Červenec 2009

Biden Hits a Nerve in Russia

31. července 2009 v 19:45
MOSCOW (July 27) - An interview U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gave to an American newspaper was front-page news Monday in Moscow, where his characterization of Russia as a weakened nation hit a raw nerve.
Biden said Russia's economic difficulties are likely to make the Kremlin more willing to cooperate with the United States on a range of national security issues.

"I think we vastly underestimate the hand that we hold," he said in an interview to The Wall Street Journal published Saturday.
Biden's comments appeared to catch the Kremlin by surprise, coming less than three weeks after President Barack Obama said on a visit to Moscow that the U.S. wants to see a "strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia."
"It raises the question: Who is shaping U.S. foreign policy? The president or members of his team, even the most respected ones?" said Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday downplayed suggestions that Biden was setting a different U.S. policy from that laid out by the president.
When asked whether Obama thought Biden had gone too far in his remarks, Gibbs said the president stated his views on Russia during his recent visit and the vice president agrees with those views.
Gibbs said both leaders believe Russia will do its part to improve relations with the U.S.
Most Russian newspapers put Biden's interview on their front pages Monday, with headlines casting doubt on Washington's commitment to forge a more constructive relationship with Moscow.
"Joe Biden unexpectedly returned to the rhetoric of the previous Bush administration," the newspaper Kommersant wrote.
Moskovsky Komsomolets said Biden, with his "boorish openness," showed what the Obama administration really thinks about Russia. "We should respond to the Yankees in the same way," the newspaper wrote. "Any other language, unfortunately or fortunately, they do not understand."
The papers jumped on Biden's comments about Russia's demographic and economic problems.
"They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable," Biden said in the interview.
Some newspapers and commentators noted that Russians say the same things about themselves. The question, they said, was why Biden made the comments so quickly after this month's summit by Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev, and after Biden's own trip last week to Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet republics whose growing ties to the West are deeply resented in Moscow.
Sergei Rogov, director of the government-funded USA and Canada Institute, was quoted in Kommersant as saying the interview was aimed in part at addressing criticism in the U.S. that the Obama administration was too soft on Russia.
Some commentators said it was wrong to see Biden as diverging from the policy set by Obama, as suggested by Prikhodko.
Biden was most likely expressing Washington's "Plan B," said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister who now heads his own think tank. If the Kremlin proves unwilling to compromise, the United States was likely to reduce relations to a minimum and push Moscow to the periphery of world politics, Milov wrote in the online Gazeta.ru.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an apparent effort Sunday to reassure Moscow, saying on NBC "Meet the Press" that the administration considers Russia to be a "great power."
"Every country faces challenges," she said. "We have our challenges, Russia has their challenges. There are certain issues that Russia has to deal with on its own."

NJ Political Figure in Scandal Found Dead

31. července 2009 v 19:41

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (July 29) - A political consultant who was one of 44 people arrested last week in New Jersey's massive political corruption scandal has been found dead in his apartment.

Hudson County prosecutor Edward DeFazio says a relative found the body of 61-year-old Jack Shaw in Jersey City and called police Tuesday evening.
Federal prosecutors had accused Shaw of taking $10,000 in bribes from a government informant and proposing the cooperating witness make a $10,000 campaign contribution to an unnamed Jersey City official.
DeFazio told The Jersey Journal newspaper of Jersey City the death doesn't appear to be a homicide. He says an autopsy will determine the cause of death.

State Senator Quits After Intern Affair

31. července 2009 v 19:37
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 29) -- A Tennessee lawmaker resigned from the state Senate on Tuesday after his extramarital affair with a 22-year-old intern was revealed by an investigation into an extortion case.
"Due to recent events, I have decided to focus my full attention on my family and resign my Senate seat effective August 10," Republican Sen. Paul Stanley wrote in his resignation letter.

Court records show that Stanley, 47, told agents investigating a blackmail case that he had a sexual relationship with intern McKensie Morrison. Her boyfriend, Joel Watts, is charged with trying to extort $10,000 from Stanley in April. Investigators say Watts demanded the money in exchange for not releasing to the media explicit photos of Morrison that Stanley had taken in what appears to be Stanley's apartment.
The senator, a married father of two who represents suburban Memphis, had signaled he would remain in the legislature, but he said Tuesday that he decided to step down about an hour before submitting his resignation letter. Stanley, who was elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving six years in the state House, had resigned last week as chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee.
A special election will be held to fill the seat in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Stanley's legislative proposals were largely focused on pro-business issues, but he also sponsored failed measures to ban gay couples from adopting children. He also spoke out against funding for Planned Parenthood because he said unmarried people should not have sex.
"Whatever I stood for and advocated, I still believe to be true," he said during an interview Tuesday with Memphis radio station WREC-AM. "And just because I fell far short of what God's standard was for me and my wife, doesn't mean that that standard is reduced in the least bit."
Morrison's phone numbers are redacted from her legislative internship application, and efforts to reach her were unsuccessful Tuesday. Her father said he didn't want to talk about the situation.

"It's a family matter, and I'm going to approach it that way," Will Morrison said.
According to court records, Morrison is married to a man who is serving a seven-year prison sentence in Florida but that he has filed for divorce.
Watts said in an interview with a Nashville TV station last week that he blamed Stanley for taking advantage of Morrison.

New revelations in 'torture' case

31. července 2009 v 19:29
An MI5 officer visited Morocco three times at the same time a UK resident says he was being tortured there as a terrorist suspect, it has emerged.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed is bringing test case claims against UK authorities which, he says, were complicit in his alleged torture.
The government says it did not know he was held in Morocco and Afghanistan before being taken to the US camp.
MI5 says its official did not know Mr Mohamed was in Morocco at the time.
The details emerged in a High Court judgement on Friday, which was an update on a ruling on the secret evidence in Mr Mohamed's case, originally made last year.

UN: Civilian Deaths Up 24 Percent In Afghanistan

31. července 2009 v 19:24
The United Nations said Friday the number of civilians killed in conflict in Afghanistan has jumped 24 percent so far this year, with bombings by insurgent and airstrikes by international forces the biggest single killers.

