaracterizes Democratic Stance On Immigration
RNC Ad Mischaracterizes Democratic Stance On Immigration

Spanish-language ad says Democrats voted to "treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons."


The RNC mischaracterizes the Democratic stance on immigration legislation in a radio ad running in Arizona and Nevada and aimed at Hispanics. The Spanish-language ad says (as translated) that Democrats "voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons."

In fact, it was a Republican-sponsored House bill, passed in December with a heavy Republican majority, that would make it a felony either to enter the US without official permission, or to overstay a visa. Under the House bill an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants could face penalties of up to a year and a day in prison.

What the ad refers to is a vote that killed a White House-inspired measure to downgrade the proposed felony to a misdemeanor. Most Democrats opposed the softening amendment, but said they did so because it still would have been too harsh – criminalizing the overstaying of a visa, which is now only a civil offense and not subject to imprisonment.

The Spanish-language ad also says the President and Republican leaders are working for legislation that will "honor our immigrants." Opinions differ on that. An immigration reform project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Republican-backed House measure "cynical," and said that it will punish immigrants and harm their families.

On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee cleared a bipartisan immigration bill that doesn't make it a felony to enter illegally or overstay permission. Efforts to pass that measure broke down before the Easter recess, and may resume when the Senate returns April 27.

The Republican National Committee released a radio ad on April 17 titled “Protect Border & Honor Immigrants.” The 60-second ad is in Spanish and will be broadcast throughout the week on Hispanic radio stations in Phoenix, Tucson, Reno and Las Vegas.

RNC Ad: "Protect Border & Honor Immigrants"
(English Translation)

Announcer: Terrorists coming across our border...drugs smuggled to America's shores...But just last week, there was hope. Congress was working on immigration secure our border and protect American families.
But Democrat Leader Harry Reid let us down. Harry Reid played politics and blocked our leaders from working together. Reid's Democrat allies voted to treat millions of hardworking felons.
While President Bush and Republican leaders work for legislation that will protect our border and honor our immigrants.
Call Harry Reid at (702) 388-5020 tell him to stop playing with our futures.
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.

“Treat…Immigrants as Felons?”

The ad says that Democrats “voted to treat millions of hard working immigrants as felons,” which is misleading. In fact, a large majority of Democrats voted against a Republican-sponsored bill to make it a felony – punishable by up to a year plus one day in prison – to enter the US without legal permission, or to overstay a visa.

The ad refers to an amendment to that bill which would have lessened the proposed prison penalty to six months, making a misdemeanor of either offense. Currently, illegal entry is a misdemeanor but overstaying a visa is a civil offense, not criminal at all.

Most Democrats did vote against that softening amendment, but the three who spoke against it said they did so because it criminalized unlawful presence in the US, not because they wish to "treat...immigrants as felons."

For example, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said:

Gutierrez: I do not think we should criminalize it (overstaying a visa) at any level. We have administrative review now. We have civil penalties. We have a process…I said we should not criminalize this in the first place just on principle .

Gutierrez said he was speaking on behalf of the 20-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus, all Democrats.

Amendment Killed; Bill Passed

In opposing the penalty-softening measure, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said:

Lofgren: The amendment before us changes the degree of punishment, but it does not alter the underlying issue of criminalizing being alive in the country without documents.

The immigration bill's principal sponsor, Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, sought to reduce the penalties in his own bill at the request of the White House but couldn't get unanimous Republican support for the change, and Democrats mostly lined up against any increase in penalties compared to present law. "I see some games being played here," Sensenbrenner complained. "The people who are saying that this bill is too harsh want to keep these penalties as felonies."

When it came to a vote on Dec. 16, the penalty-softening amendment was defeated 164 to 257. Those in favor included 156 Republicans and eight Democrats. Those opposing included 65 Republicans, 191 Democrats and one Independent.

The Republican immigration bill then passed the House 239-182 on the same day. Most of the Republicans who had voted to soften the penalty supported the final bill, which still contained the felony provision: 203 Republicans voted in favor and only 17 opposed. Democrats voted 36 in favor, 164 against. One Independent also opposed.

"Honor our immigrants?"

The ad says President Bush and Republican leaders are working "for legislation that will protect our border and honor our immigrants." That opinion isn't shared by advocates for immigrants, however.

After the House passed its bill with a big Republican majority, the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, a project of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said of it: "The legislation is extremely punitive and will unduly harm immigrants and their families in this nation."

The campaign's Jan. 15 newsletter also said:

Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, Jan. 15: This bill represents one of the most punitive, mean-spirited legislative proposals passed on the question of immigration and, if enacted into law, would hark back to the days of the "Know Nothing" political party's anti-immigrant proposals in the mid-nineteenth century. What a cynical Christmas gift from our Congress.

The ad's language about honoring immigrants may refer to efforts in the Senate , where a push to pass a less restrictive, bipartisan bill stalled recently. The RNC ad blames Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for "playing politics" with that measure, saying he "blocked our leaders from working together." It is true that Reid and other Senate Democrats refused to allow the bipartisan compromise to come to a vote when they couldn't agree on which proposed amendments would be allowed to come to a vote.

The Senate measure, which would not criminalize overstaying a visa or make illegal entry a felony, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee April 6 by a bipartisan vote of 12 to 6.

The measure was then introduced on the Senate floor. Some Senators then proposed hundreds of amendments, and Republicans and Democrats could not agree on how many or which amendments they should vote on. So before the Senate voted to end debate Reid backed away from the measure:

Reid: Virtually all Democrats supported the Specter bill that came before the Senate...So the majority must explain to the American people why they are permitting a filibuster of immigration legislation, a filibuster by amendment .

Frist responded to Reid saying,

Frist: Over the last 9 days, on complex issues based on a very good, solid product generated by the Judiciary Committee, about 400 amendments have been filed and only 3 of the 400 have been allowed by the other side of the aisle to come to the floor to be voted upon...Why are we shutting down the amendment process because some Members might not agree with everything in that 425-page bill?

On April 7 a vote to end debate on the compromise measure failed, 38-60, in the Senate, with 6 Democrats joining 54 Republicans in opposition.

The compromise has not been killed, however, and according to an April 7th CongressDaily report the Senate is scheduled to resume debate on April 27th.

- by Emi Kolawole and Brooks Jackson

Congressional Record. H11951-H11953. 16 Dec 2005.

Congressional Record. S3357-S3358. 7 April 2006.

Heil, Emily. "Immigration Deal Fails As Its Supporters Eye A Comeback," CongressDaily. 7 April 2006.

The House of Representatives. Roll Call Vote No. 655.

The House of Representatives. Roll Call Vote No. 661.

"RNC Releases New Radio Ad Entitled "Protect Border & Honor Immigrants," News Release. 17 April 2006.

The Senate. Roll Call Vote No. 89.

"About the Campaign" and "Legislative Update," The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform 15 Jan 2006:1-2.



Law signed by Spano is first of its kind in the U.S.

A groundbreaking proposal requiring local businesses to secure their wireless networks to protect their customers against identity theft and other computer fraud has just become law.

County Executive Andy Spano signed a bill into law today that mandates commercial businesses that offer public Internet access and/or maintain personal information on a wireless network to take “minimum security measures.” The Board of Legislators passed the bill unanimously on April 10.

The law, which appears to be the first of its kind in the U.S. (and perhaps the world), applies to all commercial businesses that collect personal customer information such as social security numbers, credit card or bank account information, and also have a wireless network. In addition, businesses that offer public Internet access must also “conspicuously post a sign” advising customers to “install a firewall or other computer security measure when accessing the Internet.”

“We know there are many unsecured wireless networks out there, and any malicious individual with even minimal technical competence would have no trouble accessing information that should be kept confidential,” Spano said. “It would be nice if these businesses took the necessary steps on their own to ensure their networks were kept secure, but the sad fact is that many don’t. That’s why we’re taking it one step further and making it a law.”

As part of the new law, the County has also published a new brochure and website ( to educate consumers about how to prevent identity theft. The brochure, which is also posted on the website and will be distributed to local business organizations, outlines five basic steps that even non-technical users can take to make a wireless network more secure.

“Internet cafes are a part of an increasingly mobile marketplace and this will help create a safer environment for people conducting their personal business on the go,” said Legislator Clinton I. Young, Jr., whose Committee on Legislation reviewed the new law. “Businesses will also begin to realize how vulnerable their networks can be if not secured and go one step further in protecting their customers.”

When the law was being proposed last fall, a team from the Department of Information Technology showed how easy it was to find vulnerable networks by taking a drive through downtown White Plains. Using a laptop computer equipped with easily available software, they came across 248 wireless hot spots in less than a half an hour. Out of those, 120, or almost half, lacked any visible security at all. Many users failed to even provide a name for their network and instead using the standard name used as a default in the product. This clearly marked them as a potential target to hackers.

“While we stopped short of hacking into anyone’s private network, others might not be as considerate,” Spano said. “Someone sitting in a car across the street or in a nearby building could invade any of these networks and steal unprotected confidential information.”

