Saturday, January 06, 2007

ABC News Survey Shows That Knowing Then What It Knows Now, 2002 Senate Would Vote Against Giving President War Powers

ABC News
Senate Regrets the Vote to Enter Iraq
ABC News Survey Shows That Knowing Then What It Knows Now, 2002 Senate Would Vote Against Giving President War Powers

Jan. 5, 2007 — - As the new Democrat-controlled House and Senate take power this month, the Iraq war will be the front-and-center issue.

And as President Bush prepares to announce his new strategy for Iraq, which may include a surge in troops, the attitude of the Senate towards the war -- and whether its members regret their overwhelming 77-23 October 2002 vote to authorize the president to use force in Iraq -- is critically important.

ABC News decided to survey the views of the senators who served in 2002, most of whom remain in the Senate. The survey indicates that those senators say that if they knew then what they know now, President Bush would never have been given the authority to use force in Iraq.

It's impossible, of course, to recreate all of the factors, pressures and information that went into this momentous vote. But given that President Bush may next week request that an additional 20,000 or more troops be sent to Iraq -- to fight a war 7 in 10 Americans think he isn't handling well -- we thought it might prove a significant indicator of the support for the war to see where these same senators from 2002 now stand. Regret, after all, may not be a valued commodity in politics, but it is not one that public officials express easily, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. That said, a surprising number of senators who voted for the war were willing to say that they, and the Senate, made a mistake.

By ABC News' count, if the Senators knew then what they know now, only 43 -- at most -- would still vote to approve the use of force and the measure would be defeated. And at least 57 senators would vote against going to war, a number that combines those who already voted against the war resolution with those who told ABC News they would vote against going to war, or said that the pre-war intelligence has been proven so wrong the measure would lose or it would never even come to a vote.

For any Senate vote to switch from 77-23 in favor to essentially 57-43 against is quite remarkable, and far more so for a decision as significant as the one to go to war.

The issue was brought home last month by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who delivered an emotional address on the floor of the Senate, saying he regretted having voted for the war.

"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day," Smith said. "That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more."

Twenty-eight of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq indicated, many for the first time, that they would not vote the same way with the benefit of hindsight. Six others indicated that, in retrospect, the intelligence was so wrong the matter would not have passed the Senate, or would not have even come up for a vote.

"This is very significant," said congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. "If they were asked that question a year ago, I think the likelihood of getting anywhere close to a majority voting against the war would be impossible. What this tells me is that Gordon Smith's very stunning speech was in some ways the tip of the iceberg."

The list of those who say they would vote differently is a bipartisan group whose ranks include former and current Republican Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, Bob Smith of New Hampshire, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

An overwhelming number of the Democratic senators who voted to authorize use of force indicated they would vote differently today, including former and current Democratic Senators Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, John Breaux of Louisiana, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

A few former Republican senators gave their answer surprisingly quickly when asked if they would cast the same vote.

"No, I would not," said former Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H. "I know now there are no weapons of mass destruction."

Smith underlines that "everyone thought he had weapons of mass destruction. As far as I know -- and I saw a lot of intelligence, what every other U.S. senator saw -- intelligence briefings indicated that Hussein had WMD that he could use perhaps against Israel or neighboring countries."

"In retrospect, it was premature," said former Sen. Nighthorse Campbell. "We rushed into there, very frankly, we were kind of pushed in. The problem with being a public official is public opinion jams you around. And public opinion then was we had to do something about all the people being abused and tortured and killed."

Moreover, Nighthorse Campbell added, "we were leaned on pretty heavily by the administration," which he said told senators "if you didn't support the president you weren't a good soldier…So we got stampeded into doing something, but unfortunately we didn't have enough international help."

He said that he thinks Saddam Hussein would have necessitated military action sooner or later, but "we should have waited until we got more commitments from more countries."

Bush: The Right Decision

President Bush has repeatedly said that he believes going to war in Iraq was the right course. As recently as last month, he said that while he has "questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out," he has "come to the conclusion it's the right decision."

But the realities of the war -- the lack of weapons of mass destruction, the insurgency, the sectarian strife -- have caused many erstwhile Senate supporters to change their minds.

"There is a very large level of disheartenment, dismay and despair in Congress cutting across party lines on a situation where they don't see a way out," Ornstein said.

The president, not up for re-election, can try to move forward on his plans for Iraq regardless of public sentiment, Ornstein added.

"But if Lyndon Johnson were alive today, he'd tell the president you can't keep prosecuting a war when the public -- and many of your congressional supporters -- abandon you," he said. "It makes it much, much harder to sustain it."

The results of the ABC News survey told Ornstein that "the policy of surge is going to have trouble sustaining any support inside Congress."

That's not to say the Congress would cut off funding for the troops or the war. But the "day-to-day pressure on the president to revise his policies is going to grow," he said.

'It Wouldn't Have Come Up for a Vote'

With more than 3,000 U.S. troops killed, and thousands of others wounded, to say nothing of the countless dead Iraqi civilians, this is a topic whose sensitivity borders on taboo. To imply in any way that a vote cast in favor of war was a mistake can be misconstrued to mean that honorable troops died in vain.

Apparently for that reason, five senators have come up with a different construct for public consumption. They say that knowing then what we know now, the war resolution never would have even come up for a vote.

That seems to be essentially saying the case for war was, in retrospect, so weak it wouldn't have even deserved an up-or-down vote. When one considers that as many as 43 Senators are standing by their vote, that's an even harsher assessment for a senator to make.

So in this tabulation, ABC News is counting the five senators -- Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and former Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, as "No" votes.

"The intelligence was obviously wrong," said a Grassley spokeswoman. "If Congress had known the intelligence was wrong, they wouldn't have even been voting."

A spokesman for Dorgan added, "The intelligence information the president used to make the request was not accurate. If we knew then it was not accurate, the president wouldn't have been able to make that request."

"That's a way of trying to evade the question," Ornstein said. "People are very reluctant to say, 'Oh, I made a huge mistake,' or 'I would do it differently today.' That's a hard thing for anyone to do, and far more so for a public official."

But, Ornstein said, that response is "fundamentally the same thing as saying you regret your vote -- if not even more."

One other Senator, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., begged off saying how he individually would vote, but said that knowing then what we know now the Senate would not have voted to go to war.

"I believe that had we known Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, the Congress would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq," he has said, since "we operated on faulty intelligence."

ABC News chose to count Specter as one who with 20/20 hindsight would vote differently. But even not counting his vote, or that of the five senators who regard the intelligence as so weak the matter would not have even been voted on, the war resolution would fail by a vote of 49-51.

Standing by Their Vote

Many senators stood by their vote, including Republican Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Orrin Hatch of Utah and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, as well as Sens. Joe Lieberman, formerly a Democrat but now an independent from Connecticut, and Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat.

Other senators that had previously expressed such sentiments included former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who has said in retrospect he would still vote for war for "humanitarian" reasons.

In his 2004 speech to the Republican National Convention, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the issue of whether or not Saddam Hussein "possessed the terrible weapons he once had and used, freed from international pressure and the threat of military action, he would have acquired them again."

The war in Iraq remains the right decision, McCain said, because "we couldn't afford the risk posed by an unconstrained Saddam in these dangerous times."

Still other senators -- John Warner, R-Va., George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Blanche Lincoln, R-Ark. -- refused to engage in the hypothetical.

Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., told ABC News that "the whole idea of a hypothetical is ridiculous. Hindsight is 20/20. We were voting on the basis of the intelligence information we had and that's why the vote was so overwhelming. And yes, it was certainly faulty intelligence. But we had to vote on what we knew at the time. I just don't understand the value of what you're doing except to embarrass the Bush administration."

Regrets, They Have a Few

In a few instances, the senators' expressions of regret had already been made.

Months ago, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., both of whom are harboring presidential ambitions for 2008, said they regretted their votes.

At an October Senate debate, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said: "If I knew then what I had known now on the weapons of mass destruction, which was a key reason I voted the way I did, I would not have voted to go into Iraq."

In December, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., also considering a White House run, told NBC's "Today" show that, "obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn't have voted that way."

Other senators whose offices directly told ABC News they would vote differently include Democrats Biden, Dodd, Rockefeller, Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tom Carper of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Bill Nelson of Florida and former Sens. Breaux, Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Max Cleland of Georgia and Bob Torricelli of New Jersey.

Every Democratic senator serving in 2002 who supported going to war and harbors presidential ambitions in 2008, where he or she will need to appeal to anti-war liberal Democrats -- a list that includes Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Kerry -- has said he or she would vote differently.

