Saturday, November 18, 2006

When Hacks Attack

Huffington Post
When Hacks Attack
by Taylor Marsh

You can get caught with your fly open and diddling a teenage page and elicit sympathy, while a drug hoarding radio host gets a pass for using his housekeeper as a pusher. That same host can then get caught with sex drugs in a bogus bottle at an airport, coming back from an all male weekend in one of the child sex capitals of the world, but his radio show doesn't miss a beat. Meanwhile, the former (we assume) foot fetishist Dick Morris is still Sean Hannity's favorite hack, pontificating out his pie hole about all things anti-Hillary. Oliver Iran-contra North has his own TV show, with former felon G. Gordon Liddy holding court on radio. A compulsive gambler is not only kept on radio, but given a spot on CNN, while telling the world about morals. Newt Gingrich, the disgraced speaker of the House and multiple marriage man, is still the go-to guy for Hannity on Fox. A man who reportedly married his third cousin (then divorced her), one of 2 (or is it 3?) marriages, just announced his presidential bid; the other GOP bidder a self-proclaimed philanderer, as well. But God help you if you're a woman against a war with a champion you want to promote to leadership; a person who helped raise the war debate to a campaign issue that carried your party to power, but loses that race. Let the corporate clucking begin.

Make no mistake about it, Murtha falling short of majority leader was a loss for Pelosi. So what? She stood by the man who brought the Iraq war into the debate and changed the subject from "stay the course" to "change course and redeploy." Steny Hoyer was gracious in his overwhelming win, as was speaker-elect Pelosi, making it clear that Murtha's power lives on to fight the fight in his subcommittee, where he holds the defense purse strings for the war. Pass the president the Tumms.

Photo op. Press conference. It's done. Next item.

But no-no-no. Cue the hack attack.

"Speaker Pelosi Tempts Disaster": Nancy Pelosi has managed to severely scar her leadership even before taking up the gavel as the new speaker of the House.

Her Own Worst Enemy - Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi lost big on the Steny Hoyer-Jack Murtha race, is the headline from Howard Fineman. But he doesn't stop there, describing the majority leader contest as "the fiasco known as the Hoyer-Murtha Race."

Then there is Timothy Noah's Dump Pelosi? - Let's put the new House speaker on probation.

The ever obtuse TNR spews that Murtha's loss is a "real embarassment (sic) for Nancy Pelosi. ... How can Pelosi recover."

Digby, Glenn Greenwald, Think Progress, The Nation, have the antidote for this drivel (so does Sirota).

Oh, and by the way, so does Tom DeLay.

But it was renegade DeLay who had a surprise. "I'm going to shock you," said he. "I think the real Person of the Year ought to be Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House. She worked for years putting a strategy together, building a huge coalition. She held the Democrats together in the House like I have never seen before. She is going to change America!"

Spoken like a very good sport from one mortal enemy about another.

Movers, shakers gather to help Time select person of the year (h/t)

Tom Delay not only appreciating the power, prestige and political capabilities of speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, but nominating her for TIME magazine's person of the year? I'm caught between nausea and acknowledging a nod from the man who built the most powerful House machines in GOP history. I'll leave it to mull.

A president takes us into a war, first giving the rationale that we were going to be hit with WMD, which then went from "gathering threat" and "mushroom cloud" to "we know where they are" and "smoking gun," to "reconstituting its nuclear weapons" and "weapons programs," which was bad enough, to end up at ... "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." All this, but it's the Democrats who are being constantly chastised by the likes of Sean Hannity and the other chickenhawks for wanting investigations into how we got into this war, the war profiteering that happened on Bush's watch, all the way to the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld and his wholesale refusal to submit to Goldwater-Nichols.

But let Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi back the one man responsible for raising the dialogue on the war to a campaign issue, which took us to victory, and she is pilloried by the corporate press, as well as every chattering class political pundit in the pack, when he loses that bid.

Bush had capital to spend after the 2004 election that was won by a razor thin margin, but when speaker-elect Pelosi rides to victory in a WIPE OUT her capital is spent with one leadership battle. I get it.

I smell something rotten and it's the mass of collected hubris the clucking pundits are sitting upon, which they now feel the need to release like the wind escaping from Karl Rove's bubble. Who died and elected these people to anything? It certainly wasn't the American people.

One time at bat, your done, madame speaker-elect. Consider yourself warned and marginalized. You are "tempting disaster," a "real embarassment (sic)," immediately put "on probation, and your "own worst enemy." Yes, God forbid you stand up for something you believe in and lose ONE battle.

Politics ain't beanbag, goes the old saying. I guess we can be glad that the corporate hacks at CNN, MSNBC, NEWSWEEK, The New York Times, the Washington Post, as well as TNR, Slate, and all the other political assassins hunting for Nancy Pelosi aren't in a real position of leadership. A position which requires you to stand up and take a position, even if it's unpopular and sometimes -- perish the thought -- lose ONE battle.

There is something I keep close at hand, especially for times like these. Eleanor Roosevelt got it right.

Because Eleanor wasn't afraid to speak her mind and take action, she had enemies. Some people criticized her opinions, while others made fun of her big teeth and unfashionable clothes. "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide," was Eleanor's response. - An Inspiring Life

Good advice for any woman (or any man, for that matter), but particularly for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi who has many more battles ahead.

Cue the clucking, phase two.


Dutch to ban wearing of Muslim burqa in public

Dutch to ban wearing of Muslim burqa in public
By Alexandra Hudson

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government agreed on Friday a total ban on the wearing of burqas and other Muslim face veils in public, justifying the move on security grounds.

Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk will now draw up legislation which will result in the Netherlands, once one of Europe's most easy-going nations, imposing some of the continent's toughest laws against concealing the face.

"The cabinet finds it undesirable that garments covering the face -- including the burqa -- should be worn in public in view of public order, (and) the security and protection of fellow citizens," the Dutch Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The debate on face veils and whether they stymie Muslim integration has gathered momentum across Europe.

The Netherlands would be the first European state to impose a countrywide ban on Islamic face coverings, though other countries have already outlawed them in specific places.

The move by the center-right government comes just five days before a general election. The campaign has focused so far on issues like the economy rather than immigration because most mainstream parties have hardened their stances in recent years.

Last December Dutch lawmakers voted in favor of a proposal by far-right politician Geert Wilders to outlaw face-coverings and asked Verdonk to examine the feasibility of such a ban.

Because veils were worn for religious reasons, she had feared new legislation could come into conflict with religious freedom laws. But she said on Friday this was not the case.


Existing legislation already limits the wearing of burqas and other total coverings on public transport or in schools.

France has banned the Muslim headscarf and other religious garb from state schools while discussion in Britain centers on limiting the full facial veil, or niqab.

Italy has a decades-old law against covering the face in public as an anti-terrorism measure. Some politicians have called for this rule to be enforced against veiled Muslim women.

The Muslim community estimates that only about 50 women in the Netherlands wear the head-to-toe burqa or the niqab, a face veil that conceals everything but the eyes.

Dutch Muslim groups have complained a burqa ban would make the country's 1 million Muslims feel more victimized and alienated, regardless of whether they approve of burqas or not.

"This will just lead to more girls saying 'hey I'm also going to wear a burqa as a protest'," Naima Azough, a member of parliament from the opposition Green Left, told an election campaign meeting for fellow members of the Moroccan community.

Job Cohen, the Labour mayor of Amsterdam, said he opposed burqas in schools and public buildings, and said women wearing one who failed to get a job should not expect welfare benefits.

"From the perspective of integration and communication, it is obviously very bad because you can't see each other so the fewer the better," he told foreign journalists.

"But actually hardly anybody wears one ... The fuss is much bigger than the number of people concerned."

Since the murder of anti-immigration maverick Pim Fortuyn in 2002, the Dutch have lost a reputation for tolerance, pushing through some of Europe's toughest entry and integration laws.

Social and religious tensions have escalated in the last few years, exacerbated by the murder of film director and Islam critic Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan militant in 2004.

(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson)


Government censured on family planning policies

Government censured on family planning policies
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional report has criticized the Bush administration for failing to check if federally funded abstinence-only programs actually work to curb teen sex.

Advocacy groups joined the criticism, and also attacked the appointment of a top family planning official who they say opposes any use of contraceptives.

The advocates said both developments showed the government of President George W. Bush was determined to impose a deeply conservative Christian agenda onto federal programs.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Health and Human Services Department was funding controversial abstinence-only programs without checking to see whether they reduced teen pregnancy rates.

