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FBI To Probe Possible Katrina Relief Wrongdoing March 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, US News.
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NEW YORK (Dow Jones)–The FBI office in New Orleans will investigate possible improprieties in the distribution of millions of dollars’ worth of Red Cross relief supplies, according to the bureau’s New Orleans chief, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Red Cross has already dismissed three volunteers in connection with the accusations, which center on charges that supplies were improperly diverted, felons were hired in the relief effort, and the organization’s rules were not followed.

Jim Bernazzani, special agent in charge in New Orleans for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the case would be investigated by the Katrina Fraud Task Force, a consolidated group of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies charged with looking into abuses in the continuing relief effort, the Times said.

Rice Raises Iran Sanctions Issue With UN Body March 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, US News, World News.
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NEW YORK (Dow Jones)–U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the prospect of sanctions against Iran in a meeting Thursday with members of the U.N. Secuirty Council, a spokesman said, the New York Times reported in its Friday editions.

The prospect wasn’t detailed in a briefing to reporters, the Times said.

China and Russia Thursday said they were opposed to sanctions against Iran for its development of a nuclear program. Rice raised the sanctions issue in meetings in Germany with the other four permanent member of the U.N. Security Council – China, Russia, the U.K. and France. Germany also is attending those meetings.

On Thursday, U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the Security Council could impose sanctions on Iran should it fail to halt its uranium enrichment program, the BBC reported.

In a briefing to reporters, the U.S. State Department official – who was not identified – said several nations supported the notion of unspecified sanctions after Rice raised the issue, the Times reported. He did not identify those nations.

Also on Thursday, the U.N.’s atomic energy chief, Mohammed ElBaradei, urged nations to reject sanctions against Iran, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Rice Says US Has No Desire To Be The World’s Jailer March 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, US News.
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BLACKBURN, England (AP)–Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that the U.S. has no desire to be the world’s jailer, but suggested that it is reluctant to release prisoners from Guantanamo Bay until it is certain they pose no threat.

Her host, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, announced last week that the U.K. would take up the case of a U.K. resident who is held at the Cuban base. Previously, the U.K. would only take up the cases of citizens, and won the release of all nine Britons.

“We want the terrorists that we capture to stand trial for their crimes,” Rice said in a speech at Ewood Park in Blackburn.

“But we also recognize that we are fighting a new kind of war, and that our citizens will judge us harshly if we release a captured terrorist before we are absolutely certain that he does not possess information that could prevent a future attack or, even worse, if we meet that terrorist again on the battlefield.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair has avoided criticizing the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, merely calling it “an anomaly” that eventually must end.

US House Takes Up Bill Limiting Fundraising Of Nonprofit Political Groups March 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Main.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The House next week will take up a bill to constrict the money-raising ability of nonprofit political groups that emerged as a substantial force in the 2004 presidential election.

The bill to require groups known as 527s to register as political committees and abide by contribution limits is likely to meet resistance from Democrats, who in 2004 relied on 527s as a key source of financing.

“I will strongly oppose it,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

The decision by GOP leaders to bring up the 527 bill separately could make it easier for the House and Senate to reach a compromise on lobbying and ethics legislation working its way through Congress.

The Senate on Wednesday led the response to recent lobbying scandals by passing legislation that would ban lobbyists from giving gifts and meals to lawmakers and require lobbyists to disclose more about their contacts with legislators. Lawmakers would have to get approval before taking privately funded trips and file reports when they travel on private corporate jets.

Senators from both parties warned against complicating the lobbying bill by combining it with controversial campaign finance issues, including that of 527s, but House GOP leaders have backed making that part of their package.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said that could still happen. “We’re still trying to determine how at the end of the day we will put this together.”

On Wednesday a U.S. District judge ruled, in a case brought by President Bush’s campaign and lawmakers, that the Federal Election Commission had failed to give a reasoned explanation for its decision not to issue rules requiring 527s — named after the section of the tax code that covers them — to register as federal political action committees. That would subject them to the same fundraising, spending and disclosure rules as PACs must follow.

