Thursday, May 11, 2006

USA Today: NSA building massive database of phone records

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a report that the government secretly collected records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country.

"It is our government, it's not one party's government. It's America's government. Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth telephone companies began turning over records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls to the National Security Agency program shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USA Today reported, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement.

The telephone companies on Thursday declined to comment on national security matters, and would say only that they are assisting government agencies in accordance with the law.

"We have been in full compliance with the law and we are committed to our customers' privacy," said Bob Varettoni, a spokesman for Verizon.

The White House defended its overall eavesdropping program and said no domestic surveillance is conducted without court approval.

"The intelligence activities undertaken by the United States government are lawful, necessary and required to protect Americans from terrorist attacks," said Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, who added that appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on intelligence activities.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel "to find out exactly what is going on."

Before the latest report, Specter said the committee "has been unable to perform our constitutional oversight responsibilities to determine the constitutionality of the program."

Leahy sounded incredulous about the latest report and railed against what he called a lack of congressional oversight. He argued that the media was doing the job of Congress.

"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda?" Leahy asked. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything ... Where does it stop?"

The Democrat, who at one point held up a copy of the newspaper, added: "Somebody ought to tell the truth and answer questions. They haven't. The press has done our work for us and we should be ashamed. Shame on us for being so far behind and being so willing to rubber stamp anything this administration does. We ought to fold our tents."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said bringing the telephone companies before the Judiciary Committee is an important step.

"We need more. We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake," Durbin said.

The program does not involve listening to or taping the calls. Instead it documents who talks to whom in personal and business calls, whether local or long distance, by tracking which numbers are called, the newspaper said.

The NSA and the Office of National Intelligence Director did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that has been acknowledged by President Bush. The president said last year that he authorized the NSA to listen, without warrants, to international phone calls involving Americans suspected of terrorist links.

Hayden's Capitol Hill visits canceled

The report came as the former NSA director, Gen. Michael Hayden -- Bush's choice to take over leadership of the CIA -- had been scheduled to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill. However, the meetings with Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were postponed at the request of the White House, congressional aides in the two Senate offices said.

The White House offered no reason for the postponement to the lawmakers. Other meetings with lawmakers were still planned.

Hayden faced criticism because of the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program. As head of the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005, Hayden also would have overseen the call-tracking program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who has spoken favorably of the nomination, said the latest revelation "is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of Gen. Hayden."

The NSA wants the database of domestic call records to look for any patterns that might suggest terrorist activity, USA Today said.

Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, told the paper that the agency operates within the law, but would not comment further on its operations.

One big telecommunications company, Qwest, has refused to turn over records to the program, the newspaper said, because of privacy and legal concerns.

Inquiry into eavesdropping killed

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the NSA refused to grant its lawyers the necessary security clearance. (Full story)

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the terrorist surveillance program "has been subject to extensive oversight both in the executive branch and in Congress from the time of its inception."

Roehrkasse noted the OPR's mission is not to investigate possible wrongdoing in other agencies, but to determine if Justice Department lawyers violated any ethical rules. He declined to comment when asked if the end of the inquiry meant the agency believed its lawyers had handled the wiretapping matter ethically.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Domestic spying inquiry killed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers security clearance.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax Wednesday to Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York saying it was closing its inquiry because without clearance it could not examine department lawyers' role in the program.

"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter with The Associated Press.

Jarrett wrote that beginning in January his office has made a series of requests for the necessary clearances. Those requests were denied Tuesday.

"Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation," Jarrett wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the terrorist surveillance program "has been subject to extensive oversight both in the executive branch and in Congress from the time of its inception."

Roehrkasse noted the OPR's mission is not to investigate possible wrongdoing in other agencies, but to determine if Justice Department lawyers violated any ethical rules.

He declined to comment when asked if the end of the inquiry meant the agency believed its lawyers had handled the wiretapping matter ethically.

Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program first revealed in December.

He said lawmakers would push to find out who at the NSA denied the Justice Department lawyers security clearance.

"This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them," Hinchey said.

In February, the OPR announced it would examine the conduct of its own agency's lawyers in the program, though they were not authorized to investigate NSA activities.

Bush's decision to authorize the largest U.S. spy agency to monitor people inside the United States, without warrants, generated a host of questions about the program's legal justification.

The administration has vehemently defended the eavesdropping, saying the NSA's activities were narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with suspected ties to the al Qaeda terror network.

Separately, the Justice Department sought last month to dismiss a federal lawsuit accusing the telephone company AT&T of colluding with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

The lawsuit, brought by an Internet privacy group, does not name the government as a defendant, but the Department of Justice has sought to quash the lawsuit, saying it threatens to expose government and military secrets.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Poll Gives Bush His Worst Marks Yet

Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans.

Mr. Bush's approval ratings for his management of foreign policy, Iraq and the economy have fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency. He drew poor marks on the issues that have been at the top of the national agenda in recent months, in particular immigration and gasoline prices.

Just 13 percent approved of Mr. Bush's handling of rising gasoline prices. About a quarter said they approved of his handling of immigration, as Congressional Republicans try to come up with a compromise for handling the influx of illegal immigrants into the country.

The poll showed a further decline in support for the Iraq war, the issue that has most eaten into Mr. Bush's public support. The percentage of respondents who said going to war in Iraq was the correct decision slipped to a new low of 39 percent, down from 47 percent in January. Two-thirds said they had little or no confidence that Mr. Bush could successfully end the war.

