Nation briefs 07/29/03

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Bill urges release of activist jailed in Myanmar

WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed a bill and issued an executive order on Monday to pressure rulers in the Asian nation of Myanmar to release democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Among other things, the law bans the import of products from Myanmar, also known as Burma. The executive order freezes assets of senior Burmese officials and prohibits virtually all remittances to Myanmar.

"By denying these rulers the hard currency they use to fund their repression, we are providing strong incentives for democratic change and human rights in Burma," Bush said in a statement.

There was only scant opposition to the bill in Congress. The House passed it on a vote of 418-2. The Senate's July 16 vote of 94-1 came a little more than a month after the military leaders of Myanmar re-arrested Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Bush:Economy showing signs of improvement

PITTSBURGH -- President Bush, making a rare appearance before a group that represents black Americans, said Monday the U.S. economy is showing fresh signs of improvement. He urged Congress to approve languishing legislation to help low-income Americans and those having a hard time finding work.

"Greater opportunity and hope begins with a growing economy," Bush told a conference of the National Urban League. His appearance was part of an effort to build ties to a demographic group that overwhelmingly voted against him in 2000.

"Our nation has come a long way, and we have a long way to go. We will not stop, we will not tire until we extend the great promise of America to every neighborhood of America," Bush told an audience of about 1,500.

The president noted that the economy has been sluggish since he took office. But, he said, in recent days government reports have signaled that the tide may be turning.

Amtrak reform plan sent to Congress

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration says ending Amtrak's monopoly on intercity passenger rail service would result in reliable trains running shorter distances between cities, relieving congestion on highways and at airports.

But such a transformation will require a "leap of faith" that it will work, according to senior Transportation Department officials who briefed reporters about a bill to restructure Amtrak.

The proposed legislation was sent to Congress on Monday, a year and a half after the Bush administration's restructuring plan was first floated.

It carries no price tag and has no details about what money-losing lines would be eliminated and what new rail corridors would be promoted.

Critics say the administration is ignoring short-term problems that threaten Amtrak's viability while it pushes its long-term plan to force the states to pick up more of the costs.

Report findsAmeriCorps agency violated lawWASHINGTON -- The parent agency of the AmeriCorps program violated federal budget law in approving more volunteer positions than it had scholarship money to support, the agency's inspector general said in a report Monday.

J. Russell George, inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, blamed the violation on "inadequate oversight, flawed membership and financial reporting systems, job responsibilities for key personnel that were either not well-defined or adhered to" and ineffective communication among managers.

The 17-page report named several current and former senior employees as responsible for violation of the Anti-deficiency Act.

The violation, if proved intentional, can be punishable by removal from office, small fines or jail time. The report did not find any willful violations, although George said his office still was investigating.

-- From wire reports

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