Wednesday, March 23, 2005

News in the Times that you may or may not hear about as the constant chatter on one topic goes on

Moving quickly through this morning's Times. Alan Cowell has "Blair Is Trying for New Spark Among Disenchanted Voters." From that article:

Prime Minister Tony Blair went on daytime television recently, seeking to lure voters back to his Labor Party for elections that are expected in early May. What he found, though, was that some Britons at least have begun to question his leadership, entertaining the once unthinkable prospect of life without him.
Marion Baxter, a nurse, asked him, point blank, if he would be prepared to clean patients' backsides for $9 an hour. On another issue, Maria Hutchings, a homemaker, advanced on him across the studio, proclaiming, "That's rubbish, Tony." Debra Kroll, a midwife, told him, "We asked you not to go to war," and demanded an apology for invading Iraq. (He did not give one.)
Buoyant and seemingly invincible, Mr. Blair swept to power in 1997 vowing to "rebrand" Britain. But lately, his star has fallen as he has thrashed through one political thicket after another, from the highly unpopular war in Iraq to nitty-gritty issues like the number of hospital beds for surgery and failing schools.
Few people here think that Mr. Blair and Labor are headed for defeat in the end.

[. . .]
In simplest terms, Mr. Blair and the British electorate just are not getting along the way they used to, a fact he acknowledged recently.
"All of a sudden," he told a Labor party conference in February, "there you are, the British people thinking, 'You're not listening.' And I think, 'You're not hearing me.' "

Steven R. Weisman has "U.S. Seeks Israeli Clarification on Settlement Expansion Plans:"

The Bush administration, expressing muted concern about Israeli plans to build new housing outside Jerusalem, said Tuesday that two top envoys would seek "clarifications" on whether the action contradicted American policy opposing an expansion of "settlement activity" in the West Bank.
[. . .]
On Monday, the Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed plans to build 3,500 housing units in a large settlement of 30,000 residents in the West Bank in an area east of Jerusalem known as Maale Adumim. About 220,000 Israeli settlers live in disputed areas of the West Bank, Gaza and areas outside Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders denounced the Israeli plans as a violation of the Middle East peace plan known as the road map, which calls for a freeze on settlement expansion, along with Palestinian steps to dismantle groups accused of terrorist attacks.

Especially note Eric Lichtblau's "Coalition Forms to Oppose Parts of Antiterrorism Law:"

Battle lines were drawn Tuesday in the debate over the government's counterterrorism powers, as an unlikely coalition of liberal civil-rights advocates, conservative libertarians, gun-rights supporters and medical privacy advocates voiced their objections to crucial parts of the law that expanded those powers after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Keeping the law intact "will do great and irreparable harm" to the Constitution by allowing the government to investigate people's reading habits, search their homes without notice and pry into their personal lives, said Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who is leading the coalition.
Mr. Barr voted for the law, known as the USA Patriot Act, in the House just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks but has become one of its leading critics, a shift that reflects the growing unease among some conservative libertarians over the expansion of the government's powers in fighting terrorism.
He joined with other conservatives as well as the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday in announcing the creation of the coalition, which hopes to curtail some of the law's more sweeping law-enforcement provisions.

This is a news story that effects us all. Whether or not it will manage to be heard over the incessant coverage of the woman in Flordia is anyone's guess.

How important is it? We'll reproduce the entire ACLU press release on it:

