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Leading Economic Indicators Drop
AP/NY Times
April 21, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- A forecast of the U.S. economy's direction pointed southward in March, indicating more slow growth, as consumers and businesses were fixated on the war.

But with the conflict virtually over, preliminary data for April were more promising -- holding out hope for a possible turnaround later this year.

The New York-based Conference Board said Monday that its Index of Leading Economic Indicators, which measures where the economy is headed in the next three to six months, fell by 0.2 percent last month to 110.6. That was in line with analysts' expectations and followed a revised drop of 0.5 percent in February and an 0.1 percent increase in January.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein raised concern over a possible slowdown in consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity.

``In addition to intensified nervousness over oil prices, war, and the potential of a terror attack, it is the more fundamental plummeting of consumer expectations that raises the specter of a fall-off in consumption growth,'' he said.

Ed Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management in Boston, agreed the war was ``a drag on the economy'' in March, but he believes consumer consumption will remain on track now that the battle appears over.

``People have been worried about that for a long, long time. As long as unemployment stays below 6 percent, there isn't really a big problem with consumer spending,'' he said. ``It got soft mostly because of the war. People got caught up watching the war, instead of doing what Americans are supposed to be doing -- spending.''

Some had hoped the end of the war would motivate businesses to make big capital investments, but the Conference Board warned that history may repeat itself.

``A decade ago, the end of fighting (in the Persian Gulf War) didn't deliver much impetus to the domestic economy,'' Goldstein said. ``As was the case then, an end to the fighting may do little to change trends in the U.S. economy.''

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators, which includes 10 components, stood at 100 in 1996, its base year.

For March, half of the factors rose, such as stock prices and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials. The negative contributors were a drop in building permits and real money supply, higher average weekly unemployment claims and lower consumer expectations.

Some of the indicators are already in for April and are reversing recent declines, particularly in money supply, the stock market, building permits and the yield curve.

``What happens to the rest of the indicators could balance that, offset that or reinforce it -- and that's what we don't know yet,'' Goldstein said.

Based on early April data, Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for the research firm High Frequency Economics of Valhalla, N.Y., said ``a sustained run of declines now seems unlikely'' for the index -- a positive indicator for the broader economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 8.75, or 0.1 percent, at 8,328.90, having gained 1.6 percent last week.

The broader market also fell slightly. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 1.13, or 0.1 percent, to 1,424.37, following a weekly advance of 4.9 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 1.57, or 0.2 percent, to 892.01, after climbing 2.9 percent last week.

The coincident index, which measures current economic activity, held steady at 115.3 in March after falling 0.2 percent in February. The Conference Board said this index is unlikely to move significantly because the economy is not really going anywhere. During the six-month period through March, the coincident index increased only 0.1 percent.

The lagging index, which tracks past economic changes, fell 0.1 percent to 99.2 last month.

On the Net:

http://www.conference-board.org/

Commentary:
Wait a minute. I thought tax cuts were supposed to stimulate the economy and generate the surpluses Bush needed to pay for his tax cut and defense spending (a silly concept if ever there was one). After two years of tax cuts and rebates the economy is dead in the water and we have the largest deficit in US history. The deficit in the first six months of the fiscal year is over $250 billion, which will easily break Bush Sr.'s previous record. It'd be nice if conservatives were right once in awhile--ya know, so we'd be playing a fair game. As it stands now, every concept of conservatism has proven to a lie ro failure.

So far this fiscal year, that $250 billion deficit is really a $250 billion tax increase. At this rate, Bush will give us more future taxes than Reagan.


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Bill to Bar Suits Against Gun Industry Stuns Crime Victims
NY Times
April 21, 2003
By FOX BUTTERFIELD

WASHINGTON, April 17 — Conrad Johnson, a bus driver in Montgomery County, Md., was standing on the top step of his bus last Oct. 22, getting ready for his morning route, when he was shot once in the back and killed.

For Mr. Johnson's wife, Denise, it was an incomprehensible act. Now she is confronting another action that she says is nearly as baffling.

Mrs. Johnson has filed a lawsuit against the gun shop, Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Wash., that supplied the gun, a Bushmaster rifle, to one of two men charged in the sniper attacks that killed her husband and nine others last fall. She has also sued the rifle's manufacturer. But last week the House of Representatives, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, passed a bill granting the gun industry nationwide immunity from virtually all lawsuits. The Senate is expected to take up the bill after the Easter recess.

So Mrs. Johnson is hurriedly trying to turn herself into a lobbyist, going to news conferences in the Capitol and working Senate offices to tell her story.

