Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sen. Orrin Hatch Orchestrates R&B Producer's Release From Dubai Jail With Help From "Multiple Ambassadors, A Prime Minister, A Prince, Lionel Richie".

The New York Times
That's What Friends in High Places Are For

LOS ANGELES, July 7 — Although collaborations happen all the time in pop music, they do not generally involve R & B hitmakers and Senator Orrin G. Hatch.

But the release of a music producer from a Dubai jail this week, quick on the heels of his conviction for drug possession, turns out to be a story of high-level string-pulling on the part of Mr. Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican and songwriter, along with Lionel Richie, the singer; Quincy Jones, the music entrepreneur; and an array of well-connected lawyers, businessmen and others, spanning cities and continents.

Dallas Austin, 35, who has produced hits for Madonna, Janet Jackson and others, flew home to Atlanta on Wednesday, after being released after midnight on Tuesday from a holding cell in a Dubai jail. Hours earlier Mr. Austin had been sentenced to four years in prison for carrying just over a gram of cocaine with him when he entered the country on May 19 to attend a birthday celebration for Naomi Campbell.

Senator Hatch made numerous phone calls on Mr. Austin's behalf to the ambassador and consul of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington — Dubai is one of the seven emirates — and served as an intermediary for Mr. Austin's representatives, the producer's lawyers said.

"The senator was one of a number of people who were very actively involved," said Joe Reeder, the Washington lawyer, who, with an Atlanta colleague, Joel A. Katz, spent 10 days in Dubai working to secure Mr. Austin's reprieve.

Mr. Katz, an entertainment lawyer, represents both Mr. Austin and the somewhat less musically successful Mr. Hatch, a singer and songwriter who has recorded religious-oriented albums. After hiring Mr. Katz's firm, the senator last year took in $39,092 in income from music publishing, according to financial documents filed in May under the Ethics in Government Act.

The senator declined to be interviewed or to confirm details of his efforts on Mr. Austin's behalf, but he issued a statement acknowledging his involvement and said he was asked by Mr. Austin's lawyers to help.

A spokesman for Mr. Hatch said that the senator was a proponent of rehabilitation for drug offenders, and that he had worked to revise federal sentencing guidelines regarding cocaine, and, through legislation in 2005, had advocated treatment for nonviolent offenders and the easing of restrictions on medication to treat heroin addiction.

In the statement Mr. Hatch said he was "confident that this talented young man will learn from this experience." He did not say if he requested that Mr. Austin seek treatment.

Until word of the pardon came through in a call to the One and Only Royal Mirage hotel along the Dubai beach, where Mr. Austin's lawyers waited nervously for news of their client's fate, the release of Mr. Austin was not a certainty.

"This involved multiple ambassadors, a prime minister, a prince, Lionel Richie, the senator and religious leaders in Atlanta," Mr. Reeder said.

"The uniting factor of all these people — the religious leaders, the political leaders, entertainment figures and prominent private citizens — was humanitarian considerations," he said. "Where should this man be under these circumstances?"

Randy Phillips, Mr. Richie's manager, said Mr. Austin "happened to know the right people, and better than that, the right people were ready to step out on a limb for him, which doesn't happen that often."

Although Mr. Phillips called the efforts on Mr. Austin's behalf "the difference between going home and being in 'Midnight Express' " — referring to the harrowing 1978 film about a novice American drug smuggler forsaken in the Turkish prison system — such pardons are not a rarity in Dubai, authorities said.

Mr. Austin's troubles began on May 19, when he landed in Dubai for the three-day birthday party of Ms. Campbell at the opulent Burj Al Arab hotel. While far from a household name, Mr. Austin is a leading figure in the pop music world who has worked with artists including Gwen Stefani, Michael Jackson, Pink, TLC and, lately, Mr. Richie.

According to published accounts, the police at the airport pulled Mr. Austin aside at customs and searched him, finding a small amount of cocaine. He was taken into custody and held at a detention center, the al-Rashidiya jail.

Several of the principal players in the negotiation recounted what followed, including Mr. Austin's lawyers, Mr. Richie and Mr. Phillips.

Almost immediately, several parallel initiatives were undertaken to try to influence the United Arab Emirates government to show clemency to Mr. Austin, his lawyers said.

Mr. Katz, of the firm Greenberg Traurig, hired three local lawyers, two from Dubai, and one from neighboring Bahrain, who ensured the reduction of the initial charge of drug trafficking to mere possession, the lawyers said. Drug trafficking can carry a life sentence in the United Arab Emirates, while possession carries a much shorter jail sentence. Discussions began over securing a pardon for Mr. Austin, focusing on the argument that he had carried only a small amount of drugs for personal use.

Mr. Katz also contacted colleagues, including Mr. Reeder in Greenberg Traurig's Washington office. A senior lawyer in the same office, Nancy Taylor, worked for many years on Mr. Hatch's staff in the Senate. Ms. Taylor enlisted Mr. Hatch, who is influential in Dubai because of his support for the United Arab Emirates-based company DP World in the controversy earlier this year over its contract to manage important American ports.

At the time of the controversy earlier this year, which resulted in the jettisoning of the contract, Mr. Hatch said the United Arab Emirates was a good friend to the United States. "We don't want to kick the moderate Arab nations in the face," he said at the time.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jones, the legendary producer, and his friend Joe Robert, a Virginia real estate investor with interests in the Persian Gulf, became involved. Mr. Jones has played mentor to an array of current young pop and R&B stars, including Mr. Austin. Mr. Robert is also a friend of Mr. Austin's.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Robert began making calls to their contacts in the Middle East, including senior officials in the United Arab Emirates. Reached this week on a yacht off the coast of Spain, where he was with Mr. Jones, Mr. Robert said: "I know Dallas Austin; I consider him a very fine, upstanding individual, notwithstanding the mistake he made." He added, "This is not someone that belongs in a prison anywhere."

Meanwhile, other efforts continued, including a call from Mr. Katz to Prince Abdullah of neighboring Bahrain, and from Mr. Reeder to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was consulted for a legal reference. Some of the principals said they believed that Mr. Austin's pardon had been secured from early on. Still, uncertainty weighed heavily on others, particularly Mr. Austin's lawyers.

Enter Mr. Richie, who enjoys a cult status throughout much of the Arab world and had performed twice this year in Dubai, where he has met various senior government officials.

In an interview Mr. Richie said that Mr. Austin's advisers arranged for the United Arab Emirate's consul in Washington, Abdulla Ali Alsaboosi, to call Mr. Richie for a character reference. "It was, 'Tell me what kind of guy is Dallas Austin,' " Mr. Richie said. "I said: 'Listen, this is a great guy. A gangster, a hoodlum, a thug, he's not.' "

Last Sunday Mr. Austin pleaded guilty to possessing 1.26 grams of cocaine and capsules of Ecstasy, telling the court he did not mean to break the law. The stage was set for a pardon by the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. It came four hours after the plea, Mr. Austin's lawyers recalled. What remained was to execute the edict.

But that didn't happen until after the sentencing on Tuesday morning. Shortly after midnight, as American revelers half a world away celebrated Independence Day, Mr. Katz and Mr. Reeder got the call at their beachside hotel.

The lawyers quickly gathered their things and rushed to the airport, where they met Mr. Austin and boarded the next flight to New York.

On Friday Mr. Austin released a statement that said in part: "This unfortunate experience has had a profound effect on me, and I regret any grief caused to my family, friends and business associates."

The Dubai government gave no reason for the pardon. "In an issue like this it is not unusual," said Lt. General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, head of Dubai Police, who said he was speaking in general terms and could not discuss the case in detail. "It is preferable to me that a foreigner who is caught in something like this be returned home rather than be kept here in prison for four years, costing us lots of resources."

Mr. Tamim noted, however, that Mr. Austin had technically been deported and would most likely not be allowed to return to Dubai.

Hassan M. Fattah contributed reporting from Dubai for this article.


Err America: Ed Schultz, You're Off-Course With Lieberman

The Huffington Post
Err America: Ed Schultz, You're Off-Course With Lieberman
RJ Eskow

Two usually reliable sources went way off-track this week. Yesterday the LA Times used Orwellian language, pre-scripted for them by neocons, to repeat false claims. (I reviewed the subliminal spin here.) And today Ed Schultz - who I always figured would make a great fishing buddy - swallowed Lieberman's nonsense hook, line, and sinker.

Ed can support Lieberman, and we'll still be pals. The problem is that he bought a talking point that was custom-made by Lieberman's handlers, and by the Republicans (if, in fact, the two are different). A savvy talk radio guy should know better.

While I don't have a transcript of Ed's radio show on Air America today, he kept repeating this talking point: "Joe Lieberman says he's voted with the Democrats 90% of the time. If that's true, why isn't that enough? What is enough? 95%? 98%?"

Ed, Ed, Ed. This is wrong in so many ways. First, what does the statement even mean? Is Joe saying he voted with ALL the Democrats 90% of the time? Or is he saying that when all the OTHER Democrats voted one way, he went along with them nine times out of ten? And how many times is that?

If you don't understand a spin point, don't repeat it.

