Saturday, May 19, 2007

House GOP Uses Procedural Tactic To Frustrate Democratic Majority; Motion to Recommit Employed to Delay or Alter Legislation
House GOP Uses Procedural Tactic To Frustrate Democratic Majority
Motion to Recommit Employed to Delay or Alter Legislation
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer

House Republicans, fighting to remain relevant in a chamber ruled by Democrats, have increasingly seized on a parliamentary technique to alter or delay nearly a dozen pieces of legislation pushed by the majority this year.

And an election-year promise by Democrats to pay for any new programs they created has made it easier for Republicans to trip them up.

Tensions over the maneuvers reached a boil this week. Republicans used procedural tactics to stall floor debate for four hours Wednesday, and they are threatening to tie up future legislative action.

The stalling tactics prompted Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to leave the floor and meet privately in his office with Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his whip, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The men emerged with an uneasy detente that they said would last at least until Congress breaks for the Memorial Day recess, but the matter is far from settled.

Since January, GOP leaders have relied on a maneuver known as the "motion to recommit" to stymie Democrats and score political points for Republicans still adjusting to life in the minority.

The motion to recommit allows the minority a chance to amend a bill on the floor or send it back to committee, effectively killing it. In a legislative body in which the party in power controls nearly everything, it is one of the few tools the minority has to effect change.

In the 12 years of Republican control that ended in January, Democrats passed 11 motions to recommit. Republicans have racked up the same number in just five months of this Congress.

Democrats say any comparison is unfair because when Republicans controlled Congress, they directed their members to vote against all Democratic motions to recommit.

Now in the majority and mindful of staying there, Democrats have given no such instruction to their members, allowing them to break with the party if they choose. Many freshmen Democrats from GOP-leaning districts find themselves voting with Republicans as a matter of survival -- a reality Republicans have seized upon.

"Sometimes we offer motions to recommit to improve legislation -- sometimes it's to force Democrats in marginal districts to make tough choices," Boehner said. "Every time the Republicans win, it boosts morale. We're able to show unity, which is good for the overall team. Members feel good about winning on the House floor. And when you're in the minority, it doesn't happen that often."

Democrats dismiss the Republican maneuvers as largely symbolic and so arcane as to be irrelevant to the public.

"From a public policy standpoint, it's not very significant," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), regarded as an expert in parliamentary combat. "It's almost a Capture the Flag game. The number of people in America who say, 'Oh my gosh, the Republicans won another motion to recommit' is very small."

But Republicans argue they have been able to make significant changes. They point to Thursday, when they successfully used a motion to recommit to restore millions of dollars for missile defense to a defense bill. It remains to be seen if that money will survive a conference committee.

"It's kind of a 'Rashomon' world," said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, referring to the movie in which participants in an event all recount it differently. "The two parties see it in very different terms."

The Democrats' own rules have made it easier for Republicans to offer motions to recommit. In January, the party promised to observe "pay-go" -- finding a way to pay for any new spending rather than adding to the federal deficit. The unintended consequence is that tax proposals open legislation to modifications by the minority that would not otherwise be allowed.

Such was the case in March, when Democrats tried to pass a bill to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House. The bill included an additional seat for Utah and a minuscule tax increase to pay for two more House seats -- it called for expanding a provision of federal tax withholding law by .003 percent.

Republicans seized on the opening and moved to recommit the bill to committee, attaching new language that would have thrown out the District's strict anti-gun laws.

Worried that conservative, pro-gun Democrats would feel compelled to vote with GOP and kill the bill, Democratic leaders yanked it from the floor. They regrouped and split the bill into two tightly written measures, both of which passed and are pending in the Senate.

But the problem for Democrats was apparent. "We need to address that, or we're going to be, on every bill . . . [facing] an amendment totally unrelated to the substance of the bill," Hoyer said at the time.

This week, Democratic staffers privately discussed a rule change to limit the Republicans' ability to make motions to recommit. GOP leaders were incensed and threatened to use all available procedural techniques to block every bill except war spending legislation. But Democrats are hampered by their promise to run the chamber in a more open fashion than Republicans did when in the majority.

Hoyer agreed to hold off on further rule changes until Memorial Day and consult Boehner and Blunt on possible changes.

"The bottom line is, the war goes on," Mann said. "The majority uses the rules to structure debates and limit amendments on matters where Republicans have a chance to either break up the Democrats' winning coalition or embarrass them."


More Bush Scandals -- So What?

Huffington Post
Dave Johnson
More Bush Scandals -- So What?

So now the word seems to be rippling out about what has been going on in the Justice Department. Of course, bloggers have been shouting about how it was also going on in every department all along... And for once it seems like a few people beyond the bloggers actually care this time.

I think at this point a majority of the informed opinion-leadership - all the liberals and even some of the conservatives (David Brooks on the NewsHour tonite, for example) - understand that the Bush administration has, basically, thrown away rule of law. The word "lawlessness" is coming up a lot.

But so what? We knew that. Great. Now more people know it. So what?

That's pretty much what Bush is saying, too. "So what? What are you going to do about it?"

And that's the question, isn't it?

Meanwhile, what does the public "know?" - in contrast to the opinion-leaders I mentioned. I scanned all three network news shows tonite and there was no mention of this supposedly huge scandal on any of them.

But even if the public found out about all of this bruhaha -- and cared -- again, so what? No one is going to prosecute anyone for anything. I mean, they own the Justice Department and that's part of what this is about -- blocking prosecutions. They replaced everyone with Pat Robertson graduates like Monica Goodling, and fired prosecutors who were going after Republican corruption so, please, don't try to tell me anyone is going to be prosecuted.

The only "rule of law" solution available is impeachment. That ain't going to happen -- there are enough "movement" Republicans in the Senate to block impeachment even if it got that far.

So ... so what? Rule of law was so 20th-century.
Watch your backs.


Evolution Opponent Is in Line for Schools Post

The New York Times
Evolution Opponent Is in Line for Schools Post

The National Association of State Boards of Education will elect officers in July, and for one office, president-elect, there is only one candidate: a member of the Kansas school board who supported its efforts against the teaching of evolution.

Scientists who have been active in the nation’s evolution debate say they want to thwart his candidacy, but it is not clear that they can.

The candidate is Kenneth R. Willard, a Kansas Republican who voted with the conservative majority in 2005 when the school board changed the state’s science standards to allow inclusion of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. Voters later replaced that majority, but Mr. Willard, an insurance executive from Hutchinson, retained his seat. If he becomes president-elect of the national group, he will take office in January 2009.

The group, based in Washington, is a nonprofit organization of state school boards whose Web site ( says it “works to strengthen state leadership in educational policymaking.”

Brenda L. Welburn, its executive director, said Mr. Willard’s only opponent in the race withdrew for personal reasons after the period for nominations had closed. Each state has one vote in the election.

Some scientists hope that when states submit their votes, they will write in someone else. One possible candidate is Sam Schloemer, a retired businessman from Cincinnati who won a seat on the Ohio board last November with the help of scientists who organized to defeat creationist candidates.

Mr. Schloemer, a Republican, said in a telephone interview that he had learned of Mr. Willard’s unopposed candidacy a few days before. He said he had no particular desire for the office, but added, “I would rather serve than see someone of his persuasion represent school boards across the country.” Mr. Willard, who is in his fourth year on the 16-member national board, said in a telephone interview yesterday that issues like the teaching of evolution were best left to the states.

“We don’t set curriculum standards or anything like that,” Mr. Willard said of the national organization, adding that it handled issues like advising state boards on how to deal with governance concerns or influxes of immigrant students or ways to raise academic achievement among members of disadvantaged groups.

He said, though, that he personally thought students should be taught about challenges to the theory of evolution, like intelligent design. And while he said he had not heard of a possible challenge to his candidacy, Mr. Willard added that he was not surprised by it.

“Some people are mindless about their attacks on anyone questioning anything Darwin might have said,” Mr. Willard said.

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Courts have repeatedly ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines, not scientific theories.

People like Steve Rissing, a professor of biology at Ohio State University who was involved in the state election effort last fall, say they fear that if Mr. Willard is elected, challenges to the teaching of evolution would move to the national board. “Those of us in the trenches say, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” Professor Rissing said.

Patricia Princehouse, a professor of evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University and a leader of the scientists’ efforts, said she hoped there would be many write-in votes. “Whether they decide it counts or not is up to Nasbe,” Professor Princehouse said, using the acronym for the national association. “But people do not have to endorse Willard’s candidacy.”

