Saturday, June 16, 2007

Democratic House boosts domestic security funds for 2008

House boosts domestic security funds for 2008
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Friday approved significant increases in funds next year for domestic security and veterans care in a challenge to President George W. Bush's more limited budget requests.

By a vote of 268-150, the House passed a $36 billion domestic security bill for fiscal 2008 that the White House has threatened to veto, in part because it would spend about $2 billion more than Bush wanted.

"We are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. Given our continuing homeland security vulnerabilities, we surely can find $2 billion more to keep the American people safer at home," argued House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.

The bill was the first of 12 spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1 to pass the House and the beginning of a struggle over how to spend more than $900 billion to fund the federal government overall.

The White House said Democrats had concocted a domestic security bill with "an irresponsible and excessive level of spending."

Later on Friday, the House, by a vote of 409-2, approved a second bill that provides $64.7 billion for veterans and military construction projects.

It would also spend significantly more than Bush wanted, including $1.7 billion above the president's request to improve access to medical care for veterans. Democrats say the money is needed to help the Veterans Administration deal with the large number of injured soldiers returning from combat in Iraq.

The vote came on the same day a Defense Department task force concluded the military was ill-prepared to deal with mental health problems developing among soldiers serving extended deployments in war zones. It also came after reports earlier this year of poor medical treatment for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.


Earlier this week, the White House backed away from threats to veto the veterans bill.

The Senate has not yet passed its version of the security or veterans funding bills.

The security funds are intended to help stem illegal immigration and better prepare the country for another terrorist attack or weather-related disaster.

The Department of Homeland Security funding bill includes more money than Bush requested for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The agency provides emergency rescue and relief services and was criticized for a slow, confused response to the Gulf Coast devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Before passing the bill, the House overwhelmingly approved an amendment to delay until mid-2009 a border security program requiring U.S. and Canadian citizens to have passports or other high-tech identification that can be scanned when arriving from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean countries.

The proposed delay, which also is pending in the Senate, would apply only to travelers entering the United States by land or sea. The requirement is now set to take effect next year.

The government is having a difficult time processing the huge increase in passport applications prompted by the program and a similar one for air travelers. Congressional offices have been inundated with complaints from constituents whose passports have been delayed.

The bill also aims to improve airport baggage screening, double the amount of cargo being screened for explosives before being loaded onto passenger aircraft and allow states to impose tougher security regulations on chemical plants.

Local law enforcement agencies also would receive more money than Bush had requested to train and equip themselves for a terrorist attack.

If Bush vetoes the bill, House Republican leaders predicted they would have enough support to prevent the Democrats from overriding the veto.

((Editing by Eric Walsh; Reuters Messaging:; 202-898-8391)


Friday, June 15, 2007

U.S. officials can be sued in Sept 11 abuse case

Yahoo! News
U.S. officials can be sued in Sept 11 abuse case
By Christine Kearney

A Pakistani man who says he was abused in detention after the September 11 attacks can name the FBI director and a former U.S. attorney general in his lawsuit against the government, an appeals court ruled on Thursday.

Javaid Iqbal, a Muslim, was held for more than a year at a Brooklyn detention center after the September 11 attacks. He, along with hundreds of Muslims and Arabs sued the U.S. government, claiming they were abused and held for no legitimate reason.

Iqbal says he was subjected to repeated strip searches, beaten, dragged across the floor and that the lights in his cell were kept on 24 hours a day.

The defendants, including FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft, had appealed a lower court decision that allowed Iqbal's lawyers to seek information on what the officials knew about the abuse.

As part of their efforts to dismiss the case, lawyers for Mueller and Ashcroft argued the officials could not be held personally accountable, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled Ibqal's suit could go forward.

It was "plausible" that Ashcroft and Mueller and other senior Justice Department officials "would be aware of policies concerning the detention of those arrested by federal officers in the New York City area in the aftermath of 9/11," the appeals panel said.

The panel also disagreed with lawyers for Mueller and Ashcroft who argued their actions were reasonable "in the post-9/11 context" and that Iqbal received proper treatment.

The court said while they recognized "the gravity of the situation that confronted investigative officials of the United States as a consequence of the 9/11 attack," Iqbal still had the right to not be harshly treated or discriminated against.

"The exigent circumstances of the post-9/11 context do not diminish the plaintiff's right not to be needlessly harassed and mistreated in the confines of a prison cell by repeated strip and body-cavity searches," the court said.

Iqbal said he lost nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) and suffered depression after his detention. Shortly after his release in 2003, he pleaded guilty to having false Social Security papers and writing bad checks and served time in prison before being deported.

The panel did not rule whether there was any truth to Iqbal's claim that there was no evidence connecting him to terrorism.

U.S. authorities detained 762 non-citizens -- almost all Muslims or Arabs -- in the weeks after the attacks.

The U.S. government in February paid $300,000 to settle with Iqbal's co-plaintiff and fellow detainee Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian, although it did not admit wrong-doing.


FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data
FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data
By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer

An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.

The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.

The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files, which mostly concerned suspected terrorist or espionage activities.

But two dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents' requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have, according to the audit results provided to The Washington Post. Only two such examples were identified earlier in the smaller sample.

