March 31, 2007

President Bush called for the release of 15 British sailors and marines

President Bush on Saturday called for the release of 15 British sailors and marines being held by Iran, calling their capture by Tehran "inexcusable behavior."
The comments on the captured Britons were the first from Bush, as Washington has taken a low-key approach so far out of concern that more robust intervention might aggravate the situation and shake international resolve on Iran's nuclear program.
Bush did not answer a question about whether the U.S. would react militarily if those captured had been American. With the crisis in its second week, the president said he supports British Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to find a diplomatic resolution.
Bush would not discuss options for what might be done if Iran does not comply, but he seemed to reject any swapping of the British captives for Iranians detained in Iraq.

March 29, 2007

Falklands war

It was the most unlikely of battlegrounds for a major conflict, a windswept archipelago at the ends of the Earth fought over by two powers half a world apart.
But 25 years after they tussled for the Falkland Islands, Britain and Argentina are still at odds and dealing with the aftershocks of the war that reshaped their political landscapes.
Buenos Aires still lays claim to the islands it lost in the brief, bloody test of wills in 1982 between Argentinian dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri and Britain's Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
And British troops continue to patrol the Falklands, a lonely, forgotten clump of dots in the South Atlantic before Argentinia's invasion sparked Britain's biggest air and naval battle since World War II.
Today, the economy of the archipelago is booming, powered by fishing, tourism and the possibility of oil. Yet tensions between the two erstwhile antagonists still simmer.
Only days before Monday's 25th anniversary of the war, Argentina scrapped a deal with Britain to share oil found in the Falklands and accused London of dragging its feet in talks on the islands' sovereignty.
A quarter-century ago, few Brits had even heard of the Falklands Islands. But on April 2, 1982 the nation woke up to find that the remote hilly islands, populated mostly by sheep and penguins, had been invaded by Argentine soldiers.
Three days later, a British squadron was scrambled. With no ceremony and little warning, Britain was at war over a bunch of islands some 12,000 kilometres (7,400 miles) on the other side of the world.
Seventy-one days after that, seven ships, including Argentina's General Belgrano had been sunk, 649 Argentine and 255 British troops had been killed, and Britain emerged victorious.
The future of the islands, which had been ignored for years by London, had been changed forever. Also altered were the fates of the Argentine dictatorship and Thatcher's flagging Conservative government.
For the Falklanders, the war catapulted them out of their isolation and into a new era of prosperity. Today per capita income has soared to some 25,000 dollars a year.
The population has nearly doubled to around 3,000 and Britain maintains another 1,200 troops on the islands, where the Union Jack proudly flies from many homes.

March 26, 2007

Iraq War is necessary:

- Iraq is one of the major headquarters of Al-Qaeda.

- US security and Middle East stability are dependent matters.

- We need more troops in Iraq to combat our enemy forces.

- United States has been betrayed by their allies.

- If Iraq insurgency takes the power, Middle East peace will be at risk and US enemies will obtain a strategic victory.

- A troops withdrawal now will symbolize weakness

March 23, 2007

Supersonic Russian-built missile "Sizzler"

