Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dems want inquiry into Mattabassett lobbying

NEW BRITAIN – Majority Leader Phil Sherwood said Friday that he would like to see an inquiry into the possibility that Mayor Timothy Stewart may have improperly tried to steer contracts.

Sherwood said Mattabassett District Chairman William Candelori is alleging Stewart lobbied for The Maguire Group, a New Britain engineering firm bidding on a project to design the district’s future upgraded facility. The project, originally bid out at $80 million is now estimated to be approaching nearly $100 million.

Sherwood said Candelori told him Maguire was near the bottom of the list in the choice for contractors. The district commissioners, over which the mayor holds no control, eventually awarded the contract to the New Hampshire firm, Wright-Pierce.

"Even knowing that, the mayor continued to lobby for that [Maguire]," Sherwood said. "We have an accusation of contract steering. We have an obligation not only to look at any new evidence regarding Candelori, but we have a serious obligation to look at this accusation of contact steering."

Stewart called the allegation another attempt to smear him in order to keep someone convicted of a crime, but friendly to local Democrats, in a powerful position.

"I don’t have anything to do with the decision of the Mattabassett board," Stewart said. "My problem with Mr. Candelori is that he is not the right person to be in that position."

Alderman and Minority Leader Louis Salvio also has questioned whether Candelori should be allowed to stay in his current position. Although appointed to a third term earlier this month by the Democratic majority on the council, Stewart vetoed the appointment on the grounds of "ethical lapses."

It was recently learned Candelori had been named as a current defendant in an alleged fraud case involving Sovereign Bank v. Michael Thomas, former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council. In 1992 Candelori pleaded guilty to tax evasion after the collapse of Colonial Realty, a multi-million dollar investment scheme. The collapse, which cost Connecticut investors hundreds of millions of dollars, also saw guilty verdicts against Jon Googel, a Colonial founder and Kevin Sisti, the son of a Colonial founder. The New Britain Herald recently obtained court records on the Sovereign Bank civil case showing Candelori, Googel and Sisti all were involved in a land deal.

Sherwood said Friday that new information about Candelori’s alleged involvement in a fraud case was important.

"It’s very important that the council take ethics and the public interest very seriously in this case but it’s also important not to assume guilt," Sherwood said.

Sherwood said he didn’t understand why Candelori was being scrutinized when the city is known to have done business with contractors like the Tomasso Group, with the full knowledge that William Tomasso was convicted of a crime, or the Manafort Brothers, who Sherwood said also had an employee imprisoned.

"All who happen to be Republicans," Sherwood said Candelori told him.

Asked if it made a difference because Candelori was appointed by the city to his position, Sherwood said he did not see a connection.

‘It doesn’t look good to be associated with similar people who were involved 20 years ago, but that being said, I don’t think we should be buying into guilt by association," Sherwood said. "This isn’t China."

Oprah, Health Care Lobbyists, Among Recent Visitors to White House

ABC's Rachel Martin reports: Oprah Winfrey, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Texas oilman turned wind energy guru, T. Boone Pickens - those are just some of the hundreds of names included on a new batch of White House visitor logs made public yesterday.

The White House says releasing the visitors’ lists is in keeping with the Obama administration’s promise for transparency and accountability and its pledge to be the first administration to start posting all White House visitor records. They are releasing the information in batches. Last month, nearly 500 records were made public. Yesterday they posted more than 1,600 records of visits to the White House, covering the period from January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first day in office) to August 31st, 2009.

The records reveal a large number of visits by people involved at the highest levels of the debate over health care reform, including top industry lobbyists, lawmakers and key stakeholders. Among the most notable guests – the president of the AMA, Dr. James Rohack, chief executive of AARP, Barry Rand and Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel’s brother and a medical ethicist and special advisor to the White House on health care.

According to the Associated Press’ count, the most frequent visitor was Lee Sachs, the man at the Treasury Department tapped to grapple with the financial crisis.

Lawmakers move to legalise lobbying

Nigerians and corporate organisations sponsoring the Private Members Bill through senators and representatives may soon have legal grounds upon which they can influence the passage of such Bills at the National Assembly.

A Bill aimed at legalising lobbying has been introduced into the House of Representatives. It is titled: “A Bill for An Act to provide for the Regulation and Registration of Lobbyists in Nigeria and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.” The bill is sponsored by Chukwudi Eze (PDP, Imo) and 37 others, but its critics say it will engender corruption.

According to the Bill, a copy of which was obtained by NEXT, lobbyists would be registered by the federal government before they can carry out their business at the federal legislature.

Section 1 of the Bill says: ‘A person may carry on business as a lobbyist in the National Assembly if he is (a) a member of a company duly registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act to carry out the business as such (b) In addition to section 1 (a) above, the person shall register with the Federal Ministry of Justice to practice as a lobbyist in either the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or in both Houses.” The Bill requires any person intending to be a lobbyist to deposit some money, to be determined by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, subject to any regulation made by the President.

Upon receipt of the application and prescribed deposit, the Attorney General of the Federation, through a Director in his office to be called Registrar would be required to consider the suitability or otherwise of the applicant, subject to the provision of section 1 of the Bill.

However, it forbids lawmakers, staff of the National Assembly and diplomats from applying as lobbyists while still in office.

Section 11 says that “The Bill does not apply to any of the following person - when acting in their official capacity - * A member of the Senate or House of Representatives * A staff of the National Assembly,

* An employee of the Nigerian government or the Government of another state * Diplomatic agent, consular officers or representatives in Nigeria of a foreign government.

The US, UK Example

Lobbying in the United States targets the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and state legislatures.

There are also lobbyists in the 50 states’ legislatures. Lobbying began between 1869 and 1977 during President Ulysses Grant’s administration.

As at today, there are about 17,000 federal lobbyists in Washington, DC. The lobbyists are employed by lobbying and law firms; though some others are employed by trade associations, companies, state and local governments.

A day after he was inaugurated, US President, Barack Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential memoranda to help ensure that his administration was open, transparent and accountable.

Only seven months ago, a Recovery Act Lobbying Rules set new limits on special interest influence.

In the United Kingdom, the lobbying industry is growing, with about 14,000 people in the business. It was estimated to be worth £1.9 billion. Some members of parliament in that country are reportedly approached over 100 times a week by lobbyists.

Uneasy Critics

However, criticisms have trailed the plan to introduce lobbying as a legal business in Nigeria via the proposed bill. For the critics, the country is still plagued by corruption and secrecy and this, they say, will make lobbying unsuccessful.

The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) says before it is passed, all loop-holes must be plugged to prevent the art of lobbying from turning to conduits for bribery and corruption.

“We do not have anything per se over the enactment officially of lobbyists by the National Assembly. Lobbyists as official liaison to the parliament is acknowledged in all liberal democracy,” spokesperson of CNPP, Osita Okechukwu said.

“CNPP’s take on this is that the law should plug all loop-holes to prevent the Lobbyist from turning in as conduits for bribery and corruption. We hope they will conduct public hearings to let us into the details of the Bill.

“It will be counter-productive if deliberately the House plants a landmine in the name of lobbyists and this should be avoided. The House should keep its card open, as a lot of Nigerians have lost confidence in the National Assembly as a pro-people parliament that is genuinely committed to the defence of public interest.

“News of pork-barrel budget of billions expended for foreign travels by parliamentarians; for a country that has over 100 diplomatic missions is appalling,” he said. Also speaking, the coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko said a bill to back lobbying is not the immediate need of Nigerians. For him, the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill should first be passed by the lawmakers.

“That bill to legalise lobbying at the National Assembly is not Nigeria’s immediate need. It is irrelevant and unhelpful. Key bills to promote openness and greater democracy, like FoI bill, ought to be given consideration first,” he said.

OUR VIEW: Lawmakers need to beef up lobbying restrictions

For the past couple of weeks, The Star Press and 22 other newspapers serving 1.5 million readers in the state have printed articles and editorial cartoons detailing the plight of lobbying at the Indiana General Assembly.

It's not a pretty picture, and reform is called for -- reform with real teeth.

Currently, legislators may accept gifts of unlimited value from lobbyists. They even can interview for jobs with lobbying firms while still serving in elected office. This is wrong.

Fortunately, and no doubt thanks to the efforts of the Indiana newspapers, reform during the next session appears to be on the agenda.

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, and David Long, president pro tempore of the Indiana Senate, are backing tougher lobbying laws.

A key provision backed by both lawmakers is a one-year "cooling off" period before former lawmakers can become paid lobbyists and turned loose in the halls of the Statehouse.

More than 30 former legislators are now working as lobbyists. There can be little doubt they have access and influence the average citizen can only dream about.

A second tenet is banning all gifts worth more than $50 in value. There's no justification for lawmakers to accept trips and tickets to sporting events from lobbyists. Trips and tickets do nothing to advance the public's interest.

There's a whole list of reforms that have been proposed (see breakout). We think it's a good starting point, and we encourage our local lawmakers to support changing the state's lobbying practices.