The poll comes six months before Election Day and well before Labor Day, when Congressional campaigns will be fully engaged. Mr. Bush has shaken up his staff in an effort to improve his political fortunes, and White House aides said they were confident that events in Iraq were improving and that the political effects of high gasoline prices could fade by the election.

Nevertheless, the Times/CBS News poll contained few if any bright notes for Mr. Bush or Congress.

Mr. Bush's political strength continues to dissipate. About two-thirds of poll respondents said he did not share their priorities, up from just over half right before his re-election in 2004. About two-thirds said the country was in worse shape than it was when he became president six years ago. Forty-two percent of respondents said they considered Mr. Bush a strong leader, a drop of 11 points since January.

Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating hit another new low, 31 percent, tying the low point of his father in July 1992, four months before the elder Mr. Bush lost his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton . That is the third lowest approval rating of any president in 50 years; only Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter were viewed less favorably.

Mr. Bush is even losing support from what has been his base: 51 percent of conservatives and 69 percent of Republicans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. In both cases, those figures are a substantial drop in support from four months ago.

"We should have stayed out of Iraq until we knew more about it," Bernice Davis, a Republican from Lamar, Mo., who said she now disapproved of Mr. Bush's performance, said in a follow-up interview on Tuesday. "The economy is going to pot. Gas prices are escalating. I just voted for Bush because he's a Republican, even though I disapproved of the war. If I could go back, I would not vote for him."

Although the composition of Congressional districts will make it hard for the Democrats to recapture control of Congress in the fall, the poll suggested that the trend was moving in their direction. Just 23 percent said they approved of the job Congress was doing, down from 29 percent in January. That is about the same level of support for Congress as in the fall of 1994, when Republicans seized control of the House.

Americans said Democrats would do a better job dealing with Iraq, gasoline prices, immigration, taxes, prescription drug prices and civil liberties.

Fifty percent said Democrats came closer than Republicans to sharing their moral values, compared with 37 percent who said Republicans shared their values. A majority said Republican members of Congress were more likely to be financially corrupt than Democratic members of Congress, suggesting that Democrats may be making headway in their efforts to portray Republicans as having created a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

By better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans. And half of respondents, the highest number yet, said it was better when different parties controlled the two branches of Congress, reflecting one of the major arguments being laid out by Congressional Democrats in their bid to win back the House or the Senate.

Americans said that Republicans would be better at maintaining a stronger military than Democrats. But the Republicans had only a slight edge on combating terrorism, an issue that has helped account for the party's political dominance since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The nationwide telephone poll, of 1,241 adults, was conducted from May 4 to May 8. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Seventy percent of respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction, compared with 23 percent who said they approved of the direction in which the country was heading. Those findings are not significantly different from the responses to a CBS News poll last week and suggest that Americans are more pessimistic about the country's direction than at any other time in the 23 years that The Times and CBS News have asked the question.

Immigration is another issue undercutting Republicans and Mr. Bush. As Republicans battle over how to respond to illegal immigration, the poll found considerable opposition to the strict measures being pressed by conservative Republicans in the House.

About 60 percent of respondents said they favored the plan proposed by some Republicans in the Senate that would permit illegal immigrants who had worked in the United States for at least two years to keep their jobs and apply for citizenship. Just 35 percent endorsed the view of some conservatives that illegal immigrants should be deported. Two-thirds opposed building a 700-mile fence along the United States-Mexican border.

The two biggest problems for Mr. Bush and Republicans are gasoline prices and Iraq. By 57 percent to 11 percent, respondents said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans to find a way to curb gasoline prices.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the increase in gasoline prices was not beyond the control of a president, but 89 percent said this administration did not have a plan to deal with the problem.

More than two-thirds said the war in Iraq was to blame for at least some of the increase in gasoline prices. Seventy-one percent said they believed that oil companies were profiting from higher prices, and a majority said oil companies were much closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party.

"Bush could put in some kind of regulation to control the profits of the oil companies," said Jane North, 43, a Republican from Reisterstown, Md., who said she recently changed her registration to Democrat. "He comes from the oil business, so he certainly knows how it works. I think Bush will just run out his term and not do anything to control gas prices."

On Iraq, two-thirds of poll respondents said they disapproved of how the president had handled the war. Fifty-six percent said going to war in the first place was a mistake, up from 50 percent in January. And 60 percent said things were going "somewhat or very badly" in the drive to stabilize the country. Sixty-three percent disapproved of Mr. Bush's handling of foreign policy in general.

Still, 55 percent said they believed the effort in Iraq was somewhat or very likely to succeed.

"We have enough problems here at home without worrying about Iraq," said Bill Trego, 64, a Republican from Waymart, Pa.

"I believed him at first, in the beginning," Mr. Trego said of Mr. Bush, "that there were weapons of mass destruction and if that was a fact, it was probably not a bad move to go in there. But they didn't find anything. When they couldn't prove it, I realized it was just a barefaced lie."

The problems plaguing the Republicans have clearly helped the Democrats: 55 percent said they now had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, compared with 37 percent with an unfavorable view. By contrast, 57 percent had an unfavorable view of Republicans, compared with 37 percent who had a favorable view.

The political situation has not helped some of the more prominent members of the Democratic Party. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was Mr. Bush's opponent in 2004, had a lower approval rating than Mr. Bush: 26 percent, down from 40 percent in a poll conducted right after the election.

And just 28 percent said they had a favorable view of Al Gore, one of Mr. Bush's more vocal critics.

Marjorie Connelly and Marina Stefan contributed reporting for this article.


