- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

DEFENSE FUND

Palin supporters set up defense fund

Supporters of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have set up a fund to help her pay off more than $500,000 in legal fees incurred while defending herself against ethics complaints.

Supporters said Friday that the Alaska Fund Trust was created by Alaskans to help defend Mrs. Palin “against the onslaught of frivolous attacks against her.”

They say the trust is the only legal fund authorized by Mrs. Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee last year.

Spokeswoman Kristan Cole said the fund has many restrictions, including a $150 contribution limit.

Contributing heavily to Mrs. Palin’s legal debts was last fall’s troopergate probe, the Alaska Legislature’s investigation into Mrs. Palin’s firing of the public safety commissioner.

LABOR

Union activist named to Labor Department

President Obama has appointed a key union activist as senior adviser to Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, another sign of the influence that organized labor wields in the Obama administration.

Mary Beth Maxwell spent the past five years as executive director of American Rights at Work, a nonprofit group pushing for passage of a bill to make it easier to form unions.

At the Labor Department, Miss Maxwell will serve as a liaison to the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, a group charged with raising the living standards of middle-class families by improving labor standards, boosting workplace safety and protecting retirement security.

Democratic leaders in Congress hope to bring some version of the Employee Free Choice Act to a vote this summer. Democrats are trying to rally enough votes to overcome an expected Republican filibuster.

Former Democratic Rep. David E. Bonior, chairman of the board of American Rights at Work, suggested Miss Maxwell’s new post would bolster union efforts to pass the labor reform legislation known as “card check.”

Business groups strongly oppose the card check bill, which would remove the right of employers to demand a secret ballot election before workers could form unions.

Mrs. Solis also was a board member of American Rights at Work, a position she left after being confirmed to the president’s Cabinet.

GUANTANAMO

Lawmaker opposes release of Uighurs

A top lawmaker warned Friday against any release of Chinese ethnic Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay into the United States, urging the White House to “guarantee” the public’s safety beforehand.

“The question remains, as it does with all detainees held at Guantanamo: Does their release make America safer?” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked in response to media reports.

Most of the 17 Uighurs held at the detention facility for suspected terrorists were cleared more than four years ago of being “enemy combatants.”

The Uighurs were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in October 2001 as part of the military campaign in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

They fled to the mountains, but were turned over to Pakistani authorities, who then handed them over to the United States.

The Defense Department and the State Department have tried unsuccessfully for several years to arrange the transfer of the Uighurs to a third country, saying they face the risk of persecution if they return to China.

TRANSPORTATION

Congress gears up for big transport bill

A House committee chairman wants to spend close to a half-trillion dollars to solve the nation’s transportation woes, but first he has to sell the public on what they’ll get for their money before asking Congress to pay for it.

Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters Friday he plans to introduce a six-year highway and transit construction bill in May and win swift House passage. The House likely will consider the gargantuan bill in early June.

“Until we are prepared to show the American public what we will deliver, how it will be done, how they can envision the future of transportation serving them better, I don’t think it’s appropriate to assess the cost,” Mr. Oberstar said.

There is a consensus in Congress that something major needs to be done about transportation. People are spending more time in their cars trying to get to work - or anywhere else. Transit systems are carrying record numbers of riders and, in some cases, are cutting back service. Freight delays, both highway and rail, are costing industry and consumers billions of dollars. An alarming share of the nation’s highways, bridges, tunnels, and train cars have aged beyond their intended life and are in disrepair.

The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the program, is expected to run out of money this summer. The fund depends on gas taxes, but revenue has dropped dramatically because people are driving less. Congress had to transfer $8 billion from the general fund last fall to keep highway programs going.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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