The association’s bylaws make no provision for write-ins, said Ms. Welburn, the executive director.

John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a group based in Seattle that espouses intelligent design, praised Mr. Willard’s views on evolution and denounced criticism of his candidacy as “the kind of thought-policing we are getting used to.”

But Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who testified last year in a lawsuit over an effort to challenge the teaching of evolution in Dover, Pa., said he was “concerned” when he learned a supporter of intelligent design was slated to head the national school board group.

“We are in a nationwide struggle for the integrity of science education,” Professor Miller said, “and any situation that provides an opportunity for the opponents of science education to advance their agenda is a matter of concern.”


Judge Told Leak Was Part of 'Policy Dispute'; Cheney Above The Law
Judge Told Leak Was Part of 'Policy Dispute'
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer

Attorneys for Vice President Cheney and top White House officials told a federal judge yesterday that they cannot be held liable for anything they disclosed to reporters about covert CIA officer Valerie Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

The officials, who include senior White House adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, argued that the judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed by the couple that stemmed from the disclosure of Plame's identity to the media.

The suit claims that Cheney, Libby, Rove and former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage violated the couple's privacy and constitutional rights by publicly revealing Plame's identity in an effort to retaliate against Wilson. Plame's identity was disclosed in a syndicated column in July 2003, days after Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate Iraq's nuclear threat and justify an invasion.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to a grand jury investigating the leak.

The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate "policy dispute." Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the statements were true or false?

"That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These officials were responding to that criticism."

Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University law professor who is representing Wilson and Plame, said the leak was no typical policy debate. President Bush himself said that revealing Plame's identity could be illegal conduct and a firing offense, he told Bates.

Chemerinsky said that after Plame's cover was blown, the couple feared for their safety and their children's safety and Plame lost any opportunity for advancement at the CIA.

"This isn't a case where the government said mean things about Mr. Wilson. This is about revealing the secret status of his wife to punish Mr. Wilson," Chemerinsky said. "In the end, this is egregious conduct that ruined a woman's career and put a family in danger."

Bates, who expressed doubts about arguments on both sides, said he will rule in the coming weeks whether to dismiss the case.


Third-party White House bid could shake up race

Third-party White House bid could shake up race
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In an unpredictable 2008 presidential race, the prospect of a viable third-party candidacy -- particularly a self-financed bid by billionaire Michael Bloomberg -- could be the biggest wild card of all.

Reports that Bloomberg, New York's Republican mayor, is willing to spend a big chunk of his personal fortune -- perhaps as much as $1 billion -- on a White House run set off a new round of speculation about his intentions and his possible impact on the November 2008 election.

The speculation was egged on by Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a conservative Republican and Iraq war opponent who also is considering an independent bid and had dinner with Bloomberg recently.

Hagel openly hinted about joining the mayor on a high-octane, third-party ticket that could reshape the political landscape and jolt the traditional U.S. two-party system.

"It's a great country to think about -- a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation," Hagel said earlier this week on CBS.

A third-party bid would hope to take advantage of public discontent with the Republican and Democratic parties, which already has led 60,000 people to sign up for an Internet-based movement aimed at fielding a bipartisan independent ticket in 2008.

The Unity '08 effort, led by a group of veteran political strategists from both parties, was inspired by the idea that both parties are dominated by their most extreme elements and a majority of Americans are looking for a centrist approach.

"The political system is at a point where the train has left the track," said Doug Bailey, a consultant on President Gerald Ford's 1976 campaign and founder of the Hotline political newsletter.

"There is no common ground and there is no capacity to seek common ground," said Bailey, a co-founder of the group along with Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon, advisers to former President Jimmy Carter.

He said the group, which hopes to have 2 million delegates signed up to participate in its June 2008 online nominating convention, has talked to about 40 potential candidates. He refused to say whether that included Bloomberg and Hagel.


Bloomberg has tried to scuttle talk about a presidential candidacy without flatly ruling it out. But the former Democrat, who turned Republican to run for mayor, has been acting very much like a candidate for something.

He revived his campaign Web site and traveled recently to Texas and Oklahoma, two states with relatively difficult procedures for getting independent candidates on the ballot, to outline a plan for a national energy policy.

Any third-party candidate would face enormous obstacles, from meeting requirements to get on state ballots to producing from scratch the organizations that drive campaigns. But Bloomberg would have the money to overcome many of the normal hurdles, analysts said.

"Bloomberg can simply buy himself some support. Putting a billion dollars in the race can overcome a lot of challenges," said Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College in California.

A liberal on social issues with a strong track record as a manager and businessman, Bloomberg would probably pull votes from both parties, Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said.

The history of modern third-party U.S. presidential bids offers few success stories. The most recent third-party candidates to break double-digits in popular vote percentage were businessman Ross Perot, who won 19 percent in 1992, and Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who won 13 percent in 1968.

Third-party candidates often play the role of spoiler, most famously in 2000 when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was blamed by Democrats for taking enough votes from Al Gore in Florida to hand the White House to Republican George W. Bush.

Public discontent does not necessarily translate into a winning third-party run, analysts said.

"Americans like the idea of third parties, but as we've seen repeatedly they are pretty well satisfied with the two-party system," said public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.


House nixes proposal to bar Iran attack

House nixes proposal to bar Iran attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House rejected two measures Wednesday that would have required President Bush to seek congressional approval before attacking Iran.

The proposals were offered as amendments to a $646 billion defense policy bill for the 2008 budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

The first proposal, by Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., would have prohibited money in the bill from being used to strike Iran without Congress' blessing; it fell by a 216-202 vote. A similar, but more sweeping measure offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., was rejected by a 288-136 vote.

The votes were primarily symbolic; Bush has not said he is planning to invade Iran. But because of missteps made in assessing pre-war intelligence on Iraq, many Democrats said the legislation was necessary.

"If it were any president I don't think we'd have to worry about this," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

A similar proposal on Iran initially was included in this year's war spending bill drafted by the House. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to remove the requirement after several Democrats said they were worried about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Those concerns were expressed again Wednesday by both Republicans and some Democrats who said the proposals would unnecessarily tie the president's hands and leave Israel and the United States vulnerable.

"No one wants another war," said Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev. "But if we don't take a tough stance on Iran and maintain the threat of military action, Iran will get the message that we don't care if it gets nuclear weapons."


Friday, May 18, 2007

Researchers challenge Kennedy lone gunman theory

Researchers challenge Kennedy lone gunman theory
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bullet analysis used to justify the lone assassin theory behind President John F. Kennedy's assassination is based on flawed evidence, according to a team of researchers including a former top FBI scientist.

Writing in the Annals of Applied Statistics, the researchers urged a reexamination of bullet fragments from the 1963 shooting in Dallas to confirm the number of bullets that struck Kennedy.

Official investigations during the 1960s concluded that Kennedy was hit by two bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.

But the researchers, including former FBI lab metallurgist William Tobin, said new chemical and statistical analyses of bullets from the same batch used by Oswald suggest that more than two bullets could have struck the president.

"Evidence used to rule out a second assassin is fundamentally flawed," the researchers said in their article.

"If the assassination (bullet) fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely."

The Kennedy assassination set off a whirlwind of theories about who killed the 46-year-old president.

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known unofficially as the Warren Commission, concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, fired three shots, one of which missed the president's car. There have been many challenges to its conclusions over the years.

The House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Oswald was probably part of a conspiracy that could have included a second gunman who fired but missed Kennedy.

The panel's supporting evidence was a bullet analysis that said fragments collected from the site were too similar to be from more than two slugs.

But the latest report found that many bullets from the same batch used by Oswald had a similar composition.

"Further, we found that one of the thirty bullets analyzed in our study also compositionally matched one of the fragments from the assassination," the article said.

"This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets."


Dobson says he will not back Giuliani in 2008

Dobson says he will not back Giuliani in 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Religious conservative leader James Dobson said on Thursday he would not vote for 2008 Republican presidential contender Rudolph Giuliani under any circumstances because of his support for abortion rights and his three marriages.

Dobson, head of the influential Colorado-based group Focus on the Family, said Giuliani was not suited for the White House. Dobson said he would be willing to sit out the November 2008 election if Giuliani is the Republican presidential nominee.

"I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008," Dobson wrote in a commentary posted online at the Web site

Given a choice between Giuliani and the Democratic nominee, he said, "I will either cast my ballot for an also-ran -- or if worse comes to worst -- not vote in a presidential election for the first time in my adult life."