The GAO report focused on three abstinence programs that received $158 million in federal funding last year.

"Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited," the GAO report reads.

Several studies have suggested that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds high rates of teen sex even after several years of government-funded abstinence education programs.

"In 2005, 46.8 percent of high school students reported that they have ever had sexual intercourse, with 14.3 percent of students reporting that they had had sexual intercourse with four or more persons," the GAO report reads.

HHS said it does review whether its programs work.

"There is no mention in the report that grantees are now required to spend at least 15 percent of their federal funding on evaluation activities," the HHS said in its response.

"Depending on the amount of the project, this amount could be up to $450,000 over five years for each grant awarded."

Some advocacy groups have long criticized the abstinence policy.

"As a public health agency, it is their job to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not spent to spread misinformation and half-truths with potentially life-threatening consequences," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.

Groups were also angry about the appointment of Dr. Erik Keroack as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, a job in which he will advise HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on teen pregnancy and abstinence programs.

Keroack was formerly the medical director of A Woman's Concern, a network of pregnancy health centers in Massachusetts that advise against the use of contraception and advocate abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"The appointment of anti-birth control, anti-sex education advocate Dr. Eric Keroack to oversee the nation's family planning program is striking proof that the Bush administration remains dramatically out of step with the nation's priorities," said Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The group's Web site at had removed most references to contraception but Planned Parenthood had cached versions.

"AWC staff and volunteers will not distribute brochures, books or other materials that advocate and promote the use of contraception," the cached Web page reads.

HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. John Agwunobi defended the appointment.

"Dr. Keroack is highly qualified and a well-respected physician. He has served as an obstetrician/gynecologist in private practice and non-profit settings, working primarily with women and girls in crisis," Agwunobi said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington)


Another Republican blocks Bush pick to lead US FDA

Another Republican blocks Bush pick to lead US FDA
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has protested U.S. President George W. Bush's pick to head the Food and Drug Administration, according to a letter released on Friday, making him the third Republican lawmaker blocking the nomination.

Nominee Andrew von Eschenbach, who has served as acting FDA commissioner since September 2005, refused to cooperate with a Senate investigation into a controversial antibiotic that included requests for agency documents and staff interviews, Grassley said.

"I am extremely disturbed by the Acting Commissioner's continued failure to comply with the committee's subpoenas over the past six months," Grassley, an Iowa Republican, wrote in a November 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

A Grassley spokeswoman said the subpoenas in question were related to the FDA's 2004 approval of Sanofi-Aventis' antibiotic Ketek. The FDA said this week it would ask an outside panel of experts if Ketek should remain on the market after reports of liver failure in a dozen patients.

Ketek is used to treat chronic bronchitis and some forms of sinusitis and pneumonia. Grassley's committee has been investigating reports that some doctors studying the drug falsified data or failed to keep accurate records.

Grassley also complained that his other requests to the FDA and its umbrella agency -- the Department of Health and Human Services -- received responses an average of 101 days late.

The FDA, in a November 16 letter to Sen. Frist, said it had been "actively engaged" since Grassley made his initial request in April. According to the agency, the senator wrote the FDA 17 times, and the FDA has provided more than 100,000 pages of documents.

The FDA was continuing work on several requests but cited confidentiality concerns with others, according to the letter. It was inappropriate for Grassley to interview one staffer in question because of pending regulatory matters, it added.

"Senator Grassley's document request covered a vast number of documents from several components of FDA," David Boyer, the FDA assistant commissioner for legislation, wrote to Frist.

"Identifying, locating, gathering and reproducing the appropriate responsive documents was a time- and labor-intensive process, involving dozens of agency staff."

Von Eschenbach's nomination already faced protests from two other Republican senators.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has opposed a confirmation vote because of concerns about the safety of the abortion pill known as RU-486, or Mifeprex, while Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has said he will object until prescription drug imports are legalized.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has approved Eschenbach's nomination, but individual senators can use a certain procedure to block the necessary full-Senate vote.

The FDA has not had a permanent leader for all but 18 months of Bush's nearly six years in office.

Bush tapped von Eschenbach for the permanent post in March. Two Democratic senators previously blocked his nomination but later withdrew their protests after the FDA approved access to emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Criminal probe into Foley e-mails begins

Criminal probe into Foley e-mails begins

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the sexually explicit computer messages that former Rep. Mark Foley sent to male congressional pages.

"It was a preliminary inquiry before, but we found the basis to open up a criminal investigation," Kristen Perezluha, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Thursday. She would not elaborate.

The FBI is investigating whether Foley broke federal laws, and the House Ethics Committee is looking into whether senior GOP officials hid what they knew about the messages.

Foley resigned Sept. 29 after being confronted with the lurid communications. His attorney, David Roth, has said Foley never had inappropriate sexual contact with minors. He declined to comment Thursday on the criminal investigation.

Florida law prohibits seducing or attempting to seduce a minor. However, authorities have said the term "seduce" is open to interpretation.

Foley has returned to Florida to attend his father's funeral, set for Saturday, after spending more than a month in an Arizona rehabilitation facility for alcoholism, Roth said. Edward Foley died Tuesday of cancer.

Foley entered the treatment facility Oct. 1, shortly before his attorneys announced he was gay, an alcoholic and had been molested by a priest as a teenage altar boy in Florida.

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, who has retired to the island nation of Malta, has admitted having inappropriate encounters with Foley, including massaging him in the nude and skinny-dipping together. He denies having sex with Foley.

Foley has not been seen publicly since shortly after his resignation.


DeLay Successor Seeks Inquiry Into Missing Computer Files

Washington Post
DeLay Successor Seeks Inquiry Into Missing Computer Files
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer

Just when it seemed things could get no stranger regarding the House seat once held by Texas Republican Tom DeLay, his successor called for an investigation into missing computer records last night, and an aide accused her of "disrespect and unprofessionalism."

Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R-Tex.), who is warming the 22nd District seat for only a few weeks, said that former DeLay employees apparently deleted the office's computer files shortly before they walked out, en masse, on Tuesday.

The records dated from her assumption of the office Nov. 8 and did not involve matters related to the former majority leader, Sekula-Gibbs said in an interview in her unadorned office in the Cannon Building. Those who erased the records, she said in a statement, "have harmed the 22nd congressional district" and "brought shame to this office." She has asked for an investigation.

David James, DeLay's former chief of staff, who stayed to work for Sekula-Gibbs -- until Tuesday's walkout -- said last night that the office computers "were scrubbed and reconfigured by an outside vendor in the days immediately prior to her assuming office," as House policies require. The new congresswoman was given a copy of everything "electronically or in hard copy, or both," James said in a statement.

DeLay, facing indictment in Texas, resigned from his House seat in June, triggering two elections on Nov. 7 in his Houston area district. The first, won by Sekula-Gibbs, was a special election to complete his term in the 109th Congress, which will adjourn next month. The other, won by Democrat Nick Lampson, is for the full two-year term of the 110th Congress, which convenes in January.

Sekula-Gibbs, a dermatologist, arrived for Congress's lame-duck session with ambitions for funding a fence along the Mexican border, making a number of tax cuts permanent and achieving other goals that may or may not be possible in the handful of appropriations bills on Congress's plate.

She also invited President Bush and Vice President Cheney to her swearing-in, prompting titters among some GOP staffers. Yesterday she said the invitations were a courtesy and "it's absurd to think that I thought they would come."

James and half a dozen other former DeLay staffers were on board to help Sekula-Gibbs finish the 109th Congress's business. But they abruptly left their posts Tuesday, during her open house celebration. Sekula-Gibbs said she has no idea why they left. But James said in his statement: "Never has any member of Congress treated us with as much disrespect and unprofessionalism as we witnessed during those five days."

Earlier in the day, James had briefly returned to the office to turn in his House identification badge, a key and his laptop computer, along with a sergeant-at-arms receipt acknowledging their return. Sekula-Gibbs was out of the office, and James quickly left.


Roberts Says High Court Not About 'Political Preferences'; Chief Justice Says Separation of Powers Is Important

ABC News
Roberts Says High Court Not About 'Political Preferences'
Chief Justice Says Separation of Powers Is Important

Nov. 13, 2006 — - Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the former small town boy from Indiana who now presides over the highest court in the land, said today in a rare conversation that he doesn't believe justices should make their rulings based on "personal policy preferences," and spoke with enthusiasm about his respect for the separation of powers.

