Friday, September 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


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

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

Now he has an answer.

"Childrens do learn," he said Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Runaway (Spending) Train

The New York Times
Runaway (Spending) Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

The New York Times
A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


New Test Asks: What Does ‘American’ Mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But several historians said the test appeared to be fair.

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

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

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

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

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


Top Republicans scolded for skipping black debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

period approaches.

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Overcome adversity'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ms Eckford was later joined by eight other pupils.

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

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

Story from BBC NEWS:


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

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

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

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

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

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

Recession risk

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

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

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

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

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

Story from BBC NEWS:


House Votes to Expand Insurance for Kids

House Votes to Expand Insurance for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The bill is Senate amendments to HR 976.


Democrat challenges spy chief's credibility

Democrat challenges spy chief's credibility
By Thomas Ferraro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FDA slow to improve import food safety: ex officials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Popcorn lung bill heads for House

Popcorn lung bill heads for House
By Kevin Drawbaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

No similar bill has been filed in the Senate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lawmaker says Rice interfered with Iraq inquiry

Lawmaker says Rice interfered with Iraq inquiry
By Sue Pleming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bush: Kids' health care will get vetoed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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