We also encourage Gov. Mitch Daniels to speak out on this issue. His strong voice of leadership is needed and the public deserves to know where he stands on lobbying.

Indiana has in place many preventative measures such as lobbyists registration and reporting requirements. These are good starts, but we believe you can never have too much transparency when it comes to influencing those we elect to govern us.

We hope our lawmakers agree and do something about it in the upcoming session.

Combat veterans are lobbying Congress against Afghan surge - video

These veterans are not lobbying for profit; they are men who have returned from the Afghanistan battlefield, and know a thing or two about the front lines. They are making themselves heard in the halls of Congress, hoping to sway the opinion of Republicans in favor of a 'troop surge'.

One of the men who agrees with them is Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who is against any type of surge in Afghanistan. He has reminders in the etageres of his office by way of photographs: he fought alongside the mujahideen thirty years ago, when the US was training the Taliban to repel the Russians from the very same country.

It is anticipated that President Obama will be announcing a troop surge on Tuesday in his national address; these men see a different picture however. It is no longer about those who attacked us on 9/11, but more about nation building and paying large sums of money to the enemy (as we did in Iraq) to buy their loyalties. They call themselves war insurgents, and don't want to see any more of their comrades die.

Interestingly, we are seeing more headlines indicating that al-Qaeda is regrouping in the Yemen area, as well as other havens in North Africa. An article in OpEdNews by Sherwood Ross suggests that once again, this war is all about oil.

Big supermarket chains lobby against new ombudsman

Britain's major supermarket chains have been lobbying senior civil servants and ministers to reject proposals that would put their relationships with suppliers under the authority of an independent ombudsman.

Concerns about the way the chains have been treating some suppliers have prompted a series of proposals to regulate the supermarket sector. Disparate groups, from British dairy farmers to banana growers in the Windward Islands, claim that the actions of some of the majors could put them out of business. But the supermarkets say that the introduction of an ombudsman will only push up prices for consumers.

A report from the Competition Commission in April 2008 proposed an ombudsman. In August 2009, the commission passed the decision on to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Now it has emerged that the three biggest chains – Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury – have been meeting ministers and civil servants to express concerns.

Freedom of Information requests made by Friends of the Earth and ActionAid reveal that, between April 2008 and August 2009, the retail giants held 13 meetings with BIS officials and ministers, including three with the secretary of state, Lord Mandelson.

The Groceries Market Action Group, which represents UK farmers, manufacturers and small shops and producers from developing countries, has had only one meeting, with the competition minister, Kevin Brennan.

The Competition Commission has suggested that suppliers could make anonymous complaints to the ombudsman, but the chains complain that this would prevent them from addressing the complaint and would not allow them a right of reply.

A spokesman for Sainsbury said: "We don't agree with the need for an ombudsman and consider that it will result in additional bureaucracy and unnecessary cost. We consider that the Office of Fair Trading is well placed to continue in its current role of regulating the code and that there is no need to establish new powers."

Sentencing in Lobbying Case

A former Justice Department lawyer was spared a jail sentence for his role in the influence-peddling case surrounding the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The lawyer, Robert Coughlin, was sentenced in Federal District Court to a month in a halfway house, three years of probation and a $2,000 fine. He admitted providing assistance to Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying team and its clients while accepting free meals and tickets from an Abramoff lobbying partner.

NH group lobbying for multi-use aquatic center

CONCORD, N.H. — A group of swim enthusiasts is lobbying for an aquatic center in the North Conway, N.H., area that would offer different pools for recreation, fitness and competitive racing and therapy. It would be the first center of its kind in the state.

In addition to providing a forum for local and regional swim teams and swimming instruction to different age groups, the White Mountain Aquatic Foundation, which proposed the project, believes it would attract more than locals. The area is a tourism hub with shopping, summer theme parks and winter skiing.

The project, still in its infancy, has been estimated to cost about $14 million. The foundation is raising money for a feasibility study.

Lobbyist expenses wasteful, critics say

HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania governments paid lobbyists more than $4 million this year to lobby the state and federal governments for more tax money.

Watchdog groups call the expenses wasteful, saying taxpayers pay elected representatives to do that job. Government officials say they need lobbyists to compete for more funds.

"It further undermines the process by using tax money to use an alleged professional to do the same thing government is supposed to do in the first place," said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Campaign committees for six large lobbying firms with clients in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and state government donated $2.9 million in campaign money to state and federal campaigns in the past three years. Lobbyists say that's the nature of their business, and government officials say there's no connection between donations and contracts.

Yet, with trust in the Legislature undermined by a corruption investigation and a 101-day budget impasse, several politicians say they want to reform lobbying practices they've engaged in for years.

"We've got to break the hold of lobbyists," Gov. Ed Rendell said recently. "One of the things I want to do in campaign finance reform is bar any lobbyist from making any campaign contribution to any official in Pennsylvania."

Blank Rome, which the state pays $720,000 a year to lobby federal lawmakers, donated $148,140 to Rendell since 2002.

"I have never been influenced by any campaign contributions, ever," Rendell said. The $720,000 paid to Blank Rome is about $140,000 less than it would cost to keep a state office in Washington, as former Gov. Tom Ridge did, said Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma.

Local officials say other governments are paying lobbyists, so if they don't, they would miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

Allegheny County, represented by 31 state representatives and senators, for three years has paid Robert Ewanco $10,000 a month to lobby Harrisburg lawmakers.

"The payback has been 20-fold," said County Executive Dan Onorato's spokeswoman, Megan Dardanell. She credited Ewanco with getting money for widening Route 28, flyover ramps in Duquesne and to buy security cameras, among "hundreds of millions of dollars" worth of other projects.

Ewanco, a member of the city Stadium Authority, did not return calls seeking comment.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has six Western Pennsylvania clients who are either governments or government authorities.

Westmoreland and Beaver counties pay the firm $5,000 a month and $3,000 a month, respectively. The firm this year was paid $168,763 by Port Authority of Allegheny County, $72,651 by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, $48,000 by Pittsburgh Public Schools and $3,600 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.

"Entities like the county, city (and) school district rely on an enormous amount of state support," said Chuck Kolling, a Buchanan Ingersoll lobbyist who represents government clients. "If we in Allegheny County, or Pittsburgh or the school district don't have representation before the (state), we're putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage."

Township commissioners and mayors should make their cases to state lawmakers, rather than paying someone else to do it, said James Broussard, a Lebanon Valley college history professor and chairman of a taxpayers' group, Citizens Against Higher Taxes. The governor's cabinet should do the same in Washington, he said.

"It's a little offensive to me to be going to a lobbyist and using taxpayers' money to get even more taxpayers' money," Broussard said.

Kolling said he does more than pitch his clients' interests. Each year, legislators introduce about 2,000 bills. Figuring out which ones affect which municipalities, and then keeping track of them, requires local governments to hire full-time staffers or contract lobbyists, Kolling said.

"It's a good investment to make, to have somebody monitoring individual pieces of legislation as well as their priorities," Kolling said.

Several existing associations of local governments could fill that role, Shuster said.

"They already have in place the League of Cities (and Municipalities), the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, the Township Commissioners Association and the County Commissioners Association," which are funded by taxpayer-paid dues to lobby, Shuster said.

Pittsburgh pays the League of Cities and Municipalities $63,104 a year, a fee based on its population, said Cathy Qureshi, the city's assistant finance director.

Authorities such as Alcosan and Port Authority say state and federal representatives -- even local ones -- don't always advocate for them.

"We don't feel anybody else is really going to go to bat for the needs of public transportation and the more than 100,000 riders who use our system every day. We need to do that," said Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie. The authority paid Greenlee Partners $48,750 this year, in addition to Buchanan Ingersoll.

Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak said every grant Kolling brings back offsets rate increases Alcosan otherwise would need. In addition to its contract with Buchanan Ingersoll, Alcosan paid Eckert Seamans Cherin Mellott $48,142 this year.

Alcosan's lobbying focuses on expensive infrastructure projects such as one required by a federal consent decree to lessen the sewage treatment plant's effects on the environment. Other sewer authorities use lobbyists to compete for similar grants, Barylak said.

The state's stakes are even higher, said Peter Peyser, managing principal at Blank Rome.

"The budget of the commonwealth is about $28 billion. Last year, $2 billion was federal stimulus money, on top of the billions of dollars in Medicaid, transportation funding and economic development aid for state government," said Peyser, the state's lobbyist.

"Think of any $28 billion company that does billions of dollars of business with the federal government. You would expect them to have" lobbyists, Peyser said.

Blank Rome's political action committee donated $624,000 to state and federal politicians during the past three years. The Democratic and Republican senatorial campaign committees got $60,000 apiece. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Philadelphia, was the top individual recipient, with $24,000.

"It's part of the lobbying process in Washington to participate in the political process. Congress set up this system about 35 years ago," Peyser said. "It's the nature of the business."

