Freedom of Information Act: Fight Over Changes

From the AP:

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday there is broad support for a bill to create a panel to study the federal Freedom of Information Act, but real reforms could run into trouble.

The bill, sponsored by Cornyn and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, would create a 16-member panel that would recommend ways to speed information requests. The bill passed committee March 17 and was sent to the Senate floor for debate.

Cornyn said his colleagues haven’t been so accepting of legislation that puts teeth in the 1966 act.

The measure would create an ombudsman to settle records disputes, which are currently resolved in court, with the Justice Department defending the agencies.

It would also require agencies to give people seeking documents a tracking number within 10 days and to set up telephone or Internet systems allowing them to learn the status and estimated completion date. Agencies that didn’t respond within 20 days would lose many of the exemptions to FOIA requests, and could be forced to pay attorney fees.

There are currently no penalties for agencies that fail to respond in 20 days.

Cornyn said even if the reform bill doesn’t get support, creating the advisory panel is a good place to start.

Bush Administration Absolved Of Manipulating Intelligence

From the Associated Press:

In a scathing report, a presidential commission said Thursday that America’s spy agencies were “dead wrong” in most of their judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the war and that the United States knows “disturbingly little” about the threats posed by many of the nation’s most dangerous adversaries.

The report implicitly absolves the administration of manipulating the intelligence used to launch the 2003 Iraq war, putting the blame for bad intelligence directly on the intelligence community.

Amazingly on Canada.com Katherine Schroder writes an article quoting the same source leaving the above paragraph out. The headline reads: ââÅBush administration chastised as ‘dead wrong’ by panel on prewar intelligence on Iraqââ?. Another fine example of Canadian journalism.

“The daily intelligence briefings given to you before the Iraq war were flawed,” it said. “Through attention-grabbing headlines and repetition of questionable data, these briefings overstated the case that Iraq was rebuilding its WMD programs.”

On al-Qaeda, the commission found that the intelligence community was surprised by the terrorist network’s advances in biological weapons, particularly a virulent strain of a disease that the report keeps secret, identifying it only as “Agent X.”

The report urged Bush to give more authority to Negroponte, his new director of national intelligence, overseeing all of the nation’s 15 spy agencies.

“It won’t be easy to provide this leadership to the intelligence components of the Defense Department or to the CIA,” the commissioners said. “They are some of the government’s most headstrong agencies. Sooner or later, they will try to run around âââ or over âââ the DNI. Then, only your determined backing will convince them that we cannot return to the old ways,” the commission told Bush.

Read the full Article here

Judge Blocks Rule Cutting Seniors Benefits

Taken from an article in the NY Times dated March 30th:

A federal district judge on Wednesday blocked a Bush administration rule that would have allowed employers to reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they reach age 65 and become eligible for Medicare,

The judge, Anita B. Brody of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia, struck down the rule and issued a permanent injunction that prohibits federal officials from enforcing it.

The rule “is contrary to Congressional intent and the plain language of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” the 1967 law that bans most forms of age discrimination in the workplace, Judge Brody wrote.

The rule would have created an explicit exemption to the age discrimination law, allowing employers to reduce health benefits for retirees when they became eligible for Medicare. Under the rule, Judge Brody said, employers could have given older retirees “health benefits that are inferior” to those given retirees younger than 65.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that employers were more likely to continue providing health benefits to retirees under 65 if they were allowed to reduce or eliminate benefits for those 65 and older.

AARP, the main plaintiff in the case, rejected that argument. It said the rule would accelerate the erosion of retiree health benefits, a trend that has been evident for more than a decade.

Judge Brody rejected that contention. The commission, she said, was trying to “issue a blanket exemption for illegal behavior,” not confined to a few individual cases. “An administrative agency, including the E.E.O.C., may not issue regulations, rules or exemptions that go against the intent of Congress,” she added.

The law clearly forbids employers to discriminate on the basis of age in setting pay and employee benefits, Judge Brody said. And the law, as interpreted by the appeals court, “prohibits the practice of coordinating retiree benefits with Medicare eligibility,” she said.