Dobson is a prominent voice among the religious and social conservatives who are powerful forces in the early Republican nominating contests. His criticism follows several weeks of attacks on Giuliani by conservatives over his support of abortion rights.

The attacks were spurred by his comments at the first Republican debate in California, where he appeared to be waffling on the issue.

"Is Rudy Giuliani presidential timber? I think not," Dobson said in the commentary.

"Can we really trust a chief executive who waffles and feigns support for policies that run contrary to his alleged beliefs? Of greater concern is how he would function in office," he said.

Giuliani leads the 10-man Republican field in national polls despite longstanding doubts about his candidacy from conservatives, but he has seen his lead over second-place Sen. John McCain of Arizona shrink in recent weeks as social issues have moved to the fore of the debate.

Giuliani earned a national reputation for his leadership while he was mayor of New York after the September 11 attacks.

Dobson said Giuliani had tried to hide his views from conservatives, but "this leopard has not changed his spots." He also said the former mayor's three marriages raised "moral concerns about Giuliani's candidacy that conservatives should find troubling."


House demands plan for Guantanamo detainees

House demands plan for Guantanamo detainees
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Shrugging off a possible veto from President George W. Bush, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday demanded the administration develop a plan to transfer detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The 220-208 vote came on an amendment to a bill authorizing defense programs that the Democratic-led House passed overwhelmingly. The Senate has yet to act, and then the two versions will have to be reconciled.

Earlier this week the White House warned lawmakers not to "micro-manage" the treatment of Guantanamo detainees, saying any bill that blocked the administration from detaining people it has designated as "enemy combatants" could provoke a veto.

The United States is holding hundreds of suspected militants at the prison. U.S. defense officials say 95 percent are connected to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or their associates.

Lawmakers noted that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested Congress should explore with the White House ways to close the prison, while not releasing its most dangerous detainees. Human rights groups have demanded that Guantanamo be closed and detainees charged with crimes or released.

The proposal by Rep. James Moran that cleared the House requires the administration to report on plans to place captives on trial, transfer them to other facilities, or release them.


"Whether you like it or not, whether you believe Guantanamo Bay is a blight on our international standing, or whether you believe these detainees should be held and tried in the United States, we should all agree the policy options before the president and Congress should not be limited by a lack of information," the Virginia Democrat said.

Pentagon officials say they plan to try about 80 of the 385 Guantanamo detainees under a military commissions structure set up by Congress last year. Those trials are scheduled to begin this summer. The Pentagon also has about 80 detainees it wants to transfer to other countries. The rest are in legal limbo.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat, pledged to offer another bill soon to restore to Guantanamo detainees rights that Congress limited last year to challenge their imprisonment.

Moran's amendment was denounced by House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who said Democrats "are leading us down the road to importing dangerous terrorists into our local communities" as Guantanamo prisoners are moved.

Boehner also disparaged the bill's cuts in missile defense programs as "a giant step backwards." The legislation would cut $160 million the administration wanted to develop a missile defense interceptor site in Poland. But it also says that if a deal on the site is reached with Poland before September 30, 2008, the administration can ask again for the money.

The mammoth defense bill authorizes $504 billion for defense programs. It calls for increases of 13,000 Army and 9,000 Marine Corps active duty personnel over current authorized level.

It also allocates $142 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal 2008, which starts October 1, but for this to take effect, a partner defense appropriations bill must pass later this year.

Democrats want to wind down the Iraq war, but House leaders decided not to fight that battle on this defense programs legislation. They are negotiating with the White House over whether to approve a separate Iraq war funding bill with money for the current fiscal year.


Al Gore says he's out of love with politics

Al Gore says he's out of love with politics

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former U.S. vice president Al Gore says he has "fallen out of love with politics" and does not want to run for president although he has not ruled it out completely.

"If I do my job right, all the candidates will be talking about the climate crisis," Gore said in an interview with Time Magazine released on Thursday.

"And I'm not convinced the presidency is the highest and best role I could play."

He added, "It would take a lot to disabuse me of the notion that my highest and best use is to keep building that consensus."

Asked what it would take for him to run, Gore said, "I can't say because I'm not looking for it. But I guess I would know it if I saw it. I haven't ruled it out. But I don't think it's likely to happen."

The Time article also includes an excerpt from Gore's new book, "The Assault on Reason," in which he writes: "It is too easy and too partisan to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush.

"We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Why have they all failed us? ... American democracy is now in danger not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die."

Gore, a Democrat, served as Bill Clinton's vice president for eight years and lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush.


Senators strike deal on immigration overhaul

Senators strike deal on immigration overhaul
By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading U.S. senators reached an agreement on Thursday on immigration reform that would strengthen U.S. borders and grant lawful status to millions of illegal immigrants, a deal that could lead to a major legislative victory for President George W. Bush.

This sets the stage for what is expected to be a passionate Senate debate over the plan, which would give some 12 million illegal immigrants legal status, create a temporary worker program and set up a merit-based system for future newcomers.

"The agreement we've just reached is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders, bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped lead the bipartisan talks.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican said: "No matter what we craft it's going to be attacked from both the right and the left."

"This is the best I think that can be done," he added.

Immigration is a hot-button issue that has divided the United States in a way that has made it difficult to pass reforms. Hundreds of thousands of Latinos and other immigrants rallied as recently as May 1 to demand change.

Many Republicans oppose amnesty and blocked consideration of immigration legislation last year in the U.S. House of Representatives, saying it rewarded those who broke U.S. laws.

Republican Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Peter King of New York condemned the Senate compromise, issuing a statement saying it "treats illegal immigrants better than those who play by the rules and come in the right way."

The Senate compromise would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship after a probationary period and make them pay stiffer fines than proposed in last year's bill.

The agreement was reached after marathon talks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, set aside next week for Senate debate. The House is expected to take up its version of immigration reform later this year.


One Democratic negotiator said he could not support the compromise, citing the temporary worker program and fees to be paid in the legalization process.

"I for one cannot settle for something that isn't responsible, or something that creates a bigger problem than already exists," New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said. "It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be fair, humane, and practical."

Bush embraced the Senate breakthrough. "I really am anxious to sign a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as we possibly can. Today we took a good step in that direction," he said.

Under the legislation, a new visa would be created for illegals who can prove they arrived in the United States before January 1, 2007. They would receive a probationary visa during background checks. That would convert to a renewable four-year "Z" visa allowing employment in the United States and eventual eligibility for a permanent residency, or green card.

The measure would create a temporary worker program that would allow workers from Mexico and other countries to work for two years, if they went home before they returned. At least 400,000 visas a year could be issued.

Temporary workers would be allowed three two-year work periods, but their time in the United States would help earn points toward permanent status.

Mexico called the deal "positive" and "an important step toward the passing of a complete migration accord this year."

"The Mexican government hopes that the different players involved in the process of debating and eventually approving this initiative will take advantage of this opportunity," foreign ministry spokesman Victor Aviles said in a statement.

The legislation also includes tough border security and workplace enforcement measures that would have to take effect before the temporary worker program goes forward.

The proposal would limit immigration for "family reunification" to close relatives and establish a merit-based system with points for skills, education, English and family ties. Kennedy said the merit system would include low-skilled workers as well as highly skilled ones.

Some immigrant groups called the compromise a first step.

"The package is generous for those who are already here and those who have waited patiently to come legally," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum.

"How the deal treats immigrant families and workers coming in the future is where the biggest problem lies," he said.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Catherine Bremer in Mexico City)


Democrats seek "no confidence" vote on Gonzales

Democrats seek "no confidence" vote on Gonzales
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats announced on Thursday they will seek a U.S. Senate vote of "no confidence" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, hopeful it will prompt President George W. Bush's embattled friend to resign.

The White House brushed off the Democrats' latest move tied to their widening investigation of Gonzales for the firing of federal prosecutors as "nothing more than a meaningless political act." A White House spokesman added that the attorney general still had "the full confidence of the president."

Democrats said they intend to hold a "no confidence" vote on Gonzales as early as next week and expect it to pass with the support of a number of Republicans.

A half dozen of the 49 Republicans in the 100-member, Democratic-led Senate have called on Gonzales to step down, with Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota becoming the latest to do so. "I believe Attorney General Gonzales is unable to provide the type of leadership needed," Coleman said on Thursday.