Ewanco and his political action committee donated $104,000 to local and state officials since becoming Allegheny County's lobbyist in 2006, including $8,000 to Onorato. Democratic state Reps. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon and Frank Dermody of Oakmont received $11,500 and $11,000, respectively.

In the past three years, Buchanan Ingersoll donated $724,126 to state and local officials. Onorato was the top recipient, with $49,177, according to campaign finance records.

"People have First Amendment rights to make contributions to who they choose, and who they choose is not our business," said Onorato's spokeswoman Dardanell.

Water regulator bows to lobbying on bill price cuts

UK householders have been denied steep cuts to their yearly water bills after Ofwat, the water regulator, today published proposals to reduce prices by £3, after original plans to lower rates by £14.

Under recommendations for prices over the next five years, to be implemented across 22 companies, the average water bill will fall to £340. In July, Ofwat proposed draft reductions that would have cut the average yearly bill to £330.

Since publication of the draft recommendations, Britain's water companies have been lobbying Ofwat, complaining that steep price cuts would harm their ability to maintain and invest in their networks, and could force them to raise fresh capital from investors or cut their dividends.

While the average reduction in prices across Britain's 22 water and sewerage companies is £3, there are huge variations across different regions. For example, Northumbrian Water companies will see their bills rise by £17 over five years, but Severn Trent's will cut its customers' bills by £13.

Steve Bloomfield, head of utilities for Unison, the union, said today: “The fact that water prices will be frozen for the next five years will be welcomed by many people. But we think that Ofwat could have gone further by offering help to vulnerable people, who are already struggling to pay their bills."

The Consumer Council for Water said that it would give Ofwat a mark of "seven out of ten" for its final decisions on water price limits.

It said that although there was some good news for water customers, since average bills will stay about the same, it was concerned that the regulator had eased off on water companies’ efficiency targets – causing higher bills for some water customers.

The council added that today's announcement suggested that Ofwat had been arguably unrealistic in its draft decisions back in July.

Regina Finn, Ofwat’s chief executive, said: "People can shop around for the best deal on many things, but not water. Our job is to do this for them. Customers have told us that they want us to keep water and sewage charges flat while maintaining a safe, reliable supply of water. That's what we've delivered.”

The regulator’s decision will see more than £22 billion invested in maintaining and improving services to customers, with household bills remaining broadly flat until 2015.

The City welcomed the better than expected ruling, with shares in all the major water companies rising. Severn Trent gained 38p to £10.44, United Utilities rose 8.6p to 492.7p and Northumbrian Water was up 14.2p at 270.1p.

Peter Atherton, a utilities analyst for Citigroup, said that the final ruling was positive, compared with the draft. Lakis Athanasiou, an analyst for Evolution, said that he no longer expected any rights issues from the sector.

Cumbrians lobby for flood repair contracts

Businesses in Cumbria are lobbying for a share in the county's rebuilding effort after last week's devastating floods.

The costs of the clean-up, which includes rebuilding several bridges, could run into tens of millions of pounds. The government has already pledged £1m, while the Federation of Small Businesses wants local companies to win contracts to help them recover from their losses.

Stephen Alambritis, FSB spokesman, said: "We are asking the insurance industry to keep trade local. After the floods in Yorkshire in 2007 the insurers were pulling in decorators and builders from 200 to 300 miles away."

Reconstruction work has already begun. In the worst affected town, Workington, where one bridge has collapsed and another been condemned, Network Rail is scheduled to open a temporary rail station to link north and south on Monday. Some 200 soldiers are installing a footbridge across the River Derwent, which is due to be completed at the weekend.

The bridge, paid for by the government, is provided by Mabey and Johnson, the Twyford-based company that made the preassembled Bailey Bridges in the second world war.

In September it agreed to pay £6.6m in fines and compensation after pleading guilty to paying bribes to win contracts in Ghana and Jamaica and breaching UN sanctions on Iraq. Mabey and Johnson said it could also supply bridges suitable for cars, although they would take some weeks to install.

Cumbria County Council said it was too early to put a price on the necessary work. Six bridges have collapsed and 1,300 should receive a preliminary check by the weekend. So far seven need further inspections by divers. The council said the government would help meet the cost of repairing damaged infrastructure.

Mr Alambritis said 80 per cent of small businesses hit by disaster on the scale of the floods take two to three years to regain lost sales. The FSB is offering loans of £5,000 to help companies with cash to replace equipment and restart operations. Typical losses range from £40,000-£80,000 per company, he said.

The North West Regional Development Agency has pledged up to £1m for small businesses in grants of up to £10,000.

John Wright, FSB president, who visited Cockermouth yesterday, said: "Many shops in the high street are open again. Others are selling their goods in community halls. The resilience is incredible."

However, he said banks should offer loans, since cash flow was key to avoiding bankruptcies. The FSB is asking councils to waive business rates for floodaffected companies. The government would refund 75 per cent of the cost.

Prince Charles turned on the Christmas lights in Keswick yesterday and declared the town "open for business". Larger businesses were more fortunate. Jennings, which brews its Lakeland ales such as Sneck Lifter in Cockermouth, said it would move production to other breweries owned by Marstons, its proprietor. It hoped brewing would restart on site by mid-January. Some 10p from every pint sold would go to the charity fund for flood victims, which has already raised more than £600,000.

Tony Holliday, who runs adventure holiday company KLM Travel in Keswick, said he was back in his office but had lost equipment to the floods and the company's chauffeur car had been written off by water in the engine.

He has had to increase his overdraft. "It is the busiest time for bookings and I am worried about losing them because we cannot service the inquiries," he said. With the £1bn tourism industry accounting for a fifth of the economy, such worries will be widespread.

Lobbying hard for IMO seat

LONDON: Malaysia is heading to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council polls today with a burst of last-minute effort to woo the fence-sitters.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said that just like in any election, they were still trying very hard to secure support from those which had yet to take a stand.

“As you can imagine, normally the last-minute swing of votes may count,” he said after a reception for more than 500 delegates at the Malaysian High Commission on Wednes-day. Among those present were Malaysian High Commissioner to Britain Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohamad, IMO’s newly-elected president Georg Boomgaarden, its secretary-general Efthimios E. Mitropoulos as well as the heads and representatives of IMO’s 169 member states.

Warming up: Ong (left) and Abdul Aziz Mohamad (right) with IMO’s newly-elected president Georg Boomgaarden at the Malaysian reception in London on Wednesday.

Twenty-six countries, including Malaysia, are vying for 20 seats in the council’s category C, which is for nations with maritime and navigational interests.

Malaysia was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2007, receiving 103 votes on both occasions.

Ong, who is leading a 16-member delegation in campaigning for the post, said they hoped to garner at least 110 votes this time around.

“Perhaps I need to raise the bar slightly. Getting 100 votes seems okay but is far from being comfortable,” he said when asked about Malaysia seeking 100 votes to be in the top 20.

He said he was looking at 110 votes or more as this year’s competition was getting stiffer compared with 2005 and 2007.

Ong said they were still working relentlessly to secure more support over the last 24 hours despite the rise in the number of countries endorsing Malaysia’s candidacy.

He said one of their campaign targets was to seek outright support from some 120 member states that were not contesting in the elections.

“We’ve been able to secure quite a number of them to give us their support whereas for some other contestants, we work on a quid pro quo basis,” he added.

Ong said he was still “cautiously optimistic” of Malaysia’s chances as it treasured the council seat as well as its role in the international maritime fraternity.

He said Malaysia’s contributions to the industry had been widely acknowledged by key players in the global maritime sector.

He also described the sizeable turnout at the reception as an indication of the support for Malaysia as most of the participants were the delegates and leaders of the member states.

The role of lobbyists

WASHINGTON — The debate on health care has continued for months and has obliterated -- or at best defused -- many issues vital to the presidency. These issues, literally life and death to many Americans, range from Afghanistan and Iraq, to China and Japan, to Pittsburgh and Washington.

Health care takes up a great deal of ink.

Prescott, Ark., a tiny town about 100 miles from Little Rock, had a pharmacy owned by U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, a Democrat, and his wife Holly, the pharmacist, in 2007.

That year, the Rosses sold their property, valued by the county assessor at $263,000. In the financial disclosure that the Rosses were compelled to file by Congress, the deal was valued at between $1 million and $1.67 million.

And there was a campaign contribution of $2,300 from the owner of USA Drug, Stephen L. LaFrance Sr., also -- surprise -- the purchaser, who turned up two weeks after the sale closed.

USA Drug is said to be the 15th largest drug chain in the country.

Stephen LaFrance is on record as being opposed to universal health care. Congressman Ross often speaks for the Blue Dog Democrats, a group that helped initially change the health care bill. Claiming he helped hold the bill for a couple of weeks to "make it better," our Mr. Ross explained: "We were protecting small businesses."

The next major benefit to the pharmaceutical industry was handheld through Congress by the former Republican-turned-Democrat congressman of Louisiana, Billy Tauzin, who had held many powerful committee chairmanships. He now works for PhRMA, the drug lobby's group, at a salary estimated at about $3 million.

