Saturday, July 29, 2006

Political Pledges
Jonathan Alter
Political Pledges

As if we needed any more proof, President Bush’s recent veto of an embryonic-stem-cell research bill shows that the issue has now been fully politicized. So the question is, which party will exploit it better? Because three quarters of the public now supports this promising research, Republicans want to play the whole thing down.
Democrats want to play it up. One way for Democrats (or “pro-cure” Republicans) to dramatize the issue is with what I call the no-stem pledge.

You may recall the no-tax pledge. It has transformed American politics. Back in 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush was on the ropes in the presidential primaries after losing badly to Bob Dole in the Iowa caucuses. So in New Hampshire, Bush wheeled on Dole in a debate and asked him to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. Dole refused. That helped Bush turn the race around and win the presidency (where he famously reneged on his pledge, helping him to lose it in 1992). In the years since, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform has handed out thousands of pledge sheets to politicians. At last count, 1,200 of 7,400 state legislators have promised never to vote for tax increases, and Washington remains in the grip of tax-cut fever. Whatever one thinks of tax cuts or the pledge gimmick, Norquist has been enormously effective.

I can envision a no-stem pledge being proffered in a similar way. In July, 37 senators and 193 members of the House backed Bush and voted against allowing even surplus embryos headed for the trash bin to be used in federally funded research. If they have any moxie, their opponents this year will show up at debates (or press conferences in contests with no debates) and challenge the incumbents who voted with Bush to promise that they will never use any treatments derived from embryonic-stem-cell research. In other words, to put their own health where their votes are.

The actual written pledge (patterned on Norquist’s) could include language something like this: “Because of my strong opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research, I hereby pledge that should I, at any point in the future, develop diabetes, cancer, spinal-cord injuries or Parkinson’s, among other diseases, I will refuse any and all treatments derived from such research, at home or abroad, even if it costs me my life. Signed, ______”

You will notice that I did not include relatives in the pledge. They should not be made to pay for the short-sightedness of the politician in the family. And the politician’s health won’t suffer either. If life-saving cures are found from embryonic stem cells—and they’re still several years down the road—you can bet that only fanatics and the suicidal will deny themselves the chance to live, whatever they pledged in 2006.

I’d imagine that most incumbents (and challengers with similar views) will dismissively refuse to sign. But the offer of the pledge and the refusal to sign it will highlight the issue in a way that clearly conveys how damaging and hypocritical their “anti-cure” position is. It will place them on the defensive, where they don’t often find themselves on moral issues.

When pinned down, how will they respond? You can imagine the politician starting with his support for adult stem-cell research, an answer that has already grown shopworn. The “pro-cure” candidate can simply explain to the audience that as promising as adult stem cells are for treating a few diseases, scientists all agree that they don’t offer the potential for nearly as many cures as embryonic stem cells. The challenger can go on to explain how the veto threatens to take the United States off the cutting edge of medical research, where we’ve dominated for many years. That turns the whole thing into a competitiveness issue, too.

The next argument from those who support Bush on this issue might be that just because one might some day use the fruits of the research doesn’t make it right, just as liberals opposed to, say, tax breaks are almost always willing to make use of such breaks themselves if they’re legal. But in this case, opposing federal research will almost certainly slow any cures—so the consequences of the hypocrisy are more grave than on other legislation. John Tierney argued in a recent New York Times column that if stem-cell research is so promising, the private sector will step up, as it did for in vitro fertilization (IVF). But fertility clinics had a ready and highly profitable market in childless couples to fuel the growth of their industry (which, by the way, was passionately opposed in the 1980s on moral grounds by the Roman Catholic Church and many of the same people who voted against the stem-cell bill last week). Embryonic-stem-cell research is basic medical research, which has always been driven by federal dollars. Without that money, cures will be slowed and people will die.

Like the no-tax pledge, the no-stem pledge would certainly be denounced as a gimmick unworthy of such a serious issue. This opens the door to a terrific debate over just that—how serious public servants with a serious responsibility to protect the lives of their constituents don’t do so with one hand tied behind their backs.


US plans $4.6 billion in Mideast arms sales to Arab states

US plans $4.6 billion in Mideast arms sales
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration spelled out plans on Friday to sell $4.6 billion of arms to moderate Arab states, including battle tanks worth as much as $2.9 billion to protect critical Saudi infrastructure.

The announcement came two weeks after the administration said it would sell Israel its latest supply of JP-8 aviation fuel valued at up to $210 million to help Israeli warplanes "keep peace and security in the region."

The United States also rushed a delivery of precision-guided bombs requested by Israel after launching its airstrikes against Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon 17 days ago, The New York Times reported last week.

In the newly proposed sales to Arab states, UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter gunships worth up to $808 million would go to the United Arab Emirates, while AH-64 Apache helicopters worth as much as $400 million would go to Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain would also get Black Hawk helicopters, valued at up to $252 million. Jordan would get a potential $156 million in upgrades to 1,000 of its M113A1 armored personnel carriers.

Javelin anti-tank missiles valued at up to $48 million would go to Oman under the deals put forward by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which administers U.S. government-to-government arms sales.

The $2.9 billion Saudi deal involves the sale of 58 older-generation U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks that would be modernized. Also, 315 Saudi-owned, newer-model, Abrams tanks would be improved with such things as air-conditioning and infrared sights for the commanders as well as the gunners.

The project's prime contractor would be General Dynamics Corp.'s Land Systems business unit of Sterling Heights, Michigan, the Pentagon said in a notice to Congress required by law.

Vehicle "teardown" and final reassembly would be carried out in Saudi Arabia, the notice said. The upgraded configuration is known as the M1A2S, in which the S stands for Saudi.

"The proposed sale and upgrade will allow Saudi Arabia to operate and exercise a more lethal and survivable M1A2S tank for the protection of critical infrastructure," it said.

It also would keep a substantial number of tanks in the region that have "a high degree of commonality" with the U.S. tank fleet, the Pentagon said, referring to interchangeable parts.

Notices of proposed U.S. arms sales are required by law once they top certain value thresholds. They do not mean a sale has been concluded. Congress may block a sale if both houses pass resolutions of disapproval within 30 calendar days of formal notification.


The Risk of Escalation Ahead

Huffington Post
Tom Hayden
The Risk of Escalation Ahead

What is at stake in Lebanon is the realignment of global power. The United States and Israel, having proclaimed themselves as "superpowers", are finding it difficult to deliver against a militia of a few thousand fighters. They may not be facing the fate of Gulliver among the Lilliputians, but they are trapped by the necessity to accomodate a multi-polar world.

A self-defined superpower involves a racism, or sense of superiority, that absolutely interferes with the capacity to make accurate assessments. It also creates an impossibility of backing down to anything less than "superpower" status.

Examples abound. Israel claims it will break the will, crush, and destroy Hezbollah, but after fifteen days Hezbollah can strike Israel with one hundred rockets per day. Israel claims it has seized a town in southern Lebanon, only to admit the following day that eight Israelis were killed, twenty injured, and the site is far from secure. Etcetera and etcetera.

As Israel keeps bombing and as Democrats and Republicans fall over themselves to endorse and subsidize the Israel army, approximately one million Israelis are sweltering in underground shelters. The American people are living nonchalantly on borrowed time, as al-Qaeda, the Madhi Army and other militias swear revenge.

The brief superpower dream, enunciated by Sen. Joe Biden, that America might lead a Sunni revolt against the Shiites across the Middle East, has been punctured in a matter of days. No one can unite the confessional factions across the Middle East better than Israel, the neo-conservatives and the prophets of Armageddon.

For the best interests of both Israelis and Americans, the peace movement must be demanding an immediate cease-fire, a negotiated prisoner release, the redefinition of a US role as honest broker, and concrete and immediate steps towards an independent Palestinian state. An international peace-keeping force is inconceivable except in a package including these elements.

But how can this be done? Even a modest peace movement can succeed, if it rides upon the dynamics of this war. As the quagmire only deepens, world opinion will turn harder against the US and Israel. Eventually, some Israelis will realize that a historic miscalculation has occurred. More and more Americans will turn away from what appears to be a lost cause.

It is possible, of course, that the US and Israel can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If they somehow are able to assassinate Hassan Nazrallah, for example, the US and Israel will experience a powerful rise in public enthusiasm, at least briefly. It also is possible that Hezbollah, which has far fewer resources than the West, can be exhausted over the course of weeks, months, years. The jihadists are limited, too, especially in Lebanon with its sectarian disunities.

But the more likely scenario, unfolding with each day, is a deepening quagmire. Like any of the superpowers described in Barbara Tuchman's book March to Folly, Israel is responding to its folly simply by intensifying the same flawed approaches. These can range from more ground troops in southern Lebanon to an even greater escalation.

The more deeply Israel enters Lebanon, the more Hezbollah will make good on its threats to escalate. Besides trapping the Israelis in ground ambushes, Hezbollah already has made good on its threat to stike "after Haifa". After waiting for any results of the Rome diplomatic conference, Nazrallah's forces struck thirty kilometers deeper than Haifa today.

Everyone must understand that the next target may be Tel Aviv.