The U.S. Navy, after nearly six years of warnings from Pentagon testers, still lacks a plan for defending aircraft carriers against a supersonic Russian-built missile, according to current and former officials and Defense Department documents.
The missile, known in the West as the ``Sizzler,'' has been deployed by China and may be purchased by Iran.
The Defense Department's weapons-testing office judges the threat so serious that its director, Charles McQueary, warned the Pentagon's chief weapons-buyer in a memo that he would move to stall production of multibillion-dollar ship and missile programs until the issue was addressed.
A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia also offered the missile to Iran, although there's no evidence a sale has gone through. In Iranian hands, the Sizzler could challenge the ability of the U.S. Navy to keep open the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated 25 percent of the world's oil traffic flows.
McQueary, head of the Pentagon's testing office, raised his concerns about the absence of Navy test plans for the missile in a Sept. 8, 2006, memo to Ken Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition. He also voiced concerns to Deputy Secretary England.
In the memo, McQuery said that unless the Sizzler threat was addressed, his office wouldn't approve test plans necessary for production to begin on several other projects, including Northrop Grumman Corp.'s new $35.8 billion CVN-21 aircraft-carrier project; the $36.5 billion DDG-1000 destroyer project being developed by Northrop and General Dynamics Corp.; and two Raytheon Corp. projects, the $6 billion Standard Missile-6 and $1.1 billion Ship Self Defense System.
On final approach, the missile has the potential to perform very high defensive maneuvers, including sharp-angled dodges, the Office of Naval Intelligence said in a manual on worldwide maritime threats.
The Sizzler is unique, the Defense Science Board, an independent agency within the Pentagon that provides assessments of major defense issues, said in an October 2005 report. Most anti-ship cruise missiles fly below the speed of sound and on a straight path, making them easier to track and target.
That report was confirmed by the Pentagon official who requested anonymity. The Office of Naval Intelligence suggested the same thing in a 2004 report, highlighting in its assessment of maritime threats Iran's possible acquisition of additional Russian diesel submarines ``with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.''
The Defense Science Board, in its 2005 report, recommended that the Navy ``immediately implement'' a plan to produce a surrogate Sizzler that could be used for testing.

March 22, 2007

Negotiations on halting North Korea's nuclear program broke down

Negotiations on halting North Korea's nuclear program broke down abruptly Thursday, with the country's chief envoy to the talks flying home after a dispute over money frozen in a Macau bank could not be resolved.
Kim Kye Gwan left Beijing after refusing to take part in six-party talks to push forward a February agreement calling for North Korea to begin winding down its nuclear programs in return for energy aid and political considerations.
Kim waved to reporters at the airport but did not say anything.
China issued a statement saying the talks would take a recess but did not give a restart date.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized North Korea for not being constructive.
Thursday, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived in South Korea for joint military exercises
This round of talks has been dogged by troubles since it started Monday, with Pyongyang refusing to take part for two days because of problems over the transfer of $25 million in North Korean funds frozen since 2005 at Banco Delta Asia in Macau under pressure from the United States.
Banco Delta Asia was blacklisted by Washington on suspicion the funds were connected to money-laundering or counterfeiting. The North boycotted the international nuclear talks for more than a year over the issue.
U.S. officials announced this week that the money would be transferred to the North Koreans, saying it was up to the Monetary Authority of Macau, a Chinese territory, to release the funds.
China had promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible by transferring the funds to a North Korean account at the Bank of China.
Officials said the Chinese bank held up the transfer because of worries that the money had been at the center of criminal investigations.
The six parties — the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan — were in Beijing to discuss how to push forward the landmark deal in which Pyongyang agreed to start dismantling its nuclear facilities in exchange for energy and economic aid.

Under the deal, the North is to receive energy and economic aid and a start toward normalizing relations with the U.S. and Japan, in return for beginning the disarmament process. The regime ultimately would receive assistance equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil if it fully discloses and dismantles all its nuclear programs.

March 20, 2007

Senate returned the law regarding the appointments of U.S. attorneys to where it was before Congress passed the Patriot Act

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to end the Bush administration's ability to unilaterally fill U.S. attorney vacancies as a backlash to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' firing of eight federal prosecutors.
Gonzales got a morale boost with an early-morning call from President Bush, their first conversation since a week ago, when the president said he was unhappy with how the Justice Department handled the firings.
Also, the Senate by a 94-2 vote passed a bill that would cancel the attorney general's power to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. Democrats say the Bush administration abused that authority when it fired the eight prosecutors and proposed replacing some with White House loyalists.
The bill, which has yet to be considered in the House, would set a 120-day deadline for the administration to appoint an interim prosecutor. If the interim appointment is not confirmed by the Senate in that time, a permanent replacement would be named by a federal district judge.
Essentially, the Senate returned the law regarding the appointments of U.S. attorneys to where it was before Congress passed the Patriot Act, including the unilateral appointment authority the administration had sought in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The vote came as Gonzales and the White House braced for more fallout from the firings. The White House also denied reports that it was looking for possible successors for Gonzales.
Bush called Gonzales from the Oval Office at 7:15 a.m. EDT and they spoke for several minutes about the political uproar over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, an issue that has thrust the attorney general into controversy and raised questions about whether he can survive. The White House disclosed Bush's call to bolster Gonzales and attempt to rally Republicans to support him.
Speculation has abounded over who might succeed Gonzales if he doesn't survive the current political tumult. Possible candidates include White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, federal appeals judge Laurence Silberman and PepsiCo attorney Larry Thompson, who was the government's highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush's first term.

