Tuesday, October 31, 2006

China: Review of Death Penalty by Supreme Court Welcome, but Abolition Needed

LONDON - October 31 - Amnesty International welcomed today's new legislation under which the Supreme Court would review all death penalty verdicts in China but urged the authorities to abolish the death penalty once and for all.

Under the new legislation which comes into effect on 1 January 2007, all death penalties handed down by provincial courts must be reviewed and ratified by the Supreme People's Court.

"This new legislation will possibly help improve the quality of trials for those facing the death penalty in China - and may also reduce the number of executions," said Purna Sen, Asia-Pacific Programme Director. "But there is a danger that it could also further entrench the death penalty system in China, unless it is accompanied by other measures, including full transparency on the use of the death penalty nationwide and a reduction in the number of crimes punishable by death."

Even with this reform, those facing the death penalty are unlikely to receive a fair trial in line with international human rights standards, Amnesty International fears. Trials in China are generally marked by a lack of prompt access to lawyers, lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and the failure to exclude evidence extracted under torture.

The authorities should also release full public statistics on death sentences and executions in China, which remain classified as a state secret. These statistics would help to assess whether or not this reform leads to a reduction in executions.

Amnesty International has been urging China to accelerate reforms aimed at abolishing the death penalty.

"We hope this is a step towards full abolition of the death penalty," said Purna Sen. "It is only by abolishing the death penalty that China can guarantee that the innocent will not be put to death."

The death penalty remains applicable to around 68 crimes in China. They include non-violent offences, such as committing tax fraud, embezzling state property and accepting a bribe. Chinese legal academics opposed to the death penalty have recommended reducing the scope by, for example, eliminating the punishment for economic offences but these calls have so far gone unheeded.

China remains the world leader in its use of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International estimates, over 1770 people were executed and 3900 sentenced to death in 2005. The true figures are believed to be much higher. In March 2004, a senior member of the National People’s Congress announced that China executes around 10,000 people per year.

U.S.Chamber of Commerce Failed to Report Electioneering Spending and Grants, Public Citizen Alleges, Asks IRS to Investigate

Chamber Spent Millions to Influence Stateand Federal Races

WASHINGTON - October 31 - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) failed to report millions in taxable spending from 2000 to 2004 intended to influence state-level attorney general and supreme court races and federal races around the country, according to a Public Citizen complaint filed today with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Public Citizen also asked the IRS to investigate whether the U.S. Chamber and ILR, which are two separate legal entities, combined funds in a shared bank account to hide accurate reporting of investment or interest income for tax avoidance.

Court records, internal corporate documents and media reports indicate that the Chamber and the ILR engaged in a massive campaign to affect the outcome of state and federal races through direct expenditures and grants made to organizations that carried out the Chamber’s wishes.

“The Chamber is playing an elaborate shell game to conceal its gambit to stack the courts with hand-picked pro-corporate judges,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The IRS should promptly investigate its dubious tax reports and address any abuses that it finds.”

All 501(c) groups are required to report political expenditures on Line 81 of the IRS Form 990. Despite its own assertions of millions of dollars spent on electioneering, the Chamber and ILR failed to report any political spending from 2000 to 2003.

Public Citizen has asked the IRS to investigate whether the groups’ failure to report political expenditures and to provide accurate accounting of their grants to outside organizations resulted in tax avoidance and a violation of disclosure requirements.

In 2000, the Chamber claimed it spent $6 million on judicial races and took credit for winning 15 out of 17 state supreme court contests. In 2002, the Chamber said it planned to spend $40 million on political campaigns, divided equally between congressional and state-level attorneys general and judicial races. None of these activities were reported on their tax returns from 2000 to 2003.

In 2004, the first year since at least 2000 that the Chamber and the ILR reported political expenditures, both organizations appear to have underreported their spending. They reported a combined $18 million, but in a “President’s Update” memo released the day after the November elections, Chamber President Thomas Donohue claimed the group had spent up to $30 million in races around the country.

The Chamber and ILR also failed to report grants and allocations to outside groups as required by Line 22 of IRS Form 990. Both organizations reported no grants to outside groups from 2000 to 2004. But in a 2005 deposition, a Chamber official acknowledged that the Chamber had partnered with at least six outside groups to advance its agenda to avoid garnering unwanted critical attention. At least two 501(c) organizations, the Washington-based American Taxpayers Alliance and the Columbus-based Citizens for a Strong Ohio, reported receipt of contributions from the U.S. Chamber.

“The Chamber’s efforts are fundamentally a campaign to reduce corporate accountability in the courts and slam the courtroom door on consumers,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Given the egregious corporate scandals of the past five years, the Chamber should prioritize cleaning up its own house before attempting a hostile takeover of the courts.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

LGBT Military Personnel Cautioned About Online Use As Armed Forces Increase Monitoring of Blogs, Websites

SLDN Warns Online Use Can 'Lead to Investigations and Dismissals'

WASHINGTON - October 30 - Amidst new reports that the armed forces are increasing their surveillance of online usage by military personnel, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) today cautioned service members to be especially careful when using the internet or posting information online.

According to the Associated Press, military officials are now monitoring "official and unofficial blogs and other Web sites" and looking at websites military personnel may visit. "Now soldiers wishing to blog while deployed are required to register their sites with their commanding officers, who monitor the sites quarterly, according to a four-page document of guidelines published in April 2005 by Multi-National Corps-Iraq," the AP said.

"The military's stepped up surveillance of online activity also means an increasing risk to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members who use online communities," said Kathi S. Westcott, deputy director of law for SLDN. "Service members must be especially cautious about posting any information online which reveals their sexual orientation. While online communities can be an important communication tool for military personnel, they can also lead to investigations and dismissals under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

SLDN has posted guidelines for LGBT military personnel using online communities at http://www.sldn.org. In addition, AP reports that service members who maintain blogs must now "register their sites with their commanding officers, who monitor the sites quarterly." Any information related to sexual orientation on a service member's private blog, SLDN cautioned, would be grounds for dismissal from the armed forces.

For more information, and SLDN's guidelines on using the internet, visit http://www.sldn.org. Service members may also contact SLDN for free, confidential legal counseling at legal@sldn.org, or by calling 202-328-FAIR.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Former Navy Secretary Webb: Democrats will provide Iraq remedy

The AP reported today that:

RICHMOND, Va. - The only remedy to a series ofIraq policy failures byPresident Bush is a Democratic takeover of Congress in the Nov. 7 election, Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb said Saturday.

The former Republican, who was President Reagan's Navy secretary, said in the Democrats' weekly radio address that Bush's "incompetence" in Iraq had undercut the fight against terrorism.

Webb is locked in a close race in Virginia against Republican Sen. George Allen that could determine whether the Senate remains in GOP control.

"Since 2003, President Bush has laid out nine different plans for victory in Iraq, none of them serious and none of them workable. And most seriously, this incompetence has hindered our ability to fight international terror," Webb said.

It marked the second time since July 1 that Webb, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, has given the Democrats' address. Both times, his focus has been Iraq.

Webb warned in a newspaper column in 2002, the year before Bush ordered the Iraq invasion, that a war there would destabilize the oil-rich Middle East and mire U.S. forces in a bloody and protracted conflict. As of Friday, 2,810 American troops had died in Iraq.

"It gives me no great pleasure today to be saying `I told you so,'" said Webb, whose son, Jimmy, is a Marine on active duty in Iraq. "It pains me as an American that our casualties are again escalating while this president and his followers are still incapable of bringing forward an intelligent, commonsense approach to ending our involvement there."

Webb cited Iraq and other Bush-backed policies among his reasons for leaving the GOP. Now, other Republicans are reaching the same conclusions he did about the war.

"Over the past several weeks a few realists in the Republican Party, such as (Virginia) Sen. John Warner and former Secretary of State Jim Baker, have begun to make their voices heard. They are moving away from the fantasy world of this administration, toward real solutions," Webb said.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, October 27, 2006

Archbishop welcomes Presiding Bishop, Presiding Bishop-elect to Lambeth Palace

By Bob Williams
Friday, October 27, 2006

[ENS, London] Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams -- hosting a discussion that affirmed the Episcopal Church's commitment to the shared ministries of the Anglican Communion -- welcomed Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori to Lambeth Palace October 27 for a 90-minute meeting described as a "cordial and collegial" exchange.

The morning visit, requested by Griswold last spring, provided the Presiding Bishop the opportunity to introduce his successor to the Archbishop in the week preceding the November 1 start of the nine-year tenure to which she was elected June 18.

"I was pleased to see the warmth of cordial interaction between the Archbishop and the Presiding Bishop-elect," Griswold said after the meeting, where the three shared private conversations for which no observers were present.

Jefferts Schori stated her appreciation for the "frank conversation about challenges in the Communion," and for "the opportunity to meet together face to face and begin a relationship that we hope will be fruitful and collegial."

Griswold stressed the importance of relational collaboration, noting that "at the heart of communion is found the reality of incarnation."

Williams greeted Griswold and Jefferts Schori in the State Room of Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop's official London residence since the year 1197. After their meeting in the Archbishop's office, Williams accompanied his guests downstairs into the palace grounds prior to their departure.