And then what? If Hezbollah hits Tel Aviv with a missile made or shipped from Iran or Syria, Israel will have the pretext to bomb those countries. This would seem to be leading to a military catastrophe for the US and Israel, but some believe this is the desperate last gamble, the so-called one percent strategy, of the American neo-conservatives.

The irrationality of this approach is revealed by the wholly unexpected eruption of contradictions between the US and its client prime minister in Baghdad, who is a sworn ally of Hezbollah and of Iran. Democrats reacted as opportunists to al-Maliki's visit, since they too are partners in supporting his government, but they may have scored significantly with moderate voters who are frozen by their fear of withdrawal. Since little or nothing seems to affect these fence-sitting voters, an awareness that Bush has created a Hezbollah ally in Baghdad might finally persuade some some of them to favor withdrawal. That's a slender ray of hope in a very dangerous time.


House approves health data technology bill; Bill fail to strengthen patient privacy

House approves health data technology bill
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation aimed at accelerating the use of computerized health records by removing legal barriers and moving toward national standards was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

The House bill, passed by a 270-148 vote, would provide $40 million in funding over five years, much less than a Senate measure that would spend $150 million to help physicians buy new technology.

Senate and House negotiators must work out a compromise version of the legislation, but have relatively few work days left before the November election.

President George W. Bush has called for all Americans to have electronic medical records by 2014 as a way to improve efficiency and avoid medical mistakes. But the transition can be costly for doctors and hospitals.

Under the House version, hospitals and group medical practices could give doctors computers and software without running afoul of anti-kickback laws. It also requires U.S. health officials to develop a national plan to coordinate technology standards so records can be shared.

House Democrats criticized the bill for failing to strengthen patient privacy, and for not setting standards for companies to develop products that can work together.

"This bill does little other than bestow gifts on the insurance companies and big businesses," said California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps.

Republicans said the legislation paves the way for the health-care sector to take action.

"Realistically, the government's not going to pay for this. The system's going to do it ... because it creates system efficiencies that pays the system back," said Connecticut Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

While several industry groups supported the bill, some consumer activists said they would prefer legislation that gave more grants and loans to promote new health data technology.

The Congressional Budget Office said earlier this month that the House bill would not significantly affect either the rate at which the use of health technology will grow or how well that technology will be designed and implemented.


Friday, July 28, 2006

What do the Terrorists Want, and Can We Give It To Them?

Huffington Post
Ed Hamilton
What do the Terrorists Want, and Can We Give It To Them?

It seems obvious that the terrorists want us out of Iraq--in physical, financial and cultural terms--and out of the Middle East in general. The World Trade Center, after all, was one of the most potent symbols imaginable of Western financial world domination. But there's a difference between what the terrorists want, and what they say they want.

There's also a distinction to be made between terrorists such as Al Queda (who happen to be right wing Muslims), and Muslims who draw the line at acts of violence against civilians. There are also the secularists to be considered. The reason groups like Al Queda appeal to these other factions is that they claim to be freedom fighters working to expel a hostile foreign invader.

But in fact the last thing the terrorists want is for us to pull out of Iraq. For one thing, they've gained immense prestige by our invading Iraq. In the case of al Qaeda, what was previously a despised and marginalized band of creeps has now become a central player on the world stage. Their Fanaticism requires a suitable enemy, and I'm sure our actions have aided their recruitment drive immeasurably.

So what do the terrorists really want? Well, we've already started implementing their agenda, both in Iraq, and even--most unbelievably--in our own country: torture, illegal detention and rendition, illegal wiretaps, increased use of surveillance, assaults on freedom of the press. The goals of the religious right are the same universally, be it the Muslim, Christian or Jewish variety. It's no accident that what benefits Al Queda also benefits the Republican party, as well as the hard-liners in Israel. They all need this war to survive.

President Bush says that the terrorists are not enemy combatants, and there was a point when he was right. They were just despicable criminals until he elevated them to mythic "enemy" status by treating them with the respect of declaring war on them. A lot has been said of how Clinton was soft on terrorism, but, excuse me, weren't the bombers in the 1993 plot to blow up the Trade Center successfully apprehended, prosecuted, and put behind bars? Clinton didn't blow his top like Bush and start attacking everybody.

While it's an understandable human response to want to kill the people who seem to threaten our American way of life, it's essential to that very way of life to set a moral example in following the rule of law; to do otherwise justifies the terrorists in their actions by making us just like them. Israel's response to Hezbollah's act of provocation, to cite another example, is just what Hezbollah wants. Groups such as Hezbollah and Al Queda can't survive in a climate of openness and freedom--and neither can the religious right in our country or in Israel. Liberalism is immeasurably stronger than blind fear and hatred and superstition, and it inevitably wins--by persuasion rather than violence--in a truly free market of ideas.

Now, I know what you're going to say: the terrorists have lots of fire power, and the more liberal elements of the middle east are going to have a hell of a time trying to control them without our help. While that's true, it's also true that it's our country that has fostered this explosive situation in the first place by propping up dictators such as Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. We've made a mess of things, and it would certainly create a bad situation were we to pull out of Iraq and the Middle East at this point. The only thing worse would be to stay there.


Exxon Mobil profit tops $10 billion

Exxon Mobil profit tops $10 billion
By Deepa Babington / Reuters

NEW YORK - Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest public oil company, on Thursday reported quarterly profit surged 35 percent to more than $10 billion, driven by yet another quarter of sharply higher oil prices.

It was the second-largest quarterly operating profit ever posted by a U.S. company, just shy of the Texas behemoth's own record fourth quarter profit reported in January.

The results sailed past Wall Street forecasts and sent its shares to an all-time high, but triggered a fresh bout of outrage from U.S. lawmakers and consumer groups angry at Big Oil's handsome profits in the midst of high gasoline prices.

"While American families get tipped upside down and have their savings shaken out of their pockets at the gas pump, the Bush-Cheney team devises even more ways to line Big Oil's pockets," Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement on Exxon's profits. He is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

Exxon expects the attacks from politicians to continue as U.S. mid-term elections come up later in the year, Ken Cohen, its public affairs vice president told a conference call.

The oil industry has been waging an aggressive public relations campaign against the backlash, and ran full page advertisements playing down the size of the profits in newspapers like the New York Times on Thursday.

In a surprise move, Exxon -- notorious for rarely changing its plans no matter how high oil prices are -- boosted its capital spending forecast for the year to $20 billion, citing fresh exploration and production opportunities.

The company, the world's largest by market capitalization, also said it planned to increase its already hefty stock buyback program to $7 billion in the third quarter to make use of its ballooning hoard of cash.

Soaring prices, stronger refining margins and higher oil and gas production all combined to boost Exxon's second-quarter earnings to $10.36 billion, or $1.72 a share.

That is up from $7.64 billion, or $1.20 a share a year earlier, and above the average Wall Street forecast of $1.64 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Revenue jumped 12 percent to $99.03 billion -- bigger than the economies of many small countries -- from $88.57 billion a year earlier but below the Reuters Estimates' forecast of $104.26 billion.


Exxon, like its peers, has enjoyed another in a string of bumper quarters as crude oil prices hovered at historic highs. Oil prices, on a steady rise in recent years because of growing Asian demand and fears of supply disruptions, hit a record high of $78.40 a barrel two weeks ago on anxiety over Middle East supplies.

"They're just benefiting from a strong commodity cycle and doing a very good job of it," said Lysle Brinker, analyst with energy research firm John S. Herold. "But they don't operate in a vacuum and they realize that. They're going to get tons of spears and blow darts from political and consumer groups."

Exxon is the latest oil major to report blockbuster profits this quarter, coming on the heels of Royal Dutch Shell Plc's (RDSa.L) 36 percent profit rise earlier on Thursday, and a 65 percent profit surge reported by No. 3 U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips on Wednesday.

Exxon's oil and gas production jumped 6 percent on higher volumes in West Africa and Qatar, partly offset by maturing fields. Excluding divestments and the impact of high oil prices on production-sharing contracts, total output grew 9 percent.

Analysts said that healthy spurt in production accounted for much of the company's stronger than expected profit.

"The rate of Exxon's upstream production growth had arguably been a cause for concern among some investors," J.P. Morgan analysts said in a research note. "However, today's results should give investors more confidence in Exxon's ability to grow volumes.

The company's new capital spending forecast of $20 billion this year is up from a previous estimate of roughly $19 billion. Exxon said less than a third of the hike was due to higher costs sweeping across the industry and that the bulk of the rise was due to increased drilling in places like Nigeria.

Exxon shares rose less than 1 percent, or 51 cents, to $67.06 on the New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trade after touching an all-time high of $67.65 earlier in the day.


Draft Bill Waives Due Process for Enemy Combatants
On Prosecuting Detainees
Draft Bill Waives Due Process for Enemy Combatants
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bush administration likes to keep its work under wraps until it's finished, but that proved impossible with a draft bill detailing procedures the administration is considering for bringing to trial those it captures in the war on terrorism, including some stark diversions from regular trial procedures.