Bush has repeatedly rejected bipartisan calls to dismiss Gonzales, a longtime aide and fellow Texan who has been under fire for months for ousting eight federal prosecutors last year. Critics charge many were sacked for political reasons.

Gonzales appeared to have weathered the storm in recent weeks, insisting with White House support at two congressional hearings that the firings were justified though mishandled.

But he faced a new criticism this week after a former aide testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey said while White House counsel in 2004, Gonzales paid a hospital visit to the seriously ill John Ashcroft, then attorney general, in a failed bid to pressure him to set aside concerns by his own Justice Department and reauthorize Bush's domestic spying program.

Comey said Bush ended a showdown between the White House and Justice Department by ordering changes to bring the program into compliance with the law.

Bush brushed off questions on Thursday about the matter, telling reporters, "There's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen."

"I'm not going to talk about it. It's a very sensitive program," Bush said, even as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, wrote Gonzales demanding more information about the program.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has led the charge against Gonzales, said, "I think for the Senate, the last straw was Jim Comey's sad tale of what happened in the hospital that night."

Earlier on Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, predicted that by the time the panel completes its investigations of Gonzales -- which could take months -- he will no longer be attorney general.

"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation we may have a conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter said.

"It will be clear to even the attorney general and the president that we are looking at a dysfunctional department" that needs new leadership, Specter added.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced a resolution calling on Bush to immediately offer replacements for Gonzales and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who is under fire for arranging a promotion for a female companion.

"Be it the World Bank or the Department of Justice, the way to maintain the integrity of an institution is to have leaders of integrity at the top," Dodd said.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Report: Wolfowitz broke World Bank rules

Yahoo! News
Report: Wolfowitz broke World Bank rules
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz broke bank rules in arranging a hefty compensation package for his girlfriend, a situation that has caused a "crisis in the leadership" at the institution, according to a report released Monday by a special bank panel.

Wolfowitz described the report's findings as "unfair and unwarranted."

The special panel said the bank's full 24-member board must consider whether Wolfowitz "will be able to provide the leadership" to ensure that the bank achieves its mission of fighting poverty around the world.

The board will ultimately decide Wolfowitz's fate.

Board members have discussed a range of disciplinary options. It could fire Wolfowitz, ask him to resign, signal that it lacks confidence in his leadership or reprimand him. Board members have been leaning toward an expression of no confidence or other tough language that would make it difficult — if not impossible — for Wolfowitz to stay on.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, however, does not think the facts merit dismissal, according to department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin.

Wolfowitz said he acted in good faith in arranging Riza's pay package. He has accused his critics of launching a "smear campaign" against him.

He is scheduled to make an appearance before the board late Tuesday. The proceedings are not public. A decision could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

The controversy that has put Wolfowitz's job in jeopardy involves his handling of the 2005 compensation pay package for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a bank employee.

The special bank panel concluded that Wolfowitz's involvement in the details of the package "went beyond the informal advice" given by the bank's ethics committee and that he "engaged in a de facto conflict of interest," the report stated. Under Wolfowitz's contract as well as the code of conduct for board officials, he was required to avoid any conflict of interest, the report said.

In a response to the panel's report, Wolfowitz said, "It is highly unfair and unwarranted to now find that I engaged in a conflict of interest because I relied on the advice of the ethics committee as best I understood it."

Wolfowitz also said he did not attempt to hide details of the arrangement from bank officials. "I did not have it locked up or placed in a secret drawer; it was a contract of the bank," Wolfowitz wrote in his submission to the panel.

Riza worked for the bank before Wolfowitz took over as president in June 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest but stayed on the bank's payroll. Her salary went from close to $133,000 to $180,000. With subsequent raises, it eventually rose to $193,590.

The panel concluded that the salary increase Riza received "at Mr. Wolfowitz's direction was in excess of the range" allowed under bank rules.

Wolfowitz "placed himself in a conflict of interest situation" when he became involved in the terms and details of Riza's assignment and pay package and "he should have withdrawn from any decision- making in the matter," the panel said.

The panel acknowledged, however, that the informal advice provided by the ethics committee "was not a model of clarity."

Still, the entire episode involving Wolfowitz's handling of the pay package "underscores that there is a crisis in the leadership of the bank," the panel said.

In addition, the special panel said it was of the view that the controversy "has had a dramatic negative effect on the reputation and credibility" of the bank, had raised "serious questions" about the bank's governance and ability to carry out its mission and was contributing to "erosion in the operational effectiveness" of the bank.

The special panel also raised fears that the fracas could hinder the bank's ability to raise billions of dollars from countries around the world to provide financial help to poor countries.

Before he took the bank's helm, Wolfowitz was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon and a key architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

European members — led by Germany, France and the Dutch — are pushing for Wolfowitz to resign. European and other countries, however, would still like to avoid a pitched battle with the United States, the bank's largest shareholder. It's unclear, though, whether such a battle can be avoided.

The Bush administration continued to stand by Wolfowitz.

"A clear reading of the facts in this report demonstrates that this was a unique situation, missteps occurred on all sides and communication may not have been clear enough," said Treasury's McLaughlin.

"The facts reveal that President Wolfowitz acted to find a pragmatic solution and to carry out the direction he received from the ethics committee," she added. "Secretary Paulson spoke to some of his colleagues today from other countries and expressed that he does not think the facts merit dismissal."

To that end, the administration has intensified efforts to win support for Wolfowitz and is reaching out to the other members of the Group of Seven countries — Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada. A conference call among the G7 countries is anticipated.

The United States requested earlier Monday that the special panel's report be delayed being sent to the board by a few hours, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "But it had nothing to do with phone calls or contact with other countries," Fratto said. "We just needed the time to ensure that the report is fair and factual and to allow for a proper process for discussions going forward. It had nothing to do with presidential activity."

By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American, while the International Monetary Fund has been run by a European. President Bush tapped Wolfowitz, a move that was approved by the bank's board. The United States keenly wants to preserve that decades-old tradition.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Wolfowitz should remain chief of the bank. The White House has repeatedly expressed confidence in Wolfowitz.

However, many of the bank's staff, former bank officials, aid groups and Democratic politicians also have called on Wolfowitz to resign.

For now, Wolfowitz intends to carry on with his duties. He still plans to make a trip to Europe later in the week.


The Freshman: Barely in Office, but G.O.P. Rivals Are Circling

The New York Times
The Freshman
Barely in Office, but G.O.P. Rivals Are Circling

MILFORD, N.Y. — The furniture has yet to arrive for one of the offices that Kirsten Gillibrand, a freshman Democrat in Congress, recently opened here. But the list of Republicans angling to challenge her next year is already growing.

Alexander F. Treadwell, a former state Republican Party chairman, opened a headquarters near Ms. Gillibrand’s main office in Saratoga Springs and has assembled a campaign staff, including a former political director for the House Republicans’ re-election committee.

Richard Wager, an aide to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City, formed a campaign committee and is raising money from his old network of allies, including well-heeled donors on Wall Street.

And several other potential rivals — including a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel, a former candidate for governor and even the man Ms. Gillibrand defeated last year — are considering a run.

It may seem unusually early for the opposition to begin mobilizing against Ms. Gillibrand, who only recently wrote and introduced her first bill since arriving in Washington four months ago. But the maneuvering reflects a growing confidence among Republicans that they can win back the district, where the vast majority of voters are registered to their party.

Indeed, Republican officials in Washington are so confident of Ms. Gillibrand’s vulnerabilities that they say they intend to field test an array of themes in the district that they believe can be applied to other freshman Democrats around the country.

Chief among those themes: Ms. Gillibrand’s willingness to collect special-interest money despite having deplored the influence of special interests in Washington as a candidate last year, and her propensity for voting with what they call the party’s left-leaning leadership after having campaigned as a centrist.

“There are a lot of these recently elected Democrats who claimed to be reformers of the system on the campaign trail but have turned out to be something quite different,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

All this has placed enormous pressure on Ms. Gillibrand, 40, to raise a great deal of money just months after she won her seat in November. Though her advisers say raising money does not detract from legislating, there is little question it has lengthened her workweek.

Those demands were evident one recent weekend, when she arrived late to a family barbecue after having attended both a fund-raiser in Cooperstown and a town-hall-style meeting in Milford where officials and residents aired their concerns about issues like the local economy and schools.

The event in Cooperstown was the eighth fund-raising reception this year held by Ms. Gillibrand, one of the largest fund-raisers in the House in the first four months of this year, having taken in nearly $700,000.

