Saturday, June 24, 2006

Democrat Differences Honest and Refreshing; Republicans in Congress "like the three monkeys -- see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"

Some Democrats coming to terms with Iraq rift
By Patricia Wilson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With Iraq looming over critical U.S. congressional elections this year and the 2008 presidential campaign, some Democrats are beginning to be less fearful of the party split over the war.

While President George W. Bush, his political architect Karl Rove and Republicans in Congress step up their attacks, Democrats say the fact they are challenging the administration's conduct of the war will play well with voters in November when the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives is at stake.

"We don't have a single answer," said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the centrist New Democrat Network. "I don't think we need one."

Democrats have differed openly on options in Iraq, ranging from quick withdrawal of the 127,000 U.S. troops there, to a gradual pullout, to the need for a stand-down plan, to support for the war effort.

They offered competing amendments in the Senate this week, one demanding Bush start pulling out combat forces immediately and finish the job by July 2007, and another urging a phased withdrawal starting this year but without a deadline for completion.

Republicans voted down both, dismissing the first as a "cut-and-run" plan and ridiculing the second as "cut-and-jog."

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a potential presidential contender in 2008, said on Friday the party's diversity of opinion on Iraq was a strength that stood in stark contrast to the broad Republican loyalty toward Bush.

"Although unity is important, it is not the most important value," Clinton told the second day of a conference sponsored by the New Democrat Network. "It is, I think, a tribute to the Democratic Party that we are honestly and openly struggling with a lot of the difficult issues facing our country."

After her speech, she told reporters that Republicans in Congress were "like the three monkeys -- see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat who is also considering a White House run, said Republicans were "totally united" behind Bush's "mishandling" of the war, a position that could backfire in the elections.

"I'm confident if you're a Democratic audience, there's a split view on Iraq," he told the NDN conference. "But one thing we're not divided on, we're not divided on how badly this administration has bungled the war."

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now thinks the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Rosenberg, who does not favor a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops, said Democratic unity on Iraq was not necessarily something the party should aspire to.

"I think consensus is an aspiration," he said, adding that Democrats had fulfilled their responsibility by coming together to challenge the Bush administration.

"We're doing what's required of us," he said.

Rising casualties and falling public support for the war have dragged down Bush's poll numbers and encouraged Democrats to believe they can seize control of Congress in midterm elections.

But they face a long-standing national security dilemma on Iraq, trying to balance the political costs of disappointing the party's anti-war activists with the risk of being cast as defeatist and weak on defense by Republicans.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, another potential Democratic presidential candidate who addressed the conference, said Rove and the White House were practicing "the politics of division, of red and blue America."

Warner said his biggest problem with Bush was that the president had missed an opportunity in the days after the September 11, 2001, attacks to challenge Americans "to step up."

"He's never asked us for shared sacrifice. He's never asked us to be part of the solution."

(Additional reporting by John Whitesides)


Hacker may have netted USDA's Johanns ID data

Hacker may have netted USDA's Johanns ID data

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other top Agriculture Department officials are on the list of 26,000 people whose personal information may have been stolen by a computer hacker, USDA said on Friday.

At risk are their social security numbers, the agency said. The numbers could be used to fraudulently gain access to credit cards and other financial transactions.

Two press aides confirmed that data on Johanns and USDA's top-tier policymakers were in the database that was breached. One of them said all Washington-area USDA employees and contractors were affected.

USDA has around 15,000 workers on its Washington payroll. Officials were unable to say how far back the records went to reach 26,000 names.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said the incident did not involve material used in USDA reports on crop and livestock output.

USDA said it will offer one year of free credit-monitoring services to the current and former employees and contractors affected by the computer breach, which occurred early this month.


Treasury defends secret surveillance program

Treasury defends secret surveillance program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow on Friday defended a secret program for monitoring financial transactions, calling it "government at its best" and a valuable aid for fighting terrorism.

For nearly five years since the September 11 2001 terror attacks, Treasury has been tapping into records of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) for evidence of potential activity by terror groups.

Despite Treasury's efforts to keep it quiet, the New York Times laid the program out in detail on Friday, forcing Treasury to confirm it while complaining about the revelation.

"As part of our efforts to track the funds of terrorists, we are confirming that we have subpoenaed records on terrorist-related transactions from SWIFT," Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey told a hastily called news conference.

"The legal basis for this subpoena is routine and absolutely clear," he added. Levey said it was "a grave loss" that the surveillance program had been revealed but indicated that it will continue.

"I think that this program still...has the potential to still be powerful," Levey said.

Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted the program as a threat to Americans' privacy and an example of the Bush administration's efforts to expand the power of the executive branch. But White House spokesman Tony Snow said it wanted to "shut off the spigot" to block terror groups moving money.

Snow said the surveillance program was producing results. "By following the money, we've been able to locate operatives, we've been able to locate their financiers, we've been able to chart the terrorist networks and we've been able to bring the terrorists to justice," he said.

SWIFT is a co-operative owned by the approximately 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries that use it. Levey indicated that some tens of thousands of transactions that have passed through SWIFT have been examined.

The program to examine banking transactions is run out of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and overseen by the U.S. Treasury Department. The records examined mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas or into and out of the United States.

Levey said Treasury had briefed U.S. lawmakers as well as central bankers from the Group of 10 nations on the program and won support for it.

"The reaction from experts -- across the political spectrum -- has been that this is exactly the kind of creative and vigorous approach that is needed to combat the elusive terrorist threat that we face," he said.

An American Civil Liberties Union spokesman expressed concern that "too much of this is still in the shadows" to be able assess the program's impact on rights to privacy.

"I fear that again the administration is going to hide behind the need for secrecy. It's extraordinary that they went to the entity that moves money around the world and got the private sector to do its work," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's technology and liberty project.

With autumn congressional elections on the horizon, reaction from lawmakers was mixed along highly partisan lines.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he had "full confidence" in the program's legality and usefulness while Ed Markey, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, said it appeared to "rely on justifications concocted without regard to current laws" and threatened liberties.

Treasury officials said SWIFT was exempt from U.S. laws restricting government access to private financial records because the cooperative was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution.

Levey described it as "the premier messaging service used by banks around the world to issue international transfers " but, in response to questions, conceded that not every bank or banking center was a member of SWIFT.

He declined to estimate how many transactions by Americans might have been included under the monitoring program and specified that only "targeted searches on individual targets" had been initiated.

"In practice, this means that we have access only to a minute fraction of the data that we obtain from SWIFT," Levey said, adding that controls against misuse included auditing by Booz Allen Hamilton to ensure no-one used information improperly.

Only one instance was found in which information was used inappropriately and that person "is no longer allowed to work on this program," Levey said.

Snow said the program was "entirely consistent" with efforts to strengthen government activities and to protect America from potential attacks by terror groups.


Bush moves to limit US gov't taking private land

Bush moves to limit US gov't taking private land
By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush issued an executive order on Friday to limit the U.S. government from taking private property only for the benefit of other private interests, like corporations.

The order came exactly a year after a divided Supreme Court ruled a city could take a person's home or business for a development project to revitalize a depressed local economy, a practice known as eminent domain.

"The federal government is going to limit its own use of eminent domain so that it won't be used for purely economic development purposes," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

She said more than 20 states had already enacted laws that prohibit the use of eminent domain for purely economic development purposes and four states have proposed constitutional amendments on November election ballots.

The high court in 2005 backed the taking by the city of New London, Connecticut, of 15 properties belonging to nine residents or investment owners for a project to complement a nearby research facility by drug company Pfizer Inc.

The 5-4 high court decision upheld the plan under the U.S. Constitution, which allows the government to take private property through its eminent domain powers in exchange for just compensation.

The ruling outraged property rights advocates and conservatives in Congress who said it gave local governments the right to give any home to a wealthy developer as long as there was a commitment to upgrade the property.

Bush's order was aimed at limiting the federal government to taking private property, with compensation, for situations in which it was for "the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties."

Bush directed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to issue instructions to government agencies for implementing the policy and also to monitor takings by the federal government.

The order does permit the federal government to take property for many public purposes, such as for a public medical facility, roads, a military reservation, acquiring abandoned property or to prevent a harmful use of land.