In a grim assessment of the first half of 2009, the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan said the Taliban and other anti-government militants have become more deadly by shifting from ambush attacks to suicide bombings, roadside explosives and targeted assassinations.

It warned that more civilians would likely be killed as insurgents try to battle a troop increase by the administration of President Barack Obama, and seek to destabilize the country before presidential and Provincial Council elections on Aug. 20. The summer is also typically the worst for fighting in Afghanistan.

Insurgent attacks are "frequently undertaken regardless of the impact on civilians in terms of deaths and injuries, or destruction of civilian infrastructure," the 21-page report said, ascribing 595 civilian deaths to the Taliban and other "anti-government elements" over the first six months.

Many of those died in suicide attacks or roadside bombs near "civilian traffic, residential compounds and marketplaces."
The United States and Western powers have become more deadly, too, partly because insurgent groups are taking cover in residential areas or luring U.S.-led forces into unintentionally killing civilians, the U.N. said.
The Taliban and others are "basing themselves in civilian areas so as to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and civilians, and as part of what appears to be an active policy aimed at drawing a military response to areas where there is a high likelihood that civilians will be killed or injured."
The report said international forces have given high priority to minimizing civilian casualties, but along with Afghan forces have killed 310 civilians. Of those, 200 were killed in 40 airstrikes. The total death toll _ including those which couldn't be attributed to either side _ of 1,013 civilians is 24 percent higher than in the same period in 2008, and 48 percent higher than in 2007.
The U.N. tally is higher than an Associated Press count of civilian deaths based on reports from Afghan and international officials showing that 453 civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks this year, and 199 civilians died from attacks by Afghan or international forces. An Afghan human rights group says an additional 69 civilians died during a U.S. attack in Farah province in May, but the U.S. disputes those deaths.

Along with insurgents and Western nations, the government of Afghanistan shares responsibility "for a rising toll in terms of civilian deaths and injuries and destruction of infrastructure, including homes and assets, which are essential for survival and the maintenance of livelihoods."
The report said civilian deaths rose every month this year as compared with 2008 except February, as insurgent forces sustained attacks throughout the winter in a break from previous years when there was a lull in fighting. Other factors were the increased fighting in urban areas, more complex Taliban attacks and the return of militants fleeing warfare across the border in Pakistan. The intensified operations by U.S. forces was also cited.

May was the deadliest month, with 261 civilians killed. The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for most of the deaths, but 81 were killed by government or international forces, the U.N. said.

The South has been the worst region as a result of instability in Pakistan and the increase in U.S. activity. Only six civilians were killed in the West of the country in April, but that figure soared in May as a result of airstrikes in Bala Baluk, Farah Province, that killed at least 63 women and children, according to the report.
The U.S. estimated that 60-65 Taliban and 20-30 civilians were klled in the battle.
The U.N. also noted what it called a "new trend" in insurgent attacks. Since May, they have attached magnetic explosive devices to vehicles to target civilians who have worked with government or international military forces. Examples were the killing of a Provincial Council candidate May 29 in Khost and, a month later in separate attacks, of a translator and another individual working for the international forces.

Insurgents have become increasingly sophisticated as well. The report said there has been a rise in coordinated attacks using explosive devices and suicide bombers to target government ministries and offices, "with the intention of incurring the largest amount of casualties." In those attacks, civilian government workers were deliberated singled out and shot, despite clearly being noncombatants, it said.
Music shops and other places selling "immoral" goods such as DVDs have been targeted. In an April attack, a young boy was killed when a bomb placed in his wheelbarrow exploded prematurely 15 meters from a government building in Aybak city. The boy had no knowledge of the bomb, the report said.

On the other side, the report said that two-thirds of the deaths caused by the Afghan government forces or its international allies came in airstrikes. Most casualties resulted from the use of close air support when troops met insurgents in villages or when armed fighters took up positions in residential areas.

The report said civilians in insurgent-dominated areas can rarely refuse shelter to a militant commander or his men, because of intimidation or traditional codes of hospitality. The Taliban and others take advantage of these factors to use civilian homes as cover and deter attacks, or to lead the government or international forces into killing civilians.
International forces have been more forthcoming about acknowledging civilian casualties, but the report expressed continued concern about their "capacity or willingness to provide information" about some incidents.
The U.N. said the report was compiled by its Afghan mission's human rights unit, and drew on independent monitoring and investigation of incidents where civilians were killed in conflict zones. It is the third year the global body has conducted such analysis in Afghanistan.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called on the Afghan government, international forces and insurgents to do more to spare civilians and to "ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties."

Iran Activists Dread Midnight Knock Of Police Raid

31. července 2009 v 19:21
Iran's human rights activists say they live in dread of the midnight knock on the door or the car that pulls up next to them on the street, fearing that at any moment they might be arrested in the government's post-election clampdown.

They take precautions: moving only in small groups of two or three and positioning themselves near corners where there are several routes to make a dash for safety. They avoid telephones, purge e-mails and frequently change passwords.

"We fear for our lives. We can be detained at any moment," said Zahra Saeidzadeh, a human rights activist, in a telephone interview from Tehran.

"There's not much more we can do," she said, adding that the government is intent "on silencing us."

The crackdown unleashed after the disputed June 12 election went far beyond the young protesters who took to the streets crying fraud in the vote. The government has used the opportunity to target a wide range of figures who have long been a thorn in its side _ pro-reform politicians, critical writers and the community of activists who have long pressed for greater civil liberties and rights for women.

They have been picked up from their homes or offices in nighttime raids, or off the street, sometimes during protests but often not.
Several thousand people have been arrested in the nearly 7-week-old crackdown. The number still in prison is unclear. Several weeks ago, authorities put the figure at 500, but since then there have been more arrests. In recent days, officials have made several large releases and moved to put others on trial.
Leaders of grass-roots civic campaigns in Iran are no strangers to government pressure. For years they have been subject to surveillance, intimidation and imprisonment.

For example, the "Million Signature" campaign _ a group pressing for changes in Iran's laws on women _ regularly sees its leaders and workers arrested, hit with huge bail amounts and barred from travel abroad. But still they were able to build their networks.

The post-election crackdown, however, feels different, and activists fear this time the government intends to completely crush them.

