Saturday, December 09, 2006

Few Americans expect victory in Iraq; Dissatisfaction with Bush’s handling of war hits new high of 71 percent

Poll: Few Americans expect victory in Iraq
Dissatisfaction with Bush’s handling of war hits new high of 71 percent
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to something less than clear-cut victory in Iraq and growing numbers doubt the country will achieve a stable, democratic government no matter how the United States gets out, according to an AP poll.

At the same time, dissatisfaction with President Bush’s handling of Iraq has climbed to an alltime high of 71 percent. The latest AP-Ipsos poll, taken as a bipartisan commission was releasing its recommendations for a new course in Iraq, found that just 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq, down from his previous low of 31 percent in November.

“Support is continuing to erode and there’s no particular reason to think it can be turned back,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist and author of “War, Presidents and Public Opinion.” Mueller said that once people “drop off the bandwagon, it’s unlikely they’ll say ‘I’m for it again.’ Once they’re off, they’re off.”

Even so, Americans are not necessarily intent on getting all U.S. troops out right away, the poll indicated. The survey found strong support for a two-year timetable if that’s what it took to get U.S. troops out. Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008, but when people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent.

Public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said stronger support for the longer timetable could reflect a realization that it takes time to change strategy.

Clamoring for change
But while Americans give their presidents considerable latitude on foreign policy when they think there is a clear plan, the negative numbers show a public that is clamoring for change, she said.

“It’s going to be very hard to reverse numbers as negative as the president has right now,” she said.

The AP-Ipsos survey of 1,000 Americans, taken Monday through Wednesday, underscores growing pessimism about Iraq. Some 63 percent did not expect a stable, democratic government to be established there, up from 54 percent who felt likewise in June. Skepticism was considerably higher among Democrats, with just 22 percent expecting a stable, democratic government, compared with half of all Republicans. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Parallels to a war gone by
The latest numbers evoke parallels to public opinion about the war in Vietnam four decades ago. Just 9 percent expect the Iraq war to end in clear-cut victory, compared with 87 percent who expect some sort of compromise settlement. A similar question asked by Gallup in December 1965, when the American side of the war still had eight years to run, found just 7 percent believed the war in Vietnam would end in victory.

Former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the co-chairmen of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, took note of growing impatience with the war’s direction and with the commitment of U.S. troops when he told senators Thursday: “There are limits to the American patience. There are limits to American resources.”

“You want to get out in a way that is responsible,” he added.

The study panel’s 96-page report said flatly that the administration’s approach was not working and recommended that the U.S. military accelerate a change in its main mission so that most combat troops can be withdrawn by spring 2008.

House and Senate Democratic leaders have all signed on to a plan that the United States pull out some troops right away to put pressure on the Iraqis, but without a specific timetable.


How George W. Bush has ruined the family franchise
Clift: Bush and the Family Franchise
How George W. Bush has ruined the family franchise.
By Eleanor Clift

Dec. 8, 2006 - On the eve of a report that repudiates his son’s leadership, former president George H.W. Bush broke down crying when he recalled how his other son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, lost an election a dozen years ago and then came back to serve two successful terms. The elder Bush has always been a softie, but this display of emotion was so over the top that it had to be about something other than Jeb’s long-ago loss.

The setting was a leadership summit Monday in Tallahassee, where the elder Bush had come to lecture and to pay homage to Jeb, who is leaving office with a 53 percent approval rating, putting him ninth among the 50 governors in popularity. The former president was reflecting on how well Jeb handled defeat in 1994 when he lost his composure. “He didn’t whine about it,” he said, putting a handkerchief to his face in an effort to stifle his sobbing.

That election turned out to be pivotal because it disrupted the plan Papa Bush had for his sons, which may be why he was crying, and why the country cries with him. The family’s grand design had the No. 2 son, Jeb, by far the brighter and more responsible, ascend to the presidency while George, the partying frat-boy type, settled for second best in Texas. The plan went awry when Jeb, contrary to conventional wisdom, lost in Florida, and George unexpectedly defeated Ann Richards in Texas. With the favored heir on the sidelines, the family calculus shifted. They’d go for the presidency with the son that won and not the one they wished had won.

The son who was wrongly launched has made such a mess of things that he has ruined the family franchise. Without getting too Oedipal, it’s fair to say that so many mistakes George W. Bush made are the result of his need to distinguish himself from his father and show that he’s smarter and tougher. His need to outdo his father and at the same time vindicate his father’s failure to get re-elected makes for a complicated stew of emotions. The irony is that the senior Bush, dismissed by Junior’s crowd as a country-club patrician, looks like a giant among presidents compared to his son. Junior told author Bob Woodward, for his book “Plan of Attack,” that he didn’t consult his father in planning the invasion of Iraq but consulted a higher authority, pointing, presumably, to the heavens.

The father also consulted a higher authority: family fixer James Baker. The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by Baker, pulls no punches in calling Bush’s policies a failure. It’s a statement of the obvious, but when you have a collection of Washington wise men, plus retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor (perhaps doing penance for her vote that put Bush in the White House during the disputed 2000 race), it’s the equivalent of last rites for Bush’s Iraq policy, along with his presidency. It’s not a plan for victory because that doesn’t exist except in Bush’s fantasy. The recommendations Baker and company offer—of more international engagement and shifting U.S. troops to a backup role to Iraqi forces—may help the administration manage and mask defeat. Even so, that may be hard for Bush to accept. His body language when receiving the report, while polite, was dismissive, thanking the eminences assembled for breakfast at the White House for dropping off a copy.

This president has lost all capacity to lead. Eleven American servicemen died in Iraq on the day Bush was presented the report, which calls the situation there “grave and deteriorating.” Events on the ground threaten to overtake even this grim assessment.

And we’re left to analyze Bush’s tender ego and whether he can reverse course on the folly that is killing and maiming countless Iraqis along with U.S. troops. Historians are already debating whether Bush is the worst president ever, or just among the four or five worst. He has little choice but to accept the fundamental direction of the Iraq Study Group. He’s up to his neck in quicksand, and they’ve thrown him a rope. It’s trendy to make fun of the over-the-hill types in Washington, but they’ve done a noble thing in reminding us that war is not just about spin and a way to win elections. It’s about coming together to find a way out, however unpalatable.

Bush was asked during the campaign in 2000 what would happen if he lost. He said he’d go back to Texas, watch a lot of baseball and have a great life with Laura and the girls. He’s an accidental president, a man who was vaulted into a job he wasn’t prepared for, and who treated war like a lark. Bush’s father observed between sobs in his Florida speech, “A true measure of a man is how you handle victory and how you handle defeat.” He was talking about Jeb, but surely it’s his first-born who triggers the tears.



Embattled but Resilient Rep. Jefferson Faces Runoff Vote Today

Embattled but Resilient Rep. Jefferson Faces Runoff Vote Today
By Shailagh Murray and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) was given up for dead politically after the FBI found $90,000 in alleged bribe money in his freezer, and he barely survived a Nov. 7 primary election, garnering 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field of 12 challengers.

Now he is locked in a tough runoff with a well-funded Democratic challenger who is using poetry and schoolchildren to highlight Jefferson's ethical woes. Many of Jefferson's House colleagues are privately rooting for him to lose today so his troubles do not tarnish the new Democratic-controlled Congress. But while scandals cost the GOP 12 House seats last month, the eight-term Democrat is proving surprisingly resilient, and experts say the special election could go either way.

Jefferson has scooped up high-profile endorsements from New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, who finished third in the primary, while attacking opponent Karen Carter, who finished second with 22 percent of the vote, as too liberal. In one ad, Jefferson declares "I have never taken a bribe" and dismisses Carter, a 37-year-old lawyer and state representative, as "an ambitious young woman." The national Democratic Party has steered clear of the race.

Brian J. Brox, a political scientist at Tulane University, described the race as heated and hard to predict. "It looks like a fairly negative and nasty affair," he said.

A low-key lawmaker with a scholarly demeanor, Jefferson had his world turned upside down in August 2005, when federal investigators raided his homes in Washington and New Orleans as part of a corruption investigation related to African business activities. Sources familiar with the probe said Jefferson is certain to be indicted, probably sometime in the first half of 2007.

Jefferson has strongly denied engaging in illegal activity, and to the surprise and alarm of some of his Democratic colleagues, he has forged ahead with his reelection campaign. He argues that his flood-ravaged city needs an experienced hand in the House to usher through recovery-related legislation. "Now is not the time for an unproven person to go to Washington and try to fight for our recovery," he warned in one campaign ad.

