Friday, November 02, 2007

Rudy's Bogus Cancer Statistic

Bogus Cancer Statistic

Giuliani falsely claims that only 44 percent of prostate cancer patients survive under "socialized medicine" in England.
In a new radio ad, Rudy Giuliani falsely claims that under England’s “socialized medicine” system only 44 percent of men with prostate cancer survive.

We tracked down the source of that number, which turns out to be the result of bad math by a Giuliani campaign adviser, who admits to us that his figure isn’t "technically" a survival rate at all. Furthermore, the author of the study on which Giuliani’s man based his calculations tells us his work is being misused, and that the 44 percent figure is both wrong and “misleading.”

It’s true that official survival rates for prostate cancer are higher in the U.S. than in England, but the difference is not nearly as high as Giuliani claims. And even so, the higher survival rates in the U.S. may simply reflect more aggressive diagnosing of non-lethal cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Actually, men with prostate cancer are more likely to die sooner if they don’t have health insurance, according to a recent study published in one of the American Medical Association’s journals. Giuliani doesn’t mention that.

Note: This is a summary only. The full article with analysis, images and citations may be viewed on


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Major White House Blunder Severely Damages Al-Queda Intelligence Gathering Efforts

Yahoo! News
White House denies leaking info that hurt Al-Qaeda spying

The White House on Tuesday denied being the source of a leak involving an Osama bin Laden video that a private intelligence firm said had sabotaged its secret ability to intercept Al-Qaeda messages.

Asked if the White House was the source of the leak, spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "No, we were not ... We were very concerned to learn about it."

The SITE Intelligence Group said it lost access that it had covertly acquired to Al-Qaeda's communications network when the administration of President George W. Bush let out that the company had obtained a bin Laden video early last month ahead of its official release, the Washington Post said.

"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," SITE founder Rita Katz told the newspaper.

SITE monitors websites and public communications linked to radical Islamist groups and organizations deemed terrorist by US authorities and provides the information to clients, including news media companies.

It got hold of the bin Laden video before its release and provided it for free to the White House on the morning of September 7 but insisted that the video's existence remain secret until it spotted the official release, in order to protect its own work.

"Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's website," the Post said.

By that afternoon the video and a transcript from it had been leaked to a cable television news network and broadcast worldwide, the Post reported.

According to Katz, this tipped off Al-Qaeda that its communications security had been breached by SITE.

White House officials said the matter would be referred to the Director of National Intelligence, and that the White House was not planning any internal investigation.

"When the White House receives information from an individual or a company, we refer that appropriately to the intelligence community. That's what happened here," Perino said.

"And I'll have to refer you to the Director on National Intelligence for any process problem they had in that regard."

Homeland security adviser Fran Townsend echoed Perino's "concern" and referred the matter to the nation's spy chief.

"This is going to be an issue for the DNI to look at so that we can understand what, if anything, happened, and how to deal with it to ensure that we fully protect those who cooperate with us," Townsend said.

"I haven't looked at the internal White House emails, so what I can tell you is the DNI and the Intelligence Committee will need to look at who had access to it.

She added: "We are only going to be successful in the war on terror with the help of the American people."

The video appeared to be timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, and was bin Laden's first video appearance since October 2004.

In it, the elusive Al-Qaeda chief mocked the United States as "weak" and vowed to escalate fighting in Iraq.

Another US-based organization that monitors Islamic militant websites, IntelCenter, said its "sources, methods and techniques ... to collect terrorist video material remain intact," according to CEO Ben Venzke, who added that the focus on rushing videos to the public could have dangerous consequences.

"Simply getting the video first but not having the professional knowledge and responsibilities to know what to do with it can not only result in the loss of valuable intelligence but it can actually harm ongoing activities within the official counterterrorism community," he said.

This "has happened time and time again when private citizens and organizations outside of the IC (intelligence community) play in fields where they lack the depth and experience."


Friday, September 28, 2007

Patriot Act Provisions Unconstitutional
Patriot Act Provisions Voided
Judge Rules Law Gives Executive Branch Too Much Power
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

A federal judge in Oregon ruled yesterday that two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional, marking the second time in as many weeks that the anti-terrorism law has come under attack in the courts.

In a case brought by a Portland man who was wrongly detained as a terrorism suspect in 2004, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Patriot Act violates the Constitution because it "permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment."

"For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law -- with unparalleled success," Aiken wrote in a strongly worded 44-page opinion. "A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised."

The ruling in Oregon follows a separate finding on Sept. 6 by a federal judge in New York, who struck down provisions allowing the FBI to obtain e-mail and telephone data from private companies without a court-issued warrant. The decision also comes amid renewed congressional debate over the government's broad powers to conduct searches and surveillance in counterterrorism cases. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said last night that the administration "will consider all our options" in responding to yesterday's ruling.

Aiken's ruling came in the case of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer who was arrested and jailed for two weeks in 2004 after the FBI bungled a fingerprint match and mistakenly linked him to a terrorist attack in Spain. The FBI used its expanded powers under the Patriot Act to secretly search Mayfield's house and law office, copy computer files and photos, tape his telephone conversations, and place surveillance bugs in his office using warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In a settlement announced in November 2006, the U.S. government agreed to pay $2 million to Mayfield and his family and it apologized for the "suffering" that the case caused him. But the pact allowed Mayfield to proceed with a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the Patriot Act, resulting in yesterday's ruling by Aiken, who was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Mayfield's attorneys said in a statement that Aiken "has upheld both the tradition of judicial independence, and our nation's most cherished principle of the right to be secure in one's own home."

The Oregon and New York rulings are the latest in a series of lower-court rulings that have called into question provisions of the Patriot Act, which Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Lawmakers have since amended the law, partly in reaction to some earlier rulings.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


"Is our children learning?" "Childrens do learn."
An Extra 'S' on the Report Card
Hailing a Singular Achievement, President Gets Pluralistic
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer

NEW YORK, Sept. 26 -- As a candidate, George W. Bush once asked, "Is our children learning?"

Now he has an answer.

"Childrens do learn," he said Wednesday.

The setting was, yes, an education event where the president was taking credit for rising test scores and promoting congressional renewal of his signature education law. To create the right image, the White House summoned the city's chancellor of schools, a principal, some teachers and about 20 eager students from P.S. 76.

The visual worked fine. The oral? Not so much. For Bush, it was a classic malapropism, the sort of verbal miscue that occasionally bedevils him in public speaking and provides critics and the media easy fodder for ridicule. Subject-verb agreement actually is taught at Andover, Yale and Harvard, the president's alma maters, but in an unforgiving job that requires him to speak hundreds of thousands of words with cameras rolling, the tongue sometimes veers off in mysterious ways -- and someone always seems to notice.

His latest misstatement masked a serious issue, of course. As Bush's first-term No Child Left Behind law comes up for reauthorization, many in Congress are attacking it from both the left and the right. The president is trying to preserve what he sees as one of his most significant domestic achievements, an effort to increase accountability through rigorous standardized testing. The latest report card released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress gave him some ammunition.

"The No Child Left Behind Act is working," Bush said with first lady Laura Bush, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at his side. "I say that because the nation's report card says it's working. Scores are improving, in some instances hitting all-time highs."

Bush said that lawmakers should pay attention and not mess with success. "My call to the Congress is: Don't water down this good law," he said. "Don't go backwards when it comes to educational excellence. Don't roll back accountability. We've come too far to turn back."

Others offered a more measured assessment. "Unfortunately, this administration has dropped the ball on education reform by shortchanging this law to the tune of $56 billion since its enactment," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate education committee. He vowed "to provide the solutions and the resources needed to ensure that students and schools can succeed."

The test results released Tuesday are not the ones used under No Child Left Behind, but the administration said that they show the progress since the law was passed with bipartisan support. Math scores improved among fourth- and eighth-graders, and black and Hispanic students made gains, although they still trailed their white counterparts. Eighth-grade reading scores, on the other hand, have not changed much since 1998.

Education specialists are divided on whether the federal law has succeeded in raising achievement for all students or in narrowing the historic achievement gaps between demographic groups. Passage rates are rising on many tests given to satisfy the law, including those in Maryland, Virginia and the District. The gap between white and black students is shrinking in some places.

But some scholars do not credit the education law. NAEP scores, for example, rose in some states and fell in others, and the general upward trend began well before No Child Left Behind. "My general view of this is that the president has been serially dishonest in claiming that No Child is accomplishing its mission," said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

Perhaps the law's greatest success, according to educators, is its requirement that students of all racial and demographic "subgroups" attain the same proficiency, which has focused schools on closing achievement gaps. The gap "is starting to narrow," said Amy Wilkins, a vice president of the Education Trust, who helped draft the law. "But not fast enough."