"They're trying to instill fear in the movement to make us give up the fight," said Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, a women's rights activist who has been detained repeatedly in the past.

"They raid homes after midnight and take away people. When you go to bed, you don't know if it's your turn, you just wait for that knock on the door," she said.

The detentions take away important organizing skills from activist groups. Also, several well-known human rights lawyers who usually represent jailed activists have themselves been imprisoned since the election.

"We don't know if we're going to win or lose this battle. We feel a great sense of insecurity. We also have immense anger. We are very, very angry," Abbasgholizadeh said.

But she said the opposition was unarmed "while they have batons, tear gas and guns. It's an unequal war."
The mass protests erupted over claims that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory was fraudulent, but they have turned into an unprecedented expression of anger at Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his clerical leadership.
Rights activists joining the marches said they take special precautions, because they know they might be targeted.
They stand near street corners to have open escape routes and wear sunglasses, Abbasgholizadeh said. Security forces often identify protesters by their loose pants and running shoes, so activists wear ordinary clothes and carry shopping bags to avoid looking like they're part of the protest.

One well-known documentary filmmaker even put on an all-enveloping chador so she could hide her camera to film the protests, Abbasgholizadeh said, declining to identify the woman for fear she would face government reprisals.

Another activist, who asked not o be identified for fear of arrest, said her colleagues participate in demonstrations in small groups of two or three rather than together.
Before joining a protest, they change their Facebook usernames, make sure their e-mail inbox is empty and computers are clear and reformatted. They give power of attorney to close relatives or friends to use their bank accounts to post bail or deal with other financial matters.

Activists who are arrested are often forced by police to give up their e-mail passwords so authorities can scrutinize their contacts. So colleagues will step in and change the password of anyone who's been caught.

In addition, activists use two or three cell phones with temporary SIM cards to communicate with one another _ and even then, only rarely, since they fear the phones are tapped. E-mail is the preferred method of communication, but only on a secure server.

During a demonstration earlier this month, veteran rights lawyer Shadi Sadr was snatched off the street. A car pulled up to her and plainclothes men beat her and dragged her into the vehicle, according to her mother.
Sadr was released on June 28. Friends say she told them this imprisonment was much more difficult than past detentions. She refused to comment to the media on her detention a sign of the fear among activists about talking in the current atmosphere.

Human rights activists are not involved in organizing the mass protests or connected to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi or other reform politicians, said Abbasgholizadeh. But since the election, activists who may have been focused on a particular issue like women's rights have broadened their role, issuing statements and writing articles on the general political turmoil, she said.
Women, who by law must wear the Islamic headscarf and live under other restrictions, have played a major role in Iran's human rights community and in the post-election upheaval. Under Ahmadinejad's presidency, a government order limited the number of female students to half the university places, instead of the 65 percent they previously had occupied.

"If women weren't so oppressed, they wouldn't now be at the forefront of this movement. They have been suffering for years from imposed veil, from the fact that they cannot study their university courses, and cannot participate in many public places and events," said Abbasgholizadeh.

President: Kenyan Judiciary To Try Suspects

31. července 2009 v 19:17
Kenya President Mwai Kibaki says the government will use the judiciary to try the suspected perpetrators of postelection violence last year that killed more than 1,000 people.

Kibaki says the government will accelerate reforms in the judiciary, police and investigative bodies to ensure credible trials.

The government's decision after a daylong Cabinet meeting is bound to draw heavy local and international criticism because Kenya's judiciary has little credibility.

An independent commission that investigated the postelection violence had recommended the government form an independent tribunal with local and foreign judges. That recommendation had wide local and international support.

Military Adviser: Time For U.S. to Leave Iraq

31. července 2009 v 19:11

In an "an unusually blunt" memo obtained by the New York Times, a senior U.S. military adviser wrote earlier this month that the United States military should "declare victory" and leave Iraq - even though Iraqi security forces still face an array of problems, including corruption and poor management.

"As the old saying goes, 'Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.'" Col. Timothy R. Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."

Reese argued that despite the problems besetting Iraqi security forces they are capable of maintaining order in Iraq. He suggested that it would be a mistake for the U.S. to keep any troops in the country beyond August 2010.

The current timetable, as outlined by President Obama, is to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq from about 130,000 troops to 50,000 troops or fewer next August. The remaining troops would perform non-combat operations, though these could include counterterrorism missions.

In his memo, Reese wrote that the partnership between Iraqi forces and their U.S. counterparts, who have taken on a more advisory role, has been fraught with problems.

At the Times notes, Reese wrote of a "sudden coolness" from Iraqis since U.S. forces left the country's cities last month; the "forcible takeover" of a Green Zone checkpoint; reticence from Iraqis to conduct joint operations against what the U.S. sees as high-value targets; and "unilateral restrictions" on American forces that "violate the most basic aspects" of the agreement between the two countries.

Asked about the memo, a spokesman told the newspaper it was designed for "a limited audience."

"The e-mail reflects one person's personal view at the time we were first implementing the Security Agreement post-30 June," Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle said. "It does not reflect the official views of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Since that time many of the initial issues have been resolved and our partnerships with Iraqi Security Forces and G.O.I. partners now are even stronger than before 30 June."

Nigeria Sect Leader Arrested, Killed

31. července 2009 v 19:07
Authorities Say Islamic Extremist Leader Died in Custody after Bloody Raid, Apparently in Escape Attempt.The leader of the Islamist sect blamed for days of violence in northern Nigeria has been shot and killed while in police custody, officials said Thursday.

The police commander of Borno state announced on state radio that Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the sect some call the Nigerian Taliban, has "died in police custody."

He gave no further explanation, but the state governor's spokesman Usman Ciroma told The Associated Press: "I saw his body at police headquarters. I believe he was shot while he was trying to escape."
Yusuf's death could provoke more violence, though his followers in the Boko Haram sect may be in disarray after troops shelled his compound in the northern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday. Yusuf, 39, managed to escape with about 300 followers, some of them armed. His deputy, Bukar Shekau, was killed in the attack, according to Army commander Maj. Gen. Saleh Maina.

