Saturday, December 16, 2006

Last-Minute Lawmaking by Hastert, Reid; Controversial Measures on Medicare, Land Use Slipped Into Session's Final Bill
Last-Minute Lawmaking by Hastert, Reid
Controversial Measures on Medicare, Land Use Slipped Into Session's Final Bill
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer

In the wee hours of the morning Dec. 7, Senate negotiators rejected a Medicare measure pushed by outgoing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that would have meant big revenues for an insurance company in Hastert's home state. But a day later, the $100 million proposal was alive and well, paired with a plan for a major Nevada land swap backed by Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the incoming Senate majority leader.

The leaders' dealmaking went on behind the scenes during the final, frenetic hours of the 109th Congress. Hastert's provision, which would give certain Medicare beneficiaries additional time to change their health-care coverage, and Reid's plan, which involves more than 900 square miles of federal land, were included in a massive tax and trade measure approved by Congress shortly before its final adjournment early last Saturday morning.

Both provisions have been criticized as potentially harmful to public interests. Land-use activists complained this week that Reid's provision would sell too much of the federal land to private developers and that it circumvents land-disposal procedures. Several senior senators objected to Hastert's provision on the floor of the Senate, saying it favored one type of Medicare plan over others. Representatives of Aon Corp., an insurance company based in Hastert's home state, lobbied for the provision.

The Hastert measure "creates an unlevel playing field," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the incoming chairman of the Finance Committee. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the outgoing chairman of the tax-writing committee, added: "I am also disappointed in the process that led to the provision being included in the bill."

Baucus, Grassley and incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said they will probably attempt to strike the Medicare provision when the new Congress convenes next year.

The Hastert and Reid provisions were parts of an amendment quietly inserted in the $50 billion, 10-year tax and trade bill on a procedural vote. The huge bill was treated by lawmakers as the last legislative train out of town. Other provisions slipped in at the last minute included a $1 billion expansion of health savings accounts, a Republican-backed program that allows tax-free savings for health care, and 520 tariff suspensions worth tens of millions of dollars to U.S. corporations.

The last-minute deal involving Hastert and Reid apparently began with a phone call on the afternoon of Dec. 7 from Reid to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), according to a senior Democratic Senate aide familiar with the private negotiations.

Reid asked why his land provision had not been included in the tax and trade bill. Thomas brought up the subject of Hastert's amendment and said it was his intention to add it to the bill in tandem with Reid's measure, according to the senior aide. Several people familiar with the talks -- both Democrats and Republicans -- suggested that one provision was exchanged for the other, but spokesmen for Reid and Hastert said they do not believe there was a trade.

The Hastert provision would allow certain Medicare beneficiaries -- those who receive physician and hospital benefits through the original Medicare program -- to switch their health coverage after the open-enrollment period for Medicare closes at the end of March. The provision also limits the type of plan that they can choose as an alternative: those that do not offer prescription drug coverage.

Representatives of Aon Corp. lobbied Congress for the policy. According to a listing on the Web site of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Aon's Sterling Life Insurance Co. subsidiary is one of fewer than two dozen companies, most of them smaller, regional firms, that offer private fee-for-service plans without drug coverage -- the type of plan that the provision would benefit most.

Most organizations offer plans that combine Medicare physician, hospital and prescription drug benefits. The groups that would be aided by the provision, such as Sterling, concentrate on offering private health plans under Medicare that allow beneficiaries to get drug coverage through a different organization. The measure's cost would result from the additional Medicare patients who switch to such programs, which cost the government more money.

A Hastert spokesman said the speaker pressed for the provision to expand enrollment in Medicare plans overall. Aon officials repeatedly declined to comment.

Reid's provision would designate 900 square miles of Nevada as wilderness and would allow 70 square miles to possibly be sold to private investors. It is one of several proposals by Reid that would make large stretches of federal land in Nevada a combination of wilderness and private development. Proceeds of the land sales would go to assist local governments. Reid's Republican colleague from Nevada, Sen. John Ensign, co-sponsored the provision.

Some environmental groups approve of the land provision; one is the Campaign for America's Wilderness, which likes the way it expands wilderness designations. Other groups, such as the Seattle-based Western Lands Project, decry the loss of land to developers and the loss of revenue for the government.

"He's selling off federal land that belongs to all of us and keeping the money in Nevada," said Janine Blaeloch, director of the Western Lands Project.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, defended the provision as a way to protect wilderness areas, improve water conservation and enhance fire-prevention efforts. "The bill was the subject of numerous negotiations with stakeholders and will protect more than 500,000 acres of wild and sensitive public land as wilderness," Manley said.


Feinstein Criticizes DHS on Foreigner Exit Program
Feinstein Criticizes DHS on Foreigner Exit Program
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer

Supporters of the troubled US-VISIT program warned yesterday that the decision to suspend a crucial part of the national security program launched after the 2001 attacks will leave the nation vulnerable to terrorism.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the government will be left with no way of knowing whether all visitors leave the country after the administration decided to drop a plan to track departures at land borders because of technical and cost problems.

Feinstein called the decision a "very serious failure" on top of multiple delays since the system was proposed in 1996.

US-VISIT is designed to detect criminals, suspected terrorists and visitors whose visas have expired by recording travelers' fingerprints and digital photographs when they enter and exit the United States. Having spent $1.7 billion since 2003, Department of Homeland Security officials say they have successfully recorded 61 million people entering the country through 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 of 170 land ports.

But they cannot build an exit tracking system without spending "tens of billions" of dollars more and an additional five to 10 years developing the technology.

"This program is central to protecting our national security," said Feinstein, incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's homeland security panel. "Billions of dollars and countless hours have been invested, and if DHS is going to throw this all away, the American people deserve to know why."

Others expressed relief that the department was acknowledging what critics have insisted for years: that billions of dollars might be wasted on contracts that could not deliver results. Developing an exit system is difficult because of the volume of cross-border traffic, technological demands and practical limits.

Such an entry-exit system was recommended by the panel that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but several studies have challenged its feasibility.

"Always make sure you state it clearly when the emperor has no clothes, to me is the moral of the story," said Kathleen Walker, incoming president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, citing repeated studies and government testimony about US-VISIT's flaws.

DHS's retreat came after Congress's audit arm, the Government Accountability Office, reported Thursday that US-VISIT officials had concluded that the exit program could not now be launched at land crossings without major traffic delays or enormous cost to expand facilities, roads and communication links.

In an interview, US-VISIT Director Robert Mocny said the agency is completing a January spending report to Congress that will lay out plans to expand the exit system at airports and seaports but will leave out land ports.

Land ports record 309 million crossings a year, compared with 87 million at airports. But U.S. officials say airports pose a greater security risk because most land crossers are repeat travelers, or Mexican, Canadian and U.S. citizens who are for now exempt from US-VISIT.

In comments to reporters, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that the department was sidetracking the land exit system.

"If we required all the people leaving the country by land going into Canada to stop to give a biometric print," Chertoff said, "you would see lines that are 10 or 15 miles long, stretching from the border deeply into New York or into Detroit."

Chertoff cited progress in tracking and screening unwanted people before they enter the United States. US-VISIT has captured more than 1,100 criminals who were using false documents, officials have said. Other programs are underway to integrate homeland security and FBI fingerprint databases, to automatically generate risk assessments on travelers and to improve monitoring of some immigration violators.

"The highest priority is to keep terrorists out of the country. Letting them come in the country and then worrying whether they haven't left in 90 days seems, to me, an inferior concern to keeping them out in the first place," Chertoff said.

US-VISIT has also spent $71 million testing the use of radio-frequency identification technology -- involving tiny microchips with a unique code embedded in a tag on visitors' departure forms -- as an alternative to a fingerprint or facial-scan system. But a January 2006 test correctly identified only 16 percent of 166 vehicles with such tags. Among the drawbacks is that the tags cannot be physically tied to an individual.


Cheney: Rummy "Finest Ever" Secretary of Defense (What is Cheney smoking?)

Huffington Post
Tim Dickinson
Cheney: Rummy "Finest Ever" Secretary of Defense (What is Cheney smoking?)

"I believe the record speaks for itself -- Don Rumsfeld is the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had." -- Dick Cheney, today

Ahem. For the record (from the Iraq Study Group):

* 3,000 Iraqis civilians are killed every month.
* 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country.
* 1.6 million more have been displaced internally.
* Moqtada al Sadr's army has 60,000 troops.
* Kurdish peshmerga militas number 100,000.
* "Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in secarian violence, including targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians."
* Shia have gained majority control of Iraq for the first time in 1,300 years.
* "Baghdad is run like a 'Shia dictatorship'"
* As many as 500,000 barrels of oil are stolen every day.
* The United States has already spent $400 billion on this war, and continues to spend $2 billion a week. Final estimates in the ISG report for the cost of the war run as high as $2 trillion.