The education innovators, however, have not come up with a solution to the gap that sometimes separates the president's meaning from his words. Bush's grammatical goof here Wednesday seemed to track neatly perhaps his most famous verbal faux pas. While in South Carolina in January 2000, he said: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" Democratic strategist Paul Begala gleefully used it as the title of a Bush-bashing book he wrote.

At Wednesday's event, Bush was pointing to the test results when he stumbled. "As yesterday's positive report card shows," he said, "childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured." Bush pushed on without pausing to correct himself, but the official White House transcript released later cleaned up the sentence for him by making it "children."

The gaffe came a day after a White House draft of his speech to the U.N. General Assembly was mistakenly posted on the U.N. Web site, complete with phonetic guides to the names of various foreign countries and leaders -- "KEYR-geez-stan" (Kyrgyzstan), "moor-EH-tain-ee-a" (Mauritania), "sar-KO-zee" (French President Nicolas Sarkozy). A White House spokeswoman said it was "offensive" to ask if that indicated Bush has problems pronouncing foreign names.

Still, during his trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Australia last month, Bush did seem to have a bit of a pronunciation problem. "Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit," he told the prime minister of Australia, which like the United States is not actually a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. He also thanked the Australian leader for visiting "Austrian troops" in Iraq.

While such moments amount to a Full Employment Act for Late-Night Comedians, Bush has effectively played them off, regularly telling audiences that he was only a C student and casting himself as an ordinary fellow and not some elite intellectual, never mind his Ivy League education. Supporters see such moments as humanizing -- who wouldn't lose his verbal footing from time to time?

At a dinner with broadcast journalists in 2001, Bush poked fun of himself for his "Is our children learning?" statement. "Let us analyze that sentence for a moment," he said. "If you're a stickler, you probably think the singular verb 'is' should have been the plural 'are.' But if you read it closely, you'll see I'm using the intransitive plural subjunctive tense. So the word 'is' are correct."

Staff writer Daniel de Vise in Washington contributed to this report.


Runaway (Spending) Train

The New York Times
Runaway (Spending) Train

If, as he says, President Bush is going to start withdrawing troops from Iraq, why on earth does he need vastly more money from Congress to wage war? The staggering, ever escalating numbers tell the real story: As long as it’s up to Mr. Bush, the American presence in Iraq will be endless and ever more costly, diverting resources from other national priorities that are being ignored or shortchanged.

The administration showed its cards on Wednesday when it asked Congress for an additional $42.3 billion in “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. This comes on top of the original 2008 spending request, which was made before Mr. Bush announced his so-called “new strategy” of partial withdrawal. It would bring the 2008 war bill to nearly $190 billion, the largest single-year total for the wars and an increase of 15 percent from 2007.

And here are a few more facts to put the voracious war machine in context: By year’s end, the cost for both conflicts since Sept. 11, 2001, is projected to reach more than $800 billion. Iraq alone has cost the United States more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the Gulf War and the Korean War and will probably surpass the Vietnam War by the end of next year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

For officials and politicians used to dealing with eye-popping numbers, the additional $42.3 billion may just register as a few more zeros on the bottom line of a staggeringly big bill. But it’s more than enough to cover the five-year $35 billion proposal for children’s health-care coverage that Mr. Bush has threatened to veto.

This for a war that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said would cost under $50 billion while his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, predicted Iraqi oil revenues would largely pay for Iraq’s reconstruction.

It’s not that Americans don’t want to pay and equip the courageous men and women who defend their freedom. In fact, since 9/11, taxpayers have been remarkably stalwart in underwriting massive war-fighting increases. But the Pentagon budget has to make sense within the larger context of national security. Mr. Bush seems to be placing no financial check whatsoever on military spending, most of it devoted to a war in Iraq that is peripheral to the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are most active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Americans also should ask why the Pentagon should be entrusted with more tax dollars when it can’t seem to spend what it has wisely. Military officials recently revealed that contracts worth more than $90 billion are being investigated — $6 billion for possible criminal charges, the rest for financial irregularities. According to the vague details made public, the new money would pay for the continued American troop presence in Iraq, the purchase of armored vehicles and training Iraq’s new army. But it also contains funds for longer-term goals, such as replacing outdated equipment.

Congress must dissect this request carefully, find out why Mr. Bush suddenly needed to ask for the extra money and use the chance to reshape the failed strategy in Iraq. In other words, lawmakers should join Democrat Robert C. Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in pledging there will be “no more blank checks for Iraq.”


A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

The New York Times
A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

The Democratic Congress has yet to muster the votes or courage to repeal a series of noxious measures — rubber-stamped by the previous Republican majority — that pushed presidential power to dangerous extremes in the name of fighting terrorism. In a disappointing showdown earlier this month, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to reverse one of the most ignominious aspects of last year’s Military Commissions Act — the suspension of the right of habeas corpus to block foreign detainees from challenging their imprisonment in federal courts.

Fortunately, the prospects are better for undoing a lesser-known example of presidential overreaching. The defense budget bill heading for Senate passage contains a bipartisan measure to repeal wording that made it easier for a president to override local control of the National Guard and declare martial law. That language was slipped into last year’s defense bill.

The revision is sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, and is backed unanimously by the nation’s governors. It repeals a major weakening of two protective doctrines of liberty. One of them, called posse comitatus, was enacted after the Civil War to bar military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in domestic law enforcement.

The other, the Insurrection Act of 1807, long contained a limited exception to posse comitatus for putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights. Under last year’s revision, the exception was unnecessarily broadened to allow the president to use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”

In June, Congress reversed its acquiescence to another sneaky rider designed to bypass Senate confirmation of the administration’s choices for U.S. attorney jobs. If this defense bill is enacted, that will make at least two instances where Congress has lived up to its duty to rescind excessive power grants to the Bush White House.

For democracy’s sake, there will need to be many more.


U.S. to Allow 14 Key Detainees to Request Lawyers

U.S. to Allow Key Detainees to Request Lawyers
14 Terrorism Suspects Given Legal Forms at Guantanamo
By Josh White and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers

Fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects who were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from secret CIA prisons last year have been formally offered the right to request lawyers, a move that could allow them to join other detainees in challenging their status as enemy combatants in a U.S. appellate court.

The move, confirmed by Defense Department officials, will allow the suspects their first contact with anyone other than their captors and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross since they were taken into custody.

The prisoners, who include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have not had access to lawyers during their year at Guantanamo Bay or while they were held, for varying lengths of time, at the secret CIA sites abroad. They were entitled to military "personal representatives" to assist them during the administrative process that determined whether they are enemy combatants.

U.S. officials have argued in court papers against granting lawyers access to the high-value detainees without special security rules, fearing that attorney-client conversations could reveal classified elements of the CIA's secret detention program and its controversial interrogation tactics.
Defense officials gave the detainees "Legal Representation Request" forms during the last week of August and the first week of September, and sources familiar with the process said at least four detainees have requested attorneys.

The form, referring to the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, allows the detainees to say whether they "wish to have a civilian lawyer represent me and assist me with filing a petition to challenge the CSRT determination that I am an Enemy Combatant." The Detainee Treatment Act, enacted in late 2005, gives Guantanamo Bay captives the right to challenge their enemy-combatant designations in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The form distributed to the high-value suspects also allows them to request that the American Bar Association "find a lawyer who will represent my best interests, without charge."

William H. Neukom, the association's president, criticized the use of the organization's name on the form, telling government lawyers yesterday that his organization does not want to "lend support and credibility to such an inadequate review scheme."

A Pentagon spokesman said this week that the detainees, like all others at Guantanamo, are provided information on how to request counsel.

"These counsel will be permitted to visit the detainee and engage in confidential written communications with the detainee once the counsel has obtained the necessary security clearance" and agrees to certain special court rules, said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon. One Pentagon official warned that those lawyers will have to undergo especially thorough background checks before they are allowed to see the high-value captives.

Defense and intelligence officials said the decision to allow legal representation does not represent a shift in policy.

"It was the intent and the plan all along that they would have a right to counsel," said a senior intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because many details of the detention program remain classified. The official said the concerns about protecting sensitive government information apply equally to the 14 men and the approximately 325 other detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"The goal here is to have the trials open and public to the greatest extent consistent with protecting classified information," the official said.

But lawyers and advocacy groups pressing for legal rights for the detainees contend that there has been a change in tone since last fall, when Justice Department lawyers argued that the detainees might reveal details about their captivity that may "reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage" to national security, according to an Oct. 26 court filing.

One of the 14 special detainees, Majid Khan, 27, who went to high school in the Baltimore area, filled out his form on Sept. 5. He signed the document and added a short handwritten note at the bottom of the page. That note and the fact that the U.S. military had him sign the document have riled defense lawyers who have been attempting to represent Khan for more than a year at the request of his family but who have been denied access to him.