“It’s the reality of modern-day politics,” she said, with a hint of resignation in her voice.

Ms. Gillibrand has agreed to allow The New York Times to chronicle her first year in office representing New York’s 20th Congressional District, which runs from the mid-Hudson Valley to Lake Placid.

For her and other freshman lawmakers, it is a time of intense learning and sudden challenges, harried travel and nonstop work. But it is also a period of political peril: Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, has found that while veteran incumbents enjoy a re-election rate of 98 percent, the rate drops to less than 92 percent for first-term incumbents.

Not surprisingly then, 30 of the 41 Democratic freshmen in the House are facing Republicans who have either announced their candidacies or are said to have plans to announce them, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Political analysts in both parties predict that the race will cost much more than the roughly $6 million that Ms. Gillibrand and her Republican predecessor, John E. Sweeney, spent on their campaigns last year.

John Nolan, who is known as Jasper and has been chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee for the past 20 years, says that he has been telling prospective candidates that they will need at least $1 million by the beginning of next year if they hope to compete effectively.

“It’s never too early to start running when you are going up against an incumbent,” he said. “You can’t wait until 2008.”

But even Republicans are aware that there are risks in gearing up this early in a district where there is ample evidence that the bitterly contested race between Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Sweeney left voters weary.

A reminder of those perils came a few weeks ago when the editor of The Glens Falls Post-Star described the Republicans moving to challenge her as “piranhas” and pointedly asked in a column, “Shouldn’t someone be allowed to do their job for at least a year before they have to worry about keeping it?”

Still, Republicans have not been shy about attacking Ms. Gillibrand, for example, by trying to use one of her own open-government ideas against her.

Shortly after taking office, Ms. Gillibrand directed her staff to publish the details of her meetings, no matter how sensitive, on her Congressional Web site, calling the listing the Sunlight Report.

But Republicans see these reports as a potential trove of damaging information. Examining them, they discovered, for instance, that Ms. Gillibrand, while vacationing with her family in Europe recently, held several fund-raisers for her re-election campaign, including two in London and one in Paris.

Michael Brady, a former National Republican Congressional Committee operative, disseminated the information on a new Internet news service, the Majority Accountability Project, that he started, noting that it is illegal for foreign citizens to contribute to American campaigns. (The Gillibrand camp insisted that attendees were required to show American passports before being permitted into the events and that no money was donated by foreign citizens.)

In an interview, Mr. Brady accused Ms. Gillibrand of hypocrisy, saying that she had denounced Mr. Sweeney during the campaign for holding a weekend fund-raiser with pharmaceutical lobbyists at a ski resort in Park City, Utah.

“This is a woman who criticized her opponent for going to Utah, and here she is going to fund-raisers in foreign countries,” Mr. Brady said.

But to Gillibrand supporters who have been concerned that Republicans may use her Sunlight Report against her, the episode shows that “no good deed goes unpunished,” as one of her advisers put it.

Republicans are also depicting Ms. Gillibrand as a liberal who is cloaking her true ideological leanings behind the politically moderate language she employs in her public appearances in the district, as well as in her mailings.

Mr. Nolan, the Republican leader in Saratoga, is seeking to tie Ms. Gillibrand to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi — a strategy that is also being employed by Republican operatives in Washington who are compiling a political dossier on Ms. Gillibrand.

“She’s kind of attached to the hip of Pelosi, who is one of the most left-wing speakers in American history,” Mr. Nolan said.

Ms. Gillibrand scoffed at such criticism, which she said began within weeks of her taking office. She pointed to what she considered her accomplishments so far: voting to cut interest rates on federally backed college loans; supporting security initiatives recommended by the 9/11 Commission; providing $1 million in grants for sewage, water and road projects in her district.

“It’s political,” she concluded about the attacks. “It’s not about my performance or the good job I am doing.”

How far the Republican candidates themselves are willing to go in directly attacking Ms. Gillibrand is an open question. Many are clearly mindful of the fact that voters were turned off by the ugly tone of the race between Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Sweeney.

(In the final days of that contest, for example, Mr. Sweeney accused the Gillibrand campaign of being behind published reports that his wife placed a call to 911 to report that he had physically abused her. No charges resulted from the episode, which he called campaign propaganda. Her campaign denied Mr. Sweeney’s contention.)

“The voters of the 20th District have gone through a negative campaign in the past, and anyone who goes that way again will turn them off,” said Mr. Wager, the Bloomberg aide, who has been traveling the district meeting with party leaders and rank-and-file Republicans.

Mr. Treadwell, the former state Republican Party chairman, agreed. “I think people are tired of it,” he said.

Mr. Treadwell, who recently met with Republican leaders in Washington and sent letters to all 1,400 Republican committeemen in the 20th District, said he is focused on building support for his candidacy among Republicans — not attacking someone who has barely been in office.

“She’s just starting,” he said of Ms. Gillibrand. “We’ll have to see how her record develops.”

Through it all, Ms. Gillibrand has worked like a candidate who is in a tight race. She visits even the most politically unwelcoming regions of her district, trying to deliver constituent services and to make the case that she is staying above the political fray.

That was the case recently when she came here to Otsego County, a heavily Republican area that represented a tiny percentage of the overall vote in the previous election. As is her practice, she took along an aide to handle constituent needs, like helping to obtain Social Security benefits.

Tom Gale, the Republican town supervisor of Milford, said he was pleasantly surprised to see Ms. Gillibrand. “It’s good to see that kind of representation,” he said. “She actually took the time to come here even though the population here isn’t all that large.”


McCain and Bush: Making a Mockery of Democracy in Iraq

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington
McCain and Bush: Making a Mockery of Democracy in Iraq

It's an odd thing to be running for president while simultaneously denigrating the very idea of democracy. But, then, the Republican Party's relationship to democracy has become, to put it charitably, very odd. Right now, they're barely on speaking terms, and if they could just have the whole relationship annulled, they probably would. Just like Rudy did with his first marriage (you know, the one to his cousin that lasted 14 years).

But wasn't democracy in the Middle East what the entire Iraq adventure was all about? Or, I should say, wasn't it the reason of last resort when the other 217 reasons turned out to be lies? Well, apparently, the idea of bringing the Iraqis democracy was about as real as Saddam's WMD.

Just listen to John McCain -- the biggest supporter of the war outside of Dick Cheney -- on this week's Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked him about the fact that 144 members of the 275 person Iraqi parliament signed a legislative petition last week calling on the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw:

RUSSERT: The duly elected people's bodies, the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament, say they want a troop withdrawal. That's more than a poll. Isn't that the voice of the people?

McCAIN: ...There is a certain amount of domestic political calculations involved there in what the Iraqi, quote, "parliament" said.

You could almost see the contempt dripping off McCain's lips: "The Iraqi, quote, 'parliament.'"

So what, pray tell, is the difference between a "parliament" and a parliament? To McCain it's apparently whether the parliament agrees with him. And, by the way, Senator, there is another word for "domestic political calculations": democracy. But McCain, like Bush, is too arrogant to believe that real democracy could ever include disagreement with their wishes.

The syllogism goes something like this:

a) I'm right.
b) Democracy is right.
c) Whatever I agree with is therefore "democracy" and whatever I don't agree with, isn't.

At least McCain didn't attack the Iraqi legislators as being "un-American."

Bush's lack of respect for democracy runs even deeper than McCain's and is topped only by his cynical use -- and abandonment -- of the concept.

Throughout the Iraq debacle, Bush has insisted that Iraq is a sovereign country ("Let Freedom Reign!") and that if the Iraqis didn't want us there we would leave. Indeed, in January 2005, on the eve of the Iraqi election, the president was asked if America would pull out of Iraq if the new government asked him to do so. "Absolutely," he replied. "This is a sovereign government. They're on their feet."

But now that a majority of that government is calling for a withdrawal date, what has been the president's response? Silence. Which is standard operating procedure for those in this administration. Any time they fail on their stated goals, they just make up new ones. Any time a fact comes out that belies their increasingly skewed view of reality, they just deny it. And as the circle of war supporters gets smaller and smaller, the last dead-enders -- which, unfortunately, includes every serious GOP candidate for president -- grow more detached.

What's worse for the president is that the war isn't even a left/right issue anymore -- and hasn't been for a long time now. John McCain may discount what the Iraqi parliament did last week, but George Will doesn't. "We may be watching the wrong legislature," he told George Stephanopoulos on This Week. "We're watching Congress on Capitol Hill. There are 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament -- 138 of them are occupied by people -- that's one more than a majority -- who signed a petition..."