Rumsfeld: You Go To Posterity With the Reputation You Have, Not The Reputation You Wish You Had

Huffington Post
RJ Eskow
Rumsfeld: You Go To Posterity With the Reputation You Have, Not The Reputation You Wish You Had

The Associated Press noted the departure of Donald Rumsfeld with a curious retrospective, quoting a biographer who suggests that he is a "tragic figure" because of his wasted "talent and promise." But Nixon, who called him a "ruthless little bastard," had Rummy's number from the start. His "talent" was as a political hit man, a vicious insider who would do whatever his bosses wanted.

He was and is a nasty person of shrewd but limited intellect, a bully and a braggart and a bullshit artist. Nobody will miss him.

Do Rumsfeld and his friends regret his public disgrace, which will follow him into the grave? Too bad. They should have thought about that earlier, when he was slandering generals and political opponents alike (for being right), enriching war profiteers, and making one egregious error in judgement after another. No wonder he won praise today from Dick Cheney, a man whose predictions on Iraq have been as accurate as his shooting.

The only thing that could change the way Rumsfeld is remembered is if more is revealed about his complicity in torture and other war crimes.

What should Rumsfeld be remembered for, if not Iraq? For selling contraceptives and sweeteners as a drug executive? No. The GOP wanted this war, and Rumsfeld gave it to them. They wanted lying and deception, and Rummy delivered. They wanted to cut costs when it came to protecting our soldiers, and jack them up when it came to making Halliburton rich. Again, Rumsfeld came through.

The only form of combat at which Rumsfeld ever excelled was bureaucratic infighting. That, and not expertise or brains, is why Nixon named him to a Cabinet post. "I need a man who will be in there fighting," Nixon said on the White House tapes. "He's a ruthless little bastard ... He's tough enough that if he knows what I want, he isn't going to come in and try to sell me something."

Rumsfeld knew how to get things done - particularly things that advanced Rumsfeld's career. He was appointed to run the Office of Economic Opportunity so that the GOP could run it into the ground, but he proved an aggressive and adept advocate for some of its programs. That wasn't out of idealism, but rather as a way to expand his own turf.

As Secretary of Defense, he increased the military budget during a period of détente and reduced military need. Why? Because - again - he wanted more power.

His first private-sector job, as CEO of G. D. Searle, was well-suited to his talents. He cut underperforming divisions, per the corporate trends of the day. (Some business analysts believe this tactic, while good for short-term stock values, actually guts the long term worth of some companies while making employees suffer needlessly.)

His political skills came in especially handy at Searle's helm, since he was able to persuade the Reagan Administration to reverse government policy and permit the use of Searle's formerly-banned product, Aspartame.

(Rumsfeld continues to profit from the decisions of his political pals. During the bird-flu scare Bush allocated a billion dollars to purchase Tamiflu, which another Rumsfeld company developed. The result was a few more million dollars in value for Rummy's portfolio.)

But Iraq will remain the capstone of Rumsfeld's career. He treated the lives and welfare of our soldiers as cavalierly as he did the jobs of employees at those Searle divisions he closed down. His limitations, both intellectual and moral, made him the Republican Party's perfect instrument for the pursuit of this war. He was the creature of the Party that created and nurtured him, and an accurate reflection of it.

His most famous quote was not only flippant but dishonest, since it was used to conceal his own managerial incompetence, lack of proper planning, and indifference to the human cost of his actions. Let's not forget the question that prompted it, either, from a soldier serving in Iraq:

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don;t we have those resources readily available to us?

Rumsfeld: It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have--not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.--You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up...

Rumsfeld's press conferences were widely noted for his bullying, confusing, and often incoherent comments. What was less obvious to most press observers was that his elliptically-phrased aggression was an intentional strategy. He kept reporters confused, intidimated, and off-balance while showering the public with his muddled thinking, cynical manipulations, and flat-out lies.

The content of the AP piece is generally fair and balanced, although they turned to a Cato Institute scholar rather than one of his many progressive detractors for the observation that he will be remembered with a "dark epitaph."

But the AP's lamentation for the fact that his career "ended in ignominy" is a curious one. He will be remembered, if at all, for these qualities: callousness, libelous comments about those who disagreed with him, a hallucinogenic detachment from reality, smug refusal to consider other people's opinions, mental shallowness, and a sociopathic inability to take responsibility for his own actions.

Most of all, he will be remembered for that most destructive and personally unappealing combination of personality traits: arrogance and incompetence.

Given that record, what could be a more appropriate end to his career than "ignominy"?


GOP Sen. Specter Planning Syria Trip Against White House Wishes

Yahoo! News
Republican Sen. Specter plans Syria trip
BY ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

Sen. Arlen Specter, a 26-year Senate Republican, said he will visit Syria despite loud objections by the Bush administration, contending the situation in Iraq is so dire that it is time Congress step up to the plate and see what it can do.

Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview late Friday that he is planning a trip to the Middle East that will include Israel and Syria. The senator said he and other Republicans are concerned that the administration's policies in the Middle East are not working and that other GOP members may follow in his footsteps.

"I've talked to my Republican colleagues, and there is a disquiet here," Specter said.

The visit, coming on the heels of a trip by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, would be a direct affront to the White House. The United States has limited diplomatic ties with Syria because of its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, which the U.S. deems terrorist organizations. President Bush has expressed reluctance to seek help from Damascus on Iraq until the Syrians curb that support and reduce their influence in Lebanon.

The White House sharply criticized Nelson, a Democrat, for visiting Syria despite Nelson's assertion that the meeting was helpful. Nelson said Syrian President Bashar Assad said he was willing to help control the Iraq-Syrian border, where foreign fighters cross into Iraq.

"We think it's inappropriate," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday of the planned congressional trips to the region. In addition to Nelson and Specter, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., were expected to visit Syria.

"The concern here, among other things, is that this does not strengthen the hand of democracy in the region ... but instead allows the Syrians to dodge the real responsibilities they have," Snow said.

White House spokesman Alex Conant said late Friday that Snow's comments hold true for Specter as well.

The diplomatic push from Congress found revived inspiration from a bipartisan panel that recently recommended the U.S. engage Iran and Syria on the war in Iraq. Bush has remained cool to the proposal by the Iraq Study Group, which was led by former GOP Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Specter in a telephone call not to go to Syria, the senator said. But Specter, who had acquiesced previously to similar requests, said time was up.

"I deferred to them a year ago, and I deferred to them last August," Specter said. "And if there were any signs the administrative policy (in the Middle East) was working, I'd defer to them again."

Specter said he wasn't under the impression he would walk away with a diplomatic deal or believed he was stepping on anyone's toes. But, he added, lawmakers could conduct fact-finding trips that could help inform discussions and still leave foreign policy negotiations up to the White House.

"I now believe that with the report of the independent study group and the administration policy, which is not working, there should be a fresh look at it by Congress," said Specter, who chairs the Judiciary Committee and is a senior member of the Appropriations panel.

Specter's interest in Syria — and willingness to buck White House party line — is nothing new. The Republican has visited Syria 15 times since 1984 and even attended the funeral of Assad's father. The senator visited with then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1990 and has tried repeatedly to engage officials in Iran, although to no avail.

Specter has challenged the Bush administration's position on other matters as well, including the White House policy toward terrorism suspects.


Bush Likely To Send More Troops To Iraq

US 'troop boost in Iraq likely'
US President George W Bush is likely to boost troop levels in Iraq next year, an administration official has said.

Up to 25,000 more troops could be deployed to try to help end the violence, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The comments come a day after prominent Republican John McCain called for up to 30,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq.

Mr Bush had been due to announce a new strategy on Iraq next week, but has delayed his speech until January.

He is holding a flurry of meetings with top US and Iraqi officials and experts on how to change his policy.

In Iraq, the country's biggest humanitarian organisation has accused US troops of attacking its offices and vehicles.

The Iraqi Red Crescent's vice-president said attacks by US-led forces were the biggest problem it faced.

The US military said it was checking the allegations.

'Serious situation'

The US administration source said the mission of the additional troops would be threefold, the BBC's Adam Brookes reports from Washington:

* To help secure Baghdad amid daily car bombings and kidnappings

* To make a renewed push to quell the insurgency in the Western province of Anbar

* To tackle the militias behind much of the sectarian violence in the country, but especially the capital.

The remarks appear to be setting the tone for Mr Bush's announcement of his new Iraq strategy, our correspondent says.

He says the idea of boosting troop levels for one final push at halting the spiralling violence has been much discussed in Washington recently.

The comments came a day after Senator McCain called for more troops to stabilise Iraq.

"The situation is very, very serious," he said in Baghdad.

"It requires an injection of additional troops to control the situation and to allow the political process to proceed," he said.

There are currently 140,000 US troops in Iraq.

Military scepticism

Since a high-level review group published its findings last week, President Bush has been consulting with his military commanders and Iraqi political leaders to shape a new strategy.

Military commanders, however, have been expressing scepticism that extra troops on their own will have much effect, our correspondent says.

They say that stability in Iraq can now only be had by political means.

The Iraq Study Group, composed of top Democrat and Republican legislators and experts, said combat troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by early 2008.

