Monday, June 1, 2009

Cheney, Powell interviews winners for Schieffer

While followers of the Sunday morning political shows obsess about which host best represents the genre's future, a man who's proven an utter failure at setting retirement dates is making some noise.

CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer's bookend interviews with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell in May made news and offered riveting inside looks at old conflicts within the Bush administration and the current struggle for the future of the Republican Party.

Schieffer and former Vice President Cheney go way back. When Cheney was chief of staff for President Gerald Ford in the 1970s, Schieffer said he was the most open and accessible person he's ever seen in the role, a contrast to his public image as vice president. With Cheney speaking out against President Barack Obama, Schieffer invited him on "Face the Nation." It was accepted within 10 minutes.

"I can't remember a story that got as much pick-up and reaction as that one did," Schieffer said of the May 10 appearance.

After a lengthy discussion about Cheney's views on fighting terrorism, the former vice president visibly startled Schieffer by calling Rush Limbaugh a better Republican than his former colleague Powell. In fact, Cheney considered Powell an ex-Republican for backing Obama in last year's election.

Schieffer knew immediately he'd struck gold.

"You never know 'til you ask," he said. "I would have thought he would have gracefully sidestepped that question, off the top of my head ... That's what I always tell people in journalism lectures: You don't want to assume when you ask someone a question that you know what he's going to answer."

Powell just as quickly accepted Schieffer's invitation and appeared two weeks later. Schieffer, who asks methodical, get-the-facts questions in a Texas twang, brought up Cheney's comments immediately. He replayed that segment of Cheney's interview on a split screen that showed Powell's impassive face watching the tape.

He may be soft-spoken and carry a military man's demeanor, but Powell did some slicing and dicing of his own. He pointed out that Cheney not only opposed Obama on the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, he opposed George Bush. Powell said he decided whether or not he was a Republican — not Cheney or Limbaugh.

"It's just a good story, really, the story of where the Republican Party is right now and where it is going and what does it want to be," Schieffer said. The two men also conducted the debate over Guantanamo that didn't come during the 2008 campaign, he said.

The interviews continued a good run for "Face the Nation," which had its largest audience in five years when Obama appeared on March 29. With an average of 2.55 million viewers each week during May, "Face the Nation" is right behind ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, at 2.72 million viewers. Both broadcasts are up 3 percent over May 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That's largely a reflection of the return of NBC's once-dominant "Meet the Press" to the pack since David Gregory replaced the late Tim Russert. NBC's average of 3.19 million viewers is down 23 percent from last May. That's nearly one million people gone; some have switched to Schieffer, Stephanopoulos or others, but the majority have tuned out altogether.

Put Schieffer, 72, on one of these programs as a guest and he'd probably be forced to confront some of his own words. The bladder cancer survivor has publicly set retirement dates and let them pass by. Now he doesn't pretend to know. He'll take a Sunday off now or then, and CBS will quietly test a substitute that might someday replace him, but Schieffer has an open-ended contract.

"I guess when they get tired of me, they'll tell me," he said. "And if I get tired of them, I'll tell them. I hope we're a long way from that right now. I'm going to hang around for another couple of years."

Talent star Boyle taken to clinic

Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle has been taken to a private London clinic with exhaustion.

A woman was taken voluntarily by ambulance to a clinic, police said.

Officers were called to a London hotel on Sunday at 1800 BST to doctors assessing a woman under the Mental Health Act, Scotland Yard said.

The Sun said the Scottish singer was admitted to the Priory clinic with exhaustion, a day after she lost out to dance group Diversity in the ITV1 show.

The Priory Clinic said: "We can neither confirm nor deny the reports."

'Emotionally drained'

Diversity beat the West Lothian singer to be named the winners of the talent show on Saturday night in a final watched by an audience of more than 18 million.

On Sunday, it emerged Boyle was taking time off on the advice of a doctor.
Susan Boyle
Boyle found herself the focus of media attention at her home in Scotland

Television company TalkbackThames released a statement: "Following Saturday night's show, Susan is exhausted and emotionally drained.

"She has been seen by her private GP who supports her decision to take a few days out for rest and recovery."

"We offer her our ongoing support and wish her a speedy recovery."