FBI officials said the results confirmed what agency supervisors and outside critics feared, namely that many agents did not understand or follow the required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information with one of the most sensitive and powerful intelligence-gathering tools of the post-Sept. 11 era -- the National Security Letter, or NSL.

Such letters are uniformly secret and amount to nonnegotiable demands for personal information -- demands that are not reviewed in advance by a judge. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress substantially eased the rules for issuing NSLs, requiring only that the bureau certify that the records are "sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

The change -- combined with national anxiety about another domestic terrorist event -- led to an explosive growth in the use of the letters. More than 19,000 such letters were issued in 2005 seeking 47,000 pieces of information, mostly from telecommunications companies. But with this growth came abuse of the newly relaxed rules, a circumstance first revealed in the Justice Department's March report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

"The FBI's comprehensive audit of National Security Letter use across all field offices has confirmed the inspector general's findings that we had inadequate internal controls for use of an invaluable investigative tool," FBI General Counsel Valerie E. Caproni said. "Our internal audit examined a much larger sample than the inspector general's report last March, but we found similar percentages of NSLs that had errors."

"Since March," Caproni added, "remedies addressing every aspect of the problem have been implemented or are well on the way."

Of the more than 1,000 violations uncovered by the new audit, about 700 involved telephone companies and other communications firms providing information that exceeded what the FBI's national security letters had sought. But rather than destroying the unsolicited data, agents in some instances issued new National Security Letters to ensure that they could keep the mistakenly provided information. Officials cited as an example the retention of an extra month's phone records, beyond the period specified by the agents.

Case agents are now told that they must identify mistakenly produced information and isolate it from investigative files. "Human errors will inevitably occur with third parties, but we now have a clear plan with clear lines of responsibility to ensure errant information that is mistakenly produced will be caught as it is produced and before it is added to any FBI database," Caproni said.

The FBI also found that in 14 investigations, counterintelligence agents using NSLs improperly gathered full credit reports from financial institutions, exercising authority provided by the USA Patriot Act but meant to be applied only in counterterrorism cases. In response, the bureau has distributed explicit instructions that "you can't gather full credit reports in counterintelligence cases," a senior FBI official said.

In 10 additional investigations, FBI agents used NSLs to request other information that the relevant laws did not allow them to obtain. Officials said that, for example, agents might have requested header information from e-mails -- such as the subject lines -- even though NSLs are supposed to be used to gather information only about the e-mails' senders and the recipients, not about their content.

The FBI audit also identified three dozen violations of rules requiring that NSLs be approved by senior officials and used only in authorized cases. In 10 instances, agents issued National Security Letters to collect personal data without tying the requests to specific, active investigations -- as the law requires -- either because, in each case, an investigative file had not been opened yet or the authorization for an investigation had expired without being renewed.

FBI officials said the audit found no evidence to date that any agent knowingly or willingly violated the laws or that supervisors encouraged such violations. The Justice Department's report estimated that agents made errors about 4 percent of the time and that third parties made mistakes about 3 percent of the time, they said. The FBI's audit, they noted, found a slightly higher error rate for agents -- about 5 percent -- and a substantially higher rate of third-party errors -- about 10 percent.

The officials said they are making widespread changes to ensure that the problems do not recur. Those changes include implementing a corporate-style, continuous, internal compliance program to review the bureau's policies, procedures and training, to provide regular monitoring of employees' work by supervisors in each office, and to conduct frequent audits to track compliance across the bureau.

The bureau is also trying to establish for NSLs clear lines of responsibility, which were lacking in the past, officials said. Agents who open counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations have been told that they are solely responsible for ensuring that they do not receive data they are not entitled to have.

The FBI audit did not turn up new instances in which another surveillance tool known as an Exigent Circumstance Letter had been abused, officials said. In a finding that prompted particularly strong concerns on Capitol Hill, the Justice Department had said such letters -- which are similar to NSLs but are meant to be used only in security emergencies -- had been invoked hundreds of times in "non-emergency circumstances" to obtain detailed phone records, mostly without the required links to active investigations.

Many of those letters were improperly dispatched by the bureau's Communications Analysis Unit, a central clearinghouse for the analysis of telephone records such as those gathered with the help of "exigent" letters and National Security Letters. Justice Department and FBI investigators are trying to determine if any FBI headquarters officials should be held accountable or punished for those abuses, and have begun advising agents of their due process rights during interviews.

The FBI audit will be completed in the coming weeks, and Congress will be briefed on the results, officials said. FBI officials said each potential violation will then be extensively reviewed by lawyers to determine if it must be reported to the Intelligence Oversight Board, a presidential panel of senior intelligence officials created to safeguard civil liberties.

The officials said the final tally of violations that are serious enough to be reported to the panel might be much less than the number turned up by the audit, noting that only five of the 22 potential violations identified by the Justice Department's inspector general this spring were ultimately deemed to be reportable.

"We expect that percentage will hold or be similar when we get through the hundreds of potential violations identified here," said a senior FBI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bureau's findings have not yet been made public.


Senate hits impasse on renewable energy

Yahoo! News
Senate hits impasse on renewable energy
By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer

Senate Democrats, eager for a vote on energy legislation, ran into staunch Republican resistance Thursday to a proposal to require utilities to use more wind, solar and other renewable sources to produce electricity.