On the other side of the aisle, current Republicans Smith of Oregon and Snowe were joined by former Sens. Nighthorse Campbell, Fitzgerald, and Smith of New Hampshire.

The Language of the Senate

Senators being senators, their answers were not always the clear cut "yes" or "no" the question might imply.

Daschle, the Senate majority leader at the time, would not directly comment, but a source close to him told ABC News that he would change his vote knowing then what he knows now.

Schumer told ABC News in a statement: "I believe that when the nation is attacked, you give the president the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, if we knew then how badly the president would bungle the war start to finish, we would not have given him the benefit of that doubt, and we certainly wouldn't again."

Schumer's office agreed that it would be fair to include him in the category of those who would vote differently with today's knowledge.

Former Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., would not answer the question directly, but clearly and repeatedly stated that he only voted for the resolution because of something the president said that Hollings now considers a lie.

Hollings said he was torn, and leaning against voting for the war resolution until President Bush said, just days before the vote, that "we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

"When the commander-in-chief said that, I knew he knew something I didn't know," Hollings told ABC News. That changed his mind and he voted for the war resolution, a vote he now says was a "mistake"

"I was lied to and now we all know that we were lied to," Hollings said.

Others did not return repeated calls and e-mails -- including former Republican Sens. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Phil Gramm of Texas, as well as former Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia -- so ABC News categorized them as standing by their votes.

Unable to respond were three senators who voted to go to war: Former Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., died in 2003 and both Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., are medically incapacitated.

David Chalian, Teddy Davis, Z. Byron Wolf, Tahman Bradley and Jennifer Duck assisted with this report.


Bush's Strategy of Massive Resistance

Huffington Post
Paul Begala
Bush's Strategy of Massive Resistance

On October 19 I debated Bob Novak at Emory University. The topic was "Civil Liberties in a Time of War." I kicked his ass, but that's not why I mention it. In the debate I predicted that, after the Democrats captured the Congress, Pres. Bush would provoke a Constitutional crisis by refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

Pres. Bush, I predicted, will effectively tell Speaker Pelosi, "You send the Capitol Police to enforce your subpoena. I'll send the 82d Airborne to resist them. Let's meet on the Mall and see who wins."

Novak said I was crazy. It's beginning to look like I was right.

The only reason George W. Bush would turn loose of White House Counsel Harriett Miers - who gazes upon our president with an adoration and veneration bordering on idolatry - is because he wants a war-time consigliere.

In a way that might make Harry F. Byrd proud, our president is about to embark on a policy of massive resistance. He will instruct his lawyers to delay, deny and refuse to comply with any effort by Congress to get to the bottom of official corruption - especially as the billions squandered or stolen in Mr. Bush's war. He'll try to run out the clock, then take his chances with his hand-picked right-wing judiciary. (Keep in mind the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, through which this dispute would flow, includes such Bush appointees as Brett Kavanaugh, a Ken Starr protégé whose work in the Bush White House was described by Henry Waxman as promoting "an imperial presidency." And the Supreme Court has such presidential suck-ups as John Roberts and Sam Alito.)

Thank God the American people - and Nancy Pelosi -- have given the responsibility of oversight we have constitutional heroes like Waxman and John Dingell. They are fair and tough. But even in their combined 83 years experience in Congress they have not seen a crowd that has more contempt for the Constitution than the Bush-Cheney team. I would not be surprised to learn that, in anticipation of receiving congressional subpoenas, the Bushies were having shredding parties that would make Ollie North and Fawn Hall blush.

Let's all watch to see who Bush appoints to replace Ms. Miers. If he chooses someone like David Addington, Vice President Cheney's chief counsel, we'll know Mr. Bush intends to shred yet another Article of the Constitution.


Memo to Democrats: Reverse NLRB's Decisions on Workers' Rights

Huffington Post
Steven Hill
Memo to Democrats: Reverse NLRB's Decisions on Workers' Rights
By Dmitri Iglitzin and Steven Hill

With the Democratic Party regaining control of Congress for the first time since 1994, Democratic leaders should look to undo the effects the Bush administration has had on American workers. But that won't be easy, because one institution that remains solidly in Republican and anti-worker hands is the National Labor Relations Board, the country's chief arbiter of labor

Although nominally a quasi-judicial entity appointed by the president and empowered to adjudicate labor disputes, the NLRB actually sets the rules that govern those disputes and thereby exerts an enormous influence over who prevails. In case after case over the last several years, the Republican-dominated board has taken positions that have hurt American workers.

In one recent case, the Oakwood Healthcare decision, the board found (by its usual 3 to 2 Republican majority) that a group of Michigan nurses are excluded from the protection of the nation's most important labor laws on the spurious grounds that they are "supervisors," not employees. In one stroke, these workers--and potentially tens of thousands of others--lost the right to be in a union and to advocate collectively for workplace improvements.

The same September day as the Oakwood decision, the board also cut back on the right of employees to wear union buttons at work. That case arose out of a dispute in San Diego at the W Hotel, which, according to its owner, the Starwood Hotels & Resorts chain, seeks to give its guests a "wonderland" hotel experience where they get "whatever they want, whenever they want it." For its employees, however--mostly low-paid Latino laborers--the hotel is no wonderland. Some wore buttons bearing four words--"Justice Now! Justicia Ahora!"--and the name of their union. The W demanded workers take them off.

The NLRB sided with the W because the buttons were "controversial." W guests now need not worry about having their wonderland experience marred by seeing employees exercise their First Amendment rights. That rule is now precedent and can be applied to workers in labor disputes across the country.

But what happened in San Diego is nothing compared to what happened to workers in Jacksonville, Texas, just the day before. Back in 2000, the employees of a small meat-cutting department at a Jacksonville Wal-Mart voted to unionize. A week later, Wal-Mart announced that it was phasing out in-store meat-cutting departments nationwide. It took six years for the NLRB to conclude that Wal-Mart had unlawfully retaliated against workers trying to unionize. Even then, the board disregarded the ruling of its own administrative law judge and decided that, even though Wal-Mart violated the law, it can't be ordered to restore the unionized meat department. Add up the score: Wal-Mart--3,245 non-union stores; union-represented workers--zero.

These are just the latest in what is now a long line of literally dozens of anti-worker NLRB decisions in recent years.

The cumulative effect has been devastating, particularly in a global economy where American corporations are cutting back health care and retirement pensions for employees, and where workers rights are being eroded toward the lowest common denominator established by labor conditions in places like China and India.

A recent nationwide study by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development found that:

* 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers
* 49 percent of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to unionize
* 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives
* 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union meetings one-on-one with supervisors

"Our research clearly shows that firings, bribes and threats are pervasive," said Nik Theodore, director of the Center for Urban Economic Development. "These actions greatly impede workers' ability to form unions."

In 1935, when Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, it held the philosophy that protecting the right to organize helped to restore "equality of bargaining power between employers and employees" and removed "sources of industrial strife." What's more, enabling workers to unionize was seen as a practical way to help keep the economy humming along, since higher wages would increase the purchasing power of workers as consumers. In other words, Congress saw workers' rights as good for the overall economy. Today, however, the Republican-dominated Congress and anti-worker NLRB have been motivated by a much different philosophy.

The question now shifts to where will the new Democratic majority come down on this philosophical divide? In an age of globalized economies, unions are one vehicle for workers to try and receive their fair share of the pie. President Bush can point all he wants to low unemployment and a resurgent stock market as signs of a strong economy, but the fact is most Americans don't feel so bullish. Median incomes are flat, health care costs are soaring, pensions are being de-funded and corporate employers are threatening to shred the social contract with their employees that has prevailed for 60 years. American workers have lost a lot of ground over the last six years, with stagnant wages and a fraying social net, even as corporations have enjoyed record profits.

The Democratic majority in Congress could begin rectifying the situation by passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which already has 215 co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate, even before the Democrats assume the helm. That act has a number of provisions which would make it easier for workers to organize and less difficult for unions to obtain good contracts for its members. Notably, the Employee Free Choice Act would make the following changes to federal labor law:

* Workers would be able to unionize by a simple majority of worker Currently, union elections and the organizing campaigns preceding them get derailed for years by unlawful and obstructive employer tactics. But the Employee Free Choice Act provides for "card check"--that a union will be certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for employees if a majority of employees in a particular workplace sign authorization cards.

* First-contract mediation and arbitration--
Currently, hostile employers respond to a successful unionization drive among their workers by simply refusing to enter into negotiations or to sign a collective bargaining agreement with the union. But the Employee Free Choice Act provides that if an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for their first contract and are unable to reach agreement within 90 days, either party may refer the dispute to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for mediation. If the FMCS has been unable to bring the parties to agreement after 30 days of mediation, the dispute will be referred to arbitration and the results of the arbitration shall be binding on the parties for two years.

