Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bush's Worst Lies of 2006
Eleanor Clift: Bush's Worst Lies of 2006
A look back at some of the biggest falsehoods of 2006.
By Eleanor Clift

Dec. 22, 2006 - In the spirit of holding our political leaders accountable, this year-end review will tabulate the worst lies told by Bush and company, along with several stories that were underreported in the media. Much of what was generated got lost in the fog of war, but the long arm of history will retrieve these moments. As the president said in his news conference this week, if they’re still writing about No. 1—George Washington—there’s plenty of time before the historians can properly evaluate No. 43. Judging by the mess in Iraq, it could be 200 or 300 years—if ever—before Bush is vindicated.

Bush has shifted his rhetoric in deference to the grim and deteriorating reality on the ground in Iraq. Asked by a reporter on Oct. 25 if we are winning the war, Bush said, “Absolutely, we’re winning.” Offered the opportunity at his press conference to defend that statement, Bush has adopted a new formulation. He now says, “We’re not winning, but we’re not losing.” That sounds like the definition of a quagmire.

Exploitation of the war gained Republicans seats in ’02 and got Bush a second term in ’04, but it wasn’t enough in ’06. Karl Rove decided the best way for Republicans to retain control of the House and Senate was to embrace the war in Iraq and run against the Democrats as “Defeatocrats” and “Cut and Runners.” It might have worked, had not most Americans decided they did indeed want to cut and run. Not right away—the voters want an orderly exit—but they weren’t buying Bush’s big lie about the Democrats.

Bush campaigned this fall as though the Democrats were the real enemy, not the terrorists. “They [Democrats] think the best way to protect the American people is wait until we’re attacked again…If you don’t want your government listening in on terrorists, vote for the Democrats.” Now that the Democrats have won, watch Bush try to off-load blame for the failure in Iraq. If the Democrats won’t go along with whatever cockamamie scheme he comes up with, he can always accuse them of losing the war.

Days after giving Defense Secretary Rumsfeld a ringing endorsement, declaring he would be there until the end, Bush fired him. It was the most obvious lie of his presidency. And it tripped so easily off Bush’s tongue. There was none of the stammering that usually accompanies his public utterances. It was as big a lie as Rove’s assertion on National Public Radio that all the public polls pointing toward a rout for the GOP were wrong. “I have the math,” Rove proclaimed. A lot of people believed Rove, but the voters didn’t.

The administration had the media snookered much of the time. Stories that were underreported largely because they ran counter to administration spin include:
# A study that shows the death toll among Iraqis has reached as high as 655,000. Extensively researched by teams of doctors commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., the study—and the controversy over its sampling methodology—was given scant attention by the media because it was so far out of line from the administration’s projection of perhaps 50,000 civilian deaths. That’s still a horrendous death toll of innocents in a country the size of Iraq. Now, 100 bodies routinely turn up every day in Baghdad’s morgues, the victims of sectarian violence, and the report, published in October in The Lancet medical journal, seems to be closer to the truth than anything the Bush administration has acknowledged.

# Private contractors in Iraq. There are 100,000 government contractors in Iraq, a number that rivals the 140,000 U.S. soldiers in the country. It’s dangerous work; some 650 contractors have died there. They do a lot of the jobs the military used to do, everything from providing security and interrogating prisoners to cooking meals for the soldiers. They work for military contractors like KBR and DynCorp International, which are helping train the Iraqi police force. This is the largest contingent of civilians ever operating in a battlefield environment, and there’s been no congressional oversight or accountability. That should change with the Democrats taking over the investigative committees on Capitol Hill. The abuses may be just waiting to be uncovered.
# America’s secret torture prisons, whose existence Bush acknowledged as part of his tough-guy campaigning this fall. Set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, the legality, morality and practicality of these so-called “black sites” have come under scrutiny. After a brief flurry about the use of torture tactics like “water boarding,” where a prisoner is made to feel he’s drowning, the story of these CIA-operated overseas prisons faded. Yet they contributed to the central tragedy of the Bush administration, the collapse of America’s standing around the world.


How could George W. Bush have blown the aftermath of Katrina? It's not as if he lacks confidence in the power of his office
Alter: Feds Still Blind to Region's Poverty
How could George W. Bush have blown the aftermath of Katrina? It's not as if he lacks confidence in the power of his office.
By Jonathan Alter

Sept. 4, 2006 issue - A year ago, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, NEWSWEEK published a cover story called "Poverty, Race and Katrina: Lessons of a National Shame." The article suggested that the disaster was prompting a fresh look at "The Other America"—the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. "It takes a hurricane," I wrote. "It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye—visible around the world—to help the rest of us begin to see again." I ended on a hopeful note: "What kind of president does George W. Bush want to be? ... If he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it."

Some readers told me at the time that this was naive—that the president, if not indifferent to the problems of black people, as the singer Kanye West charged, was not going to do anything significant to help them. At first this seemed too cynical. The week after the article appeared, Bush went to Jackson Square in New Orleans and made televised promises not only for Katrina relief but to address some of the underlying struggles of the poor. He proposed "worker recovery accounts" to help evacuees find work by paying for job training, school and child care; an Urban Homesteading Act that would make empty lots and loans available to the poor to start over, and a Gulf Enterprise Zone to spur business investment in poor areas. Small ideas, perhaps, but good ones.

Well, it turned out that the critics were largely right. Not only has the president done much less than he promised on the financing and logistics of Gulf Coast recovery, he has dropped the ball entirely on using the storm and its aftermath as an opportunity to fight poverty. Worker recovery accounts and urban homesteading never got off the ground, and the new enterprise zone is mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans. The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor.

"This is the greatest lost opportunity I've ever seen in public life," Sen. John Kerry told me last week. "The Jackson Square speech ought to stand as one of the all-time monuments to hollow rhetoric and broken promises." Kerry depicted the response during the last year as a slow-motion Superdome II, where the federal government once more walked right past people in distress.

If the president was MIA, Congress hasn't been much better.

Consider the estate tax and the minimum wage. The House in June passed a steep reduction of the estate tax (so as to apply only to couples leaving more than $10 million to their heirs) that would cost the Treasury three quarters of a trillion dollars over the next decade. Last time I checked, that was real money. Senate Republicans tried to push it through by linking the bill to an increase in the minimum wage, which has not been raised in nine years. The idea was to get credit for giving crumbs to the working poor—but only if the superrich receive hundreds of billions of dollars. Fortunately, the bill failed. Unfortunately, other tax cuts for the wealthy keep moving through the system, ballooning the deficit and drying up money for everything else. Meanwhile, the GOP wants to make welfare reform (now 10 years old) more punitive, which will increase suffering.

There are a couple of bright spots. Congress passed $1 billion to help the poor avoid freezing in the winter. And a bipartisan coalition added $7 billion this year in appropriations for health, education and other social programs. As the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law points out in a midterm congressional scorecard, this victory reflected widespread concern that the budget had shortchanged the poor.

But that was no thanks to the president. After all the heat he took last year, how could Bush have blown the aftermath of Katrina? It's not as if he lacks confidence in the power of his office. He believes he can fix Iraq and transform the Middle East. He aspires to spread democracy to the far corners of the globe. But the fate of an American city and millions of his impoverished countrymen are apparently beyond his control, or perhaps just his interest


A new study about ‘embryo-safe’ stem-cell research may be a gift for Republicans, but it doesn’t change their hypocrisy on the issue
Alter: GOP Gets Escape Hatch on Stem Cells
A new study about ‘embryo-safe’ stem-cell research may be a gift for Republicans, but it doesn’t change their hypocrisy on the issue.
By Jonathan Alter

Aug. 26, 2006 - Last year I had a little encounter with Karl Rove in a hallway outside a conference. I asked him why he wanted the president to veto a bill allowing surplus embryos from fertility clinics to be used for stem-cell research instead of thrown away. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” Rove said emphatically.

When I suggested this policy might be a political loser for Republicans, the conversation got a little hot. Probably so, Rove said, his voice rising, but this wasn’t about politics. I told him the issue was personal for me; I’d had lymphoma, and embryonic stem cells offer the potential for a cure some day that adult stem cells do not. Rove said he had a close family member with a bad disease. He wasn’t about to be trumped in that department. The message was clear: Not gonna happen on my guy’s watch.

That exchange came to mind this week with news that stem-cell lines can be established from part of an early human embryo—a blastomere—without destroying the embryo itself. This doesn’t change my view of embryonic stem-cell research. To save lives, science needs to push through on many fronts simultaneously. Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford, a leading stem-cell researcher, says that limiting research to these tiny eight-cell embryos would seriously handicap progress on many diseases. But politically, the breakthrough opens an escape hatch for Republicans. They can now muddy the issue by saying they favor only research that keeps embryos intact.