Lambeth Palace also announced that England's Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt. Rev. John Saxbee, will represent the Archbishop of Canterbury in Washington D.C. at Jefferts Schori's November 4 investiture as the Episcopal Church's 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate. The Anglican Communion's Secretary General, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, will also attend the liturgy, set for the Washington National Cathedral.

After departing Lambeth Palace, Griswold and Jefferts Schori joined the congregation for a noontime Eucharist at nearby St. Matthew's Church, Westminster. In an unexpected moment, Ephesians 4:1-6 was read as one of the day's scripture lessons, significant because the passage is also scheduled to be read at Jefferts Schori's upcoming investiture.

The Presiding Bishop and Presiding Bishop-elect later visited Westminster Abbey to join the congregation for Evensong.

Jefferts Schori officially concluded on October 25 more than five years of ministry as bishop of the Diocese of Nevada. The House of Bishops elected her as 26th Presiding Bishop during the 75th General Convention's nine-day meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The House of Deputies affirmed the vote the same day.

-- Canon Robert Williams, director of communication for the Episcopal Church, is travelling with the Presiding Bishop and Presiding Bishop-elect in London.

U.S.: Vice President Endorses Torture-Cheney Expresses Approval of the CIA's Use of Waterboarding

(Washington, DC, October 26, 2006) U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has issued the Bush administration's first clear endorsement of a form of torture known as waterboarding, or mock drowning, said Human Rights Watch today.

In a radio interview yesterday, Cheney agreed that subjecting prisoners to a dunk in water is a �no-brainer if it could save lives. After being asked about this technique, he said that such interrogations have been a very important tool used against high-level al Qaeda detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that they do not, in his view, constitute torture.

Cheney's comments on the legality of waterboarding contradict the views of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Defense Department, as well as fundamental principles of international law, and could come back to haunt the United States if not corrected by the Bush administration, Human Rights Watch warned.

If Iran or Syria detained an American, Cheney is saying that it would be perfectly fine for them to hold that American's head under water until he nearly drowns, if that's what they think they need to do to save Iranian or Syrian lives, said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Waterboarding dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition, when it was known as the tormenta de toca. It has been used by some of the most cruel dictatorships in modern times, including the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In some versions of the technique, prisoners are strapped to a board, their faces covered with cloth or cellophane, and water is poured over their mouths to stimulate drowning; in others, they are dunked head-first into water.

The complete story may be found here:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

SBA Administrator Refuses to Release Names of Giant Firms Masquerading as Small Businesses, says ASBL

PETALUMA, Calif. - October 26 - It has been over three months since American Small Business League (ASBL) president, Lloyd Chapman, made his first request to Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Steven Preston to release a complete list of firms that received federal small business contracts during fiscal year 2005. Preston is still refusing to provide the information. Several journalists have also requested this information but he has consistently declined to provide it.

Both ABC and CBS reported that 2,500 of the nation's largest firms were found on the list of federal small business contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Rolls Royce. Thirteen federal investigations have exposed the wholesale diversion of billions in federal small business contracts and yet Preston, in a conversation with a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, stated, "the problem is more with the way contract data is recorded than it is big companies getting work meant for small businesses."

Chapman says that Preston is either stupid or he's lying, "and I don't think he's stupid. I believe that it's an insult to the intelligence of everyone in America for Preston to claim that small companies aren't damaged by the government counting contracts to Fortune 500 firms toward their small-business contracting goal. The fact is that legitimate small businesses are losing out on billions of dollars in federal contracts every year. And thousands of small contractors have been forced into bankruptcy competing head to head with some of the largest companies in the world for federal small business contracts."

In stark contrast to Preston's recent statement, several federal officials have acknowledged that small businesses have been significantly damaged. Thomas Sullivan, the head of SBA's Office of Advocacy said, "We now have hard data, and not just anecdotes, from across federal agencies that shows contracts meant for small businesses were going to larger firms."

David Drabkin, senior procurement officer for the General Services Administration (GSA) stated, "The numbers are inflated, we just don't know the extent."

The SBA's own Inspector General has identified the diversion of small business contracts to large firms as the #1 most serious challenge facing the Small Business Administration today.

The ASBL is preparing to file suit in federal court to force the SBA and the GSA to make the list of these firms public. Chapman believes this information will reveal that as much as $100 billion in federal small business contracts that the Bush administration claims is going to small firms is being diverted to some of the nation's largest defense contractors, many of which were major contributors to the Republican National Committee.

Chapman added, "I think Republican small business owners need to take a look at this information before they go to the polls in November. The Bush administration is clearly anti-small business. He's allowing small firms to be cheated out of billions in contracts and he's trying to close the SBA - the only federal agency designed to protect the best interests of the small businesses where most Americans work."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Viet Nam: Internet repression creates climate of fear

A new report released today by Amnesty International reveals a climate of fear in Viet Nam, with people afraid to post information online and Internet café owners forced to inform on their customers. Individuals are harassed, detained and imprisoned for expressing their peaceful political views online, with fear of prosecution fuelling widespread self-censorship.

But the report also reveals a growing network of activists and campaigners who are defying government controls and using the Internet to discuss human rights, as well as a fledgling democracy movement that is growing online.

The report comes one week before a UN meeting to discuss the future of the Internet – the Internet Governance Forum in Athens – where governments, companies and NGOs will discuss freedom of expression online and other issues. An Amnesty International delegation will deliver a petition signed by over 42,000 supporters of its irrepressible.info campaign, calling for an end to Internet repression.

“People in Viet Nam can be thrown in jail for the click of a mouse. The authorities have created a climate of fear, with online informers keeping track of web users. Those who stand up for free speech are publicly harassed and persecuted," said Amnesty International.

“But a growing number of brave activists are defying Internet repression and using the Internet to fight for human rights. And the global nature of the Internet means that people all over the world can help call for greater online freedoms in Viet Nam – and support our campaign to free Vietnamese cyber-dissidents.

“The Vietnamese authorities must stop trying to stifle free speech online, and release the web users that have been unfairly imprisoned.”

Amnesty International is asking people to go to http://irrepressible.info, where they can support its campaign against Internet repression and email the Vietnamese authorities, demanding the release of people imprisoned for expressing their peaceful political beliefs online.

The report details the Vietnamese authorities’ tightening of control over the Internet in recent years. Internet Service Providers are required to inform on web users; Internet café owners are required to monitor and inform on customers; and web users themselves are required to inform on sites that oppose the state. Laws ban web users from spreading information that causes “harm to national security or social order”.

Filtering and blocking of websites is also on the increase, according to the report. And while the Vietnamese authorities claim that filtering is for the protection of web users from pornography, a recent OpenNet Initiative report found little filtering of such material. Instead, blocked sites are those referring to known dissidents or mentioning democracy and human rights.

Amnesty International’s report highlights the case of Nguyen Vu Binh, a 37-year-old journalist who was arrested in September 2002 for passing information through the Internet to overseas Vietnamese groups. At his trial in December 2003 he was charged with "spying" under Article 80 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, plus three years’ house arrest on release. He is currently detained at Ba Sao prison camp in Nam Ha province in northern Viet Nam.

It also features Truong Quoc Huy, aged 25. He was first arrested in October 2005 with two other young people after chatting on a democracy and human rights website, held incommunicado for nine months then released. On 18 August 2006 he was rearrested in an Internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh City where he had logged on to a chatroom. His whereabouts remain unknown and no charges have been made public.

Amnesty International believes that both men are prisoners of conscience and calls for their inclusion in the release of prisoners which the authorities have announced will take place in late October.

In the case of Cong Thanh Do, a US citizen arrested in August and released 21 September 2006, the Vietnamese authorities claimed that he planned a terrorist plot to destroy the US consulate. However, the US ambassador reportedly said that the US had seen no evidence to support the claim and that they hoped for his release. Cong Thanh Do was a member of the People’s Democratic Party, which advocates for political change human rights, and had posted numerous articles online about human rights in Viet Nam. Amnesty International believes that his arrest was aimed solely at punishing Cong Thanh Do for expressing his political views.

The report is part of Amnesty International’s work on Internet repression linked to its irrepressible.info campaign, which launched in May 2006. The campaign highlights the rise of Internet censorship and the cases of individual prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their beliefs online. It enables web users to take action to combat Internet repression: emailing governments, supporting Amnesty’s online petition, and spreading the campaign by publishing fragments of censored material from Amnesty’s online database.

For the full report, Viet Nam: A tightening net - web-based repression and censorship, please see: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa410082006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Via Media group asks bishops, standing committees to refuse consent to South Carolina Episcopal bishop-elect

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Friday, October 20, 2006

[Episcopal News Service] In letters sent October 19 to bishops with jurisdiction and all the Episcopal Church's diocesan standing committees, Via Media USA argues that the episcopacy of the bishop-elect of the Diocese of South Carolina "would represent a threat to the unity of our church and to the cohesion" of the diocese.

The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, 56, was elected September 16 on the first ballot out of a field of three nominees as the 14th bishop of South Carolina. He is the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin.