Second, even if it were true - which 10% are we talking about? Joe's been wrong on almost all the key issues of the last five years. Who cares what percent it represents? The question is: How much harm did he cause?

And the "percentage" game leaves out all the rhetorical support Joe's been giving the GOP.

Lastly, to answer your question: "What's enough" is whatever Connecticut's primary voters say is enough. Period. If Ned Lamont can convince a majority of primary voters on Aug. 8 that Lieberman doesn't represent them, for any reason - then that's enough.

It's called "democracy."

Ed, buddy, I love ya - but don't buy into this nonsense. I voted for Lieberman the year I lived in Connecticut. And I want the Dems to win back the Senate. So if he wins the primary, I'll encourage people to vote for him again (although I might have to take up drinking again to do it.)

I think the people of Connecticut can do better, though. Once they get to know Ned Lamont, I'm confident they'll vote for him. It's true that Lamont has support from committed Democrats around the country, as well as in his home state. But - since when is that a bad thing?

Where you really got my goat, though, when you talked about Lieberman and Israel. Ed, you said (and I'm paraphrasing slightly) that "Lieberman's Jewish, so he's going to support Israel. Get over it."

Ed, I'm Jewish (and Southern Baptist and Catholic - but I'm Bar-Mitvah'd so I'm in the club.) I take offense, pal. This is old-fashioned ethnic stereotyping.

You're not the only one to make this mistake. Lots of people think that "supporting Israel" is the same as "supporting the Israeli hard right and its aggressive anti-Palestinian policies."

I can't blame you. There are people like Alan Dershowitz and AIPAC working full-time to make you believe it. In fact, some of them will tell you anyone that opposes Likud's policies is "anti-Semitic." But we on the sane side of the political spectrum need to think more clearly than that.

Lieberman doesn't take the positions he does on Israel, or on Iraq, because he's Jewish. He does it because he's a right-winger and a neoconservative. That's why most Connecticut Jews are supporting Lamont, according to one poll.

And what does Joe's extremist backer John Droney say about that (in the same link)? ""I find the behavior of a large segment of the Jewish community to be reprehensible and outrageous ... they all ought to rally to him."

That's the kind of person we're dealing with here. It would never occur to him that Jews might reject Lieberman because they love America and support Israel. They probably believe, as I do, that his policies are bad for both.

Ed, if you take a minute and think about it you'll come around, like you did when you stopped being a conservative. You don't really believe this is a party "purge." You're too sane for that.

So how about knocking off all this nonsense and teaching me the right way to fish? I never could bait a hook worth a damn, but I'm willing to learn. I'll even set a date: August 9. We can agree then to support the Democratic nominee together, whoever he may be.

But if it's Lieberman, keep those frosty cans of Bud well out of my reach.


Two college professors seek credit for Flight 93 memorial

Yahoo! News
Pair seek credit for Flight 93 memorial
By JENNIFER C. YATES, Associated Press Writer

Two college professors who submitted a design for a memorial to those who died aboard United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, say changes made to the winning submission include elements of their entry, and they want credit for them.

But officials with the Flight 93 memorial, to be built on the site of the crash near Shanksville, said any similarities are just coincidence. Many of the more than 1,000 designs that were submitted contained similar themes, they said.

Lisa Austin and Madis Pihlak claim the winning design includes about 10 ideas included in their submission, titled Sacrifice. They include a break in a grove of trees to mark the flight path, a sound element built 93 feet high, the planting of blue coneflowers at the entrance and a curving wetlands path.

The pair said the winning design, created by Los Angeles-based Paul Murdoch Architects, did not originally include anything from their design. However, the Murdoch plan was redesigned last fall to change a crescent shape that some people deemed offensive, and the resulting design included elements of Sacrifice, Austin and Pihlak claim.

John Reynolds, chairman of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, said in a statement that the redesign was based on feedback from the competition juries and many others involved in the project.

"We feel that the Sacrifice design is dramatically different from the Murdoch design in symbolic intent, physical form, quality, and means of expression," Reynolds said.

Murdoch did not return a call for comment Friday.

Austin and Pihlak contacted the National Park Service with their concerns last year. In April, a letter from the pair laying our their claims was published in Landscape Architecture magazine.

Patrick White, vice president of the Families of Flight 93 whose cousin was killed, said Austin and Pihlak's claims were investigated at the time. White said he had seen all of the contest entries and dozens had similarities because of the shape of the land, the soil type and other factors.

"Looking at it objectively, I believe that the claims have been investigated, thoroughly analyzed and the conclusion reached that they are without merit," he said.

Austin, an art professor at Edinboro University, said she and Pihlak, a professor at Penn State University's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, do not believe anyone stole the material from their design.

"The point of fact is that ours was published and ours was a copyrighted design ... and these are ideas that we proposed. And now, these are ideas that are going to be built," Austin said.

Flight 93 was flying to San Francisco from Newark, N.J., on Sept. 11, 2001, when it was hijacked and crashed in a field near Shanksville, about 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The original design was selected by a jury that included design professionals, family and community members. It was narrowed down from a pool of 1,011 submissions.

Austin said they have chosen not to pursue legal action because they don't want to delay the building of a memorial.

"We know that the families are waiting for a place to go to mourn their dead," she said. "We don't want to impede that process."


On the Net:


G.O.P. Agenda in House Has Moderates Unhappy

The New York Times
G.O.P. Agenda in House Has Moderates Unhappy

WASHINGTON, July 7 — Moderate Republicans say a planned summer push by the House leadership on conservative causes like gun rights and new abortion restrictions threatens the re-election prospects of embattled centrists, who are key to the party's drive to hold Congress.

Frustrated and angry, they say the leadership's new American Values Agenda, a list of initiatives heavy on ideological themes, seems short-sighted and ill-timed considering that few conservatives are at serious risk in November.

"It was stupid and gross," said Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut. "They have this obsession to satisfy conservative Republicans who will probably be re-elected no matter what happens. They get job satisfaction, but they are making it more difficult for me to win my race."

Mr. Shays and others said the announcement of the agenda took them by surprise, particularly after House Republicans seemed to be back on track after a few strong weeks of emphasizing new fiscal controls and a push on national security issues. House moderates have also been supportive of the leadership's hard line against the idea of potential citizenship for illegal immigrants, saying that reflects public sentiment.

But they fear that this new agenda could backfire by stirring independent voters to reject centrist candidates even if they do not totally embrace the party leadership's conservative tilt.

"I don't think it is a good agenda to go into the election cycle with," said Representative Michael N. Castle of Delaware, another moderate Republican.

Republican leaders disputed the idea that the values agenda could harm centrists, saying the lawmakers could establish their independence by voting against select initiatives if they choose. They say that members will be judged on their own records and that even Democratic-leaning seats held by Republicans have core groups of conservative voters who need to be motivated. And they know that the votes will also be difficult for Democratic incumbents in conservative locales.

"I don't mind people having to make tough votes," said Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, Republican of New York and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The unrest among House moderates reflects a seeming contradiction in the campaign strategy being mapped out by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and at the White House: While the emphasis is being placed on rallying conservatives, many of the must-win races are in more moderate regions of the Northeast, Midwest and suburban South and West.

In the latest review of House races by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, more than 20 of the 35 Republican seats considered most threatened were closely divided areas of Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and districts in Arizona, Colorado and Florida where independents could be crucial. Thirteen of the 35 were carried by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

"If you took the top 10 to 20 targeted races, it probably helps about three of them," said Mr. Shays, who said he was so upset by the leadership's agenda that he skipped a meeting of House Republicans rather than risk losing his temper over the initiatives.

In announcing the agenda, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said that it would allow lawmakers to vote on basic values like the "sanctity of life" while defending the nation's founding principles.

Besides a potential series of votes on family tax breaks, the legislative lineup for the weeks ahead included initiatives that would prohibit any government from using federal money to confiscate guns during emergencies; ensure that local governments do not have to pay damages or lawyer fees in court battles over public expressions of religion, and protect the Pledge of Allegiance from being found unconstitutional.

The agenda also includes a measure to ban human cloning and one requiring that those performing late-term abortions inform women seeking the procedure that the fetus could feel pain and could receive anesthesia. House Republican leaders also plan a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, even though it could not be adopted in this Congress because it has already been rejected by the Senate.

"There are no surprises here," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader. "We have members who want to vote on a number of these provisions, and we are going to vote. It is part of our job."

Democrats say the ideologically tinged votes could benefit their candidates in areas where they hope to defeat Republicans.

"It reminds people that the Republican Party is the party of Terri Schiavo," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, referring to Republican intercession this year in the case of the Florida woman whose husband wanted her removed from a feeding tube.

Critics of the agenda said the leadership acted with little fanfare in unveiling it, which they interpreted as a sign that it was undertaken mainly to appease conservatives and that the leadership was not committed to making it a centerpiece of the remaining weeks of Congress.

There are no guarantees that all the proposals will even reach the floor. The measure regarding the Pledge of Allegiance temporarily stalled in committee when too few Republicans showed up to vote, but the leadership said it planned to bring that bill and another piece of the agenda — a ban on Internet gambling — before the full House when lawmakers return next week.

