Letters From Exile

...Scott Bidstrup's Life And Living In Costa Rica

Tue, Nov 29 2005

Brilliant Weather Continues

What is up with this weather? Yesterday and today both have been brilliant sunshine, as if the rainy season were over. Here in Arenal, it is supposed to have another two months to run, but so far, the weather has been more typical of the middle of the dry season than the rainy season. Even the temperatures have been unusually warm - 81 yesterday and 82 today with a 70 degree overnight low. This is definitely not the sort of weather we are used to this time of the year.

I took advantage of the warm weather to get out in the garden for a bit. The hot, dry weather has not been too kind to the ferns in the flower boxes in front of the house, so I got those thinned out today, which they badly needed. The begonias are loving it, though, and are all in full bloom. So are the white terrestrial orchids. Spectacular flower, but without a hint of fragrance. There are a lot of spots in the garden that are needing some weeding and pruning, and if the weather and my health holds out, I plan to get out there to do some of that, too. I need to convince my gardener that he needs to keep on top of the pruning.

The small shrubs that I planted in the cinder block holes along side the driveway have been prospering, far better than I had dared hope. There is one particular clone that is dense with dark, green healthy leaves and lots of flowers, so I think I am going to take a large number of cuttings from it, and root them out to finish up that project. It will make that driveway quite attractive once they are established. The cuttings already in place are quite spectacular right now, with their purple flowers almost covering the foot-high shrubs.

I notice someone has turned around in my driveway and in the process has overturned some of the cinder blocks again. I may have to break down and cement them in place. I am getting tired of fixing that darned thing.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The United States: As I have been warning in this space several times in recent weeks, the covert war in Iraq has now spread to Syria. A Seymore Hersch article in the New Yorker reports that a composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.) “It’s a powder keg,” the Pentagon consultant said of the tactic. “But, if we hit an insurgent network in Iraq without hitting the guys in Syria who are part of it, the guys in Syria would get away. When you’re fighting an insurgency, you have to strike everywhere—and at once.” Meanwhile, an orderly exit from Iraq depends on the development of a viable Iraqi security force, but the Iraqis aren't even close. Apparently, Smirkey doesn't take the problem seriously—and he never has.

European Commission Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini has warned that that any of the 25 bloc nations found to have allowed secret CIA prisons on their national territory could have their EU voting rights suspended. The Council of Europe — the continent's main human rights watchdog — is investigating the allegations, and EU justice official Jonathan Faul last week formally raised the issue with White House and U.S. State Department representatives, Frattini said. "They told him, 'give us the appropriate time to evaluate the situation.' Right now, there is no response," he said. The CIA has refused to comment on the European investigation. Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, the EU Justice Commissioner said he would call for tough penalties against any involved state. Frattini said suspending EU voting rights would be justified under the EU treaty, which stipulates that the bloc is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and that a persistent breach of these principles can be punished. Clandestine detention centers would violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe's Human rights commissioner has accused the United States of running a Guantanamo-style prison in Kosovo. The official, Alvaro Gil-Robles, revealed in an interview last week that he visited the site in 2002 and was shocked to see a barbed wire-rimmed prison inside a US military base. He told the French newspaper Le Monde the camp resembled 'a smaller version of Guantanamo." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to travel to Europe next week and is expected to try to deflect growing European pressure over the CIA's secret operations.

A top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has launched a stinging attack on US Vice-President Dick Cheney over abuse of prisoners by US troops. Col Lawrence Wilkerson accused Mr Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. Asked by the BBC's Today if Mr Cheney could be accused of war crimes, he said: "It's an interesting question. Certainly it is a domestic crime to advocate terror," he added. "And I would suspect, for whatever it's worth, it's an international crime as well." "I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular, and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable... so I have to lay some blame at his feet too."

The US says it will "investigate" reports that European airports were used to move terror suspects to secret CIA-run jails, Germany's foreign minister says. Frank-Walker Steinmeier said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had assured him during talks in Washington that the claims would be clarified. Mr Steinmeier said Ms Rice understood that the public and politicians in Europe are concerned about the issue. German media says the CIA have been using German airports to move suspects. Last week, the European Union said it would formally ask the US to check reports that it operated secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe.

Col. Ted Westhusing, a military ethicist who volunteered to go to Iraq, was upset by what he saw. And now his apparent suicide is raising questions. In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military. Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor. A "suicide note" found in his trailer seemed to offer clues. Written in what the Army determined was his handwriting, the colonel appeared to be struggling with a final question. "How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?" He was found in his trailer, shot dead with one bullet to the head. The Army has ruled it a suicide. As he had uncovered some corruption on the part of one of the contractors doing work for the U.S. military, not everyone is so sure.

Fighting Islamic terror with state terror: Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant. Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats. "This is an in-your-face type of strategy. It's letting the terrorists know we are out there," Fernandez said. The operations will keep terrorists off guard, Fernandez said. He said al-Qaida and other terrorist groups plot attacks by putting places under surveillance and watching for flaws and patterns in security. Police Chief John Timoney said there was no specific, credible threat of an imminent terror attack in Miami. But he said the city has repeatedly been mentioned in intelligence reports as a potential target. Both uniformed and plainclothes police will ride buses and trains, while others will conduct longer-term surveillance operations. "People are definitely going to notice it," Fernandez said. "We want that shock. We want that awe. But at the same time, we don't want people to feel their rights are being threatened. We need them to be our eyes and ears."

As debate over government surveillance rages in adult society, the US Department of Justice is quietly enticing school districts to implement controversial technologies that monitor and track students. Critics fear these efforts will normalize electronic surveillance at an early age, conditioning young people to accept privacy violations while creating a market for companies that develop and sell surveillance systems. A few of the nation’s schools are already running pilot programs to monitor students’ movements using radio frequency identification (RFID). The highly controversial programs, implemented in the name of student protection, see pupils wearing tags around their necks and submitting themselves to electronic scanning as they enter and leave school property. Now, a new federal grant could lure more districts into using these or similar technologies.

As a young Reagan administration lawyer, the Supreme Court nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr., took an expansive view of government law-enforcement powers in numerous cases in which he was called upon to balance the prerogatives of police and prosecutors with the rights of individuals, according to 400 pages of documents released yesterday by the Justice Department. The documents show that Alito once advised against including a ban on capital punishment for minors, in an agreement by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Such matters should be left for individual states to decide, he said. The draft agreement called for outlawing the death penalty and life sentences without the possibility of parole for those who are younger than 18 when they commit crimes. Alito raised concerns about such a proposal. ''There are states that presently impose the death penalty on such individuals," Alito wrote in January 1987 in a memo to John R. Bolton, who was then an assistant attorney general and who now serves as US ambassador to the United Nations. ''Congress may at some point wish to have such penalties on the federal level," Alito told Bolton. ''We therefore question whether the United States should agree with this provision of the Convention."

Diebold may decide against selling new equipment in North Carolina after a judge declined Monday to protect it from criminal prosecution should it fail to disclose software code as required by state law. Diebold Inc., which makes automated teller machines and security and voting equipment, is worried it could be charged with a felony if officials determine the company failed to make all of its code some of which is owned by third-party software firms, including Microsoft Corp. available for examination by election officials in case of a voting mishap. The requirement is part of the minimum voting equipment standards approved by state lawmakers earlier this year following the loss of more than 4,400 electronic ballots in Carteret County during the November 2004 election. The lost votes threw at least one close statewide race into uncertainty for more than two months.

If they won't join you, beat 'em: at least nine Iraq veterans vying to become the first soldiers of the post-9/11 military to be elected to the House of Representatives, according to party leaders. They say their experience makes them well-suited to help successfully extricate the United States from Iraq and to more effectively fight the war on terrorism, which they fear is being lost in the Muslim world's court of public opinion. Eight of the nine are running as Democrats. At least three are lawyers. Most went to the front lines from the Reserves or the National Guard. Some have been recruited for office by party leaders; others say they are trying to get the national parties to pay attention to them. But they are all running on their wartime experience and against the prevailing political hierarchy in Washington -- both Republican and Democrat. They are expected to inject a pivotal voice into the debate next year, a midterm election season that is likely to focus heavily on security issues such as US involvement in Iraq and homeland defense. ''We will have a very strong voice and instant credibility," said Tim Dunn, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a Democrat who served in Iraq and is now running in North Carolina's Eighth District, a seat held by four-term Republican Robin Hayes. ''We bring to the table the experience and the knowledge gained through our service, whether active duty or Reserve, so that when these decisions are made in the future we have people who can stand up and ask the right questions. People will listen to us."

Bomb 'em back to the stone age: Smirkey's vision for extricating the U.S. from the mess in Iraq is apparently to send in Iraqi troops but with American air cover, with Iraqi commanders picking the targets and calling in the strikes. The plan is causing consternation among commanders in US air force, who say it could lead to increased civilian casualties and lead to airstrikes being used as means of settling old scores. According to an article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh, the possibility of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused unease in the military, with air force commanders objecting to the possibility that Iraqis will eventually be responsible for target selection. "Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame it on someone else?" a senior military planner told the magazine. "Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of al-Qaida, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?"

Struggling to keep Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as isolated as possible through whatever means is available, Washington has expressed concern over the signing of an arms deal between Venezuela and Spain. The US State Department said it was assessing whether there was US protected technology in the equipment. Under the $2 billion deal, Spain will supply eight navy patrol boats and 12 military transport planes to Venezuela. The US had tried to block the signing claiming that the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, was a source of instability in the region. But both Venezuela and Spain insisted the equipment was for peaceful purposes.

Struggling US car-parts maker Delphi has delayed plans to cut staff wages, reducing fears of a strike at the firm, the main supplier to General Motors. Delphi, which applied for US bankruptcy protection at the start of last month, had previously said it needed to cut wages and benefits to avoid collapse. Unions at Delphi, who had threatened strike action over the cuts, welcomed the one-month delay. The news came as General Motors agreed to give up agreed price reductions. GM, which owned Delphi until 1999, has agreed to temporarily give up previously agreed price reductions on Delphi parts for 2006.

As a Justice Department lawyer, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito quarreled with the head of the government ethics office over proposed requirements on personal financial disclosures, according to documents released Monday. Alito's 1987 letter was issued around the time the ethics office said that his boss, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, had violated financial disclosure requirements over a $60,000 investment with a businessman who was tied to Wedtech, a Bronx, N.Y., defense contractor that was caught up in a wide-ranging federal investigation.

How nice of the Justice Department, thanks to a FOIA request, to make legal documents related to Judge Alito available, on a very limited basis today. Only reporters were granted access, and for only 180 minutes to peruse 470 pages of information, and my estimation, it would take about 39 seconds to quickly read each page and figure out if the information was newsworthy or worth pursuing further. Not a lot time to carefully examine documents from our next possible Supreme Court justice.

Amid all the arguments over how to rebuild New Orleans, there is one universally held article of faith here: New Orleans must have a flood protection system strong enough to withstand Category 5 storms, the worst that nature can spawn. Building Category 5 protection, however, is proving to be an astronomically expensive and technically complex proposition. It would involve far more than just higher levees: there would have to be extensive changes to the city's system of drainage canals and pumps, environmental restoration on a vast scale to replenish buffering wetlands and barrier islands, and even sea gates far out of town near the Gulf of Mexico. The cost estimates are still fuzzy, but the work would easily cost more than $32 billion, state officials say, and could take decades to complete.

The U.S. cable and satellite television industry is not doing enough to help parents shield children from inappropriate content, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said on Tuesday. He suggested that providers like Comcast Corp.and DirecTV offer "family-friendly" packages of channels, permit consumers to pay for only the channels they want, or apply decency standards to subscription television. "Thus far, there has been too little response" from the industry, Martin told lawmakers during a public forum on television content. "I think the industry needs to do more to address parents' concerns." The FCC chief also said a study the agency issued last year -- showing that consumers would end up paying more if they were allowed to pick and choose the cable channels they subscribed to -- was flawed. He said an a la carte subscription TV service could be economically feasible. Decency standards for subscription television? If we're going to regulate that, why not fairness standards for "news" television?

When The Polls Are Down, Find Another Scapegoat: Smirkey has begun touring US states to rally support for his strategy to control immigration. Smirkey says he wants tighter security along the Mexican frontier, but he also plans to allow migrants with a job offer to stay in the US temporarily. Some of his own supporters resist the so-called guest-worker plan. "The program... would not create an automatic path to citizenship. It wouldn't provide amnesty," Mr Bush told border officials in Tucson, Arizona. "This program would help meet the demand of a growing economy, and it would allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law," he said.

Republican Policies Strengthen America: Within days of announcing 30,000 job-cuts in the US, automobile giant General Motors Corp will this week unveil plans to increase its workforce in India by nearly 30%. The carmaker has decided to add 450 jobs at its existing plant in Halol (Gujarat) as part of plans to expand presence in India - the emerging low-cost automobile hub in the east." GM is going on a hiring spree in India, and it's add jobs both on the factory shop-floor as well in the executive cadre. GM will this week start the process to hire 450 additional people for its India venture," a senior head-hunter told The Times of India.

The price of gold has continued its relentless climb and looks set to pass the $500-an-ounce level this week. The metal's price hit an 18-year high of $498.75 (£290.66) in early trading on Monday. Its rising value is being driven by strong demand for jewelry and moves by some countries to increase their gold reserves in lieu of dollars. The threat of terrorism, uncertainties about the dollar's future and the ensuing economic uncertainty has also added to gold's image as safe investment. Analysts say that the gold price is likely to continue past the $500-an-ounce mark, even if some investors decide to take their profits at that price.

Sales of existing U.S. homes slowed in October and the inventory of unsold houses rose to the highest level in nearly 20 years, a trade group said on Monday in a report confirming the end of the nation's housing boom. Sales of previously owned homes fell 2.7 percent from September's upwardly revised 7.29 million unit annual pace, and the drop would have been even larger if not for a surge in home-buying linked to Hurricane Katrina, the National Association of Realtors said. "The housing sector has likely passed its peak ... and the boom is winding down to an expansion," NAR chief economist David Lereah said. "Many of our hot housing markets are transitioning from a sellers' market to a buyers' market." The sales slowdown was sharper than anticipated by Wall Street. Analysts had expected overall sales to slow to a 7.17 million unit pace from the originally reported 7.28 million unit pace in September. "The number just confirms the slowing growth trend that has been unfolding in the housing market, although the numbers are still at historically strong levels," said Ronald Simpson, managing director of global currency analysis at Action Economics. Existing home sales would have been down 3.2 percent had it not been for strong buying in areas outside the zone hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. For example, while sales in New Orleans fell 42 percent, sales in nearby Baton Rouge climbed 83 percent from September, the Realtors said.

Embattled drugmaker Merck & Co. said Monday it will cut 7,000 jobs — 11 percent of its work force — and close or sell five manufacturing plants in the first phase of a reorganization meant to save up to $4 billion by the end of the decade. Its shares dropped more than 4 percent in afternoon trading. The announcement, anticipated by Wall Street, comes as Merck faces the loss of patent protection in June for its blockbuster cholesterol drug Zocor and thousands of lawsuits and billions of dollars in potential liability from its recalled painkiller Zocor now generates about 20 percent of Merck revenues and is the world's second-biggest drug. Because of the coming competition from generic drug makers, Merck expects Zocor sales to drop to $2.3 billion to $2.6 billion in 2006 from $4.2 billion to $4.5 billion this year.

Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor's waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is the fact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks. Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infections. Some industry critics view wholesomely sexy drug representatives as a variation on the seductive inducements like dinners, golf outings and speaking fees that pharmaceutical companies have dangled to sway doctors to their brands. But now that federal crackdowns and the industry's self-policing have curtailed those gifts, simple one-on-one human rapport, with all its potentially uncomfortable consequences, has become more important. Hence the use of cheerleaders.

First O'Donnell, now Chris Matthews: "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" On the November 28 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews said: "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left," adding, "I mean, like him personally." In fact, polling data reveals that a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of President Bush, and his overall approval ratings hover from the high 30-percent range to the low 40s. Keep your personality-cult to yourself, Chris. Personally, I find Smirkey to be arrogant, uncaring, close-minded and extremely hubristic. And I don't much like that. I certainly don't admire it. Because I don't buy into the personality cult, does that make me a "whack-job"?

Plenty Of Money For Tax Cuts For The Rich, But No Money For Government: The nation's top aviation official called Monday for federal mediators to intervene in troubled talks between the government and air traffic controllers. The relationship between the Federal Aviation Administration and the union is at its lowest point in many years. Contract talks began in July but have made little progress, prompting FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to call for mediators. Blakey said that salary and scheduling are the major issues. She charged the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is out of touch with the tight finances of the FAA and the airline industry. Controllers say they are overworked because the FAA froze hiring after many controllers left. They claim safety could be compromised, although FAA officials dispute that. Mediators could be brought in if the union agrees to them. Blakey said if the union does not want mediators, FAA negotiators will stay at the table. The last contract expired in 2003 but it was extended for two years with minor changes.

News From The Wreckage Of The U.S.S. Bush: Even as his poll numbers tank, Smirkey is described by aides as still determined to stay the course. He resists advice from Republicans who fear disaster in next year's congressional elections, and rejects criticism from a media establishment he disdains. "The President has always been willing to make changes," the senior aide said, "but not because someone in this town tells him to - NEVER!" For the moment, Bush has dismissed discreetly offered advice from friends and loyalists to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and bring back longtime confidant Karen Hughes from the State Department to shore up his personal White House staff. "He thinks that would be an admission he's screwed up, and he can't bring himself to do that," a former senior staffer lamented. So aides have circled the wagons as Bush's woes mount, partly hoping they can sell the President on a December blitz of media interviews to help turn the tide. Well, they better be careful about what they hope for - Smirkey's emotional instability and his inability to speak extemporaneously may just backfire, showing him to be the mediocre intellect he is.

A British member of parliament and newspaper publisher, Boris Johnson, has offered to print the censored Al Jazeera memos in his newspaper, if the source will simply pass him a copy. On his web site, he writes, "The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act ... we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up. If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. .. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for." Mr. Johnson, you needn't to run afoul of the Official Secrets Act. I am quite willing to publish them here on my web site. I am neither British nor in the United States or Britain, and can do so without violating any law. How about it?

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: The phrase "God Bless America" would be added to Alabama's already crowded license plates if a bill proposed by a state legislator becomes law. State Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford, has prefiled a bill in the Alabama House that would require most Alabama car tags to include the phrase "God Bless America." Some specialty license plates and motorcycle tags would be exempt. Hurst said he got the idea when the saw the words "God Bless America" on a specialty prisoner of war car tag. Hurst said he believes the plates could be designed so that there would be room for "God Bless America" without removing "Heart of Dixie" or "Stars Fell on Alabama." There have been efforts in recent years by some black lawmakers to remove "Heart of Dixie" from car tags because they view it as a reference to the segregated South. Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, said he plans to reintroduce a bill that would permit the posting of "In God We Trust" on classroom walls in Alabama public schools. Martin said he hasn't seen Hurst's bill, but likes the idea. "The concept of 'God Bless America' sounds like a good idea," Martin said. The bill to post "In God We Trust" on classroom walls has been introduced the last two years, but hasn't received final passage. "I thought why don't we do the same thing for all the tags in the state of Alabama. That will let all the people in America know that we are a Bible Belt state," Hurst said. Well, Mr. Hurst, you're also in a state with one of the poorest public education systems in America, lowest per-capita income and a state synonymous with racism. Could there be a connection?

Fundamentalism is hampering global efforts to tackle climate change, according to Britain's top scientist. In his final speech as president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford is to warn that core scientific values are "under serious threat from resurgent fundamentalism, West and East". Scientists must speak out against the climate change "denial lobby", he says. Lord May completes his five-year term as president of the UK's academy of science on Wednesday. "Ahead of us lie dangerous times," he will say in his fifth and final anniversary address.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Two new studies predict that climate change will make dry regions of Africa drier still in the near future. Computer models of the global climate show the Sahel region and southern Africa drying substantially over the course of this century. Sahel rainfall declined sharply in the late 20th Century, with droughts responsible for several million deaths. The research comes just after the latest United Nations summit on climate change opened in Montreal. "Our model predicts an extremely dry Sahel in the future," said Dr Isaac Held of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), whose team publishes its research in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "If we compare it against the drought in the 1970s and 80s, the late 21st Century looks even drier - a 30% reduction in rainfall from the average for the last century," he told the BBC News website.

Scandals Du Jour: New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients. A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record)'s political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff's clients wanted to use. The check was one of about five dozen the Coushattas listed in a tribal ledger as being issued on March 6, 2002, to various lawmakers' campaigns and political causes at the instruction of Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Faircloth said Monday.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will present evidence to a second grand jury this week in his two year-old investigation into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson that could lead to a criminal indictment being handed up against Karl Rove, President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, attorneys close to the investigation say. Rove has remained under intense scrutiny because of inconsistencies in his testimony to investigators and the grand jury. According to sources, Rove withheld crucial facts on three separate occasions and allegedly misled investigators about conversations he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. The attorneys say that Rove’s former personal assistant, Susan B. Ralston -- who was also a special assistant to President Bush -- testified in August about why Cooper’s call to Rove was not logged. Ralston said it occurred because Cooper had phoned in through the White House switchboard and was then transferred to Rove’s office as opposed to calling Rove’s office directly. As Rove’s assistant, Ralston screened Rove’s calls.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today dismissed allegations of Iraqi security force abuses as "unverified comments" and not a sign that the US-trained force is unprepared to take over security. Mr. Rumsfeld's comments follow reports of kidnappings and execution-style killings of Sunnis, allegedly by men in Iraqi police uniforms and vehicles. The New York Times said mounting evidence suggests that Iraqi security forces are carrying out executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods, and Sunnis are convinced the Shiite-led Government is waging a campaign of terror against them.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican, fought back tears as he resigned on Monday after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for help in securing Defense Department contracts. Cunningham, 63, an eight-term congressman and decorated Vietnam War pilot, admitted taking cash, antiques, a yacht, vacation expenses and money for his daughter's graduation party from several defense contractors between 2000 and 2005. "I am resigning from the House of Representatives because I've compromised the trust of my constituents," Cunningham told reporters after a hearing in San Diego federal court. Among other things, prosecutors said, Cunningham was given $1.025 million to pay down the mortgage on his Rancho Santa Fe mansion, $13,500 to buy a Rolls-Royce and $2,081 for his daughter's graduation party at a Washington hotel. ''He did the worst thing an elected official can do - he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there,'' U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said.

To tax or not to tax, that is the question. A proposal to impose a special tax on sexually oriented businesses is creating a dilemma for some legislators. They're socially conservative and would like to combat pornography and discourage the opening of new shops that sell X-rated videos and magazines and other products, such as sex toys. But some also have signed a pledge not to raise taxes. That has a few talking about tying the proposed porn tax to proposals to cut taxes elsewhere. Among them is Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, who told the Lawrence Journal-World she would like to support a tax on sexually oriented businesses because, "We shouldn't make life too terribly easy for them." But, she added, "A pure tax increase, I would have to vote no." Earlier this month, a legislative committee agreed to draft legislation modeled on proposals in Oklahoma and Utah to impose a 10 percent tax on products and services sold by sexually oriented businesses. Backers argue the tax could raise $1.5 million a year.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:31:56 PM

Sun, Nov 27 2005

Tour Of My Neighbor's New House

Weather has been sensational the last two days. If the Arenal rainy season is still on, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it. The weather has been bright and sunny all day long, with occasional light, puffy clouds the only interruption to the brilliant sunshine. Yesterday, the temperature reached 78 degrees, and after an overnight low of 66, it reached 80 in today's bright sunshine. I have had to turn the fan on in my office to keep cool. The cold temperatures for this weekend predicted by the Meteorological Institute simply didn't materialize, and it was another couple of brilliantly perfect days in paradise. Eat your heart out up there in the Great White North.

Well, it was such a perfect day, and feeling better today than I have in a while, I decided that I couldn't resist going for a nice, long, if somewhat slow walk around the peninsula. I walked up the road going to the point on the peninsula to check out the lake view and see if the volcano was visible today. There was some visibility of the west flank, where there were some smoking boulder trails, evidence that the volcano is continuing its recent activity. But I could not see the summit today, as there were lots of low clouds present in that direction. Continuing up the road, I discovered that a house is just being started on a hilltop about a half mile from my house. It appears to be a small house, so I suspect it is a Tico that is building it. It is also on a really tiny lot - close to the minimum. There is a stack of blocks, some piles of sand and the foundations have been laid out, but so far there has not even been much digging for the footings.

Walking up the road towards the cemetery, I walked up past my neighbor's new home, hoping he would be home and I could check out the place. So I was eager for a tour to check it out. Turned out he was there, and invited me in for a quick tour.

All the doors and windows are in, about half of the interior walls are painted, and the tile is down in the bathroom and much of the floors. He's done a very tasteful job on the inside, with gorgeous tilework on the floors - they're a light tan, subtly patterend tile, a tile I like very much, and his bathroom tiles are a pastel blue patterned tile. Walls are a color similar to the floors and complement the natural wood ceilings quite nicely. All in all, it is a beautiful house. He is still planning on selling it, and we discussed his asking price. I think he's right in the ballpark for a new house, and I am glad to see him getting well over twice what he has in it. He says it grieves him to have to sell, as he really likes the place, but I think he is doing the right thing - the house will probably never be worth more than it is right now, and with the profit, he can buy another lot and build another, much larger house. All in all it is a very salable house, and should not be on the market for long.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The U.S. military will soon be able to spy on you at will unrestrained by the niceties of the Bill of Rights or the Posse Comitatus Act: The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world. The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counter-Intelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts - including protecting military facilities from attack - to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage. The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public. "We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage. The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."

Smirkey's growing truly desperate to show some progress in the war - he has asked US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to reach out to Iran for assistance in subduing the unrest in Iraq - the first high-level US contact with Tehran in decades, Newsweek magazine has reported. “I’ve been authorized by the president to engage the Iranians,” Khalilzad told Newsweek. “There will be meetings, and that’s also a departure and an adjustment,” he said in an interview with the magazine. ABC television confirmed the proposed US approach to Iran on its This Week program yesterday, reporting that Khalilzad was to make direct contact with the Iranian government about the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. The contact would be the first high-level communication at the senior level between Washington and Tehran since relations ruptured in 1979. Of course, asking Shi'ite Iran for help is going to only antagonize the Sunnis who are at the heart of the insurgency.

Billions for pork, but no money for government: Taxing hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars and billing drivers for miles driven are among the approaches being suggested to avert a shortfall in money to maintain the nation's highways. Less than four months after President Bush signed a six-year, $286.4 billion highway and public transit act, filled mostly with more than 6,000 pork projects for local constituencies, a report commissioned by the US Chamber of Commerce said that the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money and that Congress needs to think about new revenue sources. ''Decisions are going to have to be made in the very near future," said Ed Mortimer, the business lobby's director of transportation infrastructure, acknowledging it could be a tall order. The next highway bill is years away and lawmakers may be loathe to return to a measure that was widely criticized for being padded with thousands of special-interest projects.

Faced with growing numbers of retirees, pension plans are pouring billions into hedge funds, the secretive and lightly regulated investment partnerships that once managed money only for wealthy investors. The plans and other large institutions are expected to invest as much as $300 billion in hedge funds by 2008, up from just $5 billion a decade ago, according to a study by the Bank of New York and Casey, Quirk & Associates, a consulting firm. Pension funds account for roughly 40 percent of all institutional money. This month, the investment council that oversees the New Jersey state employees pension fund said it would put some of its money into hedge funds for the first time, investing $600 million over the next several months. "It's very inappropriate when the company is offering a pension plan that is guaranteed by the federal government," said Zvi Bodie, a professor of finance and economics at Boston University who writes and lectures on sophisticated investment techniques and is enthusiastic about hedge funds in other contexts. Hedge funds are meant to be only for wealthy, sophisticated investors so regulators have not monitored them as they have stocks or mutual funds, although there have been calls for increased regulation. More recently, hedge funds have made headlines when they ran into trouble: Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund whose principals included two Nobel Prize-winning economists, nearly collapsed in 1998; and this summer, Bayou Group, a $450 million hedge fund based in Connecticut, shut down after most of its money disappeared. Its two officers have pleaded guilty to fraud charges.

A senior al-Jazeera executive is in the UK to demand publication of a memo in which George Bush allegedly discusses bombing the TV station's HQ. Wadah Khanfar, al-Jazeera's director general, is hoping to meet UK government officials to press its case. A spokesman for al-Jazeera told the BBC News website that the channel only wanted the record set straight. Downing Street said: "We are quite happy to talk to al-Jazeera as we are to other broadcasters." The Italian La Stampa newspaper has reported that Mr Khanfar had "demanded an urgent meeting" with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr Khanfar told La Stampa: "We want to know whether Bush really did want to attack al-Jazeera last year and was dissuaded from doing so by the British prime minister, as the British press has claimed. "We will be silent only when we get the truth."

The widow of an al-Jazeera journalist killed in Iraq by an American attack is considering suing the US Government. Kuwaiti-born Tariq Ayyoub, 35, died when the station's Baghdad office was bombed in April 2003. Now his wife Dima may take legal action. On Tuesday the Daily Mirror reported that George Bush planned to attack al-Jazeera's HQ in Doha, capital of Qatar. Dina said: "The report proves the cold-blooded murder of my husband. America always claimed it was an accident. But I believe the new revelations prove that claim was false or at least not trustworthy. I will seek legal advice in light of this new information to achieve justice." The UK Government has banned the media from publishing details of documents telling how the President wanted to bomb the Doha station in April 2004 until Tony Blair talked him out of it.

Smirkey's temper tantrum about Al Jazeera has prompted Tony Blair to claim that the memo describing it is all just a "conspiracy theory." Well, if it's just a conspiracy theory, Tony, why are you so nervously invoking the Official Secrets Act to keep the newspapers from talking about it? There are also plenty of other newspapers, inside and outside of Britain, who have said they are willing to publish the memo which is the source of this controversy, in spite of the Official Secrets Act. These are among the comments appearing in a new blog being written by the threatened staffers at Al Jazeera.

The Council of Europe pledged Friday to unearth the truth behind allegations that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operated covert prisons in Europe and secretly transported terrorist suspects through European airports. A report presented in Bucharest by the chairman of the council's Legal Affairs Committee, Swiss liberal Dick Marty, suggested that satellite images could be used to determine whether the CIA had constructed or dismantled prison facilities. Europe's top human rights watchdog stepped up its probe into alleged secret CIA detention centers Wednesday, while more EU governments were investigating possible CIA flights across their countries. Council of Europe Chairman Terry Davis urged European countries to provide full information on the issue, joining a formal probe the body launched two weeks ago. Austria's air force was investigating allegations that a CIA transport plane containing suspected terrorist captives flew through the neutral country's airspace in 2003, and Denmark said it would ask U.S. authorities for details about the alleged transport of detainees on planes said to be used by the CIA over Danish territory. Bulgaria was the latest country to deny reports of involvement, saying the CIA's planes never landed at the Sarafovo airport near the Black Sea port of Burgas as alleged by the media.

Germany called on Washington Saturday to set the record straight on allegations that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency made secret flights across Europe so as to transport terrorist suspects for torture-based interrogation. An evaluation must be made on the basis of facts and not from newspaper reports, Germany's new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on the eve of a visit to Washington. "What is to be read, would indeed give cause for concern," Steinmeir told the weekly Bild am Sonntag, following an almost daily round of German media report on claims that secret CIA flights had touched down in Germany. Steinmeier went on to welcome British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's call for the U.S. officially to clear up questions surrounding the claims of secret flights. Britain currently holds the European Union's sixth month rotating presidency. The row over the flights is threatening to overshadow Steinmeier's trip to Washington, which was aimed at setting the scene for a visit to the U.S. by new German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the coming months.

Does not play well with others: Britain has rejected a proposal by John "two-tone" Bolton, America's combative ambassador to the United Nations, to block the upcoming UN budget as a tactic to push through disputed reforms. The rare public disagreement between the two close allies comes as the showdown over reforms at the UN's New York headquarters becomes increasingly acrimonious. Britain has rebuffed a Bolton move to join him in refusing to pass the organization's 2006 budget until member states approve wide-ranging management reforms. To the irritation of Mr Bolton, many developing nations are bitterly opposed to changes that they claim are driven by American political pressure. He suggested last week that talks on the 2006 and 2007 budgets could be postponed as a means to overcome the trenchant resistance from the "G77" bloc of developing countries.

Three months ago, Katrina all but scoured the beach town of Pass Christian, Mississippi, a town of 8,000, off the face of the Earth. To walk its streets today is to see acres of wreckage almost as untouched as the day the hurricane passed. No new houses are framed out. No lots cleared. There is just devastation and a lingering stench and a tent city in which hundreds of residents huddle against the first chill of winter and wonder where they'll find the money to rebuild their lives. Billy McDonald, the white-haired mayor whose house was reduced to a concrete slab by 55-foot-high waves, works out of a trailer. He doesn't expect the word "recovery" to roll off his lips for many months. This is the other land laid low by Katrina's fury. Like New Orleans to the west, hundreds of square miles of Mississippi coastland look little better than they did in early September, and many people here harbor anger that the federal government has fallen short and that the nation's attention has turned away. At least 200,000 Mississippians remain displaced, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short at least 13,000 trailers to house them.

Judge Samuel Alito has said he did not break a federal ethics law when he ruled in a case involving the company that handles his mutual fund investments. Legal experts are divided over whether Alito did anything wrong in the case three years ago. Of more immediate concern is his explanation of his role in that case - along with questions about what his recusal practices will be if confirmed to the high court. Judges, including Supreme Court justices, are required by law to stay out of cases in which they have a financial stake. Members of the high court, however, decide for themselves when to recuse with no oversight. Alito serves on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia and has most of his money in mutual funds. When he joined the court in 1990 he told senators he would avoid cases in which Vanguard Group was a party. Senators questioned him about the 2002 Vanguard case, which was the subject of a conflict of interest complaint filed by the woman who lost her lawsuit. Alito withdrew after first ruling against her and the decision was reaffirmed without his participation.

The crash risk for truck drivers in the last hour of a now-legal 11-hour day behind the wheel is more than three times higher than during the first hour, a Penn State research team has found. For 60 years, federal rules limited truckers to driving 10 consecutive hours. However, in January 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration raised the limit to 11 hours and reaffirmed the change in October this year. Dr. Paul Jovanis, professor of civil engineering who led the Penn State study, says, "Our analysis of data from three national trucking companies during normal operations in 2004 shows that the crash risk is statistically similar for the first six hours of driving and then increases in significant steps thereafter. The 11th hour has a crash risk more than three times the first hour." Jovanis notes, "Our findings, using data from 2004 and from the 1980s, establish a consistent pattern of increased crash risk with hours driving, particularly in the 9th, 10th and 11th hours." In their most recent study, the researchers also found that multi-day driving schedules, over 7 days, were associated with significant crash risk increases similar in magnitude to extended driving time. In addition, separate analyses of the records of drivers who operate trucks that have sleeping compartments with those that don't have sleeping compartments show that there is a strong association of crash risk and driving time for sleeper operations, especially in the 8th, 10th and 11th hours. Non-sleeper operations associate crash risk with multi-day driving somewhat more strongly than with driving time.

NBC did not interrupt its broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade yesterday to bring viewers the news that an M&M balloon had crashed into a light pole, injuring two sisters. In fact, when the time came in the tightly scripted three-hour program for the M&Ms' appearance, NBC weaved in tape of the balloon crossing the finish line at last year's parade - even as the damaged balloon itself was being dragged from the accident scene. At 11:47 a.m., as an 11-year-old girl and her 26-year-old sister were being treated for injuries, the parade's on-air announcers - Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker - kept up their light-hearted repartee from Herald Square, where the parade ends. "Will these classic candymen get out of this delicious dilemma?" Mr. Roker asked, referring not to the accident but to the premise of the attraction, a red M&M's attempt to save his yellow counterpart, who had been blown from the basket of a hot-air balloon. Ten minutes later, the upbeat broadcast ended without mention of the accident in Times Square.

Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono is travelling to Venezuela to oversee the signing of an arms contract that is opposed by the US. Madrid has agreed to sell military patrol boats and transport planes to Caracas in deal worth more than $1.5bn. The two countries insist the equipment is for peaceful purposes, such as to help in the fight against drug gangs. But the US regards Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a destabilising influence in the region. US ambassador Eduardo Aguirre had asked the Spanish authorities not to go ahead with the sale. He said Washington was considering whether to allow Spain to sell aircraft made with US technology, which would require a US export license. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, Teresa Fernandez de La Vega, confirmed Mr Bono's visit to Caracas. But she insisted the deal had been negotiated with "scrupulous respect for international law".

Brownie's back: The man who lost his job as head of the US response to Hurricane Katrina has started up a new firm - dealing with disaster readiness. Michael "I'm A Fashion God" Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was forced to quit as anger at the crisis response grew. He said he hopes his new consultancy will help others avoid a similar fate. About 1,200 people were killed when New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were flooded following Hurricane Katrina in August. Tens of thousands of families were forced out of their homes, and many have still not returned. Mr Brown said his experience could be used to demonstrate how firms and agencies can better prepare themselves for unseen problems, and how to react when they arise. Well, he's demonstrably an expert on how to do emergency response, all right - he should have no trouble finding clients, ya think?

Republican Congressman Ron Paul recently appeared on nationally syndicated radio and again reiterated his deep concern that foreign troops are mobilizing outside and inside America to be used as assets in a martial law takeover by the Bush administration. "It's a horrible precedent and it's all part of the NAFTA scheme and globalization and world government," Paul told the Alex Jones Show. "Obviously they shouldn't be permitted. What I'd like to see is that we don't have our troops in foreign countries and if we needed a national guard that they were back here at home, that's the bigger problem. Then if there were foreign troops on our soil maybe our state officials could deal with that with their own national guard."

Engineers responsible for monitoring the levees that failed following Hurricane Katrina were never told that canal water had been pooling in yards beside a flood wall months before the storm, an Army Corps of Engineers manager said Friday. Residents living along the 17th Street Canal told The Times-Picayune newspaper in an article published Friday that they had complained to the city Sewerage and Water Board nearly a year ago about water pooling in their yards. City workers came out and concluded environmental testing was needed to determine if water was seeping through the levee, said Beth LeBlanc, whose home is about 100 yards from where the levee later failed. But no one, including the Sewerage and Water Board, informed the Corps of Engineers or the Orleans Levee District, said Jerry Colletti, the Corps' operations manager for completed works in the New Orleans District.

A federal conservation official has raised serious doubts about the recently approved plan to scrape hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of hazardous chemicals from the bottom of the Hudson River, and raised the possibility that the long-delayed cleanup may never be completed. The official, a coastal resources expert in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a confidential memo that General Electric intends to leave substantial amounts of contaminants in the river, capping them with additional material rather than removing them. But the cap could be washed away in a storm, releasing the remaining PCB's beneath, the memo said. The official also said G.E.'s plan - one of the largest industrial cleanups ever attempted - would not do enough to rebuild the natural habitat destroyed by the cleanup, but would leave nature to take its course, an approach that would reduce the chances that the river bottom would ever recover.

Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave: The Bush administration decided not to charge Jose Padilla with planning to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a US city because the evidence against him was extracted using torture on members of al-Qaida, it was claimed yesterday. Mr Padilla, a US citizen who had been held for more than three years as an "enemy combatant" in a military prison in North Carolina, was indicted on Tuesday on the lesser charges of supporting terrorism abroad. After his arrest in 2002 the Brooklyn-born Muslim convert was also accused by the administration of planning to blow up apartment blocks in New York using natural gas. The administration had used his case as evidence of the continued threat posed by al-Qaida inside America. But to convict him, the prosecution would have to depend on testimony, apparently coerced, from two al-Qaida members that the CIA is believed to be holding in its secret prison archipelago overseas. Officials feared that that testimony at trial could expose classified information about the CIA prison system in which the men were thought to be held.

This has not been a happy Thanksgiving for Smirkey, but he need just look across the Atlantic to know it could be worse. His only reliable ally, Britain's Tony Blair, now seems to be facing the full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the Iraq war - its justification, conduct and aftermath - that Bush has been able to avoid. Leading opposition figures from the Conservative, Liberal-Democratic, Scottish National and Plaid Cymru (Welsh) parties have banded together to back the cross-party motion titled 'Conduct of Government policy in relation to the war against Iraq' to demand that the case for an inquiry be debated in the House of Commons. They seem assured of the 200 signatures required to get such a debate - and then the loyalty of Blair's dismayed and disillusioned Labor members of Parliament will be sorely tested. "This apparently modest motion may be the iceberg toward which Blair's Titanic is sailing," said Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond.

Not only did the Bush administration deceive the American people about the reasons for invading Iraq, it is now deceiving them about the deceptions. In a burst of political tantrums, the president and the vice president have shouted that it was "irresponsible" to assert that there had been deception and it was unfair to the troops fighting in Iraq. Is the administration lying about its lies? Consider some of the evidence. Vice President Dick Cheney and the president both insisted that Iraq was trying to import "yellowcake" uranium for nuclear weapons. Then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the vice president warned of "mushroom clouds." Bush says that everyone agreed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He has said in the past that it was not his fault that all the intelligence agencies of the world believed that they did. Therefore, the intelligence agencies of the world were to blame for the mistake, he wasn't. Everyone in Washington, he argues, supported the war. The buck stops in the Oval Office. If the president was not deliberately lying to the American people, he nonetheless presided over what was in effect and in truth a massive deception. He would be much wiser to admit his mistake and assume responsibility, but it is apparently not in his character to do so.

Dueling rallies draw small crowds, but anti-war protesters still outnumbered pro-war by 20 to 1 even in Crawford, Texas: A repeat of last summer's dueling rallies against the war and in support of Smirkey drew much small crowds to Crawford on a cool, rainy Saturday. About a dozen Bush supporters stood downtown with signs, one reading: "Real America won't wimp out." Throughout the morning, shoppers and a few tourists leaving souvenir stores stopped in the tent to voice their support for the president. Closer to Smirkey's ranch, where the president celebrated Thanksgiving with his family, about 200 people rallied around Cindy Sheehan in a continuation of California woman's summer protest against the war that claimed her son.

The White House for the first time has claimed ownership of an Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own. It also signaled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the violence-torn country. The statement late Saturday by White House media whore Scott McClellan came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces will begin leaving Iraq next year "in large numbers." According to Biden, the United States will move about 50,000 servicemen out of the country by the end of 2006, and "a significant number" of the remaining 100,000 the year after. The blueprint also calls for leaving only an unspecified "small force" either in Iraq or across the border to strike at concentrations of insurgents, if necessary. Less than two weeks ago, McClellan blasted Democratic Representative John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), saying that by calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the congressman was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore."

The United States of America, A Third-World Country: Bedbugs are back and spreading through New York City like a swarm of locusts on a lush field of wheat. Infestations have been reported sporadically across the United States over the past few years. But in New York, bedbugs have gained a foothold all across the city. "It's becoming an epidemic," said Jeffrey Eisenberg, the owner of Pest Away Exterminating, an Upper West Side business that receives about 125 bedbug calls a week, compared with just a handful five years ago. "People are being tortured, and so am I. I spend half my day talking to hysterical people about bedbugs." Last year the city logged 377 bedbug violations, up from just 2 in 2002 and 16 in 2003. Since July, there have been 449. "It's definitely a fast-emerging problem," said Carol Abrams, spokeswoman for the city housing agency.

Washington D.C. district officials routinely violate city spending laws, avoiding competitive bidding, masking purchases under unrelated contracts and paying vendors without contracts or legal authority, according to D.C. records. Out of $2.5 billion in purchases last year, the city spent roughly $425 million in unauthorized payments and no-bid contracts, according to a Washington Post review of thousands of documents, including the database that lists every dollar spent by the city over the past five years. Studies of no-competition contracts elsewhere indicate that the city is overpaying by $50 million a year. In one case, the city has given a start-up computer consulting company 146 no-bid contracts worth a total of $13 million since 2003. The company has grown to 54 employees and has new offices in Northwest Washington. The examination found problems that go far beyond sloppy paperwork as employees skirt the laws designed to prevent waste and fraud. In making purchases from riot gear to consulting services, for example, employees repeatedly send lucrative contracts to favored companies and pay huge cost overruns without getting permission for the spending.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: You can't sell something to someone who has no money: The official holiday shopping season appears to have gotten off to a lukewarm start, according to results announced Saturday by a national research group that monitors retail sales. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was one bright spot in the crowd, reporting its sales exceeded expectations. According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks total sales at more than 45,000 retail outlets, the overall sales on Friday were relatively unchanged compared to a year ago, despite heavier discounting and expanded hours that drew a surge of shoppers to stores in the early morning hours. The Chicago-based research group reported total sales Friday at $8 billion, down 0.9 percent from a year ago. As the nation's retail executives began poring over - and in some cases, despairing over - sales receipts from the holiday weekend, one pattern was hard to miss: consumers mobbed discount chains, with their $487 laptops and 5 a.m. openings, but largely shopped right past smaller stores at the mall.

US initial jobless claims rose by 30,000 in the week ending November 19 from the prior week, according to figures released by the Labor Department. The figures were higher than expected and were partly due to claims following job losses caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The advances were the highest in two months and come after last week's figures which showed a four-month low in first time claims. Veteran's Day was cited as the reason for that low, with fired workers unable to file their claims in states such as California. Claims are expected to be up again later this month following this week's announcement that 30,000 jobs are to go at General Motors, the US car manufacturer. The group made the cuts amid fears that the company was about to go bankrupt.

Former General Motors parts unit Delphi, which is in bankruptcy protection, has said that it will close all its US plants unless trade unions agree to wage cuts to rescue America's largest auto parts-maker. Delphi CEO Steve Miller, who received a signing-on hello bonus of $3.7 million last summer, said that he hasn't received union counteroffers to his proposal, which includes reducing wage levels from an average $27 per hour to as low as $9 and slashing up to 24,000 jobs over a three-year period. Motor union UAW President Ron Gettelfinger called Delphi's offer an "insult."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: For more than 30 years, public television station KOCE has dedicated coverage to Orange County in a media market otherwise dominated by the news and glitz of nearby Los Angeles. But the small station is now battling in court to prevent Daystar, one of the nation's largest Christian networks, from taking over its airwaves. The conflict began in 2003, when the Coast Community College District decided to sell KOCE-TV to the KOCE Foundation, the station's fundraising arm, over competing bidder Daystar. Daystar Television Network sued, claiming its bid should have been selected because the sale was completed under a state law that allows college districts to sell surplus property "for cash" to the highest bidder. A lower court ruled in favor of the college district and the foundation, but that ruling was overturned on appeal. On Tuesday, a state appeals panel reheard arguments in the case - a highly unusual move - following a petition from KOCE, the foundation and the district.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The receeding ice in the Arctic has created a klondike of a gold rush: The 14 million sq km Arctic Ocean is home to 25 per cent of the planet's unextracted oil and natural gas. With a population of four million, the region is much more stable than the Middle East. Global warming, in combination with the current high oil price, makes it ever more accessible. Yet the bordering countries - Russia, Canada, the US, Norway and Danish Greenland - have yet to agree on who owns what. Long-forgotten bays, waterways and islands are moving to the top of the international agenda. Meanwhile, evidence suggests the Klondikers are right to head north. According to data published last month, the area covered by ice in September - 5.3 million sq km - was the lowest since records began in 1978. In August the Akademik Fyodorov became the first ship to reach the North Pole unassisted by an icebreaker. Norway and Russia are soon to resume talks - stalled for two years - over a disputed area of the Barents Sea. While an agreement exists between them allowing fishing in part of the area, known as the Grey Zone, both countries want access to the larger disputed area for oil and gas exploration. Immediately to the east of the area, the Russians have discovered the 1,400sq km Shtokman field, the largest offshore gas deposit in the world.

News From Smirkey's War: Abuse of human rights in Iraq is as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse, former prime minister Iyad Allawi said in an interview published on Sunday. "People are doing the same as (in) Saddam Hussein's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told British newspaper The Observer. "People are remembering the days of Saddam," said Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and former Baathist who is standing in elections scheduled for Dec. 15. "These are the precise reasons why we fought Saddam Hussein and now we are seeing the same things. "We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated," said Allawi in an apparent reference to the discovery of a bunker at the Shi'ite-run Interior Ministry where 170 men were held prisoner, beaten, half-starved and in some cases tortured. "A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations." Allawi said the Interior Ministry, which has tried to brush off the scandal over the bunker, was afflicted by a "disease". If it is not cured, he said, it "will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government".

A "trophy" video appearing to show British security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal. The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis. The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

Four U.S. soldiers face disciplinary action for burning the bodies of two Taliban rebels - a videotaped incident that sparked outrage in Afghanistan - but they will not be prosecuted because their actions were motivated by hygienic concerns, the military said Saturday. TV footage recorded Oct. 1 in a violent part of southern Afghanistan showed American soldiers setting fire to the bodies and then boasting about the act on loudspeakers to taunt insurgents suspected to be hiding in a nearby village. Islam bans cremation, and the video images were compared to photographs of U.S. troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Afghanistan's government condemned the desecration. Muslim clerics warned of a violent anti-American backlash, though there have been no protests so far.

Scandals Du Jour: The New York authorities investigating financial irregularities at insurance giant AIG have dropped criminal charges against former boss Maurice Greenberg. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer had brought a lawsuit accusing Mr Greenberg of manipulating the firm's finances to boost its share price. He has now decided to pursue the action in a civil case. Mr Greenberg led AIG for 38 years, but stood down in March following investigations into some of its deals. He has previously refused to answer questions from regulators, invoking rights under US law which protect people from self-incrimination. In May, AIG admitted that it had overstated its net profit for the five years to 2004 by 10%, or $3.9bn.

The Justice Department's wide-ranging investigation of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has entered a highly active phase as prosecutors are beginning to move on evidence pointing to possible corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies, lawyers involved in the case said. Prosecutors have already told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and his former chief of staff that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them, according to two sources knowledgeable about the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It has been three years since White House officials and some Senate Republicans orchestrated Trent Lott's ouster as Senate majority leader amid an uproar over racially insensitive remarks. Now, as he contemplates his future, Mr. Lott is tweaking the Republican elite at every turn and jangling the nerves of official Washington as never before. As he considers whether to run for re-election next year, Mr. Lott, Republican of Mississippi, is also dropping hints about a possible bid for a return to the Senate leadership. Democrats are enjoying the show. Some Republicans are cringing, but others are eyeing Mr. Lott with some appreciation. During an appearance last weekend at the University of Mississippi, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, predicted that Mr. Lott would become Republican leader again, adding, "I will tell anyone that of all the majority leaders we've had in the United States Senate, I believe that Trent Lott was the finest leader we've had." Others say Mr. Lott seems liberated. "He's a free agent," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. "A happy warrior," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, adding, "I think he kind of relishes being a bomb thrower right now."

News Of The Weird: A deadly kiss: a Quebec teenager with a peanut allergy has died after kissing her boyfriend who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich hours earlier. Fifteen-year-old Christina Desforges died Monday. She went into anaphylactic shock and in spite of being given an adrenalin shot, could not be revived. Desforges lived 250 km north of Quebec City in Saguenay. The official cause of the teen's death has not yet been released. Pediatric allergist Karen Sigman told CTV's Tania Krywiak if peanuts are still on the tongue or the lips, they can still cause a reaction. Sigman says teenagers with allergies have to let their friends know. "If they're going to be dating somebody that they have to tell the people they're close to that they're allergic to make sure the people they're with aren't in contact with those nuts or peanuts," Sigman said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:17:34 AM

Fri, Nov 25 2005

Turkey Day In Arenal

The rainy season was back today, with clouds, drizzle and slightly cooler temperatures today after a largely sunny and dry day yesterday. The dry, sunny weather meant we had temperatures as high as 78 yesterday, but the heavy overcast all day meant it barely climbed to 71 today after a low overnight of 68. I suspect it will be considerably cooler tonight - as I write this, it is already down to 69 and dropping after the sun has gone down and darkness has set in. The Meteorological Institute is predicting colder temperatures this weekend - even colder than we have had during the week.

Yesterday was thanksgiving, of course, at least in the States. It is an ordinary Thursday here, as this country has no official Thanksgiving holiday. But since Arenal is a gringo colony with a substantial American population, it is hardly surprising that one of the American-owned and managed hotels, the Aurora Inn, was having a big Thanksgiving bash for the local gringo population. Knowing that some of my friends from town were likely to be there, I decided to head over there and have dinner, as I had no invites from anyone in town for a private Thanksgiving day dinner. Yeah, the hotel dinner at $12 per person was a bit pricey, but I figured it would be a good chance to catch up on local gossip while enjoying a decent meal for a change. I went to town just a bit early - arrived at about two, and found out that the information I had been given, that it was going to happen between noon and three, was incorrect - turned out to be between three and six. So I did my weekly grocery shopping and went back home to wait for a bit later.

By three thirty, I was truly starving, so I headed back over to the hotel. By now, the crowd had started to gather, maybe fifteen or twenty people. Sure enough, they had roast turkey with all the trimmings - sweet potatoes, gravy, several vegetables, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and even proper pumpkin pie, a real rarity around here. I sat down with some folks I met out front while waiting, and had some hors d' ovres for a while while the main meal was being set out on the steam tables, and got to know some folks I had known about but had never met. We had a great time getting to know each other and exchanging war stories. They were some interesting folks - had traveled all over the world and had decided to settle here. It was great getting their perspectives on things. A very pleasant afternoon indeed.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The United States: As you reflect on yesterday's gorging on turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce yesterday, and slowly recover from the king-sized indigestion, it is worth a moment of your time to learn and reflect upon the true history of this holiday. It isn't quite the story you were taught in grade school. And what happened then is happening elsewhere today, as is clear when you read the news from Smirkey's war. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

The California Secretary of State has invited Black Box Voting to hack away at some Diebold voting systems. The testing is set for Nov. 30. Diebold Election Systems has been trying to re-certify its “TSx” touch-screen machines in California. Diebold has added stronger passwords and encryption, but even the consultant hired by California to evaluate the system reported that the voting system remains vulnerable to alteration of vote results. This week, officials at the California Secretary of State's office invited Black Box Voting, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group for elections, to try hacking into the Diebold system. A specific testing protocol was provided by Diebold and the California Secretary of State’s office. Though the opportunity was welcomed by Black Box Voting, negotiations remain on the procedures. Black Box Voting contends that the proposed testing violates California Election Code §19202, which governs the request for voting machine testing formally submitted to the state of California by Black Box Voting on June 16, 2005. Also, Black Box Voting identified areas of bias in the proposed procedures, which would violate normal scientific protocol and cause voters to lack confidence in the results. At issue is Diebold’s insistence on being involved in setting up the testing procedures, and Diebold’s provision of hand-picked machines, using new voting systems not currently in use in California. Though the formal request for replication of Black Box Voting security tests was made in June 2005, Diebold delayed the test required by §19202 for more than five months. Diebold is now “permitting” the testing only under conditions Diebold controls, using machines only Diebold provides. The proposed procedure contaminates the results. Black Box Voting has offered to resolve procedural defects in such a way as to “enhance public confidence” as required by §104 (c) in the California certification procedures. Instead of voting machines hand-picked by the vendor which have never been used in elections, Black Box Voting wants to test a randomly selected voting system used in the last election - the machines that elected the California governor and the president.

State officials have asked the CBS television show "60 Minutes" to postpone Sunday's scheduled segment highlighting a scientist's allegations that New Orleans is sinking and that residents should be induced to leave the city. Tim Kusky, a professor in the earth sciences department at St. Louis University, asserts on the show that New Orleans residents should "face the fact that their city will be below sea level in 90 years." He also recommends a "gradual pullout from the city, whose slow, steady slide into the sea was sped up enormously by Hurricane Katrina," according to a preview of the program. In a letter to CBS, Andy Kopplin, executive director of Louisiana Recovery Authority, asked the network to reconsider airing it. "We are very concerned about the preview of your story on New Orleans' future posted on the '60 Minutes' website and hope it is not an accurate reflection of your work," Kopplin wrote.

Don't ask for an XBox 360 for Christmas: Microsoft's Xbox 360, the much-anticipated video game system that made its debut earlier this week, is apparently experiencing some technical glitches -- screens freezing only minutes into a game, for example -- and that has left some users pretty upset. At gamer-oriented Web sites, Xbox 360 owners have reported system crashes in games such as the space-marines-vs.-aliens title Quake 4.One owner complained that his new console tries to read the shooter game Perfect Dark Zero as a DVD movie. Another posted a video file of the game Project Gotham Racing 3 freezing up before the player had even finished the first lap of the driving game. Brian Crecente, who runs the game-fan site Kotaku.com, said his Xbox 360 locked up three times, causing him to lose a couple of hours' worth of progress in a Western-themed action game called Gun.

Smirkey gets his mind changed: Tony Blair was "doubled crossed" by Smirkey's aides in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the former diplomat at the center of a political crisis engulfing the White House. Joe Wilson, the husband of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent who was allegedly 'outed' by senior administration figures, made the claim in an interview for the BBC. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today program, Mr. Wilson said: "I watched the way that the British built their case, and it was a disarmament case as best I could see it. "Mr Blair came to the US when Mr. Bush was talking about regime change, and when he left Mr. Bush started talking about disarmament as the objective.

A top US official acknowledged mounting European Union pressure for Washington to come clean about reports of secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe while stressing his country's right to protect itself against terrorists. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Dan Fried said he had discussed the matter with various European officials during talks in Berlin, Vienna, Madrid and Brussels last week, but he refused to elaborate. "I don't want to attempt to characterize our discussions with allies on this," he told AFP. "The issue came up in a number of ways, in a number of places." Fried also declined comment on the European Union's plan to formally ask Washington to clarify reports about the secret CIA prisons known as "black sites". He underlined, however, the US right to wage a battle against terrorism.

A dozen Iraq war protesters were arrested on Wednesday as they tested a new ban on camping and parking on roads near Smirkey's Texas ranch where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday. The demonstration was timed to coincide with Bush's break at his 1,600-acre (650-hectare) spread and the arrival of the accompanying White House media entourage. The group included Dede Miller, the sister of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan whose son was killed in Iraq and who became an icon for the peace movement after her 26-day vigil outside Bush's ranch in the summer. Sheehan was scheduled to arrive in Crawford on Friday. McLennan County sheriff's deputies warned the protesters - who had pitched tents by the roadside - and then arrested them for trespassing.

The Rev. Jerry Zawada has already served a federal prison term for trespassing on government property to protest a Fort Benning school he blames for human rights abuses in Latin America. On Sunday, the 68-year-old Catholic priest risked another one. Zawada was among at least 41 protesters arrested during an annual protest calling for the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the Army's School of the Americas, organizers said Sunday. School of the Americas Watch, the group that sponsors the annual rally, alleges the school's graduates have committed murders, rapes and tortures in Latin America. Military officials, of course, deny the charges.

Want to buy or build in New Orleans? Get out your wallet: Nervous insurers are steering clear of hurricane-hit New Orleans, posing new problems as people here try to rebuild or relocate. Almost three months after Hurricane Katrina damaged tens of thousands of homes, insurance companies worry about safety, regulations and future risk. Existing homeowners argue about payouts, and would-be buyers struggle to find any insurance at all. "We were ready to sign a contract on a house, but we can't get insurance," said Steve, whose company is moving him to New Orleans and who asked Reuters not to use his second name. "I'm baffled why the real estate companies still show houses." It is generally impossible to get a mortgage on a house without insurance. "There are only a few companies that are writing policies right now, and everything is running slowly," realtor Muffin Labourisse, whose company is still showing and selling houses, said of the city's post-hurricane real estate reality.

"Let's do it." With those last words, convicted killer Gary Gilmore ushered in the modern era of capital punishment in the United States, an age of busy death chambers that will likely see its 1,000th execution in the coming days. After a 10-year moratorium, Gilmore in 1977 became the first person to be executed following a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that validated state laws to reform the capital punishment system. Since then, 997 prisoners have been executed, and next week, the 998th, 999th and 1,000th are scheduled to die.

The number of U.S. children and teens who were diagnosed with depression more than doubled between 1995 and 2002, while the use of antidepressant drugs rose and the use of psychotherapy or counseling declined. The findings, say researchers, point to possible instances of inappropriate prescribing to children. While guidelines call for children to be treated with either mental health counseling or a combination of counseling and medication, the study found a trend of antidepressants replacing talk therapy. In addition, although only one antidepressant, Prozac (fluoxetine), has been specifically approved for patients younger than 18, prescriptions for other antidepressants rose after 1995 as well - with children receiving prescriptions for them on an "off-label" basis.

The internet entrepreneur Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist site provided a hugely successful free alternative to classified advertising, has trained his sights on the old-fashioned newspaper industry. Mr Newmark - whose craigslist.org is the seventh-most visited internet site in America, just after eBay - has diverted millions of dollars of advertising revenue away from newspapers. At a seminar at the Said Business School at Oxford University this week, Mr Newmark rehearsed his new media paradigm: the combination of improving Web technology and a popular groundswell of distrust for reporters - especially, he says, because of ill- informed reporting of the Iraq war and its build-up - means that ordinary people are ready to take over the newsroom. Mr Newmark said that he expects to launch a project in the coming weeks to harness the "wisdom of the masses" that has fuelled his advertising site and apply it to daily journalism.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has sought to deflect a growing dispute with Mexico by blaming the US for sowing discord in Latin America. Wearing a wide-brimmed Mexican sombrero, Mr Chavez told thousands of supporters at a weekend rally in Caracas that the row was not with the Mexican people but their pro-US president, Vicente Fox. Venezuela and Mexico downgraded their diplomatic relations last week in a dispute over Mexico's support of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Matters came to a head when Mr Chavez called his Mexican counterpart a "lapdog of the American empire" and later warned Mr Fox "not to mess" with him.

Only On Fox: Fox says GM layoffs will make things "better for everyone involved." Compassionate Conservatism reared its heartless head on Your World w/Neil Cavuto during a roundtable discussion about today's announcement that General Motors will cut 30,000 jobs and close 10 plants in the US and two in Canada. Cavuto opened the segment with, "So, should you be worried?" Wayne Rogers, a very frequent guest on Fox's "business news" programs, seemed to think not. He said, "People have been guaranteed a certain standard of living and almost think it's their right to have that." "That is not guaranteed anymore and people are going to have to work it out differently." Fox's Dagen McDowell said, "You can't count on Uncle Sam. The future of Social Security's clearly in question. You can't count on the company you're working for." Jonathan Hoenig, another very frequent guest said, "It's terrible that 30,000 people are going to lose their jobs right before the holidays. I mean, it breaks your heart, but the truth is, ultimately, it's going to be better for everyone involved. People will rely on their own efforts to prepare for retirement and save, not hope that GM or Delta or United don't go bankrupt."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Show My Passport: John Bolton, the abrasive U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been dubbed by one New York newspaper as "a human wrecking ball", is living up to every critic's gloomy expectations. Last week, he threatened U.N. member states, specifically the 132 developing nations, that if they don't play ball with the United States, Washington may look elsewhere to settle international problems. "It is obvious," Jim Paul of the New York-based Global Policy Forum told IPS, "that Washington has once again threatened the United Nations with its usual warning: 'Do what we say, or we will send you into oblivion"'. He said Bolton's message is clear, "If you don't, we will wreck you." Addressing a gathering at Wingate University in North Carolina last week, Bolton said: "Being practical, Americans say that either we need to fix the institution (the United Nations), or we'll turn to some other mechanism to solve international problems." Yeah, John, like the United Nations is there to solve America's problems?

Qataris, including senior officials, reacted with shock on Wednesday to newspaper reports in Britain suggesting that Smirkey had discussed bombing the Doha headquarters of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera. The report, in Tuesday’s edition of the British Daily Mirror, was based on what the newspaper reported were leaked minutes of a conversation between Mr Bush and Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, on April 16 2004. On Tuesday the British government threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed contents of the document, a move that reinforced suspicions in Qatar that the report might be genuine. “I thought this was just a rumor, but now the UK has used the [threat of the] secrecy act to stop it, it raises more questions. It makes this high profile and we would be really interested to know what is going on,” a senior member of the ruling Al-Thani family said.

A county commissioner, who helped push through a new county ordinance to prevent protests in front of Smirkey's Texas ranch, has admitted publicly that he did so at the urging of the White House. When asked to confirm it later, he denied it. “The ordinance was very plainly meant to prevent people from protesting in front of Bush's ranch,” Dave Jensen, a 54-year-old former Marine told reporters. “We feel that's a First Amendment issue. It's intentionally designed to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.” Ray Meadows, the McLennan County commissioner who sponsored the ordinance to restrict free speech, admits he did so at the White House’s urging. “Of course I did,” he bragged to a county resident when asked at a public hearing on the ordinance. Meadows later claimed the White House didn't have anything to do with ordinance, claiming he proposed it to protect "property owners." Of course, Bush is also a property owner. War protesters say they are determined to demonstrate outside President Bush's ranch during the Thanksgiving holiday despite the arrests of a dozen people on Wednesday. The group had pitched six tents along the road in defiance of new local bans on roadside camping and parking. Many in the group held up signs, including one that said "Give me liberty or give me a ditch." More than two dozen McLennan County sheriff's deputies arrived and asked if they wanted to walk out on their own or be carried. Two chose to be carried. A dozen others left after deputies warned them they would be arrested

Controversy over the use of European airports by CIA aircraft and alleged secret prisons simmered on in several European capitals as Washington acknowledged mounting pressure over the issue. In Spain Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, on the defensive, said that the government had acted in "conformity with the law" regarding secret Central Intelligence Agency flights that landed at Spanish airports. The government - headed by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, one of whose first actions on taking power last year was to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq - has promised "the greatest transparency" over the affair. The Netherlands has warned Washington that if it continued to "hide" over reports of secret prisons in eastern Europe, Dutch contributions to US-led military missions could be affected, the ANP news agency reported. "The US should stop hiding. It will all come out sooner or later," Foreign Minister Ben Bot told the Dutch parliament. Bot added that the Americans "are on the borderline" in their fight against terrorism. The minister would not say at what point the Netherlands might end their cooperation with Washington. An Austrian opposition politician called on Thursday for a wider investigation into possible CIA flights over Austria and accused U.S. intelligence of running a de-facto covert airline he derisively dubbed "Kidnap Air." The lawmaker, Peter Pilz of the Green Party, urged the public prosecutor's office to get involved, insisting there was probably more than one flight over Austria. "If the U.S. government authorities believe they have the right to kidnap people and transport them over European borders, that must have consequences in all member states of the European Union," Pilz told reporters. On Wednesday, Austria's air force commander said a CIA transport plane suspected of carrying terrorist suspects flew over the country on its way to the Central Asian nation of Azerbaijan on Jan. 21, 2003.

The US has threatened to block a record-breaking arms deal under which Spain would sell ships and aircraft to Venezuela, in another sign of increasingly fraught relations between the Bush administration and the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. The US claimed that a $1.1 billion arms deal with Mr Chavez, who is a vocal supporter of Cuba's Fidel Castro and a fierce critic of the Bush administration, could destabilize the region. The deal, due to be signed in Caracas on Monday, includes four coastal patrol ships, four corvettes, 10 C-295 transport planes and two maritime surveillance planes. It would be a massive boost to Spain's ailing shipyard industry and to the rest of its defense industry.

Proof Of Smirkey's Manipulation Of Iraq Intelligence: From “Saddam Hussein’s Development of Weapons of Mass Destruction” [White House website]: "In 2001, an Iraqi defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, said he had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. … Mr. Saeed said Iraq used companies to purchase equipment with the blessing of the United Nations - and then secretly used the equipment for their weapons programs." None of al-Haideri’s claims were true. Rolling Stone reveals that the administration’s use of al-Haideri’s lies to justify the Iraq war were “the product of a clandestine operation…that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling a war.” At the center of this operation was John Rendon and The Rendon Group, “a controversial, secretive firm that has been criticized as ineffective and too expensive,” paid more than $56 million by the government since the 9/11 attacks. (Taxpayers are paying Rendon himself $311.26/hour.) The Rendon Group personally set up the Iraqi National Congress and helped install Ahmad Chalabi as leader, whose main goal - “pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein” - Rendon helped facilitate. Pentagon documents show that Rendon has the highest level of government clearance (above Top Secret), which helped it with its INC work - “a worldwide media blitz designed to turn Hussein…into the greatest threat to world peace.”

Habeas-Corpus Death Watch: A former Pakistani businessman and accused al-Qaida operative held two years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has sued to get a copy of the King James Bible. Saifullah Paracha, 58, said he is entitled to a copy of the Bible, a scripture accepted by Islam, in addition to the Koran, which is available to Guantanamo detainees. In response to his Washington suit, U.S. officials said some books are withheld because they could "incite" inmates. The government also said allowing Paracha to have a Bible would set off a "chain reaction" among 170 other detainees suing the government, the Los Angeles Times reported. The government has, however, cleared Paracha to receive William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and "Julius Caesar," which his lawyer mailed in September. Paracha is accused of conspiring to ship chemical components to the United States.

Privatizaton Solves All Problems: How yummy - and just in time for Thanksgiving: The Pentagon repeatedly warned contractor Halliburton-KBR that the food it served to US troops in Iraq was "dirty," as were as the kitchens it was served in, NBC News reported on Friday. Halliburton-Kellogg Brown and Root's promises to improve "have not been followed through," according to a Pentagon report that warned "serious repercussions may result" if the contractor did not clean up. The Pentagon reported finding "blood all over the floor," "dirty pans," "dirty grills," "dirty salad bars" and "rotting meats ... and vegetables" in four of the military messes the company operates in Iraq, NBC said, citing Pentagon documents. The report came as President George W. Bush fended off Pentagon reports that Halliburton-KBR overcharged US$61 million for gasoline it sold the military in Iraq. Dick Cheney ran Halliburton for five years until becoming vice president. The company feeds 110,000 US and coalition troops daily at a cost of US$28 per troop per day, NBC said. Interesting that that kind of money is enough to feed me for a week, and I don't exactly starve.

No Money For Government, But Lots Of Money For Tax Cuts For The Rich: A large deficit in NASA's troubled shuttle program threatens to seriously delay and possibly cripple President Bush's space exploration initiative unless the number of planned flights is cut virtually in half or the White House agrees to add billions of dollars to the human spaceflight budget. Sources familiar with ongoing negotiations between NASA and the White House say the administration has no intention of spending extra money to deal with a shortfall that some space experts say could exceed $6 billion from 2006 to 2010, when NASA plans to retire the shuttle for good.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Demonstrating how out of touch it is with reality, the Catholic Church has announced that it is going to ban from its priesthood anyone who has "deep seated" gay tendencies - which, of course, is just about all gay men, and a high percentage of those wearing the Catholic Church's clerical robes. Gay rights activists and liberal Catholics are now girding for a long battle over the Vatican's tougher stance on homosexuality, predicting the Church would lose thousands of followers in the United States, but also make it much more difficult to provide clerics for the parishes that need them. The policy, drafted to deal with scandals over pedophile priests that erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread across the United States, says the Church can admit those who have clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years. But practicing homosexuals and those with "deep-seated" gay tendencies and those who support a gay culture should be barred, it said. Conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church and in other religions welcomed the stand. "We are calling on all Catholics of goodwill to speak to their priests and to express their outrage at this decision," said Harry Knox a director of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group based in Washington.

Wakulla Correctional, south of Tallahassee, is Florida's newest "faith and character-based" prison, the third in the state to offer inmates access to evening programs aimed at using their faith - no matter what it is - to strengthen their character. State prison officials hope that it may help motivated inmates refocus on what their life might be like outside if they change their behavior. They must volunteer to participate. In addition to offering extra religious study opportunities, the programs offer practical classes, like life skills and anger management.

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw gay marriage in Massachusetts said on Wednesday they had more than double the number of signatures needed to put the issue to voters. But gay rights lawyers threatened a legal challenge to stop the ballot initiative, underscoring deepening tension over the divisive issue a year after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. A loose coalition of conservative and Christian groups seeking to ban same-sex marriage had to gather at least 65,825 signatures before state lawmakers could decide whether to put the question to a public referendum in 2008.

News From Smirkey's War: More results from the "Salvador Option" death squads: Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms shot dead an aging Sunni tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds on Wednesday, relatives said, in the latest attack to highlight Iraq's deep sectarian rifts ahead of a December poll. A Defense Ministry official denied Iraqi troops carried out the pre-dawn slayings in the Hurriya district of Baghdad and said the killers instead must have been terrorists in disguise. "Iraqi army uniforms litter the streets and any terrorist can kill and tarnish our image, killing two birds with one stone," the official said.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years. That is the conclusion of new European studies looking at ice taken from 3km below the surface of Antarctica. The scientists say their research shows present day warming to be exceptional. Other research, also published in the journal Science, suggests that sea levels may be rising twice as fast now as in previous centuries. The evidence on atmospheric concentrations comes from an Antarctic region called Dome Concordia (Dome C).

Global ocean levels are rising twice as fast today as they were 150 years ago, and human-induced warming appears to be the culprit, say scientists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and collaborating institutions. While the speed at which the ocean is rising -- almost two millimeters per year today compared to one millimeter annually for the past several thousand years -- may not be fodder for the next disaster movie, it affirms scientific concerns of accelerated global warming. In an article published in the Nov. 25 issue of the journal Science, Rutgers professor of geological sciences Kenneth G. Miller reports on a new record of sea level change during the past 100 million years based on drilling studies along the New Jersey coast. The findings establish a steady millimeter-per-year rise from 5,000 years ago until about 200 years ago.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It was 1959 when Dick Cheney, then a student at Yale University, turned 18 and became eligible for the draft. Eventually, like 16 million other young men of that era, Mr. Cheney sought deferments. By the time he turned 26 in January 1967 and was no longer eligible for the draft, he had asked for and received five deferments, four because he was a student and one for being a new father. Although President Richard M. Nixon stopped the draft in 1973 and the war itself ended 29 years ago on Friday, the issue of service remains a personally sensitive and politically potent touchstone in the biographies of many politicians from that era. For much of Mr. Cheney's political career, his deferments have largely been a non-issue. In an increasingly vituperative political campaign, Mr. Cheney this week again questioned the credentials of Senator John Kerry and his ability to be commander in chief. Mr. Kerry, who was decorated in Vietnam and has made his service there a central element of his campaign, fired back. Putting Mr. Cheney's record in the spotlight, Mr. Kerry said that he "got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do." Dick, I'd rather have a military veteran commanding the military than a draft-dodging Vice President of Torture.

Michael Scanlon, a former top official for Representative Tom DeLay and onetime partner of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has agreed to plead guilty in a deal with federal prosecutors, according to his lawyer. The deal reveals a broadening corruption investigation involving top members of Congress. Criminal papers filed in federal court outlined a conspiracy that not only named Mr. Scanlon but also mentioned a congressman, identified only as Representative No. 1, as part of the exchange of favors from clients funneled to lobbyists and officials. This was the first time that a member of Congress, identified by lawyers in the case as Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, has been implicated in criminal papers as part of the inquiry, which has sprawled from Indian casinos to the lucrative lobbying firms of Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon and then reached to the Republican leadership. Federal prosecutors announced a single conspiracy charge against Mr. Scanlon on Friday, in advance of a Monday court hearing at which he is expected to plead guilty in exchange for his cooperation. Investigators accused Mr. Scanlon of conspiring to defraud Indian tribes of millions of dollars as part of a lobbying and corruption scheme.

A lawyer recruited 29 people, including some from a Bible study class, to stage more than 60 automobile crashes on Los Angeles freeways and collected millions of dollars in bogus insurance claims, authorities said Wednesday. Personal injury lawyer Bernard Laufer, 52, of Huntington Park was arrested Tuesday morning at his office on suspicion of leading the ring, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi said. Although no one was seriously injured in the accidents, one victim was forced to close his business after his truck was totaled, officials said. "This is extraordinarily important to every citizen who's on the freeways," Garamendi said. "Purposely stopping a car on a freeway can lead to death. These schemes are dangerous, they are reckless and they are deadly." The ring operated for at least 18 months, targeting sport utility vehicles and commercial trucks on several Southland freeways, including the 101, 60, 10 and the 15, authorities said.

News Of The Weird: According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Curtis Talley, 83, is a sex offender living in Seminole county, Florida. If you go to the FDLE's sex-offender registry at www3.fdle.state.fl.us/sopu and type in Talley's name, you'll find his listing and photo. You'll see that he committed sexual battery. You'll see that his crime was against a minor. You could study his yellowed eyes and note that his last known address is in Altamonte Springs. You might wonder why men like Talley are out on the streets, but if you live in Altamonte Springs you'll likely be thankful that the FDLE has alerted you to this menace. Now you can be vigilant, right? No need. Talley won't be bothering you. He's been dead for three years. He's one of hundreds of "ghosts" on the FDLE's website who, for one reason or another, are never taken off, even though they've shuffled off this mortal coil. The only thing Talley's record – and the hundreds like it – does these days is inflate the number of sex offenders users of FDLE's website believe are loose on the streets of Florida. As of Nov. 16, there were 541 dead or reported dead on the state rolls. It's FDLE's policy that offenders' names will remain on the rolls for one year after their death. "If the public is checking regularly, they can be informed that an offender living nearby is no longer alive," says FDLE spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha. That's a ridiculous policy in and of itself, says Jim Freeman. "What possible threat can a dead person pose to the public?"

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:54:11 AM

Wed, Nov 23 2005

Winter Arrives In Arenal

It seems that winter has finally arrived in Arenal. Yesterday, the pleasantly warm temperatures, combined with warm south winds and occasional light rain was just a prelude to what the Meteorological Institute told us was coming. A cold front, sweeping down through the Gulf of Honduras was due to arrive, bringing with it the first chilly weather of the new season, the dry season for most of the country. For the Central Valley and the inland areas in most of the country, it heralds chilly, windy but dry weather. For us, just more rain, but interspersed with chilly winds for the next two to three months. And the chill was certainly a part of what arrived yesterday.

Last night, when the sun went down, the temperature, which had reached a high of 79, began to decline as of course it always does. But instead of dropping to the 72 to 74 degrees we had been getting in the post-sunset early evening, it just kept dropping as the wind shifted around from the south to the northeast. By bed time, it had dropped to 66 degrees and was still falling. By morning, it was 64 and a light, intermittent drizzle meant that the pleasant, warm weather was at an end. I put on pajamas last night for the first time in a really long time - I really needed the extra warmth.

Today it warmed up ever so slowly after dawn, making it only to 74 degrees, as the cloud cover was heavy and there was a light drizzle for much of the morning. I had been informed that there was a couple interested in looking at my house, and so I had to get up early and clean, but I had some difficulty getting out of bed as a result of cold-induced muscle spasms in both legs and found myself hobbling around quite a bit until I was warmed up. The cold weather was taking its toll, and I found that being an old man in cold weather is not necessarily a pleasant experience. But I was up and had breakfast, and washed the dishes - finishing them up just in time, as the couple who wanted to see my house showed up about two hours early.