Both South Carolina and San Joaquin are part of a group of eight dioceses out of the Church's 111 that have requested a relationship with a primate of the Anglican Communion other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, citing 2003 and 2006 General Convention actions. The process is being called alternative primatial oversight (APO).

In response to one of three questions presented to the South Carolina candidates prior to a series of meetings with the diocese, Lawrence said he approved of the APO requests, calling them "a temporary gasp for air" that is needed while the Communion works out a new "Anglican ecclesiology."

Via Media USA's letters argue that "Father Lawrence's episcopacy would represent a threat to the unity of our church and to the cohesion of the Diocese of South Carolina."

"The case against consenting to Father Lawrence's election is not based on his theology or personal beliefs, but on the way these are likely to affect the polity, and hence the unity and integrity, of this church," the letter sent to the presidents and members of diocesan standing committees says.

"Father Lawrence has endorsed separating the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church and has advocated that the authority of the General Convention be surrendered to the primates of the Anglican Communion. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how Father Lawrence could be asked or expected to take the vow required of each bishop in The Episcopal Church to 'guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church' (BCP page 517)."

Via Media USA's letter to bishops contains similar language. Both letters, dated October 17 and mailed October 19, should arrive in recipients' mail in the next few days. The letters should be posted on the group's website soon.

The letters included copies of an essay by Pittsburgh Episcopalian Lionel Deimel, a member of Via Media USA-affiliated Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. The letters ask that recipients read and consider what they describe as Deimel's "carefully reasoned discussion."

Christopher Wilkins, Via Media USA's facilitator, said October 20 that the group decided to write the letters after considering Lawrence's written and spoken comments, made before and since his election, about the tensions between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It seemed to the Via Media USA members that consent to Lawrence's election should not be given, he said.

Wilkins said there are people in the Episcopal Church, including Lawrence, who want to be part of another church. "It seems time to recognize where we are," he said.

Lawrence was elected to succeed Bishop Edward L. Salmon Jr., 72, who was consecrated on February 24, 1990.

Under the canons the Episcopal Church (III.16.4(a)), a majority of the bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan standing committees must consent to Lawrence's ordination as bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of his election. (Episcopal elections that occur within 120 days before the start of General Convention require consents from the houses of Bishops and Deputies during Convention.)

In section III.16.4(b), those bishops and standing committees consenting to a bishop-elect's ordination (by majority vote of the standing committee) "in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which [name of priest] ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order".

Lawrence's consecration is planned for February 24, 2007.

It is not altogether unusual for people to advocate against consents. In April of 1976, 70 priests and laymen from 35 dioceses signed a letter urging bishops and standing committee presidents to refuse to consent to the election of John Shelby Spong as bishop of the Diocese of Newark, citing what they called Spong's unorthodox theology. Spong's election eventually received the needed consent.

Other bishops have faced contentious debate during the consent process, including the Episcopal Church's first woman bishop, now-retired Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris in late 1988 and early 1989, current Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker in 1993 and current Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman the following year.

The last time a person elected as a bishop in the Episcopal Church did not receive the needed consents from a majority of the diocesan standing committees and the bishops exercising jurisdiction was in 1875. The Rev. James DeKoven, who was elected bishop of the Diocese of Illinois, was denied confirmation by the church's standing committees because of his devotion to Anglo-Catholic beliefs, specifically that Christ is actually present in the Eucharistic bread and wine. Although DeKoven never made it to the episcopal ranks, he did make the list of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with March 22 as his feast day.

Via Media USA has chapters in 12 Episcopal Church dioceses, including the eight dioceses requesting APO arrangements. Via Media USA and its affiliates want to promote the faith, unity, and vitality of the Episcopal Church, according to the group's website.

The other dioceses requesting APO are Central Florida (Orlando-based), Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy (Illinois), Springfield (Illinois), and San Joaquin (California). Only Quincy's diocesan convention has ratified an APO request.

Salmon was part of a group of bishops who met September 11-13 in New York City to discuss the Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) requests, but which came to no agreement.

The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion's main policy-making body, makes no provisions for alternative primatial oversight. Neither do the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

The fabric of the Episcopal Church has been frayed "by our misguided passion to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible," Lawrence wrote in his South Carolina responses.

"I am personally saddened for those gay and lesbian Christians within the church that so much of the debate has focused upon homosexual behavior and relationships," he said. "It has too often given way to bigotry or to an easy self-righteousness among heterosexuals. Nevertheless, it is for now the place where the battle lines have been drawn."

"This present crisis in the Anglican Communion is a sign that among other things we have entered into an ever-flattening world. We need to have an Anglican ecclesiology that takes seriously this new era," Lawrence wrote.

"At this point the 'conservatives' are being progressive, and the 'progressives' strike me as digging in their heels for the past," he wrote.

Prior to the South Carolina election, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a Via Media USA-affiliated group whose mission is to "preserve unity with diversity in the diocese," [http://www.episcopalforumofsc.org] told the diocesan electors that the group was "concerned that the new bishop be committed, without reservation, to the ordination oath signed by every new bishop to conform to the 'doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church."

"We understand that commitment to include respecting the democratic actions of the General Convention, and the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church as it is now constituted. In recent years our diocesan leadership has voiced opposition to actions of General Convention and the Church's leaders," the group said in an open letter that ran in the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper. "The Diocese of South Carolina has joined fewer than 10% of all Episcopal dioceses in an alliance, The Anglican Communion Network, that threatens to lead us out of The Episcopal Church."

The other two nominees in the South Carolina election were: the Rev. Canon Ellis English Brust, 48, chief operating officer and chaplain to the president of the American Anglican Council (AAC), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia; and the Rev. Stephen D. Wood, 42, rector, St. Andrew's Church, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Brust has since announced that he will join the Anglican Mission in America, a group formed in 2000 which opposes many of the actions of the Episcopal Church.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

State Court Rules Against Catholic Church on Insurance

The New York Times reported today that:

New York State’s highest court ruled yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations must abide by a state law that requires most employee health insurance policies to cover the cost of contraception.

The 6-to-0 decision by the Court of Appeals upheld rulings by the State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, and left intact the state’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act of 2002, which requires company health insurance policies that provide coverage for prescription drugs to include “coverage for the cost of contraceptive drugs or devices.”

It had been challenged on religious grounds by a group that includes eight Catholic and two Baptist organizations. Arguing that the law requires them to violate the dictates of their faith, the group sought to exempt religious schools, hospitals and social service organizations, broadening a far narrower “religious employer” exemption already included in the state rules.

The New York State Catholic Conference, speaking for the state’s bishops, said it would consider appealing the ruling to the United States Supreme Court “to review it and reverse it.”

“The case is not about the right of New Yorkers to use contraception; it is about religious liberty,” said Richard E. Barnes, the group’s executive director. “In effect, the state has declared Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations secular,” he said, adding that the ruling gave legislators “carte blanche to pass laws even more offensive to religious practice.”

The ruling followed a similar decision in 2004 by the California Supreme Court, which rejected a challenge by Catholic Charities to a nearly identical state statute. In that case, Catholic Charities was denied a hearing before the Supreme Court.

In New York, the Insurance Department was joined by the New York district of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Congress and other groups in defending the insurance regulation’s terms.

“This is a great day for the women of New York State,” said JoAnn M. Smith, president of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, which represents Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups.

“The urgent need to prevent discrimination in health care was rightly, and unanimously, affirmed by the highest court in the state,” she said.

The court’s 18-page decision said that legislators had intended the 2002 law to “advance both women’s health and the equal treatment of men and women.” It said a study considered by the Legislature had shown that women paid 68 percent more than men in out-of-pocket expenses for health care, and that the discrepancy resulted mainly from the cost of reproductive health services.

In addition to contraceptives, the New York law requires employee insurance to cover osteoporosis exams and screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

In large measure, the issues raised in the case centered on an exemption for “religious employers,” who are not required to provide coverage for contraception. In those cases, the law requires insurance companies to offer the coverage to individual employees, which they can elect to pay by themselves.

But the exemption devised in 2002, and upheld by the court yesterday, does not apply to church schools, hospitals or organizations that employ and serve people from diverse religious backgrounds.

The complete story may be found here:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Catholic bishops attempt to define church's gay stance

Proposal may condemn `hatred' but reject unions

The Boston Globe reported today that:

October 19, 2006

The Catholic bishops of the United States, faced with ongoing controversy over the church's posture toward homosexuality, next month will vote on a proposal that would condemn ``scorn and hatred" of gays and lesbians but would also declare that gay couples should not be allowed to marry or adopt children, that baptizing the children of same-sex couples presents ``a pastoral concern," and that the church has the right to deny ``roles of service" to gays and lesbians who are not celibate.

The proposal, which is to be voted on in Baltimore at the next semi annual meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is sure to ratchet up the debate over gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church, which teaches that men and women who are attracted to people of the same sex should be celibate, as should unmarried heterosexuals. In recent years, the Catholic Church, in Rome and in Boston, has been outspoken in its opposition to same-sex marriage, and, in the wake of widespread presumptions that there is a disproportionately high number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood, the Vatican has undertaken a review of American seminaries that asks students and teachers about the presence of gay men.

