Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Judge Orders John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and Administration Attorneys to Admit or Deny Knowledge of Surveillance of Confidential Attorney-Client Communications; Ruling Rejects Bush Administration’s Secrecy Claims as “Hard to Fathom”; Center for Constitutional Rights Hails Order as “First Crack” in Bush’s Surveillance Policies

New York - May 31, 2006 - Last night a U.S. Magistrate Judge ordered the Bush Administration to disclose any knowledge of government surveillance of confidential attorney client communications in Turkmen v Ashcroft, a lawsuit on behalf of people detained after the September 11th attacks brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and attorneys from Covington & Burlington. The ruling orders John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and government attorneys to admit or deny whether they are "aware of any monitoring or surveillance of communications" between CCR attorneys and their clients in the case. For months, the Bush Administration has vigorously fought to avoid stating whether or not it has access to surveillance of CCR attorneys in the case.

"The court is ordering the Bush Administration to say whether or not it is spying on our attorneys, which the administration has refused to do for months. The American legal system provides the right to an attorney without government interference or surveillance, so it is disturbing that the administration didn't want to say whether it has respected that right. Now Mr. Ashcroft has to come clean, and we are eager to hear his answers and move forward with our case against his detention policies," said Bill Goodman, CCR Legal Director. "This ruling is the first crack in the granite wall of President Bush's secret surveillance policies," he added.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold denied the government's motion for reconsideration and gave the government three weeks to comply with the order. Judge Gold ordered that disclosure of any knowledge of surveillance is required of "likely witnesses" -- which would include defendants John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller -- and members of the government trial team, including all attorneys, supervisors, support staff and people "exercising decision-making authority" to defend the administration's position. The order also requires the government to state whether any information from surveillance will be "used in any way by the United States in its defense of these cases and, if so, identify the information that will be so used."

Judge Gold noted in his conclusion that if "a witness or member of the trial team with knowledge of monitoring or surveillance is identified, it may be sensible to have the ensuing investigation conducted by an isolated team of attorneys to avoid further taint."

The ruling also rejected the administration's claim that answering surveillance questions would somehow disclose classified information, a claim that Judge Gold dismissed as "hard to fathom." He also observed: "The government has failed to present any specific facts or information in support of its contention that providing the information sought by plaintiffs would result in the disclosure of classified information. In any event, it is difficult to imagine what relevant facts remain secret but would be revealed if the information at issue were provided."

The order comes as the Bush Administration is under increasing scrutiny for domestic spying. CCR is challenging the administration's NSA program for illegally spying on CCR attorneys in a separate case, CCR v. Bush, and last week the Justice Department asked a court to completely dismiss that case without trial on the basis of the "state secrets privilege." The administration is using the same privilege to try to preempt other cases challenging domestic spying.

Over 1,500 AIDS Activists Protest at U.N. Special Session

NEW YORK - May 31 - On the 25th anniversary of the AIDS pandemic, thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS and activists from around the world are protesting today outside high-level United Nations meetings on HIV/AIDS. Expressing outrage that 15 million people have died from AIDS since the U.N. meetings in 2001, activists are demanding leaders implement science-based HIV prevention and universal access to AIDS treatment.

George W. Bush's lead negotiator at the 2001 U.N. conference on AIDS, Scott Evertz, told Reuters today that the Bush administration is reaching out to militant Islamic governments, to try to ensure the 2006 U.N. declaration backs abstinence and fidelity.

The diverse crowd of protesters, including members of civil society delegations attending the U.N. meetings and many East Coast AIDS service organizations, will take part in a rally emceed by actress Rosie Perez. Perez says, "People living with HIV have a right to the treatment they need and all communities have a right to effective prevention. It is enraging that despite leaders' promises to provide this, we still have to take to the streets to demand action on these issues."

Prominent AIDS activists from five continents are speaking at the rally and highlighted the urgent need for vastly scaled-up access to affordable HIV treatment and care programs. "There is broad international consensus that we need to commit to 10 million people on treatment by 2010 and that we need major new funding plans to do that. It is inexcusable that some governments are currently resisting this goal," says Sipho Mthathi of the Treatment Access Campaign.

Activists are also focused on the need for prevention strategies, including female and male condoms and harm reduction programs, that are responsive to women, drug-users, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and other vulnerable populations. They are criticizing governments for neglecting these groups and accusing the U.S. government of enacting highly-politicized and ineffective prevention policies.

This unique protest is bringing out people from as close as New York's five boroughs and as far as Indonesia. "We need a real action plan and funding promises to get drugs into bodies and prevention tools to the people," states Waheedah Shabazz-El of ACTUP Philadelphia.

New Orleans Dangerously Unprepared for Hurricane Season

Report: lack of federal help has left city's storm defenses "dangerously weak"

DURHAM, North Carolina - May 31 - With June 1 marking the arrival of the 2006 hurricane season, Washington has failed to help the devastated city of New Orleans adequately prepare its defenses for another storm, leaving thousands of residents at risk.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies, "Storm Cloud over New Orleans" (pdf).

“Last September, President Bush pledged to ‘do what it takes’ to bring back New Orleans” says Sue Sturgis of the Institute, the report’s author. “Yet nine months later, lack of federal leadership and resources have left the city’s people dangerously vulnerable if another storm strikes.”

The study, part of the Institute’s Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch project, looks at four key elements of New Orleans’ hurricane defense system, all of which hinge on federal policy-making: the city’s levees and floodwalls, pump systems for removing floodwater, wetlands that buffer storms, and the controversial Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

In each area, the report finds that lack of federal leadership has left the crippled city with a patchwork system of storm protection that leaves New Orleans at serious risk:

* Due to delays in funding and construction, nearly 20% of New Orleans levees and floodwalls destroyed by Katrina have not been repaired. What’s more, the Army Corps of Engineers has no mandate to protect the city from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, even though climate trends show storms are growing in intensity.

* The city’s pump system, designed to prevent flooding in low-lying areas, has not been tested and repaired after being corroded after Katrina. Three pumps failed during a light rain in April, and doubts about oversight and evacuation plans have added to the chaos.

* Federal leaders have done little to restore Louisiana’s fast-disappearing coastal wetlands. Despite being an excellent natural “buffer” against storm surges, Congress rejected a $2 billion proposal to restore the wetlands this spring.

* Over the concerns of community leaders, officials have failed to take action to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- 40-year-old relic which during Katrina breached its levees in 20 places, and is responsible for destroying over 20,000 acres of key wetlands.

“With a consensus of experts predicting storms to grow in both the likelihood and strength, Washington’s inaction is a recipe for disaster,” says Chris Kromm, director of the Institute. “Thousands of lives are at risk – this is a national security issue.”

The Institute, a non-profit research and education center founded in 1970, launched Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch in November 2005 to document and investigate the rebuilding of the Southern Gulf in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Earlier this year, Reconstruction Watch published “The Mardi Gras Index,” which used 130 indicators to measure the progress of New Orleans six months after Katrina.

For more information:

"Storm Cloud over New Orleans" full report (pdf):

New Report Reveals Estate Tax Repeal Would Give Over $200 Million Windfall to Oil Company Executives

WASHINGTON - May 30 - Next week the Senate is scheduled to consider legislation (H.R. 8) to repeal the estate tax. Repealing the tax, which has been law since 1916, is estimated to cost $1 trillion from 2011-2021. Although the tax affects few Americans, repeal will give some families extraordinary windfalls. The CEO's of major oil companies, for instance, would get enormous benefits if H.R. 8 were enacted. The family of one oil executive, Lee Raymond (the former ExxonMobil CEO), alone could receive a tax break worth over $160 million.

This report analyzes the impact that repeal would have on the families of the senior executives for the major oil companies. In 2005, the minority staff of the Government Reform Committee released a similar analysis showing that repealing the estate tax repeal would save the President, Vice President, and 11 cabinet members as much as $344 million.

The reports are available on-line at

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Organization Offers Voters an Answer to Partisan Paralysis, Seeks to Elect Bipartisan, “Unity Ticket” to White House in ‘08

Ticket to be chosen via first-ever online convention

DENVER, Colorado - May 30 - A new grassroots organization called Unity08 ( launched a nationwide movement today to effect major reform in the 2008 presidential elections by offering voters an alternative ticket – a Unity Ticket headed by a woman and/or man from each major party, or by an independent who presents a Unity Team from both parties. By electing a Unity Ticket to the White House, Unity08 plans to force the country’s Democratic and Republican leaders to cease their runaway focus on the issues of outlying special-interest groups and once again align with the aspirations and will of average Americans.

Unity08 has three specific goals:

1. Elect a Unity Ticket to the White House in 2008, headed by a woman and/or man from each major political party or by an independent who presents a Unity Team from both parties.

2. Have the American people choose that ticket via the first-ever virtual, secure online convention of millions of qualified American voters. Unity08 has no candidate – the Unity Ticket will be chosen online, by the people.