But in June, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other leaders stripped Jefferson of his coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee, a humiliating slap meant to send an election-year signal that Democrats do not tolerate ethical lapses. In October, the Louisiana Democratic Party voted to endorse Carter, who has matched Jefferson in fundraising. Both candidates have raised about $900,000, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Pelosi has had little to say about Jefferson's reelection bid. "It is up to the people of New Orleans to decide who they want to represent them," she said this week. A Pelosi spokeswoman noted that there is no guarantee Jefferson would secure a committee assignment in the new Congress, should he win reelection.

Throughout the campaign, Jefferson has attempted to portray Carter as a left-wing fringe figure who supports late-term abortions, same-sex marriage and human cloning. Carter has hit back; one of her ads shows a children's spelling bee in which contestants spell "hypocrite" and "corruption." A radio ad contrasts Carter's Katrina response with reports that Jefferson used a National Guard detail to survey damage to his home. The congressman has insisted that he was not allowed to enter the area unescorted.

The radio message is delivered in the poetic style of " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas":

Karen Carter made headlines, pleading for buses and gas

To help desperate people in the Dome and on the Claiborne overpass.

In the meantime, Bill Jefferson couldn't be found.

Oh, that's right, two Humvees and a chopper had taken him Uptown.

The FBI is also investigating Jefferson's wife and other family members. The probe began in March 2005 with an undercover sting spurred by a Northern Virginia woman, Lori Mody. She had approached the FBI, concerned that Jefferson and some of his business associates were trying to swindle her.

Two of Jefferson's associates pleaded guilty this year to bribing the congressman. Investigators are examining about a dozen business schemes in the United States and in Africa in which Jefferson allegedly used his official position in exchange for financial gain, according to court documents and sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Given the volume of evidence that federal investigators are thought to possess, indictments in the case were expected months ago. But the probe has been slowed by legal wrangling over documents seized during a controversial FBI raid of Jefferson's House office in May.


Traveler Data Program Defied Ban, Critics Say; Congress Barred Funds for DHS Development

Traveler Data Program Defied Ban, Critics Say
Congress Barred Funds for DHS Development
By Spencer S. Hsu and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers

The Department of Homeland Security violated a congressional funding ban when it continued to develop a computerized program that creates risk assessments of travelers entering and leaving the United States, according to lawmakers and privacy advocates.

Although congressional testimony shows that department officials apparently disclosed some important elements of the controversial Automated Targeting System program to lawmakers in recent months, several key members of Congress said that they were in the dark about the program and that it violated their intentions.

"Clearly the law prohibits testing or development" of such computer programs, said Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.), who wrote the three-year-old prohibition into homeland security funding legislation. "And if they are saying that they just took some system, used it and therefore did not test or develop it, they clearly were not upfront about saying it."

Privacy advocates and members of Congress expressed growing skepticism this week about the legality, scope and effectiveness of the massive data-mining program -- particularly the creation of risk assessments on Americans that would be retained for up to 40 years -- whose existence was first disclosed in detail in a Nov. 2 notice in the Federal Register.

The department announced yesterday that after receiving more than 50 objections to the program, it has extended a public comment period for ATS from Dec. 4 to Dec. 29. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), incoming chairmen of the Senate and House homeland security committees, and others have questioned the effort and called for hearings or additional administration briefings.

Developed to help customs inspectors target narcotics and other contraband, ATS began scrutinizing air travelers entering and leaving the United States in the mid-1990s, said Jayson P. Ahern, assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, it was used to assign risk assessments to cargo and passengers, officials' testimony and a February 2005 DHS report to Congress show.

Two years ago, it was expanded again to a limited but growing number of land border crossers, according to the report and Ahern. About 309 million land crossings and 87 million air crossings of U.S. borders are made each year.

Travelers are not allowed to see their risk assessments and must file Freedom of Information Act requests to view the original records on which the assessment is based.

The Center for Democracy and Technology said the program violated the 1974 Privacy Act because customs officials targeted U.S. travelers and shared their data with other agencies without notifying the public. Homeland Security officials say that notice was implicit in an announcement in 2001 about an older program.

"The lack of a notice at all was clearly illegal for however many years they claim this was in operation," said David Sobel, Electronic Frontier Foundation senior counsel.

"This is everybody's worst nightmare," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, who was angered by the revelation that profiles were being kept without travelers' knowledge.

Homeland Security officials said the funding ban applied only to successor programs to its aborted attempt in 2004 to use commercial databases to assign risk to domestic air passengers -- then known as CAPPS II and renamed Secure Flight -- not to preexisting programs.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that the November notice was an attempt "to be even more transparent and write, in even clearer English, about what we were going to do." But in an interview with the National Journal, he expressed frustration with critics' surprise.

"Otherwise, why are we collecting the data?" he asked. "Just to have it to sit around?"

DHS leaders have described in speeches and congressional hearings their efforts over the years to process data from manifests and airline passenger records on U.S.-bound international flights to "detect anomalies and 'red flags' " for high-risk individuals.

DHS has been more explicit recently about ATS data mining and risk profiling, saying computer algorithms were used to "produce potential matches" of inbound and outbound travelers with "potential . . . connections to terrorist risk factors."

But senior Homeland Security officials made only a few short references in 2004 and 2005 to using the program to assess land travelers. At the time, they cited it only as a future possibility.

"Funding will allow us to develop and implement a version of ATS that, for the first time, will be able to identify potentially high-risk travelers in passenger vehicles," then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner told Congress.


Former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick dies at 80

Former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick dies at 80
By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jeane Kirkpatrick, a leading player in former President Ronald Reagan's conservative foreign policy as ambassador to the United Nations, has died at the age of 80.

Kirkpatrick died on Thursday of heart failure at her home near Washington, said her son, Stuart Kirkpatrick, on Friday.

A fiery anti-communist crusader, Kirkpatrick was a pioneer of the "neoconservative" movement that advocated an interventionist foreign policy and has strongly influenced policy-making under President Bush.

A longtime Democrat who worked on Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign in 1968, Kirkpatrick was initially the only non-Republican on Reagan's cabinet-level team and for a time the only woman.

She was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and only formally became a Republican after resigning her U.N. post in 1985.

Kirkpatrick was an activist at the United Nations, hitting back whenever Washington was attacked. "What takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving," she said.

A major architect of U.S. policy in Latin America, she had a reputation for sympathizing with governments that clamped down on leftists.

She was picked for the U.N. post partly due to her Commentary magazine article, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," saying "traditional autocrats" like Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza were less repressive than many on the left.

Unafraid to take positions at odds with others in the Reagan administration, Kirkpatrick supported Argentina's military government after it invaded the Falklands in 1982, triggering clashes with Secretary of State Alexander Haig over U.S. support for Britain in the war for the islands.

"Jeane had a deep concern for the people south of our border. She knew a lot about them, not simply by study from afar but by personal involvement," said George Schultz, who served under Reagan as secretary of state.

In El Salvador, Sigrido Reyes, a spokesman for the rebel group she opposed, which is now an opposition party said Kirkpatrick was "associated with one of darkest periods of U.S. foreign policy."

"I just hope that God has mercy on her," said Miguel D'Escoto, Nicaragua's foreign minister during the 1980s civil war between the left-wing Sandinista government and U.S.-backed Contra rebels.


Although an advocate for human and civil rights, Kirkpatrick criticized what she considered posturing and once termed the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights "a letter to Santa Claus."

The high point of her political career probably came in August 1984, when her address nominating Reagan for a second term electrified the Republican convention with attacks on critics of Reagan's tough foreign policy.

"They always blame America first. The American people know better," she declared.

When Reagan made her U.N. ambassador in 1981, Kirkpatrick took leave from her job teaching political science at Georgetown University in Washington. She returned to Georgetown after leaving the United Nations and taught there until 2002.

"Her work with students in the university was what she felt personally was her biggest contribution, imparting knowledge, and sharing knowledge," Stuart Kirkpatrick told Reuters.

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, on November 19, 1926, Kirkpatrick earned a master's degree in political science at New York's Columbia University, where she also obtained a doctorate in 1968 with a thesis on the Argentine dictator Juan Peron.

"She was a great American. She was a great ambassador of the United States here. She never forgot who she was representing," said John Bolton, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations., his eyes filling with tears.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff at the United Nations, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, Ivan Castro in Nicaragua and Alberto Barrera in El Salvador)


House passes stopgap funds until February 15

House passes stopgap funds until February 15
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives approved legislation on Friday to keep the U.S. government running through February 15 after the outgoing Republican-led Congress failed to approve a series of regular spending bills.