"When I heard that Congress is seriously considering giving gun dealers special protection from suits like mine, I figured this had to be some kind of bad dream," Mrs. Johnson said in an interview, after attending a news conference with Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey. "I'm appalled and outraged that Congress can take away my rights as an American to have my day in court."

The suit by Mrs. Johnson, which is likely to be joined by seven other victims or families of victims of the Washington-area sniper attacks, is one of many suits that would be stopped if the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Bush. The bill would make gun dealers and gunmakers the only industry in the nation exempt from lawsuits.

Lawrence G. Keane, the general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry trade association, said the legislation was needed to "prevent frivolous, politically motivated lawsuits" that may "bankrupt responsible companies by blaming them for the actions of criminals."

The industry is facing suits by almost 30 cities and counties, including ones by Cleveland and Cincinnati that judges have ruled can go to trial, and others by Chicago, Detroit, Newark and New York at various stages in proceedings.

There is also a suit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that is being tried in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. The N.A.A.C.P. has accused gunmakers and dealers of negligently helping supply criminals with guns in a way that disproportionately harms poor African-Americans.

There are also many suits by individuals, including one by two New Jersey police officers, David Lemongello and Ken McGuire, who are suing a pawnshop in West Virginia that sold a semiautomatic pistol used to badly wound them while they staked out a gasoline station that had been repeatedly robbed.

An investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that the gun had been sold to a gun trafficker, James Gray, who was legally prohibited from buying the weapon because he was a felon.

Mr. Gray went into the store, Will's Jewelry and Loan, in Charleston, W.Va., and handed thousands of dollars in cash to an accomplice after pointing out 12 guns he wanted to buy. The accomplice, who had no criminal record, then bought the guns for him, in front of the store owner, in what is known as a straw purchase.

Federal firearms law prohibits straw purchases, but they are one of the most common ways that criminals get guns.

Mr. Gray, who lived in New Jersey, resold the guns on the black market, court records show, including one to Shuntez Everett, a career criminal who soon used it to shoot the two officers at the gasoline station, in Orange, N.J. Mr. Everett died in a shootout with the police after shooting Officers Lemongello and McGuire, hitting both in the chest and the stomach and one officer in an arm and the other in a leg.

Both men have had to retire because of the severity of their wounds.

Mr. Lemongello was the one witness the Republicans who control the House Judiciary Committee allowed to testify against the gun industry immunity bill earlier this month.

In an interview afterward, Mr. Lemongello, 32, said the shooting had deprived him of his lifelong dream of being a police officer and that he had been eager to sue the Charleston gun shop, which is still in business and has not been prosecuted.

"But then I heard about this bill in Congress that would do nothing but protect bad dealers, and I felt sick and angry," Mr. Lemongello said.

"I'm not looking to put the gun industry out of business," he said. "I believe in the right to bear arms. I own a gun. I was a police officer and a police firearms instructor.

"But this case is a no-brainer," Mr. Lemongello said. "We are going after one bad dealer and one irresponsible manufacturer who didn't monitor what its dealers did."

The N.R.A. and the gun industry have made passing the immunity bill their main legislative priority this year. The Web site of the gun industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, has an appeal for gun enthusiasts to write their congressmen to support the bill.

In the Senate, the bill has 52 co-sponsors, enough to pass it if there is no Democratic filibuster.

Mrs. Johnson, who was not allowed to testify, said she was not suing to win money. "This is about making these companies do things responsibly."

Bull's Eye, the Tacoma gun shop, is still in business, and Bushmaster is still selling rifles, Mrs. Johnson said, though a series of inspections by the federal firearms bureau found that the store could not account for 238 guns in its inventory in the last three years.

A spokesman for the United States attorney's office in Seattle said that Bull's Eye was under investigation.

But Scott McKenna, a spokesman for the federal firearms agency in Seattle, said the bureau had not been able to determine whether Bull's Eye had illegally sold the rifle to one of the sniper suspects without recording the sale or whether the gun had been stolen.

Copyright 2003 NY Times

Commentary:
Two quick points. Republicans will do anything to protect those who buy them power including denying the right to have a trial by jury for those who feel wronged. Every penny they spend on court battles, means that much less they can spend to buy your favorite congressperson, senator or president.

Second, conservatives also think some groups of American companies need "special rights,' not because they're discriminated against, or hated, not because of race, or sexual orientation, but instead they need special rights because they give republicans lots of money. Show me where in the Constitution it says the Congress has the power to give industries the right to deny citizens their Constitutional rights? It's not there. More big conservative government

How many other companies are getting these "special rights?" The pharmaceutical industry is one. Republicans want vaccine makers to be immune from prosecution also. How many companies can you name?


