Friday, February 06, 2004

Putin Blames Chechen Rebels For Moscow Subway Blast; Bush Telephones Condolences. An explosion in Moscow’s subway killed at least 39 people and injured about 130 more today. Police said a suicide bomber was responsible, and President Vladimir Putin accused Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov of being behind the incident. A spokesman for Maskhadov denied the Chechen was responsible and condemned what he called "a bloody provocation." President Bush telephoned Putin this morning to express his condolences. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters, "The President condemns this terrorist attack in the strongest terms. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families." McClellan added, "We stand with Russia in her determination to bring those responsible to justice."

Israel Considering Relocating Settlers From Gaza To West Bank. Spokesman Assaf Shariv said today the Israeli government is considering moving people from the Gaza Strip settlements that are to be vacated to areas of the West Bank Israel wants to annex in a final peace agreement. Shariv said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is examining several options and will present them to US officials. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia called the relocation idea unacceptable, saying, "The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are an integral part of our homeland, and we will not give up even one centimeter of our homeland."

Officials Say Syria Has Resumed Arms Shipments To Hezbollah, Hamas. The New York Times (2/6, Marquis) reports, "Syria has resumed weapons transfers to anti-Israel guerrillas based in Lebanon, including a covert shipment of weapons from Iran smuggled aboard a Syrian cargo plane that had delivered earthquake relief, American and Israeli officials say. The officials said a Syrian government plane that carried aid to Iran in late December had loaded up with small arms and possibly explosives intended for Hezbollah and Hamas, militant groups carrying out armed attacks against Israel. … ‘The supply flights seem to have restarted for Hezbollah and Hamas,’ a State Department official said." The Times adds, "The reports of the weapons shipment appear to derail hopes among some American officials and experts on Syria that the government of President Bashar al-Assad might take a cue from Libya and reach out to the United States and other Western nations."

White House Praises Musharraf For Role In "Breaking Up" Nuclear Proliferation Network. The New York Times (2/6, Sanger, Broad) reports, "The White House praised President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on Thursday for breaking up what now appears to have been one of the world's largest nuclear proliferation networks, and made little mention of his decision to pardon Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist at its center, and terminate any investigations into whether the military was involved. In a reflection of how far the administration is going to bolster General Musharraf, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, declined to answer questions from reporters traveling here with President Bush about whether the United States would now press Pakistan to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty."

German Court Acquits 9/11 Hijacker Associate, Cites US Refusal To Cooperate. ABC World News Tonight (2/5, story 6, :20, Jennings) reported, "In Germany, today a Moroccan national accused of helping the September 11th hijackers was cleared of all charges. The judge said the court was not convinced of Abdelghani Mzoudi’s innocence, but did not have enough evidence to convict him. Prosecutors expressed frustration that the US had not in their view, shared information freely."

Pentagon Scraps Internet Voting Plan. CBS Evening News (2/5, story 9, :15, Rather) reported, "The Pentagon today scrapped plans to let Americans overseas, including those in the military, cast their votes next fall over a special Internet computer system. There are concerns hackers might change votes, or that terrorists might gather information on system users."

Halliburton To Run TV Ads Disputing Democratic Attacks About Contracts. The Washington Post (2/6, E3, Spinner) reports, "Halliburton Co. fired back at its political critics yesterday, introducing a television commercial that declares it was awarded lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts ‘because of what we do, not who we know.’ Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said in a statement that the ad, which features Halliburton chief executive David J. Lesar, addresses ‘misstatements and wrong information put forward recently in the presidential political campaigns.’ … ‘We are clearing up the record,’ she said in the statement. ‘We are very good at what we do, and we have done it for 60 years for both Republican and Democratic administrations.’" Howard Dean, John Kerry and Al Sharpton "have criticized the Houston-based company, where Vice President Cheney was chief executive from 1995 to 2000, after reports that the Pentagon was probing possible overcharges on its contracts in Iraq."

Halliburton CEO Defends Company Against Columnists’ Allegation That Company Evades Taxes. In a New York Times (2/6) letter to the editor, David Lesar writes in response to Bob Herbert’s January 30, column, "Halliburton is not, despite what Mr. Herbert says, a company that goes to great lengths to escape taxes. We have the highest compliance standards, and above all a commitment to ethics. Halliburton has significant business abroad, and pays taxes abroad, for which the United States gives us a tax credit. This is not a loophole; it is how our tax system works. Unlike competitors who operate domestically but have moved their domiciles to tax-haven countries, Halliburton proudly remains an American company and has a higher effective tax rate as a result. Mr. Herbert says we paid $15 million in United States income taxes for 2002. It is only fair to add that we paid this even though we reported to shareholders a large pretax loss on American operations for the period. As to Iraq, I am extremely proud of our employees there who risk their lives every day to provide housing, meals and other vital services to our troops."