Other Republicans are pushing the House to emphasize what advocates are calling a "suburban agenda," a series of bills pertaining to issues like online and school safety, health care and education savings. And moderates were cheered by a new Senate agreement to allow debate on expanded stem cell research.

But with Congress scheduled to be in session only for July and September before adjourning, moderates say that lawmakers need to be selective about where they put their energy and that the values issues could eat up scarce time.

"I am not going to disparage these particular initiatives," said Jonathan Stevens, policy director at the Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate group. "I understand what they are trying to do. But what my members are much more concerned about are the more tangible, everyday major issues such as health care, the budget and defense."


Records show four more visits to the White House in 2001 by the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff

The New York Times
Records Show Abramoff at White House

WASHINGTON, July 7 (AP) — Secret Service records show four more visits to the White House in 2001 by the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including one to see an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The newly released records bring the total number of his known visits to seven.

One of Mr. Abramoff's visits, according to Secret Service logs, was on April 20, 2001, to see Cesar Conda, who was Mr. Cheney's assistant for domestic policy at the time.


Terror suspects 'flee Saudi jail'

Terror suspects 'flee Saudi jail'

Seven terror suspects have escaped from prison in Saudi Arabia, according to the country's Interior Ministry.

Saudi-owned television Al Arabiya said the fugitives - six Saudis and one Yemeni - were linked to al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia has been battling a campaign of violence by al-Qaeda aimed at toppling the pro-US monarchy.

The suspects fled Malaz prison in the capital Riyadh, where they had been held over "security related issues," an Interior Ministry statement said.

The term is used by Saudi authorities to describe terrorism charges.

Radical ideology

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the suspects were religious extremists and said they had been arrested in separate incidents over the past year.

"They are extremists, the believe in the takfiri thoughts," spokesman Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press news agency.

The radical takfiri ideology is followed by radical Sunni Muslims.

Mr al-Turki declined to confirm media reports that the fugitives were linked to al-Qaeda.

The Interior Ministry statement urged the men to turn themselves in to avoid a postponement of their trial and to benefit from "the king's generosity".

The statement did not say when they had escaped.

King Abdullah recently renewed an amnesty he first offered two years ago to repentant Islamist militants.

Last month, Saudi officials said security forces had arrested 42 suspected Islamist militants in raids across the country over the past few months.
Story from BBC NEWS:


Lobbyist seen as a top choice for US DOT secretary

Lobbyist seen as a top choice for US DOT secretary
By John Crawley and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trucking industry lobbyist Bill Graves has emerged as a top candidate to replace Norman Mineta as U.S. transportation secretary, government and industry sources said on Friday.

A Bush administration source, who spoke anonymously because a decision has not been made on the Cabinet post, said an announcement could come next week and that Graves, a former Kansas governor, was a strong candidate.

Transportation industry sources also said Graves' name has surfaced more prominently in discussions about a replacement for Mineta, who left on Friday after 5-1/2 years on the job.

Mineta, who announced he was resigning on June 23, was the longest serving transportation secretary and the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet.

Graves comes from a Midwest trucking family and was a major fund-raiser for Bush. He took over as chief executive of the American Trucking Associations in 2003 after two gubernatorial terms. The ATA is the leading trucking industry trade group in Washington. Graves could not be reached for comment.

Marion Blakey, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration, is also a contender, government and industry sources say.

Blakey is a Washington insider who has a long association with Republican politics. She headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates auto safety, in the early 1990s.

In 2001, Blakey was appointed chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, and later was tapped to head the FAA.

She is well respected in Congress and by the aviation industry. She has successfully carried out White House aviation initiatives, but some speculate her decision to impose a contract on air traffic controllers this summer after difficult negotiations could complicate Senate confirmation proceedings with labor-friendly Democrats.

Blakey was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said.

Relations between the FAA and Mineta's office were cool. Mineta said in an interview with Traffic World magazine, published on Friday, that he favored his deputy Maria Cino as his successor.

A former Republican National Committee member and Bush campaign official with virtually no transportation experience, Cino is seen as confirmable and a political asset heading into the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Mineta's spokesman confirmed the Traffic World report but said there was no word from the White House yet on a nominee.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Excrement In the News
Excrement In the News
Paul Krassner

There were a couple of scatological incidents reported over the 4th of July holidays.

From NPR News:

"Bird droppings could be a threat to the shuttle re-entry."

And from the

"Even Bush's crap is classified top secret. According to our Austrian sources, Austrian newspapers are currently abuzz with special security details of George W. Bush's recent trip to Vienna. Although the heavy-handed Gestapo-like security measures meted out to Viennese home owners, business proprietors, and pedestrians by US Secret Service agents and local police before and during Bush's visit received widespread Austrian media attention, it was White House 'toilet security' (TOILSEC), which has Austrians talking the most. The White House flew in a special portable toilet to Vienna for Bush's personal use during his visit. The Bush White House is so concerned about Bush's security, the veil of secrecy extends over the president's bodily excretions. The special port-a-john captured Bush's feces and urine and flew the waste material back to the United States in the event some enterprising foreign intelligence agency conducted a sewage pipe operation designed to trap and examine Bush's waste material. One can only wonder why the White House is taking such extraordinary security measures for the presidential poop.

"In the past, similar operations were conducted against foreign leaders to determine their medical condition. However, these intelligence operations were directed against dictators in countries where even the medical conditions of the top political leaders were considered 'state secrets.' The Israeli Mossad conducted one such operation against Syrian President Hafez Assad when he visited Amman, Jordan in Feb. 1999 for the funeral of King Hussein. The Mossad and its Jordanian counterpart installed a special toilet in Assad's hotel room that led not to a pipe but to a specimen canister. Assad suffered from diabetes and cancer and the operation was designed to discover the actual medical condition of the ailing leader. During Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Washington in 1987, the CIA reportedly placed a special trap under a sewage tank to collect the Soviet leader's bodily waste for analysis. More recently, the CIA was reported to have collected waste samples from Ugandan President-dictator Yoweri Museveni's toilet when he visited Washington.

"Even Bush's toilet paper was flown in from the U.S. Air Base at Ramstein, Germany. In addition, Bush's food was flown in from the United States and tested with special chemicals before he ate it. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was shot by a firing squad in 1989, was the last major European leader to constantly use a food tester. The last frequent state visitor to Vienna, who always relied on a food tester, was Adolf Hitler."


Computer consultant hacked secret passwords of FBI director, others

Computer consultant hacked secret passwords of FBI director, others

WASHINGTON (AP) — An FBI computer consultant gained access to the secret passwords of Director Robert Mueller and others using free software found on the Internet, the latest embarrassment in the bureau's long struggle to modernize its computers.

The consultant, Joseph Thomas Colon of Springfield, Ill., has pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of intentionally exceeding his authorized computer access, and prosecutors are recommending roughly a year in prison.

Colon's lawyer is asking U.S. District Judge Richard Leon for probation, contending that an employee in the FBI's Springfield office gave Colon a password to get into the secret system to speed the installation of a new computer system. The work was part of the ill-fated Trilogy project that Mueller abandoned last year.

Prosecutors do not believe Colon was trying to damage national security or use the information for financial gain. Still, they said in court papers, the FBI was forced to take significant steps to make sure there was no harm from Colon's actions.

His sentencing was postponed on Tuesday and reset for July 13.

Colon, 28, lost his job and security clearance after acknowledging that he made his way into the deepest reaches of the FBI's internal computer network on four occasions in 2004.

He used two computer programs to extract the information and decode the passwords of Mueller and others, according to his plea agreement.

It was unclear from court documents why he sought so many passwords.

The FBI would not comment on details of the case. Colon's lawyer, Richard Winelander, did not respond to messages Thursday from The Associated Press.

In court papers, Colon argues that by March 2004, he and FBI information technology employees in Springfield had grown frustrated with bureaucratic delays in performing "such routine and mundane tasks as setting up workstations, printers, user accounts and to move individual computers from one operating system to another."

One employee, identified by Colon as an FBI agent, gave him a password he could use to avoid the delays. That password got Colon into the secret user name and password file.

The FBI has beefed up its systems to guard against unauthorized access, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said.

The FBI has spent nearly $600 million to put in place a high-speed, secure computer network and 30,000 new desktop computers. The Trilogy technology upgrade was begun even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, highlighted computer problems at the FBI.

But Mueller scrapped the final phase of the program, a paperless case management system called Virtual Case File after consultants said it was obsolete and riddled with problems.

In March, the FBI said it would spend an additional $425 million to build and run the Sentinel system. It is expected to be finished in late 2009.

Find this article at:


Lieberman to Opponent: 'I'm Not Bush'

ABC News
Lieberman to Opponent: 'I'm Not Bush'
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman Tells Opponent, Newcomer Ned Lamont: 'I'm Not George Bush'
The Associated Press

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman sought to distance himself from the Bush administration during a televised debate with his upstart Democratic primary challenger Thursday, telling him: "I'm not George Bush."