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GOP Santorum: Gay sex same as bigamy, polygamy,incest and adultery
Washington Post
By LARA JAKES JORDAN
The Associated Press
Monday, April 21, 2003; 6:06 PM

WASHINGTON - Gay-rights groups, fuming over Sen. Rick Santorum's comparison of homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery, urged Republican leaders Monday to consider removing the Pennsylvania lawmaker from the GOP Senate leadership.

A coalition of groups in Washington and Pennsylvania compared Santorum's remarks to those by those last December by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott about Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for the presidency. Shortly afterward, Lott was forced to resign as Republican Senate leader.

Santorum is chairman of the GOP conference in the Senate, third in his party's leadership, behind Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"We're urging the Republican leadership to condemn the remarks. They were stunning in their insensitivity, and they're the same types of remarks that sparked outrage toward Sen. Lott," said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay advocacy organization. "We would ask that the leadership reconsider his standing within the conference leadership."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Santorum criticized homosexuality while discussing a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law.

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," Santorum, R-Pa., said in the interview, published Monday.

Santorum spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright said the lawmaker's comments were "were specific to the Supreme Court case."

The White House did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Frist declined comment.

Lott resigned his post in December after making remarks at a 100th birthday celebration for Thurmond that were widely considered racially insensitive and condemned by the White House. Lott later apologized.

Among the groups condemning Santorum's remarks were the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, the Pennsylvania Log Cabin Republicans, OutFront, and the Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition.

On the Net:

Sen. Rick Santorum: http://santorum.senate.gov/

Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/

© 2003 The Associated Press

Commentary:
More conservative big government. Compassionate? Where? Conservative? Hardly. A real conservative believes in less government, not a government who decides who can have sex, who can get married or who can fall in love. In fact, a Real Man is too busy taking care of his wife (or getting laid if he's single) to worry about anyone else's sex life.

Conservatives on the court say the government only has those powers listed in the Constitution. Where in the Constitution does it say the government can decide if two adults can have consensual sex? It's not there. But never underestimate the ability of conservatives to be un-conservative.


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White House Cybersecurity Adviser Resigns
Washington Post/AP
By JONATHAN D. SALANT
Monday, April 21, 2003; 6:38 PM

WASHINGTON - White House cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt announced his resignation Monday, the second person to leave the post in three months.

Schmidt was the former chief of security at Microsoft Corp. before taking the post in February. He succeeded Richard Clarke, who had spent 11 years in the White House across three administrations, and was the president's counterterror coordinator at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The White House confirmed Monday that Schmidt would leave at the end of the month to pursue private sector opportunities.

In an e-mail sent to staff and industry officials, Schmidt noted that many of his responsibilities had been transferred to the new Homeland Security Department.

"While significant progress has been made, there still is much to do," Schmidt said in the e-mail. "The nation as a whole is much better at responding to cyberattacks then at any time in the past, but cybersecurity cannot now be reduced to a `second tier' issue. It is not sufficient to just respond to attacks, but rather proactive measures must also be implemented to reduce vulnerabilities and prevent future attacks."

When Clarke announced his resignation, he also warned of future attacks on the Internet. "As long as we have vulnerabilities in cyberspace, and as long as America has enemies, we are at risk of the two coming together to severely damage our great country," he wrote.

The trade group representing high-technology companies such as Microsoft and Intel said President Bush still needed a high-profile adviser at the White House.

"We are concerned that the cybersecurity issue is losing visibility inside the White House," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "In this case, the `bully pulpit' opportunity to influence the development of a truly secure cyber infrastructure and associated best practices will be lost."

Schmidt failed to return several phone calls seeking comment Monday.

On the Net: White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov

Information Technology Association: http://www.itaa.org

TechNews.com Home

© 2003 The Associated Press

Commentary:
The chairs on the Titanic are being rearranged again.


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Pyongyang upsets plan for N-crisis talks
The Strait Times (Singapore)
April 21, 2003

WASHINGTON - Plans for United States-North Korean talks in China on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme were thrown into uncertainty after the communist state appeared to announce steps that could yield six to eight bombs within months.

In an English-language broadcast for foreign consumption, North Korea said on Friday that it was reprocessing more than 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

In response, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher hinted strongly that there would be dire consequences if Pyongyang started the reprocessing as part of a revived nuclear programme which had sparked international alarm.