* Stronger penalties for retaliating against employees attempting to unionize --
The Employee Free Choice Act provides that the NLRB must seek a federal court injunction against an employer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe the employer has retaliated against or threatened employees during an organizing or first-contract drive. It also increases penalties, including the amount an employer must pay to triple back pay when an employee is retaliated against, and civil fines of up to $20,000 per violation against employers found to have violated employees' rights during an organizing campaign or first-contract drive.

Amidst the expectations unleashed by the Democrats' retaking of Congress, it should not be forgotten that American workers have given a lot in recent years but have not received their fair share. It's past time to level the playing field. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would go a long way towards equalizing bargaining power between workers and employers.

[Dmitri Iglitzin is a labor law attorney in Seattle and a lecturer at the University of Washington Law School. Steven Hill is political reform director at the New America Foundation and author of 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy ( )].


Army asks dead to sign up for another hitch
Army asks dead to sign up for another hitch

Story Highlights
•Letters inadvertently sent out to officers killed in action
•200 wounded soldiers also receive letters
•Invitations intended for soldiers who had recently left service
•Army sending out personnel to personally apologize to families

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Army said Friday it would apologize to the families of about 275 officers killed or wounded in action who were mistakenly sent letters urging them to return to active duty.

The letters were sent a few days after Christmas to more than 5,100 Army officers who had recently left the service. Included were letters to about 75 officers killed in action and about 200 wounded in action.

"Army personnel officials are contacting those officers' families now to personally apologize for erroneously sending the letters," the Army said in a brief news release issued Friday night.

The Army did not say how or when the mistake was discovered. It said the database normally used for such correspondence with former officers had been "thoroughly reviewed" to remove the names of wounded or dead soldiers.

"But an earlier list was used inadvertently for the December mailings," the Army statement said, adding that the Army is apologizing to those officers and families affected and "regrets any confusion."

Find this article at:


New U.S. Congress looks to boost alternate fuels

New U.S. Congress looks to boost alternate fuels
By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers unveiled a raft of energy-related bills in the early hours of the 110th Congress aimed at boosting fuel ethanol use, extracting liquid fuels from coal and tightening automobile fuel efficiency rules.

But instead of heaping all their ideas into a behemoth energy bill like they did in 2005, this year's Congress looks poised to pursue energy legislation on a piecemeal basis.

U.S. crude oil prices shot to nearly $80 a barrel in 2006 and sounded alarms across Capitol Hill. Mild winter temperatures, new global supplies and slowing economic growth have sparked a 10 percent decline in prices since the beginning of 2007 - the sharpest drop since December 2004.

But a rising focus on "energy security" by both the Bush administration and Congress has added momentum to efforts to employ home-grown fuel sources like ethanol and coal to temper U.S. import needs.

Harry Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, introduced a broad "message bill" that will shape near-term talks in the chamber's energy and environment panels, which together hold jurisdiction over most energy matters.

Rather than specific initiatives, the bill provides a broad framework for committee action on hot button issues like vehicle fuel efficiency, biofuels and global warming.

The Senate Energy Committee slated an all-day session on February 1 to discuss ways to expand transportation biofuel use with industry groups and other stakeholders.

The panel will also hold a January 10 hearing on global oil markets and their impacts on U.S. economic and national security.

Separately, a group of Midwest senators, including prospective presidential candidate and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, introduced the BioFuels Security Act, which would require the United States to use 60 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel a year by 2030.

"It's time for Congress to realize what farmers in America's heartland have known all along - that we have the capacity and ingenuity to decrease our dependence on foreign oil by growing our own fuel," Obama said. "But what we've been lacking is the political will."

Rising ethanol use has been a boon to U.S. farmers and has driven corn prices to the highest level in a decade.

Biorefineries produced about 5 billion gallons of ethanol last year, well on the way to the U.S. target of using at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels annually by 2012.


Obama and Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, also introduced the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007, which would set the stage for large-scale production of transportation fuels from coal.

Both lawmakers come from states with prodigious coal supplies, and the United States has a 250-year supply.

The bill focuses on using a process called "Fischer-Tropsch" which turns natural gas or coal into liquid fuel. The fuel, which was used by Germany during World World II, has seen a resurgence.

The bill would extend loan guarantees and tax credits for new coal-to-liquid plants, which can cost about $2 billion.

The bill boosts a current 20 percent tax credit for coal-to-liquid plants to a maximum of $200 million for each of the first 10 plants built, and extends the expiration of excise tax credits from 2009 to 2020, among other things.

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, wants to raise corporate average fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) by or before 2017.

The fuel economy of cars and light trucks is down to 24.6 miles per gallon from its 1987-88 peak of 25.9 mpg.

Cars account for about 25 percent of domestic oil use, according to government estimates.


Banking groups urge Pentagon to narrowly apply law

Banking groups urge Pentagon to narrowly apply law
By John Poirier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Banking trade groups want the Pentagon to narrowly apply a law that caps interest rates and fees on military personnel to payday loans only and not to other credit services, according to a letter obtained by Reuters on Friday.

Congress recently passed legislation that imposes a 36- percent cap on annual interest rates and fees that lenders can charge on credit cards and other loans provided to U.S. military personnel. The law, passed last year, was tucked into a Defense Department authorization bill.

"Our primary concern is that a broad application of the legislation could have the unfortunate impact of ... harming servicemen and women and their spouses and dependents by limiting their access to credit or increasing their credit costs," the letter said.

Banking lobbyists are worried the law essentially creates another regulator, the Pentagon, which will be required to work with federal banking regulators to implement it by October 2007.

The law has financial institutions scrambling to find ways to avoid being affected by the cap, which lobbyists say sets a worrisome precedent that could spill over into financial products outside the military.

The letter, dated January 5, is signed by five trade groups -- American Bankers Association, Association of Military Banks of America, Consumer Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America and America's Community Bankers.

In the letter, which is addressed to David Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, the banking groups urge the Pentagon to implement the law to apply to "payday loans," which can carry high fees for small denomination, short-term loans.

"What we're suggesting is if DOD takes a broad approach in implementing the (law), they could cut off a lot of very legitimate, very popular credit products that are helpful to the military," said Mark Tenhundfeld, director of regulatory policy at the ABA.

The "unintended consequences" could affect products currently being offered to military personnel, such as student and personal unsecured loans, mortgage refinancings, overdrafts and loans secured by 401(k) plans and insurance policies, the groups said in the letter.

The cap was established with much prodding from the Pentagon, which is concerned its services members are falling deep into debt -- a situation the Pentagon says distracts troops and hurts their ability to focus on their missions.

Officials have said the situation is also contributing to an increasing number of personal security clearance withdrawals and rejections within the U.S. military.

Attempts to reach Defense Department officials for comment on the letter were unsuccessful.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Bush Warned About Mail-Opening Authority; Recent 'Signing Statement' Seen as Stretching Law
Bush Warned About Mail-Opening Authority
Recent 'Signing Statement' Seen as Stretching Law
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush signed a little-noticed statement last month asserting the authority to open U.S. mail without judicial warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases, prompting warnings yesterday from Democrats and privacy advocates that the administration is attempting to circumvent legal restrictions on its powers.

A "signing statement" attached to a postal reform bill on Dec. 20 says the Bush administration "shall construe" a section of that law to allow the opening of sealed mail to protect life, guard against hazardous materials or conduct "physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."

White House and U.S. Postal Service officials said the statement was not intended to expand the powers of the executive branch but merely to clarify existing ones for extreme cases.

"This is not a change in law, this is not new, it is not . . . a sweeping new power by the president," spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. "It is, in fact, merely a statement of present law and present authorities granted to the president of the United States."

But some civil liberties and national-security law experts said the statement's language is unduly vague and appears to go beyond long-recognized limits on the ability of the government to open letters and other U.S. mail without approval from a judge.

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, said the government has long been able to legally open mail believed to contain a bomb or other imminent threat. But authorities are generally required to seek a warrant from a criminal or special intelligence court in other cases, Martin and other experts said.

"The administration is playing games about warrants," Martin said. "If they are not claiming new powers, then why did they need to issue a signing statement?"

Administration critics said they were particularly confused because the relevant portion of the postal reform legislation -- which prohibits opening mail without warrants in most circumstances -- remains unchanged.

A White House official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the signing statement, first revealed by the New York Daily News, was intended only to make clear that the new law would not limit the ability of the president or attorney general to open mail under emergency provisions of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs spying in the United States. That law allows authorities to conduct searches and surveillance without warrants in emergency situations, although they must apply for a warrant later.