Friday, June 23, 2006

State of Emergency Declared in Baghdad

State of Emergency Declared in Baghdad
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew Friday after insurgents set up roadblocks in central Baghdad and opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered everyone off the streets of the capital from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also fought gunmen in the volatile Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle southeast of the capital, the U.S. military said.

The military also said two U.S. Marines died in combat in volatile Anbar province in separate attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, and a soldier died elsewhere in a non-combat incident on Wednesday.

At least 2,517 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

A car bomb ripped through a market and nearby gas station in the increasingly violent southern city of Basra, killing at least five people and wounding 18, including two policemen, police said.

A bomb also struck a Sunni mosque in Hibhib, northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 worshippers and wounding 15 in the town where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was slain this month, police said.

At least 19 other deaths were reported in Baghdad.

Throughout the morning, Iraqi and U.S. military forces clashed with attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles in busy Haifa Street, which runs into the Green Zone, site of the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government.

Four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen were wounded in the fighting, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.

The region was sealed and Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted house-to-house searches.

The prime minister's office said the curfew would last from 2 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Saturday but later shortened to end at 5 p.m. Friday.

The state of emergency includes a ban on carrying weapons and gives Iraqi security forces broader arrest powers, Defense Ministry official Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohamed Jassim said.

"The state of emergency and curfew came in the wake of today's clashes to let the army work freely to chase militants and to avoid casualties among civilians," he said. "They will punish all those who have weapons with them and they can shoot them if they feel that they are danger."

Gunmen also attacked a group of worshippers marching from Sadr City, the Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad, to the Buratha mosque on the other side of the city to protest a suicide attack a week ago on the revered Shiite shrine. At least one marcher was killed and four were wounded, Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.

Al-Maliki has been trying to rein in unrelenting insurgent and sectarian violence. He launched a massive security operation in Baghdad 10 days ago, deploying tens of thousands of troops who flooded the city, snarling traffic with hundreds of checkpoints.

Police said they found the bodies of five men who apparently were victims of a mass kidnapping from a factory on Wednesday. The bodies, which showed signs of torture and had their hands and legs bound, were floating in a canal in northern Baghdad, police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.

A police raid on a farm Thursday freed 17 of the captives

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it killed four foreign insurgents in a raid north of Fallujah. Two of the dead men had 15-pound bombs strapped to their bodies. The military said an insurgent thought to be an Iraqi also was killed in the raid, which was launched on the basis of information from a suspected arrested in the region in previous days.

Separately, the military said, it detained a senior leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and three other suspected insurgents Monday during raids northeast of Baghdad, near where al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air raid earlier this month.


Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror

The New York Times
Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror

WASHINGTON, June 22 - Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas or into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said. The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, "has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities," Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview Thursday. The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

That access to large amounts of sensitive data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling," said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, "The potential for abuse is enormous."

The program is separate from the National Security Agency's efforts to eavesdrop without warrants and collect domestic phone records, operations that have provoked fierce public debate and spurred lawsuits against the government and telecommunications companies. But all the programs grew out of the Bush administration's desire to exploit technological tools to prevent another terrorist strike, and all reflect attempts to break down longstanding legal or institutional barriers to the government's access to private information about Americans and others inside the United States.

Officials described the Swift program as the biggest and most far-reaching of several secret efforts to trace terrorist financing. Much more limited agreements with other companies have provided access to A.T.M. transactions, credit card purchases and Western Union wire payments, the officials said.

Nearly 20 current and former government officials and industry executives discussed aspects of the Swift operation with The New York Times on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program, saying that what they viewed as an urgent, temporary measure had become permanent nearly five years later without specific Congressional approval or formal authorization.

Data from the Brussels-based banking consortium, formally known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has allowed officials from the C.I.A., the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to examine "tens of thousands" of financial transactions, Mr. Levey said.

While many of those transactions have occurred entirely on foreign soil, officials have also been keenly interested in international transfers of money by individuals, businesses, charities and other organizations under suspicion inside the United States, officials said. A small fraction of Swift's records involve transactions entirely within this country, but Treasury officials said they were uncertain whether any had been examined.

Swift executives have been uneasy at times about their secret role, the government and industry officials said. By 2003, the executives told American officials they were considering pulling out of the arrangement, which began as an emergency response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said. Worried about potential legal liability, the Swift executives agreed to continue providing the data only after top officials, including Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, intervened. At the same time, new controls were introduced.

Among the program's safeguards, government officials said, is an outside auditing firm that verifies that the data searches are based on a link to terrorism intelligence. Swift and Treasury officials said they were aware of no abuses. But Mr. Levey, the Treasury official, said one person had been removed from the operation for conducting a search considered inappropriate.

"We are not on a fishing expedition," Mr. Levey said. "We're not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking in all the information that we can."

Treasury officials said Swift was exempt from American laws restricting government access to private financial records because the cooperative was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution.

But at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said. Several outside banking experts, however, say that financial privacy laws are murky and sometimes contradictory and that the program raises difficult legal and public policy questions.

The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.

Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

Swift declined to discuss details of the program but defended its role in written responses to questions. "Swift has fully complied with all applicable laws," the consortium said. The organization said it insisted that the data be used only for terrorism investigations and had narrowed the scope of the information provided to American officials over time.

A Crucial Gatekeeper

Swift's database provides a rich hunting ground for government investigators. Swift is a crucial gatekeeper, providing electronic instructions on how to transfer money between 7,800 financial institutions worldwide. The cooperative is owned by more than 2,200 organizations, and virtually every major commercial bank, as well as brokerage houses, fund managers and stock exchanges, uses its services. Swift routes more than 11 million transactions each day, most of them across borders.

The cooperative's message traffic allows investigators, for example, to track money from the Saudi bank account of a suspected terrorist to a mosque in New York. Using intelligence tips about specific targets, agents search the database in what one official described as a "24-7" operation. Customers' names, bank account numbers and other identifying information, can be retrieved, the officials said.

The data does not allow the government to track routine financial activity, like A.T.M. withdrawals, confined to this country, or to see bank balances, Treasury officials said. And the information is not provided in real time - Swift generally turns it over several weeks later. Because of privacy concerns and the potential for abuse, the government sought the data only for terrorism investigations and prohibited its use for tax fraud, drug trafficking or other inquiries, the officials said.

The Treasury Department was charged by President Bush, in a September 2001 executive order, with taking the lead role in efforts to disrupt terrorist financing. Mr. Bush has been briefed on the program and Vice President Dick Cheney has attended C.I.A. demonstrations, the officials said. The National Security Agency has provided some technical assistance.

While the banking program is a closely held secret, administration officials have conducted classified briefings to some members of Congress and the Sept. 11 Commission, the officials said. More lawmakers were briefed in recent weeks, after the administration learned The Times was making inquiries for this article. Swift's 25-member board of directors, made up of representatives from financial institutions around the world, was previously told of the program, but it is not clear if other participants know that American intelligence officials can examine their message traffic.

Because Swift is based overseas and has offices in the United States, it is governed both by European and American laws. Several international regulations and policies impose privacy restrictions on companies that are generally regarded as more stringent than those in this country. United States law establishes some protections for the privacy of Americans' financial data, but they are not ironclad. A 1978 measure, the Right to Financial Privacy Act, has a limited scope and a number of exceptions, and its role in national security cases remains largely untested.

Several people familiar with the Swift program said they believed they were exploiting a "gray area" in the law and that a case could be made for restricting the government's access to the records on Fourth Amendment and statutory grounds. They also worried about the impact on Swift if the program were disclosed.

"There was always concern about this program," a former official said.

One person involved in the Swift program estimated that analysts have reviewed international transfers involving "many thousands" of people or groups in the United States. Two other officials also placed the figure in the thousands. Mr. Levey said he could not estimate the number.

The Swift data has provided clues to terror money trails and ties between possible terrorists and organizations financing them, the officials said. In some instances, they said, the program has pointed them to new suspects, while in others it has buttressed cases already under investigation.

Among the successes was the capture of a Qaeda operative, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a Bali resort, several officials said. The Swift data identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, they said.

In the United States, the program has provided financial data in investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to extremists, the officials said.

The data also helped identify a Brooklyn man who was convicted on terrorism-related charges last year, the officials said. The man, Uzair Paracha, who worked at a New York import business, aided a Qaeda operative in Pakistan by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a Karachi bank, prosecutors said.