A copy of the draft, obtained this week by The Washington Post and others, explains how the government would create commissions of U.S. military personnel who could impose a penalty of life imprisonment or death based on evidence never disclosed to the accused. Military judges could also exclude defendants from their trials whenever "necessary to protect the national security."

The copy, which is paraphrased below, is marked "For Discussion Purposes Only" and did not reflect the comments of uniformed military lawyers. Those lawyers have privately criticized the Bush administration's policies on detainees, arguing that Washington should set higher standards to ensure that others treat captured U.S. soldiers fairly.

Their views are being solicited only now. But even after the administration reaches accord, the trial procedures still must pass a gantlet of senators from both parties who have criticized the administration for mistreating detainees. And the Supreme Court, which last month declared an earlier plan for the trials illegal, may eventually weigh in again if defendants challenge the new "military commissions" and appeal the verdicts.


The draft states that using the federal courts or existing military court-martial procedures to try suspects in the war on terrorism -- described formally as "alien enemy combatants" -- is "impracticable" because they are committed to destroying the country and abusing its legal processes. Routine trial procedures would not work, it states, because suspects cannot be given access to classified information or tried speedily. Service members involved in collecting evidence cannot be diverted from the battlefield to attend trials, and hearsay evidence from "fellow terrorists" is often needed to establish guilt.

Formation of Military Commissions

The commissions are to be established under existing presidential authorities but appointed by the Secretary of Defense or his designees. The jurors will be any commissioned, active-duty military officers considered qualified because of "age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament." The head of each commission will be a military officer with legal credentials.

Covered Crimes and Persons

The draft initially said that only "alien enemy combatants" who are not U.S. citizens can be tried by military commissions. That phrase is crossed off in the text of this copy, and instead it appears to cover anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners" who violate the laws of war or provisions of this bill.

The commissions have jurisdiction over 19 offenses considered violations of the laws of war, ranging from attacking civilians and protected property to using persons and property as shields and torture, maiming, mistreating dead bodies, rape and conspiracy. The commissions also can be used to try those who -- in the context of armed conflict -- hijack vessels or aircraft, destroy property, aid an enemy, or commit acts of terrorism, murder or spying.

Trial Procedures

"A person charged with an offense under this Act may be tried and punished at any time without limitations," the bill states. Speedy trials are not required. Defendants are entitled to two principal lawyers -- one drawn from U.S. military ranks and a civilian cleared to read materials classified as "Secret."

Hearsay information is admissible at the discretion of the military lawyer presiding over the commission, unless circumstances render it unreliable or unnecessary. That lawyer can close the proceedings to protect any information that might "cause identifiable damage to the public interest" or endanger participants or national security interests. The lawyer can also order "exclusion of the defendant" and his civilian counsel, but instances of this should be "no broader than necessary." Classified evidence can be provided to the defendants in summary form but is not required if doing so would compromise intelligence sources.


A two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict on any charge; a three-quarters majority is needed to order a sentence of more than 10 years. All members present must vote to impose the death penalty, and it must be approved by the president. But those enemy combatants and "persons who have engaged in unlawful belligerence" can be detained until "the cessation of hostilities," notwithstanding any jail sentence they receive from the commissions.


Iraq war protester's case is gaining support

Iraq war protester's case is gaining support
ACLU monitoring Ferndale arrest
By Frank Witsil / Detroit Free Press

For more than two years, Victor Kittila stood on a Ferndale corner and peacefully protested the war in Iraq by waving a sign that read "Honk For Peace."

But after he was arrested for demonstrating earlier this month, his message has gotten more notice than ever.

It's capturing the attention of local activist groups and even filmmaker Michael Moore and antiwar activist Tom Hayden, who Kittila said recently called to hail him as a hero. It also has gotten attention from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is keeping an eye on the case because it has First Amendment implications.

Kittila pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of disorderly conduct at his arraignment in 43rd District Court, which was packed with dozens of metro Detroit supporters who said that they believe Kittila's July 3 arrest was unjust and a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

"It's outrageous," said Kathleen Parker, 46, of Harrison Township.

Kittila, who has long gray hair and a beard, is set to return to court at 1 p.m. Aug. 22 for a pretrial hearing. His $500 bond was reduced to a personal bond. He said he is seeking a jury trial and is going to stand up for his rights. He said the support has been growing since his arrest.

"I'm overwhelmed by all of this," he said of the crowd that gathered at the courthouse.

The 55-year-old antiwar protester from Eastpointe was arrested because he said he was waving a sign that said, "Don't Honk If You Want Bush Out." City officials said he was breaking the law by encouraging drivers to honk their horns -- even though the sign indicated the opposite -- and by refusing a ticket.

State law says that horns should be used only for necessary situations, which on its face, potentially makes the case a public safety -- not a First Amendment -- case, some attorneys say. However, Kittila's attorney, Deborah Choly of the National Lawyers Guild in Detroit, said the case is about the right to free speech and assembly.

Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin said this is an "awkward situation" because the city has passed resolutions in support of antiwar protests, and Barwin acknowledges he has honked when passing protesters holding signs. Barwin also acknowledged that the arrest seems to have sparked even more protesting and honking.

He said the city attorney is evaluating the charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and $500, and may choose to drop it.

Meanwhile, a second protester, Nancy Goedert, 73 of Ferndale also was charged with disorderly conduct. She was ticketed and has a pretrial arraignment hearing on Aug. 8.


Homeland Security Contracts Abused; Report Finds Extensive Waste
Homeland Security Contracts Abused
Report Finds Extensive Waste
By Griff Witte and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers

The multibillion-dollar surge in federal contracting to bolster the nation's domestic defenses in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been marred by extensive waste and misspent funds, according to a new bipartisan congressional report.

Lawmakers say that since the Homeland Security Department's formation in 2003, an explosion of no-bid deals and a critical shortage of trained government contract managers have created a system prone to abuse. Based on a comprehensive survey of hundreds of government audits, 32 Homeland Security Department contracts worth a total of $34 billion have "experienced significant overcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement," according to the report, which is slated for release today and was obtained in advance by The Washington Post.

The value of contracts awarded without full competition increased 739 percent from 2003 to 2005, to $5.5 billion, more than half the $10 billion awarded by the department that year. By comparison, the agency awarded a total of $3.5 billion in contracts in 2003, the year it was created.

Among the contracts that went awry were deals for hiring airport screeners, inspecting airport luggage, detecting radiation at the nation's ports, securing the borders and housing Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Investigators looking into those contracts turned up whole security systems that needed to be scrapped, contractor bills for luxury hotel rooms and Homeland Security officials who bought personal items with government credit cards.

While many of those problems have been disclosed, today's report is the first comprehensive survey of the government's own investigations into contracting mismanagement in the domestic war against terrorism.

"Every dollar that is wasted on a contract is a dollar less that could be used to make Americans more secure," said former department inspector general Clark Kent Ervin. "This kind of abuse constitutes a security gap all its own in America's defense."

Ervin said that though an undue reliance on contractors might have been excused when the agency was launched, it "is not understandable or justified all these years after the creation of the department." The private sector, he said, has had the opportunity "time and time again to take the department -- and thereby taxpayers -- for a ride."

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the report faulted contracts made by the Transportation Security Administration before it became part of the Homeland Security Department. "It's hard to imagine that the report can criticize the department for a contract made before the department was created," he said.

"We continue to work very aggressively to strengthen our contracting procedures, maximize oversight and ensure that what are ultimately limited resources are applied in the most effective way," Knocke said.

The Homeland Security Department was cobbled together from 22 agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as part of the largest reshuffling of federal responsibilities in a half-century.

With limited resources in-house, department officials made an early decision to lean heavily on the private sector to deliver technology, infrastructure and personnel. But the department struggled to launch the huge contracts deemed necessary to upgrade the country's defenses. In the first major test of the department's emergency systems, Homeland Security officials and contractors alike came under harsh criticism for their response to Hurricane Katrina last summer.

"We all assumed they would get better with age," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "But now the evidence is overwhelming that they've gotten much, much worse."

The report warns that the department is on the verge of making more mistakes by giving contractors too much latitude. It points to a planned multibillion-dollar contract for border security that has only the vaguest of requirements. "We're asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business," Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson told industry leaders in January.

Among the problems cited in the report:

· A Defense Contract Audit Agency review of an NCS Pearson Inc. contract to hire airport screeners uncovered at least $297 million of questionable costs, including luxury hotel rooms. The company has defended its performance in previous statements.

· A surveillance system for monitoring activity on the Mexican and Canadian borders does not work because of cameras that malfunction when exposed to snow, ice or humidity.

· Two TSA employees used government purchase cards to buy $136,000 worth of personal items, including leather briefcases.

Beyond these specific cases, the report highlights overall problems with Homeland Security contracting, including poor planning, a dependence on no-bid contracts and inadequate oversight.

As contracting surged by 189 percent from 2003 to 2005, the department's acquisition staff did not to keep pace, increasing by less than 20 percent. The average staffer is overseeing twice as much money now as in 2003. As the burden grew, contracting officers increasingly turned to sole-source contracts or contracts for which only a limited number of firms were allowed to compete.

