Saturday, April 14, 2007

Study: Abstinence Classes Don't Stop Sex

Study: Abstinence Classes Don't Stop Sex

WASHINGTON — Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress.

Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students _ 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education. Critics have repeatedly said they don't believe the programs are working, and the study will give them reinforcement.

However, Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study. They said the four programs reviewed _ among several hundred across the nation _ were some of the very first established after Congress overhauled the nation's welfare laws in 1996.

Officials said one lesson they learned from the study is that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior.

"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career," said Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families.

For its study, Mathematica looked at students in four abstinence programs around the country as well as students from the same communities who did not participate in the abstinence programs. The 2,057 youths came from big cities _ Miami and Milwaukee _ as well as rural communities _ Powhatan, Va., and Clarksdale, Miss.

The students who participated in abstinence education did so for one to three years. Their average age was 11 to 12 when they entered the programs back in 1999.

Mathematica then did a follow up survey in late 2005 and early 2006. By that time, the average age for participants was about 16.5. Mathematica found that about half of the abstinence students and about half from the control group reported that they remained abstinent.

"I really do think it's a two-part story. First, there is no evidence that the programs increased the rate of sexual abstinence," said Chris Trenholm, a senior researcher at Mathematica who oversaw the study. "However, the second part of the story that I think is equally important is that we find no evidence that the programs increased the rate of unprotected sex."

Trenholm said his second point of emphasis was important because some critics of abstinence programs have contended that they lead to less frequent use of condoms.

Mathematica's study could have serious implications as Congress considers renewing this summer the block grant program for abstinence education known as Title V. The federal government has authorized up to $50 million annually for the program. Participating states then provide $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government. Eight states decline to take part in the grant program.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups believe the federal government should use that money for comprehensive sex education, which would include abstinence as a piece of the curriculum.

"Members of Congress need to listen to what the evidence tells us," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which promotes comprehensive sex education.

"This report should give a clear signal to members of Congress that the program should be changed to support programs that work, or it should end when it expires at the end of June," Smith said.

Smith also said he didn't have trouble making broader generalizations about abstinence programs based on the four reviewed because "this was supposed to be their all-star lineup."

But a trade association for abstinence educators emphasized that the findings represent less than 1 percent of all Title V abstinence projects across the nation.

"This study began when (the programs) were still in their infancy," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "The field of abstinence has significantly grown and evolved since that time and the results demonstrated in the Mathematica study are not representative of the abstinence education community as a whole."

The four programs differed in many respects. One was voluntary and took place after school. Three had mandatory attendance and served youth during the school day. All offered more than 50 hours of classes. Two were particularly intensive. The young people met every day of the school year.

Common topics included human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes focused on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem. The young people were taught to improve communication skills and manage peer pressure.


On the Net:

Abstinence study:


E-Mail Identified G.O.P. Candidates for Justice Jobs

The New York Times
E-Mail Identified G.O.P. Candidates for Justice Jobs

WASHINGTON, April 13 — A Justice Department e-mail message released on Friday shows that the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales proposed replacement candidates for United States attorneys nearly a year before they were dismissed in December 2006. The department has repeatedly stated that no successors were selected before the dismissals.

The Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail message, written by D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned last month as the top aide to Mr. Gonzales, identified five Bush administration officials, most of them Justice Department employees, whose names were sent to the White House for consideration as possible replacements for prosecutors slated for dismissal.

The e-mail message and several related documents provide the first evidence that Mr. Sampson, the Justice Department official in charge of the dismissals, had focused on who would succeed the ousted prosecutors. Justice officials have repeatedly said that seven of the eight prosecutors were removed without regard to who might succeed them.

Some of the new documents show the department’s acute awareness of individual United States attorney’s political and ideological views. An undated spreadsheet attached to a Feb. 12, 2007, e-mail message listed the federal prosecutors who had served under President Bush along with their past work experience.

The chart included a category for Republican Party and campaign work, showing who had been a delegate to a Republican convention or had managed a Republican political campaign. The chart had a separate category indicating who among the prosecutors was a member of the Federalist Society, a Washington-based association that serves as a talent pool for young conservatives seeking appointments in Republican administrations.

Taken together, Democrats asserted, the e-mail supported their contention that the ousted prosecutors were dismissed to make room for favored candidates who were chosen on the basis of their political qualifications as much as prosecutorial experience.

The latest collection of documents, the sixth batch produced by the Justice Department in recent weeks, also cast further light on the frantic scramble by the Bush administration since January to contain the public relations damage caused by the ouster of the eight.

The electronic messages, some written as recently as last month, offer a rare and almost contemporaneous account of the tactics used by a sitting administration trying to manage a political firestorm.

One e-mail message shows the White House urging the Justice Department to call Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, to give him information about the placement of J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove, as the interim United States attorney in Arkansas.

“WH political reached out to Sen. Sessions and requested that he ask helpful questions to make clear that Tim Griffin is qualified to serve,” said a January 2007 e-mail message from Monica Goodling, a former senior aide to Mr. Gonzales, to other department officials. “Here are the talkers on Griffin, as well as a narrative that can be used by staff, and his résumé. I think it would actually be helpful for all of the Rs to have it.”

It was not clear whether the “talkers," shorthand for talking points, were sent to Mr. Sessions and other “Rs,” or Republicans. But Mr. Sessions, in a later hearing on the matter, ran through all of the highlights, praising Mr. Griffin’s résumé, just as the White House and Justice had apparently requested.

Other documents show that Ms. Goodling, the Justice Department’s liaison to the White House, prepared a list of reasons in February to explain publicly why the prosecutors had been ousted.

Notes in handwriting identified by a Justice official as Ms. Goodling’s run quickly through a list of alleged transgressions by the fired prosecutors, like “incredibly fractured office, morale low, lost confidence of her subordinates and superiors,” in describing Margaret Chiara, the former United States attorney from Western Michigan who disputes the claims.

In the case of David Iglesias, who was dismissed as the top federal prosecutor in New Mexico, Ms. Goodling writes of a complaint from Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, a Republican: “Domenici says he doesn’t move cases.”

The e-mail was among more than 2,000 pages of documents released by the Justice Department as part of a continuing outpouring of more than 6,000 pages of e-mail and other internal records produced in the last month in response to requests by House and Senate committees as the furor over the dismissals has grown. Mr. Gonzales is scheduled to appear on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Justice Department said that Mr. Sampson’s e-mail message did not contradict either his sworn testimony or the department’s past statements. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department, said: “We have consistently stated that, with the exception of Griffin, individuals were not pre-selected for any of the eight U.S. attorney positions prior to asking the U. S. attorneys to resign. The list made public today had previously been shared privately with Congress, and it in no way contradicts the department’s prior statement. The list, drafted 10 months before the December resignations, reflects Kyle Sampson’s initial thoughts, not pre-selected candidates by the administration.”

Mr. Sampson’s lawyer, Bradford Berenson, also denied that the message contradicted Mr. Sampson’s testimony. “Kyle’s testimony regarding the consideration of replacements was entirely accurate,” Mr. Berenson said. “In December 2006, when the seven U.S. attorneys were asked to step down, no specific candidate had been selected to replace any of them, and Kyle had none in mind. Some names had been tentatively suggested for discussion much earlier in the process, but by the time the decision to ask for the resignations was made none had been chosen to serve as a replacement.”

The possible replacements selected by Mr. Sampson — with the exception of Mr. Griffin — never materialized, at least in part because the controversy regarding the ousters has pushed aside consideration of who will fill the vacancies. But it is clear from actions taken over the last two years that Justice officials had placed lawyers from department headquarters, who were known to be loyal to Mr. Gonzales and President Bush, into open posts.

The Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail message was sent by Mr. Sampson to Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and William Kelley, another White House lawyer. In the e-mail, Mr. Sampson proposed the dismissal of a total of seven United States attorneys and named at least one replacement candidate for each prospective vacancy.

Because of deletions in the e-mail copies turned over to Congress, the document discloses only the names of four United States attorneys slated for removal and five of their possible successors. The names of the replacement candidates, in most cases, are followed by a question mark, suggesting that Mr. Sampson might have been uncertain about them.

The United States attorneys identified for removal are four who were ultimately dismissed: Ms. Chiara in Michigan, Kevin Ryan in San Francisco, Carol C. Lam in San Diego and Mr. Cummins in Arkansas. Justice Department officials have acknowledged that Mr. Cummins was an able prosecutor who was removed solely to make room for Mr. Griffin, a former aide to Mr. Rove, the White House senior political adviser who was appointed to the job on a temporary basis.

“Please treat this as confidential,” Mr. Sampson wrote in the message. He concluded, “If a decision is made to remove and replace a limited number of U.S. attorneys, then the following might be considered for removal and possible replacement.”

Mr. Sampson testified under oath on March 29 at a hearing of Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no candidates in mind to replace any of the fired prosecutors. In his prepared statement, he said that “none of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot.”

At one point in the hearing, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, asked Mr. Sampson, “Did you or did you not have in mind specific replacements for the dismissed U.S. attorneys before they were asked to resign on Dec. 7, 2006.”