So they got to see how creaky old gringo bachelors in Costa Rica really live. I took them around the gardens and showed them the house, and they seem quite interested. Maybe I have sold the place, I don't know, but they spent a good deal of time here, filming the place with their camcorder, so they can think a lot about it when the are back in the States. They had looked around the house, twice in fact, and decided that it would be fairly easy to turn it into the sort of house they would like, and it wouldn't be that tough to do. They were a very pleasant couple - from my home state of Idaho, as it turns out, so we had a fine time chatting as we all walked around the yard.

This evening, I was invited over to a Tico neighbor's place to sit and chat, and give them an English lesson. The husband has a very strong Nicoya accent and has serious difficulty pronouncing an "S" and most of the time was spent coaching his accent. His wife, from this area, has a more normal Guanacaste accent, and I find her speech much easier to understand. We had a fine time of it, everyone getting a good laugh at everyone else's difficulties in pronunciation. My Spanish is survival grade but their English is just a few words, and needs a lot of help. So they were able to understand my instructions fairly well. Now I need them to coach me in Spanish a bit.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Iraqis face the dire prospect of losing up to $200 billion of the wealth of their country if an American-inspired plan to hand over development of its oil reserves to US and British multinationals comes into force next year. A report produced by American and British pressure groups warns Iraq will be caught in an "old colonial trap" if it allows foreign companies to take a share of its vast energy reserves. The report is certain to reawaken fears that the real purpose of the 2003 war on Iraq was to ensure its oil came under Western control. The Iraqi government has announced plans to seek foreign investment to exploit its oil reserves after the general election, which will be held next month. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, the third largest in the world. Yesterday's report said the use of production sharing agreements (PSAs) was proposed by the US State Department before the invasion and adopted by the Coalition Provisional Authority. "The current government is fast-tracking the process. It is already negotiating contracts with oil companies in parallel with the constitutional process, elections and passage of a Petroleum Law," the report, Crude Designs, said. Earlier this year a BBC Newsnight report claimed to have uncovered documents showing the Bush administration made plans to secure Iraqi oil even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. Based on its analysis of Production Sharing Agreements in seven countries, it said multinationals would seek rates of return on their investment from 42 to 162 per cent, far in excess of typical 12 per cent rates.

The European Union is to formally ask the US to clarify reports that it ran secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe. The US has refused to confirm or deny the reports, which surfaced in the US earlier this month. A European investigator is seeking satellite images of Romania and Poland, alleged sites of the secret prisons. Spain, Sweden and Iceland are looking into separate reports that CIA planes stopped in their territory while transporting terror suspects. The European investigator, Swiss Senator Dick Marty, is looking into what he called the suspicious movement patterns of flights in the region. "This is absolutely not a crusade against America," he said.

Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, aggressively delving into alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration, logged 140 hours of sworn testimony into whether former president Bill Clinton had used the White House Christmas card list to identify potential Democratic donors. In the past two years, a House committee has managed to take only 12 hours of sworn testimony about the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The jarring comparison reflects the way Congress has conducted its oversight role during the GOP's era of one-party rule in Washington. While congressional committees once were leaders in investigating the executive branch and powerful industries, the current Congress has largely spared major corporations and has done only minimal oversight of the Republican administration, according to a review of congressional documents by The Boston Globe. An examination of committees' own reports found that the House Government Reform Committee held just 37 hearings described as ''oversight" or investigative in nature during the last Congress, down from 135 such hearings held by its predecessor, the House Government Operations Committee, in 1993-94, the last year the Democrats controlled the chamber.

Camp Casey may be coming back: Three war protesters today sued McLennan County, Texas, over traffic-restricting ordinances near President Bush's ranch. The federal suit filed in Waco claims two new ordinances banning roadside parking and camping infringe on their right to protest by the ranch near Crawford. The suit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction to block the laws. County leaders say the ordinances are meant to prevent another traffic nightmare. Yeah. And Santa Claus brings gifts to children all over the world at Christmas-time.

The controversial world of youth behavior-modification facilities intersects with a web of intricate political connections. And where the treatment industry sees cooperation with government entities, activists warn, these links could cloud the prospects for public oversight of the "teen-help" market. The influence of the behavior-modification industry is felt on Capitol Hill. Four members of the House of Representatives and one senator serve as honorary board members of Kids Helping Kids, a company with corporate links to a now-defunct behavior-modification program for teen drug users known as Straight Incorporated. The various franchises of that program dissolved in the early 1990s following allegations of child abuse, as well as criticism for using cruel, prisoner-of-war-style brainwashing techniques on adolescents. Watchdog groups report that Straight Inc. has since morphed into the Drug Free America Foundation, a conservative anti-drug advocacy group. The co-founder, Mel Sembler, is a longtime Republican Party donor and fundraiser who served as ambassador to Italy for the current administration and ambassador to Australia under George H.W. Bush.

Airborne contaminant levels are dangerously high in New Orleans, posing a potential health risk to workers and returning residents, according to publicly released air quality tests conducted in the storm-ravaged city. The tests, conducted by a team of environmental groups, measured mold and particulate matter – like soot, dust and other sediment – in a number of previously flooded areas of the city. In a statement released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the groups, which include NRDC and several local organizations, charge that the federal government is "neglecting a major safety threat affecting thousands of people both indoors and out."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be "a big mistake." While professing "the greatest respect" for Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, the ex-Marine who called for a troop pullout last week, Sen. Hillary Clinton said, "I think that would cause more problems for us in America." On the other hand, she said, the administration's pledge to stay in Iraq "until the job is done" amounts to giving the Iraqis "an open-ended invitation not to take care of themselves."

Smirkey further readies Bolivia for a splendid little war: New reports are surfacing in the Latin American press about the removal from Bolivia by the U.S. of shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles that belonged to the Bolivian military. The Argentinian paper claims to have access to classified documents that reveal that the missiles were taken out of Bolivia in early October by a C-130 U.S. military cargo plane. The Argentine paper Pagina 12 notes that both Bolivian President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé and Army Commanding General Marcelo Antezana said that the missiles were destroyed in Bolivia. They qualified the missiles as obsolete and dangerous. The missiles, also known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), have been the object of a campaign by the U.S. government to eradicate them. According to the U.S. State Department, since 2003 the agency “has enabled the destruction of over 13,000 MANPADS in 13 countries in Africa, Central America, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia,” including 100 missiles that belonged to Nicaragua. This is a sensitive issue in Latin America, because it is a means by which a small, poorly equipped army can repel an air borne invasion - such as from the base being prepared by the U.S. military in neighboring Paraguay.

The White House has dismissed claims that Smirkey was talked out of bombing Arab television station al-Jazeera by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. The allegations were made by an unnamed source in the tabloid UK Daily Mirror newspaper. A White House official said: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response." Ex-UK minister Peter Kilfoyle, who opposed the Iraq war, had called for a transcript of the alleged conversation to be published. Launched in 1996, al-Jazeera is best known outside of the Arab world for carrying exclusive al-Qaeda messages. The station is based in Qatar, a close ally of Washington's and the location of US military headquarters during the Iraq war. According to the Mirror's source, the transcript records a conversation during Mr Blair's visit to the White House on 16 April 2004, in the wake of an attempt to root out insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja, in which 30 US Marines died. Meanwhile, in the UK, a civil servant has been charged under Britain’s Official Secrets Act for allegedly leaking the government memo. Going even further, the attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq, including the Al Jazeera story as well as some of the discussions with Bush in the leadup to the war. Richard Wallace, the Editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: “We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given ‘no comment’ officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under Section 5.”

The Center For Disease Control has proposed sweeping new regulations to deal with the pending flu pandemic. Travelers entering the U.S. with fever and other flu-like symptoms would be reported by the airline or ship that brought them, under new rules proposed today, a U.S. public-health official said. The CDC would have the right to immediate access to passenger lists for all forms of public transport. The rules would expand the list of conditions that airlines and ships are required to report among travelers crossing some state lines and for those arriving from abroad, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an e-mailed statement. The regulation changes also clarify an appeals process for people placed under quarantine, the Atlanta-based agency said. The regulations "will allow the CDC to move more swiftly'' when attempting to avert outbreaks, said Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, on a conference call with reporters today. What we have now is a very passive system." The proposed changes were prompted by the epidemic of SARS in 2002 and 2003 that sickened 8,096 people and killed 774 on three continents in about nine months. U.S. government officials estimate a global pandemic of avian influenza, if such a virus becomes contagious in humans, would kill as many as 1.9 million Americans and hospitalize 9.9 million. The frequency of international travel will spread the disease, CDC officials said.

Homeland Security's fearmongering is coming back to bite it: The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an alert Monday about a scam involving unsolicited e-mails, purportedly sent by the FBI, that tell computer users that their Internet surfing is being monitored by the agency. The users are told they have visited illegal Web sites and are instructed to open an attachment to answer questions. The FBI did not send these e-mails and does not send any other unsolicited e-mails to the public, an agency statement said. As many harmful computer viruses are located in e-mail attachments, the FBI said it strongly encourages computer users not to open attachments from unknown recipients. The FBI is investigating the scam. Recipients of these e-mails are asked to report them by visiting the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov.

To downplay the political impact of revelations that U.S. forces used deadly white phosphorus rounds against Iraqi insurgents in Falluja last year, Pentagon officials have insisted that phosphorus munitions are legal since they aren’t technically “chemical weapons." But the distinction is a minor one, and arguably political in nature. A formerly classified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document titled “Possible Use of Phosphorous Chemical” describes the use of white phosphorus by Saddam Hussein on Kurdish fighters and the document does refer to white phosphorus rounds as chemical weapons - at least if they’re used by our enemies. The real point here goes beyond the Pentagon’s legalistic parsings. The use of white phosphorus against enemy fighters is a “terribly ill-conceived method,” demonstrating an Army interested “only in the immediate tactical gain and its felicitous 'shake and bake' fun.” And the dishonest efforts by Smirkey's officials to deny and downplay that use only further undermines U.S. credibility abroad. To paraphrase Smirkey, this isn’t a question about what is legal, it’s about what is right.

Payola scandal grows: Warner Music Group Corp. will pay $5 million to settle a payola probe by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, becoming the second company to resolve allegations of bribing radio station programmers to get airplay. Spitzer has sought information from other companies, including EMI Group Plc and Cox Radio Inc. as part of his ongoing probe of pay-to-play practices in the music industry. In July, No. 2 Sony BMG Music Entertainment agreed to pay $10 million to settle with Spitzer. Sony BMG, created from the 2004 merger of the recorded-music units of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG, also agreed to disclose all items of value it gives to radio stations. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has begun its own probe of music industry "pay-to-play" practices. An FCC commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein, said today that the Warner settlement "adds more dirt to the mountain of evidence that payola is pervasive in the music business."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says the high court did not inject itself into the 2000 presidential election. Speaking at the Time Warner Center last night, Scalia said: "The election was dragged into the courts by the Gore people. We did not go looking for trouble." But he said the court had to take the case. "The issue was whether Florida's Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court [would decide the election.] What did you expect us to do? Turn the case down because it wasn't important enough?"

A judge threw out a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to block the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush's signature education policy. The National Education Association and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government. Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, based in eastern Michigan, said, "Congress has appropriated significant funding" and has the power to require states to set educational standards in exchange for federal money.

Drug criminalization helps build democracies: Guatemala needs to fight the growing power of drug gangs or it could become a "mini Colombia", the US Drugs Enforcement administration has warned. The DEA representative in Guatemala, Michael O'Brien, said that the agency was worried about the situation. He added that drug gangs were attempting to influence the public and the Guatemalan government. Last week, the country's top anti-drugs official, Adan Castillo, was arrested in the US on drug trafficking charges.

The Rest Of The World Setting An Example For The States: The UN special envoy on torture has said that his invitation to visit China indicates growing awareness in Beijing that the practice is still widely used. Manfred Novak told the BBC he had been promised the freedom to see prisoners and investigate claims of torture, unlike Guantanamo, where he was denied such privileges, and therefore declined an inspection trip. Mr Novak will spend nearly two weeks in Beijing, Tibet and the troubled western province of Xinjiang. Beijing outlawed torture in 1996, but human rights organisations report it is still used to extract confessions. Mr Novak's visit follows 10 years of repeated requests to be allowed into the country. Speaking at the start of a two-week trip, he also said he was confident his recommendations would bring about change. 'Small steps' He said he was "grateful" China had allowed him the freedom to visit prisons un-announced and conduct private interviews with detainees.

The Feds won't assist low income people with their heating oil bills, but a third-world country will: Officials from Venezuela and Massachusetts have signed a deal to provide cheap heating oil to low-income homes in the US state. The fuel will be sold at about 40% below market prices to thousands of homes over the winter months. Local congressman William Delahunt described the deal as "an expression of humanitarianism at its very best". Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is one of the Bush administration's biggest adversaries in Latin America. He first announced his plan to provide cheap heating oil directly to lower-income Americans while visiting Cuba in August.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em: Despite deposing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in quick time at the end of 2001, the United States has not been able to rid the country of the Islamic hardliners, who four years later lead an Afghan resistance that shows no signs of abating, let alone buckling. US efforts to combat the Taliban include outright military action (there are 18,000 US troops in the country, in addition to 12,000 members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the International Security Assistance Force), and attempts to embrace "good" Taliban. And now, most significantly, come efforts to deal directly with the real "problem" - Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the only person with the ability to influence decisions of import related to the Taliban and their future activities in the country. Reports emerged in the Pakistani media at the weekend that the US had contacted the Taliban leadership with the aim of establishing a truce in Afghanistan.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has emerged as a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s policy on interrogating detainees in the war on terrorism, wants Senate investigators to interview senior administration officials about their statements regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein before the war. McCain backed Democratic calls for interviews of top-level administration officials in an interview last week. But his position is at odds with many in his party, including Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), whom McCain may face in the 2008 GOP presidential primary.

Conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly writes in his current column that there needs to be a timetable for the U.S. to leave Iraq. "Let's win the damn thing," he said in his Creators Syndicate feature. "But there must be a time limit. Mr. Bush and his crew have to understand that American blood and treasure are not unlimited. It is not undermining the war to suggest giving the Iraqis a realistic private timetable to defend themselves. Basic training for a U.S. soldier is six weeks. We've been training the Iraqi army for almost two years now. Even Gomer Pyle would be up to speed."

Habeas-Corpus Death Watch:"Dirty Bomb" suspect Jose Padilla, held by the U.S. as an enemy combatant for more than three years without ever being charged with a crime, has finally been indicted on federal charges in Miami, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was expected to discuss the indictment at a news conference in Washington. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert, has been held as an "enemy combatant" in Defense Department custody for more than three years. The Bush administration had resisted calls to charge and try him in civilian courts. The indictment avoids a Supreme Court showdown. Padilla's lawyers had asked justices to review his case last month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline next Monday for filing its legal arguments.

News From The Sony Spyware Scandal: Sony BMG Music Entertainment's troubles over anti-piracy technology on music CDs deepened Monday as Texas' attorney general and a California-based digital rights group said they were suing the music company under new state anti-spyware laws. The Texas lawsuit said the so-called XCP technology that Sony BMG had quietly included on more than 50 CD titles leaves computers vulnerable to hackers. Sony BMG had added the technology to restrict to three the number of times a single disc could be copied, but agreed to recall the discs last week after a storm of criticism.

Privatization Solves All Economic Problems: Multinational water companies once beat a path to buy up privatized operators in Argentina. Now they are desperate to get out. Since 1995, the province of Santa Fe has had its water supply and sewage services provided by a consortium led by the French multinational Suez; now the giant utility wants out, and plans to leave within the month. The decision, which follows the high-profile collapse of other water privatization schemes in countries including Tanzania, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Bolivia, has again raised questions about the viability of privatizing utilities in the developing world. Suez is also preparing an early departure from its formerly lucrative concession in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. The deal, struck in 1993, marked the largest water privatization project in the world. In both cases, the French utility is terminating its 30-year contract a third of the way through. Suez cannot get the concessions to turn a profit - at least not under the terms of its current agreements.

Republican Policies Are Good For America: Credible analysts are now calling into question General Motors' ability to survive. Shares in General Motors have fallen more than 3% as analysts remain sceptical of a turnaround at the loss making car maker. Despite the firm axing 30,000 manufacturing jobs and closing 12 plants in North America, many feel GM will struggle to avoid bankruptcy. Bank of America analyst Ron Tadross said there was a 40% chance of it happening within two years. Already down 40% in 2005, GM stock was 3.2% down at $22.83 in morning trade. Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa said the job losses were just the beginning of a long restructuring process. "It will likely get worse before it gets better," he said.

After having largely abandoned fuel economy standards, the administration is now being asked to bring them back: Ford Motor Co. chief executive Bill Ford on Tuesday called on Congress to provide tax credits and other incentives to help drive development of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Ford, who met with White House officials on his ideas to lessen consumer dependence on foreign oil, also said he would not accelerate the time frame for announcing the company's domestic cost cuts even though rival General Motors (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) unveiled its cost-savings strategy on Monday. "We're not going to be ready until January," Ford said after laying out his energy agenda to a business group at the National Press Club. Ford sought to boost the confidence of the U.S. auto industry, which has been shaken this year by tenacious competition from overseas, soaring gasoline costs and deepening financial problems.

Republicans Support Free Speech: Alleging that White House employees and volunteers at a spring presidential visit to Denver removed three ticketed attendees from the crowd based on their perceived political beliefs, the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court charging the seven individuals – five who are currently unidentified – with unlawfully ejecting two of the three from the event. The third ejected attendee is not party to the suit. The suit claims that people working the Bush appearance, which focused on the president’s now-stalled Social Security reform plan, forced two women and a man to leave after noticing that the car they arrived in bore an anti-war bumper sticker.

Republicans Help Build Open and Transparent Government: Citing growing difficulty in ascertaining what government officials are really up to, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter-resource organization launched a campaign to educate voters about government secrecy yesterday. Undertaken by the League of Women Voters, a project called Openness in Government: Looking for the Sunshine will officially lay the groundwork for next year’s "Sunshine Week 2006," the organization said in a statement. The campaign will "broaden public awareness about the issues involved in, and the threats related to, accountability and transparency in government" through educational resources and community forums, among other measures. "The government is becoming less open and more secretive in the name of homeland security at a time when many feel that greater accountability is needed," League of Women Voters Presidnet Kay J. Maxwell said. "Openness in Government will bring to light these concerns and allow citizens to discuss this important topic."

The U.S. Justice Department has sued Missouri, a swing state won easily by President George W. Bush, for voting violations in the 2004 election, including registering more people to vote in some counties than their entire voting-age population. The complaint, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, said 29 Missouri counties and election jurisdictions had more people registered to vote than there actually were people of voting age living in those areas. One Missouri county, for instance, showed voter registrations that amounted to more than 150 percent of the true voting-age population in that county. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan acknowledged the voting irregularities in the 2004 federal election but said in a statement that the Justice Department's decision to file suit was costly and unjustified as the state was working to correct its voters rolls. "Clearly, a problem exists. It defies common sense that we would have more registered voters than people of voting age in any Missouri county," said Carnahan. "The Secretary of State's office and the Department of Justice share the same goal of ensuring fair and accurate elections."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: There is no snow in the Norweigan arctic so far this year. Life is harsh on the freezing tundra of the Arctic Circle where Anna Prakhova lives. But it can be much harder when snows do not fall. In recent years, snows have failed to fall as normal across large parts of the barren land dotted with low birch and pines. "We are experiencing the reality of climate change," Prakhova, who leads a group representing indigenous people in Russia and the Nordic nations, said on a snow-free day in Harstad, a Norwegian Arctic port of about 15,000 people. Evidence that humans are pushing up global temperatures is growing ever stronger, ranging from a shrinking of ice in the Arctic to a warming of the Indian Ocean, many experts say. The scientific panel that advises the United Nations looks likely to issue sterner warnings in its next report in 2007 that emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, factories and cars are disrupting the climate, they say.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Jerry Falwell has a message for Americans when it comes to celebrating Christmas this year: You're either with us, or you're against us. Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces. The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be the campaign's "eyes and ears" in the nation's public schools. They'll be reporting to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher is muzzled from leading the third-graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." An additional 800 attorneys from another conservative legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, are standing by as part of a similar effort, the Christmas Project. Its slogan: "Merry Christmas. It's OK to say it."

An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution. The entire $3 million (£1.7 million) cost of Darwin, which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York yesterday, is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private charitable donations.

News From Smirkey's War: The occupation has failed, so Iraq is turning to its neighbors: Iran has pledged to give Iraq a $1 billion loan and help with tackling insecurity, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said at the end of a ground-breaking visit to the Islamic state. Talabani stressed the improving political and commercial ties between two countries which fought a bitter 1980-1988 war in which hundreds of thousands died. "All the officials I met said there are no limits to Iran's support for the Iraqi nation," he told reporters. "Iranian officials openly said they want the establishment of security in Iraq ... They said: 'your security is our security'," he said.

News From Smirkey's Crony Trials: "Kenny boy," as Smirkey famously called his close friend Kenneth Lay, former Chairman of Enron, has a problem: Lawyers for him and CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who are set for trial in January, can't find defense witnesses: About 90 former Enron executives are labeled "unindicted co-conspirators." Most of them don't even know they're in this legal limbo. But defense lawyers told the trial judge last week that the situation is making it nearly impossible to find people willing to testify for the defense. An unindicted co-conspirator is someone prosecutors think was involved in a crime but who hasn't been charged in the case. This isn't the only challenge for Enron defense lawyers. The company's collapse in 2001 still haunts Houston, where the trial will be held. Thousands of layoffs were direct or indirect results of Enron's crash. Pensions of many local retirees were wiped out. Lingering anger toward the company could affect the jury pool. Nearly four years after launching their fraud investigation of Enron, and after the prosecution of more than 30 individuals, prosecutors still have a grand jury impaneled that could indict additional people. Defense lawyers say the grand jury's continued existence has frightened witnesses who might otherwise help exonerate Lay, Skilling and a third defendant, ex-chief accounting officer Rick Causey. Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. attorney who is now a defense lawyer in Connecticut, says it's "extremely rare" for a case to have as many unindicted co-conspirators as this case does. It's unusual to have them at all outside of drug and Mafia cases, he notes.

Scandals Du Jour: If you believe this, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to talk with you about: CIA interrogators use "a variety of unique and innovative ways" to collect "vital" information from prisoners but strictly obey laws against torture, CIA Director Porter Goss said. In his first interview since the clash this month between the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Senate on restricting interrogations, Goss said the CIA remains officially neutral on the proposal by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of detainees by CIA or military officers. But Goss made clear that techniques that would be restricted under McCain's proposal have yielded valuable intelligence. "This agency does not do torture. Torture does not work," Goss said. "We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture." Goss declined to describe interrogation methods exclusive to the CIA. If the agency doesn't torture, Peter, why all those "extraordinary rendition" flights?

The Texas judge presiding over the money-laundering trial of U.S. Representative Tom DeLay withheld a decision on a motion to dismiss the charges and said if the trial goes forward, it probably wouldn't be until next year. That timetable could dash Republican DeLay's hopes of returning to his post as House majority leader, a job he temporarily surrendered after he was indicted in September. Judge Pat Priest gave no indication when he will rule on the motion by DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, to dismiss the charges. "Last night, I thought it would be easy to come in and make a ruling today," Priest said in Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas, with DeLay present. "But after hearing the arguments, I don't think it will be an easy decision." "I doubt we will get this case to trial before the first of the year," Priest said.

The betting money in Washington sees Ohio Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who is known by colleagues as "the mayor of Capitol Hill," as a pol whose days are now numbered, SALON.COM reported late Tuesday. "If Bob Ney is not nailed to the wall here, given everything we know right now, it will be quite a surprise," says Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In recent days, the Justice Department claimed a "Representative #1," later identified as Ney, was a major player in a conspiracy of political corruption. According to court filings, Abramoff and Scanlon provided Ney with "a stream of things of value," including "a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment, regular meals at [Abramoff's] upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The former vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix was arrested Monday on charges he fondled boys and asked them questions about sex that he misrepresented as being part of confession. Monsignor Dale Fushek becomes one of the highest-ranking priests to be charged in the sex scandal that has engulfed the church. The vicar general is the highest-ranking administrator of a diocese next to the bishop. Fushek was charged with three counts of assault, five of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two of indecent exposure. Fushek "used a relationship of trust to perform criminal acts, including but not limited to sexual activities, improper sexual discussions and physical contact, upon vulnerable minor and adult victims," prosecutors said in court papers. Prosecutors said Fushek committed the acts between 1984 and 1994 at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa or on property belonging to the church. The alleged victims were seven young men and boys.

The Mormon church has been ordered to pay $4.2 million to two college-age sisters who say a bishop mishandled complaints of sexual abuse by their stepfather, a Mormon priest at the time. A jury Friday found the church liable for misconduct and negligence in the case of Jessica Cavalieri, 24, and her younger sister, Ashley, 19. The girls had been abused by their stepfather, Peter N. Taylor, at their home during the 1990s. Taylor pleaded guilty to child molestation in 2001 was sentenced to more than four years in prison. Jessica Cavalieri said in court documents that she told her congregational leader, Bishop Bruce Hatch, in 1994 that Taylor had been abusing her since she was 7.

Three days after Rep. Jean Schmidt was booed off the House floor for saying that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do," the Ohioan she quoted disputed the comments. Danny Bubp, a freshman state representative who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told The Enquirer that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., by name when talking with Schmidt, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward. "The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House - I don't know, she's a freshman, she had one minute. "Unfortunately, they came out wrong," said Bubp. Lawmakers were in the midst of a passionate debate Friday over whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, an issue pushed to a vote by Republicans after public comments from Murtha.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:42:40 AM

Mon, Nov 21 2005

March Of The Ants

The weather yesterday was dry and sunny all day, very un-rainy-season-like. With direct sun all day, it is not surprising that it got rather warm. The high yesterday was 84, and it only cooled off to 72 overnight, though it did rain for a good deal of the night, on and off, and at times, rather hard in fact. Indeed, there was a bit of water on the dining room floor this morning, half-dried up, and I have no idea where it came from, but it looks like I might have another roof leak to go looking for and fix. Not a really big deal, though. I have that system down pat.

This morning was bright and sunny as soon as I awoke, and was quite delighted to see another cloudless day in progress. All day long, too, with just some cloudiness this afternoon, breaking the sun during the warmest part of the day, so it only got up to 82 this afternoon. All day long, it was bright and sunny, and I did very much enjoy that.

During the evening, a friend from the States came by, and invited me out to dinner. We went to one of the restaurants across from the soccer pitch, and had a very pleasant evening out on the patio, enjoying the pleasant tropical 75-degree evening, and the clear, starry night, with the view of the lights from across the lake. A pleasant evening indeed, while my anti-ant strategy was in effect...

The little tiny ants are back in my house. These guys, about half the size of Argentine ants, and about twice as fast, were the guys I had battled so hard to eradicate from the house about six months ago, and I am pretty sure I managed to eradicate them then, as I had not seen them since until now. I suspect it is a new infestation. You Californians who think that Argentine ants are a real plague, have no idea - if these things ever get established up there, you're gonna find out what ant problems really are all about. They're twice as invasive and twice as difficult to get rid of.

From my experience with them before, I knew that they seek both sweet and fat, so I hit on a strategy. Create some totally irresistible bait and set it out for them to find. And when they have found it, and have established a good-sized trail carrying it back to the nest, follow the trail back, poison the nest, and plug the hole from which they were emerging. So I have started doing that - I have mixed some bacon fat with some confectioner's sugar into a paste and put that out where they're sure to find it. Since I have been seeing a lot of them in my office, that was my first place to put out the bait. Sure enough, within an hour, there was a large trail that was easy to follow back to the nest. I sprayed the entrance, a gap between the wall and a shelf, thoroughly with the ol' Baygon bug bomb, and then calked it up, and wiped up the remaining ants with a rag. I've set out the bait again, and am waiting for them to find it again, in case there is another nest in the office. I have been seeing them in the kitchen, too, so I set out some bait out there as well, and found a nest and killed it. We'll see if more find it and point me in the direction of another nest. I sure want to get rid of those little blighters and the sooner, the better.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Don't get your hopes up, but the top U.S. commander in Iraq has submitted a plan to the Pentagon for withdrawing troops in Iraq, according to a senior defense official. Gen. George Casey submitted the plan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It includes numerous options and recommends that brigades -- usually made up of about 2,000 soldiers each -- begin pulling out of Iraq early next year. The proposal comes as tension grows in both Washington and Baghdad following a call by a senior House Democrat to bring U.S. troops home and the deaths of scores of people by suicide bombers in two Iraqi cities. House Republicans were looking for a showdown Friday after Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and well-respected Vietnam veteran, presented a resolution that would force the president to withdraw the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq "at the earliest predictable date." The plan cannot be implemented, however, because it includes a lot of unrealistic "milestones," among which are Iraqi troops must demonstrate that they can handle security without U.S. help; the country's political process must be strong; and reconstruction and economic conditions must show signs of stability.

After leaving riot-scorched Busan, South Korea in his wake, Smirkey has moved on to Beijing, China. Crucial trade issues, religious freedom and bird flu were set to dominate his talks with China's President Hu Jintao on Sunday. After a Beijing church service, Mr Bush - a "devout" Christian - met Mr Hu for "frank" talks. Accompanied by his wife Laura, Smirkey went to the Gangwashi Church - one of five officially recognised Protestant churches in Beijing. Funny, but never, in the five years he has been in the White House, has he been seen to go to church on an ordinary Sunday morning while in Washington. Could it be that this is because the evangelical Christian movement wants him to push China on freedom of worship, and he needs to look pious and sincere?

The torture-flights scandal is widening. UK ministers have been accused of turning a blind eye to "extraordinary rendition" flights refuelling at UK airports, despite warnings that they may breach international law. A powerful committee of MPs and peers will this week begin an inquiry into hundreds of flights through UK airports which may be carrying terror suspects to destinations where they could face torture. The United Nations and human rights lawyers have warned that the Government's failure to intercept the flights, some of which have been run by the CIA, could breach Britain's obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. Tomorrow MPs and peers will begin questioning the use of "extraordinary rendition", where a suspect is snatched and taken to clandestine interrogation camps or to a country where torture may occur.

The Detroit Sleeper Cell case is falling apart and the fallacy of the Patriot Act is exposed: Once trumpeted as one of the Justice Department's significant triumphs against terrorism, the case targeting the so-called "Detroit sleeper cell" began less than a week after the attack on the World Trade Center. It was only after a jury convicted two men of supporting terrorism that the flimsiness of the government's case became clear. As hidden evidence spilled out and the Justice Department abandoned the effort, federal investigators began to wonder whether the true conspiracy in the case was perpetrated by the prosecution.Now a federal grand jury in Detroit is investigating whether the lead prosecutor, Richard Convertino, or anyone else should be indicted for unfairly tipping the scales. It is a highly unusual case. No charges have been brought and many details remain secret, but information in public documents and testimony in U.S. District Court in Detroit suggest an effort by federal prosecutors and important witnesses to mislead defense lawyers and deceive the jury. U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen said the government acted "outside the Constitution."

The big news is often in the silence. That was certainly true in the case of Saudi Arabia's quiet entry into the World Trade Organization. Last week trade ambassadors in Geneva blessed the move, which will be made official at the upcoming summit in Hong Kong. It's been a long haul—Riyadh has been knocking at the WTO's door since 1993—which hints at lengthy and difficult behind-the-scenes negotiations. Yet there have been few headlines and little public debate about the linkup between the world's most important multilateral organization and a country that possesses 25 percent of the global oil reserves, greatly influences the price of the Earth's most important natural resource and affects the trade balance of virtually every country. Could it be that trade negotiators tried to bury serious flaws in this process? It sure looks that way. At the least, some big issues should have received more attention by the U.S. Congress and others.

The Pentagon's leadership, recognizing that it was caught off guard by difficulties in pacifying Iraq after the invasion, is poised to approve a sweeping directive that will elevate what it calls "stability operations" to a core military mission comparable to full-scale combat. The new order could significantly influence how the military is structured, as well as the specialties it emphasizes and the equipment it buys. The directive has been the subject of intense negotiations in the Pentagon policy office and throughout the military; the deliberations included the State Department and other civilian agencies, as the order aims to push the entire government to work in greater unison to plan and carry out postcombat operations. The directive also envisions sending abroad more civilian officials, including State Department personnel, to help the military establish the peace and rebuild after combat. The newest draft of the document, delivered in recent days to the acting deputy secretary of defense, Gordon R. England, for final approval, states, "Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support."

Republican lawmakers say that ties between Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and his brother’s lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, may warrant investigation by the House ethics committee. The calls come as Murtha, a former Marine and pro-military Democrat, has made headlines last week by coming out in support of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and sponsoring a resolution to that effect. According to a June 13 article in The Los Angeles Times, the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill included more than $20 million in funding for at least 10 companies for whom KSA lobbied. Carmen Scialabba, a longtime Murtha aide, works at KSA as well. But they had better be careful what they wish for: nearly every Republican member of the House and Senate have some Abramoff skeletons in their closets.

The views that Samuel Alito expressed on reapportionment in a 20-year-old document could jeopardize his Supreme Court nomination and provoke a filibuster, a leading Democratic senator said Sunday. "I think he's got a lot of explaining to do, and depending on how he does, I think will determine whether or not he has a problem or not," said Sen. Joseph Biden, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which plans confirmation hearings in early January. In 1985, Alito was applying to become deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration. In the document, he boasted that while working as an assistant to the solicitor general, he helped "to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly." Drawing the most attention from Alito's critics today is his comment on abortion. "I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government argued that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion," wrote Alito, now a federal appeals court judge.

The largest branch of North American Judaism voted on Sunday to oppose Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. More than 2,000 delegates of the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution saying Alito would "shift the ideological balance of the Supreme Court on matters of core concern to the reform movement" on abortion rights, women's rights, civil rights and the scope of federal power. The vote came at the closing session of the group's biennial convention, which was held in Houston Wednesday through Sunday. During a debate before the vote, Jeff Wasserstein, a former law clerk for Alito and a self-described liberal Democrat, argued in favor of Alito's nomination, while Elliot Mincberg, vice president of People for the American Way, argued against it.

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq. The German handlers of the Iraqi intelligence informant known as "curveball" say they had told U.S. officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches. Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so. According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said. Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm. "This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said." The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst.

Not content with having turned Iraq into the world's largest open-air school for terrorism, Smirkey has now turned his attentions to an area larger than the United States itself. The U.S. government will spend $500 million over five years on an expanded program to secure a vast new front in its global "war on terrorism": the Sahara Desert. Critics say the region is not a terrorist zone as some senior U.S. military officers assert. They add that heavy-handed military and financial support that reinforces authoritarian regimes in North and West Africa could fuel radicalism where it scarcely exists. The Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI) was begun in June to provide military expertise, equipment and development aid to nine Saharan countries where lawless swaths of desert are considered fertile ground for militant Muslim groups involved in smuggling and combat training."It's the Wild West all over again," said Maj. Holly Silkman, a public affairs officer at U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, which presides over U.S. security and peacekeeping operations in Europe, former Soviet bloc countries and most of Africa. Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia take part in the TSCTI.

The Patriot Act may be in trouble: Capping another tough week for President Bush and top Republicans in Congress, a bipartisan backlash yesterday forced congressional leaders to shelve a bill to extend provisions of the USA Patriot Act that expire at the end of the year. Sidetracking the White House's push to preserve the expanded police powers authorized after the 2001 terrorist attacks, a rare coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republican lawmakers are demanding that the bill's more controversial provisions -- set to run out at the end of December -- should include more civil-liberties safeguards. They want federal authorities to notify targets of secret, ''sneak-and-peek" searches within seven days of executing the warrant; get a judge's approval before searching medical, financial, and library records; and allow the subjects of an investigation to challenge court gag orders issued against them.

In trio of lawsuits filed last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida charged that police working in three Miami-area jurisdictions illegally arrested bystanders and protesters during a free-trade convention held there in December 2003. In so doing, plaintiffs argue, police used unlawful force, seriously injuring an unknown number of people. The suits were filed on the second anniversary of the protests, which saw thousands of demonstrators confront a militarized police force as leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere met to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The unrest resulted in the arrest of about 300 people and wounding of countless others. Collectively dubbed the "Miami model," tactics employed by the Miami, Dade and Broward county police have been universally denounced by anti-globalization activists, free speech advocates and civil libertarians. Among the actions taken by Miami-area police during the FTAA arrests were "preemptive" arrests, clandestine surveillance activities – including "embedded reporters" and undercover police infiltrating among protesters – and the mobilization of a massive, heavily-armed force that utilized pepper spray, stun guns and batons, allegedly to antagonize protesters. In a statement announcing the lawsuits last Thursday, Florida ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said the "Miami Model" clearly violates free-speech and due-process rights and gives police officers license to effectively ignore part of their sworn duty.

There seems to be a training/discipline problem in the Army over the use of white phosphorus: The debate over the use of white phosphorus in the battle of Fallujah took a new twist when it emerged the US Army teaches senior officers it is against the "laws of war" to fire the incendiary weapons at human targets. A section from an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, makes clear that white phosphorus (WP) can be used to produce a smoke screen. But it adds: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets." The row has raged since last year when US troops cleared the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah during a two-week operation that resulted in the deaths of 50 US Marines and more than 1,200 insurgents. Though the US at first denied it had used WP, the Pentagon has admitted using the weapon against insurgent targets. It insists the use of incendiary weapons against military targets is permitted. The Pentagon said it could not account for the discrepancy between its admission that WP was used at Fallujah and the guidance in the teaching manual. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt-Col Barry Venable, said: "For starters, the handbook doesn't say it's banned ... It's also important to remember that WP was used in Fallujah to help dislodge insurgent fighters from prepared defensive positions so that they could then be targeted with high-explosives ammunition."

Proponents of intelligent design are seeking to get public schools in the United States to teach "intelligent design" as part of the science curriculum. But now, The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges. "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science." His comments were in line with his previous statements on "intelligent design" - whose supporters hold that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power. We'll see if this influences the several court cases pending over "intelligent design" in the United States. Don't hold your breath.

Rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, once a member of the Crips gang, called on Saturday for authorities to spare Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the gang's co-founder, as hundreds gathered outside the prison to protest against his planned execution next month. "Stanley 'Tookie' Williams is not a regular guy, he's an inspiration," he said. "All I want to say to the governor is it's about keeping this man alive because his voice needs to be heard." California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will decide on Williams' petition for clemency in the coming weeks. The rapper was the final speaker of about a dozen at a large protest outside the main gates of San Quentin federal prison, where speakers included former gang members, religious leaders and representatives from the Nation of Islam. The Williams case is shaping up as the fiercest battle over capital punishment in California for years. State officials believe Williams is a brutal and unrepentant murderer who deserves death by lethal injection as scheduled for December 13 for killing four people in 1979 during petty robberies.