But to McCain, Bush, Cheney and their dwindling allies, that doesn't matter. And if it means turning up their noses at democracy in action, so be it.

The danger for them, of course, is that it's a lot easier to discount democracy in Iraq than democracy back here at home. Americans made a "domestic political calculation" in November; they're going to make another in 2008. And "Making a Mockery of Democracy" isn't likely to be a winning campaign slogan for McCain or the GOP.


U.S. Senate Democrats want Iraq war deadline: Reid

U.S. Senate Democrats want Iraq war deadline: Reid
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats want to spell out a time frame to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, but might offer President George W. Bush power to waive the deadlines, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday.

"We've not, on this side of aisle, lost sight of the fact the American people have concluded the president's Iraq policy has failed and we're demanding a new way forward," said Reid, of Nevada, who a few weeks ago concluded the Iraq war was "lost."

In an attempt to again gauge Senate sentiment for placing end-dates for U.S. involvement in a war now in its fifth year, Reid has attached two Iraq amendments to an unrelated water resources bill the Senate is debating.

One would wind down U.S. involvement early next year by prohibiting combat funds after March 31. The other would call for troop withdrawals to begin this year and set a goal of finishing by March 31 next year. But Bush could waive the dates, Reid said.

Reid added that he and fellow Democrats were prepared to pass a bill to fund the Iraq war that is "very, very close" to a bill Congress sent Bush last month, which he vetoed.

The White House restated its opposition to a bill that includes timelines for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, saying it sends the wrong message to the troops, as well as allies and enemy forces.

"A timeline for when we hope to leave the battlefield is not the message we should be sending to any of these audiences. The bottom line is that a date for retreat is a date for retreat, and the president opposes such provisions," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.


On May 1, Bush rejected a $124 billion funding bill, mainly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that would have required U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin no later than October 1. The vetoed measure also set a nonbinding goal of March 31 for removing all combat troops.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a different bill Bush has promised to veto. It would provide only enough money for the military to fight in Iraq for the next two or three months. A second batch of funds would be voted upon in late July to decide whether the additional money would be spent on more combat or on withdrawing troops.

In the meantime, the House wants Bush to submit reports to Congress on the war's progress and the Iraq's government's ability to stabilize the country.

Reid told reporters he was still talking to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten in hopes of reaching a compromise on Iraq war funds, which by various estimates could run out in the next two to six weeks.

With more Republicans in Congress starting to question his Iraq policy, Bush has embraced the idea of including in the war spending bill a list of "benchmarks" for measuring Iraq's progress in stabilizing a country that has suffered from relentless violence since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

But the president has not said he would accept a bill with consequences, such as troop withdrawals, if progress lags.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, gave her fellow liberals a full House vote on ending the war by early next year, knowing it would be defeated. But supporters said the 171 votes in favor showed congressional sentiment is turning against the war.

No matter how the two Senate votes go, the chamber still would have to pass a separate war-funding bill, probably this week. After passage, the House and Senate would have to work out a compromise bill to send to Bush and hope he signs it.


Gonzales deputy resigns from Justice Department

Gonzales deputy resigns from Justice Department
By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, second-in-command to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and caught in the firestorm over the firing of federal prosecutors, resigned on Monday citing family financial reasons.

In a letter to Gonzales, who faces his own calls to resign for the scandal over last year's controversial firings, McNulty said he was stepping down "on a date to be determined in the late summer."

McNulty is the latest senior Justice Department official to resign since March as the Democratic-controlled Congress investigates a controversial department decision to fire eight of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys last year. A ninth federal prosecutors said last week he was pushed out as well.

McNulty told The Washington Post that the political tumult over the prosecutor dismissals, including his role in giving inaccurate information to Congress, did not play a part in his decision to resign after 18 months on the job.

"It's been a big issue for the past few months, but the timing of this is really about other things," McNulty told the paper. He also said he wanted to leave enough time for an orderly transition before his departure, the newspaper reported.

The administration has insisted the decision to dismiss the prosecutors was justified, though mishandled. Congressional investigators are attempting to determine if the firings were politically motivated.

According to documents released by the Justice Department, Gonzales aides said that the attorney general was upset by McNulty's testimony on Capitol Hill in February.

McNulty testified that only the federal prosecutor in Arkansas was let go so the job could be given to a former White House aide, with the others fired for performance-related issues.

When later information suggested otherwise, Gonzales said both he and his deputy were misinformed by top aides.


Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, who has been among those pressing the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation of the firings, used McNulty's resignation to criticize the administration.

"It seems ironic that Paul McNulty, who at least tried to level with the committee, goes, while Gonzales, who stonewalled the committee, is still in charge. This administration owes us a lot better," he said.

McNulty's resignation follows that of former Justice Department aide Monica Goodling, who abruptly quit last month. Goodling, as counselor to Gonzales and Justice Department White House liaison, was involved in the prosecutor firings.

In March, Kyle Sampson resigned as chief of staff to Gonzales after acknowledging that he did not tell other department officials sooner about his dealings with the White House over the firings.

Michael Battle, the Justice official who informed prosecutors that they were being dismissed also quit in March. Justice officials said at the time that his resignation had long been planned.

In his resignation letter, McNulty wrote, "The financial realities of my college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career."

Gonzales praised McNulty's record of service.

"Paul is an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney who has been valued here at the department, by me and so many others, as both a colleague and a friend. He will be missed," the attorney general said, without mentioning the recent controversy.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "The president greatly appreciates all that Paul McNulty has done on behalf of the American people. He's been a tireless public servant and he has a tremendous future in front of him."

(Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and James Vicini)


Monday, May 14, 2007

Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy

The New York Times
Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy

Anyone who watched Rudolph W. Giuliani preside over ground zero in the days after 9/11 glimpsed elements of his strength: decisiveness, determination, self-confidence.

Those qualities were also on display over the months he directed the cleanup of the collapsed World Trade Center. But today, with evidence that thousands of people who worked at ground zero have become sick, many regard Mr. Giuliani’s triumph of leadership as having come with a human cost.

An examination of Mr. Giuliani’s handling of the extraordinary recovery operation during his last months in office shows that he seized control and largely limited the influence of experienced federal agencies. In doing that, according to some experts and many of those who worked in the trade center’s ruins, Mr. Giuliani might have allowed his sense of purpose to trump caution in the rush to prove that his city was not crippled by the attack.

Administration documents and thousands of pages of legal testimony filed in a lawsuit against New York City, along with more than two dozen interviews with people involved in the events of the last four months of Mr. Giuliani’s administration, show that while the city had a safety plan for workers, it never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators.

At the same time, the administration warned companies working on the pile that they would face penalties or be fired if work slowed. And according to public hearing transcripts and unpublished administration records, officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers.

“The city ran a generally slipshod, haphazard, uncoordinated, unfocused response to environmental concerns,” said David Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a labor group.

City officials and a range of medical experts are now convinced that the dust and toxic materials in the air around the site were a menace. More than 2,000 New York City firefighters have been treated for serious respiratory problems. Seventy percent of nearly 10,000 recovery workers screened at Mount Sinai Medical Center have trouble breathing. City officials estimate that health care costs related to the air at ground zero have already run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one knows whether other illnesses, like cancers, will emerge.

The question of who, if anyone, is to blame for not adequately protecting the workers could finally be decided in United States District Court in Manhattan, where thousands of firefighters, police officers and other recovery workers are suing the city for negligence.

City officials have always maintained that they acted in good faith to protect everyone at the site but that many workers chose not to wear available safety equipment, for a variety of reasons.

Mr. Giuliani has said very little publicly about how his leadership might have influenced the behavior of the men and women who worked at ground zero. Mr. Giuliani, whose image as a 9/11 hero has been a focus of his run for president, declined to be interviewed for this article. His representatives did not respond to specific questions about the pace of the cleanup, the hazards at the site and Mr. Giuliani’s reticence about the workers’ illnesses.

Moreover, many of the people who ran agencies for Mr. Giuliani or who handled responsibility for the health issues after he left office would not comment, citing the pending litigation.

In the past, Mr. Giuliani has said that quickly reopening the financial district was essential for healing New York and the nation. The cost of Wall Street’s going dark was enormous, and Mr. Giuliani has said he was forced to balance competing interests as he confronted a never-imagined emergency, and he acknowledged that he and others made mistakes.