Mr. Sampson, testifying under oath, replied: “I personally did not.”

Neil A. Lewis and Scott Shane contributed reporting.


McCain McCarthyism

Huffington Post
Brent Budowsky
McCain McCarthyism

At various moments in recent weeks, John McCain has accused Democrats (and some Republicans including Senators Hagel and Warner) of voting against the troops.

He has accused war policy opponents of voting for surrender, advocating defeat, and doing things that make America's enemies cheer.

McCain has made sneering references to those who supported the recent resolutions in Congress calling for a change in policy, accusing them of cheering and applauding legislative victories that, McCain charges, help our enemies.

There is a great debate in the 2008 campaign.

On one side stands the John McCain of the New Hampshire primary of 2000 advocating integrity in politics, religious tolerance, and mutual respect across the aisles in Congress.

His opponent in this debate, is John McCain running for President in 2008, as the friend of Falwell, and the partisan heir to Republicans Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy.

McCain is Bush 43.5.

It is not enough to disagree with opponents, he must accuse them of surrender, defeat, and helping our enemies.

It is not enough to offer a different point of view, McCain makes fun of the facial expressions of his opponents, mocking them with the lie that they laugh and smile to help our enemies.

Sadly for America, and for McCain, the McCain of McCarthyism has defeated the McCain of the Straight Talk Express. The McCain who said American politics should be lifted to causes greater than our own, lost to the McCain who sinks our politics, because he will do anything to win.

McCain is Bush 43.5.

McCain is Joe McCarthy 2.

He would change his middle name to Milhous, if that would help him win.

McCain is wrong, dead wrong.

Democrats are not laughing. We are trying to prevent any more Gold Star Mothers from crying.

It is George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the man who used to be John McCain who are promoting the polices that are playing into the hands of America's enemies, and doing damage to America's military that will take a generation of wiser heads to undo.

The McCain of 2000 would never have hired consultant who worked the racist and bigoted ad that defamed Harold Ford.

The McCain of 2008 will do anything to win. It is not enough to support a war, to win the Republican base. He must demagogue and deceive in the darker tradition of others who have played to that base before.

New Hampshire 2000 was McCain's moment.

Iraq 2007 is McCain's McCarthyism.

McCain 2008 is a sad tale of a man who lost his soul, to lose an election.


Bush asks Congress to alter 1978 eavesdropping law

Bush asks Congress to alter 1978 eavesdropping law
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration asked Congress on Friday to expand the number of people it can subject to electronic surveillance in the United States.

The request was contained in a proposed bill authored by intelligence and Justice Department officials that also protects companies that cooperate with spy operations.

Legislation submitted a week ahead of a Senate hearing on government surveillance practices calls for the 1978 law that governs eavesdropping operations to be updated to combat the threat from Islamist militants who use computer and wireless technology that did not exist in the 1970s.

It was not clear what kind of reception the proposal would receive in Congress, where Democrats took over in January for the first time since 1994.

But the move was likely to reinvigorate a congressional debate over the effectiveness of the generation-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Several efforts to update the law, designed to oversee electronic eavesdropping against foreign agents operating inside the United States, failed in Congress last year.

"The Justice Department is selling this new bill as a better way to protect our privacy and civil liberties. Lawmakers should reject such false advertising," said Caroline Fredrickson of the American Civil Liberties Union.

FISA, which requires the government to get court warrants for surveillance, was at the center of political controversy over President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, which allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without warrants.

The program was suspended for a review by a secret federal court that grants FISA warrants.


Senior administration officials, who spoke to reporters only on condition of anonymity, said they proposed to add two new categories of non-U.S. persons to FISA's definition for foreign agents who can be targeted for surveillance.

Under current law, a U.S. person is either a U.S. citizen or a foreign national with permanent residence status.

"It adds a new category of individuals to the non-U.S. person-agent-of-a-foreign-power definition to include people who we believe have significant foreign intelligence information but where the relationship between that person and the foreign power is unclear," said one official.

Foreign powers can include the governments of other countries as well as militant groups including al Qaeda.

A second new category of foreign agents would be non-U.S. persons involved in a deliberate attempt to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

The bill extends the life of court warrants that authorize eavesdropping on non-U.S. persons from 120 days to one year.

It also shields companies against legal liabilities if they participate in "lawful" eavesdropping activities.

Major telecommunications companies accused of participating in the NSA spying program have faced federal lawsuits charging involvement in illegal espionage.

Another main thrust of the bill is to drop FISA provisions by dropping references to older technology and refocusing the instead law on categories of persons who can be targeted.


Rove in new controversy over e-mails

Rove in new controversy over e-mails
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House political adviser Karl Rove was embroiled in a new controversy over potentially missing e-mails on Friday, the latest twist in the firings of eight U.S. prosecutors last year.

The White House disclosed that the Republican National Committee in early 2006 took away Rove's ability to delete e-mails sent and received through a party e-mail account.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had no explanation for why the RNC, the governing arm of President George W. Bush's political party, would stop Rove from deleting e-mails.

Democrats looking into the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, which critics say appeared to be politically motivated, are seeking Rove's testimony and documentary evidence to determine whether he was involved.

The White House revealed this week Rove and 21 other White House officials have for years kept e-mail accounts through the RNC to conduct political business without violating the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from using government property like handheld computer devices for partisan activities.

Democrats want to know whether Rove and the others conducted government business on the party's e-mail accounts as well to get around record-keeping requirements under the Presidential Records Act and avoid leaving a paper trail.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said Rove never intentionally deleted e-mails from any e-mail accounts.

"Karl always thought that all of his e-mails were archived, no matter which account he used. Consequently he never used a political e-mail account to avoid creating a record," Luskin said.

He added that Rove never tried to get his e-mails deleted and "was unaware until very, very recently that there was any deletion of RNC e-mails for any period."

The White House has acknowledged that Rove and others at times conducted official business on RNC accounts and that some of this e-mail traffic may wrongly have been deleted, including some related to the firing of the U.S. prosecutors.

But Perino insisted any mistakes were not intentional.

"We've seen no basis to conclude that anyone intentionally or improperly used the RNC e-mail," Perino said.


Democrats have likened the disappearance of the e-mails to a famous 18-minute gap in a White House recording of a conversation President Richard Nixon had about the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced his resignation in 1974.

California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House of Representatives' government oversight committee, has said he is concerned White House officials might have violated the Presidential Records Act and is particularly concerned about Rove, a frequent target of Democratic attacks.

It all adds up to another headache for Bush, who is under pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to get rid of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the firing of the U.S. prosecutors.

Ahead of Gonzales' make-or-break congressional testimony next week, the Justice Department released a new batch of documents about the firings.

An e-mail written by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales former chief of staff, and dated January 9, 2006, to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers, listed some possible replacement prosecutors to those later fired.

Sampson had told Congress last month he personally did not have any replacements in mind at the time they were fired.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the Justice Department still has many questions to answer.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)


Clinton offers reform plan, blasts Bush corruption

Clinton offers reform plan, blasts Bush corruption
By Brian Early

GOFFSTOWN, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed a series of steps on Friday to restore public faith in government after years of what she called "cronyism and corruption" in the Bush administration.

Clinton, the early Democratic leader in the 2008 race in national polls, promised to ban lobbying of her administration by former Cabinet officials, boost protections for whistle-blowers and end abuse of no-bid contracts.

In a speech in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first nominating primary in the White House race, the New York senator said President George W. Bush had shattered public confidence in government by promoting special interests and operating in secrecy.

"It's a stunning record of cronyism and corruption, incompetence and deception, and it has shaken the faith of many of Americans in our government," Clinton said of Bush.

She said she would make government more transparent by publishing budgets online and called for a Public Service Academy, modeled after military service academies, that would subsidize college education for graduates who commit to five years of public service.

Clinton said she would cut 500,000 government contractors over the next 10 years, at a savings $10 billion to $18 billion a year, and promised an initiative to track and make public the effectiveness of government programs.

"No one should be afraid to hold our government accountable," she said in the speech at St. Anselm College.

Before Clinton's speech, one of her top rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, issued a press release touting his own record on government reform both as a state legislator in Illinois and in the U.S. Senate.

Obama has moved into second place behind Clinton in national opinion polls and barely trailed her in recent fund-raising reports.

"Throughout his career, Barack Obama has been a leader in the fight for open and honest government," his campaign said.


Bush paid $186,378 tax on $642,905 income; Cheney paying $413,326 tax on $1.6 million income

Bush paid $186,378 tax on $642,905 income in 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush may be commander in chief, but his total income was less than half of Vice President Dick Cheney's in 2006, according to tax information released by the White House on Friday.

Bush and his wife Laura paid $186,378 in federal taxes on income of $642,905 for 2006, similar to the previous year, according to returns released by the White House.

The Bushes overpaid their taxes by $19,361 and chose to apply that refund to next year's taxes.

Bush reported income of $397,768 from the taxable portion of the total $400,000 a year salary for being president, and investment income from trusts.

