Friday, May 11, 2007

Vets facing higher risks of suicide

USA Today
Report: Vets facing higher risks of suicide

WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at increased risk of suicide because Veterans Administration health clinics do not have 24-hour mental health care available, an internal review found.

The report by the Veterans Affairs Department's inspector general, which was scheduled to be released later Thursday, is the first comprehensive look at VA mental health care, particularly in the area of suicide prevention.

It found that nearly three years after the VA adopted a comprehensive strategy of mental health care, services were inconsistent throughout its network of 1,400 clinics. Many facilities lacked 24-hour staff, adequate screening for mental problems, or personnel who were properly trained.

With about one-third of veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it is "incumbent upon VHA to continue moving forward toward full deployment of suicide prevention strategies for our nation's veterans," the five-page executive summary stated.

The report comes as already-strained troops and veterans say they are suffering more psychological problems due to repeated and extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In a study earlier this month, a Pentagon task force issued an urgent warning for improved care, citing a strained health system.
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In the VA's inspector general report Thursday, investigators echoed some of those concerns in citing a need for additional staffing and better training in VA facilities nationwide. It said about 1,000 veterans who receive VA care commit suicide every year, and as many as 5,000 a year among all living veterans.

Among the other findings:

•VA clinics and Pentagon military hospitals must improve their sharing of health information, particularly for patients who might return to active-duty status.

•VA should loosen criteria for inpatient PTSD care. Currently only veterans with "sustained sobriety" get treatment.

In a written response, Michael Kussman, the VA's acting undersecretary for health, concurred with many of the recommendations. He noted that the VA has recently installed suicide prevention coordinators in each medical center to better develop prevention strategies.


Bush administration calls 2003 memo 'sensitive'

Here is the beginning of my post.

Bush administration calls 2003 memo 'sensitive'

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration is accusing a fired air marshal of disseminating sensitive information, nearly four years after the officer leaked an embarrassing but routine memo on reducing hotel costs.

The administration argues that ex-marshal Robert MacLean, 37, who is trying to win his job back, should have known the unlabeled memo that he received on his unsecured cellphone was considered "sensitive security information."

MacLean, who admits he gave the memo to a reporter, counters there was no way to tell that air marshal officials would designate the cost-cutting plan years later as sensitive national security information. He was fired in April 2006.

The Transportation Security Administration's expert on sensitive materials, Andrew Colsky, who gave a deposition in the case, could not recall the "sensitive" designation applied retroactively to previously disclosed information.

MacLean is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, to rule that the leak was legal under protections granted whistle-blowers under federal law. After the appeals court rules, MacLean can resume his challenge to his dismissal before a personnel board.

The "sensitive security" classification applies to unclassified information of a sensitive nature, which could harm federal operations if publicly disseminated. It has existed for years but has been used more frequently since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

MacLean, who lives in Coto de Caza, Calif., acknowledges he gave a copy of the July 29, 2003, budget-cutting memo to a reporter. Once the memo became public, the air marshal program said it was a mistake and no flight assignments requiring overnight hotel stays were canceled.

"I felt the agency had gone out of control," MacLean said.

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the Transportation Security Administration declined to comment. However, in a legal brief filed weeks ago, the department contended the memo was classified properly because it met TSA rules covering "sensitive security information" when it was issued.

Government lawyers cited TSA regulations that prohibit disclosure of "specific details of aviation security measures."

If the retroactive designation is upheld, lawyers say, it would instill new fears to those who want to release important information to the public.

Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents whistle-blowers in national security cases, said, "This case just reeks of rotten eggs. I would say this is just the perfect example of retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights."
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Senators who weakened drug bill received millions from industry

Here is the beginning of my post.

Senators who weakened drug bill received millions from industry
By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Senators who raised millions of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests secured industry-friendly changes to a landmark drug-safety bill, according to public records and interviews.

The bill, which passed 93-1, grants the Food and Drug Administration broad new authority to monitor the safety of drugs after they are approved. It addressed some shortcomings that allowed the painkiller Vioxx to stay on the market for years after initial signs that it could cause heart attacks.

However, the powers granted to the FDA in the bill's original version were pared back during private meetings. And efforts to curb conflicts of interest among FDA advisers and allow consumers to buy cheaper drugs from other countries were defeated in close votes.

• A measure that blocked an effort to allow drug importation passed, 49-40. The 49 senators who voted against drug importation received about $5 million from industry executives and political action committees since 2001 — nearly three quarters of the industry donations to current members of the Senate, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data compiled by two non-partisan groups, Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.

• Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he demanded removal of language that would have allowed the FDA to ban advertising of high-risk drugs for two years because it would restrict free speech. Roberts has raised $18,000 from drug interests so far this year, records show, and $66,000 since 2001. His spokeswoman, Sarah Little, said he "takes great pains to keep fundraising and official actions separate."

• Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., claimed authorship of a change that reduced the FDA's power to require post-market safety studies. He said he wanted to target drugs only if there was evidence of harm. Gregg has raised $168,500 from drug executives and PACs since 2001 and sided with them in four key votes.

• The bill's chief sponsors — Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., — agreed after consultations with industry officials and others to modify a proposal that all clinical drug studies be made public, said Craig Orfield, Enzi's spokesman. Under the change, only those studies submitted to the FDA would be available.

Enzi took in $174,000 from drug interests since 2001; Kennedy, $78,000. Their spokesmen said the money did not influence them.

Senators also voted down an amendment that would have made it harder for scientists who have accepted money from a drug company to advise the FDA on drug approval applications from that firm.

"It's not that money buys votes," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the lone vote against the bill. "But you have a culture in which big money has significant influence. Big money gains you access, access gives you the time to influence people."

Orfield, Enzi's spokesman, said compromise is necessary in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome any single senator's objection. "Our objective is to get something that can pass," he said.

The pharmaceutical companies spend more money on lobbying than any other single industry — $855 million from 1998 to 2006, according to the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.

"I don't think there is any lobbying group in town that has the clout of the drug industry," said Ron Pollack, director of Families USA, a left-leaning consumer advocacy group.

The biggest drug trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, praised the bill after it passed. The group's spokesman, Ken Johnson, said its critics "never point out that a great deal of this money is spent trying to defeat bills … that are designed to cripple this industry."

The bill, which now goes to the House, was based in part on the recommendations of a report by the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences. The Institute was asked by the FDA to examine drug safety in the wake of the scandal over Vioxx, which Merck withdrew from the market in 2004 amid evidence that the drug put users at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

The report offered two dozen recommendations for improvement. Chief among those was that Congress should grant FDA the power to require a system of post-market surveillance, which the Senate bill would do. But two other key recommendations were not followed in the measure: That FDA should have the power to ban consumer advertising for the first two years of a drug's market life; and that FDA scientists who investigate post-market side effects should work in an office separate from those that approve drugs initially.

The bill "does not sufficiently address the underlying problems," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who in recent years held hearings featuring FDA whistle-blowers who said their concerns about drug safety were ignored.

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The Cost of War, Unnoticed
Why Iraq and Afghanistan Haven't Squeezed the Average American's Wallet
By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer

The global war on terror, as President Bush calls the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and related military operations, is about to become the second-most-expensive conflict in U.S. history, after World War II.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress has approved more than $609 billion for the wars, a figure likely to stand as lawmakers rework their latest spending bill in response to a Bush veto. Requests for $145 billion more await congressional action and would raise the cost in inflation-adjusted dollars beyond the cost of the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

But the United States is vastly richer than it was in those days, and the nation's wealth now dwarfs the price of war, economists said. Last year, spending in Iraq amounted to less than 1 percent of the total economy -- about as much as Americans spent shopping online and less than half what they spent at Wal-Mart. Total defense spending is 4 percent of gross domestic product, the figure that measures the nation's economic output. In contrast, defense spending ate up 14 percent of GDP at the height of the Korean War and 9 percent during the Vietnam War.

And this time, the war bill is going directly on the nation's credit card. Unlike his predecessors, Bush is financing a major conflict without raising taxes or making significant cuts in domestic programs. Instead, he has cut taxes and run up the national debt. The result, economists said, is a war that has barely dented the average American's pocketbook and caused few reverberations in the broader economy.

"This war is easier to manage because it's a very small portion of GDP compared to the past," said Robert D. Hormats, a managing director at Goldman Sachs and a former Reagan administration official who recently published a history of war financing. "Even the borrowing of money is relatively small compared to past wars, so the impact on the economy is relatively minor."

Like all debts, however, the bill for Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually come due. While it is unlikely to cause economic upheaval, such as the devastating inflation that followed the Vietnam War, economists foresee substantial increases in government spending to rebuild the nation's exhausted armed forces, care for its disabled veterans and cover rising interest payments.