3. Effect major change and reform in the 2008 national elections by influencing the major parties to adopt the core features of Unity08’s national agenda.

Specifically, that means dividing the issues facing the nation into Crucial Issues (e.g., education, energy independence, deficit spending, global terrorism, health care, nuclear proliferation) and Important Issues (e.g., gay marriage, gun control, abortion rights), then focusing on the Crucial.

“A Unity Ticket in office for just one term, or taking part in just one election will bring new ideas, new integrity and new leaders to American politics today,” said Unity08 Founders Council members Doug Bailey, former Republican political consultant and founder of The Hotline, and Hamilton Jordan, former White House Chief of Staff in the Carter Administration. “Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the ability of their elected officials to get things done because in recent elections, candidates have focused on the turnout of their parties’ vocal single-issue interests. They call those people their ‘base,’ but that base represents only a small fraction of the American people. As a result Washington has been polarized and paralyzed and the voters are ready to take their country back.”

“Unity08 will be the long-needed correction,” said Founders Council member Angus King, former two-term Independent Governor of Maine. “Backed by people of all ages, backgrounds, races, beliefs and political affiliations, this movement will demonstrate once again that collaboration and cooperation between the parties is not only possible, but critical to future progress.”

Unity08 plans to build an online community of millions of registered voters who will participate in an online convention in the first half of 2008 to elect a Unity Ticket among any two candidates constitutionally qualified to serve – as long as they represent more than one party. Today, Unity08 launched its website (, which will be the focal point of the organization’s efforts, enabling concerned voters to register to become members, participate in a dialogue, and share ideas to shape the Unity08 movement. Through the website, Unity08 members will mobilize to spread the word, and to take off-line action by placing the Unity Ticket on the ballot in all 50 states. Ultimately, members in online convention will vote to nominate the ticket they believe will enact real change in Washington.

“We are not in this be spoilers or to hurt either party. We are in this to win, give the White House a Unity Team that can provide leadership, and along the way jolt each party back toward the voters in the center. 2008 is an historic moment of truth for the parties, the people and the nation,” said Bailey and Jordan.

The Unity08 movement is founded by a group of Americans representing all ages, race, location, political philosophy and party affiliation. To view a current list of members of the founders council in formation, click here:

“Unity08 is essential for our children,” said Founders Council member Janet Kelly of Battlecreek, Michigan, former general counsel at Kellogg and Sara Lee. “Too much time in Washington is spent attacking each other and not enough time is spent attacking the issues.”

The Unity08 movement has been building for months, through planning and discussions with civic leaders and concerned citizens across the country. Recruitment already has begun on college campuses. “Young people are disgusted with business as usual in Washington and are hungry to participate in a force for change,” said Founders Council member Lindsay Ullman, a Yale University junior and former president of the National Associations of Student Councils.

Founders Council member Zach Clayton, a senior and Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said, “For decades now, students across the country have been quietly turning away from our political system. Unity08 is the best opportunity in a generation for students to turn that frustration into action, fix Washington and change the country. Students will show up for this.” Unity08 will follow the law in every instance and seek the opinion of the Federal

Elections Commission to interpret the law where the movement breaks new ground. Unity08 legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson has already requested an FEC advisory opinion on areas where the effort will break new ground, and the organization is developing a rules committee to determine precisely how the convention system will work. That rules committee will be headed by Peter Ackerman, managing director of Rockport Capital and chairman of Freedom House, and Tom Collier, partner at Steptoe & Johnson. Unity08 will accept no political action committee (PAC) and or corporate contributions.

Also today, Unity08 released the results of a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates finding that more than three-quarters (85 percent) of Americans agree that the country “has become so polarized between Democrats and Republicans that Washington can’t seem to make progress solving the nation’s problems.” The poll found that 73 percent of Americans agree it would be a good idea for this country to have more choices in the 2008 elections than just Republican and Democratic candidates, and 63 percent express interest in a ticket that would feature a prominent Republican and a prominent Democrat. To read a summary of the poll’s major findings, click here:

“The partisan bickering in Washington is causing Americans to believe the wheels have come off our political system, that the American Dream is slipping away, and that time is short to get things back on track,” explained Unity08 president and chief executive officer Jim Jonas. “Unity08 will be a catalyst for real, meaningful progress.”

Unity08 is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. The organization currently is organized as a 527, while it seeks guidance from the Federal Elections Commission. Over the coming weeks and months, through a network of volunteers and leaders across the country, Unity08 will recruit concerned voters to join the movement by signing up on the Unity08 website (

ACLU Files Lawsuit in California Court Demanding End to Privacy Violations by AT&T and Verizon (5/26/2006)

SAN FRANCISCO - The California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union today filed two lawsuits in state court requesting injunctions against telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from illegally providing the National Security Agency with the personal phone records of millions of California customers.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 100,000 ACLU members statewide and individual plaintiffs including a former Congressman, a former linguist for the Army Security Agency, a Constitutional law professor, "Law & Order" actor Richard Belzer, journalists, psychiatrists, attorneys, and a minister. The ACLU charged that phone records were provided without the consent of their customers and without a warrant, court order or any other legal process.

“On a massive scale, AT&T and Verizon have violated one of our most precious rights -- the right to privacy guaranteed by our State Constitution,” said Dorothy Ehrlich, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “In the face of this unprecedented illegal and unconstitutional activity, we call upon the court to order AT&T and Verizon to stop turning over Californian’s phone records to the government.”

“We do not seek to obstruct legitimate law enforcement activities," added Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, "but we are determined to stand up for the fundamental privacy and due process rights of people whose telephone records have been divulged without warrant, notice or consent.”

According to USA TODAY, shortly after September 11, 2001, AT&T and Verizon unlawfully provided to the NSA the personal calling patterns of millions of California customers, including phone numbers called, and the time, date and direction of the calls without their customer’s knowledge, consent, or proper legal process.

Among those whose rights were violated are the following individuals, who all have compelling reasons for why their phone calls must remain private:

* Tom Campbell, a former member of Congress and a former California State Senator, who objects to the disclosure of his customer calling records without either his consent or without a legal process. His local and long distance residential telephone carrier is AT&T.
* Robert Scheer, a nationally syndicated columnist and journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, who writes frequently about the war in Iraq and national security issues. He regularly uses his residential phone to make calls to confidential sources. AT&T is his residential telephone provider.
* George Main, a computer consultant and former linguist for the Army Security Agency, which reported directly to the National Security Agency (1969-1978). Today, he is president of Sacramento Veterans for Peace and his recent anti-war activity was listed in the Pentagon’s secret database. He is a residential customer of AT&T for local and long distance service.
* Dr. Robert Jacobson, a technology expert in California who in 1985 helped draft the California Telephone Privacy Act, which was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian.

"The law is clear and it reflects the fact that privacy is important to the people of this state and its business community," Dr. Jacobson said. "People expect their private conversations to be private whether they’re calling friends, family, church, or business associates. Similarly, business thrives when customers know that their personal information is not being given away without their consent."

Peter Eliasberg, a managing attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, added: "This type of overbroad data collection is especially alarming to doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, ministers and their clients. Our society protects privacy and respects doctor-patient, lawyer-client, and minister-parishioner confidentiality. Without a system of checks and balances, the government can monitor any phone call or e-mail it wants, and that abuse of power sends a chilling message to all innocent Americans that our conversations are not our own."

Nationally, AT&T has 49 million customers and Verizon has 100 million wireless and landline customers in 28 states. In its lawsuit, the ACLU cited two state laws that it said the telephone providers had violated:

* California Constitutional Right to Privacy Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated the inalienable right to privacy guaranteed in Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution. This provision was passed overwhelmingly by California voters in 1972 to protect the privacy rights of all and with the precise purpose of prohibiting data sharing of this type.
* Consumer Protection Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated a California law that prohibits a telephone company from making available a residential subscriber’s personal calling information to another person or company without first obtaining the subscriber’s written consent.

“With the help of AT&T and Verizon, the NSA has assembled the largest database in the world,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “This is much more than data-mining. This has been the systematic strip-mining of the private calls of millions of innocent Americans.”

This week, 20 other ACLU affiliates throughout the country filed complaints with their local Public Utility Commissions or sent letters to state Attorney Generals and other officials demanding investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to spy on their customers.

White House invokes secrets privilege in eavesdropping cases

NEW YORK (AP) — The Bush administration has asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigating them would jeopardize state secrets.

In papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte invoked the state secrets privilege on behalf of the administration, writing that disclosure of such information would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security.

The administration laid out some of its supporting arguments in classified memos that were filed under seal.

The government's motion, widely anticipated, involves two cases challenging an NSA program that allows investigators to eavesdrop on Americans who communicate with people outside the country suspected of terrorist ties.

In New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights has asked a judge to stop the program, saying it was an abuse of presidential power. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a similar lawsuit in Detroit.