In the previous year, Bush and his wife reported taxable income of $618,694 and paid $187,768 in federal income taxes.

Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, owe $413,326 in taxes on income of $1.6 million for 2006, according to a statement from their tax lawyers released by the White House. A copy of the actual tax return, which was filed on Friday, was not released.

While the Cheneys reported more than twice the amount of taxable income than the Bushes, it was down from the previous year's $1.96 million taxable income for 2005 on which they owed federal taxes of $529,636.

During 2006, the Cheneys paid $464,789 in taxes through withholding and estimated tax payments, which resulted in a $51,463 overpayment that they chose to apply to their 2007 estimated tax payments.

Cheney's income included his $208,575 salary and a pension benefit of $27,500 which he received as a former director of Union Pacific Corp. and became eligible for in 2006 when he reached age 65.

Mrs. Cheney reported book royalty income of $472,626 that included a partial royalty advance on a book she is writing about growing up in Wyoming.

She reported a salary of about $80,000 for her work at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and a pension benefit of $32,000 as a former director of Reader's Digest.

The Bushes contributed $78,100 to churches and charitable organizations, including the Crawford Volunteer Fire Department, the Federal Government's Combined Federal Campaign, Operation Smile, Martha's Table, the Salvation Army, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, the White House said.

The Cheneys gave $104,425 to charity in 2006, but the charities were not identified in the statement from their tax lawyers.


Friday, April 13, 2007

It's more than just Imus
It's more than just Imus
Shaun Powell

In retrospect, outraged people shouldn't have united and screamed "blank you" to Don Imus the last few days. No, instead, we should've stuck out our hand and said, "Thank you."

We should feel indebted to a shriveled, unfunny, insensitive frog for being so ignorant that he actually did us all a favor. He woke society the hell up. He grabbed it by the throat, shook hard and ordered us to take a long, critical look at ourselves and the mess we've made and ignored for much too long. He made us examine the culture and the characters we've created for ourselves, our impressionable young people and our future.

Had Imus not called a bunch of proud and innocent young women "nappy-headed hos," would we be as ashamed of what we see as we are today?

Or, to quote Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer: "Have we really lost our moral fiber?"

And our minds as well?

I'm not sure if the last few days will serve as a watershed moment for this MTV, middle-finger, screw-you generation. Probably not, according to my hunch. A short time from now, the hysteria will turn to vapor, folks will settle back into their routines, somebody will pump up the volume on the latest poison produced by hip-hop while Al Sharpton and the other racial ambulance chasers will find other guilt-ridden white folks to shake for fame and cash. In five minutes, the entire episode of Imus and his strange idea of humor will be older than his hairstyle. Lessons learned will be lessons forgotten.

I wish I were wrong about that last part. But I doubt it, because any minute now, black people will resume calling themselves bitches and hos and the N-word and in the ultimate sign of hypocrisy, neither Rutgers nor anyone else will call a news conference about that.

Because when we really get to the root of the problem, this isn't about Imus. This is about a culture we -- meaning black folks -- created and condoned and packaged for white power brokers to sell and shock jocks like Imus to exploit. Can we talk?

Tell me: Where did an old white guy like Imus learn the word "ho"?

Was that always part of his vocabulary? Or did he borrow it from Jay-Z and Dave Chappelle and Snoop Dogg?

What really disappointed me about that exhausting Rutgers news conference, which was slyly used as a recruiting pitch by Stringer, was the absence of the truth and the lack of backbone and courage. Black women had the perfect opportunity to lash out at their most dangerous oppressors -- black men -- and yet they kept the focus on a white guy.

It was a tremendous letdown for me, personally and professionally. I wanted Stringer, and especially her players, many of whom listen to rap and hip-hop, to take Nelly to task. Or BET. Or MTV. Or the gangsta culture that is suffocating our kids. They had the ear and eye of the nation trained upon them, and yet these women didn't get to the point and the root of the matter. They danced around it, and I guess I should've known better, because black people still refuse to lash out against those black people who are doing harm to us all.

Honestly, I wasn't holding my breath for Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, a pair of phony and self-appointed leaders, because they have their agendas and financial stakes. I was hoping 10 young women, who have nothing on the line, who are members of a young culture, would train their attention to within the race, name names and say enough is enough. But they didn't, and I was crushed.

You should walk around the playground and the elementary and high schools today and listen to how young black people speak to each other, treat each other and tease each other. You'd be ashamed. Next, sample some of their CDs and look at the video games they're playing. And while you're at it, blame yourself for funding this garbage, for allowing your kids to support these companies and for not taking a stand against it or the so-called artists making it happen.

Black folks, for whatever reason, can be their own worst enemy. The last several days, the media had us believe it was Don Imus. But deep down, we know better.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Halliburton Pulls Out of Iran: But...

Huffington Post
Charlie Cray
Halliburton Pulls Out of Iran: But...

Halliburton announced today that they were finally pulling out of Iran today -- after bailing out of KBR and America.

There are a variety of ways one could respond. I'll let you choose:

a) Could it be that Dick Cheney wants them out of there so he can be comfortable about shooting at Iran without hitting any of his old friends?

b) Could it have something to do with the fact that they're moving their executives to Dubai, as Senator Lautenberg suggested a month ago? After all, the subsidiary that Halliburton used to skirt restrictions on doing business with Iran is already based in Dubai, although it's incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

c) Gee, what took them so F#%!+$g long? I mean, Halliburton has been criticized since long before 9/11 for doing business in Iran. Hell, when he was CEO Cheney defended the company's actions and lobbied against the sanctions (another of Cheney's big flip flops).

d) It's not actually over just because they say they're finally out of there: There's still a potential criminal case here, folks. The Treasury Department (OFAC) referred the issue to the Justice Department in early July 2004, prompting the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas to ask a grand jury to subpoena company documents related to its business relationship with Iran.

Three years later, the Justice Department still hasn't closed the case. Why? They won't say. Perhaps they're a little short-handed. Or ... could it be because the charges might implicate Dick Cheney, who suggested when the issue first came up while he was CEO in the late 1990s that the company "is allowed to operate legally in Iran through its foreign subsidiaries."?

("What we do with respect to Iran and Libya is done through foreign subsidiaries, totally in compliance with US law," Cheney told ABC Television's Sam Donaldson. When Donaldson suggested, "it's a way around US law," Cheney replied: "No, no, it's provided for us specifically with respect to Iran and Libya."5 If you're a big multinational that's able to incorporate around the world, you don't have to worry.) (Ref: This Week, ABC News, July 30, 2000.)

e) What about pulling out of Iraq while they're making such big changes over there? Why not just get the hell out of there, too? Actually, as far as oil work goes, they have.

For now. (Now that KBR is a separate company, Halliburton can truthfully say they have very little to do with Iraq these days, though obviously they'd never pull out of Iraq for good, especially while they're waiting around for the Iraqi parliament to pass the new oil law so that they and their friends at Chevron, ExxonMobil and the rest can steal the Iraqi people's oil.)

Hard to keep up with all these machinations. No wonder the company is moving its HQ's to Dubai.


Bush, Democrats clash over Iraq war funds

Bush, Democrats clash over Iraq war funds
By Tabassum Zakaria and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats headed toward a collision over Iraq on Tuesday as each held firm on a funding bill that is at the center of feuding over the future of the war.

The political fight between Republicans and Democrats heated up as violence in Iraq escalated. U.S. military officials said four Iraqi soldiers were killed and 16 American soldiers wounded in Baghdad in the fiercest fighting since a security crackdown began in February.

Bush invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House next week to discuss about $100 billion in disputed funding for the Iraq war. But he said he would not negotiate on Democratic demands for a pullout date.

"We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill; a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal, and without handcuffing our generals on the ground," Bush said, speaking to the American Legion veterans group outside Washington.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said: "The president is inviting us down to the White House with preconditions. That's not the way things should operate."

He accused Bush of having "put our troops in the middle of a civil war."

Bush and fellow Republicans complained that delays in approving the money could hurt the U.S. war effort, prompting Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, to promise Congress would finish a bill this month.

"The president is again misleading the American people by falsely claiming that Congress is delaying funds," Byrd said, adding that $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been approved for this year, with an additional $100 billion on the way. He also noted the Democratic-controlled Congress is moving quicker on the additional funds than the Republican-controlled Congress did last year.

Last month, the House of Representatives and Senate passed bills with more new money for the war than Bush requested. But Democrats attached timetables for ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq: a September 1, 2008, deadline in the House bill and a goal of March 31, 2008 in the Senate legislation.


Reid told reporters he and fellow Democrats were pushing ahead with a House-Senate compromise. "We're going to give the president a bill. And it is up to him whether he wants to fund the troops," he said.

Bush has issued regular veto threats of these bills and says Democratic leaders in Congress will be to blame for delaying funding for the troops by passing legislation he will not sign into law.

Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Shakir Sumaida'ie, echoed Bush.

"To signal the intention to withdraw by a certain date would be seen as the beginning of the end," Sumaida'ie wrote in the Wall Street Journal's opinion page.

