Monday, December 24, 2007

NATIONAL & WORLD DIGEST December 24, 2007

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New York Times

Giuliani Hits a Rocky Stretch as Voting Approaches

December 24, 2007

HAMPTON, N.H. - Rudolph W. Giuliani has entered a turbulent period in hiscampaign for the Republican presidential nomination, marked by what hisaides acknowledge are missteps, sharp shifts in strategy and evidence thatreports about his personal life have hurt his national standing.

A $3 million investment in radio and television advertising in NewHampshire, a belated effort to become competitive in this state, is nowviewed by the campaign as a largely wasted expenditure.

A Boston Globe poll published Sunday found that support for Mr. Giuliani haddropped in New Hampshire over the past month, even before any fallout fromthe decision on Wednesday by an ailing Mr. Giuliani to have his campaignplane turn around and take him back to St. Louis, where he spent the nightin the hospital.

Some of Mr. Giuliani's advisers are frustrated at the extent to which hisdecision not to compete aggressively in Iowa has pushed him to the side ofthe stage at a moment when the political world's attention is focused on thecaucuses there that will kick off the election season in less than twoweeks.

Mr. Giuliani's initial campaign theme, built around his record as mayor ofNew York, has given way to a new one: "Tested. Ready. Now." But itsintroduction, in a speech last Saturday in Tampa, drew little attention on aday when most of the other Republican and Democratic presidential candidateswere grabbing the spotlight in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Huckabee angers some Catholics

By Jim Forsyth
Sunday, December 23, 2007; 2:29 PM

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Rising Republican presidential candidate MikeHuckabee risked his standing with Catholic voters on Sunday by courting hisevangelical base at the church of a controversial preacher accused ofdisparaging Catholics.

There are a few remnants of anti-Catholicism among evangelical Christians inthe South but the two sides have found much common political ground over thepast three decades in their strident opposition to abortion and gaymarriage.

But the visit to Cornerstone, pastor John Hagee's imposing "mega-church" inthe Texas city of San Antonio, was fraught with political perils forHuckabee given his efforts to woo conservative Catholics.

Huckabee, a folksy former Arkansas governor and former Baptist preacher, hashad a meteoric rise in opinion polls in recent weeks, largely because he hasconnected with the Republican Party's influential evangelical wing.

This puts him in serious contention with less than two weeks before theJanuary 3 nomination battle in Iowa, which starts the state-by-state processto pick the Republican and Democratic candidates for November's presidentialelection.

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New York Times

Editorial: Broken Polls

December 24, 2007

Election officials hate to admit how vulnerable their voting systems are toerrors and vote theft. The Ohio and Colorado secretaries of state, however,have recently spoken openly about the weaknesses of the voting machines usedin their states - and are pushing to get them fixed. Election officials inother states, whose voting machines have similar vulnerabilities, shouldfollow Ohio's and Colorado's lead.

Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's new secretary of state, has been working to promotefair and honest elections, with particular attention to voting machines. Shecommissioned an expert study of the five kinds of voting systems used inOhio. Her report, released on Dec. 14, revealed serious security flaws thatcould put the state's elections in jeopardy.

Some are simple. For example, the locks used to secure machines and ballotscan easily be picked. This is a problem critics of electronic voting havebeen pointing out for several years, but it has not been addressed. Otherflaws are more technical, like the fact that the computer servers that tallythe ballots are poorly guarded. An infiltrator could slip malicious computersoftware onto them, which could change the results of an election.

Ms. Brunner has made some good recommendations for how to proceed. Mostimportant, she called for Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous, toswitch from touch-screen to optical scan machines, which read ballots thatvoters mark by hand, like a standardized test. Optical scans are far moretrustworthy and cost-effective than touch screens - and they provide arecord of each vote. On Friday, the county voted to make the switch.

In Colorado, Secretary of State Mike Coffman has decertified electronicvoting machines and tabulating machines. Acting in response to a courtruling, Mr. Coffman confirmed critics' charges that the machines areunreliable and too vulnerable to tampering. One model, he found, could bedisabled if a voter passed a magnet over it. In another model, he found a 1percent error rate in counting ballots, which is clearly unacceptable.

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New York Times

Op-Ed Columnist: State of the Unions

December 24, 2007

Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had astrong union movement.