In their imaginative new book, “The Plan,” Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, says that the historical equilibrium in Washington between “Wonks” and “Hacks” has broken down, with wonks (those devoted to policy) practically extinct and party hacks ascendant: “The Bush years have been beset by “an outbreak of what might be called Rove flu—a virus that destroys any part of the brain not devoted to partisan political manipulation.”

This is a sound anthropological analysis, but incomplete. Buried beneath every Hack and Wonk is a Mom or Dad. (For the childless, an Aunt or Uncle). Even the proudest hack—the cynic who is obsessed with playing all the political angles—wants his children to think that he stands for something. In the movie “Thank You for Smoking,” the star is a lobbyist for the tobacco industry who hopes his kid remembers him for holding his ground even when he was making the case for cancer.

That’s Rove, or at least the one I saw at the conference. Despite his political prescience, he wasn’t smart enough to see this latest research coming. Even when he genuinely thought stem-cell politics were moving against Republicans, he dug in. It was a legacy play—a way of convincing historians (at least conservative ones) that Bush was a man of principle, standing up to political pressures on a moral issue. This seems a more plausible explanation than that he was simply pandering to the base again.

Bush and Rove are still “Hacks”—and hypocrites to boot. Otherwise, they’d call for shutting down the fertility clinics that destroy far more embryos than stem-cell researchers ever would. But they’re true believers, too. And by following their convictions—however injurious that might be to my health and that of millions of others—they might just end up with the best of both worlds: credit from religious conservatives and a fig leaf to protect them from Democrats. How ironic it would be for Bush and Rove to be rescued by the very scientific progress their original position did so much to restrict.


Growth trends could mean power shift in Congress after 2010 Census

Growth trends could mean power shift in Congress after 2010 Census
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Two weeks before Democrats take control of the U.S. House for the first time in 12 years, new Census estimates suggest they may have to battle demographic tides to keep it.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah are projected to gain seats in Congress after the 2010 Census, according to an analysis by Election Data Services. All six tilt Republican: President Bush won all in 2004, ranging from 50% of the vote in Nevada to 72% in Utah.

CENSUS FIGURES RELEASED: Southern growth leads USA

Even more significant, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office in five of those states, which gives the party the upper hand when state elected officials redraw congressional district lines every decade. (Arizona relies on a non-partisan commission.)

"It's always about exactly how the lines are drawn and who's drawing the lines," said Stuart Rothenberg, a non-partisan political analyst. He said the latest Census figures showing population growth in the South "have got to please Republicans and strike fear into the hearts of Democrats."

The picture may not be entirely bleak for Democrats in the long term, said Charles Cook, another independent political analyst.

"Arizona is trending less Republican; Nevada is becoming less Republican. Within a decade, Texas will be a purple state," Cook said. He was referring to the color codes used to describe states' leanings: red for Republican, blue for Democratic and purple for swing states.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who will head his party's House campaign committee next year, said he's not dismayed by the Census projections. He said 21 freshman Democrats who won in the elections Nov. 7 did so in districts Bush carried in 2004.

"Democrats have shown they can compete in red states," he said. Van Hollen also noted that the population growth in boom states such as Florida and Texas has been fueled by Hispanic immigration. "Hispanics have voted in large numbers for Democrats," he said.

Gerald Hebert, a Democratic redistricting expert, said Republicans have drawn such unfavorable congressional boundaries for Democrats in Florida and Texas that "it's hard for me to imagine how Democrats could do worse."

Hebert said efforts are underway in several states, including Texas, California and Florida, to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and assign it to a non-partisan commission, as Arizona and five other states do. "I think Americans want voters to choose the politicians and not the politicians choosing which voters they want," Hebert said.

The new Census figures may also provide momentum for legislation that would give Utah an additional House seat before 2010. In return, residents of the predominantly Democratic District of Columbia, now without a House vote, would get one. The proposal by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., would permanently increase the size of the House of Representatives by two seats, from 435 to 437.

Utah barely missed qualifying for an additional House seat after the last Census. Gov. Jon Huntsman said the federal government did not count some Mormon missionaries who were out of state. At his urging, the state Legislature approved a redistricting plan this month that would be used if the state was given another House seat.

The Utah-District of Columbia deal is in limbo because House Republican leaders did not take up the legislation before adjourning. Davis intends to make the measure the first bill he introduces when the new Congress convenes Jan. 4, and hopes incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be more sympathetic, said David Marin, Davis' chief of staff.

Mike Mower, a spokesman for Huntsman, said the governor shares that hope. "We feel the new Census numbers underscore the fact that Utah should have had a seat in the last count," he said.


U.S. Gives Grants to 4 Gulf Coast States to Upgrade Disaster Housing

The New York Times
U.S. Gives Grants to 4 Gulf Coast States to Upgrade Disaster Housing

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 — FEMA trailers, the cramped, impersonal housing units that have come to define the federal response to major disasters, may be on the way out, thanks to $388 million in federal grants, announced Friday, that will test half a dozen cozier, more permanent models of postdisaster housing.

The program will offer new housing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to thousands of families, among the 100,000 still living in trailers across the Gulf Coast, by placing them over the coming year in these studier, roomier, better ventilated homes, many of which have front porches, large windows and even small attics.

Mississippi came out on top in the contest for the grants, receiving $280.8 million, compared with $74.5 million for Louisiana, $16.5 million for Texas and $15.7 million for Alabama.

Officials in Louisiana were furious, saying their state, which suffered the greatest losses in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, had been shortchanged.

“FEMA has clearly learned very little from its mistakes, let alone basic math or a sense of fundamental fairness,” Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said in a statement.

But officials of the agency said Mississippi’s big share simply reflected the creativity of its plans, as the financing was awarded competitively, based on how quickly the new models could be set up, how comfortable and safe they would be and how much they would cost, among other factors.

The grants come from an appropriation in which Congress directed FEMA to take an alternative approach to the customary trailers. The biggest single grant will finance the construction of units in Mississippi that like look like A-roofed cottages, featuring a compact front porch, windows on three sides, more storage space and better ventilation. Like the existing trailers, they will be set up on wheels, so they can be driven into a disaster zone.

Louisiana officials, meanwhile, intend to use their grant to build what they are calling Katrina Cottages — compact single-family homes made of prefabricated panels, with a porch and up to three bedrooms — in heavily hit areas of New Orleans like Jackson Barracks.

The one model planned in Texas is based on a design that is already used by some 90,000 troops in Iraq. A small house made of prefabricated parts that can be moved by flatbed truck, it can be set up in eight hours by six people. It offers more living space than the trailers and is capable of being elevated so that it can be lifted out of the flood plain.

“It is not going to make the front of Architectural Digest,” said Gil H. Jamieson, a deputy director of FEMA, “but it is aesthetically pleasing.”

In some cases, these homes can be built on formal foundations, making them permanent or at least semipermanent housing, unlike the travel trailers, which are not considered sturdy enough to survive winds that could be produced by a tropical storm.

Federal officials said they could not yet predict how many new homes would be built with the available grant money or how many of the 101,000 families still in FEMA travel trailers or mobile homes across the Gulf Coast would be able to move into these new units.

The government will evaluate each of the six types of new homes to be built, to see whether they should be adopted permanently.

Mr. Jamieson said it was unlikely that FEMA would be able to replace the travel trailers completely. But it hopes that by the next major disaster, it will have cut the numbers significantly.


FEMA Not Required to Restore Aid to Evacuees, Court Rules

The New York Times
FEMA Not Required to Restore Aid to Evacuees, Court Rules

The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not have to reinstate immediately rental assistance to evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled yesterday, reversing a decision that a lower court judge had said he hoped would “get these people a roof over their heads before Christmas.”

But FEMA still has to comply with part of the earlier order by the judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, by providing families with clear explanations why they were denied assistance.

Responding to the ruling by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, FEMA officials said they would immediately suspend plans to provide the money, leading to criticism from evacuees and their advocates.

“It’s another setback,” Wanda Jones, an evacuee in Houston, said in a statement issued by Acorn, the housing advocacy group that filed the lawsuit. “It’s like a terrible roller coaster ride. Every time we go up, when we come down we lose more people.”

Last spring, FEMA began notifying thousands of families who were given emergency shelter after the storms that they did not qualify for long-term help in the form of rent and utility payments, shocking many families who had been given housing vouchers good for a year.

Those families were allowed to appeal the agency’s decision, but many said they received confusing, contradictory or incomplete instructions as they tried to do so.