By a vote of 370-20, the House approved the stopgap funds shortly before a midnight deadline. The Senate was expected to follow suit, which would clear the way for President George W. Bush to sign the measure into law.

Without the legislation, many government programs ranging from farm subsidies to foreign aid could have come to a halt this weekend.

The stopgap spending vote came after nine of the 11 appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began in October stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the temporary spending bill "a blatant admission of abject failure by the most useless Congress in modern times."

It will now be up to Democrats who take control of the next Congress, to figure out how to allocate funds for the rest of the fiscal year.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the House complained about having to pass this stopgap spending bill.

The current House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, put blame " the feet" of retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, saying he had failed to move the spending bills through the Senate.

With a space shuttle scheduled to lift off on Saturday, the House vote provided relief for NASA workers, some of whom could have faced immediate layoff.

NASA spokesman Gray Hautaloma said a government shutdown would not have affected essential personnel who support the shuttle mission. "The poor astronauts are not going to be stranded in space," he said.

Other programs could suffer as the temporary funding either freezes spending at last year's levels or makes reductions. That formula thwarts efforts by many lawmakers' to reverse program cuts for the poor this year.

A senior Bush administration official recently complained that law enforcement initiatives to hire more U.S. attorneys and prosecutors and expand prison space also would stall.

Overall, the programs still in need of funding through the end of September would cost the government about $460 billion this fiscal year.

The stopgap bill shifts around some Veterans' Administration accounts so that $1.7 billion in added funds are available for veterans' health care programs stretched thin by injured soldiers returning from the Iraq war.

The only two fiscal 2007 spending bills enacted, which together amount to nearly $500 billion, fund the military and domestic security programs.

Obey said this Congress' failure to finish fiscal 2007 appropriations was "muddying the waters" for consideration of Bush's fiscal 2008 budget proposal, which is expected to be sent to Capitol Hill early next year.


Panel Blasts Hastert in Foley Scandal

Panel Blasts Hastert in Foley Scandal
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers and aides failed for a decade to protect male pages from sexual come-ons by former Rep. Mark Foley _ once described as a "ticking time bomb" _ but they broke no rules and should not be punished, the House ethics committee concluded Friday.

The committee harshly criticized Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., saying the evidence showed he was told of the problem months before he acknowledged learning of Foley's questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page. It rejected Hastert's contention that he couldn't recall separate warnings from two House Republican leaders.

Hastert said he was pleased the committee found "there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff."

He added that no evidence was uncovered that salacious instant messages from Foley _ which surfaced after the scandal became public _ were known to any House member or employee before that time.

But the committee concluded that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, was told about Foley's inappropriate conduct in 2002 or 2003 _ a finding based on testimony from Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham.

Palmer said he didn't recall the warning, although Fordham even described the room where they met.

Overall, the evidence shows that "concerns began to arise about Rep. Foley's interactions with pages or other young male staff members" shortly after he took office in 1995, according to the committee report.

The report, prepared by a four-member subcommittee, described "a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Foley's conduct."

Lawmakers and aides "failed to exercise appropriate diligence and oversight" regarding the interactions between Foley and pages, the report said.

Although the committee recommended no punishments, it said the evidence would have subjected Foley to discipline if the Florida Republican had not resigned _ taking himself out of the House's jurisdiction.

Foley received a subpoena, but his lawyer notified the committee the former lawmaker would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if compelled to testify. The committee dropped the matter to avoid delays.

Foley's method of operation was to establish contact with the pages before they left Congress and obtain their e-mails and other contact information.

After their departure, Foley began contacting some of them "with increasingly familiar communications."

"As the former pages responded, the messages from Rep. Foley at times turned to sexually graphic topics, including messages that could be read as sexual solicitation," the committee report said.

The committee said one witness, former House chief clerk Jeff Trandahl, testified he warned the head of the supervisory page board, Rep. John Shimkus, that Foley was a "ticking time bomb" who had been confronted repeatedly.

The warning came in November 2005. Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, confronted Foley and told him to stop sending e-mails to the former Louisiana page.

Polls showed the Foley issue was a factor in Republicans losing their House majority in the November elections _ and Hastert being driven from his speaker's post after eight years.

"The weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails by both Majority Leader (John) Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. (Tom) Reynolds, R-N.Y., in spring 2006," the report said. Reynolds is the House GOP campaign chairman.

Boehner said he even recalled Hastert telling him the matter "has been taken care of."

A Reynolds aide testified that the campaign chief told her he was late for an appearance because he had to "go see the speaker" about Foley.

Hastert said he learned about Foley's questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page only when the scandal broke in late September.

Speculating on the reason for Republicans' reluctance to act, the committee said:

"Some may have been concerned that raising the issue too aggressively might have risked exposing Rep. Foley's homosexuality.... There is some evidence that political considerations played a role in decisions that were made by persons in both parties."

Florida authorities have opened a criminal investigation into whether Foley broke any laws related to his communications with the teens. Federal authorities are also investigating.

The report said another of Hastert's aides, Ted Van Der Meid, "should have done more to learn about the e-mails and how they had been handled," in view of earlier warnings he had received about Foley's conduct.

One witness, Jeff Trandahl, was the House clerk, and when word of suggestive e-mails surfaced a year ago. He approached Shimkus, the head of the page board. Trandahl testified that he characterized Foley as a "ticking time bomb."

Democrats received a brief mention in the report.

The committee said that one Democratic aide, Matt Miller, had possession of suggestive computer messages written by Foley, and passed them along to reporters as well as a communications aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The investigation suggested politics was a consideration for Republicans, too.

After Foley resigned, Shimkus told another Republican member of the Page Board _ Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia _ why he never informed the Democratic member of the board, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, about Foley.

Shimkus said, 'Dale's a nice guy, but he's a Democrat, and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."

The investigation was overseen by Republican Reps. Doc Hastings of Washington and Judy Biggert of Illinois, and Democratic Reps. Howard Berman of California and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio.

The 89-page report was released on the final full day of the Congress, meaning that any changes in the rules or in the page program must wait until lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.


On the Net:

Committee report


Friday, December 08, 2006

Panel: U.S. underreported Iraq violence

Panel: U.S. underreported Iraq violence
By Robert Burns / Associated Press

WASHINGTON - U.S. military and intelligence officials have systematically underreported the violence in Iraq in order to suit the Bush administration's policy goals, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group said.

In its report on ways to improve the U.S. approach to stabilizing Iraq, the group recommended Wednesday that the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense make changes in the collection of data about violence to provide a more accurate picture.

The panel pointed to one day last July when U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. "Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence," it said.

"The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases." It said, for example, that a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack, and a roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count, either. Also, if the source of a sectarian attack is not determined, that assault is not added to the database of violence incidents.

"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals," the report said.

A request for Pentagon comment on the report's assertions was not immediately answered.

Some U.S. analysts have complained for months that the Pentagon's reports to Congress on conditions in Iraq have undercounted the violent episodes. Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a November report that the Pentagon omits many low-level incidents and types of civil violence.


Reserve troops facing job woes

Reserve troops facing job woes
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The number of reservists and National Guard members who say they have been reassigned, lost benefits or been fired from civilian jobs after returning from duty has increased by more than 70% over the past six years.

The sharp spike in complaints brought to the U.S. Labor Department reflects the extensive use of part-time soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the largest call up of reserves since the 1950-53 Korean War.

DEPLOYMENT COSTS: Impact of police felt on street

About 500,000 of the 850,000 reservists and National Guard members eligible for duty have been mobilized since late 2001, said Maj. Rob Palmer, spokesman for a Pentagon office that tries to resolve job disputes.

Not all have been treated well by their employers when they return home.

After the 1991 Gulf War, "I was welcomed home with ticker tape," said Marc Garcia, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. "This time, I get the door slammed in my face."

Garcia, a member of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, has been called up twice since Sept. 11, 2001, once for Afghanistan and the last time for stateside duty.

Garcia, 44, had been a supervisor in the Miami office of the security bureau. When he returned to work early last month, he was given a desk job in Washington with no clear responsibilities, he said.

Last month, a judge in Atlanta ruled that the State Department violated Garcia's rights under a 1994 law, which requires employers to give returning reservists their old jobs or equivalent positions. The law was passed to address employment problems faced by veterans returning from the 1991 Gulf War.

The Labor Department said it handled 1,548 complaints from returning service members in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up from 895 in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2001. About a third of the cases are resolved in favor of employees, the department said.

Those numbers don't reflect all the servicemen and women with problems. Many of the cases are settled before they get to the Labor Department.

The Pentagon received more than 8,000 complaints this year, nearly double the previous year, but most were resolved without further government action, Palmer said. Complaints range from being fired, losing chances for promotion or being reassigned to jobs with less pay or responsibility.