Troops killed about 100 militants by an AP reporter's count, half of them inside the sect's mosque. Soldiers then launched a manhunt, and Yusuf was reportedly found in a goat's pen at the home of his in-laws.

Human Rights Watch called reports of Yusuf's killing "extremely worrying."

"The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to investigate and hold to account all those responsible for this unlawful killing and any others associated with the recent violence in northern Nigeria," said Corinne Dufka, the group's senior West Africa researcher.

"The local commissioner of police should be immediately removed pending an investigation into Mr. Yusuf's killing," she said in a statement.

Seeking to impose Islamic Shariah law throughout this multi-religious country, the militants attacked police stations, churches, prisons and government buildings in a wave of violence that began Sunday in Borno and quickly spread to three other northern states.
But, leading Nigerian rights groups accuse security forces of killing bystanders and other civilians. A military spokesman denied the charge and said it was impossible for rights workers to tell who was a civilian and who was a member of Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language.

The government warned people to evacuate the area before the attack on the compound Wednesday, then shelled the compound and stormed the group's mosque inside, setting off a raging firefight with retreating militants armed with homemade hunting rifles and firebombs, bows and arrows, machetes and scimitars.

An AP reporter saw soldiers shoot their way into the mosque under fire and then raked those inside with gunshots.

The bodies of barefoot young men littered the streets of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, on Thursday morning as the army pursued the manhunt on the outskirts of the city. Police said most of the dead were fighters with Boko Haram. Army Col. Ben Anahotu said three police officers were killed.

Officials said at least 4,000 people have been forced from their homes by Wednesday afternoon, but it was not known how many have been killed, wounded and arrested.

President Umaru Yar'Adua said that security agents had been ordered to attack when the movement started gathering fighters from nearby states at its sprawling Maiduguri compound in preparation for "the holy war."
The militants are also known as Al-Sunna wal Jamma, or "Followers of Mohammed's Teachings," and some Nigerian officials have referred to them as Taliban. Analyst Nnamdi K. Obasi of the International Crisis Group said a few have fought with that radical movement in Afghanistan.

League for Human Rights director Shamaki Gad Peter said that after the siege rights workers saw the bodies of up to 20 people who were unarmed and appeared to have been shot from behind, possibly trying to escape the mayhem, he said.
Military spokesman Col. Mohammed Yerima initially denied allegations that the military intentionally killed civilians but said that the militants were indistinguishable from civilians.

"All the civilians that were living in that place were evacuated, to our knowledge," he said. "And those that remained in that enclave are loyalists and members of the group. So the issue of whether we have killed innocent civilians is not true."

He added, "The issue of identifying who is the Taliban or not, the human rights groups are not fair to security agencies because they don't have any marks on their faces. There is no way to know if this is Taliban or this is not."
Maiduguri resident Linda Dukwa said she had seen police execute two men Monday, frightening her and her family so badly that they did not venture out of their house, even for food, for days afterward.
The men "were dressed in white robes," she said, indicating they were sect members. "They were held by policemen. Then they shot their feet. After they fell on the ground, they (police) shot their heads."

National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu denied such allegations of executions.

"We respect the rules of combat," he said.

Nigeria's 140 million people are roughly divided between Christians in the south and northern-based Muslims. Shariah was implemented in 12 northern states after Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 following years of oppressive military regimes. More than 10,000 Nigerians have died in sectarian violence since then.
Dire poverty is at the heart of the violence, which analysts say reflects decades-old grievances of Nigerians whose governments are so corrupt and ineffective they do not deliver even basic services like running water and electricity.

Boko Haram members are particularly angry that full Shariah has not been implemented, especially the law's demand for a social welfare system helping poor people.

In recent months, police have been raiding Boko Haram hideouts and finding explosives and arms. The house at the compound in Maiduguri included a laboratory the military said was used to make bombs.

Congress Races to Save "Cash for Clunkers"

31. července 2009 v 19:04
House Plan Would Provide $2 Billion in Extra Cash For Rebate Program; Initiative Still "Up and Running," White House Says.
The House raced Friday to pass legislation pouring an additional $2 billion into the popular - but financially strapped - "cash for clunkers" car purchase program.

Debate commenced at midday, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted a vote within hours, saying the funds would come from money approved earlier in the year as part of an economic stimulus bill.
The Maryland Democrat said that at the request of House Republicans - whose approval was required for swift passage - the bill would include provisions for government auditors to make sure the money was being spent as intended.

Senate action is likely next week, making sure the program would not be affected by the sudden shortage of cash.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said "consumers have spoken with their wallets and they've said they like this program."

Republicans argued that Democrats were trying to jam the legislation through hurriedly. The Senate was not scheduled to vote on Friday but lawmakers hoped to win approval for additional funding next week.

House members acted within hours of learning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program - designed to help the economy as well as the environment - was out of funds. Under the program, car owners can receive federal subsidies of as much as $4,500 if they trade in their old car for a new one that achieves significantly higher gas mileage.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the administration assured lawmakers that "deals will be honored until otherwise noted by the White House." But he suggested that "people ought to get in and buy their cars."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that the program is still "up and running," reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

"If you were planning on going to buy a car this weekend, using this program, this program continues to run," Gibbs told reporters. He would not commit to any timeframe beyond that.

But Gibbs said administration officials and bipartisan leaders of Congress were working Friday morning "to find and develop ways to continue to fund this program."

A House Democratic aide had said earlier that Hoyer told lawmakers the legislation would transfer $2 billion from unused recovery funds because the vehicle program was an urgent priority. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the program.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said lawmakers were working to bring the measure to the House floor on Friday but it was unclear how many Republicans would support on the plan. "There are a lot of questions about how the administration administered this program. If they can't handle something as simple as this, how would we handle health care?" Boehner told The Associated Press.
The administration assessed its options amid concerns the $1 billion budget for rebates for new car sales may have been depleted. The program officially began last week and has been heavily publicized by automakers and dealers.

Called the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, the program offers owners of old cars and trucks $3,500 or $4,500 toward a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle, in exchange for scrapping their old vehicle. Congress last month approved the plan to boost auto sales and remove some inefficient cars and trucks from the roads.
The program was scheduled to last through Nov. 1 or until the money ran out, but few predicted the fund would run out so quickly. The $1 billion in funding would provide up to 250,000 new car sales.
It was unclear how many cars had been sold under the program. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said about 40,000 vehicle sales had been completed through the program but dealers estimated they were trying to complete transactions on another 200,000 vehicles, putting the amount of remaining funding in doubt.