They said the current US strategy of "staying the course" was no longer viable.

On Wednesday, Mr Bush said he would not be rushed into making "a difficult decision".

"I've heard some ideas that would lead to defeat. And I reject those ideas, ideas such as leaving before the job is done; ideas such as not helping this government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job."

Story from BBC NEWS:


"Macaca" named most politically incorrect word

"Macaca" named most politically incorrect word

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Macaca" you are number one.

The word "macaca," used by outgoing Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia to describe a Democratic activist of Indian descent who was trailing his campaign, was named the most politically incorrect word of the year on Friday by Global Language Monitor, a nonprofit group that studies word usage.

"The word might have changed the political balance of the U.S. Senate, since Allen's utterance (an offensive slang term for Indians from the Sub-continent) surely impacted his election bid," said the group's head, Paul JJ Payack.

Allen narrowly lost to Democrat James Webb in November, helping make it possible for the Democrats to capture control of the Senate.

In second place on this year's list was "Global Warming Denier," for someone who believes that climate change has moved from scientific theory to dogma.

"There are now proposals that 'global warming deniers' be treated the same as 'Holocaust deniers: professional ostracism, belittlement, ridicule and, even, jail," Payack said.

In third was "Herstory" substituting for "History." Payack said there are nearly 900,000 Google citations for "Herstory," all based on a mistaken assumption that "history" is a sexist word.

"When Herodotus wrote the first history, the word meant simply an 'inquiry,'" he said.

In August, Global Language Monitor picked "truthiness" and "Wikiality" -- two words popularized by political satirist Stephen Colbert on his TV show "The Colbert Report"-- as the top television buzzwords of the year.

The group defined "truthiness" as used by Colbert as meaning "truth unencumbered by the facts." "Wikiality," derived from the user-compiled Wikipedia information Web site, was defined as "reality as determined by majority vote."

Last year, it dubbed "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," as U.S. President George W. Bush's most memorable phrase of 2005.

Bush made the comment to Michael Brown, the former head of Federal Emergency Management Agency, before Brown resigned over the administration's handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Do members of Congress have to show up for work?

Capitol Hooky
Do members of Congress have to show up for work?
By Torie Bosch

Since losing his re-election bid to a Democratic challenger in November, lame-duck Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., has cast only two votes on the House floor—for the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act and a condemnation of a French street named after Mumia Abu-Jamal. Meanwhile, he's skipped out altogether on the other 18 votes. Could he get in trouble for playing hooky?

Not by Congress. Only a congressman's constituents can punish him for truancy. Neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives takes disciplinary action when a member fails to show up for work. Hypothetically, a politician could be elected to Congress and never show up for a single meeting or vote.

The two most common reasons for missing votes are ongoing political campaigns and illness. John Kerry famously missed 87 percent of the Senate's roll call votes in the first half of 2004, during his presidential bid. According to the Washington Post's database of votes missed, many of the House's biggest offenders in the last two years were involved in tight electoral contests, such as Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., who lost his bid for the Senate, and Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, who won the governorship of Ohio.

The congressman who made the fewest appearances in the 109th Congress is Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., who suffers from Parkinson's disease. (He chose not to seek re-election in 2006 after missing almost half of the session's votes.) Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., also had a good reason for missing more than 100 votes: He was in rehab.

In the past, some ill members of Congress have missed even more of the action. In 1969, two years into his fourth term, South Dakota Sen. Karl E. Mundt, a Republican, suffered a stroke and was unable to continue voting. He offered to resign, but only on the condition that South Dakota's governor appoint Mundt's wife to fill the vacancy. The governor refused, and Mundt retained the Senate seat, even while missing three full years of votes. He even remained on three committees until 1972, when the Senate Republican Conference stripped him of these assignments. Similarly, in the 1940s, Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia missed two years' worth of votes due to illness—he was 87 and in failing health—but refused to retire even as newspapers from across his state pressured him to step aside.

If either house of Congress wanted to institute disciplinary action for absentee representatives, they would have to amend their rules of operation. But it's unlikely that members would vote to give themselves stringent attendance guidelines.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Donald Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.
Torie Bosch is a Slate copy editor. She can be reached at

Article URL:


Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms

Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Flame-resistant uniforms will be standard issue for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by early 2007, Pentagon officials say.

More than 160,000 suits made of the flame-retardant fabric NOMEX will be sent to combat zones, said Thomas Edwards, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army logistics.

The Pentagon moved quickly, Edwards said, because Iraqi insurgents are using homemade bombs and targeting the fuel tanks of vehicles. The bombs, called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Guys in the area of operations said, 'Give us all the fireproof uniforms you can find and then kick up production,' " Edwards said.

After receiving the Army's request Sept. 21, the Pentagon shipped 70,000 suits by Oct. 13 to outfit troops who patrol outside U.S. bases, Edwards said. It will cost about $70 million for the uniforms, hoods and gloves.

NOMEX, a DuPont-manufactured fiber, resists burning for about 9 seconds, long enough to allow troops to escape from a burning vehicle, Edwards said.

Troops are urged to drink extra liquids to keep from overheating because of the suits' added layer of protection, said Lt. Col. Carl Ey, an Army spokesman.

Margo Hughey, a 68-year-old grandmother from Columbus, Ind., said she has raised $2,000 to buy the suits for troops after learning of attacks with diesel-soaked explosives from relatives serving in Iraq. She and friend April Johnson, 41, also contacted Indiana's two senators — Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh — because they did not believe the Pentagon had acted quickly enough.

"When I learned our own family members were in extreme danger, and it did not look like they would be supplied by the DOD (Department of Defense) or the Army I knew I must do something," Hughey said.

Lugar contacted the Pentagon but had not received a response, spokesman Andy Fisher said.

Edwards said the Pentagon moved quickly: "I don't know how long it took Granny to raise that two thousand bucks, but it couldn't have been a helluva lot faster than we did in getting these uniforms."

Find this article at:


520 Breaks for Select Companies Added to Tax Bill
520 Breaks for Select Companies Added to Tax Bill
By Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writer

A huge tax bill that Congress passed last week contained a little-noticed gift for select corporations -- tens of millions of dollars in breaks on import tariffs.

Early Saturday morning, in the frantic final hours of the 109th Congress, lawmakers rolled 520 tariff suspensions into the must-pass bill. The provisions will reduce or eliminate taxes on imported products as varied as shoes, camcorders and boiled oysters.

While such suspensions have been around for decades, the flurry of provisions pushed this Congress to a record of nearly 800 for the year. Corporate lobbyists often craft such suspensions to apply to just one product imported by just one company. Many of those companies and their executives have given millions of dollars to political campaigns.

This week, leaders from both parties called for changes in the system.

"This is just good old-fashioned pork," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference for the 109th Congress. Kingston described the suspensions as a stealthy version of the congressional earmark -- a term for a measure that directs the government to spend public money on behalf of a particular special interest.

"A lot of members of Congress are just clueless as to what is going on," Kingston said. "You can spend money away or you can tax-credit it away. Either way, somebody else is going to pick up the difference."

Congressional sponsors of the suspensions say they are trying to lower consumer prices and create jobs by cutting costs for retailers and U.S. manufacturers. They say that they generally drop the legislation if trade officials find a U.S. competitor that objects.

Few, if any, of the arcanely worded tariff provisions identify the company that initiated the measure. Some provisions do not identify the product as well, referring instead to strings of numbers keyed to tariff tables as big as telephone directories.

Under informal congressional guidelines, individual tariff suspensions are supposed to cost no more than $500,000 a year in lost taxes. But a Washington Post investigation, published in September, found that the authors of a number of the provisions managed to quietly file multiple measures aimed at a single product. That strategy can allow individual importers to pocket millions of dollars in tax savings.

Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), who is expected to chair the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade next year, said yesterday that he favors including in the suspension measures the names of the companies that would benefit. He also wants to close loopholes that allow companies to evade the $500,000 cap.

"The old days of lack of transparency, I think those days have to end," Levin said. "These are supposed to be small items. . . . I am in favor of keeping it small and making it totally open."

Altogether, the suspensions passed this year could cost the Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. The previous Congress approved about 440 new and extended suspensions, at an estimated cost of $172 million.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), outgoing chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, described the suspensions as good for American businesses. In a statement, Grassley stressed that the provisions had been reviewed by the Commerce Department, customs officials and the U.S. International Trade Commission. His panel had sought industry comment on the proposed suspensions, had posted them on its Web site, and ultimately rejected almost a third, he said.

Nonetheless, Grassley added: "Further reforms are necessary to make the process even more transparent and streamlined. If the new leadership decides to undertake a miscellaneous tariff bill, I'll push for further reforms."

Kingston said Congress should have a chance to vote on individual tariff suspensions. Under the current system, lawmakers must vote for or against hundreds of unrelated suspensions at a time. Kingston said that he ultimately voted for last week's huge tax-and-trade package because it contained many legitimate provisions important to the country.