As the law reads, it affects “any commercial business that stores, utilizes or otherwise maintains personal information electronically” to take minimum security measures to “secure and prevent unauthorized (wireless) access to all such information.” Security measures can be as simple as installing a network firewall, changing the system’s default SSID (network name) or disabling SSID broadcasting – all of which can be achieved with minimal effort and little or no additional cost to the system operator.

For example, a retail establishment that uses a wireless network to process credit card transactions could install a firewall, one of the easiest and least expensive ways to guard a network from attack.

The law will be enforced by the Department of Consumer Protection’s Division of Weights and Measures. A first violation will result in a warning giving the offender 30 days to remedy the situation. A second violation will result in a $250 fine and any further violations will mean a $500 fine.

The law, which will go into effect 180 days after the signing, doesn’t apply to individual home users.

In a related effort, but taking another tack in combating computer crime, the Department of Public Safety recently created the state’s first accredited Digital Crime and Investigation Unit. Two investigators are now dedicated to searching the Internet for “techy criminals” involved in identity theft, fraud (phishing), pedophilia and cyberbullying. The unit will also recover digital evidence that can be used by prosecutors in seeking convictions.


Friday, April 21, 2006

White House Decries Report on Iraqi Trailers
White House Decries Report on Iraqi Trailers
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bush administration yesterday denounced a Washington Post report that questioned the handling of postwar intelligence on alleged Iraqi biological weapons labs. A White House spokesman acknowledged that President Bush's assertions about the suspected labs were in error but said this was caused by flawed intelligence work rather than an effort to mislead.

Bush press secretary Scott McClellan criticized the article as "reckless" for what he said was an "impression" that Bush had knowingly misled the American public about the two Iraqi trailers seized by U.S. and Kurdish fighters weeks after the Iraqi invasion began. On May 29, 2003, Bush described the trailers in a television interview as "biological laboratories" and said, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The Post reported yesterday that a Pentagon-appointed team of technical experts had strongly rejected the weapons claim in a field report sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency on May 27, 2003. That report, and an authoritative, 122-page final report by the same team three weeks later, concluded that the trailers were not biological weapons labs. Both reports were classified and never released. The team's findings were ultimately supported by the Iraq Survey Group, which led the official search for banned weapons, in a report to Congress in September 2004, about 15 months later.

Whether White House officials were alerted to the technical team's finding is unclear, The Post article reported. In any case, senior administration and intelligence officials continued for months afterward to cite the trailers as evidence that Iraq had been producing weapons of mass destruction -- the chief claim used to justify the U.S.-led invasion.

McClellan dismissed the news article as "rehashing an old issue," saying Bush has repeatedly acknowledged "the intelligence was wrong." The spokesman said Bush's comments on the trailers reflected the intelligence community's dominant view at the time.

"The White House is not the intelligence-gathering agency," he said.

McClellan indicated he did not know when, or if, the White House was briefed on the technical team's report. And he declined to respond when asked if the technical team's report would be declassified and released.

Prominent Democrats demanded yesterday that the report be immediately released.

"Given that the president has been willing to declassify information for his own political purposes, he should declassify this report so the American people can know if they were misled," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement. "Was this incompetence, meaning that he did not know something that he clearly should have known, or is this an instance of dishonesty where information was misused or withheld to support a political agenda?"

The White House sought to further rebut the Post article with a series of "Setting the Record Straight" statements e-mailed to reporters. In the statements, the White House does not deny the existence of the technical team's report but portrays it as a preliminary finding, contrasting that report with a public white paper put out by the CIA on May 28, 2003. The CIA paper described the trailers as the "strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program."

The White House provided a "link" to a CIA Web site where the white paper is still posted, nearly 18 months after its conclusions were refuted by the Iraq Survey Group.

The White House statement also cites the 2005 Robb-Silberman commission report on intelligence failures related to Iraqi weapons. That report criticizes the intelligence agencies for "bureaucratic resistance to admitting error" as evidence showed Iraqi weapons claims to be unfounded.


Lawmakers Plan Ambitious Agenda as Voter Anger Rises
Lawmakers Plan Ambitious Agenda as Voter Anger Rises
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer

Members of Congress will return to Washington next week to face deep challenges including a budget morass in the House and an immigration quagmire in the Senate, while new polls indicate that voters increasingly view the legislative branch as dysfunctional.

How well Republican leaders navigate their way through the legislative mess could greatly influence the outcome of the midterm elections in November, suggests a poll released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

"The American public is angry with Congress, and this is bad news for the Republican Party," the authors of the poll concluded.

With a backdrop of skepticism and discontent, Republican leaders have laid out an ambitious agenda for the coming months, from health-care legislation to the most sweeping immigration changes in a generation. But they will have just 72 legislative days to achieve it before the scheduled date of adjournment. And they will have to overcome divisions in their own ranks to secure even the basics, such as a budget.

The House left town on April 7, having failed to pass a budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year. Republican moderates said the House budget plan would spend too little, especially on health, education and workforce programs. House conservatives said the plan spent too much, and members of the Appropriations Committee objected to new budget rules that they said would tie their hands and diminish their authority.

The Senate headed for its spring break under circumstances that were no less acrimonious. Republicans charged Democrats with obstructionism on a major immigration bill, and conservatives accused Republican leaders of capitulation on the immigration issue.

Andrew Kohut, the Pew Center's director, said voters are beginning to focus on congressional activities, and they do not like what they see.

"We see people engaged about Washington and not in a positive way," he said. "To be honest, I was surprised by these numbers."

About 41 percent of those polled said Congress has accomplished less than usual, compared with 27 percent who said so just before the midterm elections in 2002 and 16 percent who believed that in 2000.

Fifty-six percent of those polled said they would consider which party controls Congress when they vote in November. Previous polls back to 1998 never cracked 50 percent on that question. And 53 percent said they do not want to see most lawmakers reelected this year. In 2002 and 2004, fewer than 40 percent responded that way.

On the positive side for Republicans, 57 percent of respondents say they would like to see their member of Congress reelected, but 28 percent do not -- a level of personal opposition not seen since October 1994, on the eve of the Republican congressional landslide.

House leaders are "determined to get a budget done," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

But that is only one issue on a crowded plate, leadership aides cautioned. Next week's priorities will be reauthorizing the law that governs the nation's intelligence agencies and approving changes to rules governing lobbying and the funding of home-district pet projects, known as earmarks.

There should be action the first week of May on revamping telecommunication laws, and the next week will be given to the annual defense policy bill. Sometime in May, House leaders would like to act on energy legislation to ease voter concerns over soaring gasoline prices, and changes to the nation's emergency management system ahead of the hurricane season, which will begin June 1.

A bill to extend some expiring tax cuts from President Bush's first term could come up next month as well. House and Senate negotiators have been at an impasse over that measure since late last year.

In June, the House hopes to take up several health-care bills that would allow small businesses to pool together to buy health insurance, expand tax-free health savings accounts and improve the portability of health insurance from one employer to another.

"It's a robust agenda," said Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "There are significant challenges that the House is focused on."

The Senate's plate appears equally full, but Senate leaders must contend with an increasingly partisan atmosphere that has dragged out even routine procedural motions. Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said Senate leaders intend to reconsider the immigration bill, but not immediately.

Next week will be devoted to a $106.5 billion emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as ongoing Gulf Coast hurricane relief. The measure almost certainly will not be completed before the Senate moves on to its "health-care week," featuring legislation on small business health plans and limits on medical malpractice suits.

Frist would like to revisit the immigration bill, complete the emergency spending measure and take up the tax cut extensions in May, then move on in June to votes on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a permanent repeal of the estate tax, Call said. He could also bring two controversial judicial nominations to the floor next month: U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and White House aide Brett M. Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

All of those plans could be thwarted by assertive Democrats hoping to pursue their own agenda, Call conceded. Republicans are even braced for Democrats to push for a vote of no confidence on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.


The Hamas-led Palestinian government has announced the formation of a new security force comprised of members of Palestinian militant groups

Hamas reveals new security force

The Hamas-led Palestinian government has announced the formation of a new security force comprised of members of Palestinian militant groups.

The new Hamas Interior Minister Said Siyam said the force would help the police enforce law and order.

Mr Siyam also put a leading militant, Jamal Abu Samhadana, in charge of Palestinian police and security forces.

A BBC correspondent says the decision will not please Israel, which has tried to kill Mr Samhadana several times.

Israel will see the appointment as yet more proof that the new Hamas government has absolutely no intention of reining in militants committed to attacking Israel, says the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza.

The moves appear to be in defiance of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' attempts to take a firmer grip on Palestinian security forces.

He recently appointed an old ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the security services.


Mr Samhadana is the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group responsible for many attacks on Israel, including homemade rockets launched from Gaza in recent weeks.

He is a former officer in the Palestinian security forces who was dismissed for refusing to report for duty.

The new security force would be answerable only to Mr Siyam, an interior ministry spokesman said.

We are going to beat with an iron fist all the people and the groups who are acting illegally
Said Siyam,
Interior minister

It would be a volunteer force, and members would not be paid by the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, he said.

"This force is going to include the elite of our sons from the freedom fighters and the holy warriors and the best men we have," said the spokesman.

"It's going to include members of all the resistance branches."

Mr Siyam said: "We are going to beat with an iron fist all the people and the groups who are acting illegally."