The singer became an international singing sensation after first performing I Dreamed A Dream in the contest, a song she reprised for the final.

Her performances have attracted millions of hits on video-sharing websites and led to an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told GMTV that he had spoken to Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan to check on Boyle's progress.

"I hope Susan Boyle is OK because she is a really, really nice person and I think she will do well," he added.

Britain's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan told GMTV that the attention Boyle received has been "crazy" and "nobody could have predicted it".

He said she had been subjected to huge pressure, but was "essentially fine".

Susan will still have success I am sure if she can overcome her present problems

"She was very tired and hasn't been sleeping. She has just gone away to have some time to herself and to sleep and eat, doing all the things she hasn't been able to do in the last week," he added.

Publicist Max Clifford said people in Boyle's situation "need people around them to understand how the business works."

He added that "everyone connected to the show has a responsibility" to help contestants, but its makers - including Simon Cowell - would be aware of this.

Fred O'Neil, one of Boyle's friends who was her voice coach, said it was a "sad situation".

"She just was caught up in all of this and I think that she will never have had an idea, at the beginning, the price that she might have to pay."

Reports: NKorea prepares long-range missile launch

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is preparing to launch its most advanced missile, believed to be capable of reaching Alaska, from its west coast near China, news reports said Monday.

With the launch, the reclusive communist country could thumb its nose at U.N. Security Council attempts to rein it in after last week's nuclear test and a series of short-range missile launches.

One South Korean report said the launch could be ready by the time South Korean President Lee Myung-bak meets with President Barack Obama on June 16.

South Korean news reports said the North has transported a long-range missile to a newly completed launch pad. And Yonhap news agency said South Korea is studying an intelligence report that the North has ordered troops along the west coast to double their stocks of ammunition.

Yonhap cited an unnamed government official as saying vehicle activity to and from military bases along the coast has increased. South Korea's Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report.

U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a news conference in the Philippines, said North Korea appears to be working on a long-range missile but it's not clear yet what they plan to do with it.

Lee, hosting a conference of Southeast Asian leaders on the southern island of Jeju, warned North Korea against any provocation.

"If North Korea turns its back on dialogue and peace and dares to carry out military threats and provocations, the Republic of Korea will never tolerate that," Lee said in his regular radio address. "I want to make clear that there won't be any compromise on things that threaten our nation's security."

The new missile could be ready to launch as soon as mid-June, in time for a summit between Lee and President Barack Obama in Washington on June 16, according to the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper.

Adding to tensions this week, the trial starts Thursday in Pyongyang of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, accused of entering the country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts."

North Korea faced strong international criticism after its last long-range missile launch, on April 5. The North said the launch was of a rocket intended to put a satellite in orbit. That Taepodong-2 rocket flew about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers), crossing over Japan before crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

In late April, the North threatened to conduct nuclear and long-range missile tests unless the Security Council apologized for criticizing the launch. On Friday, it threatened to take a further "self-defense" measure if the Security Council provokes it. That threat was seen as referring to an ICBM test.

In another sign that a new launch is in the works, the North has designated a large area off its west coast as a "no-sail" zone through the end of next month, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing unidentified intelligence officials.

Experts said the preparations were especially significant because the North has never launched a long-range missile from the northwestern base.

Kim Tae-woo, vice president of Seoul's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said he thinks the North chose the site because of its proximity to China, making it more risky for the U.S. to strike.

The site is about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Chinese border city of Dandong.

The missile being prepared for launch is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), the JoongAng Ilbo reported, citing an unnamed South Korean official.

That would put Alaska within striking range.

On Monday, the North said again that it is being provoked by South Korea and the United States, saying that the number of spy planes operating in its airspace has risen dramatically.

"The U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppets perpetrated at least 200 cases of aerial espionage against the DPRK in May, or 30 cases more than those in the same month of last year," it said in a report in its official Korean Central News Agency.

The DPRK is an abbreviation of North Korea's official name.

The North's missile and nuclear programs have been considered a top regional security concern, though the regime is not yet believed to have mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a missile.

Associated Press writers Siyoung Lee and Young-joon Ahn on Yeonpyeong island and Lara Jakes in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.