In a preliminary injunction, issued on Nov. 29, Judge Leon said the agency’s appeals process was so confusing that it denied evacuees their constitutional right to due process, and he ordered FEMA to immediately restore benefits, make retroactive payments and improve the appeals process. The appeals court stayed the first two parts of the injunction.

Aaron Walker, FEMA’s chief spokesman, said the agency had already complied with the other part of the order. The agency “reached out to every household affected by the district court’s order to more clearly identify their reason for ineligibility, outline the required remedies and allow them an additional 60 days to file an appeal with FEMA,” he said.

The new order is temporary because the case has not yet gone to trial.


5 soldiers killed by Iraqi insurgents making December the second deadliest month for U.S. servicemen in 2006

5 soldiers killed by Iraqi insurgents
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgent attacks killed five more American troops west of the Iraqi capital, the military said Friday, making December the second deadliest month for U.S. servicemen in 2006.

So far this month, 76 American troops have died in Iraq, the same number that were killed in all of April. With nine days remaining in December, the monthly total of U.S. deaths could meet or exceed the death toll of 105 in October.

As American deaths in the war pushed closer to 3,000, Iraqis continued to fall victim to sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis. Police recovered 21 more bodies in the cities of Baghdad, Baqouba and Kut. With 140,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, President Bush is considering whether to send thousands more to control the bloodshed.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew back to Washington on Friday to give Bush his advice on transforming U.S. policy in Iraq after holding three days of talks in the war zone with military and political leaders. Gates was scheduled to see the president at the mountain retreat of Camp David, Md., on Saturday.

The White House said Bush would meet with his full National Security Council next Thursday during a stay at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. That session is designed to whittle down the options rather than make final decisions, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

Before leaving Baghdad, Gates declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels, but said he believes there is "a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government and our military."

"There is still some work to be done," Gates said. "But I do expect to give a report to the president on what I've learned and my perceptions."

Britain's Defense Secretary Des Browne acknowledged Friday he may have to increase the size of Britain's armed forces as a result of commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan - echoing military expansion plans being considered in Washington.

Browne told the Times of London he could consider increasing the size of the armed forces from 95,560 because current deployments had left too little time for training exercises.

"People imagine that the best form of training is to be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it's not true," Browne was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "While we are deploying troops in their thousands, we lose the chance to build up their basic skills."

Poland, which has 900 soldiers in Iraq, agreed Friday to extend its mission in Iraq until the end of 2007. The Poles focus mainly on training Iraqi security forces and are based in an area south of Baghdad that is calmer than the capital.

Also Friday, South Korean lawmakers endorsed a motion to extend the country's deployment in Iraq for another year, but cut the number of troops in half. The motion calls on the South Korean government to withdraw 1,100 troops of its 2,300-strong contingent in the relatively peaceful, northern city of Irbil by April.

The five U.S. deaths announced Friday took place over two days. One soldier died and another was wounded Friday when their patrol came under fire west of Baghdad, the military said. On Thursday, three Marines and one U.S. sailor died from wounds sustained in combat in western Anbar province.

At least 2,964 American troops have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Meanwhile, Shiites from parliament's largest bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, met Friday in Najaf amid efforts to craft a new coalition that would also include and Kurds and one Sunni party. They had traveled to the holy city to seek approval for the plan from the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered Shiite cleric who is said to be alarmed at the bloodshed sweeping swathes of the country.

It was unclear whether such a coalition would be able to govern effectively without the backing of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's 30 loyalists in the 275-member parliament, and his six ministers in the 38-member Cabinet.

The builders of the new coalition are trying to exclude al-Sadr, whose faction has been an integral part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government but has been boycotting the parliament and Cabinet to protest al-Maliki's recent meeting with Bush.

Officials close to the militia leader said he has agreed to end the three-week boycott and allow supporters to rejoin the government. The anti-American cleric's followers appear to have decided to go back to parliament to strengthen their bargaining power - backed up by a militia army - and avoid political isolation.

The Sadrist walkout has prevented the government from passing laws, contributing to a sense of political crisis alongside a deteriorating security situation.

On Friday, a car bomb killed two people and wounded four in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said. A roadside bomb struck a police patrol near the national theater in Baghdad, wounding two policemen.

U.S.-led forces launched raids across the country, killing one militant and capturing several dozen other suspects, the military said.

The operations targeted foreign fighters and al-Qaida in Iraq, the military said. The suspects were believed to be responsible for the movement of foreign fighters, car bombs and other attacks, it said. An al-Qaida in Iraq financier was captured, the statement said.

The purported leader of an al-Qaida-linked militant group offered U.S. troops a one-month truce to withdraw from Iraq without being attacked, according to a speech posted on an Islamic Web site Friday.

The leader of the "Islamic State of Iraq," Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, also called on former officers in Saddam Hussein's disbanded army to join his militia, promising to provide them with a salary and house so long as they could recite Quranic verses.

The authenticity of the audiotape could not be verified but it appeared on a Web site known for displaying militant groups' statements. The "Islamic State of Iraq" is believed to be an umbrella group for militant organizations, including al-Qaida in Iraq.


NY comptroller resigns after pleading guilty to felony

NY comptroller resigns after pleading guilty to felony
By Holly McKenna

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the state's top fiscal officer, resigned on Friday after pleading guilty to a felony charge of defrauding the government, state authorities said.

The guilty plea before Albany County Judge Stephen Herrick stemmed from a criminal probe into Hevesi's use of state workers to chauffeur his wife and his failure to immediately reimburse the state.

Sentencing is scheduled for February 9.

The felony charge carries a sentence of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine but a spokeswoman for Albany County District Attorney David Soares told reporters that under the plea agreement, Hevesi is not likely to serve any prison time.

As comptroller, Hevesi runs the state's $147 billion pension system, one of the nation's largest, and audits state and local governments to uncover corruption and mismanagement.

The Democratic comptroller was re-elected to a second term in office in November. He resigned as of Friday morning, the spokeswoman for the district attorney said.

Hevesi became embroiled in the scandal after his little-known Republican challenger last year questioned whether the comptroller was using state employees to chauffeur his ailing wife without reimbursing the state.

Hevesi admitted to using a state driver but said his actions were prompted by security concerns for his wife.

Hevesi has repeatedly apologized and reimbursed the state over $200,000, more than twice what he originally estimated he owed the state.

In October, the state Ethics Commission found he knowingly violated the law and said there were no security threats to justify the use of state employees.


Govt seeks better security at chemical plants

Govt seeks better security at chemical plants
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday proposed regulations to improve security at high-risk chemical facilities to make them safer them from attacks.

"The consequences of an attack at a high-risk chemical facility could be severe for the health and safety of the citizens in the area and for the national economy," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Under new authority provided to the DHS by Congress, the department wants chemical facilities fitting certain profiles to complete a secure online risk assessment to determine how vulnerable they are to attacks.

The facilities would submit their security plans to DHS, which would review and approve them. The department would then conduct audits and on-site inspections to make sure the plants' owners are following the security plans.

"Performance standards will be designed to achieve specific outcomes, such as securing the perimeter and critical targets, controlling access, deterring theft of potentially dangerous chemicals and preventing internal sabotage," the department said.

Chemical plants that do not meet the performance standards could be fined up to $25,000 a day and continuos violators could be shut down.

The DHS pointed out that most chemical facilities have already undertaken voluntary efforts to improve security and made significant investments to maintain satisfactory security programs.

DHS officials could not immediately be reached to clarify what types of chemical plants would be subject to the regulations.

The department is using a broad definition of a "chemical facility" that would have to follow the regulations, saying it would be "any facility that possesses or plans to possess, at any relevant point in time, a quantity of a chemical substance determined by the (DHS) secretary to be potentially dangerous or that meets other risk-related criterion identified by the department."

The regulations would not apply to oil refineries, according to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. But a spokeswoman for the trade group did not know what kinds of chemical plants would fall under the regulations.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who co-sponsored the bill giving the DHS the new authority over chemical plants, said she was concerned the proposed regulations would restrict legal challenges to the department's implementation of the program.

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey said the regulations are not strong enough and that the new Democratic-controlled Congress "will be looking to close the wide-open security loopholes" at the 15,000 chemical facilities in the United States.

The DHS's proposed security regulations will be published in the Federal Register next week and the department will take public comment on them through February 7.


Lawmakers press Bush to put war costs in budget

Lawmakers press Bush to put war costs in budget
By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top lawmakers are pressing President George W. Bush to stop using a "shadow budget" to fund the Iraq war and instead list the expected costs in the 2008 spending plan he is set to unveil early next year.

Total war spending may reach $170 billion for the 2007 fiscal year that ends September 30, a record.

Since the conflict began in 2003, Bush has used emergency spending bills to cover nearly all of the costs for the Iraq operation, rather than including them in the annual budget.