Morgue's toll for April in Baghdad: 1,091 victims

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Baghdad's morgue reported that 1,091 people were killed in the city's daily violence in April, the Iraqi president's office said in a statement Wednesday.

In the upsurge in sectarian violence after the February 22 attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra, slain bodies have been found almost daily in the capital, many showing signs of being tortured.

The mosque attack inflamed tensions between Sunni Muslims, the Muslim sect that controlled Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign, and Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population.

"We feel shocked, saddened and angered," President Jalal Talabani said about the violence.

Talabani said these killings are no less dangerous to Iraqis than terror strikes. He called for all Iraqi security forces and political leaders to take immediate and forceful action to end the bloodshed.

Gunmen kill 11 workers

Gunmen killed 11 people riding a bus to work at a state-run electric company in Baquba, Iraq, on Wednesday morning, police said.

The attackers riddled the bus with bullets after pulling alongside in two vehicles, a police official said. Three other people were wounded.

Meanwhile, the toll from Tuesday night's suicide car bombing in a Shiite neighborhood in Tal Afar rose Wednesday to 20 dead and 37 wounded.

Tal Afar is near the Syrian border, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

President Bush recently cited Tal Afar as an example of the progress of coalition troops against the insurgency.

U.S. and Iraqi troops had pushed insurgents out of the city in 2004, but Tal Afar's security forces were unable to hold the city.

In September, U.S. and Iraqi troops reclaimed Tal Afar after a monthlong operation. ( Map)

Violence has persisted there, however. In March, just days after Bush's speech touting the success of Tal Afar, a suicide bomber killed 30 people at an Iraqi army recruiting center outside the city.

Other developments

  • Five detainees escaped Tuesday from a prison in a rugged and mountainous part of northeastern Iraq. "The detainees left their jump suits behind, and are believed to be wearing dark-colored underwear," a U.S. military spokesman said. Fort Suse in Sulaimaniya houses about 1,300 inmates.
  • Mohammed Musshab Talal, director of public relations for the Defense Ministry and a Finance Ministry employee, were shot dead Wednesday in separate incidents in Baghdad, police said.
  • Police found 14 bodies on Tuesday, three of them beheaded and clad in Iraqi military uniforms. The decapitated bodies and another corpse, which had been shot in the head, were discovered in Sawayra, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Ten other bodies were found across the capital. They all had been shot in the head.
  • The Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday it is searching for a security guard wanted in connection with an explosion this week at a bomb-making workshop in a Baghdad mosque. One person was killed and two others wounded in the blast. An arrest warrant has been issued for the chief of the security guards, who had a basement office near the site of the blast.
  • CNN's Jennifer Deaton and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    Amnesty: Torture 'widespread' in U.S. custody

    GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) -- Torture and inhumane treatment are "widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere despite Washington's denials, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

    In a report for the United Nations' Committee against Torture, the London, England-based human rights group also alleged abuses within the U.S. domestic law enforcement system, including use of excessive force by police and degrading conditions of isolation for inmates in high-security prisons.

    "Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody," Amnesty said in its 47-page report.

    It said that while Washington has sought to blame abuses that have recently come to light on "aberrant soldiers and lack of oversight," much ill-treatment stemmed from officially sanctioned interrogation procedures and techniques.

    "The U.S. government is not only failing to take steps to eradicate torture, it is actually creating a climate in which torture and other ill-treatment can flourish," said Amnesty International USA Senior Deputy Director-General Curt Goering.

    The U.N. committee, whose experts carry out periodic reviews of countries that have signed on to the U.N. Convention against Torture, is scheduled to begin consideration of the United States on Friday. The last U.S. review was in 2000.

    It said in November it was seeking U.S. answers to questions including whether Washington operated secret detention centers abroad and whether President Bush had the power to absolve anyone from criminal responsibility in torture cases.

    The committee also wanted to know whether a December 2004 memorandum from the U.S. attorney general's office, reserving the designation of torture as "extreme" acts of cruelty, was compatible with the global convention barring all forms of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

    'Until the end'

    In its own submission to the committee, published late last year, Washington justified the holding of thousands of foreign terrorism suspects in detention centers abroad, including Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, on the grounds that it was fighting a war that was still not over.

    "Like other wars, when they start, we do not know when they will end. Still, we may detain combatants until the end of the war," it said.

    The U.S. human rights image has taken a battering abroad over a string of scandals involving the sexual and physical abuse of detainees held by American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

    In its submission, Washington did not mention alleged secret detention centers.

    Amnesty listed a series of incidents in recent years involving torture of detainees in U.S. custody, noting the heaviest sentence given to perpetrators was five months in jail.

    This was the same punishment you could get for stealing a bicycle in the United States, it added.

    "Although the U.S. government continues to assert its condemnation of torture and ill-treatment, these statements contradict what is happening in practice," said Goering, referring to the testimony of alleged torture victims in the report.

    Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


    Saturday, April 22, 2006

    Kerry Accuses Bush of Stifling Dissent

    BOSTON - Those who disagree with the Bush administration's policies in

    Iraq face the same scornful charges that they are unpatriotic as Sen.
    John Kerry
    did 35 years ago when he spoke out against the Vietnam War, the Massachusetts Democrat said Saturday."I have come here today to reaffirm that it was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong. And to affirm that it is both a right and an obligation for Americans today to disagree with a President who is wrong, a policy that is wrong, and a war in Iraq that weakens the nation," Kerry said to a standing ovation Saturday at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall.

