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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Mutiny in the House

The New York Times

After a stretch of bad news for the millions of Americans trying to
find decent affordable housing, there are finally signs of progress.
First, lawmakers rejected the Bush administration's attempt to shortchange
Section 8, the housing subsidy program for the poor. Now, there is a
procedural mutiny against Republican leaders in the House who have kept a
bill that addresses the housing crisis bottled up in committee - even
though it has more than 200 co-sponsors. That could conceivably force
the measure to the floor for a debate and vote.

The bill as originally introduced would create a national housing trust
fund by redirecting a small portion of the profits earned every year by
the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance fund. At the
moment, those profits can be spent on anything. But given the housing
shortage, it makes perfect sense to plow money earned on housing back into
the same area.

Modeled on similar trust funds that have been successful at the state
and local levels, the national fund would be used to build, rehabilitate
and preserve 1.5 million affordable apartments. Tired of waiting for a
vote, House supporters have filed a discharge petition that, if signed
by a majority, could move the bill to the floor.

This is the second housing backlash in Congress in recent days. The
first incident came last month, when appropriators added more money to
Section 8 than the White House wanted. Given the extent of the crisis and
the growing complaints from governors and local officials, this issue
deserves attention in the fall campaign. The House leadership can expect
more resistance as time goes on.

A Presidential Assault On Housing

Community Commentary by Jeffrey Freiser

It is said that there is a charitable institution with a plaque that
reads, "This hospital a pious person built, but first he made the poor
wherewith to fill't." Although that inscription is likely apocryphal, the
reality of President Bush's policies on housing and homelessness offers
similarly cruel irony.

The Bush Administration trumpets its commitment to ending homelessness
in America, such as its proposed $70 million Samaritan Initiative. Yet
the president's budget for federal fiscal year 2005, announced in
February, would provide $1.6 billion less than is needed to serve all those
currently receiving Section 8 housing assistance, according to the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The sweeping changes he seeks in
the Section 8 program might best be labeled "The Homelessness Creation
Act of 2004."

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, has
been an essential and effective tool to help low-wage families, the
elderly and disabled to maintain safe and decent housing. Typically,
participants in the program pay 30 percent of their income toward an apartment
and the Section 8 program pays the balance, up to an established rent
standard. The program began in 1974 under the Nixon Administration,
designed to harness the private market to provide housing for the poor.
Today, nearly 2 million households rely on Section 8, including 34,000 in

The need for housing help is stark, particularly in our high-cost
state. A national study called "Out of Reach" found that, on average across
Connecticut, a worker needs to earn $18 an hour to afford a modest,
two-bedroom apartment. That's more than two-and-a-half times the minimum
wage. Housing is so expensive in lower Fairfield County that someone
making only minimum wage would have to labor an incredible 162 hours a
week to afford a two-bedroom rental there. Fortunately, that computes to
working over 23 hours a day, seven days a week — virtually eliminating
the need for a home at all.

The Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
analyzed the Bush budget, concluding that up to 250,000 families nationally
could lose Section 8 assistance next year. If the funding cut is carried
out solely by eliminating vouchers, over 4,000 Connecticut families
would be dropped from the program, including 74 in Meriden and 14 in

To soften the blow, President Bush seeks to convert Section 8 into a
block grant, promising increased flexibility in exchange for decreased
funding. Public housing authorities, which administer the Section 8
program locally, would be allowed to save money by throwing out current
rules. For example, the housing authority could substantially increase the
rent portion paid by Section 8 families, or might instead choose to
serve higher income households which would need smaller subsidies.

The assault on Section 8 became more virulent in April, when the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development abruptly announced a new
funding rule in the middle of the current fiscal year. HUD told housing
authorities that they would now be paid based on a formula using the
number of last year's vouchers, without regard to their actual costs this
year. Crisis and confusion followed — many landlords were threatened
with lower rent payments; voucher holders feared losing their homes.

The plot thickened further last week, when the House Appropriations
Committee passed its version of the 2005 HUD budget. Responding to
widespread outcry, the Republican-controlled committee added nearly $1.5
billion to Section 8 above the amount sought by President Bush. It did so,
unfortunately, by cutting over 4 percent across-the-board from the rest
of HUD's programs — including those serving the homeless, the elderly,
people with AIDS and families with lead-poisoned children. Of course,
it's all about priorities. Our most vulnerable families struggle to pay
the rent, while our country's largest housing program — tax benefits
for homeowners — remains sacrosanct. To be sure, these tax advantages —
such as mortgage interest and property tax deductions and capital gains
exclusions — are real subsidies from the federal government. If a
homeowner and renter have identical incomes and housing costs, only the
homeowner will receive a big tax refund check.

Tax expenditures for housing, benefiting primarily middle and
upper-income homeowners, will cost the Treasury $119.3 billion this year. In
comparison, the entire HUD budget, serving mostly lower-income households,
is $30.4 billion. Meanwhile, the president's tax cuts for the
wealthiest individuals and largest corporations have ballooned the deficit and
extinguished hope for meeting domestic needs.

We should not have to make such choices among urgent housing
priorities. In America, we once believed that if you worked hard and played by
the rules, you would be able to put a roof over your children's heads.
That can still be true today, if we have the political will to make it

Jeffrey Freiser is executive director of the Connecticut Housing
Coalition and a Meriden resident. He is currently a guest member of the
Record-Journal's Editorial Board.


Leaving More Homeless

IF PRESIDENT Bush wants to end homelessness, he should protect federal
rent subsidies. There are no magic carpets that whisk people out of
homelessness, but subsidies work. Poor people pay 30 percent of their
income in rent with a so-called Section 8 voucher, and the federal
government pays the rest.