He has come under criticism for this practice, not only by lawmakers but also by the Iraq Study Group that recommended policy options for Iraq and said that in the interests of openness, the budget process should not be circumvented.

Three lawmakers -- one Republican and two Democrats -- wrote to Bush on Thursday telling him that the emergency bills had created an "ever-expanding shadow budget" that was obscuring Congress's oversight process and skewing budget deficit projections.

Congress "should be able to examine supplemental requests and see that our forces are receiving the support they need, and that funds are not being diverted to other unrelated needs," the letter said.

It was signed by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, current chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; and Democratic Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee.


Bush plans on February 5 to send Congress his budget for the fiscal 2008 year that begins October 1. At that time, he will also detail an emergency request to cover war costs for the rest of the 2007 fiscal year.

The $170 billion figure includes $70 billion that Congress has already appropriated and a fresh emergency request that lawmakers have said looks set to come in close to $100 billion.

Speaking to reporters this week, White House Budget Director Rob Portman said the administration would provide "more information than we have in the past" on the war-spending plans.

But he did not commit to ending the practice of using emergency spending bills, saying that many of the costs for the war can be difficult to predict.

Gregg, Conrad and Spratt said the Korean and Vietnam wars offered precedents for including war spending in the regular budget.

In legislation passed in June to authorize the latest infusion of funds for Iraq, an amendment was added requiring the president to finance the war costs through the annual budget.

But Bush indicated in a signing statement that he does not necessarily view that requirement as binding because it is the president's role to submit the budget.


Court strikes down 2004 EPA smog rules

Court strikes down 2004 EPA smog rules
By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Smog-reduction regulations proposed by the Bush administration in 2004 are too weak, a U.S. court ruled on Friday, sending the rules back to the Environmental Protection Agency for reworking.

EPA's proposal to set an eight-hour standard for ozone emissions violates the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia court said in a 40-page ruling.

The ruling came in response to a suit filed by environmental groups, a local California air regulator and several states who wanted more stringent limits on smog.

At issue was the EPA's April 2004 ruling that 474 of the nation's 2,700 counties in 31 states have unacceptable levels of ground-level ozone, a major ingredient in unhealthy smog.

About 159 million Americans live in counties that violate the new standards, the agency said when it issued the rule.

"We vacate the 2004 Rule and remand the matter to EPA," the court said. "EPA has failed to heed the restrictions on its discretion set forth" in the Clean Air Act.

The EPA will review the decision and decide whether to seek a rehearing, EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said.

"EPA is committed to ensuring our nation's ozone air quality standards are implemented to protect public health and the environment," Wood said.

The EPA in 2004 ordered counties that failed its standards to submit plans to reduce emissions from refineries, power plants and other industrial sources, and advanced a new test that measures ozone levels over an eight-hour period.

Ozone occurs when fumes from automobiles, factories and other fossil fuels react with sunlight. It is linked to human respiratory problems including emphysema and bronchitis.

"This decision is a victory for clean air," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "Health experts say we need stronger, not weaker limits on smog."

The new standards actually weaken limits for new and expanded plants, and raises the threshold for triggering emission-reduction rules by a factor of four, Baron said.

The eight-hour ozone test stems from 1997 EPA rules, which had been delayed by numerous court challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rules in early 2001.

The proposal allows less ozone - 85 parts per billion down from 120 parts per billion - and require more frequent tests.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Put on the Spot, Our Punk President Lies Yet Again

Huffington Post
Walter C. Uhler
Put on the Spot, Our Punk President Lies Yet Again

Whenever I hear President Bush tell another lie (or read that he has told another lie) I'm reminded of the Liar-in-Chief's former professor at the Harvard Business School, Yoshi Tsurumi, and his spot-on recollection of this president's punk past. According to Professor Tsurumi, Bush "showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases.

He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him." [Mary Jacoby, "The Dunce,", 16 September 2004]

Tsurumi concluded: "Behind his smile and his smirk...he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy." "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion." [Ibid] In conservative Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where I grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, such people were called "punks."

Perhaps, it's fair to say that the world would be a much better and safer place if America's mainstream news media had challenged Bush as much as Professor Tsurumi and his classmates did. Alas, it let the punk candidate slide during his first run for president, notwithstanding such smug and asinine assertions as: "I may not know where Kosovo is, but I know what I believe." Thus, alas, many Americans voted for an admitted alcoholic (and, allegedly, a former drug using) twit, who would come to believe that God spoke directly to him and wanted him to be president.

The mainstream news media also failed to challenge seriously the Bush administration's campaign of lies, which it employed to frighten witless Americans into supporting an unprovoked - and, thus, illegal, immoral -- invasion of Iraq. Specifically, the news media paid insufficient attention to an outrageous assertion by Bush that proved he was either a bald-faced liar or an extremely reckless ignoramus.

On September 7, 2002, President Bush asserted: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied -- finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a [nuclear] weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."

Yet, not only was there no such report, but the report actually written by the IAEA in 1998 reached precisely the opposite conclusion: "Based on all credible information available to date...the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material." [, 7 Sept. 2002]

And although a White House official subsequently admitted that the IAEA report did not say what Bush claimed, the spokesman's own dissembling shed further light on the dishonesty driving Bush's push for war: "What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report."[Ibid] Why this entire episode failed to send red flags of suspicion flying across our entire news media remains an open question.

Yet, worse was to come. On October 2, 2002, Bush lied when he told Congressional leaders: "None of us here today desire to see a military conflict." How do we know he lied? Because in March 2003, in the moments "before he gave his national address announcing that the war had just begun, a camera caught Bush pumping his fist as though instead of initiating a war he had kicked a winning field goal or hit a home run. 'Feels good,' he said." [Paul Waldman, Fraud, 2004, p.8] Once a punk, always a punk?

In December 2003, months after the Bush administration's reckless assertions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction proved to be false, ABC's Diane Sawyer pressed Bush about justifying a war to the American public by stating "as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he [Saddam] could move to acquire those weapons." Put on the spot, Bush resorted to his punk college ways by responding: "So what's the difference?"

Two months later, Bush weaseled again. When put on the spot by Tim Russert, of Meet the Press, Bush justified his illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq by asserting: "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and so I'm not going [sic] leave him in power and trust a madman...He had the ability to make weapons, at the very minimum." Such a snotty and infantile excuse for sending thousands to their deaths should have persuaded even the most brain-dead of Bush supporters that he had wasted his vote on a reckless punk.

In late 2005, Bush told another lie, when attempting to justify his unconstitutional order permitting the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without obtaining the required court-approved warrants. Bush defended his directive as a "vital tool" in the war against terrorism, evidently forgetting that, in April 2004, he assured an audience in Buffalo, New York: "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

Bush lied again on December 14, 2005, when discussing what intelligence was available to Congress, when it voted to support his decision to invade Iraq. Bush lied when he asserted: "Some of the most irresponsible comments - about manipulated intelligence - have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein."

In fact, the Congressional Research Service (CSR) released a report the very next day that exposed his lie: "The President and a small number of presidentially designated cabinet-level officials, including the vice president ...have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive information, including intelligence sources and methods." In all, the report identified "nine key U.S. intelligence 'products' not generally shared with Congress."

And Bush lied again, on the eve of the November 2006 mid-term elections, when he said that he wanted Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to stay on until the end of his presidency. In fact, Bush already had commenced work on replacing Rumsfeld and knew he was lying when he said Rumsfeld would stay on. Bush even admitted to this deliberate deception.

Two days ago, Bush lied again. In a December 19, 2006, interview with the Washington Post, America's Liar-in-Chief was once again put on the spot. According to the Post, when he was asked to reconcile his "absolutely, we're winning" in Iraq assertion of October 25, 2006, with his new assertion, "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush "recast" his former assertion "as a prediction rather than an assessment."

Bush's Harvard classmates and Professor Tsurumi would have understood all too well: Once a punk, always a punk.

Indeed, if "once a punk, always a punk," then columnist Joseph L. Galloway is on to something when he asks: "Can nothing save this man from himself?" [See Galloway's splendid article, "Desperation in the White House." ] And, indeed, if nothing can save Bush from himself, the citizens of the United States have an obligation to remove him from office - impeach, convict, remove - before he does more damage to American and the world.

But only after first removing the thug, who has so perniciously enabled the punk.


Bush's Secy. Of Veteran Affairs: "I Think That Our Society Would Benefit" From Reinstating The Draft

Veterans Boss Backtracks on Draft Comment

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson spoke a day after Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq .

NEW YORK (Dec. 21) - President Bush's secretary for Veterans Affairs said Thursday that "society would benefit" if the country brought back the military draft, then clarified that he doesn't support such a move.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson spoke a day after Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq. The administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that its position had not changed.