He said: 'We would regard reprocessing of spent fuel to extract plutonium as an extremely serious matter.'

But late in the day, questions arose as to the accuracy of the North Korean translation.

US officials said that 'upon review, KCBS in vernacular... is found to be different from the KCNA in English'.

In English, the North's KCNA news agency quoted a Pyongyang Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying: 'We are successfully reprocessing more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at the final phase.'

In the original Korean version, however, US translators decided that the more accurate translation should be: 'We are successfully completing the final phase to the point of the reprocessing operation of some 8,000 spent fuel rods.'

'That seems to suggest that they have not actually begun the reprocessing,' a senior State Department official said, in a comment also based on satellite photographs.

The confusion over Pyongyang's intentions came just days after the State Department disclosed plans for talks involving the US, North Korea and China, possibly by this Wednesday.

White House spokesman Claire Buchan said last Friday: 'We've seen this statement by North Korea, and we're consulting with other interested parties including Korea, Japan and China on where we go from here.'

At the State Department, a senior official predicted strong Pentagon resistance to going ahead with the Beijing meeting.

However, both South Korea and Japan have indicated that they want the planned talks to go ahead.

After a discussion with US and Japanese officials on a strategy for the three-way talks, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo Hyuck was quoted by Seoul's Yonhap news agency as saying in Washington: 'South Korea and Japan have conveyed their position that the planned talks should take place as scheduled and the United States will discuss with China on what to do.

'And we don't see any reason for China to oppose the holding of the talks.'

Pyongyang also proposed resuming inter-Korean talks from April 27 to 29 after calling for Seoul's aid on rice and fertiliser last Thursday.

The proposal was contained in a message sent by Mr Kim Ryong Sung, North Korea's chief delegate to the minister-level talks, to his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Jeong Se Hyun, the ministry said.

'We will have discussions with the relevant government agencies on this proposal and send a reply at an early date,' a ministry spokesman said. -- AP, AFP

© Singapore press holding. All rights reserved


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Looting of Iraq's antiquities was planned in advance
Daily Telegraph (UK)

(Filed: 20/04/2003)

The plundering of Iraq's antiquities looked like an act of random vengeance but a new and more sinister picture is emerging. William Langley reveals that many of the 170,000 missing artefacts are speeding through the underground art market into the hands of foreign collectors

It's fast, easy and encouragingly cheap to enter the booming market in Iraqi antiquities. How about an early Sumerian glass-beaded necklace for only $24? A 2,000-year-old bronze arrowhead for $14? Or an ancient cuneiform tablet, moulded from Mesopotamian clay, and bearing the imprint of a barter deal for sheep or wine, for $1.25? They can all be found within a few seconds on ebay and other websites on the internet, and there's plenty more on the way.

The sacking of Iraq's National Museum last week may at first have looked like an act of random vengeance against a convenient emblem of the state. Why else would a people loot their own history? Especially a people so closely connected to a past of incomparable richness.

The more the scale of the losses became apparent - at least 170,000 items are missing or destroyed - the less sense it seemed to make. Who had done it? And what would the plunder be good for in the slums of Saddam City? Impressing the neighbours?

But even as the world of antiquities reeled from a tragedy that Paul Zimansky, the eminent American archaeologist, likened to the burning of the library at Alexandria in classical times, a new and more sinister picture of what happened in Baghdad was emerging. It now appears that the looting of the museum was neither spontaneous nor random. In all probability, it was planned well in advance of the American-led invasion, and the thieves almost certainly benefited from inside help.

Interpol and FBI agents who have been brought in to investigate believe the most valuable pieces were stolen to order, and are already on their way to Europe, America or Japan. "The vaults where the best pieces are kept, were opened with keys," says McGuire Gibson, the president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad. "Looters coming in off the streets, don't usually have keys, do they? It appears to have been a deliberate, planned action. My feeling is that it was organised abroad."

Witnesses have spoken of seeing well-dressed men with walkie-talkies at the scene, and of artefacts being transported away in orderly convoys of vans rather than over the heads of the crowd. "We already have reports of exhibits being offered for sale in Switzerland and Japan," says Karl-Heinz Kind, Interpol's specialist officer for art and antiquity trafficking. "Even in a war zone, even with the country practically sealed off, these things can move with incredible speed."

Last night Jordanian custom officers reported that they had confiscated some exhibits looted from the Iraqi National Museum, the first stolen items to be recovered. But the rescued artefacts were merely 41 photographs and four oil paintings of Saddam Hussein.