Retired Marine lieutenant general Dennis McCarthy, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, a private advocacy group, acknowledged the deployments can be difficult for employers, particularly small companies. "That burden is an acceptable cost when it's compared to the value of reserve service to our country," he said.


The Last Gasp of a Smoke-Filled Room?

The Last Gasp of a Smoke-Filled Room?
Pelosi Considers Tobacco Ban In Popular Capitol Refuge
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer

When the District goes smoke-free Jan. 2, at least one nicotine haven will remain: the U.S. Capitol. Lawmakers, several of whom enjoy a good cigar, have exempted themselves from the city's smoking ban, not to mention rules that forbid lighting up in federal buildings across the country.

But winds of change may be blowing on the Hill.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat from smoke-free California and the next speaker of the House, is thinking of banishing tobacco from the most popular smoking spot in the building: the Speaker's Lobby outside the House chamber. "I'm not an advocate of smoking," Pelosi said yesterday, adding that she hadn't yet decided on a ban. "I think it's dangerous to your health."

Smoking is permitted in lawmakers' offices, in two cafeterias in the House and Senate buildings and in an unmarked, cramped room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol.

But the Speaker's Lobby, the ornate space dotted with fireplaces and chandeliers, is the real smoke-filled room, the biggest and most visible space where smokers gather. The lobby, where lawmakers relax between votes and debates, is blue with smoke most days. You can smell it from the approaching hallways. Cigarette smokers claim the leather wing chairs during the day, filling the ashtrays with butts. At night, the cigar smokers take over. A smoky film clings to an oversize mirror.

"I can't breathe when I step in there," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who has been a lonely scold against smoking for years, trying to get the Republican leaders to stamp out tobacco.

But his efforts went up in smoke.

As many as 25 percent of House members smoke, and one of the heaviest smokers is Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who frequently emerges from the House floor and heads straight to the Speaker's Lobby to consume his favorite brand, Barclay. Yesterday, when he stepped out of the chamber, he gestured to an approaching reporter that he needed a moment before talking. He made a beeline for the southwest corner of the room, pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket, lit it and inhaled deeply.

"When Boehner ascended, we figured it was hopeless," said Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree DC, which successfully lobbied for the city's smoking ban and had considered trying to direct the same effort toward Congress.

"It just seemed like too big a hill to climb," she said. "It's always amazing to me that Congress makes up the laws and rules for itself. It kind of smacks of arrogance that they don't have to abide by laws in the city in which they're working. When you walk by the cafeteria and you see people smoking, it's like a throwback to the 1950s."

Waxman says Pelosi's rise to power means the match has been lit. "When the Democrats take over, I expect this to change," he said. "She understands the consequences of secondhand smoke and she's coming from California."

Still, the situation is hazy.

Aides say Pelosi detests smoking but doesn't want to burn the Blue Dog Democrats, or conservative members of her party -- several of whom are cigar smokers but none of whom wanted to publicly stand up for smoking. "I don't really smoke," said Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat from the tobacco state of Kentucky, as he blew smoke rings from a cigar in the Speaker's Lobby earlier this week.

Some Republicans are privately fuming, although none wanted to admit so publicly and most asserted they can live with the change.

"Most people are resigned to the reality that there are fewer and fewer places to do this," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who smokes one to two packs of cigarettes a day. "Behind every smoker is one who wishes they never started. The problem in this town is if you drop one vice, you'll get a worse one."


US opens new Guantanamo camp jail

US opens new Guantanamo camp jail
The US has begun moving terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay into a new $37m (£19m) maximum-security prison.

Forty-two prisoners were transferred from another high-security facility on the US naval base in eastern Cuba, the Associated Press reported.

The new 178-cell prison will allow commanders to close the wire-fence camp originally built for early detainees.

The US holds some 430 men at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda or the Taleban, most without charge.

UN human rights investigators and foreign governments have called on the US government to close the entire detention centre.

But the new facility has been built to provide more permanent secure accommodation for those judged to be "enemy combatants" and detained by the US military.

Guard security

The new facility is designed to limit contact between detainees and reduce the risks of attacks on staff, AP reported.

The individual cells contain long, narrow windows looking out towards communal areas furnished metal tables and stools.

Designed as a communal living space, that area will now be off-limits.

"The new, climate-controlled camp is designed to improve quality of life for both detainees and the guard force," base Commander Robert Durand told AP.

An open-air recreation area has been divided into smaller spaces, which will hold only one detainee at a time.

There will be facilities for detainees to meet lawyers, plus medical facilities.

The triple suicides at Guantanamo Bay in June prompted fresh protests against the camp from lawyers and human rights activists.

A senior US state department official and a Navy admiral appeared to say the deaths were part of a co-ordinated attempt to discredit the US, calling them "a jihadi tactic" and an act of "asymmetrical warfare".


Voting Reforms To Be "Core Issue" Of Democratic Congress

The New York Times
Changes Are Expected in Voting by 2008 Election

By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted, including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail, federal voting officials and legislators say.

New federal guidelines, along with legislation given a strong chance to pass in Congress next year, will probably combine to make the paperless voting machines obsolete, the officials say. States and counties that bought the machines will have to modify them to hook up printers, at federal expense, while others are planning to scrap the machines and buy new ones.

Motivated in part by voting problems during the midterm elections last month, the changes are a result of a growing skepticism among local and state election officials, federal legislators and the scientific community about the reliability and security of the paperless touch-screen machines used by about 30 percent of American voters.

The changes also mean that the various forms of vote-counting software used around the country — most of which are protected by their manufacturers for reasons of trade secrecy — will for the first time be inspected by federal authorities, and the code could be made public. There will also be greater federal oversight on how new machines are tested before they arrive at polling stations.

“In the next two years I think we’ll see the kinds of sweeping changes that people expected to see right after the 2000 election,” said Doug Chapin, director of, a nonpartisan election group. “The difference now is that we have moved from politics down to policies.”

Many of the paperless machines were bought in a rush to overhaul the voting system after the disputed presidential election in 2000, which was marred by hanging chads. But concerns have been growing that in a close election those machines give election workers no legitimate way to conduct a recount or to check for malfunctions or fraud.

Several counties around the country are already considering scrapping their voting systems after problems this year, and last week federal technology experts concluded for the first time that paperless touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering.

Having stalled for over two years, federal legislation requiring a shift to paper trails and other safeguards, proposed by Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, has a better chance of passing next session, several members of Congress and election officials say.

They say that fixing the voting system is viewed as a core issue by the new Democratic leaders, and the bill already has the bipartisan support of more than a majority of the current House. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who will be the new chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said she planned to introduce a similar bill in January.

But it is also clear that the changes will not come without a struggle. State and local election officials are still reeling from the last major overhaul of the country’s voting system, initiated by the Help America Vote Act in 2002, and some say that the $150 million in federal aid proposed by Mr. Holt would not be enough to pay for the changes.

Advocates for the disabled say they will resist his bill, because the touch-screen machines are the easiest for blind people to use. And the voting machine companies say they will argue against making the software code completely public, partly out of concern about making the system more vulnerable to hackers.

Paul S. DeGregorio, the chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress in 2002 to set voting standards, also cautioned against rushing to make changes, especially since some counties also ran into problems with printers in this year’s elections. “All of the implications have to be looked at carefully,” Mr. DeGregorio said in an interview.

Still, the changes are rapidly gaining momentum, partly because the Help America Vote Act did not go far enough in establishing clear guidelines for the type of machines that should be used, many critics have said. It took so long for the federal guidelines to be established that many local voting officials bought new equipment without the full benefit of federal research and standards.

“Everyone was getting intense pressure to comply by January 2006, and so they went ahead and bought,” said Alysoun McLaughlin, who was a lobbyist for the National Association of Counties at the time.

Now some local and state officials are paying the price as they shelve machines that have problems or that could soon be out of compliance.

In Maryland, legislators say they plan to replace the more than $70 million worth of touch-screen machines the state began buying in 2002 with paper optical scanners, which officials estimate could cost $20 million.

Voters in Sarasota, Fla., where the results of a Congressional race recorded on touch-screen machines are being contested in court, passed a ballot initiative last month to make the same change, at an estimated cost of $3 million. Last year, New Mexico spent $14 million to replace its touch screens. Other states are spending millions more to retrofit the machines to add paper trails.

New York has been slow to replace its old lever voting machines, and the state has required counties to buy screens with printers or optical scanners. New Jersey has passed a law requiring its counties to switch to machines with paper trails by 2008, and Connecticut is buying machines that can scan paper ballots.