Days after the Republicans in congress pushed for an early vote on removing habeas corpus rights of appeal for death-row prisoners, it comes to light that Texas has executed an innocent man. Texas executed its fifth teenage offender at 22 minutes after midnight on Aug. 24, 1993, after his last request for bubble gum had been refused and his final claim of innocence had been forever silenced. Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness — a man who barely survived to testify. A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth. Cantu's long-silent co-defendant, David Garza, just 15 when the two boys allegedly committed a murder-robbery together, has signed a sworn affidavit saying he allowed his friend to be falsely accused, though Cantu wasn't with him the night of the killing. And the lone eyewitness, the man who survived the shooting, has recanted. He told the Chronicle he's sure that the person who shot him was not Cantu, but he felt pressured by police to identify the boy as the killer. Juan Moreno, an illegal immigrant at the time of the shooting, said his damning in-court identification was based on his fear of authorities and police interest in Cantu. Cantu "was innocent. It was a case of an innocent person being killed," Moreno said.

Is dissent suddenly OK? Is criticism of the president all of a sudden not unpatriotic? US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said he does not believe it is wrong for opponents to criticise American policy on Iraq and the War on Terror. "Disagreement, argument and debate are the essentials of democracy," Cheney, himself a Vietnam draft evader, told a Washington think-tank. The speech comes with the White House apparently trying to calm a war of words that has broken out over Iraq. Democrat Congressman John Murtha last week stirred a hornets' nest, calling for a pull-out of US forces in Iraq. The White House accused the Vietnam veteran of aligning himself with the extreme left-wing of his party, and endorsing a policy of surrender.

Rats Deserting the U.S.S. Bush: Trying to distance himself from the disastrous decision to go to war in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asserted that he did not press for the US-led invasion of Iraq, as public disaffection for the US military operation there reaches new highs. "I didn't advocate invasion," Rumsfeld told ABC television Sunday, when asked if he would have advocated an invasion of Iraq if he had known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found there. The US Defense chief added: "I wasn't asked," when asked whether he supported the March 2003 invasion. Asked on ABC television's "This Week" program if he was trying to distance himself after the fact from the controversial US decision to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "Of course not. Of course not. I completely agreed with the decision to go to war and said that a hundred times. Don't even suggest that." But Rumsfeld's insistence that he had not advocated an invasion of Iraq appears to contradict several media reports, and at least one book by a former White House couter-terrorism chief.

The Natives Are Restless, Smirkey: Evidence of the growing discontent with American foreign policy in Latin America is found in the fact that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is meeting with Nestor Kirchner, president of Argentina, to discuss a cross-continental pipeline, and the possibility of Venezuela purchasing additional Argentine debt. Media reports say that Mr Kirchner and Mr Chavez are keen to press ahead with the pipeline project as a way of strengthening regional integration. The two leaders want it to be the cornerstone of a massive South American web of pipelines connecting Peru in the West with Venezuela in the North, Brazil in the East and Argentina in the South. Speaking about Venezuela's entry to Mercosur, Mr Chavez said on Sunday that the South American trade bloc was an alternative to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas backed by the US.

Republicans Are Making America The World Leader In Science: Two government biologists heavily recruited by Stanford University have decided to work in Singapore instead, saying they will face fewer restrictions on stem cell research overseas. Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins, geneticists for the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., said they were concerned about delays in the allocation of $3 billion set aside by a California ballot measure approved in 2004. "If there were any way we could come to Stanford, we would do this in a heartbeat," the married couple wrote in an e-mail to the San Jose Mercury News. Copeland and Jenkins are famous for discovering a way to accelerate the identification of cancer-causing genes in mice.

Republicans Fight For Social Justice: US unions, weakened by years of anti-union activism by corporations and conservative politicians, are fighting back with an online database that accuses corporate supremos of lining their own pockets while grinding down their employees. Business leaders are deeply unhappy at the online initiative of the AFL-CIO workers' federation, accusing union bosses of taking a cheap shot when complex issues are at stake. But the AFL-CIO affiliate behind the site, Working America, says there is nothing cheap about the pay packages on offer to the favoured few while millions of blue-collar Americans fret about losing their jobs and benefits. "The public should be able to question the outrageous pay of CEOs at a time when jobs are being outsourced every day and their health and safety is endangered every day," Working America deputy director Robert Fox told AFP. The site at www.workingamerica.org has information on more than 60,000 US companies, detailing their violations of health and safety legislation, their outsourcing of jobs overseas and the pay deals for chief executives. The group says it had to fight hard to prise health and safety data out of the government, resorting to the Freedom of Information Act only to find the data was kept on reel-to-reel computer tapes or decades-old IBM cartridges.

Republican Government Is Good For America: General Motors is to cut 30,000 jobs in North America under a restructuring drive that aims to revive the company. The automotive group, which is struggling to stem huge losses, will also close down nine assembly, stamping and Powertrain engine-maker facilities. Earlier this year, chief executive Rick Wagoner said the company would take steps to save $2.5bn (£1.45bn) a year. GM has suffered falling sales, a drop in market share and high labour costs. The news comes just days after the company's shares hit 18-year lows amid fears of a possible strike at parts supplier Delphi.

News From Smirkey's War: No pullout anytime soon: US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has strongly defended US policy in Iraq, saying an immediate troop pullout would be a "terrible thing". Mr Rumsfeld appeared on four Sunday TV talks shows following Friday's raucous Congress debate in which a resolution on an immediate withdrawal was beaten. Mr Rumsfeld said a decision would be based on military commanders' views. The debate was fired by Democrat representative John Murtha's call last week for troops to come home. Mr Rumsfeld said further withdrawals would "depend on what takes place on the ground". He said Iraqi forces would take up a greater share of the battle against insurgents. "They're doing a very good job. They're growing in numbers. They're growing in competence." The defence secretary also said talk of immediate withdrawals would give succour to militants.

Iraq's foreign minister said Monday that terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might have been killed in a gunfight with U.S. forces over the weekend, but U.S. military sources told NBC News that's probably not the case and that troops likely "just missed" capturing him. "American and Iraqi forces are investigating the possibility that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's corpse is among the bodies of some terrorists who died in the special military operation in Mosul," Hoshyar Zebari told Jordan's official Petra news agency during a visit to Moscow. A Pentagon source said that the military did have intelligence that indicated al-Zarqawi was meeting in a Mosul home with high-level al Qaida in Iraq lieutenants. As soldiers closed in on the site, there was an exchange of small arms fire, then it appears that three al-Qaida suspects blew themselves up to avoid capture.

The Iraqis have learned their lessons well and the "Salvador Option" is now bearing fruit: Behind the daily reports of suicide bombings and attacks on coalition forces is a far more shadowy struggle, one that involves tortured prisoners huddled in dungeons, death-squad victims with their hands tied behind their backs, often mutilated with knives and electric drills, and distraught families searching for relations who have been "disappeared". This hidden struggle surfaced last week when US forces and Iraqi police raided an Interior Ministry bunker. They found 169 tortured and starving captives, who looked like Holocaust victims. The "disappeared" prisoners were being held, it is claimed, by the Shia Muslim Badr militia, which controls part of the ministry. Bayan Jabr, the Minister of the Interior, is himself a former Badr commander. The paramilitary influence on the police is particularly overt in the British-controlled south of Iraq, where the British invited the militias to join the security forces, and then saw them take over. Nothing was done by the British authorities when police in plain clothes, along with their militia colleagues, killed Christians, claiming they sold alcohol, or Sunnis for being supposedly Baathists.

Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets. In doing so, they are creating increasingly polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the belt of cities around it. The evidence is so far mostly anecdotal - the government is not tracking the moves. In a rough count, about 20 cities and towns around Baghdad are segregating, according to accounts by local sheiks, Iraqi nongovernmental organizations and military officials, and the families themselves. Those areas are among the most mixed and the most violent in Iraq - according to the American military, 85 percent of attacks in the country are in four provinces including Baghdad, and two others to its north and west.

Scandals Du Jour: For more than a year, Michael Scanlon has been a shadowy presence behind former partner Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist at the center of a corruption probe. Now, Scanlon may help prosecutors raise the investigation to a higher level. Scanlon, a former aide to Representative Tom DeLay, is scheduled to appear today in U.S. District Court to present a plea bargain with the Justice Department likely to lead to his cooperation with investigators. His testimony would ratchet up the pressure on Abramoff and aid prosecutors in widening the investigation to members of Congress, such as Republicans DeLay and Representative Robert Ney of Ohio. Scanlon, 35, is the second person to face criminal charges in connection with the Justice Department-led probe of the 46- year-old Abramoff. In October, a federal grand jury indicted the White House's former chief procurement officer, David Safavian, once an Abramoff associate, for obstruction and making false statements. "Now you have two people instead of one," said Stan Brand, a former counsel to the House of Representatives when it was controlled by the Democrats. ``What you're building is a ladder. You have Abramoff at the intermediate step, elected officials above him, and Scanlon and Safavian underneath.''

The investigative arm of the Pentagon referred a military whistleblower’s allegations of malfeasance and cronyism in awarding contracts for Iraq’s reconstruction to the Justice Department last week, bringing the case out of military control for the first time since an Army Corps of Engineers procurement officer raised questions about the contracts over a year ago, a US senator revealed Friday. In a statement, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) said the Defense Department Inspector General’s office informed him that it had wrapped up its internal investigation of Army Corps of Engineers Senior Procurement Executive Bunnatine H. Greenhouse’s charges that Corps officials had improperly awarded more than $10 billion in contracts to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) and referred the matter to the Justice Department. Dorgan and others applauded the decision.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:43:11 PM

Sat, Nov 19 2005

Hello Gamma, Hello Sunshine

Weather yesterday was a bit hesitant, rain one minute, drizzle or filtered sun the next, all day long. The temperature never made it past 79 degrees, and by nightfall, it had started raining again, if only lightly and intermittently, and mostly the drizzle that is such a constant feature of this season. It cooled off, making it all the way down to 69 overnight. But a new tropical storm is brewing, Tropical Storm Gamma, out in the Gulf of Honduras, and predicted to move off towards western Cuba and the Florida Keys. That means hurricane weather again.

So this morning, it wasn't a surprise when I woke up to brilliant sunshine. And all day long, it has been very summer-like, hardly a cloud in the sky, and the temperature rising to a lovely 84 degrees, with just enough breeze to keep the sun from becoming oppressively hot. It has been a truly glorious Saturday, and as I was feeling quite good for a change, I decided to take a bit of a walk around the garden and really enjoy it. Forays as far as I could go without getting winded, at least.

The white orchids are in bloom, a bit early this year. They're usually dry-season bloomers, and while the Burmese orchids bloom all year long, with their lovely two-tone purple, these spectacular ground-dwelling orchids are usually seen in bloom only in the dry season. But I have noticed that several other orchids in the garden are also in bloom, including an epiphytic species with a small, but rather bizarre flower to it. It has a modest but unusual fragrance, too. I have, by my last count, about 19 species of orchids growing in my garden, most of which are wild and were not planted by me. At least three are in bloom right now. I have thought about planting an orchid tree, but they get rather leggy here, and even though their trunks get covered with orchids, the tree itself is not all that attractive.

My little cacao tree is entering a new growth flush too. It has been rather static for the entire rainy season, and I suspect that it is looking forward to the dry season that should be upon us in about two months. I hope that these flowers all know something I don't and that is that we'll have an early dry season - I am rather tired of the rainy season and am looking forward to some sun. The lawn sure needs it, too. I think I am going to invest in a bag of fertilizer for the lawn, which will use just about all of a 50 kg. bag and that is going to cost some money. But I think that some fertilizer with a bit of sand will help revive the lawn's sagging fortunes.

I have been sitting on the front porch today, enjoying the sun and watching the world go by. Many of the people from the neighborhood have been out for walks too, and a few have stopped to chat a bit. What a pleasure that is when the weather is pleasant - it is one of the things that makes this place so special.

The gardener cut the lawn yesterday, first time in a month and the new-mown grass has a pleasant odor to it. The poor gardener was really suffering, though, as he had returned from the Caja clinic two days before where he had an infected tooth pulled. It had apparently been bothering him for some time, but suddenly erupted into a serious situation he could no longer ignore, and by the time he got to the clinic, the socket was infected and the tooth couldn't be saved. So out it came. I don't know if he had seen a dentist. But two days on, he was still in some evident pain when he came to cut the grass and rake the lawn yesterday.

Our little town is up and coming - we now, all of a sudden, have two new private dentists in town. Don't need to go on a journey to get a tooth looked after anymore. One is an orthodontist, according to the shingle out front, but I have not yet happened on to the other's office. Don't know how either of them are, as I haven't been to either one yet. But I can't wait to find out. I need to get my teeth cleaned, so maybe I'll go get that done and see what I think. I want some evidence that the dentist is a good one before I get any drilling and filling done. There are some really great dentists in this country, but there are some real tooth butchers, too. So one can't be too careful.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The rush to the gallows is on. Republicans in the US Congress said yesterday they were moving ahead with legislation that would speed up executions in the United States by limiting the habeas corpus rights of those sentenced to death to appeal to federal courts, in spite of the fact that most of the defendants subsequently freed have used habeas corpus to demonstrate flaws in the justice system that brought them to trial. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter said he intended to bring the so-called "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005" to a vote today in the Judiciary Committee which he chairs. A similar bill is also moving forward in the House of Representatives and could clear the committee stage soon. Republicans have also attached a key provision of the bill to legislation renewing the USA Patriot Act, which Congress is expected to act on later this month. Lawmakers clashed fiercely at a hearing on Wednesday of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Vermont Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy called it a "crude partisan solution to an unproven and largely nonexistent problem."

Half the American people think that torture is OK. No, I am not making this up - half believe that it is sometimes necessary to use torture and it is OK to do so when it is, but at the same time, nearly half believe that torture is not a useful method of gaining intelligence information. Let's hope and pray it is not the same half! Nearly half of Americans believe that the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain information is justified, according to a survey published on Thursday by the Pew Research Centre in Washington. The survey, involving 2,006 people from the general public, found that 46% felt that torturing terrorist suspects to gain important information was sometimes (31%) or often (15%) justified while 17% thought it was rarely justified and 32% were opposed. By contrast, the study found that of 520 opinion leaders also questioned on the same issue, no more than one in four believes that torture of terrorist suspects can be sometimes or often justified.

The Republican-controlled Congress helped itself to a $3,100 pay raise on Friday, then postponed work on bills to curb spending on social programs and cut taxes for the rich in favor of a two-week vacation. In the final hours of a tumultuous week in the Capitol, Democrats erupted in fury when House GOP leaders maneuvered toward a politically-charged vote - and swift rejection - of one war critic's call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. "You guys are pathetic, pathetic," Massachusetts Rep. Martin Meehan yelled across a noisy hall at Republicans. Both the House and Senate were in session after midnight Thursday, working on the tax cuts for the rich at the heart of the GOP agenda, before returning to work a few hours later.

It was an incredible revelation last week that the second largest oil field in the world is exhausted and past its peak output. Yet that is what the Kuwait Oil Company revealed about its Burgan field. The peak output of the Burgan oil field will now be around 1.7 million barrels per day, and not the two million barrels per day forecast for the rest of the field's 30 to 40 years of life, Chairman Farouk Al Zanki told Bloomberg. He said that engineers had tried to maintain 1.9 million barrels per day but that 1.7 million is the optimum rate. Kuwait will now spend some $3 billion a year for the next year to boost output and exports from other fields. The news about the Burgan oil field also lends credence to the controversial opinions of investment banker and geologist Matthew Simmons. His book 'Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy' claims that the ageing Saudi oil filed also face serious production falls. All this was foreshadowed in the energy crisis of the late 1970s when a serious inflection in oil supply by the year 2000 was clearly forecast. How ironic that those earlier forecasts now look correct, while more modern and recent forecasts begin to look over optimistic and out-of-date with geological reality.

Vice President for Torture, Dick Cheney, has an image problem. He is accused by someone who should know of being the Vice President for Torture. Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, accused US Vice President Dick Cheney of overseeing policies of torturing terrorist suspects and damaging the nation's reputation, in a television interview. "We have crossed the line into dangerous territory," Turner, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s, said on ITV news. "I am embarrassed that the USA has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible. He (Cheney) advocates torture, what else is it? I just don't understand how a man in that position can take such a stance." The former spymaster claims Smirkey is not telling the truth when he says that torture is not a method used by the US. Speaking of Bush's claims that the US does not use torture, Admiral Turner, who ran the CIA from 1977 to 1981, said: "I do not believe him".

United Nations rights experts said Friday they will not visit the Guantanamo Bay military prison because U.S. officials barred them from talking privately with detained terror suspects, making it impossible for the monitors to fairly assess the conditions there. The United States had invited three experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission whose mandate is to check on rights abuses around the world. "We deeply regret that the United States government did not accept the standard terms of reference for a credible, objective and fair assessment of the situation of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the group said in a statement. "These terms include the ability to conduct private interviews with detainees," they added.

As predicted in this space, Smirkey is leaving behind him a trail of riot-scorched capitals in Asia, much as he did two weeks ago in Latin America. Riot police have clashed with protesters armed with sticks and bottles outside the summit of 21 Pacific Rim leaders in South Korea. Police used water cannon to force back the thousands of demonstrators. Farmers joined the march in the city of Busan to protest at plans to allow more foreign rice imports to South Korea. The two-day summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) members is expected to focus on stalled global trade talks.

In the field of emergency management, where "mitigation" is considered crucial to preparedness, a little-known FEMA program killed by Bush is said to have held the potential to make a difference this year. Created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the now-defunct Project Impact gave $25 million a year to communities across the country for "disaster mitigation" services to counter and diminish the effects of catastrophes. In Seattle, federal money boosted preparedness by removing overhead flush tanks and radiators and other high-impact structural hazards in 43 schools. The county used the funding to create alternative communication systems so that when the quake jammed regular phone lines, emergency, fire and medical personnel could interact. A massive education campaign meant that homes throughout western Washington had been retrofitted for earthquakes.

John Roberts' Supreme Court dodges the tough issues: The Supreme Court Monday opted to stay out of two civil-liberties-related criminal cases. The justices decided not to hear a felon-voting-rights case, and they dismissed without comment Maryland’s challenge to a lower court ruling about statements made during interrogation. Both decisions left lower court rulings intact. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the latter case, Maryland v Blake, which came about after a lower court found that Annapolis, Maryland police acted improperly in encouraging a murder suspect to answer questions after he had requested an attorney. Stating only that the state’s challenge was "improvidently granted," the court dismissed the case. The fact that the Supreme Court dodged these two sensitive human rights cases is evidence that the Supreme Court has been successfully politicized by the appointment of one doctrinaire conservative, and is set to be further politicized by the pending appointment of another.

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Bill Clinton is one of the most influential past-presidents of all time. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has been named "The Most Influential Man in the World," according to Esquire magazine. The magazine has designated him as "the most powerful agent of change in the world" despite his lack of electoral standing and the fact he was laid low by a heart attack ahead of last year's presidential election. The magazine highlights Clinton's accomplishments in its December issue, which goes on newsstands on Thursday, profiling the world's "Best and Brightest" men and women. Since leaving office, Clinton has been so active that his post-presidency amounts to "a third term" for the Democrat who held the White House from 1992 to 2000, the magazine said. He has tackled global issues from AIDS, poverty and global warming to the recovery from last December's Indian Ocean tsunami.

More grand jury troubles for the White House: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said in court filings that the ongoing CIA leak investigation will involve proceedings before a new grand jury, a possible sign he could seek new charges in the case. In filings obtained by Reuters on Friday, Fitzgerald said "the investigation is continuing" and that "the investigation will involve proceedings before a different grand jury than the grand jury which returned the indictment" against Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Fitzgerald did not elaborate in the document. For two years he has been investigating the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. The grand jury that indicted Libby expired after the charges were filed late last month.

Is Bob Woodward about to become the next Judith Miller? Mr. Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post newspaper and best-selling author, apologized on Wednesday for failing for two years to tell his Post bosses that he had learned from a government official about the C.I.A. officer Valerie Wilson. He testified under oath before the Patrick Fitzgerald grand jury on Monday in the leak case after receiving permission to do so from his source, but the source has so far refused to permit Mr. Woodward to name him publicly. "Each reporter is bound only by his own promises of confidentiality," The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., said. While a decision on whether to print the identity would depend on a number of factors, Mr. Downie said, "if the information is found independent of our source relationship, sure we'll print it." But the question remains: is Woodward protecting his sources, or is he protecting his access to high-level administration sources, Judith-Miller-style? And who was the mystery source? National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was the senior administration official who told Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, attorneys close to the investigation and intelligence officials tell RAW STORY.

Sandbagging House member John Murtha's Iraq withdrawal resolution, House Republicans maneuvered for swift rejection Friday of any notion of immediately pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, sparking a nasty, sometimes personal debate over the war and a Democratic lawmaker's own call for withdrawal. Furious Democrats accused the GOP of orchestrating a political stunt, leaving little time for debate and changing the meaning of a withdrawal resolution offered by Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Democrats went to the House floor to denounce the quick vote before Congress left Washington for two weeks. ''This is a personal attack on one of the best members, one of the most respected members of this House and it is outrageous,'' said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded: ''This is not a stunt. This is not an attack on an individual. This is a legitimate question.''

A bipartisan group of senators told congressional leaders Thursday they will try to block reauthorization of the Patriot Act to protest the elimination of Senate-pushed protections against "unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance" in a House-Senate compromise. "If further changes are not made, we will work to stop this bill from becoming law," GOP Sens. Larry Craig, John Sununu and Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold and Ken Salazar said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

The CIA-Spanish rendition flights scandal just keeps growning: Reports of alleged CIA use of Spain as a stopover point for transporting suspected Islamic terrorists spread Wednesday to the Canary Islands, where the regional government said it had asked Madrid to explain if airports there were also used for covert missions. The Spanish archipelago off west Africa joins the Mediterranean island of Mallorca in the controversy. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said Tuesday a judge is investigating reports that at least 10 flights landed in Mallorca as part of the CIA's program of "extraordinary rendition," in which suspected terrorists are taken without court approval to third countries for questioning and possibly subjected to ill treatment. The Canary Islands government said Wednesday that in May it had asked the central government to explain local newspaper reports that suspected CIA planes had made stopovers five times on the island of Tenerife between March 2004 and May 2005. This came a day after House-Senate negotiators crafted a tentative compromise to make most provisions of the existing law permanent, and set new seven-year sunsets for rules on wiretapping, obtaining business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and new standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power.

Two Chicago political operatives have filed paperwork with the FEC to establish a "Draft Rudy Giuliani for President" organization, reports the New York Daily News. The organizations hopes to recruit coordinators for all 50 states by May. Giuliani isn't the only potential candidate with an indenpendent organization pushing for their candidacy. "Americans for Dr. Rice" has already run ads in New Hampshire. Fellas, somehow, I have a hard time envisioning either one as my president, I'm sorry.

The Washington Post is reporting the CIA has set up joint counter-terrorism centers with local intelligence agencies in more than two dozen countries. The Counterterrorist Intelligence Centers, or CTICs, conduct joint operations based on tips mostly provided by American intelligence. The network includes countries that have been criticized by the US for human rights violations, such as Uzbekistan and Indonesia.

Death and coverup: Hundreds of pages of documents, obtained by TIME, shed new light on how a CIA prisoner died at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Military police at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison dubbed him the Iceman; others used the nickname Mr. Frosty, TIME's Adam Zagorin reports. The prisoner is listed as Manadel al-Jamadi in three official investigations of his death while in U.S. custody, a death that was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy. Photographs of his battered corpse-iced to keep it from decomposing in order to hide the true circumstances of his dying-were among the many made public in the spring of 2004, raising stark questions about America's treatment of enemy detainees. The details about his death emerge as US officials continue to debate congressional legislation to ban torture of foreign detainees by US troops overseas, and efforts by the George W. Bush administration to obtain an exemption for the CIA from any future torture ban. Jamadi was abducted by US Navy Seals on November 4, 2003, on suspicion of harboring explosives and involvement in the bombing of a Red Cross center in Baghdad that killed 12 people, and was placed in Abu Ghraib as an unregistered detainee.

Born in the U.S.A., scorned in the U.S. Senate: An effort by New Jersey's two Democratic senators to honor the veteran rocker Bruce Springsteen was shot down Friday by Republicans who are apparently still miffed a year after the Boss lent his voice to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. The chamber's GOP leaders refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, that honored Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album, "Born to Run."

Pentagon investigators have referred allegations of abuse in how the Halliburton Company was awarded a contract for work in Iraq to the Justice Department for possible criminal investigation, a Democratic senator who has been holding unofficial hearings on contract abuses in Iraq said yesterday in Washington. The allegations mainly involve the Army's secret, noncompetitive awarding in 2003 of a multibillion dollar contract for oil field repairs in Iraq to Halliburton, a Texas-based company. The objections were raised publicly last year by Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, then the chief contracts monitor at the Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency that handled the contract and several others in Iraq. In a letter received and released yesterday by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, the assistant Pentagon inspector general, John R. Crane, said that the criminal investigation service of the Defense Department had examined Ms. Greenhouse's allegations "and has shared its findings with the Department of Justice." Senator Dorgan is the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, a Congressional group that has repeatedly used unofficial hearings to question the administration's record of awarding contracts in Iraq.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: As national lawmakers consider legislation granting somewhere between $35 billion and $60 billion in tax cuts, much of it to the nation’s wealthiest citizens, a progressive economic think tank yesterday released its annual Thanksgiving report asserting that the acceleration of tax cuts since 2001 has done little to create jobs while contributing to "economy-choking deficits." According to the report, "Nothing to be Thankful for: Tax Cuts and the Deteriorating US Job Market," by United for a Fair Economy (UFE), an organization fighting for progressive taxation as a tool to lessen material inequality here and abroad, not only have tax cuts enacted during President Bush’s tenure failed to create promised jobs, they have contributed to a continuing lag in job creation when compared to "normal" job growth projections. Additionally, the report found, many of the jobs created in recent years are low-paying, "poor quality" jobs that offer less than $16 an hour and provide few, if any, benefits.

Fifty-nine percent of companies say they won't be giving out holiday bonuses in any form this year. And of those that will, only 13 percent said they will be giving out bonuses in cash. The rest will opt to give food gifts, gift certificates or retailer gift cards, according to a survey released Monday by Hewitt Associates. Among the companies that said they would be giving cash, the average holiday bonus planned is $683, but the cash bonuses slated range between $25 and $2,500. Employers said they would spend between $10 and $150 on gift certificates; $10 to $50 for food gifts; and $10 to $100 on retailer gift cards, according to Hewitt's survey. Nine percent of companies surveyed, meanwhile, said they would donate some or all of the money they would have spent on holiday bonuses to charitable organizations in light of the many natural disasters that have occurred, from the tsunami in Southeast Asia to the Gulf Coast hurricanes to the devastating earthquake in South Asia.

Much of the nation has had a lovely real estate boom for the past five years, but the house party is almost over and the cleanup won't be pretty. That's the word from economists and investors who have watched housing prices march ever higher. "The collapse of the housing bubble will throw the economy into a recession, and quite likely a severe recession," warned a July report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. In recent weeks, many major investment firms have concurred. Said a Lehman Brothers report, "[A] turn in the housing market is central to our economic forecast." "The demographic story behind the housing market boom, as we always thought, was a giant hoax," wrote Merrill Lynch & Co.'s North American economist, David Rosenberg, in a recent report.

Employers added only 56,000 jobs in October, well below the 150,000 or so that are needed to keep pace with population growth. The Labor Department also said that 36,000 fewer jobs were added in August and September than previously estimated. "Job growth has kind of stalled out," said Bill Cheney, chief economist of John Hancock Financial Services in Boston. "It's a puzzle," he added, noting that economic growth, retail sales and other indicators remained strong. Job growth slowed sharply last month, the Labor Department reported today, in a sign that high energy prices are hurting the economy and business executives have become worried that the damage might grow.

New York state businesses warned the U.S. Congress on Thursday requiring passports at the Canadian border will disrupt trade and hurt tourism, while one official tried to reassure legislators an alternative ID would probably cost about $50 US. Howard Zemsky, leader of a Buffalo-area business group, warned legislators: "Don't turn the war on terrorism into the war on tourism." He and other witnesses outlined their fears a new rule to require passports at all land crossings into the United States by 2008 would clog up commerce with the country's biggest trading partner, Canada, and keep out critical tourism dollars. As part of the U.S. government's post-Sept. 11, 2001 tightening of security measures, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State announced the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires passports or one of four other secure documents at border crossings.

The Pentagon's inspector general has agreed to review the prewar intelligence activities of former U.S. defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, a main architect of the Iraq war, congressional officials said on Thursday. News of the Defense Department probe comes at a time of bitter political debate over whether President George W. Bush misled the American people with prewar intelligence. The increasingly biter dispute has pitted the president and his top advisers against lawmakers including some from Bush's own Republican Party. Democrats have accused Feith of manipulating information from sources including discredited Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks. Bush and other top administration officials cited alleged ties between Iraq and al Qaeda as a justification for military action. But the September 11 commission later reported that no collaborative relationship existed between the two.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Legislation to fund many of the nation's health, education and social programs went down to a startling defeat in the House Thursday, led by Democrats who said cuts in the bill hurt some of America's neediest people. The 224-209 vote against the $142.5 billion spending bill disrupted plans by Republican leaders to finish up work on this year's spending bills and cast doubt on whether they would have the votes to pass a major budget-cutting bill also on the day's agenda. Democrats, unanimous in opposing the legislation, said it included the first cut in education funding in a decade and slashed funds for several health care programs. ``It betrays our nation's values and its future,'' said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. ``It is neither compassionate, conservative nor wise.''

Deregulation Is Good For You: It appears that Humpty-Dumpty is coming back together again: US regulators have cleared the planned acquisition by phone company SBC Communications of its former parent AT&T for about $16bn (£9.3bn). The last regulator to approve the merger was the California Public Utility Commission. The deal can now be completed, 10 months after it was first announced. The new company said it "will adopt AT&T as its name", as it is "inextricably linked to the birth and growth of the communications industry". Support for the decision to ditch the SBC name in favor of The American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation - AT&T for short - comes from a string of analysts quoted on the SBC website.

Republican Leadership Is Good For You: Illinois led the nation in mass layoffs for the quarter ended Sept. 30. Ohio was edged out for No. 5 in the third quarter by Louisiana, which lost thousands of jobs due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Ohio employers initiated 36 mass layoff events in the third quarter, which led to 6,621 lost jobs. They cut 7,527 jobs in 48 mass layoffs in the third quarter of 2004. The bureau defines a mass layoff as 50 or more jobs cut from a single company within a 30-day period. Nationwide, U.S. employers eliminated 136,280 jobs in 742 mass layoffs in the third quarter. They cut 164,608 jobs in 886 mass layoffs in last year's third quarter.

Meanwhile that leftist-pinko liberal, Hugo Chavez, down there in third-world Venezuela, must be doing something right: Venezuela's economy grew 9.8 percent in the third quarter of this year, helped by high oil prices, public spending and growth in the construction and commerce sectors, the central bank said on Thursday. The oil sector grew 4.2 percent while the country's non-oil economic sectors expanded 10.4 percent. The private sector expanded 11.1 percent in the quarter compared with 5.4 percent growth in the public sector. Government officials expect the Venezuelan economy to grow by as much as 10 percent this year. The South American country has registered strong growth this year after a referendum win by leftist President Hugo Chavez in August 2004 ended months of political instability that had battered the economy since a 2002 coup.

Republicans Support Honest, Transparent Government: Privacy rights advocates won another round in court this week, after a judge ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigations to obey federal law and deliver information on certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act provisions to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in a timely manner. The order comes months after the FBI granted EPIC’s expedited request for documents about the use of secret investigative tools expanded under the Patriot Act and compels the FBI to follow a set schedule to turn over thousands of documents pertaining to surveillance activities. In her ruling Wednesday, US District Judge Gladys Kessler noted that Department of Justice officials estimate there are about 18,000 pages of documents that pertain to EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but have only turned over about 250 pages, despite testimony of one records official stating that the FBI should be able to process around 1,000 pages a month. The FBI agreed to EPIC’s request nearly eight months ago.

On Monday, November 21st, California’s Voting System Panel (VSP) was slated to hold public hearings on whether to recertify Diebold TSX touchscreen machines. The California Election Protection Network (CEPN) issued a press release inviting concerned citizens to speak at the 10 a.m. hearing and attend a rally at Secretary of State Bruce McPherson’s office to encourage state officials to “send Diebold packing before Turkey Day.” But when CEPN spokesperson Sherry Healy called to verify the hearing date and time, she received startling news. “I asked Bruce McDannold in the Secretary of State’s office if the hearing is still on for Monday,” she told Raw Story. “He said, 'You’re half right. The VSP has been disbanded.' I asked why. He said, 'I can’t speak for the Secretary of State.’” According to Healy, McDannold stated that a stenographer and recording device would be on hand to record any public comments. CEPN issued a blistering press release criticizing the Republican Secretary of State, for the last-minute change in procedures. The release questioned the sincerity of those in government to publicly discuss issues with their constituents. “Is this the new government trend for public hearings – just give the people a room and a tape recorder?” the release asked.

This comes as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is going to court in North Carolina to prevent Diebold Election Systems, Inc. from evading North Carolina law. In a last-minute filing, e-voting equipment maker Diebold asked a North Carolina court to exempt it from tough new election requirements designed to ensure transparency in the state’s elections. Diebold obtained an extraordinarily broad order, allowing it to avoid placing its source code in escrow with the state and identifying programmers who contributed to the code. On behalf of North Carolina voter and election integrity advocate Joyce McCloy, EFF asked the court to force Diebold and every other North Carolina equipment vendor to comply with the law’s requirements. A hearing on EFF’s motion is set for Monday, November 28. "The new law was passed for a reason: to ensure that the voters of North Carolina have confidence in the integrity and accuracy of their elections," said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "In stark contrast to every other equipment vendor that placed a bid with the state, Diebold went to court complaining that it simply couldn’t comply with the law. Diebold should spend its efforts developing a system that voters can trust, not asking a court to let it bypass legal requirements aimed at ensuring voting integrity."

Republicans Govern For The People: The U.S. House of Representatives approved by a razor-thin margin a bill that includes the largest cuts to federal student loan programs in U.S. history early Friday morning. The $50 billion budget reconciliation bill includes $14.3 billion in cuts to federal financial assistance to college students over five years, as well as billions in cuts to other federal programs, including Medicaid and food stamp programs. The bill passed by just two votes, 217-215, in a vote divided starkly down party lines that began at 1:20 a.m. EST and lasted 25 minutes. House Democrats voted unanimously against the bill. Opponents of the bill had hoped enough moderate Republicans would vote against the bill to prevent it from passing. In the end, 14 Republicans voted against the bill, but the remainder of the Republican majority in the House was able to push the bill through. The budget bill would reverse a previous law capping the interest rates for student loans at 6.8 percent, increasing the cap to 8.25 percent. It would also increase the cap on parent loans from 7.9 percent to 9 percent. For a graduating college student with the average debt load of $17,500, the changes would increase the cost of paying off loans by $5,800 in interest and fees.

According to an analysis by Reuters, the House budget will also cut Medicaid by $12 billion over the next five years. While the bill does not allow for oil drilling in the Arctic, it proposes to cut conservation funds by $504 million and clears the way for earlier-released plans to sell mineral rights in national parks, the environmental advocacy group Earth Justice noted in a statement today. "This budget is a loss for the American people," said Marty Hayden, legislative director for the group. "While the House version does not include threats to drill for oil along our coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as earlier versions did, this budget would still cause serious harm to our public lands." The House agreed to reinstate sales of mining lands at cheap prices as part of its budget cut plan approved Friday, a move that could transfer into private hands up to 20 million acres of public lands on Western ranges, national forests and even national parks. The measure would end a congressional ban that since 1994 has prevented mineral companies and individuals from submitting new applications for "patenting," or buying, public land, including some in national forests and parks. No such provision is contained in the Senate version of the budget measure, so the issue will be one of the items to be resolved when lawmakers return in December and try to merge the two bills. Negotiators will face pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike to ensure that hunters, anglers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts won't be losing out. "One must walk a careful line when selling public lands," said Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. "There are potential negative impacts on recreational opportunities in the state of Montana, and we must ensure that any sale mitigates those impacts."

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to cut $700 million from the food stamp program as part of a broad bill to reduce federal spending by $50 billion, despite objections from antihunger groups. Some 235,000 people would lose food stamp benefits under the House bill, according to one analysis. The House bill, which also trimmed other social programs for the poor, was narrowly approved on a vote of 217-215 early on Friday. House and Senate negotiators now must write a final, compromise version of legislation to pare federal spending over five years. The Senate did not cut food stamps in its version of a $35 billion budget-cutting bill.

Republicans Believe In The Independence Of Public Broadcasting: Presidential adviser Karl Rove and Kenneth Tomlinson, then chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, discussed creating a "conservative" talk show and adding it to the public television lineup, the organization's top investigator said. Kenneth Konz, inspector general of the nonprofit company that oversees government funding of public TV, said in an interview yesterday that Tomlinson and Rove exchanged e-mails on programming and that Tomlinson also wrote to Rove about "shaking up" the agency and recruiting Republican staff. In a report two days ago, Konz said Tomlinson broke federal laws and internal rules by hiring corporation President Patricia Harrison, a former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman, based on her Republican ties. The report discussed the e-mails but didn't identify Rove as one of the people involved. "I didn't see anything coming out of the White House showing that they instructed him or ordered him what to do," Konz said in the interview. Tomlinson also improperly helped develop "The Journal Editorial Report," a conservative talk show, for public TV, the six-month probe found. The issue was "the use of political tests that were seeking people from one party or from a conservative viewpoint," Konz said yesterday.

News Of The Hurricane Recovery Effort: Houston Mayor Bill White has complained in an angry letter to the federal government that FEMA blindsided city officials with a new deadline of Dec. 1 to move Katrina refugees out of hotels. White also objected to a mandate that refugees move into apartments with three-month leases, noting that few landlords offer such short leases, thereby sharply reducing the number of FEMA-qualified apartments. "Why would FEMA restrict or eliminate the supply of apartments at the same time we are trying to move 19,000 people out of more costly hotels?" he said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. The letter, dated Wednesday, demanded an immediate reply. The letter was also sent to David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other top executives at the Homeland Security Department. There was no immediate response Thursday from officials with FEMA and with the Homeland Security Department.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Health effects of global warming will vary by region, and those who have contributed least to the problem are likely to be affected most, according to a newly-published study. In a recent chilling assessment, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that human-induced changes in the Earth's climate now lead to at least 5 million cases of illness and more than 150,000 deaths every year. Temperature fluctuations may sway human health in a surprising number of ways, scientists have learned, from influencing the spread of infectious diseases to boosting the likelihood of illness-inducing heat waves and floods. Now, in a synthesis report featured on the cover of the journal Nature, a team of health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the WHO has shown that the growing health impacts of climate change affect different regions in markedly different ways. Ironically, the places that have contributed the least to warming the Earth are the most vulnerable to the death and disease higher temperatures can bring.

