Democrats face threats, vandalism over health care vote

Capitol Hill cop on duty in Washington Wednesday (AFP)

Democratic Congress members are getting lessons from the FBI on how to handle threats such as several directed at their colleagues, including bricks hurled through windows and menacing obscenity-laced phone messages left for those who supported sweeping federal health care legislation.

Windows were shattered at four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas and at least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threats, leaders said. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, but the FBI is investigating.

Lawmakers who feel they are at risk will be “getting attention from the proper authorities,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who denounced the threats and vandalism at a news conference. He declined to say whether any are receiving extra security. Normally only those in leadership positions have personal security guards.

The brick flung through the window of a county Democratic Party office in Rochester, N.Y., over the weekend had a note attached: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” roughly quoting 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

A New York congresswoman whose office window also was smashed with a brick accused the Republican leadership of failing to denounce attacks against lawmakers. The vandalism happened at Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district office in Niagara Falls early Friday, two days before the House passed the health care overhaul bill.

“It’s more disturbing to me that Republican leadership has not condemned these attacks and instead appears to be fanning the flames with coded rhetoric,” said Slaughter, a key supporter of the bill.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement that while many Americans are angry over the bill’s passage, “violence and threats are unacceptable.”

“That’s not the American way,” Boehner said. “We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change.”

Some of the anger spilled over in a flood of obscenity and threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Stupak vowed to oppose the health care package unless given greater assurance that it would not allow federal funding of elective abortions. He voted in favor after the administration agreed.

Stupak’s office released some of the messages, declining further comment.

“I hope you bleed … (get) cancer and die,” one male caller told the congressman between curses.

A fax with the title “Defecating on Stupak” carried a picture of a gallows with “Bart (SS) Stupak” on it and a noose attached. It was captioned, “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God.”

The vandalism and threats surprised a researcher at a think tank that monitors extremist groups.

“I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism,” said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

Hoyer said people have yelled that Democratic lawmakers should be put on firing lines and posters have appeared with the faces of lawmakers in the cross hairs of a target.

While not directly criticizing Republicans, Hoyer said that “any show of appreciation for such actions encourages such action.”

Gun imagery was used in a posting on the Facebook page of Sarah Palin urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket two years ago. Palin’s post featured a U.S. map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts.

In Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello‘s brother after the address was posted online by activists angry about the health care overhaul. Perriello also said a threatening letter was sent to his brother’s house. The FBI and local authorities were investigating.

Tea party activists had posted the brother’s address online thinking it was the congressman’s home. The post urged opponents to drop by and “express their thanks” for the Democrat’s vote in favor of the sweeping health care reform.

Nigel Coleman, chairman of the Danville Tea Party, said he re-posted the comment that originated on another conservative blog, including the address, Monday on his Facebook page. The posts were taken down after the mistake was discovered.

“We’ve never been associated with any violence or any vandalism,” he said. “We’re definitely sorry that we posted the incorrect address.”

Lyndsay Stauble, executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party in Wichita, Kan., said a brick was hurled through the party’s storefront plate glass window late Friday or early Saturday, landing in her office and gouging her wooden desk.

She said that written in marker on the brick were the slogans, “No to Obama” and “No Obamycare.”

“The tone is not surprising, but the aggressiveness is,” Stauble said Wednesday. “I’m not shocked that people are not reacting well to a large piece of legislation passed by a president that they don’t like.”

___

Associated Press writers David N. Goodman in Detroit, Dena Potter and Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., Mark Carlson in Phoenix and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

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Obama signs executive order banning payments for abortions

Obama signs executive order (Reuters)

President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions, keeping to a pledge he made to help push his health care reform through Congress.

The White House issued a photograph of Obama signing the measure in the Oval Office, surrounded by pro-life Democrats led by Representative Bart Stupak, whose votes were crucial in the 216-212 passage of the historic health bill on Sunday.

Stupak last year co-sponsored a bipartisan amendment to the bill that severely restricted federal funding for abortions in the United States. In negotiations before Sunday’s vote in the House, Obama’s executive order won over the holdouts.

Obama’s measure does not alter existing legislation on abortion, stressed White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, adding that the president maintained his support for a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.