Paul C. Light, professor of public service at New York University, said industry consolidation in defense and homeland security increasingly enables firms to present themselves as sole-source bidders, at the same time that government expertise and contract management staffs have been hollowed out.

"They'd like to boll-weevil themselves down to the agencies and create dependencies that will last for years, if not decades," Light said.

Today's report was requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, who was joined by Chairman Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

Waxman said today's report reveals "a pattern of reckless spending, poor planning and ineffective oversight that is wasting taxpayers dollars and undermining our security efforts."

Davis said the department has a critical mission. "Unfortunately, its acquisition structure and workforce challenges . . . betray serious weaknesses that are impeding the ability of DHS to protect the homeland," he said. Davis's committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Homeland Security contracting today.

Still, others noted that it remains early in the department's history and that problems are to be expected.

"You have to look at DHS in context. They came into being at a time of crisis. They faced at once the building of a department and the integration of 22 different agencies. And then two years later, you had the worst natural disaster in American history," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents contractors. "I'm not saying they get a pass, but I'd be hesitant to poke a finger in their eye."


A Candidate for Every Occasion

Washington Post
How To Turn a Political Gaffe Into a Catastrophe
A Candidate for Every Occasion
By Marc Fisher

The Iraq war "didn't work." The Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina was "a monumental failure." Republicans in Congress have "lost our way."

Imagine the impact those comments would have made on Maryland's Senate race if Lt. Gov. Michael Steele had stood up in front of the cameras and presented himself as an independent Republican, someone who would go to Washington with his own ideas and the courage to go his own way.

Delivered straight up, Steele's remarks probably would have propelled him into the lead in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

Instead, Steele made his move to distance himself from his party -- after all, he's running in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 -- in a setting that reeks of politics as usual: a no-names, just-us-elite-insiders lunch with reporters in the back room of Charlie Palmer's steakhouse at the foot of Capitol Hill.

We know that it was Steele who made those comments only because after The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported the remarks under the agreed-upon rules of anonymity, other Republicans began a frenzy of denial Tuesday morning -- It's not me! Not me! -- that ended a few hours later with Steele's campaign copping to the truth.

Now begins the backpedaling. The president's spokesman, Tony Snow, said yesterday that Steele also had many very nice things to say about Bush.

Actually, not really. I just listened to the audio of the lunch, and but for a few minutes when he embraced Bush's veto of legislation expanding funding for stem cell research and another point when he allowed that Bush "has a genuine heart," Steele was downright eager to present himself as an independent -- a candidate who can't fathom why the president doesn't admit how badly things have gone in Iraq, who isn't "anyone's patsy," and who gets angry about how so many Americans wall themselves off "in our ivory towers and our gated communities and our little trek around the Beltway" away from poor people.

Goodness, for a stretch there, I thought I was listening to the two major Democratic candidates in the Senate race, Kweisi Mfume and Ben Cardin, both of whom use almost identical wording in their campaign speeches to hit the Republicans for neglecting the nation's poor and working-class families.

Do we have another, stealth Democrat in the race?
To hear Steele tell his story under cloak of anonymity, he's a proud product of the D.C. politics of the Barry era. "I grew up on the streets of D.C.," he said. "I learned my politics from Marion Barry and John Ray and John Wilson, guys like that, Joe Yeldell" -- the former mayor, two ex-D.C. Council members and a longtime top strategist for Barry, Democrats all.

Let's cut Steele a break. Evidently, he was trying to buddy up to Washington reporters he presumed to be diehard libs. The president's spokesman got that: "Look," Snow said, explaining that Bush takes no offense and still supports Steele, "the president understands what politics are about."

But Steele's understanding of politics seems mired in the old game of saying different things to different audiences. Yesterday in the friendly setting of WBAL, the conservative talk radio station in Baltimore, he contended that the lunch "was an off-the-record conversation." When in doubt, bash the press. So Steele lashed out at The Post's Milbank, saying that the reporter, by publishing any material from the lunch, "crossed the line" and "decided to stick his finger in my eye and in the president's eye."

Sorry, but I have in my hand an e-mail from Steele's own campaign spokesman declaring the meeting to be a "backgrounder" -- meaning that Steele could be quoted, but not by name.

Steele insisted several times yesterday that his comments were "taken out of context."

Sorry, but the tape shows conclusively that Steele went out of his way to offer criticism of Bush, sometimes unsolicited, again and again over the course of 89 minutes. (Steele also found time to handicap the Democratic primary battle: "Right now, Kweisi wins," he said, because of Mfume's strong support among blacks and liberal whites. But by Election Day, "Cardin will probably pull it out" because of superior organization and funding.)

The Michael Steele who hangs out in Capitol Hill steakhouses is apparently a near Democrat who wants Marylanders to see him as the one candidate for Senate who will stand up to party leadership and connect with the pains and dreams of ordinary people. This Steele sounds so much like his opponents that I began to wonder -- job-sharing, anyone?

But the Steele who retreats to the comfort of WBAL wraps himself in a good old Republican cloth coat. "I've been quoted as calling the president my homeboy," Steele said on the radio yesterday, "and that's how I feel."

So much for independence.


11th-hour try to block US F-16 sale to Pakistan

11th-hour try to block US F-16 sale to Pakistan
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A handful of U.S. lawmakers have launched an 11th-hour attempt to block the sale of U.S.-made F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan but have garnered little immediate support.

Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey introduced a bill on Thursday to bar the sale unless President George W. Bush certifies that Pakistan has stopped building a big, newly-reported, plutonium-production reactor.

Markey, co-chair of a bipartisan task force on curbing the spread of nuclear arms, acted just before the end of a 30-day window, during which Congress has statutory power to block the proposed arms sale.

He said the F-16s were capable of delivering nuclear weapons "and if this arms sale goes through, we will only be putting additional fuel on the fire of an Indian-Pakistan nuclear arms race."

Barring a resolution of disapproval in both houses of Congress by this weekend, Bush will have the authority to go ahead with the supply to Pakistan of up to 36 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16C/D models and related gear worth up to $5.1 billion if all options are exercised.

Congress would still have the power to pass laws to block the sale "up to the point of delivery," which could be years away, said Richard Grimmett, an arms expert at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Israel Klein, a Markey spokesman, said: "We believe there's still an opportunity for Congress to weigh in and block the sale."

New York Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman, co-chair of a congressional caucus on India, has also introduced legislation to prohibit the F-16 sale. He said in a statement he feared technology leakage to China among other risks.

Ackerman has collected five co-sponsors -- four Democrats and Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, said Jordan Goldes, an Ackerman spokesman.

A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar said he had not heard of any resolution of disapproval introduced in the Senate.

The White House acknowledged on Monday that the U.S. government had long known of the Pakistani heavy-water reactor project that might produce enough plutonium for 50 bombs a year. It said it was working to dissuade Pakistan from using the plant to expand its nuclear arsenal.


House report criticizes US intelligence on threats

House report criticizes US intelligence on threats

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence has a poor understanding of threats against the United States, nearly five years after the September 11 attacks prompted the U.S. war on terrorism, according to a report released on Thursday.

The unclassified report on intelligence reform, issued by a House of Representatives intelligence oversight subcommittee, cited continued weakness in America's spying ability and warned that poor management had placed high-altitude espionage such as spy satellites at risk.

"Poor understanding of the threats and the changing environment in which our officers have to operate has resulted in an insufficient human intelligence capability that does not and will not meet the nation's needs," said the 38-page bipartisan report.

The office of U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte, who oversees 16 agencies that comprise the intelligence community, issued a statement that cited successes at reform but acknowledged there was more work to do.

"We recognize that change does not come easily to large enterprises and that we must continue to aggressively work to fulfill the mandate of the intelligence reform legislation," the statement said, referring to congressionally mandated reforms that created Negroponte's job in late 2004.

Negroponte's office also issued its own unclassified report on reform on Thursday, saying a classified version of the document was sent to President George W. Bush this month.

The House report said intelligence analysis was largely ignoring efforts to discover unknown adversaries such as home-grown cells or new information about known enemies including al Qaeda and other militant groups.

"Today, analysis largely is still clustered around reporting on the same 10 percent of the data," it said.

The House report was the latest independent assessment of the Bush administration's failures and successes at implementing a range of reforms intended to prevent another September 11 attack. That attack killed about 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania in 2001.

The report appeared at a time when authorities in the United States and Europe have stepped up vigilance against Hizbollah and other militant groups, amid concern Middle East violence could spill over in the West.

Earlier on Thursday, al Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahri in a videotape called on Muslims to wage holy war against Israel and all countries in the "crusader alliance" that supports the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon.


Politics as usual: House Republicans set 21 immigration hearings

House Republicans set 21 immigration hearings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Republican leaders said on Thursday they would hold 21 hearings across the country through August to build support for tough border security measures to curb illegal immigration.

House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said the hearings would take place in 13 states, including states along the U.S.-Canadian border.

"Almost everywhere that I travel around the country, illegal immigration's a top concern," said Hastert, who recently visited the U.S. border with Mexico. "It's a top concern among Americans because they want our southern and our northern borders to be secure."