Lieberman's opponent, political newcomer Ned Lamont, has gained in statewide polls by accusing Lieberman of straying from his Democratic roots. Just six years after being his party's nominee for the vice presidency, Lieberman has fallen into disfavor among some Democrats for his perceived closeness to President Bush and support for the war in Iraq.

"I know George Bush. I've worked against George Bush. I've even run against George Bush. But Ned, I'm not George Bush," Lieberman said during the debate, televised nationally by MSNBC and C-SPAN.

"So why don't you stop running against him and have the courage and honesty to run against me and the facts of my record."

Lieberman, 64, who is running for a fourth term, is facing an Aug. 8 primary battle.

The founder of a cable television company, Lamont has dumped more than $1.5 million of his own money into the race. He has said he is prepared to invest up to $1 million more. During the debate, he cited rising gas prices and health care costs as problems, and repeated his opposition to the war in Iraq.

"In Washington, we're making a lot of bad choices right now," Lamont said in his opening statement. "We're losing a lot of our good paying jobs here in the state of Connecticut, and I wonder about the opportunities for our kids as they get older.

"And Senator Lieberman, if you won't challenge President Bush and his failed agenda, I will," he said.

Lieberman announced Monday he would begin collecting signatures to petition his way onto the November ballot as an independent candidate should he lose the primary.

Polls by Quinnipiac University have shown Lamont's support among registered Democrats increasing from 19 percent in May to 32 percent in June. Lieberman's support in the same period fell from 65 percent to 57 percent.

But the same poll predicted Lieberman winning with 56 percent of the vote if he runs as an unaffiliated candidate, compared with 18 percent for Lamont and 8 percent for Republican Alan Schlesinger.

In an interview on CNN's Larry King Live Thursday, Bush said he was not going to weigh in on Lieberman's primary race and declined to say whether he would support Lieberman if he ran as an independent.

"First, the Democrats have to sort out who their nominee is going to be and that's going to be up to the Democrats. And the rest of it's hypothetical," the president said.

When pressed about his liking Lieberman, Bush responded, "You're trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death."


A War Democrats Can Win

The New York Times
A War Democrats Can Win


IN 2003, the Bush administration left the war in Afghanistan unfinished and moved on to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This grand diversion of military, intelligence and diplomatic resources not only jeopardized success in Afghanistan but also initiated the collapse of international support and respect for the United States.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, American and NATO forces are fighting a resurgent Taliban. Leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar remain at large, and Osama bin Laden emerges regularly to threaten the West and inspire his followers.

It is true that Afghanistan has taken historic steps toward democracy. President Hamid Karzai is doing his best to unify the country, and there has been no insurgency comparable to the one in Iraq. But Afghanistan is hardly the shining example to the Muslim world that George Bush and Tony Blair promised. With warlords and drug barons largely in control and the Pakistani border still porous, the country has become the forgotten front in the war on terrorism.

On June 28, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Kabul to insist that Washington is still committed to Afghanistan. But I was also in the Afghan capital last week, as well as in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. What I heard from military officials, politicians, diplomats and aid workers was this: Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is still winnable, but American involvement is insufficient.

Back in Washington last week, partisan warfare had erupted over a Democratic proposal to establish a timeline for withdrawing American forces from Iraq. Even though the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., was working on just such a plan, Republicans battered the Democrats as quitters, unwilling to hang tough in the fight against terrorism.

Next time, the Democrats should try a different strategy. Instead of calling for troop cuts in Iraq, they should call for transferring forces and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan.

American forces are no longer the crucial factor in stabilizing Iraq. That will come only through politics, when Shiites and Sunnis commit to sharing power. But in Afghanistan, our efforts could still be decisive. Afghans are less hostile than Iraqis to American forces. And the British, who are leading the NATO mission set to take over next month, desperately need more combat power and air support in order to finally defeat the Taliban.

By forcing a debate on transferring American forces back to Afghanistan, the Democrats can avoid the trap of allowing Republicans to claim they are weak. They can argue that their proposal is not a withdrawal from the front, but rather a deployment to an equally important front where American leadership can make the difference in securing a long-term victory.

Democrats can justifiably argue their goal is to reverse the Bush administration's premature diversion to Iraq. If nothing else, such a debate would focus attention on the Bush administration's failure to finish the job in Afghanistan.

Americans know that Iraq has become a drain on our resources and reputation, but they are wary of giving up. On the other hand, since the Sept. 11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, public support for finally finishing off the Taliban and their allies in Al Qaeda can be sustained for a long time to come.

By marrying good policy with good politics in this way, the Democrats can help win the war on terrorism and help themselves at the same time.

James P. Rubin, an assistant secretary of state from 1997 to 2000, is the international news anchor for Sky News.


Don't Dismantle the Voting Rights Act

The New York Times
Don't Dismantle the Voting Rights Act

THE Voting Rights Act, signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965, by our father, President Lyndon Johnson, opened the political process to millions of Americans. The law was born amid the struggle for voting rights in Selma and Montgomery, Ala., which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called "a shining moment in the conscience of man." By eliminating barriers, including poll taxes and literacy tests, that had long prevented members of minority groups from voting, the act became a keystone of civil rights in the United States.

Now, crucial provisions of this legislation are in jeopardy. Last month, Congress seemed set to renew expiring sections intended to prevent voter discrimination based on race or language proficiency. Instead, a group of House lawmakers opposed to those sections succeeded in derailing their consideration.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in voting everywhere in the country. But it has a special provision, Section 5, intended for regions with persistent histories of discrimination. These states and localities must have their election plans approved by the Justice Department.

Since the act was last renewed, in 1982, the federal government has objected to hundreds of proposed changes in state and local voting laws on the basis of their discriminatory impact. In recent years, proposed election changes in Georgia, Texas and other states were blocked because they violated the act.

Yet states and localities are not subject to Section 5 forever. In order to gain exemption, they need only meet a set of clear standards proving that they have been in compliance with the law for 10 years and have not tried to discriminate against minority voters. In Virginia, for example, eight counties and three cities have been exempted from Section 5.

Another section of the act, Section 203, which Congress added in 1975, mandates language assistance in certain jurisdictions to promote voting by citizens with limited proficiency in English. There are now 466 such jurisdictions in 31 states.

No one disputes that our nation has come a long way since the Voting Rights Act was first signed into law. But while it would be nice to think we don't need this legislation anymore, we do. We still struggle with the legacy of institutionalized racism. If either of the act's two sections under attack is weakened or allowed to expire, the door will be opened to a new round of discriminatory practices.

The reauthorization stalled in Congress is called the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. Were he alive today, we believe President Johnson would be honored to have this bill named after such remarkable women. Its passage would be a fitting tribute to their collective efforts to expand the scope of civil rights and citizenship.

In his own era, our father faced powerful opposition to the Voting Rights Act, including from members of his own party. Nonetheless, he pushed forward with the legislation because he knew it was desperately needed. It was the right thing to do then. It still is.

Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb are the daughters of President Lyndon Johnson.


The Fragile Kennedy Court

NY Times
The Fragile Kennedy Court

The Supreme Court has nominally been the Roberts Court since last fall, when John Roberts arrived as chief justice. But as a practical matter, the recently completed term marked the start of the Kennedy Court. With the departure of Sandra Day O'Connor, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote in case after case. The court's major rulings, on presidential power, environmental law and other issues, reflected his moderately conservative, but often fiercely independent, view of the law.

The two new justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, produced little of the term's excitement since both men quickly fell into predictably conservative voting patterns. Justice Alito voted with Clarence Thomas 84 percent of the time in non-unanimous decisions, and with John Paul Stevens, a leader of the court's liberal wing, just 13 percent. Chief Justice Roberts agreed with Antonin Scalia fully 88 percent of the time, and least often with Justice Stevens.

With Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas forming one bloc, and the four most liberal justices forming another, Justice Kennedy had the power to make either camp's opinion the majority on a striking number of cases.

His influence was clear in the most important case of the term, the historic ruling striking down the military tribunals at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. Justice Kennedy provided the critical fifth vote for Justice Stevens's impassioned opinion that found fault not only with the tribunals but with the Bush administration's broader claims that the president has inherent power to execute the war on terror as he sees fit.

At other times, Justice Kennedy swung to the right. In the Texas redistricting case, he joined with the court's conservatives to reject the claim that Republicans' redrawing of the state's Congressional districts was so nakedly partisan that it violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. He did, however, join the liberals in holding that one of the newly created districts violated the Voting Rights Act.

In a key environmental case, Justice Kennedy came down between the conservatives, who would have substantially gutted the Clean Water Act's wetlands protections, and the liberals, who would have applied it forcefully. He laid out a middle-of-the-road test that will, in the end, most likely end up being fairly protective of the environment.

There were cases, of course, that Justice Kennedy did not decide. In an important campaign finance case, the court struck down a Vermont law but made clear that, as a general matter, contribution limits were constitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote his own opinion that expressed his continuing concerns about contribution limits, while Chief Justice Roberts gave critical support to the majority favoring campaign finance reform. In many other areas, though, including police searches and the death penalty, the law was what Justice Kennedy said it was.