The executive order, Gibbs said, “ensures that health care, the law the president signed (Tuesday), maintains the status quo of the federal law prohibiting the use of federal dollars for abortion.”

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Oops! Health care bill overlooks children

Health care protest in Michigan (AFP)

Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.

Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.

However, if a child is accepted for coverage, or is already covered, the insurer cannot exclude payment for treating a particular illness, as sometimes happens now. For example, if a child has asthma, the insurance company cannot write a policy that excludes that condition from coverage. The new safeguard will be in place later this year.

Full protection for children would not come until 2014, said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, another panel that authored the legislation. That’s the same year when insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to any person on account of health problems.

Obama’s public statements have conveyed the impression that the new protections for kids were more sweeping and straightforward.

“This is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids,” the president said Friday at George Mason University in Virginia. “Starting this year, thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions will be able to purchase health insurance, some for the very first time. Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.”

And Saturday, addressing House Democrats as they approached a make-or-break vote on the bill, Obama said, “This year … parents who are worried about getting coverage for their children with pre-existing conditions now are assured that insurance companies have to give them coverage — this year.”

Late Tuesday, the administration said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would try to resolve the situation by issuing new regulations. The Obama administration interprets the law to mean that kids can’t be denied coverage, as the president has said repeatedly.

“To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, the secretary of HHS is preparing to issue regulations next month making it clear that the term ‘pre-existing exclusion’ applies to both a child’s access to a plan and his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan for all plans newly sold in this country six months from today,” HHS spokesman Nick Papas said.

The coverage problem could mainly affect parents who purchase their own coverage for the family, as many self-employed people have to do. Families covered through employer plans typically do not have to worry about being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Parents whose kids are turned down by an insurer would still have a fallback under the law, even without Sebelius’ fix. They could seek coverage through state high-risk insurance pools slated for a major infusion of federal funds.

The high-risk pools are intended to serve as a backstop until 2014, when insurers no longer would be able to deny coverage to those in frail health. That same year, new insurance markets would open for business, and the government would begin to provide tax credits to help millions of Americans pay premiums.

An insurance industry group says the language in the law that pertains to consumer protections for kids is difficult to parse.

“We’re taking a closer look at it to see what exactly the requirement will be,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main industry lobby.

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States challenge constitutionality of health care law

Pro health-care reform rally in Washington (AFP)

Top legal officials from 14 states across the country on Tuesday filed lawsuits challenging an overhaul of the U.S.’ $2.5 trillion healthcare system, minutes after President Barack Obama signed the landmark legislation.

One joint lawsuit by a dozen Republican attorneys general and a Democrat claims the sweeping reforms violate state-government rights in the U.S. Constitution and will force massive new spending on hard-pressed state governments.

Virginia went to court separately, while Missouri Republican Lieutenant Gov. Peter Kinder said he would like to join the suit.

The joint suit, led by Florida, was filed with a federal court in Pensacola, according to the office of Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

The lawsuit says the law — which expands government health plans for the poor, imposes new taxes on the wealthy and requires insurers to cover people with preexisting medical conditions — violates the Constitution’s commerce clause by requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance.

“It forces people to do something — in the sense of buying a healthcare policy or paying a penalty, a tax or a fine — that simply the Constitution does not allow Congress to do,” McCollum said at a news conference in Tallahassee.

McCollum, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run for Florida governor, said the healthcare reforms would add $1.6 billion to Florida’s spending on the Medicaid health program for the poor.

The Justice Department, which is responsible for defending U.S. law in court, pledged to vigorously fight any challenges to the new healthcare law.

“We are confident that this statute is constitutional and we will prevail,” said Justice spokesman Charles Miller.

The White House agreed the suits would fail.

“There have been hearings about the constitutionality of the law, and I think there’s pretty much widespread agreement that it is constitutional,” Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, told Reuters Insider. “I think … we have governors who might be aiming for higher office who are starting to just send a message.”

According to Mark Rosen, a scholar at Chicago-Kent College of Law, the states do not really have much of a chance of prevailing. He said Congress clearly had authority under the Constitution’s supremacy clause to legislate reforms like the healthcare bill.

Virginia filed a separate suit attacking the healthcare reforms, arguing the new law’s requirements that most Americans buy health insurance clashed with a state law that exempts Virginians from federal fines to be imposed for not owning health insurance.