The impasse over renewable fuels came as the Senate turned back an equally contentious matter: to allow limited natural gas development in waters off the mid-Atlantic coast despite a long-standing drilling moratorium.

A proposal to let Virginia seek a waiver to the drilling ban for a large portion of federal waters off its coast was defeated 43-44.

Democrats were forced to set aside — at last until next week — their renewable fuels proposal after it became clear they lacked the 60 votes to proceed.

The bill would require power companies to increase use of wind turbines, solar panels, biomass, geothermal energy or other renewable sources to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity by 2020. Only about 2.4 percent of the country's electricity is produced that way now.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (news, bio, voting record), D-N.M., the measure's chief sponsor, said the mandate is needed to stimulate expansion of fuel sources other than coal and natural gas. He said if his plan is enacted, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants will fall by nearly 7 percent from levels projected for 2020.

Opponents argued that some regions of the country couldn't meet the requirement and that it would cause electricity prices to increase in those areas, especially across the South.

By a 56-39 vote, senators rejected a GOP alternative that would have allowed utilities to meet the requirement by also building more nuclear power plants and taking conservation measures.

Republicans balked and refused to allow a vote on Bingaman's measure.

If the early going is any indicator, it looks like a bumpy path toward final approval for the energy bill before the Fourth of July recess as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) of Nevada has promised.

It also was evident that there will be a tough fight over increasing automobile mileage standards. Senators close to the auto industry released their proposal, which they say automakers can achieve, unlike a plan already in the overall energy bill.

The substitute calls for increasing auto fuel economy by 30 percent to 36 miles per gallon by 2022 and for sport utility vehicles and small trucks to reach 30 mpg by 2025.

"It will force industry to bend and not break," said Sen. Kit Bond, D-Mo.

The energy bill now has an increase to 35 mpg for both cars, SUVs and trucks by 2020 and 4 percent higher each year after that.

Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., prompted a sharp floor debate Thursday when he proposed allowing natural gas development in waters along the Atlantic coast where a drilling freeze has been in place for a quarter-century.

Warner, R-Va., wanted the Senate to let his state seek a waiver from the Interior Department to the freeze. The plan brought a quick responses from senators from other coastal states.

Sen. Robert Menendez (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., said such drilling off Virginia "could cause a ripple effect ... and the consequences can be very significant." He added, "This would leave other states helpless.

The debate on the renewable fuels proposal was equally divisive.

Senators from the South said utilities in their states could not meet the 15 percent requirement because they lack the wind power and other renewable resources prominent elsewhere, especially the West.

"I'm not impressed with wind being the national energy source for America," said Sen. Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., who led the opposition to the renewable fuels standard.

Twenty-three states have renewable fuels requirements; nine of them are equal or more aggressive than the proposal federal requirements.

But Bingaman said, "You don't drive development of these technologies if it's up to each state to decide whether to participate."

He rejected claims that some regions could not meet the mandate. The senator noted, for example, that much of the South has an abundance of trees and other plants to make biofuels as well as other renewables aside from wind.

The measure also would permit utilities that cannot find enough renewable sources to buy credits from other utilities that have exceeded the 15 percent or from the Energy Department, Bingaman said.

That did not sway Sen. Jeff Sessions (news, bio, voting record), R-Ala.

He said that in his region, utilities would have no choice but to buy credits at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour and "the cost is going to be very significant ... with nothing to show for it."

The renewable fuels proposal has been the subject of intense lobbying by utilities. The Georgia-based Southern Co. has made killing the measure its legislative priority.

Sessions said the Tennessee Valley Authority, which like Southern is a leading electricity provider in the South, estimated it would cost $410 million a year by 2020 for it to meet the 15 percent renewables.

Bingaman questioned those costs. He cited a report from the federal Energy Information Administration that said the renewable fuels requirement would add less than 1 percent to the cost of electricity in 2020 and cause natural gas costs to decline. The report also said the requirement would triple the use of biomass and increase the use of wind by 50 percent and solar cells by 500 percent.

Critics of the bill disputed the agency's cost findings, saying it did not examine regional price increases.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Open-Source Government

Huffington Post
Mark Jeffrey
Open-Source Government

In recent years, we've seen the growth of a canker on the Constitution. A swelling blind spot where were are increasingly not allowed to look. I'm talking about abuse of governmental secrecy. 'We the people' cannot effectively self-govern when certain things are routinely hidden from our view.

Now, of course certain things need to be classified (it needs to be said, before the comment section below overfloweth). Yes, yes, we need to have some secrets from the bad guys. But we ought to recognize that democracy pays a steep price for each and every thing we classify. We ought to do it very, very sparingly. Even unwillingly.

In the world of software, there are open-source systems and there are closed-source systems. Open-source systems (such as Linux or Mediawiki) allow anyone to submit bits of source code to the project. The whole world collaborates upon it. Everyone can see what everyone else has submitted. There are no secret, proprietary parts. Open source projects are fully transparent.

As a result, open source systems are far more robust and better-designed than their closed, proprietary counterparts. They have greater security (paradoxically, making security apparatus and methods known actually makes them stronger; obfuscation of methods does not create greater security). Open source systems are far more resistant to viruses (anyone running closed-source Microsoft Windows certainly knows what I mean). In short, open source systems have the electronic equivalent of evolutionary advantages. They're faster, smarter, stronger. After all, you can't compete against the collaborative efforts of the whole world -- especially when full transparency ensures everyone is dealing with the absolute truth. There is no bullshit, no hidden agendas. Such things are simply impossible to sustain in such an environment.