A Mayor in Control

From the beginning, there was no doubt that Mr. Giuliani and his team ruled the hellish disaster site. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, all with extensive disaster response experience, arrived almost immediately, only to be placed on the sideline. One Army Corps official said Mr. Giuliani acted like a “benevolent dictator.”

Despite the presence of those federal experts, Mr. Giuliani assigned the ground zero cleanup to a largely unknown city agency, the Department of Design and Construction. Kenneth Holden, the department’s commissioner until January 2004, said in a deposition in the federal lawsuit against the city that he initially expected FEMA or the Army Corps to try to take over the cleanup operation. Mr. Giuliani never let them.

In this environment, the mayor’s take-charge attitude produced two clear results, according to records and interviews. One, work moved quickly. Although the cleanup was expected to last 30 months, the pit was cleared by June 2002, nine months after the attack.

And second, the city ultimately became responsible for thousands of workers and volunteers while, critics say, its health and safety standards went lacking.

“I would describe it as a conspiracy of purpose,” said Suzanne Mattei, director of the New York office of the Sierra Club, which has been critical of how the cleanup was handled. “It wasn’t people running around saying, ‘Don’t do this safely.’ But there was a unified attempt to do everything as fast as possible, to get everything up and running as fast as possible. Anything in the way of that just tended to be ignored.”

Records show that the city was aware of the danger in the ground zero dust from the start. In a federal court deposition, Kelly R. McKinney, associate commissioner at the city’s health department in 2001, said the agency issued an advisory on the night of Sept. 11 stating that asbestos in the air made the site hazardous and that everyone should wear masks.

Many workers refused. No one wanted to be slowed down while there was still a chance of rescuing people. Later on, workers said that the available respirators were cumbersome and made it difficult for them to talk.

Violations of federal safety rules abounded, and no one strictly enforced them. OSHA did not play an active role during the rescue phase, which is usually the case in emergency operations. But the agency remained in a strictly advisory position long after there was any hope of finding any survivors and at the point when, in other circumstances, it would have enforced safety requirements.

Agency officials said that enforcing rules and issuing fines would have delayed the cleanup, and contractors could have passed along the cost of the fines to the city.

With the city in charge, municipal employees were given video cameras to record recovery workers who were not wearing respirators. Violations were reported at daily safety meetings.

An official who was then with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who asked not to be quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak for the agency, said the focus in safety discussions was always on preventing accidents, not protecting workers from the toxic dust.

Remarkably, not one fatal accident occurred on the pile. But the city’s inspectors found that by late October, only 29 percent of ground zero workers were wearing the sophisticated respirators that were required by OSHA. Even Mr. Giuliani sometimes showed up without one.

The city’s handling of safety issues has been criticized by doctors, unions and occupational safety experts. Mr. Giuliani’s oversight of the operation was condemned in a 2006 book, “Grand Illusion,” by Wayne Barrett, a longtime critic of the former mayor, and Dan Collins. Mr. Barrett said in an interview that when it came to safety, Mr. Giuliani “said all the right things, but did all the wrong things.”

In their defense against the negligence lawsuit, city officials have maintained that they cooperated with federal officials to develop an effective safety plan. On Nov. 20, well into the cleanup, contractors and city agencies agreed to follow safety rules, and OSHA agreed not to fine them if violations occurred.

The agency ended up distributing more than 130,000 respirators. Workers’ unions tried to get members to wear them, but usage remained spotty without strict enforcement of the rules.

“What they were doing on paper wasn’t what they were doing in practice,” said Paul J. Napoli, one of the lawyers representing the more than 8,000 workers who have sued the city for negligence. He said that the construction companies were billing the city for their time and materials, and “safety slows things down.”

The four large construction companies that had been hired to clear debris worked around the clock. But that was not fast enough for the city, especially after the rescue operation formally ended on Sept. 29. One reason for the push may have been concern that unnecessary delays would have added to the cost of the cleanup.

Two days after the rescue efforts ended and the full-scale recovery and cleanup began, Michael Burton, executive deputy commissioner of the Design and Construction Department, warned one of the companies in a letter that the city would fire individual workers or companies “if the highest level of efficiency is not maintained.”

Danger in the Air

Much has been said and written about Christie Whitman, then the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and her statement a week after the towers fell that the air in New York was safe. But even then, the air above the debris pile was known to be more dangerous than the air in the rest of Lower Manhattan.

In those first days after 9/11, Mr. Giuliani made it clear that workers needed to wear masks at ground zero because it was more contaminated than elsewhere. But as time went on, and workers failed to heed the warnings, the record indicates that his administration sometimes said otherwise.

Even after the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that workers were “unnecessarily exposed” to health hazards, officials played down the danger.

Robert Adams, director of environmental health and safety services at the Design and Construction Department, told the City Council’s environmental committee in early November that even unprotected ground zero workers would not experience long-term health risks. In an interview last week, Mr. Adams, now working for a consulting firm in Princeton, N.J., said that he still believed that based on the information available at the time, the right decisions were made.

Whatever they were saying publicly about the safety of the air, Mr. Giuliani and his staff were privately worried. A memo to Deputy Mayor Robert M. Harding from his assistant in early October said that the city faced as many as 10,000 liability claims connected to 9/11, “including toxic tort cases that might arise in the next few decades.”

The warning did not lead to a crackdown on workers without respirators. Rather, a month later, Mr. Giuliani wrote to members of the city’s Congressional delegation urging passage of a bill that capped the city’s liability at $350 million. And two years after Mr. Giuliani left office, FEMA appropriated $1 billion for a special insurance company to defend the city against 9/11 lawsuits.

Some experts and critics have suggested that the only way the respirator rules could have been enforced after rescue operations ended would have been to temporarily shut down the site and lay down the law: No respirator, no work. And they say the only person who could have done so was Mr. Giuliani.

“They should have backed off on the night shift, when a very limited amount of work could be done,” said Charles Blaich, who was in charge of safety for the Fire Department at the time of the attack.

Mr. Blaich, who is now retired, said he considers Mr. Giuliani’s unwillingness to enforce respirator rules a failure of judgment, not a mistake, because no one had ever faced such a crisis.

“ ‘Mistake’ indicates there was a known procedure that wasn’t followed,” he said. “There just was not that much logistics in place to support another course of action.”

Help for the Sick

Millions of Americans saw television news reports of Mr. Giuliani attending firefighters’ funerals. They heard him call those who died heroes.

But they have not heard him say much about the medical problems of ground zero workers. Although he pushed Congress to protect the city from lawsuits, he has generally stood on the sidelines as New York’s delegation tried to get the federal government to pay for the treatment that sick workers need.

“I don’t think I ever saw the mayor at a 9/11 hearing on health,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Mr. Nadler, who was one of the first to criticize the city’s handling of ground zero, said it never occurred to him or to other Democrats in Congress to ask for Mr. Giuliani’s help to influence the Republican White House.

John T. Odermatt, who was Mr. Giuliani’s deputy at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said that Mr. Giuliani had to make many decisions every day during the crisis, but the priority always was “clearly more about people than getting the site open.”

Mr. Odermatt, now speaking on behalf of Mr. Giuliani’s presidential campaign, said he did not know whether the former mayor had ever lobbied Congress on behalf of sick workers, and the campaign did not provide any information about Mr. Giuliani’s working to secure federal funds for treatment of ground zero responders. Many of those people are now sick, and they are angry.

Lee Clarke, director of health and safety for District Council 37, the city’s largest public employees’ union, said Mr. Giuliani used “very, very poor judgment” in rushing to reopen the financial district without watching out for the workers who cheered him at ground zero.

Ms. Clarke said that if those workers found themselves in a meeting with Mr. Giuliani today, “a number of them would be standing up, wanting a piece of Rudy.”

And here is the rest of it.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says

The New York Times
Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says

Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report.

Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

The report does not give a final conclusion on what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly two million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but the findings are sure to reinforce longstanding suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country’s oil industry.

The report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been consistently overstating its oil production.

Iraq and the State Department, which reports the numbers, have been under relentless pressure to show tangible progress in Iraq by raising production levels, which have languished well below the United States goal of three million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.

The draft report, expected to be released within the next week, was prepared by the United States Government Accountability Office with the help of government energy analysts, and was provided to The New York Times by a separate government office that received a review copy. The accountability office declined to provide a copy or to discuss the draft.

Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the office, said only that “we don’t discuss draft reports.”