Nicholson, who served in Vietnam, was in New York to announce a partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help homeless veterans find housing.

A reporter suggested that the all-volunteer armed forces attract a disproportionate number of minorities and people trying to lift themselves out of poverty, and asked Nicholson if the draft should be reinstated to make the military more equal.

"I think that our society would benefit from that, yes sir," Nicholson said.

The secretary recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels, noting that the draft "does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving."

He later issued a statement saying his comments had been misconstrued and that he does not support bringing back the draft.

Nicholson, a graduate of the military academy at West Point, N.Y., served eight years on active duty as a paratrooper and Ranger-qualified Army officer, then 22 years in the Army reserve. He has held the VA post since February 2005.

Bush said he has not made up his mind about whether to send more troops to Iraq. No timetables or totals have been outlined publicly, but by some accounts roughly 20,000 troops could be added to the 140,000 already there.

Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

And here is the rest of it.


World Death Toll Of a Flu Pandemic Would Be 62 Million
World Death Toll Of a Flu Pandemic Would Be 62 Million
Study Examined 1918-19 Outbreak
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer

An influenza pandemic of the type that ravaged the globe in 1918 and 1919 would kill about 62 million people today, with 96 percent of the deaths occurring in developing countries.

That is the conclusion of a study published yesterday in the Lancet medical journal, which uses mortality records kept by governments during the time of "Spanish flu" to predict the effect of a similarly virulent outbreak in the contemporary world.

The analysis, the first of its kind, found a nearly 40-fold difference in death rates between central India, the place with the highest recorded mortality, and Denmark, the country with the lowest. The reason for the huge variation is not known, but it may reflect differences in nutrition and crowding.

If a modern Spanish flu killed all its victims in one year, it would more than double global mortality. About 59 million people now die each year.

"It is a huge, huge number," said Christopher J.L. Murray, a physician and biostatistician at the Harvard School of Public Health who headed the study. "This really took us by surprise."

One of the World Health Organization's key influenza experts, however, called the main public health implication of the study "no surprise."

"The countries most likely to be adversely affected are the ones with the least resources. This happened then, and is what is likely to happen now," said Keiji Fukuda. "WHO, as it always has done, pays a disproportionate amount of its attention and efforts toward such countries."

Historical accounts suggest that what became known as Spanish flu emerged at an Army camp in Kansas in early March 1918. It was carried to Europe by American troops, where it circulated before undergoing a change early the next fall that made it unusually lethal. It spread around the world and was brought back to the United States, where it killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in October and November 1919. It circulated until early 1920, with virtually everyone on Earth eventually exposed to the virus.

The global death toll from the pandemic is unknown. In the 1920s, it was estimated to be about 20 million. A more complete analysis in 1991 raised that to 30 million. One in 2002 said mortality "may fall in the range of 50 to 100 million."

The new study doesn't make a new estimate. Instead, it calculated the death rate in places that had good birth and death records in 1918 and 1919 in order to estimate what would happen in a larger, older and relatively more affluent world population nearly a century later.

The places with good records included most European nations, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and several Latin American countries. The keys to the project, however, were accurate death registries in India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the Philippines. They allowed Murray and his colleagues to estimate what happened among the world's non-European poor, where eyewitness accounts describe huge mortality, but few reliable statistics existed.

By far the most informative data came from India.

"The British colonial administration -- they were very good record-keepers," said Murray, who noted that India's contemporary death registries are less complete than ones from 1918.

The researchers compared the death rates during the 1918-1920 period with those in the three years before and after the pandemic. This gave an estimate of "excess mortality" during the flu years, which was assumed to be caused directly or indirectly by the virus. (Because men in countries fighting in World War I had elevated mortality in 1918, they were excluded from the calculation.) The extra deaths ranged from 0.2 percent of the population in Denmark to 7.8 percent in the Central Provinces and Berar region of India -- a 39-fold difference.

In the United States, they ranged from a low of 0.25 percent in Wisconsin to 1 percent in Colorado. (The best-known work of fiction about the pandemic, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," is Katherine Anne Porter's account of her near-death experience during the Colorado outbreak.) Flu death rates varied greatly over short distances. Virginia's excess mortality, 0.47 percent, was well below Maryland's, 0.72 percent. Sweden's (0.66 percent) was three times Denmark's (0.2 percent).

Murray and his colleagues analyzed the death patterns and deduced that about half the variation from region to region was explained by differences in per capita income. For every 10 percent increase in income, a person's risk of dying during the pandemic fell 10 percent.

Why the poor were so vulnerable is unknown. It could have been that many were already ill with parasites or other illnesses or lacked micronutrients such as Vitamin A and zinc that are essential to immunity.

To estimate the effects of a modern Spanish flu, the researchers applied the 1918-1920 death rates to the current world population broken down by income, sex and age. They came up with a range of 51 million to 81 million deaths, with a median of 62 million.

Even though the world's population is three times what it was during the Spanish flu pandemic, the estimated mortality of a modern Spanish flu isn't three times what it was in 1918. That is mainly because per capita income is higher now -- and the higher the income, the lower the risk of dying of influenza.

The illness caused by the 1918 virus was largely untreatable. There were no antiviral drugs, no mechanical ventilators to help people breathe and no antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonias that often set in after the viral infection. All are available now and would reduce the death toll, though some interventions would be in sort supply during a pandemic.


Bush India statement raises Congress concerns

Bush India statement raises Congress concerns
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A statement by President Bush issued in connection with the just-signed U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation law has raised concerns that Bush may try to circumvent some of Congress' intentions, lawmakers and analysts say.

The statement, clarifying Bush's views on law and policy, was issued after he signed legislation on Monday permitting U.S. sales of nuclear fuel and reactors to India for the first time in 30 years.

In the statement, Bush said his signature "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as U.S. foreign policy." Also in responding to reports mandated by Congress, he would consider how releasing data requested by lawmakers might "impair foreign relations."

In one of its most controversial directives, Congress stipulated in the law that presidents should report annually on India's cooperation in restraining Iran's nuclear program, which Bush has condemned as a major international threat.

"With his recent signing statement, once again the president has shown he views Congress as a nuisance rather than an equal branch of government under the Constitution," said Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat whose party will control a majority of the new Congress to be sworn in next month.

It was "outrageous that the president has repeatedly stated the greatest threat to U.S. national security is a nuclear Iran, yet explicitly rejects Congress' declaration that it shall be the official policy of the United States that India will not use its nuclear technology to help develop Iran's nuclear weapons arsenal," Harkin said in a news release.


In the statement, Bush also said he considered as only "advisory" a congressional directive prohibiting nuclear transfers to India that conflict with guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which the United States helped establish years ago to restrain nuclear trade.

Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said this shows Bush is "reserving the right to ignore the Nuclear Suppliers Group."

The president is "turning decades of U.S. international policy on its head -- and thumbing his nose at Congress at the same time," added Markey, co-chair of the House of Representatives task force on non-proliferation.

Separately, during a telephone conversation between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush on Thursday, Singh said he still had some concerns over the law.

"The Prime Minister said India still has some concerns, though many have already been expressed in the President's signing statement," said a statement from Singh's office.

Critics in India say the deal may constrain New Delhi's policy toward Iran as well as its nuclear weapons program and fails to guarantee uninterrupted fuel supplies for civilian reactors.

Before U.S. nuclear exports can begin, other approvals are needed including a Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to change its rules barring trade with India and passage of a second U.S. law.

Some non-proliferation experts worry that if the United States does not win NSG approval -- which must be by unanimous consent -- Bush will let the trade with India go forward.

The White House and State Department rejected such interpretations of Bush's statement.

Asked if Bush might ignore the NSG, a State Department official told Reuters: "No, quite the opposite."

He said that while NSG guidelines are "political commitments," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "has been very clear that we're not going to do the (nuclear) deal without consensus in the NSG."

Meanwhile, a White House official said the statement's treatment of the NSG "is not regarding any particular intended course of foreign policy or with any particular practical effect in terms of intended treatment of material (nuclear) transfer."

Rather, the statement is intended to deal with the "domestic issue of government power rather than an issue of international nuclear policy," he said.

Justice Department lawyers were concerned the way the law is written meant that a change in NSG rules would force a change in U.S. law, a U.S. official said.

(Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla in New Delhi)


"Stay the course" named top catch phrase of 2006

"Stay the course" named top catch phrase of 2006

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Stay the course," the phrase dropped by the Bush administration as it searched for a new policy in Iraq, was declared the catch phrase of the year on Thursday by language use group Global Language Monitor.

"It makes number one because it was declared inoperative," said Global Language monitor President Paul JJ Payack.