The proposed guidelines for ministering to gays and lesbians declare that ``more than a few persons with a homosexual inclination feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected" in the Catholic Church and says that ``full and active participation is encouraged," as is ``an ongoing personal conversion." But, the document says, ``the church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching."

``It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to church teaching."

The document says homosexual acts are ``always sinful" and ``morally wrong," and reiterates the church's opposition to same-sex marriage, which is legal in Massachusetts.

``The church does not support the adoption of children by homosexual couples since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan," the document says. ``For this reason, baptism of children adopted by such couples presents a pastoral concern. Nevertheless, the church does not refuse the sacrament of baptism to these children, but there must be a well-founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion."

The document is intended to guide bishops in assessing ministries to gays and lesbians. Those outreach programs, which are present in multiple parishes and dioceses, are often the target of criticism by conservatives. In 1999, Pope John Paul II barred a US priest, the Rev. Robert Nugent , and nun, Sister Jeannine Gramick , from ``any pastoral work involving homosexual persons," declaring that they had refused to communicate the church's teaching about ``the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination."

Initial reaction was mixed yesterday. Two Boston coordinators of Catholic outreach to gays and lesbians highlighted what they viewed as positive elements of the document.

``Anything that puts the fundamental dignity of lesbian and gay persons into the forefront of the church's ministry is welcome, particularly the document's statement that all violence against them, subtle or overt, is to be condemned," said Brian P. Flanagan, coordinator of the LGBT and Friends Group at the Paulist Center. And Jackie Stewart , director of evangelization at the St. Anthony Shrine, said, ``What is more explicit here is a generosity of welcome to our homosexually inclined sisters and brothers into the faith community and injunction against injustice towards them, especially on the part of church ministers."

But gay rights advocates nationally were more critical. Harry Knox , the director of the religion and faith program at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organization, said, ``it's dangerous and immoral for the church to make the kinds of statements that they are thinking about making." And Sam Sinnett , the president of Dignity USA, an organization of gay Catholics, said the document ``will be discussed entirely by celibate males, and their viewpoint is more concerned with keeping their jobs than being pastoral leaders."

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Built by Trafficked Workers in Squalid Working Conditions-Corpwatch.org

WASHINGTON - October 18 - The Kuwait contractor building the US embassy in Baghdad stands accused by workers of labor trafficking and smuggling low-paid South Asians into Iraq. Still, the US State Department casts a blind eye on the complaints as it rushes to complete its most ambitious embassy project ever.

"The possibility that a company under a US State Department contract is trafficking and smuggling workers into a war zone is an insult the values that most Americans support and die for. The fact that the accused contractor, First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, is building the $592-million US embassy – perhaps the most high-profile symbol of US presence in Iraq – is doubly astounding" says journalist David Phinney.

Based on interviews with sources that range from more than a half dozen former First Kuwaiti employees to numerous competing contractors, this latest CorpWatch investigation reveals complaints about the deceptive trafficking operation and the horrid working conditions faced by the people on-the-ground in Iraq.


* Witnesses say First Kuwaiti has smuggled low-paid Asian workers on planes toBaghdad after taking away their passports and issuing airplane boarding passes for Dubai. Taking passports is a violation of US trafficking laws and contracting.
* First Kuwaiti has coerced low-paid workers to take jobs in Iraq against their wishes after recruiters lured them to Kuwait for different jobs. (Interviews with Filipino workers who escaped Iraq available.)
* Although no journalist is allowed on embassy site, prostitutes are smuggled in by First Kuwaiti managers, according to former employees. Prostitutes are a "breach of security," says one former manager for the company.
* An American medic recommended that health clinics serving thousands of embassy construction workers be shut down for unsanitary conditions and then was fired. He also requested the investigation of two workers who may have died from mistreatment. Prescription pain killers were handed out like "candy" and workers were sent back to work on project, he says.
* There have been numerous beatings of workers by First Kuwaiti managers and labor strikes, say former employees. This reflects complaints of others who witnessed mistreatment on other projects.


Contractor: First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, a Kuwait Firm sponsored by Mohammad I. H. Marafie of the powerful Marafie family and managed by Wahdid al Absi, a Christian Lebanese who may have growing political influence in Lebanon.

The company was a $35 million firm in early 2003 and now holds nearly $2 billion in contracts; largely US funded and related to Iraq.

Embassy Project: $592 million construction began in fall 2005. It will be equal in size to the Vatican and cover an area 2/3rds the size of the Washington Mall. It will be, by far, the largest US embassy in the world.

Contract Award: Awarded in summer 2005. The Announcement appeared on FedBizOps one day and then was removed at First Kuwaiti's request – for "security reasons." Sources say the contractor was not pre-approved and never built a US embassy before, especially one with so much classified work. It is also said to have entered the competition late. First Kuwaiti's bid was $60 million or more over the lowest US bidder, Framaco, which has won awards in the past for embassy construction. Numerous US contractors have been hired and then cancelled for classified work. Several are furious.

see entire article here: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14173

Iran cuts Internet speeds to homes, cafes

Reuters reported October 18, 2006 that:

Iran's internet service providers (ISPs) have started reducing the speed of Internet access to homes and cafes based on new government-imposed limits, a move critics said appeared to be part of a clampdown on the media.

An official said last week that ISPs were now "forbidden" by the Telecommunications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), the official IRNA news agency reported. He did not give a reason.

Internet technicians say speeds of 256 KBps, 512 KBps or higher are increasingly common internationally. Iranian surfers will now find it much slower to download music or anything else from the Web. Businesses have not been affected by the move.

Critics said the restriction would hinder the work of students and researchers but said it appeared in line with what they see as a squeeze on the media by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West.

"Once more, one of the most important tools for providing information is faced with new government red lines and restrictions," the opposition reform-minded daily, Etemad-e Melli, wrote in an article on the new speed limitation.

The authorities have shutdown the leading pro-reform newspaper and launched a crackdown on those flouting a ban on satellite dishes. Critics say the authorities have put increasing pressure on opposition journalists, academics and students.

The government denies the charges, saying it welcomes criticism.

An Iranian Internet engineer, who asked not to be identified, said his firm had this week started reducing speeds provided to homes and Internet cafes, but not businesses.

The Telecommunications Ministry official said the order would stay in place until "new regulations for providing ADSL (high-speed Internet) services" were issued, IRNA reported.

It was not clear if this meant the restrictions were only temporary, but another ISP official said he expected the restriction to stay in place.

He said his firm had yet to be officially informed of the new order but was starting to impose the limitations on customers anyway "because we are not looking for problems."

Iran blocks some Web sites, including the BBC Persian-language site, which Iran says has an "anti-Iranian tendency." Satellite dishes are banned because officials say they bring "corrupt" Western values into Iranian homes.

Monday, October 16, 2006

FBI raids homes of Republican Congressman Weldon child, friend

The AP reported today that:

MEDIA, Pa. - The FBI raided the homes of Rep. Curt Weldon's daughter and a close friend Monday as it investigates whether the congressman improperly helped the pair win lobbying and consulting contracts.

Agents searched four locations in the Philadelphia area and two in Jacksonville, Fla., said Debbie Weierman, an FBI spokeswoman in Washington. The congressman's home and his offices were not among the locations searched, she said.

Earlier Monday, Weldon called the investigation politically motivated and called the timing suspect. The Republican, who is locked in a tight re-election bid and has clashed with the Bush administration, denied wrongdoing and said he gave his daughter no special help.

"What I find ironic, if there is an investigation, is that no one would tell me until three weeks before the election," Weldon said at an appearance in Media. "This incident was 2 1/2 years ago."

Weierman confirmed that the six raids included Karen Weldon's home in Philadelphia; the Springfield home of Charles Sexton, her business partner and the congressman's close friend; and the office of their company, Solutions North America, in Media.

Federal investigators are looking into whether Weldon used his influence to help the company secure lobbying contracts worth $1 million from foreign clients, two people familiar with the inquiry told The Associated Press.

Weldon, a 10-term Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs and vice chairman of the House Armed Services committee, is in a close race for re-election on Nov. 7 against Democrat Joe Sestak. Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee mailed fliers to voters in Weldon's district accusing Karen Weldon of getting help from her father on lobbying projects.

Weldon said his daughter received no special consideration because of him.

"I've never helped my daughter get anything. My kids are qualified on their own," Weldon said.

The congressman also raised questions about the need for a Justice Department investigation, noting that the House Ethics Committee looked into his daughter's contracts soon after The Los Angeles Times reported on them in February 2004. He said he has cooperated fully, turning over 150 pages in documents and answering the committee's questions.

In Florida, an office and a residence in Jacksonville were searched, said FBI spokesman Jeff Westcott. It was not immediately clear how those locations were related to the case, but a law enforcement official in Washington said the inquiry could involve people beyond Weldon, his daughter or Sexton.