John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said many dealers have been confused about whether the program will be extended and for how long. Many had stopped offering the deals Thursday after word came out that the funds available for the refunds had been exhausted.

"We are hoping for some clarity from the White House and Congress before the day is over," McEleney said Friday.

The clunkers program was set up to boost U.S. auto sales and help struggling automakers through the worst sales slump in more than a quarter-century. Sales for the first half of the year were down 35 percent from the same period in 2008, and analysts are predicting only a modest recovery during the second half of the year.

So far this year, sales are running under an annual rate of 10 million light vehicles, but as recently as 2007, automakers sold more than 16 million cars and light trucks in the United States.

Earl Stewart, who owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said the changing messages on the program has created confusion among his customers and his staff. Stewart's accounting department also could only enter about a dozen of the 47 sales he made into the government Web site set up to handle the transactions, leaving him wondering if he will get refunded for the remaining vouchers.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the program, Stewart said he planned to continue to sell cars under the program Friday but would delay delivering the new vehicles and scrapping the trade-ins. Drivers would be put in loaners until he was absolutely certain the program was still going.

"It's been a total panic with my customers and my sales staff. We are running in one direction and then we are running in another direction," he said.

GOP Candidate Runs Away From Climate Change Vote

31. července 2009 v 19:01
Aspiring Senator and self-described moderate Republican Mark Kirk is fast backing away from his vote in favor of President Obama's cap-and-trade bill.

Kirk has been hit hard from the right since casting one of only eight Republican votes in favor of the controversial climate bill. If recent interviews are any judge, Kirk is bending to the pressure.

In an interview on WIND's "Big John & Cisco In The Morning," Kirk gave the impression that he could switch his vote should the bill return to the House:
If this comes back -- and I don't think it will, I think this bill has died in the Senate -- I will be going through every detail and thinking about all of my constituents who got a hold of me on this issue. Because there has been an issue that I've heard nothing else about in the last couple of weeks.
The North Shore Congressman sounded a similar theme in an an appearance on "Fox Chicago Sunday," with an explicit pitch to downstate voters skeptical of the legislation:
"I've always backed energy independence policies, but I've heard from people on this issue like no other. The energy interests of Illinois are far broader and deeper than my North Shore district."

Kirk has been hit hard from the right since casting one of only eight Republican votes in favor of the controversial climate bill. If recent interviews are any judge, Kirk is bending to the pressure.

In an interview on WIND's "Big John & Cisco In The Morning," Kirk gave the impression that he could switch his vote should the bill return to the House:
If this comes back -- and I don't think it will, I think this bill has died in the Senate -- I will be going through every detail and thinking about all of my constituents who got a hold of me on this issue. Because there has been an issue that I've heard nothing else about in the last couple of weeks.

The North Shore Congressman sounded a similar theme in an an appearance on "Fox Chicago Sunday," with an explicit pitch to downstate voters skeptical of the legislation:
"I've always backed energy independence policies, but I've heard from people on this issue like no other. The energy interests of Illinois are far broader and deeper than my North Shore district."

"Rick Perry Gay" Hidden On Hutchison Campaign Website

31. července 2009 v 18:58

This morning, I came across a Web site for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's gubernatorial campaign.

A provocative twist: The site may have been juiced with the intent of drawing visitors with the help of more than 2,200 hidden phrases-including "rick perry gay." (See the phrases here.)

On my inquiry, Hutchison's campaign spokesman, Jeff Sadosky, initially said he'd look into the matter. He later issued a statement that didn't indicate how the phrases landed on the site, but said they weren't condoned and would be removed.

Sadosky said: "We did not know these offensive word associations were being searched for by hundreds of thousands of Texans everyday nor do we condone the computer-generated existence on our Web site.They will be removed promptly."

UPDATE 2:33 p.m.: Sadosky and other campaign aides said this afternoon that only the two phrases using "rick perry gay" will be removed because they won't play into the campaign's future messages.

Broadly, the campaign said a vendor sold them on a tool that generates the phrases hourly or less in an attempt to divine the most frequent Web searches made by individuals who search online using one or all of the terms "Rick Perry," "Kay Bailey Hutchison" and "Texas."

Punch line: The generated phrases aren't intended to drive up traffic to the standbykay site; they are intended to help Hutchison's campaign decide most efficiently where to purchase banner ads or other Web-related advertisign that would drive people to the site, where visitors can volunteer, chase information or make donations.

I'll be curious to learn from the vendor why the list of search phrases is posted (albeit unseen) on the Hutchison site.

Earlier, I found that neither GOP Gov. Rick Perry's political site nor the site put up by Democratic aspirant Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth has such lists, which are hidden to view unless a visitor checks on a site's page source information.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said he hadn't seen the site.

Speaking before Sadosky said the hidden phrases would be removed, Miner said: "If they're behind this, it's outrageous. They should pull it down immediately. It shows the depths they will seek for their own political gain."

Other hidden text in the pro-Hutchison site's source list range from Texas counties to names of members of Congress and statewide officeholders to "texas grape growers" and "orthodox synagogue" and "gas prices governor" as well as at least one phone number, which when I called it didn't appear to be a campaign-related number.

Meanwhile, an Austin expert on search engine optimization told me it looks to her like the list of phrases was created as a misguided attempt to drive up the site's relevance in searches on Google and other search engines or by a hacker intending harm to Hutchison's campaign.

The expert, Kate Morris, said the site could be subject to getting banned by the Google search engine because of the hidden phrases, which are looked down upon because sometimes phrase combinations can cause engines to mistakenly rate a site as more relevant (or useful) than it is.

I noted Morris's initial reaction to the pile of hidden phrases: "Woah. Oh my lord. Wow."

Her reason for the reaction: "The sheer number of phrases and the archaic manner in which they were inserted caught me off guard."