In a wide ranging discussion in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people at the University of Miami, Roberts talked about his new job and his family and whether anybody can tell Justice Antonin Scalia what to do.

"Not a single person has voted for me and if we don't like what the people in Congress do we can get rid of them, you know, if you don't like what I do, it's kind of too bad. And that is to me an important constraint," Roberts said. "It means that I'm not there to make a judgment based on my personal policy preferences or my political preferences.

"The only reason, the reason I'm protected from those political pressures is because I'm supposed to make a decision based on the law," he said. "And so I don't think it would be a good idea to turn all the hard issues over to the courts. Those hard issues belong in Congress, they belong in the executive branch. Courts have the responsibility to make sure that those branches abide by the legal limits of the Constitution."

With self-deprecating humor, Roberts explained the events leading up to his nomination and the unforgettable televised presidential press conference in July 2005 when his young son, Jack Roberts, began dancing at the foot of President Bush.

"I'm there standing and the president is announcing the nomination," Roberts said. "I'm trying to think what to say in response and I look over at my wife and two children, then I look over at my wife and one child and it wasn't our fault, to be perfectly honest -- it was late, it was past their bedtime, it was 9 o'clock. People think Jack was dancing -- he was not dancing, he was being spider man, shooting the webs off."

His nomination almost didn't come off in the first place, as he revealed the chaos that occurred as he tried to rush home from a teaching stint in London when he was called back to Washington by the White House.

He nearly missed a call from the president offering him the top legal job in the country because the taxi driver bringing him from the airport got lost.

Roberts spoke about his own upbringing and leaving his life as captain of his high school football team for the academic rigor of Harvard, where he completed both undergraduate studies as well as law school.

At the time there were campus protests and political upheaval in the country, and Roberts felt stung by some students who seemed to be celebrating "in favor of our enemies." His first trip home from Harvard was his first time in an airplane. From Harvard, Roberts went on to serve as a clerk to then associate Justice William Rehnquist, never dreaming that 25 years later he would inherit his seat.

Roberts also revealed details regarding the closed-door conferences the justices attend to begin secretly debating the cases on the docket.

"I have the same vote everybody else does. And we decide things as a collegial body after consultation," he said. "The chief justice really doesn't have a lot of authority of the sort that would cause you to refer to him as a boss."

He can't tell Scalia how to vote?

"I don't think anyone can tell Justice Scalia what to do," Roberts said.


Democrats want to make baseline for wages $7.25
Democrats want to make baseline for wages $7.25

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are readying a maximum effort to raise the minimum wage.

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said Thursday that increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 would be his top priority as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

On the House side, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, already has listed an increase in the minimum wage as one of the issues that would be taken up during the first 100 hours of the next Congress. (Watch how congressmen make four times what the average U.S. family does -- 1:50Video)

"Americans are working harder than ever, but millions of hardworking men and women across the country aren't getting their fair share," Kennedy said during a speech outlining his legislative agenda for next year. "We're not rewarding work fairly anymore, and working families are falling behind."

President Bush signaled readiness last week to consider some Democratic priorities such as a minimum-wage increase, overhauling immigration policy and finding compromise on renewing the No Child Left Behind education law.

Critics of boosting the minimum wage say it kills job creation as employers hire fewer entry-level workers to compensate for the higher wage expenses. Kennedy said the minimum wage has remained at $5.15 an hour for nearly 10 years. Under Kennedy's proposal, the increase would occur over about a two-year period.

Most states have their own minimum wages laws, with some states having rates the same as the federal minimum wage and some with rates higher than the federal minimum.

Kennedy noted that ballot initiatives establishing or raising the minimum wage in six states all passed in this month's election.

"If there is one message from this election that emerged loud and clear, it's that no one who works for a living should have to live in poverty," Kennedy said.

Kennedy also said he would seek to expand federal support for research on stem cells coming from embryos, which Congress approved last year, but Bush vetoed. The issue won't go away, he promised.

On education, Kennedy said he would seek to make college more affordable by increasing the size of Pell Grants from $4,050 to $5,100, and by cutting interest rates on student loans.

He said that the student loan business has become too profitable for the banking industry. "It's time to take the moneychangers out of the temple on student loans," he said.

On health care, Kennedy said the Senate's HELP committee would expand a health insurance program that now provides health coverage for about 4 million children. He also would look for ways to expand coverage to other populations too, he said, but he did not provide specifics, such as how to pay for that coverage.

Some of the programs that Kennedy cited as priorities, such as lowering classroom sizes, expanding job training, and increasing financial aide for students, would require more money. He said that some of the money can be found just by adjusting priorities.

"There's a lot of money rattling around out there. The question is, who's going to get it," Kennedy told reporters.

Kennedy said that raising taxes on the poor and middle class "are all off the table for me," but he said he would look at raising what he referred to as the millionaires' tax.


Bush's budget chief rejects Democrats' tax idea

Bush's budget chief rejects Democrats' tax idea
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's budget chief on Thursday rejected plans by Democrats in Congress to impose tough controls that would only allow tax cuts if they are offset by increases in other taxes or by spending reductions.

"It would be a mistake. It would hurt the economy. Tax relief should continue," White House budget director Rob Portman told reporters after meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Democrats are poised to take control of Congress in January following November 7 elections that kicked Bush's Republicans out of power.

As part of their drive to end chronic U.S. budget deficits during Bush's presidency, key Democrats have talked about the need for a return to stringent budget rules, known as "pay-go," that require paying for new spending increases and tax cuts with equal savings elsewhere in the budget or tax code.

Those Democrats also advocate scaling back some of Bush's tax cuts that have benefited the wealthiest. First enacted in 2001 and 2003, those tax cuts are to expire in 2010.

Rep. John Spratt, the South Carolina Democrat who is set to become House Budget Committee chairman next year, told Reuters he would seek to balance the federal budget within five years. He said the impact of some of the current tax breaks would have to be weighed "in terms of their ultimate impact on the bottom line."

The incoming chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, said any changes to the tax code would have to have support from Republicans as well as Democrats.

"I'm not going to go down alone," Rangel said on Thursday in an interview taped for C-Span's Newsmakers to be aired on Sunday.

Unpaid taxes and numerous breaks that were put in the tax code more for political expediency than for economic reason could help pay for some items such as extending alternative minimum tax relief, Rangel said. Otherwise millions of taxpayers next year could be hit with the tax that was once intended for only the wealthiest Americans.

Portman said that currently U.S. taxes are equal to 18.4 percent of the gross domestic product. "That's relatively high," Portman said, noting an 18.2 percent average over the past 40 years.

Rangel is advocating a bipartisan dialogue and Portman said he was willing to listen to the New York Democrat's ideas.

When the Republican-controlled Congress winds down next month, lawmakers also might extend a series of expiring tax breaks, including those for college tuition and business research and development. Conservatives have worked hard to also include extending estate tax cuts for the wealthy, which expire in 2010, a move that Democrats have opposed.

The White House is nearing the final phase of crafting a fiscal 2008 budget proposal that will be submitted to Congress by early February. Portman said he did not know yet whether that budget blueprint, which looks at the next five years, will achieve balance.

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith)


Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives
A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives
by Michael Moore

To My Conservative Brothers and Sisters,

I know you are dismayed and disheartened at the results of last week's election. You're worried that the country is heading toward a very bad place you don't want it to go. Your 12-year Republican Revolution has ended with so much yet to do, so many promises left unfulfilled. You are in a funk, and I understand.

Well, cheer up, my friends! Do not despair. I have good news for you. I, and the millions of others who are now in charge with our Democratic Congress, have a pledge we would like to make to you, a list of promises that we offer you because we value you as our fellow Americans. You deserve to know what we plan to do with our newfound power -- and, to be specific, what we will do to you and for you.

Thus, here is our Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives:

Dear Conservatives and Republicans,

I, and my fellow signatories, hereby make these promises to you:

1. We will always respect you for your conservative beliefs. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.

2. We will let you marry whomever you want, even when some of us consider your behavior to be "different" or "immoral." Who you marry is none of our business. Love and be in love -- it's a wonderful gift.

3. We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook, too, and we will balance it for you.

4. When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home, too. They deserve to live. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on either a mistake or a lie.

5. When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you, too, will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that affect you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family, too.

6. Even though you have opposed environmental regulation, when we clean up our air and water, we, the Democratic majority, will let you, too, breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water.

7. Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.

8. We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.

9. We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, pick up another sport. We will make our streets and schools as free as we can from these weapons and we will protect your children just as we would protect ours.

