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  Bowing To Critics, Ohio Authorities Postpone Disposal Of 2004 BallotsAugust 31, 2006 11:24 With paper ballots from the 2004 presidential election in Ohio scheduled to be destroyed next week, the secretary of state in Columbus, under pressure from critics, said Wednesday that he would move to delay the destruction at least for several months.

Since the election, questions have been raised about how votes were tallied in Ohio, a battleground state that helped deliver the election to President Bush over Sen. John Kerry.

The critics, including an independent candidate for governor and a team of statisticians and lawyers, say preliminary results from their ballot inspections show signs of more widespread irregularities than were previously known.

The critics say the ballots should be saved pending an investigation. They also say the secretary of state’s proposal to delay the destruction does not go far enough, and they intend to sue to preserve the ballots.

In Florida in 2003, historians and lawyers persuaded state officials not to destroy the ballots in the 2000 presidential election, and those ballots are stored at the state archive.

  Calif. To Cap Greenhouse Gas EmissionsAugust 30, 2006 16:50 California would become the first state to impose a limit on all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from industrial plants, under a landmark deal reached Wednesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats.

The agreement marks a clear break with the Bush administration and puts California on a path to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020.

The bill still needs lawmakers' approval, but that appears likely, given that Democrats control the Legislature.

It gives Schwarzenegger a key environmental victory as he seeks re-election this fall.
  Democrats, Bush Make Anniversary Visits To Gulf CoastAugust 29, 2006 08:54 As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina neared, House Democrats toured devastated areas of New Orleans on Monday and decried the slow pace of recovery, while President Bush began a two-day visit to the region.

"I think the American public is going to be very, very surprised to know this recovery is way, way behind what their expectations would have been," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said during a tour that took more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress through the Ninth Ward, to the site of a levee breach and to the former downtown department store that now houses a clinic from the flooded-out Charity Hospital.

Katrina hit a year ago Tuesday, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, devastating the southeastern Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coasts and killing more than 1,800 people.

In New Orleans, only about half of the pre-storm population of 455,000 is back. Vast stretches of the city remain a wasteland, particularly the low-income Lower Ninth Ward.

"It's hard to believe this is the United States," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
  Petition To Indict Bush - In UtahAugust 28, 2006 09:56 Wednesday's planned protest in Salt Lake City against President Bush and the war in Iraq is certainly not unusual. But Utah, considered to be the most Republican state in the nation, may be the first place where a citizens group actually presents a written petition to indict the president.
We The People, one of the groups that will demonstrate against the war at the City-County Building on Washington Square, plans to march from there to the federal building Wednesday and present the petition of indictment to the staff of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Penny Bryman, a Salt Lake City attorney, has prepared the three-count indictment that names as defendants President Bush, Congress and the presidential administration.
The first count accuses Bush of abuse of power, citing the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; kidnapping suspected terrorists and exporting them to other countries; failure to meet the rules of the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice; domestic spying; and thwarting the intent of Congress with the unprecedented use of 750 presidential signing statements.
That count names Congress as a defendant for allowing Bush to abuse his power.
Count 2 accuses Bush of committing "other high crimes and misdemeanors" for allegedly misrepresenting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction despite intelligence to the contrary and conspiring to reveal the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Count 3 accuses Bush of failing in his duty to promote the general welfare, citing the national debt, the growing number of children living in poverty and censoring data from the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences that address global warming.
  Bush Administration Fulfills Few PromisesAugust 28, 2006 09:47 Nearly half of New Orleans was still under water when President Bush stood in the Crescent City’s historic Jackson Square and swore he would “do what it takes” to rebuild the communities and lives laid to waste two weeks before by Hurricane Katrina.

“Our goal is to get the work done quickly,” the president said.

Bush promised to spend federal money wisely and accountably. And he vowed to address the poverty exposed by the government’s inadequate Katrina response “with bold action.”

A year after the storm, the federal government has proven slow and unreliable in keeping those promises.

“This is not something that is going to be able to be accomplished in 365 days,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “The president has set the federal government on the course to fulfill its obligations.”


• The job of clearing debris remains unfinished and has been plagued by allegations of fraud and price gouging.

• Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to get permanent housing.

• Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed.

• Little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans.
  AZ Close to Implementing Random Hand Count Vote LawAugust 26, 2006 09:17 All the ducks might not be lined up in time to implement a new law requiring random hand-counts in elections.

Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer said Aug. 24 that changes to the elections Policy and Procedures Manual to include the new law were still in the works, and they must be sent to county elections officials for comment, and then blessed by the governor, attorney general and the Justice Department, all with only 18 days before the Sept. 12 primary.

Asked whether the state will be ready to go under the new law for the primary, Mrs. Brewer had several responses.

“Probably not — we probably won’t,” she said, but added, “I don’t have any idea.”

Pressed later with the question, she said, “It’s a possibility. There’s time enough if everybody moves really, really quick…”

Mrs. Brewer, who is seeking re-election, says the Justice Department has 60 days to act, but if there are questions about the law, it could take 120 days for approval.
  Gov. Bush Puts Clout Behind Use Of BiofuelAugust 25, 2006 11:55 Earlier this year, a report landed on the desk of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

It bore a less than eye-catching title. Something about “diversification” and “ethanol.”

But it carried a message that hit home with the governor, conjuring up images from only a few months earlier of hurricanes and gas pumps running dry.

“This one was one of those light bulb deals for me,” he said in an interview at his office in Tallahassee. “It was a eureka idea.”

That report has turned Bush into one of the country’s foremost advocates of a major shift in energy policy. Blending gasoline with cleaner-burning ethanol, he says, could be the answer — at least partly — to alleviating the state’s dependency on imported oil. (It may even provide him with a focus for his own energies once he leaves office in January, he said.)

Bush is so convinced of the need for alternative fuels that he wrote to his brother urging him to implement “a comprehensive ethanol strategy for our country and our hemisphere.” In the letter he proposed the controversial lifting of a heavy tariff on Brazilian ethanol.
  Democrats Cite No-Bid Katrina Contracts - Yahoo! NewsAugust 24, 2006 15:49 The government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina work without full competition, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process, says a House study released Thursday by Democrats.

The report, a comprehensive overview of government audits on Katrina contracting, found that out of $10.6 billion in contracts awarded after the storm last year, more than $7.4 billion were handed out with limited or no competitive bidding.

In addition, 19 contracts worth $8.75 billion were found to have wasted taxpayer money at least in part, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report. It cited numerous instances of double-billing by contractors and cases of trailers meant as emergency housing sitting empty in Arkansas.
  Coming Recession Will Be Nastier Than 2001's, Economist SaysAugust 24, 2006 12:16 The United States is headed for a recession that will be "much nastier, deeper and more protracted" than the 2001 recession, says Nouriel Roubini, president of Roubini Global Economics. Note: The 2001 recession was not actually a recession because the economy did not experience negative growth for two consecutive quarters, rather the language was framed politically in such as way as to help George Bush get elected.

Writing on his blog Wednesday, Roubini repeated his call that the U.S. would be in recession in 2007, arguing that the collapse of housing would bring down the rest of the economy. Read more.

Roubini wrote after the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes fell 4.1% in July, while inventories soared to a 13-year high and prices flattened out on a year-over-year basis. See full story.

"This is the biggest housing slump in the last four or five decades: every housing indictor is in free fall, including now housing prices," Roubini said. The decline in investment in the housing sector will exceed the drop in investment when the Nasdaq collapsed in 2000 and 2001, he said.
  Americans Question Electronic VotingAugust 24, 2006 09:10 Many adults in the United States are disappointed with the way computerized electronic voting machines are being operated, according to a poll by Zogby International. 79.8 per cent of respondents think it is unacceptable for the votes to be counted in secret without any observers from the public.

In September 2005, a commission headed by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and former state secretary James Baker recommended significant changes in the way Americans cast their ballots. The suggestions include requiring photo IDs for all voters, verifiable paper trails for electronic voting machines, and the impartial administration of elections. The report states: "Had the margin of victory for the (2004) presidential contest been narrower, the lengthy dispute that followed the 2000 election could have been repeated."

The butterfly ballot is said to have confused many voters in Florida’s Palm Beach County during the 2000 election. Although the Democratic ticket was listed second in the left page, they were in fact the third hole in the middle of the ballot. Florida’s 25 electoral votes decided the 2000 presidential election, after weeks of recounts and court injunctions concluded in a 537-vote victory for Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
  Carmakers Must Tell Buyers About "Black Boxes"August 22, 2006 08:53 The government will not require recorders in autos but said on Monday that car makers must tell consumers when technology that tracks speed, braking and other measurements is in the new vehicles they buy.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation standardizes recorder content and sets guidelines for how the information should be disclosed. It also requires recorders to be more durable.

Privacy experts complained that consumer interests are not fully protected and information captured by recorders can be exploited.
  Anti-Abortion Activists Eye Inner CitiesAugust 21, 2006 10:01 This is brilliant. Fight crime, poverty, and overcrowding with... more overcrowding!

On a street once known as Murder Row, a teen center founded to steer youths away from drugs and crime has become an outpost in another crusade - a nationwide push by anti-abortion activists to expand their foothold in heavily black and Hispanic inner cities.

The campaign involves crisis pregnancy centers, whose counselors seek to dissuade women with unplanned pregnancies from having abortions. There are more than 2,300 centers across America, yet relatively few in inner cities where abortion rates are typically highest.

Now the two largest networks - Care Net and Heartbeat International - have launched initiatives to change that equation. Their sometimes awkward efforts rely on unlikely alliances, as an anti-abortion movement led mostly by conservative, white Republicans interacts with overwhelmingly Democratic, black communities.

``This crusade has been very difficult - having to educate community leaders as to what's really going on without being offensive, without having a political agenda,'' said Lillie Epps, the only black member of Care Net's senior staff and director of its Urban Initiative.
  Cleveland study questions accuracy of Diebold voting machinesAugust 17, 2006 09:21 A new study raises serious questions about whether Diebold touch-screen voting devices used in more than half of Ohio's counties produce accurate results, but Diebold insists the machines can be trusted and that the study is flawed.

A three-month review of Diebold electronic voting machines used in Cuyahoga County during the May primary concluded that the votes recorded electronically and on paper receipts did not always match.

“(T)he election system, in its entirety, exhibits shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of a close election,” concludes the study, released yesterday by Election Science Institute of San Francisco, Calif., or ESI.

“These shortcomings merit urgent attention. Relying on this system in its present state should be viewed as a calculated risk,” the study said.

Steven Hertzberg, ESI's founder, said last night researchers can't yet explain the discrepancies and that more study should be done among researchers, Diebold and election officials.

“We need to understand much better why this occurred, whether it was human error, machine error or a combination of both,” he said.

  Criminal Violations By US Military Recruiters More Than Doubled In 2005August 15, 2006 12:56 Allegations of recruiting violations by the US military increased from 4,400 cases in 2004 to 6,600 cases in 2005 according to a report [text, PDF; abstract; highlights, PDF] released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website] on Monday, with actual criminal violations rising by more than 200 percent, from 30 in 2004 to 70 in 2005. The report noted that due to the current environment, with fewer potential recruits coming forward while numbers were needed for service in Iraq and elsewhere, "some recruiters, reportedly, have resorted to overly aggressive tactics, such as coercion and harassment."
  Candidates Playing Gas Pump PoliticsAugust 14, 2006 08:41 Mike Shteiwi pulled out the pump in disgust after buying just a few gallons of gas on a day when the price for a gallon of regular jumped a dime, to $3.09, in his southwest Ohio hometown.

"It's killing everybody,"muttered Shteiwi, 54."Whoever's in office now, I'm not going to vote for none of them."

With the country's gas prices averaging $3 a gallon, congressional and gubernatorial candidates nationwide are trying to turn pain at the pump into smart politics.

In the Illinois governor's race, Republican hopeful Judy Baar Topinka wants to suspend a portion of the state sales tax on gasoline. In Missouri, Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is touring the state to promote alternative fuels. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is making rising gas prices and energy independence part of her re-election campaign, featuring them in her first television ad.

  Carcieri Tells Bush, Congress To Stop Subsidizing Oil CompaniesAugust 11, 2006 15:01 Gov. Don Carcieri called on President Bush on Friday to take all steps necessary to alleviate what he described as a national crisis caused by rising gasoline prices.

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Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts "The average national and Rhode Island price for gasoline is now hovering at just over $3 per gallon, and recent pipeline shutdowns in Alaska are expected to drive this price even higher," Carcieri, a Republican, said in a letter sent Friday. "Americans deserve immediate action by the president and Congress."

In the letter, Carcieri called for an end to federal subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies that are making record profits. He also said Congress should enact a windfall profits tax an industry that made more than $110 billion last year.
  Missouri Voters Now Require IDAugust 11, 2006 14:45 Missouri Democratic leaders unveiled a new plan Thursday to educate low-income and disabled voters on ways to get proper photo identification so they can vote in November's election.

The plan comes in response to a new law signed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in June requiring all voters to present a federal- or Missouri-issued photo ID, starting in November.

"I think it's appalling. It's very simply voter suppression," former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson said at a news conference Thursday.

Wilson accused Republicans of passing the law this year to help U.S. Sen. Jim Talent in a tight race against Democratic Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

"It's pretty simply a Jim Talent protection act, trying to limit the number of voters that can be counted," said Wilson, who is chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
  BP Shuts Down Alaska PipelineAugust 07, 2006 13:30 BP Plc is shutting Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest in the U.S., because of pipeline corrosion and a leak, stoking already increasing criticism of the company's safety record in its biggest market.

Oil rose as much as 3.4 percent, and shares of London-based BP, the world's second-largest publicly traded oil company by production, slid 2.1 percent. It will take three to five days to finish shutting down production, BP America President Steve Marshall said today at a press conference in Anchorage, and the company hasn't determined how long wells will be idled.

Chief Executive Officer John Browne already faces a grand jury probe for an earlier Alaska spill, charges of market manipulation in the U.S. propane industry and fines for a Texas refinery blast that killed 15 workers. BP, which gets 40 percent of its sales from the U.S., said last month it will boost spending there to improve safety and maintenance.
  Alaska Oil Tax Bill Goes To State SenateAugust 07, 2006 08:54 The Alaska House on Sunday approved a change in the state's production tax system to one based on oil companies' profits.

Moments before the final vote, word circulated that BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. was shutting down Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field and the center of Alaska's economy, due to transit line corrosion.

House leaders pressed on with the vote anyway, despite protests by House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, that it should be delayed to assess the situation.

"It has no relation to the bill," said Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, after the floor session.


Proponents of the gross tax say it's a simpler and more transparent way of calculating taxes, whereas a net-profits tax could be manipulated by the oil companies to drive their tax burden down.
  A Giant Ball And Chain Equals Debt For StudentsAugust 04, 2006 11:42 The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CO-PIRG) says debt is becoming part of the college experience.

"I've kind of befriended my collections agent at this point," said Erica Rangel, a recent college graduate.

Thursday, CO-PIRG filled up a giant ball and chain with air at the Auraria Campus and put people like Rengel inside the shackle to make their point.

"It's a heavy burden, to know that you have to make a lot of money in order to make payments and still live on a daily basis," said Rengel.

CO-PIRG says between 1993 and 2004 the average student debt increased by 107 percent across the country.

At the same time, the cost of living in the Denver-Boulder area went up by 38 percent.

  Estate Tax Ban with Minimum-Wage Boost DefeatedAugust 04, 2006 09:05 A Republican election-year effort to combine a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates with the first minimum-wage increase in nearly a decade was rejected by the Senate late Thursday.

Republicans needed 60 votes to advance their bill, which links a $2.10 increase in the $5.15 federal minimum wage over three years to reductions an estate taxes next decade. But the measure fell four votes short, 56-42.

Prodded by moderate Republicans eager to undercut criticism by Democrats that GOP economic programs overwhelmingly favor the rich, the House approved the package last week, including a three-year phased-in boost in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 from the current $5.15. It would have been the first increase in the minimum wage in nine years.

The GOP strategy put Democrats in an uncomfortable position. Either they could vote against the bill, thus rejecting a minimum-wage increase — or they could vote for it, thus agreeing to cut taxes on multimillion-dollar estates.

Both of Washington state's senators, Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted against the measure. "This is a cynical ploy on the part of the Republican leadership in an election year," Cantwell said in a statement.
  Democrats See Pay Cuts In Minimum Wage HikeAugust 02, 2006 13:40 Californians mobilized Tuesday to oppose a new federal minimum wage law coming up for a Senate vote this week that they say would slash the pay of an estimated 650,000 California waiters, waitresses, manicurists, bellhops and others who rely on tips for a chunk of their income.

But advocates of the proposal say the critics are misreading the legislation's arcane wording. The proposal is part of a voluminous House-passed bill that would cut estate taxes on the wealthiest Americans and offer a long list of other tax cuts, in addition to raising the minimum wage.

The bill would for the first time in nine years raise the federal minimum wage for 7 million workers from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over three years.

The disagreement comes over the bill's wording for the seven states, including California, that do not allow so-called tip credits that permit tipped workers to be paid much less than the minimum wage.

Democratic critics, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, contend that in this state, which has its own, higher minimum wage of $6.75 an hour, the pay of some 650,000 people who rely on tips would be hacked from the state minimum wage of $6.75 plus tips to $2.13 an hour plus tips.
  US States Hike Minimum Wage As Congress BattlesAugust 02, 2006 08:40 As Congress battles over whether or not to raise the minimum wage, Main Street America is moving on.

More than a dozen U.S. states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Arkansas and Missouri, have either already raised the minimum wage in their states above the federal level of $5.15 an hour, or have ballot initiatives for a raise in the works for November elections.

The U.S. Senate this week is expected to take up a measure that would raise the $5.15-per-hour minimum wage in three 70-cent steps until it reaches $7.25 in mid-2009. The House of Representatives on Saturday approved the increase but tied it to a cut in estate taxes, which Democrats oppose.

Opposition among business groups to a minimum wage hike had been strong, and Republicans argued that raising wages would hurt business growth and limit job creation. But Democrats say it is long overdue and hope the partisan divisiveness on the issue will help them in November congressional election.

The purchasing power of the minimum wage is estimated to be at its lowest level since 1955 when taking inflation into account. And economic analysts say a triple whammy of rising costs for health care, housing and transportation, combined with rising interest rates, and slow job growth is making minimum wage an issue that resonates with millions of low and middle-income Americans.
  Texas To Reap Revenue From Gulf Coast DrillingAugust 01, 2006 16:50 A gush of money could flow to Texas and three other states under a bill passed by the Senate opening up areas in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling.

The bill, approved 71-25 Tuesday, calls for divvying up 37.5 percent of the federal leasing proceeds from new Gulf drilling among Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Texas gets 10 percent of that after 2007. Beginning in 2017, Texas will get 21 percent of the 37.5 percent of revenues as other parts of the Gulf are opened for drilling.

The revenue would come from oil and gas leases to be offered for 8.3 million acres off Florida's coast that has been off limits because of concerns it could harm Florida's beaches and tourism industry.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the bill is a windfall for the state, but President Bush has opposed the bill because of its cost to the federal budget.

"I think we got a pretty good deal considering this is going to be 300 miles away from Texas," Cornyn said. "I think its only fair because if you drill for oil on state land now the royalty has been substantially higher but its been much lower for offshore oil exploration."