The Constitution is the operating system of America.

The very reason America is great is because it has largely been free and open. It has, in effect, been an open-source government. And when it is transparent, as all good open source environments are, checks and balances work. The bad stuff is burned away, stopped dead in its tracks, or impeached.

Yet this transparency in our government -- the strength of our system -- is increasingly becoming murky and dark. In April of 2006, the Bush Administration used the state secrets privilege to block a legal challenge to AT&T and the NSA over illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens. In May 2006, Khalid El-Masri was tortured by the CIA (which it acknowledges) and falsely held for several months. When the CIA released him finally without charge, El-Masri challenged his detention in a U.S. District court. The case was dismissed under the state secrets privilege: even discussing the detention would, according to the government, threaten to reveal classified information. The examples are legion, I won't list them all here -- other contributors to the HuffingtonPost do so on an almost daily basis.

Interestingly enough, the very legal origin of the state secrets doctrine is itself founded on an abuse of power and a lie.

In 1953, in the United States v. Reynolds (345 U.S.1), the Supreme Court recognized the state secrets privilege for the first time. There was a crash of a military bomber. The widows of the slain pilots sued for details of the crash. The Air Force refused, saying that national security would be threatened with such a release, since the bomber's mission was top secret. The Supreme Court saw things the military's way and for the first time allowed the state secrets privilege, yet sternly warned that "it is not to be lightly invoked".

In 2000, the relevant accident reports were finally declassified. Guess what? There was no secret information whatsoever in the crash reports from 1953. Furthermore, the reports showed that the aircraft involved was in poor condition, something the Air Force certainly did not want released publicly. Thus it was that the Air Force, in attempting to cover up its own negligence, succeeded instead in opening the door for abuses of power that butterfly-effect down to our own time. The seeds of Gitmo, of secret rendition and torture, of the overturning of habeas corpus, of illegal surveillance of American citizens were planted on that day.

But it did not need to be. It still doesn't. We should make every effort to reverse this trend of over-classification. A transparent, open-source government where state secrets are only classified in the rarest, most dire of instances and where there was some form of check and balance on the classifying agency would in the end make America stronger, not weaker.


Giuliani's 12 Points... for Failure

Huffington Post
Matt Ortega
Giuliani's 12 Points... for Failure

Earlier today, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani sent out a plea to supporters with "12 commitments" that aren't worth the paper its printed -- er, pixels in cyberspace.

Rudy Giuliani: Strengthening America's Image Around the World One Waterboard at a Time.Giuliani does his usual "when I was mayor of New York" shtick and dives right into the deep end of rhetorical nonsense. For instance, take the second paragraph of the e-mail:

Many of the things I did as Mayor of New York City are transferable to what America needs now. That's why today I announced my 12 commitments to you, the American people. These commitments are intended to lift our vision from the rear view mirror to the road ahead of us -- the future.


For the life of me, I don't know how we can "lift our vision from the rear view mirror" when Giuliani's entire candidacy is built upon his role -- albeit a revisionist version of it -- in the September 11 attacks and openly exploits the tragedy. Hell, even the brief back story on his wife, Judy, explicitly cites 9/11.

1. I will keep America on offense in the Terrorists' War on Us.

Rudy has been using the "Terrorists' War on Us" phrase a lot in recent weeks but doesn't that phrase imply that it is the terrorists that are on offense and we're playing defense?

2. I will end illegal immigration, secure our borders, and identify every non-citizen in our nation.

Now that's an ambitious plan completely lacking in substance. Hey look, I can throw around vague statements, too! "I will end global warming."

Seriously, how do you plan on ending illegal immigration? Just curious. How do you propose securing our borders? With technology? National Guard? Minutemen? Rudy on horseback?

Also, how do you propose identifying every non-citizen in the U.S.? Surely you will get a few Mexican-Americans mixed in there by accident. Will those bar codes be branded on our necks or our foreheads? Again, just curious.

3. I will restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful spending in Washington.

Yeah! He will show them just like he showed those spiteful bastard factinistas -- the education system -- in New York City!

4. I will cut taxes and reform the tax code.

"... but I won't sign a tax pledge. Just trust me."

5. I will impose accountability in Washington.

Rudy, with an iron fist, will make sure only his criminal buddies make out like bandits.

6. I will lead America toward energy independence.

By tapping his former client base in Saudi Arabia and lobbying for Venezuelan oil firm, Citgo?

7. I will give Americans more control over, and access to, healthcare with affordable and portable free-market solutions.

Last week at the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, Giuliani 'lifted his rear view mirror vision' on healthcare for the road ahead. Shorter Rudy: "If you loved the Bush healthcare plan in 2005, you will love Rudy in 2009."

8. I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children.

When he says he will decrease the number of abortions, does this mean he would turn the country away from the failure that is abstinence-only sex education championed by the current administration?