In second place was the ill-fated book title. "If I Did it" by O.J. Simpson. The idea of O.J. Simpson telling how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend if he had actually murdered them outraged so many people that it was withdrawn. But the phrase was an immediate winner in the language.

Simpson was found not guilty of the murders in a criminal trial but held liable the deaths in a civil proceeding.

In third place was a series of emotion icons used in E-mail and text messages: "# - )" which Payack said meant "wasted." In fourth was "Airline Pulp," a Chinese/English hybrid way of describing food served aboard an airliner.

Serial Texter was fifth, denoting the widespread use of text messages among the world's youth.

The top catch phrases for 2005 were Out of the Mainstream, used to describe the ideology of any political opponent, and bird flu or Avian flu.


Court Overturns Limits on Political Ads, Part of the Campaign Finance Law

The New York Times
Court Overturns Limits on Political Ads, Part of the Campaign Finance Law

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 — A three-judge panel on Thursday overturned a key segment of the campaign finance law that banned issue advertisements paid for by corporate or union money in the critical weeks before federal elections.

The case, which was heard by a special federal court panel in Washington, now heads to the Supreme Court. If upheld, the ruling would unravel one of the tougher restrictions on the use of unregulated donations that interest groups pumped by the millions of dollars into political commercials.

The case was brought by Wisconsin Right to Life, which has been fighting the restrictions since 2004, claiming they infringe on its First Amendment guarantee of free speech, among other grounds.

Using its corporate treasury, the group had paid for advertisements denouncing Senate filibusters of judicial nominees and urging viewers to contact either Senator Russell D. Feingold, who was up for re-election that year, or the state’s other Democratic senator, Herb Kohl, who was not.

Under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, groups wanting to broadcast advertisements that name federal candidates within 60 days before a general election, or 30 days before a primary, are required to follow strict rules on how they pay for them. The law requires that donors be disclosed and caps contributions to prevent secretive groups from advocating for or against candidates in thinly disguised advertisements known as issue ads.

This case has been closely watched for several reasons. For one, organizations with quite disparate interests, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Club for Growth, have argued that they have a right to petition the government.

As grassroots lobbying groups, they say, they should be exempt from the ban on issue ads. Some have contended, most recently in an unsuccessful case before the Federal Election Commission, that their First Amendment rights are infringed upon because the law restricts them from pursuing their policy agendas in election seasons.

The court’s decision Thursday clearly loosened the clamps on such activities. Those who want to broadcast such ads are “going to push the envelope,” said Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University. “They’re going to explore the scope of this exemption.”

The case has already been heard by the Supreme Court, which kicked it back to the three-judge panel in January. The justices said the panel had misinterpreted a 2003 decision, in which they upheld the McCain-Feingold law, as foreclosing future challenges to the advertising restrictions.

The special panel that ruled Thursday did not consider the right-to-life group’s argument for an exemption as a grassroots lobbying organization. The 2-to-1 decision more narrowly found that the group’s ads did not violate restrictions against “express advocacy” for or against a federal candidate and were not campaign ads but general issue ads.

The majority opinion was by Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court. Judge Richard W. Roberts of Federal District Court dissented.

The judges adhered strictly to the content of the actual commercials and rejected arguments by the government that the commercials were intended to influence the election. The advertisements did not state the senators’ views on the filibusters but urged viewers to call them.

The panel found that the government had not demonstrated a compelling enough interest to impose restrictions on these groups’ free speech rights. It said this section of the McCain-Feingold law was unconstitutional because it imposed campaign finance limits on organizations that were using advertisements to advance legislative policy.

Mr. Foley said the court reopened the door to use of corporate money.

“This is clearly a shift in direction and invites the use of corporate money,” Mr. Foley said, adding: “You can run ads about any policy issue you want to and you can name members of Congress in the ads. You can use corporate money for any ad that fits this profile.”

Mr. Foley said it would appear that so-called 527 groups, which emerged in the 2004 presidential campaign as a powerful force, would also be allowed to use corporate money for general issue ads under the Wisconsin decision. But the law is still murky on the regulation of 527’s, named for the part of the tax code that regulates them.

In the Wisconsin case, the F.E.C. had argued that the Wisconsin advertisements were clearly intended to try to defeat Mr. Feingold. The group’s opposition to the Senate filibustering of judicial nominees was closely linked to nominees who opposed abortion.

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut and a main architect of the campaign finance law, expressed disappointment in the decision.

“The lower court majority opinion ignores a wealth of evidence that shows W.R.T.L. had a ‘priority’ to defeat Senator Feingold in the 2004 election, and that the ads in question were part of that effort,” Mr. Shays said in a statement. Fred Wertheimer, head of Democracy 21, a campaign finance reform group, and one of the lawyers involved in the case, said he was hopeful that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision.

“We agree with the dissent in this case,” Mr. Wertheimer said, adding, “The context surrounding these ads, and not just the text and the face of these ads, must be considered in making this determination.”


Holocaust Museum Rebukes Member for Koran Comment

The New York Times
Holocaust Museum Rebukes Member for Koran Comment

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 — The board that oversees the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here publicly distanced itself on Thursday from a member who recently condemned the first Muslim elected to Congress for planning to use a Koran during the private part of his swearing-in ceremony.

In November, the board member, Dennis Prager, a conservative commentator and radio show host, said that Keith Ellison, the newly elected Muslim member of Congress, should give up his post if he could not take his oath on a Bible, which Mr. Prager said was the traditional religious text of the United States.

In its resolution, the council’s executive committee criticized Mr. Prager’s remarks as “antithetical to the mission of the museum as an institution promoting tolerance and respect for all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”

Mr. Prager, one of 68 members of the board, known as the Holocaust Memorial Council, was appointed to the unpaid post by President Bush, and is serving a five-year term, which expires in 2011, said Andrew Hollinger, a spokesman for the council.

Mr. Hollinger said Mr. Bush had the sole power to remove Mr. Prager.

On Wednesday, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, was sharply criticized by Congressional Democrats and Muslim Americans for warning that Mr. Ellison’s election to the House posed a serious threat to the traditional values.

Critics of Mr. Goode and Mr. Prager noted that the Constitution specifically bars any religious screening of members of Congress and that the actual swearing in of those lawmakers occurs without any religious texts. The use of such texts occurs only in private ceremonies that take place after lawmakers have officially sworn to uphold the Constitution.

Mr. Goode stood by his comments on Thursday and told Fox News that he wanted to restrict legal immigration to the United States “so that we don’t have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives.” (Mr. Ellison, a lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student, is an African-American, not an immigrant.)

Mr. Prager said Muslim American groups and others had pressured the museum board. “Everybody knows there’s no bigotry in what I said, but they felt they had to do it,” he said in an interview.

“I completely respect Congressman-Elect Ellison’s right to take an oath on the Koran, and regret any language that suggested otherwise,” Mr. Prager added in a statement, emphasizing that he began reaching out to the Muslims 20 years ago. “My entire effort in the Keith Ellison matter has been to draw attention to the need to acknowledge the Bible as the basis of America’s moral values. Judeo-Christian values are the greatest single protection against another Holocaust.”

In response to questions about Mr. Bush’s reaction to Mr. Prager’s remarks, Nicole M. Guillemard, a spokeswoman for the White House, said by e-mail that President Bush “respects religious freedom and the right to free speech.”

Ms. Guillemard did not respond to questions about whether Mr. Bush believed that Mr. Prager should resign or be removed.


Congressman stands by remarks about Muslims

Congressman stands by remarks about Muslims
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican lawmaker on Thursday stood by his warning that unless there is a crackdown on immigration, more Muslims like an incoming Minnesota Democrat would place theirs hands on the Koran at congressional swearing-in ceremonies.

Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who has triggered a flurry of criticism in recent days for this stand, said he does not favor banning use of the Koran in such ceremonies.

"But I'm for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives," Goode said in an interview with Fox TV.

Speaking with reporters afterward in his Virginia district, Goode rejected calls that he retract his earlier written remarks and replied "no" when asked if he was a racist.

"Anyone that doesn't jump to the mantra of political correctness is sometimes called that, so they are wrong," Goode said.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who will become the first Muslim U.S. lawmaker when the 110th Congress convenes on January 4, replied, "All of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he's opposed to, which is the terrorists."

In an interview with CNN, Ellison also said he was not angered by Goode's remarks.

"I just think it is a learning gap that we have to close," said Ellison, a native of Detroit who became a Muslim as a young man.


The controversy is mainly symbolic because House members are sworn in as a group with no Bibles or other texts involved.

But in a country where three out of every four people consider themselves Christian, the Bible has traditionally been used in ensuing unofficial ceremonies. These events provide each member with an individual photo opportunity.