The complete story may be found here:

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Newly Released Surveillance Files Reveal Pentagon is Keeping Secret Tabs on Peaceful Protest Activities

PHILADELPHIA - October 13 - Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union confirm the Department of Defense (DOD) has been “spying” on peaceful protestors.

The documents reveal the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization committed to the principles of nonviolence, came under Pentagon surveillance on several occasions last year for organizing or supporting peaceful protest activity.

The Service Committee became lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year to uncover exactly who the Pentagon is spying on and why. The requests were made under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in the wake of reports that the Defense Department has been conducting secret surveillance of legal protest activities and individuals whose only reported “wrong-doing” was “attending a peace rally.”

The FOIA documents obtained from the suit note DOD surveillance in February and March, 2005, of email announcing peace demonstrations in two cities. Both activities were organized by or conducted in partnership with one of AFSC’s regional offices.

“The Department of the Army has confirmed through our FOIA request that they had AFSC under surveillance in spite of our Quaker adherence to nonviolence and peaceful protest,” states Michael McConnell, director of the AFSC Great Lakes Region, where documented instances of DOD spying occurred. “Besides being a waste of time and taxpayer money, this essentially amounts to a ‘fishing expedition’ that undermines rather than enhances national security. This disclosure of documents means that no one is safe from the arbitrary intrusive eye of government surveillance.”

“If the government has avowed pacifists under surveillance, then no one is safe,” states Greg Coleridge, an AFSC community organizer based in Akron, Ohio, where a sponsored protest at a military recruitment station and at the Federal Building was earmarked as “suspicious.” According to the documents, the threat was later found to be “not credible.”

The email that prompted DOD scrutiny announced a “Stop the War, Now” rally held to commemorate the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“We need to be clear,” Coleridge states. “The Pentagon is snooping on individuals and groups that have no history of organizing or even calling for violence against the government. If people and groups like this can be monitored, then we need to ask ‘where does it end?’ ”

With the constitutionality of warrantless wiretapping of ordinary Americans debated in court and bills supporting it before Congress – Frist in the Senate and the recently green-lighted Wilson bill in the House of Representatives –– the question gains added significance and reason for concern.

“The Bush administration maintains that the threat of terrorism mandates a change in government policy. However, we believe trampling the Bill of Rights and dismantling our Constitution will not erase the threat of terrorism,” states Joyce Miller, assistant general secretary for justice and human rights. “Conversely, eroding constitutional safeguards and destroying the principles of democracy on which our country was founded make us less safe and less secure.”

An “all are welcomed” email was enough to merit government spying at a series of protests at military recruitment offices in Springfield, Massachusetts, on the second anniversary of the Iraq War. The protests, held from March 18-20, were sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of faith and secular peace organizations.

“What does it say about a government that is wasting both time and resources watching its own law-abiding citizens?” asks Keith Harvey, director of the AFSC New England regional office, cosponsor of the Springfield event. “Imagine what could happen if we give the government unrestrained authority to spy on anyone without answering to anyone?”

“Our country is governed by the rule of law, not the politics of hysteria and fear,” Miller emphasized. “Spying on citizens for merely executing their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is chilling and marks a troubling trend. Our country is built upon a system of checks and balances. These actions violate the rule of law and strike a severe blow against our Constitution.”

In addition to the Service Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace, as well as dozens of local groups in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania and California.

With national headquarters in Philadelphia, the American Friends Service Committee is internationally recognized for its humanitarian work and long history fighting for human rights and against injustice. The Service Committee is a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all Quakers for work to heal the wounds of war, especially efforts to feed starving children and help Europe rebuild during and after World Wars I and II.

The Service Committee was at the forefront of combating illegal FBI surveillance tactics in the 1970s. At that time, under the Freedom of Information Act, AFSC secured hundreds of federal files detailing illegal government surveillance projects and intelligence documents targeting U.S. peace groups.

“No one should have the power to unilaterally, secretly, and indefinitely spy on or wiretap Americans without court oversight of individual warrants to safeguard our fundamental rights to privacy, liberty and due process of law,” Miller concludes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Vatican OKs resignation of Iowa bishop

The AP reported today that:

DAVENPORT, Iowa - TheVatican announced the bishop of Davenport's retirement Thursday, two days after the Roman Catholic diocese filed for bankruptcy amid dozens of lawsuits alleging priest sex abuse.

Bishop William Franklin had offered his resignation when he turned 75 in May 2005, as the church requires.

The Vatican said Thursday that his resignation had been approved and that he would be succeeded by Monsignor Martin J. Amos, an auxiliary bishop in Cleveland.

The Diocese of Davenport on Tuesday became the fourth Catholic diocese in the United States to file for bankruptcy amid the national clergy abuse scandal, following the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., and the dioceses of Tucson, Ariz. and Spokane, Wash.

Since 2004, the Diocese of Davenport has paid more than $10.5 million to resolve dozens of claims filed against priests, including a $9 million settlement reached with 37 victims. The lawsuits accused 11 priests of sexually assaulting children since the 1950s and blamed church leaders for covering it up.

The Diocese of Davenport includes 85 parishes and more than 102,000 members.

The cost of the Catholic sex abuse cases nationwide has risen to about $1.5 billion since 1950, according to figures compiled from various studies by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Consumer Groups: DOJ Rubberstamp on AT&T/BellSouth Merger Recreates the MA Bell Dynasty, Sells Out Consumers

WASHINGTON - October 11 - Consumer groups today blasted the Justice Department for approving without restriction the merger between telephone giants AT&T and BellSouth -- the largest telecommunications merger yet, a move likely to leave consumers with fewer choices and inflated prices for a host of services.

"DOJ's rubberstamp on this merger suggests the Justice Department has thrown in the towel on competition between the Bell phone companies," said Gene Kimmelman, senior vice president for Consumers Union. "The Justice Department has abdicated responsibility to promote the competition it promised when it broke up AT&T 20 years ago," he added. "In the end, the majority of consumers will end up paying inflated prices that result when Bell companies merge and dominate local, long distance, wireless and Internet services in their territories."

The AT&T/BellSouth merger is just the latest in a ten-year wave of consolidation following passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act -- legislation intended to unleash competition among the baby Bells in both local and long-distance service. Instead, the eight baby Bells consolidated into just four companies and gobbled up long distance carriers. Just last year, DOJ approved the SBC and Verizon buyouts of long distance carriers AT&T and MCI, respectively. Meanwhile, competition in local phone service has declined as Bell companies sued to eliminate pro-competitive policies in the Act.

Despite claims that this merger might foster competition between phone companies and cable giants, the fact is that cable companies are just now entering the phone market and are not positioned to compete with the national phone behemoth that will exist as a result of this merger. The other potential competitor -- voice-over-internet phone service (VOIP) -- that relies on broadband connections, is threatened by the ability of the Bells and cable companies with broadband wires to disrupt VOIP transmissions.

According to Mark Cooper, research director for Consumer Federation of America, "New Internet telephone service which could compete against phone companies can now be blocked by the merging AT&T and BellSouth giant. Consumers know that without real competition, prices will continue to go up and the drive for innovation will evaporate."

"DOJ's decision today makes the Federal Communications Commission's review of the merger even more critical," said Kimmelman. "With DOJ closing up shop on competition, FCC needs to step up and impose meaningful conditions that will salvage what little competition is left. The government has been deceived before by false promises that mergers of potential competitors benefit the public. It should not be fooled again."

Details about today's DOJ decision can be found at http://www.hearusnow.org.

U.S.: Attack Dogs Used Against Prisoners

Worst Offenders Are State Prisons in Connecticut and Iowa

NEW YORK - October 10 - Five state prison systems in the United States permit the use of aggressive, unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners in efforts to remove them from their cells, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report.
The 20-page report, “Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons,” publicly reveals this practice for the first time. It also shows that the practice is not only cruel, but wholly unnecessary as there are safer, more humane alternatives that corrections officers can use – and most across the country do use – to remove prisoners from their cells.

In Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah, if a prisoner will not voluntarily leave his cell when ordered to do so, officers may bring a trained attack dog to the cell front to terrify the prisoner into compliance. If the prisoner still refuses, the dog is let into the cell to bite the prisoner. While the prisoner tries to fend off the dog, correctional officers place restraints on him and then remove him from the cell.

“The entire world has seen the photo of an Abu Ghraib detainee crouched in terror before a snarling dog, but the use of attack dogs against prisoners here in the U.S. has been a well-kept secret,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch. “Longtime corrections professionals were appalled when we told them that guards in some states use dogs on prisoners.”

The state prison systems in Connecticut and Iowa frequently use dogs for cell extractions. In Utah, they have been used extremely rarely. In Delaware and South Dakota, although state corrections policies permit the use of dogs for cell extractions, prison officials say they are not in fact used for this purpose.

Corrections officials in Connecticut and Iowa insist the use of attack dogs is justified because they deter prisoner misconduct and reduce staff injuries. But 45 other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons reject their views.

The Arizona and Massachusetts prison systems formerly used dogs for cell extractions. In early 2006, both states ended the practice after a review of their use of force policies. The commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Kathleen Dennehy, said that there are other ways to get an inmate to follow orders “than sending in an animal to rip his flesh.”