Bush said he would submit a formal request to tap $1.6 billion in funds from other Pentagon accounts to pay for the war operations until the funding dispute is worked out with Congress.

"We are at war. It is irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting," Bush said.

But Reid countered with an argument Democrats used last year in elections that won them control of Congress.

"We have to change course (in Iraq) and turn our attention back to the war on al Qaeda and their allies," he said. "That's what Congress is demanding, and the president should be leading us in that direction, not threatening vetoes."

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Susan Cornwell)


Senate, Bush head for showdown on stem cells

Senate, Bush head for showdown on stem cells
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House threatened on Tuesday to veto a new bid to lift U.S. President George W. Bush's restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research as the Senate began considering the bipartisan bill.

While the Democratic-led Senate seemed certain to pass the legislation as early as Wednesday, it was unclear if backers would have the needed two-thirds majority to override a veto.

The bill, a 2006 Democratic campaign promise, would expand federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, lifting restrictions Bush imposed in 2001.

In the first and only veto of his presidency, Bush rejected a similar measure last year.

The debate is emotionally charged. Advocates call stem cell research the best hope for potential cures for ailments like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. But the testing requires destruction of days-old embryos, and opponents say it is immoral.

"The administration strongly opposes Senate passage of (the bill), which would use federal taxpayer dollars to support and encourage the destruction of human life for research," the White House said in a statement threatening a veto.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a chief sponsor of the bill, countered: "It's time we provide hope to millions and expand stem cell research."

Democrats won control of the U.S. Congress from Bush's Republicans in November promising to expand federal funding of stem cell research, which is now restricted by Bush to batches available as of August 2001.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush stood firm.

"The president weighed this issue very carefully back in 2001 and has thought about it since. And he believes that clear moral line that he established back in August of 2001 is a good place for the country to be," Perino said.

Stem cells are a kind of master cell for the body, capable of growing into various tissue and cell types. Those taken from embryos are especially malleable. Scientists hope to use the cells to repair tissue damaged by disease or injury.

In the 100-member Senate, backers and foes debated the measure as they counted votes and tried to determine if supporters could get the two-thirds majority needed in both the House and the Senate to override a Bush veto.

"It's going to be very close," Harkin said.

Earlier this year, the House passed a similar stem cell bill on a vote of 253-174 -- about three dozen votes short of a two-thirds majority.

Another bill being considered would not lift Bush's restrictions and critics said it was inadequate. But with the backing of the White House, the Senate seemed certain to pass it this week.

That measure would encourage stem cell research using embryos that have naturally lost the ability to develop into fetuses. It would also support the creation of a bank of stem cells taken from amniotic fluid and placentas -- two recently discovered potential sources.

"We are offering an opportunity to move the ball forward," Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said.

(Additional reporting by Toby Zakaria)


Lawmakers slam regulators on oven tip-over risk

Lawmakers slam regulators on oven tip-over risk
By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers criticized federal safety regulators on Tuesday for not doing more to prevent kitchen range tip-overs that have killed dozens of people, mostly small children, and urged action soon.

Lighter-gauge steel ranges are more affordable and began replacing heavier models in recent years, but they may also tip over when weight is put on an open oven door.

At least 33 people -- 60 percent of them small children -- have been killed since 1980 by free-standing kitchen stoves tipping over on them, said Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak in a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's acting chairman, Nancy Nord. The letter was obtained by Reuters.

Dozens more people, including children and elderly people, have suffered injuries such as severe burns in range tip-overs, said the lawmakers, both Democrats from Michigan.

"Nowhere in the course of this appalling history, however, is there any indication that the commission has seen fit to take action to end these deaths and injuries," they said.

Dingell and Stupak urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to "take immediate action to address this issue" and set a late April deadline for it to say what it plans to do.

CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the commission pushed for better anti-tip-over standards in the 1980s and got them.

In 1991, the industry adopted a voluntary standard requiring free-standing ranges to be tip-proof if 250 pounds of pressure is applied to the open oven door. Ranges failing this test must be fastened to the floor or wall, under the standard.

But even after the standard was adopted, deaths and injuries caused by tip-overs continued, the lawmakers said, citing the CPSC's own statistics.

Vallese said, "The CPSC staff believes that the upgraded anti-tipping standards for stoves are highly effective."

Even so, she said, the commission understands the lawmakers' concerns and is working to address them.

Dingell chairs the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. Stupak chairs the same panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee.

Last week, consumer groups warned that appliance retailers that sell and install ovens are putting consumers at risk by not installing safety brackets that prevent tipping.

The groups called on sellers, such as Sears Holdings Corp., Lowe's Cos. Inc. and Home Depot Inc., to notify consumers about the design flaw.

The problem could be avoided by installing L-shaped brackets to keep ovens in place, said the groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and Public Citizen.

Dingell and Stupak asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Nord to say whether or not the commission has the authority to require the installation of brackets or other stabilizing devices.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey)


Monday, April 09, 2007

Insider: Missteps Soured Iraqis on U.S.

Insider: Missteps Soured Iraqis on U.S.

NEW YORK — In a rueful reflection on what might have been, an Iraqi government insider details in 500 pages the U.S. occupation's "shocking" mismanagement of his country _ a performance so bad, he writes, that by 2007 Iraqis had "turned their backs on their would-be liberators."

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order," Ali A. Allawi concludes in "The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace," newly published by Yale University Press.

Allawi writes with authority as a member of that "new order," having served as Iraq's trade, defense and finance minister at various times since 2003. As a former academic, at Oxford University before the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq, he also writes with unusual detachment.

The U.S.- and British-educated engineer and financier is the first senior Iraqi official to look back at book length on his country's four-year ordeal. It's an unsparing look at failures both American and Iraqi, an account in which the word "ignorance" crops up repeatedly.

First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.

What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders:

The Americans disbanded Iraq's army, which Allawi said could have helped quell a rising insurgency in 2003. Instead, hundreds of thousands of demobilized, angry men became a recruiting pool for the resistance.

_ Purging tens of thousands of members of toppled President Saddam Hussein's Baath party _ from government, school faculties and elsewhere _ left Iraq short on experienced hands at a crucial time.

_ An order consolidating decentralized bank accounts at the Finance Ministry bogged down operations of Iraq's many state-owned enterprises.

_ The CPA's focus on private enterprise allowed the "commercial gangs" of Saddam's day to monopolize business.

_ Its free-trade policy allowed looted Iraqi capital equipment to be spirited away across borders.

_ The CPA perpetuated Saddam's fuel subsidies, selling gasoline at giveaway prices and draining the budget.

In his 2006 memoir of the occupation, Bremer wrote that senior U.S. generals wanted to recall elements of the old Iraqi army in 2003, but were rebuffed by the Bush administration. Bremer complained generally that his authority was undermined by Washington's "micromanagement."

Although Allawi, a cousin of Ayad Allawi, Iraq's prime minister in 2004, is a member of a secularist Shiite Muslim political grouping, his well-researched book betrays little partisanship.

On U.S. reconstruction failures _ in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors _ Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of `success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

For their part, U.S. officials have often largely blamed Iraq's explosive violence for the failures of reconstruction and poor governance.

The author has been instrumental since 2005 in publicizing extensive corruption within Iraq's "new order," including an $800-million Defense Ministry scandal. Under Saddam, he writes, the secret police kept would-be plunderers in check better than the U.S. occupiers have done.

As 2007 began, Allawi concludes, "America's only allies in Iraq were those who sought to manipulate the great power to their narrow advantage. It might have been otherwise."


Why are they trying so hard to distract us?

Huffington Post
Larisa Alexandrovna
Why are they trying so hard to distract us?

The national media continues to self destruct under the weight of its politically purchased editorial pages. Not content to simply slink away quietly after leading the nation into a disastrous war of choice through negligent and even highly corrupt reporting practices, the editorial boards of all of the major newspapers - still apparently strapped collectively into a mission accomplished payola flight suit - continue to play political attack dog for their paymasters.
After all, what is a little feigned concern for national security, a little faux patriotism between friends and corporate shills?

On the same day that the Defense Department's Inspector General releases a report showing that high ranking Defense officials lied about Saddam Hussein's non-existent connection to Al Qaeda, the entire press whore was busy contorting itself into Easter treats over a diplomatic trip taken by Speaker Pelosi to Syria. Terms of derision and evocative editorial smears were everywhere, but not aimed at Dick Cheney, who continued to lie with impunity about the IG's report, rather, aimed at Nancy Pelosi for visiting with Syrian officials. Oh, did I mention that Republican members of Congress had just made the same exact trip very recently? Apparently no one told the New York Post that. Nor were the Washington Post or CNN even attempting to get their facts straight before they went on the editorial hit, like mobsters, only with less integrity.