The flap arose from a recent letter Goode sent to constituents who had objected to Ellison's plans to place his hand on the Koran at his unofficial swearing-in ceremony.

"I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way," Goode wrote fellow Virginians.

"The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt (my) position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran," Goode wrote.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by (former Democratic) President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country," Goode added.

Goode's comments on Thursday came after the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the biggest Islamic civil rights group in the United States, called on Republicans leaders to repudiate the congressman's "anti-Muslim remarks."

While a number of Democrats in Congress blasted Goode, his fellow Republicans have remained generally quiet.

Even the Virginia Republican Party had no immediate comment, referring calls to the congressman's office.

(additional reporting by Michael Conlon and Donna Smith)


Recount overturns Vermont auditor race

Recount overturns Vermont auditor race
Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A judge overturned the state auditor's election Thursday after a recount showed the Democratic challenger had actually beaten the Republican incumbent by 102 votes.

It was the first time in Vermont that a statewide election was overturned in a recount, the state archivist said.

Washington Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout declared Democrat Thomas M. Salmon the winner over Auditor Randy Brock after reviewing the results of a hand recount conducted by county clerks after the November election.

"It's a great honor. I'm humbled," Salmon, the son of a former governor, said after the judge ruled.

The secretary of state's office had certified Brock the winner by 137 votes a week after the election after tallying each town clerk's votes. Salmon asked the judge for a recount, and it turned out that some of his votes had been mistakenly attributed to Liberty Union candidate Jerry Levy on the first count.

Brock congratulated Salmon and said he would cooperate during the transition. Statewide officers are inaugurated Jan. 4.

"We are now at the end of a long and painstaking process that is an essential element in our democracy," Brock said in a statement distributed in the courtroom. "The very closeness of this race - I am told the closest statewide election in Vermont history - reinforces to all of us how precious and how important is each and every vote."


Thursday, December 21, 2006

U.S. Sued Over Dropping of Benefits for Disabled
U.S. Sued Over Dropping of Benefits for Disabled
Class-Action Case Filed on Behalf of Physically Handicapped People Granted Asylum and Awaiting U.S. Citizenship
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer

For eight years, Shmul Kaplan lived alone in a suburban Philadelphia housing complex with hardly any furniture and barely enough food to eat. Two years ago, the government told the amputee he would have to make do with less.

Kaplan, who is from Ukraine, lost his $603 in Supplemental Security Income after he missed a seven-year deadline to become a U.S. citizen. The clock started ticking after he was granted asylum in 1997.

A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Pennsylvania recently on behalf of people such as Kaplan, 80, contends that they are not responsible for missing the deadline. Kaplan's citizenship application is among hundreds of thousands awaiting background checks by the FBI, a mountainous backlog that grew after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 6,000 physically handicapped people who were granted asylum have had benefits cut as they wait, according to the suit.

"The Social Security Administration . . . projects that over 46,000 immigrants will be cut off from SSI in the years 2006-2012 as a result of delays in granting citizenship and the operation of the seven year rule," the lawsuit says.

The suit's plaintiffs include Eshetu Meri, 51, of Fairfax, a blind man who escaped from Ethiopia, where he was targeted for advocating democracy; Tasim Mandija, 80, of Philadelphia, a native of Albania who suffers from prostate cancer and neuropathy; and Rouzbeh Aliaghaei, 17, an Iranian who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that resulted in autism, seizures, mental retardation and an enlarged head. He came to the United States in 1998 when his parents escaped political persecution.

Kaplan, who is Jewish, claimed religious persecution and was granted asylum in January 1997. He was given humanitarian aid because one of his legs was severed when he ran to catch a train at age 18, slipped on ice and slid beneath the wheels. The other leg was so severely fractured that it arcs like a bow.

"I have a very sick leg," Kaplan said in a telephone interview. "It has a lot of fractures, and now it is a curved leg. My stump, it is not a normal stump. Sometimes I have to see a doctor. They take away my benefits, and, of course, it is very bad for me."

Others in the lawsuit declined to be interviewed, fearing that speaking out might interfere with the progress of their citizenship applications, or that they would be sought out for harm.

The suit was filed against top officials of the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) unit of DHS, the Justice Department and the FBI.

The National Name Check Program at the FBI receives more than 67,000 requests for background checks each week. Half the requests come from the USCIS, said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman.

When requests from private entities are included, the total reaches several million each year, Bresson said. The USCIS is the FBI's biggest customer, accounting for about 128,000 background-check requests per month, plus 2.7 million that are backlogged from years past, Bresson said.

The FBI has struggled for years with a growing backlog of such requests from all entities. The Government Accountability Office reported earlier this year that, for immigration cases alone, 113,000 background checks had been pending for more than six months.

USCIS spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan said her agency processes citizenship applications as quickly as it can and is not responsible for the backlog that results from the delay in background checks.

Rhatigan said requests often stall because questions arising from the applications go unanswered. "There could be a number of different reasons," she said. "It could be a failure to respond or a request for additional information."

The Social Security Administration declined to comment on its decision to end the benefits, saying only that the law requires it to do so seven years after asylum is granted if U.S. citizenship has not been obtained.

That may be, said Jonathan Stein, an attorney for the group that has filed suit, but Congress never intended to cut those granted asylum from humanitarian aid when it approved in 1996 the legislation that provides it.

The benefit provides $603 monthly to single recipients and $904 to couples. Congress assumed that seven years was enough time for applicants to make it through the citizenship process. But the Sept. 11 attacks diverted large numbers of FBI agents to counterterrorism duties, greatly slowing the background checks.

Stein wondered why USCIS, FBI and Social Security officials could not flag citizenship requests from disabled applicants here on asylum. "Their lives depend on this," he said. "If they can't expedite their cases, let's at least continue their SSI until they become citizens."

Kaplan began to receive Supplemental Security Income payments in March 1997, two months after he was granted asylum. A year later, he applied for permanent residency, the first step toward naturalized citizenship. The process should have taken a year. But it took six years, according to Kaplan and his attorneys.

With time running out, Kaplan applied for citizenship as soon as he could in the spring of 2004. Fearing he would miss the deadline, aid workers took his letters and pleas for an expedited process to the Social Security office. "They said there was nothing they could do," Kaplan said in his deposition. His benefits were cut that summer.

Too old and too weak to work, Kaplan said he gets by on $215 a month that he uses for paying rent and $140 in food stamps. Regardless, Kaplan said he loves the United States and does not miss life in Ukraine or Russia, where he also lived.

"The food in grocery stores was rationed . . . and many times, I was told that I could not stay in line for the food because I was Jewish," he said in the deposition. "One winter, two men pushed me down when I was walking in the street.

"I knew that I had to leave Russia," he said in the deposition. "If they did not kill me today, I thought, they would kill me tomorrow."


U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25

The New York Times
U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 — It will be a Cinderella moment for the band of researchers who study the hidden history of American government.

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents will be instantly declassified, including many F.B.I. cold war files on investigations of people suspected of being Communist sympathizers. After years of extensions sought by federal agencies behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006 means the government’s first automatic declassification of records.

Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.

Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted.

And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will be automatically declassified as they reach the 25-year limit, reversing the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars request.

Many historians had expected President Bush to scrap the deadline. His administration has overseen the reclassification of many historical files and restricted access to presidential papers of past administrations, as well as contemporary records.

Practical considerations, including a growing backlog of records at the National Archives, mean that it could take months before the declassified papers are ready for researchers.

“Deadlines clarify the mind,” said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the private National Security Archive at George Washington University, which obtains and publishes historical government documents.

Despite what he called a disappointing volume of exemptions, Mr. Blanton said automatic declassification had “given advocates of freedom of information a real lever.”

Gearing up to review aging records to meet the deadline, agencies have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet agents in the American government.

Several hundred million pages will be declassified at midnight on Dec. 31, including 270 million pages at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has lagged most agencies in reviews.

J. William Leonard, who oversees declassification as head of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, said the threat that secret files might be made public without a security review had sent a useful chill through the bureaucracy.

“Unfortunately, you sometimes need a two-by-four to get agencies to pay attention,” Mr. Leonard said. “Automatic declassification was essentially that two-by-four.”

What surprises await in the documents is impossible to predict.

“It is going to take a generation for scholars to go through the material declassified under this process,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

“It represents the classified history of a momentous period, the cold war,” Mr. Aftergood said. “Almost every current headline has an echo in the declassified past, whether it’s coping with nuclear weapons, understanding the Middle East or dictatorship and democracy in Latin America.”

Anna K. Nelson, a historian at American University, said she hoped that the files would shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency role in Iran and deepen the documentation of the Jimmy Carter years, in particular the Camp David accords.