In the note, Khan said that he believes he already has an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights but that he has never received any official correspondence from that lawyer. The lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, said yesterday that she has written Khan letters over the past year that clearly did not reach him.

"Please send me a lawyer or representative who can brief me with my options," Khan wrote, according to a copy of the form provided to The Washington Post by the Center for Constitutional Rights. "Also please, if you can send me basic introduction criminal law books with all law terms, etc. Also I would like to know what has media said about me and full copy of tribunal CSRT about me, which was available on the Internet. (Thanks in advance)."

The government alleges that Khan took orders from Mohammed, and was asked to research how to poison U.S. reservoirs and how to blow up U.S. gas stations.

Gutierrez said she thinks the effort to connect detainees with lawyers is the Defense Department "trying to put some gloss on the idea that this review process is legitimate and the high-value detainees are being given access to the courts."

"Now it's their opportunity to turn it from a gloss to a reality," Gutierrez said. "But we'll see if they come through."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


New Test Asks: What Does ‘American’ Mean?

The New York Times
New Test Asks: What Does ‘American’ Mean?

Patrick Henry and Francis Scott Key are out, but Susan B. Anthony and Nancy Pelosi are in. The White House was cut, but New York and Sept. 11 made the list.

Federal immigration authorities yesterday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

The redesign of the test, the first since it was created in 1986 as a standardized examination, follows years of criticism in which conservatives said the test was too easy and immigrant advocates said it was too hard.

The new questions did little to quell that debate among many immigrant groups, who complained that the citizenship test would become even more daunting. Conservatives seemed to be more satisfied.

Bush administration officials said the new test was part of their effort to move forward on the hotly disputed issue of immigration by focusing on the assimilation of legal immigrants who have played by the rules, leaving aside the situation of some 12 million illegal immigrants here.

Several historians said the new questions successfully incorporated more ideas about the workings of American democracy and better touched upon the diversity of the groups — including women, American Indians and African-Americans — who have influenced the country’s history.

Would-be citizens no longer have to know who said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” or who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But they do have to know what Susan B. Anthony did and who the speaker of the House of Representatives is.

Alfonso Aguilar, a senior official at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that designs and administers the test, said it was not intended to be punitive.

“We don’t seek to fail anyone,” said Mr. Aguilar, an architect of the test.

Immigration officials said they sought to move away from civics trivia to emphasize basic concepts about the structure of government and American history and geography. In contrast to the old test, which some immigrants could pass without any study, the officials said the new one is intended to force even highly educated applicants to do reviewing.

“This test genuinely talks about what makes an American citizen,” said Emilio Gonzalez, the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, speaking at a news conference in Washington.

The $6.5 million redesign was shaped over six years of discussions with historians, immigrant organizations and liberal and conservative research groups. The questions were submitted to four months of pilot testing this year with more than 6,000 immigrants who were applying for naturalization.

The agency will begin to use the revised test on Oct. 1, 2008, leaving a year for aspiring citizens to prepare and for community groups to adjust their study classes.

The overall format has not changed. Legal immigrants who are eligible to become citizens must pass the civics exam as well as a test of English proficiency in reading and writing. In a one-on-one oral examination, an immigration officer asks the applicant 10 questions of varying degrees of difficulty selected from the list of 100. To pass, the applicant must answer 6 of those 10 questions correctly. The questions released yesterday will remain public along with their answers.

Immigrants are eligible to become citizens if they have been legal permanent residents for at least five years (or three years if they are married to a citizen) and have “good moral character” and no criminal record.

In the pilot runs of the revised test, Mr. Aguilar said, the pass rates improved over the current tests, with 92 percent of participants passing on the first try, as opposed to 84 percent now. At least 15 questions were eliminated as a result of the pilot because they proved too difficult. For example, a question about the minimum wage was dropped because test takers were confused between federal and state rates, Mr. Aguilar said.

In the new test, the pilgrims have been replaced by “colonists,” and they are the subject of fewer questions, while slavery and the civil rights movement are the subject of more. A question was added asking what “major event” happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

The new test drops questions about the 49th and 50th states, but adds one about the political affiliation of the president. There are no questions about the White House. Instead, one question asks where the Statue of Liberty is.

In a statement today, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, one of the groups consulted in shaping the new test, denounced it as “the final brick in the second wall.” The group said the test included “more abstract and irrelevant questions” that tended to stump hard-working immigrants who had little time to study.

But several historians said the test appeared to be fair.

“People who take this seriously will have a good chance of passing,” said Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University. “Indeed, their knowledge of American history may even exceed the knowledge of millions of American-born citizens.”

John Fonte, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, called the new test “a definite improvement.” But he said it should have included questions about the meaning of the oath of allegiance that new citizens swear. “I would like to see an even more vigorous emphasis on Americanization,” he said.

About 55 percent of the applicants who participated in the pilot test were from Latin American countries. Some Latino groups noted yesterday that no question on the new test refers to Latinos.

Mr. Aguilar said that the test was not intended to be a comprehensive review, but rather to include “landmark moments of American history that apply to every single citizen.”

Naturalizations have surged in recent years, to 702,589 last year from 537,151 in 2004, according to official figures. In July the fees to become a citizen increased sharply, to $675 from $405.


Top Republicans scolded for skipping black debate

Top Republicans scolded for skipping black debate
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The lesser-known Republican presidential candidates condemned their top rivals on Thursday for skipping a debate on minority issues and said their absence hurt the party's image and amplified racial divisions.

Four empty podiums highlighted the decisions of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson to skip the debate at historically black Morgan State University in Maryland.

"Frankly, I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed for our party and I'm embarrassed for those who did not come, because there's long been a divide in this country and it doesn't get better when we don't show up," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said in the nationally televised debate.

The missing candidates -- the top four Republicans in the 2008 presidential race -- cited scheduling conflicts in skipping the forum designed to address issues of interest to blacks, traditionally the most loyal Democratic voters.

Their absence sparked criticism from some Republicans, particularly after the cancellation of a Spanish-language debate aimed at Hispanics earlier this month when all of the 2008 Republicans except McCain backed out.

"I apologize for the candidates that aren't here," said Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. "I think it's a disgrace for our country, I think it's bad for our party and I don't think it's good for our future."

Blacks traditionally support the Democratic Party, with nearly 90 percent backing the party's nominee in recent presidential elections. But Republicans launched a concerted effort to win their vote after President George W. Bush's re-election in 2004, and Brownback said the missing candidates sent the wrong message.


"You grow political parties by expanding your base, by reaching out to people and getting more people. What they're doing is sending the message of narrowing the base, and that's not the right way to go," Brownback said.

Republican Alan Keyes, a black commentator and frequent presidential and Senate candidate who recently joined the presidential race, noted the top candidates had also skipped a "values voters" debate in Florida aimed at religious conservatives that he participated in.

But they were all going to appear at a Michigan debate next month to which he has not been invited, Keyes said.

"That suggests that they may or may not be afraid of all black people, but there seems to be at least one black person they're afraid of," Keyes said.

"They don't believe that it's possible to address a significant portion of the black community on the basis of solid Republican principles, and I do," he said.

California Rep. Duncan Hunter likened the debate to a family gathering. "You know, when we have family reunions and some of the family members don't show up, we do talk about them," Hunter said.

Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain were on the campaign trail in California, New York and Tennessee on Thursday, raising money as the end of the third-quarter fund-raising

period approaches.

Asked to name a Republican president since Abraham Lincoln who had created a positive legacy for black Americans, Huckabee mentioned President Dwight Eisenhower's efforts to ensure the safety of the nine black students who desegregated schools in his home state of Arkansas in 1957.

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo said Ronald Reagan had done something positive for all Americans by increasing liberty.

"I think it is destructive to only talk about the politics of race, and suggest that all of the actions taken, or all of the specific programs that we identify and talk about tonight should be focused on race," he said.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Former US President Bill Clinton has attended a ceremony in Arkansas to mark 50 years since an integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School.

US marks 1957 integration crisis
Former US President Bill Clinton has attended a ceremony in Arkansas to mark 50 years since an integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School.

The crisis lasted for three weeks in 1957, as an angry mob tried to stop a group of nine black students attending the all-white school.

The confrontation was only ended when former President Dwight D Eisenhower sent in troops to control the crowds.

The event became a seminal moment in the civil rights movement in the US.

The anniversary comes a week after thousands marched through the town of Jena, Louisiana to protest about allegations of unequal racial justice in a case which has seen several black high-school children jailed.

'Overcome adversity'

In Little Rock, about 4,500 people gathered in front of the Central High School on Tuesday to honour the bravery of the group of black teenagers - now in their sixties - who have become known as the "Little Rock Nine".

Mr Clinton, a former governor of Arkansas, held open the school's doors in a symbolic gesture.