March 19, 2007

Fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq

President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq on Monday as the White House tried to counter Democratic attempts to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Bush was expected to issue a plea for more patience in the war, which has stretched longer with higher costs than the White House ever anticipated. The president was to make a statement in the Roosevelt Room.
The president also was to meet with his National Security Council on the war and hold a closed-circuit television conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
Entering its fifth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this morning asked Americans "to be patient" as the war in Iraq entered its fifth year, acknowledging early missteps in the conflict but saying "it is worth the sacrifice" to have toppled former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
With a new security plan underway and more American troops deployed to help dampen sectarian violence, "we will start to know relatively soon whether the Iraqis are living up to their obligations," to take more responsibility for security, Rice said.
She said also it was probably a mistake not to have put in place a "more localized, more decentralized" plan to rebuild the country, and that the U.S. from earlier on should have put in place the more forceful counterinsurgency strategy now being pursued under the command of Gen. David Petraeus.

March 17, 2007

Palestinian Prime Minister support resistance to Israel

Palestinian lawmakers prepared to endorse a new unity cabinet on Saturday after Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamist Hamas movement declared that it would uphold the right to "all forms" of resistance to Israel.
Haniyeh's defiant note contrasted with a conciliatory speech by President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival secular Fatah faction, who stressed the search for peace and urged the world to end a crippling year-old boycott of the Palestinian government.
Israel ruled out dealing with the Fatah-Hamas coalition, citing Hamas's refusal to accept demands, set by a Quartet of foreign peace mediators a year ago, that it forswear violence, recognize the Jewish state and accept past interim peace deals.
The Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- suspended direct aid to the government after Hamas beat Fatah in elections and took power last March.
The United States is expected to continue its boycott, but Washington would leave the door open to unofficial contacts with Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent with strong reformist credentials.
France has invited new Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr to Paris, and Britain plans contacts with non-Hamas ministers.

Palestinians hope the new government will halt internal fighting, especially in Gaza, where clashes between rival security forces have killed more than 90 people since December.

March 16, 2007

China new property laws

After 30 years of economic reform and 14 years of debate, China's legislature passed a milestone property law Friday strengthening protection for private businesses and property.
The property law was passed with a vote of 2,799 delegates in favor, 52 opposed and 37 abstaining on the final day of the annual two-week session of the National People's Congress.
Passage by the National People's Congress (NPC) was certain because legislation doesn't come to a vote at the annual meeting of the NPC unless the Communist Party has approved it and assured its passage. Even so, the vote hasn't been without controversy.
Since the Communist revolution in 1949, China has permitted only public ownership. The party stripped landowners and others of private property, persecuting them and declaring all property collectively owned.
For some, the new law is a betrayal of communist China's founding principles.
The property law is belated recognition of the private sector's dominant role. Private-sector activity is about 65% of the economy, official statistics show.
Changes in the new law are mostly symbolic. Legally, all land remains state-owned, but private individuals and companies can obtain the right to use it for periods of up to 70 years and sell those rights.
Wen Tiejun, a leading government advisor on rural issues, says the new protections are unlikely to do much for farmers. Government officials have seized land from hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese for development, sometimes sparking protests or riots.
Leaders in Beijing got a timely reminder of tensions created by the yawning rich-poor divide. Up to 20,000 farmers clashed with police earlier this week in Hunan province, protesting a $1 increase in bus fares.
The two-week session of the National People's Congress remains a tightly scripted affair devoid of open debate. It is the world's largest legislature with nearly 3,000 delegates. In five decades, the NPC's ranks of people's deputies, selected for their loyalty, have not rejected a single bill that the Communist Party set before them.
Ordinary Chinese can vote for party-approved deputies at the local level, but upper echelons are hand-picked by party leaders.
The lack of direct representation is most glaring among the delegation representing Taiwan.
The island is considered by China to be a renegade province, but its leaders have rejected the mainland's demands for unification. None of the NPC's Taiwan delegates lives there.