    Kerry's speech came 35 years to the day after he testified before the

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call for an end to the Vietnam war.

    "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Kerry said in 1971, a line that helped propel the decorated Navy combat veteran and Yale graduate onto the national stage.

    The same question applies today as Americans wrestle with the mounting death toll in Iraq, Kerry said, speaking before about 500 supporters who punctuated his speech at least 20 times with ovations.

    "Lives have been lost to bad decisions," Kerry said. "Not decisions that could have gone either way, but decisions that constitute basic negligence and incompetence. And lives continue to be lost because of stubbornness and pride."

    Kerry also blasted those who question the motivation of retired generals who have recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    "That is cheap and shameful," he said. "How dare those who never wore the uniform in battle attack those who wore it all their lives."

    A few scattered chants of "run" and "2008" were heard both before and after the speech. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, has not announced whether he would run in 2008.

    In response to Kerry's speech Saturday, a spokeswoman for the

    Republican National Committee denied the party questioned anyone's patriotism.

    "While we have never questioned Democrats' patriotism, we do question John Kerry's motives, considering his eagerness to engage in political theatrics as he ponders a presidential run," Tracey Schmitt said.

    Kerry reiterated his position that American troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year, saying that Iraqi politicians only respond to deadlines.

    Kerry said while Iraq is different from Vietnam, there are some critical parallels.

    "We are in the same place as we were when I came home from Vietnam and spoke out against the civilian leaders who were willing to sacrifice America's best in the interest of political self-preservation," he said.


    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    The Arguments Against Abortion Fall Short

    The underpinnings of "pro-life" thinking are patently fallacious. Take for example:

    • There is something sacred about being human. You know, the "created in His image" nonsense. Since no one knows what "His image" looks like, how can we compare ours to His? Despite the extensive paleontological and biological evidence for evolutionary relatedness of humans to other animals, including some of the best behavioral qualities attributed to humans such as empathy and altruism, pro-life thinkers typically don't have any problem with killing non-human animals or their fetuses. So, they are not pro-life, per se, but rather defenders of the sacredness of human life. This is an attempt to defend an inscrutable and indefensible religious concept.

    • There is something special about the "next generation" that trumps the needs of the present generation. The preference goes to the fetus even when pregnancy threatens the mother's life, without regard that the fetus could become a motherless child should the mother die or become incapacitated. Carrying the pregnancy could be the ruination of the mother's life, but does not matter to pro-lifers.

    • Life begins at conception. So what? See the first point.

    • Maintenance of biological life (human, that is) is paramount regardless of the quality and consciousness. Isn't it the height of unempathetic arrogance to dictate to someone that she should tolerate unrelenting pain or debilitation? Isn't it cruel and condescending to discount the painful efforts and financial costs that families must bear to maintain biological functions of a brain-dead relative? Might not the god they evoke to defend the life-support efforts have intended death (after all, "He" arranged the life-threatening injury or illness)?

    Don't have an abortion if you don't want one, but stay out of other peoples' business. 

    Richard Huhn
    New London

    President Places The Ultimate Sucker's Bet With Leak To Libby

    It's the ol' heads-I-win, tails-you-lose deal, the ultimate sucker's bet.

    If President Bush leaks, he's just being, well, presidential. Hail to the chief. If others leak, and if any journalist catches the spill, then leaker and leakee are being unpatriotic and are endangering our troops. Shame on them.

    Or so it seems from testimony that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, gave to a grand jury investigating the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in that still-unresolved matter, in which this latest contretemps is tangled but not directly implicated.

    Libby says that Bush, through Cheney, authorized him to reveal classified security information supporting the administration's claim — a big part of its case for war —that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for uranium ore in Niger.

    As Plame's outing had been, too, the leak was designed to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson, incidentally Plame's husband, who had revealed in a newspaper article that he had investigated in Niger for the CIA and had reported at the time that the uranium tale was highly doubtful. It has since been shown to have been a sham.

    Wilson's blockbuster article had landed in a period when Bush's whole argument for the Iraq war — WMDs and all the rest — was being unmasked as a patchwork of bad intelligence, iffy intelligence and exaggerated intelligence meant to justify a policy war the White House had been bent on from the start.

    Libby's testimony, the blockbuster du jour, has not been disputed by the White House, which in its defense argues that the president has the authority to declassify material and that in doing so it acts in order to keep the public fully informed.

    Typically, declassification is a careful, deliberative process, not impulsive, and sneaking word to a single, favored reporter on background — that is, without attribution — is hardly the customary way for the government to inform the public.

    It is not even clear that the security information was formally declassified. Libby argues, in apparent mimicry of the president and vice president, that the material was "effectively declassified by virtue of the president's authorization that it be disclosed."

    This is all of a piece with this administration's astonishing and aggrandizing claim that, as commander-in-chief, the president can ignore laws and treaties he finds bothersome, imprison suspects at will and indefinitely and spy on Americans' international communications without securing warrants. (And last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in House testimony, refused to rule out domestic-only spying.)

    Now this from an administration that has repeatedly inveighed against others' leaks, even going so far as to threaten, under the rarely invoked Espionge Act, to prosecute and potentially imprison journalists who report the leaks.

    So the president can slip any secret information into play that will serve his political interests, as was clearly the game in this matter, but government whistle blowers and journalists who are trying to get the story straight could face prison.

    It's Bushworld's version of fair's fair.

    Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: teepencolumn@coxnews.com. 


    White House Wagging The Camel?

    Talk about a fearful symmetry. Iran was whipping up real uranium while America was whipped up by fake uranium.

