- - Thursday, May 24, 2012

The State Department says human rights conditions have deteriorated in China and that Vietnam continues to severely restrict political rights and freedom of expression.

The judgments were made in the department’s annual assessment of human rights around the world released Thursday.

The department hailed “remarkable” improvements in Myanmar, with the releases of hundreds of political prisoners and the participation of its most famous former detainee, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in elections.

The report criticized Sri Lanka for disappearances and killings by pro-government paramilitary groups despite the end of the island nation’s civil war in 2009.

The department said conditions remain extremely poor in North Korea, where an estimated 130,000 to 200,000 people are detained in political penal labor camps.


Romney ad outlines first day of presidency

Mitt Romney’s campaign has released an ad promoting “Day One” of a Romney presidency, describing which of President Obama’s policies the Republican will reverse first if he wins the White House.

The ad promises that on his first day in the Oval Office, Mr. Romney will announce deficit reductions, ending what the campaign calls “the Obama era of big government.”

It says Mr. Romney will stand up to China on trade and demand “they play by the rules.”

The ad also says Mr. Romney will repeal what it calls “job-killing regulations that are costing the economy billions.”


Prosecutor misconduct found in Stevens case

The Justice Department’s internal ethics watchdog said Thursday that two prosecutors in the bungled corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens engaged in reckless professional misconduct by failing to disclose information favorable to the lawmaker, who eight days after his 2008 conviction lost re-election to the seat he held for 40 years.

The Office of Professional Responsibility, however, did not find that the misconduct was intentional.

A career Justice Department official decided that one prosecutor should be suspended for 40 days without pay and the second prosecutor should be suspended for 15 days without pay. They can appeal to the independent Merit Systems Protection Board.

The office found no professional misconduct by other prosecutors in the Stevens case.

A jury convicted Stevens on Oct. 27, 2008, of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure documents to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in home renovations and gifts from wealthy friends. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate at the time, was defeated eight days later by Democrat Mark Begich.

The judge in the case dismissed Stevens’ conviction in April 2009 after the Justice Department admitted misconduct. Stevens died in a plane crash on Aug. 9, 2010.

In March, a court-appointed special prosecutor, Henry Schuelke, declined to recommend criminal contempt charges over government misconduct in the case. But, unlike the Justice professional responsibility office, Mr. Schuelke did conclude that the two prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, intentionally withheld key information from the defense.


Lawmakers act to extend flood insurance program

The Senate has voted to extend the life of the National Flood Insurance Program for two months, giving lawmakers time to work on a long-term extension that would seek to restore fiscal solvency to the debt-ridden program.

The House last week approved a one-month extension of the program, and the two chambers will have to decide on a common approach before the program’s charter expires at the end of the month. The House last year passed a five-year extension that provides flood protection to some 5.6 million policyholders.

That bill, on which the Senate did not act, took steps to restore fiscal integrity to the program, which was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and now owes the Treasury nearly $18 billion.


Search for Romney running mate in audition phase

Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential search has entered a new phase: auditions.

As his campaign evaluates potential running mates, Republicans with a shot at the No. 2 spot are starting to engage in unofficial public tryouts for the traditional vice-presidential role of attack dog.

Such possible contenders as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have had scorching words for President Obama.

Not that any of those who may have landed on Mr. Romney’s list are talking about becoming vice president. Nor are they acknowledging that they’re trying out for the role or saying they’ve been asked to do so.

Top Romney aides are sworn to secrecy, as are potential running mates and their staffs — an example of the Romney campaign’s closely controlled, no-leaks culture.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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