March 15, 2007

New sanctions against Iran

Six world powers agreed Thursday on a package of new sanctions against Iran that include an embargo on arms exports and financial restrictions on more individuals and companies associated with Tehran's nuclear and missile programs, many linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The governments of the five permanent Security Council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany gave a green light to the draft resolution hammered out by their ambassadors. It will be presented to the 10 non-permanent Security Council nations.
The text includes a ban on Iranian arms exports, an assets freeze on individuals and firms involved in Tehran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and a call to nations and institutions to bar new grants or loans.
The modest package of new measures in the new draft would freeze the assets of 10 additional individuals and eight additional entities.
The agreement will be a strong signal of the unity of the five nations on the U.N.'s most powerful body and a sign that they want to send a united message to Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

March 14, 2007

Senate first formal debate on the Iraq war since Democrats took control of Congress

Breaking a parliamentary roadblock, the Senate on Wednesday began its first formal debate on the Iraq war since Democrats took control of Congress, taking up a measure calling for President Bush to withdraw combat troops by the end of next March. The White House swiftly issued a veto threat.
The 89-9 vote paved the way for consideration of the Democratic legislation, which would start troop withdrawals within four months and calls for — but does not require — the complete removal of combat troops by the end of March 2008. The vote came after many Republicans abandoned the tactic they had used earlier this year to twice prevent the Senate from considering legislation aimed at forcing an end to the war.
Despite the vote, most Republicans opposed the Democratic bill and it was expected to eventually fall short of the 60 votes it will need to pass. Even so, the debate would give Democrats a chance to put Republicans on record as opposing a timetable on the war at a time when most American voters oppose the conflict.
The Senate breakthrough came after Republicans abandoned demands for assurances that a debate on the war include consideration of various GOP proposals, including a resolution vowing to protect funding for troops. Fearful such a measure would undercut the anti-war message Democrats wanted, Senate Democrats had refused.
But confident the latest Democratic proposal would fail, Republicans agreed to let debate begin. Republicans have argued that Congress should give the troop increase Bush ordered in January time to work. Bush says the increase — 21,500 combat troops plus thousands of additional support troops — is needed to help stabilize Iraq, where U.S. forces are now commanded by Gen. David Petraeus.

March 13, 2007

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accepted responsibility for mistakes

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accepted responsibility Tuesday for mistakes in the way the Justice Department handled the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors but he rejected calls for his resignation.
At a Justice Department news conference, Gonzales said he would find out why Congress was not told sooner that the White House was involved in discussions of who would be fired and when. He did not, however, back away his stance that the dismissals that did take place were appropriate.
Democrats in Congress have charged that the eight dismissals announced last December were politically motivated and that some of those ousted have said they felt pressured by powerful Republicans in their home states to rush investigations of potential voter fraud involving Democrats.
Justice Department officials, led by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, told lawmakers under oath that the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys in December was made solely by the Justice Department and said the decision was based on performance, not politics.
E-mails released Tuesday, however, revealed that the firings were considered and discussed for two years by Justice Department and White House officials.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said Gonzales repeatedly has shown more allegiance to President Bush than to citizens' legal rights since taking his job in early 2005.Gonzales earlier accepted the resignation of his top aide, Kyle Sampson. Authorities said that Sampson failed to brief other senior Justice Department officials of his discussions about the firings with then-White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Meanwhile the Senate's No. 3 Democrat said Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign because he is putting politics above the law. Sen. Charles Schumer cited the FBI's illegal snooping into people's private lives and the Justice Department's firing of federal prosecutors. He branded Gonzales, a former White House counsel, as one of the most political attorneys general in recent history.