    Obsessed with going to war against a Middle East country that had no nuclear weapon, the Bush administration lost focus on and leverage over a Middle East country hurtling toward a nuclear weapon.

    That's after the Bush crew lost focus on and leverage over an Asian country that says it has now produced a whole bunch of nuclear weapons.

    To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, these guys wouldn't have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet.

    While Dick Cheney was getting booed as he threw out the first pitch for the Nationals — it bounced in the dirt and Scooter wasn't even there to catch it — Iran was jubilantly welcoming itself to the nuclear club and spitting in the eye of the United States and United Nations.

    Speaking before a mural of fluttering white doves, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bragged that his scientists had concocted enriched uranium. They will now churn out nuclear fuel as fast as they can.

    Are they making a bomb? Nah, said the Iranian president, furthest thing from their minds.

    Are we going to bomb them before they can get a bomb? Nah, said the American president, furthest thing from our minds.

    Bush's embarrassment

    The nuclear doves announcement was embarrassing for Bush, who had said on Monday that he was determined to prevent Iran from getting the know-how to enrich uranium. But the Persian logic cannot be faulted. If you pretend to have WMD, the U.S. may come and get you. Ask Saddam. If you really have WMD, you're bulletproof. Ask Kim Jong Il.

    I'm sure the mad-as-cheese Ahmadinejad cannot believe his luck. The down-the-rabbit-hole Bush administration is tied up in Iraq, helping to create a theocracy friendly to Iran while leaving Iran to do whatever it wants on WMD.

    In this week's New Yorker, Seymour Hersh writes about the Pentagon planning for a possible strike against the nutty "apocalyptic Shiites," as the former CIA agent Robert Baer calls the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad and his chorus line of clerics.

    Hersh quotes a source close to the Pentagon saying that Bush believes "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy." Which makes sense, in a wag-the-camel way, since saving Iraq is not going to be his legacy.

    The Bush hawks, who have already proven themselves cultural cretins in Iraq, seem to still be a long way from that humble foreign policy they promised. A former defense official told Hersh that the plan was based on an administration belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." The official's reaction: "What are they smoking?"

    Just as Rummy dismissed questions back in August 2002 about a possible invasion of Iraq as a media "frenzy" — even as plans were well under way — the defense chief shrugged off the New Yorker story as "Henny Penny, the sky is falling."

    Noting that the president is "on a diplomatic track," He Who Should Be Fired said that while W. was obviously concerned about Iran as a country that supports terrorists and wants WMD, "it is just simply not useful to get into fantasyland."

    Yes, the reality-based community of journalists should stay out of fantasyland, which is already overcrowded with hallucinatory Bushies.

    W. defended his authorization of a leak to rebut Joseph Wilson's contention that the administration had hyped up a story about Niger selling uranium to Saddam. "I wanted people to see the truth," the president said.

    Lies to help the cause

    Of course, sometimes in order to help people see the truth, you've got to tell them a big fat lie.

    As David Sanger and David Barstow wrote in The New York Times on Sunday, Scooter's leak about Saddam's efforts to obtain uranium had already been debunked by the time he leaked it. Colin Powell had told The Times that intelligence agencies were "no longer carrying it as a credible item" by early 2003, when the secretary of state was preparing to make the case against Iraq at the U.N. Only Scooter and Dick Cheney were willing to use a faulty bit of intelligence to defend their war scam.

    With Watergate, reporters followed the money. With Monica, Ken Starr followed the stain. With W. and his bananas second banana, Patrick Fitzgerald is following the uranium. All he needs is a Geiger counter.

    Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.


    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    President Bush critics alarmed over reports of possible Iran strike

    GG2.NET NEWS [10/04/2006]


    CRITICS of the George W Bush administration expressed alarm about explosive new reports that the president is mulling military options to knock out Iran's nuclear program.

    Retired General Anthony Zinni, the former head of US Central Command, told US television on Sunday that he had no detailed knowledge of the alleged military plans, but he suggested a preemptive strike against Iran`s nuclear program would be extremely risky.

    "Any military plan involving Iran is going to be very difficult. We should not fool ourselves to think it will just be a strike and then it will be over," said Zinni.

    "The Iranians will retaliate, and they have many possibilities in an area where there are many vulnerabilities, from our troop positions to the oil and gas in the region that can be interrupted, to attacks on Israel, to the conduct of terrorism," he said.

    Zinni made his remarks after the publication of a pair of reports this weekend saying that the administration is seriously considering military action against Iran, amid a stalemate in diplomatic efforts.


    Rice on Iran: 'We can't let this continue'

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that it is "time for action" on the international demands for Iran to cease its uranium enrichment activities.

    Iran said Tuesday it had enriched uranium at a level of concentration high enough to operate a nuclear power plant, defying last month's U.N. Security Council presidential statement calling for Tehran to suspend the program.

    "When the Security Council reconvenes [later this month], I think it will be time for action," Rice said. "We can't let this continue."

    Rice did not elaborate on what type of action the Security Council should take, but senior State Department officials said it could include a move to impose a travel ban against Iranian officials and freezing assets of the regime.


    Bush, Justice Department get 'Muzzles'

    RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- President Bush and the Justice Department are among the winners of the 2006 Jefferson Muzzle awards, given by a free-speech group to those it considers the most egregious First Amendment violators in the past year.

    Bush led the list, compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, for authorizing the National Security Agency to tap the phones of U.S. citizens who make calls overseas. The wiretaps were conducted without authorization from a federal court. The White House defended the warrantless wiretapping program as necessary to fight terrorism.