10. When we raise the minimum wage, we will pay you -- and your employees -- that new wage, too. When women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage, too.

11. We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism -- starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.

12. We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and who are bought and paid for by the rich. We will go after any elected leader who puts him or herself ahead of the people. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side FIRST. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.

I promise all of the above to you because this is your country, too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans -- and for the rest of the world.


Michael Moore

P.S. Please feel free to pass this on.


CIA Acknowledges 2 Interrogation Memos; Papers Called Too Sensitive for Release

Washington Post
CIA Acknowledges 2 Interrogation Memos
Papers Called Too Sensitive for Release
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

After years of denials, the CIA has formally acknowledged the existence of two classified documents governing aggressive interrogation and detention policies for terrorism suspects, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

But CIA lawyers say the documents -- memos from President Bush and the Justice Department -- are still so sensitive that no portion can be released to the public.

The disclosures by the CIA general counsel's office came in a letter Friday to attorneys for the ACLU. The group had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York two years ago under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking records related to U.S. interrogation and detention policies.

The lawsuit has resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents, including some that revealed internal debates over the policies governing prisoners held at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many other records have not been released and, in some cases, their existence has been revealed only in media reports.

Friday's letter from John L. McPherson, the CIA's associate general counsel, lists two documents that pertain to the ACLU's records request.

The ACLU describes the first as a "directive" signed by Bush governing CIA interrogation methods or allowing the agency to set up detention facilities outside the United States. McPherson describes it as a "memorandum." In September, Bush confirmed the existence of secret CIA prisons and transferred 14 remaining terrorism suspects from them to Guantanamo Bay.

The second document is an August 2002 legal memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA general counsel. The ACLU describes it as "specifying interrogation methods that the CIA may use against top al-Qaeda members." (This document is separate from another widely publicized Justice memo, also issued in August 2002, that narrowed the definition of torture. The Justice Department has since rescinded the latter.)

The ACLU relied on media reports to identify and describe the two documents, but the CIA and other agencies had not previously confirmed their existence. McPherson wrote that neither document can be released to the public for reasons of security and attorney-client privilege.

"The documents are withheld in their entirety because there is no meaningful non-exempt information that can be reasonably segregated from the exempt information," McPherson wrote. A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment yesterday.

Amrit Singh, one of the ACLU's attorneys on the case, said the disclosures may make it easier for the group to argue in favor of releasing the documents.

"For more than three years, they've refused to even confirm or deny the existence of these records," Singh said, referring to the group's initial document request in October 2003. "The fact that they're now choosing to do so confirms that their position was unjustified from the start. . . . Now we can begin to actually litigate the release of these documents."


Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry

Washington Post
Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer

The U.S. government has vowed that Americans will never be hungry again. But they may experience "very low food security."

Every year, the Agriculture Department issues a report that measures Americans' access to food, and it has consistently used the word "hunger" to describe those who can least afford to put food on the table. But not this year.

Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.

The United States has set a goal of reducing the proportion of food-insecure households to 6 percent or less by 2010, or half the 1995 level, but it is proving difficult. The number of hungriest Americans has risen over the past five years. Last year, the total share of food-insecure households stood at 11 percent.

Less vexing has been the effort to fix the way hunger is described. Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies "to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households' access -- or lack of access -- to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound."

Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which "should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

To measure hunger, the USDA determined, the government would have to ask individual people whether "lack of eating led to these more severe conditions," as opposed to asking who can afford to keep food in the house, Nord said.

It is not likely that USDA economists will tackle measuring individual hunger. "Hunger is clearly an important issue," Nord said. "But lacking a widespread consensus on what the word 'hunger' should refer to, it's difficult for research to shed meaningful light on it."

Anti-hunger advocates say the new words sugarcoat a national shame. "The proposal to remove the word 'hunger' from our official reports is a huge disservice to the millions of Americans who struggle daily to feed themselves and their families," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy group. "We . . . cannot hide the reality of hunger among our citizens."

In assembling its report, the USDA divides Americans into groups with "food security" and those with "food insecurity," who cannot always afford to keep food on the table. Under the old lexicon, that group -- 11 percent of American households last year -- was categorized into "food insecurity without hunger," meaning people who ate, though sometimes not well, and "food insecurity with hunger," for those who sometimes had no food.

That last group now forms the category "very low food security," described as experiencing "multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake." Slightly better-off people who aren't always sure where their next meal is coming from are labeled "low food security."

That 35 million people in this wealthy nation feel insecure about their next meal can be hard to believe, even in the highest circles. In 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then running for president, said he thought the annual USDA report -- which consistently finds his home state one of the hungriest in the nation -- was fabricated.

"I'm sure there are some people in my state who are hungry," Bush said. "I don't believe 5 percent are hungry."

Bush said he believed that the statistics were aimed at his candidacy. "Yeah, I'm surprised a report floats out of Washington when I'm running a presidential campaign," he said.

The agency usually releases the report in the fall, for reasons that "have nothing to do with politics," Nord said.

This year, when the report failed to appear in October as it usually does, Democrats accused the Bush administration of delaying its release until after the midterm elections. Nord denied the contention, saying, "This is a schedule that was set several months ago."


The Other Secret Bush Court?

Huffington Post
David Kirby
The Other Secret Bush Court?

Next year, a "Special Master" in an obscure Federal court known only to a few Americans will preside over a highly sensitive judicial matter of urgent national importance. The Bush Administration wants to hold the hearings in a sealed courtroom, off limits to the press and public, with stiff "sanctions" for any outsider who attempts to gain unauthorized access to the secretive proceedings within.

Terror trials in faraway Gitmo? Good guess. But these are vaccine trials on New York Avenue, in downtown Washington, at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

You may not know it, but there is an official federal "vaccine court," where some 4,750 autism-related cases have been pending for years. Claimants believe the mercury-based vaccine preservative, thimerosal, and/or the MMR vaccine, contributed to their children's autism, and they are seeking compensation from a special vaccine injury fund administered by the federal government.

The long-awaited autism vaccine trial will commence on June 11 in the courtroom of Special Master George Hastings. The plaintiffs and their attorneys have asked for complete transparency in every aspect of the tribunal, including public disclosure of all evidence and unhindered media access to the hearings. The few autism families whose medical records will be scrutinized as legal examples are waiving their right to privacy and confidentiality, so that their stories may finally be told in an open court of law.

But the DOJ (technically, the "defense") has other plans. On November 3rd, the Department wrote to Hastings saying it "would oppose public access to the courtroom and public broadcast of the trial," because such an arrangement. "would pose security and privacy concerns" for those in attendance.

Exactly whose privacy are they trying to protect? It can't be the parents, because they don't want privacy. The only party fretting about privacy is the DOJ itself, and presumably, the vaccine makers. (As for "security" concerns, isn't that why we have court officers?).

The government may call this privacy, but I call it secrecy. In fact, there has been a long and unseemly history of secrecy when it comes to federal data on thimerosal and autism.

And let's face it: People don't hide something unless they have something to hide.

Back in 2002, Health and Human Services lawyers quietly slipped into vaccine court to file a protection order to permanently seal all thimerosal-related documents. They proposed sanctions for any lawyer who shared the secret government information with autism families, the public or the press. All thimerosal data would be banned from use in future civil cases, and any materials already given to plaintiffs would be rounded up by federal agents and destroyed. The motion was withdrawn after appropriate public outcry.

Many of those federal documents pertained to an off-limits database called the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), which tracks the medical records of hundreds of thousands of American children. Lawyers for the families have tried to gain access to the VSD for years, including a 2004 "Motion to Compel" that went nowhere.

In 2005, the Institute of Medicine issued a report slamming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which manages the VSD, for a "lack of transparency" in handling the data. Even more alarming, CDC officials testified that the original datasets they examined had "not been archived in a standard fashion," meaning they were either lost, or destroyed. Take your pick.

If the disappearance of these datasets was intentional, that would be a clear violation of the federal Data Quality Act. No wonder the IOM urged vaccine officials to "seek legal advice" on the status of the missing records.

But those missing datasets could well have been a bonanza to attorneys for the autism parents. Now they are gone.

And, without access to any of the raw data to which government lawyers are privy, the families' cases are woefully, and unconstitutionally, disadvantaged. In what other American court of law are defendants allowed access to evidence that is kept secret from plaintiffs?