As with earlier hearings sponsored by House Republicans, the latest round will highlight problems they see with Senate legislation that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to earn U.S. citizenship.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, called the hearings an election-year campaign gimmick that was standing in the way of completing legislation.

"These are campaign events driven by the right wing of the Republican Party, not true hearings," Kennedy said. "They think their 'enforcement only' plan will help them at the ballot box in November, but security experts agree that it can't fix our broken system."

The House passed a bill very different from the Senate's legislation. The House bill focuses exclusively on tough border security, punishes employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants and declares illegal immigration a felony. Earlier this year, it sparked mass demonstrations by Hispanic Americans and others across the country.

"We want a strong bill that secures our border, enforces our laws," Boehner said. "We believe that these hearings will help strengthen our hand as we negotiate with our counterparts in the Senate and hopefully get a bill to the president some time this year."

With the chambers so far apart, it is unclear whether lawmakers can bridge their differences and send a final bill to President George W. Bush before the November congressional elections. Bush wants a comprehensive bill that includes a guest-worker program.


US boosts Iraq troop levels amid Baghdad violence

US boosts Iraq troop levels amid Baghdad violence
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday ordered about 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq to stay up to four months past their scheduled departure, boosting U.S. forces in an attempt to curb unrelenting violence in Baghdad.

The move, involving the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska, is the latest sign that any significant reduction in the size of the 130,000-strong U.S. force in Iraq is unlikely soon.

It comes after President George W. Bush said on Tuesday after meeting visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that more U.S. and Iraqi troops would be deployed in Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq to confront mounting sectarian violence.

About 100 people have died daily in attacks between Iraqi factions in the past few weeks, raising fears of all-out civil war.

The Pentagon said Rumsfeld approved a request by Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to extend the year-long tour of the brigade, which has operated primarily in the Mosul area in northern Iraq, by up to 120 days.

A senior defense official said most of the brigade is expected to operate in Baghdad, moving from relatively calm northern Iraq into a capital beset with car bombs, suicide bombers and kidnappings. The U.S. military is sending roughly 4,000 more troops to Baghdad.

By extending troops due to depart, the military, as it has done periodically during the 3-year-old war, will temporarily increase the overall size of the U.S. force by lengthening the overlap between newly arriving units and those heading out.


Opinion polls show eroding U.S. public support for the war ahead of congressional elections in November. Casey just last month expressed confidence the military would be able to cut the size of the U.S. force in Iraq over the rest of 2006.

"I think that no one ought to draw any conclusion as to what force levels will exist in the months ahead from this," Rumsfeld told reporters, saying conditions in Iraq will dictate force levels.

Rumsfeld said U.S. leaders "recognize it is a disappointment for them (soldiers) and their families, that hoped to be coming home in the next few weeks. ... They've done a terrific job, and we appreciate it."

The Pentagon also identified five additional Army and Marine Corps units, each with about 3,500 troops, slated to go to Iraq in force rotations beginning later this year. This allows for maintaining current troop levels into early 2008, while leaving open the option of cuts, officials said.

Pentagon policy is for Army units to serve 12-month tours in Iraq and Marine Corps units to serve seven-month tours.

But at key times in the war -- for example, during Iraqi elections in 2005 and the return of sovereignty in 2004 -- the Pentagon has delayed the departure of troops to beef up the American presence temporarily.

After some troops and families complained earlier in the war about lack of predictability in the length of tours in Iraq, the Pentagon instituted the rules on deployment duration. This was intended to reduce emotional stress for troops serving in a hostile and unpredictable environment.

The brigade replacing the 172nd in northern Iraq has arrived in Iraq. About 200 soldiers from the 172nd already are back in Alaska and 200 more have reached Kuwait en route home, but Army officials said some might have to return to Iraq.

Soldiers kept beyond a year in Iraq have received extra pay.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Military families speak out against the Iraq war

Military families speak out against the Iraq war
By John Hunneman / North County Times

TEMECULA, Ca. -- Like most dads, Tim Kahlor wants what's best for his son.

To that end, the Temecula man will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to urge lawmakers and decisionmakers to bring his son, and thousands of other U.S. service members, home immediately from the war in Iraq.

Kahlor is a member of Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people opposed to the war in Iraq who have relatives or loved ones in the military. He'll be joining others of that group, which claims 3,000 members, who have been demonstrating across the street from the U.S. Capitol Building since June 22 in what they've dubbed "Operation House Call."

A recent letter from his son in Iraq told of a buddy's death and urged Kahlor to keep up his efforts to bring the troops home.

"At first, I didn't have any intention of going to Washington," said Kahlor, who works as a payroll coordinator for UC San Diego. "But when Ryan's buddy was killed, I decided I had to go. I had to take my involvement to another level."

A Temecula kid

Sgt. Ryan Kahlor, 22, is on his second tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division. He is currently stationed in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

A Temecula kid through and through, Ryan Kahlor attended elementary, middle and high school here.

"As a kid, he was always getting into something," Tim Kahlor said. "He was always an adventurer."

The only child of Tim and Laura Kahlor, who moved to Temecula 15 years ago, the 2002 graduate of Chaparral High School was a member of the varsity wrestling team and worked two, and sometimes three, jobs at a time to help pay for his 2002 GMC pickup.

After graduation, Ryan Kahlor did a short stint at Mt. San Jacinto College before deciding the Army ---- and the chance to live overseas in Germany, which he had grown to love during a family vacation ---- was for him.

He left for boot camp March 19, 2003.

Later that same evening, President George Bush announced that "... American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

Operation Iraqi Freedom had begun.

"Of course we were concerned," Tim Kahlor said. "But we thought it would only last for a couple of months."

The first tour

Ryan Kahlor was stationed in Germany after basic training, but it wasn't long before his unit was sent to Iraq. His first tour of duty there began in September 2003. It was supposed to last 10 months, but was extended for three more.

In that time, a former roommate of Ryan's was killed when the Humvee he was in was bombed.

"They say these soldiers know what they're getting into when they volunteer," said Tim Kahlor. "But they don't know until they get there. When he saw his friend killed, it all became real to Ryan."

Still, Tim said, Ryan was largely positive about his first tour in Iraq.

"He had a real good feeling about the mission," Tim said. "He felt they were really accomplishing things over here."

Ryan was able to come home to Temecula briefly in 2004 and spend time with his family. His parents noticed a change.

"Almost every little thing seemed to bother him," Tim Kahlor said.

Ryan Kahlor rejoined his unit in Germany, and was able to travel around Europe, and eventually met and married Naomi.

When he was about to return to Iraq early this year, Ryan expressed some reservations about the mission.

"But he was always going to go," Kahlor said. "He's a soldier's soldier. The most important thing to most of these guys is their loyalty and camaraderie."

The second tour

When Ryan returned to Iraq in January, his family noticed an immediate dropoff in communication with their son.

"We weren't hearing from him much, but when we did, he said much of the gear they were using was left over from Vietnam and that they didn't have torso and flank armor or night-vision equipment," said Tim Kahlor. "As a dad, I wanted to try to do something about that."

Calls and letters went out to congressmen and senators. The few who replied suggested the Kahlors buy the protective equipment their son needed and then fill out a form to have the government reimburse them for the expense.

However, the rumblings of Kahlor and other concerned parents led some lawmakers, especially Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kahlor said, to investigate the deficient or lacking equipment.

"They're still our kids, and we're going to do all we can to protect them," Kahlor said.

Ryan Kahlor told his father he was concerned the investigation was focusing a spotlight on his unit and himself, attention the soldiers did not particularly desire.

"He didn't want to get into any trouble because of what I was doing," Tim Kahlor said

However, in March, Ryan Kahlor told his father the equipment situation had improved.

Speaking out

It was about that same time Tim Kahlor learned of Military Families Speak Out.

"They were really connected," Kahlor said. "They support the military and they want to get our kids home and take care of them."

Nancy Lessin, her husband, Charley Richardson, and one other military family started MFSO in November 2002.

"My stepson was a Marine, and in August of that year, he was sent to Kosovo, but he knew he would eventually be headed to Iraq," said Lessin from her home near Boston. "We started speaking out in hopes we could prevent the invasion (of Iraq)."

MFSO now has more than 3,000 members with more joining every day, Lessin said.

"We're the largest organization of military families to oppose a war in our country's history," she said.

On June 15, both the U.S. House and Senate voted to support President Bush and "stay the course" in Iraq, prompting Lessin's group to launch "Operation House Call."

A week later, group members began placing pairs of combat boots on the sidewalk just across from the U.S. Capitol, one pair for each American military member who has died since June 15. The group also places a pair of shoes at the site for each Iraqi civilian who has died since the vote was taken.

"We wanted to show members of Congress just what staying the course looks like," Lessin said. "Each day, members of Congress, their staff and tourists have to walk right by."

MFSO members have also made appointments to talk with members of Congress to share their views on the war, she said.

"It makes a difference being a military family," Lessin said. "I think an important factor is the experience we share as military families has, in fact, moved some of the decisionmakers. It touches a group (Congress) that has little or no personal connection to this war."

Lessin said her group is not against the military.