Dogs are frequently used in the United States and elsewhere to patrol prison perimeters and to search for contraband.

“We know of no other country in the world where officers use attack dogs to remove prisoners from their cells,” said Fellner. “State prison officials in these five states should adopt the more humane methods that their colleagues across the country already use.”

Monday, October 09, 2006

Music will honor Presiding Bishop, Phoebe Griswold

Monday, October 09, 2006

[Episcopal News Service] On October 22 at 5 p.m., Church of the Heavenly Rest will host a Festive Choral Evensong to celebrate the ministries of Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and his wife, Phoebe.

The evensong will feature two anthems with texts by the Presiding Bishop set to music by composer Bruce Saylor, and the offering from this service will be donated to Anglican Women's Empowerment (AWE), of which Phoebe is a founding member.

Featured works to be performed include:

Anthem: "Welcome the Morning Star," scored for a cappella choir, for the University Choir, Harvard University, Edward Jones, organist and director of Music

Anthem: "The Power of Your Love," scored for three treble voices and a cappella mixed choir, commissioned by Summerfest, St. James Cathedral, Chicago, in honor of the 10th Anniversary of Griswold's consecration as Bishop of Chicago

"Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G" by Bruce Saylor. Composed in memory of Giovanni Conticello

"Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, from "Five Mystical Songs." Performers are the Choir and Choristers of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Mollie Nichols, director of music, Steven Lawson, assisting organist, Arthur Murray, trumpet

For more information call 212-289-3400 or visit: http://www.heavenlyrest.org.

Netherlands, Sweden: Bar Deportations to Torture in Iran

Officials Must Not Return Gay and Lesbian Asylum Seekers to Iran

BRUSSELS - October 9 - As the Netherlands mulls resuming deportations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender asylum seekers back to Iran, and Sweden begins such deportations again, both European governments must adhere to their international legal obligations not to send people back to the risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. In letters to Swedish authorities, Human Rights Watch said that states cannot return people to countries where they face torture, ill-treatment or death. “As the Ahmedinejad government cracks down on dissent, this is the wrong time for the European governments to be considering new expulsions of gay or lesbian asylum seekers to Iran,” said Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program. “Penalties for homosexual conduct in Iran range from torture to death. Returning people to the risk of torture would make the Netherlands and Sweden complicit in their fate.”

Both governments imposed a moratorium on the deportation of rejected gay and lesbian asylum seekers to Iran in 2005 after reports of executions there for homosexual conduct. In February 2006, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk first declared her intention to end the moratorium, stating that “It appears that there are no cases of an execution on the basis of the sole fact that someone is homosexual. ... For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly.”

But after strong protests from Dutch civil society and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Verdonk reinstated the ban for six more months, pending a review of conditions in Iran. That review is currently being completed.

Meanwhile, Sweden on September 29 announced that it would resume deporting gay and lesbians fleeing from persecution in Iran. Almost immediately, the Swedish Immigration Department decided to return a gay man to Iran, despite evidence from medical experts that he had previously undergone torture there. The case is under appeal.

Article 111 of Iran’s criminal code, the Code of Islamic Punishments, states that lavat (sexual intercourse between men) “is punishable by death.” Under Articles 121 and122 of the Penal Code, tafkhiz (non-penetrative “foreplay” between men) is punishable by 100 lashes for each partner and by death on the fourth conviction. Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that, “If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity,” each one will receive 99 lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes; if the offense is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.

Human Rights Watch has documented torture and executions for homosexual conduct in Iran. Meanwhile, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has tightened restrictions on civil society and punishments for dissent in recent months. Executions have increased, including death sentences for morals offenses. Human Rights Watch has received reliable reports that eight women and two men now face death by stoning after they were convicted of adultery.

“Persecution for homosexual conduct in Iran is documented and undeniable,” said Long. “Sending gay and lesbian asylum seekers back to face torture is a clear violation of international law.”

The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits states from deporting individuals to countries where they may be at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Netherlands could not proceed with a deportation to Eritrea due to such a risk.

The UN Convention against Torture, to which the Netherlands and Sweden are parties, states in Article 3 that, “No State shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” It also requires that “for the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations, including where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

Paper: Detainee Lawyer Must Leave Navy

The AP Reported today that:

The Navy lawyer who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration's military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been passed over for promotion and will have to leave the military, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, will retire in March or April under the military's "up or out" promotion system. Swift said last week he was notified he would not be promoted to commander.

He said the notification came about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided with him and against the White House in the case involving Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden's driver.

"It was a pleasure to serve," Swift told the newspaper. He added he would have defended Hamdan even if he had known it would cut short his Navy career.

"All I ever wanted was to make a difference — and in that sense I think my career and personal satisfaction has been beyond my dreams," Swift said.

The Pentagon had no comment Sunday.

A graduate of the University of Seattle School of Law, Swift plans to continue defending Hamdan as a civilian.

The 36-year-old Hamdan was captured along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while fleeing the U.S. invasion that was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has acknowledged that bin Laden paid him $200 a month as his driver on a Kandahar farm, but he says he never joined al-Qaida or engaged in military fighting.

Hamdan turned to civilian courts to challenge the constitutionality of his war-crimes trial, a case that eventually led the Supreme Court to rule that President Bush had outstripped his authority when he created ad hoc military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Swift's supervisor said he served with distinction.

"Charlie has obviously done an exceptional job, a really extraordinary job," said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the Pentagon's chief defense counsel for Military Commissions. He added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."

Washington, D.C., attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said Swift was "a no-brainer for promotion." Swift joins many other distinguished Navy officers over the years who have seen their careers end prematurely, Fidell said.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Report: Thousands wrongly on terror list

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON - Thousands of people have been mistakenly linked to names on terror watch lists when they crossed the border, boarded commercial airliners or were stopped for traffic violations, a government report said Friday.

More than 30,000 airline passengers have asked just one agency — the Transportation Security Administration — to have their names cleared from the lists, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Hundreds of millions of people each year are screened against the lists by Customs and Border Protection, the State Department and state and local law enforcement agencies. The lists include names of people suspected of terrorism or of possibly having links to terrorist activity.

"Misidentifications can lead to delays, intensive questioning and searches, missed flights or denied entry at the border," the report said. "Whether appropriate relief is being afforded these individuals is still an open question."

When questions arose about tens of thousands of names between December 2003 and January 2006, the names were sent back to the agencies that put them on the lists, the GAO said. Half of those were found to be misidentified, the report found.

In December 2003, disparate agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities consolidated dozens of watch lists of known or suspected terrorists into the new Terrorist Screening Center run by the

People are considered "misidentified" if they are matched to the database and then, upon further examination, are found not to match. They are usually misidentified because they have the same name as someone in the database.

People are considered "mistakenly listed" if they were put on the list in error or if they should no longer be included on the list because of subsequent events, the report said.

Problems developed with terrorist watch lists after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Maher Arar, a Canadian software engineer, was detained at New York's Kennedy Airport in 2002 because Canadian officials had asked that he be placed on a watch list. The U.S. transferred him without court approval to
Syria where he was tortured and imprisoned for a year. A Canadian inquiry found that Arar should not have been on the list because he didn't do anything wrong.

The no-fly list given to airlines to make sure terrorists don't board airplanes grew exponentially after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon. The no-fly list is part of the Terrorist Screening Center database.

Young children and well-known Americans like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., were stopped at airports because their names were the same as those on the no-fly list.

The list has contained the names of Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Nabih Berri, Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, according to a report by CBS' "60 Minutes," to be broadcast Sunday.

Richard Kopel, acting director of the screening center, said in a statement that Morales and Berri are not on the current no-fly list. He did not address whether they were in the past, noting only that the list changes daily.

Two international flights — in December 2004 and May 2005 — were diverted because passenger were misidentified as on the no-fly list.

The complete story may be found here:

Bush "Pardons": Covering Criminality

The Institute for Public Accuracy released the following October 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - October 6 -

Holtzman has been a Congresswoman and the district attorney of Brooklyn; she was a member of the House panel that impeached Richard Nixon. She recently wrote in the Chicago Sun Times: "President Bush ... is quietly trying to pardon himself of any crimes connected with the torture and mistreatment of U.S. detainees. "The 'pardon' is buried in Bush's ... legislation to create a new kind of military tribunal for cases involving top al-Qaida operatives. The 'pardon' provision has nothing to do with the tribunals. Instead, it guts the War Crimes Act of 1996, a federal law that makes it a crime, in some cases punishable by death, to mistreat detainees in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and makes the new, weaker terms of the War Crimes Act retroactive to 9/11.

"Press accounts of the provision have described it as providing immunity for CIA interrogators. But its terms cover the president and other top officials because the act applies to any U.S. national. Avoiding prosecution under the War Crimes Act has been an obsession of this administration since shortly after 9/11."

Holtzman is co-author with Cynthia L. Cooper of the forthcoming book The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens.