In the looming future, global warming will reduce glaciers and storage packs of snow in regions around the world, causing water shortages and other problems that will impact millions of people. That is the conclusion of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Washington in a review paper published in the November 17 issue of the journal Nature. In analyzing several scenarios, Scripps Institution's Tim Barnett, and Jennifer Adam and Dennis Lettenmaier of the University of Washington, show that human-produced greenhouse gases, and the resulting warmer climates they produce, will have a significant influence on ice- and snow-dependent regions and will result in costly disruptions to water supply and resource management systems. "California, and in particular the Columbia Basin, doesn't have enough dam capacity to hold a seasonal cycle of water," said Barnett. "When you change the seasonality of how rivers flow you are essentially putting the water runoff all into spring rather than being able to draw it out through summer. Mother nature is not going to act like a reservoir as it has in the past and when the water comes out all at once there isn't enough capacity to contain it." Meanwhile, a top UN advisor on climate science says world politicians are not acting fast enough to tackle global warming. Halldor Thorgeirsson is the science co-ordinator for the upcoming UN climate conference in Montreal. He admitted the political process was not moving at a speed to satisfy scientists who wanted to see large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

News From Smirkey's War: A North Carolina man who was charged yesterday with accepting kickbacks and bribes as a comptroller and financial officer for the American occupation authority in Iraq was hired despite having served prison time for felony fraud in the 1990's. The job gave the man, Robert J. Stein, control over $82 million in cash earmarked for Iraqi rebuilding projects. Along with a web of other conspirators who have not yet been named, Mr. Stein and his wife received "bribes, kickbacks and gratuities amounting to at least $200,000 per month" to steer lucrative construction contracts to companies run by another American, Philip H. Bloom, an affidavit outlining the criminal complaint says. Mr. Stein's wife, who was not named, has not been charged with wrongdoing in the case; Mr. Bloom was charged with a range of crimes on Wednesday. Stein accepted $546,000 in illegal payments for steering more than $13 million in contracts last year to an American businessman, the Justice Department alleged in the first criminal corruption case arising from Iraq reconstruction. Stein, who worked for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, and Philip H. Bloom, who ran several companies from a base in Romania, were arrested earlier this week on the basis of criminal complaints citing fraud, money-laundering and conspiracy charges. The allegations were outlined in affidavits unsealed in federal court.

The military is recalling more than 18,000 protective vests because they did not meet ballistic test standards when the body armor was made up to five years ago. It is the second recall in about six months. Some vests in the latest recall may have been used in Iraq or Afghanistan. Made between 1999 and 2001, they were green or woodland camouflage, making it less likely they were used in the Gulf, where troops use the newer, desert-colored camouflage vests.

Scandals Du Jour: More evidence of a coverup of the geological unsuitability of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as a nuclear waste dump: Evidence of questionable work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada in emails, an Energy Department inspector general's report said Wednesday. Criminal investigations already were under way into a batch of e-mails the Energy Department disclosed in March that suggest government scientists falsified data on the project. The inspector general uncovered more e-mails that raise new questions about work on the project."The office of inspector general found e-mails by other authors that identified possible conditions adverse to quality at Yucca," the report said. "However, these e-mails had not been identified by Yucca personnel as requiring further review." One e-mail cited by the report says that the office of quality assurance "just discovered that (quality assurance) software requirements were being ignored." Another says: "We may want to backdate the notebook to when we started putting things together." The report doesn't say who wrote the e-mails or how many were found, and a spokeswoman for the inspector general said she couldn't elaborate because of the criminal investigation into the original e-mails. Those were written by U.S. Geological Survey scientists studying how water moved through the dump site in the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff have been declaring themselves exempt from the travel disclosure laws followed by the rest of the White House, a Center for Public Integrity investigation released today found. The vice president's office appears to have stuck taxpayers with millions of dollars in travel costs and has avoided disclosing its expenses and destinations. The private sector routinely covers the travel expenses associated with government officials' appearances - of which Cheney himself has made more than 275 since 2001 - at think tanks, trade organizations and universities around the world. When the private sector picks up the tab, however, federal law requires that officials report where they went, how much it cost, and who paid. Yet since 2001, Cheney's office - unlike Vice President Al Gore before him - has claimed that it is not bound by the travel disclosure rules the rest of the White House complies with, the Center found. Letters from the vice president's counsel assert that the office is not "an agency" of the executive branch, but adds as "a matter of comity" that none of the staff has accepted travel payments from a non-federal source.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Former presidential hopeful Phil Gramm testified Thursday that he never approved thousands of dollars in consulting payments to former Gov. George Ryan's daughters and staff in return for Ryan's endorsement. And he said his aides would not have condoned such a deal, either. "It's sort of like the difference between love and prostitution,'' the folksy former Texas senator testified, drawing gasps and laughter from spectators at a hearing with the jury out of the room. "You don't pay people to like you.'' Ryan, 71, and lobbyist friend Larry Warner, 67, are on trial on charges of fraud and racketeering. Among other things, Ryan is accused of using his position as Illinois secretary of state during the 1990s to collect cash and other gifts. Prosecutors say the Gramm campaign ultimately paid about $32,000 in such fees to Fawell, another Ryan aide and Ryan's daughters through a management consulting company.

Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) named buildings after themselves in the Labor-HHS Appropriations conference - which they oversaw. Staffers on the hill mocked the move as the latest example of egos completely out of control. But rule XXI of the House Rules for the 109th Congress states: "6. It shall not be in order to consider a bill, joint resolution, amendment, or conference report that provides for the designation or redesignation of a public work in honor of an individual then serving as a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator." By late Thursday, the conference report went down in flames when the House voted down the request. Congress will have the opportunity to remove the vanity plates from the report when it reconvenes and revotes.

What Goes Around Comes Around: U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of felon list scandal fame is running far behind incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the race for his U.S. Senate seat, according to a poll released Tuesday. Nelson was favored in the Quinnipiac University poll by 55 percent of registered voters to 31 percent for Harris, who was Florida's chief elections official during the state's bitter 2000 presidential recount Harris is the only announced GOP candidate in the race. Harris, serving at the time as Secretary of State as well as Smirkey's state campaign manager concurrently, disqualified 124,000 voters as alleged ex-felons, when only 3,000 actually were. About 90 percent of the disqualified voters were registered Democrats.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:31:52 PM

Thu, Nov 17 2005

Time And Temperature

The weather has been rather uncertain - rainy season one minute, and early dry season the next both yesterday and today. It is like it can't seem to make up its mind. This morning, when it should have been fairly pleasant, we had some serious rain, if only for a few minutes, but drizzle most of the rest of the time. And then this afternoon, as I was expecting it to close in and rain seriously, it almost cleared off - no rain, no drizzle, and a few patches of blue up there. What is it with this weather?

Well, Gamma never happened. The low pressure that we have been watching for the past week never developed into the tropical storm they had predicted. The area merged with the patch of storminess off the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and that has brought warnings of flash floods from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But here, it just seems to have meant that the typical rainy season pattern has been untypically unstable. They're probably getting pounded in Puerto Limon, but you could never tell it here.

I finally got off my duff and went to town for some batteries for my new gadget, an indoor-outdoor thermometer, brought to me by a reader of this blog (thanks, D.!). I needed to take the jeans brought in for me by another reader of my blog (Thanks to you as well, L.!) to a friend in town to get them hemmed up. They're a bit long, but fit great otherwise, and hemming up the legs by a couple of inches will having them fit perfectly. So I dropped those off and got some batteries on the way. When I got to my friend's house, their car was in the shop, and they were out of cooking gas, so I was asked to do a mission of mercy and took his wife to town for some thread for my jeans as well as some gas for their stove. As usual, I had an enjoyable time sitting on the front porch, enjoying the view and chatting with them.

Batteries in hand, back at the house, I installed the batteries in both the indoor unit and the outdoor sensor. Turning it all on and setting it up, I discovered that it is a lot warmer than I had thought - I guess I am much more adjusted to the tropical weather than I had realized. At half-past four, it was 84 degrees - which felt like 75 to me. As I write this, the sun has gone down, the air is beginning to cool, and the outside temperature is 71. Eat your heart out up there in the Great White North.

One of the features of the thermometer that D. brought me is that it has a built-in "atomic" clock. Actually, what it does is to receive time signals from the National Institute of Science and Technology in Ft. Collins, Colorado, in the U.S. I was rather skeptical that it would be able to hear the signals from this far away, but outside of the house, at least, it is able to hear the WWV transmitter. Unfortunately, the signal is not strong enough or stable enough to set the clock, but it actually receives it, which surprised me. Anyway, I set the clock manually, and it will be nice having a clock beside the desk, as well as being able to give my readers a real, actual temperature reading instead of just "chilly today."

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: No money for veterans' benefits, no money for emergency home heating programs, no money for earthquake relief, but always lots of money for yet more tax cuts for the rich: Working toward final reconciliation with the Senate for the 2006 budget, the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives held a budget markup session Tuesday to consider tens of billions in tax cuts that many economic analysts say favor the wealthy at the expense of programs for low- and middle-income people. Though there is no official estimate of the House budget proposal’s costs, economists, politicians and news outlets peg it at around $50 billion dollars, $15 billion more than the Senate approved in its version of the budget last month. The cost could even top $60 billion, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a progressive economic think tank, noted in an analysis released yesterday. According to the CBPP, a surprise decision by Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas (R-California) to pull the widely supported Alternative Minimum Tax relief in favor of capital-gains and dividend tax cuts could mean another round of tax cuts later this year, likely deepening the record federal deficit. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) provision, which is intended to counter some loopholes used for tax avoidance, is set to expire at the end of the year. Previously, Thomas indicated that Congress would have to either extend the AMT or the capital gains and dividend cuts, and maintains that the former favors the wealthy more than the latter, a contention the CBPP refuted in yesterday’s report. "Although both of these tax-cut provisions generally benefit upper-income households - with close to 95 percent of the benefits of both tax cuts going to the top 20 percent of households - the benefits of the capital gains and dividend tax cuts are far more skewed to the highest-income households than AMT relief," the CBPP said, citing figures compiled by the joint Urban Institute–Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

In the end, facing a stalemate over Smirkey's tax cuts for the rich, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday gave up efforts to extend deep cuts to the tax rate on dividends and capital gains and approved a $60 billion tax measure largely devoted to hurricane relief and tax cuts with bipartisan appeal. The measure, which could pass the Senate today, marks the latest in a string of legislative setbacks for Bush, who has repeatedly called on Congress to make his first-term tax cuts permanent and has taken particular pride in the 2003 dividends and capital gains tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2008. The Senate measure diverges sharply from a Ways and Means Committee tax package moving toward a House vote as early as Friday. The House package, which cuts taxes by $70 billion over five years, would extend the dividends and capital gains tax cuts through 2010. It would not extend a measure to mitigate the impact of the alternative minimum tax, which is increasingly snaring the middle class.

Across the plains of Kansas, destroyed, radioactive Abrams tanks, perched on railroad flatcars, roll towards an uncertain future. Only one thing was certain. They would be radioactive forever. This would be their everlasting death mask. The Pentagon deceptively calls it "depleted uranium." The Abrams tanks are constructed with a layer of radioactive uranium metal plates. American taxpayers paid to ship the tanks to Iraq and to return them for disposal or re-building in the United States. The tanks are 12 feet wide and weigh a stout 70 tons, or 140,000 pounds. The enduring vigorous stupidity of the U.S. military pretends that radiation is one of those things that if you can't see it, it can't hurt you. They are thoroughly delusional, of course. A National Academy of Sciences report released June 30, 2005, finds that there is no safe level of radiation. Any radiation is bad. A radioactive tank sitting exposed on a flatbed railroad car in Topeka, Kansas, should have been "encapsulated," according to U.S. Army Regulation 700-48, which has the force of law. From America to Iraq and back, these giant radioactive hulks can only sicken and kill Americans. On top of the sheer, unrelenting stupidity of playing with radiation with unsuspecting soldiers, now the neo-con government is involving everyday Americans in their radiation madness. The Pentagon can't even follow simple radiation hazard mitigation instructions. Their own rules and regulations have the force of law throughout the world. Yet they are ignored in the United States. And leaving them open and exposed means that they are a prime target and easy pickings for terrorists looking for the radioactive materials needed to make a "dirty nuke."

The Patriot Act is about to be renewed: House and Senate negotiators struck deal on the expiring Patriot Act that would curb FBI subpoena power and require the Justice Department to marginally more fully report its secret requests for information about ordinary people, according to officials involved in the talks. The agreement, which would make most provisions of the existing law permanent, was reached just before dawn Wednesday. But the agreement would leave intact some of the most controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law, such as government access to library and bookstore records in terrorism probes, and would extend only limited new rights to the targets of such searches. But by mid-morning GOP leaders had already made plans for a House vote on Thursday and a Senate vote by the end of the week. That would put the centerpiece of President Bush's war on terror on his desk before Thanksgiving, more than month before a dozen provisions were set to expire. Most of the new protections included in the renewal involve the protection of business - no surprise there.

More grief for Sony: Hackers are exploiting flaws in the software Sony is using to remove its controversial copy protection system. These are just proof of concept hacks, although security firms fear that users ridding themselves of Sony's CD software could soon face other dangers. Other security researchers have released tools that close the loophole opened by Sony's uninstaller. Sony's music arm has now published a list of all the CDs that use its much criticised anti-piracy system. The websites set up to exploit the loophole opened by Sony BMG's uninstaller were discovered by security firm Websense. It warned that anyone who has uninstalled Sony BMG's controversial XCP copy protection system and visits these sites could find their computer is attacked by malicious hackers. So far the attacks seen on these websites have been fairly benign but Websense warned that "there is the potential for more nefarious actions to have been done".

Enrollment begins this week for Smirkey's shiny new Medicare drug plan. But very few patients are enrolling or even asking about it. Why? One 82-year-old man explains it this way: "The purpose of the plan is to bring more customers to the drug company trough at top- dollar prices." A survey released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, DC, found that only 20 percent of seniors say they will enroll in a plan and 37 percent say they won't. The remaining 43 percent are confused and don't know what to do. Money will be funneled to the drug companies from the fresh clients who do enroll, not to local pharmacies. An estimated $720 billion over the next ten years will subsidize prescription coverage through private insurance companies, but because of all the gaps in coverage, there will be plenty of out-of-pocket payments.

A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress (under oath? Can we say "perjury," boys and girls?). The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know. Chevron was not named in the White House document, but the Government Accountability Office has found that Chevron was one of several companies that "gave detailed energy policy recommendations" to the task force. In addition, Cheney had a separate meeting with John Browne, BP's chief executive, according to a person familiar with the task force's work; that meeting is not noted in the document.

Spanish police have traced up to 42 suspected CIA operatives believed to have taken part in secret flights carrying detained or kidnapped Islamist terror suspects to interrogation centres and jails in Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere. A Spanish police report seen by the New York Times provides the names of the mainly American crew and passengers of a dozen suspect flights that landed in Palma de Mallorca in 2003 and 2004. The flights were allegedly part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme, in which, say human rights groups, suspected extreme Islamists are taken to be interrogated in countries where US human rights rules on torture do not apply. Germany and Italy are already investigating similar flights, with Rome having formally requested the extradition of a dozen alleged CIA operatives allegedly involved in the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003. The aircraft that went through Palma reportedly included a Boeing 737 and two Gulfstream jets. The report names Tennessee-based Stevens Express Leasing as the aircraft operator. It said one crew had followed a route that matched one described by an alleged detainee, Binyam Muhammed. At least 18 people in the police report left addresses in Virginia, near to CIA headquarters.

Bloggers are taking on Rep. Christopher Shays over his proposal that campaign finance rules apply to political Web sites. Operators of political web logs accused Shays, who has long promoted campaign finance reform, of seeking to restrict free speech. The liberal www.dailykos.com and conservative www.redstate.org urged readers to speak out, insisting that online activists should not have to worry about inadvertently running afoul of campaign finance laws when they are expressing their opinions on the Internet. Last week, Congress took up a bill that would have exempted the Internet from campaign finance regulations. Shays, R-Conn., and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., lobbied supporters of their campaign finance law to oppose the bill. Shays and Meehan backed the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform law that was intended to reduce the influence of money in politics. Shays said he wants to prevent individuals, corporations and unions from waging unlimited campaign advertising wars on the Web. "If this law were to pass, a member of Congress could simply go to a large donor, corporation or union and control their spending of $1 million in soft money to pay for political advertising all over the Internet," he said. Shays and Meehan also drafted an alternative bill to protect the right of free speech for people who operate Web blogs. "I understand that many Web bloggers are concerned that somehow campaign finance law will restrict their speech and I believe allowing bloggers the assurance that they will not be so burdened is something that we can ensure," Shays said.

The US has won its fight to stay in charge of the internet domain name system, despite opposition from many nations. In an eleventh-hour agreement ahead of a UN internet summit in Tunis, Tunisia, negotiators agreed to leave the US in charge of the net's addressing system. Instead an international forum will be set up to discuss net issues, although it will not have any binding authority. The deal clears the way for the summit to focus on how poorer nations can benefit from the digital revolution. About 10,000 delegates, including world leaders, technology experts and campaigners, are expected at the three-day World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.

Isolationism is increasing in the US: An increasing proportion of Americans believe the US "should mind its own business" internationally, a poll on America's place in the world indicates. The survey by the Pew Research Centre (PRC) found 42% of respondents said the US should "let other countries get along the best they can on their own". It pointed to the Iraq war as a reason for a revived isolationist sentiment. The results are on a par with the proportion who expressed that view following the Vietnam war in the 1970s. The survey was carried out by the PRC for the Council on Foreign Relations and questioned the American public and opinion leaders.

Star Wars rises from the dead: After having been killed once, it surfaces that the US has been in talks with Poland and other countries over the possibility of setting up a European base to intercept long-range missiles. The US is already working on a defence system designed to detect and shoot down missiles fired at North America. A US official said there had been talks with other countries about establishing such a base to protect Europe as well. Poland's prime minister said the government would consider whether the idea was good for Poland. The unnamed Pentagon official, who spoke to news agencies on condition of anonymity, said the talks had been going on since 2002. "We have the most mature dialogue with Poland because they've expressed continuing interest in the subject," he said. "There are other countries that remain interested in the dialogue on the possible emplacement of interceptors in Europe."

Holy water for sick orange trees - on your nickel: Florida's citrus crop contributes billions of dollars to the state's economy, so when that industry is threatened, anything that might help is considered. Back in 2001, when citrus canker was blighting the crop and threatening to reduce that vital source of revenue, an interesting - if not quite scientific - alternative was considered. Katherine Harris, then Florida's secretary of state (and who was the principal in the felon voter scandal in the 2000 presidential election in that state) - and now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives - ordered a study in which, according to an article by Jim Stratton in the Orlando Sentinel, "researchers worked with a rabbi and a cardiologist to test ‘Celestial Drops,' promoted as a canker inhibitor because of its ‘improved fractal design,' ‘infinite levels of order,' and ‘high energy and low entropy.'" The study determined that the product tested was, basically, water that had apparently been blessed according to the principles of Kabbalic mysticism, to "change its molecular structure and imbue it with supernatural healing powers."

Getting the job done in Iraq? That's your job, Dick: Dick Cheney has launched a vitriolic attack on politicians accusing the White House of misusing intelligence to invade Iraq. Opposition Democrats were guilty of spreading "cynical and pernicious falsehoods", he said. As a principal architect of the war, the vice-president has come in for a good deal of personal criticism. The Democrats' John Kerry later said it was hard to name a Bush official with "less credibility on Iraq". Another senior Democrat, Senior Harry Reid, dismissed the vice-president's "tired rhetoric". "Political attacks do nothing to get the job done in Iraq," he said. “Apparently, the White House didn’t get the message. The Vice President’s speech tonight demonstrates once again that this Administration intends to “stay the course” and continue putting their political fortunes ahead of what this country needs –a plan for success.

Speaking of Dick, even the mainstream media are beginning to talk about the growing rift between Dick and Smirkey. Sources close to Smirkey keep talking about a distance between the two, according to Tom DeFrank, a journalist who has known Dick Cheney since 1975. Dick played a key role in the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the growing failure there is the principal cause of the rift. "The distance has increased and some political aides to the president expect the distance will inevitably increase some more as a result of the indictment of Lewis Libby."

Latest in the Sony BMG Spyware Scandal: Sony BMG is recalling music CDs that use the controversial anti-piracy XCP software. The software was widely criticised because it used virus-like techniques to stop illegal copies being made. Widespread pressure has made the music giant remove CDs bearing the software from stores. It will now also swap purchased CDs for copies free of the XCP anti-piracy software. Sony is also providing software to make it easy to remove the controversial program from Windows computers. The news about the uninstaller came as anti-virus firms and Microsoft announced their own tools to find and remove the spyware/malware "root kit". At least two viruses have emerged that exploit the security vulnerabilities opened up by XCP, and now, writing on the Freedom to Tinker blog, researchers J Alex Halderman and Ed Felten found that cleverly written webpages could exploit the programming code used by the Sony web-based uninstaller to install their own potentially malicious programs. The row about XCP has also led to Sony BMG facing several class-action lawsuits over the potential security problems that the software causes.

In an effort to fight what it sees as an insidious propaganda war waged by terrorists, from incendiary Web sites to one-sided television images of the Iraq war, the Pentagon has been quietly waging its own information battle throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, in spite of a federal law which prohibits it from doing so. One of its primary weapons is a controversial, secretive firm that has been criticized as ineffective and too expensive. The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters; "pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments that promote U.S. positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in Puerto Rico on behalf of the Navy, Pentagon records show. The contracts, some of which were obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the Bush administration is engaged in a war of images and words with Al Qaeda and other radical groups.

John "two-tone" Bolton has done it again. America's illustrious U.N. ambassador has reportedly suggested that the United States look for a U.N. substitute if that body doesn't improve in problem solving and responding to U.S. needs. U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton told The Washington Times that the Bush administration requires nothing less than a revolution of reform at the United Nations. "That," he said, "would cover everything from Security Council engagement to management changes to a focus on administrative skills in choosing the next secretary-general." The United Nations, which he said seemed caught in a time warp, "has got to be a place to solve problems that need solving, rather than a place where problems go, never to emerge." "We have to decide whether a particular issue is best done through the U.N. or best done through some other mechanism," Bolton told the Times. That's right, John, the U.N. certainly exists to serve U.S. imperial ambitions, and if it doesn't serve that purpose, it should be done away with.

Spain resents the "extraordinary rendition" flights: Madrid has raised the issue of secret CIA flights using Spanish airports with US officials, Washington has confirmed. The State Department said the matter was brought up with Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried during his visit to Spain this week. Spain is investigating reports that CIA planes carrying terror suspects made secret stopovers on its soil. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said if the claims were true they could damage relations with Washington. It is alleged that at least 10 CIA planes landed at airports in Majorca and the Canary Islands between January 2004 and 2005.

Cheney's "energy policy" strategy is slowly coming unglued: Senate Democrats demanded that oil company executives who testified last week about skyrocketing energy prices reappear before lawmakers and testify under oath, after news reports raised questions about the truthfulness of their testimony. Leading oil company executives long have denied taking part in a secretive energy task force run in 2001 by Vice President Dick Cheney, but White House records obtained by The Washington Post refuted that, according to the daily's editions on Wednesday. The ad hoc group was tasked with helping develop a national energy policy, but was opposed by environmentalists because there allegedly were no ecologically friendly players on the panel. The leader of Senate Democrats said the oil company executives who testified last week should be forced to return to Congress to set the record straight regarding their involvement with Cheney's group.

Not everybody took Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's on-air comments this week about terrorists bombing Coit Tower as the hyperbole that fills the talk-radio ether. One of the ticked off was San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly, who Friday called for O'Reilly to be fired. "For an anchor on a major station, Fox News, to be saying those kinds of things, it's just not OK," Daly said Friday. "It was just over the top." Agreeing with Daly was San Francisco firefighters union president John Hanley, and not just because the hose-shaped tower is a tribute to firefighters. "Who is this guy, O'Reilly?" said Hanley, who identified himself as both a third-generation San Franciscan and military veteran. "I've got guys fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm a veteran myself. What's he talking about?" A spokesman for Westwood One, which carries O'Reilly's program in 400 markets, declined to comment Friday. Fox News could not be reached for comment. On Tuesday's version of O'Reilly's syndicated radio program, "The Radio Factor," the host vented his exasperation at two ballot measures that San Franciscans were in the process of approving on election day.

Acting on behalf of a seller of spiritual books, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit arguing that a Georgia law exempting the Bible from sale taxes is discriminatory and should be extended to all publications dealing with the meaning of life. "If they're not taxing someone's holy scriptures, they shouldn't be taxing anyone's,'' said Candace Apple, who owns the Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs. "I'm not willing to stand at the counter and tell someone, "Oh, sorry, your religion is wrong.'''

The former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting repeatedly violated the organization's contracting rules and code of ethics in his efforts to promote conservatives in the system, according to an internal investigation released today. The 42-page report - the culmination of a six-month investigation by Kenneth A. Konz, the corporation's inspector general - described former Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson as a rogue politico who overstepped the boundaries of his position to right what he viewed as a liberal tilt in public broadcasting. Tomlinson, who resigned his board position this month in advance of the report, denied any wrongdoing in a statement included in the report, calling the charges "malicious and irresponsible."

Something good that won't last: A new wave of campus activism against sweatshops is sweeping colleges across the country. Students had barely returned to school this fall when more than forty campuses--including Duke, Kansas State, Brown, Loyola, MIT, Macalester, Berkeley and the universities of Indiana, Southern Mississippi and Connecticut--were hit by demonstrations organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). Universities purchase about $3 billion in T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, sneakers and sports uniforms adorned with their institutions' names and logos. The clothing is designed under licensing arrangements by companies like Nike, Reebok, Champion and Russell, which outsource their production to factories around the world. For example, the University of North Carolina earns more than $2.9 million annually by farming out its logo to more than 500 licensees that produce clothing in factories in Mexico, Central America, Asia and elsewhere.

Despite its attempts to strong-arm the Senate into allowing torture of detainees, the White House has won little support for its position. And perhaps even more important, it has drawn opponents of torture to the forefront of the national debate, triggering surges in membership and activity for human rights organizations. "The response and eagerness of people across America has been surprising and heartening," says Eric Sears, campaign manager for Amnesty International USA's Denounce Torture Initiative, a project launched earlier this year. "We know a majority of Americans are opposed to torture, so it's really a matter of putting the materials in their hands so they can take action." And this coming weekend in Georgia, the annual protest against the School of the Americas - which has served as one of the clearest manifestations of US torture practices since Pentagon documents revealed the existence of courses advocating abusive tactics in 1996 - is expected to draw a record number of demonstrators.

In spite of the fact that federal law requires all operators of nuclear power plants to accrue the costs of decommissioning the plant right from the first day of operation, almost none do, and now that the oldest plants are faced with huge decommissioning costs, ratepayers are being expected to pick up the tab as the plant approaches the end of its life. A classic case is Connecticut Yankee. A quarter of Connecticut Yankee Power Co.'s $831 million rate increase to decommission Connecticut Yankee's Haddam Neck Nuclear Power Plant is unjustified, a member of the state Public Utility Control Department said Monday. Commission member Anne George said "mismanagement" added more than $200 million to the decommissioning costs. The rate increase was quietly implemented in February and customers have been paying it while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decides whether part or all of it is prudent. If FERC determines any of the rate increase is excessive, customers will get a rebate. If no rebate is ordered, customers will be paying $1 extra a month for five years. George called that "outrageous." Connecticut Yankee is receiving $26 million annually from Connecticut Light & Power Co. and $7 million from United Illuminating customers to pay for decommissioning. DPUC and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in testimony submitted to FERC, charge that Connecticut Yankee has included inappropriate costs under the decommissioning umbrella. Connecticut Yankee considers the rate increase fully justified.

A federal judge stopped a logging project in Giant Sequoia National Monument on Monday, keeping intact more than 1,000 acres in a preserve that houses two-thirds of the world's largest trees. Judge Charles R. Breyer issued a preliminary injunction blocking a timber sale, saying the U.S. Forest Service had ignored extensive research on how commercial logging would affect wildlife in the region. The Forest Service said timber sales help preserve logging jobs and the natural ecosystem. The project would thin out smaller trees that are fire hazards, not completely clear out the area, spokesman Matt Mathes said. "We desperately need to bring the ecosystem back into balance. The smaller trees in that area act as ladders to take fires into the taller Sequoias,'' Mathes said. Congress declared parts of the Sequoia National Forest a national monument in 2000. That designation generally would prevent further logging. But, because the sale was approved before the declaration, Mathes said, the project was exempt from monument rules.

Congressional budget negotiators have decided to take back $125 million in Sept. 11 aid from New York, which had fought to keep the money to treat sick and injured ground zero workers, lawmakers said Tuesday. New York officials had sought for months to hold onto the funding, originally meant to cover increased worker compensation costs stemming from the 2001 terror attacks. But a massive labor and health spending bill moving fitfully through House-Senate negotiations would take back that funding, lawmakers said. "It seems that despite our efforts the rescission will stand, very sadly, and that is something of a promise broken," said Rep. Vito Fossella (news, bio, voting record), R-N.Y. "We will try hard in the coming weeks, but ultimately Congress will have something of a black eye over this." A spokeswoman for Rep. John Sweeney (news, bio, voting record), R-N.Y., said the congressman also had been told New York would lose the funding in whatever compromise version of the spending bill finally reaches the floor. The tug-of-war over the $125 million began earlier this year when the White House proposed taking the money back because the state had not yet spent it.

They're finally beginning to govern: Hoping to reverse the deterioration of pension plans covering 44 million Americans, the Senate voted Wednesday to force companies to make up underfunding estimated at $450 billion and live up to promises made to employees. The action came a day after the federal agency that insures such plans reported massive liabilities and predicted a troubled future. The Senate legislation, passed 97-2, takes on the daunting task of compelling companies with defined-benefit plans to live up to their funding obligations — without driving those companies into abandoning the plans and further eroding the retirement benefits of millions of people. "This bill honors a promise that we made way back in 1974" when Congress passed legislation to protect pensions, said Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "If you've been promised a pension, we are going to make sure that you receive it." Broad support of the bill reflected its bipartisan origins. Grassley and the top Democrat on the committee, Max Baucus of Montana, crafted it with Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. The White House, in a statement, said it supported passage of the Senate bill but opposed some provisions, including extended relief for the airline industry. It warned that the president would be advised to veto any bill that resulted in weakening pension funding requirements.

Republicans Support The Troops: The return to civilian life for U.S. Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan is full of pitfalls, with an unemployment rate three times the national average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that for the first three quarters of 2005, nearly 15 percent of veterans aged 20-24 are jobless -- three times the national average. According to the website Veterans Today, published by veterans for veterans, the high unemployment rate is "partly because most service members seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the early stages of their military careers and possess limited transferable job skills or very little civilian work experience". Of course the serious reduction in VA benefits, including rehabilitative services plays a role, too.

News From The Wreckage Of The U.S.S. Bush: Beset with an unpopular war and an American public increasingly less trusting, Smirkey faces the lowest approval rating of his presidency, according to a national poll released Monday. Bush also received his all-time worst marks in three other categories in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. The categories were terrorism, Smirkey's trustworthiness and whether the Iraq war was worthwhile. Smirkey's 37 percent overall approval rating was two percentage points below his ranking in an October survey. Both polls had a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Sixty percent of the 1,006 adult Americans interviewed by telephone Friday through Sunday said they disapprove of how Smirkey is handling his job as president.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: The Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence says Iraq became the center of the war on terrorism after it was attacked by the US-led coalition, and he now fears Iraq is exporting terrorism to other countries. "I'm afraid we're going to see Iraq is not only the center of the war on terror, which it was not before we attacked Iraq, but now it is going to, I'm afraid, export it," Senator Pat Roberts said on CNN's Late Edition. Senator Roberts, who has been a strong supporter of President George Bush, added: "We've got to get allies, as many as we can, including in the Muslim world, because this is a form of fanatic Islam which has to be defeated by the moderate Islamic people." A leading Democrat, Senator Carl Levin, said on the same program, that Iraq "has become the heartland of terrorism. It was not before we attacked."

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a Vietnam veteran and critic of Bush policy on Iraq, excoriated the Administration Tuesday in a speech to Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday. Hagel blasted the Administration for going after Iraq war critics and turning the war into a political cause. "The Iraq war should not be debated in the United States on a partisan political platform," the Nebraska senator remarked. "This debases our country, trivializes the seriousness of war and cheapens the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. War is not a Republican or Democrat issue."

The Senate rejected a Democratic call Tuesday for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq but urged President Bush to outline his plan for "the successful completion of the mission" in a bill reflecting a growing bipartisan unease with his Iraq policies. The overall measure, adopted 98-0, shows a willingness to defy the president in several ways despite a threatened veto. It would restrict the techniques used to interrogate terror detainees, ban their inhuman treatment and call for the administration to provide lawmakers with quarterly reports on the status of operations in Iraq.

War protester Cindy Sheehan said Wednesday she was demanding a trial for demonstrating without a permit outside the White House. Sheehan also plans to revive her protest near President Bush's Texas ranch during Thanksgiving week, despite new county ordinances banning roadside camping. Sheehan and other anti-war activists arrested with her Sept. 26 in Washington conducted a news conference in front of the federal courthouse Wednesday before heading to a court appearance on the misdemeanor charge.

Democratic senators, eyeing high oil and gas prices, seized an opportunity to use Smirkey's $60 billion tax cut for the rich under debate in the Senate to squeeze energy companies. Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chris Dodd of Connecticut want large oil companies to pay a windfall profits tax, a 50 percent tax on the sale of oil over $40 a barrel, levied for three years. They propose returning money to energy consumers through an income tax rebate. "People who will be paying these costs deserve to have some relief,'' Dodd said. "All we are asking is that these industries reinvest their profits.'' The idea drew immediate opposition from the senators representing the Big Oil lobby. "It's wonderful to get out here and beat up on the big old oil companies,'' said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "This populist talk is not what's going to get us oil and gas, nor is it going to bring prices down.'' Maybe not, Senator, but it might help fill the budget deficit left by your tax cuts for the rich.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Earth's warming climate is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030. The data, being published today in the journal Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world. Health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who conducted one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to measure the impact of global warming on health, said the WHO data also show that rising temperatures disproportionately affect poor countries that have done little to create the problem.

Republican Policies Just Keep Making America Stronger: An increasing number of investors are betting that General Motors Corp. may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection within the next 12 months as it struggles with slumping sales and high health care costs for workers and retirees. Concerns about the future of the world's largest automaker are showing up in the credit default swaps market, where investors effectively buy insurance protection against defaults. Holders of GM debt who want to arrange a hedge against the risk that they won't be repaid are finding that the cost of buying the protection has risen dramatically in recent days. "The markets are telling you that more traders are starting to see a greater risk that a default scenario could happen sooner in time than later," said John Tierney, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. "You cannot deny there is a pattern here." GM spokesman Jerry Dubrowski responded by saying the automaker has "no plans to declare bankruptcy," and he noted that GM has about $19 billion in cash on hand. Beyond that, he declined to discuss recent pricing trends for credit default swaps. "Typically we don't comment on stock prices or bond prices," he said. "We don't think it is appropriate to do that." GM stock has hit new lows on news of a possible strike at Delphi, its bankrupt parts supplier subsidiary.

Deregulation Is Good For You: Blasting Sempra Energy as an Enron-like manipulator in the California energy crisis, the California state Attorney General, Bill Lockyer yesterday, filed a lawsuit alleging widespread rigging of electricity prices during 2000 and 2001. The attorney general said the suit, which seeks damages and penalties running to hundreds of millions of dollars, is the first of two he plans to file against the San Diego company. Within a week, Lockyer said, he will also file a suit alleging that Sempra rigged natural gas markets. That lawsuit, to be filed jointly with the California Public Utilities Commission, will increase Sempra's potential liability to $2 billion, he said. "Sempra ranks as one of the worst of the bad actors who ripped off businesses and consumers during the crisis," Lockyer said. "The company proved to be among the most expert practitioners of the Enron ethic: rake in the dough, let California burn and send Aunt Millie to the poorhouse."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: U.S. producer prices rose in October as soaring home heating costs offset cheaper gasoline, while retail sales suffered less than feared from a drop in car buying in the month thanks to brisk demand for other goods. The Labor Department said prices received by farms, factories and refineries rose 0.7 percent last month, defying Wall Street forecasts for a flat reading after September's roaring 1.9 percent gain. Outside the volatile food and energy sectors, however, so-called core producer prices fell a surprise 0.3 percent in October despite economist forecasts for a 0.2 percent rise. Economists said the price numbers should reassure the Fed that inflation is not about to pick up sharply, although the data likely won't be enough to prompt the central bank to pause in its gradual course of interest rates rises.

The federal agency that insures the private pensions of 44 million workers said Tuesday that its deficit was $22.8 billion in 2005, as big airlines in bankruptcy dumped their pension liabilities. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. disclosed in its annual financial report that as of Sept. 30, it had $56.5 billion in assets to cover $79.2 billion in pension liabilities. There has been an explosion in recent years in the number of big, ailing companies — especially in labor-heavy industries like airlines and steel — transferring their pension liabilities to the PBGC. With billions of dollars flying out of the agency's door, concern has been mounting in Congress and elsewhere over its financial footing. "Unfortunately, the financial health of the PBGC is not improving," the agency's executive director, Bradley D. Belt, said in a statement. "The money available to pay benefits is eventually going to run out unless Congress enacts comprehensive pension reform to get plans better funded and provide the insurance program with additional resources."

News From Katrina/Rita: Many US families forced to leave their homes by devastating storms have been told that funding for accommodation in hotels will be cut by 1 December. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), in charge of the relief effort, has paid evacuees some $274m (£159m) since hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Almost 54,000 families are still living in hotels and motels in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi. A total of 12,338 families being housed in hotels in Louisiana and Mississippi can stay until January 7th. The decision will be most keenly felt in Texas and Georgia, where almost 28,000 hotel rooms are occupied by families. Texas Governor Rick Parry stressed that evacuees must take personal responsibility for their welfare and housing. "However, my great concern is that there is still no long-term housing plan for the hundreds of thousands of Katrina victims who lost everything - including their homes - as a result of the storm," he added.

Spores from mold growing in New Orleans homes flooded after Hurricane Katrina pose a major risk to health, a US environmental group has warned. Air tests have shown levels of mould high enough to trigger serious allergic reactions in some people, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says. It accuses the government of doing too little to warn residents of the risks. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the BBC that advice had been widely distributed. The steamy climate in New Orleans and the fact that many homes were under water for days or weeks following Katrina has made it a fertile breeding ground for mould.

News From Smirkey's War: Caught in its bald-faced lies, the Pentagon has confirmed that US troops used white phosphorus during last year's offensive in the northern Iraqi city of Fallujah. "It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said. The US earlier denied it had been used in Fallujah at all. Col Venable denied that the substance - which can cause burning of the flesh - constituted a banned chemical weapon. Col Venable said a statement by the US state department that white phosphorus had not been used was based on "poor information". Having to retract its denial has been a public relations disaster for the US military.

An influential Democratic congressman - who voted for the Iraq invasion in 2003 - has called for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. John Murtha - a decorated Vietnam War veteran - said US troops had become "a catalyst for violence" in Iraq. His comments followed attacks from the Bush administration on critics of its Iraq war policy and its handling of intelligence to invade Iraq. Vice-President Dick Cheney said critics were spreading "cynical falsehoods". Cynical falsehoods, Dick? Kinda like the "insurgency is in its last throes" falsehood? At least Murtha understands the situation.

More details are coming out regarding the U.S. military's use of white phosphorus. Burhan Fasa'a, a freelance cameraman working for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), witnessed the first eight days of the fighting. "I saw cluster bombs everywhere and so many bodies that were burnt, dead with no bullets in them," he said. "So they definitely used fire weapons, especially in Jolan district." Mr Fasa'a said that while he sold a few of his clips to Reuters, LBC would not show tapes he submitted to them. He had smuggled some tapes out of the city before his gear was taken from him by US soldiers. Some saw what they thought were attempts by the military to conceal the use of white phosphorus incendiary shells. "The Americans were dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates near Fallujah," said one ousted resident, Abdul Razaq Ismail. Dr Ahmed, who worked in Fallujah until December 2004, said: "In the centre of the Jolan quarter they were removing entire homes which have been bombed, meanwhile most of the homes that were bombed are left as they were." He said he saw bulldozers push soil into piles and load it on to trucks to carry away. In certain areas where the military used "special munitions" he said 200 sq m of soil was being removed from each blast site. A doctor from Fallujah working in Saqlawiyah, on the outskirts of Fallujah, described treating victims during the siege "who had their skin melted". He asked to be referred to simply as Dr Ahmed because of fears of reprisals for speaking out. "The people and bodies I have seen were definitely hit by fire weapons and had no other shrapnel wounds," he said.