"Our loved ones all volunteered. They all signed a contract to protect and defend the United States of America," she said. "But there's a betrayal that has happened here. Our loved ones should not have been sent off to a war that is based on lies. The most important thing we can be doing is speaking out against a war that should never have happened."

Lessin said Operation House Call will not end when Congress recesses in early August and representatives and senators head home to their districts.

MFSO now has 26 chapters across the county. The closest to Temecula is in Orange County, but Tim Kahlor hopes to start one soon in Southwest County.

"Each of those chapters is planning activities and exhibits outside the (local) offices of Congress members," Lessin said. "We want them to know this war doesn't end for (military families). There should be no rest for them either."

A letter home

For most of his second tour in Iraq, Ryan Kahlor had been unwilling to open up to his parents about what he was going through.

That changed a month ago when one of the Temecula soldier's close friends was killed.

"Spc. Michael J. Potocki, 21, of Baltimore, Md., died on June 26 of injuries sustained in Al Asad, Iraq, when his unit came in contact with enemy force's small arms fire during combat operations," read the brief news release from the Department of Defense.

Ryan Kahlor's letter that followed expressed much more of the frustration the young soldier was feeling.


The world keeps turning and so does the war in Iraq. Yesterday my soldier and friend was shot and killed. A sniper with an armor piercing round shot PFC Potocki. He was 21 years old. He bled out during surgery. He is the first in our platoon to be killed. His death has started an uproar of emotion in the platoon. Two people since have said they quit and will no longer fight. This is adding to those who have already said they are done fighting this war. No one understands why we are here and what our mission is. Potocki was a soldier who could not be replaced. He hated the army but never quit or bitched. The army did nothing but s--- on him and he still geared up every day. He wanted to go back to school when he got out but now his Mom will have to bury him before his time.

"Dad, keep up your fight to send the troops home. This war is lost. We aren't helping these people we are just dying and getting injured. I can't imagine what his mother is going through right now. He was all she had. He never knew his father so they worked together to keep their house going, now he is gone.

"Love, Ryan."

A trip to Washington

Ryan Kahlor's almost new GMC pickup sits in the driveway of his parents' home. His father takes it out for a short drive almost daily to keep it in running order until his son comes home to stay.

Tim Kahlor will spend July 31 to Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C., participating in "Operation House Call." There, he hopes to meet with area congressmen and has an appointment with Sen. Cornyn to thank him for his help in getting his son and others the much needed equipment.

"I'm not against the military at all," he said. "Our soldiers go over and do what they're told, but none of them really understand why we are there anymore. My main goal is to get the word out to the powers that be to see our point of view."


Bush protesters allowed on South Side Bridge

Bush protesters allowed on South Side Bridge tonight
By Matthew Thompson / Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, WV -- Protesters will be allowed to line the South Side Bridge as President Bush's motorcade passes tonight, even though the bridge will be closed twice to automotive traffic.

The bridge sidewalk will be the location of protesters from West Virginia Patriots for Peace, a local anti-war group.

The group is planning to protest Bush's visit to a campaign fundraiser for Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. The president will cross the bridge while traveling to the benefit being held at the Loudon Heights Road home of Mary and Drew Payne.

The bridge will be closed to cars when the Bush's motorcade goes to and from the residence.

Pedestrians may use the bridge -- with one restriction.

Protesters will not be allowed to stand directly above Kanawha Boulevard, looking down from the bridge.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said that was a decision made by his office and the Charleston Police Department's traffic division.

"It was going to be closed to pedestrian traffic," Jones said. "But we allowed it as long as they weren't on that part of the bridge."

About 100 police officers from the city, State Police, Division of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard will be helping with security for the motorcade.

Carrie Swing, president of Patriots for Peace, said the restriction is still enough for room for the group to display its "Wall of Remembrance." The wall is a series of plastic panels containing names of the more than 2,500 soldiers who have died in the Iraq War.

The series of 8-foot long panels each contain 81 hand-written names.

The wall stretches almost the entire length of a football field, Swing said.

"That restriction will not hamper us," Swing said. "We are pleased with the arrangements."

More than 300 members of the group will gather with the wall beginning at 4 p.m. The fundraiser is expected to begin at 6 p.m.

The group plans to have legal representation to make sure their free speech will not be obstructed.

Some Charleston City Council members agreed early today that the restrictions are adequate for the protesters.

"In closing the bridge, they'll still have a safe place, and the visibility is clear for the president," said Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis. "I think it's a smart idea. When you're on a bridge, you can see everyone who's there and what their concerns are. It's better than being on the street."

Councilman Charlie Loeb said Patriots for Peace have a right to protest peacefully.

Mayor Jones said the city plans to charge the Capito campaign for any overtime costs accrued by the police department for Bush's visit.

Some off-duty officers are being called to work tonight. An hour of overtime for police costs around $30, Jones said.

Capito spokesman Joe Jarabek said the campaign has agreed to pay for any "appropriate overtime charges."

Staff writer Jake Stump contributed to this story.


More patients fall into a hole in drug benefit

More patients fall into a hole in drug benefit
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Seniors and disabled people who have chronic health problems are increasingly entering a gap in Medicare's prescription-drug coverage and finding that they could have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket. That's already creating a political issue for the fall elections.

An estimated 3.4 million people will have drug expenses that push them into the coverage gap, when they must pay the full cost of prescriptions. The gap, which Congress calls the "doughnut hole," begins when drug expenses total $2,250, including the amount paid by insurance. It continues until a beneficiary has spent $3,600, an amount that will increase in future years.

David Madison, 67, of Lakewood, Colo., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May and fell into the coverage gap this month. One prescription eats up 20% of his $34,000 annual income. "I really don't know where the money's going to come from," he told a Democratic Senate panel last week.

Democrats, aiming to capitalize on the coverage gap, calculate that Medicare beneficiaries with average drug costs will reach it Sept. 22. Their "Doughnut Hole Day" is six weeks before fall elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

"People with diabetes, heart conditions, hypertension and mental disorders may all be hitting the doughnut hole starting now and heading into the election season," says Lindsey Spindle of Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is betting that despite the gap, the prescription-drug law is a winning political issue. It is running TV and radio ads starting today praising senators and House members, mostly Republicans, who voted for the law in 2003.

After a rough start caused by the chaotic transfer of 5.8 million low-income people from Medicaid to Medicare drug coverage, the program has rebounded. By May 15, the enrollment deadline for most people, more than 38 million people on Medicare had drug coverage through the program, employers or other government insurance.

Now Republicans who heralded the program risk bad publicity in the months before the November elections. Democrats have made proposals to eliminate the gap or alleviate its impact. "Some like to say that under the Medicare prescription plan, the pharmaceutical companies got the doughnut and seniors got the hole," says Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in April, however, found voters by 2-to-1 were more likely to back members of Congress who voted for the prescription-drug law. "If that's what they're running on, it's going to fizzle on them," says Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw of Florida. Most seniors, he says, "are very satisfied and saving a lot of money."

Mark McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says the program is a big gain for most seniors, who had little or no drug coverage in the past. "The typical beneficiary is not going to have any doughnut hole" because typical drug costs aren't high enough, he says. Those who do will have received at least $1,500 in government assistance first.

The coverage gap is hardest on people not poor enough to qualify for extra financial help under the program but who still cannot afford $3,600 or more for their drugs.

Drug manufacturers donated 35 million prescriptions worth $5.1 billion last year, but many companies stopped offering free drugs when the Medicare benefit became available. Medicare officials are trying to get those programs going again. In those cases, however, the value of the free drugs doesn't count toward the $3,600 that beneficiaries must pay before Medicare offers 95% coverage.

The coverage gap was written into the law as a way to hold down costs to taxpayers. Because the prescription-drug program is complicated, many beneficiaries didn't know about the gap.

A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that 3.4 million people would reach the gap this year. About 2.4 million people paid higher premiums for plans that offer coverage in the gap.

Many people with expensive medical conditions such as AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis have reached the gap already. Others, such as those with diabetes and mental illness, are entering it now or will soon. People who take several medications also are at risk.

Ray Brown, a 51-year-old Milwaukee resident who relies on expensive drugs because of a ruptured disc in his spine, was surprised last week when a Wal-Mart pharmacist said his bill was more than $400. Brown left with only his pain medicine, leaving behind a muscle relaxant and arthritis medication. "That was the only one I could afford," he says.

The gap is particularly hard on people with costly conditions:

•Many cancer patients who take expensive drugs such as Gleevec and Tarceva, which cost about $2,500 a month, didn't understand the doughnut hole when they signed up, says Sarah Barber of the American Cancer Society. "People were overwhelmed with finding a plan that covered the drugs that they needed," she says.

•Some people with multiple sclerosis, whose drugs cost $1,300 to $2,000 a month, began reaching the gap in February. Many had received their drugs free from manufacturers and were "very shocked" when drug companies stopped or restricted those programs, says Kim Calder of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

•People with HIV/AIDS, who often take 20 or more drugs a day, began hitting the gap several months ago. Most are struggling with the cost, says Nancy Ordover of Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. Some are interrupting their drug regimens, at great risk, she says. "It's starting to have a deterrent effect."