The complete story may be found here:

Monday, May 29, 2006


The 2006 High-Level Meeting on AIDS to assess the international response to the epidemic will take place at United Nations Headquarters from 31 May to 2 June. More than a dozen Heads of State and Government, and over 100 ministers are expected to attend, as well as more than a thousand representatives of civil society and the private sector.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will present a report on progress achieved in realizing the targets agreed by Member States in the historic Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, adopted in 2001 at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

The meeting will also identify common challenges to scaling up and sustaining national AIDS responses. Member States will consider recommendations on how to scale up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, with the aim of coming as close as possible to the goal of universal access to treatment by 2010 for all those who need it.

Almost 800 civil society groups have been granted special accreditation to the meeting, an unprecedented number for such a gathering, and many more are expected to attend as part of organizations already accredited to the United Nations, or as part of national delegations. A hearing will be held to provide an opportunity for civil society to exchange views with Member States.

For the first time, a person living with HIV will address the General Assembly plenary. Other speakers include the President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson; United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; and the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot.

The 2006 High-Level Meeting on AIDS will feature a series of panel discussions, as well as round tables on a range of critical topics, including financing a scaled-up AIDS response and overcoming stigma and discrimination. Building on these discussions, a political declaration will be adopted at the close of the meeting on 2 June.

An “Evening of Remembrance and Hope: Uniting the World Against AIDS” will take place 1 June in the General Assembly Hall. The event will remember the 25 years of AIDS and the heroes who have shaped the AIDS response. The Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Executive Director of UNAIDS will take part. Speakers include Noerine Kaleeba, Naomi Watts, Iryna Borisheck, Mary Fisher and Whoopi Goldberg. The event will also include performances by Wyclef Jean, Salman Ahmad, the African Children’s Choir and Angelique Kidjo. A photo opportunity and press conference have been tentatively scheduled to precede the event.

Huge Win for Online Journalists' Source Protection

May 26.2006

EFF Arguments Secure Reporters' Privilege for Internet News Gatherers

San Jose - A California state appeals court ruled in favor of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) petition on behalf of three online journalists Friday, holding that the online journalists have the same right to protect the confidentiality of their sources as offline reporters do.

"Today's decision is a victory for the rights of journalists, whether online or offline, and for the public at large," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, who argued the case before the appeals court last month. "The court has upheld the strong protections for the free flow of information to the press, and from the press to the public."

In their decision, the judges wrote: "We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news. Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace."

The case began when Apple Computer sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does," who allegedly leaked information about an upcoming product to online news sites PowerPage and AppleInsider. As part of its investigation, Apple subpoenaed Nfox -- PowerPage's email service provider -- for communications and unpublished materials obtained by PowerPage publisher Jason O'Grady. A trial court upheld the subpoena.

But Friday, the court said that O'Grady is protected by California's reporter's shield law, as well as the constitutional privilege against disclosure of confidential sources. The court also agreed with EFF that Apple's subpoena to email service provider Nfox was unenforceable because it violated the federal Stored Communications Act, which requires direct subpoenas of account holders.

"In addition to being a free speech victory for every citizen reporter who uses the Internet to distribute news, today's decision is a profound electronic privacy victory for everyone who uses email," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The court correctly found that under federal law, civil litigants can't subpoena your stored email from your service provider."

EFF worked with co-counsel Thomas Moore III and Richard Wiebe in this case.

For the full decision in the case:

For more on Apple v. Does:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Indian Protester Tries to Burn Himself to Death in Caste Clash Protest

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - A protester tried to immolate himself on Saturday as part of a three-week strike by medical staff against higher college quotas for lower castes, but witnesses said he was stopped by police.

Television footage showed the protester, reported to be a medical student, wincing in pain from burns to the upper body as he was put in a police vehicle to be taken to hospital. Ajit Singh, a private doctor, said the burns were "not serious".

Thousands of mainly upper-caste doctors, professionals and students took part in the demonstration in New Delhi, ignoring an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to end a strike that has disrupted state medical services in many parts of India.

Discrimination through the ancient Hindu social system of caste is banned in India but remains a major cause of division and even violence. Lower caste people have traditionally had less chances for quality education and prize government jobs.

In Kolkata, upper-caste junior doctors padlocked out-patient departments in state hospitals. About 5,000 anti-quota protesters later marched in the heart of the city, causing huge traffic jams.

Television footage showed the protester, reported to be a medical student, wincing in pain from burns to the upper body as he was put in a police vehicle to be taken to hospital. Ajit Singh, a private doctor, said the burns were "not serious".

Thousands of mainly upper-caste doctors, professionals and students took part in the demonstration in New Delhi, ignoring an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to end a strike that has disrupted state medical services in many parts of India.

Discrimination through the ancient Hindu social system of caste is banned in India but remains a major cause of division and even violence. Lower caste people have traditionally had less chances for quality education and prize government jobs.

In Kolkata, upper-caste junior doctors padlocked out-patient departments in state hospitals. About 5,000 anti-quota protesters later marched in the heart of the city, causing huge traffic jams.

The complete story may be found here:

Moscow Police Detain Gay Parade Organizers

Moscow, May 27, Interfax - Nikolay Alexeyev, the organizer of a gay parade in Moscow, which was banned by the city government and a court, and Yevgenia Debryanskaya, a prominent lesbian movement activist, were detained by police on Saturday.

About ten more people with non-traditional sexual orientation were also brought to the police precinct.

Alexeyev was detained near Alexander's Garden during an attempt to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an Interfax correspondent reported from the scene.

Debryanskaya and about a dozen more people were detained later near the Moscow city hall building in front of the monument to Yury Dolgoruky, where would-be gay parade participants moved later, a law enforcement source told Interfax.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, May 26, 2006

Key Portions of Critical Documents Unsealed in AT&T Surveillance Case

Technician Describes Secret NSA Room at AT&T Facility

SAN FRANCISCO - May 26 - AT&T has set up a secret, secure room for the NSA in at least one of the company's facilities -- a room into which AT&T has been diverting its customers' emails and other Internet communications in bulk -- according to evidence in key documents partially unsealed today in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) class-action lawsuit against the telecom giant.

"Now the public can see firsthand the testimony of Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee who was brave enough to step forward and provide evidence of the company's illegal collaboration with the NSA," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Today we have released some of the evidence supporting our allegation that AT&T has given the NSA direct access to its fiber-optic network, such that the NSA can read the email of anyone and everyone it chooses -- all without a warrant or any court supervision, and in clear violation of the law."

The Klein declaration and EFF's motion for a preliminary injunction against AT&T's ongoing illegal surveillance were filed under seal last month. But last week, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker instructed AT&T to work with EFF to narrowly redact the documents and make them available to the public.

"We strongly believe in transparency and openness in judicial proceedings and that there is no proper basis for permanently sealing any of the information supporting our preliminary injunction papers," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "In the interim, we are glad that as much as possible is released while the motions to unseal filed by media entities are pending."

EFF filed the class-action suit against AT&T in January, alleging that the telecommunications company has given the National Security Agency (NSA) secret, direct access to the phone calls and emails going over its network and has been handing over communications logs detailing the activities of millions of ordinary Americans. The next hearing in this case is set for June 23, when the judge will consider the motions to dismiss EFF's suit made by both the U.S. government and AT&T.

FCC Investigates TV Stations for Airing Fake News

Investigation into Video News Releases and Activist Pressure May Leadto Fines, Better Disclosure

WASHINGTON - May 26 - The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation of dozens of television stations, for airing corporate- sponsored and -scripted segments on news programs, without disclosing their sources.

The investigation comes in response to an investigative report by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and an online activist campaign spearheaded by Free Press. The official probe by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was reported today by Bloomberg News.

The report, titled "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed," identified 77 television stations across the country that aired corporate PR as news over a 10-month period. Not one station disclosed the clients behind these segments to its viewers.

"We commend the FCC for taking the issue of fake news seriously," said Diane Farsetta, the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher and the co-author of the report. "With the FCC's enforcement bureau getting involved, hopefully TV stations will finally practice full disclosure."

Although CMD tracked just 36 of the thousands of video news releases, or VNRs, distributed each year, it identified 69 TV stations that aired at least one VNR. Eight other stations aired satellite media tours, which are live but highly scripted interviews often scheduled and aired in conjunction with VNRs. The list of TV stations, along with footage of the VNRs and the newscasts that showed them, can be found at

In conjunction with the release of the report on April 6, 2006, Free Press launched a "No Fake News" online activist campaign. Since then, more than 25,000 concerned citizens have contacted the FCC to urge the agency to enforce and strengthen its disclosure requirements.

"The FCC should be applauded for listening to its real constituents -- the American public," said Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press. "The official FCC probe puts the nation's biggest media companies on notice that their viewers won't stand for fake news on the public airwaves. We hope the FCC will back up its strong statements on covert propaganda with decisive action."