"Members don't read these bills because they become so voluminous at the last minute," Kingston said. "They are always attached to something we all want."

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense complained that while the 109th Congress failed to take up many important issues, it still managed to pass hundreds of special-interest tariff suspensions. "If you are the right person, you can get something done," Ellis said. "It's one of those really insidious types of problems that will take a lot of work, and a lot of embarrassment for Congress, to try to change. And trust me, members of Congress don't embarrass easily."

In the recent election season, Dennis Spivack tried. A Democratic challenger to Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), Spivack attacked Castle for sponsoring 29 suspensions in the past two years. Spivack charged that the suspensions would harm small businesses and working families.

"Why did Mike Castle ask the United States Congress to selectively drop import taxes on [a] particular item? Who does this benefit?" Spivack asked in one campaign news release.

Castle's campaign responded that the suspensions helped keep manufacturing jobs in the United States. Spivack lost the election.


U.S. Is Dropping Effort to Track if Visitors Leave

The New York Times
U.S. Is Dropping Effort to Track if Visitors Leave

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 — In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.

Domestic security officials had described the system, known as U.S. Visit, as critical to security and important in efforts to curb illegal immigration. Similarly, one-third of the overall total of illegal immigrants are believed to have overstayed their visas, a Congressional report says.

Tracking visitors took on particular urgency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that some of the hijackers had remained in the country after their visas had expired.

But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.

A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.

Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.

They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across those borders.

Congress ordered the creation of such a system in 1996.

In an interview last week, the assistant secretary for homeland security policy, Stewart A. Baker, estimated that an exit system at the land borders would cost “tens of billions of dollars” and said the department had concluded that such a program was not feasible, at least for the time being.

“It is a pretty daunting set of costs, both for the U.S. government and the economy,” Mr. Stewart said. “Congress has said, ‘We want you to do it.’ We are not going to ignore what Congress has said. But the costs here are daunting.

“There are a lot of good ideas and things that would make the country safer. But when you have to sit down and compare all the good ideas people have developed against each other, with a limited budget, you have to make choices that are much harder.”

The news sent alarms to Congress, where some Republicans and Democrats warned that suspending the monitoring plan would leave the United States vulnerable.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is a departing subcommittee chairman on the House International Relations Committee, said the administration could not say it was protecting domestic security without creating a viable exit monitoring system.

“There will not be border security in this country until we have a knowledge of both entry and exit,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “We have to make a choice. Do we want to act and control our borders or do we want to have tens of millions of illegals continuing to pour into our country?”

Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is set to lead the Homeland Security Committee, also expressed concern.

“It is imperative that Congress work in partnership with the department to develop a comprehensive border security system that ensures we know who is entering and exiting this country and one that cannot be defeated by imposters, criminals and terrorists,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement Thursday.

In January 2004, domestic security officials began fingerprint scanning for arriving visitors. The program has screened more than 64 million travelers and prevented more than 1,300 criminals and immigration violators from entering, officials said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials often call the program a singular achievement in making the country safer. U.S. Visit fingerprints and photographs 2 percent of the people entering the country, because Americans and most Canadians and Mexicans are exempt.

Efforts to determine whether visitors actually leave have faltered. Departure monitoring would help officials hunt for foreigners who have not left, if necessary. Domestic security officials say, however, it would be too expensive to conduct fingerprint or facial recognition scans for land departures. Officials have experimented with less costly technologies, including a system that would monitor by radio data embedded in a travel form carried by foreigners as they depart by foot or in vehicles.

Tests of that technology, Radio Frequency Identification, found a high failure rate. At one border point, the system correctly identified 14 percent of the 166 vehicles carrying the embedded documents, the General Accountability Office reported.

The Congressional investigators noted the “numerous performance and reliability problems” with the technology and said it remained unclear how domestic security officials would be able to meet their legal obligation to create an exit program.

Some immigration analysts said stepping away from the program raised questions again about the commitment to enforce border security and immigration laws.

A senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, Jessica Vaughn, said the government had long been too deferential to big businesses and travel groups that raised concerns that exit technology might disrupt travel and trade.

“I worry that the issue of cost is an excuse for not doing anything,” said Ms. Vaughn, whose group advocates curbing immigration. Domestic security officials said they still hoped to find a way to create an exit system at land borders. “We would to do more testing,” a spokesman for the department, Jarrod Agen, said. “We are evaluating the initial tests to determine how to move forward.”


Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll

Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll
By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new survey shows Arab attitudes toward American people, products and culture grew increasingly negative last year, a finding that underscores the need for a change in U.S. Mideast policy, a leading expert on the region said on Thursday.

James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute, said the annual survey of opinion in five Arab countries found that U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Palestinian conflict were the main issues driving deteriorating Arab opinion.

"Our policies have not only had a worsening impact in terms of attitudes toward us but also in dampening confidence in the prospects for development and political stability and are therefore, I think, a real concern to countries in the region," Zogby said.

In previous years, Americans themselves had been viewed positively in most Arab countries, his group said.

President George W. Bush is preparing a change of course for the Iraq war after a bipartisan panel said U.S. strategy was not working and warned that Washington was losing its influence in the region.

The panel, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, also called for a renewed U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to defuse regional tensions.

"What the poll says to me is Baker-Hamilton are right," Zogby said.

"If America wants to salvage itself and improve its standing and get the credibility and legitimacy it needs to lead in Iraq, it needs to do something to earn the trust of allies in the broader region," he said.

The survey released by the Arab American Institute found that more than 80 percent of people in Saudi Arabia and Egypt had negative opinions of the United States, similar to previous years, but attitudes worsened in Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon.

The biggest increases were in Jordan, where negative U.S. ratings climbed to 90 percent from 62 percent and Morocco, where they grew to 87 percent from 64 percent.

Attitudes toward American people, movies and democracy were more negative than positive in most of the five countries.

Only U.S. education was viewed more positively than negatively in the five countries.

Notably, residents had negative attitudes toward most U.S. policy in the region. Opinions were most negative about the Iraq war and the Palestinian conflict, but also opposed the United States' policy on Lebanon, its promotion of democracy in the region and its challenge of Iran's nuclear program.

The surveys were conducted in mid-November in face-to-face interviews. Sample size ranged from 600 to 800 in each country, and the margin of error for each sample was between 3.5 percent and 4.7 percent.


Democrats to raise wages for poor workers

Democrats to raise wages for poor workers
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The incoming Democratic-led U.S. Congress intends to give a hand to dishwashers, fast-food cooks and America's other poorest-paid workers by raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade.

With the gap between rich and poor widening, Democrats promised such a pay hike as a part of their campaign that saw them win control of both chambers of Congress in the November 7 elections from President George W. Bush's Republicans.

With the new 110th Congress set to convene on January 4, Democrats vow a vote soon on a bill to raise the minimum wage over two years to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour. And they seem positioned to make the popular measure law.

"This is a moral issue, as well as an issue of economic fairness and justice," said Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who will be the House of Representatives' Democratic majority leader.

"No one can meet even the most basic expenses on today's minimum wages," said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat who will chair the labor committee in the House of Representatives.

Republicans have long blocked an increase, but in the aftermath of last month's election may no longer have the will or the votes. Yet they will try to attach to such a bill a tax break for small business to help offset it.

"I suspect there'll be a minimum wage increase but I'm hoping there'll be some tax relief to lessen the blow," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

Traditional allies of corporate America, Republicans cite studies that show an increase in the minimum wage would hurt small business and reduce the number of entry-level jobs.

Democrats, who draw support from organized labor, point to studies that conclude a modest increase would cause no significant job loss. They also cite a recent survey that found most small business owners believe it would not hurt them. In fact, most small businesses already pay above the minimum wage.

Democrats argue that a pay hike is long overdue for minimum-wage workers. They include dishwashers, short-order cooks, farm workers, ushers, baggage porters. Some are teenagers. Others are high-school dropouts, immigrants and single parents.

"I think a minimum-wage bill -- pretty much a Democratic document without a lot of extras to placate Republicans and their small-business allies -- will pass, hit the president's desk and he'll sign it," said Ethan Siegal of the Washington Exchange, a private group that tracks Congress for institutional investors.

"Most people believe it is the right thing to do, and if Washington politicians don't do it, they'll look like elitists," Siegal said.

At $5.15 per hour, a person working 40 hours per week makes $10,712 per year, about $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

There are varying estimates on who how many people in the United States receive the minimum wage. According to federal statistics, in 2005, the latest year figures are available, there were an estimated 479,000. But millions of others are paid just a dollar or two more, with many of them also living in poverty.

In addition to raising the pay of people who now earn less than $7.25 per hour, the proposed new minimum wage, an increase would prompt employers to increase the wages of an estimated 8.3 million other low-paid workers, according to some estimates.

"There's a spillover effect," said Harry Holzer, a former chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department. "Some employers like to stay a buck or two above the minimum."

The federal minimum wage was established in 1938. There are exemptions, such as for those employed by small businesses with annual revenue of less than $500,000 that do not engage in interstate commerce.