9. I will reform the legal system and appoint strict constructionist judges.

Well, the next president will have to reform the legal system. Under the current administration, the entire judicial process has been corrupted to the core. (Yet right-wingers are only concerned with the "injustice" that is "Scooter" Libby's pending incarceration. Free "Scooter"!)

And we all know Giuliani's knack for federal appointees...

10. I will ensure that every community in America is prepared for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Second time's the charm, ey Rudy?

11. I will provide access to a quality education to every child in America by giving real school choice to parents.

There ain't many choices to choose from if you implode one of them.

12. I will expand America's involvement in the global economy and strengthen our reputation around the world.

Rudy Giuliani: Strengthening America's Image One Waterboarding at a Time.


California Nurses and Michael Moore Make History

Huffington Post
Joseph A. Palermo
California Nurses and Michael Moore Make History

It was a truly historic day in Sacramento this afternoon when over ten thousand nurses from all over the country rallied with filmmaker Michael Moore in front of the Capitol building. The California Nurses Association, along with the State Senator Sheila Kuehl, packed into a hearing room to listen to Michael Moore and three people featured in his new movie, Sicko, testify about the appalling state of America's broken for profit health care system.

Thousands of nurses and health care professionals, along with people from other unions, (such as myself from the California Faculty Association), gathered outside and watched Moore's testimony on five giant TVs inside huge tents. We rallied in the hot sun, waving little fans and placards the nurses handed out. Then we all marched down to the historic art deco Crest Theater downtown for a special pre-release viewing of Sicko.

The sea of red-shirted nurses was an inspiring sight. They danced and chanted and they were really fired up. We are lucky to have so many dedicated, smart, and politically conscious women working so hard to fix this country's tattered, even barbaric, health care system. Surrounded by thousands of RNs, I never felt safer in my life. I thought if I ever had to have anything go wrong physically while at a public rally, this was the right one.

Senator Kuehl's legislation, SB 840, (the "California Health Insurance Reliability Act"), calls for universal health coverage for every Californian, and it was the rallying point for the massive demonstration. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be wise to sign it or he is going to face the ferocious wrath and opposition of the women (and men) who comprise the heart and soul of our state's health care system.

The goal of Sicko, as Moore told both the Senate committee and the rally outside, is to provide an organizing tool to get people so angry they will rise up to demand common-sense solutions to the health care crisis. The current greed-driven system where huge corporations pursue lavish profits at the public's expense has created a human catastrophe.

Moore told the rally that Governor Schwarzenegger came to America with a fabulously healthy body because the Austrian government provided him with free health care from the time he put on his first pair of lederhosen.

Moore introduced his new film to the packed theater full of nurses and their allies, saying he hopes it can become an organizing tool to finally move this country to address the health care crisis.

Sicko is a brilliant, emotionally draining, poignant film, which also has Moore's characteristic sense of humor inter-spliced therein. It is heartbreaking to see how America's health care system routinely victimizes people. It often bankrupts middle-class families, and sweeps low-income people into contrived "cracks" in the system because it drives up profits.

There have only been a handful of times in American history where art has led to citizen action. What comes to mind for me are Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin's effect on slavery; Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and the rise of progressive reforms relating to pure food and drugs; the television special in the mid-1960s, Harvest of Shame, which educated the nation on the unjust working conditions of farm workers. Moore's Sicko blows the lid off of everything the corporations that make fortunes off exploiting the sick and dying do not want Americans to see.

Michael Moore's talent lies in cutting through the fear and smokescreens the Right always exploits, be it with the "war on terror," or the irrational fear of "socialized medicine." I won't give it away, but some of his found footage from those who opposed Medicare is priceless since the Right makes essentially the same arguments today. Moore focuses on the human tragedy of the health care crisis, it is not a laundry list of the sins of corporations; it is more about the people who are the victims. Be prepared to cry when you see this film.

At the end of Moore's question and answer session following the movie he said that he hopes that nurses and physicians of conscious and other activists will transform the theaters where it is shown into organizing stations and networking outlets. He even suggested setting up MASH-type tents outside the theaters to give free check ups to children after each showing.

Moore wants his fellow Americans to seize this moment when health care will be publicized to demand that the state governments and Congress enact a universal, single-payer system similar to what exists in Canada, France, and England (countries he visits in the movie). Moore says we should demand that our government regulate the pharmaceutical companies "just like a public utility."

Go to or to the California Nurses Association website for suggestions about taking action. The first step will be to press for passage of Sheila Kuehl's health care bill here in California. Moore pointed out that California has been in the lead on many issues, including raising the minimum wage, and we have an opportunity to lead the nation out of the dark ages on health care.


Bloody day in Gaza raises civil war fears

Bloody day in Gaza raises civil war fears
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - In what looked ever more like civil war, the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas battled supporters of the Islamist prime minister across Gaza on Tuesday, the bloodiest day of factional fighting in months.

At least 27 people were killed and 70 wounded, hospital officials said, taking to 47 the number of dead in the coastal enclave since Saturday. Early on Tuesday, the Gaza homes of both Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas were fired on.

The largest force loyal to Abbas, who is favored by Western powers, was ordered onto the streets to defeat what his secular Fatah group called a "bloody coup" by Hamas Islamists after Hamas gunmen stormed Fatah bases in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas later appeared to have control of one major Fatah base in the north and casualty data suggested it had the upper hand more widely. Fatah leaders threatened to quit a three-month-old unity government with Hamas if there was no immediate truce.