Scalia Under Fire For Not Recusing Himself From Energy Task Force Case. CBS Evening News (2/5, story 4, 2:00, Rather) reported that "the US Supreme Court is often at the center of deeply divisive national issue, but this one's different. The issue is whether a member of the court should disqualify himself from a case involving the Vice President of the United States." CBS (Andrews) adds, "Vice President Cheney and Justice Antonin Scalia are friends and hunting buddies, but to many experts, their last trip crossed an ethical line. According to the Los Angeles Times, Scalia last month flew on Air Force 2 with the Vice President from Washington to Patterson, Louisiana, where they then spent several days of duck hunting deep in the bayou. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that the Vice President has a case pending before the Supreme Court. That means a party to a lawsuit, the Vice President, just took on vacation one of the judges who will hear his case. And it's not just any case. Cheney is asking the court to let him keep secret the records of who he met, including lobbyists, while considering the Administration’s energy policy. Several senators, including Patrick Leahy of the Judiciary Committee, wrote the court asking why Scalia has not recused himself." Leahy: "That's law school 101. You have to recuse yourself."

Internal Investigation Finds TSA Allowed Criminals To Hold Screening Positions. The New York Times (2/6, Shenon) reports, "An internal investigation at the Homeland Security Department has found that hiring of tens of thousands of airport screeners after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was so haphazard that many screeners were allowed to remain on duty at security checkpoints for weeks or months after it had been determined that they had serious criminal records. The department's inspector general issued a report on the findings on Thursday. It said screeners remained on the payroll and retained their badges even after the findings that they had been convicted on charges as serious as manslaughter."

Tenet Admits CIA Allowed "Fabricated" Information Into Powell’s Speech, Intelligence Estimate. The Los Angeles Times (2/6, Drogin, Miller) reports, "The most damaging disclosure was Tenet's admission for the first time that the CIA had allowed ‘fabricated’ information from an ‘unreliable’ Iraqi defector about suspected mobile germweapons labs to appear in two key prewar assessments: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's dramatic presentation to the United Nations Security Council one year ago Thursday, and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate provided to members of Congress shortly before they voted to approve the use of force in Iraq. … An intelligence official said later that the Iraqi National Congress [INC], then an opposition group headed by exile Ahmad Chalabi, had delivered the defector to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency for debriefing. Although the DIA initially circulated the informant's claims about mobile labs, the Pentagon agency later backtracked and warned the intelligence community that ‘this individual was possibly fabricating or embellishing his information.’" But "for reasons still unclear, analysts ‘didn't notice’ the warnings, the official said, and failed to prevent the bogus claims from becoming part of Powell's presentation and the official weapons estimate for Congress."

Editor Urges Fellow Journalists To Call On Novak To Reveal His Source. In an op-ed appearing in the New York Times (2/6), journalism professor and former Des Moines Register editor, Geneva Overholser writes, "Never burn a source. It's a cardinal rule of journalism: do not disclose the identity of someone who gives you information in confidence. As a staunch believer in this rule for decades, I have surprised myself lately by concluding that journalists' proud absolutism on this issue - particularly in a case involving the syndicated columnist Robert Novak -- is neitheras wise nor as ethical as it has seemed." Overholser adds, "As a piece of journalism, the Novak column raises disturbing ethical questions. He apparently turned a time-honored use of confidentiality -- protecting a whistleblower from government retribution -- on its head, delivering government retribution to the whistleblower instead. Worse, he enabled his sources to illegally divulge intelligence information. Now Mr. Novak may be called to testify before the grand jury. To most in the press, this signals an immediate duty: stand shoulder to shoulder beside a colleague. But before we all jump to his defense, there are two questions journalists should consider: one about what should not happen in the courtroom, the other about what should not happen in the newspaper. … In this case…journalists should call upon Mr. Novak to acknowledge his abuse of confidentiality and reveal his sources himself - thereby keeping the control of confidentiality in journalistic hands rather than in those of the legal system. Mr. Novak has in the past shown a willingness to identify sources who turn out to be lawbreakers: three years ago he revealed that he had taken information from Robert Hanssen, the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who spied for the Soviet Union. He needed to divulge his connection to Mr. Hanssen, he wrote, ‘in order to be honest to my readers.’"

Unemployment Rate Falls As 112,000 Jobs Added To Economy. The unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point to 5.6 percent in January as 112,000 new jobs were added, the Labor Department reported today. Most of the growth was in the services sector, as retailers added 76,000 jobs. The department also said the average work week increased slightly, from 33.5 hours to 33.7. The 5.6 percent figure is the lowest since October of 2001.

Administration Calls Figures Good News, But Says More Needed. Senior Bush Administration officials were quick to issue statements touting the news while saying once again the Administration is not satisfied. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao issued a statement saying, "Today’s news is good news for workers, and it’s yet another sign that the economy has turned the corner and the nation’s job market is getting stronger. The economy has created jobs in each of the last five months, with hundreds of thousands of Americans finding new jobs." Chao added, "The continuing positive economic indicators show that the President’s economic policies are working. We need Congress to quickly pass his Six Point Plan for the Economy and the new Jobs for the 21st Century initiative, to sustain this economic growth and create even more jobs."