With the current minimum wage having gone into effect on September 1, 1997, this is the longest period ever without a boost. Lawmakers have a personal incentive to now go along it.

Until there is one, Democrats vow to prevent any pay raise for members of Congress, who have increased their own salaries eight times and 24 percent since 1997 to $165,200 a year.

In the past, Republicans have repeatedly stopped an increase in the minimum wage by attaching to it "poison pills," amendments denounced by Democrats as unacceptable.

These amendments have included a variety of tax breaks, such as measures that would couple tax cuts for small business with tax relief for the rich and even one that Democrats complained would have cut the pay in some states of workers who receive tips.

Democrats aim to get a bill through Congress without amendments, though they may later consider tax relief for small business in separate legislation.

Senate Republicans could try to block a minimum-wage increase with a procedural roadblock. But Democrats don't believe they would try -- given the host of groups that back the measure, including religious leaders combating poverty.

"We don't think we have to give Republicans much of anything," said a senior Senate Democratic aide. "They can't afford to stop this."

(additional reporting by Richard Cowan)

(For other stories in the Minimum Wage series, go to


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Time Person Of The Year: The Republican Party, Which Impeached Bill Clinton For Nothing, Then Gave Us This

Huffington Post
Brent Budowsky
Time Person Of The Year: The Republican Party, Which Impeached Bill Clinton For Nothing, Then Gave Us This

The President, with approval from Republicans in Congress, misrepresented intelligence to drive our country to war, with fear, while the Republicans in Congress, protecting him, covered up the report that would expose it.

The President, ignoring the advice of generals and demeaning those who courageously tried to warn us, with support and silence by the Republicans in Congress, approved a war plan that began with grotesque miscalculation, was
conducted with war on the cheap, used troops like the toy soldiers of ideologues. and risked their safety as the petty cash of their partisan politics.

The President, cheered by the throngs of the one party Republican Congress, instituted an Iraq Reconstruction with the Proconsul he named, staffed that Reconstruction with Republican campaign operatives, stiffed that Reconstruction with war profiteers of gargantuan greed, who stuffed their pockets with taxpayers money while our troops shed their blood in patriotism, and the Republican Congress shed their responsibility for oversight, one of the great derelictions of duty in history.

The President, under the spell of a Vice President who began this war as the Stone Age advocate for torture, and now advocates making catastrophe more catastrophic by intervening on one side of a civil war they say does not exist, with Republicans in Congress who tiptoed through the tulips straight through the eve of this destruction, are on the brink of doing more of the very failures that have taken us to this point.

The President, with White House counsels and Attorney Generals who were accessories to the crimes, with Republicans in Congress who stood supplicant and submissive while he publicly claimed he had the sole power to violate the Constitution, publicly claimed the sole power to violate laws he had signed, publicly claimed he was the sole determinant of whether he should faithfully execute the laws of the land, and publicly charged that those who opposed this were less than patriotic.

The Republican Leader Delay, with the smiling support of the President, with the leering smirk of the political aide who embodies the politics of retribution and dirt, with the full support of the Republican leaders of House and Senate who lead their party even today, instituted the greatest racketeering operation in the history of free nations, known as the K Street Project, engineered one of the great political scandals of our or any age, and huddle nervously today, fearing scales of justice that still await them.

The Republican White House, with the standing ovation of Republicans in Congress, hold secret meetings in their basement, with profiteers who dripped with oil, flowed with money, and gave so generously to their Party while they cheated our people, and made side deals with despots who funnel their money to terrorists, while they plan more attacks on our country.

The Republican President surrounded by war drunk ideologues obsessively planing to drive our country to more and greater wars, with the support of Republicans in Congress, refused to give our troops the armor, vehicles, bandages and helmets it was their duty to provide, then refused to give Democrats the opportunity for honest votes to set things right, then used war itself as a partisan instrument, with lies spread against heroes, who stood in opposition to catastrophe.

The Republican Speaker, the Republicans in Congress, the Republican President, stood united as one in coverup, even when sick and perverted crimes were committed against the young congressional pages, by the man who led the caucus designed to protect the children.

Our Republican President and Republican Speaker had their arms around each other in mutual support, even on these demented abuses.

This list could continue almost indefinitely, to make my point, but need not here, except for this: as the selection committee makes its decision for Time's person of the year there are rightful fears of future investigations, future revelations, future indictment, future conviction at every Republican level of the Republican Administration, Republicans in Congress, and Republican donors who gave dirty money to protect themselves in Republican Washington.

This is the party that impeached Bill Clinton for nothing?

My point is this: America may well be enduring what historicans will call the worst president in American history and the worst Vice President in American history.

America will continue to endure the war so arrogantly and incompetently planned by the man historians may well call the worst Secretary of Defense in American history.

America has had to endure the vacation-like schedule, massive corruptions and failures of duty of a Republican Congress that the historians may well conclude was the worst Congress in American history, a dishonor of some magnitude.

America has had to endure a corrupted politics and a Republican National Committee that ran racist and bigoted ads, with dirty money, from corrupted sources, who have hired armies of criminal lawyers and Washington firms that specialize in defending guilty clients, fearing catastrophic investigations.

If the Time Magazine Person of the Year should name the greatest influence on our country and our world, it is the Republican President, the Republican Vice President, the Republican White House political office, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Senate, the Republican House, the Republican donors, the Republican oil companies, the Republican profiteers in Iraq, the Republican White House counsels who said the wrongs were right, the Republican Attorney Generals who failed to stand up for faithfully executing the laws and for preserving, protecting and defending our Constitution.

What is so extraordinary, with results that are so catastrophic as witnessed every night on our evening news, is this: it was one political party that controlled every branch of our government, and sought permanent one party domination of our democracy, that abused one law and practice after another, that made the assassination of character an art form, and the demeaning of our democracy their mission, and they did it, in unison, together.

Who should be Time's Person of the Year?

The party that impeached Bill Clinton for nothing, and gave us this.


Leahy vows to fight Bush, guard privacy rights

Leahy vows to fight Bush, guard privacy rights
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee promised on Wednesday to combat what he denounced as President George W. Bush's war-time trampling of American rights and laws.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, if needed, he would seek to subpoena members of the administration to testify at congressional hearings on such matters as stepped-up federal surveillance. Leahy said he might even move to cut off some federal funding or deny Bush confirmation of key nominees.

"The Congress has the ability to make sure ... that the president does what the Constitution requires him to do: to faithfully execute the laws we pass," Leahy said.

"We have ways of doing that between the powers of the purse and, certainly in the Senate, the power of confirmation," Leahy added.

Leahy made the comments after delivering a speech at Georgetown University Law Center where he outlined his agenda for the new Democratic-led Congress set to convene on January 4.

"We have a duty to repair real damage done to our system of government over the last few years," Leahy said in his address.

"This administration has rolled back open government laws and systematically eroded Americans' privacy rights," he added.

"It has brazenly refused to answer the legitimate oversight questions of the public's duly elected representatives, and it has acted outside lawful authority to wiretap Americans without warrants, and to create databanks and dossiers on law-abiding Americans without following the law and without first seeking legal authorization."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe U.S. agencies intrude on privacy rights in anti-terror probes but are split on whether such tactics are justified.

Leahy and other congressional Democrats have complained about Bush's tactics, particularly the Republican president's warrant-less domestic spying program. Bush says he has the inherent power to order the surveillance to protect the nation.

Democrats have also complained about Bush claiming a right to ignore or not enforce sections of bills that he signs into law if he believes they impinge on his authority or interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

While Republicans controlled Congress in recent years, Democrats have been unable to hold hearing or pass bills to remedy what they see as Bush's overreach.

But having won back Congress in last month's elections, Democrats promise oversight hearings on a number of administration actions, such as the Iraq war.

Democrats also will be positioned to push legislation to change the president's policies, though Bush could veto them.

Leahy said he seeks cooperation, not confrontation.

"I look forward to a new Congress where we work together on behalf of all Americans," Leahy said.

Quoting one of the America's founding fathers, he added: "Benjamin Franklin memorably warned that those who would 'give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.'"

Leahy said: "Freedom and security must not become mutually exclusive values in America. We can have both, and we must have both."


NY senator charged with fraud over charity funds

NY senator charged with fraud over charity funds

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state senator stole $423,000 in charity money to pay for indulgences like a Dominican cigar-making company, authorities said on Tuesday as they announced charges against him.

Between 1999 and 2005 Efrain Gonzalez Jr., 58, directed the state legislature to send grant monies to a Bronx charity, where a friend redirected the funds to a shell charity that was the senator's "conduit for paying personal expenses," the U.S. attorney's office said.

Gonzalez used the money to pay for New York Yankees tickets, jewelry, his daughter's college tuition, clothing, a cigar company in the Dominican Republic as well as member fees to a resort and rent for a luxury apartment there.

In August, Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to spending $37,000 meant for the West Bronx Neighborhood Association Inc., which was nothing more than a room connected to the senator's Bronx district office.