These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefitsfor their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunionemployers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the politicalinfluence of corporations and the economic elite.

Today, however, the American union movement is a shadow of its former self,except among government workers. In 1973, almost a quarter of private-sectoremployees were union members, but last year the figure was down to a mere7.4 percent.

Yet unions still matter politically. And right now they're at the heart of anasty political scuffle among Democrats. Before I get to that, however, let'stalk about what happened to American labor over the last 35 years.

It's often assumed that the U.S. labor movement died a natural death, thatit was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But whatreally happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which hadpreviously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effectdeclared war on organized labor.

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New York Times

Concord Monitor: 'Not Romney'

By Adam Nagourney
December 23, 2007, 9:39 am

CONCORD, N.H. - Newspapers have an historical tradition of endorsingcandidates in political races, offering their readers long arguments whythey should support a candidate. But something quite extraordinary could befound on the opinion page of the Concord Monitor Sunday morning. Ananti-endorsement.

The subject (victim?) was Mitt Romney. Under the headline, "Romney shouldnot be the next president," the newspaper's editors devoted 13 paragraphs tolaying out the case against Mr. Romney. It traced Mr. Romney's switches onpositions on various issues, and ends with a tough judgment on the formergovernor of neighboring Massachusetts.

"When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state'sfirst-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidatesup close, ask tough questions, and see through the baloney," the editorswrote.

"If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world,we'll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicansand independents must vote no."

Mr. Romney's spokesman, Kevin Madden, responded by describing the Monitor'seditorial board as liberal on many issues, and thus not inclined to supporta candidate like Mr. Romney. "Governor Romney has taken firm positions thatare at odds with the board's support for drivers licenses for illegalimmigrants, their position against school choice and their advocacy fortaking 'Under God' out of the Pledge of Allegiance," Mr. Madden said. "Thegovernor happens to disagree with them on all those issues."

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Huckabee's Co-Pilot

By Peter Wehner
Monday, December 24, 2007; A15

Some of us -- in my case, a political conservative and evangelicalChristian -- are getting a queasy feeling when it comes to the presidentialcampaign of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and much of it has to dowith his use of faith in this political campaign.

Many who don't know Huckabee were initially impressed with him, me included.He comes across as authentic and likable, humorous and self-deprecating. Heis an excellent debater and a first-rate speaker. But if you look closely, adisturbing pattern emerges.

In Iowa, Huckabee advertised himself as a "Christian leader." A few monthsago, when speaking to a large gathering of social conservatives inWashington, he told them, "I think it's important that the language of Zionis a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language." When askedto explain his surge in the polls, he answered, "There's only oneexplanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power thathelped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000people."

Then came his comments to Zev Chafets, a contributor to the New York TimesMagazine, in which the former pastor, who has a bachelor's degree inreligion and has worked on a master's degree in theology, asked Chafets,"Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Aftercriticism, Huckabee apologized to Mitt Romney for injecting this matter intothe campaign and said he thought his comments wouldn't find their way intoprint.

And now Huckabee is running a political ad in Iowa in which he insists thata few weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the linchpin of his presidentialhopes, it's time to "pull aside from all of that," meaning politics, because"what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ."

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Subverting Bush at Langley

By Robert D. Novak
Monday, December 24, 2007; A15

Outrage over the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes is but one elementof the distress Republican intelligence watchdogs in Congress feel about theagency. "It is acting as though it is autonomous, not accountable toanyone," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House intelligencecommittee, told me. That is his mildest language about the CIA. In carefullyselected adjectives, Hoekstra calls it "incompetent, arrogant andpolitical."

Chairman Silvestre Reyes and other Democrats on the intelligence committeejoin Hoekstra in demanding investigation into the tape destruction in theface of the administration's resistance, but the Republicans stand alone inprotesting the CIA's defiant undermining of President Bush. In its cleanbill of health for Iran on nuclear weapons development, the agency acted asan independent policymaker rather than an adviser. It has withheld fromnearly all members of Congress information on the Israeli bombing of Syriain September. The U.S. intelligence community is deciding on its own whatinformation the public shall learn.

Intelligence agencies, from Nazi Germany to present-day Pakistan, for betteror for ill, have tended to break away from their governments. The Office ofStrategic Services, the CIA's World War II predecessor, was infiltrated bycommunists. While CIA tactics were under liberal assault in Congress duringthe Watergate era, current accusations of a rogue agency come fromRepublicans who see a conscious undermining of Bush at Langley.