Administration officials say those payments will be easier to afford because Bush's tax cuts strengthened the economy and boosted tax collections. But even many conservative economists are skeptical. Some worry that the bill for Iraq will come just as the baby-boom generation starts retiring, further straining a budget that will require deep cuts, higher taxes or bigger deficits.

"When you borrow to pay for the war, you feel it less," said Alan D. Viard, a former Bush White House economist who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "But if you do borrow, it may be future needs you're sacrificing. There's always a sacrifice."

Borrowing is common in wartime. According to Hormats, virtually every U.S. war has required some debt. The title of his book, "The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars," comes from a 1790 report by the nation's first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton wrote that the heavy debt that helped finance the Revolutionary War was "the price of liberty" and insisted that the new nation scrupulously repay it to preserve its ability to borrow in the future.

Hamilton won that argument, and the government's commitment to repaying its debts has become a bedrock American principle. At the same time, most wartime presidents have tried to cover at least part of the cost of their conflicts by means other than debt, Hormats writes, often pushing radical changes in fiscal policy aimed at restraining deficits and inflation.

To help pay for World War II, by far the nation's most expensive, Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the number of taxpayers from 4 million to 42 million, tripled tax collections as a percentage of GDP and slashed spending on his treasured New Deal programs. As the military budget devoured more than a third of the economy, Roosevelt also called for mass sacrifice, rationing food and gasoline, capping prices and wages and exhorting Americans to spend any money they could spare on war bonds and stamps.

Heavy government spending on the Korean War set off a bout of inflation that neared 8 percent in 1951. To pay for the war, President Harry S. Truman raised the top tax rates to 91 percent for individuals and an all-time high of 70 percent for corporations, while imposing wage and price controls.

Lyndon B. Johnson, who tried to protect a 1964 tax cut and his Great Society programs while escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam, eventually signed both a tax increase and spending cuts in 1968 -- too late to avoid touching off more than a decade of inflation.

Bush, in contrast, has allowed domestic spending to rise and cut taxes repeatedly since taking office, adding more than $3 trillion to the national debt. He signed a huge stimulus package two months after marching on Baghdad in March 2003. A few months later, he signed legislation to create a Medicare prescription drug benefit, the biggest expansion of the federal health program for the elderly since its creation in 1965.

That combination is unprecedented, Hormats and others said.

"This may be the first war in history -- in the history of the world -- in which there was a tax cut rather than a tax hike," said Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University economist who was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve in the Clinton administration.

Administration officials say the 21st-century economy is different from that of the 1960s, when the U.S. government had no easy access to cheap capital. To the extent that fighting in Iraq has contributed to higher oil prices, it has added to inflationary pressures, economists said. But they added that military spending alone has not done so. And the low cost of borrowing today makes a rising debt worth the investment "in the safety and security of Americans," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Though the administration has not cut domestic spending, it has managed to hold the budget for discretionary programs relatively flat in recent years, Fratto said. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, a tax increase to pay for the ensuing war could have devastated the economy, he said.

"Could it have been paid for by tax increases? I suppose it could have been," Fratto said. "But at what cost to the economy?"

Grover Norquist, a Bush adviser and anti-tax lobbyist, argued that the tax cuts have helped create millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in new wealth, which will ultimately make the debt easier to pay off.

"If you're going to finance a war, it's better to finance it through growth and higher revenue" than through raising taxes, Norquist said. "Would you be better off spending less money? Yes. But my argument is that economic growth that creates jobs is a fine policy whether we're at daggers drawn or at peace with the world."

Norquist was among the few analysts willing to offer a spirited defense of the administration. Many conservatives said they are troubled by Bush's inability to restrain non-military spending.

"In their defense, I think they would say they wanted to do that, but were basically unable to because Congress wouldn't comply," said Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Hormats called Bush's war financing "shortsighted," not only because of the potential fiscal consequences but also because it bypassed an opportunity to engage the support of the public, which has grown increasingly skeptical of the war.

"They tried to do this on the cheap and without a candid conversation with the American people about the cost," Hormats said. "But the irony is the great wartime leaders have seen it in the opposite way," theorizing that a call to sacrifice would "tie people to the war effort."

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton and who was among the winners of the 2001 Nobel prize for economics, said Bush has undertaken a "deceptive policy of saying you can have both guns and butter" -- a strategy similar to Johnson's in the early years of Vietnam. In December, Stiglitz co-authored a study that predicts the Iraq conflict alone will eventually cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion, counting military rebuilding and health care for wounded veterans.

"It's actually turning out to be a very expensive war," Stiglitz said. But "it has been designed to be a war the American people don't feel."


Bush Changes Continuity Plan; Administration, Not DHS, Would Run Shadow Government
Bush Changes Continuity Plan
Administration, Not DHS, Would Run Shadow Government
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush issued a formal national security directive yesterday ordering agencies to prepare contingency plans for a surprise, "decapitating" attack on the federal government, and assigned responsibility for coordinating such plans to the White House.

The prospect of a nuclear bomb being detonated in Washington without warning, whether smuggled in by terrorists or a foreign government, has been cited by many security analysts as a rising concern since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The order makes explicit that the focus of federal worst-case planning involves a covert nuclear attack against the nation's capital, in contrast with Cold War assumptions that a long-range strike would be preceded by a notice of minutes or hours as missiles were fueled and launched.

"As a result of the asymmetric threat environment, adequate warning of potential emergencies that could pose a significant risk to the homeland might not be available, and therefore all continuity planning shall be based on the assumption that no such warning will be received," states the 72-paragraph order. It is designated National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20.

The statement added, "Emphasis will be placed upon geographic dispersion of leadership, staff, and infrastructure in order to increase survivability and maintain uninterrupted Government Functions."

After the 2001 attacks, Bush assigned about 100 senior civilian managers to rotate secretly to locations outside of Washington for weeks or months at a time to ensure the nation's survival, a shadow government that evolved based on long-standing "continuity of operations plans."

Since then, other agencies including the Pentagon, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA have taken steps to relocate facilities or key functions outside of Washington for their own reasons, citing factors such as economics or the importance of avoiding Beltway "group-think."

Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an adviser to an independent Continuity of Government Commission, said the order "is a more explicit embrace of what has been since 9/11 an implicit but fairly clear set of assumptions."

He added, "My frustration is that those assumptions have not gripped the Congress in the same way."

Other former Bush administration officials said the directive formalizes a shift of authority away from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House.

Under an executive order dating to the Reagan administration, responsibility for coordinating, implementing and exercising such plans was originally charged to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and later DHS, the Congressional Research Service noted in a 2005 report on a pending DHS reorganization.

The new directive gives the job of coordinating policy to the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism -- Frances Fragos Townsend, who will assume the title of national continuity coordinator -- in consultation with Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, with the support of the White House's Homeland Security Council staff. Townsend is to produce an implementation plan within 90 days. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will continue to coordinate operations and activities, the directive said.


Bush continues to NOT support the troops; threatens to veto another spending bill

US House passes Iraq funding bill
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill which would fund military operations in Iraq to the end of July.

Under the bill, further funding would be dependent on events in Iraq meeting certain, as yet undefined, benchmarks of progress.

President George W Bush said he would veto the bill but hinted a compromise was possible, saying the idea of setting benchmarks "made sense".

Mr Bush has already vetoed one bill linking funding to troop withdrawal.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill late on Thursday in a 221-205 vote.

Although the new bill has passed in the House, most Republicans oppose it. That makes it unlikely it will be passed in the Senate, where the Democrats have a very slender majority.

'No blank cheque'

The new bill would ring-fence about half of the money, $52.8bn, that Mr Bush has requested to fund the war in Iraq.

Lawmakers would then vote in July on whether to release this money on the basis of a report from Mr Bush on progress towards political, economic and security targets.

Mr Bush said such "piecemeal" funding would not work.

He has resisted any attempt to link war funding to withdrawal but is coming under increasing pressure from some Republicans, as well as Democrats, over progress in Iraq.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeated her assertion that Americans will not write a "blank cheque" for President Bush to fight the war in Iraq.

"This is a bill he should like," she said.

"It has his benchmarks, it asks for a progress report, he must have some confidence in what he is doing, and then leave it up to the Congress to make a judgment in July, what could be fairer than that?"

Republican Representative Jerry Lewis said the Democrats' unwillingness to fully fund the war in Iraq called into question their commitment to US troops.

"It is legislation that says to the troops we support you conditionally today but don't expect Congress to support you two months from now... Is this the message we want to send to al-Qaeda?"

Earlier on Thursday, the House of Representatives rejected a separate and largely symbolic bill calling for US troops to withdraw from Iraq within 180 days of the legislation being passed.

The vote, proposed by a group of anti-war Democrats, was rejected by 255 votes to 171.

'Speed up the clock'

Speaking to reporters prior to the votes but after he met defence officials at the Pentagon, Mr Bush reiterated his determination to strike down the legislation before Congress in its current form.