Anti-Abortion Measure Passes, Then Fails In House

31. července 2009 v 18:53
WASHINGTON - An anti-abortion amendment to a sweeping health overhaul bill was voted down in a House committee late Thursday - a dramatic reversal just hours after the measure initially was approved

The amendment said health care legislation moving through Congress may not impose requirements for coverage of abortion, except in limited cases. It was approved in the Energy and Commerce Committee after conservative Democrats joined Republicans to support it.

But committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., invoked House rules that allowed him to bring up the amendment for a second vote, despite Republican objections.

Obama: What Business Thinks

31. července 2009 v 18:51

It was 4 p.m. on Mar. 23 when the e-mail from the White House went out to a handful of prominent executives, including CEOs Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric (NYSE:GE - News), David Cote of Honeywell International (NYSE:HON - News), Robert McDonald of Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG - News), and Antonio Perez of Kodak (NYSE:EK - News).
Two weeks earlier, at an occasionally testy meeting with the Business Roundtable, IBM (NYSE:IBM - News) Chief Executive Sam Palmisano and others had told President Barack Obama and his advisers that they had big problems with his proposal to raise more than $200 billion, in part by curtailing multinationals' ability to defer U.S. tax payments on overseas profits. Now, Valerie Jarrett, the top White House adviser responsible for relations with the business community, wanted to follow up. Would they care to join her, Chief Economic Adviser Lawrence H. Summers, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on a conference call at 2 p.m. the next day to talk about the Administration's proposal?

In the hour-long conversation that resulted, the corporate executives gave Obama's economic policymakers an earful. On the campaign trail, the President had used populist language to demand an end to what he called loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas. The executives feared that meant he wanted to eliminate deferral altogether.

One by one, the bosses warned that the Administration's move would gravely damage U.S. companies' ability to compete overseas. "It was a broad-based reaction that said, 'Look, we understand there's a problem and a need for revenue,' " Cote says. " 'The thing we don't want you to do is put us at such a disadvantage to our worldwide competitors that we just can't get anywhere.' "

Message received. By the time the Administration released a more detailed proposal in May, it had ratcheted back to a more limited position on deferral, combined with an end to other more questionable international tax breaks. Pressured as well by congressional opposition -- much of it spurred by intense corporate lobbying -- the White House team soon moved the plan to the back burner. Administration sources now say the measure will likely return only as part of a comprehensive overhaul of corporate taxes, as the executives sought. "We expressed substantial concerns, and they were very responsive," says another CEO who was on the call.

The truce reached on tax deferral has helped defuse some of the tensions between the Obama Administration and business, but not all. Case by case, the President and his team impress CEOs with their accessibility, knowledge, and willingness to listen. Many corporate chiefs, though, remain unsure of what to make of Obama, and many can't tell how well he understands the challenges they face. That wariness has only been accentuated by the antibusiness tone many felt the new President and his advisers took as they moved to stem the financial crisis in the winter. "I think there's a fair amount of trepidation in the business community," says Robert Greifeld, CEO of Nasdaq OMX Group (NasdaqGS:NDAQ - News).

To Obama and his economic staff, such anxiety -- and even hostility -- are more than a little baffling. Many of those "who think we're antibusiness seem to forget that it was just three or four months ago, when, at great political expense, we yanked them out of the fire," Obama told BusinessWeek in an interview on July 27. Later, he added: "My working assumption has always been, if the market could do it better, have the market do it."

As Summers is quick to point out, much of the Administration's long-term program -- reducing dependence on foreign oil, cutting the crippling growth in health-care costs, and bolstering the skills of America's workforce -- is designed to address longstanding business complaints. "We are very mindful that you can't have employees without employers," he says.

"Very Solid Marks"

Such willingness to tackle long-ignored problems has kept a solid core of executives and investors in Obama's camp. "He inherited a real mess, one that requires difficult decisions," says Mohamed A. El-Erian, CEO and co-chief investment officer of asset management giant Pimco. "I'm impressed by how bold he has been on the political front and how quickly he came up the learning curve in terms of the trade-offs between short-term policy imperatives and longer-term ones."

Others credit the Administration with defusing the financial crisis. Robert Wolf, head of the U.S. arm of Swiss bank UBS (NYSE:UBS - News), gives the Administration "very solid marks" in managing the stabilization of the banks and the economy. "My view is that a severe meltdown would have occurred if not for (their) quick action," he says.
Business leaders also agree they have had surprisingly wide access to the President and his top advisers. Some even say the doors are more open than they were during the Bush years. "I don't always agree with him, but I've found him a good listener," says Pfizer (NYSE:PFE - News) CEO Jeffrey B. Kindler, who has met with the President and his top advisers roughly a dozen times to hash out health-care reform and other issues.
With the President pushing his ambitious agenda through Congress, such one-on-ones will be key to building up support and wearing down the opposition. It's a hard slog. As soon as the Administration calms some executives on one issue like foreign taxes, another proposal or action -- cap and trade, public health insurance, the General Motors and Chrysler bailouts -- gives corporate bosses pause.

"Each and every one of Obama's policies brings problems," says Tom Stemberg, former CEO of office supply retailer Staples (NasdaqGS:SPLS - News) and now managing general partner at Highland Capital Partners, a Lexington (Mass.) venture capital firm. "The higher tax rates are a disincentive to invest. The health-care bill, as opposed to providing a strategic safety net, is throwing a burning blanket over the American economy. And the bailout of the big auto companies is something one would expect to see in France or Germany."

Some in business are gearing up for a fight. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country's biggest business lobby, is moving aggressively to battle aspects of the health-care and energy reforms it doesn't like. The Chamber is also raising $100 million to fund an advertising and lobbying campaign to defend the free enterprise system against what it sees as overbearing government policymakers and antibusiness activists.

Forged letters to congressman anger local groups

31. července 2009 v 18:49

As U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello was considering how to vote on an important piece of climate change legislation in June, the freshman congressman's office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

"They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization," said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville's Hispanic community. "It's this type of activity that undermines Americans' faith in democracy."

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by "Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator," an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm called Bonner & Associates.

Gwynn Geiger Hegyi, a partner with the company, traveled to Charlottesville to apologize to Creciendo Juntos' chairwoman Dilcia Colindres and sent a letter to Freilich.