This week, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, a federal panel of technical experts that helps set voting standards, adopted a resolution that recommends requiring any new electronic voting systems to have an independent means of verification, a move that could eventually prevent paperless touch-screen machines from being federally certified.

Touch-screen machines with paper trails give voters a chance to check their choices on a small piece of paper before casting their ballots, while large rolls of paper keep a running tally and can be used to check the vote count made by the machine’s software. Localities can also use optical-scan systems, in which paper ballots marked by voters are counted by scanning machines and remain available for recounts.

Over the last two years, 27 states have passed laws requiring a shift to machines with paper trails, and 8 others do not have such laws but use the machines statewide. Some counties have attached rolls of paper to touch-screen machines, at a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 for each device, while others have bought optical-scanning devices.

Five states — Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Delaware — still use only the paperless machines, and 10 states have counties that use them and have not made plans to change.

State and local election officials say they have been overwhelmed by the changes since 2002, and they are worried about how much they may have to pay to meet new requirements. Many have already spent millions in state and local money to buy and operate new machines, and Mr. Holt’s changes would require retraining poll workers as well as add the recurring costs of buying paper ballots and conducting election audits.

Because some printers malfunctioned last month, election commissioners in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, said last week that they were considering scrapping their new $17 million system of touch-screen machines and starting over with optical scanning devices.

In Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, electronic machines can print a paper tally, but do not give voters a paper record, meaning they would not comply with Mr. Holt’s bill. Beverly Kaufman, the county clerk, said she and other election officials elsewhere disliked the paper requirement.

“Every time you introduce something perishable like paper, you inject some uncertainty into the system,” Ms. Kaufman said. She said she was skeptical that Congress would come up with enough money for replacements by 2008. “You show me where you can pry the cold, bony fingers off the money in Washington, D.C., that fast,” she said.

Another significant change that will affect how votes are counted involves the recording and tallying software embedded in each electronic machine. Under changes approved by the Election Assistance Commission yesterday, voting machine manufacturers would have to make their crucial software code available to federal inspectors. The code is now checked mainly by private testing laboratories paid by the manufacturers. Mr. Holt would go even further, requiring the commission to make the code publicly available.

Computer experts and voting rights groups have long advocated such openness, arguing that the code is too important to be kept secret and would allow programmers to check for bugs and the potential for hacking. But manufacturers are resistant. Michelle Shafer, a vice president at Sequoia Voting Systems, said that while the industry was willing to give the source code to state and federal officials, “we feel that just putting it out there would give it to people with an intent to do something malicious or harmful.”

Because election technology is changing so quickly, it is not clear that the new requirements, particularly the demand for a paper trail, will stand the test of time, and advocates for change are already worried about a jury-rigged solution for 2008.

“We’re confident that the accuracy and integrity of voting is going to take some big steps forward with the legislation in Congress right now,” said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, an advocacy group that prefers optical scanners to touch screens. “But our big concern is to avoid replacing old problems with new ones.”


GOP "Do-Nothing" Congress Tries To Give Itself Raise On Final Day; Dem leaders hope to block Congressional pay raise

Dem leaders hope to block Congressional pay raise

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of Congress are in line for a $3,300 pay raise effective Jan. 1 unless they block it, and Democrats said Thursday they intend to try.

Officials said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party's leaders, had notified Republicans they will try to add the anti-pay-raise provision to a bill that provides funds for most government agencies through Feb. 15. Congress must pass the funding bill before it adjourns for the year, and the target for that is Friday.

Under federal law, lawmakers, like many federal employees, receive a cost of living increase on each Jan. 1. The increase for 2007 is pegged at 2 percent, and would put the salary for rank-and-file lawmakers at $168,500.


Padilla Mistreated? Nah

Huffington Post
Lloyd Garver
Padilla Mistreated? Nah

Many people were shocked the other day when they saw photographs of long-time detainee, José Padilla who was shackled, blindfolded, and "ear muffed" in the pictures. The photos appeared in "The New York Times," and were taken as before Padilla was escorted to the dentist. His "escorts" wear riot gear, including plastic shields on their faces.

At first glance, it may look like paranoia and overkill. Why would they have to keep an inmate in shackles, and prevent him from seeing and hearing on his way to the dentist? And having done so, one would think that the prisoner would have been rendered fairly harmless. So, why do those accompanying him need riot gear?

But this is exactly why the Bush Administration is so fed up with the "liberal press." It's obvious why the prisoner is being treated this way: he has a morbid fear of the dentist. Temporarily depriving him of sight and sound is a humane way of not frightening him any more than necessary on his way to his D.D.S. And the shackles are there to keep him from running away which might only make his dental problems worse.

And as far as why the kindly Americans are wearing riot gear? We all know how irrational some people can get around dentists, and they need to be protected in case Padilla threw a "dentalphobic fit."

So, let's cut our "imprisonment without trial" system a break. It's not always what it looks like. And if any photos turn up of Padilla being subjected to the dreaded "water boarding," isn't it just possible that his friendly captors are trying to cure his fear of water?


Jailed media worldwide hits record: U.S. watchdog

Jailed media worldwide hits record: U.S. watchdog
By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work rose for the second year with Internet bloggers and online reporters now one third of those incarcerated, a U.S.-based media watchdog said on Thursday.

A Committee to Protect Journalists census found that a record 134 journalists were in jail on December 1 -- an increase of nine from the 2005 tally -- in 24 countries with China, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia the top four nations to imprison media.

While print reporters, editors and photographers again made up the largest number of jailed journalists -- with 67 cases -- there were 49 imprisoned Internet journalists, making them the second biggest category, the New York-based committee said.

"We're at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the Internet a major front in their effort to control information," Committee Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.

"China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world."

Among those jailed in China were Zheng Yichun, a Chinese freelance contributor to overseas online news sites who wrote a series of editorials criticizing the Communist Party.

The census also found there were eight television journalists, eight radio reporters and two film/documentary makers in jail.

Other countries where journalists were imprisoned were Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Iran, Maldives, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said 84 journalists were jailed for "anti-state" allegations like subversion and divulging state secrets, with many of those imprisoned in China, Cuba and Ethiopia.

The census also showed 20 imprisoned journalists were held without any charge or trial and that Eritrea accounted for more than half those cases.

The committee said the United States imprisoned two journalists without charge or trial -- Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, now held for eight months in Iraq, and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, jailed for five years and now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Joshua Wolf, a freelance blogger who refused to turn over video of a 2005 protest to a U.S. federal grand jury, was also in jail.

For the eighth year in a row, China led the way in jailing journalists with a total of 31 imprisoned on December 1, the census found, followed by Cuba with 24 reporters behind bars, Eritrea with 23 in jail and Ethiopia with 18 journalists jailed.


Senate approves Bush pick to lead FDA

Senate approves Bush pick to lead FDA
By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the nomination of cancer expert Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach to run the Food and Drug Administration, despite objections from several Republican senators.

The urology surgeon and oncologist has served as acting FDA chief since September 2005. He was nominated earlier this year by President George W. Bush to take the job permanently.

The FDA regulates medicines, medical devices, most foods and other products that sustain about a quarter of the U.S. economy. The agency has lacked a permanent leader for all but 18 months of Bush's nearly six years in office.

Von Eschenbach was approved on a vote of 80-11.

His nomination faced numerous political hurdles in the Senate.

One critic, Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa, tried to block a Senate vote because he said the FDA failed to fully comply with congressional subpoenas seeking information about the Sanofi-Aventis antibiotic Ketek amid reports of liver failure.

"This nominee is an illustration of the lack of cooperation on the part of the executive branch with Congress on the issue of congressional oversight," Grassley said. "People ought to be ashamed of saying Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach has done a superb job in the position he is currently occupying."

Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina also opposed the nomination, citing concerns about the safety of the abortion pill known as RU-486 or Mifeprex.

A third Republican, David Vitter of Louisiana, objected over the Bush administration's opposition to prescription drug importation. Vitter forecast during the floor debate that Congress would approve legislation in 2007 to allow prescription drugs to be reimported from Canada, where they are typically much cheaper.

"We will, in fact, win on this issue in the near-future," he said.

Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, defended the nominee, saying, "I think it will be different when he has full authority."

Enzi praised von Eschenbach as "a man with a vision" and a cancer survivor with compassion for others.

"This man could serve patients in many different ways and offered to serve them by running this agency," said Enzi, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

Industry and patient groups alike have said the FDA must have a permanent leader to help shuttle the agency through controversial issues such as drug safety oversight, agency funding and generic alternatives to expensive biotech drugs.

Von Eschenbach, 65, was diagnosed and treated for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer in the late 1980s while chairman of urology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He also has been treated for prostate cancer.