The U.S.-led military force in Iraq is detaining people faster than a new board can review their cases to determine whether their rights are being respected, the United Nations reported on Monday. The multinational force continues to hold far more prisoners than the Iraqi government, and most are individuals picked up in mass arrests and detained for "imperative reasons of security," the world body said. "While progress in reviewing cases led to the release of hundreds, the overall number of detainees continued to increase due to mass arrests carried out during security and military operations," the U.N. mission said in its latest progress report on human rights, covering the period Sept. 1-Oct. 31.

A lawyer representing two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants has fled Iraq and is seeking asylum in Qatar following an attempt on his life, according to a letter he has written to the leader of the Gulf state. Thamer Hamoud al-Khuzaie, who represents Taha Yassin Ramadan and Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, both of whom are being tried along with Saddam for crimes against humanity, said in the letter that his life was under constant threat. "Your Highness … the plot goes on in targeting and killing Iraqi lawyers like my colleague Adil al-Zubeidi and the lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi," he wrote, referring to two other defence lawyers killed in the past month.

Two Iraqi businessmen, who were imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq, claimed Monday that American soldiers threw them into a cage of lions in a Baghdad palace, as part of a terrifying interrogation in 2003. "They took me behind the cage, they were screaming at me, scaring me and beating me a lot," Thahe Mohammed Sabbar said in an interview. "One of the soldiers would open the door, and two soldiers would push me in. The lions came running toward me and they pulled me out and shut the door. I completely lost consciousness." Army spokesman Paul Boyce said he has never heard of lions being used in any detainee operations and it has never come up in any of the more than 400 investigations into detainee abuse conducted by the military over the past three years.

Clinton says the war was a "big mistake": Former President Bill Clinton told Arab students Wednesday the United States made a "big mistake'' when it invaded Iraq, stoking the partisan debate back home over the war. Clinton cited the lack of planning for what would happen after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. "Saddam is gone. It's a good thing, but I don't agree with what was done,'' Clinton told students at a forum at the American University of Dubai. "It was a big mistake. The American government made several errors ... one of which is how easy it would be to get rid of Saddam and how hard it would be to unite the country.'' Clinton's remarks came when he was taking questions about the U.S. invasion, which began in 2003. His response drew cheers and a standing ovation at the end of the hour-long session.

Let no scapegoat go unpunished: Two US soldiers charged with assaulting two Afghan detainees at a US base in southern Afghanistan will face court martial, the US military has said. The soldiers are accused of assaulting the detainees and making false statements, it said. The US military said the detainees who were allegedly assaulted were being temporarily held at a forward operating base in Uruzgan province.

Scandals Du Jour: Sixteen former CIA and military intelligence officials on Tuesday urged President Bush to suspend his top political adviser Karl Rove's security clearance following revelations that he played a role in outing CIA officer Valerie Plame. "We are asking that you immediately suspend the clearances of all White House personnel who spoke to reporters about (Plame's) affiliation with the CIA. They have mishandled classified information and no longer deserve the level of trust required to have access to this nation's secrets," the former officials, some of whom were covert operatives, wrote Bush. Rove, who spoke to at least two journalists about the issue, hasn't been charged with wrongdoing in the case, but is believed to still be under investigation. Last month, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice. The White House declined to comment on the letter Tuesday evening, saying it involves an ongoing legal matter. White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked last week about Rove's security clearance. "I'm just not going to talk about an ongoing investigation," McClellan said at the time.

A US businessman has been charged with bribing officials involved in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq, the New York Times has reported. The paper said Philip Bloom had been accused of paying $600,000 (£349,000) to staff in the Coalition Provisional Authority which ran Iraq until 2004. Citing legal documents, the paper said Mr Bloom is alleged to have secured up to $3.5m in fraudulent contracts. Anti-corruption groups have warned that fraud has become widespread in Iraq. Soon after the invasion of Iraq, the US and other partners had pledged $20bn to rebuild the country, but many questions have been raised about how the money has been spent.

A consumer advocacy group said it has uncovered questionable transactions lucrative to family members of Senator Bill Frist, and is seeking a further inquiry into those transactions. The new allegations come amidst growing concerns about the senator's stock transactions, including his disposition of a large block of stock of Hospital Corporation of America, just before the price collapsed.

Texas prosecutors in the criminal case against Representative Tom DeLay issued a subpoena on Wednesday for records of transactions between his national political action committee and a political committee run by his successor as House majority leader, Roy Blunt of Missouri. The subpoena, issued in Austin, the Texas capital, asked for all records from Mr. DeLay's committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, about its contributions from 2000 to 2002 to Mr. Blunt's committee, Rely on Your Own Beliefs Fund, and to the state Republican Party in Missouri, where Mr. Blunt's son is governor. The subpoena offered no explanation of why prosecutors wanted the records, although news reports have recently questioned why thousands of dollars raised by Mr. DeLay and his committee to entertain delegates at the 2000 Republican convention were shifted to Mr. Blunt's committee.

Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found. Lawmakers said their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff, and the timing of donations was a coincidence. They said they wrote letters because they opposed the expansion of tribal gaming — even though they continued to accept donations from casino-operating tribes. Many lived far from Louisiana and had no constituent interest in the casino dispute.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:00:20 PM

Tue, Nov 15 2005

Another Friend Arrives, Brings Needed Gadgets

The weather was awful yesterday morning, raining as usual, but let up during the day. There were occasional sunny periods but they never lasted long, and by nightfall, the rains began in earnest. They continued through most of the night, but by morning, they had let up, and through much of the day today, the rain has been light to non-existent.

There is a huge patch of cloudiness off the Caribbean coast, where Nuevo Arenal's weather comes from, and I would have expected that to bring lots of rain, but it hasn't. Instead, there is a tropical depression brewing in the eastern Caribbean, and it is apparently trying to bring us some of our typical dry hurricane weather. It seems to have suppressed the worst of the rain. But that tropical depression is predicted to move this way, slowly, so it may actually bring us a good deal of rain in the end, especially if it merges with the area of thunderstorms out in the Gulf of Panama.

I was quietly working on this blog entry this morning, minding my own business when there was a car horn out front, and when I looked, it was a friend of mine, another reader of this blog. He is the one who owns the house being built on the view lot overlooking the lake. He has come down for a visit and to check out the construction on the small guest home he is having built on that lot. Some time back, I asked him to bring in some things for me, and he agreed. I asked for an indoor-outdoor electronic thermometer and an adaptor for my computer that allows me to use a mouse on my laptop. The former I need for this blog - I would like to include temperature reports that are a bit more specific than just "chilly today" and the mouse adaptor was becoming a necessity - the touchpad on my laptop is getting worn out, and I needed a better way to work. So when he arrived, it was like Christmas. I am now editing this with a real mouse, and it is wonderful to not have to deal with the eccentricities of the flaky touchpad. And I'll have weather reports including temperatures as soon as I can get to town and get some batteries for the thermometer.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The United States: The president of the United States does not make policy, his neo-con subordinates do, based on their private agendas. We've always known that, of course, but now there's proof: Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to then-secretary of state Colin Powell during President Bush's first term, said in a November 7 speech that the National Security Council had prepared a pre-war memo recommending that hundreds of thousands of troops and other security personnel were needed. “I don't know if the president saw it,” Wilkerson told the audience of military officers and international lawyers, who had gathered at the military for a conference on on international humanitarian law. In response to a follow-up question after his speech, Wilkerson, a retired U.S. army colonel, said he believed that then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice or her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had blocked the memo, but he acknowledged that he had no clear evidence. In the end, about 135,000 U.S. troops were sent - a decision that critics said has hurt America's ability to defeat the insurgency in Iraq and has led to increased American casualties. In July 2003, USA Today reported the existence of the NSC memo, which examined the level of troops in peacekeeping operations and concluded that some 500,000 troops would need to be deployed to Iraq. USA Today raised doubts as to whether the president saw the memo. However, Wilkerson's assertion seemed to take the matter a step further, suggesting that aides who supported the war intentionally kept the president in the dark. Wilkerson drew national attention last month, when, during a speech at the Washington-based New America Foundation, he accused Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of forming a “cabal” to hijack American foreign policy. Of course, our president, who never served in active duty in the military, was clueless about the inadequacy of the plans he was presented from subordinates, who themselves had never served in active duty in the military.

When The Going Gets Tough, Smirkey Gets Gone: Not having learned his lesson after leaving a string of riot-scorched capitals in his wake in Latin America, Smirkey has decided to do the same in Asia. He is heading to the Far East for talks with regional leaders and to attend the annual APEC summit of Asian and Pacific countries. His eight-day journey will take him to Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia. A possible bird flu pandemic, niggling trade issues and hypocritically promoting "democracy" and free market fundamentalism are expected to top his agenda. But first, Smirkey hit back at his Iraq critics while on a stop at an airbase in Alaska. He told troops at Elmendorf base that criticism from some Democrat and Republican politicians back home are "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy". Of course, his relentless cuts of veterans benefits, as reported here yesterday, has already sent his "signals" to the troops, and his brushing aside of restrictions on torture of detainees has sent his "signals" to the enemy.

Bill O'Reilly, the loudmouthed Fox News host of "The O'Reilly Factor" has shot his mouth off again. After saying that he would approve of a 9/11-style attack on San Francisco, he has gone on San Francisco radio and explained that he not only doesn't back away from his comments, but he says "it needed to be said." His annoyance supposedly stems from that city's recent vote to discourage military recruiting in the city, but could it be that he is angry about San Francisco and feels threatened by it, mostly because San Francisco is a beautiful city that works, not just in spite of its liberalism, but because of it?

Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan said on Monday the huge US current account deficit cannot expand forever as foreigners will one day tire of financing it. But in a speech to the Bank of Mexico, he said the US economy should be able to weather the adjustment provided it stays flexible. Greenspan noted that thus far, the United States has experienced little difficulty in obtaining the foreign investment needed to finance a deficit running at more than six percent of gross domestic product. But the deficit "cannot persist indefinitely", he said, as investors are likely to grow alarmed about the country's ability to pay its external debts as the trade and capital account shortfall expands further.

Dick Cheney was heckled by protesters Tuesday as he spoke at the groundbreaking for a public policy center honoring former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker. During Cheney's brief remarks, about a half-dozen people protesting the war in Iraq yelled, "War, what is it good for?" and held up a large banner saying, "Peace Now." Cheney continued speaking and didn't acknowledge the protesters, who were escorted from the ceremony inside the University of Tennessee's basketball arena. About 50 protesters, most of them appearing to be college age, demonstrated outside the arena. Several carried signs, including one that read "Honor Baker, Impeach Cheney."

With congressional renewal of the USA Patriot Act expected this month, the nation’s largest body of lawyers last week added its voice to a growing list or organizations opposed to portions of the legislation. In a letter to congressional leaders last Wednesday, American Bar Association President Michael S. Greco outlined his organization’s concern over three specific provisions of the act under consideration by the House that the ABA feels are overly broad, undermine constitutional protections and give too much leeway to intelligence agencies collecting information. The letter follows earlier statements by the group that the legislation is "offensive" to democracy.

A bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise yesterday that would dramatically alter U.S. policy for treating captured terrorist suspects by granting them a final recourse to the federal courts but stripping them of some key legal rights. The compromise links legislation written by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which would deny detainees broad access to federal courts, with a new measure authored by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) that would grant detainees the right to appeal the verdict of a military tribunal to a federal appeals court. The deal will come to a vote today, and the authors say they are confident it will pass.

Hello, Kettle? Pot Here.. Washington has described as "unfair" the trial in Uzbekistan of 15 men convicted on Monday of leading an uprising in the town of Andijan. The court found the men guilty of trying to oust the government and set up an Islamic state, and jailed them for between 14 and 20 years. Security forces suppressed the May unrest with massive force, leaving hundreds of people feared dead. Critics have denounced the court's proceedings as a show trial. "We believe that these convictions are based on evidence that isn't credible and a trial that isn't fair," US state department spokesman Adam Ereli said on Monday. Of course, Ereli didn't have anything to say about the quality of the military tribunals going on in Guantanamo.

Speaking out of both sides of his mouth again: During a visit to Panama earlier this month, Smirkey claimed that Americans "do not torture." But in a clarification of that statement, a top White House official refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect Americans from terrorist attack. The comment, by US national security adviser Stephen Hadley, came amid heated national debate about whether the CIA and other US intelligence agencies should be authorized to use what is being referred to as "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract from terror suspects information that may help prevent future attacks. And Smirkey wonders why he has no credibility anymore.

Is the US ready to destroy what it has created? A world summit on the Internet is heading for a showdown over online governance, amid attempts to shift the balance of power away from the US, with a serious threat that the seamless worldwide Internet as we know it could become a thing of the past if the United States does not give up its absolute control of the Domain Name System. Delegates from some 170 countries gathered in Tunis yesterday to start a final attempt to break their three-year deadlock on the issue, said Agence France-Presse. The outcome could determine who eventually controls the technical and administrative infrastructure at the root of the Internet, which allows the computer network to function seamlessly worldwide. Some officials fear the dispute could degenerate and eventually lead to the 'balkanization' of the Internet, breaking it up into a series of unconnected rival networks. At the moment the Internet is administered mainly by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based independent body which is awarded the task by the US government on a renewable tender. ICANN was set up in California in 1998 when the Internet boom was largely focused on the US. It is run by a group of free-spirited enthusiasts who were anxious to avoid regulation of the Internet. However, the exponential growth of Internet connections worldwide, and the web's growing economic and social importance, have prompted opposition to the US monopoly. "The idea that the Internet is an unregulated haven, these days are finished," a source close to the talks said.

The CIA is in trouble with Spain: The Spanish National Court has received a prosecutor's report on allegations that the CIA used an airport on the Spanish island of Mallorca for a program of covert transfers of terror suspects, court officials said Monday. The chief prosecutor for the Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca, submitted the 114-page report to the court in July, after a four-month investigation prompted by articles in a Mallorca newspaper, the court officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because court rules bar them from giving their names. The newspaper, Diario de Mallorca, said Spanish police have identified three planes used by the CIA at the airport in Palma, the capital of the Mediterranean island, in its ``extraordinary rendition'' program, in which terror suspects were transferred to third countries without court approval, for the purpose of subjecting them to torture. Italy and Germany are also considering judicial inquiries into potential criminal offences related to CIA operations in Europe.

CIA interrogators apparently tried to cover up the death of an Iraqi 'ghost detainee' who died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib prison, Time magazine reported today, after obtaining hundreds of pages of documents, including an autopsy report, about the case. The death of secret detainee Manadel al-Jamadi was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy, Time reported, adding that documents it recently obtained included photographs of his battered body, which had been kept on ice to keep it from decomposing, apparently to conceal the circumstances of his death. Jamadi was abducted by US Navy Seals on November 4, 2003, on suspicion of harboring explosives and involvement in the bombing of a Red Cross centre in Baghdad that killed 12 people, and was placed in Abu Ghraib as an unregistered detainee. Has anybody been arrested for the murder? No. Will anybody be arrested? Not if Dick Cheney has anything to say about it.

If Judge Alito becomes Justice Alito, he will be reviewing a decision of a lower court on which he has already ruled. The Supreme Court has decided examine a Pennsylvania prison policy of taking away print news from inmates. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the ban violated the free-speech rights of inmates. However, as The Wall Street Journal reports today, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, while on the Second Circuit, filed a dissent against the ruling. Judge Alito, one of the lower-court judges in the case, had filed a dissent and argued that the state should be allowed to withhold the news. Judge Alito said that they were "temporary, last-resort restrictions" and weren't unconstitutional. He said in his dissent that prison officials could encourage good inmate behavior with the promise of newspapers to those who behave.

Sony's controversial anti-piracy CD software has been labelled as spyware by Microsoft, and will produce software to remove it from users' systems. The software giant said the XCP copy protection system, described here in detail previously, counted as malicious software under the rules it uses to define what Windows should be protected against. It is planning to include detection and removal tools for XCP in its weekly update to its anti-spyware software. The news came as Sony BMG suspended production of CDs that use XCP. Microsoft's decision to label the XCP system spyware was revealed on the corporate blog maintained by the software maker's anti-malware team. Writing in the blog, Jason Garms, one of the senior managers in the anti-malware team, said the XCP software qualified as spyware under the "objective criteria" Microsoft uses to assess potentially malicious programs. Specifically XCP uses a "root-kit" to conceal itself deep inside the Windows operating system. "Root-kits have a clearly negative impact on not only the security, but also the reliability and performance of their systems," said Mr Garms in the blog entry. XCP was used only on Sony CDs sold in the United States.

More than 5,000 high school students in five of Massachusetts' largest school districts have removed their names from military recruitment lists, a trend driven by continuing casualties in Iraq and a well-organized peace movement that has urged students to avoid contact with recruiters. The number of students removing their names has jumped significantly over the past year, especially in school systems with many low-income and minority students, where parents and activists are growing increasingly assertive in challenging military recruiters' access to young people. Since 2002, under the federal No Child Left Behind law, high schools have been required to provide lists of students' names, telephone numbers, and addresses to military recruiters who ask for them, as well as colleges and potential employers. Students who do not wish to be contacted -- or their parents -- notify their school districts in writing. In Boston, about 3,700 students, or 19 percent of those enrolled in the city's high schools, have removed their names from recruiting lists. At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 952 high school students, more than half the student body, ordered the school system not to give their names to the military this year. Overall, approximately 18 percent of the public high school students eligible in Cambridge, Boston, Worcester, Lowell, and Fall River have opted to remove their names. Though no official national statistics are available, a group founded six months ago to raise awareness of the law said visitors to its website have downloaded 37,000 copies of a form that can be used to remove students' names from the recruiting lists.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said yesterday that one lesson of the faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq is that senators would take a hard look at intelligence before voting to go to war. "I think a lot of us would really stop and think a moment before we would ever vote for war or to go and take military action," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) said on Fox News Sunday. Hmm... stop and think just a moment? Not even an hour? Or a day? Now that is taking your responsibility seriously, senator! All in favor of requiring senators' and congresspersons' eligible kids to go to war before asking anyone else's to go, signify by raising your hand...

Police harassment of relief workers in New Orleans has become a problem: The arrest and alleged abuse of an activist has pushed local relief workers, who have complained of harassment since the early days after Katrina, to demand a solution so they can get on with their vital work. In their efforts to help the struggling residents of New Orleans, local relief activists say they have become a target for police harassment. We’re not here for any confrontation," said Malik Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Collective, a grassroots organization. "We are only here to serve the community." Rahim was addressing a press conference Friday after police arrested a volunteer working with the group. Ironically, the volunteer, Greg Griffith from Ohio, had been monitoring the police when they arrested him.

News of the first vaccine with which you may be forcibly injected under the new "bioterrorism" law: Two companies are reporting rapid progress in developing a new smallpox vaccine designed to be safer than the standard one, and a third company, with no government support, is developing yet another new vaccine. That vaccine could offer significant advantages if terrorists were to unleash the smallpox germ in several cities at once, requiring the vaccination of huge numbers of people. The government stumbled badly in its campaign after Sept. 11, 2001, to vaccinate health care workers who would respond to a smallpox attack. It has since spent millions to fund development of a new, safer vaccine and has already decided to order enough to protect at least 10 million people. It could buy far more if money becomes available.

War on terror? What war on terror? The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect nuclear weapons from terrorists and its handling of terrorism suspects is undermining America's image in the Muslim world, members of the 9/11 commission said on Monday. Although Smirkey calls arms proliferation the country's biggest threat and al Qaeda has sought nuclear weapons for a decade, the former commission's chairman Thomas Kean said, "the most striking thing to us is that the size of the problem still totally dwarfs the policy response." "In short, we still do not have a maximum effort against the most urgent threat ... to the American people," he told a news conference, noting that half the nuclear materials in Russia still have no security upgrade. The bipartisan commission was established by the U.S. Congress to investigate the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network that killed nearly 3,000 people. It formally disbanded after submitting its final report in July last year, but members continue working as the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, which tracks implementation of the report's recommendations. Monday's report recorded little progress on combating weapons proliferation as well as on U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy issues, "This kind of grade -- unfulfilled, insufficient, minimal progress -- those grades are failing grades ... That is an unacceptable response," Commission member Timothy Roemer said.

Fears for Afghanistan's future emerged in the wake of suggestions, by the British and Iraqi governments, that British troops could begin pulling out of Iraq by the end of next year. For British troops, however, yesterday's violence in Kabul was a taste of what they will face next year when they deploy to the turbulent province of Helmand as part of a move by Nato to take over security in the Taliban heartlands. John Reid, the British Secretary of State for Defence, told Parliament that Britain faced a "prolonged" involvement in the country. Mr Reid said British troops had to open fire to defend their camp in Kabul against "unauthorised entry". Few further details emerged, but Mr Reid said British troops were not targeted in the car bombings. A German soldier died when the Nato vehicle he was travelling in was rammed by a Toyota Corolla stuffed with explosives just after 3pm local time. Two German soldiers and three Afghan civilians were wounded. An hour later, another Nato vehicle was rammed in a near-identical attack on the same road. Three Afghan civilians were killed, including a young boy, and two Greek soldiers were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks. "We have plans for more of the same," Mullah Dadullah, a top-ranking Taliban commander, said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

Spain is launching an investigation into claims that CIA planes carrying terror suspects on "extraordinary rendition" flights made secret stopovers on Spanish soil. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso made the announcement on Spanish television on Tuesday. He said that if proven, such activities could damage relations between the Spanish and US governments. According to Spanish press reports, the CIA is suspected of having used Majorca for such prisoner transfers. "If it were confirmed as true, we would, of course, be looking at very serious cases," Mr Alonso told the private channel Telecinco. The suspect flights - 10 in total - came to light in a report submitted by Spain's Civil Guard to the prosecutor's office of the Balearics Supreme Court in June, Spain's El Pais newspaper reported.

Scientists have discovered sexually altered fish off the Southern California coast, raising concerns that treated sewage discharged into the ocean contains chemicals that can affect an animal's reproductive system. So-called intersex animals are not new, but most previous instances were in freshwater. Environmentalists say this is among the first studies to document the effects in a marine environment. Last year, federal scientists reported finding egg-growing male fish in Maryland's Potomac River. They think the abnormality may be caused by pollutants from sewage plants, feedlots and factories. In the latest studies, presented at Monday's Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Baltimore, scientists caught 82 male English sole and hornyhead turbot off Los Angeles and Orange counties. Of those, 11 possessed ovary tissue in their testes, said Doris Vidal of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, who led one of the studies. Scientists do not yet know how such sexual defects affect the overall fish population.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: The Food and Drug Administration did not follow its usual procedures in rejecting an application for over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B, the investigating arm of Congress found today. Plan B is strongly opposed by religious conservatives, who view it as an encouragement of promiscuity. The Government Accountability Office also said in its 57-page report that there were questions about whether top officials of the F.D.A. made the decision to reject the application for over-the-counter sales of the drug, which is opposed by some religious conservatives, even before its own advisory committee had issued its recommendation on the matter. Several legislators and scientists have complained that the F.D.A. was putting politics ahead of science in its handling of the contraceptive, which can be used as emergency, morning-after contraception. The G.A.O. said in its report that "the Plan B decision was not typical of the other 67 proposed" changes from prescription to over-the-counter sales that the agency received from 1994 through 2004. The G.A.O. report suggested that top F.D.A. officials had discussed turning down the application for over-the-counter sales of Plan B as early as December 2003, even though its advisory panels had not yet weighed in.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Buried in the C-section of the Wall Street Journal, Steven D. Jones reveals yesterday that "Oil companies operating in the U.S. typically pay taxes at or above the 35% rate on corporate profits. But for about one in four big oil companies, tax rates have fallen recently, even as profits have soared." Of the 87 publicly traded oil companies with a market capitalization of more than $1 billion, the effective tax rates of 21 companies fell in the most recent quarter compared with average rates paid over the trailing 12 months, Reuters data show. Royal Dutch Shell PLC's tax rate fell to 37% in the third quarter from 41%, BP PLC's declined to about 27% from more than 30% and Burlington Resources Inc.'s dropped to about 33% from 37%. The rates were derived by dividing the amount of income tax paid by taxable income.

US retail sales fell 0.1% in October, dragged down by weak sales of new cars after the end of summer discounts. Despite the fall, experts said the figures were better than expected and that the outlook for the crucial pre-Christmas period remained bright. Excluding car sales, total retail sales increased by 0.9% last month.

News From The Wreckage Of The U.S.S. Bush: A new Newsweek Poll, just released, show that by a margin of nearly 3 to 2, Americans polled disapprove of the way Smirkey is handling his job as president - an all time low in the Newsweek Poll. After recent events, such as the withdrawal of the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination and the indictment of Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, 58 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of his job-a five-point decrease in approval since the September 29-30 Newsweek Poll. On the topic of how Smirkey is handling certain aspects of his job, 60 percent of those polled disapprove of the way he is handling the economy, 32 percent approve. 73 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of oil prices, 20 percent approve.

Is Smirkey's crowd going to be thrown out on its ear next year? Here in distant Costa Rica, I can almost hear everyone shouting, "we certainly hope so!" But not so fast. Even the most optimistic Democrat has to wonder, deep down, whether big, 1994-style change is possible in the current House. Redistricting and other incumbent protections have created a Republican fortress in recent years, with so little turnover that even the party's relatively narrow majority is very hard to crack. In the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent re-election rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent, among the highest since World War II. In 2004, only seven incumbents were defeated in the general election, four of them Texas Democrats pushed into new districts engineered by Republicans. So many districts have become safe, tilted to one party with the help of redistricting, that political analysts can identify only two or three dozen House seats that are, at the moment, competitive. Gaining 15 seats out of that small a group would be like threading a needle. In contrast, 15 months before the 1994 election, the Cook Political Report, an independent handicapper of House races, rated 89 seats as competitive - based on fund-raising, the strength of the incumbent and the challenger, and the political demographics of the district.

Is the Bush family name becoming a liability? Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of U.S. President George W. Bush, ruled out running for president in 2008 but left open the possibility of a subsequent bid in an interview with a German magazine published on Sunday. Jeb Bush, who is scheduled to visit Germany this week, told Focus weekly he had not thought much about running for the office held by his father and older brother except to rule out the next election at the end of George W. Bush's second term. "You should never say never. But for the 2008 election, my answer is definitely no," he said, in comments translated into German by the magazine.

News From The "War On Drugs": The expansion and modernization of an existing Ecuadorian Aero Police air base is the latest Drug War brainchild to come out of the U.S. State Dept. Indeed, the U.S. Embassy in Quito and State's Miami-based Regional Procurement Support Office only today began searching for potential contractors capable of launching Phase One of the project. It's unclear whether there is a direct connection between this initiative and an ongoing U.S. Air Force project to expand counterdrug Forward Operating Locations in Manta, Ecuador, and elsewhere in the hemisphere. The first phase of the Ecuadorian Aero Police project will begin in early 2006, when the State Dept. hopes to break ground on the construction of several facilities at the Santo Domingo de los Colorados airport, located in Ecuador's Pichincha province, a Nov. 14 contracting document says.

News From Smirkey's War: Bowing to the politically inevitable, British troops could leave Iraq in just over a year, the country's President, Jalal Talabani, said in the clearest indication yet of a timetable for withdrawal from the conflict. Mr Talabani's statement yesterday was immediately backed by Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, John Reid, and General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the Army, as a feasible exit schedule. The timescale tallies with contingency plans drawn up by the Ministry of Defence for extracting the British force of about 8,000 from Iraq as the military prepares for greater commitment in Afghanistan.

Two former Iraqi detainees tell ABC News in an exclusive interview that they were repeatedly tortured by U.S. forces seeking information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. Thahee Sabbar and Sherzad Khalid are two of eight men who, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Human Rights First, are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The men claim they were tortured for months, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law. Torture has been the center of controversy lately. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War - has sparked a heated debate after his proposed amendment to ban torture was reportedly the subject of intense lobbying by Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought an exemption for CIA officers. When asked about it, President Bush said, "Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people ... Any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture." But after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal - according to the Pentagon's own investigations - it is irrefutable that U.S. forces have tortured detainees, many of whom claim they had no involvement at all with al Qaeda or the insurgency in Iraq, but were nonetheless arrested by U.S. soldiers and physically abused.

Iraq's government says it has begun an investigation into the alleged abuse of more than 170 detainees held by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. The prisoners, many malnourished and some showing signs of torture, were found when US troops took control of an interior ministry building on Sunday. The US raid followed repeated enquiries by the parents of a missing teenager. Iraq's prime minister has promised to find those responsible for any abuse. Most of those held were Sunnis. The report casts new doubts about the preparedness of the Iraqis to assume responsibility for their security next year as members of the U.S. Senate have been demanding.

Proof that Smirkey's war is making terrorism worse, not better: The Iraqi woman who failed in her bid to blow herself up in an Amman hotel had three brothers killed by U.S. forces, friends of the woman said Tuesday. The killings of Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi's three brothers in Iraq's volatile Anbar province is being considered as a possible motivation behind her bid to take part in last week's triple bombings, which killed 60 people, including her husband and two Iraqi bombers. Friends of al-Rishawi, who comes from Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi, told The Associated Press that three of her brothers were killed by U.S. forces. Thamir al-Rishawi, regarded as a known member of an al-Qaida in Iraq terror cell operating in Anbar, was killed during the April 2004 U.S. operations in Fallujah when an air-to-ground missile hit his pickup. In a response to the bombings, Jordanian officials unveiled tough new anti-terror measures, including a suspension of habeas corpus for detainees.

Did US troops use chemical weapons in Falluja? The answer is yes. The proof is not to be found in the documentary broadcast on Italian TV last week, which has generated gigabytes of hype on the internet. It's a turkey, whose evidence that white phosphorus was fired at Iraqi troops is flimsy and circumstantial. But the bloggers debating it found the smoking gun. The first account they unearthed, reported here earlier, in a magazine published by the US army. In the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, officers from the 2nd Infantry's fire support element boast about their role in the attack on Falluja in November last year: "White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out." The second, in California's North County Times, was by a reporter embedded with the marines in the April 2004 siege of Falluja. "'Gun up!' Millikin yelled ... grabbing a white phosphorus round from a nearby ammo can and holding it over the tube. 'Fire!' Bogert yelled, as Millikin dropped it. The boom kicked dust around the pit as they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call 'shake'n'bake' into... buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week." White phosphorus is not listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can be legally used as a flare to illuminate the battlefield, or to produce smoke to hide troop movements from the enemy. Like other unlisted substances, it may be deployed for "Military purposes... not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare". But it becomes a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against people. A chemical weapon can be "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm".

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, the convicted embezzler once embraced and then shunned by Smirkey, is now being embraced again, at least off-camera. He held talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday but the Pentagon did not allow television cameras to record the event. He also held a private meeting at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney after his 45 minutes of talks with Rumsfeld, but Cheney's office would not provide details. Chalabi's trip to Washington has angered Iraq war critics who have denounced the visit of the man most associated with discredited prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democratic lawmakers have demanded to know why Chalabi was meeting top U.S. officials after allegations he had passed American secrets to Iran and they urged congressional committees to subpoena him for testimony. Last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Chalabi but did not appear publicly with him, underscoring the political sensitivity of the meeting.

News Of The Weird: Evolutionary selection working on Mormon missionaries - it was profanity that caused a 21-year-old man to jump to his death from a moving truck in South Jordan, Utah. Tyler Poulson was riding with his brothers when he became offended by one of them using profanity. Poulson, who recently returned from an LDS mission, threatened to jump out of the truck if he continued. One of the men, not thinking he would, told Poulson to do so. Police said the car was going about 35 miles an hour when Poulson opened the door and jumped. He was pronounced dead on scene.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:48:12 PM

Sun, Nov 13 2005

An Afternoon In La Fortuna

The weather has continued its miserable rainy spell of the last week or so, with rain most of the day yesterday, and through this morning. I haven't been much in the mood to venture out in it, so other than shopping on Friday, I have been pretty much indoors waiting it out. But this afternoon, however, the clouds broke up and the sun came out, and it was a glorious rainy-season afternoon.

A reader of this blog had some relatives coming into the country, who had volunteered to bring me a few things, and what I needed most was some new blue jeans. They're ordinarily fairly easy to get here for most people, and I would not have had them bother, except that my ever expanding waist line means I can't find any big enough to fit me these days, and what very rare big-boy sizes there are, are horribly expensive, and my old jeans, besides being worn out, are rather tight in the middle these days. So they graciously brought a couple of pair into the country for me. But since they were not traveling to Arenal, it was beholden upon me to meet them at their nearest approach, which was at a resort just out of La Fortuna.

We arranged to meet at their hotel at one PM, so by half past 11, I got on the road and headed east along the north shore of Lake Arenal. It is always one of my favorite drives in the country, in spite of the lousy condition of the road - it weaves its way through secondary and some primary rain forest, in and out of the jungle, with occasional glimpses of the lake and even the volcano in the distance. It is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire country.

I had been told that the road had been repaved along much of its length and that it was in fine shape, but after this long, wet rainy season, I knew better than to trust it, so I headed out early, making sure I had plenty of time. Sure enough, about three miles east of Arenal, I hit the last significant unpaved stretch, 2.4 miles long, with yawning potholes, and some fresh mud holes that were difficult to maneuver even in my four-wheel drive SUV. So much for the hundreds of millions of colones that were supposedly spent early this year cleaning it up. I suspect that someday, the politicians will finally figure out that spending two or three times as much just once to finally pave the darned thing will keep them from having to fork out money to re-grade it and re-level it and make it passable again at the beginning of every tourist season, year after year. And the emergency appropriation that was done this year to repair that section of road is not much in evidence, I am afraid to say. If they would pave that road to a reasonable standard, just the beauty of the drive along it would make it a tourist attraction in its own right, and help pay back the cost in the tax revenue it would help to generate, as well as reduce the cost of imported fuel, because of the improved travel time. A twenty-five mile stretch of road, and it takes more than an hour to negotiate it, with just 2.4 miles of that stretch accounting for half of that travel time.

Anyway, after clearing the bad stretch and getting back onto the pavement, I thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the journey, weaving in and out of the jungle and enjoying the occasional views of the lake and the volcano. I arrived on time at the hotel, and went in to meet the ladies. They soon appeared and we went to the resort's restaurant for lunch. It was a bit pricey, but hey, they're running an extraction industry there - extracting money from tourists - so that was to be expected. The place was clean and quite elegant by Tico standards, and quite the step up from my usual style of ramshackle sodas and fleabag hotels.

We had a very pleasant lunch in the resort's beautiful setting, during which the rains pretty much ended, and we even enjoyed a bit of sun from time to time, though with no good views of the volcano, unfortunately. They asked me to drop them off by the hot springs at Tabacon, which I did, as I had no further business in Fortuna, being that it was Sunday and all the stores were closed anyway. I was back here after dodging the potholes and mud bogs, by half past three, and enjoyed a pleasant nap with the sun finally streaming in through my bedroom window for the first time in weeks. Dressed in a brand new pair of jeans.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: For almost eight centuries the "great writ" of habeas corpus has been a bedrock principle of English and American law, from the Magna Carta to today's jails and courts. It's the means for a prisoner to contest his imprisonment before a judge. That's one reason legal experts were stunned when the Senate, after a single hour of debate, voted Thursday to overturn the Supreme Court's extension of habeas corpus protection to 500-plus detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, and anyone else, including American citizens, who had been designated as "enemy combatants." Opponents vowed Friday to fight the measure, and negotiators on the issue said the Senate may reconsider it early next week. The White House, which previously has opposed oversight of Guantanamo by Congress and the courts, supports the Senate action, spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said Friday. Opponents are scrambling to overturn the Senate vote. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M, is planning an amendment that would remove the habeas corpus provision from Graham's proposal, and the Senate may take that up Monday. John Hutson, a retired rear admiral and former judge advocate general of the Navy, is rounding up signatures from about 60 former officers who oppose the proposal. The National Institute of Military Justice, a nonpartisan legal group, is also opposing the measure. Opponents described the battle in dramatic terms: "The conscience of our nation is up for grabs," said Michael Ratner, whose Center for Constitutional Rights was the first group to challenge the Guantanamo detentions. During the debate, the U.S. Senate demanded a classified account of whether the CIA was running a secret prison system. The call was made following a newspaper report of such a prison network abroad, including facilities in Eastern Europe, that added to concerns in America and overseas about the fate of those held in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

The main talking point for the right wing, lately, has been that the Democrats who voted to give Smirkey permission to go to war had the same intelligence as the President. That's a huge lie and they know it. The Dems did not know what Smirkey knew,as Smirkey and his propagandists say. The Dems who voted to give Smirkey the power to start a war knew what Smirkey told them. They knew what was filtered by the administration. That's hugely different than knowing the same thing. It's such a blatantly simple lie it's hard to understand why each and every time a right wing pundit or spokesman utters the lie the news anchor or moderator doesn't get in his face and confront it. "You mean the Democrats knew what the Smirkey administration told them, don't you?" What the Democrats did not know was that the CIA and others had told Smirkey the information they were sharing with the Democrats was unreliable or just plain bad information. Maybe Smirkey lied to the Republican Senators too. Maybe the Republican senators also trusted Smirkey to be telling the truth. Maybe both the Democrats and Republicans were deceived by the half truths Smirkey told.

A U.S.-backed Mideast democracy and development summit ended in rancor Saturday despite adoption of two initiatives that are part of Smirkey's claimed push to expand political freedom in a region dominated by monarchies and effective single-party rule. A draft declaration on democratic and economic principles was scuttled after Egypt insisted on language that would have given Arab governments greater control over charitable and good-government organizations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not speak at the close of the conference, which was hosted by the Group of Eight economic giants and Arab nations but which was largely a U.S. initiative. As one would expect, Rice used the start of the conference earlier Saturday as an opportunity to criticize political repression in Syria and call for the release of political prisoners there. "We continue to support the Syrian people's aspirations for liberty, democracy, and justice under the rule of law," Rice said. The United States has called on Syria to stop what it calls the arbitrary detention of pro-democracy and human rights activists. Smirkey had earlier called on Syria to "stop exporting violence and start importing democracy". Responding to the criticism, Syria accused the US of a "hidden agenda". "I expect everything because they build their policies on a hidden agenda," Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara told reporters in Bahrain without giving details.

Gotta dance with them that brung ya: The Democratic National Committee under Howard Dean is losing the fundraising race against Republicans by nearly 2 to 1, a slow start that is stirring concern among strategists who worry that a cash shortage could hinder the party's competitiveness in next year's midterm elections. The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate took the chairmanship of the national party eight months ago, riding the enthusiasm of grass-roots activists who relished his firebrand rhetorical style. But he faced widespread misgivings from establishment Democrats, including elected officials and Washington operatives, who questioned whether Dean was the right fit in a job that traditionally has centered on fundraising and the courting of major donors. Now, the latest financial numbers are prompting new doubts. From January through September, the Republican National Committee raised $81.5 million, with $34 million remaining in the bank. The Democratic National Committee, by contrast, showed $42 million raised and $6.8 million in the bank. "The degree to which the fundraising has not been competitive is obviously troublesome," said former congressman Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), who is now a lobbyist here. He expressed confidence in Tom McMahon, Dean's executive director at the DNC.