"The point was that because Congress was passing this anew, the concern was that there would be some confusion," the official said. "The law that's been around since 1978 still allows you to conduct warrantless physical searches under some circumstances, and nothing changes that authority."

The debate over the signing statement comes after disclosures over the past year that Bush authorized a program that allows the National Security Agency to monitor telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and other countrieswithout court oversight. The administration has strongly defended the legality of the NSA spying program, arguing that Congress authorized it as part of the war on al-Qaeda and, even if it had not, that the president has the power to order such surveillance.

In addition to searching for a bomb or other hazardous device, postal officials are legally allowed to open letters that cannot be delivered as addressed, but only to find a correct destination for the parcel. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are also allowed to obtain authority from postal inspectors to track mail without opening it.

The latest statement caused a small ruckus on Capitol Hill yesterday just as Democrats were taking control of Congress. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the statement a "last-minute, irregular and unauthorized reinterpretation of a duly passed law."

Sharp limits have been placed on the government's power to open mail since the 1970s, when a congressional committee investigating abuses found that, for three decades, the CIA and FBI had illegally opened hundreds of thousands of pieces of U.S. mail. Among the targets were "large numbers of American dissidents, including those who challenged the condition of racial minorities and those who opposed the war in Vietnam," according to a report by the Senate panel, known as the Church committee. Also surveilled was "the mail of Senators, Congressmen, journalists, businessmen, and even a Presidential candidate," the report said.

During his tenure, Bush has made plentiful use of signing statements, which are issued along with a president's signature on legislation. Although previous presidents used them as guidance for the executive branch, Bush has offered revised interpretations of laws on constitutional or national security grounds in some of his statements.


NY subway 'hero' saves teenager

NY subway 'hero' saves teenager

A US construction worker has been hailed as a hero after rescuing a student who had fallen onto the tracks at a New York subway station.

Wesley Autrey jumped onto the tracks and rolled with 19-year-old Cameron Hollopeter into the trough between the rails at 137th Street station.

Mr Hollopeter, who had suffered a medical problem, was rescued just as a train was coming into the station.

Two cars passed over the men before stopping just inches above them.

The train operator had seen someone on the tracks and put the emergency brakes on.

The New York Times newspaper reported that Mr Hollopeter had suffered a seizure, which sent him convulsing off the platform and onto the tracks.

Moments after the train came to a halt, Mr Hollopeter asked if he was dead, Mr Autrey said.

"I said: 'You are very much alive, but if you move you'll kill the both of us.'"

Mr Autrey, a 50-year-old father of three and a navy veteran, said of his actions during the incident on Tuesday that he was doing what anyone should do in the same situation.

"I'm still saying I'm not a hero... 'cause I believe all New Yorkers should get into that type of mode," he told US TV on Thursday.

"You should do the right thing."


On Wednesday, he visited Mr Hollopeter and his family in hospital. Mr Hollopeter's father, Larry, addressed reporters outside.

"Mr Autrey's instinctive and unselfish act saved our son's life," he said.

"There are no words to properly express our gratitude and feelings for his actions."

Since his act of heroism, Mr Autrey has been interviewed by numerous media outlets and has been offered rewards by a number of people, including business tycoon Donald Trump.

Mr Autrey said he had been offered cash, trips and scholarships for his two daughters, who were with him at the time of the rescue.

"Donald Trump's got a check waiting on me," he said. "They offered to mail it; I said no, I'd like to meet the Donald, so I can say: 'Yo, you're fired.'"

Story from BBC NEWS:



"Surging" is No Plan: Concerned Americans Plan Picket Action at McCain/Lieberman Appearance

Huffinton Post
Steve Clemons
"Surging" is No Plan: Concerned Americans Plan Picket Action at McCain/Lieberman Appearance

It has become a sad cliche that Americans deserve better from their leadership than they are getting.

The President and some Members of Congress are calling for an increase in troop levels in Iraq to attempt to keep implementing the same domestic security and training plan for Iraqi police and militia units that America has had in place all along.

The plan has not changed -- just the call, finally, for more forces. But it's too late for 20,000 -- 30,000 -- or even 40,000 -- troops to matter.

I'm not sure that several hundred thousand troops would make a difference, but all bias aside, Iraq and the sectarian civil war that is erupting calls for a much bolder, bigger action than a simple "surge" in U.S. troops.

Solving Iraq, if it can be solved, now means getting real about and engaging in a broad range of Middle East dealmaking between internal groups inside Iraq as well as among its neighbors.

It means working to establish the State of Palestine in a manner that maintains the viability and security of both Israel and Palestine. It means offering Syria a Libya-like arrangement out of the international doghouse. It means massaging Iran's ego in the region without handing the entire Middle East over on a golden platter -- which America seems to be doing with its counterproductive strategy. It means figuring out what China and Russia want most in their foreign policy objectives and doing what we can to trade their needs for our own.

This all means that we must have an end to diplomacy on the cheap -- and national security on the cheap. And a surge in troop levels without a plan, without the other component parts of a credible and believable grand strategy -- is sending more soldiers off to die unnecessarily -- or to kill Iraqis, many who are absolutely innocent in all this mess and who will no doubt hate the United States for a long time ahead.

I cannot attend tomorrow as I am traveling, but there is a picket action that is taking place on Friday at noon in Washington at 1150 Seventeenth Street (near 17th and M Streets) to protest the campaign that Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman are launching tomorrow to support President Bush's call for more troops in Iraq.

This peaceful picket action is called "No Iraq Escalation" and folks will have colorful signs and other material to carry around if you wish.

I know both Senator McCain and Lieberman -- and I know that both think that this "surge" is something that they have to support. My response to them -- if I was discussing the matter privately -- is that they are not asking the tough questions of the President and of our nation's top strategists. They are not thinking this through well enough or fully enough and are calling for an "escalation" of an already terrible situation.

They need to hear some alternative voices out there. That's what our democracy is about.

Feel free to send this post to others in the DC area, or to other blogs, or email lists.

I hope that those of you who can will share your views tomorrow at 1150 17th Street and give our elected representatives a sense that Americans are sick of being asked to send young men and women into a war that has gone way off the rails.

Bush is cherry-picking the Iraq Study Group report -- cherry-picking what he wants to continue a failed four year plan. But without the big deal and the other important parts of the ISG Report, Bush -- and enabling Senators -- are making America's situation even worse.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note


House Bans Lobbyist Gifts, Business-Sponsored Travel

Yahoo! News
House Bans Lobbyist Gifts, Business-Sponsored Travel
Jonathan D. Salant

Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House of Representatives, after installing its new Democratic leadership, voted to ban lawmakers from flying on corporate jets and accepting gifts and meals from lobbyists.

The House passed, 430-1, a package of rules aimed at demonstrating Democrats' commitment to cleaning up Congress. Tomorrow, the House will vote on rules designed to end the anonymous sponsorship of pet projects, or earmarks, that have been quietly tucked into spending measures.

``The culture of the last Congress came to be defined by a phrase now common to Americans throughout the country: it was a culture of corruption,'' said House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat. ``The American people stated loud and clear that they were ready for a new culture to take hold in Washington: a culture of commitment.''

As the Democrats won control of the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years, exit polls from the November election showed the issue resonated with voters. In a CNN exit poll, 42 percent of respondents said the issue was ``extremely important.''

``This is legislation I wish we had done,'' said Representative Christopher Shays (news, bio, voting record), a Connecticut Republican. ``I'm sorry it took a Democratic majority to do it.''

Four Republican House members resigned last year -- Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham of California after he admitted taking bribes; former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, indicted on money- laundering charges in Texas; Bob Ney of Ohio, who pleaded guilty to taking gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for legislative favors; and Mark Foley of Florida, who sent suggestive e-mails to teenage pages.

`Edge of the Cliff'

``We pushed ethics to the very edge of the cliff and hoped the public would be interested in other things,'' Shays said. ``When Mark Foley came up, it pushed us over the cliff.''

Republican Dan Burton of Indiana cast the only vote against the rules adopted today.

House Republicans complained that the ethics rules were being rushed through without a chance to offer alternatives.

``We never even had an opportunity to have our amendments denied in the Rules Committee,'' said Representative David Dreier (news, bio, voting record) of California, chief sponsor of a Republican ethics proposal that failed to become law in the last Congress. That legislation was criticized as ineffective by Shays, Democrats and outside advocates.

Today's action may be a prelude to a more significant fight over reducing corruption and influence-buying. That could come in about two months after a task force formed by Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, announces whether it supports an outside ethics office to enforce the new rules. For now, members of Congress police themselves through a bipartisan ethics committee.