Find this article at:


A Great New American Enterprise

Huffington Post
Coleen Rowley
A Great New American Enterprise

In his State of the Union address, President Bush rightly decried our addiction to oil. Our reliance on foreign oil has risen steadily since 1973, and today the U.S. consumes roughly 25% of the world's oil. Our dependence on foreign suppliers, many in politically unstable regions, leaves our economy vulnerable to an oil shock which might result from escalating tensions between Syria, Israel and Iran, or from ethnic tensions in Nigeria.

And although the U.S. does not purchase oil directly from Iran, the number three oil producer globally, our insatiable consumption drives up prices and bolsters the Islamist theocracy's hold on power.

Although President Bush pledged to reduce Middle East oil imports 75% by 2025, this was just talk. His Advanced Energy Initiative requests less than $500 million for alternatives to oil, a relative drop in the bucket. It also pushes for drilling in ANWR, which the Department of Energy estimates won't add one drop to domestic oil production before 2013, and will do little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Meanwhile, small-budget conservation programs with a proven track record of success are on the cutting block. And the administration's investments in alternative energy pale compared to the breaks they've given the oil industry. President Bush is confronting our addiction to oil like an alcoholic who tries to kick the habit by adding ice to his drink.

A leader with real vision would see the opportunity behind the looming crisis, and rush to embrace it. As global demand for energy outstrips production, new markets for alternative energy technology will open up. U.S. innovators are poised to claim these markets, if they receive the funding necessary to push cutting-edge technology out of the laboratory. Researchers at New Mexico State University and Wake Forest have put nanotechnology to use creating organic solar cells, which have myriad consumer, commercial, and even military applications. University of Minnesota professor Lanny Schmidt has developed technology which may bring fuel-cell powered transportation to market years earlier than previously thought, by extracting hydrogen from ethanol. Of course ethanol is already in millions of cars today, and cellulosic ethanol can be produced from biomass more cheaply, cleanly and efficiently than gasoline.

An energy policy based on biomass benefits American farmers as well as American innovators. Moreover, if ethanol from biomass can easily be converted to hydrogen for fuel-cell power, biomass can literally drive everything, from our cars to our furnaces to the generators which power our electrical grid --- if organic solar cells don't render the electrical grid obsolete. And for icing on the cake, replacing our existing carbon-intensive fuels with these zero-carbon and carbon-neutral technologies will slow the effects of global warming.

Skeptics will argue that we could never produce enough ethanol to equal our gasoline consumption. But one major industrialized nation already has done it: Brazil is on track to free itself from dependence on imported oil by the end of the year. Indeed, Brazil's sugar-based ethanol industry has been a victim of its own success, with demand for the fuel outstripping the supply. The road of revolutionary change is always rocky; the market in gasoline suffered precipitous swings between scarcity and glut on its way to becoming the dominant economic force in the world. Breaking our addiction to oil will bring some temporary withdrawal symptoms. But the world is at or near peak oil production (and coal and natural gas and uranium . . .); it is not a question of whether we adopt an alternative energy strategy, but when. And the sooner the better.

A race is starting to develop the cheapest, cleanest, most efficient means of renewable energy production. In the end, we all win with a cleaner, greener earth, but the first to the finish line will reap an economic windfall as well. America ushered in both the nuclear age and the space age: it's time to put the full faith and credit of the United States behind the technology boom of the 21st century.

Co-written by Coleen Rowley, Candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd District and David Bailey, researcher and writer for the campaign.


New Legislation Responds to Ports Uproar

New Legislation Responds to Ports Uproar
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation passed Wednesday would make it easier for Congress to watch over the federal panel criticized for deciding that a Dubai-owned company could manage some U.S. ports.

The DP World deal fell apart this year after an uproar over whether the Bush administration ignored national security concerns in signing off on the transaction.

Lawmakers wrote legislation that adds teeth and accountability to the panel that reviews and investigates investments that involve foreign governments or have an impact on critical U.S. infrastructure. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States includes representatives from several different agencies.

"This CFIUS reform approach strikes the right balance between homeland security and open engagement with the global economy," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the bill's sponsor.

The Senate approved its version by voice vote; the House's passed on a 424-0 vote. The Senate and House must now work out the differences.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the Senate bill strengthens the review process by "explicitly establishing a system of congressional notification that had previously been lacking."

The House bill establishes the committee in statute and adds the secretaries of Homeland Security and Commerce as vice chairmen, under the treasury secretary. The signatures of all three are needed for an investigation to be considered final.

The measure reaffirms that 45-day investigations must be carried out for investments involving companies controlled by foreign governments. Lawmakers complained that they were not adequately briefed on the proposed Dubai ports deal.

The House legislation would require the panel to report to appropriate congressional committees at the end of a review and hold mandatory briefings after all investigations.

The review committee was created as part of a 1988 law that gives the president authority to suspend foreign mergers and transactions for national security reasons.

Four business groups issued a statement praising the House bill, saying it will bolster the stability and credibility of CFIUS and "help protect jobs here at home and opportunities for American businesses abroad."

The groups were The Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Forum, the Organization for International Investment and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


On the Net:

Information on the bills, H.R. 5337 and S. 3459, can be found at


Democrats Map Out Election Plan; Target Wage Hike and Security in Plan for 100 Days Before Midterm Elections

ABC News
Democrats Map Out Election Plan
Democrats Target Wage Hike and Security in Plan for 100 Days Before Midterm Elections
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Democrats plan to press for a minimum wage increase and "tough, smart" national security in their final push to wrest power from the Republicans in the November elections.

House and Senate Democrats will hold a joint meeting on Thursday to discuss events planned for the 100 days leading up to midterm congressional elections and lay out their party agenda, called "A New Direction for America."

It's a compilation of positions the party has staked out over the past few months on income, national security, energy, education, health care and retirement accounts.

"We're going across the country to make our case," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. "We're going to reject the divisive politics of the last six years, and unite America behind an agenda that works for all."

His counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, said Democrats offer change. "Americans know the country is going in the wrong direction," she said.

Republicans control Congress but the Iraq war, inflated gas prices and a soaring federal deficit have soured the political environment for the GOP. Polls show the public favors a Democratic takeover, and Democrats hope to make their closing pitches in a series of campaign events focused on issues including college affordability and Medicare prescription drugs.

Danny Diaz, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said: "It is both ironic and amusing that Democrats believe they are making a final argument to the American people, while being incapable of deciding how much to raise taxes on working families or how quickly to retreat from Iraq."

On Saturday, exactly 100 days before the Nov. 7 election, the Democratic National Committee will reach out to voters through more than 800 picnics, pig roasts, phone banks and neighborhood canvasses.

In early August, House and Senate Democrats plan to hold at least 200 town hall meetings, press conferences and speeches in states and congressional districts. Larger events also will be staged in some of the most competitive states. In New Jersey, for instance, Reid will join Sen. Bob Menendez, who is in a tight race, to outline port security problems and solutions.

Democrats also will press for a minimum wage raise on Labor Day and hold an event about Hurricane Katrina recovery in Louisiana in late August, a year after the deadly storm.


Specter proposes challenge of Bush's power on laws

Specter proposes challenge of Bush's power on laws
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter introduced legislation on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush's assertion that he can bypass sections of bills that he signs into law.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter's bill would empower Congress bring to federal court lawsuits to test the constitutionality of Bush's signing statements, which the president has appended to several bills he has signed.

In the statements, Bush has reserved the right not to enforce certain provisions of laws if he believes they impinge on his authority or interpretation of the Constitution.

Under the Constitution, Congress passes bills and the president may either sign or veto them, and give lawmakers an opportunity to override any veto.

"This bill does not seek to limit the president's power, and this bill does not seek to expand Congress' power," Specter said. "Rather, this bill simply seeks to safeguard our Constitution."

The legislation is expected to have broad support among Democrats, who have accused Bush of a power grab. Yet many Republicans have voiced objections, suggesting it may not get very far.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said this week he agrees with the White House that the president's actions are constitutional.

"He (Frist) and I have a very sharp difference of opinion," Specter told reporters. "Let Congress decide. I think what we are doing will be noted at the White House."

The White House has said signing statements have been used by past presidents and help the public understand how a given law will be enforced while providing guidance to courts.

Under Specter's bill, courts would be told they cannot rely on signing statements in interpreting federal laws.

An American Bar Association task force issued a report on Monday that said Bush has flouted the Constitution by issuing more than 800 challenges to provisions of laws he has signed, more than all other U.S. president combined.

For example, Bush signed a bill banning the torture of U.S.-held prisoners, but used a signing statement to signal that he might bypass the ban.

Other such statements suggest Bush might ignore provisions in an anti-terrorism law seeking more congressional oversight and reject a requirement that government scientists transmit findings to Congress uncensored.

Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said he believes Bush has issued too many signing statements, but at this point opposes a legal challenge.

Lott said Congress should encourage Bush to be more reserved in use of the statements. "If he ignores us, then we may have to do something," Lott said.


House Democrats seek more Army funding

House Democrats seek more Army funding
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday called for at least $10 billion in additional funds to help the U.S. Army rebuild resources depleted by the Iraq war, now in its fourth year.