Unfortunately, Bush's 2005 budget proposal is $1.6 billion below the
amount needed to maintain the current level of assistance and could cause
250,000 households to lose vouchers, according to the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

Bush's budget would also distribute voucher funding in block grants and
loosen the rules. This could lead to states requiring payments of more
than 30 percent of income for rent, an impossible burden for the
poorest residents.

In Massachusetts there is no money for new vouchers. In April, people
who had vouchers almost lost them when the state's Department of Housing
and Community Development faced a funding shortage, and officials
prepared 650 eviction notices. The crisis was avoided after the state's
congressional delegation and Governor Romney objected, and the federal
Department of Housing and Urban Development increased funding to account
for inflation.

But if Bush's 2005 proposal goes through, more than 8,000 people in the
Massachusetts voucher program could face eviction, according to the
state. That would be 44 percent of the state's 18,500 vouchers.

It's a bad time to kick people out of their homes. The state is still
working its way through a list of more than 2,000 people who were
promised vouchers; more than 620 are still left. And the state can provide
these only through attrition: Each month some 80 households leave the
program and their vouchers are reused.

There are an additional 50,000 names of those who want vouchers on the
state's waiting list. Housing officials say they can use attrition to
meet their needs, but not until 2005.

In a report released last month by the Center for Social Policy at the
University of Massachusetts in Boston, researchers estimate that 28,800
individuals were served by the state's emergency homeless shelters in
2003, up from 25,000 in 1999. Of those surveyed, 60 percent cited
financial problems or unemployment as the cause of their homelessness.

Shelter workers are seeing more chronic problems because of state cuts
in health insurance coverage and the loss of thousands of drug and
alcohol detox beds. And without vouchers, staffers say, average stays are
stretching from months to a year or more.

With housing costs at record levels, even people who get services and
jobs will still need rent vouchers to afford apartments. Bush should
invest more wisely. For many homeless people, vouchers are the key to
getting a home.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thirty-Five Million Poor Hearing Little About Themselves in Campaigns

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Try typing the word "poverty" into the search
functions of the Web sites for the presidential campaigns of President
George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry and it might seem as though it's only
a problem in other, distant parts of the world.

While both candidates talk all the time about how they intend to
improve the economic situations of middle-class voters, neither so far has
devoted much campaign effort to the problems of the 35 million Americans
living below the poverty line.

When Kerry or Bush mentions the word poverty in stump speeches, it's
usually in references to fighting poverty to prevent terrorism, or as a
strategy in combating HIV/AIDS internationally.

"I'm not thrilled with either party's take on addressing poverty," said
Jesuit Father Thomas Massaro, a moral theology professor at Weston
Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and author of the1998 book,
"Catholic Social Teaching and U.S. Welfare Reform."

Although both candidates emphasize their plans to improve the financial
lot of the middle class, he said, "nobody's talking about upward
mobility for the poorest people, about people at the bottom of the job

Father Massaro said both campaigns are responding to the political
reality that "the poor don't vote," or at least, not in significant enough
numbers to make their concerns a priority.

"They're not a visible population," he said. "They're not

He said Bush's policies, which the Republican describes as providing
tax relief to stimulate the economy, are "all trickle-down economics.
It's much more 'conservative' than it is 'compassionate.'"

Kerry, the Democratic nominee, comes closer to policies that actually
address poverty, the priest said. "He keeps talking about the lower
middle class, and that's great," said Father Massaro. "The Democratic
platform talks about raising the minimum wage to $7 an hour and that's
great. But they're not talking about the 'welfare poor.'"

During his primary campaign and his nomination acceptance speech,
Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, talked regularly
about "the two Americas," where different rules and benefits apply
depending upon one's income level. It hasn't been clear whether Kerry
intends to adopt Edwards' focus on the poor. His campaign staff says yes,
but the topic hasn't made it into Kerry's speeches.

Father Massaro said that, while between 20 percent and 30 percent of
welfare recipients who have left the system "really are better off,"
another 30 percent to 40 percent are what he called "welfare cyclers." They
find themselves in and out of the labor market, with welfare filling in
the gaps. They have new job training or volunteer work requirements to
meet, but their lives are not improving, he said.

The remaining 20 percent to 30 percent of welfare recipients "are the
ones nobody is talking about," according to Father Massaro. They've been
unable to get or hold jobs despite incentives to leave welfare and
still need government support to survive, he said.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development's Poverty USA project notes
that the number of Americans living below the poverty level has
increased by 3 million since 2000. That included 600,000 more people living in
"severe poverty," for a total of more than 14 million people getting by
on less than $4,600 a year, half the poverty level for a one-person

About one of every three people in the country was poor enough for at
least two months of the year to be classified as living in poverty,
according to CCHD data from the Census Bureau. In 2004, the poverty level
for a household of three was an income of $15,670 a year, according to
the Department of Health and Human Services.

A 2001 study by Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, found that a
third of people taking advantage of soup kitchens and other charitable
food programs had incomes above the federal poverty level. Of those,
three-quarters were former welfare recipients who couldn't make ends meet
in low-paying jobs without benefits.

"Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,"
the U.S. bishops' quadrennial statement about how contemporary political
issues relate to Catholic teachings, says a fundamental measure of
society "is how we care for and stand with the poor and vulnerable."

It talks about the need for a living wage and encourages reducing
poverty and dependency by providing job training, child-care assistance,
health care, affordable housing and other forms of aid such as the Earned
Income Tax Credit. It also said U.S. agricultural policy should have
the goal of "food security for all," and encourages support for food
stamps, the federal nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, and
other programs.

For Catholic social development activists, those goals translate into
legislative efforts including: raising the minimum wage; increasing
child-care subsidies for poor workers and people leaving welfare; fully
funding housing programs; and providing nutrition vouchers and food stamps
to immigrants and all others who are eligible.

Kerry supports raising the minimum wage from the current $5.15 to $7 an
hour by 2007. Bush has said he fears an increase would price people out
of jobs but that he might support a small increase in the minimum wage
as long as states could choose to set their minimums lower.

On housing, the Bush administration has proposed turning the federal
voucher program into a block grant to states, saying the change will give
states flexibility they have sought. The administration's budget
request for 2005 would fund the voucher program at a level $1.6 billion below
what would be needed to cover all the vouchers currently in use,
according to a Network analysis. That would mean 250,000 fewer vouchers for
low-income families.

Kerry opposes the proposed cuts in voucher funding and other housing
programs. His campaign Web site notes his support in the Senate of
various bills to expand housing assistance through additional vouchers for
people with AIDS and to allow housing authorities to increase subsidies
in markets where rents are rising.

The five-year mandate for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
expired two years ago, but Congress has been unable to approve a
reauthorization bill.

Bush's proposal for reauthorization called for continuing child-care
subsidies for welfare recipients at the $2.7 billion level funded for
2003. The version of the bill pending in the Senate includes an amendment
to add $6 billion for child-care programs for parents who are leaving
TANF. The administration argues that additional funding is unnecessary.

The administration also supports increases in the number of hours a
week TANF recipients would be required to work or be in job training, and
in the number of participants required to work. The U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops has opposed those proposals.

Kerry, who voted for the 1996 TANF law, opposed efforts in Congress to
cut welfare spending by $65 billion and has supported bills to more
fully fund child-care programs for welfare participants, and to provide
more job training before welfare recipients are required to leave the

On food programs and other low-income supports, the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities reported that Bush administration budget
projections call for cuts in domestic discretionary programs including the Women,
Infants and Children nutrition program, energy assistance funds and
child-care subsidies over the next five years. The cuts would amount to
$122 million less for WIC, for instance, meaning 18,300 fewer

Kerry has called for full funding of WIC and other discretionary
programs with spending caps to ensure such expenditures do not exceed the
rate of inflation. The cap would not apply to defense, education and
mandatory programs such as Social Security.

Bush signed legislation to expand the child tax credit from $600 to
$1,000 per child. The law did not, however, include single parents with
income under $6,000 a year or couples who make less than $12,000. The
USCCB, Catholic Charities USA and other advocacy organizations have pushed
to expand the credit to the poorest families.

Kerry has sponsored and voted for legislation to expand the credit to
allow another 16 million lower-income families to participate.


Chavez Wins Big and the Opposition Refuses to Recognize the Obvious

By: Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com

Chavez won and he won big. According to preliminary results, which have been ratified by all international observers, the lead over the opposition was about 15% - 58% in favor of Chavez and 42% against. Of course, the opposition, as a result of being misled by some of their leadership, is convinced that Chavez managed to steal 3.5 million votes in the most transparent, secure, and fair vote of the country’s history. Not only that, it broke its promise to recognize the results if international observers ratify it. What happened?

In few countries in the world would ten million people stand in line for up to ten hours, in the blazing sun, to cast a simple ballot that merely says “yes” or “no.” The long lines, however, were unnecessary. The National Electoral Council (CNE) miscalculated terribly, thinking that it could manage the anticipated large turn-out, the 2.5 million new voters, and voting technology that Venezuela had never used before. Originally the CNE had intended to increase voting centers, since the poorest neighborhoods, the barrios, had as few as one tenth the voting centers per capita as some middle class neighborhoods. The plan, however, was scrapped out of fear that people would not know where to vote and due to a lack of time. It thus was no surprise that these “mega voting centers” had to field kilometer-long lines and 12-hour waits in some cases.

Despite the general enthusiasm to vote, voting centers where there were technical problems and the lines thus were especially slow, citizens began to lose their patience and blamed the other side, the opposition or Chavistas, on the delays, saying that this was a coordinated plan of the other side. The main bottleneck did turn out to be the fingerprint scanners that were supposed to prevent people from voting more than once, using false identification cards of other voters. However, the reason the fingerprint checking slowed things down had nothing to do with technology. It generally took much less time to check one’s fingerprint (about 30 seconds) than to sign-in at the voting table. The reason it slowed the process down was that apparently an exceptional number of people assigned to staff the fingerprint scanners never showed up. Thus the lack of operational scanners slowed the process down tremendously.

Other than the delays, the voting as a whole proceeded smoothly and, unusually for Venezuela, with hardly an incident. The only serious incident, if one can call it that, was the spread of rumors, from relatively minor ones that suspected the other side being responsible for the delays, to perhaps the most serious one, which said already at noon that Chavez was losing 60 to 40.

But how could anyone know that? The answer is exit polls. In the days leading up to the vote, the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator had announced that it would present results of its exit polls in the course of the recall referendum day. The Carter Center and the OAS, however, supposedly managed to convince the opposition and the media not to present exit polls before voting had concluded. Nonetheless, the opposition, via various important spokespersons, spread the rumor, particularly to any journalist who would listen, that Chavez was losing, according to “very reliable sources.” At one 1am the Democratic Coordinator even sent out an e-mail to foreign correspondents, making this claim.

A closer examination of their exit polling technique, however, seems to show that it was extremely unprofessional. Voting centers in the wealthy Altamira district, for example, had up to twenty pollsters, while not a single one was spotted in the barrios. If Sumate, the main organizer of the opposition’s polls, had been truly interested in making their polls credible, it should not have released its results early on in the form of rumors, thus contravening rules against doing so, and it should publish its methodology, to prove it did not merely poll in neighborhoods that tend to support the opposition.

Rather than being an accurate and honest measure of how people voted, the exit polls appear to have had the function creating a public opinion climate among observers, media, and the international community, which would help the opposition to discredit the official results once they were released.

When the official results were released, at about 4 am in the morning, electoral council president Francisco Carrasquero read off the results, saying that the “no” vote, against the recall of president Chavez, had gathered 58.25% of the vote and that the “yes” vote, in favor of the president’s recall, had gathered only 41.75% of the vote.

However, another interesting opposition strategy to prejudice the results had already been put into place. Days earlier the opposition insisted that the CNE release the results as early as possible and even threatened that if they did not, they would release their exit polls instead. So, when, three hours after most voting centers had closed, the CNE did announce the results, pro-opposition electoral council board members said that they rejected the preliminary results essentially because they felt they were rushed. Thus, the combination of the pro-opposition board members’ rejection of the preliminary results, the highly questionable exit polls, and the absolute conviction among members of the opposition that Chavez would lose, ended up convincing the opposition that the results were fraudulent.

Immediately following the electoral council announcement of the preliminary results, a group of opposition leaders said that they did not believe the council’s results and that their exit polling data indicated that the opposition had won, 59% to 41%. So, even though the electoral council is supposed to be the country’s final arbiter over elections results, everyone was now anxiously waiting to hear what the international observers had to say, specifically the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, which had the largest and most sophisticated delegations in the country.

Finally, about ten hours after the electoral council had announced its first results, former US president Jimmy Carter and OAS General Secretary Cesar Gaviria held a press conference and released the tension by telling the country what they thought of the results. They stated unequivocally that they agreed with the electoral council’s figures for the referendum: Chavez had won with a lead of about 15% over the opposition. Carter, when asked how he reconciles this with the opposition’s statements, said, “All Venezuelans should accept the results, unless the results are wrong, and we have not received any evidence for that.” The OAS and Carter Center reached their conclusions not just by failing to observe any evidence of fraud, but they conducted their own “quick counts” of selected voting centers, which verified the official results.

However, the opposition still says that there was fraud. Fraud not just of a minor sort, where a close vote against a candidate is turned into a close vote in their favor, but a massive fraud, where a 20% win for the opposition was supposedly turned into a 15% loss. That would mean a theft of 3.5 million votes (35% of 10 million) – a presumably unprecedented amount in the history of elections.

Opposition websites and statements from opposition leaders are now full of claims that a massive fraud has been perpetrated. The amazing thing about such a claim is that the opposition does not have even the slightest shred of proof or even circumstantial evidence for making such a claim. Their entire claim is based on their own highly questionable exit polls. (The pro-government campaign also conducted exit polls, by the way, which reflect the official results.) So the opposition is now demanding that the vote be audited down to every single paper ballot. In principle, some pro-Chavez electoral officials have indicated a willingness to do so.

In all of this one should keep in mind that the voting machines and the entire voting procedure are designed in such a way that if there had been fraud committed, the point at which it occurred would be detected almost immediately. The system is filled with redundant security mechanisms, including printed ballots, which would immediately show exactly where the vote had been altered.

It appears that the most likely consequence will be that the opposition will divide into a sector that will continue to insist that there was fraud and one that will recognize the reality of their loss and will work with the government. The sector that continues to insist on fraud will probably be made up of small parties that have little to lose, either in the upcoming regional elections or in business with the government, such as La Causa R, Primero Justicia, and Movimiento al Socialismo. The ones that will work with the government or will at least recognize the results, are the chamber of commerce and Accion Democratica, which is one of the few parties that still has a chance to win posts in the regional elections. There is a third sector of the opposition, the radical far right, which is the sector that has sponsored terrorist attacks and paramilitary activity within Venezuela, which will probably use the fraud claims of the small parties as an excuse to re-launch their violent campaign.

Despite all of this, the Chavez government has been re-legitimized and is now stronger than ever. The opposition has now not only lost its military base, due to the coup, its oil base, due to the oil industry shut-down, but now it will have also lost every last shred of credibility if it continues to insist that it won the recall referendum.

U.S. Poll Firm in Hot Water in Venezuela

Thursday 19 August 2004

CARACAS, Venezuela Aug. 19, 2004 — A U.S. firm's exit poll that said President Hugo Chavez would lose a recall referendum has landed in the center of a controversy following his resounding victory.

"Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez," the survey, conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, asserted even as Sunday's voting was still on. But in fact, the opposite was true Chavez ended up trouncing his enemies and capturing 59 percent of the vote.

Any casual observer of the 2000 U.S. presidential elections knows exit polls can at times be unreliable. But the poll has become an issue here because the opposition, which mounted the drive to force the leftist leader from office, insists it shows the results from the vote itself were fraudulent. The opposition also claims electronic voting machines were rigged, but has provided no evidence.

Election officials banned publication or broadcast of any exit polls during the historic vote on whether to oust Chavez, a populist who has sought to help the poor and is reviled by the wealthy, who accuse him of stoking class divisions.

But results of the Penn, Schoen & Berland survey were sent out by fax and e-mail to media outlets and opposition offices more than four hours before polls closed. It predicted just the opposite of what happened, saying 59 percent had voted in favor of recalling Chavez.

Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States who monitored the referendum, said the poll must have had a tremendous impact on Chavez's opponents, who felt they were about to complete their two-year drive to oust him.

"They were told they had a lead of 20 points and then when the results came, they lost by 20 points," Gaviria said. "It's very difficult to deal with that."

Both Gaviria and former President Jimmy Carter, another election monitor, endorsed the vote, saying the results coincided with their own independent samplings.

Mark Penn, of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, said Wednesday he has limited knowledge of the exit poll. He said his partner, Doug Schoen, "believes there were more problems with the voting than with the exit poll."

Schoen could not immediately be reached, and another employee familiar with the poll declined to comment.

"We have to let the authorities do their investigation of the election," said Marcela Berland, with the firm. "It would be irresponsible to interfere with that."

Critics of the exit poll have questioned how it was conducted because officials have said Penn, Schoen & Berland worked with a U.S.-funded Venezuela group that the Chavez government considers hostile.

Penn, Schoen & Berland had members of Sumate, a Venezuelan group that helped organize the recall initiative, do the fieldwork for the poll, election observers said.

Roberto Abdul, a Sumate official, acknowledged in a telephone interview that the firm "supervised" an exit poll carried out by Sumate. Abdul added that at least five exit polls were completed for the opposition, with all pointing to a Chavez victory.

Abdul said Sumate which has received a $53,400 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn receives funds from the U.S. Congress did not use any of those funds to pay for the surveys.

The issue is potentially explosive because even before the referendum, Chavez himself cited Washington's funding of Sumate as evidence that the Bush administration was financing efforts to oust him an allegation U.S. officials deny.

Venezuelan Minister of Communications Jesse Chacon said it was a mistake for Sumate to be involved in the exit poll because it might have skewed the results.

"If you use an activist as a pollster, he will eventually begin to act like an activist," Chacon told The Associated Press.

Chris Sabatini, senior program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, defended Sumate as "independent and impartial."

"Exit polls are notoriously unreliable," Sabatini said by telephone from Washington. "Just because they're off doesn't mean that the group that conducted them is partial to one side."

AP reporters Juan Pablo Toro in Caracas and Will Lester in Washington contributed to this report.

China Persecution

Most of the 100 Christians arrested July 12 in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region have been released by China’s police following international outcry about the arrests.

Five Christians, however, are still being held in the area and could be facing long prison sentences. Mr. Zhao Xinlan, 50; Ms. Li Cuiling, 44; Mr. Wang Chaoyi, 39; Mr. Yang Tian Lu, 39; and Ms. Gao Rui’er, 28 are still being held in the A Ke Su prefecture, near the provincial capital of Urumqi.

In another province, Anhui, a major underground church leader has been transferred to prison. Luo Bing Yin is a leader in the Ying Shang house church group which includes about five million members. He has been sent from a local detention center to the Funan Prison. VOM sources say there has not been a court hearing, and the charges against him are unknown. He has twice been imprisoned before, first in 1978 and then again in 2001. The case against him in 2001 was handled by the national public security office, as he is considered an important figure in the underground church.

“This case has become very serious,” said Todd Nettleton, director of news services for The Voice of the Martyrs. “We urge the Chinese government to publicly state its charges against this brother and hold a public hearing on his case.”

Luo’s wife, Huang Xiu Lan, and their two children, a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, are under intense pressure from the police.

VOM sources say that Brother Luo’s business, a DVD-duplication company, was also raided by police, who confiscated computers and other equipment. These computers reportedly contained information about other underground Christians in China.

Finally, VOM sources report additional arrests in Henan Province, following the arrest of more than 100 Christians meeting for a retreat on August 6. In the days following that raid by more than 200 police and military personnel, family members of some of the arrested Christians have also been arrested. Pastor Han Quan Shui was arrested on August 6. His wife, known simply as Mana, was arrested the following day. Ru Xi Feng, the mother of a pastor who died in 2000, was also arrested on August 7. Xue Ying, the wife of arrested pastor Zheng Wan Shun was detained and interrogated by police.

In addition to those arrests, the families of six of those arrested August 6 have received formal notice of the “criminal detention” of their family members. Chinese law allows incarceration up to three years without formal charges or a trial.

“China talks about religious freedom,” said Nettleton, “but where is it? We urge the release of these Christians who simply want to worship God freely according to the dictates of their conscience.”

Letters of protest can be sent to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC at the following address:

Ambassador Yang Jiechi
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008
Tel:(202) 328-2500 Fax:(202) 588-0032
Director of Religious Affairs: (202) 328-2512

Let There Be Protests

Let There Be Protests
Thursday, August 19, 2004; Page A24

PROTESTERS AT the Democratic presidential convention in Boston were kept in "free speech zones" -- cages, really -- that were so constrained and remote from delegates that most protesters avoided them altogether. At the coming Republican convention in New York, things will be a little looser, as a consequence of a federal court ruling, but only a little. And plans for a large antiwar demonstration in Central Park have been stymied by the city's refusal to issue a permit. Officials initially said they feared damage to the park's Great Lawn and more recently have cited safety concerns. They instead have offered protesters a stretch of the West Side Highway, which they first accepted and then rejected; the matter landed in court yesterday.

The city's gardening concerns seem frivolous, and the protesters ought to be able to use the park; the security concerns behind many of the restrictions are more serious. Terrorism fears are legitimate, and some of the protest groups include people with histories of violent behavior at demonstrations. The First Amendment does not give protesters the right to disrupt proceedings. Certain restrictions are necessary and appropriate.

But something precious is threatened when demonstrators -- even rowdy, obnoxious and possibly misguided demonstrators -- are kept at such distance from the objects of their protest. What's at risk is democracy, and it deserves a bit more respect. As has been widely noted, the parties now try to shape their conventions as extended infomercials, in which the forms of party process are playacted to validate preordained results. City police should not be deployed in a fashion that ensures that the infomercials do not suffer from any technical glitches, unruly moments or dissonant voices. This may not be the intent of the security measures, but marginalizing dissent is the effect. Somehow, even in an era of terrorism, America needs to do better.