To those familiar with the sophisticated international market in stolen antiquities, the wholesale plundering and rapid dispersal of a great museum's contents is all too credible. "Archaeological and cultural organisations had been warning of attacks like these for months," says Dr Neil Brodie, of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge. "But it seems nobody was listening."

Long before the latest war began, millions of pounds worth of Iraq's ancient treasures were quietly flooding each year into the hands of Western and Far Eastern collectors. There is a sad irony in this, for if Saddam Hussein could boast of one good thing in the course of his 30-year dictatorship it was his vigorous early programme to protect the nation's cultural heritage.

Soon after Saddam's Ba'athists came to power in 1967, harsh laws were passed to prevent the export of antiquities. "And they worked," says Richard Zetter, of the University of Pennsylvania, a leading authority on Mesopotamian history. "Virtually nothing was allowed out, money was put into museums, and we all applauded and considered it a model for the region."

But after the first Gulf War in 1991, the weakening of Saddam's grip on power - at least beyond his Baghdad and Tikrit strongholds - and the dire economic circumstances in the country began to render the laws far less effective. Regional museums and important archaeological sites around the country became easy prey for thieves, whose booty was spirited out of the country by highly organised gangs, which developed around the trade. "After the Gulf War," says Mr Zetter, "smuggling became a profession." In the West, where Iraqi antiquities had a long-standing cachet, a ready market was waiting.

There was more. Preoccupied by the business of staying in power, Saddam lost interest in history - except for his own place in it. Money for museums dried up, many of the archaeological sites were effectively abandoned, and the scholars and curators at the heart of the nation's conservation programme gave up the struggle. "Their cars were commandeered," says Mr Zetter, "their telephones didn't work, their salaries were frozen. People just drifted away from antiquities."

To make limited resources stretch further, thousands of antiquities were moved from small provincial museums to Baghdad in the unfortunate belief that they would be safer.

In recent years Saddam's own officials appear to have given the stamp of approval to the lucrative business of selling antiquities abroad. Last year a large sculptural frieze, originating from a 3,000-year-old Assyrian palace in north eastern Iraq, weighing more than a tonne and measuring more than six feet square turned up for sale on the British market. Art experts believe it unlikely that such a major piece could have been exported without the acquiescence of someone in authority.

Julian Radcliffe, the chairman of the Art Loss Register, the organisation which indentified the frieze, says: "There may have been theft from Iraqi museums by their own government working with the staff or by criminal elements working with the staff. Curators have often been worried about keeping the roof on the building of the museums they work in and desperately need the money to pay for it."

It is hoped that the frieze will end up back in Iraq in due course. In the meantime, a group of nine archaeologists from the British Museum are being drafted in to help the salvage and recovery operation at the Baghdad museum. "We are uniquely placed to do something to help our Iraqi colleagues," says Neil MacGregor, the British Museum's director. It is clear that a catastrophe has befallen the cultural heritage of Iraq,"
And the devastation continues. The latest target of the looters is the museum at Nebuchadnezzar's palace - home of the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Thieves smashed their way in through a brick wall, stealing statues, vases, burial masks and relics of the ancient Babylonian kings.

The galleries were completely stripped, and the floors left littered with broken glass and debris. Ahmed Mansour, 37, who lives nearby said: "This is one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. I cannot believe that people would want to steal from it. They have no respect for our ancient culture and they do not care about the future of Iraq."

Horrified by the scale of the plundering, many Iraqis are blaming the US troops for not mounting an effective guard on the museums - and they are not alone. Last week three advisers on cultural affairs to President George W Bush resigned in protest at the alleged failure of the US forces to protect Iraq's treasures. "This tragedy was not prevented due to our nation's inaction," wrote Martin Sullivan, the chairman of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee, in a resignation letter.

Others are less inclined to blame weary and wary young Marines, freshly arrived in a conquered capital that they had expected might lay on a bloodbath.

Behind the looting of the National Museum lies a triumph of street smartness over military intelligence. The Pentagon may have been unsure how the battle for Baghdad would play out, but the local gangs, flush with orders from wealthy overseas collectors, seem to have anticipated that the city's fall would be swift and made their plans accordingly.

Certainly Koichiro Matsuura, the director general of Unesco, the United Nations educational and cultural agency, knows whom to blame. "It is those bandits who looted their own heritage," he said, at a meeting of 30 Iraqi and world antiquities experts in Paris. "These were conditions of confusion and turmoil, and they took full advantage."