Palestinian police have been struggling to deal with chaos and lawlessness, particularly since Israeli forces were withdrawn from Gaza last year.

As well as criminal activity and clan violence, police have often had to deal with challenges by unruly elements within the militant factions.

Mr Siyam's move is an attempt to draw all the armed factions into the effort to maintain law and order, says our correspondent, by making them part of the system instead of having them challenge it from the outside.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/04/20 17:38:28 GMT


Court: Schools can ban hurtful T-shirt slogans

Court: Schools can ban hurtful T-shirt slogans

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Public schools can bar clothing with slogans that are hurtful, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday in the case of a student who wore a T-shirtsaying "Homosexuality is shameful."

The 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals backed a San Diego-area high school's argument that it was entitled to tell a student to remove a T-shirt with that message.

The officials were concerned the slogan could raise tension at the school, where there had been conflict between gay and straight students.

The student sued, claiming the school's dress code violated his free speech, religious freedom and due process rights.

Writing for the panel's majority, Judge Stephen Reinhardt affirmed a lower court's decision against an injunction against the school and said schools may bar slogans believed to be hurtful.

Students "who may be injured by verbal assaults on the basis of a core identifying characteristic such as race, religion, or sexual orientation, have a right to be free from such attacks while on school campuses," Reinhardt wrote.

"The demeaning of young gay and lesbian students in a school environment is detrimental not only to their psychological health and well-being, but also to their educational development," Reinhardt added.

In his dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski said the majority would gag campus dissent to Poway High School's policies.

"The types of speech that could be banned by the school authorities under the Poway High School hate policy are practically without limit. Any speech code that has at its heart avoiding offense to others gives anyone with a thin skin a heckler's veto - something the Supreme Court has not approved in the past," Kozinski wrote.

Reinhardt rejected this argument.

"Perhaps our dissenting colleague believes that one can condemn homosexuality without condemning homosexuals. If so, he is wrong. To say that homosexuality is shameful is to say, necessarily, that gays and lesbians are shameful," Reinhardt.

"There are numerous locations and opportunities available to those who wish to advance such an argument. It is not necessary to do so by directly condemning, to their faces, young students trying to obtain a fair and full education in our public schools," Reinhardt added.


Mass. Gov. Romney expands sex-abstinence programs

Mass. Gov. Romney expands sex-abstinence programs
By Belinda Yu

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney unveiled an expansion of teenage sexual-abstinence programs in the heavily Democratic state on Thursday, polishing his conservative credentials ahead of a possible White House run.

Under the plan, the federally-funded Christian organization Healthy Futures will fund abstinence programs in Massachusetts classrooms, adding the state to a growing list of U.S. states that have expanded sex-abstinence education.

From 2000 to 2005, President Bush more than doubled funding for such programs, which teach that abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is the only sure way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other health problems.

"If we want our kids to wait to become sexually active until after they've graduated from high school, we're going to have to tell them that, rather than have them try to read our minds," Romney told a news conference.

Some analysts said expanding the program appeared aimed at strengthening Romney's political support among Christian evangelicals and other conservatives at the base of the Republican party ahead of a likely White House bid.

"It's kind of a low-cost appeal to conservatives outside of Massachusetts," said Julian Zelizer, professor of U.S. history at Boston University. "He's looking for things he can do to say to conservatives -- especially Christian evangelical activists -- 'Hey I'm with you,'."

Healthy Futures will receive $800,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the Massachusetts program over the next two years.

The state has accepted federal funds for a decade for abstinence programs, but has always used the money on media campaigns instead of the classroom.

"This is the first time that we're applying this money for a classroom-based abstinence program," said Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman.

Romney, a 59-year-old millionaire Mormon who gained national attention for turning around the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, has taken other steps to distance himself from his state's liberal reputation on hot-button social issues such as abortion.

In a failed 1994 campaign to unseat Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, he said abortion should stay "safe and legal," but more recently he declared himself "firmly pro-life".

"He's clearly trying to position himself for the Republican nomination and has been for some time," said Thomas Patterson, professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "He's trying to get himself in a position where he can work with the Christian right and draw support from them in the primary process," added Patterson.

Romney said teaching children to abstain from premarital sex would not preclude teaching them about other pregnancy-prevention measures. "No school district is going to be eliminating all of their sex education classes, including discussing contraception," he said.

The money will allow Healthy Futures to reach 9,000 students in 12 Massachusetts communities by 2008, up from its current 5,500 middle- and high-school students, said Rebecca Ray, Healthy Futures program director.


How it was reported in the Islamic press: Iran elected deputy for Asian nations of UN Commission on Disarmament

Islamic Republic News Agency
Iran elected deputy for Asian nations of UN Commission on Disarmament

United Nations Commission on Disarmament on Tuesday elected Iran as deputy for Asian nations.

The UN Commission opened its annual meeting on Monday which will work until April 28.

The UN Commission on Disarmament which is subsidiary organ of the General Assembly will review disarmament and international security.

The Commission could not reach unanimity in the past two year owing to US objection to put disarmament on the agenda of the specialized commission and adopt an action plan for enforcing disarmament at international level.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member states have pushed for the agenda of disarmament and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the current annual meeting.

NAM member states issued a statement on the first day of the annual meeting calling on nuclear states to respect their commitments of demolishing their nuclear arms.

They also called on Israel to sign up to NPT and give access to all its nuclear sites for monitoring by UN nuclear agency.


U.S. Senator slams election of Iran to UN disarmament panel

U.S. Senator slams election of Iran to UN disarmament panel
By Associated Press

A Republican senator who is a sharp critic of the United Nations is calling on the United States to withhold funds from the UN Disarmament Commission over Iran's election as vice chairman.

"The election of Iran as a vice-chair of the UN Disarmament Commission at the same time as Iran clandestinely pursues its own nuclear ambitions provides yet another example of the UN's inability to establish credible institutions to deal with global issues," Republican Senator Norm Coleman said in a statement Wednesday.

"Having the Iranians serve on this commission is like asking the fox to guard the hens, and will only ensure its ineffectiveness. "Iran says its program is peaceful, but the United States and dozens of other countries fear it wants the technology to make the core of nuclear warheads.

Coleman, who represents Minnesota, urged the U.S. to redirect funds for the commission to humanitarian efforts.

The White House did not have an immediate comment Wednesday night. Neither the United Nations nor the Iranian embassy to the United Nations returned messages left Wednesday night. The commission is based in Geneva.

Coleman has been a longtime UN critic. His Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found abuses in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, which was aimed at allowing the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein to sell oil for humanitarian goods.

Coleman has called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to resign over the program.

Coleman has also introduced legislation with Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to require the president to submit an annual report on UN reform to Congress. The bill would allow the president to withhold 50 percent of U.S. contributions to the U.N. if sufficient reforms have not been made.

"Clearly, the effort to implement reforms at the UN has not only stalled but utterly reversed course," Coleman said. "Consequently, I urge the administration to immediately begin withholding U.S. financial support for the U.N. Disarmament Commission to send an unmistakable signal that there will be serious consequences to the UN's failure to implement real reform."


United Health's Profit Up 21 Percent- Lounge Lizards Say 'Go Ahead & Die'

United Health's Profit Up 21 Percent- Lounge Lizards Say 'Go Ahead & Die'

SANTA MONICA, Calif., April 18 /U.S. Newswire/ -- As United Health, the nation's second largest health insurer, announced a 21 percent profit increase today for the first quarter of 2006, a pop-culture campaign is urging Americans to "sink the health insurance pirates."

A music video, "Pirates of the Health Care-ibbean" featuring a new song by the band the Austin Lounge Lizards, "Go Ahead & Die," is available at: The video and song are part of a campaign to build support for a universal health care program that would be funded by eliminating health insurance companies.

"HMOs and health insurers have plundered health care and held patients ransom for far too long," said Jerry Flanagan, health care policy director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). "Mergers and acquisitions have given a handful of insurers a stranglehold over the health insurance market. The result: patients pay more for less health care."

In the last decade there have been more than 400 mergers of managed care companies. Now just 5 companies -- WellPoint, United Health, Aetna, Cigna, and Humana -- account for more than half of the entire U.S. health insurance market. A recent study found that in over half the local markets surveyed, just one insurer provides health care to more than 50 percent of those with insurance.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights cited recent figures released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that show that health insurance overhead costs -- including profit, advertising, and administration -- are now the fastest growing component of health care spending.

United Health cited the new Medicare prescription drug program as one source of its profits. In the biggest change ever to the 41-year-old Medicare program, the Bush Administration put the nation's largest HMOs in charge of the so-called prescription drug "benefit."

"The disastrous handling of the new privatized Medicare drug benefit by health insurers is just the latest example of their indifference and greed imperiling the disabled and seniors. Every dollar spent on overhead and profit makes health care more unaffordable for Americans. So far, it's the insurance companies that are benefiting," said Flanagan. "Seniors are left desperate for their medications and taxpayers are picking up the tab."