But Billy wasn't lonely. There were at least 14 congressional aides, very well informed on the legislation, who joined PhRMA to make sure that our government continues to pay about 30 percent more for drugs than Medicaid recipients.

Among those clever lawmakers who have become lobbyists overnight are former Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and a man who helped design the bill, Medicare chief Tom Scully.

Now we come to the very honorable Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, ringmaster for the health care bill. This year, she already has received at least $210,000 from industry folk. At an April breakfast she picked up five checks totaling $18,000 from assorted medical groups and another check for $10,000 from political action committees representing hospitals, etc.

September was a good month, bringing in a check for $125,000 from doctors at physician-owned hospitals, a truly interesting deal, because Ms. Pelosi usually attacks these facilities for ordering expensive and unnecessary medical tests for the sick.

When our Nancy went to Cleveland for a dinner in late October, she was accompanied by Fred Graefe, a super lobbyist for health care. In Cleveland, Fred brought five or six of his lobbying buddies, who contributed another near $100,000 for supporters of the cause he despises.

Much of the entire lobbying for and against the health care bill is orchestrated by Hoffman-La Roche from its corporate headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. Hoffman's real work is undertaken in California by Genentech Inc., a company that employs 11,000 people on every aspect of drug research from the concept of a treatment to the launching of a product to cure.

Right! Launching any product requires friendly publicity, letters and speeches. Eight months ago, Genentech, which costs Hoffman a near $59 billion, was caught writing material for congressman and senators, both for and against health care. This material is then placed in the Congressional Record.

The texts were written by a Matthew Berzok and distributed by big law firms. It spoke well of all and evil to none. Jobs, profits, research and new technology were all praised.

The arrogant Swiss, seeking even more profit, seem to believe we Americans are too hung up on hot dogs and beer to be able to read.

Twenty-two Republicans and 20 Democrats used the Hoffman/Genentech material to support points that were all amazingly similar.

At least most of our dimwitted officials were speaking with one voice.

Let's stay well.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.

FICCI suggestions on Pakistan 'irresponsible': Kashmir business lobby

New Delhi Nov 16 (IANS) India's top industry lobby recommending hard military and economic counter-actions against Pakistan has drawn flak from a business body in Jammu and Kashmir which says its recommendations are 'irresponsible and immature'.

The Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), the state's premier business body said the 'Task Force report on National Security and Terrorism' brought out by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) last week was aimed at creating 'hostility and will spell disaster of an unimaginable magnitude between India and Pakistan'.

The FICCI report details how Pakistan's policies on terrorism and its military establishment infused with 'jehadist' mindset would continue to threaten India's surging economy and security in the coming years.

It recommends hard options to make 'sponsorship of terrorism prohibitive for our neighbours'. For starters, the report suggests to 'inflict economic pain' on Pakistan and conduct surgical strikes, targetting terror camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

'The FICCI should have devoted time in identifying and formulating policies for the economic prosperity of the country. It has unfortunately indulged in political gimmicks and that too with a gruesome mindset against the neighbouring country,' FCIK president Shakeel Qalandar told IANS in Srinagar.

In its report released last week, FICCI said: 'Hard military and economic counter-actions should be the answer to Pakistan's cross-border terror' while regretting that New Delhi's response so far had been only 'reactive and defensive'.

Qalandar said when the world economies were trying to build peace by creating business stakes, the FICCI is ironically advocating strategies that in turn would lead to war between the two countries.

'It is unfortunate that when the entire world is engaged in lobbying for resumption of talks between India and Pakistan through confidence building measures, including free travel and trade initiatives, FICCI is putting forward irresponsible and immature statements,' he said.

He said India had five times more a favourable balance in the bilateral trade with Pakistan and cessation of imports from Pakistan as suggested by the FICCI reflects the naivety of the business lobby's task force.

He said that efforts needed to be made for equitable economic development through mutual help and support bringing all countries in the region closer and united to fight against any menace including terrorism.

Colo. to review taxpayer-paid lobbyists practice

DENVER — At a time of budget cuts, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's administration last year paid employees and outside contractors $1.1 million to lobby Colorado lawmakers on legislation ranging from renewable energy tax credits to increasing motor vehicle license fees.

The administration and legislators are reviewing the long-standing practice of one branch of government lobbying another — one that predates the Ritter administration — as Colorado tries to close a $1 billion budget gap.

The governor's office estimates state employees spent $1 million in salary time lobbying lawmakers on bills affecting their agencies. That includes public information officers and staff lobbyists, whose duties also include responding to queries from the public and promoting their agencies' work.

The administration also hired outside lobbyists to advance its interests.

Those contracts included $25,000 to promote tax credits for the Governor's Energy Office, which advocates renewable energy; $40,000 for several bills, including one raising vehicle registration fees; $20,000 to protect agricultural programs, including egg and pet breeder inspectors; and $35,000 on behalf of the Department of Public Safety, including its pension plans, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor is spending less on lobbying than his predecessor. According to administration records, Republican Gov. Bill Owens spent $1.9 million to lobby lawmakers in 2005-2006.

Dreyer said last year's contracts were issued when the economy was still strong and that the governor has asked all agencies to find ways to cut spending, including lobbying efforts.

"It's also the right question to ask: Can we do this for less? And we are doing it for less," Dreyer said. "In places where we have outside contractors to save on hiring more personnel, we do, and when one person can do two jobs, we do."

Republican Rep. Kent Lambert, a member of the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, has asked all executive branch agencies to list amounts spent on lobbying, after the Legislature killed his bill to require that taxpayer money spent on lobbying be returned to the state treasury.

Most state agencies under Ritter's control turned over their information to the Joint Budget Committee, which provided it to the AP.

"I don't understand why we're using taxpayers' money to lobby for bigger government programs for their own departments, especially when we don't have the money," said Lambert, of Colorado Springs.

Gayle Berry, a former Republican lawmaker from Grand Junction, won the $25,000 contract for the Governor's Energy Office. She said she monitored 42 bills under her contract, which ended in May.

According to her final report to Ritter, the Governor's Energy Office got most of what it wanted, including a bill providing incentives for developing solar energy systems, a bill requiring homebuilders to offer homes prewired for renewable energy, and obtaining a tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles at a time when lawmakers are trying to eliminate $132 million in other tax credits.

Berry said it's an "age-old question" whether it's proper for one branch of government to use taxpayers' money to lobby another branch for its projects. Renewable energy has been Ritter's top priority since he took office in 2006.

Amy Oliver, director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the conservative Independence Institute, said it doesn't make sense for government to lobby government for projects the state cannot afford.

"If we're in a financial crisis, how can they justify this when they're cutting funding for child welfare programs? How on earth can they spend that amount of money for government lobbyists?" Oliver said.

The lobbying figures don't include amounts spent on public relations and promotional brochures, including a $145,000 contract to a public relations manager to promote the governor's Low-income Energy Assistance Program. LEAP provides subsidies to help low-income clients pay heating and electric bills.


Shot in the arm for the consumer lobby

It was Monday afternoon and Jiraporn Limpananont was enjoying every minute of it as she and other activists packed a Bangkok hotel room to discuss the aftermath of their campaign work against a trade conference of the tobacco industry.

A good thing about my life after retirement is that now I have free time to work during the day," said the 62-year-old former lecturer on pharmacy at Chulalongkorn University.

During her academic years, she sacrificed her evenings and weekends to pursue her other passion - campaigning for consumer rights.

"I didn't want to be an academic or researcher who stands aloof from the people,"she said.

"It would be such a waste if I was to produce several research papers, without also using them to drive for social changes," she said.

Her realisation about the importance of advocating for consumers started about three decades ago when she was part of the Drug Study Group, a group of lecturers and college students who worked in rural areas to protect people against misleading advertisements and other forms of exploitation by drug companies.

In the late 1980s, the drug industry pushed the United States government to pressure Thailand into amending its Drug Patent Act 1979.

It wanted the period of patent protection for essential drugs extended from 15 years to 20 years. "At the time, I didn't understand the technical aspects of this issue, so I started to research and study it," she said.

Since then, she has turned her research on intellectual property rights and drug patents into a campaign tool against the drug industry, to improve and protect access to drugs by consumers.

The legal amendment made some drugs, especially those taken by people living with HIV/Aids, more expensive because it prohibited local production, she said.

The US effort was successful in 1992 but Ms Jiraporn has never wavered in her determination to stand up for consumers.

She and the civil group celebrated a groundbreaking victory in 2007 when the coup-appointed government decided to use compulsory licensing to overrule patents on four drugs, for treating cancer, heart disease and Aids. Ms Jiraporn is now chairwoman of the Foundation for Consumers, a non-profit organisation.

"I would not do other types of campaigning such as lobbying politicians for policy change because I know that they wouldn't spend more than 15 minutes listening to me," she said.

"They wouldn't allow me to go into detail about issues. So I believe my other colleagues can do this better than me," she added.