But a State Department official who works on energy issues said that there were several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the loss of oil through sabotage of pipelines and inaccurate reporting of production in southern Iraq, where engineers may not properly account for water that is pumped along with oil in the fields there.

“It could also be theft,” the official said, with suspicion falling primarily on Shiite militias in the south. “Crude oil is not as lucrative in the region as refined products, but we’re not ruling that out either.”

Iraqi and American officials have previously said that smuggling of refined products like gasoline and kerosene is probably costing Iraq billions of dollars a year in lost revenues. The smuggling of those products is particularly feared because officials believe that a large fraction of the proceeds go to insurgent groups. Crude oil is much more difficult to smuggle because it must be shipped to refineries and turned into the more valuable refined products before it can be sold on the market.

The Shiite militia groups hold sway around the rich oil fields of southern Iraq, which dominate the country’s oil production, the State Department official said. For that reason, he said, the Shiite militias are more likely to be involved in theft there than the largely Sunni insurgents, who are believed to benefit mostly from smuggling refined products in the north.

In the south, the official said, “There is not an issue of insurgency, per se, but it could be funding Shia factions, and that could very well be true.”

“That would be a concern if they were using smuggling money to blow up American soldiers or kill Sunnis or do anything that could harm the unity of the country,” the official said.

The report by the accountability office is the most comprehensive look yet at faltering American efforts to rebuild Iraq’s oil and electricity sectors. For the analysis of Iraq’s oil production, the accountability office called upon experts at the Energy Information Administration within the United States Department of Energy, which has long experience in analyzing oil production and exports worldwide.

Erik Kreil, an oil expert at the information administration who is familiar with the analysis, said a review of industry figures around the world — exports, refinery figures and other measures — could not account for all the oil that Iraq says it is producing. The administration also took into account how much crude oil was consumed internally, to do things like fuel Iraqi power plants and refine into gasoline and other products.

When all those uses of the oil were taken into consideration, Mr. Kreil said, Iraq’s stated production figures did not add up.

“Either they’re producing less, or they’re producing what they say and the difference is completely unaccounted for in any of the places we think it should go,” Mr. Kreil said. “Either it’s overly optimistic, or it’s unaccounted for.”

Several analysts outside the government agreed that such a large discrepancy indicated that there was either a major smuggling operation in place or that Iraq was incapable to generate accurate production figures.

“That’s a staggering amount of oil to lose every month,” said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an independent economist and oil expert. “But given everything else that’s been written about Iraq, it’s not a surprise.”

Mr. Verleger added that if the oil was being smuggled out of Iraq, there would be a ready market for it, particularly in smaller refineries not controlled by large Western companies in places like China, the Caribbean and even small European countries.

The report also contains the most comprehensive assessment yet of the billions of dollars the United States and Iraq spent on rebuilding the oil and electricity infrastructure, which is falling further and further behind its performance goals.

Adding together both civilian and military financing, the report concludes that the United States has spent $5.1 billion of the $7.4 billion in American taxpayer money set aside to rebuild the Iraqi electricity and oil sectors. The United States has also spent $3.8 billion of Iraqi money on those sectors, the report says.

Despite those enormous expenditures, the performance is far short of official goals, and in some cases seems to be declining further. The average output of Iraq’s national electricity grid in 2006, for example, was 4,300 megawatts, about equal to its value before the 2003 invasion. By February of this year, the figure had fallen still further, to 3,800 megawatts, the report says.

All of those figures are far short of the longstanding American goal for Iraq: 6,000 megawatts. Even more dispiriting for Iraqis, by February the grid provided power for an average of only 5.1 hours a day in Baghdad and 8.6 hours nationwide. Both of those figures are also down from last year.

The story is similar for the oil sector, where — even if the Iraqi numbers are correct — neither exports nor production have met American goals and have also declined since last year, the report says.

American reconstruction officials have continued to promote what they describe as successes in the rebuilding program, while saying that problems with security have prevented the program from achieving all of its goals. But federal oversight officials have frequently reported that the program has also suffered from inadequate oversight, poor contracting practices, graft, ineffective management and disastrous initial planning.

The discrepancies in the Iraqi oil figures are broadly reminiscent of the ones that turned up when some of the same energy department experts examined Iraq’s oil infrastructure in the wake of the oil-for-food scandals of the Saddam Hussein era. In a United Nations-sponsored program that was supposed to trade Iraq’s oil for food, Mr. Hussein and other smugglers were handsomely profiting from the program, investigations determined.

In reports to Congress before the 2003 invasion that ousted Mr. Hussein, the accountability office, using techniques similar to those called into play in its most recent report, determined that in early 2002, for example, 325,000 to 480,000 barrels of crude oil a day were being smuggled out of Iraq, the majority through a pipeline to Syria.

But substantial amounts also left Iraq through Jordan and Turkey, and by ship in the Persian Gulf, routes that could also be available today, said Robert Ebel, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Any number of adjacent countries would be glad to have it if they could make some money,” Mr. Ebel said.

Mr. Ebel said the lack of modern metering equipment, or measuring devices, at Iraq’s wellheads made it especially difficult to track smuggling there. The State Department official agreed that there were no meters at the wellheads, but said that Iraq’s Oil Ministry had signed a contract with Shell Oil to study the possibility of putting in the meters.

The official added that an American-financed project to install meters on Iraq’s main oil platform in the Persian Gulf was scheduled to be completed this month.

As sizable as a discrepancy of as much as 300,000 barrels a day would be in most parts of the world, some analysts said it could be expected in a country with such a long, ingrained history of corruption.

“It would be surprising if it was not the case,” said John Pike, director of, which closely follows security and economic issues in Iraq. He added, “How could the oil sector be the exception?”


Support Our Troops. End The War. Edwards to Ask Antiwar Stand of Americans

The New York Times
Edwards to Ask Antiwar Stand of Americans

Stepping up his antiwar stance, John Edwards said yesterday that he would call for Americans to “raise their voices” on Memorial Day against the Iraq war and would say that patriotism required supporting the troops by bringing them home.

Mr. Edwards said in a telephone interview that, in a commencement speech to be delivered today at New England College in Henniker, N.H., he would call on Americans to “come together and speak out in a way that will end the war.”

Mr. Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, said he was not calling for rallies or antiwar protests, but rather for Americans to come up with their own ways of opposing the war.

“During the weekend, let us gather as patriots,” Mr. Edwards will say in his speech, according a statement released by his campaign. “Wherever you are — with your family, with your friends, at a barbecue, at a parade, wherever you are — let us raise our voices.”

In addition, the Edwards campaign suggested that opponents of the war print signs saying “Support the troops — End the war” and take them to Memorial Day parades.

In recent weeks, Mr. Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, has been positioning himself as firmly opposed to the war. He has called for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and has said that Congress should use the power of the purse to end the war.

But in his speech, he will challenge individual Americans to take action.

“As patriots, we call on our government to support our troops in the most important way it can — by ending this war and bringing them home,” he will say, according to the statement.

He said yesterday that he wanted to “reclaim ‘patriotism’ ” from the Bush administration’s use of that term.

“George Bush has used patriotism as a moniker to justify what he has done,” Mr. Edwards said, adding, “It is abundantly clear that no American can stand on the sidelines anymore.”


Fonda Gets Up Close And Personal With Colbert

Appearing on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" to discuss her up-coming film "Georgia Rules" actress and activist Jane Fonda managed to leave host Stephen Colbert speechless. While expressing admiration for her co-stars Fonda also noted, "We cannot elect men to office that are afraid of premature evacuation."


Retired general says Iraq strain on National Guard will harm U.S. communities

Retired general says Iraq strain on National Guard will harm U.S. communities

WASHINGTON — The National Guard isn't as strong as it should be because of the war in Iraq and American communities will suffer as a result, retired Air Force Gen. Melvyn Montano said Saturday.

Delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, Montano said the strain means it will take longer for Greensburg, Kan., to recover from a devastating tornado that leveled the town a week ago.

"Crucial equipment used by the Guard for disaster relief is now in Iraq instead of standing ready to respond to crises here at home," said Montano, who was once adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard.

"When the tornado struck Kansas last week, the Guard had half the number of Humvees and large trucks they usually would have at their disposal," Montano said. "The recovery process now will take longer."

Montano echoed Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who clashed with the Bush administration this week. "I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response (to the tornado) is going to be slower," she said Monday. "The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace."

Sebelius later said the Guard was adequately equipped to handle the disaster, though possible flooding in another part of the state would have forced her to make hard choices about where to send aid.