You can overcome adversity if you know you are doing the right thing
Carlotta Walls Lanier
Member of the Little Rock Nine

"I am grateful we had a Supreme Court that saw 'separate but equal' and 'states' rights' for the shams they were, hiding our desire to preserve the oppression of African-Americans," he said.

"I am grateful more than I can say that we had a president who was determined to enforce the order of the court."

One of the nine, Carlotta Walls Lanier, urged the school's current generation of students to have the courage to act on their convictions.

"You can overcome adversity if you know you are doing the right thing," she said.

Another, Ernest Green, said the group had believed the school was "the place that would accept us, that we'd belong".

"We saw it as a building that offered opportunity and options for us. And you know what? Fifty years later, I think we were right," he told the crowd.


The Little Rock crisis started on 4 September 1957 when a 15-year-old black schoolgirl named Elizabeth Eckford arrived at the gates of the all-white Central High School.

On reaching the school gates, she was blocked by a member of the Arkansas National Guard.

They had been stationed there by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus as part of a campaign of "massive resistance" to a 1954 Supreme Court ruling that segregated classrooms were unconstitutional.

Ms Eckford was later joined by eight other pupils.

The confrontation at the school quickly escalated into a showdown between the state and the federal government.

President Eisenhower eventually sent in troops from the 101st Airborne division to escort the group to class on 25 September 1957, dealing a crushing blow to opponents of the black civil rights movement.

Story from BBC NEWS:


The price of existing homes in the 10 largest US cities fell by 0.6% in July - the steepest drop in 16 years - a survey has found.

Further price drop for US homes
The price of existing homes in the 10 largest US cities fell by 0.6% in July - the steepest drop in 16 years - a survey has found.

The data, from S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, put the annual price fall in those cities at 4.5%.

A broader survey of 20 cities found that prices fell in 15 of them, dropping an average of 0.4% from June to July, and down 3.9% on July 2006.

Large numbers of unsold existing and new homes have hit prices.

"The further deceleration in prices is still apparent across the majority of regions," said Robert Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC.

Recession risk

The cities where prices are still rising are Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Portland and Seattle.

However, these have reported that growth is slowing, the index compilers said, with Atlanta and Dallas moving closer to negative territory.

Analysts say that tight credit conditions - making it harder for people to get mortgages - are continuing to dent the market for house sales, which is already weak.

The housing slowdown and decline in credit availability have triggered worries that the economy could go into a recession - prompting the US Federal Reserve to slash interest rates earlier this month from 5.25% to 4.75%.

Last week, Mr Shiller told politicians that the loss of a boom mentality among consumers posed a "significant risk" of a recession within the next year.

Story from BBC NEWS:


House Votes to Expand Insurance for Kids

House Votes to Expand Insurance for Kids

WASHINGTON — The House voted Tuesday to expand health insurance for children, but the Democratic-led victory may prove short-lived because the margin was too small to override President Bush's promised veto.

Embarking on a health care debate likely to animate the 2008 elections, the House voted 265-159 to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion over five years. Bush says he will veto the bill due to its cost, its reliance on a tobacco tax increase and its potential for replacing private insurance with government grants.

SCHIP is a state-federal program that provides coverage for 6.6 million children from families that live above the poverty level but have trouble affording private health insurance. The proposed expansion, backed by most governors and many health-advocacy groups, would add 4 million children to the rolls.

The bill drew support from 45 House Republicans, many of them moderates who do not want to be depicted as indifferent to low-income children's health needs when they seek re-election next year. But 151 Republicans sided with Bush, a move that Democrats see as a political blunder.

It hardly matters that the expansion would be expensive or a step toward socialized health care, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said during the House debate. When lawmakers go home, he said, "the question is, Were you with the kids or were you not?"

To overturn a presidential veto, both chambers of Congress must produce two-thirds majorities. The 265 yes votes in the House are two dozen fewer than Democrats would need to override Bush's veto, and House leaders expect few members to switch positions.

The Senate appears poised to pass the SCHIP expansion by a large margin later this week, but a Senate bid to override a veto would be pointless if the House override effort falls short.

Despite the expected veto, many congressional Democrats welcomed the SCHIP debate as a way to open a second political front _ in addition to Iraq _ on which they feel Bush and his allies are out of step with voters. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said the president willingly pours billions of dollars into the war but resists a significant expansion of a health program for modest-income children.

"It's no surprise the president finds himself isolated," Emanuel said at a Democratic event that included a Maryland mother who relied on SCHIP coverage when two of her children were badly injured in a car wreck.

Some Republicans agreed that the debate over a greater government role in health care will resonate far beyond Capitol Hill this week.

"This vote is huge for the next president, regardless of who it is," Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said in an interview during the floor debate. "I don't think anybody underestimates the philosophical importance."

Eight Democrats opposed the bill. Some, from tobacco-growing districts, object to raising the federal cigarette tax to $1 a pack, a 61-cent increase. Some Hispanic members complained that the bill would make legal immigrant children wait five years to qualify for SCHIP, but voted for it anyway.

A Republican-controlled Congress and President Clinton created SCHIP in 1997 to provide health coverage for families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but not high enough to pay for private coverage. Under the expansion proposal, states could seek federal waivers to steer funds to some families earning at least triple the official poverty-level income, provided the states showed progress enrolling the main target: children in families earning up to double the poverty rate. That would be $34,340 for a family of three, or $41,300 for a family of four.

The Bush administration says the legislation could qualify some New York families of four making about $83,000 a year, or four times the poverty level. Such a scenario is unlikely, the bill's proponents say, because it would require waivers the administration has rejected.

Bush proposes a smaller increase in SCHIP _ $5 billion over five years _ although some Republican lawmakers say he might agree to a larger increase later.

In a statement of administration policy Tuesday, the White House said the bill "goes too far toward federalizing health care." Republicans said a veto was certain. In his nearly seven years in office, Bush has vetoed three bills. One would have withdrawn troops from Iraq, and two would have expanded federal research involving embryonic stem cells.

After the vote, White House press secretary Dana Perino issued a statement saying: "Unfortunately, the House of Representatives today passed SCHIP legislation that pushes many children who now have private coverage into a government-run system, part of the Democrats' incremental plan toward government-run health care for all Americans."

SCHIP is set to expire Sunday. To avert that, congressional Democrats plan to extend it temporarily with a larger spending bill to keep the government running when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The strategy would prevent Democrats from being blamed for letting the health program lapse by not reaching an accord with Bush, lawmakers said.

House Republican leaders berated Democrats for including several targeted spending items, known as "earmarks," in the 299-page SCHIP bill, which was not available for public review until Monday night. Democrats had declared the bill earmark-free. But Republicans found language directing funds to programs in Tennessee, California and Michigan.

After the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was disappointed that Bush "has issued a veto threat against a bill that has so much bipartisan, indeed nonpartisan, support."


The bill is Senate amendments to HR 976.


Democrat challenges spy chief's credibility

Democrat challenges spy chief's credibility
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. senator on Tuesday joined a list of Democrats challenging the credibility of spy chief Michael McConnell, and accused the national intelligence director of unfairly criticizing lawmakers.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy blasted McConnell for suggesting some members of the Democratic-led Congress fail to appreciate the threat of attack. Leahy also criticized McConnell for telling Congress earlier this month that open debate about U.S. surveillance endangered lives.

"I hope we will not hear anymore irresponsible rhetoric about congressional inquiries risking Americans' safety," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told McConnell at a hearing. "Our job is to protect Americans' security and Americans' rights."

Congress last month passed a law to expand for six months the power of the government to conduct surveillance without court approval while tracking suspected enemy targets.

The White House wants to make the law permanent, but critics argue the measure must be revised to protect the rights of law-abiding U.S. citizens.

Some congressional Democrats, including Reps. Rush Holt of New Jersey and Anna Eshoo of California, have complained that misstatements by McConnell have eroded his credibility, particularly regarding the expanded surveillance power.

McConnell drew Leahy's ire for declaring in a prepared opening statement, "I heard a number of individuals -- some from within the government, some from outside -- assert that there really was no substantial threat to our nation justifying this authority."

"I have been accused of exaggerating the threats," McConnell said. "Allow me to dispel that notion. The threats we face are real, and they are serious."

Leahy, referring to McConnell's earlier appearances before other committees, told him, "I have concerns about some of the statements you made."

He said McConnell had suggested the new law had helped expose a suspected German bomb plot, but later was forced to clarify he was referring to the overall spy program, based on the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Leahy also said McConnell earlier offered conflicting estimates of how much intelligence-gathering capability would be lost without the new law.


FDA slow to improve import food safety: ex officials

FDA slow to improve import food safety: ex officials
By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ignored hundreds of proposals that could have improved the safety of food imported into the United States, former FDA officials told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday.

