Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lawyers Group Criticizes Surveillance Program

The American Bar Association denounced President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program yesterday, accusing him of exceeding his powers under the Constitution.

The nation's largest organization of lawyers adopted a policy opposing any future government use of electronic surveillance in the United States for foreign intelligence purposes without first obtaining warrants from a special court set up under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The 400,000-member ABA, based in Chicago, said that if the president believes the FISA is inadequate to protect Americans, he should ask Congress to amend the act.

Bush and his administration have defended the warrantless eavesdropping, saying it is needed to fill a gap in U.S. security and is allowable under both the president's constitutional powers and the congressional measure authorizing him to go to war in September 2001.

Business-Backed Group Calls Unions Outdated

A new anti-union group backed by U.S. businesses began a multimillion-dollar campaign attacking the organized labor movement as corrupt and outdated.

The Center for Union Facts took out full-page advertisements in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post yesterday and put a 15-foot dinosaur outside the Washington headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation.

"The way unions are presently structured is often anachronistic," said lobbyist Rick Berman, who started the group. "They don't want to recognize that the world has moved on. Management isn't treating employees like they were in the 1930s or '40s. Unions don't have anything to sell anymore."

The creation of the center comes as labor groups have scored recent victories in getting companies to pay higher wages and provide more health care benefits. In Maryland last month, labor groups won passage of a law that will require Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big companies to fund workers' health care.

"It's no accident that this new group is forming at a time when the AFL-CIO is launching efforts for health care measures in 30 states," AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane Windham said.

U.S. to Protect Makers Of Bird Flu Vaccines

The government will not wait for bird flu to hit U.S. shores before granting liability protections to vaccine manufacturers and others that make products needed to battle a pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said.

He said the administration will soon enter into contracts for bird flu vaccine, rapid tests to detect the virus and technology that would make available vaccine go further.

In December, Congress gave Leavitt the authority to grant liability waivers in a public health emergency. Under the waivers, people injured by a vaccine against bird flu would have to prove willful misconduct to bring a claim for damages. Critics have said that such a high threshold would make it almost impossible for people injured by a drug to file a lawsuit.

Leavitt said it is possible that vaccine manufacturers would want the extra protection before conducting clinical trials.

Bird flu has killed at least 88 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003.

-- From News Services

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