In its April 2005 Public Notice, the FCC stated, "Whenever broadcast stations and cable operators air VNRs, licensees and operators generally must disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material." The FCC declined to comment on today's report about the investigation.

CMD and Free Press also filed a formal complaint with the FCC last month, urging that all VNRs be accompanied by a continuous, frame-by- frame visual notification and verbal disclosure of their source. The complaint is available at fcc_complaint_4-06-06.pdf.

Saudi Arabia: Guantanamo Detainees Return to Legal Limbo

NEW YORK - May 26 - The 15 Saudi detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi custody on May 18 are unlikely to receive a fair trial and are at risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. After being deprived of access to justice for years in U.S. military detention, they may face continued incarceration with no legal process in Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudi detainees have left Guantanamo but their legal rights are still at risk,” said Joe Stork, deputy director at Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The detainees certainly can’t rely on the Saudi justice system to give them a fair day in court.”

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the treatment of several Guantanamo detainees previously transferred to Saudi Arabia – including detention without charge, solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal counsel – increased the likelihood that the 15 new detainees would be arbitrarily detained or mistreated. Saudi Arabia has a long and recent record of torture and its trials remain patently unfair.

Three prisoners transferred to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo are still being held without trial in Riyadh’s al-Ha’ir prison. Salih al-Awshan, Mish`al al-Harbi, and Khalid al-`Unaizi, who arrived on July 20, 2005, were placed in solitary confinement for more than five months, relatives told Human Rights Watch. The authorities have not brought charges or initiated legal proceedings against them, nor allowed them to appoint defense lawyers, in violation of Saudi and international law. Officials conduct “a few interrogations, every once in a while,” a relative said. The authorities allow only close family members to visit the detainees once a month.

In other instances, former Guantanamo detainees have been convicted on legally questionable charges. Three detainees transferred into Saudi custody on May 16, 2003 were released some two years later. According to one of the former detainees, the Greater Riyadh Court in May 2005 sentenced Ibrahim al-`Umar, Fahad Abdullah Shabbati and Misha’il al-Shuddukhi, Ibrahim al-Sahli and Fawwaz al-Zahrani to six months in prison for “leaving the country without permission.” The ruling came after a four-day closed trial without representation and the men were released for time served, the detainee told Human Rights Watch. As a condition of their release, Saudi authorities prevented them from speaking openly about their experiences in Guantanamo and their time in Saudi custody.

An official with the National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, which was established in March 2004, told Human Rights Watch that the society would monitor both the treatment of the 15 detainees and their right to a fair trial, in coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Interior. The society, whose officers include government officials, has not spoken out publicly against abuse or called for public officials to be held accountable. The official said the society would seek to visit the detainees after their medical exams and initial interrogations. An Interior Ministry official confirmed that the men are being held in al-Ha’ir prison.

Human Rights Watch met with former Saudi political prisoners in February 2006, who said that they had witnessed torture in al-Ha’ir prison in 2004 and 2005. One said he himself was tortured. Mistreatment included sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings, and suspending prisoners in the air by handcuffing one hand high up to a cell wall for hours at a time.

Saudi authorities are reportedly holding Majid `Affas al-Shammari, another detainee transferred from Guantanamo to Saudi custody in November 2005, in a prison in Hafr al-Batin, in the north of the country.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Report Separates Fact from Fiction in Net Neutrality Debate

Consumers Union, Consumer Federation, Free Press, MAP and U.S. PIRG Support House Judiciary Committee’s Effort to Protect a Free and Open Internet

WASHINGTON - May 25 - A coalition of leading consumer and public interest groups today welcomed the "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006," a bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee that would offer meaningful protections under the law for Network Neutrality – the guiding principle that ensures a free and open Internet.

The bill, HR 5417, is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.); Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.); and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.). In reaction to this new, bipartisan legislation, Free Press, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Media Access Project and U.S. PIRG made the following statement:

"We applaud the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee for taking this important step toward preserving a free and open Internet.

"From its inception, the Internet has prospered on a foundation of equality and neutrality, open to all and protected from discrimination by unnecessary gatekeepers. Network Neutrality is about preserving the Internet as truly free market that encourages competition and innovation.

"In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens have contacted Congress, urging their elected officials to protect Network Neutrality. Despite the intense lobbying and misleading advertising of the cable and telecommunications industry, Congress is beginning to heed the public outcry.

"A growing alliance in Congress recognizes that Network Neutrality is not a partisan issue, but one of grave importance to anyone who wishes to see the Internet remain an unrivaled environment for innovation, civic participation and free speech. We urge all members of Congress to support this important legislation."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Crisis of Confidence- Should the U. S. Consider a Parliamentary System of Government? Editorial Opinion

For the past few weeks we have been treated to one story after another which casts extreme doubt on the motives of those who have been elected to the highest offices in our Federal Government.

Be it wiretapping, bribery, prisoner abuse, higher than justified oil prices, or the recent theft of Veteran's names and social security numbers from an agency which was set up to care for them.

Your editors are sure that they reflect the majority of our readers, when we say that, we are now in the midst of the biggest crisis of confidence this country has experienced, in decades.

If our government had been set up as a parliamentary system, no doubt the current occupant of the White House would have long ago been thrown out of office in disgrace.

However, our lumbering three branch system moves at a snails pace when it comes to dealing with the deluge of scandals which have been reigning down on the U. S. in the past five years or so.

Perhaps it is time for the electorate to start considering the benefits of a move toward structural change in the way our leaders are elected, and the manner in which our system is configured.

We predict that a movement to amend the Constitution to revamp our system will be a growing one in the coming years, and that perhaps fifty years from now, we will have not a presidential office but a Prime Ministerial office.

In our view. we need to move toward the goal of a parliamentary system rapidly, there is, in our opinion, no viable alternative.

The World Monitor
Editorial Board

Chavez Tries To Embarrass Blair With Heating Oil Offer

According to the London Times:

The President of Venezuela today offered to supply the poor in Britain with cheap heating oil in the winter, in an apparent attempt to embarrass Tony Blair's Government.

Hugo Chavez spoke during a joint press conference with Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, during a two-day visit to London in which he has scheduled meetings with left-wing activists but no official inter-governmental talks.

"We have investments here in two refineries in the UK, maybe we could use these refineries to help in some way the most needy people here in London and Great Britain," Senor Chavez said.

The complete story can be found here:,,2-2181739,00.html

Editor's Note:
It appears that the PR campaign on all sides is continuing.

ACLU Launches Nationwide Action Against NSA Snooping on Americans’ Phone Calls

ACLU Affiliates in 20 States Urge Local Officials to Investigate Phone Companies’ Cooperation with Spy Agency; FCC Action Also Sought

NEW YORK - May 24 - Responding to reports that phone companies are turning over private details about Americans’ telephone calls to the National Security Agency, the American Civil Liberties Union today launched a nationwide initiative to end illegal government spying.

ACLU affiliates in 20 states today filed complaints with Public Utility Commissions or sent letters to state Attorneys General and other officials demanding investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to spy on their customers.

“We cannot sit by while the government and the phone companies collude in this massive, illegal and fundamentally un-American invasion of our privacy,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “And unfortunately, we cannot wait for Congress to act. The ACLU is mobilizing its members and supporters nationwide to demand investigations into this shocking breach of trust. And we are asking the FCC to use its authority to uncover the facts about how far the president's illegal spying has gone. The American people want answers.”

The ACLU today also sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to reconsider its refusal to investigate reports that at least three major telecommunications companies -- AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon -- cooperated with the NSA in an effort to collect calling information and call patterns on every American.

In its letter, the ACLU refuted the agency’s assertion – made public late yesterday – that the classified nature of NSA activities render it “unable” to investigate potential wrongdoing. The ACLU noted that the government is publicly defending the program, so there is no way that all the details about it are “state secrets” or involve classified information. The letter also pointed out that the government has a recent history of overclassifying information and conveniently claiming that any evidence of embarrassing or illegal actions are “state secrets.”

In the complaints sent to state utilities commissions and other officials around the country, the ACLU is also alling for investigations into the unlawful sharing of billions of consumers’ call records with the NSA. If the sharing is found to be in violation of state law, the ACLU is urging that officials issue “cease-and-desist” orders to the telecommunications companies in their state.

“It’s time to shed light on this illegal invasion of privacy that could affect everyone in this country,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which today filed a complaint on behalf of its 22,000 members and four Massachusetts city mayors, seeking a public hearing into possible violations of state law. “The purpose of this effort is not to obstruct legitimate law enforcement activities, but to protect the basic privacy and due process rights of people whose telephone records have been divulged without a warrant, notice or consent.”

In addition to the ACLU of Massachusetts, actions were filed today by ACLU affiliates in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Other ACLU affiliates are expected to file additional letters and complaints in the coming weeks.