The superseding indictment announced Tuesday also charges three of the Gonzalez' friends with being part of the scheme.

Gonzalez has been charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of federal funds, conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico who was elected to the senate in 1989, faces a maximum of 130 years in prison.


The Power Of Denial

Huffington Post
Ross M. Levine
Weapon of Last Resort

When it comes to the nuclear option, my dear mother is always prepared to reach into her well-stocked arsenal for her most lethal weapon - denial. No matter what she has said or done, all she has to do is go into denial mode and the battle is over. Her denial is as impenetrable as the walls of Alcatraz, and once it's been deployed, the only option is to retreat to fight another day.

I bring this up because I am of late reminded of the power of denial in the world at large. As you have probably heard, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently held a conference in Tehran on the subject of the Holocaust. In a nutshell (no pun intended), it was an event designed to give expression to the idea that the Holocaust may well be nothing but a myth -- a myth meant to justify the existence of Israel and to give Western powers a moral rationale for supporting her.

Here in the West, Holocaust denial exists on the fringe and is not a sanctioned governmental viewpoint. I can think of few other historical events, other than the Armenian genocide, that have had to wage such a fierce campaign against the power of denial. I've never heard anyone deny that the world wars occurred, or that the Great Depression was real, or that the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower. Yes, history does get rewritten as perceptions change, but it's usually a change in attitude toward an event as opposed to a denial that the event ever occurred at all.

Consider the virtual extirpation of the Indians from the land east of the Mississippi. Does anyone deny that this occurred? Certainly our viewpoint on it has changed, but to my knowledge, nobody has declared that the phrase "Native American" is a misnomer.

Denial elevates a political debate to another level. Or should we say, lowers it to a level where debate is not possible. The word "debate" infers that two sides are in conflict, and that through this conflict, some kind of truth or understanding may emerge. But denial does not allow for debate. Denial is a position of last resort - it's where all discussion stops. In denying the Holocaust, the deniers force the other side to continually present evidence that what millions of witnesses saw and experienced was real, proof which the deniers simply re-deny. It is doubtful at this point that there will ever be a critical mass of evidence that will at last bring the deniers to acknowledge that six million Jews met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their friends.

No, denial is more than simply denial. Or it is simply denial. It's the decision that no matter what evidence is presented, no matter what testimony is produced, truth remains completely relative. And it takes the idea that all truth is relative to its ultimate degree - that no truth is not relative, i.e., that just by believing something, one can make it true.

Or, perhaps better said, that by not believing something, one can make it untrue. Yes, disbelieve and it will become false - that's the denier's mantra.

Which brings us to another denier in our midst, the decider turned denier, George W. Bush. In the face of the Iraq Study Group, all the neo-con think tankers and Republican senators who have abandoned his policies in Iraq, and at least 75% of the American public, George Bush denies that his vision of victory in Iraq is no longer an option. And there seems to be nothing that can enlighten him. Once a leader slips into such an advanced state of denial, convincing him to acknowledge what to the rest of the world is obvious is like convincing a non-Copernican that the world revolves around the sun: there is no end to the evidence, but what the denier sees is what he must believe. If he sees the sun set in the west, then surely the sun is moving, not the earth. If he sees that our forces are battling ragtag Islamic insurgents, then surely they are al Qaeda operatives determined to destroy us. If he sees that to admit he was wrong is to invalidate the concepts of preemptive war and spreading peace via the sword, then he must stand by his folly to the bitter end.

Occasionally, a denier is a person of such vision that their stubborn determination to maintain their own truth is rewarded, sometimes even in their own lifetime. Columbus, the aforementioned Copernicus, Einstein, Martin Luther King - one can call them deniers of a sort. But it is doubtful George Bush can be counted among these. If there were indeed evidence that his Iraq campaign was hurtling toward success, if the Holocaust deniers could indeed produce proof that six million people died of natural causes without any assistance from poison gas, perhaps we could understand their propensity to "just say no." But as it is, these deniers are more pathetic than prophetic.

President Ahmadinejad, six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, so you needn't hold any more conferences. President Bush, "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," so wake up and smell the blood.


Breach at UCLA exposes data on 800,000 such as names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses

Breach at UCLA exposes data on 800,000
Jaikumar Vijayan

December 12, 2006 (Computerworld) The University of California, Los Angeles, today began sending out letters to more than 800,000 individuals whose personal information may have been compromised in a database breach that remained undetected for more than a year.

A statement posted on the university's Web site said that intruders appear to have taken advantage of a previously "undetected software flaw" in one of its "hundreds" of software applications to gain access to the restricted database. Attempts to access the database have apparently been going on since October 2005, according to the statement.

The breach was discovered on Nov. 21 this year, when the university's computer security technicians noticed an "exceptionally high volume of suspicious database queries," the statement read. "An emergency investigation indicated that access attempts had been made since October 2005 and that the hacker specifically sought Social Security numbers," said Jim Davis, the university's CIO and associate vice chancellor of IT, in the statement. The FBI was notified of the breach.

The breached database includes the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses of current and former faculty, staff and students and, in some cases, the parents of students at the university.

"We deeply regret the concern and inconvenience caused by this illegal activity," Davis was quoted as saying. He added that the university has since "reconstructed and protected" the breached database. He did not specify what measures the university has taken to mitigate the problem.

Although the hacker may have obtained personal information on some of the individuals, there is no evidence that the data has been misused, said Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams in the statement.

University officials could not be reached immediately for further comment.

That the breach remained undetected for more than a year is troubling but not entirely surprising, especially in a university environment, said Andrew Jaquith, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. There is still a widely held misperception that monitoring and auditing databases for security breaches imposes a "ridiculous penalty on performance," he said. As a result, many organizations fail to keep an eye on their databases and miss breaches of the sort that happened at UCLA, he said.

"I don't think the performance argument carries a lot of weight, but it is an argument that people often use" for defending their decision not to monitor database activity, Jaquith said.

Another problem with database activity auditing is that it can generate huge amounts of data, said Ron Ben-Natan, chief technology officer at Guardium Inc., a vendor of database security products. So people tend to tune it down and use it only to detect certain very specific types of activities, such as privilege escalation, he said. In the process, they could miss other potential security violations, he noted.

The UCLA breach is the largest ever reported by a U.S university, but it is one of many reported by higher-education institutions over the past few years. More than a quarter of the 400 or so data breaches listed on the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Web site since the ChoicePoint compromise of February 2005 involve a university. The most recent breach listed on the privacy advocacy group's site occurred Dec. 9, when Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond accidentally sent personal information on 561 students as attachments in an e-mail to 195 students informing them of their eligibility for scholarships.

Another university in the news recently for major security lapses is Ohio University, which earlier this year disclosed five separate security breaches, including one that exposed personal information on 137,000 people. As with the recent UCLA breach, one of the holes disclosed by Ohio University went undetected for more than a year. The security lapses at OU led to the resignation of CIO William Sams and the firing of two senior IT staffers.


Contractor working for the state of Vermont accidentally posted Social Security numbers of hundreds of health care providers

Vermont officials blast contractor for security lapse
Jaikumar Vijayan

December 12, 2006 (Computerworld) A contractor working for the state of Vermont is drawing fire from the commissioner of human resources for accidentally posting the Social Security numbers of hundreds of health care providers on the state's Web site earlier this year.

The incident happened in May and involved The Segal Group Inc., a New York-based firm hired by the state to assist in the bidding process for new health care contracts, according to Commissioner Linda McIntire. As part of its contract, Segal was expected to draft, prepare and issue formal requests for proposals for the state employee health care administrator and mental health care administrator contracts, she said.

In carrying out that task, the company obtained a list of health care providers from Cigna, the state's current health care administrator. The lists, which contained taxpayer identification numbers and in some cases SSNs, were included as attachments for the RFPs and were subsequently posted on the state Web site -- where the information remained for about a month before being removed, McIntire said.

The numbers were not labeled as Social Security numbers but rather as taxpayer identification numbers, which a majority of providers use when submitting claims to Cigna, she said. In some cases, providers used SSNs as identifiers. It was those numbers that were inadvertently exposed, McIntire said.

More than 13,000 names were on the list provided by Cigna,

but only a few hundred of those used SSNs as identifiers, she said.

According to McIntire, the state learned of the potential compromise only last week and began sending out letters to the affected health care providers. Another letter will go out this week informing them of the state's decision to pay for one year's worth of credit-monitoring services for the affected individuals, she said today.

McIntire blasted Segal for the security lapse in a letter sent to the company last week. In the letter, she expressed her "deep dissatisfaction that an expert consultant could overlook the inclusion of Social Security numbers in a document that was to be publicly posted and disseminated to potential bidders." "I assume there is no need to point out to you the sensitivity of Social Security numbers or the harm that may flow from unauthorized access to those numbers," McIntire said in the letter. "We did not expect to encounter this kind of problem as a result of your work."

She went on to ask for Segal's full cooperation in helping the state correct the problem.