March 12, 2007

Walter Reed scandal. The Army forced a surgeon general to retire

The Army forced its surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, to retire, officials said Monday, the third high-level official to lose his job over poor outpatient treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Kiley, who headed Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004, has been a lightning rod for criticism over conditions at the Army's premier medical facility, including during congressional hearings last week. Soldiers and their families have complained about substandard living conditions and bureaucratic delays at the hospital overwhelmed with wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kiley submitted his retirement request on Sunday, the Army said in a statement.Geren asked Kiley to retire, said a senior defense official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was not involved in the decision to ask Kiley to retire, the official said.Kiley's removal underscored how the fallout over Walter Reed's shoddy conditions has yet to subside. Instead, the controversy has mushroomed into questions about how wounded soldiers and veterans are treated throughout the medical systems run by the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs and has become a major preoccupation of a Bush administration already struggling to defend the unpopular war in Iraq. Amid the focus on Walter Reed, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson on Monday ordered his department's clinics to provide details about their physical condition by next week to determine if squalid conditions found at Walter Reed exist elsewhere.
Nicholson has been under pressure to reduce claims backlogs and improve coordination at the VA's vast network of 1,400 hospitals and clinics, which provide supplemental care and rehabilitation to 5.8 million veterans.
The conditions at Walter Reed were detailed last month by The Washington Post. Since then, Gates has forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign and Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was in charge of Walter Reed since August 2006, was ousted from his post.
A number of investigations have been ordered.
President Bush appointed a bipartisan commission to investigate problems at the nation's military and veteran hospitals, and separate reviews are under way by the Pentagon, the Army and an interagency task force led by Nicholson.
In a briefing Thursday for reporters at the medical center, top Army officials said they have moved to fix some of the problems at Walter Reed.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said that officials have added caseworkers, financial specialists and others to work with soldiers' families on problems they have related to the injuries such as getting loans or help with income taxes.

Republican elections race.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday that the personal lives of White House hopefuls shouldn't become an issue in the 2008 campaign.
McCain's call to keep personal lives private came the same week that chief rival Rudy Giuliani asked for privacy as he deals with strained relationships within his family, including estrangement from his children.
The Arizona senator's remarks also came as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential candidate for the GOP nomination, admitted to having an affair at the same time he was leading the effort to impeach President Clinton for allegations of perjury connected with the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Another Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has emphasized his 38-year marriage. Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, has said religious voters may have deep doubts about Giuliani, who has been married three times.
On Tuesday, McCain will conduct a $1,000-per-person luncheon at the Beverly Hilton.
McCain would be in California for private meetings through Wednesday, but was unable to provide the specifics of his schedule. Political campaigns customarily do not release their fund-raising schedules to the news media.
McCain began the year statistically tied with Giuliani, but Giuliani has picked up support in each of the last two months, while support for McCain, who supports sending more troops to Iraq, has declined.

March 11, 2007

No closer ally in South America

President George W. Bush visited Colombia on Sunday to show support to his closest ally in South America as it fights a decades-old insurgency and drug war supported in part by billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Bush was the first U.S. president to visit Bogota in 25 years and meets Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the midpoint of a weeklong, five-nation Latin America tour shadowed by his leftist nemesis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But security concerns meant Bush was to be in the Colombian capital for only about seven hours, and a growing Colombian political scandal could complicate their meetings.
Worried about Chavez's growing anti-U.S. influence, Bush is seeking to improve relations with leaders of the right and moderate left in Latin America, where the Iraq war and U.S. trade and immigration policy have made him deeply unpopular.
Although Bush has been to Colombia before, he will be the first president to visit the capital since Ronald Reagan in 1982, a decision meant to highlight security improvements under Uribe, the most U.S.-friendly leader in the region.
But the White House was not confident enough to let Bush stay there overnight. The national police chief has said leftist rebels plan attacks during his trip, and a massive security effort has been mounted to keep him safe.
He will spend most of his stopover cloistered in Bogota's Narino Palace, one of Colombia's most heavily guarded sites.
The George W. Bush administration has no closer ally in South America than Colombia, the recipient of more than $4 billion in American aid this decade to combat drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgencies. But a widening scandal tying paramilitary death squads and drug traffickers to close supporters of President Álvaro Uribe clouded Bush's brief visit here on Sunday.
Since the scandal worsened in recent weeks, Democrats in Congress have increased their scrutiny of two important measures before them: a broad trade agreement with Colombia that has already been signed by Bush and Uribe, and a request from the administration for a new $3.9 billion aid package for the country.