“The collision between the state and federal schemes also creates an immediate, actual controversy involving antagonistic assertions of right,” according to the suit filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican.

Missouri Lieutenant Gov Kinder, a Republican in a state with a Democratic governor and attorney general, called the law “the mother of all unfunded mandates,” adding the cost to the state remained to be seen.

Beyond raising Medicaid costs for Florida, McCollum argued in the 22-page lawsuit that the healthcare reforms added up to an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government that would force broad reorganization of state governments and massive hirings in order to comply with the new law.

The lawsuit asks the trial court to declare that the federal government is violating the sovereignty of the states and to bar federal agencies from enforcing the new law.

In addition to McCollum, the Republican attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington joined the suit.

James Caldwell, Louisiana’s Democratic attorney general, is also a plaintiff.

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Anybody got a user manual on health care reform?

(AFP)

President Barack Obama and the Democrats have overcome their doubts and divisions to pass landmark health care legislation affecting every family and one-sixth of the economy. The president will sign the main bill at a White House ceremony scheduled for Tuesday, and a companion package of fixes is expected to be on its way to his desk soon.

That leaves Americans with a burning question: How’s this all going to work?

“A key element to these reforms is that options that weren’t available to people will become available now,” said DeAnn Friedholm of Consumers Union. The publishers of Consumer Reports supported Obama’s effort.

Some questions and answers on the health care bill:

Q: When are the uninsured going to get coverage?

A: Most will have to wait until 2014.

That’s when the government begins providing tax credits to help people who can’t otherwise afford to pay health insurance premiums. The aid will be available on a sliding scale to households making up to four times the federal poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four.

A four-person family making around $40,000 will pay only about 5 percent of its income. But the same size family making $80,000 will pay nearly 10 percent of its income. Medicaid will be expanded to cover people up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or about $29,300 for a family of four.

Starting that same year, health insurance companies would have to take all applicants. They could not deny coverage to people in poor health, or charge them higher premiums.

More than 30 million people will gain coverage, and by 2016 about 95 percent of eligible working-age adults and their families would have health insurance. Most would buy their coverage through health insurance exchanges, new state-based purchasing pools. Illegal immigrants wouldn’t be able to participate.

Q: So after all the ruckus, nothing happens for another four years?

A: Not at all. There will be plenty of changes before the big push to expand coverage.

For example, the bill starts to close the gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit right away. Seniors who fall into the dreaded “doughnut hole” gap in coverage will get a $250 rebate this year.

Other changes starting this year include prohibiting health insurance companies from canceling coverage if you get sick, and banning lifetime dollar limits on coverage. Insurers also would be prohibited from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical condition.

In a big change for middle-class families with kids in college, parents will get to keep adult children on their health plan until they turn 26.

Q: That might help kids moving from college to work. What are the requirements?

A: The main requirement for now is that adult children not be eligible for workplace insurance of their own.

The Senate bill originally also required them to be unmarried, but the House has voted to lift that restriction, and the Senate is expected to follow. (Grandkids, however, would not be eligible.)

To what degree adult children would have to be financially dependent on their parents remains to be clarified in regulations. However, congressional staffers involved in writing the legislation said lawmakers did not intend to require that parents have to support their kids to keep them on their coverage.

Q: Twenty-year-olds are usually pretty healthy. What if you’re uninsured right now and you also happen to be sick?

A: There’s a transition program in the legislation meant to help the most vulnerable.

Until 2014, when insurers have to take all applicants, the government will pump money into high-risk insurance pools that many states already have set up and others are planning to establish. That would allow the states to offer coverage to people no commercial plan will accept.

There’s a catch, however. Although Obama has allocated $5 billion for the program, most experts say that’s nowhere near enough to last four years.

Q: Seniors have been wary about the Medicare cuts that will help finance Obama’s overhaul. Have the Democrats done anything for them?

A. Closing the prescription coverage gap is a tangible benefit for seniors. After this year, the gap will be reduced gradually through a series of discounts for brand name and generic drugs. By 2020 seniors will pay the standard 25 percent coinsurance for their prescriptions.

Other improvements include a new emphasis on prevention in traditional Medicare, as well as efforts to better coordinate care for patients struggling with several chronic conditions, like the common combination of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.