Before coming to the FDA, von Eschenbach headed the National Cancer Institute.

Some critics have expressed concern his previous work promoting cancer treatments could cloud his judgment about what treatments are safe.

Bush's previous nominee, Lester Crawford, also faced a tough confirmation battle last year only to abruptly resign. He pleaded guilty last month to charges related to his stock ownership in companies regulated by the FDA.

Democrats Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington previously blocked a vote on von Eschenbach's nomination, but withdrew their protests after the FDA approved access to emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nagin: Feds have abandoned New Orleans recovery

Nagin: Feds have abandoned New Orleans recovery
By Peter Eisler and Brad Heath, USA TODAY

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin accused the federal government Wednesday of abandoning its legal obligation to help his city recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In an interview with USA TODAY's editorial board, Nagin insisted that even the city's most flood-prone areas should be rebuilt — albeit "smarter and safer." He said that can't happen unless promised federal aid begins to flow.

"I'm planning and building for a city that's as large, if not larger, than pre-Katrina levels," he said. "There is (federal) money out in cyberspace, there is money in the mail … but very little of that money has made it to our local governments and our citizens."

FEMA AND KATRINA: Audit finds agency squandering aid

Under federal law, he added, the government is obliged to help restore vital infrastructure decimated by the storm, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Nagin said the federal government has approved more than $900 million to rebuild New Orleans' infrastructure, but local officials have not been able to access most of it.

"We're here to say to the federal government: 'Honor the law,' " said Nagin, in Washington to see lawmakers and federal officials.

James Stark, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recovery office in Louisiana, said most of the federal money already has been turned over to Louisiana. But he said FEMA has been working to speed up the funding process. "Given the breadth of this disaster I think it's understandable that some of this has moved slower than we'd all hoped," he said.

Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, said FEMA was at first slow to approve infrastructure projects and has consistently underestimated the cost. Nevertheless, he said, $640 million worth of permanent infrastructure money has been approved for New Orleans projects. "Payments will be made as the projects are constructed," Kopplin said.

Nagin said local officials are caught in a bureaucratic Catch-22: They can't get the money until projects are underway, but they're unable to issue contracts until they have money in hand to pay for them. So the city hasn't been able to begin critical repairs to roads, public buildings, power systems or other damaged infrastructure.

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Carter Book on Israel 'Apartheid' Sparks Bitter Debate

Carter Book on Israel 'Apartheid' Sparks Bitter Debate
Scholar Resigns From Ga. Center
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer

A veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned his position there Monday in an escalating controversy over former president Jimmy Carter's bestselling book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," traces the ups and downs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process beginning with Carter's 1977-1980 presidency and the historic peace accord he negotiated between Israel and Egypt and continuing to the present. Although it apportions blame to Israel, the Palestinians and outside parties -- including the United States -- for the failure of decades of peace efforts, it is sharply critical of Israeli policy and concludes that "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."

Kenneth W. Stein, a professor at Emory University, accused Carter of factual errors, omissions and plagiarism in the book. "Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information," Stein wrote in a harshly worded e-mail to friends and colleagues explaining his resignation as the center's Middle East fellow.

Stein offered no specifics in his e-mail to back up the charges, writing only that "in due course, I shall detail these points and reflect on their origins."

A statement issued by the center yesterday in Carter's name said he regretted Stein's resignation "from the titular position as a Fellow" and noted that he had not been "actively involved" there for the past 12 years. Carter thanked Stein for his advice and assistance "during the early years of our Center" and wished him well.

While acknowledging that the word "apartheid" refers to the system of legal racial separation once used in South Africa, Carter says in his book that it is an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to "the acquisition of land" in Palestinian territories through Jewish settlements and Israel's incorporation of Palestinian land on its side of a separating wall it is erecting.

He criticizes suicide bombers and those who "consider the killing of Israelis as victories" but also notes that "some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians."

Accusing the Bush administration of abandoning the effort to promote a lasting peace, he calls for renewed negotiations on the basis of security guarantees for Israel and Israel's recognition of U.N.-established borders.

Formally published three weeks ago, the book quickly became a bestseller. Carter has been prominently interviewed in the media and has been mobbed at book appearances around the country.

Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said he was glad the book had raised controversy. "If it provokes debate and assessment and disputes and arguments and maybe some action in the Middle East to get the peace process, which is now completely absent or dormant, rejuvenated, and brings peace ultimately to Israel, that's what I want," he said.

Criticism of the book, primarily from Jewish groups and leaders, began even before it was published, and it became an issue in the midterm elections last month. The New York-based Jewish Daily Forward noted in October that Democrats were trying to distance themselves from its reported contents as Republicans were seeking to widely disseminate Carter's views in an effort to win Jewish votes.

Speaking to the Forward about Carter, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks said the coalition had "not shied away from shining a light on some of his misguided and outrageous comments about Israel in the past. . . . So far, there's been nothing but silence on the part of the Democratic establishment in terms of holding Carter accountable."

Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, told the Forward that the "book clearly does not reflect the direction of the party."

Since then, the controversy has only grown. In a widely published commentary last weekend, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that Carter's "use of the loaded word 'apartheid,' suggesting an analogy to the hated policies of South Africa, is especially outrageous."

In a statement issued Monday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles contended that Carter "abandons all objectivity and unabashedly acts as a virtual spokesman for the Palestinian cause."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Stein said that Carter had "taken [material] directly" from a published work written by a third party but that legal action was being contemplated and he was not yet at liberty to make the details public. He said accounts in the book about meetings he had attended with Carter between 1980 and 1990 had left out key facts in order to "make the Israelis look like they're the only ones responsible" for the failure of peace efforts.


Justices Scalia and Breyer: Little in Common, Much to Debate

ABC News
Justices Scalia and Breyer: Little in Common, Much to Debate
ABC Reporter Moderates Rare Public Talk Between Liberal and Conservative Members of the High Court

Dec. 6, 2006 — - They deeply disagree on the most divisive issues of the day: abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, the death penalty. In a rare appearance Tuesday night, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer explained why in a lively debate over the role of the Supreme Court and interpretation of the Constitution.

The conservative Scalia and liberal Breyer spent much of the 90-minute debate defending their respective approaches, mixing humor with substantive discussion of the law. The two have served together on the bench for 12 years now, and they share the easy familiarity of old friends, playing off one another and poking fun to score points.

So does Scalia believe Breyer is an activist judge? "I would never call him that to his face," Scalia quipped slyly.

And when Scalia told a story about a French friend who was puzzled by the complications of religion in America -- and he used a European accent in the telling -- Breyer jabbed right back.

"My only question: Why did the Frenchman have an Italian accent?" Breyer asked.

But there were no hard feelings backstage afterward.

"Want to go grab a hamburger?" Scalia asked Breyer as they left Washington's Capital Hilton, where the debate took place.

"Sure," Breyer said. "Let's go."

The two have written and lectured extensively on their differing approaches to the Constitution, which can produce dramatically divergent results on the Court's most dramatic and controversial cases. They agreed to appear onstage together Tuesday night to hash it out at an event sponsored by two legal organizations with views as opposing as the justices' -- the conservative Federalist Society and the progressive American Constitution Society.

"We have our differences," said Breyer during the debate. Those differences stem "from an approach about how you go about interpreting the Constitution."

Said Scalia: "These are widely divergent views.

"Are we taking broad concepts such as equal protection and due process and asking, What should these concepts mean today? That's one view," Scalia said. "Or on the other hand, are we saying, "What do these concepts mean when they were adopted?"

Scalia takes the latter approach, looking at the Constitution's text and what it meant at the time of the nation's founding. He said his approach limits judges from imposing their personal preferences and setting policy.

"That is very easy to figure out," he said. "It's as easy as pie to figure out that the cruel and unusual punishments clause was not understood to prohibit the death penalty. That the due process clause was not understood to forbid laws against abortion."

And if people want to change things, Scalia said, they shouldn't look to the courts. "Use the legislature," Scalia said. "That's what we do in a democracy."

But Breyer views the Constitution more expansively, believing justices should consider the purpose of the document and what the framers were trying to accomplish.

The First Amendment, for example, prohibits the government from establishing a religion -- a provision that was designed to lessen religious strife. That's why Breyer said he opposes school vouchers, which allow parents to use government subsidies to send their children to religious schools.

"To allow the vouchers in this society would provoke too much religious dissension," Breyer said. "People feel religion so strongly."

The justices also talked about the leadership of new Chief Justice John Roberts and how he has allowed more discussion in the justices' private conferences, when they meet twice a week to discuss cases. Scalia predicted that would change once Roberts settled into his role.