In terrorism prosecutions, intelligence officials have been careful to "sanitize," or hide the origins of evidence collected through the program to keep it secret, officials said.

The Bush administration has pursued steps that may provide some enhanced legal standing for the Swift program. In late 2004, Congress authorized the Treasury Department to develop regulations requiring American banks to turn over records of international wire transfers. Officials say a preliminary version of those rules may be ready soon. One official described the regulations as an attempt to "formalize" access to the kind of information secretly provided by Swift, though other officials said the initiative was unrelated to the program.

The Scramble for New Tools

Like other counterterrorism measures carried out by the Bush administration, the Swift program began in the hectic days after the Sept. 11 attacks, as officials scrambled to identify new tools to head off further strikes.

One priority was to cut off the flow of money to Al Qaeda. The Sept. 11 hijackers had helped finance their plot by moving money through banks. Nine of the hijackers, for instance, funneled money from Europe and the Middle East to SunTrust bank accounts in Florida. Some of the $130,000 they received was wired by people overseas with known links to Al Qaeda.

Financial company executives, many of whom had lost friends at the World Trade Center, were eager to help federal officials trace terrorist money. "They saw 9/11 not just as an attack on the United States, but on the financial industry as a whole," said one former government official.

Quietly, counterterrorism officials sought to expand the information they were getting from financial institutions. Treasury officials, for instance, spoke with credit card companies about devising an alert if someone tried to buy fertilizer and timing devices that could be used for a bomb, but they were told the idea was not logistically possible, a lawyer in the discussions said.

The F.B.I. began acquiring financial records from Western Union and its parent company, First Data Corporation. The programs were alluded to in Congressional testimony by the F.B.I. in 2003 and described in more detail in a book released this week, "The One Percent Doctrine," by Ron Suskind. Using what officials described as individual, narrowly framed subpoenas and warrants, the F.B.I. has obtained records from First Data, which processes credit and debit card transactions, to track financial activity and try to locate suspects.

Similar subpoenas for the Western Union data allowed the F.B.I. to trace wire transfers, mainly outside the United States, and to help Israel trace the financing of about a half-dozen possible terrorist plots there, an official said.

The idea for the Swift program, several officials recalled, grew out of a suggestion by a Wall Street executive, who told a senior Bush administration official about Swift's database. Few government officials knew much about the consortium, which is led by a Brooklyn native, Leonard H. Schrank, but they quickly discovered it offered unparalleled access to international transactions.

Swift, a former government official said, was "the mother lode, the Rosetta stone" for financial data.

Intelligence officials were so eager to exploit the Swift data that they discussed having the C.I.A. covertly gain access to the system, several officials involved in the talks said. But Treasury officials resisted, the officials said, and favored going to Swift directly.

At the same time, lawyers in the Treasury Department and the Justice Department were considering possible legal obstacles to the arrangement, the officials said.

In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans had no constitutional right to privacy for their records held by banks or other financial institutions. In response, Congress passed the Right to Financial Privacy Act two years later, restricting government access to Americans' banking records. In considering the Swift program, some government lawyers were particularly concerned about whether the law prohibited officials from gaining access to records without a warrant or subpoena based on some level of suspicion about each target.

For many years, law enforcement officials have relied on grand-jury subpoenas or court-approved warrants for such financial data. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. has turned more frequently to an administrative subpoena, known as a national security letter, to demand such records.

After an initial debate, Treasury Department lawyers, consulting with the Justice Department, concluded that the privacy laws applied to banks, not to a banking cooperative like Swift. They also said the law protected individual customers and small companies, not the major institutions that route money through Swift on behalf of their customers.

Other state, federal and international regulations place different and sometimes conflicting restrictions on the government's access to financial records. Some put greater burdens on the company disclosing the information than on the government officials demanding it.

Among their considerations, American officials saw Swift as a willing partner in the operation. But Swift said its participation was never voluntary. "Swift has made clear that it could provide data only in response to a valid subpoena," according to its written statement.

Indeed, the cooperative's executives voiced early concerns about legal and corporate liability, officials said, and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control began issuing broad subpoenas for the cooperative's records related to terrorism. One official said the subpoenas were intended to give Swift some legal protection.

Underlying the government's legal analysis was the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which Mr. Bush invoked after the Sept. 11 attacks. The law gives the president what legal experts say is broad authority to "investigate, regulate or prohibit" foreign transactions in responding to "an unusual and extraordinary threat."

But L. Richard Fischer, a Washington lawyer who wrote a book on banking privacy and is regarded as a leading expert in the field, said he was troubled that the Treasury Department would use broad subpoenas to demand large volumes of financial records for analysis. Such a program, he said, appears to do an end run around bank-privacy laws that generally require the government to show that the records of a particular person or group are relevant to an investigation.

"There has to be some due process," Mr. Fischer said. "At an absolute minimum, it strikes me as inappropriate."

Several former officials said they had lingering concerns about the legal underpinnings of the Swift operation. The program "arguably complies with the letter of the law, if not the spirit," one official said.

Another official said: "This was creative stuff. Nothing was clear cut, because we had never gone after information this way before."

Treasury officials would not say whether a formal legal opinion was prepared in authorizing the program, but they said they considered the government's authority to subpoena the Swift records to be clear. "People do not have a privacy interest in their international wire transactions," Mr. Levey, the Treasury under secretary, said.

Tighter Controls Sought

Within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks, Swift began turning over records that allowed American analysts to look for evidence of terrorist financing. Initially, there appear to have been few formal limits on the searches.

"At first, they got everything - the entire Swift database," one person close to the operation said.

Intelligence officials paid particular attention to transfers to or from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were from those countries.

The volume of data, particularly at the outset, was often overwhelming, officials said. "We were turning on every spigot we could find and seeing what water would come out," one former administration official said. "Sometimes there were hits, but a lot of times there weren't."

Officials realized the potential for abuse, and soon narrowed the program's targets and put in more safeguards. Among them were the auditing firm, an electronic record of every search and a form documenting the intelligence that justified each data search. Mr. Levey said the program was used only to search the records of individuals or entities, not for broader data searches.

Despite the controls, Swift executives became increasingly worried about their secret involvement with the American government, the officials said. By 2003, the cooperative's officials were discussing pulling out because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program were revealed, one government official said.

"How long can this go on?" a Swift executive asked, according to the official.

Even some American officials began to question the open-ended arrangement. "I thought there was a limited shelf life and that this was going to go away," the former senior official said.

In 2003, administration officials asked Swift executives and some board members to come to Washington. They met with Mr. Greenspan, Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and Treasury officials, among others, in what one official described as "a full-court press."

The executives agreed to continue supplying records after the Americans pledged to impose tighter controls. Swift representatives would be stationed alongside intelligence officials and could block any searches considered inappropriate, several officials said. The procedural change provoked some opposition at the C.I.A. because "the agency was chomping at the bit to have unfettered access to the information," a senior counterterrorism official said. But the Treasury Department saw it as a necessary compromise, the official said, to "save the program."


Government Hit by Rash of Data Breaches

Government Hit by Rash of Data Breaches

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government agency charged with fighting identity theft said Thursday it had lost two government laptops containing sensitive personal data, the latest in a series of breaches encompassing millions of people.

The Federal Trade Commission said it would provide free credit monitoring for 110 people targeted for investigation whose names, addresses, Social Security numbers - and in some instances, financial account numbers - were taken from an FTC attorney's locked car.

The car theft occurred about 10 days ago and managers were immediately notified. Many of the people whose data were compromised were being investigated for possible fraud and identity theft, said Joel Winston, associate director of the FTC's Division of Privacy and Identity Theft Protection.

"Basically these were attorneys who were going to file a lawsuit, and they had relevant evidence on their laptops," Winston said, noting that the FTC employees did not violate security procedures by storing the password-protected laptops in their cars.

"We will be reassessing what procedures we have to make sure reasonable measures are taken to protect data," he said.

The disclosure comes amid a widening data breach that is expected to cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. In all, five government agencies have reported data theft, including the Veterans Affairs Department, which on May 22 acknowledged losing data on up to 26.5 million veterans.