Instead of editorial pages demanding to know why Cheney's friends, handpicked to serve in top positions at the Pentagon, would have lied to their dear chum about something as serious as a war (they likely lied to the President), the major papers were busy making fun of Nancy Pelosi's state - California - as though it were some strange evil appendage without any right to have representation or the ability to produce a savvy diplomat. Let's not forget, that the famous Republican actor who played a fearless Cold War President on TV was from that very same state. The Washington Times, a paper owned by a cult leader who made his fortune off fraud, arms and drug running, and human trafficking and finally declared himself the Messiah to his Christian conservative base, apparently has issues with California. Just how freakish is this thing called beltway journalism going to get?

Pelosi's attire - which was appropriate to the locale - was ridiculed, her gender laughed at, all the while no one bothered to demand an answer to any number of extremely pressing and urgent questions regarding the so called "war on terror" product line. Investor's Business Daily, most recently responsible for pressuring Target to get rid of CDs with a Che Guevara image because it showed support for totalitarianism (although not pressuring Target to stop using Chinese labor), had issues with Pelosi's head scarf.

Why? Where in reality do these people - from the editorial boards, to the talking heads, all of them - think they are, in comparison to the rest of us, that would excuse their behavior as anything but unethical, dishonest, and brutishly cynical?

Perhaps they are in a place where conscience is so easily bought and sold that they can pretend at decency and fool themselves convincingly. But they are not in a place from which the truth will ever venture out, not on purpose anyway. Truth may escape on occasion, and usually in broken parts, seemingly unrelated to a larger narrative, but by and large, this place of so called mainstream journalism is a wasteland, decadent and collapsing under its own Faustian deal.

Do I exaggerate? You tell me.

Thanks to the few remaining MSM journalists who are still able to sneak facts out from the opaque corporate curtain stretched from one end of our democracy to another, we know the following:

The administration ignored repeated warnings preceding attacks on this nation, over and over and over. Yet the editorial pages and TV pundits did not demand that such negligence and complete disregard for the safety of this nation be punished in some manner. No one was willing to speak up and ask even the basic question: is Bush fit to serve? Instead, the President was given unearned mythical standing as some hero because he grabbed a bullhorn at ground zero and said a few well penned words.

Despite the fact that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were directly linked to the attacks of September 11, both countries continued to enjoy privileged status as our "friends."

We have continued providing aid to Pakistan and military support for the Saudi royals, in essence, giving aid and comfort to the enemy as a matter of policy. Six years into this administration we hear nothing about Pakistan's dueling loyalties. Editorial pages across the nation have not devoted their most vitriolic and screeching patriotism to something as serious as giving aid and comfort to enemies of the United States, instead such clean sheets have been stained with a steady full front assault on anyone who in anyway disagrees with the official one party rule agenda.

News outlets have taken to calling an American Senator - Barak Obama - after a terrorist, Osama. They have openly slandered such respected statesmen as Senator Kerry and Senator Hagel, and obsessively attacked the first female Speaker of the House.

No one ever bothered to question the last Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, on allegations of bribery by foreign interests in Turkey or why an FBI whistleblower remains gagged in order to cover up those real and serious allegations. No, that never occurred to anyone, it seems, as being anything requiring full page editorials raging with anger the likes of which has been seen over Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria.

No hurling of insults over the revelation that while the Bush-Cheney administration was demanding UN sanctions against North Korea, they were secretly allowing Ethiopia - a third world nation in the middle of a war - to buy arms from North Korea.

No bashing of anyone in the administration over a covert war against Iran that Congress did not authorize, using terrorist organizations as proxies - which again violates this administration's own policy and again gives aid and comfort to the enemy. No one is that patriotic in our editorial rooms and on our editorial boards for such real issues, not when Nancy Pelosi took a trip to Syria which may help in stopping a full blown war against Iran - thereby making the oil executives very unhappy.

Michael Ware, a courageous reporter stationed in Iraq since the start of the war, was recently smeared with lies propagated by a self-loathing, anti-gay rights gay man who makes his living blogging for the RNC from his posh Florida condo.

The entire press went savage wild over Matt Drudge's baseless accusations - that Ware was drunk and heckled Senator John McCain during a press conference - without stopping once to ask two simple questions: Why is Ware the target and where is the footage of this press conference? Not even Ware's own network, CNN, gave him the benefit of the doubt, instead asking him for "his side of the story" when they could have simply aired the footage.

Why are they trying so hard to distract us? Because they have already lied. Lies require more lies and more lies require myths and trumped up scandals. Would honest people ever spend this much time on distractions?

I think that with the exception of a few real journalists and honest columnists in the MSM, the American media-industrial-political complex is a discredited, decadent, ugly thing to behold and, sadly for us, a real danger to democracy. They are a collective Faust, selling their very souls for access, power, money and anything that relates to those three commodities so important to the morally vacuous. They sell their souls, we pay the price, and they make a profit.

If I seem to be exaggerating in my absolute disgust over the state of our media, then you - dear reader - have not been paying attention or you simply don't care.


Democrats and Their Public Advocacy Group Supporters Continue to Fiddle on Election Reform as Democracy Burns

Huffington Post
Brad Friedman
Democrats and Their Public Advocacy Group Supporters Continue to Fiddle on Election Reform as Democracy Burns

Even While the Republican Governor of Florida (of all people and places) Restores Felon Voting Rights, Calls for a Ban on Touch-Screen DRE Voting, and Otherwise Succeeds in Shaming the Democrats...

Florida's new Republican Gov. Charlie Crist continues to get far in front of Congressional Democrats concerning issues of Election Reform. Previously, he has called for the Sunshine State to replace all DRE touch-screen voting systems with paper-based optical scan systems (and touch-screen ballot marking devices for the disabled) and today, he succeeded in restoring voting rights for former felons to all but the most violent criminals after they've served their time.

While Democrats in Congress, and their public-advocacy group supporters such as People for the American Way (PFAW), MoveOn, Common Cause, and VoteTrustUSA, continue to dally around the edges of reform vis-a-vis Rep. Rush Holt's Election Reform Bill (HR811) in the House and a forthcoming companion bill from Dianne Feinstein in the Senate, shamefully, it's the Republican Florida Governor -- of all people -- who is proving to be the true Progressive in the fight for real reform.

There's plenty of blame to go around, of course. The GOP Legislature in Florida is hanging on to their own share of shame in fighting Crist's bi-partisan proposals to replace disenfranchising, democracy-stealing DREs. In Maryland, it's the Democrats in the Senate who are killing Election Reform after House Dems had approved it (as tepid as that reform would be in only requiring useless, panacea "paper trails" for the state's paperless Diebold touch-screen systems. LATE UPDATE: Stunning turnaround suddenly in MD's Senate on Friday, supporting a paper ballot bill! )

New Democratic Secretaries of State Debra Bowen in CA and Jennifer Brunner in OH are meeting their voter mandates and doing their respective best to correct dysfunctional, unverifiable, easily gameable voting systems, but they are also facing challenges from both Republicans and local Elections Officials alike who are fighting to put their own self-interests over those of the voters. As usual.

In the meantime, the currently-flawed federal bills in the U.S. House and Senate are on the verge of getting worse, not better, through the drafting, mark-up, and amendment process, as legislators bend to the demands of henhouse-guarding Elections Officials along with the uncritical support for "Election Reform, any Election Reform, whether it'll bring true Reform or not" by powerful groups such as MoveOn, VoteTrustUSA, Common Cause, and others.

By way of example, MoveOn sent out an email to members yesterday calling for unflinching support of the Holt bill, despite knowing it to be flawed and VoteTrustUSA yesterday sent out an "All-811-All The-Time" newsletter yesterday to members without a single article, from among the mountains available, critical of the bill. That, despite recent testimony to Congress by their own policy director, Warren Stewart, asserting that "the direct electronic recording of votes to computer memory is inimical to democracy." Both the Holt and Feinstein bills currently drafted would allow for exactly such systems, and in fact, institutionalize the practice for years to come.

Both MoveOn and VoteTrustUSA declined to respond to our queries seeking explanation about their mailings yesterday.

So what's going on here?

Legislation that would have been smashing in 2005, but has since been shown to be desperately out of date in 2007 given the mountains of new evidence which revealed itself during the 2006 Election Cycle and beyond, is mired under the weight of bureaucratic deal-making and go-along-to-get-along public advocacy. All of which is by-and-large enabling the Democrats who seem to be fiddling as democracy burns.

It's all made worse, for the moment, by the largest and most influential of the public-advocacy groups, PFAW, who continues to dominate the debate on many levels. The group, which The BRAD BLOG has come to learn wields great power and proxy throughout a large swath of the civil rights community, is not only currently against a much-needed ban of DRE voting systems, but -- far more disturbingly -- is actually advocating in favor of their use.

We reported recently on that point, but the evidence is perhaps more clear in PFAW's own published analysis [PDF] (pages 2 & 3) of the Holt bill [emphasis ours]:

DRE technology offers better access options to voters with disabilities and voters who have minority language needs. ...

Whereas optical scan technology requires the printing of thousands, if not millions, of ballots in multiple languages, the distribution of those ballots in adequate numbers for each precinct, and the training of poll workers to distribute those ballots to those voters who seem to need them, DRE technology is much more effective for minority language voters. ...

