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"Anybody who expects us to put Somalia back together again — acting alone — is foolish," he said.

The Bush administration has identified 63 countries that would be eligible to compete for the first round of of Millennium Challenge funds because their per capita income levels are below $1,415 and they are not precluded from receiving aid by being on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors.

To qualify for the funds, countries must demonstrate, in the president's words, that they are "ruling justly, investing in their people, and establishing economic freedom."

The administration will use 16 independent indicators, many of them from outside government, to measure the merits of a candidate.

For example, a private organization like Transparency International could rate the applicants on corruption; the World Bank Institute, on rule of law; Freedom House, on political rights; and the Heritage Foundation, on trade policy.

"It's pretty rigorous," said Alan P. Larson, the State Department's top economics official, who is running the account until the president's expected nominee, Paul Applegarth, is confirmed. Mr. Larson noted that the board would use indexes that were publicly available.

Another innovation with the new program is that the United States will not dictate how money is spent.

"This would put the recipient countries much more in the driver's seat," said Steven Radelet, a former Treasury official who works at the Center for Global Development. Countries would sign three-year contracts with the United States, and the effectiveness of their efforts would be judged by the results.

Some development specialists worry that the process may diminish accountability.

"You're putting a lot of faith in these countries to figure out how to use this money well," said Thomas Carothers, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Bush's AIDS initiative seeks to unite a mix of agencies and programs under a single coordinator, Randall L. Tobias, who will present his emergency plan on Monday.

Mr. Tobias, a former pharmaceutical executive, is expected to outline plans for a rapid expansion of programs in about 15 seriously afflicted countries, emphasizing prevention, care and treatment and spending $10 billion in new financing over five years for a total of $15 billion.

While the financing is welcomed by advocates for people with AIDS, critics have questioned whether a separate bureaucracy is necessary when there is already a Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The administration, which has asked for $2.8 billion for the AIDS fund for 2005, says it is gearing up to meet the president's goal of $15 billion over five years, though some Congressional Republicans concede that budget deficit concerns will probably scale back both initiatives.

Some political analysts question whether the United States' commitment will endure beyond the November elections and the current spending spree on antiterrorist strategies.

"It remains to be seen whether this is an innovation that has staying power," said J. Brian Atwood, the A.I.D. administrator in the Clinton administration.

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In Politics, the Web Is a Parallel World With Its Own Rules

By JIM RUTENBERGPublished: February 22, 2004IT was a sharp video attack, jarring in a political season that has been unusually short on negative advertising. A woman, sitting at a keyboard, seeks information about Senator John Kerry on the Internet. She unearths all sorts of scandalizing tidbits.

"More special interest money than any other senator. How much?'' she says ''Paybacks?'' and then reading aloud from the screen, she says, ''Millions from executives at HMO's, telecoms, drug companies.'' She add, "Ka-Ching!"

She can only come to one damning conclusion: Mr. Kerry, she says, is ''Unprincipled.''

The one-minute spot, introduced a week ago, did not appear on television, but on President Bush's campaign Web site. And so a new bare-knuckled political use of the World Wide Web showed its head: the Internet attack ad.

When the Web was in its infancy, Internet utopians envisioned a political revolution, predicting that the new medium would engage and empower voters as never before. Much of what they envisioned has come to pass, with the Internet facilitating vigorous debate this year, most dramatically, giving Howard Dean's campaign the ability to raise millions.

But part of the Web's appeal has been its unbridled nature, and it is showing that it can act as a back alley — where punches can be thrown and things can be said that might be deemed out of place, even if just at a particular moment, in the full light of the mainstream media.

"The principals themselves feel like they can act out there in a way that they wouldn't dare to do in the mainstream media,'' said Jonathan Zittrain, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

Mr. Bush's campaign, for instance, has not been ready to launch a confrontational television ad, let alone a positive one, because it is trying to cling to the transcendent trappings of the Rose Garden for as long as possible.

But it wanted to rob Mr. Kerry of his claim to be a reformer — by pointing out his support from special interests — without wading too deeply into real campaign waters, said Mark McKinnon, Mr. Bush's chief media strategist.

"Senator Kerry was getting a free ride from a lot of the Democrats, and we felt it was important to point out what he was saying was inconsistent with his record, but we were not prepared to engage that fully yet,'' he said. "The Web offered a modulated way of engaging.''

The Democrat candidates have not aggressively used attack ads on the Web, although they have used Mr. Bush as a target on television instead of confronting each other, which could risk weakening the party's chances of gaining the White House.

The Bush Web ad offered all of the emotional impact of a television commercial without all of the political impact.

For one, a Web ad, unlike a television commercial, does not fall under new election rules requiring candidates to appear in their own advertisements to voice approval of them. By not having to take direct responsibility for his anti-Kerry spot, Mr. Bush got some distance from it — even though it is on his Web site.

But perhaps most significantly, the Web has evolved as a relatively permissive environment. A negative advertisement that might rub viewers the wrong way in their living rooms is apparently less likely to do so when they are at their computers.

The tension between the different strata of media was evident when The Drudge Report, the news Web site, recently reported that several major news organizations were investigating a rumor that Mr. Kerry may have had an extramarital affair.

Unlike the Monica Lewinsky scandal, news of which The Drudge Report also broke, the Kerry rumor had no accompanying criminal investigation, which could justify coverage by itself, and newsrooms across the country found themselves in a state of paralysis — caught between ignoring a story millions already knew about or validating a charge without independent confirmation.

The pressure mounted as The Drudge Report posted follow-up articles, effectively fanning the flames. Those watching from the sidelines saw the situation as a test of just how far the major newspapers, magazines and television networks would allow themselves to be pushed.

"Clearly the Internet is accelerating the pace at which politics move,'' said Jim Jordan, Mr. Kerry's former campaign manager. "And, increasingly, it seems to allow the mainstream media to rationalize editorial decisions that wouldn't have been made in the past.''

Ultimately, most news organizations, however, did not take the bait, with some ignoring the story entirely and others, including The New York Times, reporting denials from Mr. Kerry and the woman in question deep within their news pages.

"There was no proof of anything,'' said Tom Hannon, the CNN political director. He said the network buried the denials in other campaign reports. Mickey Kaus, who had discussed the ethics of reporting the rumor on his Web blog, kausfiles.com, agreed that two different journalism worlds exist and he said that it's a good thing.

"Clearly we seem to be settling into an equilibrium where standards on the Web are different, and people can live with that as long as the mainstream press behaves the way it behaved during this latest scandal, which is to say they stick to their own standards,'' Mr. Kaus said.

On the Internet, he said, a large number of people can get wind of the sorts of conversations taking place in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.

"Now everybody can know what the political pros know,'' he said. "So if you're a voter concerned about electability, you want to know Kerry's potential problems down the road. Now you have a vague idea, and you can discount them or take them into account depending on what you think.''

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California Plans Move to End Gay Marriages

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSPublished: February 22, 2004