The court's current centrism is fragile. Justice Stevens recently turned 86, and he or another justice could leave in the next two years, giving President Bush an opportunity to fill the vacancy. If the court's strongly conservative bloc gained a fifth vote, American law would likely look very different from the court's decisions this term and from its rulings over the last 50 years on issues like abortion, the environment and civil rights.


Eager Helpers for the Gun Lobby

The New York Times
Eager Helpers for the Gun Lobby

Childproof trigger locks on handguns should rank somewhere near mom and apple pie as a measure of the nation's wholesome dedication to life. But not in the House of Representatives, where the gun lobby cowed lawmakers into actually barring the use of federal funds to enforce an existing law that requires child trigger locks to be sold with all handguns. This late-night treachery just before the July 4 recess means that federal agents will not have the resources to confront one of the deadliest facts of American family life: 10 young people die each day in gun homicides, suicides and accidents.

The rate of firearm death for children 14 years and under is almost 12 times higher in this country than in 25 other industrialized nations combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet there was the law-and-order majority caving in to the gun lobby.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the Colorado Republican who dared to put this proposal on the floor, offered a shabby logic: locks on weapons don't stop the slaying and maiming of children, they only make "personal protection more costly."

She drew 42 Democrats to join 188 Republicans in the majority with an argument that summoned an old "Saturday Night Live" skit about a sleazy toy dealer peddling lethal toys to children.

"Many things around the home are dangerous when used without proper instructions or supervision," Ms. Musgrave said. "But it is not the government's job or responsibility to mandate every conceivable protective mechanism imaginable."

Surely the Senate will not endorse this nonsense when it arrives from the House.


White House to Ease Medicaid Rule on Proof of Citizenship

The New York Times
White House to Ease Medicaid Rule on Proof of Citizenship

WASHINGTON, July 6 — The Bush administration said Thursday that it would exempt millions of the most vulnerable Medicaid recipients from a new law that requires them to prove they are United States citizens by showing birth certificates, passports or other documents.

The action was apparently intended to pre-empt a ruling by a federal judge who is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday on a lawsuit challenging the new requirement, which took effect on July 1.

Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that more than 8 million of the 55 million Medicaid recipients would be "exempt from the new documentation requirement" because they had established their citizenship when they applied for Medicare or Supplemental Security Income.

Medicaid, financed jointly by the federal government and the states, provides health insurance for low-income people, including many in nursing homes. Medicare provides health insurance for people who are 65 and older or disabled. Supplemental Security Income is a cash assistance program for people with very low incomes who are elderly, blind or disabled. About six million people receive Medicare and Medicaid. In most states, people receiving Supplemental Security Income are entitled to Medicaid.

Dr. McClellan said the exemption would apply, for example, to "people with mental retardation who have never worked and to many nursing home residents." Critics of the new law had said it would be difficult for many people with mental retardation, Alzheimer's disease and other mental impairments to produce the documents needed to comply.

Under the law, anyone who has Medicaid coverage or applies for it must present "documentary evidence of citizenship." Previously, more than 40 states had accepted the applicants' written statements as proof of citizenship unless the claims seemed questionable. "Self-attestation of citizenship and identity is no longer an acceptable practice," the administration said in a rule issued on Thursday evening.

The new documentation requirement is part of the Deficit Reduction Act, signed by President Bush on Feb. 8. It is meant to stop the "theft of Medicaid benefits by illegal aliens," in the words of Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, a principal author of the provision.

In an unusual preamble to the new rule, the Bush administration said it believed that Congress had intended to exempt Medicaid beneficiaries who were also receiving Medicare or Supplemental Security Income.

The law says the documentation requirement "shall not apply to an alien who is eligible for medical assistance" if the person is also enrolled in one of the other two programs. The administration said this was "clearly a drafting error." Congress intended an exemption for citizens, "but accidentally used the term 'alien,' " the preamble says.

A literal reading of the statute would lead to an absurd result — "an exemption applying only to aliens who declare themselves citizens" — and would be of no help to the intended beneficiaries, those citizens who would have the most difficulty proving their citizenship, the administration said. The agency said it was merely correcting "a scrivener's error," one of several it found.

John E. Stone, a spokesman for Representative Norwood, said the final rule "appears to provide an appropriate degree of flexibility" to Medicaid beneficiaries and to states.

Ronald F. Pollack, the executive director of Families U.S.A., a consumer group working with plaintiffs in the court case, said: "The exemption of seniors and people with severe disabilities from the citizenship verification requirement is a commendable development. But many other people who need health care the most and can't come up with the required documentation — such as foster children and homeless people — may still lose Medicaid coverage and join the ranks of the uninsured. This should be corrected."

Dr. McClellan said that states could help establish a person's identity and citizenship by using records of state agencies that administer food stamps, child support and child protective services, as well as the agencies that issue driver's licenses.


UK prepares to remember 7/7

Nation prepares to remember 7/7
The UK is preparing to mark the first anniversary of the London bombings that claimed 52 lives and injured hundreds.

At midday, a two-minute silence will be observed across the country, including Wimbledon and other events.

The bells of St Paul's Cathedral will toll for those who died, at the times of the bombings and after the silence.

A public ceremony will be held later in London's Regent's Park, with musical performances and readings, and a recital of the names of the dead.

The commemoration comes as the chief constable of one of the forces investigating the bombings on three London Underground trains and a bus says he believes another 7 July-style attack in the UK is "very possible".

0800-1600 : Public invited to add flowers to mosaic in Queen Mary's Gardens, Regent's Park.
1200 : National two-minute silence
1230 : Multi-faith service of remembrance, St Pancras Church, Euston Road
1800-1830 : Commemorative event, Queen Mary's Gardens, Regent's Park

Colin Cramphorn, Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire force, said there was evidence that "further attacks are not just fanciful, they are very possible".

His warning comes a day after a video of one of the bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, was aired on al-Jazeera television, showing the 22-year-old from Bradford warning of further attacks.

Police said the timing was designed to cause "maximum hurt" and Downing Street said the attention should "focus on the quiet reflection of the nation".

Private events

Friday's remembrance events are organised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and are intended to unite families, survivors and Londoners in remembrance. From 0800 BST until 1600 BST the public will be invited to lay a purple carnation within a giant floral mosaic in Queen Mary's Gardens, Regent's Park. The flowers will be provided.

Later, survivors and the bereaved will complete the centre of the mosaic with yellow gerberas, and the members of the public can pay their respects over the weekend.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and London mayor Ken Livingstone will lay flowers at King's Cross station at the exact time of the attacks.

Confidential helpline to provide advice and support to anyone affected by events of 7 July or the anniversary
Phones manned 24 hours from 5-10 July
Centre and helpline open seven days a week at all other times - answerphone service at night
Also supports those affected by recent bombings in Doha, Sharm El Sheikh, Turkey, Bali and Dahab, and Bahrain boat disaster
Helpline - 0845 054 7444

Mr Livingstone told the BBC News website that Friday was a time to remember those individuals whose lives were ruined by the attack and a time to be proud of London's unique character, which was a source of envy to the bombers.

Other events on Friday will be held in private for victims' families and survivors, including the unveiling of memorial plaques at the affected Tube stations and at Tavistock Square, the scene of the bus blast.

A Book of Tributes, with a foreword from the Prince of Wales and tributes from the bereaved, will also be unveiled in a private event.

A helpline run by the 7 July Assistance Centre will be manned 24 hours a day over the anniversary period until Monday 10 July.

The centre said there had been a "significant increase" in the number of calls recently, with many people getting in touch for the first time as anxiety grows about the anniversary.

The 7 July Assistance Centre can be contacted on 0845 054 7444.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Bin Laden shows new life in tapes

Bin Laden shows new life in tapes
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Suddenly, the faces and voices of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are everywhere, in a stream of video and audio messages broadcast to the world.

In the past month alone, six new tapes from the two have reached an international audience. Excerpts of Zawahri's latest message were broadcast on Al Jazeera television on Thursday, a day before the first anniversary of the London bombings.

But U.S. officials and terrorism experts are wary of concluding that the spate of messages means another major attack is imminent.

Instead, they believe a complicated mix of factors is behind the outpouring: a desire to show that al Qaeda is still potent; a new sophistication in the use of propaganda, and finally, sheer coincidence as several different messages have all surfaced within a short time span.

U.S. officials and terrorism experts said they take al Qaeda's threats seriously. The two men are believed to be hiding somewhere in the hostile, tribal border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was not heard from for a year prior to January 2006. But he and Zawahri have now issued 11 audio and video tapes this year, the highest frequency recorded since the September 11 attacks, analysts say.

"They are trying to prove that the movement's not dead," said Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism analyst at the Congressional Research Service, the in-house think tank of Congress.

The two leaders may have felt they had to respond quickly to last month's U.S. military success in killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

A failed U.S. attempt to kill Zawahri in January and possible greater ease of movement for al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan's northwest frontier region might have also contributed to the higher volume of tapes, Katzman said.