Similarly, DREs afford voters with disabilities an opportunity to cast an independent secret ballot-- something that optical scan paper ballots cannot fully do. It is important that jurisdictions with large numbers of minority language voters and voters with disabilities have the flexibility to use DRE equipment.

PFAW's position, as expressed above, is wholly unsupported by scientific evidence, common sense, or anything else as we have learned while investigating the matter over the past several weeks and months.

When a Republican governor from Florida has gotten ahead of Democrats on this issue, it's safe to say that something has gone terribly wrong.

If someone within the Democratic caucus doesn't stand up soon and bring the type of leadership to this issue that Crist has brought to Florida, they risk becoming the owners of a dysfunctional electoral system previously designed-for-disaster, via the Help America Vote Act of 2002, by the now-disgraced, Republican felon, former Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio.

Is there nobody in the U.S. Congress with the leadership skills and courage to stand up and do what is both right and well-supported by scientific evidence in order to make America's broken system of democracy right again?

Is there nobody who will stare down the disingenuous and/or fearful and/or ill-informed and/or self-serving factions standing in the way of restoring America's once-great shining example of democracy to the world?

As the right to vote and to have that vote counted transparently and accurately underpins every other right we have in this country, we'll continue to keep digging, advocating, investigating, reporting, and hoping. The alternatives -- and consequences -- are far too dire to do anything less....
= = = Take action to amend the Holt Election Reform Bill! DEMAND A BAN ON DRE/TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING! - Email Congress! - Call your members! See for more details, coverage, talking points & information on all of the above! = = =


The Money Race: Politicians Win, You Lose

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington
The Money Race: Politicians Win, You Lose

Money money money -- it's the talk of the political world right now. Who raised the most? Who had the most donors? Which party raised more?

The answer to the last one is the Democrats, who crushed the Republicans in fundraising for the first quarter of 2007. But allow me to interrupt the victory parade for a moment to point out that the raising of political money isn't the whole story.

It's what happens afterwards that should get our attention.

A perfect example: the $10 billion dollar giveaway to the oil industry made possible by an omission in the offshore drilling leases agreed to in 1998 and 1999.

The Bush administration's response has been exactly what you would expect: do nothing and let the oil companies keep the money. Inspector General Earl Devaney called the Interior Department's inaction on the mistake "shockingly cavalier."

The Democrats, on the other hand, pledged to fix the oversight as part of their "First 100 Hours" campaign. And, in fact, the House has already passed a bill to that effect.

But over in the Senate, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Diane Feinstein of California have suddenly gone all wobbly, and are leading an effort to water down the bill. Both of them, not coincidentally, are recipients of political donations from -- can you guess? -- oil companies. Bingaman actually gets more oil money than any other Senate Democrat. And here is the quid pro quo he gave to the oil industry:

"The way I would like to proceed," he said, "is to find something that the administration thinks will pass muster."

Really? If what passes muster with the administration is what passes muster with the American people, Bingaman would still be in the minority in the Senate.

Feinstein, meanwhile, has endorsed the version favored by the Bush administration, which is to ask the companies to renegotiate, and, in exchange, extend their current leases without bids.

Does anybody really believe that no-bid contracts for oil companies were what the American people voted for in November? If they wanted a Senate that opened the Treasury to the oil companies and pled helplessness when asked to exercise real oversight, the voters could have left the Republicans in charge.

This story offers us a glimpse into the other side of political money. The media often treat the money race like a contest in which the total raised is the end of the story. But it's only the beginning, and until more light is shone on the paybacks, the real loser will continue to be the American people.

For now we need to turn the searchlight on Senators Bingaman and Feinstein. Otherwise, we'll have to rubberneck at yet another wreck piled up at the intersection of money and influence.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Go Home!


There Goes The Neighborhood!


Not Even The Easter Bunny




Dangerously Influential Interest Group


Whatever the Postmarks Say, The Checks Are Made Out to Franken
Whatever the Postmarks Say, The Checks Are Made Out to Franken
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, gosh darn it, he can raise the money.

Al Franken, that is. Franken, comedian-turned-Senate candidate, piled up $1.3 million in contributions over the first three months of the year -- wowing neutral observers and proving that he is serious about his race in Minnesota against freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R).

Franken collected $300,000 more than Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a top target for Republicans in 2008, and came within $400,000 of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). He blew away the $580,000 Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) raised in the first quarter of 2005 to win the Senate race last year.

"Some have reported/opined that Democrats are 'nervous' about the prospect of an Al Franken candidacy," read a memo distributed by his campaign. "Perhaps a better term would be 'really, really excited.' "

Republicans have worked to call attention to the sources of Franken's money, arguing that he is funded largely by out-of-state liberals with ties to the entertainment industry. The political action committee Franken created as a precursor to his Senate campaign received donations from such well-known liberals as Barbra Streisand, Nora Ephron and Larry David, and Franken received contributions from stars such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep during the first three months of his Senate candidacy.

But spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said that more contributions were made by Minnesotans than by residents of any other state to Franken's Senate account. "The money itself may not break down that way dollar for dollar, but Minnesotans are notoriously slow to open their wallets in races like this one," McIntosh said.

Neither Coleman nor Mike Ciresi, who is also running for the Democratic Senate nomination, was interested in critiquing Franken's fundraising efforts.

"It's not surprising," said Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan, who would add only that "I don't even know if Franken is going to be the nominee." Coleman collected $1.5 million in the first quarter and ended March with nearly $3 million in the bank.

Ciresi campaign manager Kerry Greeley, who guided Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) to victory last fall, said Franken's fundraising means only that it is a two-person race for the Democratic nod -- although Ciresi did not actively solicit cash in the first fundraising quarter.

Ciresi "can raise at that level," Greeley insisted. "He has the connections and history of doing so."
Another April Filing Rush

Expect a flood of House candidates to formally announce their 2008 bids in the next two weeks. Why? The candidates held off filing their official paperwork prior to the March 31 first quarter fundraising deadline, hoping to avoid the negative perception that raising a meager amount of cash in the first three months of 2007 could create. With the second quarter just beginning, candidates in top targeted races will move quickly to begin the long fundraising slog. In the past week, Kansas Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R) has jumped into the race in the Kansas 2nd and 2006 candidate Dan Maffei (D) has unveiled his plans for a rematch against Rep. James Walsh (R) in New York's 25th District.


MVP for the first fundraising quarter: Julianna Smoot, finance director for the Barack Obama campaign. A North Carolina native and Smith College grad, Smoot learned her trade in the Senate, as a fundraiser for Richard Durbin (Ill.), John Edwards (N.C.) and then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). In the 2006 cycle, she served as finance director for the Senate Democratic campaign chairman, Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), raising record sums in the party's successful bid to win Senate control. Obama contacted her shortly after the November election. "She's a fine person," said Schumer, who called Smoot to congratulate her once the Obama numbers were in. "I'm very proud of her."


Politics Collide With Iraq Realities; Commanders Seek Longer-Term Focus
Politics Collide With Iraq Realities
Commanders Seek Longer-Term Focus
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer

There are two Iraq wars being waged, according to military officers on the ground and defense experts: the one fought in the streets of Baghdad, and the war as it is perceived in Washington.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took over as the top U.S. commander in Iraq in February, cited the disparity last week. "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock," he said in a television interview. "So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can, perhaps . . . put a little more time on the Washington clock."

While Washington appears headed toward a political endgame on Iraq, with the White House and Congress sparring over benchmarks and pullout dates, the war on the ground is at an ebb tide. All sides -- including U.S. military strategists and Iraqi sectarian leaders and insurgents, as well as regional players such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are waiting to see whether the new U.S. approach to make the Iraqi capital safer will work. Soldiers on the ground tend to see the Washington debate as irrelevant, and the perspective of many politicians in Washington is that the military schedule is simply too slow.

"The time scale to succeed is years," said John J. Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary, while "the time scale for tolerance here is 12 months for Democrats and 18 months for Republicans."

One result of this disparity is the emergence of radically different views of the impact of the new strategy, which has been referred to as a "surge" because it sends more troops into Iraq but which is more noteworthy for moving U.S. troops off large, isolated bases and into smaller outposts across the capital.

President Bush said last month that "there's been good progress," and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) concluded on a trip to Iraq last week that "we have a new strategy that is making progress." But officers in Iraq tend to be far more cautious. Petraeus himself has repeatedly said it is too early to tell whether the new strategy is showing sustained progress. He and others say they will be able to assess by this fall whether they are succeeding or failing. If so, the current debate over a possible 2008 withdrawal could prove beside the point.

An official in Iraq warned that executing the new approach will take time -- perhaps more than Washington is willing to give. "Early signs are very encouraging -- huge drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad, return of thousands of refugee families," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so that he could be candid. "But there is no way we can defeat this insurgency by summer. I believe we can begin to turn the tide by then, and have an idea if we are doing it. To defeat it completely is a five-to-10-year project, minimum -- and rushing it along to meet a D.C. timeline is rushing to failure."