Meanwhile, family lawyers have received 216,000 pages of discovery materials, sourced from federal agencies and private companies alike. They might well paint an incriminating portrait of thimerosal's role in autism, and that may be why individuals face a $250,000 penalty for any paper that is leaked.

But some documents have already been leaked, including one published in the Los Angeles Times showing that Merck officials knew of the cumulative and alarmingly high levels of mercury in vaccines way back in 1991, but said nothing about it to anyone.

Are there other incriminating memos from Merck (or Lilly or Glaxo, etc.)? My sources indicate that there are, but we may never get to see them. And now, by barring public access to the trial, we may never get to hear them, either.

If the DOJ has its way, only claimants and their attorneys will be allowed to sit in the courtroom, or receive password-enabled access to a live audio webcast of the trial. The media will be barred, and so will everyone else. And though there will be an official written transcript, such documents are sometimes redacted, or even sealed, after the trial.

As a journalist, I will be subject to "sanctions" if I sit in on a webcast without authorization from the court. In fact, unauthorized access to the proceedings, according to the DOJ proposal, might lead to "termination of the webcast and closing of the courtroom."

What remains unclear is whether journalists will be prosecuted for interviewing families who have access to the webcast, or who attend the trial in person. But if I get arrested for hanging around outside the court with my pen and notepad, don't blame me for trying.

Curiously, a final reason cited for barring reporters and others from vaccine court is that "opening the courtroom to the general public would make it more difficult for claimants themselves to attend." I know plenty of parents who would gladly give up their seat for, say, Wolf Blitzer or Brian Williams, but the DOJ apparently hasn't asked them.

I think it's safe to say that the Bush Administration does not want this trial publicized. That seems curious to me. The entire thimerosal question will likely be left up to just one man: Special Master Hastings. Whether he decides for the parents, or for the DOJ, his ruling will forever be considered within a vacuum, subject to intense criticism from either side, unless he agrees that all thimerosal evidence should at long last be made public.

I hope he rules that his courtroom is not Guantanamo. These parents, and the public at large, deserve no less.


PS: My last post predicted that most autism parents would be voting Democratic this November, without giving proper credit to two members of the House GOP. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Dave Weldon (R-FL) are among the most open minded members when it comes to the mercury-autism hypothesis, and I apologize for the omission.

Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has been hostile, at best, to the theory. I congratulate Rep. Waxman on his ascendancy to the House Government Reform Committee Chairmanship, and respectfully ask him to read "Evidence of Harm," and, if possible and when he has time, to offer a response on the Huffington Post.


Bush's Push For Conservative Judicial Nominees A "Slap In The Face" to Democrats and majority of Americans

Yahoo! News
White House resubmits 6 court nominees
By DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer

The Bush administration, trying to push through judicial nominations before Republicans lose control of the Senate, resubmitted six nominees deemed by Democrats too conservative for the federal bench.

Five nominees were the subject of an angry exchange in August when Democrats said their selection was a sop to the president's conservative base.

The White House on Wednesday submitted Terrence Boyle of North Carolina and William James Haynes II of Virginia to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.; Michael Brunson Wallace of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans; Peter Keisler of Maryland to the District of Columbia Circuit; and William Gerry Myers III and Norman Randy Smith, both of Idaho, for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

Everyone except Keisler has generated intense opposition from Democrats.

Under Senate rules the nominations must be resubmitted after Congress takes an extended break, as was the case this year for the 2006 election.

"Democrats have asked the president to be bipartisan, but this is a clear slap in the face at our request," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Judiciary Committee. "For the sake of the country, we hope that this is an aberration because the president feels he must placate his hard-right base, rather than an indication of things to come."

Sen. Jon Cornyn, R-Texas, a vocal backer of many of Bush's judicial picks, said he thought it would be "very tough" to get the nominees through the Senate during the lame-duck session. But, he added, "Hope springs eternal."

Cornyn said judicial nominees will test the Democrats' stated desire to run the Senate with greater bipartisanship.

"We'll see whether now that they're in majority status, if we're going to have ideological litmus tests for judges," Cornyn said.

The president's picks for the federal bench have sparked angry debate in the Senate. The incoming majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, once threatened to filibuster Boyle's nomination if it came to the full Senate.

Haynes was an architect of the Bush administration's eventually abandoned policy on the treatment of terrorism detainees. He later told a Senate panel that reversing the policy was the "right thing to do."

Bush this week also has sent several nonjudicial nominees to the Senate. One was Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, renominated as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that directs U.S. overseas broadcasts. His nomination has bogged down because allegations of misconduct. A report released in August by the State Department's inspector general said Tomlinson misused government funds for two years as the board chairman. He disputed the allegations.


Iran complains to U.N. of Israeli threats to bomb it

Iran complains to U.N. of Israeli threats to bomb it
By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran, whose president has vowed to wipe Israel off the map, complained to the United Nations on Wednesday that the Jewish state was repeatedly threatening to bomb it.

The threats were "matters of extreme gravity" and the U.N. Security Council should condemn them and demand that Israel "cease and desist immediately from the threat of the use of force against members of the United Nations," Iranian U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif said.

His comments, which came in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan dated November 10 and circulated at the United Nations on Wednesday, prompted a quick rejoinder from John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"I would say this is perhaps an example of the Iranians trying to learn 'chutzpah,'" Bolton told reporters, using a Yiddish word for unmitigated gall or outrageously arrogant behavior.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, has been aggressively pursuing a nuclear program that it says is meant only to produce electric power.

But Western powers and Israel, which is widely believed to be a nuclear power, insist the activities are a cover for making nuclear bombs.

Iran's activities have prompted speculation that Israel might launch pre-emptive strikes to destroy its nuclear facilities, as it did in Iraq in 1981 when it bombed a reactor at Osiraq.

The speculation increased after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year threatened to "wipe Israel off the map," a statement Iranian officials have argued was not a threat.

Israel has fueled the speculation with a series of "unlawful and dangerous threats," Zarif said.

His letter cited several examples. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said last Friday that a pre-emptive strike on Iran was possible as "a last resort," Zarif's letter said. "But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort," he quoted Sneh as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on October 19 that Iran would have "a price to pay" for continuing its nuclear programs and Iranians "have to be afraid" of what Israel might do, according to Zarif's letter.

Similarly, Zarif said that Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz said on January 21, "We are preparing for military action to stop Iran's nuclear program."


Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff goes to prison

Ex-lobbyist in corruption scandal goes to prison

CUMBERLAND, Maryland (Reuters) - Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, at the center of a political corruption scandal that contributed to the Republican loss of Congress in last week's elections, began serving his prison sentence on Wednesday.

The federal Bureau of Prisons said Abramoff, who has been cooperating in the government's influence-peddling investigation, arrived at about 6:30 a.m. (1130 GMT) at a minimum security federal prison camp in Cumberland, Maryland, 130 miles west of Washington.

The bureau said he is beginning to serve a sentence of five years and 10 months in prison handed down by a federal judge in Miami for fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line.

The Abramoff election-year scandal has reached into the White House and the Congress. Democrats in the mid-term elections were aided by voter anger over a series of congressional scandals, including the one involving Abramoff, a onetime Republican lobbyist.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio pleaded guilty last month to illegally accepting trips, meals, drinks, tickets to concerts and sporting events and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars in return for official acts performed on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.

Two former aides to ex-Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House majority leader, also have pleaded guilty. DeLay resigned in June while fighting unrelated campaign-finance charges in Texas and being dogged by questions about relations with Abramoff.

The scandal also has reached into the White House, with the conviction of former Bush administration official David Safavian and the resignation of Susan Ralston, an aide to top presidential political adviser Karl Rove.

In January, Abramoff pleaded guilty to separate charges in Washington of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in connection with his lobbying activities. He has yet to be sentenced on those charges while he cooperates with the government's investigation.

The plea deal provides a recommended prison sentence on those charges of nine years to 11 years and three months, to run at the same time as his sentence in the Florida case.

The prison camp in Maryland is a 334-bed facility. Prison officials said Abramoff would go through processing, which includes a medical screening and fingerprinting, and would be assigned a bed in the dormitory-style facility.


Lott returns to Senate Republican leadership

Lott returns to Senate Republican leadership
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans narrowly elected Sen. Trent Lott to their new leadership team on Wednesday, re-embracing a lawmaker who earlier had been forced to step aside as their leader over racially charged remarks.

The 49-member Republican caucus selected Lott to be the party's new whip, their No. 2 job in the chamber, as they sought to regroup after last week's elections placed Democrats back in control of the U.S. Congress.