But the Democrats also are cutting a popular Medicare program, private insurance plans that serve about one-fourth of seniors. Until now, the plans have gotten generous payments from the government, allowing them to offer lower out-of-pocket costs and other benefits. Scaling back the subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans could prompt an exodus of seniors back to the traditional program.

Q: Does the plan require employers to offer coverage to their workers? And what about individuals? Does everybody have to have insurance? Can Congress do that under the Constitution?

A: Employers aren’t required to offer coverage, but companies with more than 50 workers could be hit with hefty fines if just one of their employees gets government-subsidized coverage. (The plan provides tax credits to help smaller companies get and keep coverage for their employees.)

Individuals would be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer or a government program or by buying it themselves. Those who refuse would get fined by the IRS.

Many legal experts say Congress does have the power under the Constitution to require coverage. But that issue is likely to be settled in court.

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Obama signs health care overhaul

President Obama and Vice President Biden at signing ceremony (AP)

A broadly smiling President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed a historic $938 billion health care overhaul that guarantees coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans and will touch nearly every citizen’s life, presiding over the biggest shift in U.S. domestic policy since the 1960s and capping a divisive, yearlong debate that could define the November elections.

Celebrating “a new season in America” — the biggest accomplishment of his White House and one denied to a line of presidents before him — Obama made the massive bill law with an East Room signing ceremony. He was joined by jubilant House and Senate Democrats as well as lesser-known people whose health care struggles have touched the president. Obama scheduled back-to-back events to mark the moment, with much of his White House audience, as well as hundreds of others, heading to the Interior Department immediately after the signing.

“Today after almost a century of trial, today after over a year of debate, today after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America. Today,” Obama said, interrupted by applause after nearly every sentence. “All of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform.”

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Tea Party vows payback over health care reform

Tea Party activists rally in Washington (AP)

If you thought Tea Party activists were mad before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Instead of being discouraged by passage of health care reform, tea party activists across the country say the defeat is a rallying cry that makes them more focused than ever on voting out any lawmaker who supported the measure.

“We’re not going to stop. Obviously, the whole tea party movement started because we’re about smaller government and less spending and less taxes. There is absolutely no way we can pay for this,” said Denise Cattoni, state coordinator for Illinois Tea Party, an umbrella group for about 50 groups from around Illinois.

Cattoni says the health care defeat doesn’t deflate tea party activists. “We couldn’t stop it because of the shenanigans that went on in Washington,” Cattoni said. “People are definitely more driven today than they were yesterday without a doubt.”

A group of Republican attorneys general were girding for a legal fight, planning to sue in court to stop or blunt the landmark health care reforms passed by Congress and to be signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

Within hours of its passage, conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — darlings of the tea party movement — were venting their anger, vowing a bloodbath at the polls on Election Day.

“We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out,” Limbaugh said. “We need to chase them out of town. But we need to do more than that. We need to elect conservatives. If there are Republican primaries, elect conservatives and then defeat the Democrats — every last one of them — and then we start the repeal process.”

Tea party activists said they do not see passage of the reforms that usher in near-universal medical coverage as the end of the debate. Instead, they’re looking to push for its repeal on several fronts: in the courts and during this year’s elections.

So far, the nascent movement has almost reveled in its rebellious and grass roots nature and has avoided becoming as much a part of the establishment as the Republican and Democratic parties. But some tea party organizers see the health care debate as a galvanizing force that could stir its followers to greater action and something to rally around with midterm elections this year.

“There’s going to be a whole, all-out effort for an Election Day onslaught,” said Michael Caputo, a public relations consultant who works with tea party activists on the national level, as well as in Florida and New York. “The health care process has been an incendiary issue for the tea party organizations since Day 1. Losing that vote is going to inflame them more.”

The number of tea party groups has been growing for a little more then a year. Many in the movement were previously not politically active and have a strong independent streak, making organization sometimes difficult.

Most share a common belief that government spending and influence should be limited and they’re angry about the policies under the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress including last year’s $787 billion federal stimulus package and health care.

In a conference call with tea party activists Monday night, Eric Odom of the Patriot Caucus mapped ambitious plans to set up state chapters, organize voters online and raise money to oust incumbents who supported the health care overhaul.

He predicted the vote would increase support for the movement across the country.