Honest Government

Those demanding more open and honest government say only independent enforcement will guarantee success.

``If you're not going to enforce the rules, it doesn't matter what they are,'' said former federal prosecutor Melanie Sloan, director of the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

The rules passed today apply only to House members and don't require any further congressional action or the signature of President George W. Bush. The proposed enforcement mechanism for the House and Senate would require passage by both houses and Bush's signature.

There is concern that the Senate, where 41 senators can block any action, may not go along in adopting strong ethics regulations. The Senate, with Democrats in control 51-49, is scheduled to begin debate on ethics legislation Jan. 8.

The House rules ban lobbyists and the organizations they work for from arranging overnight trips. Nonprofit foundations affiliated with lobbying groups could continue to pay for trips approved in advance by the House ethics committee.

Daylong Trips

Lobbying groups can sponsor daylong trips to factories or forums for lawmakers and their staffs.

``We want them to be able to see a manufacturing facility,'' said Jay Timmons, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, a trade group with members including Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries Inc. and Benton Harbor, Michigan- based Whirlpool Corp. ``They're able to take that experience back to their jobs.''

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he would begin by bringing up ethics legislation that passed last year when Republicans were in control. Groups such as Common Cause and Public Citizen say it isn't strong enough.

``I'm astounded the Senate Democratic leadership doesn't see the opportunity they have to step up to the plate,'' said Craig Holman, a campaign finance lobbyist for Washington-based Public Citizen.

`Strongest Possible'

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the Senate measure that passed last year -- and stalled when the House and Senate couldn't agree on the provisions -- is just a starting point. ``Senator Reid is interested in getting the strongest possible legislation,'' he said.

Democratic Senators Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Barack Obama of Illinois said today they will propose adopting the House restrictions on travel, letting senators use corporate jets if they pay the charter rate, and doubling to two years the waiting period before former lawmakers can become lobbyists.

Feingold and Obama also would require lobbyists to disclose fund-raisers they hold, and ban them from holding events to honor lawmakers at national party conventions.

Each house has its own ethics committee, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, to investigate wrongdoing and punish it. The committees decide whether to undertake inquiries and have been criticized for lax enforcement.

``You've got to make the rules tough enough, and you have to have strong enforcement,'' said Feingold, whose proposal also calls for an independent ethics office.

Paul Miller, immediate past president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the system works and shouldn't be changed.

``Let's not overreact,'' he said. ``It has proven to be effective. Everyone who broke the law is going to prison.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at .


Key Democrat didn't get the message: Might consider troop boost in Iraq

Key Democrat might consider troop boost in Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush is likely to link any short-term increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq to political milestones or other conditions, a key Senate Democrat said on Thursday, saying he might consider backing such a "surge" if those conditions are right.

Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin also predicted the Republican president would soon find a way to end the "open-ended commitment" of U.S. troops to Iraq, even if Bush does propose a short-term boost in forces.

"I can't believe the president is simply going to say, 'We're going to increase troops in Iraq,'" Levin told reporters outside the Senate. "It's likely the president would add something of a conditionality to it."

"The (recent congressional) election is far too clear, that the public wants to change course and find a way out of Iraq and not get in deeper in Iraq," said Levin, who is the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The White House says Bush is preparing to unveil a new strategy on Iraq that could come next week.

A quick, short-term troop increase, or "surge," is just one of many policy changes under consideration to try to reverse the deteriorating situation. But it is the one that has garnered the most attention in Washington, as American military deaths in Iraq have climbed above 3,000 and analysts question whether a troop increase can stem violence.

While the war's unpopularity helped Democrats win majorities in November congressional elections, lawmakers could probably not stop a quick boost in U.S. troops without cutting off war funding, which they have so far been unwilling to do.

But Congress, with its new Democratic majority, could pass resolutions calling for a drawdown of U.S. forces if it does not like Bush's new strategy, Levin said.

The new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said the American people had "rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end." In her first remarks as speaker, she said Bush should make clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own security so the United States can "responsibly" redeploy its troops.

While he had no information on Bush's intentions, Levin said he thought Bush would "at a minimum" reverse the open-ended nature of the U.S. troop commitment in Iraq.

"I predict, whatever kind of surge he's going to propose, that he's going to find a way to correct the statement that he made twice to the Iraqis that we're there as long as the Iraqis want us to be there," Levin said.

Levin said any temporary "surge" he might consider backing, would need to be combined with the announcement of a reduction in U.S. forces starting in four to six months, and set political milestones for Iraq to meet.

Options developed by military planners could include up to 30,000 additional troops, according to defense officials. The United States now has 132,000 troops in Iraq.

Some other key Democrats, such as Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have rejected the idea of a U.S. troop "surge," calling it the "absolute wrong strategy." Republicans appear divided on the issue, with Arizona Sen. John McCain supporting the idea.


Nuclear weapons agency chief quits over lapses

Nuclear weapons agency chief quits over lapses
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. nuclear weapons program resigned under pressure on Thursday following repeated security lapses at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, was asked to tender his resignation to President George W. Bush after administration officials concluded he was unable to adequately address a series of management and security issues.

"These management and security issues can have serious implications for the security of the United States," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a statement announcing Brooks' departure. "I have decided it is time for new leadership at the NNSA."

Bush was expected to name an acting director shortly.

The NNSA, an Energy Department agency, is responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and reducing the global threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

It was established 2000 after the Wen Ho Lee espionage scandal at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb and the site of U.S. nuclear weapons research.

A Taiwanese-American scientist, Lee was accused of stealing secrets about the U.S. nuclear arsenal for China in December 1999 but the charges were dropped. He later pleaded guilty to improperly handling of sensitive data.

Brooks' departure followed two other incidents at the lab.

Last June, word surfaced that a security breach at Los Alamos had led to the theft of files containing personal information on more than 1,000 workers. The breach had gone unreported for months.

Then in October, a drug raid on a Los Alamos trailer park turned up secret data taken from the lab by a female employee. The discovery raised concerns that the woman might have tried to sell the information to support a drug habit.

Brooks, 68, who has led the agency since 2003, said in a statement that his resignation came after NNSA failed over a period of years to deal with recurring problems that it had been set up to address.

"I accept the decision," he said. "Our task now is to minimize the inevitable disruption of such a transition and to continue the vital national security work on which we are engaged."

He was expected to leave the agency within three weeks.


FBI files: Nixon, Reagan went to great lengths to discredit Rehnquist opponents during hearings

Yahoo! News
FBI files: Rehnquist had hallucinations
By MARK SHERMAN and PETE YOST, Associated Press Writers

The FBI's file on former Chief Justice William Rehnquist — made public more than a year after his death — indicates the Nixon and Reagan administrations enlisted its help in blunting criticism of him during confirmation hearings.

The file also offers insight into the hallucinations and other symptoms of withdrawal that Rehnquist suffered when he was taken off a prescription painkiller in 1981. A doctor was cited as saying that Rehnquist, an associate justice of the Supreme Court at the time, tried to escape the hospital in his pajamas and imagined that the CIA was plotting against him.

The FBI on Wednesday released 1,561 pages of documents on Rehnquist to The Associated Press, other news organizations and scholars in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act following Rehnquist's death in September 2005. An additional 207 pages were withheld under the federal disclosure law, and the FBI said an entire section of his file could not be found.

Much of the FBI's file on Rehnquist appears to have been compiled almost exclusively for his two Senate confirmations — his initial nomination to the court by President Nixon in 1971 and his nomination as chief justice by President Reagan in 1986. Administration officials apparently hoped to prevent any surprises from sinking his nominations.

In 1971, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst directed the FBI to conduct investigations of witnesses who were planning to testify at a Senate hearing against Rehnquist's confirmation. Fifteen years later during the Reagan administration, the FBI was enlisted to conduct background checks on witnesses who were scheduled to testify against Rehnquist's nomination to become chief justice.

The late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 when Rehnquist was nominated to be chief justice. John Bolton, who resigned in December as President Bush's U.N. ambassador, was an assistant attorney general under Reagan.

"Thurmond just gave these names to Bolton they will testify for the Democrats and we want to know what they are going to say," a Justice Department official told a counterpart at the FBI, according to a memo in Rehnquist's file.

Alexander Charns, a Durham, N.C., lawyer who received the file and has extensively researched the FBI's relationship with the court, said the new disclosures show the two administrations went to some lengths to discredit Rehnquist opponents.

"In many ways, I guess it's the same old story of the political use of the FBI," Charns said.