Lott will replace Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was elevated to the top job, Senate Republican leader, for the 110th Congress set to convene in January. McConnell succeeds retiring Bill Frist of Tennessee.

"We want to work with the Democrats. Our preference is to accomplish things rather than block things," McConnell told reporters after the party's secret balloting.

In returning to leadership, Lott brushed off questions from reporters. Standing beside McConnell, he said: "The spotlight belongs on him."

Lott had been viewed as an effective Republican leader, one who was able to rally his colleagues and skillfully use the chamber's rules to move or stop legislation.

Lott was also seen as an articulate speaker -- until four years ago when he made a racially charged remark in a 100th birthday salute to Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a former segregationist who ran for president in 1948.

By suggesting the nation may have been better off if Thurmond had won, Lott, in what was meant to be a light-hearted tribute, ignited a political firestorm and he was replaced by Frist as Senate leader.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana opposed Lott's election as whip, saying he voted instead for Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who lost by one vote. But Lugar explained Senate Republicans overall were ready to re-embrace the amiable Mississippian.

"There was the acceptance today that he has admitted making an egregious error, and some feel he paid a very heavy cost," Lugar said. "But at the same time, he has skills that should be recognized and utilized."

Rep. Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, "For many African Americans the sting of Trent Lott's hurtful words are unlikely to expire anytime soon." But Watt expressed hope Lott would use his new post to help the plight of the poor.


On the other side of the Capitol, there was a new twist in the battle between Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Steny Hoyer of Maryland to be elected on Thursday as Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives.

Murtha was quoted as describing as "total crap" an ethics and lobbying reform bill offered by Nancy Pelosi, the current Democratic leader who is set to be elected House speaker, the chamber's top job, in January.

Murtha offered the description during a meeting on Tuesday with a group of moderate House Democrats, according to a Democratic source who was in the room.

The source confirmed a report in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill paper, that Murtha told the group he would still work to pass the measure because it has been pushed by Pelosi, who has vowed to clean up how the scandal-rocked Congress does business.

But Murtha disputed characterization of his comments.

"I agree with what Nancy is trying to do," Murtha told MSNBC. "The crap I'm talking about is the crap that people have violated the law."

"What I said was it's 'total crap' that I think we have to deal with an issue like this ... when we got a war going on and all these other issues," Murtha said.

Pelosi has endorsed Murtha, who helped lead the Democratic charge against the Iraq war, over Hoyer, her current deputy.

Murtha has faced complaints from public advocacy groups about abusing his position as a congressman to benefit clients of his lobbyist brother.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Donna Smith)


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust For Israel. Believe him and stop him.

Huffington Post
Blake Fleetwood
"Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust For Israel" -- Benjamin Netanyahu

"Believe him and stop him," the Israeli opposition leader said of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "This is what we must do. Everything else pales before this."

In extraordinary interviews on Monday and Tuesday Likud leader, and former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu told a luncheon audience and a radio interviewer. "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,"

Netanyahu repeatedly told delegates to the annual United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles which attracts 5,000 participants, "It's 1938 all over again."

Natanyahu was responding to reports Monday that President Ahmadinejad declared that Israel was destined to "disappearance and destruction" and that Iran had full nuclear capability. "Time is running in our favor."

The General Assembly, an umbrella organization of American Jewish communal organizations is a traditional pilgrimage for Israeli politicians of all shades of opinion

According to an account by Peter Hirschberg, in Wednesday's Haaretz (An Israeli newspaper), Netanyahu amplified his remarks in an interview on Army Radio on Tuesday night.

Netanyahu insisted that Israel had the capability to wipe out Iran. "I don't want to analyze the capability required to eliminate [the Iranian nuclear] threat, but this capability exists..This capability is eroded over time, and if we wait years then obviously this capability would not exist anymore ... but right now I disagree with the claim that nothing can be done against Iran."

When asked by Israeli radio host Razi Barkai if Bush could afford embarking on another "military adventure" after Iraq, Netanyahu replied,

"... Israel would certainly be the first stop on Iran's tour of destruction, but at the planned production rate of 25 nuclear bombs a year ... [the arsenal] will be directed against 'the big Satan,' the U.S., and the 'moderate Satan,' Europe."

"Iran is developing ballistic missiles that would reach America, and now they prepare missiles with an adequate range to cover the whole of Europe," he added.

"No one cared then and no one seems to care now," he said, again drawing on the Nazi parallel - Netanyahu warned that Tehran's nuclear and missile program "goes way beyond the destruction of Israel - it is directed to achieve world-wide range. It's a global program in the service of a mad ideology."

"What happens in Iran affects what happens in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not the other way round," he said.

"There is still time. All ways (to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons) must be considered. We can't let this thing happen."

Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert drew fire from Democrats Monday by publicly praising the war in Iraq. Clearly many Israeli leaders are panicked that the political fallout from the anti-war tsunami will weaken U.S. resolve. And an emboldened Amadinejad is giving them good reason. Expect a major PR effort to lobby for action against Iran.

It's a scary tinderbox.


Senate vote favors Iraq reconstruction watchdog

Senate vote favors Iraq reconstruction watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to keep alive the federal agency that looks for waste and fraud in taxpayer-financed reconstruction projects in Iraq, hoping to reverse a recently passed law that would close the office next year.

On a voice vote, the chamber embraced a bipartisan plan to keep the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction open until 10 months after 80 percent of the funds for Iraqi reconstruction have been spent, whenever that is.

"The important work of this watchdog must continue, as long as American funds are being used for Iraqi reconstruction," said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and co-sponsor of the plan with Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.

The office has focused on contracting problems involving large companies such as Halliburton, which was formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. In one recent report, the office said Halliburton routinely hid information about its work in Iraq from the public by marking the data as proprietary when it wasn't.

The provision to extend the office's life was attached to a military construction spending bill that was expected to pass the Senate this week. Its fate in the House was unclear.

Some in the Senate have blamed House Republicans for the plan to close the inspector general's office next October, which was inserted earlier this year into legislation that President George W. Bush signed into law. House Republicans deny any stealth was involved in getting the provision approved.

Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat due to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, this week introduced legislation in the House to keep the office open. It also would give it oversight of a $1.7 billion U.S. fund set to train, equip and provide infrastructure for Iraqi security forces.

The agency, known by its acronym SIGIR and led by Inspector General Stuart Bowen, began work in January 2004 to track $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars initially allocated for rebuilding Iraq.

SIGIR has issued 73 audit reports and 65 project assessments, resulting in the arrest of five people and the convictions of four for fraudulent use of taxpayer money.

In its latest quarterly report, the agency said it had 92 open investigations in Iraq, including 25 led by the Justice Department. It said its audits had resulted in a net potential economic impact of $405.1 million and its recommendations could boost Iraq's annual oil revenues by $1.3 billion.


White House seeks dismissal of CIA leak suit

White House seeks dismissal of CIA leak suit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration asked a federal judge on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Dick Cheney and others for alleged involvement in disclosing her employment as a clandestine CIA operative.

Cheney and the other high-level defendants in the lawsuit have valid claims of immunity because of their official positions, Justice Department lawyers said in their request to have the case thrown out.

The lawyers also said that Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, failed to allege that any of the defendants had violated a constitutional right.

The lawsuit, filed in July, names Cheney, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, top White House aide Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

It alleged "a conspiracy among current and former high-level officials in the White House to discredit, punish and seek revenge" against Wilson for publicly disputing statements made by President George W. Bush in justifying the war in Iraq.

The Justice Department's motion to dismiss the suit cited a Supreme Court decision noting that officers of the executive branch should not function under fear that their motives could lead to a lawsuit because it would restrict their ability to function as public officials.

"The United States has a strong interest in ensuring that federal officials are appropriately protected from personal liability in lawsuits arising as a result of their official positions," the Justice Department said.

"The United States believes that... the individual federal defendants have valid claims of immunity," the document said. "The vice president possesses absolute immunity from civil damages claims in connection with acts taken within the scope of his office."

The CIA leak case erupted after Wilson accused the administration of leaking his wife's identity to punish him for writing in The New York Times that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war.

A federal investigation of the leak lead to an indictment last year of Libby on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. He is the only person charged in the case.

Rove was investigated but not charged.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

US is top purveyor on weapons sales list; Shipments grow to unstable areas

Boston Globe
US is top purveyor on weapons sales list
Shipments grow to unstable areas
By Bryan Bender

WASHINGTON -- The United States last year provided nearly half of the weapons sold to militaries in the developing world, as major arms sales to the most unstable regions -- many already engaged in conflict -- grew to the highest level in eight years, new US government figures show.