The government “has declared war on our way of life,” Odom from Nevada told listeners.

“It’s now time to boot them from office,” said Odom, who chairs the Liberty First PAC, a fundraising arm of the group. “We absolutely must have your help.”

In Florida, about 85 tea party groups encompass about 100,000 people, according to Everett Wilkinson, a leader in the state’s movement. A small rally is being planned in Boca Raton on Tuesday with more likely the rest of the week in response to the vote, he said.

There are similar reactions elsewhere.

“We will be more determined than ever to see that this country is governed the way the constitution intended,” said Brenda Bowen, a tea party organizer in Greenville, Ala. “We are all getting our second wind. When we do, you’d better watch out.”

Even though they didn’t stop the bill, Tim Dake, organizer of the Milwaukee-area group GrandSons of Liberty, said he and others intend to push for a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit forcing people to buy health insurance. The amendment has been introduced by Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Wisconsin Legislature, but there are no plans to hold a hearing on it.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is pushing a similar measure in Florida. If lawmakers put it on the ballot, at least 60 percent of voters would have to approve it.

Christen Varley, head of the Greater Boston Tea Party Organizers, said the House health vote was both “heartbreaking” and a wake-up call.

“I think we all went to bed a little dejected last night, but from the communication I received this morning, people are energized,” said Varley. Sarah Palin is scheduled to headline a tea party rally on historic Boston Common on April 14.

Massachusetts already has a form of universal health care, yet the state made passage of the bill more difficult when voters elected Republican Scott Brown to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — who spent nearly his entire career pushing for health care for all. Brown’s election took away Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Whether or not tea partiers will be able to turn anger into organization may vary from state to state.

“People in the Tea Party movement are fiercely independent. They don’t like being told what to do. It’s like herding cats,” said Chad Capps, strategy coordinator for a Huntsville, Ala., group.

While tea party activists have made themselves heard, University of North Florida political science professor Matthew Corrigan said the movement alone won’t be enough to oust incumbents.

“Do they have energy? Yes. Have they been getting into the media? Yes, but they still haven’t sold me on the fact that they can swing elections,” Corrigan said.

___

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi in Chicago, Steve LeBlanc in Boston, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., and Michael Blood in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.

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Fed mull weapons charges against Blackwater mercenaries

Former Blackwater president Gary Jackson (AP)

Federal prosecutors are considering filing weapons charges against former top officials of the Blackwater Worldwide private security company over allegations they illegally stockpiled automatic rifles at the company’s North Carolina headquarters, The Associated Press has learned.

Senior Justice Department officials are reviewing a draft indictment against former president Gary Jackson, former Blackwater lawyer Andrew Howell, and a third man who used to work at the firm’s armory, people close to the case told the AP. A decision is not expected until at least next month.

Any indictment, even of former executives, would be unwelcome news at a company beleaguered since a 2007 shooting involving Blackwater guards in Baghdad left 17 people dead. Under a new name, Xe, the firm is trying to win Defense Department approval to train police in Afghanistan. The contract could be worth up to $1 billion but has drawn the ire of some in Congress.

The potential charges stem from a raid conducted by federal agents in 2008 that seized 22 weapons, among them 17 AK-47s.

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the case said investigators are trying to determine if Blackwater obtained the official letterhead of a local sheriff to create a false justification for buying the guns. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Federal law prohibits private parties from buying fully automatic weapons registered after 1986, but does let law enforcement agencies have them.

Xe spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has “fully cooperated with this investigation and we will have no further comment.”

Jackson said during a brief phone conversation Monday that he wouldn’t be able to talk about federal charges and didn’t know anything about any that might be looming.

“I haven’t heard a single, solitary word,” Jackson said before ending the phone call. Attempts to reach Howell for comment Monday were not successful.

In a 2008 interview with the AP, Jackson and other Blackwater executives said the company provided the local Camden County sheriff’s office a place to store weapons, calling the gesture a “professional courtesy.”

“We gave them a big safe so that they can store their own guns,” Jackson said at the time.

Company officials, including both Jackson and Howell, downplayed the raid during the interview. Jackson said some of the 16 uniformed officers who came to serve the warrant were embarrassed by the event and said agents had to stop at Blackwater’s front gate to get passes to come onto the company’s sprawling campus in northeastern North Carolina.