The documents show that the FBI was aware in 1971 that Rehnquist had owned a home in Phoenix with a deed that allowed him to sell only to whites. The restrictive covenant was not disclosed until his 1986 confirmation hearings, at which Rehnquist said he became aware of the clause only days earlier.

Also detailed in the declassified file was Rehnquist's 1981 hospital stay for treatment of back pain and his dependence on powerful prescription pain-relief medication.

The FBI investigated his dependence on Placidyl, which Rehnquist had taken for at least 10 years, according to a summary of a 1970 medical examination.

When Rehnquist checked into a hospital in 1981 for a weeklong stay, doctors stopped administering the drug, causing what a hospital spokesman at the time said was a "disturbance in mental clarity."

The FBI file, citing one of his physicians, said Rehnquist experienced withdrawal symptoms that included trying to escape the facility and discerning changes in the patterns on the hospital curtains. The justice also thought he heard voices outside his room discussing various plots against him.

The doctor said Placidyl is a highly toxic drug and that she could not understand why anyone would prescribe it, especially for long periods.

Prior to his hospitalization, Rehnquist occasionally slurred his speech in his questions to lawyers at Supreme Court arguments. Those problems ceased when he changed medications, the doctor said.

Charns said some of the censored documents provide intriguing hints of what else Rehnquist's file might contain.

In one previously secret memo from 1971, an FBI official wrote, "No persons interviewed during our current or 1969 investigation furnished information bearing adversely on Rehnquist's morals or professional integrity; however ..." The next third of the page is blacked out, under the disclosure law's exception for matters of national security.

"It would be nice to know what is still classified, three decades later," Charns said.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Mandate for Peace

Huffington Post
Tom Hayden
The Mandate for Peace

To: the Incoming 110th Congress
From: Tom Hayden
Re: The Mandate for Peace

We call on you to adopt an exit strategy to bring our troops home and end the Iraq War in 2008. The peace movement may not be a player in power politics, but surely we represent a mandate for peace after the November 2006 election.
A majority of Americans, including three-quarters of Democrats, favor setting a deadline for bringing the troops home in the coming year. Our military presence only deepens the hostility of the 80 percent of Iraqis who are against the occupation. Setting a deadline should be accompanied by political negotiations and a diplomatic offensive to best manage the difficult transition ahead.

It is shocking that the Bush Administration should defy the will of the voters by considering a so-called "surge" in Baghdad, which only means more bloody house-to-house carnage.

* The peace movement will call on Congress to deny any funding for such a "surge".
* We support a diplomatic peace initiative based on declaring a timetable for withdrawal, peace talks with the Iraqi opposition, and diplomatic engagement with the international community, including countries in the region.
* We oppose continued funding of the status quo through the $100 billion supplemental request.

Congress now has the opportunity to fund a transition to peace, not further war. We expect the Congress to launch open, thorough and critical hearings on the supplemental request for funding of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

We believe that differences about the speed of bringing our troops home should be publicly debated and put to up-or-down floor votes so that the public can know where its representatives stand. The different approaches should include:

* an immediate cut off of supplemental funding;
* funding contingent on a six-month or one-year withdrawal;
* funding contingent on beginning withdrawal in six months;
* funding contingent on implementing the Baker-Hamilton proposals.

No more should die in what everyone recognizes as an unwinnable war. While we believe a deadline for speedy withdrawal is the most responsible approach, we demand that Congress begin 2007 by the funding of peace, not a rubber stamp for another year of pointless killing.

We will be marching and lobbying in Washington on the weekend of January 27, representing new mandate for peace. We will be requesting that our voices be heard in Congressional hearings. We will throw ourselves into grass-roots organizing and outreach in every corner of every contested Congressional and Senate district in 2008, and into the presidential primary states to insist on leaders who will end this war. Those who ignore the November 2006 mandate by continuing the killing will face an even greater wrath of the voters in the coming election.


Lieberman Party Now in Hands of Critic
Lieberman Party Now in Hands of Critic

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The party Sen. Joe Lieberman created to mount his independent re-election campaign has been seized by one of his critics, and the secretary of state's office said Wednesday that it won't challenge the takeover.

After the senator's Nov. 7 victory under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party banner, John Orman switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Connecticut for Lieberman and voted himself chairman.

Orman, a political science professor who ran briefly against Lieberman last year, said only critics, bloggers and anyone named Lieberman can join the party, which he said would be a watchdog of the senator's actions.

Ted Bromley, a lawyer for the secretary of the state's office, said it won't take a stance on the legitimacy of Orman's leadership. He said the issue could be settled by a judge, but only if it's challenged in court.

Lieberman campaign manager Sherry Brown did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday.

Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont, a multimillionaire in his first run for public office who harshly criticized the incumbent's support for the Iraq war. But state election laws allowed Lieberman to run in the general election as an independent and ultimately win a fourth term.

Orman had bitterly protested Lieberman's creation of the party, saying it was a ploy to secure a better position on the ballot. In Connecticut, minor party candidates are listed on the ballot before unaffiliated party candidates.

Orman said he hopes to keep the Connecticut for Lieberman party active and endorse a Senate candidate in 2010.


Murtha: Extensive Hearings on Iraq

Huffington Post
Rep. John Murtha
Extensive Hearings on Iraq

I will be recommending to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that we begin extensive hearings starting on January 17, 2007 that will address accountability, military readiness, intelligence oversight and the activities of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will be demanding substantive answers to questions that have gone unanswered for far too long.

The war in Iraq and its effect on our military and our nation's future remains the most crucial issue facing the new Congress. I will be will be recommending an aggressive pursuit of action that will allow us to reduce our military presence in Iraq at the soonest practicable date.


Louisiana Probes Mayor-Elect's Shooting Death

Louisiana Probes Mayor-Elect's Shooting Death

WESTLAKE, La. (AP) -- State police on Wednesday began investigating the shooting death of the man who would have been this town's first black mayor, after his family questioned local officials' conclusion that he killed himself.

The Calcasieu Parish sheriff and coroner say Gerald "Wash" Washington shot himself in the chest Saturday, three days before he was to begin his term as mayor of Westlake, a majority-white town of 4,500. But some family members said the investigation was far from adequate.

"He was an elected official, but these people have done zero to find out what happened," Washington's son Geroski Washington told The American Press of Lake Charles on Tuesday.

Col. Henry Whitehorn, head of Louisiana State Police, and detectives met with the family Wednesday as they took over the investigation, a state police news release said.

The parish coroner, Dr. Terry Welke, said Washington was shot once and the gun barrel had been "pressed tight to his skin" - something often found in suicides.

Washington's daughter Germaine Washington-Broussard said Tuesday her father's pickup truck was given back to the family just hours after his body was found. She said deputies did not take fingerprints from the truck, check ballistics on the gun found near her father's body or complete an ownership check of the gun.

Sheriff Tony Mancuso said he was confident in the investigative work done by his staff. He also said the family turned down his initial offer, on Monday, to turn the case over to state police, but called back Tuesday to say that was what they wanted.

The Westlake City Council has asked retiring Mayor Dudley Dixon to stay on until a successor is named. The council set a special election for March 31 to fill Washington's term.


Nixon Vowed to 'Ruin Foreign Service'

Lake County Record Bee
Nixon Vowed to 'Ruin Foreign Service'
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Embittered by career diplomats during his first term, President Nixon said he wanted to "ruin the Foreign Service" before leaving office, according to newly released State Department documents.

Days after his re-election on Nov. 7, 1972, Nixon vented his frustrations about the diplomatic corps during a meeting with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.

Just before saying he was going "to take the responsibility for cleaning up" the department, the president told Kissinger on Nov. 13 that he was determined that his "one legacy is to ruin the Foreign Service. I mean ruin it - the old Foreign Service - and to build a new one. I'm going to do it."

Months later, Kissinger would become the chief U.S. diplomat as secretary of state, and major changes were never made to the Foreign Service.

Earlier, Nixon had questioned the loyalty of career diplomats to his policies and particularly was outraged by the State Department's performance on international economic policy.

"I don't know of one man, a soul that's worth a goddamn as an economic adviser. Not one. Not one at all," Nixon said at a White House meeting on Jan. 18, 1972, the documents said.

The documents shed new light on the tensions between the Republican administration and the State Department's permanent foreign policy establishment.

It was a period dominated by dramatic developments overseas - the winding down of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the beginning of a relationship with China and the continuing Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union.

Winston Lord, a top aide to Kissinger during the 1970s, said Nixon looked on the Foreign Service as dominated by liberals and as generally "cautious, unimaginative, slow-moving and risk-averse."