One message I have heard from people of both sides is that benchmarks make sense, and I agree
President George W Bush

"I'll veto the bill if it is this haphazard, piecemeal funding and I made that clear," he said. "We reject that idea. It won't work."

However, the president's statement that he would consider discussion on putting benchmarks in a war-funding bill represents a shift in his position.

"One message I have heard from people of both sides is that benchmarks make sense, and I agree," he said.

Mr Bush said he had asked his chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, to talk to congressional leaders "to find common ground" on setting benchmarks.

The idea of "benchmarks", which have been unspecified so far but may include targets for the Iraqi government to meet, began circulating on Capitol Hill after the first war funding bill was vetoed.

Mr Bush said the Iraqi government - which plans to take a two-month summer recess - needed to "speed up their clock" on measures designed to bring stability to the country.
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Jeb Bush Lands $474,500 for 13 days of work per year job at Scandal Plagued Healthcare Company -- With a Little Help from Dad's Friends

Huffington Post
Shelley Lewis
Jeb Bush Lands Huge Paycheck at Scandal Plagued Healthcare Company -- With a Little Help from Dad's Friends

If you've been worried sick about what would become of ex-Governor Jeb "No Futuro" Bush since his big brother totally screwed his chances for ever being elected president, here's some great news. Jeb is now officially on the board of Tenet Healthcare, at an annual pay of $474,500--for 13 days of work per year.
It's a special board seat created just for Jeb, at the suggestion of an old Bush family friend and fundraiser. (Do they even have any family friends who aren't also fundraisers?)

As calculated by, Jeb stands to collect a tidy $36,500 per day. All he has to do is sit on the board of a hospital chain so ethically challenged that even the Bush administration went after them.

Tenet was forced to pay 900 million dollars to settle a Medicare fraud charge last year. They also owed 80 million in back taxes, going back more than ten years. And there was a 10 million dollar SEC settlement. Also, multi-million dollar settlements to cardiac patients who claimed they got infections after surgery because of unsanitary conditions at a Tenet hospital in Florida. And there was that FBI raid of a Tenet hospital in Redding, California, when they were accused of running an open heart surgery mill. That led to another multi-million dollar settlement (but, as always, no admission of wrongdoing). And it was a Tenet hospital in New Orleans where three people were accused of killing patients in the wake of Katrina. And if that's not enough, read here.

By the way, former US attorney Carol Lam was prosecuting a Tenet owned hospital when she as fired. The case had gone to trial but the jury failed to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared. Alberto Gonzalez's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, then wrote to Harriet Miers suggesting that Lam and several others be removed. Much more here at DailyKos.

When his appointment was announced, Jeb said, "As I have researched Tenet, I have been very impressed by the company's commitment to improving patient care as well as the board's commitment to strong corporate governance and transparency. I care deeply about the future of health care in this country, and I'm delighted to be affiliated with Tenet, a leading company in this field."

I guess $36,500 per day buys Jeb a big barrel of delight.

You didn't honestly think he was going to have to get a real job and work for a living, did you?


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

George Bush's Gang That Can't Think Straight

Huffington Post
Susan Braudy
George Bush's Gang That Can't Think Straight

Here's another trenchant message from my friend Rick Angres in Santa Monica about our leaders.

First they send our troops into harm's way unnecessarily. Then they don't bother to give them enough armor to protect themselves. Then they laugh at the Geneva conventions that were designed to protect us as well as everybody else.

Then they don't bother to make sure that our wounded have adequate medical care. Then they say "you're not supporting our troops" to anyone who wants to get our men and women out of the line of fire.


States and cities move to curb toxic substances the EPA hasn't

States and cities move to curb toxic substances the EPA hasn't
By Traci Watson, USA TODAY

States and cities are taking steps to ban toxic substances found in consumer goods ranging from TVs to baby bottles, rather than waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies to yank them off the market.

Federal agencies "are not protecting the safety of the American public," says state Rep. Ross Hunter, a Democrat who helped push a chemical ban through the Washington Legislature. "If the federal government won't do it, then the states are going to have to do it."

Charles Auer, head of the EPA division that oversees toxic chemicals, says the agency does take action when the law allows it to do so. The EPA has enacted "control measures that we think are adequate to protect health and the environment," he says.

From California to Maine, state and local officials have reacted to new scientific studies that hint at health dangers from widely used chemicals. Some examples:

•Washington last month banned a chemical called Deca-BDE, as long as substitutes can be found. The EPA is studying the chemical and has no plans to ban it. The chemical, commonly found in upholstery, helps keep items from catching fire and has been linked to liver problems in animals.

"We keep getting more and more scientific evidence of the kind of harm that it can cause to people," Hunter says.

•California's air-pollution agency last month set limits on formaldehyde fumes wafting from particle board and other wood products. Formaldehyde acts as a glue, but the EPA believes its fumes can cause cancer. No federal law allows the EPA to regulate fumes from finished products, agency spokesman John Millet says.

In January, state officials decided to ban the chemical perchloroethylene, which most dry cleaners use to launder clothes and other items. The EPA in July restricted use of the chemical but did not ban it.

"Our responsibility is to the citizens of California," said Dimitri Stanich, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

•Maine's Legislature held a hearing last week on a bill to bar the sale of children's plastic products, such as baby bottles, containing a chemical called bisphenol A or others called phthalates. These widely used chemicals help give items their texture, but both have been linked to developmental problems in lab animals. The EPA is studying these chemicals and has not taken a stance on them yet.

"The federal law that controls (these chemicals) has terrible loopholes," says bill sponsor state Rep. Jon Hinck, a Democrat.

The main federal law about chemicals has drawn attention for being ineffective. The Toxic Substances Control Act makes it "costly and time consuming" for the EPA to get data about chemicals' safety, according to a 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional watchdog.

Since the law was passed in 1976, the EPA has banned or cut production of only five existing chemicals or groups of chemicals that were on the market when the law was passed, the GAO said.

The EPA defends its record on the chemicals that states and cities have tackled. Auer says that in some cases, there is too little scientific evidence to justify a federal ban. When the evidence is strong enough, the law gives the agency the power to act, he says.

Representatives of the chemical industry question states' ability to regulate chemicals on their own. They say weighing a chemical's risks and benefits is so complex and technical it's best left to the EPA.

"The resources and expertise available to the federal government would provide for better … decision making," says Steve Russell of the American Chemistry Council, a group of chemical manufacturers. Even so, he concedes, "We understand the inclination to act."

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Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate; Bill Would Partially Fund Iraq War, Pressure Republicans to Abandon Bush Strategy

ABC News
Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate
Bill Would Partially Fund Iraq War, Pressure Republicans to Abandon Bush Strategy

May 8, 2007 —

Later this week House Democratic leaders will introduce a new bill to fund the war in Iraq, a complicated bill -- or, bills, rather -- to match the complicated task Democratic leaders have in front of them.

They are attempting to end the war in Iraq through congressional pressure, without directly cutting off funding for the troops while simultaneously keeping a politically diverse caucus as united as possible.

Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate

"We're the Congress of the United States," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday after meeting with the Democratic caucus. "We're many members here. So when we're talking with the White House about something, they're speaking for one person, we're speaking for hundreds of people. We have to bring members (of Congress) together around a position that we can then discuss with the White House on that. And hopefully that will happen this week."

On Thursday, the House will vote on $95.5 billion in funding for the war, "with a significant portion of it fenced," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., explained.

Three months worth of funding for the war in Iraq -- approximately $30 billion, Hoyer said, plus $12 billion in ancillary spending -- would be available for the military immediately.

On July 13, the bill would require President Bush to report on the progress of various benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi government. Then in late July, Congress would vote on whether or not to unfence the remaining war appropriations, approximately $53 billion.

"This gives Congress the opportunity in mid-July to make an assessment as to what progress is being made," Hoyer said.

A senior Democratic aide said that the remaining $53 billion would unquestionably be given to the U.S. troops, but the July vote would allow Democrats continued input into how the war is being waged, including whether or not the money should be spent on withdrawing U.S. troops altogether.

House Democratic leaders are promising the anti-war voices among them -- from the House Progressive Caucus and House Out of Iraq Caucus -- the up-or-down vote on the war that they want.

Thus, the House will vote in July on whether the "fenced-off" $53 billion should be spent on redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Assuming that does not pass, members of Congress will then get to vote on whether or not to "unfence" the $53 billion for the military.

Republicans Criticize 'Slow-Bleed Strategy'

House Republicans derided the proposal, which is being drafted by Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"This is the fourth iteration of the Democrats slow-bleed strategy," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chair of the House Republican Caucus. "It is unconscionable to think that they want to fund a war 60 days at a time."

The bill actually funds the war effort for 90 days but strong criticism remains.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called the proposal "bad management," later adding, "We think it is appropriate to be able to give commanders what they are going to need, and also forces in the field, so that you can make long-term decisions in trying to build the mission."