“As a hypothetical, one would think that, if you were going on a raid, you’d take your Kevlar and your weapon,” Howell said to laughter from other executives.

Blackwater, headquartered in Moyock, N.C., changed its name to Xe Services after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago. Those charges were later thrown out of court after a judge found prosecutors mishandled evidence.

In the 2008 North Carolina raid, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the armory and seized 22 guns from a vault dedicated to county authorities.

The company signed agreements in 2005 in which Blackwater financed the purchase of 34 automatic weapons for the Camden County sheriff’s office. Sheriff Tony Perry became the official owner of the weapons, but Blackwater was allowed to keep most of the guns at its armory.

One of the 2005 agreements viewed later by the AP says the weapons will be kept under “lock and key” and doesn’t describe whether Blackwater would use the guns.

At the time of the raid, Blackwater said federal authorities knew about the weapons for years and said investigators got a complete look at the company’s cache in 2005 after two employees were fired.

The company also said it was not unusual to store automatic weapons because the company is licensed to sell, provide training on or even manufacture firearms.

The 2005 agreements give the sheriff’s office unlimited access to the weapons, including 17 Romanian AK-47s. Perry said at the time that his department only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies were qualified to use them.

____

Baker reported from Raleigh, N.C. Associated Press Writer Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.

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ACORN closing its doors

ACORN, the controversial national activist group that backed Barack Obama for President, is closing its doors.

The board of the community activist group that grew to national prominence and then national embarrassment in a sting operation where a phony pimp sought advise on concealing criminal activity and received advice from ACORN staff voted Sunday to “bring its operations to a close over the coming months.

ACORN will close its state affiliate and field offices by April 1 and develop “a plan to resolve all outstanding debts, obligations and other issues.”

The sting video by two conservative activist brought a tidal wave of criticism to the group and prompted the U.S. Census Bureau to drop its partnership with the group for the upcoming Census. The IRS also dropped ACORN from its Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program and Congress eliminated all grants to the group.

Sources say the organization is splintered by infighting and broke. The organization came under fire for questions about its handling of voter registration drives in many cities.

The national group endorsed Barack Obama for President in 2008. Some local chapters have dropped out of the national organization and have reorganized under their own names.

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Crippled health care bill headed to Obama for signature

Obama: Reform...but at what cost? (AFP)

It took more than a year, a lot of compromise and back-room dealing and — finally — some legislative sleight-of-hand for Congress to pass and send President Barack Obama a health care “reform” bill that falls far short of the lofty goals originally promises.

While the package extends — and mandates — coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans and denies insurance companies the right to reject insurance for “pre-existing” conditions, it does not provide a “public option” nor will it reduce the skyrocketing cost of insurance premiums.

A last minute deal with pro-life Democratic moderate Bart Stupak and his followers gave Obama and House Democrats the margin they needed for passage and the bill passed 219-212, sending the legislation to the President for signature.

“This is what change looks like,” Obama said after the passage. “We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”

The truth of that statement remains to be seen. Polls show Americans divided over the health care bill that Obama will sign and even those who think the legislative is a good idea are skeptical of its ability to cure the nation’s health care ills.

And even as Democrats celebrated their legislative victory, the debate over health care reform is far from over. The House approved a companion bill of “fixes” by a 220-211 vote but that package must go back to the Senate where Republicans hope to use parliamentary tricks to stall the legislation and possibly force enough changes to force it back to the House for more debate.

Reports The Associated Press:

Obama is expected to sign the larger bill early this week.

The complicated two-step process was made necessary because Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof supermajority in a special election in January, a setback that caused even some Democratic lawmakers to pronounce the yearlong health care effort dead. Under the relentless prodding of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in particular, it was gradually revived, and the fix-it bill will be considered under fast-track Senate rules that don’t allow minority party filibusters.

“We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., partner to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the grueling campaign to pass the legislation.

“This is the civil rights act of the 21st century,” added Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the top-ranking black member of the House.

GOP lawmakers attacked the legislation as everything from a government takeover to the beginning of totalitarianism, and none voted in favor. “Hell no!” Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, shouted in a fiery speech opposing the legislation. “We have failed to listen to America and we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents.”

Thirty-four Democrats also voted “no” on the Senate-passed bill.

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