Scalia also seemed dubious about Roberts's goal of achieving more unanimity on the Court. In an interview last month with ABC News, Roberts explained that he's more likely to assign opinions to justices who can sway others to their side -- even if that means the Court decides the case on narrow grounds.

"I think it's important to have as many people supporting a decision of the Court as possible," Roberts said in the interview at the University of Miami.

Roberts, who has the important task of assigning opinions when he is in the majority, explained that a justice who could get the most consensus was more likely to get an assignment than another justice whose sweeping approach made it difficult to get four or five others to agree.

"The more justices that can agree on a particular decision, the more likely it is to be decided on a narrow basis," Roberts said. "I think that's a good thing when you're talking about the development of the law that you proceed as cautiously as possible."

But Scalia, who is known for his colorful and, at times, bold decisions, didn't seem convinced.

"Lots of luck," Scalia said, when asked about Roberts's' goals.

Disagreement and dissent can be good things, Scalia said, and the Court shouldn't be afraid to take on big issues.

"You know you can get more agreement by deciding less," Scalia said. "And if you wanted to decide almost nothing at all and decide the case on such a narrow ground that it will be of very little use to the bar in the future, you can get nine votes."

But if you want to take on the big question that's dividing the lower courts, "it's going to be harder to get a nine to nothing vote," Scalia said.

"I am not against narrow opinions. There are good reasons to get narrow opinions. One of them is not to get nine votes," Scalia said. "That's not what we're here for. We're here to solve the difficult problems that are presented by these cases."

Roberts also said in his Miami interview that he doesn't think boldness is necessarily an attribute in opinion writing.

Again Scalia took issue.

"I don't think the law has to be dull," he said. "Sometimes majority opinions have to be dull because you have to get your colleagues to jump onboard. But I think putting things in a fetching way, in a memorable way, is all to the good, especially in dissents."


Case of the Dwindling Docket Mystifies the Supreme Court

The New York Times
Case of the Dwindling Docket Mystifies the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — On the Supreme Court’s color-coded master calendar, which was distributed months before the term began on the first Monday in October, Dec. 6 is marked in red to signify a day when the justices are scheduled to be on the bench, hearing arguments.

The courtroom, however, was empty on Wednesday, and for a simple reason: The court was out of cases. The question is, where have all the cases gone?

Last year, during his Senate confirmation hearing, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said he thought the court had room on its docket and that it “could contribute more to the clarity and uniformity of the law by taking more cases.”

But that has not happened. The court has taken about 40 percent fewer cases so far this term than last. It now faces noticeable gaps in its calendar for late winter and early spring. The December shortfall is the result of a pipeline empty of cases granted last term and carried over to this one.

The number of cases the court decided with signed opinions last term, 69, was the lowest since 1953 and fewer than half the number the court was deciding as recently as the mid-1980s. And aside from the school integration and global warming cases the court heard last week, along with the terrorism-related cases it has decided in the last few years, relatively few of the cases it is deciding speak to the core of the country’s concerns.

The reasons for the decline all grow out of forces building for decades. The federal government has been losing fewer cases in the lower courts and so has less reason to appeal. As Congress enacts fewer laws, the justices have fewer statutes to interpret. And justices who think they might end up on the losing side of an important case might vote not to take it.

In a divided court, in a divided country, the court’s reduced role is perhaps not surprising, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. “In the post-Bush v. Gore era, the court may be concerned about taking the wrong case and making an unpopular decision,” said Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, in an interview.

Professor Schauer argued in a recent and much-discussed Harvard Law Review article that the court’s work “had only minimal direct engagement with the central issues of the nation’s public and policy agenda.” In an interview, he said, “I think they like being under the radar.”

In private conversations, the justices themselves insist that nothing so profound is going on, but rather seem mystified at what they perceive as a paucity of cases that meet the court’s standard criteria. The most important of those criteria is whether a case raises a question that has produced conflicting decisions among the lower federal courts.

But there are still plenty of lower-court conflicts that go unresolved, said Thomas C. Goldstein, a Supreme Court practitioner and close student of court statistics who wrote last week on the popular Scotusblog that the justices were “on the cusp of the greatest shortfall in filling the court’s docket in recent memory, and likely in its modern history.”

“I don’t think we’re at the end of history and have fixed all the problems,” Mr. Goldstein said in an interview.

One theory is that the court is so closely divided that neither the liberals nor the conservatives want to risk granting a case in which, at the end of the day, they might not prevail. To grant a case takes four votes, which can be a heartbreaking distance from the five votes it takes to win. Scholars of the court call this risk-averse behavior “defensive denial.”

While such behavior may account for a portion of the shortfall, it can hardly provide a global explanation, because only a relative handful of the 8,000 appeals that reach the court each term are ideologically charged.

Other, more neutral explanations provide likely pieces of the puzzle.

One is the decreasing number of appeals filed on behalf of the federal government by the solicitor general’s office. Over the decades, the Supreme Court has granted cases filed by the solicitor general’s office at a high rate. In the mid-1980s, the office was filing more than 50 petitions per term. But as the lower federal courts have become more conservative and the government has lost fewer cases, the number has plummeted, opening a substantial hole in the court’s docket.

As recently as the court’s 2000 term, the solicitor general filed 24 petitions, of which 17 were granted. Last term, it filed 10, of which the court granted 4. This term, the solicitor general has filed 13 petitions; the court has granted 5, denied 3 and is still considering the rest.

Another explanation lies across the street from the Supreme Court, in Congress.

Over the years, about half the court’s docket has been made up not of constitutional cases, but of cases requiring the justices to interpret federal statutes. Statutes from the 1970s, including major environmental laws, antidiscrimination laws and Erisa, the employee-benefits law, have been staples of the court’s docket for decades. But as Congress’s willingness to pass new laws has waned, the flow of statutory cases has begun to dry up.

Another possible explanation is the method by which the justices screen the thousands of petitions. Eight of the justices, all except Justice John Paul Stevens, pool their law clerks and have only one clerk make the initial recommendation for each case.

The recommendation is not binding, of course. But there is a built-in “institutional conservatism” in which law clerks are afraid to look overly credulous and so are reluctant to recommend a grant, according to Stephen M. Shapiro, a former deputy solicitor general who practices law in Chicago with Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw.

“Perhaps the clerks have been trained to be naysayers for so long that they don’t know any other way,” Mr. Shapiro said in an interview.

The sharpest drop in opinions came after William H. Rehnquist became chief justice in 1986. He had made clear his belief that the court under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger was taking too many cases, and Congress assisted in 1988 by eliminating from the court’s jurisdiction a category of “mandatory” appeals to which the justices collectively had long objected.

In the early 1990s, after the number of decisions dropped to 107 from 145 in the space of five terms, Chief Justice Rehnquist responded to reporters’ questions by commenting wryly that the Supreme Court would be the first institution of American government to fulfill Karl Marx’s prophecy of the withering away of the state.

He was kidding, of course. The late chief justice believed in a muscular role for the court, and went on to show that he could accomplish more with less.

The question now, on a docket dominated by cases that only a law professor could love, is how much less.

“It’s not obvious to me that the court should be doing more,” said Orin Kerr, a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School who wrote on his blog that constitutional law scholars “are kind of bored these days.”

In an interview, Professor Kerr said that while it was easy to say that the court should be doing something different, “no two people would agree on how it should change.”


The Moral Bankruptcy of Threatening Iraq

Huffington Post
Robert Weissman
The Moral Bankruptcy of Threatening Iraq

One theme in the Iraq Study Group report seems to offer hope for anti-war forces that want to see a rapid end to the occupation:

If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.

In different guises, this is a proposition that many Democrats have supported.

This is a morally bankrupt formulation, and it should be rejected by those working for rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The logic of the proposition from the Iraq Study Group is that the United States has, metaphorically, come to put out the fire in Iraq's house. If we're risking our lives, while the Iraqis are standing on the sidelines arguing among themselves (or worse, throwing rocks at us while we try to douse the fire), then we reasonably can decide to protect ourselves and sacrifice the house.

The problem with this formulation is that it ignores that we lit the fire in the first place.

Also, and even more crucially, it fails to acknowledge that by our presence and actions we are fueling the fire, rather than putting it out.

We are not Good Samaritans who happened on the scene.

We are arsonists.

We launched a criminal war that has, predictably, spiraled out of control and killed not just thousands of Americans, but hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Given all that we have done, our greatest obligation is to stop making things worse. That's why the United States must withdraw.


Vice President Cheney's gay daughter pregnant

Vice President Cheney's daughter pregnant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mary Cheney, the gay daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, is pregnant, the vice president's office said on Wednesday.