In an e-mailed statement, Segal said that the mistake resulted from the difficulty involved in distinguishing SSNs from employer identification numbers (EIN), since both are nine digits.

"The Social Security numbers that were released had been used as provider identifiers in the Cigna database," Segal said in the statement, noting that in most cases, providers used their EINs as identifiers. "This is an unfortunate circumstance. Segal has reached out to the state to help rectify the situation and alleviate any provider concerns."


Bogus! U.S. agencies target moneymaking scams

Bogus! U.S. agencies target moneymaking scams
Grant Gross

December 12, 2006 (IDG News Service) Three U.S. agencies have initiated more than 100 law enforcement actions against bogus business-opportunity peddlers and work-at-home scams, including several Internet-based schemes.

The Project FAL$E HOPE$ crackdown, announced Tuesday but in operation for most of the year, targeted scammers in 11 states, including California, Texas, Florida and Maryland. The Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and Postal Inspection Service worked with law enforcement agencies in those states to take action against the alleged fraudsters.

Project FAL$E HOPE$ includes new cases announced Tuesday, developments in existing cases, criminal convictions, and state actions. The project also announced new education material for advertising sales staff, aimed at helping screen ads for bogus business opportunities.

Included in nine cases the FTC announced Tuesday:

The Results Group: Working out of what the FTC called a boiler room in Phoenix, the operation charged between $99 and $599 to build and host Web sites "affiliated" with the sites of large retailers such as Inc. and, the FTC said. Consumers could supposedly make money when those retailers paid commissions for sales made through the consumers’ Web sites. In fact, the large retailers were unaware of any such affiliation, and consumers made no money.
The FTC accused the operation of falsely representing that purchasers would receive substantial income as well as substantial assistance from an expert staff, and using false and misleading statements to encourage consumers to buy the business opportunity.

Money Making Secret: These defendants promised "Top 12 Programs to Make Big Money!" and charged consumers between $47 and $129 to access a "members only" Web site with "money-making secrets," the FTC said. The Internet-based programs that were offered varied, including online survey programs, free government grant money programs, mystery shopper programs, and online data-entry programs.

However, these programs did not exist, or did not offer easy money with little time or effort, as promised, the FTC said. The FTC's complaint charges the defendants with making false and unsubstantiated earnings claims.

The FTC also has new guidance for publishers, offering them help to screen out deceptive ads for business opportunities. The alert, "Ads for Business Opportunities: How to Detect Deception," suggests advertising sales staff to give an extra look at ads that make claims such as: "No risk! Guaranteed" "Quick and Easy!" "Earn $2,000 a month."

The FTC alert warns that legitimate business ventures involve risks, and start-up businesses require a lot of work to get off the ground. The law requires earnings claims in ads be accompanied by the number and percentage of previous purchasers who achieved the income, the FTC said.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Poll finds Americans more pessimistic on Iraq

Poll finds Americans more pessimistic on Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As President Bush weighs options for changing course in Iraq, Americans are more pessimistic on the war and most support a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup poll.

More than half of the respondents, or 55 percent, want most U.S. troops withdrawn within a year, but only 18 percent believe that will happen, USA Today reported on Tuesday.

The telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults was conducted after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group unveiled 79 recommendations for changing course in the unpopular war.

Bush is focusing on how to change strategy in Iraq after his Republican colleagues were swept from power in Congress last month largely because of anger about the war in Iraq. He could announce a shift in course next week.

His job approval rating hovered near a record low of 36 percent, according to a separate poll by ABC News and The Washington Post. His lowest point was 33 percent in May in the poll.

Seven in 10 disapproved of his handling of Iraq and 61 percent said the war was not worth fighting, it said.

In the USA Today/Gallup survey, three out of four of those polled said they supported the three major recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group: direct talks with Iran and Syria, withdrawing most U.S. combat troops by March 2008, and a new push aimed at resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Bush has rejected the troop withdrawal timetable and direct talks with Iran and Syria. He has not ruled out a regional conference involving Iran and Syria, but the White House indicated Iraq would have to set it up.

In a question asked of half the adults surveyed by USA Today/Gallup, a record high 62 percent said the war in Iraq wasn't "worth it," and a record low 16 percent said the United States was winning. That is less than half the 40 percent who held that view a year ago, the newspaper said.

The USA Today poll of 1,009 adults was taken December 8 and Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. The ABC News and Washington Post poll surveyed 1,005 adults between December 7 and Monday and has a 3-point margin of error.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)


US interest rates on hold again

US interest rates on hold again
US interest rates have been kept on hold at 5.25% for the fourth time running amid widespread signs of a slowdown in the economy.

As expected, the Federal Reserve opted to take no action on monetary policy although it said it remained mindful of inflation concerns.

A sharp slowdown in manufacturing and the housing market has led some experts to forecast a rate cut next year.

Worries over economic prospects have hit the dollar in recent months.

'Mixed signals'

The currency fell to a 14-month low against sterling earlier this month amid mounting evidence that the US economy could slow significantly next year.

Manufacturing activity is weaker than it has been for more than three years, according to recent surveys, while the once-buoyant housing market has cooled markedly.

Rates have been frozen since August following 18 months of successive rises.

In a statement, the Fed's rate-setting committee said that while inflation risks remained it expected these to lessen next year.

"Economic growth has slowed over the course of the year, partly reflecting a substantial cooling of the housing market," it noted.

"Although recent indicators have been mixed, the economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace on balance over coming quarters."

Watching retailers

The economy grew 2.2% in the past three months, a performance that was better than originally estimated.

This encouraged experts who have been looking to policymakers to ensure the slowdown in activity does not turn into a prolonged downturn.

Forecasts for retail spending in the run-up to Christmas, the most crucial time of the year for retailers, are mixed.

Consumer spending rose last month but Wal-Mart, the largest US store chain, suffered a fall in like-for-like sales.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Welcome to the Web, Tom DeLay!

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington
Welcome to the Web, Tom DeLay!

Dear Tom,

First let me say, welcome to the blogosphere -- always nice to have a new voice in the mix. So good to know you have access to a computer in jail (oh, sorry, you dodged that bullet). And thanks for the link.

But since you're a newbie blogger, I want to give you a hand by pointing out some rookie mistakes your site made in its diatribe about me and the Huffington Post today.

For starters, you seem to have missed the class on the difference between linking to a news story and offering an opinion on said news story. You claim that I was "in quite a tizzy" and that I'd "acquired sound intel" that there are Christians in the Defense Dept.

Acquired sound intel? That sounds so cloak and dagger, like a secret fact-finding golf mission to Scotland. You make it seem like I'm skulking around in a trench coat and fedora -- oh wait, that's your pal Jack Abramoff. Far from skulking or acquiring intel, what we actually did was "link" (a key term you should know as a blogger) to a story written by a reporter for "Reuters," which is a news wire service (a handy place to get "facts." Here's a link.)

As for my being in "a tizzy" over the story: trust me, linking, while fun, isn't that big a deal -- we do it at HuffPost dozens of times a day.

In this case, we linked to the story and headlined it "Senior Officers Accused of Coercing Soldiers to Adopt Evangelical Christianity." Which, if you read the story, is precisely what happened. You see, we don't make up the news. You're thinking of Fox.

One more thing: the Internet is a pretty fast moving place. So if you want to draw blood, you might want to try using a fresher zinger than saying I'm "the long lost 4th Gabor sister." No one LOLs at that one anymore. (I realize you may not understand what LOL means -- it's only 10 years out of date. Once you figure out the difference between a link and an opinion, let me know and I'll explain it. ; )

Welcome to the Internets!



Iranian President: Israel "Will Soon Be Wiped Out"
Iran's leader: 'Zionist regime will soon be wiped out'

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday told delegates at an international conference questioning the Holocaust that Israel's days were numbered.

Ahmadinejad, who has sparked international outcry by referring to the killing of 6 million Jews in World War II as a "myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map," launched another verbal attack on the Jewish state.

"Thanks to people's wishes and God's will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards, and this is what God has promised and what all nations want," he said.

"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out," he added.

His words received warm applause from delegates at the Holocaust conference, who included ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel Jews and European and American writers who argue the Holocaust was either fabricated or exaggerated.

His remarks were condemned in Washington, where U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the Iranian president's behavior was "despicable" and called his comment "absolutely outrageous."

The Vatican, Germany and the European Commission added their voices Tuesday to others -- such as the United States and Israel -- who have condemned the Tehran meeting.

Iran says it organized the conference to shed light on the reasons behind the formation of the state of Israel after World War II and to allow researchers from countries where it is a crime to question the Holocaust to speak freely.

"Iran is your home and is the home of all freedom seekers of the world," Ahmadinejad said. "Here you can express your views and exchange opinions in a friendly, brotherly and free atmosphere."

He urged countries where Holocaust denial is a crime to respect freedom of speech and not to take action against any of the conference participants on their return.

Human rights groups frequently number Iran as one of the world's worst violators of free speech, where scores of newspapers have been closed, journalists jailed, access to Web sites blocked and government critics hounded out of the country.