Ms Jiraporn was among activists and academics who protested at the international tobacco industry conference in Bangkok two weeks ago.

"We were successful to a certain extent.

"Our pressure resulted in them failing to fullfil their sales targets. They were forced to reduce their trade booths," she said.

An advertiser who organised the tobacco exhibition was also fined 20,000 baht for allowing banners carrying images of cigarette brands and logos at the event.

A 1992 law prohibits displays of brands of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Health Ministry staff spotted the violation on an inspection of the exhibition.

The unnamed company pleaded guilty in court.

Ms Jiraporn said industries take advantage of consumers by failing to provide them with important information.

She keeps an eye on the drugs, telecom and tobacco industries, because they are powerful and influential.

"Products offered by these industries usually involve technologies that laymen find hard to understand, which paves ways for exploitation by the companies," she said.

Ms Jiraporn is also chairwoman of the Southeast Asian Consumer Council.

"It's important to work with consumer networks and academics in other countries to share lessons learned," she said.

"This will help make our campaign stronger at the regional level as industries become more multi-national."

But consumers must also learn to stand up for their rights, she said.

Jiraporn Limpananont vows to continue her campaign to protect consumer rights after her retirement as a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of pharmacy. CHANAT KATANYU

"Thais tend to be compromising. As consumers, we may shrink from confronting businesses, even retail outlets, when we find themselves being ripped off," she said.

The Foundation for Consumers is planning changes as it needs to gain strength in specific technical areas which could help protect consumers, she added.

A single woman, she has no plan to retire from activism.

"I enjoy working more than ever before," she said.

"I may stop working once I find someone who can replace me."

Contact Buyer Beware:

Hamas says Israel lobbying against Gaza

GAZA, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Islamic Hamas movement on Saturday accused Israel of lobbying against the Gaza Strip to launch a military operation in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

"There are escalating Israeli intentions toward aggressive act against Gaza," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, in a written statement sent to the press.

His remarks were made after an Israeli newspaper on Friday reported that Hamas has test-fired another long-range missile that could fly for 75 kilometers, putting farther Israeli communities at risk.

"These reports come as part of the incitement against Gaza and the searching for pretexts to commit new crimes here and cover the crimes Israel had committed in the past," Barhoum added.

Barhoum called on the Arab and Muslim states "to sever all their ties with Israel in response to its threats against Gaza."

Members of the military wing of Hamas' movement fired the rocket to the sea from northern Gaza Strip Friday afternoon and the test has succeeded, Maariv daily reported on its website.

The rocket is the second one to be tested this month. Earlier, Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin revealed that Hamas had fired what it seemed to be an Iranian-made rocket.

GHMC polls: Lobbying for Mayor's post begins

Hyderabad, Nov 26 (PTI) With the elections to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation throwing up a split verdict, major parties have begun hectic lobbying to grab the coveted Mayor?s post election for which will be held on December 4.

While the state's ruling Congress is hopeful of bagging the Mayor post with the help of its MPs, MLAs and MLCs ? who will be ex-officio members in GHMC ? principal opposition Telugu Desam Party has reportedly offered its support to Majlis Ittehadul-e-Muslimeen (MIM) for the seat.

In exchange, TDP will settle for the deputy mayor?s post, party sources indicated.

Congress? plans, however, could turn awry if the state High Court disallows the ex-officio members from casting their votes in the Mayoral election.

Lok Satta Party and CPI filed petitions in the High Court seeking disqualification of ex-officio members from voting in the Mayoral election contending it was 'unconstitutional'.

The Day: Lobbying to Marry

Yesterday, more than 300 ordinary citizens, including more than a few from Maplewood and adjacent towns, descended on Trenton to engage in the hallowed American tradition of petitioning their government.

It was the first day of the “lame duck” session of the New Jersey Legislature, and there are less than two months left for this legislative session to complete the business of passing laws. One such law, of particular interest to the citizen lobbyists in Trenton yesterday, is the unwieldy sounding “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act,” [.pdf] a bill that would extend civil marriage equality to same-sex couples in New Jersey, while assuring that religious institutions may continue to define holy matrimony in accordance with their own faith traditions.

Although efforts have been progressing for eight years to enact marriage equality in New Jersey, time is now running out, since Gov. Jon S. Corzine has promised to sign the bill, but Gov.-elect Chris Christie has vowed to veto any such bill passed after he takes office in mid-January.

Those opposing marriage equality, led by the New Jersey Family Policy Council, had planned and publicized a lobby day for several weeks. Last Friday, Garden State Equality (GSE) took up the challenge and scheduled a counter-lobby day on three days’ notice.

Word spread rapidly on progressive blogs throughout the state, and yesterday more than 250 citizen lobbyists, including myself, assembled in Trenton to speak up for the right of same sex couples to marry, while another 75 or so showed up to oppose the bill.

For local participants, the day began with an early morning drive from Maplewood and adjacent towns to Trenton, by way of the Parkway and Turnpike. Gathering at a GSE office across from the State House at 8:30 AM, pro-equality participants quickly pulled on “Equality - The American Dream” T-shirts furnished by GSE, then paraded over to the State House.

Participants soon overflowed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room, and there was an excited buzz in the air, even though the actual bill of interest was not on the agenda for the day. The goal was visibility, seeing and being seen by legislators and their staffs.

Prior to the start of the Judiciary Committee hearing, the large standing room portion of the audience was shepherded out of the hearing room to an adjacent overflow room, where they listened to a broadcast of one board appointment after another being debated by the committee.

Then, as noon approached, the citizen lobbyists filed out of the committee rooms, pulled on jackets and sweaters, and headed out to the front steps of the historic State House, where Garden State Equality held a press conference showcasing dozens of clergy who support marriage equality, surrounded by hundreds of supporters waving printed and hand-made signs.

Then, the citizen lobbyists headed back inside the State House, to the public gallery overlooking the floor of the elegant Senate chamber. Once again, every seat was taken and the aisles were filled to standing room capacity. The Senate met long enough to swear in the newest member of the Senate, Mike Doherty, to welcome Governor-elect Christie, also in attendance, and to hear a short speech from Sen. Doherty. Marriage equality was not on the official agenda, but again, the goal of the citizen lobbyists was to see and be seen.

That concluded the day of citizen activism, and on the way back to Maplewood and other towns throughout New Jersey, a few citizen lobbyists caught some shut-eye. Meanwhile the rest actively chatted and planned their upcoming trips to Trenton for the yet-to-be-scheduled Committee Hearings on the marriage equality bill, as the eight-year odyssey toward civil marriage equality comes down to its final climactic weeks.

Readers can get news about the next lobby days by signing up for e-mail alerts from Garden State Equality.

Steve Mershon is a Maplewood resident and frequent contributor to Maplewood Online. He is also moderator of the Yahoo email list-serv for Rainbow Families of Maplewood/South Orange.

Health care fight swells lobbying

WASHINGTON — Companies and groups hiring lobbying firms on health issues nearly doubled this year as special interests rushed to shape the massive revamp of the nation's health care system now in its final stretch before Congress.
About 1,000 organizations have hired lobbyists since January, compared with 505 during the same period in 2008, according to a USA TODAY analysis of congressional records compiled by the nonpartisan CQ MoneyLine.

Overall, health care lobbying has increased, exceeding $422 million during the first ninth months of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. That's more than any other industry and a nearly 10% jump over the same period in 2008. The center's Dave Levinthal said the frenzy of new lobbying activity makes financial sense.

"If lobbying didn't work, people wouldn't do it," he said.

SENATE: Negotiations begin anew
RAMPING UP: Health care groups lobby at record pace
COVERAGE: 'Public option' would cover little of population
SIDE-BY-SIDE: Comparing the House and Senate bills

The vast scope of the health care legislation, which cleared a major hurdle Saturday when the Senate voted 60-39 to begin debating it, has spurred some to lobby for the first time. Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn., a 137-bed long-term care facility, decided it needed professional help after scrambling last year — aided by state lawmakers — to avoid losing Medicare payments, said Janine Epright, hospital chief financial officer.

"It was an eye-opener," she said of the Medicare fight. "We realized that we didn't have enough pull individually or as an industry to drive the process" in Washington. Epright said the non-profit hospital will spend about $50,000 on lobbying.

Others are beefing up their lobbying presence. Language Line Services, which has spent $90,000 on federal lobbying since 2007, hired a second firm this year as it pushed to boost federal funding for medical translation services. The firm, which employs 8,000 translators, says interpreters can reduce medical errors for patients who don't speak English.

The lobbyists arranged meetings between company executives and House staffers, said Marty Conroy of Language Line. The health bill passed by the House this month requires Medicaid to match up to 75% of translation costs, up from 50%.

The American Beverage Association hired a fifth lobbying firm this year as it worked to kill a proposed federal excise tax on sugary drinks to help pay for the bill. The group spent $7.3 million on lobbying during a three-month period, federal records show. That included $5 million on advertising to fight the tax, spokesman Kevin Keane said.