Ben Venzke, head of intelligence company IntelCenter whose clients include the U.S. government, said the back-to-back timing of the messages did not mean they were actually designed to produce a threatening crescendo.

"Does this correlate to any kind of future attacks? I think it doesn't lend itself to an easy yes or no," he said, although certain elements of past messages such as references to U.S. territory could indicate an increased likelihood of a future attack.

Venzke saw some of the tapes as a quick al Qaeda response to major events, such as the death of Zarqawi. Others were more general commentaries on current events which were issued when they were ready. Still others were anniversary features issued to mark the date of a past attack.


In part, experts traced the recent wave of messages to al Qaeda's increasing media savvy and better logistics.

"It's a result of their ongoing propaganda efforts which have become even more sophisticated," a U.S. counterterrorism official said. "It demonstrates that they've greased the wheels. They've gotten better at this with time."

Coupled with its growing production expertise, al Qaeda leaders have increasingly felt compelled to reassure followers after setbacks while claiming credit for events that seem favorable to their cause.

"Bin Laden and Zawahri are trying to piggy-back on events they consider favorable, such as the Taliban resurgence, the upsurge of Islamic militants in Pakistan, the takeover by the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. By coming out with this many videos, they are trying to give the impression that 'this is because of us,'" Katzman said.

Gen. Russ Howard, an Army terrorism expert who retired last year, said al Qaeda might be trying to debunk U.S. assertions that the organization was losing central control of its supporters to local or "homegrown" Islamic militants who operate independently.

"This may be a bit of propaganda asserting that there is some type of central control -- that maybe we have this all wrong," Howard said. "It may be a way of telling those franchise groups or wannabe groups that al Qaeda is still in the game, even despite the killing of Zarqawi."


Indicted DeLay must stay on November ballot: Court

Indicted DeLay must stay on November ballot: Court
By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Indicted former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay must stay on the November congressional ballot despite withdrawing from the race, a federal court ruled on Thursday in a decision that could help Democrats win this key seat.

Texas Republicans quickly responded they would appeal the decision by the U.S. court in Austin, Texas, for the right to choose another Republican to run against Democrat Nick Lampson. The seat is crucial to Democratic hopes to pick up the 15 seats needed to regain control of the House of Representatives.

"Ultimately, everyone knows the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will be the final arbiter of this," said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill.

DeLay, once one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, had stepped down as majority leader last year after being indicted on campaign finance-related charges in Texas.

He dropped his re-election bid this spring after polls showed his campaign was hurt by those charges as well as an expanding scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In June, DeLay resigned the congressional seat he first won in 1984 and moved from his suburban Houston congressional district to Virginia to make himself ineligible for office under state law.

U.S. Judge Sam Sparks in Austin said DeLay could take his name off the ballot by formally withdrawing from the race. If DeLay formally withdraws, the Republican Party cannot replace him, likely giving the seat to Democrat Lampson.

DeLay's office predicted on Thursday the decision would be overturned by a U.S. appeals court.

"Tom DeLay looks forward to the correct decision being rendered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals," spokeswoman Dani DeLay Ferro said.

DeLay has not been charged in the Abramoff scandal, but two former aides have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.


Democrats contended that Texas law did not override the U.S. Constitution, which only requires a candidate be a resident on election day of the state where the congressional district is located.

As proof of his move, DeLay, in a hearing in Austin last week, produced a driver's license, a voter registration card and an income tax withholding form from Virginia and said he planned to live in that state indefinitely.

Democrats argued DeLay's wife continues to live in their Sugar Land, Texas, home.

"There is no evidence that DeLay will still be living in Virginia tomorrow, let alone on November 7, 2006, the only day that matters under the qualifications clause of the U.S. Constitution," Sparks wrote in his ruling.

The lawyer who argued the Republican Party's case said Sparks' decision would prevent states from assuring the eligibility of federal candidates prior to an election.

"We think this decision would really throw our elections into chaos," said James Bopp Jr. "It would make the Bush-Gore dispute in Florida look like a picnic."

Woodfill said Republican Party leaders in the four counties through which DeLay's district runs were still preparing to replace DeLay.

Lampson is a former congressman whose district, running from southeast Houston to the east Texas border, was eliminated in the 2003 congressional redistricting DeLay forced through the Texas Legislature.


US to proceed with airline foreign ownership plan

US to proceed with airline foreign ownership plan
By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration plans to move ahead this summer with its proposal to ease restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. airlines despite strong congressional opposition, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said on Thursday.

Mineta, who has resigned from his post after 5-1/2 years and leaves office on Friday, told reporters he may have underestimated the strength of lawmaker sentiment on the politically sensitive plan to give foreign investors some say in day-to-day airline operations in exchange for equity.

But in a speech earlier to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mineta said he believes the United States must embrace foreign capital to stay competitive in a globalized economy.

He has championed foreign investment for years, positioning his agency to approve the airline regulation without him.

"It's pure folly to think that economic isolationism is an option in today's interconnected world," Mineta told the business group.

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on June 14 to delay action on the airline investment plan for a year. Language to reject the proposal was included in annual transportation spending legislation.

Congressional opponents, braced by labor interests, said enhanced overseas ownership of airlines -- prohibited for decades on national security grounds -- could undercut U.S. economic interests and cost American jobs.

Opponents also tapped anti-foreign sentiment that flared during this year's controversy over a Dubai-based group's plan to run several big U.S. ports. That plan, initially approved by the administration, was scrapped after an uproar in Congress.

House rejection of the airline foreign ownership plan means the issue will probably remain unresolved in Congress until the end of the year -- the time it will take lawmakers in both chambers to pass a final transportation spending bill.

The administration is taking its chances on Capitol Hill and moving forward now because delay beyond the autumn could threaten an agreement between the United States and European Union to eliminate longstanding barriers to more transatlantic air service -- especially to London's Heathrow airport.

The EU has linked success of the foreign ownership plan to its approval of the landmark air services agreement.

Mineta said the Transportation Department hopes to finalize the foreign investment rule by the end of August, which would exploit the expected congressional lag time for addressing the matter and meet the timeline for European review.

"Right now there is no legal impediment" to move forward, John Byerly, a senior State Department official and lead negotiator in the U.S.-EU aviation talks, said in an interview.

Byerly said he was confident the investment plan would not be derailed when the transportation bill is cleared by Congress, probably after congressional elections in November.

"I hope we have an agreement in place with the EU at that time," he said.


How a US Senator thinks the Internet works (or why Congress should not be allowed to vote until they understand what they are voting on)
How a US Senator thinks the Internet works (or why Congress should not be allowed to vote on Net Neutrality until they understand what they are voting on)
Ryan Singel

The Senate Commerce Committee deadlocked 11 to 11 on an amendment inserting some very basic net neutrality provisions into a moving telecommunications bill. The provisions didn't prohibit an ISP from handling VOIP faster than emails, but would have made it illegal to handle its own VOIP packets faster than a competitor's.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) explained why he voted against the amendment and gave an amazing primer on how the internet works.

There's one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service is now going to go through the internet* and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let's talk about you and me. We use this internet to communicate and we aren't using it for commercial purposes.

We aren't earning anything by going on that internet. Now I'm not saying you have to or you want to discrimnate against those people [¿]

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time. [¿]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can't afford getting delayed by other people.


Now I think these people are arguing whether they should be able to dump all that stuff on the internet ought to consider if they should develop a system themselves.

Maybe there is a place for a commercial net but it's not using what consumers use every day.

It's not using the messaging service that is essential to small businesses, to our operation of families.

The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a viloation of net neutraility that hits you and me.

**The full audio can be found here
on a Public Knowledge blog.

(**Hat Tip: Alex Curtis and Art Brodsky at Public Knowledge)

* Update: A little internet forensics work explains why the internet took 5 days to travel from the Senator's staff to his inbox:

I also fixed a transcription error so that the sentence which reads "But this service isn't going to go through the interent" now reads "But this service is now going to go through the internet." The error was mine (thanks to reader Marc).

**Update 2: I updated the link to the audio and the Hat Tip to more accurately reflect that this mp3 was posted by Public Knowledge's Alex Curtis and brought to my attention via a press release.)

The original article can be found here:


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Suspects Were Terrorist "Stooges," Say Officials
RJ Eskow
Suspects Were Terrorist "Stooges," Say Officials

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the foiling of "a terrorist plot" by an obscure and eccentric cult called "The Star of David," while acknowledging that there was no imminent danger of an attack ... "In terms of plans, it was an aspiration, not an operation," an FBI agent said.

The Attorney General today announced that a successful sting operation resulted in the arrest of a terrorist cell known as the "Three Stooges." The cell's members are believed to be part of an offshoot of Al Qaeda known as "Why I Oughta," a phrase that appears regularly in their verbal communications.
The President hailed today's arrest as "a major breakthrough in the global war on terror."

Details of the plot are sketchy, but officials painted a portrait of three desperate men tormented by a violent leader who routinely attacked them without provocation. These assaults included hammer blows, knocking their heads together, and injuring their toes with a foot or heavy object. In a particularly gruesome ritual, he would often poke them in the eyes after forcing them to choose the fingers with which they would be punished.