The FDA is in charge of 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, mostly fruits and vegetables, and has been criticized as being too passive in handling the growing surge of imports into the United States. Total imports, including food, total $2 trillion annually.

"FDA has failed to implement literally hundreds of proposed solutions to specific import problems, which would have enabled the FDA to begin to progressively focus its limited resources where the risks are indeed the greatest," said Benjamin England, a former FDA official who co-founded a consulting firm that helps foreign and U.S. companies meet FDA import rules.

The proposals were made more than four years ago in FDA's Import Strategic Plan that deals with the import of food, drugs and products from other countries.

Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA, said she was surprised by how "frivolously (FDA) allowed these recommendations to go by the board."

"It was alarming to discover today that even with the significant problems the country is facing with imported foods, the FDA lacks a formal process that evaluates the food safety systems of other countries," said the Connecticut Democrat.

England and former FDA employee Carl Nielsen said the pressure is on FDA to direct most of its resources toward domestic food safety. They said FDA lacks enough real-time data on imports and relies mostly on invoices, shipping manifests and other documents that lack information such as where the product was made, the ingredients or process used.

Although food imports grow at 15 percent a year, FDA inspected just 1.3 percent of the goods under its purview in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006.

In particular, the safety of food and other Chinese products have come under attack in recent months after reports of seafood containing banned antibiotics, contaminated toothpaste and melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers, being found in U.S. pet food.

Asked by DeLauro whether the FDA needed more authority to do its job, Dr. David Acheson, FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, responded: "I believe we do."

U.S. food companies, concerned the recent import scares may turn away consumers, have asked for tougher government guidelines on how companies verify imported foods or inputs; along with more money given to the FDA, widely seen as understaffed and underfunded.

"The food supply has become so globalized," said Joseph Levitt, a former 25-year veteran of the FDA, who now represents the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association. "Our unique problem is just how large we are."

The Bush administration also has established a panel to recommend steps to ensure the safety of imports in an effort to restore public confidence. The detailed recommendations are expected in November.

"The time is right for Congress to act on reforming the country's food safety laws," said Caroline Smith DeWall, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest's food safety program.

She noted a survey by the Food Marketing Institute that showed consumer confidence in food they got from stores and restaurants last year declined 16 percent.


Popcorn lung bill heads for House

Popcorn lung bill heads for House
By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration said on Tuesday it opposed a House of Representatives bill that would require federal regulation of exposure to a microwave popcorn additive linked to lung disease.

The chemical, diacetyl, gives microwave popcorn a buttery flavor and has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn lung," a disorder found in popcorn workers and possibly in one popcorn-eating consumer.

The bill orders quick action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and is expected to come to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.

"It's a travesty that OSHA has done nothing to regulate this chemical, while workers have fallen seriously ill and some have actually died," said Democratic California Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the bill's sponsor.

But the White House said in a statement that it would be "premature" to regulate diacetyl as proposed by Woolsey.

Her bill would require the Labor Department to develop interim standards limiting diacetyl exposure by workers in flavor manufacturing plants and microwave popcorn factories. The interim standard would be effective until a final regulation takes effect within a two-year deadline.

No similar bill has been filed in the Senate.

The Bush administration said it wants to protect workers, but regulators need more time to figure out the causes of the disease, how much exposure is hazardous, and control measures.

"The administration does not believe that (the bill) in its present form is the best regulatory approach for protecting workers," the White House said.

Sen. Mike Enzi said OSHA is taking the right steps in conducting a thorough review of the matter. "We need a science-based solution, not a hasty legislative quick-fix," said the Wyoming Republican in a statement.

The Food and Drug Administration said September 5 it was investigating a report of a man who came down with the life-threatening disease after eating several bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn each day.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said workers at factories making food flavorings and popcorn run the risk of contracting the disease, which causes coughing and shortness of breath and steadily worsens.

ConAgra Foods Inc, maker of Orville Redenbacher and Act II microwave popcorn brands, said earlier this month it would drop diacetyl from its butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the "near future" to safeguard its employees.

Weaver Popcorn Co Inc, maker of Pop Weaver microwave popcorn, said in August it removed diacetyl from its microwave popcorn, in part to address consumers' concerns.


Lawmaker says Rice interfered with Iraq inquiry

Lawmaker says Rice interfered with Iraq inquiry
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Democratic lawmaker on Tuesday accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of interfering in congressional inquiries into corruption in Iraq's government and the activities of U.S. security firm Blackwater.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said State Department officials had told the Oversight and Government Reform Committee he chairs they could not provide details of corruption in Iraq's government unless the information was treated as a "state secret" and not revealed to the public.

"You are wrong to interfere with the committee's inquiry," Waxman said in a letter to Rice. "The State Department's position on this matter is ludicrous," added Waxman, a vocal opponent of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

But State Department spokesman Tom Casey said there seemed to have been a "misunderstanding" over the issue and all the information requested by Congress had either been provided or was in the process of being provided.

Waxman said security contractor Blackwater, which was involved in an incident in which Iraqi civilians were killed last week, said they could not hand over documents relevant to an investigation without State Department approval.

But Casey said later Blackwater had been informed the State Department had no objection to it providing information to Waxman's committee.

Blackwater provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and has a contract with the State Department.

The company was involved in a September 16 shooting in which 11 people were killed while Blackwater was escorting a convoy through Baghdad. The State Department is investigating the incident along with the Iraqis.

Waxman, who has called a hearing on Blackwater for October 2, released a letter his staff received from the security contractor's attorneys dated September 24.

"It (the State Department) directs Blackwater USA not to disclose any information concerning the contract without DOS (Department of State) preauthorization in writing."

Blackwater also urged the committee not to ask questions at the hearing that could reveal sensitive information "that could be utilized by our country's implacable enemies in Iraq."

Such information included the size of their security staff in Baghdad, weaponry and the operation of convoys.

Waxman also released a letter signed by State Department contracting officer Kiazan Moneypenny to Blackwater.

"I hereby direct Blackwater to make no disclosure of documents or information ... unless such disclosure has been authorized in writing by the contracting officer," wrote Moneypenny.

Waxman also complained Rice was refusing to testify at any hearings his committee planned to look at political reconciliation in Iraq, corruption or the Blackwater incident.

"We have offered to make available for testimony those officials in the best position to respond to the specific issues the committee has raised," said Casey.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bush: Kids' health care will get vetoed

Yahoo! News
Bush: Kids' health care will get vetoed
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer

President Bush again called Democrats "irresponsible" on Saturday for pushing an expansion he opposes to a children's health insurance program.

"Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed," Bush said of the measure that draws significant bipartisan support, repeating in his weekly radio address an accusation he made earlier in the week. "Members of Congress are risking health coverage for poor children purely to make a political point."

In the Democrat's response, also broadcast Saturday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell turned the tables on the president, saying that if Bush doesn't sign the bill, 15 states will have no funding left for the program by the end of the month.

At issue is the Children's Health Insurance Program, a state-federal program that subsidizes health coverage for low-income people, mostly children, in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private coverage. It expires Sept. 30.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a proposal Friday that would add $35 billion over five years to the program, adding 4 million people to the 6.6 million already participating. It would be financed by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.

The idea is overwhelmingly supported by Congress' majority Democrats, who scheduled it for a vote Tuesday in the House. It has substantial Republican support as well.

But Bush has promised a veto, saying the measure is too costly, unacceptably raises taxes, extends government-covered insurance to children in families who can afford private coverage, and smacks of a move toward completely federalized health care. He has asked Congress to pass a simple extension of the current program while debate continues, saying it's children who will suffer if they do not.

"Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage," Bush said.

The bill's backers have vigorously rejected Bush's claim it would steer public money to families that can readily afford health insurance, saying their goal is to cover more of the millions of uninsured children. The bill would provide financial incentives for states to cover their lowest-income children first, they said.

Many governors want the flexibility to expand eligibility for the program. So the proposal would overturn recent guidelines from the administration making it difficult for states to steer CHIP funds to families with incomes exceeding 250 percent of the official poverty level.

Rendell said thousands of children will lose health care coverage if Bush doesn't sign the bill.

"The administration has tried to turn this into a partisan issue and has threatened to veto. The health of our children is far too important for partisan politics as usual," he said. "If the administration is serious about solving our health care crisis, it should be expanding, not cutting back, this program which has made private health insurance affordable for millions of children."


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Senate Republicans bar bill to restore detainee rights

Senate bars bill to restore detainee rights
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate voted on Wednesday against considering a measure to give Guantanamo detainees and other foreigners the right to challenge their detention in the U.S. courts.

The legislation needed 60 votes to be considered by lawmakers in the Senate, narrowly controlled by Democrats; it received only 56, with 43 voting against the effort to roll back a key element of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

The measure would have granted foreign terrorism suspects the right of habeas corpus, Latin for "you have the body," which prevents the government from locking people up without review by a court.