HMO profits have jumped as sales increased for President Bush- backed junk policies that don't actually protect patients when they are sick and need the insurance most: health savings accounts and association health plans. For more information go to:

"We think the song's pirate theme aptly describes the situation," said Hank Card, rhythm guitarist for the Austin Lounge Lizards. "I particularly like the lines, 'Because your basic coverage will cost an arm and leg/We'll happily replace them with a hook and peg.' "

HMOs, PPOs, and other health insurers waste billions of dollars each year that could be used to provide care and keep expenses down. Insurers spend 20 percent of our premiums on overhead including profit and administration compared to public programs like Medicare that spend just 2 percent.

According to a Harvard Medical School study, in 2005 medical bills were responsible for half of all bankruptcies. Of the approximately one million Americans who file for bankruptcy each year as a result of illness, most have college degrees, work full-time, and own their homes. Three-quarters already have insurance.

A September 2005 Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 59 percent of Californians would trade the current system for "a universal health insurance program, in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers." A 2003 ABC News/Washington Post poll found similar support across the nation (62 percent for universal health insurance, 32 percent for the current system).

Key elements of a new "California Medicare" program include provisions that all Californians would be insured and that universal coverage would be paid for by eliminating health insurance companies. The California Medicare program would take advantage of bulk purchasing and focuses on preventing disease. A recent Lewin Group study found that Californians could save $8 billion each year under such a program.


The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is the nation's leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy group. For more information, visit on-line at:



Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lawmakers Never Faced With Losing Benefits: Lawmakers Far Outpace Most Americans in Job Benefits, and Some Say That Leads to Indifference

ABC News
Lawmakers Never Faced With Losing Benefits
Lawmakers Far Outpace Most Americans in Job Benefits, and Some Say That Leads to Indifference
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress occasionally lose elections, but they never lose retirement and health benefits that most Americans can only envy.

A lawmaker who retires at 60 after just 12 years in office can count on receiving an immediate pension of $25,000 a year and lifetime benefits that could total more than $800,000.

That doesn't include 401(k) benefits. And any member who lasts five years in office also can get taxpayer-subsidized health care until he or she reaches Medicare age.

Congressional pensions tend to be far more generous than those offered in the private sector. Benefits start earlier and unlike most private pension plans promising a fixed monthly payment based on years worked and pay come with annual cost-of-living increases. They also accrue a third faster than the average plan offered by private companies.

Any member of Congress with five years of service is eligible for full benefits at 62. Those with 20 years in office can get full benefits at 50, younger than most workers.

Cost-of-living adjustments, a shield against inflation, "haven't been slightly common since the 1980s" in the private sector, said John Ehrhardt, an expert in corporate retirement programs at the Seattle-based consulting and actuarial firm Milliman. He said COLAs could add 25 percent to the value of a congressional plan over its lifetime.

It doesn't matter what a lawmaker does before or after leaving office. Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who was sentenced to eight years and four months in jail after pleading guilty to bribery charges this year, is still entitled to an annual pension of about $36,000 for his 15 years in the House. That doesn't include his military pension or 401(k) benefits.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who is resigning after 22 years, will qualify for an initial pension of $56,000. DeLay could get pension payments of nearly $2 million over his expected lifetime, according to the National Taxpayers Union, which tracks congressional pension issues.

Lawmakers also have the peace of mind of knowing their federally backed plan will be there when they retire.

"I don't think that many people in Congress would be quite so indifferent to the demise of the defined-benefit plan if they didn't have such a robust plan themselves," said James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents companies with pension plans.

Congress is now working on pension legislation aimed at shoring up the defined-benefit plans available to some 44 million employees and retirees, but there's no stopping the trend of companies shrinking their plans or not letting new hires join them.

Employers also are switching to less costly cash balance plans, under which employees generally receive one lump-sum payment when they retire or leave the company.

Rep. Bernard Sanders of I-Vt., is a critic of the cash balance plans that the House bill would encourage. In 2003 he asked the Congressional Research Service to see what would happen to lawmakers' benefits under such an approach.

"The result would have been huge cutbacks for some members," Sanders said in a recent interview.

For example, say a representative retired at 56 at the end of 2002 with 18 years of service. At 62 he or she would have a defined benefit plan worth $608,000. A comparable cash balance plan would be worth $251,000.

Under current rules, lawmakers who serve 30 years will receive a yearly pension of 44 percent of their annual pay, which this year is $165,200. That doesn't include their Social Security benefits and what they get back from their 401(k) plans. Like other federal workers in the Thrift Savings Plan, the government's equivalent of a 401(k), lawmakers may invest up to $15,000 yearly, more if they're over 50, and receive a contribution from the government equal to 5 percent of their pay.

Older lawmakers, who were in office before the rules were changed two decades ago, can receive even higher pensions, though their Social Security is less.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who is retiring at the end of this session after three decades in the House, will receive a pension of $119,000 a year, according to the National Taxpayers Union, an interest group that keeps track. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a senator for 38 years, would be eligible for $125,000 if he retired at the end of his current term. He has a higher salary as the Senate's President Pro Tem.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a multimillionaire physician who is stepping down after 12 years, can expect an initial pension of $23,000 in 2007. With his thrift plan investments, Frist's estimated lifetime benefits will be around $1 million, the NTU says.

Former presidents, for comparison, receive a taxable pension equal to the base pay of Cabinet secretaries, currently $183,500.

The Congressional Research Service, in a study of member retirement benefits updated last year, quoted a Senate report from 1946, the year Congress extended the federal pension system to lawmakers:

The retirement plan, it said, "would contribute to independence of thought and action (and be) an inducement for retirement for those of retiring age or with other infirmities."

"Sixty years of results have shown that experiment to be an utter failure," commented Peter Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. The average age of senators in the current Congress is 60.4 years, the oldest in history, according to the CRS. The average age of House members is 55 years, also probably the oldest ever, the CRS said.

Congress' pension system was overhauled in 1983, when the Social Security Act was changed to require federal employees, including members of Congress, to participate in Social Security. Those elected in 1984 or later, under what is now called the Federal Employees' Retirement System or FERS, get smaller pensions than their more senior colleagues. But they also get bigger Social Security checks.

The CRS said that as of October 2002, there were 340 retired members receiving pensions under the pre-1984 system averaging $55,800 a year. There were also 71 who retired with service under both systems or only FERS, with annual benefits of $41,900. The total cost of the pension program for members of Congress is estimated at $25 million a year.

Sepp said his group's figures show that lawmakers' contributions to the FERS defined benefit plan cover about 20 percent of the typical lifetime payout. Lawmakers send 1.3 percent of their annual pay into the FERS pension plan, and the government adds 15.8 percent. Other federal workers contribute 0.8 percent, and the government adds 10.7 percent of their pay.

One lawmaker who won't be getting the benefits is Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., who since his election in 1984 has declined participation in either the pension or the thrift savings plan and has tried, without success, to eliminate or scale them back.

"He thought taxpayers should not have to subsidize retirement programs for people who run for public office," said his spokesman, Ed McDonald. But he's "given up on trying to reform the system."

The recent flurry of legislative action in the wake of the Cunningham and lobbying controversies has produced several proposals to deny pensions to those convicted of felonies. Currently, an act of treason is one of the few ways a House member or senator can lose a pension.

Members of Congress also participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program or FEHB, which covers some 8 million federal workers. The FEHB is lauded as a model for a large-scale comprehensive health care plan, and lawmakers are frequently criticized for failing to come up with a comparable system for the tens of millions of Americans without adequate health care.

The key ingredient of the FEHB, said Robert Moffit, director of health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, is "the government doesn't force you into some kind of straitjacket."

Participants choose from about a dozen fee-for-service plans, plus several hundred HMO plans and, more recently, health savings accounts paired with high-deductible health plans.

The government pays an average 72 percent of premiums, less than the average 82 percent that employers in the private sector paid in 2003, according to a Labor Department survey. Retiring legislators, as well as other federal workers, can continue to participate after just five years of enrollment, and the government continues to pick up 72 percent of the premiums.

Once 65 and eligible for Medicare, they can still buy so-called wraparound plans to fill any gaps in coverage.

Current members can also purchase top-of-the-line care, using their FEHB benefits, at Washington's military hospitals, and for an annual fee, now $480, can drop by the Attending Physician's Office in the first floor of the U.S. Capitol for X-rays, EKGs, physical exams and consultations.

On the Net:

National Taxpayers Union:

Federal Employee Health Benefits Program:


Things Change, and Stay the Same

The New York Times
Things Change, and Stay the Same

President Bush wants to show the nation he's shaking things up in his administration, but it is clear that the people who messed everything up will remain in place. The press secretary goes; the political-and-domestic-policy adviser is losing half his portfolio. There's a new White House chief of staff. But the folks at the Defense Department are still on the job, doing ... what they've been doing.

Metaphors about deck chairs abound.

It's too soon to say how history will judge this administration, but it does look as if the first thing this president will be remembered for is the disastrous way the war in Iraq was conducted under Donald Rumsfeld, who, of course, isn't going anywhere. If there's a second thing we think history will shake its head over, it's the administration's cavalier disregard for the civil liberties of American citizens and the human rights of American prisoners. Needless to say, nobody's being replaced at the Justice Department.