The men allegedly possessed a very long ladder, which officials explained could have been used to "attack a tall building, possibly the Sears Tower." The plot might have succeeded, agents added, if the men hadn't kept knocking each other down while attempting to move the ladder.

The conspirators were nabbed shortly thereafter for a plot that the Attorney General described as "an aberration, rather than an operation."

An FBI official told reporters that the cell leader's name is "Moe," which intelligence officials suspect is short for "Mohammed." The other members of the cell are known as "Curly" (or "Qurli") and "Larry." The official also discussed the possible existence of a mysterious "fourth terrorist," who may be named "Abu Shemp."

The Attorney General interrupted the FBI spokesman to interject: "Or, is that 'a rumination rather than an operation'?"

Officials said that the terrorists exchanged coded messages by employing sounds that included high-pitched whines and "repeated glottal vocalizations" such as "whoop" and "nee-yuk."

The three men were lured into the plot by a government agent who gained their trust by teaching them to play piano. "Hey, it's Paganini!" one of the conspirators shouted on a secret wiretap, only to be chastised: "That's page nine, you idiot!"

"Perhaps it's 'an implication rather than an operation,'" Mr. Gonzalez mused.

The government agent soon joined with the violent sect, and encouraged them in their scheme to hijack a rocket ship and send themselves into orbit around the earth. The agent suggested they submit a request for materiel to Al Qaeda's high command. They responded with a note that read as follows, according to officials:

"Dear Mr. Al Kinda: We want boots, three periscopes, a large rubber mallet, eyeglasses with little mirrors so you can look behind you, those other glasses that make pretty girls look like they're naked, a knuckle-cruncher, and one of those whistles that makes all the dogs in the neighborhood bark."

"Could it be 'a gene-mutation rather than an operation'?" "Ssh, sir."

This arrest follows a series of recent arrests in a program the government labelled "Operation Street Sweeper." That initiative yielded a number of "aspirational terrorists," according to sources, including someone from the planet Bok and a homeless man who had been monitoring CIA radio transmissions using the fillings in his teeth.

Also arrested in "Operation Street Sweeper" was a person in pasty makeup, described only as a "mime." Officials said the suspect refused to give his name.

The silent suspect's interrogation was conducted with the aid of an "interpreter for the speaking-impaired." The mime declined to answer any questions directly, but complained about jail conditions. "He says he's in a box," the interpreter explained. "The box is getting smaller. Now he's going downstairs ..."

The Attorney General was then heard to ruminate in a half whisper, "maybe it's a 'dance sensation that's sweepin' the nation,' rather than an actual, uh, operation ..."

The press conference dissolved in confusion when an intelligence official squeezed the red rubber nose impounded from another recent raid, creating a sound that drew a squadron of policemen on unicycles and a bright red firetruck filled with clowns.


Hamdan, NSA and the New York Times
Geoffrey R. Stone
Hamdan, NSA and the New York Times

The Bush administration and its allies continue their drumbeat attack on the First Amendment with repeated threats to prosecute the New York Times for disclosing the President’s secret surveillance programs. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has suggested a criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act, Congressman Peter King and Senator Jim Bunning have accused the Times of treason, and Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a resolution condemning the Times for putting “the lives of Americans in danger.”

All this is rank hypocrisy designed to intimidate the press and rally the party faithful, at no small cost to our democracy. The decision of the Times to reveal the secret
NSA spy program may have embarrassed the President, but it was a great service to the nation. Any doubt there might have been about the illegality of the NSA program was effectively put to rest by the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Hamdan case. The administration’s only plausible argument that the NSA surveillance program is lawful, even though it plainly violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is that FISA unconstitutionally limits the authority of the President as “commander in chief of the Army and Navy.” Even before Hamdan, this claim was weak, at best. After the Court’s five-to-three decision in Hamdan, that claim is frivolous. In declaring unlawful Bush’s military commissions, the Court in Hamdan reiterated what it said plainly two years ago in Hamdi – even a state of war does not grant the President a “blank check” to run roughshod over the law.

The continuing assertion that the government of the United States can criminally prosecute the New York Times for disclosing to the American people the existence of an unlawful program of surveillance is nothing short of shocking. What does the First Amendment mean if not that the press can inform the American people that their elected representatives have violated the law?

Not only does the Bush administration continue to maintain that the government has the authority to punish the revelation of the administration’s own illegality, but they boldly assert that such punishment is justified because the publication of such information put “the lives of Americans in danger.” With all due respect, the publication of information that our nuclear power plants are insecure puts “the lives of Americans in danger.” Disclosure of the torture at Abu Ghraib put “the lives of Americans in danger.” Even criticism of the war in Iraq puts “the lives of Americans in danger.” What makes this danger any different?

Presumably, the administration and its defenders believe that disclosure of the NSA spy program not only put “the lives of Americans in danger,” but created a “clear and present” danger of “grave” harm. But no one in the administration has ever explained how or why this is so. Moreover, the administration knew full well that the Times was aware of the NSA surveillance program for many months before the Times published the story. If the danger of disclosure was truly “clear,” “present,” and “grave,” why didn’t the administration seek an injunction again publication?

Certainly, as in the Pentagon Papers incident more than twenty-five years ago, the Times would have withheld publication in the face of such an injunction. Moreover, as in the Pentagon Papers case, the government could have litigated an injunction without revealing to the public the secret information at issue. But in all the time the administration knew that the Times was considering publication, it did not seek an injunction against publication.

The reason, to me, seems obvious. The lawyers in the administration knew they could not prove the existence of a danger sufficiently “clear,” “present,” and “grave” to justify an injunction. Rather than test the matter in a court of law, the administration sat passively on its hands and allowed the story to be published. Then, after–the–fact, it accuses the Times of disloyalty and browbeats the press with threats of a criminal prosecution. It makes one wonder exactly who is playing fast-and-loose with the truth – and with the nation’s security.


With only a letter, FBI can gather private data

With only a letter, FBI can gather private data
By Richard Willing, USA TODAY

When the FBI office in New Haven, Conn., received an e-mail in February 2005 that looked like a terrorist threat, agents followed a familiar routine. They asked the service provider, a group of Connecticut public libraries, for the real name, street address and Internet logs of the sender.

They had no search warrant, grand jury subpoena or court order. Instead, a local FBI official hand-delivered a National Security Letter — one of more than 9,000 sent to finance, telephone and Internet companies last year — that described the records needed.

Under a federal law expanded by the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act of 2001, the written request was all the authority the FBI needed. The Patriot Act also barred the librarians from disclosing the request to anyone.

The librarians refused to hand over the information. Instead, they filed a federal lawsuit challenging the secret letters as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

The e-mailed threat proved to be a hoax. Yet the lawsuit it sparked, only the second legal challenge to National Security Letters in their 20-year history, provides a rare public glimpse of the vast amount of banking, credit, telephone and Internet records that anti-terrorism or counterintelligence investigators can have simply by asking.

National Security Letters are the key to the trove of personal data. When the law authorizing them was passed by Congress in 1986, the letters could be authorized only by a high-ranking FBI official in pursuit of an "agent of a foreign power."

The Patriot Act, passed six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, expanded the letters' reach. Now they can be issued if a local FBI official merely certifies that the information sought is "relevant" to an international terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.

"People have no idea how much of what they probably consider their private information is readily available to government," says Susan Brenner, a University of Dayton law professor who advises the U.S. Secret Service on technology and privacy. The letters, she says, raise the question: "How do we balance law enforcement's needs with what's left of privacy in an age where technology permeates everything?"

According to Michael Woods, chief of the FBI's national security law unit from 1999 to 2002, National Security Letters can be used to retrieve:

•Internet and telephone data, including names, addresses, log-on times, toll records, e-mail addresses and service providers.

•Financial records, including bank accounts and money transfers, provided the FBI says they are needed to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

•Credit information, such as an individual's banks, loan companies, mortgage holders or other financial institutions.

•Consumer, financial and foreign travel records held by "any commercial entity," if the investigation's target is an executive branch employee with a security clearance.

Only FBI agents can obtain phone, computer and financial records. Other federal agencies that gather intelligence on international terrorism can get consumer credit reports and credit agency data. They include the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and Transportation Security Administration.

9,254 letters served in 2005

The government swears by the National Security Letters. In papers filed last year in the Connecticut case, David Szady, the FBI's assistant director for counterintelligence, said the letters are vital to the bureau's post-9/11 mission: to disrupt terrorist plots and other national security threats before attacks occur.

The letters, Szady said, are especially valuable in providing leads because they establish relationships between suspects who may be linked only by records. Letters help investigators move "from target to target, unearthing the different layers and conspirators of an international terrorist or foreign counterintelligence organization," he said.

According to U.S. Justice Department figures, the FBI served 9,254 National Security Letters concerning 3,501 individuals in 2005.

By comparison, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes search warrants and electronic surveillance in terrorism and spying cases, approved 2,072 warrants and wiretaps and 155 applications for business records last year.

Before the Patriot Act was revised in March, the FBI was not required to disclose how many letters it issues. The number of letters from previous years, and whether they led to successful terrorism prosecutions, remains classified.