Claims of human rights abuses by political allies of Uribe, including the use of information from the executive branch's intelligence service to assassinate union organizers and university professors, have already resulted in the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former chief of the Colombian secret police who was awarded that job after working on the president's campaign.

March 10, 2007

Bioterrorism Prevention, a Super Budget Program

More than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the government cannot show how the $5 billion given to public health departments has better prepared the country for a bioterrorism attack or flu pandemic.
Congress responded to the 2001 strikes and anthrax-tainted letters sent to lawmakers by putting much more money toward emergency preparedness. State health departments typically get tens of millions of dollars per year to prepare for bioterrorism; it was in the hundreds of thousands before Sept. 11.

Washington had to set criteria to evaluate how well the dollars were spent. That assignment fell to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has struggled with the task.
The government began awarding money for bioterrorism preparedness in 1999, sending $40.7 million to the states. In 2002, the total jumped to $950 million. That is about one-quarter of what the U.S. spends each year on bioterrorism and emergency preparedness — not counting the money for preventing a pandemic.
Health departments used federal grants to stock up on antivirals, buy needles and syringes, and hire more doctors and nurses. One of the most important upgrades came in disease surveillance.

March 9, 2007

France bans citizen journalists from reporting violence

The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned Tuesday.

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Low polls

President Bush, in a bitter showdown with Congress over Iraq, has crept up a speck from an all-time low in his job approval rating. But his standing is the weakest of any second-term president at this point in 56 years.

The numbers in the latest AP-Ipsos poll gave the White House little reason for cheer as Bush opened a weeklong visit to Latin America to bolster U.S. influence in the face of rising anti-American sentiment.

Weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, which is about to begin its fifth year, and opposition to his decision to send more troops into combat, Bush had an approval rating of 35 percent in early March. Still, that was up from 32 percent in February when his rating was tied for an all time low in AP-Ipsos polling.

Seizing on voters' frustration with the war, House Democrats challenged Bush with legislation Thursday requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by October of next year. It would mark the first time the new Democratic-controlled Congress has established a date certain for the end of U.S. combat.

March 8, 2007

What a reward!

Recent revelations about substandard facilities and services for wounded Iraq war veterans at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC have put top Army officials under fire. Senator Ted Stevens weighed in when the Army's Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, appeared before the U-S Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to talk about the 2008 budget request for military medical programs.
These soldiers are giving theirs lives for our country. Meanwhile everybody celebrate the Oscar awards. We want better benefits for our soldiers, they have more value than "celebrities". We built our nation with brave men not with extravagance!

March 7, 2007

Tony again?

In a fierce battle between British authorities and news organizations, the High Court on Tuesday lifted restrictions on the BBC that had prevented it from publicizing developments in a scandal over allegations that honors had been traded for campaign contributions.

Earlier on Tuesday, The Guardian, defying efforts to limit its coverage, published a front-page article that accused Lord Levy, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s principal fund-raiser, of seeking to “shape” a statement given to the police by Ruth Turner, a senior aide to Mr. Blair.

The battle of wills began last Friday when the High Court barred the BBC, Britain’s public service broadcaster, from showing a news report on the so-called cash-for-honors affair. The issue has cast a dark cloud of rumors of corruption over what are expected to be the last months of Mr. Blair’s 10-year administration.

The police are investigating allegations by parliamentary legislators that political parties offered to reward donors with seats in the House of Lords in return for loans that did not require public disclosure before the May 2005 election.

March 6, 2007

Congressional Democrats concerned

Congressional Democrats concerned about what they say is a political purge of US attorneys plan to use hearings on Tuesday to probe allegations that New Mexico's top prosecutor was fired after Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), a Republican senator, involved himself in a political corruption investigation there.

A subcommittee of the House judiciary committee has subpoenaed six of the eight US attorneys ousted by the Department of Justice in December. The prosecutors, who run the 93 local offices that bring most cases, are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but the mass mid-term firings are highly unusual.

Several of the ousted attorneys have said they were told they were being pushed out to make way for people with political connections.

The firing of Carol Lam, former US attorney for San Diego, has also prompted questions because that office is presiding over a political corruption probe that ensnared Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican congressman, and other Republicans.

David Iglesias, the former top prosecutor in New Mexico, added fuel to the fire last week when he said that he was put under pressure last autumn by two ­congressional Republicans to speed up a political corruption probe involving ­Democrats.

Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record), a Republican congresswoman accused of being one of the two who allegedly put pressure on Mr Iglesias, has declined to comment on the claims and other members of New Mexico's delegation have said they did not contact the US attorney.

March 5, 2007

Bets on Politics

Contributions by indicted businessman Dennis Troha and his family illustrate how influential tribal gambling interests and Indian tribes have become in Wisconsin politics in recent years.

Troha, who until last month was working to build a $808 million casino in Kenosha, and his family gave nearly $500,000 to Gov. Jim Doyle and Democratic groups since 2002, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign contributions.

Tribes and tribal gambling interests have become the leading cash contributors to political campaigns in Wisconsin.

But exactly how much they have spent in recent years is unclear. That’s because some donations by tribes can’t be tracked.

But we estimate that the tribes and casino interests have in recent years spent several million dollars on direct contributions to state and federal elections.

Between 2000 and 2006 the Ho-Chunk Nation gave $514,950 to federal candidates and state and national parties and campaign committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. That included a $500,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee just before the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

And in some cases, tribes pay for informational television ads during the campaign season that they don’t see as political.

March 4, 2007

Talks in Riyadh

The leaders of regional heavyweights Iran and and Saudi Arabia agreed at talks in Riyadh to fight growing Sunni-Shiite strife, warning that it was the greatest danger facing the region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he and Saudi King Abdullah agreed at their meeting on Saturday that their two countries would work together to thwart "enemy" plots seeking to divide the Islamic world.

The meeting between the regional Shiite and Sunni Muslim oil powers was held against a backdrop of mounting fears that the sectarian bloodshed engulfing Iraq could spill over into the region.

Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have been strained over non-Arab Iran's growing influence in Iraq and its alleged backing of Shiite militias battling the once-ruling Sunni minority there.

At one point Saudi Arabia accused the United States of effectively handing the country to Iran and triggered reports -- swiftly denied by Riyadh -- of possible Saudi intervention on behalf of Sunnis.

Saudis saw Ahmadinejad's visit as a sign that the two countries are pooling efforts to ease explosive regional crises.

Weapons to Taiwan, Diplomats to China

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Sunday, a day after China voiced opposition over US weapons sales to Taiwan.

US plans announced last week to sell Taiwan 450 air and ground missiles appeared to top the agenda of Negroponte's talks that began Saturday with separate meetings with Deputy Foreign Ministers Dai Bingguo and Yang Jiechi.

Qin added that the nuclear issues surrounding Iran and North Korea would be discussed in Negroponte's meeting with Li and other senior officials on Sunday.

The planned weapons purchase by democratic Taiwan has upset the leaders of China's Communist Party, which views the island as a renegade province to be reunited with the motherland.

Ties had already cooled somewhat after US Vice President Dick Cheney's comments, on a trip to Australia, that China's military growth and recent test of a satellite-killer missile did not chime with its stated peaceful aims.

Qin said Dai told Negroponte that China was not to be feared.

Negroponte's visit Beijing is the second leg of a trip that has already taken him to Japan and will include a stop next week in South Korea.

March 3, 2007

Also in the Vatican?

Pope Benedict on Saturday named Kazimierz Nycz, a bishop with a spotless record, as archbishop of Warsaw to replace a prelate who resigned in disgrace after admitting he spied for the communist police.

Nycz, 57, has been bishop of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg, a city on the Baltic coast, since 2004 and is believed to be totally free of any links with the communist-era secret services in the homeland of the late Pope John Paul.

He replaces Stanislaw Wielgus, who resigned on January 7 during the mass at which he was to have been invested in his new office. The incident was a major embarrassment for the Vatican and the Polish Church.

On the day he resigned, Wielgus apologized for his actions and admitted he had hurt the Church.

Wielgus spied on his fellow clerics, many of whom fought against the communist government. During the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of citizens in East bloc countries reported on their neighbors and co-workers.

War on terror progress.

US and Pakistani agents were interrogating the Taliban's former defence minister Saturday in the hope that he can help them hunt down other militant leaders.

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, who had a one-million-dollar bounty on his head posted by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was arrested with four other suspects on Wednesday in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.

Akhund, a key aide to Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar and an insurgent commander in southern Afghanistan, was flown to the capital Islamabad by helicopter after his capture.

The CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation are operating in Pakistan in small numbers.

US officials have been involved in the questioning of several key Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures captured by Pakistani forces since thousands of militants fled the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistan has also handed a number of suspects to the United States, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Australian scandal

Attacks by Australia's conservative government against its resurgent opposition over links to a corrupt state leader were turned on their head on Saturday when a cabinet minister quit amid the growing scandal.

In a blow to Prime Minister John Howard as he faces an election later this year, Human Services Minister Senator Ian Campbell quit Howard's cabinet after it was revealed he met corrupt former Labor politician Brian Burke last year.

Campbell said he had held a meeting in his office in the Western Australia state capital Perth last June to discuss the building of a cultural center for indigenous people. Convicted criminal Burke, now a political lobbyist, attended the meeting.

Campbell said it was better for the government's chances of re-election later this year if he stood aside.

Howard's government has ratcheted up attacks on new center-left opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd in the past week over three meetings he had with Burke in 2005 before he became Labor leader.

Treasurer Peter Costello launched volleys of criticism in parliament against Rudd for meeting a man he said was a convicted criminal and corrupt influence peddlar.

Costello said anyone who dealt with Burke was "morally and politically compromised." Another senior government member, Tony Abbott, likened dealing with Burke to "supping with the devil."

Rudd holds a strong lead in opinion polls and is mounting the most serious challenge Howard has faced during his 11 years in power.

Burke's lingering influence has taken a devastating toll on the Western Australian state Labor government, with three ministers either sacked or resigning after a corruption inquiry uncovered links between them and convicted fraudster Burke.

Howard described Campbell's meeting as an error of judgment, even though it was within his portfolio duties as the then environment minister.

March 2, 2007

Illegal Donations

One of Gov. Jim Doyle's biggest campaign contributors was indicted on federal charges that he illegally funneled $100,000 in donations through a business entity and family members.

Kenosha businessman Dennis Troha is charged with fraud and making a false statement to the FBI. He faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000 if convicted.

Until last week, Troha had been pushing for a casino in Kenosha that needs Doyle's approval. Both Doyle and Troha denied the donations had to do with the casino proposal.

But on Feb. 23, Troha removed himself from the project, saying he wanted to devote himself to other issues. His share is being taken over by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which is working to build the casino with the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.

Between 2002 and 2006, Troha and 12 family members gave $200,000 directly to Doyle's campaign. Troha and his relatives gave an additional $265,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, the federal account for the Wisconsin Democratic Party and Doyle's two inaugural balls.

State law limits any individual to $10,000 in donations for state and local races, which include the governor's race.

March 1, 2007

War funds

U.S. House of Representatives Democrats will more than fully fund President George W. Bush's request for money to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, but are still debating conditions that could be attached.

The additional money House Democrats want to add in includes $1 billion more for U.S. troops girding for a spring offensive in Afghanistan, and nearly $1 billion more to treat wounded American soldiers suffering from brain injuries and psychological problems related to combat.

With other add-ons to the massive spending bill, including more U.S. Gulf Coast rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, possible aid to farmers who have suffered crop losses and around $3 billion added in to help close some U.S. military bases and modernize others, the price tag could rise significantly above $100 billion.

Lawmakers were still negotiating over whether money should be included in the emergency war spending bill to fund F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to replace F-16s lost in Iraq. The airplanes, to be built by Lockheed Martin Corp., would not be delivered for another three years.

Private Contributions

Presidential candidates may return contributions solicited for the general election campaign and accept public financing with its stricter limitations, the Federal Election Comission ruled Thursday. By a 5-0 vote, the commission gave candidates the option of paying for their general election campaigns with private contributions or with taxpayer money from a presidential campaign fund.

The commission acted on the request for FEC advice from Democrati presidential candidate Barack Obama, the Illinois senator. Commissioners hailed the decision as one way of helping to preserve a public financing system that is in danger of becoming obsolete.