Congress last year eliminated this right for non-U.S. citizens labeled "enemy combatants" by the government. The Bush administration said this was necessary to prevent them from being set free and attacking Americans.

The move affected about 340 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. It also affects millions of permanent legal residents of the United States who are not U.S. citizens, said one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

"Any of these people could be detained forever without the ability to challenge their detention in federal court" under the changes in law Congress made last year, Leahy said on the Senate floor. This was true "even if they (authorities) made a mistake and picked up the wrong person."

"This was a mistake the last Congress and the (Bush) administration made, based on fear," Leahy said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican opposing the measure, said lawmakers should not allow "some of the most brutal vicious people in the world to bring lawsuits against their own (U.S.) troops" who had picked up the detainees on the battlefield.

Giving habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees would "really intrude into the military's ability to manage this war," Graham said, adding that it was "something that has never been granted to any other prisoner in any other war."

"Our judges don't have the military background to make decisions as to who the enemy is," Graham told the Senate.

Congress eliminated habeas rights as part of the Military Commissions Act, which also created new military tribunals to try the Guantanamo prisoners on war crimes charges.

Congress was led by Republicans when the act was rushed through, shortly before new elections put Democrats in control.

Sen. Arlen Specter, another sponsor of the bill and a Pennsylvania Republican, noted that the right to habeas corpus was a protection against arbitrary arrest enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215.

Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments from lawyers from Guantanamo prisoners challenging the law to eliminate the habeas right.


Senate Republicans block bill on Iraq combat tours

Yahoo! News
Senate blocks bill on Iraq combat tours
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

Democrats' efforts to challenge President Bush's Iraq policies were dealt a demoralizing blow Wednesday in the Senate after they failed to scrape together enough support to guarantee troops more time at home.

The 56-44 vote — four short of reaching the 60 needed to advance — all but assured that Democrats would be unable to muster the support needed to pass tough anti-war legislation by year's end. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., was seen as the Democrats' best shot because of its pro-military premise.

"The idea of winning the war in Iraq is beginning to get a second look," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who led opposition to the bill alongside Sen. John McCain.

Webb's legislation would have required that troops spend as much time at home training with their units as they spend deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Members of the National Guard or Reserve would be guaranteed three years at home before being sent back.

Most Army soldiers now spend about 15 months in combat with 12 months home.

"In blocking this bipartisan bill, Republicans have once again demonstrated that they are more committed to protecting the president than protecting our troops," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Wednesday's vote was the second time in as many months that Webb's bill was sidetracked. In July, a similar measure also fell four votes short of advancing.

Democrats said they were hopeful additional Republicans, wary of the politically unpopular war, would agree this time around to break party ranks. It had already attracted three dozen co-sponsors including Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

But momentum behind the bill stalled Wednesday after Sen. John Warner, R-Va., announced he decided the consequences would be disastrous. Warner, a former longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had voted in favor of the measure in July but said he changed his mind after talking to senior military officials.

Webb later told reporters there was no doubt Warner's opposition threw cold water on the bill.

Hagel, R-Neb., said the White House also "has been very effective at making this a loyalty test for the Republican Party."

Of the 56 senators voting to advance the measure were 49 Democrats, six Republicans and Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders. Voting against it were 43 Republicans and Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman.

The vote "means Congress will not intervene in the foreseeable future" in the war's execution, Lieberman told reporters.

In coming days, the Senate plans to vote on legislation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order combat troops home in nine months. Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said his bill would allow some troops to remain behind to conduct such missions as counterterrorism and training the Iraqis; he estimated the legislation, if enacted, would cut troop levels in Iraq by more than half.

The Senate also planned to vote on legislation by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Reid, D-Nev., that would cut off funding for combat next year.

The firm deadlines reflect a shift in strategy for Democrats, who had been pursuing a bipartisan compromise on war legislation. But after last week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, Democrats calculated not enough Republicans were willing to break party ranks and support more tempered legislation calling for combat to end next summer.

McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a Vietnam veteran, said Webb's bill was a "backdoor method" by Democrats to force troop withdrawals.

"We have a new strategy. We have success on the ground," said McCain. Pulling out troops would spark "chaos and genocide in the region, and we will be back," he said.

McCain offered an alternative resolution that would identify equal deployment and training times as a goal, but would not mandate deployment restrictions. The resolution was aimed at peeling off Republican support and lessening the prospects of passage for Webb's bill.

That resolution fell five votes shy of advancing, in a 55-45 vote.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would have recommended that President Bush veto Webb's legislation if it is passed. The bill could force the military to extend tours, rely more heavily on reservists, or not replace units right away, even if they are needed, Gates said.

Webb and his supporters say the bill provides flexibility to avoid those pitfalls, including a presidential waiver if Bush can certify to Congress that ignoring the limitation was necessary to national security.

Webb amended the bill, after consultation with Gates, to exempt special operations forces and give the military 120 days to comply.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Greenspan: Bush, congressional Republicans abandoned fiscal discipline; put politics ahead of sound economics

Former Fed chair Greenspan criticizes Bush in book
By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in a memoir to be released on Monday criticized President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans for abandoning fiscal discipline and for putting politics ahead of sound economics.

In his book, "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World," Greenspan said he was surprised Bush was unwilling to temper his campaign promises with fiscal reality once elected in 2000, as previous Republican administrations had done.

"Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he said. The book was made available by its publisher, The Penguin Press.

"Much to my disappointment, economic policymaking in the Bush administration remained firmly in the hands of White House staff," he said.

Greenspan, now 81, was the second longest-serving chairman in the Fed's 93-year history when he stepped down in January 2006.

Praise has been heaped on the New York native and self-described "libertarian Republican" for overseeing the longest U.S. economic expansion on record.

Greenspan built his reputation as Fed leader with his calm handling of the stock market crash of 1987, the 1997-1998 Asian and Russian financial crises, and the economic turbulence that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

But he has also come under fire for policies that some say led to bubbles in technology and housing. His successor, Ben Bernanke, is coping with a prolonged housing downturn and credit-market turbulence.

Greenspan's long association with Republican administrations and his reputation for independence add clout to his criticism of Bush and of other Republicans who led Congress until 2006.


Greenspan said Bush's combination of tax cuts and spending on the military and prescription drug benefits, while not "unrealistic" in 2000 after several years of federal budget surpluses, was not appropriate with growing deficits that returned in 2002.

The former Fed chair said he urged Bush to veto a string of "out-of-control" spending bills, but to no avail. He was told the president wanted to avoid antagonizing Republican political leadership.

"To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake -- it cost the nation a check-and-balance mechanism essential to fiscal discipline," Greenspan said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said on Saturday the administration conducted "rigorous" analysis and that tax cuts sped up the U.S. economic recovery after the 2001 recession.

"Because Congress worked with us, vetoes weren't necessary. We're not going to apologize for increased spending to protect our national security," Fratto said.

But Greenspan said Republican lawmakers sowed the seeds of their political defeat in 2006 by abandoning fiscal prudence.

"They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose," he added.

A consummate Washington political insider linked to former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford before becoming Fed chairman in 1987, Greenspan also has been criticized for backing Bush's tax cuts plan before Congress in January 2001.

Greenspan said that position was balanced with a call for safeguards in case the fiscal situation deteriorated. But in his memoir, he ruefully acknowledged he underestimated how his words would be selectively interpreted.

"While politics had not been my intent, I'd misjudged the emotions of the moment," he said.

Fending off criticism that rock-bottom borrowing costs early this decade fueled the housing bubble that has caused a burst of foreclosures, Greenspan said the unusual risk of a downward price spiral was serious and had to be dealt with.

"We wanted to shut down the possibility of corrosive deflation; we were willing to chance that by cutting rates we might foster a bubble ... It was a decision done right," he wrote.

Looking at the U.S. economic future, Greenspan warned that to keep the inflation rate between 1 percent and 2 percent in coming years the Fed may need to force interest rates into double digits.

If the Fed succumbs to political pressure to keep interest rates low, inflation rates could rise to an average of 4 percent to 5 percent by 2030, and yields on 10-year Treasury notes would rise to at least 8 percent, he wrote.


Bush: U.S. military role in Iraq will stretch beyond his presidency

Bush agrees to limited troop cuts in Iraq
By Matt Spetalnick and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Thursday ordered gradual troop reductions in Iraq but defied calls for a dramatic change of course, telling war-weary Americans the U.S. military role there will stretch beyond his presidency.

Trying to secure more time to allow his strategy to work, Bush -- in a televised prime-time address -- embraced recommendations by his top commander in Iraq for a limited withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July.

But Bush also made clear his view that the United States would require a major involvement in Iraq for years to come and said the Baghdad government needed "an enduring relationship with America."