The European Union said there was an imminent risk of civil war if fighting went on, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged support for Abbas's efforts "to restore law and order".

Haniyeh and Abbas both called for restraint and talks but, as each side accused the other of siding with their Israeli adversaries, there was little sign of fighters paying heed.

The head of an Egyptian delegation in Gaza that saw its latest truce shot down on Monday, urged civilians to rally on Wednesday morning to show support for a new ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an arch-foe of Hamas, said for the first time that "serious consideration" must be given to posting international peacekeepers in Gaza, from which Israel withdrew troops and Jewish settlers two years ago.

"If the Gaza Strip ultimately falls to Hamas, this will be of great regional significance," he said, but added Israel could not enter Gaza to fight Hamas to help Abbas's "pragmatists".


Hamas gunmen swept down on Fatah posts, residents said. At one stage, Hamas fighters gave Fatah forces half an hour to evacuate bases -- an unprecedented ultimatum.

Intense gunfire and explosions were later heard from a base of Abbas's National Security Forces in Gaza City. Reinforcements for the NSF moved in vehicles through the deserted streets.

"Advance!" NSF commanders ordered, as Hamas radio stations were briefly jammed by music praising Fatah military leaders.

"Confront the seekers of the coup!"

At least 16 people were killed in ensuing evening battles, according to hospital officials -- including 11 in one clash that Hamas said gave it control of a major NSF base in the north of the Strip. Hamas officials said they lost at least nine men while Fatah sources said their losses were at least 16 dead.

Abbas, successor to Yasser Arafat, convened Fatah's Central Committee in his West Bank base. It issued a statement saying: "The Central Committee decided that its ministers will not participate in the government if there is no ceasefire now."

If they resign, along with some independent ministers, Abbas could fire the government and try to rule by decree. A new cabinet would need approval from the Hamas-led parliament.

Most of the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million inhabitants took refuge in their homes. Crammed into a 45 km (27 mile) sliver of coast and surrounded by an Israeli security cordon, they have little chance to flee through the restricted main crossing into Egypt.

"I think we are in Iraq, not in Gaza," Ammar, a 40-year-old father of six, said. "Snipers on rooftops killing people. Bodies mutilated and dumped in the streets in very humiliating ways.

"What else does civil war mean but this?"

Since Hamas won an election in January 2006, boosted by its support among the poor of Gaza, more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting, according to one estimate.

After some months of relative calm, fighting flared up again last month before easing following a truce brokered by Egypt.

The United States has been helping train and arm Abbas's forces, citing the Fatah leader as a moderate committed to peace and a counterweight to Hamas, which has ties to Iran and Syria.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Adam Entous, Jeffrey Heller, Ori Lewis and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem)


Barack Obama endorses low carbon fuel standard

Barack Obama endorses low carbon fuel standard

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed a federal low-carbon fuel standard patterned on California's ambitious goals.

Obama also called on U.S. automakers to double gas mileage of cars and trucks over the next two decades.

Obama assumed the stance of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who earlier this year proposed cutting carbon emissions in auto and truck fuels by 5 percent by 2015 and 10 percent by 2020.

"We know that transportation fuels account for a third of America's global warming pollution," the Illinois Senator said at a press event at a Brentwood gasoline station in Los Angeles. "And we know there are fuels available that emit less carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere, fuels like biodiesel and ethanol."

Schwarzenegger signed a groundbreaking executive order in January mandating the carbon dioxide cuts in fuels.

In February, Republican presidential candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain and Schwarzenegger appeared together in Long Beach, California, to say they wanted to expand the California proposals nationwide.

Obama's low-carbon fuel standard would rely on "the market" to decide which fuels would be used by distributors and blenders.

Such a standard would spur business to develop more flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on ethanol and gasoline as well as help foster growth of plug-in hybrid vehicles, Obama said.

Obama's campaign office cited published research that estimates a national low carbon fuel standard would cut global warming greenhouse gas emissions -- which are predominately carbon dioxide -- by 180 million metric tons by 2020, equal to taking more than 30 million cars off the road.


John Edwards wants U.S. to back G8 on climate change

John Edwards wants U.S. to back G8 on climate change

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Tuesday said the United States should join the Group of Eight in a call to cut global warming gas emissions in half by 2050.

Edwards, speaking in the Texas state capital of Austin, said U.S. climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, according to a statement released by his campaign.

"Global warming is an emergency that requires immediate action from the world community," Edwards said. "Before the United States can rally the world to take action, we need to show leadership here at home. We should be leading the charge in this area, not turning our back on the world."

The former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee said he favors a cap-and-trade system of emissions credits and requiring developing nations to also aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Edwards has said previously he wants U.S. automakers to produce vehicles that average 40 miles per gallon by 2016.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Republican candidates miscast some facts and get others flat wrong
Third Time 'Round for GOP Hopefuls

Debating once again, Republican candidates miscast some facts and get others flat wrong.


Pollsters will inform us whether the third time was the charm for any of these candidates in the eyes of potential voters. All we can do is remind you not to believe everything you hear.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney committed the biggest factual fouls of the night, misleadingly asserting:

* That we went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein refused to allow weapons inspectors to come in
* That there's an ocean of difference between his Massachusetts health plan and those "government takeover" plans of "every Democrat" running for president and
* That Russia's income from oil exports is vastly larger than it actually is.