A Democratic congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Democratic caucus, explained the political strategy of the vote to ABC News as a sort of war of attrition. He said, "The idea is to keep kicking the can down the road" before forcing Democrats to vote on whether to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible.

"Until then," the congressman continued, "the idea to keep Republicans voting again and again and again to keep this folly of a war going. All the while the president keeps getting less popular, the war keeps getting less and less popular, and Republican congressmen keep getting closer to their looming re-election campaigns. Democrats think it's a winning strategy, and I'm not sure Republicans would disagree."

Keeping Up the Pressure

Even after the July vote, Democrats see an opportunity to continue the pressure on the White House and their Republican colleagues.

House Democrats hope to pass all the appropriations bills in June with the exception of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. That bill will serve as the next host of Democratic-led debates about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Democrats see Republicans as weakening in their stalwart support for the war. They point to comments by House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicating that when it comes to the "surge" strategy in Iraq, "by the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?"

They also point to the fact that on the last Iraq bill, which contained a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., voted "present" instead of standing by the president.

Last month, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., told The New York Times that if clear progress has not been made in Iraq by autumn, "a heck of a lot of us will start peeling away" from supporting the war.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., explained on Tuesday that when Republicans point to the fall as the time to assess progress, that's because the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, "is going to report back in September. That will be a critical moment to see how the plan is working."

Spending Rises, Senate Demurs

Also included in this Thursday House funding package would be funding for children's health insurance, health care for veterans and current U.S. troops, recovery from Hurricane Katrina and an increase in the minimum wage.

On Friday, the House will vote for the billions in spending for various programs that Republicans previously derided as "pork" -- agricultural relief funding and other projects for specific regions of the country.

There is no discussion in the Senate of a similar bill to the bifurcated (or tri-furcated, rather) approach taken in the House. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to bring any bill to the floor, so they need to work more closely with their GOP counterparts.

"I think I'm safe in saying there is minimal to no enthusiasm among Republican senators for that proposal," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"We either need to vote for funding for the troops or not. A four-month period is a pretty short period anyway, in any event. To further divide that in half and bring the uncertainty that will be the result of that to the whole funding process would be highly confusing and disruptive," the senator concluded.

On Wednesday, McConnell will host Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten to discuss the Senate version of the Iraq funding bill.

"The Senate may have a different approach," acknowledged Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chair of the House Democratic Caucus. "And then we'll go to conference to deal with it. But the notion that you should know is that there will constantly be a relationship between the resources and a new policy."

Dean Norland contributed to this report.


Kansas Tornado Renews Debate on Guard at War

The New York Times
Kansas Tornado Renews Debate on Guard at War

CHICAGO, May 8 — For months, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and other governors have warned that their state National Guards are ill-prepared for the next local disaster, be it a tornado a flash flood or a terrorist’s threat, because of large deployments of their soldiers and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, last Friday night, a deadly tornado all but cleared the small town of Greensburg off the Kansas map. With 80 square blocks of the small farming town destroyed, Ms. Sebelius said her fears had come true: The emergency response was too slow, she said, and there was only one reason.

“As you travel around Greensburg, you’ll see that city and county trucks have been destroyed,” Ms. Sebelius, a Democrat, said Monday. “The National Guard is one of our first responders. They don’t have the equipment they need to come in, and it just makes it that much slower.”

For nearly two days after the storm, there was an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders. By Sunday afternoon, more than a day and a half after the tornado, only about half of the Guard troops who would ultimately respond were in place.

It was not until Sunday night that significant numbers of military vehicles started to arrive, many streaming in a long caravan from Wichita about 100 miles away.

Ms. Sebelius’s comments about the slow response prompted a debate with the White House on Tuesday, which initially said the fault rested with her. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said the governor should have followed procedure by finding gaps after the storm hit and asking the federal government to fill them — but did not.

“If you don’t request it, you’re not going to get it,” Mr. Snow told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The debate was reminiscent of the Bush administration’s skirmishes with Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, also a Democrat, after Hurricane Katrina. But after an angry flurry of words, both sides seemed to back down a bit later Tuesday.

Ms. Sibelius said she now had enough equipment and personnel to deal with the problems in Greensburg, and the White House acknowledged that the governor had requested several items that the federal government supplied, including a mobile command center, a mobile office building, an urban search and rescue team, and coordination of extra Black Hawk helicopters.

Nonetheless, the governor and officials in other states again expressed concern that the problem could occur again as the stretched National Guard system struggled to respond to disasters at home while also fighting overseas.

As State Senator Donald Betts Jr., Democrat of Wichita, put it: “We should have had National Guard troops there right after the tornado hit, securing the place, pulling up debris, to make sure that if there was still life, people could have been saved. The response time was too slow, and it’s becoming a trend. We saw this after Katrina, and it’s like history repeating itself.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which came under strong criticism after Hurricane Katrina, seemed to respond more quickly in Kansas. Several of the agency’s mobile disaster recovery centers are in Greensburg assisting residents, and the agency said it had moved in 15,000 gallons of water and 21,000 ready-to-eat meals, enough to feed 10,000 people.

State officials said the problem with the National Guard’s response had more to do with equipment than personnel.

In Kansas, the National Guard is operating with 40 percent to 50 percent of its vehicles and heavy machinery, local Guard officials said. Ordinarily, the Guard would have about 660 Humvees and more than 30 large trucks to traverse difficult terrain and transport heavy equipment. When the tornado struck, the Guard had about 350 Humvees and 15 large trucks, said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state’s adjutant general. The Guard would also usually have 170 medium-scale tactical vehicles used to transport people and supplies — but now it has fewer than 30, he said. On the other hand, General Bunting said, it had more cargo trucks than it needed.

The issue is not confined to Kansas.

In Ohio, the National Guard is short of night vision goggles and M-4 rifles, said a Guard spokesman, Dr. Mark Wayda. “If we had a tornado hit a small town, we would be fine,” Dr. Wayda said. “If we had a much larger event, that would become a problem.”

The California National Guard is similarly concerned about a catastrophic event. “Our issue is that we are shortchanged when it comes to equipment,” said Col. Jon Siepmann, a spokesman for the Guard in California. “We have gone from a strategic reserve to a globally deployable force, and yet our equipment resources have been largely the same levels since before the war.”

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe a Democrat, echoed the concerns of Ms. Sebelius. “We have the same problem,” Mr. Beebe said. “We have had a significant decrease in equipment traditionally afforded our National Guard, and it’s occasioned by the fact that it’s been sent to the Middle East and Iraq.”

He added: “Our first and foremost consideration is to guarantee that our soldiers have the resources, including equipment, to do the job and protect themselves. Having said that, my preference would be for the federal government to provide that equipment and not strip the state’s resources, which could adversely impact the state’s mission in times of crisis, which is what happened in Kansas.”

Last year, all 50 governors signed a letter to President Bush asking for the immediate re-equipping of Guard units sent overseas. But officials in several states, including Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas, said Tuesday that they were not facing equipment shortages.

National Guard units overseas are often assigned engineering missions, and the skills and equipment — bulldozers and trucks, for example — are also what might be required to deal with a natural disaster at home.

White House officials said that the Kansas National Guard had at its disposal in the Midwest and the Plains states, everything it needed. By Mr. Snow’s count, that included 83,000 National Guard soldiers; 99 bulldozers; 61 loaders; 246 dump trucks and 59 graders.

“There’s a lot of stuff available,” Mr. Snow said. “So, again, I think this is one where the equipment was available and everybody was moving as rapidly as possible.”

In Congressional testimony, senior National Guard officials have said that since Sept. 11 units under their command had equipment shortages as forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Responding to concerns that the National Guard would not have sufficient personnel or equipment to respond to natural disasters, Guard leaders and state officials developed plans to ensure that if a state is in short supply of people or gear when a hurricane or tornado strikes, it can borrow from other states.

But borrowing does not solve every problem, state officials said, and coordination can take time. The destruction from Hurricane Katrina ultimately required the help of 50,000 troops — and they came from all 50 states.

Training is another issue. At a Washington news conference in February, Ms. Sebelius said, “The Guard cannot train on equipment they do not have.” She added later: “And in a state like Kansas, where tornados, floods, blizzards and wildfires can seemingly happen all at once, we need our Guardsmen to be as prepared as possible.”

Two recent reports have raised questions about Guard preparedness. An independent military assessment council, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, released a report in March that stated: “In particular, the equipment readiness of the Army National Guard is unacceptable and has reduced the capability of the United States to respond to current and additional major contingencies, foreign and domestic.”

Another report, released in January by the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have “significantly decreased” the amount of equipment available for National Guard units not deployed overseas, while the same units face an increasing number of threats at home.

Late Tuesday, in a statement, Ms. Sebelius repeated her message:

“I have said for nearly two years, and will continue to say, that we have a looming crisis on our hands when it comes to National Guard equipment in Iraq and our needs here at home.”