That assessment will make Bush's speech an even tougher sell with anti-war Democrats in control of Congress and with the large majority of Americans opposed to his Iraq policy.

"Because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home," Bush said after Gen. David Petraeus delivered two days of congressional testimony that underscored deep partisan divisions over the war.

Speaking in a sober, measured tone, Bush acknowledged Americans' frustration with the war but insisted progress was being made. His 18-minute speech was the centerpiece of a public relations offensive aimed at blunting demands for a faster, wider withdrawal from Iraq.

The partial drawdown will roll back troop strength from the current 169,000 to around the same levels the United States had in Iraq before Bush ordered a major buildup in January.

That prompted Bush's Democratic critics to accuse the administration of trying to fool the American people into thinking he was responding to growing anti-war sentiment when he was actually making no fundamental change in approach.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Bush had announced "a stay-the-course strategy that puts us on a path for 10 years of war," and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean called it a "PR stunt to buy more time" for a failed policy.


Bush said he had accepted Petraeus's proposal for the removal by mid-2008 of five of 20 U.S. military brigades now in Iraq, and that the pace of reductions would hinge on the level of success on the ground. He said 5,700 Marines and soldiers would be home by the end of the year.

U.S. officials refused to say exactly how many troops would be involved in the eventual withdrawal, though Petraeus had recommended that force levels return to where they stood before Bush boosted forces earlier this year.

An army brigade is typically made up of roughly 4,000 soldiers plus an unspecified number of support troops, which would make for a total withdrawal of more than 20,000 under Petraeus's plan. The so-called "surge" over the past eight months involved deployment of about 21,500 combat troops.

"The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home," Bush said. He said Petraeus would report to Congress again in March.

Bush cited Iraq's western Anbar province as evidence his strategy was making headway.

But underscoring the fragility of the situation, a Sunni tribal leader instrumental in battling al Qaeda in the area was assassinated on Thursday. Bush, who met Abdul Sattar Abu Risha during a visit to Anbar last week, praised his bravery in his speech.

Bush also acknowledged that the Iraqi government "has not met its own legislative benchmarks," and pressed it to do more to achieve national reconciliation.

He said U.S. engagement in Iraq would continue past the end of his term in January 2009, suggesting the job of ending the war would fall to his successors.

"This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities. At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency," he said.

The drawdown would not be as fast or extensive as critics demand, but it could buy time for Bush to pursue the war by undermining a Democratic-led push for a broader disengagement 4-1/2 years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Some of Bush's fellow Republicans have also voiced doubts over his strategy. Republicans lost control of Congress in last November's election, largely due to public disenchantment over Iraq. Recent polls show Americans two-to-one against the war.

Democrats say the White House was putting the best political spin on what Pentagon officials have been saying for months -- that the buildup of forces in Iraq faces a time limit because of the risk of overstretching the U.S. military.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Deborah Charles and Kristin Roberts)


Thousands March to End the Iraq Invasion; over 190 Arrested

Yahoo! News
More than 190 arrested at D.C. protest
By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

Several thousand anti-war demonstrators marched through downtown Washington on Saturday, clashing with police at the foot of the Capitol steps where more than 190 protesters were arrested.

The group marched from the White House to the Capitol to demand an end to the Iraq war. Their numbers stretched for blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue, and they held banners and signs and chanted, "What do we want? Troops out. When do we want it? Now."

Army veteran Justin Cliburn, 25, of Lawton, Okla., was among a contingent of Iraq veterans in attendance.

"We're occupying a people who do not want us there," Cliburn said of Iraq. "We're here to show that it isn't just a bunch of old hippies from the 60s who are against this war."

Counterprotesters lined the sidewalks behind metal barricades. There were some heated shouting matches between the two sides.

The arrests came after protesters lay down on the Capitol lawn in what they called a "die in" — with signs on top of their bodies to represent soldiers killed in Iraq. When police took no action, some of the protesters started climbing over a barricade at the foot of the Capitol steps.

Many were arrested without a struggle after they jumped over the waist-high barrier. But some grew angry as police with shields and riot gear attempted to push them back. At least two people were showered with chemical spray. Protesters responded by throwing signs and chanting: "Shame on you."

The number of arrests by Capitol Police on Saturday was much higher than previous anti-war rallies in Washington this year. Five people were arrested at a protest outside the Pentagon in March when they walked onto a bridge that had been closed off to accommodate the demonstration, then refused to leave. And at a rally in January, about 50 demonstrators blocked a street near the Capitol, but they were dispersed without arrests.

The protesters gathered earlier Saturday near the White House in Lafayette Park with signs saying "End the war now" and calling for President Bush's impeachment. The rally was organized by the ANSWER Coalition and other groups.

Organizers estimated that nearly 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed; police did not give their own estimate. A permit for the march obtained in advance by the ANSWER Coalition had projected 10,000.

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan told the crowd is was time to be assertive.

"It's time to lay our bodies on the line and say we've had enough," she said. "It's time to shut this city down."

About 13 blocks away, nearly 1,000 counterprotesters gathered near the Washington Monument, frequently erupting in chants of "U-S-A" and waving American flags.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson, speaking from a stage to crowds clad in camouflage, American flag bandanas and Harley Davidson jackets, said he wanted to send three messages.

"Congress, quit playing games with our troops. Terrorists, we will find you and kill you," he said. "And to our troops, we're here for you, and we support you."


Associated Press writer Christine Simmons contributed to this report.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

No more Iraq funds without limits: key Democrat

No more Iraq funds without limits: key Democrat
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate said on Friday he could no longer vote for funding the war in Iraq unless restrictions were attached that would begin winding down American involvement there.

"This Congress can't give President (George W.) Bush another blank check for Iraq," said Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, who has always opposed the war but until now voted to fund it.

"I can't support an open-ended appropriation which allows this president to continue this failed policy," he said in a speech at the left-leaning Center for National Policy.

Durbin, from Illinois, said he and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were working on limits that could be attached to the next war funding bill, such as limiting troops to conducting counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi security forces.

"I believe Congress should strictly tie future funding for the war in Iraq to a new role for our troops there," he said.

Congress this fall takes up legislation on Pentagon policy and spending, in addition to a separate war funding bill.

The White House is expected to ask for some $200 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year that starts on October 1. Durbin said he thought the Senate would take up the war funding bill by early October.

Since September 2001, Congress has provided $602 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about 70 percent of that going to Iraq. The most recent funding bill, approved by Congress in May, took months to pass. Bush vetoed the first version after Democrats attached a withdrawal timeline.

Although he was one of 23 senators who voted against the use of force in Iraq in 2002, Durbin said he was increasingly troubled by his votes to pay for military operations there.

"Now I just realized I can't do this. It's perpetuating a policy that is taking more American lives. We have to wind this war down," Durbin said, adding he would not use his leadership post to demand other Democrats follow his lead.


How Hillary Clinton Can End the Iraq War, Speak for the American Military and Kill Osama Bin Laden
How Hillary Clinton Can End the Iraq War, Speak for the American Military and Kill Osama Bin Laden
-Brent Budowsky

First, let us cut through the propaganda, lies, disinformation, media misrepresentations and political cowardice that may well be leading Democrats, John Warner Republicans and so-called moderates to another shameless surrender to George W. Bush that will extend the catastrophe and tragedy of the Iraq war.

Here is a short list of those who believe that President Bush and Gen. David Petraeus are dead flat wrong in their obsession to continue the long-term escalation of the Iraq war:

1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff.

2. Admiral Fallon, head of Central Command, Gen. Petraeus’s boss.

3. Former NATO Supreme Commander and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones and the members of the commission he leads, who argue that American troop strength in Iraq should be reduced, that American forces should be redeployed, that the American footprint of being an occupation force in Iraq should be ended, and that the current escalation in fact will discourage, not advance, the political solution the “surge” was intended to bring about, but obviously has not.

4. Most and possibly all of the global command structure of the United States Army, which has been decimated by the Iraq war and the long-term escalation, and the United States Marine Corps.

5. The weight of opinion throughout the American intelligence community, which, despite political pressure, threats of retribution and political editing of intelligence reports, has produced one national intelligence estimate after another that have directly contradicted the views of the president and vice president.

The truth is, on the matter of reversing the escalation of the Iraq war, reducing American troop strength in Iraq significantly in the coming months, ending what has been one of the most corrupt and ill-considered occupations in world history, ending torture and closing Guantanamo, the views of the leadership of the U.S. military and the majority of the strongest critics of the Iraq war policy are indeed very much in line.

It is Petraeus, Bush, Cheney and their allies in the Congress who most substantially differ from all of the above.

My view of the matter, rejected by Democratic leaders and Republican leaders alike, from the beginning of this war until today, is that when we send our troops to war, we should never allow partisan or political considerations to be put above the lives of our troops and the honor and security of our nation.