As part of its nationwide campaign, the ACLU today is running full-page advertisements in The New York Times and half a dozen major daily newspapers, with the headline: “If You’ve Used a Telephone in the Last Five Years, Read This.” The advertisement provides a link to, where individuals can add their names to the public record in the ACLU’s complaints with Public Utility Commissions and send e-mails to the FCC urging that it investigate the matter. The ad is also running in the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Portland Press Herald (Maine) and the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We are seeking to create the perfect storm to end illegal NSA spying,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program.

When the NSA spying program was initially uncovered last December, the ACLU was one of the first organizations to bring a legal challenge, acting on behalf of a prominent and politically diverse group of journalists, scholars and lawyers. That challenge will be heard before Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit on Monday, June 12; it will be the first ever hearing on the legality of NSA spying since the program was disclosed.

More information on the case is online at:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

German Court Restricts Police Profiling to Find Terrorists

Deutsche Welle reported today that:

Germany's highest court on Tuesday ruled that profiling by police and intelligence agencies to identify potential terrorists is illegal if it is based on a mere suspicion without any concrete evidence.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, German lawmakers had given considerably more powers to intelligence officers to obtain information, particularly about people with a Muslim background. The were also allowed to employ a nationwide profiling search to flush out so-called sleepers, such as the Sept. 11 attackers, who had lived in Hamburg for years without raising suspicion.

The profiling searches in Germany have primarily targeted Arab students. They were approved by then Interior Minister Otto Schily, a Social Democrat. He played no small role in making sure that this highly controversial means of preventive investigation made it into the second package of anti-terror legislation adopted after the terrorist attacks in the United States.

The complete story may be found here:,2144,2029600,00.html

Predictions of a “very active” 2006 hurricane season

Editors Note: The following was released by the University of Texas yesterday, hopefully our politicians are paying attention:

AUSTIN, Texas—Predictions released today (May 22) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate the 2006 hurricane season will be a “very active one,” making a set of maps recently released by the National Consortium to Map Gulf Coast Ecological Constraints even more significant.

The consortium led by the Regional Plan Association and directed by The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture previously released a set of maps which illustrated the continued vulnerability of the Gulf Coast to natural disasters, including numerous areas slated to be rebuilt with billions in public funds. The maps can be found on the America 2050 Web site.

The National Consortium to Map Gulf Coast Ecological Constraints is composed of leading architects and landscape architects, urban planners, environmental and geographic scientists, and other leading professionals in related fields.

Members of the consortium hope the maps, prepared by consultants EDAW, will help planners determine how to rebuild the Gulf Coast and encourage other regions to perform similar analyses so that damage can be limited should disaster strike in the future.

“The Gulf Coast isn’t the only region of the country that’s vulnerable to natural disasters,” said Robert D. Yaro, president of the Regional Planning Commission. “We hope that these maps will start a national discussion about how we protect our coastal areas and invest public funds in a sustainable way.”

The maps illustrate the coastal vulnerability to a variety of environmental risk factors, such as high wind, storm surges, flooding, rise in sea level, loss of wetlands, marshes and barrier islands, demographic vulnerability and growth patterns. They portray an extended coastline and inland area threatened by multiple environmental factors.

“It is our hope that planners and architects involved in the local rebuilding efforts use these maps in their decision-making,” said Frederick (Fritz) Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture. “This information is valuable to state and national policymakers, national foundation decision makers and local elected officials, business people and civic leaders, as well.

Upsurge of Violence Harming Civilians in Southern Sudan

AMSTERDAM - May 23 - An upsurge of violence has led to displacement, injury, and the death of civilians in the Upper Nile and Jonglei provinces of southern Sudan. According to the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), clashes between armed groups and direct attacks on villages have occurred in the region north and south of the Sobat River since the beginning of April. The deteriorating security situation has also forced MSF to evacuate a number of its international teams from the area.

On April 10, armed militia attacked the village of Ulang, where MSF operates a clinic. Most of the patients and villagers, along with MSF staff, fled in search of safety. Thirty-one people were reported killed and dozens injured; 15 were treated in the MSF hospital in the nearby town of Nasir.

Subsequent outbreaks and threats of violence forced MSF international staff to evacuate from Nasir as well, and from clinics in Wudier, Lankien and Pieri. In Pieri, most of the patients in the MSF clinic–among them 120 patients being treated for tuberculosis (TB)–were forced to flee. Medical equipment, drugs, and food for the patients were looted, leaving the clinic effectively destroyed.

"We are concerned about the growing number of violent incidents," says MSF coordinator Cristoph Hippchen. "This means humanitarian assistance to the people of Upper Nile and Jonglei, already far below what is needed, will be even less now."

MSF is one of the very few providers of health care in Upper Nile and Jonglei, an area where malaria, TB, and the deadly tropical disease kala azar are rampant. While in some locations Sudanese staff have been able to continue treating some of the patients, access to essential medical care for the population is now severely reduced.

After decades of conflict, the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005 raised hope among the people living in southern Sudan. However, in parts of Upper Nile and Jonglei, renewed fighting and tension have created conditions similar to those during the years of war, with civilians living under the threat of violence and access for humanitarian agencies remaining precarious. Since the signing of the agreement, little has changed in the lives of these people, and the benefits of peace seem tenuous at best.

MSF works in six locations in the Upper Nile region, with 50 international and 400 Sudanese staff. In 2005, MSF conducted more than 294,000 medical consultations, over 40 percent of which with children under five. In southern Sudan, MSF runs 19 hospitals and clinics, providing primary and secondary health care, and has extensive programs to treat people with TB, malaria and kala azar.

Promising Futures: The Unexpected Rewards of Engaged Philanthropy

Released by:
Harvard Graduate School of Education
May 23,2006

A new book authored by HGSE Adjunct Lecturer Margot Welch investigates the rewards that come to philanthropists who make long-term, active commitments with low-income children and their education. Promising Futures: The Unexpected Rewards of Engaged Philanthropy draws on data from philanthropists who have been sponsors for the I Have a Dream Foundation® (IHAD) since the mid-1980s. IHAD supports children in under-resourced communities by providing long-term programs of mentoring, tutoring, and enrichment, and financial support for higher education.

“This is philanthropy that’s very active, engaged, and involved,” Welch says. “Unlike those who just simply write checks, these philanthropists roll up their sleeves and get intimately involved with the people whose futures they are determined to improve. They establish personal relationships with kids, their families, and their schools for long [periods of] time.”

Promising Futures focuses on the ways in which engaged philanthropy can have profound effects on both the children and the philanthropists. Welch explains that as philanthropists start applying their entrepreneurial skills to the challenges confronting low-income communities, they often find themselves putting education and child-focused efforts at the center of their lives. Many become very involved in developing new schools, school-based enrichment programs, education policy programs, and foundation-center efforts that focus on strengthening education for children.

Welch was the founding director of the Collaborative for Integrated School Services, a practitioner-driven, University-based initiative which, until its closure in 2003, aimed to enhance the success of all children by bringing professional development opportunities and resources to those who provide child and family services. She worked closely with students, faculty, and graduates of the Risk and Prevention Program to help disseminate new models of service and training and build supportive networks among practitioners. For the past five years, her focus has been on evolving full-service and community school programs, nationwide.

Promising Futures: The Unexpected Rewards of Engaged Philanthropy is available through Font and Center Press and the I Have a Dream Foundation®. For more information, visit:

Is danger of identity theft overblown?

Indiana University expert says identity theft not on the rise despite recent security breaches

May 23, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The announcement yesterday (May 22) about the loss of personal electronic data on up to 26.5 million veterans is the latest in a string of similar reports about information security breaches at major institutions in the last two years. These reports have heightened public concern about the risk of identity theft, which often is referred to in media reports as "the nation's fastest-growing crime."
Indiana University law professor Fred Cate says studies demonstrate that identity theft is actually declining, not increasing.

Though these incidents are troubling and new threats may yet emerge, the danger of identity theft is being overblown by the press and politicians, according to Indiana University law professor Fred H. Cate. Cate, the director of IU's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and a recognized expert on information privacy and security, cites recent data available from government, industry and academic studies that demonstrate that identity theft is not being fueled by information security breaches. The studies suggest that identity theft is actually declining, not increasing, Cate said.

"The risk to consumers of most breaches is not as great as popular rhetoric suggests, and only a small percentage of breaches actually involve any harmful use of data," he said. "There is plenty of reason to be concerned about data security breaches and about identity theft, but the link between the two is often overblown by politicians and the press."

"The real danger," according to Cate, "is that we become so focused on activities that don't pose a real risk to consumers, that we ignore those that do."