Details of success story

Because the recipients of National Security Letters are hardly ever named, little is known about how the letters have been used.

The details of one successful computer surveillance operation can be pieced together from public records:

In the spring of 2004, federal investigators noted that Mohammad Junaid Babar had a home computer yet frequently visited the New York Public Library to use its Internet service. The library's records showed Babar, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen and suspected al-Qaeda associate, was e-mailing "other terrorist associates around the world," Ken Wainstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said last year while lobbying Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

After his arrest in April 2004, Babar told the FBI that because the library's hard drives were erased after each use, he believed he could use the system without being monitored. Even so, investigators were able to learn Babar's name, address and e-mail destinations through records the library had stored.

Babar has pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and faces a sentence of up to 70 years in prison.

"Libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies," Wainstein told a congressional committee in April 2005.

Present and former government lawyers say the letters are on firm legal ground. They've been validated by several votes of Congress and used "thousands of times," says Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut.

Woods, the former FBI lawyer, says that in most cases the letters allow access to information that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is not private. Requiring a National Security Letter, he says, was considered a "step up" in privacy protection from the way federal investigators previously sought records: simply visiting banks and phone companies and asking for the information, which was almost always provided.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some privacy advocates do not agree. Ann Beeson, an ACLU lawyer who represents the Connecticut librarians, says the letters are a "dangerous" and underexamined threat to civil liberties.

Giving the FBI authority to decide what's "relevant" to its own investigations, Beeson says, "is an open invitation to perform fishing expeditions" that trample the privacy rights of citizens. Because the Patriot Act allows checks of individuals who are not an investigation's target, Beeson says, the FBI is free to gather "sensitive information about innocent people."

Lee Tien, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group that opposed many elements of the Patriot Act, says the secrecy requirement contained in the law makes it impossible for the public to know how intrusive the letters are or how often they help stop terrorists.

"The government has always had a door (to access) private records, but it has gotten a lot larger," Tien says. "Now the lock has been taken off the door. Patriot (Act) did that."

Requiring recipients of letters to remain silent is a particular concern, says George Christian, director of the Library Connection, the consortium that received a letter in the New Haven case.

"Being gagged has been an extremely frustrating experience," he said on the ACLU website in May, after a federal appeals court allowed the names of recipients of letters to be made public for the first time.

"The entire Patriot Act was up for renewal last winter, and I very much wanted to focus public attention ... on my concerns. ... I was shocked by the restraints the gag order imposed on me."

In papers filed in the Connecticut case, FBI espionage and terrorism specialist Szady wrote that letters must be kept secret to keep targets from learning that they are being watched.

'God forbid it isn't a hoax'

The New Haven case shows how the conflict can play out.

FBI agents, U.S. attorney O'Connor says, suspected the threatening e-mail was from a "crank" but believed they had an "obligation" to pursue it. "We weren't tying up librarians or reading through books," he says. "All we wanted was identifying information. God forbid it isn't a hoax."

For librarian Christian, however, the records request, and the fact that he had to keep it secret from his colleagues for more than a year, left him "shocked," "incensed" and feeling "compromis(ed)."

"The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling," Christian says.

The lawsuit, and a separate case begun in 2004, already have produced some changes in how the letters are administered.

In September 2004, after a still-unidentified Internet provider filed suit, a federal district court judge in New York City found that the letters were unconstitutional because they provided no way for a recipient to challenge them in court. The judge also struck down the letter's non-disclosure provision as a violation of the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

The judge in the Connecticut case went further, granting an injunction that allowed the librarians served with letters to disclose that fact, as well as their names.

The government appealed and made concessions. In Connecticut last April, the FBI and Justice Department dropped their opposition to letting the librarians identify themselves and disclose they had been served with a letter.

In March, while both appeals were pending, the Justice Department proposed changes to the Patriot Act to bring the letters in line with the lower court decisions. Now, recipients are permitted to challenge a letter in court and to petition to have their names made public, though a judge need not grant the requests. So far, the Connecticut and New York cases are the only known challenges.

In May, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York cited those changes in dismissing the Connecticut appeal and returning the New York case to the district court. One judge, Richard Cardamone, said retaining the provision that keeps letters secret forever is "antithetical to democratic concepts."

Continuing battle in court

The ACLU plans to continue its fight in the lower court. Beeson says the laws are still unconstitutional because they allow the FBI to launch "phony investigations" under the guise of national security if "they just promise what they want is relevant."

Christian, the Connecticut librarian, says the FBI's "ineptitude," not the end of the supposed terrorist threat in New Haven, caused the government to allow his name to be made public. By failing to black out all identifying information in the legal papers, Christian said, the FBI unwittingly allowed his name to be deduced by some reporters before the appeals court acted.

"The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the Fire Department only after a building has burned to the ground," he says.

O'Connor says he doubts the letters will be found unconstitutional. Still, he worries that the lawsuit and the "unfortunate way" in which the FBI has been accused of censorship could lead other companies and institutions to resist "perfectly legitimate" demands for sensitive information.

"Ninety percent (of threatening e-mail) is going to be nothing," he says. "But the good men and women of the FBI are inundated every day with that kind of stuff, and they've got a responsibility.

"If there's information on a potential terrorist that can help, wouldn't you want them to have it?"

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Or did he really die under mysterious circumstances?

When certain persons died during the Clinton administration, rumors abounded, originating from the republican spin machine, that somehow the president orchestrated some of the deaths. So, perhaps, we should suspect that the current president orchestrated the death of his formerly close friend who had become an embarrassment, was soon going to jail, and who might possibly have written a tell-all book about the president.

Enron founder Ken Lay dies of heart disease
By Matt Daily

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Enron Corp.'s founder Ken Lay died of heart disease on Wednesday while vacationing near Aspen, Colo., six weeks after being convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the financial scandal that brought down the once-mighty energy conglomerate.

Lay, 64, who was awaiting sentencing, faced decades in prison in connection with Enron's 2001 bankruptcy.

"There was no evidence of foul play," Dr. Rob Kurtzman, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy told reporters in Grand Junction, Colorado.

"The cause of death is coronary artery disease," he said, adding that the post mortem showed that Lay had previously suffered a heart attack.

Lay and another former Enron chief executive, Jeffrey Skilling, were found guilty of hiding the financial ruin at Enron, the company they built into the seventh largest in the United States.

Once a confidant of former President George H.W. Bush and dubbed "Kenny boy" by President George W. Bush, Lay often appeared fatigued during the four-month trial. At one point, he told the jury from the witness stand: "I guess you could say in the last few years I've achieved the American nightmare."

Skilling was not available for comment, although his lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said the former protege of Lay was deeply saddened by Lay's death.

"He's distraught over Ken's passing," Petrocelli said. "He was a very good friend and a good colleague."

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said he had not spoken to Bush about Lay's death, but distanced the president from the former Enron chief who was once a major contributor to the Bushes' political campaigns.

"The president has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the president's acquaintances have passed on during his time in office," Snow told reporters.

At the Enron offices in Houston, where a small crew of workers was selling off the company's assets to pay creditors, Enron Corp. spokesman Harlan Loeb said: "We extend our sympathies to the Lay family in this time of sadness."

Pitkin County sheriff's deputies and an ambulance were called to the Lay vacation home in Old Snowmass, Colorado, early on Wednesday morning. Lay was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after 3 a.m. Mountain time.

The pastor at the Houston church attended by Lay and his family said he was stunned by Lay's death. "The family called early this morning to say that he had died last night," said Dr. Steve Wende, pastor of First Methodist Church of Houston.

Lay had attended church there on the previous Sunday.

"He looked good. He was with people. He had family there ... he looked healthy," Wende said.

On Friday, federal prosecutors asked a federal judge to force Lay to forfeit $43.5 million they said he had received because of his crimes at Enron.

A spokesman at the Department of Justice declined to comment on Lay's death and said prosecutors would release a statement in the coming days on how they would proceed with the claims for the money.

Lay and Skilling had maintained their innocence, and planned to appeal the guilty verdicts.

Lay, whose wealth once totaled more than $100 million, claimed he had little money after Enron's bankruptcy, although prosecutors have said he had millions in annuities and other investments.

Born into poverty as the son of a Baptist preacher in Missouri, Lay excelled in school and advanced quickly in the worlds of government and business before taking the helm of the company that would become Enron.

Enron began as a small pipeline operation in 1985 and under Lay's guidance it rapidly grew into an international energy powerhouse.

During Enron's glory days, Lay basked in Houston's limelight and was a fixture on the charity circuit, donating millions of his own money and Enron's funds.

After his indictment, Lay was usually only seen in public on Sunday mornings for church services.

Another Enron executive, Cliff Baxter, a close confidant of Skilling, committed suicide weeks after Enron's bankruptcy.

Lay is survived by his wife, Linda, five children and step-children and 12 grandchildren. Information on funeral arrangements had not yet been announced by early Wednesday evening.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Miller in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Bruce Nichols, Jeff Franks and Eileen O'Grady in Houston)