Even as he was speaking, the lost treasures of Iraq - a 5,000-year trove of learning and beauty - were speeding through the channels of the underground art market into the hands of foreign collectors. If the prices seem reasonable it's because there is plenty to go around.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.

Commentary:
US Art experts knew the looting was going to happen and Bush allowed it to happen. He did protect the oil fields, so we know what's important to his government. No energy officials have resigned yet.


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Judge takes on Bush over Cheney lawsuit
The Mercury News
Posted on Thu, Apr. 17, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration ran into strong opposition in federal appeals court Thursday as government lawyers tried to stop a lawsuit delving into Vice President Dick Cheney's contacts with energy industry executives and lobbyists.

Appeals judges Harry Edwards and David Tatel suggested the White House had no legal basis for asking them to block a lower court judge from letting the case proceed.

``You have no authority'' to ask the appeals court to intervene, Edwards told a government attorney during arguments. He added later, ``You have no case.''

The appeals judges gave no indication when they would issue a ruling. The Bush administration has taken the unusual step of coming to the appeals court in the midst of the case.

Federal agencies have disclosed 39,000 pages of internal documents related to the work of Cheney's energy task force, but the Cheney task force itself has produced nothing, claiming the need for confidential advice to the president from his top advisers.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has ruled that the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch may be entitled to a limited amount of information about the meetings that Cheney and his aides had with the energy industry in formulating the White House's energy plan.

The plan, adopted four months after President Bush took office, favored opening up public lands to oil and gas drilling and a wide range of other steps backed by industry.

The task force has acknowledged that one of the executives it met with was former Enron Corp. chairman Kenneth Lay.

Edwards, a Carter-era appointee, and Tatel, an appointee of President Clinton, said the administration has failed to show that it is suffering legal harm at the hands of the lower court.

The third member of the panel, Appeals Judge A. Raymond Randolph, expressed doubt that the Cheney task force is required under the law to disclose information about its inner workings. However, Randolph, an appointee of Bush's father, questioned whether the administration should be seeking appeals court intervention.

Tatel and Edwards pressed the government on why it hadn't sought to narrow the scope of information requests rather than simply trying to block them altogether.

The government's position is that the current record in the case is sufficient.

The Bush administration says it has demonstrated that the makeup of the Cheney task force was limited to government officials. But the groups that are suing allege that participants from industry effectively became members of Cheney's task force in assembling the White House's energy policy.

Commentary:
These judges don't get it yet. The Bushies think they're above the law and the courts better get used to this new concept of law. Besides, how dare someone sue the government for information about what it's doing on our behalf...it's almost un-American.


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9/11 Investigation Commissioner Tied to al Qaeda
New York Press
Matt Callan

If you knew Thomas H. Kean before he was appointed chair of the independent commission to investigate September 11, it was more likely from a tv commercial than his political legacy. As the Garden State's governor from 1982 to 1990, Kean walked the New Jersey shoreline enticing tourists to come spend a day at the beach, uttering the tagline, "New Jersey and you, perfect together."

When President Bush announced that Kean would lead the federal investigation into 9/11, the media responded with a collective "Who?" But Kean's apparent low profile was misleading, and a series of controversial articles has lately explored the former governor's business dealings in the Middle East and Central Asia–dealings which may have brought him within uncomfortable proximity to a man accused of funding al Qaeda.

Tom Kean was hardly the most memorable local politician of his day. He had none of the youse-guys bluster of Al D'Amato, none of the ivy-covered erudition of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, none of the how'm-I-doin' love-starved quality of Ed Koch. He had no slogans or mannerisms that could be mocked. His genial face seemed to defy both caricature and memory.

Kean flew through eight years in the state capitol without hitting any significant speed bumps. After his term ended, he became president of Drew University, served on the board of numerous public advocacy groups, and largely stayed out of political life. (Last year, he briefly emerged from obscurity to campaign for Doug Forrester's unsuccessful Senate run. The ad spots in which Kean appeared showed the same man who had left Trenton 12 years before. His face, bland as ever, had aged little, and his voice still held the lockjaw cadences of a Boston Brahmin.)

Kean's anonymity would seem to stand in stark contrast to the controversial brand name of Henry Kissinger, Bush's original choice to head the probe, who stepped down rather than go public with the client list for his consulting firm. Kean, by comparison, is a complete unknown west of the Delaware; even his two-syllable name seems perfect for evading notice, like individual grains of sand too small to be picked up.