The electoral sausage machine is still grinding out its sausage: A lawsuit looking into the legality of the 2004 presidential election in New Mexico has been blocked by obstructionism on the part of electoral officials trying to cover up possible misdeeds. In the past week, two New Mexico election officials refused to allow the voter plaintiffs in the case of Patricia Rosas Lopategui v. Rebecca Vigil-Giron, et al. to conduct meaningful inspections of their electronic voting machines. This despite clear indications that there were serious problems in last years presidential election with these same machines, which do not produce a voter-verifiable and auditable paper record. Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera has given no explanation for her sudden, flat refusal to permit any inspection after weeks of discussions between plaintiffs attorneys and attorneys for the county. Plaintiffs have sworn statements from Bernalillo County voters who tried to vote on the county's paperless touchscreen voting machines, manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems, and whose votes were switched before their eyes from the candidate they supported to a different candidate. Plaintiffs also have evidence that the county's widespread use of another type of paperless machine, the Shoup 1242, resulted in the erasure of votes that citizens tried to cast for presidential candidates.

News From The Wreckage Of The U.S.S. Bush: Smirkey not only has to watch what is happening in the States, but in the U.K. as well - it appears that an effort to impeach Tony Blair is gaining momentum - and it is going to focus on pre-war intelligence used by both countries to justify the war in Iraq, which could lead to some very embarrassing revelations for Smirkey. MPs organising the campaign to impeach Tony Blair believe they have enough support to force a highly damaging Commons investigation into the Prime Minister’s pre-war conduct. A renewed attempt to impeach Blair over claims he misled parliament in making his case for war against Iraq, will be made in the Commons within the next two weeks. The impeachment process effectively stalled last year when just 23 MPs signed a Commons motion. But the scale of the government's defeat on its anti-terror legislation last week – where 49 Labour MPs rebelled – has galvanized the momentum for proceedings to be invoked. Organizers say they are expecting 200 cross-party signatures, including those of former government ministers, to force the Commons to set up a Privy Council investigation that would examine in detail the case for impeachment against Blair. The size of the Labour revolt, allied to unified opposition benches, is said to have changed the climate inside the Commons.

Looking ahead three years, it's still not looking good for the Dems: If the 2008 presidential election were held today, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a man who graduated dead last in his class at the Naval Academy, would snuff Senator John Kerry by 53% to 35%, and sneak ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton by 44% to 42%, according to a Wall Street Journal poll released Friday. The poll's numbers are in line with previous polls -- but are one of the first surveys to put Sen. Kerry behind former Sen. John Edwards. Edwards declared yesterday that he made a mistake in voting for the Iraq war - which could put his numbers higher in future polls.

News From Smirkey's War: Unless Smirkey significantly cuts American troop levels in Iraq next year, the U.S. military's roughly 140,000-strong presence there will become a detriment to America's national security, according to a report released this week. In the latest instance of foreign policy experts calling for Smirkey to set a timetable for U.S. troop reductions in Iraq, the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff John Podesta, Wednesday said the future of America's military hangs in the balance. "It has become clear that if we still have 140,000 ground troops in Iraq a year from now, we will destroy the all-volunteer army," said the a report written by the center's Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis. Korb served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.

Winning The War On Terror: The United States created the myth around Iraq insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and reality followed, becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni said. Al-Zarqawi was born Ahmad Fadil al-Khalayleh in October 1966 in the crime and poverty-ridden Jordanian city of Zarqa. But his myth was born Feb. 5, 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the United Nations the case for war with Iraq. Napoleoni, the author of "Insurgent Iraq," told reporters last week that Powell's argument falsely exploited Zarqawi to prove a link between then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. She said that through fabrications of Zarqawi's status, influence and connections "the myth became the reality" - a self-fulfilling prophecy."He became what we wanted him to be. We put him there, not the jihadists," Napoleoni said. Iraq's most notorious insurgent, Napoleoni argues, accomplished what bin Laden could not: "spread the message of jihad into Iraq."

Republicans Supporting The Troops: In a response to Smirkey's Veteran's Day speech issued by OpTruth.org, "the nation's first and largest organization for Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," their Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff expressed disappointment in Smirkey's just-completed Veterans' Day speech to troops in Pennsylvania. "Those of us who fought in Iraq deserve to know why we became veterans in the first place," Reickhoff said in a statement that went on to call for a "real investigation into prewar intelligence." In a speech staged in front of military gear to an audience of enlisted men and women at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, Smirkey took the opportunity to take a few swipes at his political opposition. "Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and mislead the American people about why we went to war," Smirkey said before taking the opportunity to manipulate those listening with the Administration's latest misleading talking point to deflect criticism of their use of prewar intelligence. But continuing his addiction to lying in his speeches, Smirkey's speech included a reference to yet another forged document, this one the faked Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi which is now being cited as the main justification for staying the course in Iraq.

Veterans' health care is getting a short shrift, according to former U.S. military commander in the Middle East retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar. He said "President Bush has consistently refused to provide enough" money for veterans' health care. "Earlier this year, his administration admitted that they were $1 billion short in funding for critical health care services," he said. "They also repeatedly tried to increase the cost of prescription drugs and health care services for veterans nationwide." The Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged in April that it had underestimated medical care costs. Congress reacted by approving an additional $1.5 billion in emergency funds for the current budget year. Hoar also said, "Thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will require mental health care, yet the Bush administration has not taken action to deal with this emerging problem."

More than a year ago, Congress passed a law giving extra college money to as many as 175,000 veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and other actions in the war on terrorism. Specifically targeting activated members of the reserves and National Guard, the benefit is worth as much at $827 a month. But as a second Veterans Day goes by, not a single check has been mailed and most reservists haven't even applied for it. The program remains in bureaucratic limbo. The Department of Defense is still creating a database of eligible veterans that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to process benefit applications. Those who are eligible haven't been told they qualify.

Free Markets Solves All Problems: Billing and insurance paperwork consume at least one out of every five dollars of private insurance health spending in California, according to a new study by health policy researchers. The findings suggest that about $230 billion in health care spending nationally is devoted to insurance administration. "Over the last decade, administrative costs have accounted for 25 percent of health care spending. Little has been known, however, about the portion attributable to billing and insurance-related functions," said James G. Kahn, MD, MPH, principal study investigator and professor at the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

The corporate-owned newspaper chains have a problem. They have lied and distorted so much on behalf of their own agendas that no one believes them anymore, and it is costing them money. On Monday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations releases its semiannual figures on circulation - and they are expected to show that paying readers continue to disappear at an alarming rate during the latest six-month period. Challenged by online rivals, a dearth of younger readers and an advertising downturn, newspapers are suffering through their worst slump in years. The last ABC figures, which were released in May, were the worst for the industry in nine years, showing that average daily circulation had dropped 1.9% in the six months ended March 31 from a year ago. What the newspaper corporations haven't yet figured out is the obvious - why would people want to pay to be deliberately misinformed?

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The continuing economic expansion, combined with a continuing contraction in real wages, is a phenomenon that is set to continue for the indefinite future. "The combination of the global economy and offshoring puts pressures on companies not to raise wages, and then you have the decline of the union movement," said Edward Lawler, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "We've got two historical generators of wage-increases not occurring." "If you're not going to get wage pressure four years into the expansion, it does beg the question whether it will happen," said David Rosenberg, North American economist for Merrill Lynch. He notes that the wage and salary share of overall national income has fallen below 46%, the lowest since the mid-1990s. In past cycles, unemployment has ranged near 6% when wages have made such a small part of national income. But the current jobless rate is 5.1%. That's near what's been considered full employment.

While your real wages are going down, your living costs are going up - dramatically. U.S. electricity rates are 46 percent higher than a year ago, an industry group said Friday. U.S. wholesale day-ahead power prices in early November averaged $81.21 per megawatt hour compared to $55.72 per megawatt hour in early November 2004, said Platts National Daily Power Index. The year-to-year increase, driven largely by much higher natural gas prices, was even greater before day-ahead wholesale electricity prices fell 21 percent, or $21.06, from early October, when the Platts National Daily Power Index stood at $102.27. Natural gas prices have come down somewhat from their post-hurricane highs, and that means lower power prices, said Mike Wilczek, electric power market specialist for Platts. The usual 'shoulder season' price declines came late this year with hurricane damage driving up fuel costs for generation. Still, when you look at how much prices have risen since last year, it's quite dramatic.

A nation of unemployed engineers and biologists: Fox News Channel has a message for all you blue collar workers out there worried about losing your jobs to overseas competition: Tough luck. Neil Cavuto, on his "Cavuto on Business" show Saturday (November 12, 2005), interviewed John Stossel, the co-host of ABC-TV's "20/20" program and author of Give Me a Break, on the topic of manufacturing jobs going overseas. Sending jobs overseas creates new jobs, Stossel said, because when a company saves money by exporting jobs, it has more money to do new things. Cavuto asked Stossel, "People say manufacturing jobs are leaving. What do you say?" "Bye!" said Stossel, waving at the camera. "There's nothing wonderful about manufacturing jobs. I think if you look at what we want for our kids, that should answer the question. We don't want them working in a factory where the work is underpaid, I mean, is very hard, it may be uncomfortable. ... We want them taking jobs as engineers, as biologists. We think the services jobs are good for our kids. I think it's great if people in other countries want to manufacture things and we can just import it and pay for it with our service jobs."

Borrow and spend replaces tax and spend: Smirkey and his administration have borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 presidents combined, a group of conservative to moderate Democrats said Friday. Blue Dog Coalition, which describes itself as a group "focused on fiscal responsibility," called the administration's borrowing practices "astounding." According to the Treasury Department, from 1776-2000, the first 224 years of U.S. history, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a combined $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions, but in the past four years alone, the Bush administration borrowed $1.05 trillion.

Increasingly, the business media is suggesting that corporate leaders, who once hoped the current administration would push the corporate globalization of the Bill Clinton years to new heights, now fear another fate from the international order Smirkey has created. Tax cuts and deregulation on the domestic front have been obvious bonuses, but otherwise many US multinationals face a troubling scene. The White House's failed CEOs have pursued a global agenda that, at best, benefits a narrow slice of the American business community and leaves the rest exposed to a world of popular resentment and economic uncertainty. When it comes to the interventions of Smirkey, Cheney, Condi Rice and the neo-conservatives in the global economy, "at best an average job" might be a very charitable judgment, and "messed up big-time" would be a lot closer to reality.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad Against Civilization: As reported here in the past, the Jihad against both the morning-after pill and the vaccine against cervical cancer is proceeding apace, and now, it turns out, it has taken on your tax-dollars. Henry Waxman found that two-thirds of the abstinence-only education programs are teaching the "right message" as he puts it, but with false science. Your tax dollars are at work - to the tune of a billion dollars - teaching students that touching another person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," that "there's no such thing as 'safe' or 'safer' sex" and that loneliness, embarrassment, substance abuse and personal disappointment "can be eliminated by being abstinent until marriage." The lessons of abstinence-only expand from the classroom to the drugstore. Tuesday, the FDA yet again delayed putting Plan B emergency contraception on the shelves. One reason is the right wing's belief that young teenagers will get access to it. These "values conservatives" believe contrary to research that the morning-after pill will change the night-before behavior. Fear of pregnancy is almost as useful in their kit bag as fear of cancer. Of course, using such tactics will not only discredit the Talibaptists, but it will discredit education in general. Medical science is now working on vaccines for gonorrhea and chlamydia. If we come up with a vaccine for AIDS, which do you choose: an abstinence pledge or a cure?

News From The Republican War On Waste In Government: Since Katrina recovery has begun, the problem of dealing with destroyed schools has loomed large. FEMA has let a no-bid contract to set up temporary trailer classrooms, and the details of that no-bid contract are coming out. It was apparently let to an Alaskan company that has connections with the Republicans (no surprise there), but the real surprise is the cost - twice what the trailers would cost had the bid gone to a Mississippi company that also sought the job.

Scandals Du Jour: Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald delayed a decision on whether to seek criminal charges against Karl Rove in large part because he wants to determine whether Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, can provide information on Rove's role in the CIA leak case, according to attorneys involved in the investigation. Even if Fitzgerald concludes in the near future that he does not have sufficient evidence to charge Rove, the special prosecutor would not rule out bringing charges at a later date and would not finish his inquiry on Rove until he hears whatever information Libby might provide - either incriminating or exculpatory - on Rove's role, the sources said.

Karl Rove, still under investigation for his alleged role in leaking the identity of an undercover CIA agent, faced possible implication in yet another scandal yesterday after the resignation of an ally accused of misusing public broadcasting funds for partisan political purposes. Kenneth Tomlinson, a friend of the powerful presidential adviser for a decade, was forced to resign on Thursday as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), where he set out to correct what he saw as liberal media bias. An internal report found he had overreached in those ambitions, spending taxpayer's money on a private political agenda.

Speaker Dick Hastert being added to Abramoff scandal: In June 2003, House Speaker Dennis Hastert sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton urging her to act in favor of clients of the scandal-plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported yesterday that investigators believe that Abramoff and his staff provided the congressmen with the letter's text. Three other representatives, including former House Majority leader Tom DeLay and the current majority leader Roy Blunt, co-signed the letter. Both DeLay and Blunt have close ties to Abramoff and have received thousands of dollars from his clients. The letter endorsed a view of gambling law that would block the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians from opening a casino nearby one owned by the Coushattas, an Abramoff client.

Smirkey digging himself in deeper: house Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) yesterday threatened to subpoena three members of Smirkey's cabinet as well as White House counsel Harriet Miers if they do not comply with document requests issued by his select committee on Hurricane Katrina response. During a committee hearing yesterday, Davis decried the failure of White House officials to release e-mails and other communication records related to the hurricane and its aftermath. Davis set a hard deadline of Nov. 18 for all federal agencies to comply with his requests. “If documents aren’t produced by that date, I’m ready to proceed with subpoenas,” Davis said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:27:01 PM

Fri, Nov 11 2005

The Rain Is Ruining My Lawn

Rain, rain and more rain. The rainy season is back to normal here in Arenal, and this means that it is raining seriously hard all night and most of the day. Yesterday and today have both been serious, hard-core rainy-season days. Temperatures a bit cool, but not unseasonably so.

The intertropical convergence zone, or ITCZ is a line of thunderstorms that goes right around the planet, and marks the physical boundary between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer, moving north in the northern summer and south in the northern winter - and its presence over Costa Rica is what gives us our rainy season. And right now, it is directly over Costa Rica and not predicted to move for some time. Meanwhile, disturbances along the ITCZ, called "tropical waves" that travel slowly from east to west can, and often do, cause the thunderstorms to coalesce into hurricanes. And right now, a tropical wave right over us is slowly causing the thunderstorms to organize into a larger storm, which may become a hurricane in a few days. Welcome tropical storm Gamma.

All this rain has caused much of my lawn grass to die out and be replaced by bog sedge, and the reason is that the underlying soil, which is almost entirely clay, simply does not drain very adequately. This means that the lawn is almost always spongy underfoot this time of year. So what I am considering doing is getting a large amount of sand, and spread it around on the lawn, giving the clay better drainage once it works its way in. I have noticed that where the sand removed from the drainage trenches in front of the house has fallen on the clay, the grass is growing better. Clearly, the clayish soil needs some improvement in texture.

A month ago, the gardener brought in a banano (bunch of bananas) from one of the banana plants in the garden. It is the first banano that this particular group of plants has produced. It is a different variety than the usual "Cavendish" variety so familiar from commerce. It is a short, fat, thin-skinned variety that the gardener told me is not a cooking banana, but is eaten fresh. He said it had a somewhat different flavor. I was eager to try them, to see how they compared to Cavendish. Well, they took forever to finally ripen, but now they are ready, so I was able to check them out. Indeed, they do taste somewhat different than Cavendish, it is a milder flavor, and considerably less sweet. I have tried them in a banana betido (milkshake), and they are quite good that way. Meanwhile, I also have a Cavendish banano ripening, and so I have bananas coming out my ears once again. But I'll freeze the excess and will have two flavors of bananas to choose from when making betidos. They have an unfortunate tendency to split open while ripening, so I suspect this is the reason they are not seen in commerce.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Coming 9/11: A confidential memo circulating among senior Republican leaders suggests that a new attack by terrorists on U.S. soil could reverse the sagging fortunes of President George W. Bush as well as the GOP and "restore his image as a leader of the American people." The closely-guarded memo lays out a list of scenarios to bring the Republican party back from the political brink, including a devastating attack by terrorists that could “validate” Smirkey's war on terror and allow Bush to “unite the country” in a “time of national shock and sorrow.” The memo says such a reversal in Smirkey's fortunes could keep the party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. GOP insiders who have seen the memo admit it’s a risky strategy.

By a 49-42 vote that broke largely along party lines, the Senate adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the defense authorization bill that would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus petitions from noncitizen detainees. Habeas corpus, the crown jewel of western freedom and liberty since the Magna Carta of 13th Century England, demands that a detainee be charged with a crime and tried before a jury, or be speedily released, rather than being detained indefinitely. For centuries, it has served as a central check on governmental power, permitting those held in custody to challenge the legality of their detention. Now, Smirkey and his crowd want to throw all that away, simply because they find it inconvenient, as tyrants always do of course. This measure is being advanced as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill. It would eliminate federal court jurisdiction, including the Supreme Court's, over habeas corpus applications (or any other form of action challenging such detention) filed by noncitizens held as "enemy combatants," and the habeas corpus petitions now working their way through the courts would be invalidated Maybe it is time to consider impeachment. It will certainly be time, a year from now, at election time, to throw the bastards out that voted for this turkey.

A US grand jury has indicted two men on charges of conspiring with foreign nations to smuggle surface-to-air missiles into the United States. The men are accused of planning to import missile systems designed to destroy aircraft. Chao Tung Wu and Yi Qing Chen, are both naturalized US citizens born in China now living in California. They were arrested after an undercover FBI investigation codenamed "Operation Smoking Dragon". The operation was a wide-ranging investigation into smuggling activities in southern California. The US attorney's office said the charges against the men mark the first time an anti-terrorism statute adopted a year ago had been used.

The thought police are getting ready to crack down - you could be thrown in jail for just trying to copy a CD: People who attempt to copy music or movies without permission could face jail time under legislation proposed by the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday. The bill, outlined by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at an anti-piracy summit, would widen intellectual-property protections to cover those who try but fail to make illicit copies of music, movies, software or other copyrighted material. It would also enable investigators to seize assets purchased with profits from the sale of illicit copies, as well as property such as blank CDs that might be used for future copying.

A coalition of labor, workplace safety and environmental groups is calling on senators to reject a bill that, the organizations say, would allow private contractors to violate environmental and worker protections in national disasters and other emergencies. Introduced on September 22 by Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) and co-sponsored by four other Republican lawmakers, the Gulf Coast Recovery Act is aimed at speeding the rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. It would do so, in part, by streamlining contractor-liability laws and pushing all related lawsuits into the federal court system. In a letter to Senators, opponents of the bill warned that the Gulf Coast Recovery Act "would give federal disaster contractors unprecedented legal immunity against environmentally based citizens’ suits and, in most cases, relieve federal contractors from responsibility for personal injuries and property damage they cause."

The Department of Defense has been caught in a bald-faced lie about its denial about the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah last year. The March edition of Field Artillery magazine, a U.S. Army publication, reveals that the U.S. military did in fact use the incendiary weapon white phosphorous in Fallujah, Iraq, a Daily Kos diarist has found. "WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition," the article's author wrote. "We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

That big, noisy fight about torture that was fought in Congress apparently was for naught: US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can authorize exceptions to a new Defense Department policy on military interrogations that bars torture and calls for "humane" treatment of detainees, a spokesman said. The new directive lays out broad policy governing interrogations of detainees in Defense Department custody, but leaves the definition of "humane" to a separate, yet to be released directive that is still being debated within the administration. A little noticed loophole in the directive, which was made public Tuesday, gives the secretary of defense or his deputy authority to override the policy.

The US and the EU are reportedly proposing to grant Iran the right to continue a limited nuclear program. Unnamed officials say the compromise would allow Iran to convert uranium into gas, as it has since August. But enriching the uranium, at which point weapons-grade material could be produced, would be done in Russia, before energy was transferred to Iran. Iran insists it has the right to pursue a nuclear energy program, and is yet to signal if it will accept the offer. Even if it does, it is uncertain if this will forestall the planned invasion of Iran.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi has been playing hard ball with Bush administration officials during his eight day trip to Washington D.C. According to senior associates of the Iraqi official, who have accompanied him to meetings with Bush administration officials, Mr. Chalabi has been threatening his friends in the Bush administration that if they do not support his candidacy to become the next prime minister of Iraq that there will be no way to contain Iran. He has told them in no uncertain terms that he is the only one who can make the Iranians behave. Such threats, whether accurate or not, ring sweetly in the ears of an administration desperately in search of solutions for a troubled region. Under harsh pressure from Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon to do something about Iran, the White House has approved a series of “highly intrusive and provocative’ intelligence operations against the government of Iran”, according to a highly placed official who formerly worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. These intelligence monitoring operations consist of everything from aerial surveillance missions that straddle Iranian airspace that are launched from Iraq and Kazakhstan, to even more controversial operations that shall remain nameless for the time being.

The U.S. patent office has reportedly granted a patent for an anti-gravity device -- breaking its rule to reject inventions that defy the laws of physics. The journal Nature said patent 6,960,975 was granted Nov. 1 to Boris Volfson of Huntington, Ind., for a space vehicle propelled by a superconducting shield that alters the curvature of space-time outside the craft in a way that counteracts gravity. One of the main theoretical arguments against anti-gravity is that it implies the availability of unlimited energy. "If you design an anti-gravity machine, you've got a perpetual-motion machine," Robert Park of the American Physical Society told Nature. Park said the action shows patent examiners are being duped by false science.

The New York Times has finally reached a settlement with Judith Miller, the White House media whore who "reported" for them on anything the White House wanted. The terms indicate that Judith will be permitted to publish a "farewell letter," after which the Times will have no further obligation to her. That publisher Arthur Sulzburger, Jr., still doesn't get it, is evidenced by his continuing support for her decision to go to jail rather than reveal a source. It was widely acknowledged by her colleagues on the Times that she really went to jail in an effort to restore her credibility; when she finally got out and testified before the grand jury, she conveniently seems to have forgotten the name of the source that she went to jail for 85 days to protect.

We're finally rid of him. Former FEMA chief Michael "I am a fashion god" Brown (yeah, he actually said that in an email to a colleague as New Orleans was beginning to flood) is no longer on the agency's payroll, the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday, ending nearly two months of compensation after he resigned under fire. Brown stepped down as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sept. 12 in the wake of the government's sluggish reaction to Hurricane Katrina and questions about his own disaster response experience. He remained on the FEMA payroll until Nov. 2, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said. Initially, Brown was permitted to continue collecting his $148,000 annual salary for 30 days after he resigned. Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he extended Brown's contract for an additional 30 days, until mid-November, to help the agency complete its review of the response to Katrina.

The end of Affirmative Action? Federal prosecutors are threatening to sue Southern Illinois University over three small graduate school scholarship programs aimed at women and minorities, saying they were discriminatory. SIU "has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males," the Justice Department said in a letter. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. The graduate scholarships, or fellowships, violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the department said. The letter demands SIU discontinue the fellowship programs or its civil rights division will sue the university by Nov. 18.

Republicans Showing Their Support For The Troops: Three days before Veterans Day - House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN) announced that for the first time in at least 55 years, “veterans service organizations will no longer have the opportunity to present testimony before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees.” Remember that Buyer was hand-picked by criminally-indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) to replace former veterans committee chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who had been extremely vocal about the consistent underfunding of veterans causes. The Disabled American Veterans, the “official voice of America’s service-connected disabled veterans,” just issued a scathing release calling the move “an insult to all who have fought, sacrificed and died to defend the Constitution.” The timing, they said, “could not have been worse.”

Latest News In The Sony Spyware/Malware Story: Stung by continuing criticism, the world's second-largest music label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, promised Friday to temporarily suspend making music CDs with antipiracy technology that can leave computers vulnerable to hackers. Sony defended its right to prevent customers from illegally copying music but said it will halt manufacturing CDs with the "XCP" technology as a precautionary measure. "We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use," the company said in a statement. Sony BMG is already facing three lawsuits over its controversial anti-piracy software. Revealed in late October by Windows expert Mark Russinovich and discussed here last week, the software copy protection system hides using virus-like techniques, causing problems for the computer and opening up serious security breaches, allowing virus writers to exploit the security breach. In fact, the first two such viruses have already been detected: "The first backdoor which utilizes the 'Sony rootkit' was detected today. We've classified this malicious program as Backdoor.Win32.Breplibot.b." according to a virus protection company posting on sysinternals.com. A Computerworld page details a trojan that also exploits the Sony malware. One class-action lawsuit has already been filed in California and another is expected in New York. The digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is also gathering information from users to see if a case can be brought. The row erupted following Mark Russinovich's discovery that Sony BMG in America was using a so-called "root kit," which modifies the operating system software, to conceal the program used to stop some of its CDs being copied. As discussed here earlier, the software can damage the computer and cannot be readily uninstalled. For this reason, users should check to see if the audio CD is copy-protected with XCD software before putting it in their computer. Users must apply to Sony to obtain access to the uninstall program, which must be run live on the internet using Internet Explorer software, and it is not easy to find or use. Sony admits to "about" 20 titles being "protected" with this software, but there are other labels involved as well. Current and growing lists of CDs including this software can be found on the Electronic Frontiers Foundation web site, and the Slashdot web site. Symantec has released a detector, but says it will not release an uninstaller. McAfee has released an uninstaller .

Double Standards And Hypocrisy Are Republican Family Values: Sen. Rick "Sactimonious" Santorum, R-Pa., whose religious fundamentalism have inspired critics to call him "the best mind of the 13th century," says that the No. 1 health care crisis in his state is medical lawsuit abuse and in the past he's called for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damage awards or awards for pain and suffering. "We need to do something now to fix the medical liability problem in this country," he declared at a rally in Washington D.C., this past spring. But Santorum's wife sued a doctor for $500,000 in 1999. She claimed that a botched spinal manipulation by her chiropractor led to back surgery, pain and suffering, and sued for twice the amount of a cap Santorum has supported. Santorum declined a request for an interview, so ABC's "Primetime" caught up with him at the signing of his new book in Pennsylvania this August to ask if he thinks his stance and history are in conflict. "I guess I could answer that in two ways," he said. "Number one is that I've supported caps. I've been very clear that I am not wedded at all to a $250,000 cap and I've said publicly repeatedly, and I think probably that is somewhat low, and that we need to look at what I think is a cap that is a little bit higher than that." Like at least twice that high, Senator? The jury was so moved it voted to award Karen Santorum $350,000. "That's where again you're misled is that a lot of, there was cumulative damages," he said. "The medical bills, lost income, all those other things that were out there." Those medical bills totaled $18,800, yet she sued for $500,000. And lost income? The judge made no mention of that when he slashed the jury's award in half, saying it was excessive.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: House leaders late Wednesday abandoned an attempt to push through a hotly contested plan to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, fearing it would jeopardize approval of a sweeping budget bill Thursday. They also dropped from the budget document plans to allow states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — regions currently under a drilling moratorium. The actions were a stunning setback for those who have tried for years to open a coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil development, and a victory for environmentalists, who have lobbied hard against the drilling provisions. President Bush has made drilling in the Alaska refuge his top energy priorities.

House Republican leadership is scrambling after being unable to pass a major budget bill following defections from numerous members of their own party. Rank-and-file Republicans are upset at the extent of spending cuts in the bill. Earlier this year, the House Republican leadership had passed a budget which enjoined lawmakers to cut spending by $35 billion while retaining $70 billion in tax cuts, mostly for corporations and the wealthy. The proposed budget would have cut spending by $50 billion, while retaining tax cuts. Republicans huddled for five hours before deciding to take up the measure next week, the Associated Press reported. "We weren't quite ready to go to the floor," Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters. "I think we'll have the votes next week." Democrats are cheering the budget's failure, saying that it gives away money to the wealthiest Americans. They also say the fact that Republicans can't get members of their own party to vote for it is testament to "how bad the bill is." Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said, "I think its evidence of how bad the bill is that they cannot get their members to support it. And you can be sure they pulled out all the stops and offered their members the moon... and nothing worked."

Congress is moving to curb some of the police powers it gave the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including imposing new restrictions on the FBI's access to private phone and financial records. A budding House-Senate deal on the expiring USA Patriot Act includes new limits on federal law enforcement powers and rejects the Bush administration's request to grant the FBI authority to get administrative subpoenas for wiretaps and other covert devices without a judge's approval. Even with the changes, however, every part of the law set to expire Dec. 31 would be reauthorized and most of those provisions would become permanent. Under the agreement, for the first time since the act became law, judges would get the authority to reject national security letters giving the government secret access to people's phone and e-mail records, financial data and favorite Internet sites. Holders of such information - such as banks and Internet providers - could challenge the letters in court for the first time, said congressional aides involved in merging separate, earlier-passed House and Senate bills reauthorizing the expiring Patriot Act.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, may have known that the case for military action in Iraq was thin before he presented it to the United Nations, RAW STORY has learned. In an interview earlier this year, Powell told ABC News’s Barbara Walters that he felt misled by the intelligence community and found the entire experience of presenting questionable information to the United Nations to be “painful... George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me," he said. “He believed what he was giving to me was accurate.” But according to individuals familiar with Powell’s conversations in the days leading up to his UN presentation, an exchange between Powell and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden (D-DE), indicates that the Secretary may have already had issue with the evidence presented for going to war with Iraq.

The Pentagon's inspector general has been asked to investigate the prewar intelligence role of a planning office headed by former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, a main architect of the Iraq war, officials said on Tuesday. The Pentagon's inspector general has been asked to investigate the prewar intelligence role of a planning office headed by former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, a main architect of the Iraq war, officials said on Tuesday. The request was made by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a letter sent in August. Douglas Feith is one of the neocons who helped write the document behind Israel's aggressive foreign policy a decade ago that first advocated the regime change in Iraq, and which became the basis for U.S. Middle East foreign policy under Smirkey. He was implicated in the Franklin-Israel spy scandal, as Franklin was his subordinate. He is also the man that Colin Powell's former chief of staff referred to as "the dumbest man I ever knew."

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, released Wednesday night, finds that all five of Bush’s job approval ratings - on overall job performance, the economy, foreign policy, terrorism and Iraq - are at all-time lows in the survey. In addition, the CIA leak scandal seems to be taking a toll on the administration, with nearly 80 percent believing the indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, is a serious matter, and with Bush experiencing a 17-point drop since January in those who see him as honest and straightforward.

In early November George W. Bush, struggling to claw his way upward in polls that had acquired the consistency of quicksand after two months of blunders and disasters, launched a new PR blitz. The Administration declared it was taking charge of the nation's health and security with an all-out war on the flu (to be conducted with vaccines provided by well-connected pharmaceutical companies). "Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland," Bush declared. "It's my responsibility as President to take measures now to protect the American people." What he doesn't understand is that his little PR blitz won't work when people discover that they now will be forced to take injections of unproven and untested vaccines without the right of refusal on, pain of a jail term, and if they are injured by the vaccine, they not only don't have the right to sue, but don't even have the right to talk about it without going to jail. Who has Smirkey put in charge of this fine program? Meet Stewart Simonson. He's the official charged by Bush with "the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies" - a well-connected, ideological, ambitious Republican with zero public health management or medical expertise, whose previous job was as a corporate lawyer for Amtrak. Great. Just great. So how is he gonna protect us? Sue the flu virus? Or send the cops out to arrest it?

Building on his failures during the recent trip to Latin America, where he left a series of riot-burned capitals in his wake, Smirkey has apparently decided that the quite illegal TV Marti broadcasts to Cuba need to be extended to Latin America generally. Stuck in the Cold War communists-versus-freedom-lovers mentality, the Smirkey cronies on the Broadcasting Board of Governors has inquired of DirecTV Latin America (not available in the United States) whether capacity exists for TV Marti to do satellite television broadcasting in Latin America. Of course, Voice of America Worldnet television is already widely available in Latin America, though it is not much watched because of suspicions regarding its objectivity - hardly surprising, given the fact that U.S. commercial TV network news broadcasting is also widely available, and its lack of objectivity is quite apparent to Latin viewers.

Republican Policies Just Keep Moving America Forward: The trade deficit soared to a record in September as the Gulf Coast hurricanes helped push America's foreign oil bill to an all-time high. The politically sensitive deficit with China also set a record. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the deficit jumped to $66.1 billion in September, 11.4 percent higher than the $59.3 billion imbalance recorded in August. It was a far bigger increase than analysts had been expecting and reflected in part a record $23.8 billion in oil purchases as the price skyrocketed, reflecting widespread shutdowns of production facilities following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So far this year, the deficit is running at an annual rate of $706.4 billion. This puts the country on track to far surpass the old deficit record of $617.6 billion set last year and gives critics ammunition to argue that President Bush's trade policies are not working.

General Motors Corp.'s credit rating took another hit Wednesday as Fitch Ratings lowered its rating on the automaker's debt deeper into "junk" status. Fitch downgraded GM's issuer default and senior unsecured debt ratings two levels to BB+ , one notch below investment grade. The ratings agency said it was concerned about the costs GM might incur as its former parts division, Delphi Corp., restructures in bankruptcy court. Fitch didn't lower the rating for GM's finance arm, General Motors Acceptance Corp., because the automaker announced last month it wants to sell a controlling interest in GMAC to a strategic partner. Fitch said it will consider lowering GMAC's rating if GM doesn't make progress on that sale in the first quarter of 2006. GM has said it could be liable for up to $12 billion in benefits for Delphi employees as part of the supplier's restructuring. In addition to that financial burden, Fitch said GM also is at risk if Delphi and its unions fail to agree on wages and benefits. This comes as news of the struggling car maker's restatement of 2001 accounts, reveals that the results were overstated by between $300 million and $400 million. The worker unions have bowed to the inevitable, and have accepted that they will be required to pay for part of the health care package that formerly was free to employees.

The world's largest maker of personal computers, Dell, has reported a fall in third-quarter profits after taking a charge to repair faulty parts. Dell reported net income for the three months to 28 October of $606m (£346m), down from $846m a year ago. The firm took a one-off charge of $442m which included $300m for repairing faulty parts in business machines.

The number of scenes on US TV featuring sex has nearly doubled in the last seven years, a new study has suggested. The survey for US health group the Kaiser Family Foundation showed there were 3,783 scenes in a 1,000-hour sample, compared with 1,930 in 1998. It found that 70% of shows had sexual content, ranging from a reference to full depiction, with five sex-related scenes per hour on average.

While the FDA delays over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception, eight states are taking matters into their own hands. ...Her rapist could have impregnated her. But a new state protocol saved her from that fate. In 1998, when Washington state started allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription, one of the first women to ask for this medication was a Tacoma-area teen who had been raped by her boyfriend. "She was 15 years old and scared spitless," says Don Downing, a clinical associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Washington in Seattle. "She was too afraid to tell her parents about the rape and too afraid to go to the police or her regular doctor. But when her pharmacist gave her this medication, it prevented her from getting pregnant. And if more states pass these laws, thousands of other women will benefit in the same way."

American Medicine Is The Best In The World: More than 30 patients died waiting for liver transplants while the understaffed University of California Irvine Medical Center turned down organs, a published report said. The hospital received 122 liver offers between August 2004 and July 2005 but transplanted just 12, the Los Angeles Times said, citing a report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services obtained through Freedom of Information laws. Though failing to meet federal standards, including the minimum annual transplants since 2002, the hospital maintained its accreditation from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the newspaper said. The hospital has not had a full-time liver transplant surgeon since July 2004, despite federal standards that require one to be constantly available.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The chiefs of five major oil companies defended the industry's huge profits Wednesday at a Senate hearing where they were exhorted to explain prices and assure customers they're not being gouged. There is a "growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said, opening the hearing in a packed committee room. "The oil companies owe the American people an explanation," he declared. Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp., said he recognizes that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets" but he defended his company's huge profits, saying petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year. ExxonMobil, the worlds' largest privately owned oil company, earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter. Raymond was joined at the witness table by the chief executives of Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BPAmerica Inc., and Shell Oil Company. Together the companies earned more than $25 billion in profits in the July-September quarter as the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline surged to record levels after the disruptions of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Growing suspicion? What ever gave him that idea?

Scandals Du Jour: The uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, at the center of a scandal for ripping off Indian tribes for millions for his dubious influence peddling, asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president of a West African nation to arrange a meeting with President Bush and directed his fees to a Maryland company now under federal scrutiny, according to newly disclosed documents. The African leader, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, met with President Bush in the Oval Office on May 26, 2004, 10 months after Mr. Abramoff made the offer. There has been no evidence in the public record that Abramoff had any role in organizing the meeting or that he received any money or had a signed contract with Gabon. White House and State Department officials described Mr. Bush's meeting with President Bongo, whose government is regularly accused by the United States of human rights abuses, as routine. The officials said they knew of no involvement by Abramoff in the arrangements. Officials at Gabon's embassy in Washington did not respond to written questions. "This went through normal staffing channels," said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, who said the meeting was "part of the president's outreach to the continent of Africa." A document from Abramoff's files that was released last week by a Senate committee shows that in the summer of 2003 he pushed to sign President Bongo as a client, even offering to travel to Gabon immediately after an August golfing vacation to Scotland "with the congressmen and senators I take there each year."

News From Smirkey's War: Al-Qaida in Iraq, the dreaded terrorist group headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, has broken with local Sunni Muslim Arab insurgent groups in central Iraq, in some cases resulting in gun battles on the street. On Sunday, fighting between insurgent groups started at a central intersection in war-torn Ramadi - the capital of the Sunni heartland province of Anbar - just past the downtown movie theater. As many as two dozen men fired automatic weapons and blasted away with shoulder-mounted rockets as al-Qaida in Iraq ambushed members of three local groups. Eyewitnesses and Sunni insurgents said it was a fight between groups that would've been considered allies three months ago. One al-Qaida in Iraq fighter was killed, and an unknown number on each side were injured. The groups have fallen into disputes about money and tactics, including over whether to participate in Iraq's political system. Residents think the strong support that al-Qaida in Iraq has had in the heart of Anbar province is starting to fracture, if not completely break. But don't get the idea that this means that Smirkey's war is being won or is even winnable.

Derelict factories, military scrapyards and battle sites across Iraq pose a threat to the environment and to public health, the United Nations has said. The UN Environment Program has trained Iraqi specialists in detoxification, but says any clean-up could cost up to $40m. Chemical spills, unsecured hazardous material and widespread pollution by depleted uranium are among the issues. Without clean-up, heavy metals can poison ground water, causing illness. The UNEP has examined five sites as part of its training efforts, and is concerned by the results.

Speaking before a veteran's group in his Veteran's Day speech, Smirkey has said too much is at stake in Iraq for politicians to make "false charges" about the reasons for going to war, implying that his critics are lying about his lies. Amid new questions in Congress about the intelligence used to justify the invasion, he said it was "irresponsible to rewrite history". He told US veterans Iraq was now the central front in the "war on terror" and the US would prevail. An opinion poll suggests less than half Americans support his foreign policy. Flanked by veterans, Mr Bush was speaking at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pennsylvania, on Veterans' Day, a few weeks after the US death toll in Iraq passed the 2,000 mark.