Among them:

- At the Agriculture Department, a hacker who broke into the computer system, obtaining names, Social Security numbers and photos of 26,000 Washington-area employees and contractors. Victims will be offered free credit monitoring for a year after the break-in in early June.

- At Health and Human Services, personal information for nearly 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries may have been compromised in April when an insurance company employee called up the data through a hotel computer and then failed to delete the file.

- At Energy, Social Security numbers and other data for nearly 1,500 people working for the National Nuclear Security Administration may have been compromised when a hacker gained entry to its computer system last fall. Officials said June 12 they had learned only recently of the breach.

On Thursday, a House panel was cautioned that credit monitoring alone may not be enough to protect Americans whose names, birth dates and Social Security numbers were compromised at the hands of the government.

"The worst-case scenario is that the veterans file finds its way to a public distribution source, such as the Internet," said Mike Cook, a co-founder of a company specializing in data breaches.

"If this happens, the stolen identities will lose their connection to the VA data breach and groups of fraudsters might actively trade that data among the fraud community," he said. "More people might have access and could misuse those identities on a grander scale."

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $160 million in emergency funds for credit monitoring for veterans on a 15-13 vote; some Republicans objected because the VA has said it can use existing funds to pay for credit checks.

"I don't think it's acceptable to tell our veterans we lost your personal information, and by the way, we're going to cut your health care to pay for it," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who sponsored the amendment to an agriculture spending bill.

On Wednesday, the VA announced it would provide free monitoring for a year, taking responsibility after the data was stolen from a VA employee's home in suburban Maryland. The VA said it would also hire a contractor to do data analysis to help pinpoint identity theft; the agency, however, did not offer specifics, saying it wanted to see what bids they receive.

Noting "it's not going to be cheap," VA Secretary Jim Nicholson pledged not to take the money from current VA programs. So far, the department has already spent $14 million to set up a call center and notify veterans by letter, and it's spending an additional $200,000 a day to maintain the call center.

During the House hearing Thursday, Cook said identity theft victims typically don't become aware they've been hurt until six months after their data was stolen, when creditors come calling for money owed. At that point, it's likely the thieves will have moved on - having made just a few purchases so they don't attract notice - and started using another victim's information.

As a result, a credit monitoring service would raise a red flag after it was too late, Cook said. He said data analysis technology was available to help identity theft as it occurs, particularly in the typical cases in which thieves use stolen identities to fraudulently obtain credit cards and then make purchases.

Rep. Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he believed the VA and Congress should consider additional safeguard measures - even if it means costing taxpayers more.

"The concern is, are we creating a false expectancy - that if the VA does credit monitoring, I am safe?" said Buyer, R-Ind. "I still have great fears."

There have been no reports of identity theft so far from the VA data breach, one of the nation's largest. But Nicholson acknowledged this week that authorities - who believe the burglars were not specifically targeting the sensitive data - are nowhere close to apprehending those responsible.


Associated Press writer Libby Quaid contributed to this report.


Senator Rick Santorum Finds Old Crap, Makes Ass Of Himself
Senator Rick Santorum Finds Old Crap, Makes Ass Of Himself
Bob Cesca

Senator Santorum is my kind of guy. Not only did he make a complete ass of himself on the national stage, but he perfectly exemplified the specious, delusional fearnauts currently occupying our government.

In case you missed it, the senator found weapons of mass destructions (WMDs) in Iraq. These canisters, left in the desert decades ago and armed with depleted and useless mustard and sarin gas, could cause deadly harm to countless people if used in conjunction with a time machine powered by a 1.21 gigawatt flux capacitor set for Hill Valley, 1988.

Now if only Senator Santorum could also go back in time and prevent his parents from meeting, well then, bonus! Look out for that poop truck, Senator!

Secretary of Defense Doc Brown [Donald Rumsfeld], in an awesomely ridiculous move, confirmed that these weapons, which predate the Gulf War, could hurt someone and therefore qualify as weapons of mass destructions (WMDs).

"They are weapons of mass destruction. They're harmful to human beings. And they have been found."

Based on Doc Brown's description and reacting from my gut, I'm saddened to announce that I found a weapon of mass destructions (WMDs) in my garage. This weapon doesn't have a cool name like Taepodong 2 (pronounced "Type O' Dong" -- thanks Rob Corddry) but it's a weapon none-the-less.

It's called a Grass Hog. You may know it by the pejorative "Weed Whacker." Some folks call it a Weed Whacker; I call it a Grass Hog. Whatever you choose to call it, believe you me, if I ever decided to harm human beings with it, I could. Oh yes. I could go batshit crazy from hating America and run right up to my neighbor, Wayne, and BZZZ! thwack him in the ankles, inflicting a really, really severe minor abrasion. That qualifies as harm, right? My neighbor Wayne qualifies as a human, right? I found it, didn't I?

Weapons of mass destruction. They're everywhere. And Republicans need them. So gather up your collection of old bicentennial firecrackers that you've kept preserved in a jar of denture juice. Send them news of toast! Not just any toast, but that crappy diner triple-decker toast that somehow rips the flesh off the roof of your mouth! Send them news of your snakes! On airplanes! Send them news of the lead Civil War minié balls from Gettysburg gift shops and tell them you found evidence that General Lee is about to attack Little Round Top! Send him some mustard and a fat guy suffering from gas!

For without the ability to incite irrational fear in American voters, the Republicans are rendered powerless. Sadly, these fear props are often as ridiculous as Senator Santorum's 20-year-old Iran-Iraq War relics. Ban same-sex marriage because it'll destroy hetero marriage, but sue for divorce as much as you want. Spy on Americans to fight the war on terror, while voting in favor of the pardoning of insurgents who attacked American soldiers. Round up illegal immigrants, but continue to allow corporations to send American jobs to Mexico. Wheel out breaking news stories about ancient terror plots, but ignore the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, leave our ports vulnerable, and act surprised when North Korea unveils its Taepodong missile. And if none of it works and a majority of Americans recognize that it's all mostly horseshit Karl Rove thought of while glazing his forehead, just rig the elections.

No, we shouldn't deny Senator Santorum his scary campaign props, just so long as they embarrass the hell out of him. I have a great idea for his October surprise. Who wants to send the senator an anatomically correct sex toy with the word Taepodong scribbled on the side? Get your TiVO ready, John Amato!


National Research Council Report (requested by the Bush Administration): Last 25 years warmest on Earth since 1600

Looks like Al Gore has been right all along!

Last 25 years warmest on Earth since 1600
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The last few decades were the warmest on Earth in the past 400 years, and may well have been warmer than any comparable period since the Middle Ages, U.S. scientists reported on Thursday.

In a separate study, climate experts blamed global warming for much of the hurricane-fueling rise in temperatures in the North Atlantic last year, when there were a number of devastating hurricanes, including Katrina.

In a new report by the National Research Council, researchers said they were highly confident the mean global surface temperature was higher in the past 25 years than any comparable period during the previous four centuries.

They had less confidence the past quarter-century was hotter than any comparable period in the years from 900 to 1600, but found that plausible. For the years before 900, the scientists said they had very little confidence about what the Earth's mean surface temperatures were.

They did not dispute multiple measurements that showed the world warmed up by about 1 degree F (0.6 C) over the course of the 20th century, a quick rise compared with previous centuries.

The scientists also noted that temperature reconstructions for periods before the Industrial Revolution -- when levels of climate-warming greenhouse gases were much lower -- supported the notion the current global climate change was caused by human activities, rather than natural variations in climate.


"Natural climate variability is something that we'd like to know about," said Kurt Cuffey of the University of California-Berkeley, who served on the council's committee and spoke at a Webcast about the report.

"But if we did know for example that the climate was as warm at 1000 AD as it is now, it would have no essential impact on our understanding of climate change in the 20th century, the role of humans in causing it and the need to think seriously about how that may evolve in the next few centuries," he said.

The human causes of global warming have been under dispute, especially by a skeptical Bush administration, but are generally accepted by scientists as a key factor in climate change.

Figuring out global temperatures over the past 150 years is relatively simple, since reliable records exist. But for the years and centuries before that, researchers must read clues left by the growth rings on trees, the retreat of glaciers and even old paintings and diaries that document climate.

Such clues are called proxies, and scientists began using them in sophisticated ways in the 1990s to estimate Earth's surface temperature in past eras.