Susan Saulny reported from Chicago, and Jim Rutenberg from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Maureen Balleza, Steve Barnes, Malcolm Gay, Christopher Maag, Adam Nossiter, Libby Sander, Thom Shanker and Jennifer Steinhauer.


Democrats slam Big Oil over $3 gasoline prices

Democrats slam Big Oil over $3 gasoline prices
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's top Democrat on Tuesday accused big oil companies of shutting down refineries temporarily to raise gasoline prices and rake in"obscene profits."

Gasoline prices have topped $3 a gallon at service stations across the country because several oil refineries are offline due to maintenance or accidents, reducing gasoline production and making fuel supplies tight.

"It's outrageous ...Isn't it interesting every year about this time, a refinery goes down for repairs," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"Is that coincidental? Or is it part of a plan that these multinational, huge companies who are making obscene profits in the tens of billions of dollars -- is this part of their game to keep the profits going?" Reid said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced seven congressional hearings in coming weeks on soaring energy prices and plans to put together a proposed package of energy bills by July 4 to address the issue.

"With Memorial Day travel and the start of summer driving only a few weeks away, drivers are paying a heavy price for the Bush administration's failure to enact a comprehensive energy strategy," said Pelosi.

"Years of Bush administration policies that have favored Big Oil over the consumers have resulted in record dependence on foreign oil," the California Democrat added.

The Energy Department's forecasting arm warned on Tuesday that gasoline inventories would remain low throughout the summer, putting upward pressure on fuel prices.

"The gas prices that we see across the country today are, for lack of a better description, awful," said Reid, who wants to roll together three bipartisan bills already approved by Senate committees that deal with energy problems.

The bills would cut future U.S. gasoline demand and improve the fuel economy of cars and trucks.

Pelosi said House committees will seek ways to combat gasoline price gouging and develop clean alternative fuels. They also will examine the broad economic impact of foreign oil dependence and look at technology to boost energy efficiency.

Pelosi said the coming energy package would provide economic incentives to develop and use clean alternative fuels. It also will encourage innovation to create new jobs and help small businesses and enhance technology-driven efficiency.

Republicans criticized Democrats for promising relief while not doing much to tackle high energy costs.

House Republican Leader John Boehner said Democrats have opposed "common sense energy solutions" such as blocking legislation to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.


Federal Probe launched into missing TSA hard drive

Probe launched into missing TSA hard drive
By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities have launched a "full-blown criminal investigation" into the disappearance of a computer drive holding personal and banking records of 100,000 Transportation Security Administration employees, agency Administrator Kip Hawley said Monday.

"We're doing a full-court press on this," Hawley told TSA employees in a conference call that USA TODAY was able to listen to.

Hawley's comments downplayed the possibility that the portable hard drive had been lost from TSA headquarters in Arlington, Va., on Thursday. The TSA had said Friday that it was "unclear" whether the device was "still within headquarters or was stolen."

Agency spokeswoman Ellen Howe acknowledged Hawley's comments and added that "nothing has been ruled out," including the possibility the hard drive was lost.

On Monday, TSA employees questioned how the drive went missing and whether it would expose the identities of the thousands of armed air marshals, who ride undercover on airplanes to thwart terrorists. Air marshals, who are TSA employees, fear what someone could do with their names, birth dates and Social Security numbers — data that were on the hard drive.

"If that information is out there, it's very easy to find out who they are," said John Adler, executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, whose members include air marshals. Adler said terrorists could use personnel information to find where air marshals live, photograph them and disseminate the photos.

Hawley said air marshals' security "was one of our first concerns" but downplayed the risk to them. The TSA said on its website that "without extensive knowledge of TSA's human resource system, it is extremely difficult to determine what positions employees on the missing hard drive have."

The TSA has not ruled out the possibility that an insider took the drive.

Aviation-security consultant Rich Roth said the data theft "shouldn't affect the air marshals at all." Terrorists who are determined to spot air marshals can simply watch passengers boarding planes early, he said.

The FBI and Secret Service have joined the investigation, which began Thursday after employees in the TSA personnel office who frequently use the hard drive found it missing.

Howe, the TSA spokeswoman, said the drive is about the size of a desk telephone.

Paul Stephens, a policy analyst at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group, questioned why a federal security agency would store sensitive information on "something that could be carried away in a briefcase" and not on a larger, less-portable device. External hard drives store data such as text files and photographs and are plugged into a computer.

Cris Soulia, a TSA screener in San Diego and a former Navy computer technician, said he was "dumbfounded" that the agency would store personnel records on a portable device.

"That's really irresponsible," Soulia said.

Howe declined to address why the records were stored on an external hard drive, saying it is "an element of an ongoing investigation."

Stephens said stealing hard drives "is a bit unusual" and usually indicates that "the purpose of the theft was to obtain the data." Many data breaches are the unintentional result of someone stealing a computer to sell it and the computer happens to hold personnel information, he said.

The clearinghouse has tracked hundreds of security breaches that exposed 154 million data records.

Find this article at:


Homeland Security Affirms Mandates for Driver’s Licenses

The New York Times
Agency Affirms Mandates for Driver’s Licenses

WASHINGTON, May 8 — The Homeland Security Department said Tuesday that it would plow ahead with national standards for driver’s licenses, despite a highly unusual level of activity by state legislatures opposed to the idea, and substantial second thoughts in Congress.

The department said it had received about 12,000 public responses to its draft rules, in a 60-day comment period that ended Tuesday. Russ Knocke, a spokesman, said the comments were mixed.

Comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday were more negative. The chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, complained that security rules were supposed to be “smart as well as tough” and predicted that state motor vehicle departments would not be able to cope with the requirements, which include verifying all documents presented by applicants. Even renewals will require birth certificates or other proof of legal residence. And the change will impose billions of dollars in costs on states and localities, Mr. Leahy and others said.

Mr. Leahy, who is a sponsor of a bipartisan bill to repeal the rules before they take effect, asserts that the department cannot even safeguard the personal information of its own employees. (Recently the department acknowledged that it had released the names and Social Security numbers of thousands of employees, including undercover sky marshals.)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which has a clock on its Web page counting down the time until the law’s requirements take effect (368 days as of Tuesday), Washington and Montana have enacted laws pledging not to comply. In Idaho, the Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a budget specifying that expenditures for carrying out the law next year would be zero. Resolutions opposing the new licenses have been passed by one or both houses of the legislature, and in some cases signed by the governor, in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, North Dakota and Utah.

Carl Tubbesing, deputy executive director of the conference, said, the actions of legislatures was “without precedent in the last 20 years.”

But Mr. Knocke, the spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, predicted that reluctant states would come around because people would demand it. Without the standardized licenses, they would need a passport to board an airliner, he said.

“Residents of non-Real ID-compliant states are going to displeased with their leadership,” he said.

While states have mostly complained about costs, others have raised privacy objections. The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that the system as laid out by the Bush administration “streamlines identity theft.”

There was some support for the license plan at the hearing. Janice L. Kephart, former counsel to the Sept. 11 commission, pointed out that Ziad Jarrah, a hijacker of United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, had been stopped for speeding two days before the Sept. 11 attacks and gave the police officer one of the two Florida driver’s licenses he was carrying. If the nation had a system that limited applicants to a single license, the authorities would have had a better chance of catching him, she said.

The law requires the states to begin issuing the standardized licenses by next May, but the department can issue extensions through Dec. 31, 2009. All licenses are supposed to be compliant by May 10, 2013.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Murdoch Muscle

Huffington Post
Jayne Lyn Stahl
The Murdoch Muscle

Before you know it, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is going to own the news, and we don't hear a peep from the press, or the mainstream media.

In his bid to buy Dow Jones for $5 billion, last week, the Australian-born owner of Fox News, Harper Collins, the New York Post, and The Times of London offered an unprecedented $60 a share for the company's remaining stock options, and nobody blinked, except members of the Bancroft family, owners of the Wall Street Journal, and controlling stockholders of Dow Jones.
But, insiders say, that for $10 a share more, the Bancrofts, too, may be willing to give it up for Rupert Murdoch.

Not only is no one in the mainstream media speaking out against the proposed takeover, but some even suggest it might not be a bad idea for this master at corporate monopoly to have his way with Dow Jones, and the Journal, arguing that, if a bit disfigured, the news will survive. After all, salmonella kills people, not sensationalism. And, if anybody's squawking, it must be behind closed doors where only family members can hear. Where is outrage at the thought that, sooner rather than later, the Wall Street Journal will look just like the New York Post, and Fox News? Where is the angst not merely from the public, but from the press corps that a company called News Corp. can buy and sell what we read? No one is asking what will happen to dissent, and a free press when big business and big news merge. Corporate profit, which has consumed the heart and soul of America, as well as the middle class, now looks to devour the information age like a bowl of sushi.