Lawyers said the ruling would apply to companies that give health benefits to early retirees and want to reduce coverage when the retirees reach 65 and become eligible for Medicare. Employer-provided health benefits do not duplicate Medicare. Rather, they help retirees pay medical expenses not covered by Medicare. Those expenses could include co-payments and deductibles and prescription drug costs, beyond what Medicare might pay.

Michele Pollak, a lawyer at AARP, said, “It is less expensive for employers to purchase a health plan that supplements Medicare than it is to purchase health benefits for younger retirees not eligible for Medicare.”

The American Benefits Council, a trade group for large employers, and the HR Policy Association, which represents human resource executives at 250 large companies, said they were disappointed with Judge Brody’s decision.

Daniel V. Yager, senior vice president of the association, said the ruling was “a major setback for many employers that are trying to maintain employer-provided benefits for pre-65 retirees.”

I get the feeling we are going to here allot about social Security and Medicare over the next few years.

Terri Schiavo Has Died

Breaking News:

Family representatives confirm brain-damaged woman passed away in Florida hospice; parents were denied access to daughter’s bedside in final hours.

That is all there is right now.

Bible Unconstitutional!

The Supreme Court of Colorado has decided that looking to the bible for moral guidance in deciding the death penalty is unconstitutional; so a murdering rapist gets life.

You can read a very well written column on the Three Bad Fingers Blog.

U.S. Develops Space Weapons

The Pentagon is developing weapons for space.

Analyzing the proposed Pentagon fiscal 2006 budget just sent to Congress, Hitchens and her colleagues pointed to $60.9 million for an experimental XXS spacecraft whose “micro-satellite payloads” could attack enemy satellites. Another $68 million is earmarked for a Near Field Infrared Experiment that would use infrared technology to disable enemy satellite transmissions.

Pentagon officials make no secret that they are working on new defensive systems to protect the nation’s satellites.

On March 1, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed a new National Defense Strategy paper that said the use of space “enables us to project power anywhere in the world from secure bases of operation.” A key goal of Rumsfeld’s new strategy is “to ensure our access to and use of space and to deny hostile exploitation of space to adversaries.”

The Pentagon is developing a suborbital space capsule that could hit targets anywhere in the world within two hours of being launched from U.S. bases. It also is developing systems that could attack potential enemy satellites, destroying them or temporarily preventing them from sending signals.

One system under development would be able to identify a ground station or satellite interfering with U.S. satellites, so that it could be destroyed.

As another defensive measure, the United States last October announced deployment of its first mobile, ground-based system that can temporarily disrupt communications from an enemy satellite. The Counter Communications System uses electromagnetic radio frequency energy to silence transmissions from a satellite in a way that is reversible. Two more units are due later this year.

Title IX Expanded

WASHINGTON, March 29 – A sharply divided Supreme Court expanded the reach of the landmark Title IX anti-discrimination law today, ruling that it protects people from retaliation when they complain about sex bias against others.

“Reporting incidents of discrimination is integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for a 5-4 majority.

For those that do not remember what title 9 is, it makes equality of sports availability to women in schools excepting federal funds. This caused a host of male sports programs to be closed to provide vacancies for womenâââs sports. Regardless whether anyone was interested in watching or donating to the school for said sports. It is another example of quoata systems run amok. Due to this law numerous male students lost their sports scholarships to college.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent that was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy. Asserting that “retaliatory conduct is not discrimination on the basis of sex,” the dissenters said the majority was going against the court’s own precedents.

“We require Congress to speak unambiguously in imposing conditions on funding recipients through its spending power,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Justice Ginsburg asked just how often the Office of Civil Rights had investigated complaints in Birmingham.

Twice in 20 years, a lawyer for the Birmingham school board replied.

“Two in 20 years?” Justice Ginsburg replied, perhaps tellingly.

Today’s ruling is not an automatic victory for Mr. Jackson. His suit is now remanded to the lower courts, where to prevail he will have to prove that the school board in fact did retaliate against him because he had complained of sex discrimination.

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