Second Colorado evangelical resigns over gay sex

Second Colorado evangelical resigns over gay sex

DENVER (Reuters) - A second Colorado evangelical leader in little over a month has resigned from the pulpit over a scandal involving gay sex, church officials said on Tuesday.

Paul Barnes has resigned from the 2,100-member Grace Chapel, a church he founded in suburban Denver, said church spokeswoman Michelle Ames.

Barnes' resignation follows last month's admission by high-profile preacher Ted Haggard that he was guilty of unspecified "sexual immorality" after a male prostitute went public with their liaisons.

Many evangelical Christians view homosexuality as a sin, though some are more strident on the issue than others.

Ames said Barnes told his congregation in a videotaped message on Sunday he had "struggled with homosexuality since he was five years old."

Barnes was confronted by an associate pastor of the church who received an anonymous phone call from a person who heard someone was threatening to go public with the names of Barnes and other evangelical leaders who engaged in homosexual behavior, Ames said.

Barnes, who is married with two grown daughters, then confessed to church elders.

Haggard had been a vocal opponent of gay marriage.

He stepped down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and as pastor of the 14,000-member New Life "mega-church" in Colorado Springs.


Court orders Skilling to jail

Court orders Skilling to jail
By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ordered ex-Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling to begin serving immediately a 24-year prison sentence after a one-day reprieve, according to court documents.

Late on Tuesday, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Skilling's request to remain free on bail while he appeals fraud and conspiracy convictions.

"As a result of the Fifth Circuit's ruling, the government is pleased that the jury's verdict and the District Court's sentence will now be carried out for defendant Skilling," U.S. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said in a statement.

Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, was not immediately available for comment.

Skilling had been scheduled to report to a Minnesota federal prison on Tuesday, but the Fifth Circuit Court said late on Monday that Skilling could stay out while a panel of the court's judges gave "careful consideration" to his bail request.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said Skilling was not yet in their custody.

Veteran Houston appellate lawyer and TV legal commentator Brian Wice expressed amazement at the court's one-day reversal.

"I've never seen in 27 years of appellate practice the panel stay the decision to send someone to prison the day of and then reverse it the next day," Wice said. "How can you go from 'careful consideration' to 'don't let the cell door hit you in the behind'?"

Another appellate attorney, who declined to be identified, said the ruling does not mean the court has any opinion on Skilling's chance for a successful appeal and does not prevent Skilling from being granted bail at a later date.

Skilling, 53, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in hiding Enron's financial condition from investors as the company's fortunes eroded prior to its 2001 collapse.

In May, a Houston jury convicted Skilling of defrauding investors. Skilling maintains he committed no crime and plans to appeal. His sentence is the longest handed out to a former Enron executive.

Energy giant Enron, once the seventh-largest U.S. company, spiraled into bankruptcy in a tangle of secret deals that hid billions of dollars in debt. Thousands of workers lost their jobs and pensions, and investors lost billions of dollars.

Skilling is to serve his sentence at the low-security prison in Waseca, Minnesota, which is about 75 miles south of Minneapolis.

Low-security prisons are designated for nonviolent offenders and often resemble school dormitories. The facilities typically do not have barbed wire or guard towers.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Nichols, Erwin Seba and Anna Driver)


U.S. Moves to Restrain Prosecutors

The New York Times
U.S. Moves to Restrain Prosecutors

The Justice Department placed new restraints on federal prosecutors conducting corporate investigations yesterday, easing tactics adopted in the wake of the Enron collapse.

The changes were outlined in a memorandum written by Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general. Under the revisions, federal prosecutors will no longer have blanket authority to ask routinely that a company under investigation waive the confidentiality of its legal communications or risk being indicted. Instead, they will need written approval for waivers from the deputy attorney general, and can make such requests only rarely.

The new guidelines will help companies defend themselves by “making it easier for corporations to say no, and not having to worry about that decision being held against them,” said Andrew Weissmann, who headed the Justice Department’s Enron task force and is now in private practice.

Another substantial change introduced yesterday prohibits prosecutors from considering, when weighing whether to seek the indictment of a company, whether it is paying the legal fees of an employee caught up in the inquiry.

The revised guidelines follow criticism from legal and business associations and from federal judges, senators and former top Justice Department officials that the tactics used in recent years against companies like the drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and the accounting firm KPMG were coercive and unconstitutional.

“I don’t know if there are going to be more or less prosecutions,” said Stephen J. Bronis, executive director of the white-collar crime committee of the American Bar Association, “but there are hopefully going to be less abusive ones.”

Frederick P. Hafetz, a criminal defense lawyer, said yesterday that the courts were unlikely to view the new guidelines as a basis for appeal by individuals or companies convicted under the old ones.

Mr. McNulty, the deputy attorney general, said in a brief interview that the revisions “do not create any legal rights.”

Still, they are being made at a time when companies are seeking — and receiving — greater protection from criminal and regulatory scrutiny.

Last month, the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, an independent group formed with the blessing of Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., called for a sweeping overhaul of securities market rules, including greater protection of companies, their directors and employees, and their outside auditors from regulators, investigators and civil suits.

At the same time, there are growing calls to scale back the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the legislation aimed at increasing corporate accountability in the aftermath of the Enron collapse.

Mr. McNulty’s document substantially revises and places curbs on guidelines that were written in January 2003 amid a wave of corporate scandals at companies including WorldCom and Adelphia Communications. The Justice Department had argued that the guidelines adopted then, in a document known as the Thompson memorandum, were essential in helping it grapple with the surge in corporate wrongdoing.

In recent years, federal prosecutors have won more than 1,100 convictions in cases of corporate fraud.

The 2003 memorandum, written by Larry D. Thompson, then the deputy attorney general and now general counsel of PepsiCo, laid out nine guidelines that prosecutors must follow in considering whether to seek corporate indictments. The guidelines were intended to reward companies and employees that cooperated with investigators and penalize those that did not.

Those standards instructed federal prosecutors to reward companies or employees who turned over confidential legal communications, and to issue black marks against those who refused. The black mark could then be used as a basis to seek an indictment.

Critics of the Thompson memorandum complained that such waivers were uniformly being requested by prosecutors, with corporate officials deciding that even if their companies were not guilty, they had no choice to comply, given the possibility of indictment. An indictment can put a company out of business, as it did the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 2002.

Calling legal confidentiality, or attorney-client privilege, “one of the oldest and most sacrosanct privileges under U.S. law,” the McNulty memorandum says that prosecutors may now request waivers only “when there is a legitimate need for the privileged information to fulfill their law enforcement obligations.”

The prosecutors should first try to obtain less sensitive factual information before requesting privileged material, the new memorandum says.

In a conference call yesterday, a senior Justice Department official said the original guidelines had been misunderstood by critics to mean that prosecutors could and should routinely ask for the disclosure of legal secrets. The official added later, though, that the guidelines had been revised because “perception is reality.”

Criminal defense lawyers and former attorneys general had argued that the Justice Department was out of touch with how frequently United States attorneys across 94 districts sought waivers. The official said the department undertook the changes because critics told it that companies were limiting their legal communications with lawyers out of fear that they might later be coerced by prosecutors.

Such limitations were inhibiting companies from rooting out wrongdoing, the official said.

But despite this tightening of the letter of the rules, companies under scrutiny may decide that the spirit of the new guidelines still tacitly encourages cooperation with prosecutors.

“The way the world really works is you have a prosecutor who says ‘I can’t ask you to waive privilege or not pay fees,’ ” said Robert S. Bennett, a prominent white-collar defense lawyer in New York who represented KPMG. “But the message to you, the company, might be ‘Well, if we do that, we might just score some brownie points.’ ”

It was the criminal investigation of former employees of KPMG over questionable tax shelters that focused attention on the Thompson memorandum, and, in particular, the guideline urging companies to cut off legal fees to employees caught up in investigations.

The judge overseeing that KPMG case, Lewis A. Kaplan, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, ruled this summer that prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of the former employees when they pressed KPMG to cut off the fees as the firm itself faced potential indictment.

KPMG did cut off the fees, and later narrowly averted indictment by reaching a $456 million deferred-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department. The department, which is still appealing Judge Kaplan’s ruling, declined yesterday to talk about the KPMG case.

Among critics of the old prosecutorial guidelines, not all were excited about the new ones.

Stephanie Martz, director of the White Collar Crime Project at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said yesterday that her group would still seek the passage of legislation barring all disclosure of confidential communications and any prosecutorial credit to companies that did disclose. (Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the outgoing Judiciary Committee chairman, said last week that he would reintroduce legislation in January that prohibited prosecutors from seeking or requesting waivers or the cutting off of legal fees.)

Ms. Martz said: “You should get credit for fully disclosing whatever is fully relevant, but you shouldn’t get bonus points for disclosing privileged stuff. Now we’re at the point where waiver requests are routine, and the only way we can try to put that genie back in the bottle is by not allowing corporations to get credit for granting it.”