Treasury Secretary John Snow issued a statement today, saying, "Today's report on employment marks the fifth straight month of job growth, pushing the number of jobs created over the past five months to over 360,000. The unemployment rate has continued to drop since its peak in June, the largest sevenmonth decline since 1995. We're seeing solid gains in the underlying fundamentals. Manufacturing is showing signs of progress, a services sector index hit its highest level on record in January, consumer confidence is improved, and the housing market continues to be a base of strength for the economy. Following exceptional GDP growth in the third quarter, 2003 ended on solid ground, coming in above the historical average."

Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign released a statement in which Edwards said, "Every month, it becomes clear that this President’s economic policies are working just as he planned: thousands of manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas because his trade policies and tax loopholes encourage it; corporate profits keep climbing because they are cutting payrolls and benefits, and our twin deficits -- our budget deficit and trade and capital deficits -- are preventing our country from providing the real investment in our economy that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. This economic policy is great for corporate bottom lines, but it is bad for our workers and spits in the face of our values."

Domenici Plan For Scaled-Down Energy Bill Could Reopen ANWR Fight. A knowledgeable Capitol Hill source tells the Bulletin this morning that a number of House Republicans are prepared to reopen the fight over oil drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) if the Senate passes scaled-down energy legislation as part of the surface transportation reauthorization bill and sends it to the House for conference. In an effort to get comprehensive energy legislation moving again, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici has said he is working on a bill that would drop liability protection for makers of MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) and cut tax incentives for energy producers. The source said that attaching the bill to the transportation measure, as Domenici has said he plans to do, would likely prompt a number of House Republicans to insist that the starting point for an energy/transportation bill conference be the original energy bill that passed the House, which would reopen debate on ANWR and a number of other contentious issues.

The source added, "We are two votes short of 60, which is the hurdle the Democrats are making us go through. It is the Democrats who are standing between the bill and the President’s desk and we are not going to let them off the hook. There is no reason why Republicans should enact a weaker policy or no policy. So what you may end up seeing is that we bring the House passed bill as our starting point for negotiations and we will work on that. It would be most interesting if you had Don Young negotiating for ANWR in conference. He is a formidable negotiator."

Gephardt Endorses Kerry For President. At a rally in Warren, MI, Rep. Dick Gephardt today endorsed Sen. John Kerry for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination saying that Kerry "is the leader our party and our nation need for the 21st Century" and the Democratic candidate "who will defeat George Bush in November."
In a statement released by the Kerry campaign, Gephardt said, "On the campaign trail, I often said my campaign was not about me, it’s about us. My campaign -- and the support of those who stood with me -- was always about bringing the issues of jobs, economic security, health care, and core Democratic values to the White House. I’m here today with John Kerry because he’s deeply committed to these issues. These are serious times that demand a leader who can go toe-to-toe with George Bush on national security issues, who will defeat George Bush in November, and who is ready to meet the awesome challenges of the Presidency. That leader is John Kerry and that’s why I’m proud to endorse him for President of the United States."

The AP reports this morning that Clark said yesterday that he is against abortion, but that he supports keeping it legal.

Air Force One Aborts Landing Because Of Vehicle On Runway. NBC Nightly News (2/5, story 8, :25, B. Williams) reported, "A rare occurrence today at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. Air Force One carrying the President home from South Carolina on final approach prior to landing but note the aircraft pulls back up and circles again before landing. The problem? The Air Force says a vehicle was on the runway and so the first landing attempt was aborted without incident." The New York Times (2/6) reports, "President Bush avoids most of the inconveniences that plague ordinary air travelers, like delays, lines and baggage searches. But on Thursday he got a taste of one: an aborted landing approach."

Jay Leno: "The cable news channel MSNBC has hired Howard Dean's former campaign manager, Joe Trippi, to be a political analyst. Is that a good idea, hiring Dean's former campaign manager? Wait two weeks. You can hire Howard Dean."

Jay Leno: "As you know, John Kerry won five of the seven big contests Tuesday night, bringing him closer to nomination. A number of political analysts say the nomination is John Kerry's to lose, and today Dean said, ‘I can show you how to do that. You know, I did that.’"

Jay Leno: "Today, Dennis Kucinich vowed to stay in the presidential race. Stay in? How about getting in?"

Jay Leno: "Today they reopened the Senate office buildings that were closed earlier in the week because of that ricin scare, that poison scare. You know what ricin is? It's a toxic poison that's harmful when it's inhaled, or as we call it in LA, air."

Jay Leno: "Former California Governor Gray Davis has made a guest appearance on the CBS sitcom ‘Yes, Dear,’ which has got to be nerve-wracking for him. I mean, knowing at any minute if he screws up, he could be replaced by an actor again."

Jay Leno: "Rush Limbaugh's lawyer said today that Limbaugh's drug scandal started with a story in the tabloid newspapers. Really? I thought it started when he bought 40,000 pills from his housekeeper."

Conan O’Brien: "Both John Kerry and Wesley Clark are making campaign appearances with the men who saved their lives in Vietnam. That's what they're doing. Meanwhile, President Bush is going to campaign with a man who once took a math test for him."


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