To find out more about Cate's views, read his article for the Indiana Alumni Magazine, "Identity Theft," which is available at Cate's 2005 paper "Information Security Breaches and the Threat to Consumers" can be downloaded at

To learn more about Cate and his research, go to

AIUSA to Highlight Emerging Problems with Private Military Contractors During 2006 Annual Report Release

WASHINGTON - May 23 - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today highlighted the role of private military contractors in the U.S. government's current system for outsourcing key military detention, security and intelligence operations. Such outsourcing fuels serious human rights violations and undermines accountability, the organization stated at the release of its 2006 Annual Report on the status of human rights in 150 countries.

"The United States has become a world leader in avoiding human rights accountability; a case in point is the reliance of the United States government on private military contractors, which has helped create virtually rules-free zones sanctioned with the American flag and fire power," said Larry Cox, who became AIUSA's executive director May 1. "Business outsourcing may increase efficiency, but war outsourcing may be facilitating impunity. Contractors' illegal behavior and the reluctance of the U.S. government to bring them to justice are further tarnishing the United States' reputation abroad, hurting the image of American troops and contributing to anti-American sentiment. These results are a distressing return on the U.S. taxpayers' billion-dollar- plus investment and undermine what remains of U.S. moral authority abroad."

In the rush to war and with little notice, the U.S. government has outsourced billions of dollars in contracts to private military contractors, leaving to civilians some of the most essential and sensitive functions in the war, including protecting supply convoys, translating during interrogations and conducting interrogations. Despite the weak requirements for reporting crimes, allegations have surfaced implicating civilians working for the U.S. government in mistreatment of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, including hundreds of incidents of shootings at Iraqi civilians, several deaths in custody and involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Major General George Fay's report on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib detailed the involvement of two private military companies -- Arlington, Va.-based CACI (NYSE: CAI) and BTG, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Titan Corporation (NYSE: TTN) -- at that notorious prison facility. Titan, under an INSCOM contract with a current ceiling of approximately $650 million, has provided hundreds of linguists. CACI provided interrogators and other intelligence-related personnel under a contract with the National Business Center of the Interior beginning in September 2003. An Army Inspector General's report found that 35 percent of CACI's Iraqi interrogators had no "formal training in military interrogation policies and techniques," let alone training in the standards of international law.

Currently the contractors operate in a virtually rules-free zone; they are exempt from Iraqi law per a Coalition Provisional Authority order and they fall outside the military chain of command. Of the 20 known cases of alleged misconduct by civilians in the war on terror that were forwarded by the Pentagon and CIA to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation, DOJ has dismissed two, brought one indictment, while the remaining 17 are classified as open.

AI places responsibility jointly on private military companies and the Bush administration to overhaul the contracting system from top to bottom to ensure safety of suspects and civilians and investigation and prosecution when rights are violated. Private military companies should, among other things, implement a comprehensive human rights policy; monitor and periodically issue public reports on its implementation; screen employees and train them on international human rights standards; make public the results of investigations the company may conduct into alleged human rights abuses by employees; and disclose the terms of U.S. government contracts with respect to human rights. Every contractor involved in detentions or who might use force against civilians must undergo a background check and receive human rights and humanitarian law training.

In addition, the U.S. government should create and enforce unambiguous, transparent and consistent mechanisms for reporting on, investigating and, when necessary, prosecuting contractors involved in detainee abuse and/or excessive use of force against civilians.

"Private military companies have tried to abandon negative labels like 'mercenaries,'" said Mila Rosenthal, Business and Human Rights Program Director for Amnesty International USA. "They want to be considered respectable firms doing a respectable job. If they don't want to be viewed as the scruffiest dogs of war, they must take their human rights responsibilities seriously. They have to understand the human rights implications of deploying often armed personnel into war zones and ensure that they have company-level policies to prevent and redress abuses."

In recent weeks, AIUSA has contacted 14 private military companies to urge that they improve their human rights practices. Three companies have issued written replies, and one has met with AIUSA in person. AIUSA has concluded that no major private military companies currently implement adequate human rights policies.

AIUSA noted that lawmakers have also begun to call for greater accountability in war outsourcing. Legislation sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-NC), passed by the House last month, demands greater transparency on the part of the intelligence community regarding its use of private military contractors.

AIUSA's criticism of private military contractors came at the launch of an Annual Report that detailed the ways in which governments worldwide, in the name of fighting terror, are committing gross violations of human rights: mistreating suspects, harming civilians and thereby undermining their ability to solve some of the world's most urgent problems.

Lobbyists Contributed $103 Million to Lawmakers Since 1998

Public Citizen Report Reveals Names and Numbers Behind Biggest Lobbyist Contributors

WASHINGTON - May 23 - Lobbyists and their political action committees (PACs) have contributed at least $103.1 million to members of Congress since 1998, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. This is the first comprehensive effort to match names of lobbyists with Federal Election Commission campaign contribution data. The result provides details about the biggest lobbyist contributors and congressional recipients of campaign largesse and furnishes a contribution total nearly double the previous estimate.

The report, released today in a telephone press conference, details the amounts given to members of Congress since 1998 by the 50 biggest lobbyist money-givers. Twenty-seven percent of lobbyists have contributed an amount to lawmakers large enough to be recognized by the Federal Election Commission ($200 or more), and a select 6.1 percent of lobbyists have contributed at least $10,000 - totaling 83.4 percent of all lobbyist contributions. Many of the top recipients of congressional campaign money are on appropriations committees that dole out federal money.

The report also records the rise of contributions by lobbyists from $17.8 million in the 2000 election cycle to $33.9 million in the 2004 cycle – a 90.3 percent increase. In the 2006 election, lobbyists and their PACs are already on track to give about 10 percent more than in the previous cycle, not accounting for the expected increase in contributions as Election Day draws nearer.

“These numbers reveal the seamier side of Washington’s congressional decision-making,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “Such enormous sums buy commensurate access, shutting most Americans out of the process and skewing legislation and budget allocation.”

Profiling the 10 lobbyists who have given the most to members of Congress since 1998, the report provides behind-the-scenes glimpses of some of the most egregious policy-making fiascos in recent years. One prime example is Kenneth Kies, who served as the chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation from 1995 to 1998 and who, along with his wife Kathleen, is the study’s fifth-highest lobbyist-contributor to Congress with $292,866 since 1998.

Kies played an indispensable role in preserving the “synfuel” tax credit, which has allowed exploitative companies to bilk the Treasury out of $1 billion to $4 billion per year merely by spraying coal with diesel fuel or other substances and claiming a tax credit for creating a “synthetic” fuel. The top recipient of their largesse, House Ways and Means Select Measures Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery (R-La.), has helped protect the synfuel tax credit from a crackdown by both the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Lobbyist Denny Miller, whose $293,203 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998 rank him fourth in Public Citizen’s study, was one of two lobbyists to negotiate the proposed $30 billion Boeing tanker deal in 2001. Miller was a former chief of staff to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), the former senator for Boeing’s hometown and corporate headquarters.

When on the verge of passage, the deal imploded amid revelations that leasing the planes would be more expensive than purchasing them outright, that the military didn’t truly need the planes and that the negotiations repeatedly violated regulations. This near-miss is considered one of the worst procurement abuses in recent decades and has resulted in prison sentences for a Boeing executive and a Pentagon official.

“The campaign contributions lobbyists make from their own checkbooks, while significant, are just a fraction of the equation,” said Claybrook. “This report also reveals that top lobbyist contributors coordinate lucrative fund-raisers for the lawmakers they hope to influence and bring in a steady stream of contributions from their corporate clients far greater than they alone give.”

The lobbyist couple Denny and Sandra Miller once hosted a pair of fund-raisers for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that netted the lawmaker $160,000 in just four hours. The total the Millers could have contributed as individuals under the campaign finance law at the time was $4,000. Denny Miller was also among 15 lobbyists who coordinated a fund-raiser for a Stevens foundation in 2004 that raised $2 million.

And while disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff ranks 30th among the lobbyists considered in the report with $180,503 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998, his clients contributed a total of $2.6 million to members of Congress in the same time period.

To limit this type of waste and malfeasance, Congress should prevent lobbyists from making contributions of greater than $200 per election to lawmakers’ campaign committees or from contributing more than $500 per election cycle to national parties or leadership PACs, the report says. Lobbyists should also be prevented from arranging contributions to federal candidates, serving as officials on candidate campaign committees and leadership PACs, funding events “honoring” members of Congress and contributing to foundations controlled by lawmakers. None of these limitations are in the pending ethics and lobby reform bills before Congress, revealing how inadequate they are.

The report recommends publicly financing campaigns as the only real remedy to abuses and scandals. Public funding would pay for itself by saving billions wasted in lobbyist-brokered corporate giveaways.

“Our system of selling federal tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, loan guarantees and regulatory cutbacks to the highest bidder is not only subverting the democratic process, it’s costing the country billions and driving up the national debt,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and the principal author of the report. “Even spending as much as $2 billion a year to publicly finance campaigns would be cheaper than the synfuel boondoggle alone – and that’s just one of the tax credits that has emerged from the toxic combination of influence-peddlers and campaign contributions.”