An Army officer who has served in Iraq and is now back in the United States summed up the situation by saying that "we are witnessing the throes . . . of a very messy divorce" between the politics of the war and the way it is being fought. The "kids" scarred by the breakup, he predicted, will be the Iraqi people and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

In addition to the new military strategy, a new team is taking over the U.S. effort in Iraq. For the first time since 2004, there is a fresh U.S. commander in Iraq, with Petraeus replacing Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. He is working with a new No. 2 commander, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and a new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. There are changes at the Pentagon -- a new Army chief of staff and Donald H. Rumsfeld's replacement, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as well as a vacancy for Army secretary -- and at Central Command, the U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East. The replacements amount to the biggest personnel change of the war -- and the new players are still settling in.

In Baghdad, there are a few signs of improvement, but they tend to be offset by worrisome indications elsewhere in Iraq. Sectarian killings are down about 50 percent since the new strategy began, according to U.S military spokesmen. Car bombings are up, but so are tips from Iraqis. It is impossible to know how much of the decrease in violence is attributable to the biggest Shiite militia -- radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- deciding to lie low. In addition, noted a U.S. Army officer preparing for his third Iraq tour, when one side in a war alters its tactics, the other side usually will take time to study the shift and assess vulnerabilities before renewing attacks. Also, in Anbar province, there are solid indications of tribal leaders turning against al-Qaeda extremists.

But, reported one Special Forces veteran who has worked in Iraq in the military and as a civilian, "the surge in Baghdad is pushing the sectarian violence to other parts of Iraq." That is one reason for the increased fighting in nearby Diyala province that led U.S. commanders to send in a Stryker battalion that was part of the troop buildup. Likewise, the Marine Corps' new success in Anbar appears to have forced some al-Qaeda fighters to shift to Mosul, Baqubah and Tall Afar, which in 2006 was hailed as a U.S. success story but in the past month has been the scene of a horrific truck bombing and revenge killings by Shiite police. Also, a military intelligence officer warned of other troubling signs outside Baghdad: Kirkuk edging closer to explosion, the Turks increasingly unhappy with Kurdish activity, and an impending British drawdown in the south that could make U.S. supply lines from Kuwait more vulnerable.

Another military intelligence veteran of Iraq said he thinks the Petraeus approach is getting some results, but he predicted that violence will spike this summer, in part as an attempt by Iraqi factions to influence the U.S. political debate. The bottom line, said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, is that by this fall the picture may be mixed. "Things could look substantially brighter in Baghdad but much worse elsewhere," said White, who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The most that can happen by mid-summer, say senior officers in Iraq, is that the U.S. military might begin to know whether the new approach is working or failing.

"It will be months, not days or weeks, before we see real indicators of progress," Petraeus said in his interview with PBS's Jim Lehrer last week.

Also, officers say, major questions remain about the sustainability of any positive momentum. Military operations can buy time but cannot solve the basic problem in Iraq: the growing threat of a civil war. The U.S. government keeps pushing for reconciliation, but there are few signs of movement toward that goal. "Nothing is going to work until the parties are ready to compromise, and I don't see any indicators yet that they are," said A. Heather Coyne, who has worked in Iraq both as a military reservist and as a civilian. "Until then, any effect of the surge will be temporary."

Larry Diamond, a Stanford University professor who worked with the U.S. occupation authority and has been critical of the Bush administration's approach, agreed: "If we don't get a political breakthrough, nothing we do militarily is going to work."

A political breakthrough in Washington already happened, Hamre said, when November's elections turned into a referendum on the war. "The American people have been waiting to hear how we were going to win in Iraq, and they never heard that, so they turned against it," he said. "But the political evolution is moving much faster here than events there."

Yet, with a new approach underway in Baghdad, the Washington debate is largely irrelevant to the concerns of the soldier on the ground, said the Army officer who recently returned from Baghdad. "All the talk about pullouts, votes and budgets really doesn't mean much to that 18-year-old with his body armor driving across Iraq worried about IEDs," he said, referring to roadside bombs. "For him, life consists of trying to survive for 365 days to get back home -- only to know he'll have to come back again."


White House Looked Past Alarms on Kerik; Giuliani, Gonzales Pushed DHS Bid Forward
White House Looked Past Alarms on Kerik
Giuliani, Gonzales Pushed DHS Bid Forward
By John Solomon and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers

When former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged President Bush to make Bernard B. Kerik the next secretary of homeland security, White House aides knew Kerik as the take-charge top cop from Sept. 11, 2001. But it did not take them long to compile an extensive dossier of damaging information about the would-be Cabinet officer.

They learned about questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption. Most disturbing, according to people close to the process, was Kerik's friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime. The businessman had told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.

Alarmed about the raft of allegations, several White House aides tried to raise red flags. But the normal investigation process was short-circuited, the sources said. Bush's top lawyer, Alberto R. Gonzales, took charge of the vetting, repeatedly grilling Kerik about the issues that had been raised. In the end, despite the concerns, the White House moved forward with his nomination -- only to have it collapse a week later.

The selection of Kerik in December 2004 for one of the most sensitive posts in government became an acute but brief embarrassment for Bush at the start of his second term. More than two years later, it has reemerged as part of a federal criminal investigation of Kerik that raises questions about the decisions made by the president, the Republican front-runner to replace him and the embattled attorney general.

A reconstruction of the failed nomination, assembled through interviews with key players, provides new details and a fuller account of the episode -- how Giuliani put forward a flawed candidate for high office, how Bush rushed the usual process in his eagerness to install a political ally and how Gonzales, as White House counsel, failed to stop the nomination despite the many warning signs. "The vetting process clearly broke down," said a senior White House official. "This should not happen."

Federal prosecutors have told Kerik that they are likely to charge him with several felonies, including providing false information to the government when Bush nominated him, sources have told The Washington Post. Kerik recently turned down a proposed agreement in which he would plead guilty and serve time in prison because, his attorney said, he would not "plead to something that he didn't do."

The investigation has put Giuliani's relationship with Kerik back in the spotlight at a time when the former mayor leads the Republican presidential field in national polls. During an appearance in Florida last weekend, Giuliani told reporters that they had a right to question his judgment in putting Kerik in charge of the New York Police Department and recommending him to Bush. "I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him," Giuliani said. "It's my responsibility, and I've learned from it."

The White House explanation has shifted significantly. Just after Kerik withdrew, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that "we have no reason to believe" he lied and that it "would be an inaccurate impression" to say the vetting was rushed. Now current and former White House officials assert that Kerik lied "bald-faced," as one put it, and say they erred by speeding up the nomination.

Aides said they now believe they were lulled by Kerik's swaggering Sept. 11 reputation, and were too passive in accommodating the president's desire for secrecy and speed and too willing to trust Giuliani's judgment.

"There is no question the mayor's support for Kerik was important," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "But Kerik was also known to some degree within the administration for his work in Iraq. If we had this to do over again, it certainly would have been done differently. We probably moved more quickly than was appropriate, but fortunately the nomination was withdrawn."
From 9/11 Hero to Nominee

Bush met Kerik in the debris of the World Trade Center and was so impressed that he later sent him to Iraq to train police. The bald, mustachioed street cop appealed to Bush, who admired his can-do persona. By 2004, Kerik was sent to the Democratic National Convention as part of an opposition war room, given a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and tapped to appear with the president on the campaign trail.

Kerik did not fit the button-down model of the Bush administration. A high school dropout and son of a prostitute apparently killed by her pimp, Kerik became an undercover narcotics detective with ponytail and diamond earrings. He joined Giuliani's 1993 campaign as his driver and was later given top appointments, including corrections commissioner and eventually police commissioner. After office, Giuliani and Kerik became partners in a security consulting firm.

So when Giuliani telephoned Bush to recommend that he make Kerik his second-term homeland security secretary, the president jumped at the idea. The sheen of a 9/11 hero seemed to be just what was needed to take on a troubled new department struggling to integrate 22 agencies and 180,000 employees to protect the nation's ports, borders and airports; enforce immigration and customs laws; and respond to major disasters. Only a few aides, including then-Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and senior adviser Karl Rove, were clued in to the president's decision.

As with every nominee, Kerik was given detailed financial disclosure and personal history questionnaires to fill out, all intended to unearth anything that might prove embarrassing in a confirmation hearing. Giuliani's firm assisted in filling out the forms, according to a source familiar with the situation, and the papers are now an issue in the federal criminal investigation. Kerik, his attorney and Giuliani Partners spokeswoman Sunny Mindel declined to comment.

Presidential nominees typically go through a full-fledged FBI background investigation before their appointments are announced. But because it is hard to keep Cabinet selections secret for so long, they are vetted only by the White House counsel's office before being made public. The FBI then conducts its full probe before Senate confirmation hearings begin.