If he prevails, and acquires Dow Jones, Mr. Murdoch will lay claim to the second largest paper in the country, and the lion's share of newspaper profit. And, Rupert Murdoch will, once again, get to demonstrate his unfailing ability to flex, censor, and sway his way to the top. But, allowing for inflation, the $60 million question is, while he's had his eye on the Wall Street Journal for many years, why is the Fox News owner so hot for the Journal now, this close to a crucial presidential race? Having watched the Murdoch muscle at work, over the past decade or so, a pattern emerges, one that is as transparent as it is trans-fat.

Arguably, only a shark has a better sense of smell than Rupert Murdoch. He already has The Times of London in his pocket, and has expressed more than a passing interest in that paper's leading competitor, The Financial Times, showing not merely how much he wants to be the big fish, but that he can ably breakfast, lunch, and dine on his competition. So, it's not too big a stretch to think that, having had his fill of Dow and the Journal, Mr. M. may have a craving for USA Today, the only paper with a larger circulation than the Wall Street Journal.

But, newspaper consolidation isn't the only thing we have to fear from Rupert Murdoch. His devout conservatism and penchant for silencing his opposition, as well as his well-documented campaigns against anything contrarian, may prove especially precarious in these times when not only the Journal, but every print newspaper is hemorrhaging readership as a result of the Internet.

For a look at how Murdoch challenges diversity of opinion, one has only to go back to the days when he acquired The Village Voice, some twenty years ago, to see that, while he likes to make money, he also has another agenda. Shortly after his takeover, two of the Voice's most liberal investigative reporters, Joe Conason and Wayne Barrett were let go. Murdoch's battle of the bilge includes, but is not limited to, purging his opposition in ways that would make Stalin envious. While Mr. Barrett was hired back, the message came through, loud and clear; don't mess with Rupert Murdoch. The Murdoch rubric appears to be comply, or perish.

Word has it that he hasn't even taken over yet, but has already mentioned to reporters, at the Journal, that he doesn't like "long stories" which, many think, is code for the fact that he doesn't want investigative work, and that only those will survive who tow the party line. And, which party would that be? The party that Fox endorses, of course. The party that wants to bring you the next president of the United States, a man Mr. Murdoch has had his eye on for almost as long as the Wall Street Journal.

The only time he appears to deviate from his rank and file Republican conservatism is when it lines his pocket as is the case with Hong Kong, and his tacit agreement to look the other way with regard to human rights abuses in Communist China, as well as to bend to the wishes of Chinese censors. Indeed, Murdoch went along with redacting anything pejorative about Communist China long before Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google caved in to demands of censors from Beijing.

Showing his capacity to flex his censor muscle, in the spring of 1998, Murdoch stopped Harper Collins from publishing the memoirs of one-time Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, because he alleged human rights abuses by Communist China. Murdoch himself sat down with a draft of East and West, Patten's book, and "ordered senior managers at Harper Collins to tone down the criticism of Chinese leadership." (Toronto Star) Clearly, Mr. Murdoch doesn't like it when anybody has something bad to say about his friends in Communist China.

Similarly, a few months later, Murdoch made it clear that he wouldn't want anyone to say anything bad about another friend, Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. Later that year, Fox Television dropped a television drama based on a book, Strange Justice, by (quell coincidence) two Wall Street Journal reporters that concluded that Anita Hill's allegations against Thomas were accurate. Once again, the News Corp. owner got his hands on the book, and demanded that the TV project be scrapped telling a colleague only that he was friends with Justice Thomas, and that Thomas had been "railroaded" in the court proceedings. And, Murdoch based his decision only on the book; he didn't bother to read the screenplay before stopping the teledrama dead in its tracks. Who cares about divine right of kings when we have divine right of publishers!

Aside from his loyalty to conservative Justice Thomas, that same month, that same year, 1998, Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Senator John McCain who, at the time, conveniently happened to be chairman of the committee that oversees the Federal Communications Commissions. In a fundraiser invite, Murdoch called McCain "an outspoken leader for the telecommunications industry." (NYTimes) I'm sure at least one Republican presidential candidate will take one huge sigh of relief should Mr. Murdoch take the helm of Dow Jones, and the second largest newspaper in the country. How expedient to have, as a friend, the owner of Fox News, the New York Post, The Times of London, and now Dow Jones? That is, unless somebody wakes up before their snooze alarm goes off.

It isn't just the war the press has gone to sleep on. Who's been busy running the farm when we've been out betting it? If Murdoch prevails in his bid for Dow Jones, he may not just buying the Wall Street Journal, but the 2008 presidential election, as well.


Congress seeks more testimony in expanded U.S. Justice Department inquiry

Congress seeks more testimony in expanded U.S. Justice Department inquiry

WASHINGTON — Congress is stepping up its inquiry into the politics of Justice Department decision-making, seeking cooperation from one department official and preparing to put the department's former White House liaison under oath.

The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Bradley Schlozman, a former senior civil rights attorney and U.S. attorney, to speak with investigators. The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it would not try to prevent Congress from granting immunity to White House liaison Monica Goodling if she should testify before a committee.

Lawmakers want to talk to Schlozman and Goodling as part of an inquiry into whether the department played politics with the hiring and firing of department officials. The inquiry began as a question about whether U.S. attorneys _ presidential appointees who serve as the top federal law enforcement officials in their state districts _ were fired for political reasons.

It has grown, however, into an investigation of whether the agency let politics affect criminal investigations and whether officials made employment decisions for political reasons.

Lawmakers want to question Schlozman, who now works for the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, about a voter fraud lawsuit he filed against Missouri in the lead-up to the 2006 election. Committee members said they wanted to know whether Schlozman's predecessor was forced out for not endorsing that lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed.

"The Committee would benefit from hearing directly from you in order to gain a better understanding of the role voter fraud may have played in the administration's decisions to retain or remove certain U.S. attorneys," the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy, wrote in a letter co-signed by the committee's top Republican, Arlen Specter.

The letter asked Schlozman to submit voluntarily to interviews and testimony and provide documents to the committee.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said politics do not influence decisions about whether to bring a case.

"The Justice Department brings its civil actions and criminal prosecutions based on evidence, not on politics," Boyd said. "We expect U.S. attorneys to bring election and voter fraud cases where evidence of such fraud exists."

The Justice Department is conducting an internal review of the firings of U.S. attorneys and other decisions. As part of that investigation, the agency is reviewing whether Goodling sought to place Republicans as front-line prosecutors in state U.S. attorney districts.

Lawmakers want to question Goodling but, without a promise of immunity, she has refused. In a letter to the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, the Justice Department said it would prefer not to see an immunity deal.

"However, we understand the committee's interest in obtaining Ms. Goodling's testimony," the letter said. "Therefore, after balancing the significant public interest against the impact of the committee's actions on our ongoing investigation, we will not raise an objection or seek a deferral."

The letter was signed by Inspector General Glenn Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel to the Office of Professional Responsibility.


On the Net:

Department of Justice:


Monday, May 07, 2007

Following in the footsteps of Bush/Cheney, Conservatives Create their own reality on the web

ABC News
Banned From YouTube?
Conservatives Perceive YouTube Bias, Launch New Video-Sharing Site

May 4, 2007 —

In the new digital media age, damning political videos can have an immediate impact on campaign 2.0, thanks largely to the availability and immediacy of YouTube.

The popular video-sharing Web site first debuted "Hillary 1984," which compared Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. to a Orwellian dictator, then-Sen. George Allen's career-altering "macaca" moment and the "I Feel Pretty" video that chided former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' good looks.

But YouTube, which is owned by Google, has also been a favorite target of conservatives, who accuse the site of a liberal bias.

Banned from YouTube?
Railing against YouTube, two Republican White House veterans have launched QubeTV as a conservative alternative.

"The 2008 campaign will be dominated by video and in particular by user-generated video," says QubeTV founder Charlie Gerow, a former aide in the Ronald Reagan White House.

"There are a vast array of young conservative activists and operatives out there armed with cell phones or hand-helds that are going to capture the next 'macaca' moment or John Kerry bad joke and put them on Qube TV," says Gerow, whose Pennsylvania strategic media firm, Quantum Communications, created the Web site.

Gerow insists YouTube banned a video by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin about radical Islamists.

Responding to that incident, a statement on the Web site reads: "We fly the conservative flag here at QubeTV, and we will not be about banning or deleting conservatives."

YouTube takes issue with Gerow's assertion that the site is banning conservative content.

"That's flat out incorrect," says a spokesman for YouTube, who asked not to be identified by name.

A statement provided to ABC News by YouTube elaborated: "Our site provides an equal opportunity for both sides of the political spectrum and embraces voter interaction with the candidates with no regard to party affiliation."

YouTube says its users, not YouTube employees, police the site. However, if users flag inappropriate content, YouTube managers review it and remove the offending video from the site.