On March 31, the commission held its first hearing, during which Kean insisted that his goal is to discover "why things happened and…what could be done to avert this tragedy." This reassurance came amid revelations that six of the committee's 10 members have substantial ties to the airline industry. One investigator, former governor of Illinois Jim Thompson, has legally counselled American Airlines, whose planes were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, and does to this day. According to the Associated Press, "members are expected to steer clear of discussions that might present even the appearance of a conflict."

It is interesting, then, that Kean is a director at Amerada Hess, an oil corporation famous in New York for its white-and-green gas stations, toy trucks and Leon Hess' ownership of the Jets. Less well-known is the company's role in Delta Hess, a now-defunct petroleum pipeline joint venture. Thanks to incorporation in the Cayman Islands, information about the operation is scarce, and its still-active website contains little more than a sentence about its oil-line investments in Azerbaijan and the Middle East (ventures with such mellifluous names as Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan). According to Hess spokesman Carl Tursi, the venture was dissolved three weeks prior to Kean's appointment, but not before Amerada Hess had established a working relationship with Delta Oil, a Saudi Arabian company with at least one extremely suspicious financier.

One of Delta Oil's investors was Khalid bin Mahfouz, a member of a large and influential Saudi clan with various worldwide business interests and close ties to the royal family. He is accused of financing al Qaeda by both the U.S. and Saudi governments, and is one of 187 defendants in a $1 trillion lawsuit filed on behalf of families of the victims of Sept. 11.

Khalid bin Mahfouz has long been a shadowy figure. In the early 1990s, he was implicated in the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal. As a BCCI principal, bin Mahfouz was accused of bilking depositors. (He eventually escaped prosecution by agreeing to a $225 million settlement.) In the 1990s, he found himself in hot water in Ireland, where he had obtained passports from the government in exchange for investments, which he never made.

In 1999, the Saudi government bought a 50 percent interest in bin Mahfouz's National Commercial Bank, in response to years of financial mismanagement. (Mahfouz denies reports that he was at this time confined to a military hospital in the town of Taif–which some have considered a surreptitious means of house arrest.) A government audit of the bank discovered $2 billion that was unaccounted for–money that U.S. and Saudi officials suspect went into the hands of al Qaeda, handed over to them by means of "donations" to "charities."

The Advice and Reformation Committee, a charity that may have been a beneficiary of Khalid bin Mahfouz's largesse, was originally founded by none other than Osama bin Laden. Another group, Muwafaq ("Blessed Relief") was founded with bin Mahfouz's money and run in part by his son, Abdulrahman. The U.S. Treasury Department froze Muwafaq's assets in October 2001, calling the group "an Al Qaeda front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen."

The bin Mahfouz family has set up a website (binmahfouz.info) to dispel what they call "serious errors of fact" about its patriarch. It contains an FAQ stating the National Commercial Bank "is on record as ‘vehemently' denying that any such audit" was conducted (though they studiously avoid mentioning if the Saudi government would say the same thing). It also insists bin Mahfouz left National Commercial Bank in 1999 "for reasons of ill health from which he has only recently recovered" and denies the reports that he was ever under house arrest.

Regarding involvement in Delta Oil, the website asserts bin Mahfouz's connection to the company was limited to a joint venture called DNKL. According to the website, bin Mahfouz's sons' firm Nimir acquired a piece of an oil exploration field in Azerbaijan in 1994. In 1998, Nimir's stake was returned to Delta. The same stake was later acquired by Amerada Hess.

So why would President Bush appoint Kean as chair of the 9/11 commission if he has any connection–any connection at all–to such a man, no matter how distant? And why hasn't anyone raised the penalty flag?

For a year, the Bush administration strenuously fought the very formation of a federal commission. When it finally relented, its first choice for committee chair was Henry Kissinger–a long-time GOP insider famous for protecting his employers. The second-choice Kean may be as bland and innocuous as can be, but appears–like Kissinger–to also be fully in line with Bush's wish that lawmakers conducting the investigation "understand the obligations of upholding our secrets."

Perhaps it is Kean's unmemorable face that allows him to slip through the political cracks and escape scrutiny. Those who didn't know him prior to the appointment probably won't pay much attention to him now. And those who did know him will see the same man who strolled casually along the beach decades ago. Either way, there is more to Tom Kean than many of us ever suspected.

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Commentary:
Just another example of a scandal ridden administration. The problem with the Bush scandals is two-fold, first, few report them and second, the Bush scandals harm the US. None of the so-called Clinton scandals harmed the country.


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Venezuela has proof Washington was behind failed coup
CBC News (Canada)
12:03 PM EDT Apr 21

CARACAS (AP) - A senior Venezuelan army general said the government of the South American country has proof the United States was involved in a short-lived coup against President Hugo Chavez last year.