By comparison, the group spent nearly $668,000 on lobbying last year

So far, the group has been successful in keeping the tax out of the latest House and Senate bills.

But Keane said the group is not easing off its lobbying efforts yet. "You never relax until a piece of legislation, especially one of this magnitude, has reached the president's desk and you are not in it."

Interest groups have a lot at stake in health care debate
The effort by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress to revamp the nation's health care system by expanding coverage to millions of uninsured people and seeking to contain future costs is now in the Senate, but major issues remain unresolved. If it passes, industry groups that have spent more than $422 million this year lobbying on health care will have much at stake in the final negotiations with the House, which passed its version earlier this month. USA TODAY's Richard Wolf takes a look at how each group has fared so far and what's to come.

What they get: New patients would be added because of a mandate in the House and Senate that most people buy insurance. Both bills include billions of dollars in subsidies to help the uninsured. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 36 million people would be added over the next decade in the House bill; 31 million in the Senate version.
What they give up: Their earnings per patient could decline as more payments are made on the basis of quality, not quantity of services, and as preventive care is stressed. Cost containment efforts in the bills range from pilot projects designed to compare the effectiveness of medical treatments in different regions to creation of a Medicare commission that could force votes in Congress to cut health care spending.
What's next: The American Medical Association wants a 10-year deal that would prevent annual reductions in the fees Medicare pays physicians. It would add at least $210 billion to the deficit over that time, something President Obama has vowed not to do, so it must be passed separately. The Senate voted down its version last month; the House passed its version Thursday.
What they get: Under both bills, hospitals would see 15 million new people on Medicaid, the nation's health care program for the poor and people with disabilities, as well as 18 million to 19 million more who receive tax credits to help pay for insurance. That means the number of uninsured people going to emergency rooms who can't their bills would decline.
What they give up: Three major hospital associations agreed with the White House to forfeit up to $155 billion over 10 years in Medicare reimbursements and other payments. Some of that would come from payments now made to hospitals serving large numbers of uninsured patients. The groups are the American Hospital Association, Catholic Health Association and the Federation of American Hospitals.
What's next: Hospitals won a 10-year exemption in the Senate bill from any additional Medicare reductions that might be recommended by a new advisory board to force cost-cutting action by Congress. The House bill does not include such an advisory board so this issue will issue will be resolved by congressional negotiators.

Avista joins climate change lobbying group

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Spokane-based utility Avista Corp. has joined 19 other companies in a lobbying group to back federal cap-and-trade legislation, which would limit carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.

The group, called American Businesses for Clean Energy, started up earlier this month.

Much of Avista's electricity comes from hydropower. But company executive Tom Paine tells The Spokesman-Review that it doesn't want to be penalized for having a low carbon footprint while heavily polluting energy companies are treated more leniently.

India and Latin America to Lobby for APEC Membership Next Year

Nov. 16 – India and other Latin American countries are determined to lobby for a membership to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) next year when its moratorium on the admission of new members expires.

APEC is the region’s strongest economic group accounting for more than 50 percent of global GDP among its 21 member nations. New members must pass unanimous voting before being admitted to the group with the next summit to be held in Japan. “With the current APEC already a relatively big group, it’s a huge headache for us,” a senior Japanese foreign ministry official told the AFP during the group’s latest summit in Singapore since the group’s summit host next year will be Japan.

India has been petitioning for membership for years now and has support from Australia, Japan and Peru. “India would be interested in an APEC membership. We were kept out in the past mainly due to pressure from China. Now, I see no reason why we should not get in,” former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh told AFP.

APEC membership is coveted because the group works towards trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation and economic and technical cooperatio for economic growth and more employment opportunities. The group decided on a suspension of new membership applicants for more than 10 years after admitting Peru, Russia and Vietnam.

The group’s 21 members include: Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; China; Hong Kong; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; the United States and Vietnam.

In addition, Latin American economies like Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador also are lobbying hard to be admitted to the group.

Lobbying over Brussels posts intensifies

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, is to hold a final round of meetings on Friday morning with nominees for the next Commission before settling on a distribution of some 25 portfolios that could reshape responsibility for EU financial regulation.

Mr Barroso's deliberations, which have brought Brussels to a near standstill, could result in a decision as early as Friday, according to people familiar with the matter, although they warned that the process could drag on until the president returns from Monday's EU-China summit in Nanjing.

The contest for top jobs - particularly a handful of influential economic posts - has invited intense lobbying from the EU's 27 member states, in spite of Mr Barroso's insistence that the final decision will be his. The guessing game has been complicated by the fact that the president could decide to redraw specific portfolios.

The most intense speculation has settled on the fate of financial services regulation, which has traditionally rested within the internal market portfolio. France has mounted a strong campaign for the job, and it has become accepted wisdom among Brussels diplomats that its nominee, Michel Barnier, has the inside track. However, it remained unclear on Thursday whether Mr Barroso would opt to hive off financial services and banking into a separate portfolio, effectively depriving Mr Barnier of oversight of the City. The Commission has previously looked at creating a standalone department for financial services and financial stability, although those efforts were abandoned.

There were suggestions in Brussels that French diplomats were playing down the odds of the portfolio being kept intact but there was no confirmation of this view from Paris. Others argued that this might, in any event, simply be a ploy to damp expectations.

The financial services element of the portfolio will be highly active as the new Commission continues to push through legislation in the wake of the financial crisis and tries to overhaul Europe's system of financial supervision. The prospect of Paris directing such an exercise had set off alarms within the UK government. But officials in London appear to have been reassured by an understanding that Mr Barnier would probably appoint at least one British official to a prominent role.

The UK has emerged as the only certain piece in the puzzle so far after Lady Ashton, the trade commissioner, was selected by member states last week to serve as Europe's first foreign policy chief. There are also high expectations that Neelie Kroes, the current competition commissioner, will take a beefed-up telecoms portfolio after comments this week from the Dutch prime minister. As for the rest of the portfolios, they were fodder for a Brussels guessing game. "It's still anybody's guess," one business lobbyist said.

U.S. lobbyist for Sudan nixed

WASHINGTON (BP)--Efforts by the Sudanese government to hire a U.S. lobbyist have been stopped, according to The Washington Post.

An application seeking approval of a lobbying contract was submitted to the Treasury Department but rejected by Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, the special U.S. envoy to Sudan.

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, a law firm in Atlanta, wanted permission for a lobbyist on behalf of the Sudanese government, which is based in the city of Khartoum. The firm dropped the effort in October after its application was denied.

Sudan's militant Islamic regime has backed genocidal campaigns against both Christians and moderate Muslims over the last 25 years.

During the last six years in the country's western region of Darfur, Khartoum military forces and Arab militias supported by the government have instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in the killing of about 400,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has reported. About two million Sudanese are homeless in Darfur and another 250,000 are in refugee camps in Chad and the Central African Republic, according to USCIRF.

While Darfur's crisis involves conflict between Arab Muslims and African Muslims, a civil war of more than 20 years that ended in 2005 involved a campaign by the Khartoum regime against Christians and animists in southern Sudan, as well as moderate, African Muslims. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that closed that war has yet to be fully implemented.

In a letter to President Obama before the application was denied, Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., urged Obama to block the hiring of a lobbyist to represent Sudan.

"This would be a disgrace and must not be permitted to take place under any circumstances," said Wolf, co-chair of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. "Too often lobbyists are viewed as granting access ... the only thing they lack is the political will to bring about a lasting peace in Sudan. And no lobbyist can manufacture that."

Having a U.S. lobbyist for the Sudanese government would not have been a first.

Robert Cabelly, former State Department official, had a contract with Sudan as a U.S. lobbyist from 2005 to 2006. He recently was indicted on several charges -- including violating sanctions and money laundering -- from his involvement with Sudan, according to The Post.

A revised administration strategy on Sudan that refocuses attention on fully implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement will help the east African country recover from its current conditions, officials said.

"The strategy uses all elements of our nation's influence -- diplomacy, defense, development -- to bring about a stability, a security, human rights, opportunities for a better future in Sudan. Our strategy aims to give the people of Sudan a country that is governed responsibly, justly and democratically, a country that's at peace with itself and with its neighbors," said Gration, the special U.S. envoy to Sudan, at an Oct. 19 meeting with other officials discussing the strategy in Sudan, according to the State Department website.

On the day the strategy was announced, the administration released a statement from President Obama on Sudan. He expressed how serious the urgency is for Sudan to receive U.S. and international help.

"The genocide in Darfur has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more displaced ... Sudan is now poised to fall further into chaos if swift action is not taken," said Obama in his Oct. 19 statement on the State Department website.

Sudan is one of eight regimes designated by the State Department as "countries of particular concern," a label reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.

At the conclusion of Wolf's letter to Obama, he briefly cited a true story of a Sudanese woman who was raped. Walking with a group of 20 other women to collect firewood, she was raped by a gang and stabbed in the leg in May, according to a recent U.N. report on Sudan. The same woman was raped and shot in 2003.
Cindy Ortiz, a junior at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities' Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press.