The council's report was prompted by a request from the U.S. Congress, spurred by a controversial 1998 report in the journal Nature that used a number of sources, including proxies, to estimate temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 1,000 years.

That report concluded the hemisphere was warmer during the late 20th century than at any other time in the past millennium, and that the 1990s were the warmest decade and 1998 was the warmest year during that whole period.

In another report on climate change, a new analysis blamed global warming for about half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005. Natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to research by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.


Top US General sees troop cuts in Iraq this year - despite Republicans voting against reductions

General sees troop cuts in Iraq this year
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. commander in Iraq expressed confidence on Thursday the military will be able to cut the U.S. force there over the rest of the year, as the Pentagon considered reductions of a few thousand troops in the coming months.

"I'm confident that we will be able to continue to take reductions over the course of this year," Army Gen. George Casey told a Pentagon briefing after meetings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Casey did not say how deep these reductions would be or when they would come.

Rumsfeld said Casey has not yet made his long-awaited recommendation on future troop levels, and would do so after discussions with the leaders of Iraq's fledgling unity government.

A 127,000-strong American force is serving in Iraq more than three years into a war in which about 2,500 U.S. troops have died.

Rumsfeld said the U.S. government has asked Casey and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to work with the Iraqi government "to develop a way ahead that they're comfortable with and that we're comfortable."

Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. force could be cut by a few thousand troops in the coming months. One official cautioned not to expect massive cuts.

The Pentagon has announced a series of units scheduled to deploy into Iraq as part of the ongoing rotation of troops in and out of the country. The official said perhaps two of these brigades -- each numbering 3,500 -- might be held back.

Defense officials previously said the Pentagon had considered, among other options, dropping to about 100,000 this year, but any cuts depended on circumstances in Iraq.


Casey also amplified on past U.S. accusations about Iranian interference in Iraq, saying there has been "a noticeable increase since January."

Casey said he was "quite confident" the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, were providing weapons, roadside bomb technology and training to a wide variety of Shi'ite extremist groups across southern Iraq. Casey said there has been training conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon.

"I have no evidence that there are Iranians in Iraq that are actually directing attacks," Casey added, saying they are allowing others to "operate as their surrogates."

Casey said the security situation in Iraq and the continued progress in developing U.S.-trained Iraqi government security forces were factors in the ability to shrink the U.S. force.

Casey last year forecast a "fairly substantial" reduction in U.S. troops this spring and summer if Iraq's political process goes well and progress is made in developing Iraqi security forces.

Casey noted the U.S. force currently is about 12,000 below where it was when he last made that prediction in July 2005.

"Whether that's fairly substantial enough, I'll leave to your judgment," Casey said.

"I think there will be continued, gradual reductions here as the Iraqis take on a larger and larger role," Casey added.

Rumsfeld said any drawdown might be interrupted by temporary troop increases as conditions warrant.

"Right now, I think we have 126,900 or something. It's come down from a high of 160 (thousand in late 2005). But it could very well go back up at some point. So it very likely will go down and up and down and up depending on the circumstances and depending on the needs," Rumsfeld said.

A Germany-based Army brigade due to have deployed to Iraq this month already has been put on hold, and one official said it could be sent into Iraq in a couple of months for a slightly shorter stay than the usual year-long deployment for Army units.


Republican Led Senate rejects Iraq withdrawal plans

Senate rejects Iraq withdrawal plans
By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led Senate on Thursday rejected Democratic plans to start a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as senators cast votes expected to resonate in November elections to determine control of Congress.

Republicans, embracing President George W. Bush's policies in the war that has caused his approval ratings to plummet, defeated two Democratic amendments to start the withdrawal of U.S. forces, now numbering about 127,000.

The votes capped two weeks of bitter debate in Congress over the conflict that has caused 2,511 U.S. military deaths, as Republicans accused Democrats of a "cut and run" strategy and Democrats retorted that Republicans were blindly following Bush's open-ended commitment.

A nonbinding resolution broadly backed by Senate Democrats that urged Bush to start withdrawing troops this year and left it up to him to set the schedule to implement the pullout failed 60-39. Six Democrats and one Republican crossed party lines on the vote.

Another amendment to put into law a plan to start withdrawing combat forces immediately and complete the process by next July failed 86-13.

Those 13 Democrats who voted for the measure pushed by Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin then voted for the nonbinding resolution. It was cast as the Democratic consensus position that called for a plan to start withdrawing troops, but without a deadline that many senators feared would leave Iraq in a full-scale civil war.

After the Iraq votes were done, the Senate unanimously passed the underlying bill authorizing $517.7 billion in defense programs for next fiscal year starting in October, including $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

At a Pentagon briefing, Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, spoke out against a deadline for troop withdrawal, saying it would limit his flexibility and "give the enemy a fixed timetable." Casey also said it would "send a terrible signal to a new government of national unity in Iraq that's trying to stand up and get its legs underneath it."

The Republican-led House of Representatives last week passed a resolution that wrapped the Iraq conflict into the war on terrorism and rejected a deadline for troop withdrawal after two days of debate that sometimes turned harshly personal.

In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats accused each other of exploiting the war for political gain.

After the votes, Democrats dismissed the defections in their ranks and claimed a political win, saying they were largely united behind a position supported by most Americans who want a policy to end the war.

"Eighty percent of us voted that way. It is a strong consensus statement by Democrats," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, a key sponsor of the withdrawal without a deadline measure.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said that although "Democrats proposed multiple and confusing strategies for withdrawal, it's clear that the Senate has rejected their plans for surrender and cut and run."

In debate geared toward November, Republicans depicted Iraq as central to the war on terrorism and branded Democrats as divided and weak on the issue.

"Withdrawal is not an option, surrender is not a solution," Frist said. "This senator does not want to be complicit in that decision that could reverse the success we have achieved since 9-11 in keeping terrorism off our shores."


US House votes to give Bush new line-item veto

US House votes to give Bush new line-item veto
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives handed President George W. Bush a victory on Thursday when it approved a bill giving him more power to control federal spending that has risen dramatically since he took office.

By a vote of 247-172, the House backed giving the president modified line-item veto powers. Supporters hope the legislation will also address constitutional concerns that killed a tougher, 1990s version of the measure.

Under the revised line-item measure, which is also moving through the Senate, Bush could single out specific spending or tax measures in larger bills passed by Congress and ask lawmakers to delete them.

Bush urged the Senate to also pass the line-item veto legislation.

"Forty-three governors have a line-item veto, and we need similar authority at the federal level to control spending," Bush said in a statement.

The expanded authority would allow the "president to work with the Congress to reduce wasteful spending while preserving the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches," said Rep. Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican who is a senior member of the House Budget Committee.

But Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said, "if Congress had any kind of backbone, we would do it (cut spending) ourselves."

The election-year bill is part of a broader attempt by Republicans, who control Congress and the White House, to show their concern over rapidly escalating federal spending they have presided over.

In 2001, when Bush took office, the federal government spent about $1.9 trillion. That figure has exploded to more than $2.7 trillion this year.

Besides fast-growing budgets for the military and domestic security, the government's tab for federally sponsored health care for the poor and elderly has been surging. At the same time, Bush has pushed steep tax cuts through Congress, many of which are aimed at the wealthy.

Earlier this year, in the midst of scandals related to lobbyists winning special-interest favors in spending bills, Bush asked Congress to give him line-item veto authority.

Some Democrats said Bush has never used the presidential veto authority he has, which allows him to reject entire bills passed by Congress.

Even backers of the new line-item veto acknowledged it might not be the remedy to budget deficits that have hit at least $300 billion annually since 2003 and $3 trillion in new government debt since 2002.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the measure could result in the president allowing special-interest "earmarks" to remain in bills passed by Congress while giving him a chance to kill items such as new benefits for low-income children or seniors. It also complained that in some circumstances, the president could place up to a 90-day hold on items Congress refuses to kill.

Tom Schatz, head of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, said, "with a line-item veto, the president can eliminate the worst excesses of Congress and help reduce overall spending."

(Additional reporting by Joanne Kenen)


Edwards proposes goal to end US poverty in 30 years

Edwards proposes goal to end US poverty in 30 years
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat John Edwards, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" on Thursday and proposed setting a goal to end it in the United States in the next 30 years.