In a letter to President George W. Bush, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton cited Army assessments showing that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready to complete their assigned wartime mission." Skelton is the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Army is estimating a funding shortfall of $17 billion next year for repairing and replacing equipment used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democrats said.

They asked Bush to submit an emergency request to Congress for the added funds by October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

If the emergency request is not submitted, Democrats this fall will push for a $10 billion increase in a "bridge fund" for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that is included in a fiscal 2007 Pentagon spending bill moving through Congress. That fund currently would be set at $50 billion, with the expectation that another $50 billion or so for the wars would be sought early next year.

Rep. John Murtha, the pro-defense Pennsylvania Democrat who stunned Washington last year by calling for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, said most Army units do not have adequate equipment and ammunition to train on before going to war. "Under-trained units have higher rates of casualties" once they enter combat, Murtha told reporters.

He said in order to patch the funding shortfall, some Army bases in the United States have stopped using ammunition in training and stopped cutting grass for the rest of the summer while also suspending custodial services, except for cleaning restrooms.

At the Red River Army depot in Texas, Murtha said there was no money to repair 2,500 Humvees, trucks and other vehicles used in training.

The funding shortfall comes as Congress is considering cutting back on Bush's fiscal 2007 defense request by as much as $9 billion in order to add funds to some domestic programs during this congressional election year.

By September 30, the end of this fiscal year, the United States will have spent about $450 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The combat has contributed to huge U.S. budget deficits.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Poll: Majority of public disapprove of Bush's stem cell veto

Poll: Majority of public disapprove of Bush's stem cell veto

By Richard Benedetto, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans disapprove of President Bush's veto of a bill expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, though they say they believe he did so on principle, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.

The poll taken last weekend finds 61% say Bush rejected the bill last week for personal moral beliefs; 32% say he did it to gain political advantage.

POLL: See complete results

It was Bush's first veto as president. The House of Representatives failed to override the veto.

White House deputy press secretary Ken Lisaius said Tuesday, "The president does not make policy decisions based on polling numbers. ... He vetoed the legislation because it would provide federal tax dollars to fund the present and future destruction of human life for research."

In 2001, Bush made available $90 million in federal funds for research on a restricted number of embryonic stem cell lines. The bill would have allowed federal funds to be used on research of frozen embryos from fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded.

Bill supporters, such as former first lady Nancy Reagan, say embryonic stem cell research may lead to cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, and to help heal spinal cord injuries. Bush and other opponents argue that the destruction of human embryos required for the research amounts to taking human lives.

In his veto message, Bush said if the bill became law it would cross a moral boundary that "would be a grave mistake."

The poll shows a partisan gap: 61% of Republicans approve of the veto, compared with 19% of Democrats and 33% of independents.

Among those expressing disapproval, 76% say they were "very" or "somewhat" upset by the veto; 24%, not at all.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and others in his party say they will make the veto an issue in the Nov. 7 elections. Ads are running in Wisconsin and are planned in Missouri, Pennsylvania and other states against Republicans who opposed the bill.

"They might be overstating the case," Lydia Saad, senior editor of the Gallup Poll, says of the Democrats' strategy. "It would not seem to be a make-or-break election issue. There doesn't seem to be that much public intensity."

Democratic critics charge that Bush rejected the bill to appeal to conservative voters who are a key element in the Republican base.

"This wasn't a pro-life veto. This was a political veto," says Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

After Bush's veto, two governors put up more money for embryonic stem cell research.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, lent $150 million from his state's general fund for grants to stem cell scientists. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, offered $5 million for research grants in his state.

Five states had allocated $72 million for the research. Some foreign countries, including the United Kingdom and South Korea, also fund stem cell research.

Find this article at:


Tech Trouble in the Voting Booth; Jurisdictions May Not Be Ready for New Gear, Analysis Says
Tech Trouble in the Voting Booth
Jurisdictions May Not Be Ready for New Gear, Analysis Says
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post

Last year, a report called "Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting" took a look at the issues surrounding the move by most of the country's election jurisdictions to electronic voting machines. The report's theoretical approach contrasted with the often bitter dispute about the security of the technology between activists and voting-machine vendors.

The report's authors -- a committee of National Research Council experts, including prominent computer scientists and two former governors -- then turned their attention to this year's elections. What they found, according to a council analysis released yesterday, is not reassuring:

"Some jurisdictions -- and possibly many -- may not be well prepared for the arrival of the November 2006 elections with respect to the deployment and use of electronic voting equipment and related technology, and anxiety about this state of affairs among election officials is evident in a number of jurisdictions."

More than a third of all of the nation's 8,000 voting jurisdictions will use new voting technology for the first time this year, according to Election Data Services.

"This is a moment of truth for electronic voting," said panel co-chairman Richard L. Thornburgh, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general. "You've got a lot of people who are working for the first time with the new technology. It should impart a greater note of caution than what you might normally attend to a regular election."

Thornburgh said the analysis is a "caution sign, not a stop sign, but not a clean bill of health for a technology that everyone recognizes there may be problems with."

The new voting technology includes optical-scan and touch-screen machines. In 2004, only 10 to 15 percent of jurisdictions had replaced old voting machines. Widespread efforts to replace outdated voting machines came after passage of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which set new standards and procedures.

Concerns about the new technology -- largely about alleged vulnerabilities to manipulation -- were raised nearly as soon as the machines were rolled out.

So far, in this year's primaries, the problems have been related to the machines breaking down or being used incorrectly by election officials. For example, optical-scan machines used in a May primary in Cuyahoga County in Ohio could not read the ballots because the black lines separating sections were thicker than on ballots elsewhere in the state, and the fill-in ovals were in a different place, a review recently found. The result was a long delay in ballot counting.

Numerous other localities have experienced problems, most notably the delay in results of a March primary in Cook County, Ill.

The National Research Council analysis notes several potentially problematic areas. Some states may be unable to comply with the 2002 law's deadlines for upgrading technology, meaning it is not yet clear whether they will use old or new technology this year. There are questions about whether voters will be able to use the new equipment without confusion, and whether there is enough time to train poll workers.

"When organizations roll out technology, they do it in a small way. They do a lot of testing and prototyping. We're doing it in one fell swoop and that creates certain kinds of risks," said Herbert S. Lin, a senior research scientist who served on the staff of the committee.

Among the report's recommendations is that jurisdictions run tests on Election Day on randomly selected machines.

Dana DeBeauvoir, clerk of Travis County, Tex., home to Austin, is credited with implementing one of the most comprehensive plans for Election Day. She'll do no fewer than three tests on her voting machines to ensure they are giving accurate results.

"You're always looking for the latest threat. That's not paranoid," she said. "That's good scientific method. We're dealing with voting systems that are scientific instruments."


How The Lies About WMD Continue To Work

Huffington Post
Alex Koppelman
How The Lies About WMD Continue To Work

This story may be one of the most depressing I've seen in a while:

Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll finds. Pollsters deemed the increase both "substantial" and "surprising" in light of persistent press reports to the contrary in recent years.

Fully half of Americans now believe something that is plainly, objectively and demonstrably untrue. This make anyone else want to cry?

Not Glenn Reynolds, apparently. The Instapundit, commenting on this story, flippantly remarked, "Apparently, trust in 'persistent press reports' isn't what it used to be."

Reynolds' analysis is, as usual, 180 degrees off the mark. I'd argue instead that it's precisely the "persistent press reports" that have been so effective in convincing half the public that an out-and-out lie is somehow truthful.

Just look at the Washington Times article promoting the poll:

The survey did not speculate on what caused the shift in opinion, which supports President Bush's original rationale for going to war. Respondents were questioned in early July after the release of a Defense Department intelligence report that revealed coalition forces recovered 500 aging chemical weapons containing mustard or sarin gas nerve agents in Iraq.

"Filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, during a June 21 press conference detailing the newly declassified information.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who shared the podium, said, "Iraq was not a WMD-free zone."

Unsurprisingly, both the Moonie Times and Reynolds allow this line of bull to go unchallenged. But, as those of us who pay attention to reality know, Santorum and Hoekstra are full of it.

From a previous post, here's Keith Olbermann quoting a statement by David Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group:

Senator Santorum's comments are, quote, "wrong to the facts and exaggerated beyond all reason as to the interpretation of the facts."

He continued, "There is no surprise that very small numbers of chemical canisters from the Iran-Iraq war have been found. The ISG found them. And in my testimony in 2004, I said that I expected that we would continue to find them for a very long time. These are in very small numbers and are scattered. The nerve agents have long since degraded to the point that they no longer pose any substantial threat. In most cases, the mustard agent has substantially degraded but will burn your skin--burn you," rather, "if skin comes in contact with it."

Of course, the Department of Defense has also debunked Santorum and Hoekstra -- for God's sake, even Fox News reported that.

But it doesn't matter. Because shills like Reynolds, Sean Hannity and the Times will keep up their "persistent press reports," making sure the lie is repeated often enough that, sadly, people begin to buy it.

This post originally appeared on my new blog for the online magazine Dragonfire. You can check out the blog at