The CIA's contempt for the president was demonstrated during his 2004reelection campaign when a senior intelligence officer, Paul R. Pillar, madeoff-the-record speeches around the country criticizing the invasion of Iraq.On Sept. 24, 2004, three days before my column exposed Pillar's activity,former representative Porter Goss arrived at Langley as Bush's handpickeddirector of central intelligence. Goss had resigned from Congress to acceptBush's mandate to clean up the CIA. But the president eventually buckledunder fire from the old boys at Langley and their Democratic supporters inCongress, and Goss was sacked in May 2006.

Goss's successor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, restored the status quo at the CIAand nurtured relations with congressional Democrats in preparation for theircoming majority status. Hayden, an active-duty four-star Air Force general,first antagonized Hoekstra by telling Reyes what the Democrats wanted tohear about the Valerie Plame-CIA leak case.

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Myth of the Strongman

By Fred Hiatt
Monday, December 24, 2007; A15

So Time magazine is the latest to swoon at Vladimir Putin's "steelyconfidence and strength," his "chiseled facial features and thosepenetrating eyes." The Russian president is a man of "contained power," Timefinds, whose gaze says: "I'm in charge."

Time's elevation of Putin as Person of the Year is not all hagiography byany means. The designation is reserved for consequential but not necessarilybeneficent figures. Time found Putin to be charmless and humorless, a czarwho has "dramatically curtailed freedoms."

But the magazine buys into the central myths that Putin has fostered, thatthe Bush administration consistently has promoted and that increasingly areaccepted as historical truth.

Foremost among these is that, by transforming democracy into autocracy,Putin also transformed chaos into stability. Russia a decade ago, Timesenior editor Nathan Thornburgh observes, was "a rudderless mess, definedmost by a bestial crime rate and Boris Yeltsin's kleptocracy in theKremlin."

In fact, crime worsened after Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president in 2000,as did corruption. In a useful corrective to the conventional wisdom justpublished by Foreign Affairs magazine, Michael McFaul and KathrynStoner-Weiss of Stanford University cite official Russian statistics to showthat the average annual total of murders increased from 30,200 between 1995and 1999 to 32,200 between 2000 and 2004. Meanwhile, in 2006 TransparencyInternational ranked Russia at a new low of 121 out of 163 countries forcorruption, the Stanford experts point out, "putting it between thePhilippines and Rwanda."

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Climate Change Malpractice
The Bush administration won't lead. And now it won't get out of California'sway, either.

Monday, December 24, 2007; A14

THE INK was barely dry on the energy bill signed by President Bush last weekwhen Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson usedit as a wobbly crutch to deny California's request to institute toughtailpipe emissions regulations. "The Bush administration is moving forwardwith a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules, toreduce America's climate footprint from vehicles," he said. Bad call.

Carmakers understandably prefer the predictability of a national standard.But the alternative that the EPA rejected is no "patchwork." California and16 other states, including Maryland, want to set a higher standard. Togetherthey account for 45 percent of the sales of new vehicles in the UnitedStates, more than the entire Japanese car market. Detroit could meet thestandard, which would require more rapid progress toward higher fuel economythan Congress has mandated. It just doesn't want to, and Mr. Bush is contentto act as an enabler.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to sue to overturn the EPAdecision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.The Clean Air Act allows the Golden State to craft its own air-quality rulesand allows other states to adopt them, as long as they are not arbitrary andcapricious and are at least as tough as the federal standards. All that'sneeded for the regulations to take effect is an EPA waiver. But the EPA hasdiscretion to deny a waiver if it finds that California doesn't face a "needto meet compelling and extraordinary conditions." So the administration maydefend its decision on the grounds that the threat to California is nogreater than to the rest of the country. Still, Post staff writer JulietEilperin reported, the EPA's lawyers and policy staff warned that if thewaiver were denied, the agency would lose a Schwarzenegger lawsuit. We hopethat they're right.

The larger point is the irrationality of blocking an initiative that wouldhelp slow climate change. Global warming is a compelling and extraordinarycondition that demands both federal and state action. The U.N.Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if action is nottaken within the next decade the effects may be irreversible. The UnitedStates has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases with a strong assistfrom California, which would be among the top 10 economies of the world wereit a separate nation.