The judge did not say that the FEC had abused its discretion, and he did not order it to develop rules for their fundraising and spending. However, he told the commission to “articulate its reasoning” or write a rule for the groups “if necessary.”

The House bill is expected to be based on legislation offered by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., partners in sponsoring the 2002 campaign finance act that banned national party committees and federal candidates from raising unlimited corporate and union donations.

Shays, who disagreed with most of his Republican colleagues in backing the 2002 act, criticized Pelosi and other Democrats who oppose his 527 bill. “There’s no defense for saying you are for campaign finance reform and then not voting to close a loophole, except blatant partisan politics.”

The Shays-Meehan bill would limit to $5,000 per year what an individual can give to a federal political committee to influence federal elections. The ceiling is $25,000 for nonfederal funds to pay for voter mobilization and public communication activities.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, at a news conference Thursday, said nonprofit group spending had become “a gaping loophole” in the law. “To have all of this unregulated campaign cash going to these organizations and allowing them to engage in campaign activities without any disclosure is wrong,” he said.

The nonpartisan Political Money Line, a campaign finance tracking service, found that in the 2004 election groups supporting Sen. John Kerry or opposing President Bush raised $266 million, including multimillion-dollar donations from wealthy businessmen such as George Soros. Anti-Kerry, pro-Bush groups, most prominently the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that questioned Kerry’s Vietnam war record, raised $144 million.

Pelosi said it was “the height of hypocrisy” that the Republicans were trying to limit 527s but were not restricting trade associations and other business groups exempt from some rules applying to political committees.

“If they are going to do it, just do it across the board,” she said.

Pentagon To Test “Gigantic” Conventional Bomb In Nevada March 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, Military News, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada’s desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive – the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site – as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.

The test, code-named “Divine Strake,” will occur on June 2 about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in a high desert valley bounded by mountains, according to Pentagon and Energy Department officials.

“This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing,” said James A. Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is conducting the test.

The test is aimed at determining how well a massive conventional bomb would perform against fortified underground targets – such as military headquarters, biological or chemical weapons stockpiles, and long-range missiles – that the Pentagon says are proliferating among potential adversaries around the world.

Tegnelia said there is a range of technical hurdles to overcome. He suggested that big conventional bombs are unlikely to solve the overall problem of buried threats. “It’s a lot easier to dig your tunnel 50 feet deeper” than to develop weapons that can destroy it, he told a meeting of defense reporters.

Such a bomb would be a conventional alternative to a nuclear weapon proposed by the Bush administration, which has run into opposition on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon for several years has sought funding for research into the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) – also known as the “bunker buster” – after the administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review stated that no weapon in the U.S. arsenal could threaten a growing number of buried targets. Congress, however, has repeatedly refused to grant funding for a study on a nuclear bunker buster, instead directing money toward conventional alternatives.

The June test will detonate 700 tons of heavy ammonium nitrate-fuel oil emulsion – creating a blast equivalent to 593 tons of TNT – in a 36-foot-deep hole near a tunnel in the center of the Nevada Test Site, according to official reports. It aims to allow scientists to model the type of ground shock that will be created, and to weigh the effectiveness of such a weapon against its collateral impact.

“To my knowledge, this will be the largest open-air chemical explosion that we’ve conducted,” said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the Energy Department’s test site. Larger blasts have been carried out at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, including the nation’s biggest open-air detonation, in 1985, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

The blast is not likely to be felt or heard outside the 1,375-square-mile test site, and the cloud of dust is expected to dissipate quickly from view, Morgan said. “They don’t think people will see it in the base camp on the south end of the test site,” he said.

Officials took pains to differentiate between the June conventional experiment and past nuclear testing. “The U.S. has no plans to conduct a nuclear test. President Bush supports a continued moratorium on nuclear testing,” said Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The Pentagon agency is charged with countering threats to the United States from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

On a related topic, Tegnelia said the State Department and the Pentagon are developing a proposal for a $100 million effort to help Libya get rid of tons of mustard gas and some precursor chemicals being stored in the Libyan desert. “The Libyans requested some support” from the U.S. government, and a DTRA team has visited Libya to consider various options for eliminating the weapons, he said.