Army Gen. Melvin Lopez, secretary of Venezuela's National Defence Council, said Tuesday "proof exists" the U.S. administration was involved in the mid-April putsch. He declined to give further details. "We have the evidence," Lopez said during an interview broadcast by Venezuela's state-run television channel.

Lopez said three U.S. military helicopters were on Venezuelan territory during the coup.

A spokesmen from the Pentagon declined comment on the allegation Tuesday night.

Dissident generals rose up against Chavez on April 11, 2002, several hours after 19 Venezuelans died and over 100 were wounded by gunfire as opposition marchers clashed with government supporters in downtown Caracas.

Loyalists in the military returned Chavez to power two days later.

Following his return, Chavez said "worrying details" had emerged suggesting a foreign country might have been involved in his temporary overthrow.

Chavez said a coastal radar installation had tracked a foreign military ship and helicopter operating over Venezuelan waters a day after his ouster. Chavez did not say which country had sent the ship and helicopter but governing party legislators have accused the United States of helping execute the coup.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly denied it was involved in the coup but acknowledged having held conversations with Venezuelan opposition leaders and military officers prior to the rebellion against Chavez.

A month after Chavez returned, the U.S. Embassy denied allegations U.S. military vessels were in Venezuelan territory.

The only U.S. vessels to approach Venezuelan waters during the coup attempt were two U.S. coast guard ships on a joint anti-narcotics mission with The Netherlands, the embassy said in a news release.

The embassy also rejected allegations by governing party legislators that two U.S. military officials who visited the Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas the day before Chavez's ouster were helping coup leaders.

The two officers spent two hours at the base April 11 to investigate information about troop movements, the embassy said. They left hours before Chavez was deposed. Two officers returned to the base April 13 for another evaluation of the situation.

Officials in Washington said they told opponents of Chavez they would not support any unconstitutional activity aimed at removing the leftist leader from power.

Chavez, who has irritated Washington by forging ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro, has criticized the United States for being too slow in condemning the coup when it occurred.

In contrast to most Latin American governments, the United States was sluggish to condemn the coup, initially blaming Chavez for his own overthrow. It later joined members of the Organization of American States in condemning the coup as unconstitutional.

Last week, Chavez commemorated the one-year anniversary of his dramatic return to power by inviting anti-globalization activists to a series of forums in Caracas.

Opposition leaders condemned the celebration, saying it was an insult to relatives of the victims who died in the violence that occurred prior to the military uprising.

© The Canadian Press, 2003

Commentary:
If the US under Bush believes in freedom and democracy it would have condemned the coup on day one. Since they didn't, we know what they don't believe in.


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Conservatives Attack Two GOP Senators With Doctored Images
Washington Post
By Helen Dewar
Sunday, April 20, 2003; Page A05

Politicians generally are happy to pose with a flag. But not the French flag, especially these days.

With the help of a little digital wizardry, the conservative Club for Growth is airing ads showing Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio) in proximity to French flags in order to disparage their resistance to President Bush's tax-cut plans.

Snowe and Voinovich have said they will support only $350 billion of Bush's $726 billion proposal, and their critical votes in the closely divided Senate this month led to a deal aimed at limiting the tax cut to $350 billion. This raised the ire of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax advocacy group with a penchant for throwing political rocks at moderate Republicans.

The TV ads, which will run for 10 days in Maine and Ohio, recall France's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They go on to say "some so-called Republicans," naming Snowe in the Maine ads and Voinovich in the Ohio ads, "stand in the way" of Bush's tax-cutting plans at home. Digitally inserted French flags flutter beside the senators' images.

"It's hilarious," said Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn. "It reminds me of the Iraqi information minister's daily briefing. It's so incredible that it barely deserves a response."

The Republican Main Street Partnership, representing about 65 moderate GOP lawmakers and governors – including Snowe but not Voinovich – is responding with newspaper and TV ads that defend Snowe and describe the Club for Growth as "misinformed New York City elitists."

As for the French flag, it may not have been such as good idea in the Maine ads. A good number of Snowe's constituents are of French Canadian ancestry, and they rather like the French flag.

[edited]

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Commentary:
Here's how it works. Even though the US is projected to have the largest deficit in US history, this year. you have to support another tax cut or you're un-American to these GOP nuts.

Also, note how the press insulates the GOP from the deficits. Not one word about the budget or deficit. Where is the "real press?".

The conservative Club for Growth believes in "Growing the debt so the next generation is bankrupted by this generation."


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