Center For International Policy Takes Issue With Bush Administration on Cuba-Press Conference Planned

The Center for International Policy, with the participation of the Latin American Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, Church World Service and the National Council of the Churches of Christ, invites media to a press conference to discuss the counterproductive nature of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is based on the assumption that the Castro regime is on its last legs and that the U.S. will play a role in overseeing Cuba's transition to democracy in the post-Castro period.

The Commission will shortly be coming forward with new recommendations, which are likely to be as unrealistic as the earlier ones, adopted by President Bush in May 2004. Instead of positing helpful exchanges, the previous recommendations accomplished only the severe limitation of travel by Cuban- Americans, thus causing further suffering to Cuban families; the cut back on travel in general, including the travel of religious groups to and from Cuba; and the virtual elimination of academic exchanges. Yet, in earlier cases (say, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe), the U.S. had felt that such people-to-people contacts were an important means of communicating the message of American democracy. It is especially difficult to understand why contacts with religious groups have been restricted.

Meanwhile, while the U.S. is working unilaterally to isolate the island, Cuba has new economic partners in Venezuela and China and possibly a large new oil field off its north coast. Cuba is far from isolated and there are no indications that the Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse.

WHEN: May 25, 9 a.m. through 11 a.m.

WHERE: The Murrow Room of the National Press Club, 529 14th St., N.W., 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.


-- Wayne S. Smith, of the Center for International Policy

-- Mavis Anderson, of the Latin American Working Group

-- Joy Olson, of the Washington Office on Latin America

-- Rick Augsburger, deputy director of programs, Church World Service

-- Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general secretary for justice and advocacy, National Council of Churches of Christ


Monday, May 22, 2006

Antiwar Protests Greet Rice at Boston College

The New York Times reported today that:

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., May 22 — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered the commencement address at Boston College today to an audience that included dozens of students and professors who turned their backs and held up signs to protest the war in Iraq.

About 50 students and dozens of faculty members, sporting white armbands to protest the Boston College's granting of an honorary degree, stood and turned their backs as Dr. Rice spoke. Some held signs reading, "Not in My Name," with a red slash through a diploma.

A small plane flew overhead twice, pulling a sign that said in red letters, "Your War Brings Dishonor."

Outside Alumni Stadium, protesters marched up Beacon Street, holding signs reading "No Blood For Oil" and "We're Patriotic Too." They assembled across the street from the stadium, where 3,234 graduates passed through metal detectors before taking their seats on the school's football field.

The complete story may be found here:

British troops to start leaving Iraq 'in months'

The Times Online reported today that:

Britain and Iraq announced an accelerated timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from much of Iraq today during a surprise visit by Tony Blair to show his support for the country's new government.

Britain could return two southern provinces to Iraqi security control within in a few months. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's new Prime Minister, said that he expected as many as 16 of the 18 provinces to be "Iraqi-ised" - under the control of Iraqi forces - by the end of this year.

The timetable will increase pressure on the United States to set its own deadlines for withdrawal, which Bush Administration officials have steadily refused to do for fear of handing a propaganda victory to al-Qaeda linked insurgents.

The complete story may be found here:,,7374-2191603,00.html

House Judiciary Committee Will Cast Crucial Vote on Internet's Future on Thursday

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday will cast a vote with huge implications for the future of the Internet as we know it. Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) are co-sponsors of H.R. 5417, the Internet Freedom and Non-Discrimination Act.

Their bipartisan bill would guarantee our right to "net neutrality" -- the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.

"Net neutrality" may sound obscure and wonky. But it is crucial if the Internet is to remain a forum for us to talk to one another, to access web sites for information, to read, write and comment on blogs, to engage in political forums, or to donate money and learn about political candidates. There is a real risk that telephone and cable companies, which provide access to the Internet for 95 percent of U.S. consumers who go online, will use their market power to transform the Internet into largely a vehicle for selling us things - entertainment, games and goods. And even then, only those goods and commodities from which they can extract the most profit will be most accessible.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used to protect our rights to access any information we wanted on the Internet. But we lost those protections in August 2005, when the FCC decided to change the way it enforced rules dealing with the Internet. As a consequence, there is now no rule or regulation that will prevent the phone and cable companies from doing what they've said they want to do: charge content providers for the right to be on their Internet pipes, and make special deals with some companies to ensure their sites and services work faster and are easier to find by Internet users.

It was a free and open Internet, without barriers to entry that made it possible for young, unknown entrepreneurs to develop Google, Yahoo, eBay and many other innovative businesses. But access to the Internet will be too costly for the next generation of innovators.

And nonprofits, bloggers and a host of other groups that have Internet web sites also will be left out in the cold. Rather than an Internet where any idea is welcome and where only our imaginations limit what we can discover, we will be left with an Internet that is more like cable TV. Those providing information and opinion will be hard to find and slower to access. Entertainment options will largely be determined by the phone and cable companies.

The Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill will ensure that anti-trust law covers the actions of the providers of high-speed Internet by specifically banning discriminatory practices that affect our rights to access the information we want.

Why is this important now?

Congress is currently drafting a bill that would revise and update the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The House Commerce Committee defeated attempts to strengthen the bill with strong provisions on net neutrality. That's why the House Judiciary vote this week is so important. It gives Congress another chance to protect our rights to a free and open Internet.

Is this a real threat?

It's not just a threat: There have already been instances of Internet providers blocking access to Internet applications that allow you to access your company's network, share files with peers - even send large attachments (like digital photos) in your email. In 2005, the FCC sanctioned a rural telephone company named Madison River Communications for blocking its DSL customers from making phone calls over the Internet. Also last year, Telus, a telephone company in Canada, blocked its customers from visiting a website sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

Foreign governments have also sought to block certain web pages and Internet applications. In China, the government uses sophisticated software to control which websites can and cannot be accessed. Bloggers receive government warnings for writing words like 'freedom' and 'democracy.' Web searches for sensitive keywords often lead to the equivalent of an Internet black hole.

There is nothing in rule or law today that protects us from these abuses. Telephone and cable companies could legally restrict access to any website or Internet application they choose whenever it suits their bottom-line economic, or even political, interests. The industry's claim that this is "a solution in search of a problem" is shortsighted and untrue.

Are there legitimate reasons why an Internet provider would block content or an Internet application?

Yes. Internet providers should be able to block spam emails, as well as viruses that could harm their networks and their customers' computers. But industry interests argue that they should be able to block anything that interferes with "quality of service." That definition is too broad. It's possible that a provider could decide to block Google or Yahoo in favor of its own search engine, saying it's in the interest of better "quality of service."

What are some ways I might be affected?

Providers can restrict or disrupt your access to web content and applications in a variety of ways, including:

Discriminating against competitors' services: A provider could make sure that preferred content or applications load faster and more efficiently while competing services are slow or spotty. That would effectively create a tiered Internet - with a fast lane for those who will pay, and a slow lane for everyone else.

Limiting diversity of content: A provider can enhance its own web content and services by featuring prominent menus, program guides, start screens, etc. while systematically excluding competing content.

Favoring commercial services: The nonprofit and noncommercial sector could be distinguished from the for-profit sector of the online community in terms of services offered, and would suffer because they cannot compete in an environment where they have to pay for better service.

Restricting Internet telephone: Services that allow you to make low-cost, long-distance telephone calls using a high-speed Internet connection (sometimes called VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol) are becoming more and more popular. But traditional phone companies who are now getting into the Internet business don't want to lose their customers to Internet phone companies like Vonage and Skype. However, there is nothing stopping them from using their gatekeeper status to block their competitors.

Will this legislation turn control of the Internet over to government regulators?

No. This legislation simply makes it unlawful for an Internet service provider to block, impair or discriminate against any lawful Internet content or applications. It does not give the government any special rights or control over Internet traffic.

Studs Terkel, Other Prominent Chicagoans Team Up to Challenge AT&T Sharing of Telephone Records with National Security Agency

CHICAGO - May 22 - Celebrated Chicago author Studs Terkel and prominent leaders in the medical, legal, political and faith communities today filed a federal lawsuit charging that telephone giant AT&T violated their privacy by secretly sharing the telephone records of millions of Americans with the National Security Agency. The secret program was revealed in a May 11, 2006 article in USA Today.

The prominent Chicago area professionals who filed the lawsuit today note their special concerns with the government's gathering of the phone records of innocent Americans. As a journalist, for example, Mr. Terkel wants the capacity to keep sources secret from government scrutiny. Lawyers, doctors and clergy members rely upon confidentiality in order to best serve their clients, patients and congregants. Elected officials rely on the ability to strategize and communicate with allies and others without the federal executive branch monitoring their activities.