He said Nixon was given to hyperbole and his "extreme" comments about dismantling the Foreign Service should be seen in that light. At times, he said Kissinger simply ignored instructions from Nixon that Kissinger felt were given out of pique instead of careful consideration.

During the early years of Nixon's presidency, Kissinger dominated foreign policy, causing friction with the marginalized secretary of state, William P. Rogers, a longtime Nixon friend.

According to the documents, Nixon disagreed with Kissinger on both Rogers' intelligence and the worthiness of the career diplomatic corps.

"Henry says Bill is dumb - not smart. He is wrong. Bill is smart as hell. Bill is not a clown," Nixon said at the January 1972 meeting.

As for State Department officials, Nixon said he has "much more suspicion of them and much more contempt for them than he (Kissinger) has."

When Rogers was informed shortly after the 1972 election that he was being relieved of his duties, he protested to Nixon that it would look like he was being forced out by Kissinger. Nixon relented and permitted Rogers an elegant exit after Kissinger's appointment to replace him nine months later.

Kissinger, notified that Rogers was being allowed a grace period, responded that it was "a disaster for the P (president) and the country and unworkable for the administration and our foreign policy," the documents show.

"Our problem is not the Foreign Service, it's the secretary and he operates independently of the White House, won't carry out orders and won't do the work, the preparation of his own materials," Kissinger is quoted as saying.


On the Net:

State Department documents:


Florida Democrat Appeals Court Ruling

Lake Country Record Bee
Fla. Democrat Appeals Court Ruling

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Democrat Christine Jennings asked an appeals court Wednesday to overturn a ruling that denied her access to the programming code for electronic voting machines used in Sarasota County in the November election.

Jennings wants experts to examine the programming to determine if the machines somehow failed to count votes in the congressional race in which she was running against Republican Vern Buchanan.

The state declared Buchanan the winner of the race to replace Katherine Harris by 369 votes and he is scheduled to be sworn in Thursday.

But Jennings is seeking to have the election results thrown out because about 18,000 ballots cast on the touchscreen machines in the county didn't record a vote for Congress. The state - and Buchanan - assume that those people, nearly 15 percent of voters, chose to skip the race. Jennings alleges that many tried to vote but their votes weren't counted.

Circuit Judge William Gary ruled last week that Jennings' allegations amounted to conjecture and she had no right to violate the trade secrets of the company that made the voting machines, Election Systems & Software, by examining the programming code.

The First District Court of Appeal, where the appeal was filed, has no timeline for ruling on the case.


First Muslim in U.S. Congress to use historic Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson

First Muslim in U.S. Congress to use historic Koran

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, attacked for planning to use the Koran at his swearing-in instead of a Bible, will use a copy of the Muslim holy book once owned by Thomas Jefferson, an official said on Wednesday.

Representative-elect Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, requested the 18th century copy of the Koran for the unofficial part of his swearing in on Thursday, according to Mark Dimunation, chief of rare books and special collections at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Ellison, a Muslim convert who traces his U.S. ancestry to 1741, wanted a special copy of the book to use, Dimunation said, and approached the library for one.

The third U.S. president, serving from 1801 to 1809, Jefferson was a collector with wide-ranging interests. His 6,000-volume library, the largest in North America at the time, became the basis for the Library of Congress.

Ellison, elected in November, initially came under attack in the blogosphere and by at least one conservative radio commentator after he said he would use the Koran in his unofficial ceremony.

Members are sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives as a group with no Bibles or other books involved; but in a country where three out of every four people consider themselves Christians, the Bible has traditionally been used in ensuing unofficial ceremonies.

These unofficial events among other things provide each member with a photo opportunity for themselves and their constituents.

Rep. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican who represents the area where Jefferson lived, was one of those who criticized Ellison for wanting to use the Koran, calling for strict immigration policies specially crafted to keep Muslims out of the United States.

The English translation of the Koran from Jefferson's collection dates to the 1750s. Jefferson sold his collection to the U.S. Congress after its library was lost when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. Much of his collection was destroyed in an ensuing fire in 1851 but the Koran that Ellison will use survived, Dimunation said.

Ellison, a native of Detroit, will be one of 42 blacks in the House next term. There will be one black U.S. senator.


Democrats may bend budget rule for tax fix

Democrats may bend budget rule for tax fix
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives plans to pass rules this week to reduce U.S. budget deficits, but a senior Democrat on Wednesday said he was open to bending those rules to fix a tax that otherwise will hit growing numbers of middle-income households.

Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Democrats might decide to waive new budget rules so that Congress can keep upper middle-class taxpayers from getting caught by a tax originally intended for the wealthy.

Under the new budget rules called "paygo," spending increases or tax cuts would have to be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget or tax code. But that could make it harder for Democrats to keep their promise to eliminate deficits in five years while providing tax relief for the middle class.

Over the next several years, an estimated 20 million to 30 million middle-class taxpayers whose incomes rise with inflation could be forced to pay the alternative minimum tax, even though it was intended to prevent the very wealthy from using exemptions to avoid paying taxes.

Congress has approved a series of temporary fixes for the tax that was first enacted in 1969, but put off any permanent resolution because of its huge impact on the budget. Democrats say a more permanent fix for the AMT would cost the Treasury about $641 billion over 10 years.

Spratt said that under rules the new Democratic House majority plans to pass on Friday, there will be no exemptions to paygo. But he added, "That's not to say that you couldn't come back later in a budget resolution and have some sort of a dispensation from the rule for a certain-sized tax cut."

Republicans, including President George W. Bush's budget chief, Rob Portman, oppose the paygo rule, saying it will only encourage Congress to pass tax increases to reduce deficits.

"It's a plan to raise taxes, plain and simple," said Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and senior Budget Committee member.

Instead, Republicans say the government collects enough tax revenue and they want deficit cuts to be achieved by paring domestic spending. But over the past several years, while they controlled both houses of Congress, domestic spending rose significantly.

For fiscal 2006, which ended on September 30, the budget deficit was $247.7 billion.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

FBI Details Possible Detainee Abuse
FBI Details Possible Detainee Abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) - FBI agents documented more than two dozen incidents of possible mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay military base, including one detainee whose head was wrapped in duct tape for chanting the Quran and another who pulled out his hair after hours in a sweltering room.

Documents released Tuesday by the FBI offered new details about the harsh interrogations practice used by military officials and contractors when questioning so-called enemy combatants.

The reports describe a female guard who detainees said handled their genitals and wiped menstrual blood on their face. Another interrogator reportedly bragged to an FBI agent about dressing as a Catholic priest and "baptizing" a prisoner.

Some military officials and contractors told FBI agents that the interrogation techniques had been approved by the Defense Department, including directly by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The documents were released in response to a public records request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing Rumsfeld and others on behalf of former military detainees who say they were abused. Many of the incidents in the FBI documents have already been reported and are summarized in the ACLU's lawsuit.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said the issues raised in the report are not new. A dozen reviews of detention operations have found no policies that condone abuse, he said.

President Bush signed legislation in October that authorized aggressive interrogation tactics but did not define them. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said the documents show that stricter congressional oversight is needed.

"If you just authorize in a vague way, there's no end to the abusive methods the interrogators will come up with," Jaffer said.

The records were gathered as part of an internal FBI survey in 2004 and are not part of a criminal investigation.

The agency asked 493 employees whether they witnessed aggressive treatment that was not consistent with the FBI's policies. The bureau received 26 positive responses, including some from agents who were troubled by what they saw.

"I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive but personally very upsetting," one agent wrote, describing seeing a man left in a 100-degree room with no ventilation overnight. "The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently literally been pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

Another agent said he heard several "thunderclaps" then saw a detainee lying on the floor with a bloody nose. Interrogators told the agent the man was upset and had thrown himself to the floor.

In one report, an agent said he saw a detainee draped in an Israeli flag in a room with loud music and strobe lights. A note on the report said the Israeli flag "may be over the top but not abusive." The words "may be" were then crossed out and replaced with "is."

Carpenter, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Guantanamo detainees "include some of the world's most vicious terrorist operatives."

"The Department of Defense policy is clear," Carpenter said. "We treat detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for enemy combatants who are providing valuable information in the war on terror."

The FBI reports do not say whether any laws were broken. They said nothing employees observed rose to the level of abuse seen at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

FBI spokesman Richard J. Kolko said all the information in the reports were passed on to the Pentagon's inspector general.

A federal judge is considering whether to allow the ACLU's lawsuit against Rumsfeld to go forward. Government officials are normally shielded from personal lawsuits related to their jobs.