Elizabeth de la Vega served as a federal prosecutor in Minneapolis and San Jose for 20 years. She wrote the piece "The White House Criminal Conspiracy" and most recently "Pardon Me? Scooter Libby's Trial Strategy," in which she writes: "U.S. v. Libby is not only alive and well; it is also set to begin on January 16, 2007, just three and a half months from now. ... Last year, not long after Libby was indicted ... the Democratic leadership was asking the president to reassure the public that he would not pardon Libby or anyone else ultimately convicted of a crime as a result of the CIA leak investigation.

"The president never responded. ... And Vice President Cheney, when asked recently by Tim Russert on 'Meet the Press' whether the president should pardon Scooter Libby, refused to answer. ...

"December would be an excellent month for a pardon -- it's the holiday season after all -- and the mid-term elections would be over. The best way to head off this possibility is to call attention to it. Now."

De la Vega is author of the forthcoming book U.S. v. George W. Bush et. al.

In Border Fence's Path, Congressional Roadblocks

The Washington Post reported Friday October 6 that:

No sooner did Congress authorize construction of a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border last week than lawmakers rushed to approve separate legislation that ensures it will never be built, at least not as advertised, according to Republican lawmakers and immigration experts.

GOP leaders have singled out the fence as one of the primary accomplishments of the recently completed session. Many lawmakers plan to highlight their $1.2 billion down payment on its construction as they campaign in the weeks before the midterm elections.

But shortly before recessing late Friday, the House and Senate gave the Bush administration leeway to distribute the money to a combination of projects -- not just the physical barrier along the southern border. The funds may also be spent on roads, technology and "tactical infrastructure" to support the Department of Homeland Security's preferred option of a "virtual fence."

What's more, in a late-night concession to win over wavering Republicans, GOP congressional leaders pledged in writing that Native American tribes, members of Congress, governors and local leaders would get a say in "the exact placement" of any structure, and that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would have the flexibility to use alternatives "when fencing is ineffective or impractical."

The loopholes leave the Bush administration with authority to decide where, when and how long a fence will be built, except for small stretches east of San Diego and in western Arizona. Homeland Security officials have proposed a fence half as long, lawmakers said.

"It's one thing to authorize. It's another thing to actually appropriate the money and do it," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). The fine-print distinction between what Congress says it will do and what it actually pays for is a time-honored result of the checks and balances between lawmakers who oversee agencies and those who hold their purse strings.

In this case, it also reflects political calculations by GOP strategists that voters do not mind the details, and that key players -- including the administration, local leaders and the Mexican government -- oppose a fence-only approach, analysts said.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Text-sex scandal boosts Democrats ahead of US elections

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON - Opposition Democrats are reaping a surge in popularity ahead of key US elections next month on the back of a congressional sex scandal that has left Republican leaders reeling, according to polls.

But President George W. Bush has again given his backing to House of Representatives speaker Dennis Hastert who has faced calls for his resignation over the party leadership's handling of the scandal.

Polls released by Time magazine and USA Today indicated that the Democrats are now taking potentially decisive leads in opinion polls ahead of the November 7 mid-term election for the Senate, House of Representatives and several state governerships.

Time said its poll suggested a scandal over lurid e-mails and instant text messages sent by former representative Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) to teenage Congressional pages had "dented" Republican hopes of retaining control of the Senate and House after November 7.

It said almost 80 percent of the 1,002 people it asked this week were aware of the scandal and believe Republican leaders tried to cover it up. One quarter said it made them less likely to vote Republican in the election.

Among registered voters, 54 percent said they were more likely to vote Democrat and 39 percent favoured Republican. Time said the margin has jumped 11 percentage points from a similar poll in June.

A USA Today/Gallup poll of six key states indicated that Democrats were on target to take control of the Senate in the election as the number of Republican-held seats where the Democrat could win has grown.

Experts quoted by USA Today said the scandal and worsening violence in
Iraq were undermining Republican support. Time also said that Iraq was a growing problem for the Republicans as only 39 percent of voters supported Bush's policy in the strife-torn country.

But Bush telephoned the House speaker to express support for the Republican leader under fire, the White House said Friday.

During Thursday's conversation, which lasted a few minutes, Bush "said he supports the speaker," according to Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

Hastert has faced pressure to resign amid widespread questions about when Republican leaders found out about Foley's messages and why they did not act earlier.

Foley abruptly resigned his Florida seat last Friday over the sexually explicit messages to a male former page.

The complete story may be found here:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Latest Blame-Dodging Tactic in Foley Scandal is 'Appalling, Disgusting and Pure McCarthyism'

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force calls upon Democrats, Republicans and straight allies to stand up for gay Americans

WASHINGTON - October 5 - The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force today condemned emerging attempts to shift responsibility for the Foley scandal by blaming gay Republican congressional staffers for supposedly covering up prior reports of predatory behavior by former Rep. Mark Foley. Discussions of a supposed network of closeted gay Republicans working on Capitol Hill have swept the blogs and been raised on MSNBC and CBS. There are allegations, for example, that gay former Foley aide Kirk Fordham, the recently resigned chief of staff for Tom Reynolds (R-NY), worked to play down complaints about Foley’s behavior. Fordham has said that more than three years ago he had “more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene.”

Statement from Matt Foreman, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“The GOP has only one response when it’s in trouble — ‘blame the gays.’ First, they floated the excuse that past complaints about Foley weren’t pursued because Republicans didn’t want to look like they were ‘gay bashing.’ Then, they dispatched henchmen like Tony Perkins and Pat Buchanan to offer the blood libel that gay men are prone to pedophilia. Now — in another signal of desperation — it is clear they plan to poison the debate further with allusions to a shadowy network of closeted gay Republicans who closed ranks to protect Foley.

“The parallels to McCarthyism are chilling. Here it is gays, not communists, ‘operating at the highest levels of government.’

“There is no doubt that allegations of Foley’s misconduct were brought directly to the attention of the Republican leadership of the House. They chose to look the other way. They alone are to blame.

“While many Democrats may be taking real pleasure in watching the GOP twist and turn, it’s long past time for them –– and other leaders –– to denounce these shameful, gay-baiting, responsibility-evading tactics.”

What the media are saying:

From an Oct. 5 New York Times editorial titled “Real Scandals, and Fake Ones”:
“Conservative politicians frequently try to score political points by railing against homosexuality … there’s reason to worry that the scandal could tempt Republican politicians and their defenders to try to turn it into an anti-gay witch hunt in the Capitol.”

From an Oct. 4 CBS/AP report:
“CBS News has learned that several other top Republican staffers who handled the Foley matter are also gay. Their role in this controversy has caused a firestorm among GOP conservatives, who charge that a group of high-level gay Republican staffers were protecting a gay Republican congressman, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.”

From the davidcorn.com blog:
“There’s a list going around. Those disseminating it call it ‘The List.’ It’s a roster of top-level Republican congressional aides who are gay. On CBS News on Tuesday, correspondent Gloria Borger reported that there's anger among House Republicans at what an unidentified House GOPer called a ‘network of gay staffers and gay members who protect each other and did the Speaker a disservice.’ The implication is that these gay Republicans somehow helped page-pursuing Mark Foley before his ugly (and possibly illegal) conduct was exposed. The List — drawn up by gay politicos — is a partial accounting of who on Capitol Hill might be in that network.”

From an Oct. 5 posting on The Corner, a nationalreview.com blog:
MCCORNTHYISM [John Podhoretz]
David Corn, 2006: “[The list] includes nine chiefs of staffs, two press secretaries, and two directors of communications—[and] (if it’s acucurate [sic]) it shows that some of the religious right’s favorite representatives and senators have gay staffers helping them advance their political careers and agendas.”

Joseph McCarthy, 1950: “A list of 205 people...who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

The Church of England is to appoint its first Bishop for Urban Life and Faith

3 October 2006

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have appointed the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe,(pictured left) Bishop of Hulme, to promote the dissemination and implementation of the report Faithful Cities, the follow up report to Faith in the City, which was widely welcomed at its launch in May. The appointment is for three years, during which the Bishop will respond to issues of urban policy and life on behalf of the Church.

Faithful Cities, the report of an ecumenical and interfaith Commission initiated by the Church of England, argued that, while millions of pounds have been poured into Britain’s city and urban areas in recent years, the resultant growth has forced many to the margins and dramatised the gap between the ‘super rich’ and the poorest.

Emphasising that cities and towns are for all, Faithful Cities stressed that regeneration is not just about the built environment and economic targets but should also be concerned with human and spiritual needs. The growth of a regeneration industry which focuses on real estate, prestigious buildings and big ticket events, the report says, often marginalises the needs of those in deprived communities.

Bishop Stephen will encourage and resource partnerships between the Church of England, Government and other national agencies working to improve the quality of life and well-being of urban communities. He will work with the Urban Bishops’ Panel to encourage bishops and dioceses to develop strategies for urban mission in the light of Faithful Cities and will help in developing work with ecumenical partners and other faiths around the issues in the report.

Theological reflection and debate about the values that should form the foundations of communities will be central to Bishop Stephen’s new role, developing skills among clergy and laity to undertake mission in specifically urban contexts, as well as encouraging fresh expressions of the Church’s mission and ministry in such areas.