Conservatives Post to QubeTV

Though the new site lacks the bells and whistles YouTube boasts, some GOP presidential candidates have already contributed video.

Users can click on video of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., explaining why President Bush's tax cuts should be made permanent.

On another posting, a user named "gnewman" created a video of politically connected conservatives promoting the site.

The promotional video includes Republican heavyweights such as Mary Matalin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., looking into the camera and reciting "QubeTV".

On the same video, Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council adds, "We're very excited to partner with you and looking forward to promoting the vast right-wing conspiracy on the Web."

YouTube Bias Doubted

Nonethless, most Internet watchers dismiss the idea that YouTube is inherently biased.

"There's no sort of obvious partisan tilt of the whole technology," says Lee Rainie, founding director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

"It's democratic -- small "d" -- in the grandest sense of that term and anybody whose motivated, or who has an idea or anybody whose got media or something to say can throw up a Web site and put it online," he says.

But YouTube isn't the only site raising the ire of some conservatives.

Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales' Internet encyclopedia, also has some conservative competition on the Web. was founded in November 2006 by Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.

A statement on the Web site reads: "It's time for the conservatives to get our voice out on the Internet!"

On Conservapedia, a search for "global warming" yields a definition that states, in part: "The scientific theory is widely but not universally accepted within the scientific community."

On Wikipedia, that same search yields a definition of global warming: "The observed increase in the average temperature of Earth's near surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation."

The difference in approach -- a classic "wiki-war" -- is not uncommon, and Rainie suggests that the conservative alternatives are natural outgrowths of the Internet.

"The Internet is all about niches," says Rainie. "It makes perfect sense for all kinds of groups that are organized by partisan belief and passion to create their own channels."


The sons and daughters of some iconic Republicans (Ike! T.R.!) are contemplating crossing the aisle
Children of Iconic Republicans May Vote Dem
The sons and daughters of some iconic Republicans (Ike! T.R.!) are contemplating crossing the aisle.
By Michael Hirsh

May 14, 2007 issue - Susan Eisenhower is an accomplished professional, the president of an international consulting firm. She also happens to be Ike's granddaughter—and in that role, she's the humble torchbearer for moderate "Eisenhower Republicans." Increasingly, however, she says that the partisanship and free spending of the Bush presidency—and the takeover of the party by single-issue voters, especially pro-lifers—is driving these pragmatic, fiscally conservative voters out of the GOP. Eisenhower says she could vote Democratic in 2008, but she's still intent on saving her party. "I made a pact with a number of people," she tells NEWSWEEK. "I said, 'Please don't leave the party without calling me first.' For a while, there weren't too many calls. And then suddenly, there was a flurry of them. I found myself watching them slip away one by one."

Eisenhower isn't the only GOP scion debating if the party still feels like home. Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker in New York and an environmental activist like his great-grandfather, Teddy, takes issue with what he says is George W. Bush's inattention to global warming (and Republican presidential contender John McCain's flirtations with the religious right). He's unhappy with the cost of the global war on terror and the record deficits incurred to finance it. Ninety years ago, former president Teddy Roosevelt attacked Woodrow Wilson's pro-democracy idealism, calling it "milk-and-water righteousness"; Roosevelt's great-grandson doesn't like how the current president is promoting values abroad, either. "I come from a tradition of pragmatic Republicanism," he says. "This administration has taken the idea of aggressively exporting democracy à la Woodrow Wilson and gone in a direction even Wilson wouldn't have considered."

The party might even be alien to Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee who jolted the party rightward when he said that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Goldwater's youngest daughter, Peggy, who is active in GOP politics in Orange County, Calif., says she is a "moderate conservative," just as her firebrand father became later in life, irked by Republicans in Washington who embrace big government. "The government is taking on more than I feel they can handle," she says.

Granted, these are no ordinary voters. But their unhappiness with the GOP suggests there's a new middle up for grabs in 2008. George W. Bush, of course, campaigned as a "compassionate conservative"; he and Karl Rove dreamed of a new and lasting Republican majority. Theodore Lowi, however, the author of "The End of the Republican Era," says the nation's disaffection over Iraq and Bush is so great that 2008 could resemble 1932, when FDR exploited the collapse of the GOP under Herbert Hoover to create a new Democratic majority.

(The return of Congress to the Dems in 2006 is a possible prelude.) Or, 2008 could look like 1968, when Democratic self-destruction after Vietnam led to Richard Nixon's election, and later to a realignment under Ronald Reagan.

Some Republicans, such as former secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, believe Republicans will always close ranks behind their standard-bearer, unlike ever-fractious Democrats, no matter how upset they are with the direction of the party. "Certainly, Hillary unites the Republicans when almost nothing else will," he says. But Lowi thinks today's GOP schisms are "deeper and harder to plaster over." That worries GOP mavericks like Sen. Chuck Hagel as well as moderate party loyalists like Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser under George H.W. Bush, who says, "We lack an organizing principle for the party."

Poll numbers don't yet reflect a massive moderate exodus. Still, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center says that Republican party identification has dropped "quite a bit." In 2002, 30 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats. This year it's 25 percent Republican, 33 percent Dems. Independents, Dimock says, are leaning "much more Democratic." Even so, Eisenhower and other lifelong Republicans say they haven't heard much yet from the leading Democratic candidates that persuades them. "I can't tell you how many Republicans I've talked to who are thinking along radical lines" about deserting in '08 if they hear the right message, says Eisenhower. "It's a buyer's market. Make my day."



Humvee doors can trap troops; The money to fix them was in the Iraq spending bill President Bush vetoed

Humvee doors can trap troops
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Army is fixing the doors of every armored Humvee in combat in Iraq because they can jam shut during an attack and trap soldiers inside, Pentagon records and interviews show.

The door trouble, the latest in a series of problems with the Humvees since the Iraq war began, is an unintended consequence of the Pentagon's effort to add armor to protect troops from makeshift bombs. Improvised explosive devices are the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq, causing 70% of injuries and deaths. Armored Humvees, the main troop-transport vehicle, are often targeted by insurgents who plant bombs on roads.

One quick fix to the jamming problem was to weld D-shaped hooks to Humvee doors so another truck could rip them off with a cable. The hook is built into the latest version of armor added to the Humvee, known as the Frag Kit 5, said Lt. Col. William Wiggins, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "Every Humvee outside (a fortified base) will have a hook," Wiggins said. There are about 18,000 Humvees in Iraq.

The Army plans to spend $284 million this year on armor kits, which also include improved latches and hinges for the heavier doors. The money was in the Iraq spending bill President Bush vetoed last week because it contained a troop-withdrawal timeline.

"The Humvee wasn't designed to withstand the kind of blasts our soldiers are getting hit with in Iraq," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. "This is just another reason why we need to get as many of the new MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles as possible into the field, as soon as possible"

The MRAP vehicle has a V-shaped hull and a raised chassis that better disperses the force of a blast. Biden recently won approval of a $1.5 billion amendment to the military spending bill to buy more MRAP vehicles.

The Pentagon does not generally identify vehicles in which troops are killed, making it impossible to determine the number killed because of the door problem.

When armor from the new kits is added, a Humvee door can weigh at least 600 pounds, said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., of the House Armed Services Committee. The Humvee has run its course as a useful vehicle, he said. "It wasn't designed for urban warfare."

The Marines have been fixing their Humvees in Anbar province as well, Maj. Jeff Pool, a spokesman based in Fallujah. They intend to replace all its Humvees with MRAP vehicles, while the Army plans to continue using some Humvees. Adm. William Fallon, in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, called "rapid fielding" of MRAPs a priority. Fallon heads U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tom Buckner, an owner of IbisTek, a small military contractor, said the Humvee door problem became apparent early in 2006. The company produces a device know as the Rat Claw, which grips the Humvee door, while cables attached to another truck rip it off. The military has bought about 1,500 of the $400 devices.

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Senate Likely to Back Drug Reimportation
Senate Likely to Back Drug Reimportation
Arguments Pit Savings Against Safety
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Senate cleared the way yesterday for the likely adoption of a measure that would legalize the reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, a move supporters say would save consumers $50 billion over 10 years.

Ignoring a White House veto threat, lawmakers voted 63 to 28 to move to a final vote on adding the drug provision to a larger bill on the operations of the Food and Drug Administration.

"There is a pricing problem with prescription drugs," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). "The identical drug, FDA-approved, the same pill, put in the same bottle, made by the same company, is set virtually every other place in the world at a lower price. And the American consumer is told, 'You know what, we have a special deal for you: You get to pay the highest price in the world.' "

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), one of the lead sponsors of the FDA bill, opposed the amendment, saying the FDA has enough trouble determining whether domestic drugs are safe.

"I'm baffled that we want to take on all the hard work and effort to fix our drug system's problems and then throw it all away opening it up to more drugs," Enzi said. "Let's get it fixed at home before we open it up to the world."