Healthcare lobby set for record spending this year

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It's not just spending on U.S. healthcare that is breaking records. Drugmakers, insurers and industry groups are on track to spend an all-time high of more than $500 million this year to influence Congress' revamp of the healthcare system.

Lobbyists for the healthcare sector will likely smash previous spending records by tens of millions of dollars this year as Democratic lawmakers try to reshape the industry by expanding coverage and shaving costs.

"If current trends continue, the health sector is likely to spend more than a half-billion dollars on lobbying in 2009," said The New England Journal of Medicine's Dr. Robert Steinbrook.

As Congress makes a final push for a bill to overhaul the $2.5 trillion healthcare system that fuels one-sixth of the U.S. economy, health companies and industry groups are trying to shape the outcome.

The Senate is headed for a test vote on Saturday that will determine if it can proceed to three weeks of floor debate followed by a final vote on an $849 billion, 10-year bill. The House of Representatives has already approved its $1 trillion version of healthcare reform.

Differences between the two bills would have to be reconciled in a long negotiation process and lobbyists have been jockeying for time with members of Congress and their staff.

Lawmakers, especially Democratic Senators up for re-election next year, have seen a flood of campaign donations from hospitals, device makers and others with billions at stake.


The healthcare sector spent $486 million on lobbying last year and nearly $400 million through September of this year, according to the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics.

For drugmakers, always among the top spenders in Washington, reform could mean higher sales because more Americans will have insurance coverage to pay for medications.

Drug companies like Pfizer Inc, Merck & Co Inc and others spent $237 million on lobbying in 2008 which they nearly surpassed in nine months to end-September.

"They're on pace to obliterate their totals ... due to health reform undoubtedly," said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents big drugmakers, is on track to spend more than $30 million this year, Levinthal said.

"It should come as no surprise to anyone that we stepped up our efforts this year," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the group which backs most of the Democrats' measures and cemented a $80 billion, 10-year deal of rebates and discounts to help pay for it.

"We have a lot at stake right now. We're talking about fundamentally changing our healthcare system," said Johnson

Plastic surgeons lobby against Botax

Written by Grinza Staff
American plastic surgeons are lobbying against “Botax”—the government-proposed five percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery.

In 2008, there were more than 4.5 million Botox visits in the United States (US) and each visit cost about $400. And the surprising thing about it is that the Botox demographic is well spread out. Botox is no longer just for the old or middle-aged, even teenagers go for Botox these days.

Senator Harry Reid proposes to implement Botax in order to fund the healthcare reform bill. If it is passed as a law, the tax will take effect on January, 2010. It is estimated to generate more than $5.6 billion over the next decade.

Botax will apply to procedures that are “not necessary to ameliorate a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma, or disfiguring disease.”

However, the tax is being accused as discriminative. Dr. Michael McGuire, president of ASPS, explained: “Elective surgery taxes discriminate against women, given that 86 percent of cosmetic surgery patients are female.”

Dr. McGuire also emphasized that plastic surgeries are no longer for the wealthy only. Botax will also affect laser eye surgeries, knee replacement surgeries, etc.

Lobbyists as perceived by Serbs

A survey on the perception of lobbyists in Serbia, conducted by GFK agency, has been presented at the 7th Club of Lobbyists of Serbia.

The survey, including 1,000 respondents in Serbia, has shown that 50 percent of people in Serbia have heard about lobbying as term. The highest rate of such respondents is registered in Belgrade, and the lowest in Vojvodina. A rate of citizens who have heard of “lobbying” increases with education and is higher among the employed than among the unemployed. The term is perceived more positively than could have been expected initially.

“Unfortunately, lobbying is not separated enough from politics, because it is primarily associated to politics and persuasion. Bribe and corruption are mentioned as well, but out of the first five terms that lobbying associates to, four can be defined as positive. It confirms that there is high awareness of what lobbying essentially is,” said Miroslav Miletić, President of the Serbian Society of Lobbyists.

According to the survey of GFK, one-third of respondents think that people who are active in lobbying are politicians, as well as people who are persuasive, persistent, good orators, influential, intelligent, resourceful, and wealthy. Citizens of Serbia are of an opinion that internal and foreign politics and business are the areas where lobbying is most present.

Most respondents think that lobbying is necessary and useful in relations between Serbia and the world. This conclusion is in line with one of the objectives of the Serbian Society of Lobbyists on representing interests of our economy abroad and improving its image.

The Serbian Society of Lobbyists is a non-profit, non-governmental and non-political organisation, established in January 2009. Members of the Society are professionals wishing to actively participate in designing strategies and achieving and protecting objectives and interest of Serbia in the country and abroad.

Lifting the lid on UK’s Israel lobby

The journalist, Peter Oborne, could not believe his ears when, last summer, in the aftermath of Israel’s bloody invasion of Gaza, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron, praised Israel for striving to “protect innocent lives”. Cameron was addressing the annual dinner of Conservative Friends of Israel, the pro-Israel group in his party. Last week, in a groundbreaking Dispatches documentary for Britain’s Channel 4 television, trailed by an article in the Guardian newspaper, Oborne investigated the covert influence of Britain’s “Israel lobby”.

During the last two decades, the Labour Party, which has ruled Britain since 1997, has been hugely susceptible to Zionist influence. Soon after becoming an MP in 1983, Tony Blair (right) joined Labour Friends of Israel, acutely aware of the career benefits of so doing. His elevation to the leadership of the party and subsequent election as British prime minister in 1997 owed much to the extraordinary fund-raising endeavors on behalf of Blair and “New Labour” by the Jewish pop music tycoon, Lord Michael Levy.

It was Blair’s ambition to free the Labour Party from its traditional dependency on the trade unions. That he was liberating the party from the unions and rendering it beholden instead to donors with pugnaciously pro-Israel agendas did not bother him. For all his professed commitment to justice for the Palestinians, Blair has never uttered a word that could offend Zionist opinion. And yet Britain could soon have a government still more beholden to the Israel lobby than Blair and New Labour. Oborne believes that at least half of the Cameron’s shadow Cabinet are members of Conservative Friends of Israel. That Israel can expect unconditional support from a Cameron government is plain. Witness the refusal of shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, a politician not always loath to criticize Israel, to endorse the UN Goldstone Report alleging that Israel perpetrated war crimes and crime against humanity in Gaza, not to mention his party’s agreement never to apply the term “disproportionate” to Israeli military action.

OBORNE’S case is that clandestine funding of British political parties by Zionists ought to be anathema in a political culture, which upholds transparency and democratic accountability. It is no less repugnant, he maintains, that those parts of the British media, notably the BBC and The Guardian, that seek to present a balanced picture of the Middle East conflict, should be ceaselessly vilified by the Zionist lobby. Not that “hostile” coverage of Israel has curbed Zionist influence in the highest reaches of the British political establishment. Since 1997, Oborne observes, British foreign policy has been conducted as though British interests were identical to those of Israel and the United States. It seems incredible now that in 1981 Britain’s then Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher could have condemned Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant, Osirak, as a “grave breach of international law”.

The most remarkable thing about Oborne’s expose was that it was broadcast at all. Not long ago, for a journalist to speak out against the Israel lobby was tantamount to committing professional suicide. When, in the mid-1970s, the sometime Guardian Middle East correspondent, Michael Adams, coauthored the pioneering book, “Publish It Not”, on the behind-the-scenes lobbying of groups like Labour Friends of Israel, he consigned himself to journalistic oblivion. The same fate is unlikely to await the ebullient Oborne. Though now assured of a special place in Zionist demonology, he has been able to start a necessary debate about the subversion of the democratic process in Britain on behalf of a foreign power. The Guardian’s online “Comment is Free” forum is this week in uproar. The truth is that there is more scope for public candor on the subject of Israel than ever before. The publication in 2005 of the American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book “The Israel Lobby”, about Zionist influence over US policy-making, was an epoch-making event. The radical Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s new book, “The Invention of the Jewish People”, is of similarly cardinal significance. These works — like Oborne’s documentary (which has been accompanied by a trenchant pamphlet) — testify to a sea change in the climate of Western intellectual, as well as general public opinion, vis-à-vis the boundaries of debate about the Jewish state.

SAND’S book challenges what he regards as the myth of the historic mass expulsion of the Jews from Palestine: The bulk of the Jewish diaspora, he contends, consisted not of genetic heirs of Palestinian Jews but of converts. However, the book is also illuminating in relation to the power of the Israel lobby. Sand writes that Israel’s strength now depends less on demographic increase than precisely on cultivating the loyalty of overseas Jewish organizations and communities. It would be a serious setback for Israel, he remarks, if all the Zionist lobbies were to immigrate into the “Holy Land”. It is much more useful for them to remain close to the centers of Western power.