"As I shared with Dilcia when I travelled to Charlottesville last month to personally apologize for the mistake which we discovered and contacted you about, we immediately fired the person on our staff responsible for the error," Hegyi wrote in the July 22 letter to Freilich.

Hegyi and others at Bonner & Associates did not return two phone calls Thursday seeking comment for this story.

More than a 'mistake'

In a letter notifying Perriello's office about the matter, Freilich said he was "offended" by Hegyi's characterization of the forged letter as a "mistake."

"This was not a 'mistake,'" wrote Freilich, who is also legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. "This was a deliberately and carefully forged letter that used the logo, address and name of Creciendo Juntos without authorization. Additionally, I understand from Ms. Hegyi that our organization was not the only Charlottesville-area organization whose reputations were used in an unauthorized manner to try to influence Congressman Perriello on this particular vote."

After being notified of the bogus Creciendo Juntos letter, staffers in Perriello's office realized that the wording of the letter sounded familiar.

The staffers dug through the stacks of thousands of letters, e-mails and faxes Perriello received about the bill - the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 - and found five more forged letters, these purportedly from the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP.

M. Rick Turner, president of the local NAACP branch, said he checked his organization's roster and found none of the five people who signed their name to the five faked letters.

NAACP 'very appalled'

"I am very appalled as the president that our organization has been misrepresented in this way by this bogus … letter," Turner said. "I hope that whoever's behind this will be brought to justice."

In fact, Turner said, the NAACP supports the American Clean Energy and Security Act, as he said it would create good-paying jobs for blacks and reduce harmful emissions, particularly in urban areas.

"Clean energy creates jobs in the urban setting," he said.

The fake NAACP letters were faxed to Perriello's office from the Arlington headquarters of a company called Professional Risk Management Services Inc. A representative of the company said she had no knowledge of why the fax would have been sent from her office, adding that at least 60 employees have access to the fax machine.

Perriello's press secretary, Jessica Barba, said the congressman's office knows of only the five forged letters, but there may be others they have not yet discovered.

"There could be more, but these are the only ones that we're aware of right now," she said.

With regards to the Creciendo Juntos letter, it is not known who - if anyone - hired Bonner & Associates to lobby against the bill, which also is known as cap-and-trade legislation. The staffer who the company said was fired may not have been working in any official capacity when he or she created and mailed the forgery.

Bonner & Associates was founded in 1984 by Jack Bonner and is considered a pioneer in the field of "strategic grassroots," in which the firm manages grassroots campaigns on behalf of its clients, which have included Fortune 500 companies and national associations in all 50 states.

Artificial campaign

The AARP Bulletin reported in 2006 that the "60 Plus Association" hired Bonner & Associates in 2003 to manage what it called an "Astroturf" campaign against prescription drug legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico, meaning that it was an artificial version of a grassroots campaign.

Bonner & Associates hired callers to identify themselves as members of the 60 Plus Association and urge residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer later admitted that it had paid Bonner & Associates to undertake the campaign, AARP reported.

An examination of lobbyist disclosure forms filed with the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives shows that Bonner & Associates did not register to lobby on behalf of any company or organization against the cap-and-trade bill.

However, a lobbying firm only needs to disclose their clients if the client pays them more than $3,000 in a filing period, at least one employee spends 20 percent of their time lobbying, and that employee made at least two lobbying contacts within the filing period. Managing a grassroots campaign might not require public disclosure of lobbying activities or clients.

Bonner & Associates has disclosed a few clients in recent years. For example, the company took in $150,000 to lobby on behalf of the Electric Utility Shareholders Alliance between 1998 and 2000, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

In a report Wednesday, the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that oil and gas companies greatly increased their spending on lobbying between April and June, primarily because of the cap-and-trade energy bill. During the second quarter of 2009, these companies spent $37.7 million on lobbying congress, representing a 30 percent increase over 2008.

Perriello ultimately voted in favor of the bill, which narrowly passed the House on June 26 in a 219 to 212 vote. The bill is now before the U.S. Senate.

Perriello's vote has drawn the ire of some critics who say the measure will increase electricity bill costs and eliminate jobs.

Barba, however, criticized the bill's opponents for the forged letters.

"It's very unfortunate that opponents of this bill would resort to deception and made-up letters," she said. "Spreading false information is not healthy for real debate in our democracy. Congressman Perriello voted in favor of the bill because of its potential to create clean energy jobs, which is why the NAACP and many other groups supported the legislation in the first place."

Another Dem Senator Waffles On Sotomayor

31. července 2009 v 18:44
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), already under scrutiny by progressive Democrats, has created new cause for apprehension by saying he's not sure he will vote for the president's Supreme Court nominee.
Asked by The Hill whether he would support Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Baucus twice said he was still undecided.

"I have no idea," Baucus said. "I haven't paid any attention and I haven't announced ... I've been so busy with healthcare. It's under consideration. I'll certainly know when I vote, but right now I can't tell you."

He isn't the only wavering Democrat. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have been equally coy. Think Progress points out that both made their wobbly statements after the National Rifle Association decided to include the Sotomayor vote in their scorecards on lawmakers' gun rights' records.

Baucus and Begich both got an A rating from the NRA in 2008. Nelson got an A+.

The NRA has suggested Sotomayor has a radical record on gun rights; in fact, her rulings have always followed Supreme Court precedent and her decision on a Second Amendment case was unanimously upheld by three Republican appointees.

Sting journalism in Czech politics: pursuing the news, or generating it?

24. července 2009 v 11:48
Civic Democrat MP Jan Morava resigned on Tuesday after being exposed as being ready to use staged photos to blackmail a party rival. But the case has raised some serious questions: can sting journalism be justified if it is used to illustrate some of the shadier practices of Czech politics? Or did the journalists in this case go too far?

In January this year, Vlastimil Tlustý, an MP for the ruling Civic Democrats, former finance minister and a critic of the party leadership, agreed to take part in a media sting operation to expose his party's top brass playing dirty to make him hold the party line. A tabloid television channel, TV Nova, manufactured a photo shoot of Mr Tlustý and a blonde stunt, and offered the photos to two senior party figures. They didn't take the bait. But another Civic Democrat MP, Jan Morava did. After the report was aired on Sunday, Mr Morava resigned - but the method used by TV Nova's reporter Janek Kroupa has left many. wondering whether or not this was a legitimate journalistic work.