"How we decide as a country to deal with poverty says everything about America," the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 said in a speech at the National Press Club. "Poverty is an issue where we cannot fail."

Edwards, who has opened an anti-poverty center in his native North Carolina, said the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the deep poverty of its victims showed the truth of his 2004 campaign references to "two Americas" -- one for the wealthy and one for the struggling.

"They have become the faces of poverty in America," he said, and the outpouring of support for them and public anger at their treatment "showed that this country wants one America."

He proposed a series of work, housing and school measures aimed at lifting 12 million Americans out of poverty in the next 10 years and ending poverty in 30 years for the 37 million Americans classified as living below the poverty line.

He said the proposals were the first steps toward restoring America's tarnished credibility and providing the leadership missing under President George W. Bush.

"I want to live in an America that is once again looked up to and respected around the world, an America that is an inspiration to common people everywhere," he said.

Edwards, a presidential candidate in 2004 before Democrat John Kerry tapped him as his running mate, is one of as many as a dozen Democrats contemplating a White House run in 2008.

He proposed a work program to create one million short-term "stepping-stone" jobs to let people work their way out of poverty, and an increase in the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour from the current $5.15 an hour. Senate Republicans rejected a similar raise in the minimum wage on Wednesday.

Edwards also called for an overhaul of the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency, cutting its use of contractors, eliminating at least 1,500 employees and shifting authority to states and cities on housing.

"We all pay a price when the American dream no long seems American," he said.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Soldiers Resisting Bush's War: A Growing Phenomenon
Soldiers Resisting Bush's War: A Growing Phenomenon
Peter Laufer

For the last year I’ve been traveling across the U.S. and making trips to Canada and Germany to meet with the growing number of soldiers who come to the difficult moral decision that they must disobey their commanding officers’ orders to fight in Iraq. It’s been inspirational to hear of their epiphanies and to witness their resolve.
There are more and more soldiers who refuse to go in the first place, citing what they learned in basic training: It’s their duty to disobey an illegal or immoral order. Soldiers and would-be soldiers are resisting this war, Bush’s war—not the military. It’s a growing phenomenon.

So here’s the question that’s been building these past months and weeks: Why hasn’t the public embraced the growing number of U.S. soldiers who refuse duty in Iraq or those who come back from active duty in Iraq opposed to the war?

There should be ticker tape parades for these heroes, we should be honoring them and thanking them for their courage. They risk their lives in combat, receive medals for valor, and come back to do battle on the home front for nothing less than America’s soul. But it’s not happening.

News coverage of these heroes is sporadic at best. Especially with the swelling numbers of American civilians registering discontent with the war, where is the popular support for these brave soldiers? Why are even left-leaning media outlets maintaining a distance from this critical story? Salesmanship. The media’s buying what Bush is selling. There’s midterm fear on the Hill. Then there’s the GOP big box fear courtesy of the Bush Administration, which has generated a panic about the Iraq War quagmire that manifests itself as a worry that even "liberals" will appear to be so-called cut-and-run appeasers if they come out without hesitation against the war.

Here’s what needs to happen:

We need to welcome these soldiers who are opposing the war with enthusiasm and open arms. We need to encourage those in the military to defy illegal orders. We need to lobby hard against recruiters seducing school children with the promises of money and adventure when they are leading them into death and destruction. We need to get real and make this war a regrettable thing of the past.


Lawmaker seeks to restore anti-terrorism funds

Lawmaker seeks to restore anti-terrorism funds
By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key Republican congressman on Wednesday said he would push for legislation to rescind steep cuts in federal anti-terrorism grant funds for New York City and Washington.

New York Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he was outraged at new Department of Homeland Security risk allocation methods that reduced 2006 anti-terrorism funds for New York by $83 million, and for Washington by $31 million.

During a break in a committee hearing on the issue, King said he would speak with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, about crafting a bill to restore the lost funds.

"I think it would be very difficult to change this allocation. What we're trying to do is find other homeland security funding to put in," said King, who represents New York suburbs on Long Island. "We want to put so much pressure on (the department) that they will find another way to get some money in."

George Foresman, Homeland Security Department's undersecretary for preparedness, told the hearing the department had done a good job of spreading a 14 percent lower funding.

"It is not that the threat to New York and Washington diminished, it is because our understanding of the risks in other cities has increased," Foresman said.

The Homeland Security Department's allocations shifted a greater portion of funds to smaller cities such as Louisville, Kentucky, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Omaha, Nebraska.

The funds for New York and Washington, the targets of the September 11 attacks, will be cut 40 percent. New York's share, still the largest of any city, will fall to $124.5 million from $207.6 million last year, while the Washington area's grant will fall to $46.5 million from $77.5 million last year.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to maintain protections for New Yorkers regardless of federal funding, but said the added cost burden would force cuts elsewhere.

"When you ask what have we done without, because we don't get a particular grant from Homeland Security, the answer is found in our school system, in our libraries, in our cultural institutions, in helping those who are less fortunate," he said.


Republicans OK with giving themselves raises, but not with increasing the minimum wage

Senate defeats Democrats' minimum wage increase
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Wednesday defeated a proposal pushed by Democrats that would have given some of the lowest-paid hourly workers a boost in their wages for the first time in nearly a decade.

A majority of the Senate, 52 senators, voted in favor of incrementally raising the federal minimum wage -- unchanged since 1997 -- 40 percent from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by January 1, 2009.

But the measure needed 60 votes to win under a procedural agreement worked out earlier.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, unsuccessfully tried to attach the proposal to a defense authorization bill that is expected to be passed by the Senate in coming days.

Kennedy acknowledged to reporters that it will be "pretty difficult" to win a minimum wage increase this year. He said the pay raise for about 7 million workers and their families would be a top priority if Democrats win control of the Senate in November's elections.

Democrats must pick up six seats from Republicans to reclaim the chamber.

Trying to rebut Republicans' arguments that raising the minimum wage would largely help teenagers working part-time jobs while being supported by their parents, Kennedy focused on teaching assistants, nursing home aides and office building maintenance workers who work full time at wages that earn them less than $11,000 annually, well below the poverty line.

Kennedy also chastised Republican leaders for blocking a minimum wage increase while pursuing repeal of the estate tax, which mostly helps the wealthy, and taking "plenty of time to debate flag burning. I don't know the last time a flag was burned in my state of Massachusetts," Kennedy said.


Republicans countered that raising the minimum wage would end up backfiring by forcing small businesses to hire fewer workers.

The Senate also defeated a Republican-backed amendment to raise the minimum wage in two steps to $6.25. That measure also would have changed some work rules, drawing Democratic opposition.

Only 45 senators supported that plan by Republican Michael Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of a Senate labor committee.

His amendment had a minimum wage increase, but Enzi said that Congress instead should focus on ways to lower high-school dropout rates and get more job training to low-skilled workers.

With congressional elections less than five months away, Democratic candidates are likely to highlight the minimum wage and contrast it to House of Representatives and Senate members' salaries, which have risen by nearly $35,000 since 1997.

House Democrats, like their Senate counterparts, are pushing a $2.10-per-hour minimum wage increase. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to include the wage hike in a fiscal 2007 labor and health spending bill.

House Republican leaders, who oppose raising the minimum wage, have put that bill on a back burner because of the amendment.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)


With eye on elections, Senate debates Iraq war

With eye on elections, Senate debates Iraq war
By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a debate likely to shape November's elections, the Senate fought bitterly on Wednesday over measures pushed by Democrats to wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq that Republicans derided as "cut-and-run" strategies.

Republicans sought to turn the tables on Democrats over the war, depicting them as weak on terrorism and casting Iraq as the front in a terror war that would otherwise move to the United States.

Democrats, banking on the war's unpopularity in their bid to regain control of Congress in the midterm elections, said their amendments showed their united opposition to President George W. Bush's policies.

But they offered two plans -- one to start withdrawing U.S. troops this year but without a deadline to finish withdrawal, and another to pull out combat forces by July 2007.

Most Democrats, wary of setting a pullout deadline for fear that could lead to a full-scale Iraqi civil war, backed the nonbinding resolution crafted by Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island calling for the start of the phased withdrawal but with no timetable.