    The Justice Department earned a Muzzle for demanding that Google turn over thousands of Internet records, prompting concerns that more invasive requests could follow if the government prevails.

    "If individuals are fearful that their communications will be intercepted by the government, such fears are likely to chill their speech," the Jefferson center said.

    Other winners of the 15th annual awards include the Department of Homeland Security for barring an air marshal from expressing concerns about public safety; the Yelm, Washington, City Council for banning the words "Wal-Mart" and "big-box stores" at public hearings; and students at the University of Connecticut who heckled conservative columnist Ann Coulter.

    The center, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, awards the Muzzles each year to mark the April 13 birthday of Thomas Jefferson, the third president and a First Amendment advocate.

    As in the past, this year's winners reflect concern about "the overextension of government authority into areas that clearly affect our lives and chill and inhibit our ability to express views," center director Robert M. O'Neil told The Associated Press.

    Since The New York Times disclosed the surveillance program's existence in December, it has become the target of harsh criticism, several lawsuits and a congressional investigation. John W. Dean, who was Richard Nixon's White House counsel, remarked that the domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss.

    Google draws a line in the sand

    In the Google case, the Justice Department demanded search records to buttress its defense of a law aimed at protecting children from Internet pornography. Google resisted turning over any information because of user privacy and trade secret concerns. Other Internet providers -- including AOL, Yahoo and MSN -- complied with the government's demand.

    "Google appears to be the only one that drew a line in the sand," O'Neil said. "We commend their insistence that aggregate data could end up identifying a particular subscriber."

    The Department of Homeland Security won its Muzzle for taking air marshal Frank Terreri off flight duty after he e-mailed colleagues expressing concerns about air-security risks. The federal policy curbing such activity was modified, and Terreri was allowed back on duty. But he sued, contending the department's rules still restrict employees' right to free speech.

    In Yelm, Washington, the city council banned discussion of a plan by Wal-Mart to build a super center after many opponents sought to express their views. When that didn't squelch opposition, the council voted in June to prohibit citizens from using the terms "Wal-Mart" or "big-box stores" at public meetings.

    Hecklers at the University of Connecticut earned a Muzzle for drowning out Coulter's speech in December. People have a right to express their disagreement with a speaker, the free-expression center said, but preventing fellow audience members from hearing the message is contrary to the First Amendment's spirit.

    Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House

    By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 6, 2006; A27

    Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

    Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

    These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.

    "There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."

    Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water supply.

    Once in 2002, Milly said, Interior officials declined to issue a news release on grounds that it would cause "great problems with the department." In November 2005, they agreed to issue a release on a different climate-related paper, Milly said, but "purged key words from the releases, including 'global warming,' 'warming climate' and 'climate change.' "

    Administration officials said they are following long-standing policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.

    "We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or broadcast."

    Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts. Tans and others disregarded that advice.

    None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from $241 million in 2004.

    The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

    Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the crowd.

    NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."

    "I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."

    NOAA scientists, however, cite repeated instances in which the administration played down the threat of climate change in their documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy.

    In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report had several references to global warming, including "Mass bleaching . . . affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated with global change."

    A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several others mentioning climate change.

    NOAA has yet to release the report on coral bleaching. James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report because "its scientific basis was so inadequate." Now that it is revised, he said, he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to approve it. "I just did not think it was ready for prime time," Mahoney said. "It was not just about climate change -- there were a lot of things."

    On other occasions, Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. Konrad Steffen directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA-university institute with a $40 million annual budget. Steffen studies the Greenland ice sheet, and when his work was cited last spring in a major international report on climate change in the Arctic, he and another NOAA lab director from Alaska received a call from Mahoney in which he told them not to give reporters their opinions on global warming.

    Steffen said that he told him that although Mahoney has considerable leverage as "the person in command for all research money in NOAA . . . I was not backing down."

    Mahoney said he had "no recollection" of the conversation, which took place in a conference call. "It's virtually inconceivable that I would have called him about this," Mahoney said, though he added: "For those who are government employees, our position is they should not typically render a policy view."

    Tans, whose interviews with the BBC crew were monitored by Laborde, said Laborde has not tried to interfere with the interviews. But Tans said he did not understand why he now needs an official "minder" from Washington to observe his discussions with the media. "It used to be we could say, 'Okay, you're welcome to come in, let's talk,' " he said. "There was never anything of having to ask permission of anybody."

    The need for clearance from Washington, several NOAA scientists said, amounts to a "pocket veto" allowing administration officials to block interviews by not giving permission in time for journalists' deadlines.

    Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer's colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only "a partial sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate change.

    "American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we're doing," he said.

    Researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.


    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Study: Bush tax cuts making rich richer

    Report: The wealthiest Americans are reaping huge gains from reduced taxes on investment income.

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - President Bush's tax cuts for investment income have significantly lowered the tax burden on the richest Americans, reducing taxes on incomes of more than $10 million by an average of about $500,000, according to a report Wednesday.

    An analysis of Internal Revenue Service data by The New York Times found that the benefit of the lower taxes on investments was more concentrated on the very wealthiest Americans than the benefits of President Bush's two previous tax cuts.

    The Times analyzed IRS figures for 2003, the latest year available and the first that reflected the tax cuts for income from dividends and from the sale of stock and other assets, known as capital gains.

    According to the study, taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million reduced their investment tax bill by an average of about $500,000 in 2003, and their total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million.

    These taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000 because of the lowered rates on investment income.

    Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each.

    The newspaper's tax cut analysis showed that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.

    And the savings from the investment tax cuts are expected to be larger in subsequent years because of gains in the stock market.

    Congress is now debating whether to make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

    Stephen Entin, president of the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation, a Washington organization, told the Times that the tax cuts did not go far enough because the more money the wealthiest had to invest, the more that would go to investments that produce jobs.

    Opponents told the newspaper the cuts are too generous to those who already have plenty. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said after seeing the new figures that "these tax cuts are beyond irresponsible" when "we're in a war; we haven't fixed Social Security or Medicare; we've got record deficits."


    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Bush Admin. $15B AIDS Plan Questioned

    By RITA BEAMISH Tue Apr 4, 6:18 PM ET

    The Bush administration's $15 billion global

    AIDS initiative is emphasizing sexual abstinence and fidelity more than Congress intended, and that focus is undermining prevention efforts in poor countries, congressional investigators said Tuesday.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    U.S. teams on the ground in Africa and other poor areas told Congress'

    Government Accountability Office that the requirement that they spend a specific percentage of their money on abstinence is hurting some efforts to tailor prevention programs to countries' needs.

    The directives are creating confusion and forcing reduction in some programs deemed necessary for pregnant women, high-risk groups like truck drivers and sex workers, married couples and sexually active youths, the GAO said.

    President Bush's five-year plan touts a three-pronged approach to AIDS prevention — commonly called "ABC" — that combines abstinence, fidelity ("being faithful") and condoms in target countries.

    The GAO reported there was "general consensus" among public health experts internationally that the three-pronged prevention approach "can have a positive impact in combating

    HIV/AIDS."

    But it recommended Congress evaluate the effectiveness of the abstinence spending formulas, and the administration consider changing how it implements the law. "Lack of clarity in the ABC guidance has created challenges for a majority of focus country teams," the GAO reported.

    "For example, although the guidance restricts activities promoting condom use, it does not clearly delineate the difference between condom education and condom promotion, causing uncertainty over whether certain condom-related activities are permissible," the report said.

    The State Department told the GAO it will work to change the regulations to make them clearer.

    The GAO also said the administration has gone beyond the abstinence requirement for a major new account Congress created to fight AIDS, mostly in 15 target countries with high rates of the disease. Congress said a third of those prevention funds must go to abstinence and fidelity programs.

    The administration, however, extended the same spending formulas to other U.S. funds that fight HIV/AIDS in countries around the world, drawing sharp criticism from some Congress members and activists.

    Mark Dybul, the State Department's deputy global AIDS coordinator, said the Bush administration believes all three components need to be emphasized in all 120 countries that get U.S. money for HIV/AIDS, not just the target countries.

    "It's important to have guidance that shifted us from where we were, which was not a good situation," he said. "It was too much 'C' (condoms)" prior to Bush's three-year-old program, he added.

    As to the GAO's finding that the approach is undermining some anti-AIDS efforts, Dybul said, "There are always challenges when you are changing things." He said U.S. teams in some countries exceeded the minimum required spending for abstinence because they found it was the most effective strategy.

    The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the administration has handed out nearly one-quarter of its AIDS grants to religious groups, and has been aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condoms.

    Dybul said Congress, which increased Bush's overall AIDS money requests, allocated 12 percent less than Bush asked for the 15 target countries. That extra money could have beefed up all prevention strategies instead of forcing teams on the ground to make tradeoffs, he said.

    The report re-ignited debate over how best to fight HIV/AIDS. Rep. Barbara Lee ( news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., said it "demonstrates the Bush administration's willingness to make AIDS prevention policy a political plaything in their ongoing effort to appease the radical right."

    Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., defended the administration's approach, saying the report was "politically biased."

    "One of the most underreported international stories is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the ABC approach are working," Smith said.

    GAO report author David Gootnick said the nonpartisan agency used standards that were "methodologically rigorous, vetted extensively," including a standard set of questions and evaluations for U.S. field workers.

    The GAO surveyed the 15 target countries, plus five others that receive more than $10 million in U.S. help to fight the epidemic.

    U.S. teams in 17 countries told the GAO that meeting the spending requirements for abstinence and fidelity "challenges their ability to develop interventions that are responsive to local epidemiology and social norms."

    While Bush's AIDS program also includes unprecedented spending for treatment and care, the GAO report focused on prevention.

    The administration follows a congressional recommendation that 20 percent of the overall AIDS money be reserved for preventing HIV/AIDS, and mandates a third of prevention money emphasize abstinence until marriage and faithfulness to one partner. The rest goes to condoms and efforts to reduce mother-to-child transmission and intravenous transmission.

    The Bush administration refined the mandate to require that half of all prevention money be reserved for programs against sexual transmission of HIV, with two-thirds of that amount for abstinence and fidelity.

    Rep. Henry Waxman ( news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State

    Condoleezza Rice, said those abstinence messages don't always work in countries with high rates of sexual transmission.

    "The effect may well be to misallocate funds in countries with fast-growing HIV epidemics driven primarily by intravenous drug use or commercial sex, such as Russia and India," Waxman said.


    Bush Admin. $15B AIDS Plan Questioned

    By RITA BEAMISH Tue Apr 4, 6:18 PM ET

    The Bush administration's $15 billion global

    AIDS initiative is emphasizing sexual abstinence and fidelity more than Congress intended, and that focus is undermining prevention efforts in poor countries, congressional investigators said Tuesday.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    U.S. teams on the ground in Africa and other poor areas told Congress'

    Government Accountability Office that the requirement that they spend a specific percentage of their money on abstinence is hurting some efforts to tailor prevention programs to countries' needs.