Man charged with murder of 'late-term' abortion doctor in US

US abortion debate inflamed as Scott Roeder is arrested for shooting dead George Tiller at church in Wichita, Kansas

The bitter dispute over abortion in the US has received a violent jolt after a doctor in Kansas, one of the few in the country to perform so-called late-term abortions, was shot dead at a church near his clinic.

George Tiller, 67, who had been targeted in other attacks over the years, was killed just after 10am yesterday in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran church in Wichita, where he was acting as an usher during a morning service.

His wife, Jeanne, was singing in the choir at the time.

Barack Obama, whose election as president has intensified the abortion debate, condemned the shooting. "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," he said in a statement.

A 51-year-old suspect in the shooting, named as Scott Roeder, was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder and two charges of aggravated assault, according to the Associated Press. Internet postings showed that someone using the name Scott Roeder had expressed anti-abortion opinions and had singled out Tiller for criticism.

Churchgoers in Wichita were reported to have recognised the gunman, who they said had attended the church three or four times.

Tiller's death comes amid growing unease among anti-­abortionists about Obama, whom they regard as an opponent.

They have been angered by some of Obama's early decisions, particularly his removal of restrictions imposed by George Bush on federal funding of stem cell research and on funding family planning services that carry out or assist abortions in foreign countries.

Two weeks ago, discontent between the anti-abortion movement and Obama boiled over when he gave a high-profile speech at a Catholic university in Indiana. There were protests and several arrests at the University of Notre Dame, and the president was heckled by some as he took on the abortion issue.

Obama told his audience that the number of women seeking abortions should be reduced, but that women still had the right to choose.

Tiller had been the target of threats, protests and violence over many years. His Wichita clinic is one of three in the US where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. The attacks on him and the clinic reach as far back as June 1986, when a bomb was placed on the clinic's roof, seriously damaging it.

In 1993 he was attacked outside the clinic and shot in both arms. His assailant, a woman called Rachelle Shannon, remains in prison for the attack.

The most recent attack on the clinic was made a few weeks ago, when electricity cables to security cameras and outside lights were severed and the roof broken to allow rain through. The vandalism caused thousands of dollars' worth of damage, and Tiller is said to have asked the FBI to investigate.

Wichita police last night increased security outside the clinic.

Under Kansas law, late-term abortions can be performed on foetuses that would be viable outside the mother's womb but only if two independent doctors agree that not to do so would put the mother at risk of irreparable harm by giving birth.

The phenomenon has long been a focal point of anti-abortionist anger, as they see the procedure as murder. Earlier this year Tiller was put on trial in Wichita, accused of illegally performing 19 abortions in which he violated the state law requiring a second independent medical opinion.

In March, he was found not guilty on all 19 criminal charges. His supporters denounced the trial as a witch hunt.

Tiller's killing was quickly condemned by all sides. "It is abhorrent that, once again, individuals who oppose the right to choose have used violence to try to advance their extreme anti-choice agenda," said Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.

In a statement, Tiller's family described the shooting as "an unspeakable tragedy".

"This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace."

The family said their loss "is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence."

The Rev Patrick Mahoney, an anti-­abortion activist, also swiftly denounced the shooting: "No one should use this tragedy for political gain," he said.

A prominent anti-abortion organisation, Operation Rescue, said it was shocked by the news. "We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning," the group said in a statement. "We pray for Mr Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ." Operation Rescue organised a series of protests outside Tiller's clinic in the summer of 1991, under the banner Summer of Mercy.

But not everyone was willing to suspend the political fight out of respect for the victim. Randall Terry, a driven anti-abortionist who was among those arrested at the Notre Dame event, said: "George Tiller was a mass murderer and we cannot stop saying that. He was an evil man, his hands were covered with blood."

A candlelight vigil was due to be held last night outside the church where Tiller was shot dead.

Someone posting to the website of Operation Rescue in May 2007 used the name "Scott Roeder" in response to a planned vigil to "pray for an end to George R Tiller's late-term abortion business".

It said: "Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp. Sometime soon, would it be feasible to organise as many people as possible to attend Tillers [sic] church (inside, not just outside) to have much more of a presence and possibly ask questions of the Pastor, Deacons, Elders and members while there? Doesn't seem like it would hurt anything but bring more attention to Tiller."