The third great disaster of the Bush administration is a fiscal policy that has turned a federal surplus into a series of enormous budget gaps and an economy that depends on loans from China to pay its bills. The administration is changing the fiscal team, but doing everything possible to send the signal that there are no new brooms in this venture — just the same old faces with new labels. Rob Portman will morph from being the trade representative into being the director of the White House budget office. Mr. Portman, a longtime Bush loyalist, used his nomination acceptance speech to champion all the policies that wrecked things in the first place. More tax cuts will be forthcoming, he vowed, and budget cuts will make things balance out in the end.

President Bush has been slicing away at federal revenues by encouraging Congress to pass tax cuts for wealthy Americans. That usually isn't hard to do. The fact that there's been so much difficulty getting the latest round through the Republican-controlled Senate is a measure of how irresponsible the plans are. And everybody is well aware that the proposed spending cuts wouldn't go far enough to make up for lost tax dollars. Even budget cuts that are doable are anathema to an undisciplined legislature that is used to being allowed to spend whatever it wants by a feckless presidency.

The sudden exit of Scott McClellan, the press secretary, would be meaningless under normal circumstances. But in the current context, it really does send an important message. The president is like one of those people who pretend to apologize by saying they're sorry if they were misunderstood. He doesn't believe he's done anything wrong. It's our fault for not appreciating him.

Blame the victim.


John Negroponte, Director Of National Intelligence, Draws Bipartisan Criticism

The New York Times
In New Job, Spymaster Draws Bipartisan Criticism

WASHINGTON, April 19 — The top Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have disagreed publicly about many things, but on one issue they have recently come together. Both are disquieted by the first-year performance of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.

The fear expressed by the two lawmakers, Representatives Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and Jane Harman, Democrat of California, is that Mr. Negroponte, the nation's overseer of spy agencies, is creating just another blanket of bureaucracy, muffling rather than clarifying the dangers lurking in the world.

In an April 6 report, the Intelligence Committee warned that Mr. Negroponte's office could end up not as a streamlined coordinator but as "another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy." The committee went so far as to withhold part of Mr. Negroponte's budget request until he convinced members he had a workable plan.

The creation of Mr. Negroponte's post was Congress's answer to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and to the bungled prewar reports on Iraqi weapons. The overhaul, the most sweeping reorganization of intelligence in a half-century, was intended to establish a primary intelligence adviser to the president, to ensure that 16 turf-conscious agencies share information and to see that dissenting views are not squelched.

Intelligence officials say there has been progress in information-sharing, particularly at the National Counterterrorism Center, the new hub for reports on terrorist threats. Aides to Mr. Negroponte insist that analysts are encouraged to offer divergent views to avoid the "groupthink" blamed for past failures.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday night, Mr. Negroponte strongly defended his record.

"If there's one watchword for what we've been about, it's integration," he said, noting that all agencies are supposed to feed threat information to the counterterrorism center and participate in three daily video conferences.

"I don't see us as another bureaucratic layer at all," he said. "What's changed is that for the first time, there's a high-ranking official in charge of managing the intelligence community."

Mr. Negroponte said that between the intelligence reform law and the recommendations of a presidential commission on weapons intelligence, his office had been given "about 100 tasks to do," and added: "We've just gotten started. A year is not a long time."

But some current and former intelligence officials and members of Congress express disappointment with the progress Mr. Negroponte has made since being sworn in a year ago this week, faulting him as failing to provide forceful direction to the $44-billion-a-year archipelago of intelligence agencies.

"I don't think we have a lot to show yet for the intelligence reform," said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former top C.I.A. official and Congressional intelligence staff member. "What's their vision for running the intelligence community? My sense is there's a huge hunger for leadership that's not being met."

Mr. Lowenthal said he spoke regularly with intelligence officers about Mr. Negroponte's office, and heard little praise.

"At the agencies, officers are telling me, 'All we got is another layer,' " he said.

Ms. Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, said the success of the Intelligence Reform Act, which created Mr. Negroponte's office and was passed in December 2004, would depend "50 percent on leadership."

"I'm not seeing the leadership," she said in an interview, adding that Mr. Negroponte, who had a long career as a diplomat, is now a "commander" and must act like one.

"The title is director, not ambassador," Ms. Harman said. "The skill sets are very different. The goal is not to grow a bureaucracy."

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who played a central role in devising the intelligence overhaul, said she was worried about what she said was Mr. Negroponte's failure to confront the Defense Department over an aggressive grab for turf over the past year.

"I remain concerned about the balance of power with the Pentagon," Ms. Collins said Wednesday.

In particular, she said she believed that Mr. Negroponte should have responded more assertively to a Pentagon directive last November that appeared to assert control over the National Security Agency, which does electronic eavesdropping; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which takes satellite and aerial photos; and the National Reconnaissance Office, which launches and operates spy satellites. All are part of the Defense Department.

"While those agencies are hosted in the Pentagon, they report to the D.N.I.," Ms. Collins said. "I think the directive confused the relationship and weakened the D.N.I."

But Ms. Collins praised the National Counterterrorism Center and said it was far too early to pass judgment on Mr. Negroponte. "We need to give him some time and cut him some slack," she said.

Mr. Negroponte said the Defense Department had not cut into his power. "I flatly reject the notion that somehow control of civilian intelligence is being gobbled up by the Pentagon," he said, adding that "there's a clear division of labor" and that his office works closely with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his under secretary for intelligence, Stephen A. Cambone.

Even the most outspoken critics acknowledge that Mr. Negroponte's job is dauntingly complex, requiring that he brief President Bush each morning while overseeing disparate agencies and creating his own office from scratch.

At a session with reporters last week, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Mr. Negroponte's principal deputy, said intelligence tradecraft "has benefited from the introspection the community has undergone over the last couple of years."

General Hayden, who was director of the N.S.A. for six years, said he "didn't understand" the criticism from Representatives Hoekstra and Harman about excessive bureaucracy, "because in the same press briefing they said we need to do more."

He and other officials said Mr. Negroponte's office had requested money for 1,539 positions, but two-thirds of them were inherited from offices that already existed. The law permits the agency to create up to 500 new jobs, and plans call for stopping at 450, General Hayden said.

But reports from the agencies, especially the C.I.A., suggest they do not yet feel liberated. Officers complain about constant demands for information from Mr. Negroponte's office.

Senator Collins said Mr. Negroponte was under enormous pressure.

"All of us in Congress who are appalled at the intelligence failure that preceded the invasion of Iraq want to make sure the intelligence we get on Iran, for instance, is much better," she said. "He can't afford to fail, because the threats are too dire and the consequences are too great."


Defying Senators, Bush Renames 2 Social Security Public Trustees

The New York Times
Defying Senators, Bush Renames 2 Social Security Public Trustees

WASHINGTON, April 19 — President Bush reappointed the two public representatives on the board of trustees for Social Security and Medicare on Wednesday, defying Senate leaders of both parties.

The appointments clear the way for the Bush administration to issue its annual reports on the financial condition of the programs, which together account for more than one-third of all federal spending.

The White House announced that Mr. Bush had granted "recess appointments" to the public trustees, John L. Palmer, former dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and Thomas R. Saving, an economist at Texas A&M.

Under the Constitution, a president can "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." Mr. Palmer, a Democrat, and Mr. Saving, a Republican, were first appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. They can now serve until the end of the next session of the Senate, in late 2007.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and its senior Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, had urged Mr. Bush to find other candidates. They did not criticize Mr. Palmer or Mr. Saving, but said they wanted fresh perspectives on Social Security and Medicare.

Senators Grassley and Baucus said they were disappointed with Mr. Bush's action and still hoped that he would find other candidates.

"Now that the impasse is cleared," Mr. Grassley said, "I hope the White House will nominate new people so we can return to the goal of having fresh faces on the board."

Mr. Baucus said Mr. Bush had chosen to "ride roughshod" over the Senate.

"The White House has failed to consult in good faith with Congress on new nominees for these positions," Mr. Baucus said. "Public trustees for Social Security and Medicare have never served more than one term. It is vital to have new blood and fresh thinking for these programs so critical to all Americans."

The public trustees are supposed to make sure that the assets of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds are properly managed. They also try to ensure that the administration's annual reports to Congress are as reliable and objective as possible. Lawmakers use data from those reports in debates on the programs.

Four administration officials are also trustees. Although the public trustees come from different parties, they usually work together and issue joint statements.

In their next reports, the trustees will provide information to help answer such questions as is the long-term financial outlook for Social Security as dire as Mr. Bush says? How costly is the new prescription drug benefit? Are these programs sustainable in their current form?


The United States has released the most comprehensive list yet of those held in Guantanamo Bay

US releases more Guantanamo names
The United States has released the most comprehensive list yet of those held in Guantanamo Bay.

A list released by the Pentagon on Wednesday contains the names of 558 men from 41 countries held at the detention camp in Cuba.

The majority of those under detention are from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan, the list shows.

The move came as a result of a Freedom of Information challenge by the Associated Press news agency.

Tribunals process

The release is the first official roster of Guantanamo detainees who appeared before tribunals to assess whether they should remain under detention.

The hearings, which took place between July 2004 and January 2005, were held after the US Supreme Court ruled inmates had the right to contest their detention.

According to the list, of the 558 who went through the process, 132 came from Saudi Arabia, 125 from Afghanistan and 107 from Yemen. There were more than 20 inmates from both Algeria and China.

The list includes well-known names such as Australian David Hicks, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The presence of Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani, who officials say sought entry to the US to participate in the 11 September 2001 attacks, was also officially confirmed.

Many of those named have been held at the camp for more than four years.


On 3 March, the Pentagon released names of many of the Guantanamo detainees, also in response to a Freedom of Information request.

However, the names did not appear as a simple list, but were included within 6,000 pages of tribunal transcripts posted on its website.

Further documents were released in April in what a Pentagon spokesman called "an attempt to be transparent".

The BBC's Sarah Morris in Washington says the release comes amid wide criticism of the almost total secrecy surrounding the detention centre.

Around 490 detainees remain in Guantanamo Bay, which opened in January 2002.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Study faults US health effort in Iraq, Afghanistan

Study faults US health effort in Iraq, Afghanistan
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has botched efforts to improve public health in Iraq and Afghanistan, missing a chance to gain support in those countries, an independent report released on Wednesday said.

U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq following the 2003 invasion failed to maintain and improve basic sanitation and provide safe drinking water in heavily populated areas, the RAND Corp. report stated.

This may have encouraged anti-American sentiment and sympathy for the insurgency, the nonprofit research organization said.

"Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population," said Seth Jones, a RAND political scientist and a lead author of the report.

"The health status of those living in the country has a direct impact on a nation's reconstruction and development, and history teaches us it can be a key tool in capturing the goodwill of a nation's residents."

U.S. efforts to rebuild the public health and health care systems received too few dollars, and the projects that were carried out did too little to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis and Afghans, according to the report.

For example, initial efforts in the critical period immediately after the Iraqi invasion focused on things like redesigning medical training programs and designing disease-tracking systems, which did not help most Iraqis.

About 40 percent of Baghdad's water and sanitation network has been damaged since the U.S. invasion, and efforts to rebuild the crumbling and aging system have moved too slowly amid security problems and looting, the report stated.

Researchers unfavorably compared health reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan to post-World War Two efforts in Japan and Germany. However, while those countries remained calm under foreign occupation, violence in Iraq and instability in Afghanistan have hindered reconstruction projects.


Students protest at Jeb Bush's office

Students protest at Jeb Bush's office
By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Thirty students staged a sit-in at the office of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday to protest what they called a slow investigation into the death of a teenager at a juvenile boot camp in January.

"It's been 105 days since this young man's death and nothing has been done," said Gabriel Pendas, 23, president of the student senate at Florida State University. "We will stay here until something is done."

Bush, the younger brother of President Bush, was in Washington, and a staff member said she was unsure if he would speak to the students sitting on the floor and in chairs in his outer office.

They declined an offer to meet with Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died hours after arriving at the juvenile detention facility in Panama City, Florida, for stealing his grandmother's car and violating probation. A videotape taken at the camp showed guards punching and kicking the boy, who at times appeared limp.

An autopsy by the Bay County medical examiner attributed Anderson's death to internal bleeding from a previously undiagnosed disorder, sickle cell trait. But the autopsy results were heavily criticized and the governor called for an independent investigation into Anderson's death.

Anderson's body was exhumed and a second autopsy conducted. Official results have not been released, but a coroner who observed the second autopsy has said the results of the first autopsy were wrong.

The protesters want the second autopsy to be made public and for the Republican governor to publicly apologize to Anderson's family. They also want law enforcement officials reprimanded, and all seven guards seen in the video arrested and charged.

"This is going to be a historic case," said Vanessa Baden, a 20-year-old FSU student. "We just hope it goes down in history for the right reasons."


Texas appeals court upholds dismissal of DeLay charge

Texas appeals court upholds dismissal of DeLay charge

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court's decision to throw out a conspiracy charge against former U.S. House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay.

The Texas Third Court of Appeals said a lower court was correct when it quashed an indictment charging DeLay with conspiracy to violate state election law by allegedly funneling corporate money to Republican candidates for the state Legislature in 2002.

The court said the statute making conspiracy to violate election law a crime was not enacted until a year after DeLay is alleged to have participated in the effort to fund Republican candidates with corporate money.

DeLay said earlier this month he would abandon a re-election bid and resign his House seat this summer, in part because of indictments brought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.

DeLay still faces trial on money-laundering and conspiracy to launder money charges.

DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said the charges were part of an effort by Democrats like Earle to rewrite the 2002 election, when Republicans took control of the Legislature.

"It's payback against Tom DeLay," DeGuerin said.

[Note: Earle has proven to be quite bipartisan in his indictments, and is well respected by both parties in that regard.]


Chinese President Hu Jintao stands firm on Chinese currency

Hu stands firm on Chinese currency
By Daisuke Wakabayashi and Scott Hillis

EVERETT, Washington (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday stood firm against U.S. demands to significantly revalue China's currency as a way of reducing his country's vast trade surplus with the United States.

Speaking at a Boeing Co. facility north of Seattle on the eve of a White House summit with President George W. Bush, Hu said he wanted to make foreign-exchange markets more efficient. But he said China was not ready for a drastic change in the value of renminbi currency, also known as the yuan.

"Our goal is to keep the renminbi exchange rate basically stable at adaptive and equilibrium levels," Hu said.

"China will continue to firmly promote financial reforms, improve the renminbi exchange rate-setting mechanism, develop the foreign exchange market, and increase the flexibility of the renminbi exchange rate," he said.

Revaluing the yuan is a key U.S. demand which officials say is vital to make American exports more competitive, erase an advantage Chinese manufacturers currently enjoy and reduce China's bilateral trade surplus, which last year reached $202 billion.

Hu arrived in Washington late on Wednesday.

A top U.S. official said this week China's progress on the currency issue had been "agonizingly slow" and Bush was certain to raise it when the two leaders met at the White House.

U.S. experts said they did not expect a breakthrough on the exchange rate. Rather, they were hoping for slow, steady progress in the months ahead.

Hu said China did not seek a large surplus. "China takes the trade imbalance between our two countries seriously and works hard to address this issue," he said.

On the other hand, the fault did not all lie on China's side, he said. The United States also needed to act to ease export controls and reduce protectionist measures.


Hu's whirlwind 27-hour tour around Seattle included visits at Boeing and Microsoft Corp. and a lavish dinner with 100 business and government leaders at the lakeside estate of Microsoft co-founder and world's richest man, Bill Gates.

The Chinese leader encountered crowds of protesters unhappy about China's policy on Taiwan, Tibet and the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China, but business and political leaders welcomed him with open arms.

"By doing business in China, U.S. companies have made substantial profits, enhanced their competitiveness and strengthened their position in the U.S. market," Hu said.

After a tour of Boeing's assembly factory, Hu told about 6,000 employees of the aircraft maker that China would need to buy 600 new planes in the next five years and 2,000 in the next 15. Beijing recently signed a deal with the company to buy 80 jets worth about $4 billion.

"This clearly points to a bright tomorrow for future cooperation between China and Boeing," he said, noting that the U.S. company currently had two-thirds of the Chinese commercial aviation market.

China sought to quell U.S. trade complaints before Hu's visit by signing contracts worth $16.2 billion while Vice Premier Wu Yi visited the United States last week.

Hu went out of his way to display charm, accepting a baseball hat with the company logo from an employee and then hugging the surprised worker. Chinese reporters said they had never seen anything similar from Hu.

The Chinese president also surprised reporters when he fielded questions about software piracy during Tuesday's Microsoft visit, pledging to enforce laws to protect intellectual property.

U.S. industry groups estimate 90 percent of DVDs, music CDs and software sold in China are pirated. The intellectual- property issue is expected to figure prominently when Hu meets Bush.

Bush has also said he would bring up Iran's nuclear program. He wants China to cooperate in putting more pressure on Tehran through the U.N. Security Council.


Castro bashes US on Bay of Pigs anniversary

Castro bashes US on Bay of Pigs anniversary
By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) - Forty-five years after it defeated a CIA-trained invasion force at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba continues to defy the world's biggest power, Cuban President Fidel Castro said on Wednesday.

Castro said his Communist-run country was not afraid of a U.S. naval force led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington currently carrying out exercises in the Caribbean.

"This nation faced up to the strongest superpower on Earth and it is still on its feet," Castro said in a speech marking the failed U.S.-planned attempt to overthrow his fledgling revolutionary government in 1961.

"We are not commemorating this 45th anniversary on our knees. There will never be a force in the world capable of bringing us to our knees," he said.

Cuba's closest Latin American ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, this week accused the United States of threatening his country and Cuba with the deployment of four U.S. warships in the Caribbean.

Castro said the U.S. government had too much on its plate elsewhere to be a threat to Cuba today.

"There are some little boats going about. Who is afraid of them? Nobody," Castro, dressed in his trademark green uniform, told militia veterans at Havana's Karl Marx theater.

"They never frightened anyone. They should not waste their time here. They have enough problems in the world," said the Cuban leader, who will be 80 in August.

Castro defended Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program and said the United States was at a dead-end in Iraq and would have to withdraw.

For Cuban authorities, another anniversary of the Battle of the Bay of Pigs serves to keep the island's 11 million people alert to the threat of a U.S. invasion.

After U.S. troops invaded Iraq and toppled President Saddam Hussein in 2003, staunch anti-Castro exiles in Miami were calling for "Cuba next."

The Bush administration two years ago launched a plan to undermine Castro with tightened economic sanctions and hasten a transition to multiparty democracy.


Wreckage of downed B-26 bombers and a captured M-41 tank exhibited at a museum recall the disastrous landing at Playa Giron beach in the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's south coast.

At dawn on April 17, 1961, as the B-26s strafed coastal villages, 1,500 Cuban exiles organized and armed by the CIA came ashore in launches from U.S. merchant ships. Two days before, the B-26s had bombed Cuba's three main air bases.

"At first we thought it was thunder and lightning when the attack began," said retired sugar mill worker Ramon Medina, 62, who joined up as a militia fighter. "We could not believe they would land in such an inhospitable place," he said.

The invaders never got beyond the mosquito-infested swamps surrounding the Bay of Pigs, as Castro's government scrambled to defend itself.

After three days of fighting, the invaders were defeated, 108 had been killed and 1,197 captured, their hopes of sparking an uprising against Castro dashed.

A year later, the prisoners were returned to the United States after Washington paid out $53 million in food and medicines in exchange for their release.

The invasion was a diplomatic embarrassment for U.S. President John F. Kennedy and served to strengthen Castro, who declared his government to be Socialist on the eve of the imminent attack.

It also pushed Cuba into a strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, leading to the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Senior Iranian aide irks Washington with US visit

Senior Iranian aide irks Washington with US visit
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the United States tries to push other nations to impose a travel ban on Iranian government officials over Tehran's nuclear program, a senior Iranian official has created embarrassment in Washington by slipping into the country for a visit this month.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday he had heard that Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior aide to Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, was in Washington but he had not met U.S. officials and his presence was being looked into.

"It's a matter of interest for us and if I have any other information to share on the matter today or in the days ahead, I'll do so," McCormack told reporters.

Nahavandian's successful entry into the United States is embarrassing for Washington, which is pushing hard for other countries to impose travel restrictions on Iranian officials in talks in Moscow this week.

The talks follow Iran's announcement last week that it had enriched uranium for use in fueling power stations for the first time in defiance of a March 29 U.N. Security Council demand that it halt its enrichment program.

McCormack declined to say how Nahavandian got into the United States, where strict restrictions are in place on Iranian officials wanting to visit.

Nahavandian was in the United States legally, but not enter with a visa. This could mean he holds legal permanent residency in the United States or be traveling on the passport of a country where visas were not needed, said McCormack.

"We have no record of issuing a visa to a person with this name," he said, noting that the United States does not have diplomatic ties with Tehran and there are clear restrictions on travel by Iranian officials.

For example, Iranian diplomats at the United Nations in New York can travel only within a limited area.

The Financial Times quoted an Iranian advisor this month as saying Nahavandian was in Washington to float the idea of direct talks between the two countries.

But McCormack ruled out any possibility of U.S. officials meeting Nahavandian and reiterated the United States would not hold direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

"We have not issued an invitation to any such individual and at this point have no plans to do so," he said.

While rejecting any talks over Tehran's nuclear program, the Bush administration has given its ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, permission to meet Iranian officials. However, those talks will be limited to Iraq.

Leading Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has urged the Bush administration to hold direct talks with Tehran, a suggestion U.S. officials have rejected.


Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing

The New York Times
David Leonhardt
Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing

A FEW years ago, stories about a scary new kind of outsourcing began making the rounds. Apparently, hospitals were starting to send their radiology work to India, where doctors who make far less than American radiologists do were reading X-rays, M.R.I.'s and CT scans.

It quickly became a signature example of how globalization was moving up the food chain, threatening not just factory and call center workers but the so-called knowledge workers who were supposed to be immune. If radiologists and their $350,000 average salaries weren't safe from the jobs exodus, who was?

On ABC, George Will said the outsourcing of radiology could make health care affordable again, to which Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York retorted that thousands of American radiologists would lose their jobs. On NPR, an economist said the pay of radiologists was already suffering. At the White House, an adviser to President Bush suggested that fewer medical students would enter the field in the future.

"We're losing radiologists," Representative Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said on CNN while Lou Dobbs listened approvingly. "We're losing all kinds of white-collar jobs, all kinds of jobs in addition to manufacturing jobs, which we're losing by the droves in my state."

But up in Boston, Frank Levy, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, realized that he still had not heard or read much about actual Indian radiologists. Like the once elusive Snuffleupagus of Sesame Street, they were much discussed but rarely seen. So Mr. Levy began looking. He teamed up with two other M.I.T. researchers, Ari Goelman and Kyoung-Hee Yu, and they dug into the global radiology business.

In the end, they were able to find exactly one company in India that was reading images from American patients. It employs three radiologists. There may be other such radiologists scattered around India, but Mr. Levy says, "I think 20 is an overestimate."

Some exodus.

URBAN myths feed off real fears, and this myth caught on because Americans don't know quite what to think about globalization. There is no doubt that trade makes countries richer, but it also creates victims. And since the country is doing almost nothing right now to ease the burden of those victims — the people whose jobs really have gone to India or another country — it is easy to become scared.

Radiologists seem like just the sort of workers who should be scared. Computer networks can now send an electronic image to India faster than a messenger can take it from one hospital floor to another. Often, those images are taken during emergencies at night, when radiologists here are sleeping and radiologists in India are not.

There also happens to be a shortage of radiologists in the United States. Sophisticated new M.R.I. and CT machines can detect tiny tumors that once would have gone unnoticed, and doctors are ordering a lot more scans as a result.

When I talked last week to E. Stephen Amis Jr., the head of the radiology department at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he had just finished looking at some of the 700 images that had been produced by a single abdominal CT exam. "We were just taking pictures of big, thick slabs of the body 20 years ago," Dr. Amis said. "Now we're taking thinner and thinner slices."

Economically, in other words, radiology has a lot in common with industries that are outsourcing jobs. It has high labor costs, it's growing rapidly and it's portable.

Politically, though, radiology could not be more different. Unlike software engineers, textile workers or credit card customer service employees, doctors have enough political power to erect trade barriers, and they have built some very effective ones.

To practice medicine in this country, doctors are generally required to have done their training here. Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to be certified by a board of other doctors or be licensed by a state government. The three radiologists Mr. Levy found in Bangalore did their residencies at Baylor, Yale and the University of Massachusetts before returning home to India.

"No profession I know of has as much power to self-regulate as doctors do," Mr. Levy said.

So even if the world's most talented radiologist happened to have trained in India, there would be no test he could take to prove his mettle here. It's as if the law required cars sold here to have been made by the graduates of an American high school.

Much as the United Automobile Workers might love such a law, Americans would never tolerate it, because it would drive up the price of cars and keep us from enjoying innovations that happened to come from overseas. But isn't that precisely what health care protectionism does? It keeps out competition.

For now, the practical effect on radiology is small. At its highest levels, the United States health care system may be the best the world has ever known. India doesn't even have many radiologists today, let alone a large number who measure up to American standards.

But that's going to change. Eventually, Indian doctors will be able to do the preliminary diagnoses that are a big part of radiology. Something similar will happen in accounting, architecture, education, engineering and the law, as Mr. Levy and his colleagues suggest in the coming Milken Institute Review.

These fields tend to be regulated already, giving them noble excuses — like certification, client privacy and legal accountability — to put up trade barriers. But the real reason will usually be a simple desire to protect jobs and salaries.

When factory workers have asked for that kind of protection, the country has told them no. So why does the answer change when the request comes from a wealthier, more influential group of workers?



Bush administration has yet to comprehensively improve sharing of counterterrorism information among dozens of federal agencies
GAO Faults Agencies' Sharing of Terror Data
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer

Despite more than four years of legislation, executive orders and presidential directives, the Bush administration has yet to comprehensively improve sharing of counterterrorism information among dozens of federal agencies -- and between them and thousands of nonfederal partners, government investigators have concluded.

Repeated deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have not been met, according to a 34-page report issued late Monday by the Government Accountability Office. While acknowledging the "complexity of the task," the report notes that responsibility for the effort has shifted since late 2001 from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Homeland Security, and now resides with the director of national intelligence. "None has yet completed the task," the report noted.

The GAO expressed "disappointment" that Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte declined to address its findings beyond a letter saying that "the review of intelligence activities is beyond GAO's purview." Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine), who requested the investigation along with several House chairmen, issued a statement yesterday regretting the DNI response and noting that she co-sponsored the 2004 law that mandated the information-sharing and created Negroponte's job.

The failure of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information that might have warned of a pending terrorist attack was cited by investigations that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Delays in developing a comprehensive system to link counterterrorism efforts and information among federal agencies have long been attributed to what Negroponte has called their individual "cultures" and a reluctance to cooperate with one another.

Last spring, the president appointed a "program manager" in Negroponte's office to develop what is formally known as an "Information Sharing Environment," or ISE, across the entire government. In October, Bush issued an executive order setting priorities for developing a system, followed on Dec. 19 by a presidential memorandum requiring all executive department and agency heads to support ISE efforts.

In January, ISE manager John Russack, an intelligence veteran, resigned after complaining of inadequate staffing and budget. A new manager, former State Department counterterrorism adviser Thomas E. McNamara, was named by the White House last month. A new deadline for the ISE system has been set for December.

The GAO report cited several initiatives underway. They include the establishment by the FBI of 103 joint terrorism task forces around the country staffed with FBI officers as well as state and local law enforcement officers; FBI-Department of Homeland Security collaboration in distributing terrorism-related intelligence bulletins to local law enforcement, and the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

The NCTC was established to prevent individual agencies from hoarding terrorism information. It collects and analyzes terrorist threat information from 26 different government databases and shares it online with what NCTC spokesman Mark Mansfield said are "about 5,500 users from throughout the federal counterterrorism community, a more than 30 percent increase in the past year alone."

The report did not fault the NCTC operation but noted the lack of "government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information that is critical to protecting our homeland."

It was particularly critical of the lack of standards for "sensitive but unclassified homeland security information" that is subject to limited distribution and not to be made public. A wide range of federal agencies including the departments of Defense, Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security reported using 56 different designations to identify such information, including "For Official Use Only," "Protected Critical Infrastructure Information," "Limited Distribution Information" and "Sensitive Information."

Many use the same terms, but with widely different definitions, or use different terminology or restrictive phrases for what is essentially the same information. Most of the 26 federal agencies surveyed reported they had no firm policies for such designations or individuals specifically authorized to impose them.

In a reflection of ongoing mistrust, 11 of the agencies said they had concerns about the ability of other parties to protect sensitive information, and some complained that information disseminated to state and local partners had on occasion been posted on public Web sites.

State and local first responders told GAO investigators that the multiplicity of designations and lack of common federal standards "not only causes confusion but leads to an alternating feast or famine of information" that either left them in the dark or overwhelmed them with identical information from multiple federal sources.


Iraq contractor pleads guilty to fraud

Iraq contractor pleads guilty to fraud, US says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. contractor in Iraq pleaded guilty in connection with a bid-rigging scheme designed to defraud the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

In a plea deal unsealed in federal court, contractor Philip Bloom admitted that between December 2003 and December 2005, he conspired with some public officials, including several U.S. Army officers, to rig bids on Iraq rebuilding contracts.

The total value of the contracts awarded to Bloom exceeded $8.6 million for construction and demolition projects, the department said.

Bloom admitted paying the authority and U.S. military officials more than $2 million in money and gifts, the department said. In exchange, they used their official positions to award contracts to Bloom and his companies.

Bloom faces up to 40 years in prison, a five-year term of supervised release, and a fine of $750,000, the department said. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he must pay $3.6 million in restitution and forfeit another $3.6 million in assets to the U.S. government.

Bloom's lawyer, John Nassikas, said he was in federal custody in Washington. Nassikas said he was seeking to have Bloom released on bail and hoped his sentence would be "substantially reduced" because of his cooperation with authorities.

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority governed Iraq after the March 2003 invasion. Iraqi authorities took control in June 2004.

Stuart Bowen, the U.S. inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the case underscored the Washington's determination to prosecute contractors for committing crimes in Iraq, even if they involved Iraqi funds.

"It's a sign that oversight works, that deterrence is important and it sends a message to others that have committed crimes that we are on the case," Bowen told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Bowen said 70 additional criminal investigations were under way now, but declined to give details about the amount of money involved in those cases.


Germany to open Holocaust archive

Germany to open Holocaust archive
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

Germany is to open up a huge archive of Nazi records on concentration camp inmates and slave labourers, ending a long-running dispute.

Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries announced the move during a US visit.

The files contain detailed information about more than 17 million people who went through the concentration camp and slave labour system.

Until now, Germany had resisted international pressure to allow access, citing privacy considerations.

Personal details

The files are locked up at a former SS barracks in Bad Arolsen in central Germany.

The International Red Cross has used the files to help trace people for relatives who lost contact during the war. It still gets around 150,000 requests a year.

Over several years, there has been growing pressure to open the archive for historical research and for survivors to have direct access.

The US and UK have pushed for the files to be opened, as have Jewish groups, but Germany has always resisted, citing privacy considerations.

The files contain details ranging from the results of lice inspections to the possession of insurance policies.

Germany had feared that it would be the target of legal action if this information became public. These concerns seem now to have been put to rest.

It is not expected that the opening of the archives will have major legal implications because the deadlines set for international class action lawsuits have now passed.

The decision to open the archive can now be formally approved in May when representatives of the 11 countries which are responsible for it next meet.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Habeas Corpus Case Turns on Buttons Worn at Trial

The New York Times
Supreme Court Roundup
Habeas Corpus Case Turns on Buttons Worn at Trial

WASHINGTON, April 17 — During Mathew Musladin's murder trial before a California jury 12 years ago, three members of the victim's family sat in a prominent position behind the prosecutor, wearing buttons that displayed the victim's photograph.

The defense lawyer complained that the buttons would prejudice the jury against Mr. Musladin, a complaint the trial judge rejected. After Mr. Musladin was convicted of killing his former wife's boyfriend, a California appeals court also rejected the argument that the buttons had deprived him of a fair trial. So did the Federal District Court in San Francisco.

But last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, also in San Francisco, disagreed, granting Mr. Musladin's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ordering the state to give him a new trial. The Supreme Court accepted California's appeal on Monday in order to decide whether the appeals court properly applied the rigorous test that Congress set in 1996 for federal court review of state convictions.

The case, which the justices will hear next fall, could therefore have an impact considerably beyond the unusual facts — facts that are so unusual that there is no directly applicable Supreme Court precedent. Indeed, that is the basis of the state's appeal.

The 1996 law, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, imposed a new limit on federal courts' consideration of state prison inmates' petitions for habeas corpus, which are challenges to the constitutionality of a conviction or sentence. Such petitions could be granted, Congress wrote, only if the highest state court to consider the case had issued a decision that was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

In looking at the button question, the Ninth Circuit explored Supreme Court precedents that were rather wide of the mark, including, for example, a 1976 case holding that it was inherently prejudicial to force a defendant to appear before the jury in prison clothes. For guidance on what spectators, as opposed to prisoners, may or may not wear, the appeals court turned to one of its own precedents, a 1990 case called Norris v. Risley that overturned a rape conviction because several women in the spectators' gallery had worn buttons that said "Women Against Rape."

Writing for the Ninth Circuit in the Musladin case, Judge Stephen Reinhardt acknowledged that the Norris decision was not a Supreme Court precedent. But he said it was "persuasive" evidence of an underlying principle of federal law, derived from relevant Supreme Court decisions that deemed prejudice against a defendant to be "inherent" because of an "impermissible factor" in the courtroom.

In its Supreme Court appeal, Carey v. Musladin, No. 05-785, California is arguing that the Ninth Circuit failed to show proper deference to the state court and ignored the requirement of the 1996 federal statute that "the only source of clearly established law" is the United State Supreme Court.

These were among the other developments at the court on Monday.

Refugee Status

In a unanimous, unsigned opinion, the court overturned a ruling by the Ninth Circuit that a family of white South Africans was eligible for consideration as refugees.

The four members of the family, whose last name is Thomas, had told immigration officials that they feared persecution in South Africa because a relative, known as "Boss Ronnie," was known for mistreating black workers at his construction company. The family recounted several instances of vandalism to which they had been subjected. An immigration judge, in a decision affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals, denied asylum and found the Thomases eligible for deportation.

In overturning the immigration board, the Ninth Circuit found that the family met the definition of "a particular social group," one of the categories that the Immigration and Nationality Act makes potentially eligible for asylum. The appeals court then sent the case back to the immigration board for an examination of the particulars of the Thomases' case.

In Gonzales v. Thomas, No. 05-552, the government appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the appeals court had usurped the immigration agency's role in assessing whether kinship should be treated as an eligible asylum category. The justices agreed. Whether "persons related to Boss Ronnie" should be deemed a "particular social group" was for immigration officials, and not judges, to decide in the first instance, the opinion said.

Chinese Detainees

Without comment, the court turned down an appeal filed on behalf of two Chinese Muslims, members of the Uighur ethnic minority, who are being detained at the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The two men, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu' Al-Hakim, were captured four years ago in Pakistan and were determined more than a year ago not to be enemy combatants. They are seeking release from confinement but do not want to be returned to China. The Federal District Court here ruled in December that even though their continued detention was unlawful, the men were not entitled to entry into the United States and consequently could not be released.

The federal appeals court here is scheduled to hear an appeal of that ruling on May 8. Lawyers for the men sought immediate Supreme Court review, something the court rarely grants. The lawyers argued that an exception was warranted in this case, Qassim v. Bush, No. 05-892, under the unusual circumstance in which "a federal court has ruled itself impotent to remedy imprisonment by the Executive in a case within its jurisdiction."

Urging the court not to hear the case, the administration said the men's continued detention "does not establish that they are suffering irreparable harm requiring this court's immediate intervention." There were "substantial ongoing diplomatic efforts" to find an "appropriate country" to take the men, the government's brief said, adding: "The Executive's power to detain enemy combatants necessarily includes the authority to wind up detention in an orderly fashion."