According to the annual assessment, the United States supplied $8.1 billion worth of weapons to developing countries in 2005 -- 45.8 percent of the total and far more than second-ranked Russia with 15 percent and Britain with a little more than 13 percent.

Arms control specialists said the figures underscore how the largely unchecked arms trade to the developing world has become a major staple of the American weapons industry, even though introducing many of the weapons risks fueling conflicts rather than aiding long-term US interests.

The report was compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

"We are at a point in history where many of these sales are not essential for the self-defense of these countries and the arms being sold continue to fuel conflicts and tensions in unstable areas," said Daryl G. Kimball , executive director of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association in Washington. "It doesn't make much sense over the long term."

The United States, for instance, also signed an estimated $6.2 billion worth of new deals last year to sell attack helicopters, missiles, and other armaments to developing nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Developing nations are designated as all those except in North America, Western Europe, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand.

In addition to weapons already delivered, new contracts for future weapons deliveries topped $44 billion last year -- the highest overall since 1998, according to the report. Nearly 70 percent of them were designated for developing nations.

Many of the US sales are justified by American officials as critical to the war on terrorism or other foreign policy goals such as checking an emerging China. One such example is the recent decision to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

The United States has long relied on arms sales to prop up allies or enhance collective defense arrangements.

"For decades, during the height of the Cold War, providing conventional weapons to friendly states was an instrument of foreign policy utilized by the United States and its allies," according to the report, titled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations."

"This was equally true for the Soviet Union and its allies," the report said.

Yet there is growing evidence that the sales are increasingly more about dollars and cents for the US military-industrial complex and other major military economies. The trend began after the end of the Cold War, when American, European, Russian, and other defense industries were forced to consolidate and competition for foreign sales heated up.

"Where before the principal motivation for arms sales by foreign suppliers might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based as much on economic considerations as those of foreign policy or national security policy," said the congressional report, which detailed both arms deliveries, or weapons actually delivered to customers, and arms agreements, or contracts signed for future deliveries.

Washington's desire to maintain the status quo was on display at a meeting at the United Nations on Oct. 26, when a UN panel voted to study whether a new treaty might be possible to regulate the sale of conventional arms. The United States was the only country out of 166 to vote no, though China and Russia were among a handful of countries to abstain.

With that lone dissent, the UN's Disarmament and International Security Committee approved a British proposal to draw up uniform standards that might block arms sales considered destabilizing, including those that might fuel ongoing conflicts, violate embargoes, undermine democratic institutions, or contribute to human rights abuses. A UN task force is set to make its recommendations to the General Assembly next year.

But powerful interests in the global arms industry have long stood in the way of controlling the arms flow to the developing world.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, for example, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China -- pledged to limit the sale of arms to the volatile Middle East, attributing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to the region having been awash in high-tech arsenals.

More than a decade later, those pledges have gone unfulfilled. The United States is not the only culprit.

For the first time in eight years, Russia outpaced the United States last year in the value of new arms transfer agreements reached with developing nations, according to the Congressional Research Service report, authored by Richard F. Grimmett .

Moscow inked major deals to sell missiles, warships, and other hardware to such potential trouble spots as Iran and China, according to the report, which is considered the most authoritative breakdown of the global arms trade. China also agreed to provide weapons to trouble spots such as Iran and North Korea, while major Western European suppliers, such as Britain and France, also concluded large orders with developing countries.

But it is the United States that by far remains the top purveyor of high-tech arms to areas where analysts believe the likelihood of armed conflict remains highest. A study last year by the progressive World Policy Institute found that the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in an ongoing war.

"From Angola, Chad, and Ethiopia, to Colombia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, transfers through the two largest US arms sales programs [Foreign Military sales and Commercial Sales] to these conflict nations totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003," the report found.

Meanwhile, more than half of the countries buying US arms -- 13 of the 25 -- were defined as undemocratic by the State Department's annual Human Rights Report, including top recipients Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.

The agreement last year to sell F-16s to Pakistan underscores the larger trend, according to Wade Bouse , research director at the Arms Control Association.

"F-16s with advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles are not for fighting Al Qaeda," Bouse said. "They are for fighting India."

And India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan, is considering a US offer to sell the country F-16s. "We are creating our own market by selling to both sides of regional conflicts," Bouse said.

With more such lucrative deals in the offing, there is little sign that the United States -- or other major suppliers -- wants a treaty to control the sales.

"The US would be significantly affected if there was an arms treaty that took into account human rights abuses and conflict areas," added William Hartung , director of the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute in New York. "The US government still wants to be able to do covert and semi-covert arms transfers. And a certain amount of it is simply keeping factories running in certain congressional districts."


Looking for 18,000 missing votes in Florida
Looking for 18,000 missing votes in Florida
-- Katharine Mieszkowski

Officials in Florida's 13th Congressional District have begun recounting the votes cast there in a race whose margin of victory was fewer than 400 votes. The recount is expected to take a week, but computer scientists aren't optimistic that it will get to the root of the problems experienced by voters in the district's Sarasota County, where more than 18,000 votes may have mysteriously disappeared.

Among all the reports logged last Tuesday by election-protection hotline numbers, the most serious complaints were from voters in Florida's Sarasota County, where the vagaries of the electronic voting process may have determined the outcome of the election. As a result, Democrat Christine Jennings has not conceded, even though Republican Vern Buchanan has already declared victory.

In Sarasota County, 18,000 voters -- fully 13 percent of people who voted -- did not cast a ballot for either Buchanan or Jennings, a huge "undervote" when compared to the adjacent counties, where the percentage of voters not casting a ballot in the same race was about 2 percent. Some election officials have suggested that those voters in Sarasota intentionally chose not to cast a vote in that race, as a protest against an ugly campaign. But the unusually high undervote rate compared to the neighboring counties makes that highly unlikely: "The idea that this is some kind of protest vote simply makes no sense," says Mark Lindeman, a political scientist at Bard College.

Many Sarasota County voters complained to election officials and watchdog groups about the ES&S iVotronic machine, which shows voters a review screen to check over their ballot before submitting it, but leaves no paper trail. Some voters reported that when they viewed the machine's summary screen, no candidate had been checked in the Buchanan-Jennings race, so they had to recast that vote. How many other voters had the same problem, and just didn't notice, hastily paging through the review screen? Simply recounting the votes cast won't solve this mystery, either, because it's impossible to determine a voter's intent if a vote wasn't cast. "I think a recount would not be likely to uncover anything," says Douglas Jones, a computer scientist at the University of Iowa.

Experts have several theories about what could have gone wrong in Sarasota. Perhaps the ballot was poorly designed, so it was easy to simply overlook that race on the touch screen. Or, maybe there was actually a problem with the machines' malfunctioning: "It could be the machine actually lost the vote somewhere in between the voter's finger and the review screen," says David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University. Notably, in the state attorney general's race, there were similarly large undervotes in three of the other counties in Florida that use the iVotronic machines.

How could officials really get to the bottom of what went wrong in Sarasota County? For starters, says Jones: "You need someone to get out those machines and demo the ballots on multiple machines." Then, it could become apparent if the race was simply easy to miss because of a user-interface problem. But to determine whether votes were actually lost somewhere between the voters' casting them and the review screen would require recruiting volunteers to replicate the problem on the very same machines, argues Dill.

A team from Florida Department of State is observing the recount, and preparing to audit it. As it stands, watchdog groups are skeptical that the state government's investigation will be conclusive. Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida, a nonpartisan election watchdog group that has called for a nonpartisan independent investigation, says: "Having government investigate the problem is kind of questionable, because the government may be part of the problem.

If there was any attempt to manipulate these machines for partisan purposes, it could well be government officials doing that." For what it's worth, the feds are also getting involved: The Committee on House Administration has also announced its own plans to investigate.

In the meantime, both Buchanan and Jennings are now attending freshman orientation in Washington.


Junior Eats Shit, Calls Poppy For Help... Again

Huffington Post
Bob Cesca
Junior Eats Shit, Calls Poppy For Help... Again

Cork on the ForkAnyone who continues to live under the delusion that President Bush is a competent, strong leader who stands on his own skill and talent needs to seriously re-evaluate his or her concept of strong leaders who stand on his or her own skill and talent. And for these remaining 31 percent who believe President Bush continues to do a heckuva job, I strongly recommend they carefully place corks on all their forks before hurting themselves... and others. That's not to say they're idiots, but this sort of continued support despite the myriad of facts to the contrary is, at best, dangerous.