Mary Cheney, 37, and her longtime partner are expecting their first child.

"The Vice President and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," said Megan McGinn, a spokeswoman for the vice president.

She declined to provide further details. The Washington Post said the baby was due in late spring.

Mary Cheney was a key aide to her father during the 2004 presidential campaign, and was hired last year as an executive for America Online.

She expressed opposition earlier this year to a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The measure, backed by President George W. Bush, failed to pass in Congress.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

106 bodies found in Baghdad in past two days

106 bodies found in Baghdad in past two days

Iraqi police Monday said they have recovered 106 bodies in the past two days, all shot to death and scattered across Baghdad. Some were blindfolded with bound hands, and showed signs of torture. They are believed to be victims of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian warfare that has shaken the capital over the past year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said its forces put a dent in the al Qaeda in Iraq network after it raided several buildings in northern Baghdad Monday morning.

U.S. forces killed two "terrorists," detained six others and destroyed a car bomb during the raid, a military statement said. The raid also netted munitions and a small number of weapons.

According to the U.S. military, intelligence information led them to the site.

"Coalition Forces are making progress dismantling the al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network and ridding local neighborhoods of terrorist activities," the statement said.


Census counts 100,000 contractors in Iraq; Number is 10 times that in first Gulf War, far more than previous estimate

Washington Post
Census counts 100,000 contractors in Iraq
Number is 10 times that in first Gulf War, far more than previous estimate
By Renae Merle

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country.

It is also 10 times the estimated number of contractors that deployed during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, reflecting the Pentagon's growing post-Cold War reliance on contractors for such jobs as providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases that were once reserved for soldiers.

Official numbers are difficult to find, said Deborah D. Avant, author of the 2005 book "The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security," but an estimated 9,200 contractors deployed during the Gulf War, a far shorter conflict without reconstruction projects. "This is the largest deployment of U.S. contractors in a military operation," said Avant, an associate professor at George Washington University.

In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. MPRI, a unit of L-3 Communications, has about 500 employees working on 12 contracts, including providing mentors to the Iraqi Defense Ministry for strategic planning, budgeting and establishing its public affairs office. Titan, another L-3 division, has 6,500 linguists in the country.

The Pentagon's latest estimate "further demonstrates the need for Congress to finally engage in responsible, serious and aggressive oversight over the questionable and growing U.S. practice of private military contracting," said Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has been critical of the military's reliance on contractors.

Labor Department: About 650 have died
About 650 contractors have died in Iraq since 2003, according to Labor Department statistics.

Central Command, which conducted the census, said a breakdown by nationality or job description was not immediately available because the project is still in its early stages. "This is the first time we have initiated a census of this robustness," Lt. Col. Julie Wittkoff, chief of the contracting branch at Central Command, said in an interview. Those figures do not include subcontractors, which could substantially grow the figure.

In June, government agencies were asked to provide data about contractors working for them in Iraq, including their nationality, a description of their work and locations where they were working. The information was provided by more than a dozen entities within the Pentagon and a dozen outside agencies, including the departments of State and Interior, Wittkoff said. The count increased about 15 percent from about 87,000 since Central Command began keeping a tally this summer, she said, though the increase may reflect ongoing data collection efforts. The census will be updated quarterly, Wittkoff said.

Need for coordination
Three years into the war, the headcount represents one of the Pentagon's most concrete efforts so far toward addressing the complexities and questions raised by the large numbers of civilians who have flooded into Iraq to work. With few industry standards, the military and contractors have sometimes lacked coordination, resulting in friendly fire incidents, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year.

"It takes a great deal of vigilance on the part of the military commander to ensure contractor compliance," said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you're trying to win hearts and minds and the contractor is driving 90 miles per hour through the streets and running over kids, that's not helping the image of the American army. The Iraqis aren't going to distinguish between a contractor and a soldier."

The census gives military commanders insight into the contractors operating in their region and the type of work they are doing, Wittkoff said. "It helps the combatant commanders have a better idea of . . . food and medical requirements they may need to provide to support the contractors," she said.

Staff writer Griff Witte contributed to this report.


Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off.

ABC News
Can You Hear Me Now?
By Vic Walter and Krista Kjellman

Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off.

A recent court ruling in a case against the Genovese crime family revealed that the FBI has the ability from a remote location to activate a cell phone and turn its microphone into a listening device that transmits to an FBI listening post, a method known as a "roving bug." Experts say the only way to defeat it is to remove the cell phone battery.

"The FBI can access cell phones and modify them remotely without ever having to physically handle them," James Atkinson, a counterintelligence security consultant, told ABC News. "Any recently manufactured cell phone has a built-in tracking device, which can allow eavesdroppers to pinpoint someone's location to within just a few feet," he added.

According to the recent court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, "The device functioned whether the phone was powered on or off, intercepting conversations within its range wherever it happened to be."

The court ruling denied motions by 10 defendants to suppress the conversations obtained by "roving bugs" on the phones of John Ardito, a high-ranking member of the family, and Peter Peluso, an attorney and close associate of Ardito, who later cooperated with the government. The "roving bugs" were approved by a judge after the more conventional bugs planted at specified locations were discovered by members of the crime family, who then started to conduct their business dealings in several additional locations, including more restaurants, cars, a doctor's office and public streets.

"The courts have given law enforcement a blank check for surveillance," Richard Rehbock, attorney for defendant John Ardito, told ABC News.

Judge Kaplan's ruling said otherwise. "While a mobile device makes interception easier and less costly to accomplish than a stationary one, this does not mean that it implicated new or different privacy concerns." He continued, "It simply dispenses with the need for repeated installations and surreptitious entries into buildings. It does not invade zones of privacy that the government could not reach by more conventional means."

But Rehbock disagrees. "Big Brother is upon us...1984 happened a long time ago," he said, referring to the George Orwell futuristic novel "1984," which described a society whose members were closely watched by those in power and was published in 1949.

The FBI maintains the methods used in its investigation of the Genovese family are within the law. "The FBI does not discuss sensitive surveillance techniques other than to emphasize that any electronic surveillance is done pursuant to a court order and ongoing judicial scrutiny," Agent Jim Margolin told ABC News.


The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth; Richest tenth own 85% of world's assets

The Times
Richest tenth own 85% of world's assets
David Brown

Where the wealth is

The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth, according to the most comprehensive study of personal assets.

Among the largest economies, Britain boasted the third-highest average wealth of $126,832 (£64,172) per adult, after the United States and Japan, a United Nations development research institute found.

Those with assets of $500,000 could consider themselves to be among the richest 1 per cent in the world. Those with net assets of $2,200 per adult were in the top half of the wealth distribution.

Although global income was distributed unequally, the spread of wealth was more skewed, according to the study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN University.

“Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and high-income AsiaPacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90 per cent of total world wealth,” the report said.

Researchers defined wealth as the value of physical and financial assets minus debts.

The richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of assets. The bottom 50 per cent of the world’s adults owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth.

Among high-income nations, the amounts varied from $37,000 per person in New Zealand to $86,369 in Germany and $109,418 in the Netherlands.

In terms of wealth distribution the US was among the most unequal, whereas Japan had one of the lowest levels of inequality. Britain ranked with Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan in wealth inequality.

James Davies, Professor of Economics at the University of Western Ontario, and one of the authors of the report, said: “Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.

“There is a group of problems in developing countries that make it difficult for people to build assets, which are important, since life is so precarious.”

The gulf between rich and poor nations has long concerned politicians and economists, who say that it is one of the biggest bars to development.

Household wealth in 2000 was valued at $125 trillion, equivalent to about three times total global production, or $20,500 a person, according to The World Distribution of Household Wealth report.

Average wealth in the US was $143,727 a person in 2000, and in Japan, $180,837, it said.

In India the figure was $1,100, in Indonesia per capita wealth was $1,400, and in Zimbabwe, $1,465. The Democratic Republic of Congo came last with $180.

Professor Davies said that there were some hopeful signs: China and India, developing rapidly, were gaining wealth.

In countries such as Bangladesh, the spread of microcredit institutions was helping to increase personal wealth. In others, registration programmes were allowing the poor to own land for the first time, he said.

Anthony Shorrocks, the institute’s director, said: “Despite its rapid growth, China does not yet feature among the super-rich, because average wealth is modest and evenly spread by international standards.

“However, China is already likely to have more wealthy residents than our data reveals, and membership of the super-rich seems set to rise fast in the next decade.”

13,568,229: number of dollar millionaires in 2000

499: number of dollar billionaires in 2000

Source: The World Distribution of Household Wealth