In its "U.S. Climate Action Report -- 2006," when the administration wasdoing its annual airbrushing of its own inaction, the State Departmentactually listed the California initiative as one of the "key activitiesconducted by the U.S." Talk about nerve. This is one more example of Mr.Bush's say-one-thing-do-another brand of environmentalism.

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Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq
Despite Shootings, Security Companies Expanded Presence

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 24, 2007; A01

The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two yearsabout the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private securityfirms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shootingincidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation oroversight, according to government officials, private security firms anddocuments.

The warnings were conveyed in letters and memorandums from defense and legalexperts and in high-level discussions between U.S. and Iraqi officials. Theyreflected growing concern about the lack of control over the tens ofthousands of private guards in Iraq, the largest private security force everemployed by the United States in wartime.

Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department took substantive action toregulate private security companies until Blackwater guards opened fireSept. 16 at a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 Iraqi civilians andprovoking protests over the role of security contractors in Iraq.

"Why is it they couldn't see this coming?" said Christopher Beese, chiefadministrative officer for ArmorGroup International, a British security firmwith extensive operations in Iraq. "That amazes me. Somebody -- it couldhave been military officers, it could have been State -- anybody could havewaved a flag and said, 'Stop, this is not good news for us.' "

Private security firms rushed into Iraq after the March 2003 invasion. TheU.S. military, which entered the country with 130,000 troops, neededadditional manpower to protect supply convoys, military installations anddiplomats. Private security companies appeared "like mushrooms after arainstorm," recalled Michael J. Arrighi, who has worked in private securityin Iraq since 2004.

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Dollar's Fall Is Felt Around The Globe
Weakening U.S. Currency Harms Overseas Markets

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007; A01

The sharp decline of the U.S. dollar since 2000 is affecting a broad swathof the world's population, with its drop on global markets being blamed atleast in part for misfortunes as diverse as labor strikes in the MiddleEast, lost jobs in Europe and the end of an era of globe-trotting richAmericans.

It marks a shift for Americans in the global economy. In times of strength,a mightier dollar allowed Americans to feed their insatiable appetite forforeign goods at cheap prices while providing Yankees abroad with virtuallyunrivaled economic clout. But now, as the United States struggles to fendoff a recession, observers say the less lofty dollar is having both atangible and intangible diminishing effect.

"The dollar was the dominant force in world economics for 100 years -- wehad no competition," said C. Fred Bergsten, an American economist anddirector of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for InternationalEconomics. "There was no other economy close to the size of the UnitedStates. But all that is now changing."

The dollar is down more than 40 percent against the euro over the past sevenyears, taking a particularly sharp drop last month. Despite a bit of arebound in recent weeks, the dollar is still off nearly 12 percent sinceJan. 11, when it hit its peak for 2007.

For now, that drop is allowing the U.S. economy to reap rewards. Americanproducts have become exceedingly competitive, boosting exports ranging fromCaterpillar tractors to Boeing jumbo jets that are now relative blue-lightspecials in the global marketplace. Using the same logic of chasing cheaperlocal production costs that has driven many U.S. factories to China, a fewiconic European companies, including Airbus, are set to shift somemanufacturing lines to the United States.

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Ousted Prime Minister Vindicated in Thai Vote
Pro-Thaksin Party Polls Strongly in Rural Regions But Falls Short ofMajority

By Grant Peck
Associated Press
Monday, December 24, 2007; A11

BANGKOK, Dec. 23 -- Loyalists of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatrawon nearly half the seats in Thailand's parliamentary elections Sunday in astriking rebuke to the generals who forced the billionaire populist frompower in 2006.

The first vote since the coup appeared likely to ensure continuing politicalinstability: The failure of the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party to capturean absolute majority in the 480-seat lower house of parliament opens the wayfor his opponents to form a government despite the party's substantialmandate.

With more than 95 percent of the vote counted, the People's Power Party --stablished after Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party wasdisbanded by court order in May -- had won 228 seats, according to the stateelection commission. Complete results were due Monday.

"I would like to call for all political parties to join us in forming astrong government," party leader Samak Sundaravej said at a news conference."I will certainly be the prime minister."

He said Thaksin, who was in Hong Kong, had telephoned to offer hiscongratulations after hearing the results.

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