WASHINGTON -The American Civil Liberties Union said today that it has joined forces with the several conservative organizations to fix the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act, some of which are scheduled to "sunset," or expire, at the end of the year. Former Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, will chair the new group, "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances," which includes Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union and others.
"Commitment to America’s freedoms transcends any political ideology," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The Patriot Act went too far, too fast, and now is the time to determine what freedoms have been unnecessarily lost in the name of national security. Now is the time for Congress to restore those freedoms."
The new organization is urging Congress to thoroughly review the most intrusive and constitutionally suspect provisions of the Patriot Act. Specifically, the act allows federal agents to gather highly personal information -- including library, medical and gun purchase records-- without criminal suspicion, permits secret searches of homes and businesses with indefinite notification, and expands the definition of domestic terrorism to potentially include political protest.
"Checks and balances are absolutely essential, even and especially during times of threat," Barr said. "Our message is universal: liberty is not divisible, even in the face of terrorism, and we must not allow any part of it to be sacrificed in our efforts to defeat acts of terrorism."
The growing list of member organizations includes -- in addition to the ACLU, the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Free Congress Foundation, the American Policy Center, Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the Second Amendment Foundation and the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons.
Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances is also asking that President Bush reexamine his continued calls for a full reauthorization of the Patriot Act. A letter will be sent today from the member organizations to the president asking that he be open to a true dialogue on the Patriot Act, and areas where it can be brought in line with the Constitution while giving law enforcement agencies the tools that they need. The letter is signed not only by the member organizations, but also by Citizen Outreach, Private Citizen and the Republican Liberty Caucus, and others.
Murphy pointed to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission report which said that "the burden of proof for retaining a particular government power should be on the executive, to explain (a) that the power actually materially enhances security and (b) that there is adequate supervision of the executive's use of the powers to ensure protection of civil liberties. If the power is granted, there must be adequate guidelines and oversight to properly confine its use."
The president’s own advisors have indicated that there is room for discussion about how the Patriot Act can be fine-tuned. Addressing the National Association of Counties earlier this month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the goal of the Patriot Act should be "to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep America safe, while honoring our values and our Constitution." Last week, Fran Townsend, the White House homeland security advisor, said, "In the debate over the Patriot Act, we often hear about that delicate balance that we rightly must make between freedom and security. I value that debate. The president values that debate."
"The White House and its allies accuse critics of the Patriot Act of engaging in ‘empty rhetoric’ about our legitimate concerns," Murphy added. "Yet, when pressed for why the Patriot Act can’t be modified to give law enforcement the tools they need and preserve our commitment to privacy and freedom, we hear nothing. America deserves better than a ‘trust us, we’re the government’ retort from its leaders. The ACLU and Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances are ready to engage in a true dialogue about the issues. We hope that the president and the attorney general will join us at the table."
The ACLU noted that pro-civil liberties resolutions have been passed in 375 communities in 43 states, including the state legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and New Hampshire. Most of the resolutions call upon Congress to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution. These communities represent approximately 56.2 million people.

This is important. Weigh in on it at if you're so inclined because this is a story that should be a major news story because it effects us all and yet we probably will hear very little about this.

I'll plug the Bill of Rights Defense Committee again (and disclose that I have worked with them on issues as a volunteer). Please visit the site if you're interested in your liberties.

Here's another under the radar story, Tamar Lewin's "U.S. Rule on Women's Sports May Ease College Compliance:"

In a move that could make it easier for colleges to show that their sports offerings for women comply with law, the Education Department has quietly issued a new clarification of the regulations interpreting Title IX, the statute barring sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal financing.
[. . .]
"The new guidance changes the whole landscape," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "It's like you have three ways to comply, and first is to really comply by giving equal opportunities, and the second way is to keep trying, and the third way is to call your mother every week and tell her you love women's sports. They've made the third test so easy to comply with and so undemanding, and then set up the presumption that if you do the window-dressing efforts they call for, the government will presume you are in compliance and not investigate."
Ms. Greenberger described the new guidance as "a brazen effort" to skirt government policies and the requirements of court decisions "that have long been in place."

Monica Davey raises the issue Luke raised to the community last night in "Behind the Why of a Rampage, Loner With a Taste for Nazism."

Billie draws our attention to David Barstow's "Foundry Pleads Guilty to Environmental Crimes."

A foundry owned by McWane Inc., a major manufacturer of cast iron sewer and water pipe, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to committing environmental crimes in Tyler, Tex. The foundry, Tyler Pipe, was fined $4.5 million, placed on probation for five years and required to spend an estimated $12 million on plant upgrades.
[. . .]
"This is the third criminal prosecution of McWane in the last 16 months, and the first time that McWane has pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for criminal conduct," said David M. Uhlmann, chief of the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department.
At a court hearing in Tyler, the company admitted two felony offenses. It said it knowingly violated the Clear Air Act by making major modifications at Tyler Pipe without installing the necessary air pollution controls. The company also acknowledged that it knowingly made false statements to environmental regulators.

Billie: Whether anyone bothers to comment on radio or TV, this is a big story. As someone who has family in Tyler, I drive there twice a month. You leave I-20, go south on Highway 69 to enter Tyler and in the process you have to pass Tyler Pipe. It's been there for years. It always stinks. But in the last few years, I don't just take a deep breath before I pass and exhale as soon as I've passed (not easy since they have a stop light right at the end of the plant), now I have to roll up the windows and I'm still coughing. This is news. Real news. And it should be covered.

Please note, we won't highlight anything on the case that's reached oversaturation. Members say they don't want it. (I don't either.) So if something that's usually cited isn't mentioned here, don't think we're ignoring them or angry with them. We just don't care about hearing that story that everyone else is covering.

Also, we will have two Women's History Month Notes later today. I had problems with Luke's entry posting and also was transcribing Sam Seder & Janeane Garofalo's interview with Randy Cohen. Add in that I wasn't thrilled that two items yesterday had to do with the case that no one will stop talking about and I finally just called it a night. My apologies.

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