The counsel's vetting depends heavily on honest responses from a nominee, officials said. Yet in Kerik's case, a quick FBI search and research by the White House turned up a host of problems in the couple of weeks before the nomination was announced. According to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of White House policy against discussing personnel matters, Bush aides discovered that:

· Kerik was fined $2,500 by New York City for using police detectives to help him with his autobiography. He was also a defendant in a civil lawsuit accusing him of retaliation against a corrections official who had disciplined a female prison guard with whom Kerik was having a relationship. Kerik was scheduled to give a deposition in the case right after his nomination was to be announced.

· One of Kerik's former top deputies was convicted of stealing money from a foundation that Kerik ran while serving as Giuliani's corrections chief. The foundation was funded by rebates from tobacco companies selling cigarettes to prison inmates.

· Kerik, who filed for bankruptcy as a police officer, became rich almost overnight after leaving office. Just before his nomination, he made a quick $6.2 million without investing a dime by exercising stock options from his service on the board of Taser International, a stun-gun firm seeking business with homeland security agencies.

· Kerik's tenure in Iraq generated strong criticism of his management. Iraqi officials complained to U.S. authorities about $1.2 billion Kerik spent to train Iraqi police officers in Jordan, spending they called wasteful. Iraqis also questioned why Kerik spent tens of millions of dollars to buy weapons for Iraqi trainees when the U.S. military had confiscated plenty of such weapons after the invasion.

"There were alarm bells all around," said a former White House official.
A Friend Accused of Mob Ties

The loudest alarm bell was Kerik's relationship with Lawrence Ray. The best man at Kerik's wedding in 1998, Ray went to work for a New Jersey construction company, Interstate Industrial Corp., that was seeking a big New York City contract and trying to overcome concerns inside Giuliani's administration that it had mob ties.

Ray, who told friends that he worked with the FBI, military and intelligence agencies in the 1990s, was indicted in 2000 along with organized-crime figures in what prosecutors described as a scheme to manipulate the stock market. He pleaded guilty and was spared prison time.

The White House had the perfect person to question Kerik about his relationship with Ray: Julie Myers, who arrived in the White House personnel office in November 2004 and had worked in the same U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn that prosecuted Ray. She flagged the relationship and other concerns about Kerik for her White House colleagues, sources said. She aggressively questioned Kerik about Ray and other affiliations. He bristled at her tone, sources said.

In an interview last week, Ray said he had told the FBI and U.S. attorney's office as early as 1999, as he tried to stave off indictment, that he had incriminating information about Kerik. After his guilty plea in 2001, Ray said, he told the FBI that Kerik had agreed to help Interstate Industrial and its owners, the DiTomasso family, try to win city business despite their alleged ties with organized crime. At the time, Kerik solicited and received gifts from company sources, including $165,000 in renovations for his apartment.

"They knew 100 percent of it," Ray said. "There was no way they didn't. I was driving the ball on that."

Kerik told the White House that the allegations were untrue, sources said. "He was told many times, 'Be honest,' " said one person familiar with the process. Myers, presidential personnel director Dina Powell and others raised concerns in the West Wing, according to the sources. They were "very, very adamant about how serious the vetting needed to be," one source said.

Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who was about to begin his own confirmation process for attorney general, took charge of questioning Kerik, grilling him for hours on several occasions, the sources said. At one point, Gonzales called while Kerik was having lunch at a New York steakhouse and talked to him on his cellphone for an hour and a half. Nanette Everson, then the White House ethics counsel, was kept on the sideline for the heavy-duty part of the vetting.

But in the end, White House officials knew that Kerik had been head of the nation's largest police department and had a security clearance for his work in Iraq. He was a hero of Sept. 11. He was well liked by the president. No one checked with key officials at the Homeland Security, Defense or State departments or elsewhere in the government. Even within the White House, the choice was kept secret so Bush could make a splash.

"The loop on it was extremely small," said a former official. "That's a president-of-the-United-States, 'I don't want anyone to know, I want to announce it on Friday' [deal]. It drives people to not follow all the normal procedures."

Bush summoned Kerik to the Oval Office for a perfunctory interview Dec. 1 and, without asking any policy questions, asked if he wanted to be homeland security secretary. Kerik accepted. "He told me he wanted someone to go in there and 'break some china,' " Kerik later told New York magazine. Kerik walked out and called Giuliani to tell him the news. Two days later, Bush and Kerik appeared together to make the nomination public. Only then did the china start to break.
The Past Comes to Light

The initial reviews were positive. New York's Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, issued laudatory statements. But from corners of Washington and New York, calls began pouring in to the White House and to newsrooms.

Stories began circulating about Kerik's time in Iraq, about an arrest warrant issued when he failed to respond to a civil lawsuit, about his extramarital affair with book publisher Judith Regan, about his trysts in a city apartment meant as a place for police officials to rest near Ground Zero. Ray went public with his allegations about Kerik's gifts from the DiTomasso family. Kerik and the White House tried to ride it out. Giuliani advised Kerik through the political storm.

But then people at the Giuliani firm who were scouring Kerik's finances discovered that he had not paid Social Security taxes for a nanny who apparently was an illegal immigrant, Kerik later said. By Kerik's account, Giuliani told him he had to call the White House, and by the end of the day on Dec. 10, they agreed he had to pull out. Statements were issued after the evening news, and Giuliani came to console his friend.

"I made some major mistakes, and they catch up to you," Kerik told New York magazine a few months later. "I didn't focus enough on ethical issues. But I still believe that my successes over my 30-year career outweigh the errors in judgment." Except for the nanny, he said, "everything that's come out is stuff I either told the White House about or they already knew."

But more was to come. After Kerik withdrew, Ray became the central witness in several investigations. The New York Department of Investigation and the Bronx district attorney's office opened probes into Kerik's gifts using wiretaps, grand jury testimony and numerous e-mails Ray gave them.

In the e-mails, Kerik appears to be soliciting Ray for money. "I was going to ask you if we had between 18 and 2,000 available," Kerik wrote in 1999. Another time, Kerik mentioned financial difficulties and the apartment. "I've got to make sure we can do the renovations," he said. Sources familiar with the investigation said Kerik may challenge the authenticity of the e-mails if federal charges are filed, but the Bronx district attorney's office authenticated the e-mails as it brought its case against Kerik, according to lead investigator Stephen Bookin.

New Jersey gambling-enforcement authorities also filed a complaint in 2005 accusing Kerik of misusing his Giuliani administration jobs to solicit gifts from the DiTomassos, who have fought allegations of mob ties, while helping them try to win city business. Kerik asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to answer some questions in the proceedings. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in New York court last summer, acknowledging that he had accepted the apartment renovations.

In the White House, there is still resentment toward Giuliani for foisting the problem on the president. "There are two people who are to blame for what happened -- Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik," said one former White House official. Still, a senior administration official acknowledged some responsibility as well. Bush wanted "a hard-charging personality" to get the department in line, he said. "Instead, we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot."

Staff writers Matthew Mosk and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.


Thousands in LA Demand Immigrant Rights

Huffington Post
Thousands in LA Demand Immigrant Rights

LOS ANGELES — Thousands of people marched through downtown on Saturday, demanding a way for the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to become citizens and condemning President Bush's latest proposal.

Carrying signs saying "Amnesty Now!" and "Love Thy Neighbor, Don't Deport Him," about 15,000 people danced to Mexican ranchera music, chanted "Si, se puede!" or "It can be done!" and passed large American flags over the crowd.

Many were angry about a White House plan that would grant illegal immigrants work visas but require them to return home to apply for U.S. residency and pay a $10,000 fine.

"Charging that much, Bush is going to be even more expensive than the coyotes," said protester Armando Garcia, 50, referring to smugglers who transport people across the Mexican border.

Immigrant rights advocates say many of the area's illegal immigrants feel betrayed by President Bush, who they had long considered an ally. While illegal immigrants and advocates have long focused their ire at conservative Republicans and Congress, many had seen Bush as an advocate of immigration reform because he had repeatedly said he favors giving many illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The White House's draft plan, leaked last week, calls for a new "Z" visa that would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but would cost $3,500 each time.

Then to become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.

The proposal has been sharply criticized by Hispanic advocacy groups, Democrats, the Roman Catholic Church and unions that have many immigrants in their ranks. They argue the cost of work permits and the green card application _ which could total more than $20,000 _ are prohibitive for low-wage earners.

"For my wife and I it would cost about $30,000," said Francisco Gomez, 41, who along with his wife is in the country illegally. "Multiply that by all the illegal immigrants here ... It's obvious Bush just wants to fund his Iraq war with our money."

The plan is far more conservative than the one passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan backing and support from President Bush. That plan would have allowed many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, work and apply to become legal residents after learning English, pay small fines and back taxes and clear a background check.

Many Senate conservatives opposed that plan, and it failed to gain traction in the then Republican-controlled House, which at the end of 2005 passed the punitive immigration reform bill that angered immigrant communities and led to massive protests.

"Last year, we were fighting for legalization, and this year we are fighting for legalization and against all these raids," said Maria Lopez, 50, an illegal immigrant who works as a seamstress and sends $200 a month home to family members in Mexico.

"We have no way to come up with that much money, and Bush knows that," she said. "He is doing this on purpose so we don't ever become legal residents."