But about a dozen were expected to support the amendment to put a deadline into law that is being pushed by Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, both eyeing presidential runs in 2008.

Some senators were expected to support both amendments in votes expected on Thursday, seeing the Levin-Reed amendment as a fallback position.

Republicans called them "cut-and-run" and "cut-and-jog" amendments that showed fissures in the Democratic Party.

"It's been interesting to watch the Democrats debate among themselves," said Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He expressed confidence the Republican-controlled chamber would defeat both measures.

Reflecting the party's split, Democratic whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said he would vote for the Kerry-Feingold measure, while Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed the Levin-Reed amendment, which he had hoped would be a vehicle for party unity.

Democrats lashed out at Republicans, saying they were trying to exploit for their political gain a war in which more than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have died.


Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat and another likely presidential contender, accused Republicans of "blindly following" Bush. She said they "may not have a war strategy, but they do have an election strategy" by branding as unpatriotic those opposed to an unconditional commitment of U.S. troops.

Reed said his amendment would "begin to transition the burden from American military shoulders" to Iraqis. "This isn't cut and run. ... It is an attempt to articulate a policy based on the reality of Iraq."

But Kerry and Feingold said Reed's plan was too weak to prod Iraqis to take over their own security. Feingold said his measure showed "the views of the majority of the American people, which we've come to in a very painful way."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, decried the partisanship over the war. He also blasted the Democratic amendments.

"It is a timetable no matter how many times people protest it is not a timetable," Warner said of the Reed-Levin amendment. He said it would "encourage terrorism, embolden al Qaeda" and threaten U.S. security.

Moderates from both parties facing tough elections this fall were warily assessing their positions.

"The problem is I have a primary election separate from a general election. Every vote is going to be under attack," said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican in heavily Democratic Rhode Island who has angered his own party by bucking Bush on a number of issues.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat in Republican-dominated Nebraska, worried the Levin-Reed measure would be viewed as setting a pullout deadline. "I'm not for a date for withdrawal ... but I also don't think we ought to be there indefinitely."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat facing a stiff primary challenge largely because of his pro-war stance, said he would oppose the Democratic amendments.


Specter to grill officials on Bush ignoring laws

Specter to grill officials on Bush ignoring laws
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration will have to explain why it thinks it can ignore or overrule laws passed by Congress in a hearing next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on Wednesday.

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he hoped to force the Bush administration to reduce its use of "signing statements" -- memos that reserve the right to ignore laws if the president thinks they impinge on his authority.

"Our legislation doesn't amount to anything if the president can say, 'My constitutional authority supersedes the statute.' And I think we've got to lay down the gauntlet and challenge him on it," Specter said in a telephone interview.

A Justice Department official is scheduled to testify at a hearing on signing statements next Tuesday, Specter said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had lunch with Specter on Wednesday, will face questions about the presidential memos when he appears before the committee on July 18 to discuss the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.

Bush has signed at least 750 such memos since taking office in 2001, according to the Boston Globe, more than previous presidential administrations combined.

Bush has used signing statements to signal that he might bypass a ban on the torture of U.S.-held prisoners and ignore new provisions in an anti-terrorism law that call for increased congressional oversight.

Specter said the heavy use of signing statements fits in with a larger pattern of overreaching by the Bush administration, from the NSA's surveillance program to a first-ever raid on a congressman's office as part of a bribery probe.

Trying to legislate against signing statements probably would not work, Specter said, but there might be other ways to force the administration to curb their use.

"Maybe we can find some pressure point on the budget or appropriations or confirmations or something of that sort," he said. "I'm thinking about all the alternatives."

A White House official said signing statements help the public understand how a given law will be enforced and can provide guidance to courts as they interpret it.

"They are used appropriately and the content is consistent with that of past presidents," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Specter has clashed with the White House in recent months about the spying program and recently accused Vice President Dick Cheney of meddling in his committee's affairs.

Specter has been trying to reach a compromise with Cheney and other officials on legislation that would allow a special court to review the surveillance program.

"We've made some progress on it but I'm not prepared to give you the details," he said. "This is a major matter for them that they have not yet finished."


WHO: Bird flu spread among family members

Yahoo! News
WHO: Bird flu spread among family members
By MARGIE MASON, AP Medical Writer

The World Health Organization has concluded that human-to-human transmission likely occurred among seven relatives who developed bird flu in Indonesia.

In a report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, WHO experts said the cluster's index case was probably infected by sick birds and spread the disease to six family members. One of those cases, a boy, then likely infected his father, it said.

The U.N. agency stressed the virus has not mutated and that no cases were detected beyond the family.

Seven of the eight relatives died last month, but one was buried before samples could be taken to confirm bird flu infection.

"Six confirmed H5N1 cases likely acquired (the) H5N1 virus through human-to-human transmission from the index case ... during close prolonged contact with her during the late stages of her illness," the report said.

The report was distributed at a closed meeting in Jakarta attended by some of the world's top bird flu experts. The three-day session was convened after Indonesia asked for international help. The country has recorded the world's highest number of human bird flu cases this year, and 39 of those infected have died.

"What is happening in Indonesia? That is the No. 1 question," said Bayu Krishnamurthi, Indonesia's national bird flu coordinator. "With all of these limited resources — human, financial, institutional — what should we do?"

The experts were expected to discuss the large family cluster during the session. One of the remaining mysteries is why only blood relatives — not spouses — became infected.

The WHO report theorizes the family shared a "common genetic predisposition to infection with H5N1 virus with severe and fatal outcomes." However, there is no evidence to support that.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO's coordinator for the Global Influenza Program in Geneva, said the Indonesian case appears to resemble other family clusters where limited human-to-human transmission occurred following close contact. He said scientists must find out whether anything is different about the way the virus is behaving.

"The really critical factor is why did that cluster develop?" he said. "What's the reason why people in a cluster got infected?"

Fukuda said that although the cluster in the farming village on Sumatra island grabbed world attention, no country — including Vietnam and Thailand, which have largely controlled the virus — is safe from bird flu.

"This is a virus that you both have to respect a lot and (you) have to be concerned about the overall situation, even in areas in which it looks like control has been achieved," he said on the meeting's sidelines. "The real question is: Can you sustain that control for a virus which is really able to persist this way?"

Bird flu has killed at least 130 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Experts fear the virus will mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic. So far, it remains hard for people to catch, and most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.

Indonesian officials said the country lacks manpower and money to battle the H5N1 virus alone. The government has been saddled with a series of natural disasters, including the 2004 tsunami and an earthquake last month on Java Island.

Indonesia needs $50 million from donors in the next three years to establish a system to help fight bird flu in poultry, according to Peter Roeder of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Indonesia has said it needs $900 million over the next three years for its overall battle against the H5N1 virus but has only budgeted $59 million.


Associated Press reporter Zakki Hakim in Jakarta contributed to this report.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly Excluded From American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia...

The New York Times
Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly Excluded From American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia...
An A-to-Z Book of Conservatism Now Weighs In

WASHINGTON, June 20 — It has red states and blond pundits; home schoolers and The Human Life Review; originalists, monetarists, federalists and evangelists; and no shortage of people named Kristol.

Now American conservatism can claim another mark of distinction: an encyclopedia all its own.

It is a big deal, in terms literal — 997 pages — and metaphorical. Few insults have stung the movement's thinkers as much as the barb from Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, who said conservatives had no ideas, "just irritable mental gestures."

A half-century later, 251 contributors have weighed in, not so irritably, with a four-pound response.

"Feel the heft of it," said Lee Edwards, a former aide to Senator Barry Goldwater, who appears in the volume with a byline and an entry. "It's more than a book. It is, if you will, an estimate — it shows the maturation of the conservative movement."

And a timely one, at that. Sixteen years in the making, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia appears with American conservatism, the political movement, warring over its future direction.

"We've gone from history's adversary to destiny's child, but governing has brought a whole new level of challenge," said Jeffrey O. Nelson, publisher of ISI Books, the conservative press in Wilmington, Del., that produced the encyclopedia. Criticizing what he called the "big education, big spending, big war, big government" conservatism of Republican leaders, Mr. Nelson said he hoped that the book, whose list price is $35, would help the movement return to its small-government roots.