On the Net:

Copies of the documents can be found at:


Pat Robertson predicts a terrorist attack on the United States will result in "mass killing" late in 2007

Yahoo! News
Pat Robertson predicts 'mass killing'

In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007.

"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

Robertson said God also told him that the U.S. only feigns friendship with Israel and that U.S. policies are pushing Israel toward "national suicide."

Robertson suggested in January 2006 that God punished then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke for ceding Israeli-controlled land to the Palestinians.

The broadcaster predicted in January 2004 that President Bush would easily win re-election. Bush won 51 percent of the vote that fall, beating Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In 2005, Robertson predicted that Bush would have victory after victory in his second term. He said Social Security reform proposals would be approved and Bush would nominate conservative judges to federal courts.

Lawmakers confirmed Bush's 2005 nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. But the president's Social Security initiative was stalled.

"I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss."

In May, Robertson said God told him that storms and possibly a tsunami were to crash into America's coastline in 2006. Even though the U.S. was not hit with a tsunami, Robertson on Tuesday cited last spring's heavy rains and flooding in New England as partly fulfilling the prediction.


Only four big U.S. cities ready for crisis: NYC is NOT one of them

Only four big U.S. cities ready for crisis: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than five years after the September 11 attacks, only four big U.S. cities have emergency communications allowing police, fire and medical officials to coordinate fully during a crisis, a federal report said.

The Department of Homeland Security report, due to be released officially on Wednesday, listed Washington, D.C.; San Diego, California; the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota; and Columbus, Ohio, as the major urban areas that achieved "most advanced" status.

The study awarded the same status to the smaller metropolitan areas of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Laramie, Wyoming.

Portions of the report obtained by Reuters said federal officials surveyed the emergency communications systems of 75 urban and metropolitan areas.

New York City, which was hardest hit by the 2001 attacks that killed 3,000 people, did not appear among those with the most advanced systems. Neither did Chicago, another city seen as a potential target.

The report ranked Chicago in the early stages of communications development and cited political divisions between the city and surrounding Cook County as the reason.

The inability of police and fire officials to communicate during the September 11 attacks was blamed for the deaths of New York City firefighters despite a police warning when the World Trade Center towers began to collapse.

The September 11 commission, which investigated the attacks, recommended "interoperability" of the communications systems of urban emergency services.

The new Homeland Security report said 75 urban and metropolitan areas have policies governing interoperability. But it said leadership and planning have lagged and emergency services in some areas were still in need of regular training.

Homeland Security awarded most-advanced status to areas that have standard procedures for interoperable communications, proven familiarity with the equipment during emergencies and a strategic plan for meeting further communications goals.


New UN chief keeps distance from death penalty ban

New UN chief keeps distance from death penalty ban
By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon started his first day on the job on Tuesday by departing from the traditional U.N. opposition to the death penalty, saying nations can make their own decision.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister succeeding Kofi Annan of Ghana, was greeted by a U.N. honor guard, went to a U.N. meditation chapel to honor fallen peacekeepers, spoke to reporters and held a mass meeting with U.N. staff.

Asked about the weekend execution of Saddam Hussein, Ban said the former Iraqi leader committed "heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against the Iraqi people and we should never forget the victims of these crimes."

But he said "the issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide" and in conformity with international law.

South Korea is among 68 nations that retain the death penalty, although Seoul is considering abolishing it.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch have criticized the execution of Saddam, saying it was imposed after a "deeply flawed trial" with political interference. Annan and leading U.N. rights officials also have opposed capital punishment, as has the European Union.

The U.N. special representative in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, released a statement on Sunday saying the world body "remains opposed to capital punishment, even in the case of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide."

Ban's new spokeswoman, Michele Montas of Haiti, said "the U.N. policy still remains that the organization is not for capital punishment." She said Ban's comments were nuanced but would not say whether he agreed with Qazi.

While Ban, 62, intends to make a fresh start, he is being pressured by the United States, Britain, France and others for control of key departments -- as were his predecessors.


Sir John Holmes, Britain's ambassador to France, is expected to head the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, formerly run by Jan Egeland, who resigned last month and returned to Norway, U.N. sources said.

The Times of London accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of cronyism for championing a personal friend and said Holmes had little experience, compared with Egeland, in relief work.

It is uncertain what post the United States will get. Washington had been interested in the peacekeeping department but most envoys believe Jean-Marie Guehenno of France will stay on the job, at least for the time being.

The United States for years held the management and administration department, which is now expected to go to Alicia Barcena, a Mexican biologist and environmentalist who served as Annan's chief of staff.

Ban's main message to the staff was that "morale has plummeted" in recent years when the bureaucracy was the target of harsh criticism.

"Not all the criticisms are justified but some of them warrant our urgent attention and we must take bold steps to dispel them," he said.

Ban also told reporters the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region was "very high on my agenda" and that he would meet with his special envoy Jan Eliasson of Sweden on Wednesday morning.

Ban said he would attend an African Union summit at the end of January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and talk there with Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The United Nations is seeking to get a peacekeeping force in Sudan's arid Darfur region, where violence has escalated and more than 2.5 million people have lost their homes. Bashir has put conditions on a U.N. peacekeeping force to bolster the under-financed 7,000 African Union troops now in Darfur.


New Jersey panel urges abolition of death penalty

New Jersey panel urges abolition of death penalty
By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - New Jersey's death penalty should be abolished because it fails to deter murderers, burdens the state financially and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency, a legislative panel said on Tuesday.

The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, set up last year by state lawmakers to assess if capital punishment should be kept, argued the death penalty should be replaced with life imprisonment in a maximum-security jail without parole.

The 13-person panel -- representing police, prosecutors, public defenders, the judiciary and families of murder victims -- found the death penalty does not achieve its goal of deterring the worst murders, and that the legal costs of it outweigh those of keeping a criminal in prison for life.

New Jersey, where nine people are currently on death row, conducted its last execution in 1963 and then suspended its death penalty because of uncertainty about the views of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinstated capital punishment in 1976. New Jersey's current death penalty law dates from 1982.

Thirty-eight of the United States' 50 states have the death penalty -- all use lethal injection except Nebraska which uses the electric chair.

But Florida suspended its death penalty in December after a botched lethal injection led to a man taking 34 minutes to die, while in California last month a federal judge said the state's lethal injection methods caused an "undue risk" of pain "so extreme" that it may violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Making life imprisonment the ultimate penalty in New Jersey would ensure public safety and the rights of murder victims' families, while removing the risk of executing someone in error, the 133-page report said.

"The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible mistake," the report said.

It recommended that any cost savings from abolishing the death penalty should be used to provide benefits and services for the families of murder victims.

Reed Gusciora, a Democratic assemblyman, welcomed the commission's "well reasoned" recommendations and said there is a "very good" chance they will become law in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said in a statement that as an opponent of the death penalty, he looked forward to working with the legislature to implement the panel's recommendations.

But Republican Assemblyman Guy Gregg said he was "surprised and shocked" at the commission's "arbitrary opinion" against a penalty that he argued should be allowed to continue for the worst crimes. Gregg noted that voters approved a constitutional amendment in favor of capital punishment in 1992.


New York governor unveils agenda to revive upstate

New York governor unveils agenda to revive upstate

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Tuesday announced a series of initiatives to spark economic development upstate, including a three-year, $6 billion property tax reduction plan.

On his second day in office, the Democratic governor unveiled "The Renew New York Agenda," which also includes more state aid to upstate schools and to distressed upstate cities and towns.

Details of these and other initiatives will be provided later this month in the executive budget presentation for fiscal 2008, which begins on April 1, according to a statement by the governor.

"We are making a commitment at the start of the new administration to do something about a long-standing problem that affects millions of New Yorkers," Spitzer said in the statement.

Spitzer said there has been a decades-long decline in upstate New York, which has lost numerous manufacturing jobs.

To reverse the decline, he promised to put into effect the three-year, $6 billion property tax reduction plan, which targets most benefits to middle-class people who have been leaving the region.

During the last decade, the upstate has lost more than 30 percent of young people between the ages of 25 and 34, according to the governor's statement.

Spitzer's property tax relief plan follows a similar proposal by state Senate Republicans unveiled last week. The Republicans want to provide $6 billion in tax relief over the next two years.

The governor said his administration will also expand state aid to municipalities, but added that the new aid will be tied to critical belt-tightening measures to ensure long-term fiscal stability. He promised to significantly increase investment in education for distressed cities and towns under a new school-aid formula.

Other measures include appointing an economic development chair for the upstate, helping small businesses by reducing workers compensation and health care costs, creating a fund for stem cell and other research, and launching an initiative to provide universal broadband Internet access.