Other candidates committed factual trespass, too. Sen. John McCain of Arizona ignored the waste disposal issue when he praised nuclear power for being green, for instance, and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback exaggerated the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States.


The June 5 debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., brought the 10 Republican presidential aspirants together once again, two days after a Democratic debate at the same site. Both were sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and Manchester's Union Leader.

Health Plan Hoodoo

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney tried to distance his state’s universal health insurance plan from the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Romney: Every Democrat up there’s talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase…. I’m the guy who actually tackled this issue. We get all of our citizens insured. We get people that were uninsured with private health insurance. We have to stand up and say the market works. Personal responsibility works.

There are two problems with Romney’s characterization: One, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to propose a single-payer, wholly government-funded health care plan. And two, Romney’s Massachusetts universal insurance system bears a striking resemblance to the health care proposals of the Democratic front-runners.

We first took a look at the Romney-backed health insurance plan after the May 3 Republican presidential debate, when the candidate said it was not a government takeover and juxtaposed his plan with "HillaryCare." We pointed out that while the plan is not government-administered health insurance, it includes government mandates and subsidies, minimum coverage requirements and fines for noncompliance. The Massachusetts plan is clearly not a complete government takeover; it builds on the private insurance industry – as do the proposals of Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, and the health care initiative spearheaded by Hillary Clinton in the early ’90s.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University, has analyzed the costs of the Edwards and Obama plans. In reading those and the Massachusetts plans, the similarities are clear, and Thorpe says the Obama and Romney plans are “virtually identical.” Both call for an insurance exchange (an entity that would offer various private insurance plans to the public), and they offer financial assistance to low-income people. Edwards’ proposal differs in that he uses health care plans in the federal employee program, rather than a national exchange. “That’s an implementation difference,” says Thorpe. “The real important part of it, they’re both building on the private insurance industry.”

Sen. Clinton has not released a formal proposal, but when she does, it's highly unlikely to be a wholly government funded proposal.

Politicians will debate how much government involvement in health insurance regulation is acceptable and how much is stepping on the toes of private insurance companies. But in our view, the term “government takeover” could only be applied to Rep. Kucinich’s proposal. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel calls for a federal voucher program, but Kucinich, in fact, brags on his Web site that he’s the only candidate advocating a universal not-for-profit health care system.

Is Nuclear Waste Good for the Environment?

Sen. John McCain would have us believe that nuclear power is good for the environment because nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases.

McCain: Nuclear power is safe, nuclear power is green — does not green — emit greenhouse gases.

McCain is correct to say that nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases; in that respect, it is far more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel power plants. McCain neglects to mention, however, that nuclear power poses a different set of environmental worries. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, high-level nuclear waste – the sort produced as a byproduct of nuclear power generation – is potentially quite harmful.

NRC: Standing near unshielded spent fuel could be fatal due to the high radiation levels. Ten years after removal of spent fuel from a reactor, the radiation dose 1 meter away from a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 20,000 rems per hour. A dose of 5,000 rems would be expected to cause immediate incapacitation and death within one week.

While some of the isotopes in spent nuclear fuel decay within days, others have half-lives (or the time that it takes for half of the radiation to cease) of as long as 24,000 years. At present, high-level nuclear waste is mostly stored in pools at nuclear power plants, a temporary solution. Fights have raged for years about the location of a permanent nuclear waste repository, but the NRC plans to open one in 2017 under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Russia's Oil Riches

Romney claimed that Russia earned $500 billion dollars in oil revenue, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration findings differ.

Romney: But let’s not forget, where the money is being made this year is not just throughout these years is not just in Exxon and Shell and the major oil companies, it’s in the countries that own this oil. Russia last year took in $500 billion by selling oil.

Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in the May 15 Wall Street Journal, "Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year” to Russia. But a correction to his piece was issued four days later:

WSJ: The estimated annual fair market value of all oil and gas extracted in Russia is $500 billion. This figure was mistakenly identified as the annual value of oil exports.

That's oil and gas (not just oil) and extracted (not just exported). According to the EIA, Russia took in $141 billion in net energy exports for 2006. Russia is second only to Saudi Arabia as the largest net importer of oil in the world.

As a point of reference, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which includes 12 of the world's largest oil exporting nations (Russia is not a member), made a net $522 billion in 2006, according to the EIA.

Romney Rewrites History

Romney tried to pin the blame for the Iraq war on Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow weapons inspections.

Romney: [I]f you’re saying let’s turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in.

Romney is not alone in playing loose with the facts about weapons inspections. On at least three occasions, President Bush has made the same claim. The first, on July 14, 2003:

Bush: The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.

A few months later, Bush reiterated the claim. And on the third anniversary of the war, he said:

Bush: [W]e worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.

That the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency was not permitted to make inspections might come as a bit of a surprise to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, who reported on March 17, 2003, that "late last night...I was advised by the United States government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad." Inspectors had been in Iraq since November 2002. They remained until U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered their evacuation on March 17, 2003, just three days before U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq.