    The directives are creating confusion and forcing reduction in some programs deemed necessary for pregnant women, high-risk groups like truck drivers and sex workers, married couples and sexually active youths, the GAO said.

    President Bush's five-year plan touts a three-pronged approach to AIDS prevention — commonly called "ABC" — that combines abstinence, fidelity ("being faithful") and condoms in target countries.

    The GAO reported there was "general consensus" among public health experts internationally that the three-pronged prevention approach "can have a positive impact in combating

    HIV/AIDS."

    But it recommended Congress evaluate the effectiveness of the abstinence spending formulas, and the administration consider changing how it implements the law. "Lack of clarity in the ABC guidance has created challenges for a majority of focus country teams," the GAO reported.

    "For example, although the guidance restricts activities promoting condom use, it does not clearly delineate the difference between condom education and condom promotion, causing uncertainty over whether certain condom-related activities are permissible," the report said.

    The State Department told the GAO it will work to change the regulations to make them clearer.

    The GAO also said the administration has gone beyond the abstinence requirement for a major new account Congress created to fight AIDS, mostly in 15 target countries with high rates of the disease. Congress said a third of those prevention funds must go to abstinence and fidelity programs.

    The administration, however, extended the same spending formulas to other U.S. funds that fight HIV/AIDS in countries around the world, drawing sharp criticism from some Congress members and activists.

    Mark Dybul, the State Department's deputy global AIDS coordinator, said the Bush administration believes all three components need to be emphasized in all 120 countries that get U.S. money for HIV/AIDS, not just the target countries.

    "It's important to have guidance that shifted us from where we were, which was not a good situation," he said. "It was too much 'C' (condoms)" prior to Bush's three-year-old program, he added.

    As to the GAO's finding that the approach is undermining some anti-AIDS efforts, Dybul said, "There are always challenges when you are changing things." He said U.S. teams in some countries exceeded the minimum required spending for abstinence because they found it was the most effective strategy.

    The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the administration has handed out nearly one-quarter of its AIDS grants to religious groups, and has been aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condoms.

    Dybul said Congress, which increased Bush's overall AIDS money requests, allocated 12 percent less than Bush asked for the 15 target countries. That extra money could have beefed up all prevention strategies instead of forcing teams on the ground to make tradeoffs, he said.

    The report re-ignited debate over how best to fight HIV/AIDS. Rep. Barbara Lee ( news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., said it "demonstrates the Bush administration's willingness to make AIDS prevention policy a political plaything in their ongoing effort to appease the radical right."

    Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., defended the administration's approach, saying the report was "politically biased."

    "One of the most underreported international stories is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the ABC approach are working," Smith said.

    GAO report author David Gootnick said the nonpartisan agency used standards that were "methodologically rigorous, vetted extensively," including a standard set of questions and evaluations for U.S. field workers.

    The GAO surveyed the 15 target countries, plus five others that receive more than $10 million in U.S. help to fight the epidemic.

    U.S. teams in 17 countries told the GAO that meeting the spending requirements for abstinence and fidelity "challenges their ability to develop interventions that are responsive to local epidemiology and social norms."

    While Bush's AIDS program also includes unprecedented spending for treatment and care, the GAO report focused on prevention.

    The administration follows a congressional recommendation that 20 percent of the overall AIDS money be reserved for preventing HIV/AIDS, and mandates a third of prevention money emphasize abstinence until marriage and faithfulness to one partner. The rest goes to condoms and efforts to reduce mother-to-child transmission and intravenous transmission.

    The Bush administration refined the mandate to require that half of all prevention money be reserved for programs against sexual transmission of HIV, with two-thirds of that amount for abstinence and fidelity.

    Rep. Henry Waxman ( news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State

    Condoleezza Rice, said those abstinence messages don't always work in countries with high rates of sexual transmission.

    "The effect may well be to misallocate funds in countries with fast-growing HIV epidemics driven primarily by intravenous drug use or commercial sex, such as Russia and India," Waxman said.


    DeLay to Resign From Congress

    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, April 4, 2006; 1:18 PM

    Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a primary architect of the Republican majority who became one of the most powerful and feared leaders in Washington, said today that he will give up his seat rather than face a "nasty" and expensive reelection fight that was becoming a referendum on his ethical troubles.

    In a statement posted on his Web site and in a videotaped message aired this morning on stations in his home district, DeLay said he plans to resign the seat he has held for more than two decades "sometime before mid-June" but will continue to wage "the important cultural and political battles of our day" as a private citizen.

    A defiant DeLay declared he had "no regrets" and he professed "no fear" of any investigation as he railed against "liberal Democrats," vowing to deny them the chance to win his seat with a campaign highlighting a host of legal difficulties and alleged ethics violations. Polls showed that DeLay's latest reelection bid appeared increasingly likely to end in defeat.

    The decision, first reported last night, came three days after Tony C. Rudy, his former deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and corruption charges, telling federal prosecutors of a criminal enterprise being run out of DeLay's leadership offices. Rudy's plea agreement did not implicate DeLay in any illegal activities, but by placing the influence-buying efforts of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff directly in DeLay's operation, the former aide may have made an already difficult reelection bid all but out of reach.

    In a separate case, DeLay was indicted last year in connection with the alleged laundering of corporate political contributions that prosecutors say were illegally routed to state legislative candidates as part of a plan to secure Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.


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