"If conservatism is going to succeed and thrive in the 21st century," he said, "it's got to look more like the conservative tradition as expressed in this book than the conservatism currently practiced in Washington."

Those people toiling in the capital trenches may not recognize the conservatism represented here. The book omits familiar names like Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Bill O'Reilly and Karl Rove.

It includes the journals University Bookman, circulation 2,600, and First Things. It gives Willmoore Kendall, a political scientist who died in 1967, three times as much ink as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Those proportions are appropriate, said a former student of Mr. Kendall, William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, who called the reference book "terrific."

"Newt came and went rather fast but didn't leave hard fingerprints," Mr. Buckley said. "The quote, unquote conservative politicians have a pretty short lifetime in encyclopedia usage.

"It seems to me that if one were looking for orientation in such a world that the encyclopedia tries to serve that you would be more interested in Burckhardt," he said, a reference to Jacob Burckhardt, a 19th-century Swiss historian of the Renaissance, "than in any of more than 100 conservative senators in the past 50 years."

Garland Publishing started working on the encyclopedia in 1990. ISI Books took over the project 10 years later. ISI Books is part of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which, as Page 436 explains, is a nonprofit group founded in 1953 to promote conservative ideas in colleges.

The encyclopedia is being featured by two conservative book clubs, Mr. Nelson said, and has sold nearly 20,000 copies since its release about two months ago. Along with Mr. Nelson, its editors were Bruce P. Frohnen, who teaches at the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Jeremy Beer of ISI Books. Given its gestation, the book includes contributions from scholars who are long dead, including Russell Kirk, who in 1953 published a seminal book, "The Conservative Mind." Kirk, who died in 1994, wrote essays on John Adams and moral imagination. Mr. Nelson is his son-in-law.

Some entries wear their conservatism on their sleeve. Goldwater's "loyalties were to duty, honor and country." Ronald Reagan had a "vigorous and principled agenda." Bill Clinton was "corrupt."

Others plumb more obscure topics with no obvious tilt. "Public choice economics" describes a theory of how special interests wield power. Two of its proponents have won Nobel Prizes.

The discussion under "Jewish conservatism" acknowledges a history of anti-Semitism on the right. The entry on Abraham Lincoln explores a conservative split between admirers and those who think he laid the groundwork for "contemporary statist liberalism."

The longest entry belongs to "Straussianism," a school of political theory founded by a professor at the University of Chicago, Leo Strauss, that emphasizes classical texts. Embraced by some leading proponents of the Iraq war, Straussianism is often regarded by those beyond its fold as opaque mumbo jumbo, a reputation that five pages of explanation may not dispel.

If there is a place where the rivers of the right converge, it appears to be the office of William Kristol, a Straussian editor and advocate, whose mother (Gertrude Himmelfarb), father (Irving Kristol), philosophy (neoconservatism) and magazine (The Weekly Standard) all earned separate entries.

Though Mr. Kristol was puzzled to read that he valued "the virtue of a citizenry" more than its prosperity or freedom, he declined to dwell on quibbles, praising the volume for concluding each entry with a short bibliography.

"What I liked most was that it encouraged you to read additional works," Mr. Kristol said.

Some quibbles are edifying. The entry about "God and Man at Yale," Mr. Buckley's most famous book, says it portrayed a campus "conspiracy" against capitalism and Christianity. But Mr. Buckley said his book "made a rather emphatic point to say there was no conspiracy, that people were acting out of their own impulses."

Another entry describes the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as "pro-business." The page's editor, Paul A. Gigot, said the paper often criticized businesses that sought government favors and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 partly for an editorial called "Down With Big Business."

"We believe in capitalism, free markets and free people, not business over labor," Mr. Gigot said.

The volume treads lightly, when it treads at all, on matters of race. It describes the "courtesy and dignity" of Strom Thurmond, who as a South Carolina governor and senator led the South's effort to preserve segregation. It does not mention that Mr. Thurmond had a black daughter whose existence he kept secret.

George C. Wallace, who became governor of Alabama pledging "segregation forever," was "always more complicated than his critics allowed." The discussion of "Southern conservatism" pays tribute to the region's "precious Anglo-American continuity" and says nothing about Jim Crow.

Dan T. Carter of the University of South of Carolina said such entries offered a "pasteurized" view of racial history. "The rise of American conservatism owes, in some part, to racial animosity, and it's uncomfortable for many conservatives to deal with that," said Mr. Carter, a biographer of Wallace who describes his politics as liberal. "You don't have to say that conservatism capitulated to it. But you have to acknowledge it was there."

Mr. Nelson agreed that the encyclopedia's discussion of race was incomplete and said the next edition would include an entry about conservatives' reaction to the civil rights movement.

"Our forebears made a mistake on the issue," he said. "They were just wrong. I don't know how to say it more clearly than that."

The sheer mass of the volume left at least one subject with mixed feelings. Richard A. Viguerie, a founder of Moral Majority, was delighted to find himself portrayed as a "liberal bogeyman." But given the army of thinkers and doers who inhabit the book, Mr. Viguerie said, "we should have achieved more politically than we have."

That, Mr. Kristol said, was not a conservative view. "Conservative thinking," he said, "should teach you not to expect too much from politics, at least in the short run."


Report: Global Warming Pollution Has Doubled in 28 States Since 1960

Report: Global Warming Pollution Has Doubled in 28 States Since 1960

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group released an analysis of government data today showing that 28 states more than doubled their carbon dioxide emissions between 1960 and 2001.

One major culprit of the spike in emissions: Increased combustion of oil to fuel our cars and trucks, which accounted for 40% of the total rise. “Oil emissions from the transportation sector soared over the period due to a dramatic rise in vehicle travel and the stagnating fuel efficiency of vehicles, while oil emissions from every other sector peaked in the 1970s”:

Read the full report HERE. Also today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released the Safe Climate Act, which sets strict targets to significantly reduce global warming pollution.

The U.S. PIRG report underscores the need for immediate action to avoid a global climate crisis. As James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said last December: “The Earth’s climate is nearing, but has not passed, a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far ranging undesirable consequences.” These consequences, he said, would “constitute practically a different planet” and include sea level rise, heat waves, drought, more intense hurricanes, decreased crop yields, and water scarcity.


Bush "addiction" speech no longer rankles: Saudi

Bush "addiction" speech no longer rankles: Saudi
By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has reassured Saudi Arabia's king that he will continue to cooperate with the kingdom on energy issues even after his pledge to wean America off Middle East oil, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday.

Bush's pledge in January to cut U.S. oil imports from the Middle East rankled some kingdom officials, because Saudi Arabia had announced plans to spend $50 billion expanding oil production to meet rising global demand.

"When that statement came out we got in touch with the White House," Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal told reporters at a news conference hosted by the United States Energy Association.

Bush later sent a letter to Saudi King Abdullah pledging to honor a 2005 agreement the two reached at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Al-Faisal said. His remarks provided new details on how the White House smoothed relations with the Saudis after Bush's speech.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest crude oil exporter and the leading voice within the OPEC cartel, and the United States is the world's biggest oil guzzler.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Bush said the United States should cut its oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025. House political advisors added the remarks hours before Bush spoke, and Al-Faisal was "totally blindsided" as he listened to the speech in Congress' visitors gallery, an industry official later said.

After the speech, Saudi officials contacted the White House seeking an explanation, Al-Faisal said. Bush later sent a letter to Saudi King Abdullah pledging to honor the agreement, he said.

"I can tell you that the President ... sent a letter to King Abdullah affirming his commitment to the agreement that they had reached in the April 2005 meeting in Crawford," he said.

In that Crawford meeting, Abdullah, then the Saudi Crown Prince, walked arm-in-arm with Bush and both pledged to cooperate on future energy issues.

Saudi Arabia detailed plans to boost its production capacity and build new refineries, and Bush pledged to find ways to boost U.S. refining capacity, Al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, plans to boost production capacity from 11 million barrels per day to 12.5 million bpd by 2009.

Expansion plans beyond 2009 are murky. Saudi Arabia has called for consumer nations to offer a "roadmap" to ensure that OPEC and other producers do not unleash so much capacity that crude oil prices spiral downward as they did in the 1980s.

"By the time 2009 comes along we will have a clearer picture as to where everybody stands," Al-Faisal said. "It will be then that when we will make decisions on where to go."