Language Barrier
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo claimed John McCain wasn’t being straightforward regarding his support for making English the official language of the :

Tancredo: And even in the bill that Senator McCain is pushing, he says that he supports English-only – or official English. Doesn’t go on to tell you, that of course he says that we’re going to codify President Clinton’s original plan, original executive order signed that said all papers produced by the government have to be in various languages.

Tancredo isn’t telling the whole story. It is true that in 2000, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13166, which required that government agencies issue certain documents in multiple languages. But that order didn’t require “all papers” produced by the government to be in languages other than English, as Tancredo says; it only applied to documents that outline federal assistance services:

Executive Order 13166: To this end, each Federal agency shall examine the services it provides and develop and implement a system by which [limited English proficiency] persons can meaningfully access those services consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency.

The service would aid citizens who, under Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, cannot be denied federal assistance services based on their level of English proficiency. The McCain-Kennedy Immigration bill (S. 1033) would not have rescinded Clinton ’s order, and it would have require some other documents to be issued in different languages. Specifically, it would require labor contractors to provide information such as compensation, period of employment and labor organizing opportunities to employees in a language they can clearly understand.

S. 1033 Sec. 304(i)(3): The information required to be disclosed…shall be provided in writing in English or, as necessary and reasonable, in the language of the worker being recruited. The Department of Labor shall make forms available in English, Spanish, and other languages, as necessary, which may be used in providing workers with information required under this section.
An Illegal Overestimate

Sen. Sam Brownback exaggerated the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in the past and present.

Brownback: We did the first immigration bill I was involved in then, in 1996. You know what, that was [an] enforcement-only bill in 1996, and we had 7 million undocumented in the country then. We’re at 12 [million] to 20 million now.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that in 1996 there were 5.6 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. The 7 million figure Brownback referenced was the estimate for 2000.

His range for the current number of unauthorized immigrants is off as well. The Pew Hispanic Center put the figure at 11.5 million to 12 million in 2006, and the Department of Homeland Security estimated the total to be 10.5 million in 2005. DHS recognizes that there is no definitive figure, because “there are no national surveys, administrative data, or other sources of information that directly provide accurate estimates of this population. As a consequence, the unauthorized immigrant population must be estimated by making certain assumptions and by combining data that measure events with those that measure populations.” However, that doesn’t mean 20 million is a legitimate estimate. That figure can be traced to a 2005 report by Bear Stearns, an investment firm, which said the number “may be as high as 20 million people” but bases that on anecdotal evidence and extrapolating “micro trends at the community level.”

While we're on the subject, Romney made an overly broad statement about the Senate's recently stalled immigration plan, saying, “it allows people who’ve come here illegally to stay here for the rest of their lives.” That's misleading. Romney ignores some significant hurdles illegal aliens must clear to qualify.

The Senate plan, which was endorsed by the Bush Administration, would have created a new legal status, the so-called “Z” visa, for which illegal aliens could apply. However, only a certain number of these visas would be available every year. Also, applicants would have to prove they're employed and verify that they have been in the country since January 1, 2007. They then would have to pay fines and fees up to $5,000 and an additional $4,000 when they applied for full U.S. citizenship — assuming they met the requisite language and civics requirements. And any formerly illegal aliens trying to become full citizens would still have to wait for the current backlog of applicants to clear.

Finally, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee doesn't get off scot-free — he wrongly stated that the night of the debate was President Ronald Reagan's birthday, when actually it was the anniversary of his death in 2004.

The next debate, between the Democratic candidates, is scheduled for June 28 at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University.

- by Viveca Novak, with Justin Bank, Jessica Henig, Emi Kolawole, Joe Miller, Lori Robertson, Stephen Simas, Carolyn Auwaerter and Allie Berkson

Commonwealth of Massachusetts . Commonwealth Connector Web site. 7 June 2007.

Kucinich, Dennis. Statement on Universal Health Care. Kucinich for President 2008 Web site. 7 June 2007.

Obama, Barack. “Barack’s Plan for a Healthy America.” Obama ’08 Web site. 7 June 2007.

Edwards, John. “Edwards Plan for Universal Health Care.” John Edwards 08 Web site. 7 June 2007.

Gravel, Mike. Statement on Universal Healthcare Vouchers. Mike Gravel for President Web site. 7 June 2007.
Radioactive Waste: Production, Storage, Disposal (NUREG/BR-0216, Rev. 2). -1 May 2002. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 7 June 2007.

"Timeline: Weapons Inspections." BBC News. 18 Nov. 2002. "U.N. Secretary General Orders Inspectors, Staff to Leave ." PBS Online NewsHour. 17 Mar. 2003.

Bush, George. "President Bush Welcomes President Kwasniewski to White House." The Oval Office, Washington , DC . 27 Jan. 2004.
Bush, George. "President Bush President Reaffirms Strong Position on . " The Oval Office, Washington , DC . 14 July 2003.

Bush, George. "President Bush Press Conference of the President." James S. Brady Briefing Room , Washington , DC. 21 Mar. 2006.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Office of Policy and Planning. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990 to 2000. Jan. 2003.

Passel, Jeffrey S. The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. Pew Hispanic Center. 7 Mar. 2006.

Hoefer, Michael, Rythina, Nancy, and Campbell, Christopher. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2005. August 2006. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics.