Friday, February 04, 2005

Pa. Man Sues Trooper Over 'Finger' Ticket

Pa. Man Sues Trooper Over 'Finger' Ticket


PITTSBURGH - A man says a traffic ticket a state trooper gave him is for the birds — or at least for flipping the bird. Stephen Corey, 42, filed a federal lawsuit because he says he had a First Amendment right to flip his middle finger at the trooper in July.

Trooper Samuel Nassan III gave Corey, a flight attendant from Pittsburgh, a ticket for following another vehicle too closely, then wrote him up for giving "an improper hand signal while passing my patrol car, namely middle finger up," according to Corey's lawsuit.

Corey's attorney, Joel Dresbold, denies Corey made the gesture. But he said it also doesn't matter because Nassan filed the ticket as though Corey committed a motor vehicle violation — that Corey made an illegal turn signal using his hand.

"It really doesn't matter if he did it or not," Dresbold said. "Either way it's an abuse of his constitutional rights. It's lawful under the Constitution to (give the middle finger), and you can't give a ticket for doing that."

State police spokesman Jack Lewis declined to comment on the suit, which also names the state police for allegedly failing to train its troopers properly.

Nassan chuckled when told of the lawsuit — but said the ticket was proper because he said Corey gave him the finger as part of a gesture that indicated he was changing lanes, making it an improper turn signal. Nassan also acknowledged that Corey has a right to give him the finger under some circumstances.

"Absolutely, he has a right to shoot his middle finger at me unless it's in plain view of the motoring public," Nassan said.

Bill's Comment: When is the nonsense going to end? I hope that a judge will dismiss this and laugh at this punk's face, even though the plaintiff is older than me. A perfect example of a lack of respect.

Actor Ossie Davis Found Dead in HotelActor Ossie Davis Found Dead in Hotel

Actor Ossie Davis Found Dead in Hotel


By HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK - Ossie Davis, the actor distinguished for roles dealing with racial injustice on stage, screen and in real life, has died, an aide said Friday. He was 87.

Davis, the husband and partner of actress Ruby Dee, was found dead Friday in his hotel room in Miami Beach, Fla., according to officials there. He was making a film called "Retirement," said Arminda Thomas, who works in his office in suburban New Rochelle and confirmed the death.

Davis, who wrote, acted, directed and produced for the theater and Hollywood, was a central figure among black performers of the last five decades. He and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, "In This Life Together."

In Miami Beach, police spokesman Bobby Hernandez said Davis' grandson called the police shortly before 7 a.m. when his grandfather would not open the door to his room at the Shore Club Hotel. Davis was found dead and there does not appear to be any foul play, Hernandez said.

Davis had just started his movie on Monday, said Michael Livingston, his Hollywood agent.

"I'm shocked," Livingston said. "I'm absolutely shocked. He was the most wonderful man I've ever known. Such a classy, kindly man." His wife had gone to New Zealand to make a movie there, Livingston said.

Their partnership called to mind other performing couples, such as the Lunts, or Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Davis and Dee first appeared together in the plays "Jeb," in 1946, and "Anna Lucasta," in 1946-47. Davis' first film, "No Way Out" in 1950, was Dee's fifth.

Both had key roles in the television series "Roots: The Next Generation" (1978), "Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum" (1986) and "The Stand" (1994). Davis appeared in three Spike Lee films, including "School Daze," "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever." Dee also appeared in the latter two; among her best-known films was "A Raisin in the Sun," in 1961.

In 2004, Davis and Dee were among the artists selected to receive the Kennedy Center Honors.

When not on stage or on camera, Davis and Dee were deeply involved in civil rights issues and efforts to promote the cause of blacks in the entertainment industry. They nearly ran afoul of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the early 1950s, but were never openly accused of any wrongdoing.

Davis, the oldest of five children of a self-taught railroad builder and herb doctor, was born in tiny Cogdell, Ga., in 1917 and grew up in nearby Waycross and Valdosta. He left home in 1935, hitchhiking to Washington to enter Howard University, where he studied drama, intending to be a playwright.

His career as an actor began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem, then the center of black culture in America. There, the young Davis met or mingled with some of the most influential figures of the time, including the preacher Father Divine, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright (news).

He also had what he described in the book as a "flirtation with the Young Communist League," which he said essentially ended with the onset of World War II. Davis spent nearly four years in service, mainly as a surgical technician in an Army hospital in Liberia (news - web sites), serving both wounded troops and local inhabitants.

Back in New York in 1946, Davis debuted on Broadway in "Jeb," a play about a returning soldier. His co-star was Dee, whose budding stage career had paralleled his own. They had even appeared in different productions of the same play, "On Strivers Row," in 1940.

In December 1948, on a day off from rehearsals from another play, "The Smile of the World," Davis and Dee took a bus to New Jersey to get married. They already were so close that "it felt almost like an appointment we finally got around to keeping," Dee wrote in "In This Life Together."

As black performers, they found themselves caught up in the social unrest fomented by the then-new Cold War and the growing debate over social and racial justice in the United States.

"We young ones in the theater, trying to fathom even as we followed, were pulled this way and that by the swirling currents of these new dimensions of the Struggle," Davis wrote in the joint autobiography.

He lined up with black socialist reformer DuBois and singer Paul Robeson, remaining fiercely loyal to the singer even after Robeson was denounced by other black political, sports and show business figures for his openly communist and pro-Soviet sympathies.

While Hollywood and, to a lesser extent, the New York theater world became engulfed in McCarthyism and red-baiting controversies, Davis and Dee emerged from the anti-communist fervor unscathed and, in Davis' view, justifiably so.

"We've never been, to our knowledge, guilty of anything — other than being black — that might upset anybody," he wrote.

They were friends with baseball star Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel — Dee played her, opposite Robinson himself, in the 1950 movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story" — and with Malcolm X.

In the book, Davis told how a prior commitment caused them to miss the Harlem rally where Malcolm was assassinated in 1965. Davis delivered the eulogy at Malcolm's funeral, and reprised it in a voice-over for the 1992 Spike Lee film, "Malcolm X."

Along with film, stage and television, the couple's careers extended to a radio show, "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour," that ran on 65 stations for four years in the mid-1970s, featuring a mix of black themes.

Both wrote plays and screenplays, and Davis directed several films, most notably "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (1970) and "Countdown at Kusini" (1976), in which he also appeared with Dee.

Other films in which Davis appeared include "The Cardinal" (1963), "The Hill" (1965), "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), "The Client" (1994) and "I'm Not Rappaport" (1996), a reprise of his stage role 10 years earlier.

On television, he appeared in "The Emperor Jones" (1955), "Freedom Road" (1979), "Miss Evers' Boys" (1997) and "Twelve Angry Men" (1997). He was a cast member on "The Defenders" from 1963-65, and "Evening Shade" from 1990-94, among other shows.

Both Davis and Dee made numerous guest appearances on television shows.


Associated Press Writer Richard Pyle contributed to this report.

Actor John Vernon of 'Animal House' Dies

Actor John Vernon of 'Animal House' Dies


LOS ANGELES (AP) - John Vernon, a stage-trained character actor who played cunning villains in film and TV and made his comedy mark as Dean Wormer in ``National Lampoon's Animal House,'' has died. He was 72.

Vernon died at home in his sleep Tuesday following complications from Jan. 16 heart surgery, his daughter, Kate Vernon, said Thursday.

The Canadian-born actor found satisfaction in his varied career, his daughter said.

``He loved the comedy that he was able to do, but his training was in drama and he really enjoyed the dramatic roles,'' she said.

Movie fans may know him best for his role in ``Animal House'' as Dean Wormer, who is bent on expelling the hard-partying Delta fraternity house. The movie, starring John Belushi and Tim Matheson, is one of the most popular comedies ever made.

Born in 1932 in Montreal, Vernon studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He did repertory work in England and was heard off-screen as the voice of Big Brother in the 1956 film ``1984.''

He returned to Canada to appear on stage and on television, including the starring role in the 1960s drama ``Wojeck,'' in which he played a coroner.

``John was superb. He really knew how to use the camera, and vocally he was just born to have a mike nearby,'' Ted Follows, his co-star in ``Wojeck,'' told The Canadian Press.

After appearing on Broadway in ``Royal Hunt of the Sun'' he became a steady player in U.S. films, making his debut in director John Boorman's ``Point Blank'' (1967) as a turncoat tossed to his death by Lee Marvin.

Vernon went on to work with other celebrated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock (``Topaz,'' 1969); Don Siegel (``Dirty Harry,'' 1971), and Clint Eastwood (``The Outlaw Josey Wales,'' 1976).

His deep, menacing voice was custom-made for the many bad guys he played.

He reprised his role in ``National Lampoon's Animal House'' in the TV spinoff ``Delta House'' (1979). Other comedy roles followed, including the part of Mr. Big in the film ``I'm Gonna Git You Sucka'' in 1988.

Vernon appeared in a DVD edition of ``Animal House'' as part of a satiric update on the characters. Wormer was portrayed as a curmudgeonly old man in a wheelchair.

02/03/05 19:48

Ann Coulter: Iraq The Vote


Thu Feb 3, 6:41 PM ET

By Ann Coulter

In one of the grandest events in the history of the world, millions of Iraqis risked death on Sunday to vote in a free, democratic election. There were more than 100 attacks on polling stations by the "insurgents" (or "Islamic fascists," as authentic Americans call them). But the Iraqis voted -- Shia, Sunnis, women and an estimated 2,000 dead felons in Washington state.

Democrats haven't been this depressed since we captured Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

On "Meet the Press," the Democrats' erstwhile presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites), questioned the legitimacy of the election, saying, "(I)t's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote."

Kerry warned Americans not to "overhype this election" -- and if there's one guy who's good at calming down excited voters, it's John Kerry. Apparently, word didn't get out to the Iraqis, who were dancing and singing in the streets. (Isn't it great to see Muslims celebrating something other than the slaughter of Americans?)

Kerry's main advice to Bush was to reach out to the French. Curiously, this is also the Democrats' plan for fixing Social Security (news - web sites), dealing with North Korea (news - web sites) and controlling the budget deficit: Reach out to the French!

Most amusingly, Kerry repeatedly quoted himself, as if he had called this one ball, shot and pocket: "You may recall that back in -- well, there's no reason you would --but back in Fulton, Mo., during the campaign, I laid out four steps ..." (at that point the cameraman nodded off and NBC abruptly cut to color bars).

I remember what Kerry said during the campaign! What he and his fellow Democratic towel-biters said was that this election wasn't going to happen.

Kerry specifically addressed the scheduled Iraqi elections in his closing statement at the first presidential debate, saying: "They can't have an election right now. The president's not getting the job done." (Kerry's a genius! He won the debate!)

A few weeks later, his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, said: "It's not safe enough to have elections, which are scheduled in January. There is no way that people could go to the polls in that country right now."

In order to have free elections, apparently we would have to ... reach out to the French! "The Kerry plan," Cahill said, "would be to have an international consensus, not to go it alone, to get other countries into Iraq (news - web sites) with us, so that we could carry out elections and we could move Iraq to be a free nation."

And yet we somehow managed to have a free election in Iraq without the French.

In September, former president and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jimmy Carter said on NBC's "Today": "I personally do not believe they're going to be ready for the election in January ... because there's no security there."

Democrat moneyman George Soros said in a speech to the National Press Club last fall: "All my experience ... has taught me that democracy cannot be imposed by military means." (But see: Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Afghanistan (news - web sites) and El Salvador (news - web sites).) Of course Soros' "experience" consists mostly of liberating billions of dollars from the captivity of other people's bank accounts. He's a regular Douglas MacArthur, that Soros guy.

Expressing his faith in the Iraqi people, Soros continued: "Iraq would be the last place I would choose for an experiment in introducing democracy." All those blue-inked fingers were the Iraqi people giving Soros the finger.

Also taking his cue on world politics from Janeane Garofalo, last September U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) said he doubted there would be elections in January, saying, "You cannot have credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now" -- although he may have been referring here to a possible vote of the U.N. Security Council.

Robert Fisk of The Independent (UK) told an audience in October 2004: "The chances of (January) elections are fading faster than water running into the desert." He said it was a "lie" that the allies were creating "an oasis of democracy with its center in Iraq." Remind me not to ask Fisk who he likes in the Super Bowl.

The Economist magazine said that until security in Iraq improves, "reconstruction will stall -- and the hopes of Messrs. Allawi and Bush for a decent election, enabling a strong and legitimate government to take over, will continue to look uncertain to be fulfilled."

In October, Nicholas Lemann was a whirlwind of bad news about Iraq, writing in The New Yorker: "The U.S. military in Iraq has started trying to take back areas of the country now controlled by insurgents, and it may not be safe enough there for the scheduled elections to be held in January." Somehow he failed to add, "Also, by mid-March live rhesus monkeys may be flying out of my butt."

Amid his litany of bad news, Lemann said: "It is difficult to find anybody in Washington, in either party, who will seriously defend Bush's management of Iraq." Fortunately, last Sunday, President Bush (news - web sites) found 8 million people -- outside of Washington -- to seriously defend his management of Iraq.

Report Criticizes Oil-For-Food Program

Report Criticizes Oil-For-Food Program


By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS - Former U.S. Federal Reserve (news - web sites) chairman Paul Volcker says his investigation of corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq (news - web sites) found that program director Benon Sevan engaged in "an irreconcilable conflict of interest" by choosing the companies that bought Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s oil.

Volcker's first report, as outlined to The Associated Press by an official close to the investigation and by Volcker himself in an op-ed article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, found the $60 billion program "tainted" from top to bottom.

Volcker said in the article that program managers, auditors, contractors hired to oversee the program's operation and those who controlled U.N. expenditures for it, all failed "to follow the established rules of the organization designed to assure fairness and accountability."

The 219-page report was scheduled to be released by Volcker Thursday afternoon. He personally delivered a copy to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) on Thursday morning and spent about 45 minutes with the U.N. chief.

"We had some discussion of it," Volcker said.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan was "perhaps surprised" by Volcker's decision to preview his findings before giving the secretary-general the report.

"We are currently studying the report," Eckhard said.

Mark Malloch Brown, the secretary-general's new chief of staff, would hold a press conference after the report's release to give Annan's reaction, he said.

The oil-for-food program, launched in December 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, quickly became a lifeline for 90 percent of the population.

Under the program, Saddam's regime could sell oil, provided the proceeds went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites). Saddam's government decided on the goods it wanted, who should provide them, and who could buy Iraqi oil. But the Security Council committee overseeing sanctions monitored the contracts.

The program ended in November 2003, after the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam. Allegations of corruption first surfaced in late 2000, with accusations that the Iraqi leader was putting surcharges on oil sales and pocketing the money.

In January 2004, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada published a list of about 270 former government officials, activists, journalists and U.N. officials from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil sales that were part of the U.N. program. Annan appointed Volcker in April to lead an independent investigation.

Volcker made clear that the committee's intention is to improve the United Nations (news - web sites), not to destroy it, and he applauded Annan for opening the world organization's books, saying "few institutions have freely subjected themselves to the intensity of scrutiny entailed in the committee's work."

The interim report will not address questions about Annan or the employment of his son, Kojo, by the Swiss company, Cotecna Inspection SA, which had a U.N. contract to certify deals under the oil-for-food program.

Critics have raised questions about nepotism and whether Kojo Annan played any role in securing contracts for Cotecna — allegations he denies. Volcker said the investigation of the secretary-general and his son "is well advanced" and the person close to the inquiry told AP that it will be addressed in a separate report later this winter.

Though Sevan has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, Volcker said "the evidence is conclusive that Mr. Sevan, in effectively participating in the selection of purchasers of oil under the program, placed himself in an irreconcilable conflict of interest." This violated both U.N. rules and Sevan's responsibility as an international civil servant, he said.

Volcker did not accuse Sevan of corruption. Annan has said he will lift the diplomatic immunity of any U.N. official if Volcker finds evidence of alleged involvement in criminal activity. Sevan has retired, but remains on the U.N. payroll for $1 a year to help with the investigation.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that Sevan personally intervened to steer lucrative Iraqi oil contracts to Africa Middle East Petroleum, a Swiss-based oil trading company. The contracts could be sold to international traders for a markup of up to 35 cents a barrel, the paper said.

Volcker said the procurement process was "tainted," auditing of the program was "underfunded and undermanned," and its management was "lacking." Perhaps not surprisingly, he said, "political considerations intruded" into procurement.

Last month, Volcker released more than 50 audits of the oil-for-food program carried out by the U.N.'s internal watchdog office, headed by Dileep Nair, who is also expected to be criticized in the report, the official familiar with the investigation said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The audits detail how U.N. agencies working under the oil-for-food program allegedly squandered millions of dollars through suspect overpayment to contractors, mismanagement of purchasing and assets, and fraud by its employees.

In a briefing paper that accompanied the release of the audits, Volcker's Independent Inquiry Committee questioned why the auditors neglected the New York headquarters of the Office of the Iraq Program, which Sevan headed. It said auditors also neglected the oil and humanitarian supplies contracts, and transactions through the program's account at the French bank BNP Paribas.

Investigators say Saddam's government used its control over contracting to corrupt the program.

Expectations that the preliminary report will produce real evidence are high, especially since Volcker has come under intense criticism for comments downplaying his potential findings. He has said he intends to provide a final report around midyear.

Annan told reporters Wednesday the United Nations is already taking measures to strengthen some management practices and will implement Volcker's recommendations, saying there will probably be some "harsh judgments."

He added that he has already asked the General Assembly to review the mandate of the U.N. watchdog office, which was created 10 years ago, "to see how we can strengthen it and give it appropriate authority to do its work."

Bush Plan to Limit Lawsuits Moving Fast

Bush Plan to Limit Lawsuits Moving Fast

Thu Feb 3, 4:50 PM ET

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A fragile compromise that would curb class-action lawsuits and achieve one of President Bush (news - web sites)'s second-term goals survived its first test Thursday when senators foiled attempts to alter the legislation.

But Democrats are hoping to make changes to a bill that many of them would not mind seeing fail.

"This is a bad idea whose time has apparently come," said Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del.

By a 13-5 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee (news - web sites) approved the overall bill, which would send the majority of class-action suits to federal court rather than state courts. The Republican-controlled Senate will consider the measure next week.

Federal courts are assumed to be less likely than state courts to award multimillion-dollar verdicts to people suing big companies.

Supporters will try to get the legislation to the GOP-dominated House, which has agreed to support the bill if it is not substantially changed.

"We have a very sensitive agreement with the House of Representatives on this bill, and if there are amendments it may jeopardize the acquiescence of the House on our bill," said the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa.

Democrats, however, already are preparing amendments, including proposals to raise judges' salaries and let federal judges decide which state's law would apply in multistate suits. Making those changes will break the agreement with the House and kill the bill, Republicans said.

"That would be a poison pill on this bill," said Sen. Jon Kyl (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz.

The president has said that curbing class-action cases a second-term priority. Senators who support the bill say greedy lawyers make more money from these cases than do the actual victims, and that lawyers sometimes threaten companies with legal action just to get quick financial settlements.

"That system is broken and it needs fixing," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "There are too many instances where consumers are getting very little or nothing from their settlements, while companies are not being forced to change the way they do business."

As written, the bill has enough Democratic and Republican support to survive a filibuster attempt in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have agreed not to support major changes.

"If we can succeed in passing a clean bill through the Senate, it is my expectation that the House will act quickly and we can send a bill to the president," Frist said.

House Republican leaders, including Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., will make sure the legislation receives a warm reception if it is not substantially changed, lawmakers said Thursday.

But just in case something happens to the Senate compromise, House Republicans have again introduced their own bill, which they say is tougher than the Senate version.

"If the Senate compromise agreement falls though, then the House is ready to move forward with its legislation," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (news, bio, voting record), R-Va.

Opponents of the bill said it was aimed at helping businesses escape multimillion-dollar judgments for their wrongdoing and would hurt lawyers trying to litigate those cases.

"It benefits the special interests, but I don't see how it benefits the citizens of individual states," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., who tried to get the committee to add the judges' pay provision.

Under the Senate proposal, class-action suits in which the primary defendant and more than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state still would be heard in state court. But if fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state as the primary defendant, the case would go to federal court.

Also, at least $5 million would have to be at stake for a class-action suit to be heard in federal court.


On the Net:

Information on the bill, Senate bill is S. 5, can be found at

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Social Security Makeover Tops Bush Agenda

Social Security Makeover Tops Bush Agenda


By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Trying to build pressure on a wary Congress, President Bush (news - web sites) campaigned Thursday for changes in Social Security (news - web sites) that would combine reduced government benefits for younger workers with "a chance to build a nest egg" through personal accounts.

"We must make Social Security permanently sound, not leave that task for another day," Bush told lawmakers in a State of the Union address Wednesday night that elicited applause from Republicans and audible grumbles from Democrats in the audience.

With success in Congress far from assured, the president boarded Air Force One for a two-day, five-state trip to sell his program. Each state he visits is represented in the Senate by at least one Democrat the administration hopes to sway on Social Security.

Bush's first stop was North Dakota, which he won heavily in last fall's election. Even so, early indications were not so positive this time.

"He's saying we've got to take more money out of Social Security to start private accounts and borrow the money," said Sen. Kent Conrad (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., a target of Bush's travels. "I just think it's very unwise."

Other Democrats said Bush's program could reduce guaranteed government benefits for younger Americans by 40 percent.

Bush offered no information on that point Wednesday night as he outlined his plans in broad strokes. Aides said that by leaving many key details vague, he intended to give GOP congressional leaders room to piece together legislation that can command a majority.

He laid down a few markers, though, saying he will not agree to increase payroll taxes and wants provisions to keep lower-income Americans above the poverty line during retirement.

"We must guarantee that there is no change" in current or promised benefits for anyone age 55 and older, he said in a move to neutralize opposition from older Americans.

In a 53-minute speech, Bush also blended the conservative with the compassionate, and gave no ground on his policy on the war in Iraq (news - web sites) in which more than 1,400 American forces have died.

He renewed his call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and announced an increase in the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions. "Soon I will send Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases," he added.

In an echo of his inaugural address pledge to promote freedom overseas, he called on the government of Iran to "end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

The longest applause was when Bush recognized Janet and Bill Norwood, the parents Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed in the assault of Fallujah. In an emotional and symbolic moment, Mrs. Norwood and Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council, held each other in a long embrace. The Iraqi woman had evoked her own protracted applause earlier when she stood and saluted Congress with an ink-stained finger and V-for-victory sign after the president had introduced her as a symbol of millions of Iraqis who voted in a free election for the first time last Sunday.

Social Security was the centerpiece of the speech, and Bush called for far-reaching changes in a program that was established in 1935 and remains one of the enduring legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress must "strengthen and save" the program, Bush said, warning that without action, it was headed for bankruptcy. Official estimates predict that benefits will exceed tax receipts beginning in 2018. In 2042, these estimates predict the trust funds will be exhausted, and benefits will have to be cut to 73 percent of current levels.

The president noted that a variety of solutions have been proposed over the years — such as limiting benefits for wealthy retirees, raising the retirement age, indexing benefits to prices rather than wages, discouraging early collection of Social Security benefits and changing the ways benefits are calculated — and said all are "on the table."

"I know that none of these reforms would be easy. But we have to move ahead with courage and honesty because our children's retirement security is more important than partisan politics," Bush said.

"He made it clear to the American people why we must strengthen the Social Security system, and gave the American people a realistic plan for how to do it," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said.

"Before the president's opponents get too worked up solely to scare seniors and play politics, I would hope both parties take the details of tonight's speech to heart," added Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Democrats, who argue that Bush is depicting the problems as grimmer than they are, attacked as soon as he finished speaking.

"There's a lot we can do to improve Americans' retirement security, but it's wrong to replace the guaranteed benefit that Americans have earned with a guaranteed benefit cut of 40 percent or more," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who delivered his party's formal response along with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi, referring to Bush's travels over the next few days, said that "When the president goes out there to beat the drum for his privatization to undermine Social Security, I think he will be greeted throughout the country by people who are affected by it every day of their lives."

In addition to North Dakota, Bush had Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas and Florida on his itinerary.

As Bush predicted, changing Social Security won't be easy. Neither the House nor the Senate has announced a schedule for hearings or drafting legislation, and there is lingering unease among some Republicans fearful of political repercussions.

The AARP, a powerful advocacy group for Americans age 50 and over, renewed its opposition to a key feature of Bush's plan.

According to officials who were briefed in private by the administration, the guaranteed Social Security benefit would be cut for all workers under 55, more so for those who decide to establish a personal account than for others.

After a brief phase in, younger workers could invest two-thirds of their payroll taxes in the new personal accounts. They would be required to purchase an investment guaranteed to keep their income above the federal poverty level during retirement.
Bill's Commentary:

To begin, I am all for the President's plan to privatize a small portion of what we pay in our Social Security taxes (FICA on your pay stub). It will only be about four percent to begin, with gradual increases over time. To put it in laymen's terms for all of you simple-minded liberal nitwits, it will run similar to a IRA or 401(k) plan. The rate of return, under this plan, will be at least twice as better as the status quo.

Regarding the Democratic Party response, it is still the anti-Bush thing going on and on. The main reason why they are against it is because it will be less money for the folks down in Washington to waste. All they can do is attack, smear, and scare certain folks; but, do you ever notice that they almost never have a solution, other than keeping the status quo the way it is? They want to hold the President "accountable"? Go for it. At least this President will hold himself accountable, unlike the prior regime.

Here is the bottom line for Social Security. If the Democratic-controlled Congress from the 1950's to 1995 had not have borrowed from the Social Security Fund to pay for useless pork barrel projects, handouts, and LBJ's "The Great Society" concept, Social Security would not be in this state. Something has to be done to remedy this situation. The sooner this can get through both chambers of Congress and obtain the President's signature, the brighter the outlook will be.

Crichton best-seller stokes fire over global warming

Crichton best-seller stokes fire over global warming


WASHINGTON (AFP) - Michael Crichton, author of "Jurassic Park," and his newest book cast doubt the danger of global warming, an issue dividing scientists and politicians around the world.

Just one month after being published, Crichton's suspense-packed, 600-page "State of Fear" has already climbed to the top of US best-seller lists.

However, the book has also thrust itself into a scientific and political debate, unusual for a work of fiction.

And its notoriety should only grow as world climate specialists gather in England in early February to hash out the latest studies on global warming, which are expected to offer further evidence that the Earth is overheating.

Crichton is the author of more than a dozen best-sellers, which have sold over 100 million copies in 30 languages worldwide. He is also the creator of the international hit television hospital drama series "E.R."

Into "State of Fear," he has packed all the classic ingredients of the thriller genre: action, suspense, sex and greed.

But he adds a twist by choosing as his villain an organization ostensibly dedicated to environmental protection.

To convince people of the threat of global warming and to attract more money, the organization itself turns terrorist, plotting man-made "natural" catastrophes like a tsunami or the breakoff of a giant iceberg in the Antarctic.

The book's hero is lawyer Peter Evans, who starts out on the side of the environmentalists until being convinced they are extremists, and who then helps to block their schemes.

What also makes "State of Fear" different, for a thriller, are the factual footnotes and graphic illustrations, which Crichton offers the reader to show that the threat of global warming is exaggerated. Crichton further defends his views in a separate appendix.

"Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon. Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made. Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century", he writes.

Although Crichton insists he has no political agenda, the book closely parallels the views of the administration of US President George W. Bush (news - web sites), which also has dismissed scientific reports of global warming and has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (news - web sites) against climate change.

Some Bush administration supporters have latched onto Crichton's book as support for this position. Republican Senator James Inhofe has declared that "State of Fear" gives "the true story" of global warming.

Influential conservative columnist George Will likewise said that the book's "millions of readers" will from now on greet reports of natural catastrophes with sharp skepticism.

Speaking on January 28 to a full house at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think-tank, Crichton said he was "very disturbed" by what he learned during three years of researching his book.

He said he regretted "how science is being manipulated by political motivations," how scientific studies are accepted without proof, and how the media prefers alarmism to fact.

Unsurprisingly, scientists have leaped to their defense to denounce Crichton's views. Some of those consulted by Crichton during his research have accused the author of distorting their work to create "science fiction."

"Like the recent movie 'The Day after Tomorrow,' the novel addresses real scientific issues and controversies, but is similarly selective (and occasionally mistaken) about the basic science," said Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute and the website, which reports and reviews research on global warming.

Right or wrong on the science, Crichton can be certain of the outcome of his plunge into the global warming debate: an increase in his fame and, with the book already in fourth place in the New York Times best-seller list, a fattening of his bank account.