Arguing that there is no such thing as a pure nation state, Sand maintains that the notion of Jews as a unique people with a special destiny is a self-serving fantasy. Israel’s problem is that at a time when Western democracies have embraced multiethnic national identities, defining themselves in inclusive terms as states of all their citizens, it insists on being a racially exclusive polity. In other words, the Israel lobby is trying to proclaim the Jewish state’s democratic credentials to Western publics for whom Israel’s constitutional essence has become a bizarre anachronism, a relic of outmoded attitudes. Sand fears that Israel’s regressiveness, its failure fully to enfranchise even the many Arabs who live in Israel itself, is inviting the kind of cataclysmic ethnic conflict that has raged in former Yugoslavia. “The Invention of the Jewish People” has just been published in English. This brilliant polemic is an eye-opening piece of historical deconstruction and a major contribution to the debate about the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Lobbying Then And Now

Dolores L. Mitchell, Executive Director of the Group Insurance Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, pities today’s lawmakers having to sort through the blizzard of “advice” from lobbyists:

I’ve recently been reading a new biography about Justice Louis Brandeis, who, before Woodrow Wilson named him to the Supreme Court, had earned a national reputation as “The People’s Attorney.” He was given that name because over some twenty or more years, he took on the cause of advocating for the public interest in opposition to the rich and powerful — in those days they were often railroads, and, yes, big banks. He espoused competition over consolidation, and was responsible for the creation of Savings Bank Life Insurance, with its lower rates for more modest income families — (all this before Teddy Bruschi was even born!).

Some of Brandeis’s solutions are a bit dated — he didn’t like big government much more than big industries, but one thing is as needed today as it was in the first two decades of the 20th Century, (I’m only up to page 400, so his supreme court decisions are yet to come) namely, his uncompromising professional integrity. So insistent was he that if he took on a cause because he believed in its rightness, he refused to take any money for this work, and he even went so far as to compensate his law firm (still in practice today in Boston as Nutter, McClennan & Fish) for monies they might have lost as a result of his public interest work.

There were certainly paid lobbyists in those days, and some of the methods of “persuading” legislators haven’t changed all that much, but Justice Brandeis would have been appalled at the scene in Washington today, where interest groups lobbying for or against each and every section of the health reform law (to say nothing of banks, brokers, and credit card regulations) are to be found everywhere you look.

One example recently profiled in a Boston Globe editorial was the provision to protect biotech companies from generic competitors by keeping the generic off the market for 12 years. Another is the much debated Stupak Amendment – and on, and on. One almost feels pity for the legislators who have to try to make up their own minds in the midst of the cacophony of “advice” they are getting from every corner.

Interest group lobbying is of course, legal and a part of the free speech rights of Americans. But I would submit that public interest groups and the public interest are two very different things, and what I, and many others worry about, is that the voice of the former is increasingly drowning out the voices of the latter. We need more voices like that of Louis Brandeis and we need them now.

(The Group Insurance Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the agency that provides life, health, disability and dental and vision services to over 300,000 State employees, retirees and their dependents.)

US Airways spent $410K lobbying gov't in 3Q

AP) – Nov 9, 2009

WASHINGTON — US Airways Group Inc. spent $410,000 lobbying in the third quarter on the cap-and-trade energy proposal and aviation regulation issues, according to a recent disclosure report.

The carrier said it lobbied on climate change and proposals for a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Senate took up a cap-and-trade bill last week. The legislation aims to limit the amount of pollution businesses can do, while selling permits for emissions. Airlines have opposed it, saying it amounts to a tax on fuel-intensive industries.

Meanwhile, jet fuel prices still have airlines' attention more than a year after oil prices spiked to record levels. US Airways lobbied on bills aimed at curbing what they have called speculation in energy markets, "and to otherwise address the severe industry crisis resulting from the rapid rise in fuel costs."

Airlines have supported the idea of measures that would curb bets on oil prices by traders who aren't using energy futures to hedge actual petroleum use.

US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., also lobbied on a House bill that would allow additional flights beyond the restricted area around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That's a key issue for US Airways, which is gaining 42 slot pairs at Reagan in a deal with Delta Air Lines Inc.

US Airways also lobbied on reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as air cargo security issues, aircraft engineering, flight operations and maintenance issues.

Besides Congress, the airline lobbied the departments of Homeland Security and Transportation in the July-September period, according to the Oct. 20 report with the House clerk's office.


How a lobbying campaign helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday

Once upon a time, Americans gave thanks for the bounty of the land with celebrations that involved fasting, rather than feasting. Some presidents refused to issue Thanksgiving proclamations. And, if it weren't for the roughly two-decade lobbying crusade of a female Thanksgiving advocate, the annual ritual might never have gained its national sanction.

A look at the past reveals how the holiday unfolded, and how various presidents -- particularly in selecting religious rhetoric -- have changed the tone.

We all know the basic history: The first Thanksgiving, as we observe it today, was practiced in Plymouth, Mass, in 1621. Scholars now dispute that date because earlier festivals near Charles City, Va., and St. Augustine, Fla., also involved a day of thanksgiving to God.

Over time, formal proclamations changed the informal practices surrounding the holiday. In Plymouth, a ritual of fasting was observed on days surrounding a Thanksgiving feast. Then, on Oct. 3, 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 26, 1789, a feast day for "the people of these States." Soon, the practice of fasting was lost.

A national Thanksgiving day held by each state on the same day, the last Thursday of November, however, wasn't declared until Abraham Lincoln's presidency. And the idea of issuing such a proclamation wasn't even Lincoln's initially. It was Sarah Josepha Hale's.

A New Hampshire native and renowned fashion magazine editor, Hale was dismayed that presidents would not declare Thanksgiving a national annual holiday and began letter-writing campaigns to presidents, lawmakers and governors starting in the early 1840s. "Our Thanksgiving Day," she insisted, "should be hallowed and exalted and made the day of generous deeds and innocent enjoyments," according to Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of a two-volume history of the first ladies and their power. Today, he suggests, we'd call Hale's efforts a lobbying campaign.

Lincoln, buying Hale's additional pitch that such a day would serve as one more way to hold the Union together during the Civil War, heeded her 1863 call that the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival."

Before Lincoln's time, some presidents refused to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday, arguing that it was not the government's role to endorse "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer," as Washington had described it. Thomas Jefferson, who once called for a "separation of church and state," said it was against his principles. He linked his mantra to the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Andrew Jackson agreed and also chose not to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.

John Adams, who proclaimed himself a Christian in his inaugural address, blamed his defeat for re-election on his calling for a day of fasting, humiliation and prayers to Christ.

Therefore, his son, John Quincy Adams, took the advice of his Cabinet not to proclaim a day of thanksgiving that the preachers of the District of Columbia were requesting.

Yet other presidents have echoed Washington's call, invoking religious rhetoric in nearly every proclamation. As Dorthea Wolfson, associate program chair of the Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, points out though, "What's interesting about these early presidential proclamations, especially Washington's, is that the rhetoric was not based narrowly on the revealed religion of the bible, but a more deistic, inclusive God -- the Divine Almighty, 'the great and glorious Being, beneficent Author, Providence, Divine purpose, etc."

Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in religion, philosophy and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. Lincoln and Washington "were expressing the beliefs of the country and Congress," he said.

In other words, past presidents tried to reach all Americans who believed in a greater spirit, rather than believers of one particular faith. Still, some proclamations invoked religion more than others. Generally, Bill Clinton's proclamations "were much more expressive about this than Bush, although people think the reverse is true," said Novak. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt's rhetoric might surprise some people for its religious tone. As Novak put it, "We don't usually think of FDR as that religious but he was and Eleanor was even more so."

Below are some proclamations that give you a flavor of this variable religious rhetoric. The Clinton and Bush excerpts may be the exceptions to Novak's assessment.

George Washington, Oct. 3, 1789: Thanksgiving is a day to revere "the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.... It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor."

Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 3, 1863: "The laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict." Subsequently, Lincoln asked for God's help to "heal the wounds of the nation and restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nov. 9, 1940: "Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners... Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth... suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; Amen."

Ronald Reagan, Nov. 26, 1987: Thanksgiving is "an occasion set aside by Americans from earliest times to thank our Maker prayerfully and humbly for the blessings and the care He bestows on us and on our beautiful, bountiful land.... When the delegates to the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774 ... they found common votes in the 35th Psalm.... 'And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.'"

Bill Clinton, Nov. 27, 1997: "Once again, millions of us will gather with family and friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings that He has bestowed upon us ... like the Pilgrims who celebrated Thanksgiving more than 300 years ago, we thank God for bringing us safely to the threshold of a new world, full of exhilarating challenge and promise."

George W. Bush, Nov. 24, 2008: "Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather together and express gratitude for all that we have been given, the freedoms we enjoy, and the loved ones who enrich our lives. We recognize that all of these blessings, and life itself, come not from the hand of man but from Almighty God. Our Nation's first President, George Washington, stated in the first Thanksgiving proclamation that 'It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.'"