Meanwhile, for you and me, it comes as no surprise that President Bush, after -- WHOOPS! -- spazzing his way through a pair of bloody wars, has been left with no other option but to call in Poppy's team of proctors to carefully push corks onto the official White House forks. And it's not the first time for the president. His entire life has been an ongoing saga of either using Poppy's influence to avoid trouble or using Poppy to bail him out after eating shit.

A large part of his education path was modeled after and aided by Poppy. The president attended Phillips Academy, then Yale where he was a member of the fabled Skull & Crossbones Society; all three of which were attended by Poppy and granddad Prescott. In a patrician family like the Bushes, it's not a stretch to say that the family name had something to do with the academically-challenged Junior's admission to these prestigious schools. Had the president been left to his own stubborn devices, I imagine he'd still be wandering the plains of Midland -- 60 years old and carrying a rotting box of Lunchables and a Trapper Keeper, wondering aloud when the short bus will finally arrive.

Then there was the Vietnam draft and the president's golden parachute: the Texas Air National Guard. After scoring just above a passing grade on the entrance exam, President Bush was somehow catapulted to near the top of the admissions list, landing in the privileged Champaign Unit reserved for upper-class citizens and relatives of famous Texans. Poppy and his pals successfully kept the president out of Vietnam.

Then there was his cocaine possession arrest in 1972 which was magically expunged from the president's record. Junior snorted shit this time and Poppy made a call to fix the record.

In 1977, President Bush formed Arbusto Oil and perpetually required Poppy's connections to wealthy investors to stay afloat after hitting oil at fewer than half of his drilling locations. Later, during the controversy surrounding the president's opportunistic sale of Harken Energy stock immediately prior to a crippling loss (Harken had absorbed Spectrum 7 which had previously merged with Bush Exploration/Arbusto), the president's lawyer in the SEC investigation was Robert Jordan who was a partner at James Baker's Baker/Botts firm. Jordan would later become the president's ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The list goes on and horribly on. The 2000 election recount? James Baker front and center again.

This is all well worn territory, but the point is clear: when President Bush goes it alone, he eats shit and needs Poppy to Heimlich said shit from the presidential esophagus. When he plays it safe and employs Poppy's influence, he keeps his nose clean. Um... yeah. So when he set out like a neocon-guided armadilla' hunter destined to change the world with Shock & Awesome bunker busters while refusing to listen to Poppy's seasoned team of foreign policy experts (including the expert who was his first Secretary of State) he was destined for disaster. This time, though, we all were.

Yet scores of true believers, up through and including Katrina, swore by President Bush's competency. By the way, who did the president call to put a kindly face to his heckuva job in the Gulf Coast? Poppy. To this very day, 31 percent of America continues to believe in the president's job performance. This is an astounding testament to blind faith and non-reality based delusion, which isn't surprising considering the sheer multitudes among us who continue to believe Saddam orchestrated 9/11 (85 percent according to Zogby earlier this year). And now with American and Iraqi civilian casualties mounting by the day and the thought of victory appearing almost as quaint as a Lindsay Lohan kids movie, Poppy's Proctors are back. Again.

Tragically, it required nearly four years of quagmire, death and waste before the real adults were called in with a Hummer overflowing with corks. And this begs several key questions. How many lives could've been saved had this happened in the first place? And should we take seriously any right-wing objections to congressional hearings as to why this didn't happen prior to the invasion or in the early days of the occupation (sometime between "major combat operations have ended" and "bring 'em on")? Instead, blind knee-jerk jingoism and cowardice has, all along, enabled the president in his latest failed attempt to handle utensils without proper protection and without the necessary adult supervision.

ONE FINAL NOTE. Imagine being Vice President Cheney right now. He was supposed to be the mastermind. He was supposed to be the Dad who could do anything. And now it's as if Child Protective Services has been called in by concerned neighbors to haul his kids into protective custody on a live episode of COPS. And he must know that writhing on the front lawn in his boxers and wife-beater is out of the question, so there he's forced to sit. Taking it. On the world stage. With his shotgun tied in a cartoony knot. Couldn't have happened to a better guy. But like I said, it should've happened four years ago before he participated in the abuse and neglect.


Former N.Y. Times reporter decries Bush policies; Liberties suffer, secrecy grows, reporter tells K-State crowd

The Topeka Capital-Journal
Former N.Y. Times reporter decries Bush policies
Liberties suffer, secrecy grows, reporter tells K-State crowd
By Jan Biles

MANHATTAN -- Judith Miller, a former New York Times investigative reporter who went to jail to protect a confidential source, said the balance between national security and civil liberties has been tipped, allowing the Bush administration to become secretive about its decisions, intrusive into public lives and reluctant to share information the public has a right to know.

Miller said many Americans don't understand how their access to information and the freedom of the press have been affected in the past few years.

"We are less free and less safe," she said, explaining that there is a "growing secrecy in the name of national security."

Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source in the Valerie Plame case, spoke Friday morning at Kansas State University as part of the "Community Readiness Communications: Accurate Messages in Times of Crisis" conference.

Plame was a CIA agent whose identity was leaked in 2003 when her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq. Miller went to jail rather than reveal her source, White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Miller said "no one can deny lives haven't changed since 9/11" and that national security is a concern, but the federal government has used that fear to justify eavesdropping on phone conversations and tapping into e-mails without warrants and classifying information that once was available to the public.

"More than 15 million documents were classified last year," she said, explaining that translates into 125 documents a minute. "It's intimidation by classification."

And American citizens are paying for it, she said, to the tune of $7.2 billion in fiscal year 2004.

How can an electorate be free and informed if it is denied information? Miller asked. Without a free press, such stories as the torture of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, warrantless wiretapping and CIA prisons in Eastern Europe wouldn't have been reported, she said.

"People need to know what the government is doing in order to debate," she said.

Miller said the American media, however, give the federal government reason to doubt its motives and competence each time it is discovered that an article is plagiarized or gossip is reported as fact.

The blurring of entertainment and news and the relaxing of journalistic standards can be seen in online bloggers who are critical of people without giving them an opportunity to respond or who don't post corrections when they learn that what they have posted is wrong, she said.

"I'm worried about bloggers," she said. "(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it's repeated as fact."

While she advocates a federal shield law to protect mainstream journalists from divulging their sources, she doesn't favor extending that to bloggers who don't follow the standards and ethnics of the journalism industry.

Still, she wouldn't restrict a blogger's right to publish online. She said some bloggers have been invaluable in uncovering government flaws.

"I'm glad to welcome them as long as they agree to the standards," she said.


Al Qaeda seeking nuclear kit for attacks: UK official

Al Qaeda seeking nuclear kit for attacks: UK official
By Sophie Walker

LONDON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda is trying to acquire the technology that would enable it to use a nuclear device to attack Western targets including Britain, a senior British official said on Monday.

"We know the aspiration is there. We know attempts to gather materials are there, we know that attempts to gather technology are there," the senior Foreign Office official told reporters.

The comments at a briefing came days after the head of Britain's domestic spy agency said Muslim extremists were plotting at least 30 major terrorist attacks in Britain which could involve chemical and nuclear devices.

The Foreign Office official, asked whether there was any doubt that Al Qaeda wants to gather nuclear material for use against Western targets, said: "No doubt at all."

Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of intelligence agency MI5, said last week young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and her agents were tracking some 1,600 suspects, most of whom were British-born and linked to al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Britain suffered its worst peacetime attack in July 2005 when four British Islamists blew themselves up on London's transport network, killing 52 commuters and wounding hundreds.

Earlier this month Dhiren Barot, 34, was jailed for a minimum of 40 years for plotting to blow up the New York Stock Exchange and carry out attacks in Britain with gas-filled limousines and a "dirty bomb".

Evidence against him included copious research into explosives, chemicals and radioactive materials.

In a separate ongoing terrorism trial, prosecutors say one of the suspects had told police in an interview that his superior in a Pakistan training camp had asked him to help contact the Russian mafia about buying a nuclear bomb.

However Salahuddin Amin, who is accused of plotting conventional bomb attacks in the UK using ammonium nitrate fertilizer, said he did not believe it was a genuine plot and nothing appeared to have developed from the plan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will focus on the fight against terrorism when he unveils the last package of laws of his premiership in a program to be read to Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth.

(additional reporting by Mike Holden)