Announcing the appointment, The Most Rev and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said: “We are grateful to the Church Commissioners and the Bishop of Manchester for making this happen. Bishop Stephen has a great depth of experience in urban ministry which equips him perfectly for this role as an Episcopal pioneer for the Church in this important area of our work. I have little doubt that over the next three years he will make a significant impact on urban life and faith and will lead the Church in its service to those in urban areas.”

Bishop Stephen will work with the Church’s national adviser on urban affairs, the Rev Dr Andrew Davey, as well as advisers to the Archbishops and staff of the National Church Institutions, to develop a national strategy for urban mission. He will remain as chair of the Urban Bishops Panel of the House of Bishops.

The Bishop for Urban Life and Faith will begin his new role on November 1. He will remain Bishop of Hulme, maintaining a limited, liturgical role in the Diocese of Manchester but disengaging from the exercise of Episcopal oversight. Bishop Stephen will be commissioned by Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, in Manchester Cathedral on Sunday, November 12.

Bishop Stephen says: “I am delighted to take up this challenge. I have spent all my ministry in urban areas and know how important it is for congregations and clergy to feel that the joys and problems they face are understood by the wider church and nation.

“Faithful Cities provides an agenda for nation and church about creating ‘the good city’. I hope that my appointment will give some additional energy to the mission of the Church in urban areas in partnership with dioceses, parishes, other Christian denominations and other faiths. I also hope that we can engage government, local, regional and national, about the values that should be found in urban regeneration.”

Views diverge on whether Foley will face charges

Is former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's explicit e-mail talk with teenage boys a crime?

It's a question many are asking, with many possible answers.

The Palm Beach Post reported today that:

Tawdry text alone may be offensive but not illegal, attorneys and federal investigators have said. But what it led to or might lead to — including search warrants and further probing — is a tale still untold.

Foley's attorney, David Roth, said Tuesday that Foley accepts responsibility for the "totally inappropriate" e-mails and instant messages, but denies any actual contact with the teens.

"He reiterates unequivocally that he has never had sexual contact with a minor," Roth said.

If Foley never had sex with the boys, his case is in uncertain legal territory, said Ken Lanning, a retired FBI agent who served as one of the agency's leading experts on child exploitation.

"There are going to be some issues here in the gray area," Lanning said. "You may find this behavior repulsive, offensive or immoral. Whether it's a violation of law will be based on a precise reading of the law."

One accomplished Miami defense attorney, though, pointed to a federal law commonly known as the "enticement statute." The law punishes a person who knowingly "persuades, induces, entices or coerces" anyone under 18 to engage in criminal sexual activity or even attempts to do so.

Foley voted in 2003 to enhance the penalties for the crime. The sentence now is a minimum of five years and a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Attorney Douglas Williams read the law and read Foley's messages, which referred to masturbation among other things.

"I would say that a reasonable, conservative government lawyer would not be out of bounds or risk-taking if he or she indicted based upon what I read," Williams said.

It would be a battle of titans, though.

"We are at a place where politics and law enforcement are about to have a collision as violent as a bull rhino and rogue elephant," Williams said.

Attorney Mark Johnson of Stuart, a former 15-year federal prosecutor, also thought of that federal enticement law as he read the Foley messages revealed to date. "In those e-mails, he certainly tiptoes dangerously close to the line," Johnson said.

Both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI have acknowledged conducting "preliminary investigations" of Foley's conduct, although FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the FBI has begun the process of seizing computers from Foley's homes and offices, the St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday. Several news outlets also reported that the Justice Department ordered House officials to preserve records of Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers.

FDLE spokesman Tom Berlinger would not confirm or comment on warrants or seizures of Foley's computers. Berlinger said it was a "truly preliminary inquiry" to see if any Florida laws had been broken.

Berlinger cited a chapter of child-abuse law that deals with sexual performance of children, some crimes of which are punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

"The question is, what is a prosecutor willing to prosecute?" Berlinger said. "You know that one man's lurid is another man's church-going stuff."

The Internet transcripts released by ABC News look like the conversations police often use in Internet sex stings. In those cases, however, the sex talk leads to an arrest when adults arrive for real sexual encounters.

Locally, a priest, a rabbi, a prosecutor and a number of married men have been arrested after showing up to meet people they thought were teens.

Graphic talk alone is rarely enough, said Joseph Dooley, a former agent who helped set up New England's first FBI unit targeting Internet predators. Many adults engage in explicit chats with undercover agents but never show up for the scheduled meetings, he said.

The complete story may be found here:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hastert Tells Conservative He’ll Resign If It Helps GOP

House Speaker J.Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told a leading conservative Wednesday that he would resign as the top congressional leader if it would help the Republican Party stave off defeat in November.

But conservative activist Paul Weyrich said Hastert has rejected calls for his resignation because he believes it would prompt “a feeding frenzy” that ultimately would lead to the downfall of other GOP leaders as well.

“He said if he thought that resigning would be helpful to the Republicans maintaining the majority, he would do it. But he did not think it would be helpful for Republicans,” Weyrich said in an interview after holding what he described as an emotional telephone conversation with Hastert, who is home in Illinois campaigning and trying to deal with the fallout from the Mark Foley scandal.

“He said he thought his resignation would just lead to a feeding frenzy where they would go after (Majority Leader John A.) Boehner, then (Rep. Thomas M.) Reynolds, then (Rep. John) Shimkus," Weyrich added. "And he said we would have the story running right up to the election.”

Weyrich, who was one of the first to publicly call for the Speaker’s head, said the conversation has led him to retract his day-old demand that Hastert resign.

“I changed my mind after talking to the Speaker,” Weyrich said. “I feel now that he ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. He has never, ever lied to me or dissembled. I regard him as one of the good people up there.”

Weyrich, a bridge to conservative constituents, said Hastert expressed anger at Boehner, R-Ohio, who has maintained that he warned the Speaker about Foley last spring.

“The Speaker was ticked by that one involving Boehner,” Weyrich said. “Boehner threw it in his lap, and said he warned him. The Speaker said no such warning ever came from Boehner.”

The conversation with Weyrich appeared to be part of a Hastert offensive aimed putting an end to calls for an immediate resignation over his handling of the scandal. But there is still increasing talk of Republican leadership challenges after the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

Such a shake-up is virtually assured if Democrats gain control of the House, but Hastert could step down even if Republicans hang on.

As lawmakers, lobbyists and pollsters probed the impact of the Foley case on the elections and the future makeup of the GOP leadership, the Justice Department ordered House officials to “preserve all records” related to Foley’s electronic correspondence with teen-age congressional pages and former pages.

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Schecter Takes GOP Strategist Mitchell To School on MSNBC

We thought that our readers might enjoy this exchange

Monday, October 02, 2006

After Foley, New Fears For the GOP

Some Say Party Could Lose House and Senate

The Washington Post reported today that:

Republican strategists said yesterday that public revulsion over the sexually graphic online conversations between Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.)(pictured at left) and former House pages could compound the party's problems enough to tip the House to the Democrats in November -- and could jeopardize the party's hold on the Senate as well.

As House GOP leaders defended their role in handling revelations that forced Foley on Friday to give up his House seat, party strategists said the scandal threatens to depress turnout among Christian conservatives and could hamper efforts to convince undecided and swing voters that Republicans deserve to remain in the majority.

There was intense anger among social conservative activists in Washington yesterday, and some called for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to resign.

Republican operatives closely following the battle for the House and Senate said that they are virtually ready to concede nearly a third of the 15 seats the Democrats need to recapture control of the House, and that they will spend the next five weeks trying to shelter other vulnerable incumbents from the fallout of the Foley scandal in hopes of salvaging a slender majority.

Districts in which Republicans have effectively walked off the field include Foley's own in South Florida. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a radio interview with conservative commentator Sean Hannity that the party's replacement candidate is all but doomed. Because of ballot procedures in Florida, "to vote for this candidate, you have to vote for Mark Foley," Boehner said. "How many people are going to hold their nose to do that?"

Others warned that the impact could be much greater. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and an important social conservative leader, said "there's a real chance" that the episode could dethrone the Republican majority. "I think the next 48 hours are critical in how this is handled," he said, adding that "when a party holds itself out as the guardian of values, this is not helpful."

Foley's sudden resignation came at the end of a week that had delivered a series of blows to Republican hopes in November. A National Intelligence Estimate asserted that the war in Iraq is fueling new threats from Islamic jihadists faster than the United States and allies can contain them, then a new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post said the administration's private assessments of Iraq are far worse than officials are telling the public. Taken together, GOP strategists said, the events of the past 10 days reversed what some Republicans had seen as a modest rebound in September after the worst days of the summer.

By yesterday, a number of GOP strategists reported widespread gloom about the party's prospects, combined with intense anger at the House leadership.

Joe Gaylord, who was the top adviser to Newt Gingrich (Ga.) when Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, was pessimistic about the party's midterm prospects. He said the fallout from Foley's resignation comes "very close" to ensuring a Democratic victory in November.

The complete story may be found here: