Saturday, May 27, 2006

FactCheck: Misleading Ads Deny Global Warming
Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To "Confuse and Mislead"

The Competitive Enterprise Institute runs ads saying "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker." A professor objects, saying CEI deliberately misrepresents his research.


The business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released two ads last week to "counter global warming alarmism."

One of the ads says research shows "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. . . Why are they trying to scare us?" Actually, scientists say increased snowfall in Antarctica's interior is evidence that global warming is taking place. Scientists also say that the ice sheet is melting at the ocean's edge and a recent report says it is shrinking overall.

The ads drew a protest from a University of Missouri professor who says they are "a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate." He said one of them misuses a study he published in Science magazine last year on the Antarctic ice sheet. An editor of Science also said the ads misrepresent the findings of that study as well as a second study on Greenland's glaciers.

The second CEI ad notes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is "essential to life," and says, "they call it pollution. We call it life." That ad fails to mention that too much CO2 can cause global temperatures to rise or that there is more of it in the atmosphere than any time during the last 420,000 years.

CEI, which gets just over 9 per cent of its budget from Exxon Mobil Corporation, said it was only trying to make sure the public hears "both sides of the story."


CEI released two ads last week as part of a $50,000 ad buy in 14 cities scheduled to take place from May 18th to May 28th.

CEI Ad: "Glaciers"

Announcer: You've seen those headlines about Global Warming. The glaciers are melting. We’re doomed! That's what several studies supposedly found.
(The Cover of Science Magazine is shown opening up)
Announcer: But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite: Greenland ’s glaciers are growing, not melting; The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. Did you see any big headlines about that? Why are they trying to scare us? Global warming alarmists claim the glaciers are melting because of carbon dioxide from the fuels we use. Let’s force people to cut back, they say.

But we depend on those fuels to grow our food, move our children, light up our lives. And as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke. It’s what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.

Misrepresenting Conclusions

The CEI ad "Glacier" quotes two studies in Science magazine, one as saying " Greenland’s glaciers are growing, not melting" and the other as saying "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner." That drew quick objection from an editor of Science and from the author of the Antarctica study.

Brooks Hanson, a deputy editor at Science, complained in a May 19 news release that CEI was misrepresenting both the studies and also the general state of scientific knowledge:

Hanson: The text of the CEI ad misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers and our current state of knowledge by selective referencing.

The lead author of the Antarctica study, University of Missouri professor Curt Davis, said in the same release that CEI was twisting his findings deliberately to mislead the public:

Davis: "These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate. They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public.

For one thing, the release said, Davis' study only reported growth for the East Antarctic ice sheet, not the entire Antarctic ice sheet. More importantly, it said that growth of the interior ice sheet is just what scientists had predicted would happen as a consequence of global climate warming, bringing about more snowfall in previously arid regions of the continent.

Davis's study indicated the increased ice accumulation in the interior might be offsetting the loss of ice at the coastal regions, or might not. It said that whether the entire ice sheet is shrinking "will depend on the balance between mass changes on the interior and those in coastal areas."

What CEI Says

CEI posted a rejoinder to this criticism on their website. In it, they say:

CEI: Professor Davis admits that he doesn't know whether the coastal losses offset or outweigh the gains in the interior. This is precisely our point - the public needs to hear both sides of the story not just the coastal loss, if they are to judge whether we face an imminent catastrophe justifying policies that would drastically affect our way of life.

Actually, a more recent study (also published in Science magazine) says satellite measurements show that the ice sheet as a whole is in fact shrinking "significantly," and that most of the loss is taking place in the smaller West Antarctic ice sheet.

That study, by Isabella Velicogna of the University of Colorado and John Wahr of the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, used satellite measures of gravity to estimate the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet during 2002–2005. "We found that the mass of the ice sheet decreased significantly," the study said. It estimated the rate of loss at between 80 and 152 cubic kilometers of ice per year.

Greenland, too

As for Greenland, the CEI ad says its glaciers "are growing, not melting." That's a misrepresentation of a study by five scientists from Norway, Russia and the US published by Science magazine in November 2005. That study did report that the ice sheet in the interior of Greenland had grown thicker over the 11 years ending in 2003. But it reached no conclusion about whether "Greenland's glaciers" were growing or melting overall. The study said it is conceivable that melting at the coast more than offset the growth in the interior, and that the "the 11-year-long data set developed here remains too brief to establish long-term trends." It called for more measurement by newer, better satellite sensors to calculate what is going on with Greenland's glaciers overall.

A more recent study in Science, published in February, reports that Greenland's glaciers accelerated their movement to the sea between 1996 and 2000. It concluded, "As more glaciers accelerate farther north, the contribution of Greenland to sea-level rise will continue to increase. "

CO2: Too Much of a Good thing

A second ad, "Energy," downplays the adverse effects of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by identifying it as a natural biological occurrence.

CEI Ad: "Energy"

Announcer: There’s something in these pictures you can’t see. It’s essential to life. We breathe it out.Plants breathe it in. It comes from animal life, the oceans, the earth, and the fuels we find in it. It’s called carbon dioxide---CO2. The fuels that produce C02 have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor, lighting up our lives, allowing us to create and move the things we need, the people we love. Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then? Carbon dioxide.

They call it pollution. We call it life.
The ad correctly asserts, "we breathe it out, plants breathe it in." As many of us learned in high school biology classes, humans and animals breathe in oxygen and out carbon dioxide, and plants take in the carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

The ad goes on to say, "they call it pollution, we call it life." It is true that some politicians and environmental groups want to label CO2 as a "pollutant." Several environmental groups, states and municipalities are currently suing the EPA to do so.

But they are doing so for regulatory purposes so that CO2 emissions can be brought under the Clean Air Act. Nobody is claiming that they are as damaging to health as nitrous forms of pollutants such as smog and smoke. But in June 2005, the science academies of 11 leading industrial nations (including the National Academy of Sciences from the US) released a statement listing CO2 as a greenhouse gas and saying :

Joint Statement: Carbon Dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today - higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise .

Heeding his own advice

Even though CEI minimizes the impact of carbon dioxide, they still take Al Gore to task for his carbon footprint as a result of his travel surrounding his "Inconvenient Truth" presentation and documentary.

They posted a video with their TV ads as a "special web only bonus." It includes quotes from Gore's film about taking personal accountability for global warming with such actions as telecommuting, and limiting air travel. The video then shows Gore's lengthy air travel schedule and displays a rolling meter of carbon dioxide output and challenging Gore to start "walking the walk."

He says he is. According to NativeEnergy, Paramount Classics and Participant Productions plan to announce that they offset 100% of the global warming impact from production activities. In addition, NativeEnergy is offsetting all CO2 from Mr. Gore’s travel to discuss and promote the film and book. This is achieved by calculating how much CO2 your activities produce and purchasing the corresponding amount of credits to generate renewable energy.

Who funds CEI

CEI is supported, in part, by several major corporations and corporate foundations, including oil companies, according to the liberal organization SourceWatch. In 2004 CEI declared revenues of $2,919,537 with the IRS, according to their Form 990. Just over 9 per cent of that total, $270,000, came from donations from ExxonMobil, according to the oil company's 2004 Worldwide Contributions and Community Investments Report. Exxon said two-thirds of their donation was earmarked for "Global Climate Change and Global Climate Change Outreach."

by Justin Bank


Davis, Curt H.; Yonghang, Li; McConnell, Joseph R.; Frey, Markus M.; Hanna, Edward, "Snowfall-Driven Growth in East Antarctic Ice Sheet Mitigates Recent Sea-Level Rise."

Eilperin, Juliet, "Antarctic Ice Sheet is Melting," Washington Post . 3 March 2005.

Johannessen, Ola M.; Khvorostovsky, Kirill; Miles, Martin W.; Bobylev, Leonid P., "Recent Ice Sheet Growth in the Interior of Greenland," Science . 11 Nov 2005.

Rignot, Eric and Kanagaratnam, "Changes in the Velocity Structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet," Science. 17 Feb 2006.

Vedantam, Shankar, "Glacier Melt Could Signal Faster Rise in Ocean Level," Washington Post. 17 Feb 2006.

Velicogna, Isabella and Wahr, John, "Measurements of Time-Variable Gravity Show Mass Loss in Antarctica," Science. 24 March 2006.

Vergano, Dan, "Greenland Glacier Runoff Doubles over Past Decade," USA Today . 17 Feb 2006.

Press Release, "MU Professor Refutes National Television Ads Downplaying Global Warming," University of Missouri. 19 May 2006.

Press Release, "CEI Launches Ad Campaign to Counter Global Warming Alarmism," CEI, 17 May 2005.

Joint Statement of Science Academies: Global Response to Climate Change, 2005.


Gretchen Dykstra Resigns As Head Of WTC Memorial Foundation

NY1 News
Gretchen Dykstra Resigns As Head Of WTC Memorial Foundation

World Trade Center Memorial Foundation President Gretchen Dykstra resigned Friday, just weeks after the organization suspended fundraising amid news the project is over budget.

Dykstra, who has headed the foundation for the past year, stepped down from her post in a letter to the organization’s executive committee in which she said the fight over the project's budget and design had grown to include too many players.

“There is a general agreement that the multiplicity of authorities makes it difficult for anyone to move expeditiously,” Dykstra wrote. “Perhaps it would help if there were one less player.”

Dykstra’s resignation will take effect immediately. WTC Memorial Foundation General Counsel Joseph Daniels will serve as acting president.

Dykstra has faced criticism ever since she revealed last month that the foundation she headed had only raised $130 million for the project so far.

The WTC Memorial Foundation suspended its fundraising efforts earlier this month after the price tag soared to nearly $1 billion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki responded by capping the project's budget at $500 million.

The foundation says it’s going to have to make cuts to bring the costs in line with its original budget. Bloomberg and Pataki have appointed developer Frank Sciame to make changes to the memorial design, called “Reflecting Absence,” and pare down the rising project costs.

Any changes Sciame recommends will be reviewed by the mayor and governor, and go up for public comment.

The deadline for recommendations is June 15th.


Gonzales, Mueller threaten to quit if directed to reliquish evidence seized in possible illegal search

The New York Times
Gonzales Said He Would Quit in Raid Dispute

WASHINGTON, May 26 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday.

Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress.

The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.

The evidence was seized by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last Saturday night in a search of the office of Representative William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana. The search set off an uproar of protest by House leaders in both parties, who said the intrusion by an executive branch agency into a Congressional office violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine. They demanded that the Justice Department return the evidence.

The possibility of resignations underscored the gravity of the crisis that gripped the Justice Department as the administration grappled with how to balance the pressure from its own party on Capitol Hill against the principle that a criminal investigation, especially one involving a member of Congress, should be kept well clear of political considerations.

It is not clear precisely what message Mr. Gonzales delivered to Mr. Bush when they met Thursday morning at the White House, or whether he informed the president of the resignation talk. But hours later, the White House announced that the evidence would be sealed for 45 days in the custody of the solicitor general, the Justice Department official who represents the government before the Supreme Court. That arrangement ended the talk of resignations.

F.B.I. officials would not comment Friday on Mr. Mueller's thinking or on whether his views had been communicated to the president.

The White House said Mr. Bush devised the 45-day plan as a way to cool tempers in Congress and the Justice Department. "The president saw both sides becoming more entrenched," said Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush's counselor. "Emotions were running high; that's why the president felt he had to weigh in."

Tensions were especially high because officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. viewed the Congressional protest, led by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and House Republicans, as largely a proxy fight for battles likely to come over criminal investigations into other Republicans in Congress.

Separate investigations into the activities of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Randy Cunningham, the former congressman from California, have placed several other Republicans under scrutiny; in the Cunningham case, federal authorities have informally asked to interview nine former staff members of the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees.

By Friday, the strong words and tense behind-the-scenes meetings of the previous few days had been replaced, in public at least, by conciliatory terms and images of accommodation. Mr. Gonzales traveled to Capitol Hill and met with Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, as Republican leaders explored a formal procedure to cover any future searches.

"We've been working hard already, and we'll continue to do so pursuant to the president's order," Mr. Gonzales told reporters on his way to the meeting.

After the meeting, Mr. Frist said, "I want to know as leader exactly what would happen if there was a similar sort of case."

Senior lawmakers in the House and Senate said their intent was not to prohibit searches of Congressional offices if there was a legitimate reason. But they said the Jefferson case powerfully illustrated how Congress and the administration had no set guidelines for how such a search should be done, what notice was required and how law enforcement and House authorities would interact.

But within the Justice Department and the F.B.I., some officials complained that the 45-day cooling-off arrangement was a politically motivated intrusion into the investigative process. Others said the deal was preferable to what some called the potential "cataclysm" of possible resignations if the department had been ordered to give up the material, as one official briefed on the negotiations described it. This official and others at the department and the F.B.I. were granted anonymity to discuss a continuing criminal case.

At the Justice Department, there was hope that the courts might quickly resolve the issue. Government lawyers prepared a brief on Friday in opposition to the motion filed by lawyers for Mr. Jefferson seeking the return of materials taken from his office. The F.B.I. search was conducted on the basis of a search warrant issued by a federal judge, T. S. Ellis, in Alexandria, Va.

On Friday, Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi and chairman of the Rules Committee, said he had been meeting with Senate counsel to explore potential procedures and had given Mr. Frist a memorandum on a possible approach.

"The Justice Department is going to have to look at what we put in place and agree to it," Mr. Lott said. "I hope we can work it out."

But he said, "I am perfectly willing to get it on with the administration and take it right to the Supreme Court if they want to argue over it."

To some, the most astounding aspect of the Jefferson clash is that the question has never arisen before in two centuries of assorted Congressional criminality and misconduct.

At the same time, law enforcement officials said the deal did not mean that the Jefferson investigation would stop until the disagreement about the evidence was resolved. Mr. Jefferson has denied wrongdoing, but within law enforcement circles it is regarded as all but certain — based on evidence already collected — that he will face indictment on bribery-related charges.

On Friday, Brent Pfeffer, a former aide to the lawmaker, was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges related to a kickback scheme involving Mr. Jefferson, identified in court documents only as "Representative A."

Mr. Pfeffer said he was an intermediary in an effort by Mr. Jefferson to obtain money from a Kentucky telecommunications firm for help getting contracts in Nigeria.

The investigation is being handled by the United States attorney's office in Alexandria, which until recently was headed by Mr. McNulty. He was the chief negotiator for the Justice Department in trying to reach an accommodation with the House.

Mr. McNulty seemed like the perfect point person on Capitol Hill for Mr. Gonzales. He was the chief counsel for the House majority leader when former Representative Dick Armey, Republican of Texas, had the job. And Mr. McNulty was chief counsel and spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

But it was Mr. McNulty who appeared to lead the protest at the Justice Department, telling House officials that he would quit rather than obey an order to return the search material to Mr. Jefferson.

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting for this article.


Gonzales's Rationale on Phone Data Disputed
Gonzales's Rationale on Phone Data Disputed
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer

Civil liberties lawyers yesterday questioned the legal basis that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales used Tuesday to justify the constitutionality of collecting domestic telephone records as part of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism program.

While not confirming a USA Today report May 11 saying the National Security Agency has been collecting phone-call records of millions of Americans, Gonzales said such an activity would not require a court warrant under a 1979 Supreme Court ruling because it involved obtaining "business records." Under the 27-year-old court ruling in Smith v. Maryland , "those kinds of records do not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection," Gonzales said. "There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those kinds of records," he added.

Noting that Congress in 1986 passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in reaction to the Smith v. Maryland ruling to require court orders before turning over call records to the government, G. Jack King Jr. of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said Gonzales is correct in saying "the administration isn't violating the Fourth Amendment" but "he's failing to acknowledge that it is breaking" the 1986 law, which requires a court order "with a few very narrow exceptions."

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said, "The government is bound by the laws Congress passes, and when the attorney general doesn't even mention them, it is symptomatic of the government's profound disrespect for the rule of law."

Gonzales, in addition to mentioning the Supreme Court case on Tuesday, said there "is a statutory right of privacy" but "with respect to business records there are a multiple number of ways that the government can have access to that information," including issuing national security letters, a type of administrative subpoena.

King noted that the USA Patriot Act modified the law to permit counterintelligence access "to telephone toll and transactional records" to allow specific targeting of "a person or entity" by the FBI if the director certifies in writing to the service provider that a customer's information is relevant to an "authorized" terrorism or counterintelligence investigation.

Former deputy attorney general George J. Terwilliger III, a partner in White & Case LLP, said yesterday that he does not believe the 1986 law applies if phone numbers called are being collected "wholesale" without subscriber names or other identifiers.

While saying he does not know what the NSA program involves, Terwilliger said it appears a database of telephone records is being built so it can be queried in real time after a call between the United States and abroad related to a terrorist's phone is made to see what other numbers that U.S. phone had been used to call in the past.


VA Knew Early About Data Theft; Officials Did Not Tell Secretary for 13 Days, Document Shows
VA Knew Early About Data Theft
Officials Did Not Tell Secretary for 13 Days, Document Shows
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer

Senior officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs knew that sensitive personal information about veterans had been stolen from a VA employee's home within hours of the crime but did not tell Secretary Jim Nicholson until 13 days later, according to a VA briefing document.

Michael H. McLendon, VA deputy assistant secretary for policy, learned of the May 3 burglary less than an hour after the worker reported it to his supervisors and to Montgomery County police, according to the briefing document, given to congressional committees this week and obtained yesterday by The Washington Post. McLendon met with two high-ranking VA information security specialists the next day.

Among items stolen from the Aspen Hill home was an external computer hard drive that VA officials say contained the unencrypted names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of 19.6 million to 26.5 million veterans.

The 12-page timeline provides the first detailed accounting of how VA officials reacted to one of the nation's largest information security breaches, an institutional failure that ignited anxiety and anger among millions of veterans concerned about identity theft.

It also reveals new details about the 60-year-old man at the heart of the scandal. He is a senior-level career employee working as an information technology specialist in the Office of Policy. As a GS-14 level employee, he earns between $91,407 and $118,828 a year.

In a meeting with McLendon two days after the theft, the employee "assumed full responsibility, acknowledging he knew he should not have taken the data out of the office," the summary says. James J. O'Neill, VA deputy assistant inspector general for investigations, said in an interview yesterday that the employee is cooperating fully in the investigation. "He reported it [the theft] immediately, and he certainly could have kept it quiet," O'Neill said.

According to the document, Dennis M. Duffy, acting assistant secretary for policy, planning and preparedness, was told of the theft May 5. Duffy asked VA computer security specialists to determine the extent of the data lost and three days later asked them to draft a memo. McLendon convened a meeting of the Office of Policy staff May 9 to stress the importance of data security and had the data analyst discuss his experience.

It was not until that day, May 9, that Duffy informed VA Chief of Staff Thomas Bowman about the theft, suggesting that senior management should discuss the department's obligations to notify veterans whose data may have been compromised. Bowman told Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield, the department's No. 2 official, the next afternoon, but neither man informed Nicholson until May 16, the document shows.

Nicholson told the White House that day but did not inform Congress or the public until six days later, on May 22.

"What the timeline shows is that, once he was informed, the secretary acted quickly, decisively and in the best interest of veterans," said Matt Burns, a VA spokesman.

Burns also said that Mansfield, who predates Nicholson at the department and is a former executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, was told May 10 only that "thousands" of veterans' records may have been compromised. He directed the staff to get more information, Burns said.

"Deputy Secretary Mansfield was not made aware of the full scope and extent of what those records included until the same day the secretary found out," Burns said.

Members of Congress criticized the department's security practices and sluggish response. Some lawmakers and veterans groups have demanded that VA leaders resign or be fired.

"Secretary Nicholson's lack of knowledge about the handling of personal data within his own agency is shameful," said Rep. John T. Salazar (D-Colo.), who has introduced a bill that would provide veterans one year of free credit monitoring. "And the agency's two-week coverup of the data theft has been completely irresponsible. . . . The people in charge, like Secretary Nicholson, need to be held accountable."

Jim Mueller, head of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said in a statement yesterday that the entire episode "reflects a serious lack of leadership, management and accountability" in the department.

"To not inform your boss of what can only be described as the worst crisis in the VA's history is unconscionable, inexcusable and does tremendous injury to America's veterans," Mueller said. "These individuals cannot be trusted to fix what they allowed to happen."


ABC News' Report on Speaker Hastert Set off a Wave of Reaction From Chicago Talk Radio to the Floor of the House of Representatives

ABC News
Hastert Fights Back Against ABC News Report
ABC News' Report on Speaker Hastert Set off a Wave of Reaction From Chicago Talk Radio to the Floor of the House of Representatives.

May 25, 2006 — - ABC News' story about Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert set off a wave of reaction from Chicago talk radio to the wells of the Capitol. There it seems to have added fuel to the fire in the dispute between the executive branch and Congress.

The Department of Justice issued two separate denials of our report that officials had told us Speaker Hastert was "in the mix" of the investigation into Congress.

The speaker and his colleagues suggested the FBI was out to get him with a bogus story.

As he gaveled the House to order this morning, Hastert was praised, and ABC News was denounced by his Republican colleagues.

"This is a case of sensationalism over reporting," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.

Congressman Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska, said, "This non-credible journalism I think degrades freedom of speech and the reputation of journalists."

On WGN Radio in Chicago, Hastert said the story was a leak planted by the FBI to intimidate him.

"It's just not true, you know, the Justice Department said there is no investigation, and this is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people, and we're just not gonna be intimidated on it," he said.

ABC News Stands by Its Report

As for the facts of ABC News' story itself, this is what we've confirmed today:

That the FBI interrogation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff included specific and repeated questions about his relationship with Hastert along with other members of Congress.

That, although Hastert is not a formal target, the FBI has been looking into a letter Hastert and others sent to the Secretary of the Interior urging her to block an Indian casino that would have competed with casinos represented by Abramoff.

That a few days before the letter was sent, Abramoff hosted a fundraiser for Hastert at a restaurant he owned.

The Speaker today said the letter repeated long-held views about certain Indian casino rules.

"So it was a letter saying this precedent shouldn't be set," Hastert told reporters today.

When questioned about the letter's timing, after a fundraiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Jack Abramoff, Hastert replied, "That's a coincidence."

But long before ABC News' story aired, public interest groups had asked the Department of Justice to investigate Hastert and other members of Congress in light of the contributions they had received from Abramoff.

"That's very unusual activity, and we believed it needed to be and needs to be investigated," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to pursuit of democracy for all Americans.


Judge Says Reporters Must Turn Over Some Documents to Former White House Aide I. Lewis Libby

ABC News
Judge: Reporters Must Give Libby Documents
Judge Says Reporters Must Turn Over Some Documents to Former White House Aide I. Lewis Libby
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Time magazine must give I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby drafts of articles so the former White House aide can use them to defend himself against perjury and other charges in the CIA leak case, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton limited the scope of subpoenas that Libby's lawyers had aimed at Time, NBC News and The New York Times for e-mails, notes, drafts of articles and other information.

But in a 40-page ruling, Walton rejected the news organizations' argument that they have a broad right to refuse to provide such information in criminal cases.

Libby, 55, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. He is accused of lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned about CIA officer Valerie Plame and what he subsequently told reporters about her.

Walton said The New York Times might have to turn over drafts of articles and other information during Libby's trial if former Times reporter Judith Miller contradicts her previous statements about the case when she testifies as a government witness.

The judge ruled that Miller doesn't have to surrender two notebooks, her phone records or appointment calendars because the materials aren't relevant to Libby's defense.

NBC News also does not have to give Libby's defense team one page of undated notes taken by correspondent Andrea Mitchell because Walton said she is unlikely to testify at Libby's trial, which is set for January.

In granting in part and denying in part the media's challenges to Libby's subpoenas, Walton wrote, "The First Amendment does not protect a news reporter or that reporter's news organization from producing documents ... in a criminal case."

The news organizations indicated they are not likely to appeal the ruling.

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The Times, said the newspaper is "gratified" that Walton did not order it to give Libby editorial materials.

Walton said Time magazine must turn over drafts of first-person stories that reporter Matthew Cooper wrote about his conversations with Libby because the judge found inconsistencies between them.

All of the news organizations had asked Walton to review the materials sought by Libby's lawyers in hopes of convincing him that the information was not relevant and that the defense was on a "fishing expedition."

During that review, Walton said, he found "a slight alteration between the several drafts of the articles" Cooper wrote about his conversations with Libby and the reporter's first-person account of his testimony before a federal grand jury.

"This slight alteration between the drafts will permit the defendant to impeach Cooper, regardless of the substance of his trial testimony, because his trial testimony cannot be consistent with both versions," Walton wrote.

A person familiar with Cooper's drafts described the inconsistencies as "trivial." The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Walton has warned the case's participants against talking to reporters.

Several news organizations wrote about Plame after syndicated columnist Robert Novak named her in a column on July 14, 2003. Novak's column appeared eight days after Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.

The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger in early 2002 to determine whether there was any truth to reports that Saddam Hussein's government had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger to make a nuclear weapon. Wilson discounted the reports. But the allegation nevertheless wound up in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.

Libby's indictment grew out of conversations he had with Cooper, Miller and NBC's Tim Russert in June and July 2003, a two-month period in which the White House, according to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, was mounting a campaign to undermine Wilson's allegations about the Iraq war.

The key to Libby's defense is whose memory of those conversations is correct Libby's or those of the three reporters.

Walton said Cooper, Miller and Russert are central to the government's case and challenging their recollections will be "critical to the defense."

On the Net:

White House:

Time magazine:

The New York Times:

NBC News:


Hamas discuss plan implying recognition of Israel

Hamas discuss plan implying recognition of Israel
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas and other Palestinian factions on Saturday will discuss a plan indirectly calling for recognition of Israel, which President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to put to a referendum if it is not adopted by early June.

Abbas on Thursday issued his biggest challenge to the Islamist militant Hamas since it won January elections when he threatened to call a referendum on the proposal within 40 days if it is not accepted in 10 days.

The plan, drafted by Palestinian leaders jailed in Israel, includes a clause calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Hamas seeks to destroy the Jewish state and has rejected calls by Abbas and Western powers to soften its stance.

As a result, the United States and other countries have frozen aid to the Palestinian government, a move that has brought it to the brink of financial collapse and could lead to a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and impoverished Gaza.

After two days of talks with several factions, Parliament Speaker and Hamas official Aziz Dweik said the groups would form a committee, chaired by Abbas, which would use the plan as "a suitable ground for national dialogue".

Azzam al-Ahmad, an official from Abbas's Fatah group, said the factions would discuss the proposal on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to unilaterally set Israel's borders in the absence of peace talks, and says Abbas has to "change" Hamas for talks to take place.

The power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has intensified in recent weeks, raising fears of a civil war. The government ordered a new Hamas-led force off Gaza's streets on Friday after several clashes between its members and Abbas loyalists.

A referendum on the proposal Abbas has endorsed could stoke further tensions. But it also might offer Hamas an opportunity to moderate its opposition to Israel and any peace negotiations without having to formally change its stance.

The plan also calls for a peace deal if Israel withdraws from all of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want as a capital of a state.

Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said his group, which is also sworn to destroying Israel, disagreed with parts of the plan. It was unclear whether Abbas would call for a referendum if groups other than Hamas ultimately rejected the proposal.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, had said earlier the government would make no political concessions, while Hamas official Ziad Dia said the group would reject any document that signaled recognizing "the Zionist entity."

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)


Marines may be charged in Iraq civilian deaths

Marines may be charged in Iraq civilian deaths
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Marines could face criminal charges, including murder, over the deaths of up to two dozen Iraqi civilians last year, a defense official said on Friday.

The case could prove a further setback for President Bush who described the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal as America's "biggest mistake" and admitted saying "bring 'em on" to insurgents in 2003 may have "sent the wrong message".

Military and political progress to quell the insurgency has been hard to come by. Iran, blamed by the United States for backing insurgents in Iraq, on Friday ruled out talks with U.S. officials over Iraq because of Washington's "negative" attitude.

The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which handles criminal inquiries involving Marines, is investigating a November 19 incident in Haditha, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The military has said 15 civilians were killed, while a senior Republican lawmaker last week put the number at about 24.

The probe has not been completed and no final decisions on charges have been made, said the defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Los Angeles Times reported investigators were expected to call for charges including murder, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and filing a false report.

The newspaper said military investigators concluded a dozen Marines wantonly killed unarmed civilians, including women and children after a comrade was killed by a roadside bomb.

"Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and retired Marine, said last week.

Marine Corps commander Gen. Michael Hagee flew to Iraq on Thursday to tell his troops to kill "only when justified".

Violence raged across the country again on Friday. One bomb killed nine in Baghdad, and another near a crowded market in the capital killed at least 10 and wounded 18, police said.


Bush has authorized his ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to hold talks with Iran on what Washington says is meddling there by Tehran, but none have so far taken place amid reports of divisions in the U.S. administration.

U.S. and British officials accuse Iran of providing bomb-making expertise and equipment to Iraqis. Leaders of Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Arab minority say Shi'ite and non-Arab Iran is fomenting unrest in Iraq to shackle U.S. military power.

Iran denies the charges and says it does not want talks.

"We had decided to have direct talks on the issue of Iraq with Americans," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki during a visit to Baghdad on Friday.

"Unfortunately, the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda and they raised some other issues. They tried to create a negative atmosphere and that's why the decision which was taken for the time being is suspended," he said.

Mottaki's visit came less than a week after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist, formed a national unity government pledging to curb persistent bloodshed. Iraq's Shi'ite leadership is close to the Islamic Republic.

Washington accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms, and while seeking sanctions, has not ruled military force against Tehran.

Iran says it only wants civilian nuclear technology and Mottaki warned the United States not to attack Iran.

"In the event that Americans attack Iran anywhere, Iran will respond with an attack in that place," he said.

Mottaki said Tehran would invite Iraq's neighbors and Egypt for a meeting on Iraq at "the first opportunity".

"The regional countries at this meeting will emphasize the continuation of a joint determination to help restore peace and security in Iraq," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Omar al-Ibadi, Alastair Macdonald, Aseel Kami, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Georgy and Fredrik Dahl in Baghdad)


Bill lets 9/11 victims file asbestos fund claims

Bill lets 9/11 victims file asbestos fund claims
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sponsors of legislation to compensate U.S. asbestos victims said on Friday they had expanded it to include access to payments for people sickened by the mineral as a result of disasters such as hurricanes or the September 11 attacks.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy announced they were reviving their efforts to get a Senate vote on the bill, which would create a privately financed $140 billion fund to compensate people made ill by work-related exposure to asbestos.

The legislation was shelved in February after it failed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate. Specter, a Republican, and Leahy, a Democrat, said they hoped to bring the expanded version to the Senate floor in the coming months.

"We specifically provided for access to the trust fund for victims who were exposed to asbestos during the attacks on the World Trade Center and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Leahy said in a statement issued by his office.

Asbestos fibers were used in building materials, auto parts and other products for decades, but are linked to cancer and other diseases. Hundreds of thousands of injury claims have pushed over 70 companies into bankruptcy.

Specter and Leahy's bill removes from the courts the injury claims filed by people sickened from exposure to asbestos. Instead, the claims would be paid by a fund, to be financed by asbestos defendant companies and their insurers. The highest individual award, $1.075 million, would go to victims of mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer.

The bill is aimed at compensating work-related asbestos injury claims. Before Specter and Leahy expanded it to include victims of major disasters, the only other major exception allowed claims to be filed by Libby, Montana residents.

Last year, W.R. Grace was charged with conspiring to endanger the Libby community and hide risks from its asbestos-laced vermiculite mine there. Grace denied the charges.

Asbestos victims' groups say the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the attacks of September 11, 2001 released hundreds of tons of toxic asbestos fibers into the atmosphere, and that many of the rescue and recovery workers who responded are suffering from respiratory ailments.

Questions also have been raised about the dangers to the environment of millions of tons of building debris including asbestos left over from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said on Friday that he was placing the asbestos bill on the Senate calendar, meaning it could come up for a vote some time after Congress takes a recess next week.

In February Frist had demanded assurances that Specter and Leahy had enough votes to overcome procedural hurdles before he would agree to bring the bill back to the floor. But, on Friday, his spokeswoman said Frist was "very supportive of moving the bill forward."

Specter said the amended bill would also tighten medical criteria for filing claims, let existing asbestos bankruptcy trusts pay claims during the fund's startup, and ease the burden on smaller companies required to contribute to the fund.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Veteran Data Was Removed Routinely, Official Says

The New York Times
Veteran Data Was Removed Routinely, Official Says

WASHINGTON, May 25 — Officials of the Veterans Affairs Department told angry lawmakers on Thursday that an agency employee had been taking home sensitive data for three years before some of the material was stolen from his residence, compromising the records of 26.5 million veterans.

"He said that he routinely took such data home to work on it, and had been doing so since 2003," George J. Opfer, the department's inspector general, told senators, some of whom expressed amazement at how the department has handled the theft.

Because the data included Social Security numbers and birth dates as well as names, there has been widespread concern that the information could be used by computer-handy criminals for credit card fraud and other forms of identity theft.

Secretary Jim Nicholson said 105,753 calls had been logged from Monday, when his agency set up a special toll-free information line, to Wednesday night.

Mr. Nicholson said he believed computer security had lagged at the agency, which he has headed for just over a year, because of past "embedded cultural resistance" to change.

That inertia is beginning to dissolve, he told a joint hearing of the Veterans Affairs and the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committees.

"But I'm not going to tell you it's what it should be," he replied to a question from Senator Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who heads the homeland security panel.

Mr. Nicholson said that just sending letters to veterans whose data was compromised — those discharged since 1975, plus some veterans getting disability compensation — would cost $11 million to $12 million. He did not specify how much the agency expected to spend on telephone banks, Web sites and other measures, but Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said she expected him to have to ask for more money.

"This responsibility rests on me," Mr. Nicholson told the senators, who greeted him warmly and seemed angry not at him but at the bureaucracy of the 235,000-employee veterans agency, which has been criticized by its own inspector general's office several years in a row for inadequate data security.

It seemed possible from exchanges between Mr. Nicholson and members of the committees that the full dimension of the current data breach, which came about because an agency employee's suburban house was burglarized after he took the data home without authorization, might not yet be known.

Ms. Murray, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee, posed this question: Suppose letters are sent to veterans who have already died and then returned unopened; could spouses or other relatives be vulnerable?

"That's a good question," Mr. Nicholson replied. "We'll have to look at that."

Moreover, he said that the data on some veterans included "numerical disability ratings and the diagnostic codes which identify the disabilities being compensated," enough knowledge for some unauthorized people to compute compensation payments.

Mr. Nicholson said the employee who took the data home had broken no law "as near as I can tell," even though he had violated department policy. He said the employee, a data analyst, had been cooperating with the Montgomery County police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Nicholson said he continued to be outraged over the delay between the burglary, on May 3, and the date he learned about it, May 16. Senators Collins and Larry E. Craig, the Idaho Republican who heads the Veterans Affairs Committee, described the time lag as "baffling," "mind-boggling" and "just unbelievable."


"Kenny Boy" - Once a Friend and Ally, Now a Distant Memory
Once a Friend and Ally, Now a Distant Memory
By Zachary A. Goldfarb

He started as "Kenny Boy." Then he was a "supporter," an acquaintance who had not talked to President Bush in "quite some time." Now he is a man convicted of conspiracy and fraud, and a symbol of corporate corruption.

This is former Enron chief Kenneth L. Lay's transformation in the words of President Bush and his spokesmen -- going from a personal and political ally to someone the White House sought to keep as distant as possible as his role in the multibillion-dollar collapse of the energy giant became clear.

In the 1980s, when Bush was working in the Texas oil industry, his firm invested in a drilling partnership with Lay's company, a predecessor to Enron. In 1992, Lay was co-chairman of the Republican National Convention in Houston that re-nominated President George H.W. Bush.

Later, Lay was a major fundraiser for George W. Bush's political career. He delivered more than $300,000 for his two gubernatorial campaigns, according to Texans for Public Justice. In 1997, Bush wrote to Lay: "Dear Ken, One of the sad things about old friends is that they seem to be getting older -- just like you! 55 years old. Wow. . . . Laura and I value our friendship with you. . . . Your younger friend, George W. Bush."

In the 2000 presidential race, Lay remained a steadfast ally. Lay was a Bush "Pioneer" who raised at least $100,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Enron also made its jet available and contributed to inaugural festivities.

Lay later wrote to the new president and the first lady that he was "so proud of you and look forward to seeing both of you in the White House." But Lay also found influence in the administration.

Vice President Cheney invited Lay to take part in his secret energy task force meetings. Cheney also talked to the Indian government about a debt it owed Enron for the rebuilding of a power plant. Numerous administration officials held Enron stock. Lawrence B. Lindsey, Bush's chief economic adviser at the time, had sat on Enron's board, receiving $50,000.

These connections came to light as Enron collapsed under the weight of a broad accounting fraud. It was also revealed that Enron executives had sought the counsel of administration officials as bankruptcy loomed.

Responding to public outrage, the White House promoted corporate accountability and put space between itself and Enron. Bush said only that "Ken Lay is a supporter," and that he "first got to know Ken" in 1994 when "he was a supporter of Ann Richards," the Democratic governor Bush ousted. Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said the administration "is leading the investigation, not being resistant."

White House press secretary Tony Snow congratulated the Justice Department yesterday on winning the case, adding: "The administration's been pretty clear there's no tolerance for corporate corruption."


Pope misses memorial to Jewish uprising on first day of visit

The Times of London
Pope misses memorial to Jewish uprising on first day of visit
by Roger Boyes

Pope Benedict XVI upset the Jewish community in Poland yesterday by not stopping to pay tribute to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis.

The heavily guarded Popemobile sped from Warsaw airport towards the Old Town district and the former ghetto area but barely slowed when it passed the memorial to the Jewish fighters. Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw, the Israeli Ambassador and a handful of Jewish dignitaries were left standing as the Pope flashed past with a wave.

Church officials said there had been no space in the schedule for a spontaneous stop. Another consideration is that the ultra-nationalist Polish Government might have considered it a slight if the Pope had singled out slaughtered Jews rather than Polish partisans for special tribute on the first day of his visit.

Thousands of Poles, mostly young, lined the streets to cheer and wave flags to welcome the Pope.


Harsher Abu Ghraib methods condoned: witness

Harsher Abu Ghraib methods condoned: witness
By Stuart Grudgings

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - Senior U.S. officials silently condoned harsher methods at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and one general urged guards to use dogs to the "maximum extent possible" to control detainees, witnesses said on Thursday.

The testimony came on the fourth day of the military trial of Army dog handler Sgt. Santos Cardona, 32, who is accused of taking part in abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib that the U.S. government blames on rogue low-ranking soldiers.

Defense attorneys are trying to show that Cardona, who faces 16 years in prison if convicted on all charges, and other soldiers were acting on orders from their superiors.

Prosecutors say he and an already convicted colleague were "corrupt cops" who used dogs to terrify detainees into urinating and defecating on themselves.

Steven Pescatore, a former Air Force officer who worked as a civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib, said in written testimony that silence from superiors on the treatment of prisoners was widely seen as meaning consent.

"We still had to submit a memo requesting the harsher techniques, but we could go under the assumption that a technique was approved unless we heard back otherwise," he said.

"There was a lot of pressure and stress among the interrogators; we were constantly being told that we needed to get more information from the detainees."

Despite evidence of pressure from above to extract more information from prisoners, there are few signs that senior Army leaders or administration officials will be charged with condoning the abuse.

The U.S. government, which often justifies its foreign policy on the grounds of improving human rights, was severely embarrassed when photographs showing prisoners being abused and sexually humiliated were leaked in 2004.


Another witness said that the former commander of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay urged the use of dogs to control prisoners, but not in interrogations.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller was sent to Iraq from the Cuba base to try to improve information gathering as the insurgency intensified after the March 2003 invasion.

Ten low-ranking soldiers have so far been convicted of abusing prisoners, including the use of snarling, unmuzzled dogs in late 2003 and early 2004 after Miller arrived.

"All I can recall is him encouraging using them (dogs) to the maximum extent possible," retired Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum, who was in command of Abu Ghraib before September 2003, told the court in a military base in Maryland.

"I don't recall him saying anything about interrogations."

Miller, the highest-ranking officer to testify in the scandal, on Wednesday denied he suggested using military dogs in interrogations of Iraqi prisoners, undercutting Cardona's defense.

Prosecutors say there were clear rules on the treatment of prisoners that were flouted by Cardona and another dog handler, Sgt. Michael Smith, who was convicted in March and sentenced to 179 days in prison.


Bush says Abu Ghraib was biggest mistake of Iraq war

Yahoo! News
Bush says Abu Ghraib was biggest mistake of Iraq war

President George W. Bush said that the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal was the "biggest mistake" made by the United States in Iraq.

Speaking after a summit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said "I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time."

The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal that broke with the release of photos of Iraqi prisoners being sexually humiliated at the Baghdad prison drew international criticism for US forces.

Bush said he also regretted some of his tough talk during the war campaign such as his "bring them on" challenge to Iraqi insurgents in July, 2003.

Blair said that the way the international coalition embarked on the "deBathification" of Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein as president had been the biggest mistake he had seen.

Bush refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq following the creation of its new government, saying "we will keep the force level there necessary to win".

Bush reaffirmed his position that the 130,000 US troops in Iraq could start coming home once Iraqi forces can take charge of security duties.

Facing growing public concern over the duration of the Iraq war, the US leader said: "It's important for the American people to know that politics isn't going to make the decision as to the size of our force level."

Blair used the press conference to call for international support for the new Iraqi government. The British prime minister visited Baghdad on Monday, two days after new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki named his government.

Maliki has said it is possible for Iraqi forces to be ready to take over security duties by the end of 2007.

Blair told the press conference: "I think it's possible for the Iraqi security forces to take control, progressively, in the country."

"But when the prime minister talked about an objective timetable, what he meant was a timetable governed by conditions on the ground," Blair added.

"We will work with them now to see if we can put that framework together," the British leader declared. "They want us there in support, until they've got the capability, I believe that can happen."

Speaking also on Iran, Bush said that it is was up to Iran whether it would remain isolated by the world community because of its nuclear program.

"The Iranians walked away from the table. They made the decision, and the choice is theirs," Bush said at the White House after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Britain, France and Germany have prepared a package of incentives to try to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment work.

The United States and its allies are also pushing for a UN Security Council resolution that could eventually trigger sanctions against Tehran. China and Russia oppose any punitive sanctions on Iran.

Bush said that should Iran choose to cooperate with the world community, an "enhanced package" of benefits awaits.

"If they would like to see an enhanced package, they have to suspend, for the good of the world," the US president said.

"It's incredible dangerous to think of an Iran with a nuclear weapon," Bush added.


Bush says "bring 'em on" was big mistake

Bush says "bring 'em on" was big mistake
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush admitted on Thursday that his bellicose "bring 'em on" taunt to Iraqi insurgents was a big mistake, as he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair carefully avoided setting a timetable for removing troops from Iraq.

Meeting at a time when a new Iraqi unity government offers the promise of a way out of an unpopular war that has damaged their standings at home, Bush and Blair were remarkably reflective on some of the grievous mistakes that critics say has intensified anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

Back in July 2003, the tough-talking Texan responded to a question about the emerging Iraqi insurgency by saying "bring 'em on."

At a joint news conference with Blair, after three years of war that has killed more than 2,400 Americans and thousands of Iraqis, Bush said that remark was "kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong message to people."

"I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know. "Wanted, dead or alive"; that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted," he said.

He also cited the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal as "the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq ... We've been paying for that for a long period of time," he said.

Blair said the effort to rid Iraq's army of members of Saddam Hussein's Baathists -- a process called "de-Baathification -- could have been done better.

"I think it's easy to go back over mistakes that we may have made. But the biggest reason why Iraq has been difficult is the determination by our opponents to defeat us. And I don't think we should be surprised at that," Blair said.

Both leaders predicted difficulties ahead as the new government tries to expand the influence of Iraqi security forces into more territory.

Blair said "probably over the next few months there will be a real attempt by the anti-democratic forces to test them very, very strongly."

Bush said Baghdad needs a more effective police force and that Gen. George Casey, his top commander in Iraq, had met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday on how to improve security in the capital.

"It's really important that Baghdad, that the capital city become more secure," he said.


The two leaders are under pressure at home to show progress in Iraq so they can start withdrawing their forces. There are now about 132,000 U.S. troops and 8,000 British troops in the chaotic country.

Blair, who recently visited Baghdad, said he believed it was possible to meet Maliki's goal of having Iraqi security forces in control of all of Iraq by the end of 2007.

Said Bush: "Listen, I want our troops out -- don't get me wrong. I understand what it means to have troops in harm's way ... But I also understand that it is vital that we do the job, that we complete the mission."

Bush said he would consult with his military commanders in Iraq about the security situation, as well as with the new Iraqi government about its needs and that any decision would be made based on the conditions on the ground.

Blair said that "Inevitably, over time, we have to transfer responsibility" because it will be easier for an Iraqi interior minister "who is the product of an Iraqi-elected government to go in and take the really tough measures sometimes that is necessary to sort some of these issues out."

But as for now, he said, "This directly elected Iraqi government has said they want us to stay until the job is done."

Both leaders acknowledged the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 had been divisive, but agreed it was time to look to the future now that the Iraqis had gone to the polls and freely elected a new government.

"It is our duty, but it is also the duty of the whole international community to get behind this government and support it," Blair said.

In Baghdad, gunmen shot and seriously wounded a senior Defense Ministry official, in what appeared to be part of a campaign to target top figures in Iraq's U.S.-backed administration. It was a reminder of the uphill struggle Maliki faces.

The new prime minister, in an interview with Arabiya television, said there was no reason for the array of armed gangs and militias in Iraq, now that the country had an elected government. He said the real problem for the government was the armed gangs, rather than the organized militias.


Senate panel approves FEMA nominee despite tax concerns

Senate panel approves FEMA nominee despite tax concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel on Thursday approved the nomination of R. David Paulison as chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after he pledged to refile three years of tax returns to correct questionable travel deductions.

In a statement, Paulison said he was "pleased to have this matter raised and resolved" after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week found errors in his state and federal returns.

Paulison, who has served as acting FEMA director since September, said he relied on ultimately bad advice from his accountant in filing the returns from 2003 to 2005. It was not immediately known how much the deductions were worth.

"I will file as soon as possible the required federal and state returns and will pay all taxes, penalties or interest that may be required to immediately correct these issues," Paulison said in a letter Thursday to Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who lead the committee.

That satisfied the panel's concerns as it wrapped up its review of Paulison's returns. It approved his nomination by voice vote and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

"We do not believe it should disqualify him," Collins said. Lieberman said Paulison "answered the committee's questions on this matter completely."

The 2006 hurricane season begins next week, on June 1. Paulison has had a three-decade firefighting career, including a stint as chief of the Miami-Dade County fire department and head of the U.S. Fire Administration.

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Bush orders Jefferson records sealed

Bush orders Jefferson records sealed
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Thursday ordered records seized from Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's office to be sealed for 45 days to allow time to work out a dispute over the materials between the Justice Department and the House of Representatives.

"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," Bush said in taking the unusual step of intervening in a criminal investigation.

"Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

Bipartisan leaders of the House are outraged that the FBI seized a computer hard drive and two boxes of papers from Jefferson's office.

They contend the search violated the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The Justice Department considers the FBI search an important part of a probe into alleged public corruption.

Two former associates have pleaded guilty to bribery charges, and the FBI disclosed on Sunday it has videotaped Jefferson accepting bribe money and has found $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

Republican House leaders were relieved by Bush's move.

"It gives everybody a chance to step back," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois. "I appreciate that... We will continue to work on it and I think we can come to a valid conclusion."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the order provides more time "to reach a permanent solution that allows this investigation to continue while accommodating the concerns of certain members of Congress."

In a statement, Bush said he was directing the Justice Department to seal all the materials recovered from Jefferson's Capitol Hill office last weekend for the next 45 days.

The materials are to be given to the U.S. Solicitor General, who heads a separate office within the Justice Department and is not involved in the investigation into the case involving Jefferson.

"This period will provide both parties more time to resolve the issues in a way that ensures that materials relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation are made available to prosecutors in a manner that respects the interests of a co-equal branch of government," Bush said.

He urged the Justice Department and the House leadership to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.


In a joint statement, Hastert and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said they were directing the top House lawyer to begin negotiations with the Justice Department "regarding the protocols and procedures to be followed in connection with evidence of criminal conduct that might exist in the offices of Members."

Hastert and Pelosi demanded on Wednesday that the Justice Department give back material "unconstitutionally seized" in the raid.

The investigation of Jefferson has been publicly known since last August, when the FBI raided his homes in Washington and New Orleans.

In his statement, Bush said investigating and prosecuting crime is a crucial executive responsibility he takes seriously.

"Those who violate the law -- including a member of Congress -- should and will be held to account. This investigation will go forward, and justice will be served," Bush said.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen, Deborah Charles, Caren Bohan and Patricia Wilson)


Former Conn. Rep. Robert Giaimo dies at 86; helped create the national endowments for the arts and humanities

Former Conn. Rep. Robert Giaimo dies at 86

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Rep. Robert Giaimo, a Connecticut Democrat who helped create the national endowments for the arts and humanities, has died. He was 86.

Giaimo died from lung ailments Wednesday at a hospital in Arlington, Va., said his daughter, Barbara Lee Koones. He represented the New Haven area in Congress from 1959 to 1981.

Giaimo co-sponsored the 1965 bill, sought by President Johnson, to create the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, separate grant-making agencies that support the arts and the study of such subjects as literature, history and philosophy.

His efforts on that legislation were instrumental in "unleashing the creative potential of millions of Americans," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who represents the district Giaimo served.

"Bob's priority was always making sure that the work we did in Congress — the programs and the funding — impacted those who needed it most," DeLauro said Thursday.

Born Oct. 15, 1919, in New Haven, Giaimo graduated from Fordham College in 1941 and earned his law degree at the University of Connecticut in 1943. A World War II Army veteran and attorney, he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1958.

He rose to become chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, but "never forgot the little guy," his daughter said.

"He was a hardworking congressman who never sought the spotlight," Koones said.

Giaimo retired from Congress after 11 terms and returned to the practice of law in Washington, living in Arlington.

Survivors in addition to Koones are his wife, Marion Schuenemann Giaimo, and a granddaughter, Tracy Elizabeth Phillips. A funeral was planned next week in Connecticut.

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House votes for oil drilling in Alaska refuge

House votes for oil drilling in Alaska refuge
By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a plan to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The House voted 225-201 to approve a plan sponsored by California Republican Richard Pombo that would allow drilling on 2,000 acres of ANWR out of the refuge's total 19 million acres.

It was the 12th vote on the divisive ANWR drilling issue since 1995 in the House. The ANWR drilling plan faces a nearly certain filibuster threat in the Senate, where pro-drilling Republicans hold a slimmer majority.

President George W. Bush, who has long sought to open the Arctic refuge to drilling, welcomed the vote as a step toward developing a reliable domestic source of energy.

"It will make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy, eventually by up to a million barrels of crude oil a day -- a nearly 20 percent increase over our current domestic production," he said in a statement.

Tapping the 10 billion barrels of crude estimated to lay beneath the refuge is a key part of the Bush administration's national energy plan.

"Had President Clinton not vetoed the ANWR drilling bill in 1995, we would have at least an additional 1 million barrels a day of domestic oil production .... today," U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said.

But many Democrats and environmentalists argue there is not enough oil to justify destroying the habitat for ANWR's polar bears, caribou and other wildlife.

"We should not be so willing to sacrifice this unspoiled area for just six months of oil," said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat.

Pombo criticized Democrats for repeatedly trying to block ANWR. "Being against everything is not an energy policy," he said, insisting that ANWR can be drilled in a way that does not harm the environment.

Anti-drilling Democrats said ANWR development was merely a Republican balm to soothe voters' anxiety over rising gasoline prices ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the unofficial start of the summer driving season, when gasoline demand usually peaks.

"Families will pay $50 to tank up this weekend and Republicans will pretend that they really care," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said ANWR supplies could reduce gasoline prices by about 40 cents per gallon, if ANWR is tapped.

The Senate this year included ANWR drilling in appropriations legislation that is not subject to a filibuster, but House budget-writers balked at including it in their version.

"Everyone knows this bill is dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate," DeGette said.

The ANWR bill that passed the House would need to garner 60 votes in the Senate to circumvent a filibuster, in which it could be talked to death.

At peak production, ANWR could produce about 1.5 million barrels per day of oil, which bill sponsors say could go a long way toward replacing oil imports from Middle East producers like Saudi Arabia.

If Congress opened ANWR to drilling, it would take about 10 more years for the refuge's oil production to peak, according to the Energy Department.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Red Cross warns blood donors of possible ID thefts in Midwest
Red Cross warns blood donors of possible ID thefts in Midwest
Todd Weiss

May 24, 2006 (Computerworld) About 1 million blood donors in the Missouri-Illinois Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross were warned last week that personal information about them could have been stolen earlier this year by a former employee and might have been used in identity thefts.

The former worker had access to 8,000 blood donors in a database she used in her job, all of whom were notified by mail of possible identity theft problems on March 17, according to the agency. But after the original warning letters went out, the Red Cross decided to expand the identity theft warnings to all 1 million donors in the Missouri-Illinois region because of concerns that she may have accidentally accessed other records in the larger group.

The warnings to the 1 million donors are being made through the media and the agency's Web site, not through individual letters.

At least four of the donors among the original 8,000 in the donor database were victims of the data-theft scheme, said Jim Williams, a spokesman for the regional agency. An investigation is continuing to determine if any other donors have been affected.

The thefts occurred when the former employee, a telephone blood-drive recruiter, entered random numbers of past donors into her 8,000-donor database, then was able to access the names, Social Security numbers, phone numbers and birth dates of potential victims. The database uses unique donor numbers to store records for each person, and by entering random numbers, the recruiter was able to access the records of the four victims.

The former employee, 20-year-old Lonnetta Shanell Medcalf of St. Louis, then allegedly opened credit card accounts at several stores using the stolen information and made purchases valued at more than $1,000, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of Missouri.

Medcalf began working at the Red Cross branch in October and was fired on March 2, when the incidents were discovered, Williams said. Medcalf had 8,000 donor contacts in her database out of more than 1 million donors in the region who were not affected by the data thefts. Her case is scheduled for trial on June 19.

The Red Cross offices in the region last week changed the database software to strictly limit access to any Social Security numbers in the future, Williams said. Only names, phone numbers and birth dates are now accessible by blood drive recruiters.

Medcalf has been indicted on three felony counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of credit card fraud in connection with the incidents, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The Red Cross sent written notifications of the data breach to all 8,000 potential victims on March 17, advising them to contact credit bureaus to check their credit reports for any irregular purchases or activities. The agency is reimbursing any of the affected 8,000 donors if the credit reports can't be obtained for free. The agency also set up a toll-free hot line to aid any identity-theft victims of the incident and said it's taking additional security steps to ensure that such an incident doesn't happen again. All staff members are being reminded, for instance, that donors don't have to put their Social Security numbers into their Red Cross donor records.

The Red Cross also apologized for the incident and said it is working to improve security for such information.

If convicted, Medcalf faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000 for the charge of credit card fraud. Each count of aggravated identity theft also carries a mandatory two years in prison consecutive to the credit card fraud sentence.

"We feel like victims here as well, but the ultimate victims are our donors," said Williams.


GAO says VA not alone in data carelessness

GAO says VA not alone in data carelessness

WASHINGTON (AP) — It isn't just Veterans Affairs. Personal information about Americans isn't safeguarded properly throughout the government, and the consequences could be disastrous, congressional investigators say.

The potential damage was shown this week in the disclosure that personal data on 26.5 million veterans was stolen.

Veterans Affairs was one of eight departments given failing grades for computer security practices in 2005. The Pentagon and the departments of Homeland Security, State, Energy and Health and Human Services also got Fs from the House Committee on Government Reform in its annual report card released in March.

"For many years, we have reported that poor information security is a widespread problem that has potentially devastating consequences," Greg Wilshusen, the Government Accountability Office's director of information security issues, told the committee then.

"There's a vast amount of highly sensitive information that the government collects and maintains," Wilshusen said Wednesday. "A number of agencies are vulnerable to similar data breaches."

A law passed in 2002 requires government agencies to make sure the information they and their contractors handle is secure. Agencies must evaluate their technology and systems, train employees and put procedures in place to protect information and to respond if security is breached.

As the Veterans Affairs theft reveals, data security has as much to do with procedures — such as who gets access to data and what they do with it — as it does with hackproof computer systems.

Evaluations of the government's computer security practices in 2005 resulted in an overall grade of D+ by the government.

Five agencies — including Justice, Treasury and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — did worse in 2005 than in 2004, according to the committee.

Ten, including the Social Security Administration, improved. The Agency for International Development received an A+ two years in a row.

Bruce Schneier, author of "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World," said that making data more secure doesn't get to the root of the problem that people don't control the use of information about themselves.

Identity theft wouldn't be such a big problem if credit card companies, for example, didn't make it so easy to get a credit card, Schneier said.

"We're not going to solve this by making data hard to steal," he said. "The way we're going to solve it is by making the data hard to use.

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Veterans Chief Voices Anger on Data Theft

The New York Times
Veterans Chief Voices Anger on Data Theft

WASHINGTON, May 24 — Jim Nicholson, the secretary of veterans affairs, expressed outrage Wednesday over being kept in the dark about the theft of computer data on 26.5 million veterans as he himself came under heavy criticism from Capitol Hill.

Mr. Nicholson issued a statement vowing "a very extensive review of individuals up and down the chain of command" and urging the inspector general's office at the Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite an investigation of the affair.

An administration official who has followed the episode said Mr. Nicholson was not told about the missing data until the night of May 16, or 13 days after the disks containing the data were stolen in a burglary at the home of a department employee.

The disks held the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other data on legions of veterans discharged from the mid-1970's onward, and their loss has set off widespread concerns that the information could be used in credit card frauds and other crimes linked to identity theft.

Mr. Nicholson said he was "outraged at the loss of this veterans' data and the fact an employee would put it at risk by taking it home in violation of our policies." He added, "I am also concerned about the timing of the department's response once the burglary became known."

"Upon notification, my first priority was to take all actions necessary to protect veterans from harm and to assist in law enforcement efforts," Mr. Nicholson said. The official who said that Mr. Nicholson had not been informed for 13 days said the secretary had called the Federal Bureau of Investigation once he learned of the theft, then ordered his own agency to set up Web sites and a toll-free number to handle an anticipated flood of queries.

Once the breach was announced on Monday, calls began to pour in. An agency spokesman, Matt Burns, said the department received 25,491 calls on Monday and 58,818 on Tuesday. The call center can handle up to 260,000 telephone queries a day, he said.

It was not clear on Wednesday who had finally notified Mr. Nicholson of the data breach and how many people in the department knew about it before the secretary was told.

Mr. Burns said he could provide no new information on the employee who had taken the computer disks home. He has been placed on administrative leave. A spokesman for the Montgomery County police in Maryland, Lt. Eric Burnett, said his department was not releasing information on the burglary and the ensuing investigation.

The veterans agency has emphasized that there is no sign that any of the data has been used in criminal acts. But lawmakers were not mollified by those assurances, or by Mr. Nicholson's pledge to get to the roots of the affair.

"This is a serious breach that raises troubling questions about the management of the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. In view of the delay in disclosing the loss, President Bush should think about finding a new veterans secretary, Mr. Leahy said.

The senator, known as one of the more computer-handy members of Congress, said Mr. Nicholson "needs to answer why this information was left vulnerable to such a breach."

Mr. Nicholson will face questioning on Thursday, before a joint hearing of the Senate's Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security committees.

"We're scrambling right now to get all the information we can," said Senator Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican who heads the veterans panel. Mr. Craig said he was angry about even a possibility that the missing data was "out in the marketplace today, in the criminal element."

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Representative John T. Salazar of Colorado, both Democrats, have introduced a bill that would provide free credit monitoring for veterans affected by the lapse. "This breach should not have happened in the first place, and someone needs to be fired for it," Mr. Kerry said.

Christopher Wolf, a Washington lawyer with the firm Proskauer Rose who specializes in security issues, said that the veterans department was just one of many federal agencies with lax computer security, and that sabotage might not be the biggest danger. "These things happen because of accidents," he said.

The veterans department began issuing new identification cards late in 2004, with a veteran's Social Security number and date of birth encrypted on a magnetic tape on the back. "Identity theft is one of the fast-growing crimes in the nation," read an accompanying announcement.


Minimizing Your Risk: Veterans' groups provide some important tips on how to prevent identification theft

Minimizing Your Risk
Veterans' groups provide some important tips on how to prevent identification theft—and what to do if you suspect you've fallen victim.
By Jessica Bennett

May 24, 2006 - Research groups indicate that identity theft affected more than 9 million Americans last year. But despite those numbers, the revelation this week that the personal information of 26.5 million veterans had been stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee came as a shock. The information—mainly from veterans discharged since 1975—included the veterans' Social Security numbers, birthdates and, in some cases, a disability rating—a score of between 1 and 100 indicating how disabled a veteran is. NEWSWEEK spoke with USAA Worldwide Insurance, a veterans' insurance group, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for some tips on how to protect against ID theft, and what to do if you think you're a victim. Excerpts:

10 Tips to Prevent ID Theft
# Memorize your Social Security number. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
# Store your wallet or purse in a secure location while at work or public places such as fitness centers.
# Buy a cross-cut shredder. Use it as a secure means of disposal for documents with personal or financial information—such as unsolicited credit-card applications, credit receipts or utility bills.
# Memorize your PINs. Do not write them down unless you must. Never keep them with their cards, and do not share them with anyone. If possible, do not use the same PIN for multiple cards or services.
# Do not provide personal information over the phone, e-mail or Internet unless the recipient is a known and trusted source.
# Make sure the Web sites you use provide encryption technology to safeguard your information. Most Web sites provide some acknowledgement of this, which may appear as a yellow padlock symbol in the status bar of your browser or as a pop-up window indicating an encrypted or secured site.
# Call the credit reporting agencies at 888-5-OPTOUT to remove your name from all mailing lists the agencies supply to direct marketers.
# Deposit checks directly to your bank account. Do not mail checks from your home mailbox if it is unsecured.
# Do not have unnecessary personal information, such as Social Security or driver's license numbers, printed on personal checks.
# Do business with responsible companies that take steps to protect their customers from identity theft.

How to Detect ID Theft
If you are a victim of identity theft, you can minimize damage to your name, finances and credit history by detecting it early. To do so, you should begin taking the following steps immediately.
# Monitor financial statements: Carefully monitor every statement from your bank, credit-card company and other financial institutions. Review transactions carefully for unexplained charges or withdrawals, and dispute anything that looks suspicious. This is the most common way victims discover misuse of their identity.
# Review your credit report: Order your credit report from any of the three credit-reporting agencies at least once each year, and review it carefully. Make sure all personal information is correct, such as names, addresses and phone numbers. Make sure all listed accounts are yours. Check inquiries on your report to see if they look suspicious or seem excessive.
# Examine your mail: Scrutinize your mail for signs of identity theft. Have you received credit cards for which you did not apply? Are bills or bank account statements missing? Have you failed to receive new credit cards as expected when current cards are about to expire? Have you received letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not purchase?

If You Fall Victim
If you've taken these actions and believe you are a victim of ID theft, follow these four steps, provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
# Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus:
Equifax: 800-525-6285 (
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (
TransUnion: 800-680-7289 (
# Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
# File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by using the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338 or



Retiree benefits grow into 'monster'

Retiree benefits grow into 'monster'
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

Taxpayers owe more than a half-million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Federal, state and local governments have added nearly $10 trillion to taxpayer liabilities in the past two years, bringing the total of government's unfunded obligations to an unprecedented $57.8 trillion.

That is the equivalent of a $510,678 credit card debt for every American household. Payments on this delinquent tax bill must start soon if financial promises to the elderly are to be kept.

The cost of retirement programs will start to soar when baby boomers — 79 million born between 1946 and 1964 — begin collecting Social Security in 2008 and Medicare in 2011.

"This is a monster financial problem that both parties are going to have to solve," says Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a member of the House Budget Committee. "Most Americans and Congress members don't realize the terrific burden we are putting on future generations."

USA TODAY compiled a list of all taxpayer liabilities — federal, state and local — to provide a fuller look at the nation's financial condition. The numbers are based on official government reports.


Taxpayers are responsible for more than $500,000 per household for unfunded financial promises made by federal, state and local governments. How the debt breaks down:

Program Liability per household

======= =======================

Medicare $263,377

Social Security $133,456

Federal debt $42,538

Military retirement benefits $25,443

State-local debt $16,395

Federal employee retirement
benefits $14,256

State-local retirement benefits $13,257

Other federal $1,956


Total $510,678

Source: USA TODAY research

Americans' government obligations are five times what people owe for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other personal debt. The $57.8 trillion liability is the amount that government needs now, stashed away and earning interest, to generate enough cash to pay future obligations. The obligations are valued in today's dollars and come due as early as in a few days, when Treasury bills mature, to as long as 75 years for Social Security and Medicare.

Like an unpaid credit card bill, the balance grows every year — about $25,000 per household annually.

Taxpayer liabilities grew 20% in the past two years, 13% above the inflation rate.

What's behind the increase:

•Medicare. The health care program for the elderly saw its long-term deficit grow $4.5 trillion from 2004. The causes: higher medical costs and an aging population. Not a factor: the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. It was included in the 2004 number.

•Social Security. The program's deficit for workers and beneficiaries already in the system grew $2.5 trillion over two years. Reason: Each generation gets benefits greater than the last, so the program automatically gets more out of balance every year.

•Government retirement benefits. Pension and retiree medical benefits for civil servants and military personnel are more generous than those for private-sector workers. But government has not set aside as much money as private companies to pay the costs.

"These numbers show our long-term financial problems are even greater than our short-term ones," says Ed Lorenzen, policy director at the Concord Coalition, which promotes fiscal responsibility.

Economist Dean Baker of the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research says the nation can afford Social Security but not the current health care system. "If we don't fix health care, it's hard to imagine what our country looks like in 20 years," he says.

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