History will judge harshly the current president and Congress, who from Sept. 11, 2001 until Sept. 11, 2007 have shared for their own reasons complicity in one of the greatest disasters in American military history, and have shared for their own reasons complicity in the international and domestic crimes of torture that violate cardinal rules of Americanism and international law that have been commonly accepted from the days of George Washington until the origin and execution of the Iraq war.

On one issue after another — there is no need to fully recapitulate them all here — things have been done in the name of God, country and the American troops that have in truth been opposed by a strong majority of American military leaders, and are so far out of the traditions of American values and American history that they have never, not once, been pursued by any American president or so submissively accepted by any American Congress on such a morally and militarily grotesque scale.

For Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the current crisis offers a golden moment for her to act as a true commander in chief would act, to lead as a great president would lead, and to make her voice and her actions those of the true leader of the Loyal Opposition and — this is the central point — the authentic voice of the majority of American military leaders, American troops in combat, American military families and American veterans.

She should speak loudly, forcefully, and clearly the central truth of the debate, which is this: The overwhelming majority of American military leaders favor dramatic changes in the current Iraq policy and they, not Gen. Petraeus, are the true voice for what is best for our security, our country and our troops.

She should offer a comprehensive policy for a new strategy in Iraq that would follow the advice of the majority of American generals, and advocate the proposal of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) for troop reductions of approximately 5,000 before Christmas 2007, and additional troop reductions to leave 120,000 American troops in Iraq by April 2008, at which time the president and Congress would confer before a new congressional vote to determine the feasibility of further American withdrawals at that time.

Under this plan, Sen. Clinton would offer an amendment that would zero out all new money from Guantanamo effective June 1, 2008, and would require either in the defense bill, or as condition for confirmation of a new attorney general an independent investigation of the Abu Ghraib crimes and any potential cover-up of those crimes.

Under this plan, Sen. Clinton would state during the September debate that when the Senate considers the supplemental war money vote, probably in October, if there is a majority of the House in favor of this binding proposal, she will lead a filibuster in the Senate in which 41 senators will put a stop to this escalation then and forever, once and for all, and force the president to negotiate in good faith with the Congress — or there will be no further funding for this war.

Finally, under this plan, Sen. Clinton would become the authentic voice of American troops and American veterans and demand that the Congress call on every American to meet the $500 billion of unmet, unplanned, unbudgeted long-term medical, health, research, financial, psychological, disability and veterans’ centers needs financed either through a Soldier Bond or a tax increase because this is what we owe our troops and vets as a matter of national patriotism and honor.

The sound you hear would be the applause of military families throughout America and, yes, veterans joining progressives in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and a march to the next presidential inaugural with an iron commitment that it is high time and long overdue that Americans be treated like Americans, that veterans be treated with the respect due veterans, and that America once again act the way America should act, and has acted, until the presidency of George W. Bush.

In this program, Sen. Clinton would lead the Congress and the nation to reverse the catastrophe of the Iraq war and launch the war that should have been launched long ago, to unite the nation in the single-minded drive to kill Osama Bin Laden instead of the simple-minded and disastrous drive to do everything but that in the pursuit of a war that most generals now realize must be wound down, to achieve the best outcome.

Enough discussion of the United States being virtually blackmailed by an obstinate, disastrous president and an obstructionist minority of Senate Republicans into the elimination of the United States Senate from its constitutional mission that has been shamefully and catastrophically allowed since Sept. 11, 2001, a tragic day so brazenly and dishonorably exploited to create fears though lies and drive the country to a war that should never have been fought, whose major beneficiary was the criminal who killed our brothers and sisters seven years ago in lower Manhattan and Northern Virginia.

Sen. Clinton has an extraordinary golden moment to be the voice for the true America, the voice of our national honor, the voice of the majority of American military leaders, the voice of saving the United States Army from further destruction, the voice American troops and veterans who should never be asked to die preventable deaths, suffer preventable wounds, or endure preventable humiliation or injustice from politicians who wave the flag while they treat heroes like second class citizens and use their pictures in partisan ads while they shortchange wounded troops and tolerate scandals for disabled vets.

In a new book David Addington, the Chief of Staff for Vice President Cheney, is quoted as
saying: “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger forces make us stop”.

Senator Clinton should lead the Democrats, the Congress, the majority of Americans, the vast army of civilians and military leaders who hunger for a new day and new policy, and say to one and all: here it ends, now it stops, and in the coming weeks she will take the floor of the United States Senate and force a rendezvous with destiny.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

US Companies Flock to the Caribbean for Low-Cost, 'Nearshore' Services

ABC News
Forget India; Call Centers Boom in Caribbean
US Companies Flock to the Caribbean for Low-Cost, 'Nearshore' Services
The Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

In a global search for low-cost customer service, AOL considered call centers in India and other hotspots then settled on the tiny island of St. Lucia.

In choosing the Caribbean island, AOL a unit of Time Warner Inc. joined other U.S. companies that have made the region a new global hub for call centers.

Plunging communication costs, workers who relate easily to American customers and the region's famed hospitality are attracting American corporations, boosting the work force in the "nearshore" service industry in the Caribbean.

Jamaica is one of the leaders with about 14,000 employees in the sector. In the Dominican Republic, 18,000 agents, many of them bilingual, are handling calls in English and Spanish. Call centers dedicated to customer service have also opened in Barbados, Trinidad, and Dominica.

"The islands all seem to be really positive as opposed to the surly attitudes you have in some of the other places. It's cheery weather, it's cheery people," Robert Goodwin, the AOL manager who chose a call center in St. Lucia, said from his company's headquarters in Dulles, Va.

AOL still uses call centers in India and elsewhere for technical support and other services taking advantage of that country's large numbers of workers with technical and advanced degrees.

But the Caribbean is becoming increasingly competitive in the call center industry, with island governments offering tax and other incentives to lure companies to their shores. Jamaica, for example, granted call centers "free zone" status that allows owners to repatriate 100 percent of their earnings tax-free.

The Caribbean has taken only a tiny share of the market from still-hot India and the Philippines, but the impact is huge on islands with tiny populations, said Philip Cohen, an industry consultant based in Sweden.

In Montego Bay, a resort area on Jamaica's north coast that accounts for about half the island's call center jobs, developers have rapidly built thousands of concrete, single-family homes to accommodate the workers.

"You put a call center with 100 people in Barbados and that's a God's gift. With 100 people in India, you can't even see it," he said.

The industry owes much of its success to a telecommunications liberalization that began sweeping former British colonies in the Caribbean about six years ago. As new suppliers have challenged the monopoly of Britain-based Cable & Wireless PLC, lower prices allowed the region to compete.

The collections and call-center firm KM2, which holds the AOL contract in St. Lucia, has opened a site in Barbados and owner David Kreiss said he is looking to expand again as new telecoms install fiber optic cable.

"Whichever island they go to we follow," Kreiss said from his office in Atlanta.

The number of people working at Caribbean call centers has increased from 11,300 in 2002 to a current total of 55,000, with an annual economic impact of $2.5 billion (1.83 billion euros), according to Philip Peters, chief executive of Coral Gables, Florida-based Zagada Markets.

Peters, whose company surveys the call center industry in regions around the world, said the Caribbean has set itself apart with high service, a quality he attributes to cultural similarities and the influence of the tourism industry.

"They have a history of troubleshooting with Americans without getting upset," he said.

Large American companies including Verizon, AT&T, Delta Air Lines, AIG and Nortel have used Caribbean call centers, while often keeping operations in Asia or elsewhere in case of a hurricane or other disaster, Peters said.

While much of the profits go to U.S.-owned operators, the islands welcome the business to diversify their economies and counter high unemployment.

In Jamaica, where the vast majority of 18 call centers are owned by people outside the island, the starting wage is $2.75 (2.01 euros) to $3.20 (2.34 euros) an hour, according to Christopher McNair of Jamaica's investment promotion agency. "In Jamaica it's quite an attractive salary," he said.

In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory subject to the federal minimum wage of $5.85 (4.28 euros) an hour, about 4,000 people work in call centers.

One leading advocate is Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, who said call centers are key to transforming his nation from a low-end assembly center to a knowledge-based economy.

"I see the digital economy as the best opportunity we in the Dominican Republic have ever had of leapfrogging to a new level of economic development," Fernandez told a business conference recently.

Many of the jobs involve simple, repetitive tasks, such as handling phone orders but governments describe the goal as gradually evolving to offer more demanding, expensive services such as technical support.

One Jamaican company, e-Services Group, began as a data entry operation but now also provides a range of support including help building Web sites and processing insurance claims.

"We've started with customer service, and as we proved we could do more, they've started driving more business in," said Patrick Casserly, the chief executive officer.