"In the United States, the subject of undercover journalism is continuously under debate. My initial response to the Tlustý affair was to say that this was completely unethical because TV Nova was not an observer of a situation - it manufactured news, it created the news. And a journalist's job is to observe news, even undercover."

"I do think that this method is legitimate because we saw in the past cases such as the journalist who went through the security system at the airport. That was exactly the same situation when the journalists actually bribed the police officers to see if they accept the bribe. That's one part of the story. The other part of the story is that we do not consider the photographs of Mr Tlustý to be a proof of anything wrong; except something mad in the minds of the people who accepted those photographs."

But deception as a tool can easily backfire on those who use it. Miloš Čermák is a columnist for the Reflex magazine and a media analyst.
"There is always some level of deception, and this is risky because we in the media, we are in the business of pursuing the truth. And this might create the question if it's legitimate and not hypocritical that we are criticizing someone who is lying and deceiving while we are doing the same. So I think it's a very difficult question and we have to specific. In this specific case, I think it was a little bit unethical. I'm not completely comfortable with the method they used; I don't think they had to do in this way."

Senate to miss healthcare August deadline

24. července 2009 v 11:33
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's healthcare reform drive suffered a setback on Thursday when Senate leaders said they would not pass it before a month-long August recess, but Obama urged lawmakers to keep working toward approval by the end of the year.

The day after Obama held a prime-time news conference to sell his top domestic priority, congressional leaders struggled to ease doubts about the healthcare plan and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the full chamber would not take it up until September.

"I think that it's better to have a product that is one that's based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than trying to jam something through," Reid told reporters.

Obama conceded the bills would be delayed but said he still wanted to see the Democratic-controlled Congress make some progress.

"I want the bill to get out of the committees," he told a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "I have no problem if people are really working through these difficult issues in making sure we get it right."

The reform package under construction in both chambers of Congress has been besieged from all sides by criticism of its more than $1 trillion price tag and its scope, with debates behind closed doors over how to pay for the program and rein in healthcare costs.
Obama had asked the Senate and House of Representatives to pass initial versions before leaving for the summer recess to help keep opposition from building over the break.
But his ultimate goal is to sign a final bill by the end of the year, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was "more confident than ever" that Congress would meet that timetable.

She scoffed at the worries about waiting until after August.

"I am not afraid of August. It is a month," she told reporters. "We will take the bill to the floor when it is ready, and when it is ready we will have the votes to pass it."

Two committees in the House and one in the Senate have passed versions of the bill, but another House panel and a Senate panel have bogged down in talks over how to pay for the plan and how broadly it will reshape the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry.
The final bills are expected to include some form of public insurance plan to compete with private insurers and help cover most of the 46 million Americans without insurance.

Conservative House Democrats have criticized the bill for not reining in costs enough and raising taxes on the wealthy. Republicans, sensing a shot at a huge political victory over Obama, have criticized the proposed tax hikes, price tag and heavy government involvement.

Obama had left the writing of the bill to Congress but stepped up his lobbying in the past week, meeting with recalcitrant lawmakers and making public appearances to plug the effort.

Heavy storms kill eight in Poland

24. července 2009 v 11:23
Heavy storms have killed eight people in Poland, uprooted trees in many areas and brought down power lines, Polish media report.
The TVN24 news channel said central and south-western areas of Poland had been worst hit by the overnight storms, which also injured dozens of people.

The Czech Republic and a wide swathe of Germany also suffered from falling trees and local flooding.

The storms disrupted road and rail traffic in many areas.

Seventeen people suffered electrical burns when a power line came down in Krotoszyn, western Poland, the AFP news agency reports.

Pelosi Puts Onus on Industry

24. července 2009 v 11:14
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she doesn't feel bound by the $235 billion in deals that the White House and the Senate Finance Committee cut with hospital and pharmaceutical companies to defray costs of a new health-care plan, stating that she thinks the industries could do more.
"When we're trying to cut costs, certainly we know that there are more costs to be cut in hospitals and pharmaceuticals. . . . So we'll be subjecting everything to some very harsh scrutiny as we see whether we can get more savings," Pelosi said in a late-afternoon interview, shortly after she left a marathon negotiating session with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, who have put the brakes on the House version of the health-care reform bill. "As we look, there may be some more ways to get money out of pharmaceutical companies."

The nation's hospitals have agreed to forgo $155 billion in government health-care reimbursements, and drug companies promised $80 billion, to help keep the cost of President Obama's health-care reform plan under $1 trillion.
Pelosi said she is eager to see the Senate's version, which is currently held up in the Finance Committee, and she indicated she is sympathetic to House Democrats' concerns about voting on a bill before the Senate shows its hand. Conservative Democrats say privately that they worry about being asked to spend political capital by voting for a measure far too liberal for their districts -- when the final bill hashed out by the House and Senate could be dramatically different.

"That's fair. That's fair," she said. "And I don't think the bills will be that dramatically different. Now, we don't know the rest of the Senate proposal, and we're eager to see that, but the House sets the pace at ground zero a good deal of the time."

Asked if she could accept a final bill that didn't have a "public option" -- or government-run health insurance plan -- she said, "I don't think so."

"But it has to be a level playing field," she added. "It has to be an option that is administratively sound -- actuarially sound, too -- and that it's sustainable in every way, has to pay back to the government any start-up funds that it has, so that it can be a true competitor and not a subsidized entity."

Pelosi declined to comment on the negotiations, which ended Thursday without a deal.
She dismissed the notion that some House members are skittish about voting for health-care reform because they are already facing a hard time in their districts over their recent votes supporting energy legislation. Republicans have framed that issue as a tax increase.

"The Chinese have an expression: 'Shoot the chickens to scare the monkeys.' They use one issue to scare you on another issue, and I don't think they're scaring our members," she said. "I think they, many of them, are just taking a good, hard look at what is in the bill, have we squeezed the cost out that we can, and that's very fair. We all want to do that."