In addition to Mr. Terkel, the other plaintiffs in the case filed in federal district court in Chicago today include: Barbara Flynn Currie, Majority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives; Rabbi Gary Gerson of Oak Park Temple; Professor Diane Geraghty, Director of the Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University School of Law, Chicago; James Montgomery, former Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago; and, Dr. Quinten Young, a physician and advocate for health care reform.

"Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans," said Terkel. "When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far. "

The group of renowned plaintiffs contends that AT&T violated their individual right to engage in telephone conversations without government monitoring under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. That law, according to the complaint, prohibits any entity providing "an electronic communication service" from divulging the records of customers to governmental agencies.

Without consent of customers or other lawful certification authorized by a court order, according to published reports, the National Security Agency sought the records of tens of millions of telephone customers in the United States. Indeed, when Denver-based Qwest Communications asked the NSA for the legal authority behind their request to that company for telephone records, the NSA discontinued the request.

"For the individuals we represent today, the ability to act without government oversight and intrusion is critical to the function of their profession," said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois representing the five plaintiffs. "The NSA program, if unchecked, interferes with the ability of lawyers to deal with clients, doctors to treat their patients and clergy to counsel members of their congregation."

The plaintiffs have asked the federal court to certify a class of Illinois residents who use AT&T for telephone service and to enjoin AT&T from divulging any further information to the NSA. The plaintiffs will seek a prompt hearing on their request for a preliminary injunction.

"The disclosure of the NSA program was of grave concern to me," added James Montgomery. "If people seeking legal advice or representation know the government is monitoring who I am calling or who is calling me, they may be less inclined to seek that advice." The NSA program, then, limits a lawyer's ability to help those in need."

The national ACLU, which filed a legal challenge in January to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping, also is of counsel in today's lawsuit.

"Our corporate and political leaders should talk straight with the American people about these secret demands for customer phone records," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. "Whether the government is monitoring or intercepting the domestic and international calls of millions of Americans without warrants goes to the heart of our system of checks and balances."

Chicago attorneys William Hooks of the Hooks Law Offices and Marc Beem and Zachary Freeman of the law firm Miller, Shakman & Beem, are assisting the ACLU of Illinois in the case.

Thieves Steal Personal Data of 26.5M Vets-Employee Had Taken Data Home

WASHINGTON - Thieves took sensitive personal information on 26.5 million U.S. veterans, including
Social Security numbers and birth dates, after a Veterans Affairs employee improperly brought the material home, the government said Monday.

The information involved mainly those veterans who served and have been discharged since 1975, said VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. Data of veterans discharged before 1975 who submitted claims to the agency may have been included.

Nicholson said there was no evidence the thieves had used the data for identity theft, and an investigation was continuing.

"It's highly probable that they do not know what they have," he said in a briefing with reporters. "We have decided that we must exercise an abundance of caution and make sure our veterans are aware of this incident."

The complete story may be found here:

Jesuits Protest Boston College's "Scandalous" Honorary Doctorate to Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice

The following was released today by Concerned Jesuits
BOSTON - May 22 -

Fr. Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
Colegio Centro America
Apdo 2419
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (country code 505) 278-6965 ext. 111
Cell: " 635-6381

Dear Friends,

As Jesuits, we are scandalized and outraged by Boston College's decision to award an honorary doctorate to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Dr. Rice is one of the principal architects and representatives of the Bush administration's illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The reasons given by Dr. Rice and others in the Bush administration for the invasion -- weapons of mass destruction, ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda -- have been demonstrated to be groundless. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Dr. Rice and others deliberately deceived the American people and Congress in their attempts to justify the war.

The military occupation of Iraq has brought with it a variety of other illegal and immoral practices, including the abuse and torture of prisoners by U.S. forces and the inordinate killing of innocent civilians in Iraq.

Many members of the faculty and student body of Boston College have voiced their objection to the invitation, pointing out that Dr. Rice's actions as Secretary of State are inconsistent with the broader humanistic values of the university and the Catholic and Jesuit traditions from which those values derive. We join with those professors and students in protesting vigorously against the decision to honor Dr. Rice.

We know that many other Jesuits share our criticism of this unfortunate decision. With just two days remaining before the commencement, we cannot contact all those Jesuits to request their signatures. Thus, we are a small but representative group of members of the Society of Jesus.


Dean Brackley, S.J.
Professor of Theology
Central American University (UCA)
San Salvador, El Salvador

J Peter Carey, SJ
Cincinnati, OH 45229

Paul E. Carrier, sj
University Chaplain
Fairfield University
Fairfield, CT.

Gerald F. Cavanagh, S.J.
Charles T. Fisher III Chair of Business Ethics
College of Business Administration
University of Detroit Mercy
Ph: (313) 993-1195 FAX: (313) 993-1653

Rob Currie, S.J.
Arenal, Nicaragua

Rev. John Dear, SJ
Box 882, Cerrillos, NM 87010

Al Fritsch, SJ

Stephen M. Kelly, S.J.

Stephen T. Krupa, S.J.

Department of Religious Studies
John Carroll Uinversity
Cleveland, Ohio 44118

Rev. John A. Lucal S.J.
Associate Director
Institute of Peace Studies and International Relatons
Hekima College
Nairobi, Kenya

Thomas Massaro, S.J.
Professor of Social Ethics
Weston Jesuit School of Theology
Cambridge, MA

John J. Mawhinney, sj. PhD
Society of Jesus
Maryland Province

Donald J. Moore, sj
Pontifical Biblical Institute

Ismael Moreno,sj
El Progreso, Honduras

Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
Christian Base Communities
Managua, Nicaragua

Joseph V. Owens SJ
Professor of Philosophy
Universidad Centroamericana
Managua, Nicaragua

Father Cletus Pfab, S.J.
Miguel Pro Jesuit Community
Milwaukee WI

Jerome Pryor SJ,
Artist in Residence
Colombiere Center
Clarkston, MI


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Attorney General Gonzalez Says Reporters Can Be Prosecuted

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.

The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected."

In recent months, journalists have been called into court to testify as part of investigations into leaks, including the unauthorized disclosure of a
CIA operative's name as well as the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program.

The complete story may be found here:

Cathedrals continue to reach upwards

19 May 2006

Attendance levels at regular weekly services in Church of England cathedrals have risen by a total of 21 per cent since the turn of the millennium – that’s a rate of almost four per cent each year.

Encouraging figures released today show that at Sunday services alone, 15,800 adults and 2,500 children and young people are usually present in the country’s cathedrals, while over the whole week the figures rise to 24,300 and 6,600 respectively. Cathedrals are key places of daily Christian worship outside Sundays too, attracting a further 50 per cent of adult attendees and more than doubling the number of children over the whole week.

When it comes to the major Christian festivals, more than 120,000 people attended services in cathedrals on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in 2005, while services over the whole Christmas period attracted national attendances of 722,000. This represents an increase of 28 per cent since 2000, confirming anecdotal evidence from individual cathedrals published earlier this year. 2005 also marked a 3 per cent increase in the numbers attending cathedrals over the Easter weekend, compared to the 2000 figure.

Cathedral attendances on these two major Christian festivals average approximately 2,900 and 1,200 respectively for each cathedral - and for many cathedrals it is only space restrictions that continue to limit attendance levels.

Learning environments

A steadily increasing number of children attend educational events at cathedrals each year, with the latest figures showing that 281,000 children took part in such an event in 2005. 1,900 children and adults are also involved week by week in continuing cathedral music traditions, a figure that has been consistently at this level since 2000.

Over the last five years, the number of volunteers involved in the mission and ministry of cathedrals on a regular basis has steadily increased by more than 1,600 to 13,300 - around 320 volunteers for every cathedral.

Visitor numbers in line with national trends

Almost nine million people visited an English cathedral in 2005, a fall of 8.4 per cent against 2004. This reflects positively against the backdrop of national tourism trends, with the drop in the number of UK residents making domestic tourist trips falling 16 per cent between 2003 and 2004 (2005 figures unavailable). Separate figures suggest that the number of visits to major tourist-attracting cathedrals are in line with trends of those at other UK visitor attractions.

The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, suggests that the cause of the trend is uncertain: “It is difficult to pinpoint the reason behind this, although tourism sources suggest that fears about terrorist attacks, the Iraq war and the threat of avian flu have all made a particular impact on the number of visits made to tourist destinations in the UK over the past few years. Some have suggested that cathedrals may have been affected by the publicity surrounding the small number which have been forced to introduce a charge for visitors.”

The increased need for voluntary donations from visitors is largely due to the huge maintenance costs of these historic buildings to keep them open for visitors as well as worshippers – a cost that, apart from the £1m English Heritage grant funding available each year to share between all Church of England cathedrals and Roman Catholic cathedrals, is born purely by donations.

Lynda Barley comments: “Cathedrals are successfully attracting all sorts of people, the young and those older, to explore the spiritual story they offer in many different ways. English cathedrals occupy a unique place in the Christian heritage of England and the increasing voluntary support on which they rely deserves more widespread recognition.”