A final vote on the provision, as well as one on the larger bill, is not expected until next week. The House has not yet taken up similar FDA legislation.

The provision would allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from Canada and permit commercial distributors to obtain them from Canada, Japan, Austria, Switzerland and other European Union nations, Dorgan's staff said. Imported drugs would have to be FDA-approved, manufactured in facilities inspected by the FDA and carry documentation about the chain of custody of the drugs.

Earlier this week, the White House said President Bush's advisers would recommend that he veto any reimportation provision that did not address safety concerns around imported drugs that were identified by a Department of Health and Human Services task force in 2004.

"The administration believes that allowing the importation of drugs outside the current safety system established by the FDA without addressing these serious safety concerns would threaten public health and result in unsafe, unapproved and counterfeit drugs being imported into the United States," the White House statement said.

Despite support in the House and Senate, the White House for years has blocked legislation opening the borders to the reimportation of U.S.-made pharmaceuticals, arguing that their safety cannot be assured. During the Clinton administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala similarly concluded that she could not guarantee a safe system for drug imports.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has offered a further amendment that would require the federal government to certify the safety of imported drugs and determine whether importation brings any economic benefit. If the Bush administration reported an inability to certify the safety of the drugs, Dorgan and Snowe's amendment could be undercut.


Average-gasoline prices hit all-time high

Average-gasoline prices hit all-time high: survey

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. average retail gasoline prices rose to an all-time high over the past two weeks, due to a number of refinery outages, according to the latest nationwide Lundberg survey.

The national average price for self-serve regular unleaded gas was $3.0684 a gallon on May 4, an increase of 19.47 cents per gallon in the past two weeks, according to the survey of about 7,000 gas stations.

The prior all-time record was an average price of $3.0256 per gallon, that was reached on August 11, 2006.

However, the current price is 6.4 cents short of the inflation-adjusted high that was reached in March of 1981, at that time regular grade self serve gasoline was $1.35 per gallon, but on an inflation-adjusted basis today that would translate into $3.13 per gallon.

Survey editor Trilby Lundberg said the recent spike is related to refinery issues and is not related to issues with crude oil supplies.

"In the past two weeks alone there have been at least 12 refinery incidents, mostly in the U.S.," said Lundberg, in an interview.

"All the incidents combined, served to push U.S. gas prices even higher by tightening supply, at a time of rising demand," said Lundberg.

The survey found that at $3.49 a gallon, San Francisco had the highest average price for self-serve regular unleaded gas, while the lowest price was $2.80 a gallon in South Carolina.

So far this year the average price of regular unleaded gasoline has surged more than 88 cents per gallon, said Lundberg.


Killer Kansas tornado wreaks chaos and destruction

Killer Kansas tornado wreaks chaos and destruction
By Carey Gillam

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - Rescue crews on Sunday combed piles of debris where homes and businesses once stood in Greensburg, Kansas, in a meticulous search for survivors of a killer tornado.

By nightfall searchers had not found anyone else -- alive or dead -- in the rubble, leaving the twister's toll at eight dead in the tiny farming community of Greensburg and one dead in nearby Pratt County as a result of Friday night's twister. At least 50 people were injured, some critically.

A 10th person died and three people were injured on Saturday night when another tornado touched down in southwest Kansas not far from Greensburg.

"We didn't find any additional people today or bodies in the search and rescue effort," said Kansas Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson. "But we'll continue to search."

Some 90 percent of the businesses and homes in Greensburg, a town of about 1,800, were damaged or destroyed when the mile-wide tornado and winds of 165 mph (265 kph) ripped through.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Crystal Payton, in Greensburg on Sunday, compared the devastation to that wrought along the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

"This may be smaller in scope than Katrina ... but it is equally devastating," she said.

FEMA director R. David Paulison is scheduled to tour the area Monday. FEMA is working to set up trailers and support services in the area and has a hotline for residents to call for assistance.

Soldiers with the Kansas National Guard were also being deployed to help remove debris.

Air patrols were also conducting reconnaissance flights along the tornado's path to search for possible victims, stranded motorists and residents.

Greensburg resident Bruce Foster, 50, said he rode out the storm in the basement of a friend's house, huddling under a mattress with a group of neighbors.

"The house started shaking and dust was falling. Our ears started popping and then it got all calm," Foster said. "We went upstairs and the house was gone, all gone. There wasn't any furniture or anything."

President George W. Bush declared the community a major disaster area and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. "Our hearts are heavy for the loss of life in Greensburg, Kansas," Bush said on Sunday.

Kansans struggled to comprehend the losses. "They're still going through a little bit of shell shock," said Red Cross worker Ralph Rojas, who helped operate a shelter where about 50 Greensburg residents spent the night.

"There are still people looking for family and friends," Rojas said. "There is a major portion of the community just gone."

Greensburg's hospital and schools were among the buildings destroyed. The water tower next to the town's main tourist attraction -- the world's largest hand-dug well -- was knocked down. The nursing home was nearly leveled.

About 30 survivors were found in the remains of the hospital, according to Watson. "There was a warning in time for people to take cover so that helped," she said.

In addition to the tornado that touched down Friday night, at least three more hit the region Saturday night, the National Weather Service said.

One woman in Ottawa County, Kansas, was killed in the Saturday night storms, said Watson. She was staying in a camper near a lake when the twister hit. Three family members in the camper were injured.

Widespread flooding was also reported throughout central Kansas, closing parts of the Kansas turnpike. At least four counties issued disaster declarations due to the flooding.

The peak U.S. tornado season runs from March through early July; twisters kill an average of 70 Americans each year. The most violent single tornado appeared on March 18, 1925, killing 689 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.


Democrats stand firm on Iraq troop withdrawal

Democrats stand firm on Iraq troop withdrawal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic congressional leaders said on Sunday they would "shake the White House" to pressure President George W. Bush to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as they seek a new war-funding bill to replace the one Bush vetoed.

Democrats on Sunday's political talk shows pursued a theme that the United States should not be the referee in Iraq's civil war and showed no sign of giving ground on troop withdrawals.

"This is the American people's fight. They asked us to send a message to the president," New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "... We've got to shake that White House until the people of the United States are heard."

With the Iraq war helping drag Bush's approval rating to an all-time low of 28 percent, according to a Newsweek magazine poll, he must work with the Democratic-controlled Congress on a war finance bill. He rejected a $124 billion bill last week because it set specific dates for troop withdrawals.

New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said Democrats and Republicans were "not that close" to reaching a compromise on a funding bill but said there were encouraging signs.


Rangel said the House would not let up on Bush until the United States was out of Iraq.

"We hope that he would be sophisticated enough to come up with an international solution," he said. "But the people that elected us said, bring our troops home. Enough is enough ... There is no victory in sight. It's a civil war and we don't have the wherewithal to resolve that major problem."

Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a Democratic candidate for president, said he remained committed to legislation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, both Democrats, that sets a firm timetable for pulling out all U.S. troops by March 31, 2008, but would consider other options if that fails.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, a Republican, said he favored benchmark goals to measure the progress of the Iraqi government as a gauge for removing U.S. forces.

"I'm for benchmarks that are for success," he said on Fox. "I'm not for benchmarks with artificial timelines, yanking funds, trying to ensure that there's failure in Iraq."

Boehner said it was too early to give up on Bush's plan, especially since all the 30,000 additional troops he ordered to Iraq have not been deployed.

"We want this plan to have a chance of success," he said. "Over the course of the next three months or four months, we'll have some idea how well the plan is working."


Bush's approval rate falls to 28 percent

Bush's approval rate falls to 28 percent: Newsweek

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's approval rating has fallen to 28 percent in a Newsweek Poll released on Saturday, an all-time low for Bush in that survey.

Nearly two out of three Americans -- 62 percent -- believe Bush's recent actions in Iraq show he is "stubborn and unwilling to admit his mistakes," Newsweek reported. Just 30 percent think Bush's execution of the Iraq war demonstrates he is "willing to take political risks" to do what's right.

Bush's unpopularity may also be casting a dark shadow over Republican chances for keeping the White House in 2008. Democratic front-runners lead potential Republican contenders in head-to-head match-ups across the board, the poll suggests.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama fares best against the lead Republicans so far in the race. Obama bested Republican front-runner and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani by 50 percent to 43 percent among registered voters who responded to the poll.

Obama topped Arizona Sen. John McCain by 52 percent to 39 percent and defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 58 percent to 29 percent, Newsweek reported.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner among Democratic voters, topped Giuliani by 49 percent to 46 percent, beat out McCain 50 percent to 44 percent and outdistanced Romney 57 percent to 35 percent, the poll found.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards topped Giuliani by 6 points, McCain by 10 and Romney by 37 points in the poll.

The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on Wednesday and Thursday, interviewed 1,001 adults 18 and older. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.