“Americans need to know this history, and the history is in those documents,” Ms. Nelson said.

She said the National Archives staff was buried in a 400-million-page backlog that awaits processing and is not publicly available.

Also, a budget shortfall has cut back on evening and weekend access to the major research center of the archives, in College Park, Md.

“They can declassify the records, but the archives don’t have the staff to handle them,” Ms. Nelson said.

The first deadline was imposed in an executive order that President Bill Clinton signed in 1995, when officials realized that taxpayers were paying billions of dollars to protect a mountain of cold war documents.

The order gave agencies five years to declassify documents or show the need for continued secrecy.

When agencies protested that they could not meet the 2000 deadline, it was extended to 2003. Mr. Bush then granted another three-year extension, but put out the word that it was the last one, despite the new emphasis on security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a new war in Iraq.

“The Bush administration could have said, ‘This is a Clinton thing,’ and abandoned it,” Mr. Aftergood, said. “To their credit, they did not.”

As an enforceable deadline loomed, the intelligence agencies that produce most secret material add workers to plow through files from World War II.

The C.I.A. has reviewed more than 100 million pages, released 30 million pages and created a database of documents, Crest, that is accessible from terminals at the National Archives. Although most of the documents are exempt, they can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The National Security Agency, the eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, has released 35 million pages, including an extensive collection on the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the escalation of the Vietnam War. The agency plans a major release early next year on the Israeli attack on the Liberty, an American eavesdropping ship, in 1967.

The F.B.I., by contrast, negotiated an exemption from the 1995 executive order and concluded last year that the 2003 executive order ended its special status. It has rushed to review material, seeking exemption for 50 million pages on intelligence, counterintelligence and terrorism, but leaving 270 million pages to be automatically declassified now.

Among those files, said David M. Hardy, the bureau declassification chief, are those on investigations of Americans with suspected ties to the Communist Party. Reviewers will keep working on the exempt material to see what can be released, but it is a slow process, Mr. Hardy said.

“The numbers of documents are staggering,” Mr. Hardy said.

The bureau is studying digitizing documents and using computers to search for classified material. Some experts say mass declassification is not the smartest approach. L. Britt Snider, a former intelligence official who heads the Public Interest Declassification Board, which advises the White House, said most government records, even top-secret ones, were pretty boring.

“Rather than take this blunderbuss approach,” Mr. Snider said, “I’d like to see the agencies concentrate first on what’s interesting and what’s important.”


Democrats increase pressure on health official

Democrats increase pressure on health official
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats on Wednesday ratcheted up the pressure on the Bush administration to replace its new family planning chief because he has worked for a health provider that opposes the use of birth control.

More than half of all sitting Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter calling for the ouster of Dr. Eric Keroack, who was appointed last month to oversee a $280 million program that provides birth control to poor women.

"We believe the appointment of Dr. Keroack is a horrendous mistake for the safety of women's health in the United States," said the letter, which was signed by 107 Democrats and three Republicans.

The letter points to a showdown between the Department of Health and Human Services and Democrats who will have the power to subpoena government officials when they take control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress in January.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the administration is not thinking of getting rid of Keroack.

"Everything I know about him is he's a very capable person," Leavitt told a small group of reporters. "I'm sure he will serve well."

As head of the Office of Population Affairs at HHS, Keroack oversees a program that funds birth control, pregnancy tests, breast-cancer screening and other health services for 5 million poor women annually.

HHS estimates that the program prevents 1.5 million unwanted pregnancies each year.

Keroack previously served as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a chain of Boston-area pregnancy clinics that discourage the use of birth control and advocate abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Keroack has stirred controversy as well with his writings, including one widely cited paper entitled "Bonding Imperative: A Special Report from the Abstinence Medical Council," in which he said women who have more than one sex partner have a diminished neurological capacity to experience loving relationships.

HHS in the past has said Keroack will distribute birth control as required by law.

Keroack prescribed birth control at the private practice that took most of his professional time, while his duties at A Woman's Concern were largely limited to giving ultrasounds to pregnant women, HHS says.

"I'm also told that he has regularly prescribed contraception when it was felt appropriate," Leavitt said.

Still, Keroack has galvanized Democrats who saw his appointment shortly after the November elections as a defiant move.

"We are telling this administration that it needs to get its act together in providing real assistance to low-income families to protect women and children," New York Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley, who drafted the letter, said in a statement.

House Democratic leaders did not sign the letter but have given it their support, a Crowley staffer said.

(Additional reporting by Will Dunham)


"No tengo futuro (I have no future)" Jeb Bush tells reporters

'I have no future' -- Jeb Bush tells reporters

MIAMI (Reuters) - The shadow of President Bush seemed to loom large over his younger brother on Wednesday, as the outgoing Florida governor ruled out any plans to return to elected office.

"No tengo futuro (I have no future)," Jeb Bush told Spanish-language reporters in Miami, when asked about any possible political ambitions after he steps down next month.

The popular, two-term governor has often been touted as a savvy politician with a good chance of following both his brother and father, George H.W. Bush, into the White House.

But the unpopularity and dismal job-approval ratings of his brother may have scuttled any plans Jeb Bush may have had for a future in politics after running one of America's most crucial swing states for the past eight years.

Bush did not elaborate on his terse "no future" comment. But he has said repeatedly over the past year that he would not run for president in 2008 and has never seemed comfortable with talk about Bush III or the Bush presidential dynasty.

"Jeb would have made an outstanding presidential candidate," said Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who joined Bush at a luncheon on Wednesday hosted by a Cuban American political action committee.

Brownback, a Republican who launched an exploratory committee three weeks ago to consider his own bid for the presidency, added that he was "a Jeb Bush-type conservative."

In a backhanded slap at President Bush, Brownback cited "a heritage issue" as one factor currently weighing against a Jeb Bush presidency.

"People may be wanting to see a different name," he said.


Bush puts conservative on public broadcast board

Bush puts conservative on public broadcast board
By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Wednesday installed self-described conservative writer and producer Warren Bell on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports U.S. public television and radio.

Bell, who was nominated in June, writes for the conservative magazine The National Review and was previously a writer and producer for "Coach" and "Ellen," two popular TV series in the 1990s.

The Senate Commerce Committee had been scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for him in September but he was dropped from the agenda because of concerns by both Republicans and Democrats.

The Los Angeles Times reported that some of Bell's fellow writers said he had made negative comments about funding public broadcasting, a charge he denied. No action on his nomination was taken by the Senate before it adjourned earlier this month.

Bush's recess appointment allows Bell to hold the board position until Congress adjourns next year, the White House said. Such appointments may be made by the president when Congress is not in session.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a federally funded nonprofit corporation and the largest single source of money for U.S. public television and radio programming, including PBS and National Public Radio. It is governed by a presidentially appointed board.

The board was the source of political controversy in 2005 when its chairman at the time, Kenneth Tomlinson, was criticized for injecting politics into the organization when he recruited a former senior Republican party official -- Patricia Harrison -- as its new president and chief executive.

Tomlinson had sought to add more conservative-minded shows to the line-up to counter what many conservatives considered a liberal bias in public broadcasting. He resigned in November 2005 amid the controversy.

The Bush administration has come under fire before for trying to influence news coverage, including paying a conservative commentator to praise its new education law and the production by government agencies of video news releases that some television stations aired without identifying their origin.


Long-rumored shuffle of generals expected along with change in Iraq policy

Long-rumored shuffle of generals expected along with change in Iraq policy
By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A shuffle of top American generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in U.S. policy that President Bush is considering.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to go ahead with a retirement that is months overdue, according to the U.S. Central Command.

And the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has indicated in recent months that he also may not stay much longer than the end of this year.

Since they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, where they are considering a short-term surge in forces.

Abizaid's three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended last July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said a Central Command statement from Tampa

The changes, both rumored before Rumsfeld's announced resignation and Gates' nomination, would allow Gates to choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.

Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not increased or decreased sharply. Instead, the United States should focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces so they can be pushed front and center into battle, he said.

His remarks provided no help to lawmakers hoping for big changes in Iraq policy following elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress by Americans angry over the course of the war.

The opposition to a bigger force in Iraq now also appears to be out of step with the White House, which says it is considering sending more U.S. troops to try to get spiraling violence under control.

Abizaid and other generals worry that sending thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps. And they fear the effect it could have on an already overstretched Army and Marine Corps — the two services bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq.

Casey has been mentioned as a possible choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Abizaid at Central Command.

Others that could be affected in a shuffle include:

•Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He most recently oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgencies.

•Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, as commander of the multinational forces there.

•Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, also a former division commander in Iraq and now head of the Iraq training effort.

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