Sounds of fighting outside Najaf mosque

Al-Sadr militia holed up inside

Thursday, August 19, 2004 Posted: 9:29 AM EDT (1329 GMT)

Smoke rises over Najaf on Thursday. The Associated Press reported a mortar barrage hit a police station.

NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- Sounds of intense fighting erupted Thursday outside the Imam Ali mosque where inside militia loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr failed to comply with Iraqi orders to disarm and disperse.

CNN's Kianne Sadeq, who is inside the compound with other journalists at the invitation of al-Sadr's militia, reported persistent sounds of mortars and gunfire and many explosions and devastation to the streets, homes and businesses around the mosque compound.

Two of the mosque's minarets have been damaged in recent fighting, and al-Sadr loyalists said a clock in one of the towers caught fire, Sadeq reported. The mosque is one of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam.

It was unclear whether the fighting signaled the start of an Iraq-U.S. offensive against the fighters.

Iraqi officials have threatened to "liberate" the mosque with a military offensive if al-Sadr and his forces don't leave and disarm.

The interim government said Thursday that al-Sadr must publicly and personally say he is disarming and will stand down, or Iraqi and U.S. forces will take military action against him.

An al-Sadr spokesman in Najaf said the cleric has rejected those demands.

This comes a day after al-Sadr issued a conciliatory statement read at the Iraqi National Conference indicating that he was willing to have his forces disarm and withdraw from the compound.

Al-Sadr spokesman had not agreed to negotiate with the Iraqi interim government, but only with the Iraqi National Conference.

Inside the compound, the Mehdi militia welcomed journalists with dancing and cheering.

"They are very proud to be here," Sadeq said, adding that "they are not leaving."

Along with the fighters, al-Sadr spokesmen and a few women and children are in the compound.

Al-Sadr people deny that al-Sadr is inside the mosque compound. However, he is thought to be in the Najaf area.

U.S. tanks have surrounded the Imam Ali mosque, the shrine.

Interim Iraqi Minister of State Kasim Daoud said that if the cleric does not respond to the government demands in the next few hours, military action will be taken.

At a joint news conference with Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zufri, Daoud outlined the Iraqi government's conditions for al-Sadr to disarm. He said Iraqi forces have special intelligence that will allow them to get al-Sadr without destroying the shrine.

Daoud called on al-Sadr and his militia to hand over all of their weapons, and he noted that the radical cleric will not be allowed to have his own court system.

Al-Sadr is wanted in connection with the killing of a rival cleric, Iraqi officials have said.

Iraq needs only one military, one leader and one government, Daoud said.

Al-Sadr must also free any civilian hostages he is holding, the minister said.

On Wednesday, a letter from al-Sadr's office in Baghdad said the cleric would give in to demands that he and his forces leave the mosque in Najaf, disband his Mehdi Army and "enter into the mainstream political process."

At the time, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said it was surprised to hear of such a deal since al-Sadr himself refused to meet with a delegation on negotiations to end the two-week standoff in Najaf, where Mehdi Army fighters have exchanged gunfire with Iraqi and U.S. forces.

"If we are surprised by this announcement, it's because the Iraqi government has done all it could to resolve this situation," the ministry said. "Al-Sadr refused to meet with our delegation, and so the delegation returned to Baghdad without ever meeting" with him.

Al-Sadr has previously vowed to fight to his death.

Scattered clashes in Najaf were reported Thursday. The Associated Press reported a mortar barrage hit a Najaf police station.

Fighting also was reported in Baghdad's Sadr City area, an al-Sadr stronghold.

In another development, the Iraqi Interior Ministry disputed reports that the police chief in Najaf has said he will not send police into the mosque.

"The chief of police denies such reports and vows to follow all and any orders, including storming the holy grounds or that which may be ordered by the Iraqi government," the Interior Ministry said.

In sporadic fighting Wednesday, a Marine was killed in Najaf while conducting security operations in the city.

And while the situation in Najaf remained tense, armed militants Wednesday said they would kill a Western journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq if U.S. forces do not withdraw from Najaf within 48 hours. (Full story)

In a videotape aired on the Arabic language network Al-Jazeera, journalist Micah Garen, 36, was surrounded by five armed, masked militants. Garen was kidnapped last Friday in the southern city of Nasiriya while working on a documentary on antiquities in Iraq.

'Liberate the holy shrine'
Earlier Wednesday, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Sha'alan said the government had completed preparations for a military operation to "liberate the holy shrine" in Najaf and regain "Najaf city from the gang of mercenaries."

In an interview with Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya, Sha'alan said Iraqi troops would enter the holy sites in Najaf in a swift operation and he expected a "decisive battle." U.S. forces would not enter the compound.

"We will teach those people a lesson in their lives, which they will never forget," said Sha'alan, pointing to fighters in Najaf and in other key Iraqi cities.

Sha'alan later told reporters that al-Sadr's forces "have a chance during the coming hours to lay down their weapons and surrender."

After Sha'alan made his remarks, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the government "will not stand with arms folded in the face" of the rebellion by the Mehdi militia.

"The government's position is clear and specific to ending armed manifestations, stopping acts of sabotage and making the armed men leave Najaf and the mosque," Allawi said in a written statement.

Shortly after those threats of force, al-Sadr's Baghdad office quickly presented the letter saying the cleric would give in to demands from the Iraqi National Conference.

The letter was read to delegates attending the Iraqi National Conference. Many of the delegates cheered at the news, while some were quick to point out that unanswered questions remained -- including when al-Sadr would withdraw from the mosque.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Conference picked a 100-person interim council. The council will serve as an advisory body to the interim government, the caretaker body running Iraq until a transitional national assembly is elected in January.

The conference sent a delegation to Najaf on Tuesday, spending three hours at the Imam Ali mosque in a bid to resolve the standoff. But al-Sadr rejected the delegates' offer to meet, and they returned to Baghdad early Wednesday.

The delegation did talk with some of the cleric's top deputies Tuesday night and presented them with a letter asking al-Sadr's militia to leave the shrine, dissolve itself and join the political process in Iraq.

Other developments

Two Polish soldiers were killed and five injured when their vehicles crashed early Thursday as they were trying to escape an ambush in the central Iraqi city of Hillah, a military spokesman said. (Full story)

A U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday when a patrol was attacked in eastern Baghdad and a Marine died after a vehicle accident in western Iraq's Al Anbar province, the U.S. military said. The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war stood at 951 as of Wednesday. Of those, 709 have died in hostile action and 242 from nonhostile activity, according to the U.S. military.

Two detainees were killed and five others were wounded Wednesday during a fight involving more than 200 prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, according to the coalition press office. A news release said "lethal force" was used after verbal warnings and "nonlethal rounds" failed to break up the brawl.

An Army report will recommend that approximately two dozen military intelligence personnel face possible disciplinary action in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, military sources said. The report, expected to be released as early as next week, will find that the abuse was not ordered by senior commanders as part of approved interrogation practices, the sources said. (Full story)

In Mosul, at least six Iraqis were killed and 21 others were wounded Wednesday when a missile struck the main commercial center, police said.

CNN's Kianne Sadeq contributed to this report.


Copyright 2004 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Najaf: Advantage Al Sadr

Najaf: Advantage Al Sadr
Whatever you think of Moqtada al Sadr, you have to admire the deft manueuvering that keeps everyone off-balance with the wrong foot forward. While practically all the news reports on this development claim some variation on the Mahdi Army surrenders/Sadr Agrees to Peace Plan theme, take a look at what the spokesman for Sadr actually said.

A spokesperson for rebel leader Moqtada Sadr expressed surprise on Wednesday at threats of an imminent attack on his militia by Iraqi forces, saying the Shiite cleric had agreed to demands made by peace mediators.

"We are surprised by the declaration and threat by the minister of defence ... because we have given our full accord to the initiative presented by the delegation," Ahmed Shibani said on Al-Jazeera television.

Defence minister Hazem al-Shaalan vowed that a "decisive" battle would be launched against Sadr militiamen, who he said must surrender within hours in the central holy city of Najaf, where heavy fighting raged earlier on Wednesday.

Shibani said: "The delegation came with three demands, including that the mehdi army hands (the security of) the old city to the suitable party...and that the Sadr movement participates in the political process."

He added that the Sadr movement was ready to take part in the political process "if it is honest".

"We discussed these points and 10 other points that had been discussed with (national security advisor) Muaffaq al-Rubaie, and our efforts were successful. The delegation went back satisfied," he said.

But the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was "blocking" any peaceful resolution of the crisis, he said.

"We are ready to meet the delegation anytime...we pledge to (organise) a meeting between Moqtada Sadr and the delegation" on the condition of "putting an end to the bombardment of the old city of Najaf and the end of the siege", he said.
Isn't that positively Bushista in it's vagueness larded with conditions? It's almost worthy of that old liar extraordinaire, Ariel Sharon.
The fierce fighting has threatened a peace initiative spearheaded by emissaries from Iraq's key national conference, who travelled to the shrine late on Tuesday, only to be snubbed by Sadr who said "aggression by the Americans" had made it unsafe for him to appear.

Rajaa Habib al-Khuzai, a former member of Iraq's former governing council, one of those who went to Najaf, said the head of the mission, Sheikh Hussein al-Sadr, would meet Allawi to ask for a ceasefire for a subsequent trip.

Khuzai also told Al-Jazeera: "All what Shibani said was true. The mediation did not fail. On the contrary, it was a success. The meeting was positive."

She also denounced the threats by the defence minister of an imminent offensive, saying: "It is regrettable because there was an agreement this morning."
So, now what? This looks like a clear win for Sadr and the Iraqis who opposed "Allawi's" assault with his proxy American troops. The ball is in the Puppets' court. Meanwhile, the American military is left in the ludicrous position of assaultus interruptus, again.

Posted by: tex on Aug 18, 04 | 8:48 am | Comments? | link

Bush to Bring War Home: Troops to Fight Americans

The recent Bush move to bring an armored division and an infantry division from Europe back to provide security in the United States smells really bad. Think about it, TANKS and TROOPS to protect us from Mexico and Canada?

These troops and tanks are supposed to be part of a larger redeployment but the entire operation may be just a charade for the purpose of getting troops and tanks into the streets of American cities to quell the inevitable riots that would surely erupt if Bush is handed another dirty election victory through the combined influences of rigged machines, phony voter purge lists and the orchestrated state police intimidation techniques which are being used in Florida right now.

When in the same cities, John Kerry is outdrawing Bush by 20 to 1. 40,000 to 2,000 here on the West Coast over the weekend. Americans throughout the United States who protest another Bush jury-rigged election will face the same force being used in Najaf, Iraq; --because America is the real apple for the Bush swelling stink.

The rest of the world in comparison to the United States pales in actual and latent industrial strength. We have a work force which is seriously out of work. People are wandering the streets homeless, very hungry, and very sick. Our soldiers throughout the world in US military bases hear the daily drumbeat of Limbaugh banging on their heads that American Liberals are in league with the 'enemies' the Bush swelling stink is engaging overseas.

Bush has decided that by bringing troops and tanks home and by pushing and promoting fraudulent policies and crooked elections he can produce a real war right here in the United States. The benefits are huge. With a captive workforce and an army without any serious logistical problems where feeding the troops is only as difficult as raiding the local supermarket shelves, the betting is that the American working class can be had very cheaply.

Our society may soon achieve complete militarization just like 1917 in Petrograd. Troops will open fire with real bullets when the popular rage against the Bush swelling stink hits critical mass and pours out into the streets of America. The question is, "Will the US troops mutiny and resign as the Russians did in 1917?" , or, "Will the brainwashing be complete and the troops turn to enslave their own neighbors and countrymen?"

For people who have the misfortune to meet returnees from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the answer is not clear. The widespread acceptance of torture by American troops in Afghanistan, Cuba, and Iraq, coupled with killing injured enemy combatants and the slaughter of innocents through massive bombing, clouds the picture of who Johnny actually has become when he comes marching home. There is a real danger here of training a warrior class which will feel the same disregard for their neighbors and countrymen as they were taught in Iraq. The sick and heartless management of this war in the middle east has thoroughly crazed the participants. The suicide rate among US troops has been astounding. The main cause of the suicides has been the double-think which has been forced upon the enlisted men and women where they are commanded to do things contrary to their nature.

There have been highly publicized opponents of the Bush swelling stink within the rank and file of the US military machine. Members of the rank and file are drawn from the economically disadvantaged, dispirited, and deluded who wake up realizing that the Bush swelling stink was using them to conquer the world for itself, not for the benefit of the masses of struggling Americans but, for the Orcs of the ruling aristocrat class called Republicans. And this is where the shiver comes on strong, because the officer and commander class of the US military machine is overwhelmingly Republican, bent upon holding its unearned privilege and dominion over the "unwashed and useless eaters" of the vast American majority who feel first hand the effects of the Bush swelling stink.

It comes down to this. There are not enough fighting, voting age Republicans within the United States to defeat a thoroughly aroused and raging angry American population. People who identify as Republicans and vote are only about 18 percent of the entire population of the country.

When that Republican line officer of yours comes home singing, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", take him/her aside and straighten him/her out. Tell them what the president did to America while he/she was away killing for George's booty. Tell them that there is no sex until they lay down their arms and walk away from the easy life of thoughtless killing. No apple pie. No Mom to dry their tears and muffle their sobs. Nothing for them until they lay down their arms and walk away from little king George.

and...Tell them do not fire on Americans.

Michael Jordan
August 18, 2004

Citizens For Legitimate Government

Who Needs Assault Weapons?


Published: August 18, 2004

ERIDIAN, Idaho — If you've been longing for your very own assault rifle and 30-round magazine for the next holiday season, you're in luck.

President Bush, sidestepping a promise, is allowing the ban on assault rifles and oversized clips to expire on Sept. 14. So at a gun store here in Meridian, a bit west of Boise, the counter has a display promising "2 FREE HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES."

All you have to do is purchase a new Beretta 9-millimeter handgun and you'll receive two high-capacity magazines - on the condition, the fine print states, that the federal ban expires on schedule.

President Bush promised in the last presidential campaign to support an extension of the ban, which was put in place in 1994 for 10 years. "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society," Mr. Bush observed at the time.

These days Mr. Bush still says that he'll sign an extension of the ban if it happens to reach his desk. But he knows that the only way the ban can be extended on time is if he actually urges its passage, and he refuses to do that. So his promise to support an extension rings hollow - it's not exactly a lie, but it's not the full truth, either.

Mr. Bush's flip-flop is surprising because he has generally had the courage of his convictions. Apparently he's hiding from this issue because it's so politically charged.

Critics of the assault weapon ban have one valid point: the ban has more holes than Swiss cheese.

"The big frustration of my customers is that [the ban] removed things that were kind of fun and made it look cool, but didn't affect how the gun operated," said Sean Wontor, a salesman who heaved two rifles onto the counter of Sportsman's Warehouse here in Meridian to make his point.

One was an assault weapon that was produced before the ban (and thus still legal), and the other was a sanitized version produced afterward to comply with the ban by removing the bayonet mount and the flash suppressor.

After these cosmetic changes, the rifle is now no longer considered an assault weapon, yet, of course, it is just as lethal.

Still, assault weapons, while amounting to only 1 percent of America's 190 million privately owned guns, account for a hugely disproportionate share of gun violence precisely because of their macho appeal.

Assault weapons aren't necessary for any kind of hunting or target shooting, but they're popular because they can transform a suburban Walter Mitty into Rambo, for a lot less money than a Hummer.

"I've got a ton of customers shooting squirrels with AK-47's," said Kevin Tester, a gun salesman near Boise. "They're using 30-round magazines and 7.62-millimeter ammunition, they're shooting up the hills, and they're having a blast."

I grew up on an Oregon farm that bristled with guns to deal with the coyotes that dined on our sheep. Having fired everything from a pistol to a machine gun, I can testify that shooting can be a lot of fun. But consider the cost: 29,000 gun deaths in America each year.

While gun statistics are as malleable as Play-Doh, they do underscore that assault weapons are a special problem in America.

They accounted for 8.4 percent of the guns traced to crimes between 1988 and 1991, and they are still used in one in five fatal shootings of police officers. If anything, we should be plugging the holes in the ban by having it cover copycat weapons without bayonet mounts, instead of moving backward and allowing a new flood of weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The bottom line is that Mr. Bush's waffling on assault weapons will mean more dead Americans.

About 100 times as many Americans are already dying from gunfire in the U.S. as in Iraq. As many Americans die from firearms every six weeks as died in the 9/11 attacks - yet the White House is paralyzed on this issue.

Mr. Bush needs to live up to his campaign promise and push to keep the ban on assault weapons. Otherwise, we'll bring more of the Iraq-like carnage to our own shores, and his refusal to confront our gun problem will kill more Americans over time than Osama bin Laden ever could.