- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

OLYMPICS

White House says China missed out

CRAWFORD, Texas | China missed an opportunity to show progress on human rights and religious freedom during the Olympic Games, the White House said Monday, after eight Americans were deported for protesting during the games.

President Bush attended the opening ceremonies and several events despite pressure from U.S. lawmakers and activists, who said his presence could legitimize the Chinese government’s suppression of freedom of speech and religion.

During meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Mr. Bush pressed them to be more accommodating to religious freedom and allow wider freedom of speech.



As the Olympic Games closed, eight American supporters of Tibet were deported for trying to protest against the Chinese government, according to Students for a Free Tibet.

“It was maybe an opportunity missed for the Chinese to demonstrate their willingness to be more open and to allow more freedom of speech, freedom of religion, while the world was watching,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

CAMPAIGN

Hispanic singer endorses McCain

Grammy-winning singer Daddy Yankee voiced his support for Sen. John McCain Monday as the Republican presidential candidate described Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama as an “honorable opponent.”

Daddy Yankee, whose real name is Ramon Ayala, appeared with the Arizona senator in front of about 100 students at Phoenix’s Central High School, the alma mater of Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy.

Mr. Ayala said he was supporting Mr. McCain because of his support for immigration reform.

“I believe in his ideals and his proposals to lead this nation,” Mr. Ayala said. “He’s been a fighter for the Hispanic community, and I know he’s the best candidate because he’s been a fighter for the immigration issue.”

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, paid tribute to Mr. Obama as the Democrats prepared to open their convention in Denver.

“This is a tough presidential campaign we’re in,” Mr. McCain said. “I have a very honorable opponent. There are stark differences between us.”

STATE DEPARTMENT

Rice calls Biden ‘a true patriot’

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Democratic vice-presidential pick Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. Monday as “a fine statesman” and a “true patriot” - praise the White House declined to echo.

“I am not going to comment on the politics of it. I’ll just say that Senator Biden is obviously a very fine statesman,” she told reporters on her way to the Middle East. “He’s a true, true patriot.”

Miss Rice said Mr. Biden, who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, but has sharply criticized the war, had been “really very supportive” of her diplomacy as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Asked about her comments, White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to embrace Miss Rice’s use of “patriot” or “statesman,” saying instead that Mr. Biden “has done tremendous work over a long period, and I know he has been supportive of Secretary Rice’s State Department.”

Mr. Fratto, speaking in Crawford, Texas, while President Bush spends time on his ranch, noted that Miss Rice “has made clear who she intends to vote for” - fellow Republican Sen. John McCain.

POSTAL SERVICE

Postmaster foresees $2 billion loss

ST. LOUIS | The U.S. Postal Service could lose about $2 billion this year owing to tough economic times, and it needs to change to meet the demands of the public, Postmaster General John Potter said Monday.

Mr. Potter told the National Association of Postmasters of the United States at their convention in St. Louis that the postal service is grappling with issues that many businesses are facing - such as high fuel prices.

“We simply cannot control it,” he said. But, he pointed to the postal service’s large fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles as a positive step.

Mr. Potter praised postmasters and postal workers for their commitment to service and reliability, but said more needs to be done to reduce bureaucracy, cut costs and embrace technology.

“We’re probably going to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion this year,” he said. “If we don’t act, we’ll lose $2 billion or more the following year.”

MEDICARE

Review discovers errors in payments

A review of Medicare payments to suppliers of wheelchairs, oxygen machines and other medical equipment showed nearly three in 10 were made in error - about four times the rate previously cited by the federal government, investigators said Monday.

A payment error occurs when Medicare’s contractors reimburse suppliers despite insufficient documentation or wrong coding. An error does not necessarily mean the government was defrauded, but it can leave the program more susceptible to fraud and abuse.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said its error rate for durable medical equipment came to about 7.5 percent - amounting to about $700 million in improper payments during the fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2006. It makes that estimate based on a sample of claims filed.

However, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services said its contractor found an error rate of 28.6 percent. The increase occurred after 369 claims used in the government’s previous calculation were subjected to closer inspection.

NAVIGATION

Speed limit sought to protect whales

The federal government is recommending a speed limit for commercial ships along the Atlantic coast, where collisions with the endangered right whale threaten its existence.

About 300 of the whales are left in the wild, and they migrate annually between their southeastern Atlantic breeding grounds to feeding areas off the Massachusetts coast, intersecting busy shipping lanes.

The rule would set a 10-knot speed limit within 23 miles of major Mid-Atlantic ports and the whales’ breeding and feeding areas for five years. The rule then would expire or have to be renewed.

Those requirements differ from an earlier draft challenged by the White House, which disputed the science linking ship speed and whale deaths.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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