A day before a federal holiday honoring the nation’s soldiers, the United States military announced that it was scrapping a plan to review all post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims for potential fraud. The review, which came about after a Veterans Administration inspector general report indicated that fraud might be rampant within the system, would have examined about 72,000 current cases of VA disability benefits. In a statement released yesterday morning, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson said that a just-completed inquiry into 2,100 PTSD cases revealed that the fraud allegations turned out to be incompetence on the part of the VA.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: God Squad America launched yet another offensive, predicted some time ago in this space, in its anti-secular jihad against the formerly free US-of-A this week. The target this time: preteen girls to whom the religiously obsessed would deny a vaccine that promises 100 percent protection against cervical cancer. What's the objection? Preteen girls might interpret a vaccination as a "you go, girl" sign for having wanton, unending, carefree, premarital sex. Unbelievable? It's true! Merck and Co. and GlaxoSmithKline announced late last month they have developed a vaccine that protects against strains of a germ called the human papilloma virus (or HPV). Although most strains of HPV are innocuous, some can cause lesions on the cervix that become cancerous. The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV. One hundred percent effectiveness is an unheard-of medical success. It is cause for celebration, not argumentation. But then again, we have the misfortune of having been born into the scientific Ice Age, otherwise known as God Squad America. The vaccine could be available by next year. And what riles the God Squaders is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could add the vaccine to a roster of recommended or required shots for preteen girls. The argument goes, if teen girls don't have the fear of cervical cancer emblazoned on their foreheads, they will ignore all that great abstinence-only education instilled in them. And those horrible pictures of cervical cancer used in the abstinence-only sex-ed programs would no longer have any meaning. Or at least, that's what the Family Research Council and the Concerned Women for America (CWA) fear.

Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck. Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has a long record of similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements. "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club." This is the same Pat Robertson who warned Orlando, Florida, a few years ago that their support of the gay pride festival and parade held in that town would lead the town to be destroyed by hurricanes or earthquakes. The very next hurricane to come ashore in the United States struck Virginia Beach - just a few miles from Pat Robertson's headquarters - and Orlando is still waiting.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: Against a background of pressure from social conservatives, the Food and Drug Administration is recommending a new series of labels for condoms, warning that they "greatly reduce, but do not eliminate" the risk of some sexually transmitted diseases. Although little noticed by the general public, the issue of condom labeling has become another battleground in the nation's culture wars. Social conservatives have been working in Congress and elsewhere to press their contention that unwarranted reliance on condoms encourages promiscuous behavior and can contribute to the spread of disease; many in this camp advocate abstinence on medical and moral grounds.

News From The Neo-con War On Democracy: Citing a recent government appraisal of the nation’s election systems and evidence of continued abuse and potential fraud, groups championing free and fair elections say the US still has a long way to go. Although this was an "off-term" election year, voting-rights advocates, computer scientists, and politicians watched the process closely as more districts used electronic voting machines, which many blame for irregularities during the 2004 presidential election. According to local media reports, officials at a precinct in Fulton County, Georgia removed three machines after voters said their votes registered for different candidates. In Roanoke County, Virginia, people at several precincts reported that their selection for democratic candidates registered as votes for republicans in both the governor’s and state attorney general race. And in several Ohio precincts, electronic machine malfunctions and problems getting machines running forced a number of polling places to open late.

"We do not torture"? Oh yes, we do. The CIA's inspector general warned last year that interrogation procedures approved by the Bush administration could violate the UN convention against torture, it emerged yesterday. The leaking of the inspector general's classified report represented an embarrassment for President George Bush, only a few days after he emphatically declared: "We do not torture." It also comes at a sensitive time when the vice-president, Dick Cheney, is lobbying to have the CIA exempted from legislation establishing stricter interrogation rules.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves. Frist told reporters Thursday that while he believed illegal activity should not take place at detention centers, he believes the leak itself poses a greater threat to national security and is "not concerned about what goes on'' behind the prison walls. "My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security - period,'' Frist said. "That is a legitimate concern.'' But let the information out about what goes on in those prisons, smear it all over the front pages of the world, and then we'll see if the Good Doctor Frist changes his mind.

The indictment of I. Lewis Libby has had one unintended benefit for the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney: The resurrection of his once forgotten literary career. A decade ago, he wrote a graphic, almost pornographic thriller that contains numerous graphic, detailed descriptions of bestiality, pedophilia and rape, and it was an instant failure when it was published. But due to the author's new-found notoriety, used copies of his 1996 novel, "The Apprentice," have been offered for as high as $2,400 on Amazon.com. Now, the publisher, St. Martin's Press has decided to bring the book back into print, announcing a new run of 25,000 copies.

Wisdom From Those Who Govern Us: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA): "You know, what - what makes our economy grow is energy. And, and Americans are used to going to the gas tank (sic), and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it. And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve (sic) our standard of living, you have to consume more energy." Thanks, Senator. I'm sure you just can't wait to get that energetic hose in your hand.

News Of The Weird: Furry, heated bras may soon replace lacy lingerie in Japanese women’s wardrobes as the country gets ready for Warm Biz, a nationwide campaign urging workers to bundle up and save energy on heating this winter. The Warm Biz Bra, unveiled this week by underwear maker Triumph International, is lined with material that emits infrared rays. The bra is also fitted with pads that can be heated in a microwave or hot water – as well as long, furry straps that wrap around the neck like a scarf and matching shorts.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:53:32 AM

Wed, Nov 09 2005

Moving Day For The Power Company

The cold, rainy weather continues. Yesterday and today both have seen weather that is downright chilly, with persistent rain all day long, into the night and even during the morning hours when the weather is often clear. Not today. All day long, with just a few, short interruptions, it was rain, varying from a light drizzle to a raging downpour.

The men from ICE, the power company, had come by yesterday and warned me that the power would off today, from 8 AM to 1 PM, because they were going to finish the construction of the power lines across the street from me of which they had started construction not long after I moved in. The high tension and ground wires were in place, but they were going to move the secondary (low voltage) wires off of the old pole line that runs through my front yard, onto the new concrete pole line across the street. This was actually a day I had somewhat feared since moving in, because there had been a lot of rumors that they would not allow connection of on-the-house meters to the new power line, and I would have to get a new pole-mounted service installed out at the street before they would connect to it. Some time back, a lineman told me that I needed to get a new service installed, and it should be done before the power line was completed, but, significantly, there was no threat to not connect me to the new line.

Well, promptly at 8 this morning, off went the power, so I went out and had a look, and sure enough, there were crews all up and down the street. The first item of business was to disconnect the old secondary wires from the poles and drop them into my yard. The crews worked deftly and with remarkable hustle in spite of the rain to get the old wires down, and out into the street, where they were rolled up and stored in the back of one of the trucks. The transformer on the pole at the end of the block was taken down and moved to its new location two doors up the street from me, about as far away from my house as it has been. So no worries about increased voltage instability.

I was a bit puzzled, though, that once the secondary wires were off of the old pole, that they did not take down the triplex service drop to my house. It was left attached to the old pole, along with the last remaining wire of the old pole line, the telephone wire that serves my house. By 10, they had the new wires in place on the pole line across the street - wires that were obviously re-used from somewhere else, as there was a splice on each of them. That left the reconnection of the houses.

When they began to gather up their materials, I started to worry. But then I noticed that there were still two extension ladders leaning up against poles down the street. Soon, two linemen came by, moved one to the old pole and the other to the new pole directly across the street from it, and with them, they brought a piece of triplex wire, used for service drops. They each climbed a ladder with an end of the triplex in hand, and quickly had it in place, connecting the end of my old triplex service drop to the new power line across the street. Satisfied that there was no issue with being left without a power connection, I had a look up and down the street. My neighbor's triplex had been extended to the new pole across the street, and the power transformer was in place on an old pole, one of three left as part of the new line. Crews were hard at work trimming trees near the pole, to prevent leaves and branches from touching the new high voltage wire.

Once that was done, they made the final connections, and then one of the bucket truck operators sent a lineman up with a hotstick and he turned the high voltage back on. A check of my lines before I turned the mains back on revealed that the line voltage was 120 on one phase, and 119 on the other, so I was good to go. Back on with the power and back to work on the computer. I checked my ham radio to ensure that there wasn't any new line noise. Since all they had done was low voltage work, I didn't expect there to be any, and there wasn't. All set. No worries. Life is good.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The United States: It was reported in this space during the attack on Fallujah in Iraq that U.S. forces there had used white phosphorus, a horrific and banned chemical weapon, as well as MK77 napalm against insurgents and the civilian populace indiscriminately in the city during the "offensive." Eyewitnesses and ex-US soldiers say the weapons were used in built-up areas in the insurgent-held city. The US military denies this, but admits using white phosphorus bombs in Iraq to illuminate battlefields. Well, now the Italian state broadcaster, RAI-News24, has documented this case and has broadcast, and put on its website, some of the horrific effects of the white phosphorus attacks on Fallujah, according to La Repubblica (in Italian), a major Italian newspaper. On contact with human flesh, white phosphorus burns the flesh so intensely that the flesh "melts away" like a spring snow, leaving its victims in horrible agony watching their flesh melt away before their very eyes, until they die. The RAI website shows some of the horrible results. A US veteran of Smirkey's Iraq war told RAI News correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order use caution because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slag it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact - it even melts it right down to the bone..." The use of chemical weapons, specifically including white phosphorus, is banned by several treaties, but the United States has carefully avoided allowing itself to become bound by any of them. By this act, Smirkey and Rumsfeld have abandoned any pretense of being morally superior to the tyrant whose tyranny he claimed to be seeking to end. During his Latin American trip last week, Smirkey complained that people don't understand his foreign policy. Well, Smirkey, we understand it better than you think. We understand it all too well.

This raises another troubling question: "I gathered accounts of the use of phosphorus and napalm from a few Fallujah refugees whom I met before being kidnapped," says Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who was kidnapped in Fallujah last February, in a recorded interview. "I wanted to get the story out, but my kidnappers would not permit it." Why would they not permit it? Wouldn't it serve the interests of the insurgency brilliantly to broadcast this story far and wide? The only conceivable reason that the kidnappers would not want her to report on it would be that they kidnapped Sgrena because they knew what she was going to report on, and they wanted to stop her from reporting on it. Meaning that her kidnappers were not regular insurgents - but working for Smirkey's side perhaps?

Watergate On Steroids: Readers of other portions of my web site won't be surprised to hear this, but, spurred by paranoia and aided by the USA Patriot Act, the Bush Administration has compiled dossiers on more than 10,000 Americans it considers political enemies and uses those files to wage war on those who disagree with its policies. The “enemies list” dates back to Bush’s days as governor of Texas and can be accessed by senior administration officials in an instant for use in campaigns to discredit those who speak out against administration policies or acts of the President. The computerized files include intimate personal details on members of Congress; high-ranking local, state and federal officials; prominent media figures and ordinary citizens who may, at one time or another, spoken out against the President or Administration. Capitol Hill Blue has spoken with a number of current and former administration officials who acknowledge existence of the enemies list only under a guarantee of confidentiality. Those who have seen the list say it is far more extensive than Richard Nixon’s famous “enemies list” of Watergate fame or Bill Clinton’s dossiers on political enemies.

A classified report issued last year by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general warned that interrogation procedures approved by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture, current and former intelligence officials say. The previously undisclosed findings from the report, which was completed in the spring of 2004, reflected deep unease within the C.I.A. about the interrogation procedures, the officials said. A list of 10 techniques authorized early in 2002 for use against terror suspects included one known as waterboarding, and went well beyond those authorized by the military for use on prisoners of war.

Iraqi politician, convicted bank fraudster, and chosen fair-haired boy of Smirkey, Ahmed Chalabi, currently the deputy prime minister of the quisling government in Iraq, meets with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today, but will have to stare down protestors seething over his role in a row over Iraq war intelligence. Chalabi, in his latest incarnation as an Iraqi deputy prime minister, will make his first speech in the US capital for two-and-a-half years at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Critics accuse Chalabi, once a darling of the Pentagon and neoconservative hawks, of peddling false intelligence and seducing the United States into a war which has now killed more than 2,000 US soldiers. He is still wanted in Jordan on charges of bank fraud, although Jordan and the quisling government in Iraq have been negotiating dropping the charges.

U.S. preparing for an invasion of Syria? Amid an active Washington debate about "regime change" in Syria, the United States has cut off nearly all contact with the Syrian government as the Bush administration steps up a campaign to weaken and isolate President Bashar Assad's government, according to U.S. and Syrian officials. The United States has halted high-level diplomatic meetings, limited military coordination on Syria's border with Iraq and ended dialogue with Syria's Finance Ministry on amending its banking laws to block terrorist financing. In recent months, as distrust between the two countries widened, the United States also declined a proposal from Syria to revive intelligence cooperation with Syria, according to Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, and a U.S. official.

Smirkey on Monday defended U.S. interrogation practices and called the treatment of terrorism suspects lawful. "We do not torture," Bush declared in response to reports of secret CIA prisons overseas. Yet Smirkey supported an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney to block or modify a proposed Senate-passed ban on torture. "We're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible, more possible, to do our job," Bush said. "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet we will aggressively pursue them. But we will do so under the law." So you don't torture, Smirkey? I'll bet you don't use white phosphorus or napalm on civilians, either. But you do hurt America. A majority of people say so. Maybe we should "interrogate" you, Smirkey.

The Defense Department's Deployment Health Support Directorate went 'live' today with a Web site to help meet the objectives outlined in President Bush's national strategy for pandemic influenza. The site, at deploymentlink.osd.mil, offers information about pandemic flu and avian flu. It has a section of frequently asked questions, a glossary of important terms and health-related information. The site includes links to other federal government agencies, and more information will be added as it becomes available, officials said. The site also has a section with information for servicemembers, such as the DoD's role in dealing with avian flu, the risks for servicemembers overseas, and protective measures that can be taken. So why is the military involved in a public health situation? Because that's what's good for you, citizen. And that's an order!

In the latest setback for the right wing's apparent plans for a dictatorship, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to the Bush administration's plan to try accused foreign terrorists in special military courts, setting the stage for a ruling on whether the Geneva Convention trumps the president's go-it-alone policy in its anti-terrorism effort. The case, to be heard in the spring, will set the rules for the first war crimes trials for foreign prisoners since World War II. The legal battle will take place against a backdrop of growing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of foreign prisoners. To the dismay of some U.S. allies, the White House said four years ago that foreign fighters who were picked up in the war on terrorism were not entitled to the Geneva Convention's protections for prisoners of war.

Another of Smirkey's lies in the runup to his war was that there was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Of course, there wasn't, and apparently a report warned Smirkey before the Iraqi war that a captured Qaeda official was probably lying about Iraqi-Qaeda ties.

Let no scapegoat go unpunished: five US soldiers in Iraq have been charged with abusing detainees, the US military has said. The soldiers are accused of punching and kicking detainees who were awaiting transfer to prison on September 7th, the military said in a statement. The names and ranks of the five soldiers have not been made public (betcha there isn't a one ranked higher than a sergeant). Nine soldiers have been convicted of offenses relating to abuses at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

Senate Democrats stepped up their attacks on the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq with calls Monday for an independent probe into the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Republicans fired back, accusing Democrats of trying to score political points off American losses in Iraq and of undermining support for U.S. troops. Leading Senate Democrats, arguing that the chamber's GOP leadership has not pursued investigations on those matters, said they would push to establish a panel similar to the independent commission that investigated the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001. "We need the support of people around the world in our war on terrorism," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. "The activities both at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib have cost us a great deal in that support," Levin said. "We've got to be willing to take a good hard look at ourselves and not leave all these gaps."

Global greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 52% by 2030, unless the world takes action to reduce energy consumption, a study has warned. The prediction comes from the latest annual World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that under current consumption trends, energy demand will also rise by more than 50% over the next 25 years. But speaking out of the other side of its mouth, the IEA adds that oil prices will "substantially" rise unless there is extra investment in oil facilities. It says the world has seen "years of under-investment" in both oil production and the refinery sector.

News From The Flat Earth: Public schools in the state of Kansas are to be given new science standards that cast doubt on evolution. The Board of Education's vote, expected for months, approved the new language criticising evolution by 6-4. Tuesday's vote in Kansas was the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue. Current state standards treat evolution as well-established, a view held by national science groups. The new standards include several specific challenges, including statements that there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, and charges that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory - all blatantly untrue. "This is a great day for education," said Steve Abrams, Chairman of the Kansas Board of Education. Somehow, I vaguely recall the Grand Inquisitor saying something like that.

News From The Electoral Sausage Machine: In Pennsylvania, voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a similar statement to the above on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting all eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum. The election unfolded amid a landmark federal trial involving the Dover public schools and the question of whether intelligent design promotes the Bible's view of creation. Eight Dover families sued, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Texas voters have concluded that the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause doesn't apply to gay people. They overwhelming approved, by a 74 percent margin, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, making their state the 19th to take that step. Interesting news - very interesting news, in that just two days ago, the amendment was a dead heat in the polls.

Caught in his own election fraud machine: due to a "problem" with the electoral registration system in Los Angeles County yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was told he had already voted when he showed up at the polls today to cast his ballot in the special election that he himself declared for California today. He was told he'd have to use a provisional ballot, but unlike most American voters, he was eventually allowed to use a regular ballot anyway. Musta shown him registered as a Democrat or something.

In spite of the best efforts of the California electoral sausage machine, and in a sharp repudiation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Californians rejected all four of his ballot proposals Tuesday in an election that shattered his image as an agent of the popular will. Voters turned down his plans to curb state spending, redraw California's political map, restrain union politics and lengthen the time it takes teachers to get tenure. The Republican governor had cast the four initiatives as central to his larger vision for restoring fiscal discipline to California and reforming its "notoriously dysfunctional" politics. The failure of Proposition 76, his spending restraints, and Proposition 77, his election district overhaul, represented a particularly sharp snub of the governor by California voters. It also threw into question his strategy of threatening lawmakers with statewide votes to get around them when they block his favored proposals.

All in all, it was bad news Tuesday for the Republicans, though short-term bad news, because, other than the Texas gay marriage vote, nothing good happened for them yesterday. They lost by much bigger margins than pundits had been predicting in both Virginia (Tim Kaine's 52 percent to Jerry Kilgore's 46 percent) and New Jersey (Jon Corzine's 53 percent to Doug Forrester's 44 percent). The only significant Republican victor, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, specifically dissociated himself from George W. Bush and the national party (and is really a Democrat in everything but name). Even the Bush-loving Democratic mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, is out on his ear. The voters were so angry that even the electoral sausage machine couldn't fix it up for the GOP this year.

Private Enterprise Solves All Problems: The US space program may be on the verge of losing its preeminence in space exploration, experts are warning. The foreign competition also echoes a broader worry: the possibility that the global center of gravity in science and technology may start to shift toward Asia if the US fails to adequately support its research enterprise. NASA became the focus of those concerns as its administrator, Michael Griffin, told Congress last week that the agency needed to make difficult cuts in basic research and technology development. Some lawmakers worried about the agency's ability to attract the best and brightest and help draw more young people to science and technology. Many experts worry about what might happen if those young people do something else. While the US remains the world's R and D giant, "the Chinese are definitely moving faster than we are" in key areas, says James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He cites information technology, aerospace, and biotechnology as examples.

Need a job? Become a pharmacist. They are in such short supply in the U.S., that drug store chains are falling all over each other trying to hire them before they have even graduated. Salaries are approaching six figures. The shortage was fueled by several factors, especially changes in insurance policies and federal regulations of pharmaceuticals, which made drugs available to more people. Add to that an aging population and more drugs being manufactured and advertised to the public, and the number of prescriptions has increased from 2 billion to 3.2 billion in the last decade. That problem is expected to worsen after the new Medicare prescription drug program begins Jan. 1. But before you rush out to the nearest pharmacy school, you need to know that some schools have reported 10 applicants for every pharmacy opening, although that figure includes people applying to more than one school.

Telemarketing hits the twilight zone - they're now calling elevators! Cold-calling elevators to see if some desperate soul will succumb to yet one more credit card solicitation before reaching the ground floor? WNBC reporter Nathan Dugan reports answering a ringing telephone in an elevator, just to see who would call an elevator. "When I told the person on the other end of the line that, "they had just called an elevator," there was dead silence. Imagine that -- I rendered a telemarketer speechless. While the turn of events was indeed a bit surreal, it reinforces what we already suspect to be true -- that credit card solicitations have reached a new level of annoyance. In the first quarter of 2005, a record 1.4 billion credit card applications were sent via direct mail, according to a recent story by Bob Sullivan of MSNBC. That's 5.8 applications per household every month. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate how many telemarketer calls were made during that same time period. But if my recent experience was any indication, I’m guessing the telemarketer calls were also at record levels."

Trickle-Down Trickling On You: Housing is considerably less affordable for first-time buyers than it was a year ago, according to the latest findings from the National Association of Realtors. The NAR found that the average price nationally for a starter home rose to $183,500 in the third quarter, up $23,500 in the past year. With a 10 percent down payment and a mortgage rate of 5.83 percent (the average in the quarter), the monthly cost of owning the average starter home would be $999 a month. A new homebuyer would need income of $47,952 to qualify for such a mortgage, but the median income of first-time buyers was just $32,781 nationwide last quarter, yielding an affordability index value of 68.4 -- down from 74.8 a year ago and 80.9 for all of 2003. The "American Dream" is fading fast.

Senior Wal-Mart executives knew cleaning contractors were hiring illegal immigrants, many of whom were housed in crowded conditions and sometimes slept in the backs of stores, according to a federal agency's affidavit. The affidavit, unsealed last week, was part of an investigation of Wal-Mart by federal immigration officials that led to the 2003 raid on 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, and the arrests of 245 illegal workers. The retailer agreed to pay $11 million in March to settle the case, but says top executives neither encouraged nor knew of the practice. The affidavit was filed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to secure search warrants for a 2003 raid on Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. "The sworn testimony (in the affidavit) establishes that top Wal-Mart executives conspired with contractors to exploit undocumented immigrants," said James L. Linsey, a New York attorney leading a class-action lawsuit on behalf of former janitors.

News From The Various Wars On This And That: Smirkey's war in Iraq doesn't seem to be in its last throes - the Pentagon on Monday notified 92,000 fresh U.S. troops to prepare for rotation to Iraq over a two-year period beginning in mid-2006, but cautioned that the number did not signal immediate plans to slash a much-higher U.S. troop level now in that country. There are currently about 160,000 American troops in Iraq. That total, boosted to help security for elections in October and December, is above the usual "baseline" level of about 138,000 U.S. troops stationed there. President George W. Bush, whose plunge in popularity at home has been partly because of growing U.S. casualties in Iraq since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, is under heavy pressure to make cuts in American forces there. But Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have stressed that any U.S. troop reductions will depend on the Iraqi security forces' ability to take over defense of their country from insurgents and foreign fighters. Don't look for that to happen anytime soon.

Iraq's bloody insurgency was inevitable following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who also tried to calm regional fears over possible military action against Syria. In Iraq, gunmen killed a second defense lawyer acting in Saddam Hussein's trial on Tuesday, renewing questions over whether the former president can get a fair trial amid Iraq's daily violence. Not only inevitable, but widely predicted at the time, including on this website. But somehow, Smirkey's people thought that America's brand of tyranny is so much preferred to Saddam's, that the Iraqis would strew rose petals in the troops' path.

Iran has found the wreckage of two U.S. unmanned spy planes on its territory in recent months, Tehran said on Monday, accusing Washington of violating its sovereignty through illegal overflights. Iran "strongly protests against such unlawful acts and emphasizes the necessity to observe the principles of international law concerning the sanctity of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states," its Foreign Ministry said. The Pentagon had no immediate comment to the protest, which came in letters to the U.S. government written months ago but only made public at the United Nations on Monday. They described the crash of a Shadow 200 RQ-7 drone in Ilam Province last July 4, 36 miles (60 kms) from the border, and of a Hermes drone in the Khoram Abad area on Aug. 25, found 120 miles (200 kms) inside Iranian territory. An investigation found that both of the unmanned aircraft were American, the Foreign Ministry said. Its letters were delivered to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran for transmission to U.S. authorities as Iran has no diplomatic ties with the United States.

A top American intelligence official has revealed at a public conference what has long been secret: the amount of money the United States spends on its spy agencies. At an intelligence conference in San Antonio last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and now the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion. The number was reported Monday in U.S. News and World Report, whose national security reporter, Kevin Whitelaw, was among the hundreds of people in attendance during Ms. Graham's talk. "I thought, 'I can't believe she said that,' " Mr. Whitelaw said on Monday. "The government has spent so much time and energy arguing that it needs to remain classified." The figure itself comes as no great shock; most news reports in the last couple of years have estimated the budget at $40 billion. But the fact that Ms. Graham would say it in public is a surprise, because the government has repeatedly gone to court to keep the current intelligence budget and even past budgets as far back as the 1940's from being disclosed.

Growing distance between Smirkey and Tricky Dick: The CIA leak scandal has peeled back the veil on the most closely held White House secret of all: the subtle but unmistakable erosion in the bond between President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Multiple sources close to Bush told the New York Daily News that while the vice president remains his boss' valued political partner and counselor, his clout has lessened - primarily as a result of issues arising from Smirkey's Iraq war. "The relationship is not what it was," a presidential counselor said. "There has been some distance for some time." Another: "The vice president's office will never be quite as independent from the White House as it has been," said a key Bush associate. "That will end. Cheney never operated without a degree of [presidential] license, but there are people around who cannot believe some of the advice [Smirkey] has been given."

Scandals Du Jour: Maybe he should just face up to what he has done to them - Travis County is not so prejudiced against Rep. Tom DeLay that the former House majority leader couldn't get a fair trial in the city, a veteran defense attorney said Monday in a sworn court statement. The affidavit by Betty Blackwell was filed on behalf of prosecutors who are arguing against DeLay's request that his trial on money laundering and conspiracy charges be moved to another county. "There is not so great a prejudice against the defendant, nor is there a dangerous combination of any sort, that will interfere with him receiving a fair trial in Travis County," Blackwell stated in the affidavit. Defense attorneys argue that DeLay has been vilified in liberal Travis County, which was split into three different congressional districts as a result of a redistricting map DeLay engineered. To argue that he would be vilified, would, of course, effectively be arguing that nearly everyone in the county is unanimous in believing that he didn't do Travis County justice in his redistricting map. Maybe he should just face up to them.

Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is establishing a fund to help pay for his legal defense in the C.I.A. leak case, and associates of Mr. Libby have begun soliciting money from his friends and Republican donors, lawyers and people who have been contacted about the fund said on Tuesday. Barbara Comstock, a Republican communications strategist who has been hired to work with Mr. Libby's defense team, has pulled together a list of potential contributors and has been in touch with some of them in the last week, providing an address in Washington for sending checks, the people said. Ms. Comstock declined to comment. Other people who have been told of the fund said that their understanding was that names of the donors would not be made public, but that some decisions about how the fund would operate had yet to be made. With Mr. Libby having left government, there is no legal requirement for any public disclosure. Mr. Libby has put together a high-priced legal team to defend himself against five felony counts of lying to investigators and misleading a grand jury, and lawyers unconnected with the matter have estimated that the bill could run well into the millions of dollars if he goes to trial.

Struggling New York City businesses got stiffed by a federal loan program intended to spur economic recovery after the 9/11 attacks — while aid went to a horse farm and doughnut shop upstate in New York. Of $84 million that New York businesses received under the program, only $14 million went to city-based companies — and the program is now under investigation to see why so much of the money went to dentists, doughnut shops and beauty parlors that suffered no apparent harm from the Sept. 11 attacks. "I applied for a loan, and I got a loan — I have no idea how it's related to 9/11," said Prashant Agarwal, who owns a Dunkin' Donuts franchise in upstate Auburn. He sought the $1 million loan from New York City-based CIT Small Business Lending Corp. before 9/11, he said. Also pocketing a $1 million-plus loan was the Blue Chip Riding Club in Putnam County. The club's Web site says it offers indoor and outdoor arenas, certified instruction and training for horse and rider.

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election. Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS. In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support. Yet on June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections. The letter went on to say that "our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article." Of course, the churches that pass out "voter's guides" telling them to vote for conservative candidates never seem to get such letters. I wonder why... The IRS threat to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena because of an antiwar sermon there during the 2004 presidential election is part of a larger, controversial federal investigation of political activity at churches and nonprofit groups. Over the last year, the Internal Revenue Service has looked at more than 100 tax-exempt organizations across the country for allegations of promoting — either explicitly or implicitly — candidates on both ends of the political spectrum, according to the IRS. None have lost their nonprofit status, though investigations continue into about 60 of those. Even the conservatives are getting annoyed. But do you think it is because the IRS went after the Episcopals? I don't think so.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: More moral or not, they seem to be remarkably prescient investors. High-flying mutual funds? Hedge funds only available to the big dogs? None of them can beat your local U.S. senator at picking old-fashioned equities. Mutual funds typically do about 3 percent better than the market, long term, and hedge funds rarely more than about 6 percent better, for which they charge absurdly huge management fees. But your local friendly U.S. senator? U.S. Senators beat the stock market annually by a whopping 12 percent on average, the first comprehensive study of share trading by members of the U.S. Senate has found. The academics who conducted the study looked at 6,000 stock transactions made by senators between 1993 and 1998. They noted that the senators did an especially good job of picking up stocks at just the right time - their buys were typically flat before they bought them, but beat the market by 30 percent, on average, in the year after. However, it seems the senators might have been given a helping hand. Alan Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State University, and his colleagues concluded that at least some senators must have been trading "based on information that is unavailable to the public". Last I heard, they call that "insider trading." And that's illegal! Could they be doing that? Ya think?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:19:39 AM

Mon, Nov 07 2005

Neighbor's House Coming Along

Wet, cold and miserable just about sums up the weather for today. It was raining when I got up, dark, and heavily overcast, and it didn't change much all day, although by sunset it had quit raining and there was a brief but beautiful sunset. Maybe tomorrow will be nicer, but today was not much to write home about. Yesterday was bright and sunny, however, a nice, if brief, break in the rain. A series of sunsets is supposed to signal the end of the rainy season, but not here in Arenal. It just means the end of the Caribbean rainy season and the onset of the Pacific one. We won't see much of a break in the rain until January or February.

Not being able to get out much today, I took the day to get all of my bed linens washed, which they needed, especially the mattress pad and pillow covers. I had noticed that changing the bed sheets had stirred up my allergies, so I figured that the rest of the bed linens needed it. Not that the weather was conducive to getting things dried out, but the washing machine gets things almost dry enough to use, so I put them back on the bed and set the ceiling fan on high, and in a few hours, they were dried out and the bed ready for use tonight.

In going out and wandering around in the break in the rain today, I noticed that my neighbor's new house is just about ready to move into. The windows and doors are in, which accounts for the noise I have been hearing coming from over there, and most of the outside of the house has been painted. The color is a kind of pumpkin yellow, which seems to be the in thing these days, though it doesn't much light my fire. I need to go up there and have a closer look, but the place is looking good from here. I also need to ask my neighbor what he wants for the place, as he is contemplating moving back to Panama where he is from, and selling the house. More than one reader has inquired about the place, so I need to find out how much he expects for it. Given the red-hot real estate market in Arenal, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him take the money and run. I've been thinking about it myself.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The smoking gun on Abu Ghraib: Cheney's office triggered abuse of Iraqi prisoners with word that filtered down to soldiers in the field that interrogations were not providing needed intelligence, according to Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson. It was policy memos that clearly implied that intelligence acquisition was the highest priority and that torture, in spite of the law, was a secondary consideration. The policy directive from Cheney's office directly contravened an order from Smirkey in 2002 that had required the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions on torture.

Four senior members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Mark Frownfelter, Associate Director of the Security Division of the Executive Office of the President, inquiring whether White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is still eligible for a security clearance given allegations of criminal conduct. The four members who signed the letter are Committee on Energy and Commerce Ranking Member John D. Dingell (D-MI), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI), Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member John Murtha (D-PA) and Armed Service Committee Ranking Member Ike Skelton (D-MO). Will his security clearance get revoked? Yeah, sure, about the time Ralph Reed confesses to being a closet gay.

The House Republican leadership has postponed a vote on a ban on torture similar to the one passed by the Senate in its version of the defense appropriations bill. The Senate measure was recently reaffirmed, and support for keeping the ban out of companion legislation in the House is dwindling, as House Republicans hear from their constituents. Even Cheney's personal lobbying has not helped, and it is beginning to appear that the ban may be included in the House version of the defense appropriations bill, forcing Smirkey to decide whether or not to make good on his threat to veto the measure.

Spying On The Treehuggers, No Doubt: In its first restructuring under Administrator Stephen Johnson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is creating a new “national security and intelligence” operation, according to an agency email released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA would eliminate the Office of Children’s Health Protection and bury its function inside an environmental education bureau. “It is not clear why the Environmental Protection Agency needs its own clandestine service,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “This appears to be yet another move to take the ‘E’ out of EPA.” Sure - and make the EPA just another agency for spying on opponents of the administration and evading accountability for not exercising its mandate. Great work, Smirkey.

Hostile Takeover: It appears that a group closely allied with the Cheney-Smirkey re-election campaign in 2004 is attempting to take over the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. You may not think much of their business practices, but as for the journalism itself, it is a cut above the likes of Gannett, whose sole interest is the bottom line. So this takeover is of some concern - just about the only old-line honest-journalism newspaper chain left. The Private Capital Management firm has bought up 19 percent of the chain, as well as several well-respected newspapers outside of it. Who are they, you ask? Top executives of Private Capital Management donated $112,000 in late 2003 and early 2004 to help President Bush and Dick Cheney get re-elected. On Nov. 6 and 7, 2003, in what would appear to be a coordinated effort, six PCM executives each gave the maximum of $2,000 to Bush-Cheney '04. Then on the same day, April 8, 2004, the head of PCM, Bruce Sherman, and company executive Gregg Powers gave $50,000 each, or $100,000 total, to the Republican National Committee. Company executives gave no money to Democrats during the 2003-04 cycle, according to the Political Money Line database. According to one Wall Street expert, the potential outcomes of the Knight Ridder financial turmoil may be good financially for some of the players, but not so good for the practice of journalism.

The head of civil rights for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is urging Muslim air travelers to register with the federal government before flying, to reduce the chances they might be stopped at an airport because their name is on or similar to names on an anti-terrorism watch list. But Daniel Sutherland. head of the program for the DHS, admits that doing so won't completely eliminate the chance that a Muslim traveler will be singled out for closer scrutiny before or after flying. The two-page "Passenger Identity Verification Form" asks for personal information including name, address, birth date, height, weight, eye and hair color, and requires copies of three of the following documents: passport, visa, birth certificate, naturalization certificate, voter registration card, government identity card or military identity card. Abdin Aly, a Little Falls, NJ accountant, filled out and mailed in the form after being detained for two hours at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. He had briefly left the Frankfurt, Germany airport to have dinner with a relative during a stopover from a flight home from Egypt. He said authorities did not say whether his name appeared on a watch list. "To do an inspection, there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "But to hold me and my wife for two hours and deny me the right to make a phone call or even use the bathroom is just wrong," he said. "It's an insult. In 35 years here, I have never violated any law." Ironically, not long after the airport incident this summer, Aly said he was mailed an invitation to a fund-raiser in Washington from the Republican National Committee, who had identified him as a successful businessman. "You want me to go to this, after you treat me this way?" he asked.

CNN International reported last night that Smirkey has ordered his staff to take "ethics" classes. The memo reads, in part, "The president has made clear his expectation that each member of his staff adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of all rules governing ethical conduct. These obligations include strict compliance with the procedures for handling classified or otherwise protected information.'' Of course this isn't about honesty - it is really about not getting caught. Read the second line of the quote carefully between the lines and you'll see what I mean. Heck, if he really meant it, Karl Rove would be out of a job.

The full scope of the National Security Letter potential for abuse is becoming apparent: the NSL's, a substitute for search warrants for which there is no judicial oversight whatever and remarkably little congressional oversight, made legal in the 1970's, were made very easy to obtain by the USA Patriot Act. And now some of the abuses they have enabled are coming to light. This has resulted in a hundred-fold increase in their use, and the FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters - one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people - are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks - and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work. As it wrote the Patriot Act four years ago, Congress bought time and leverage for oversight by placing an expiration date on 16 provisions. The changes involving national security letters were not among them. In fact, as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches and Congress prepares to renew or make permanent the expiring provisions, House and Senate conferees are poised again to amplify the FBI's power to compel the secret surrender of private records. The House and Senate have voted to make noncompliance with a national security letter a criminal offense. The House would also impose a prison term for breach of secrecy.

Smirkey flops in Latin America. Picking the very country in Latin America where he is hated the worst, Smirkey's trip to the Summit Of The Americas in Mar de Plata, Argentina, designed to reinvigorate the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal, drew 20,000 out in protest at the results of a generation of economic policies designed to enrich the rich, while ignoring the poor. Opposition from Latin American leaders was sufficiently strong that the Americas Summit wrapped up Saturday without even a blueprint for advancing the proposal. Led by Hugo Chavez, the hugely popular leftist leader of Venezuela, the leaders not only wouldn't discuss the free-trade agreement, they couldn't even agree to language about it for the communique. "F.T.A.A. is dead, and we, the people of the Americans, are the ones who buried it," said a beaming Chavez, with evident satisfaction. While Smirkey is in Latin America to push his controversial free trade agenda, there is another type of trade to be concerned about. U.S. military aid, training and arms sales to the region have all increased sharply since the beginning of the war on terrorism and threaten to exacerbate conflict, empty national coffers and sidetrack development programs.Now Bush has been forced to face the music and chanting of tens of thousands of people who are coming from across Argentina and Latin America to protest against him. In fact in Latin America he is being crowned as the most unpopular US president in history.

Ahhnold supports democracy: Actors Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening were excluded from a campaign appearance Saturday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governator sought to drum up last-minute support for a group of statewide ballot measures designed to institutionalize Republican rule in the state. The Hollywood couple strode side-by-side to the entrance of an airport hangar where several hundred of the governor's supporters had gathered. A Schwarzenegger aide told the "Bulworth" star he was not on the guest list and did not have the appropriate wristband to get inside. "You have to have a wristband to listen to the governor?" Bening asked. "He represents all of us, right?" The couple's appearance caused momentary confusion. Just before the governor took the stage, the hangar door was closed literally in their faces. It was later reopened as Schwarzenegger spoke.

Why I'm not into rap: One of the hottest-selling T-shirts among kids in New York and other urban areas shows a crudely drawn snowman with a menacing expression. It's not Frosty's evil twin. Kids and retailers say the snowman symbolizes the white substance colloquially called snow: cocaine. Anti-drug campaigners and education officials are alarmed, saying the T-shirt and others like it are part of sophisticated marketing campaigns which use coded symbols for drug culture that parents and teachers are not likely to understand. Some schools are banning kids from wearing the snowman images. "The snowman is made of white, grainy stuff like sugar,'' says 12-year-old seventh-grader Mailik Mason, while shopping with his mother in a Manhattan store selling the snowman T-shirts. "It has to do with a certain drug, crack or coke.'' With his mother listening, Mason explains that the snowman comes from Young Jeezy, a drug dealer-turned-rapper whose lyrics are laden with drug references, including the line in one song: "Get it? Jeezy the Snowman/I'm iced out, plus I got that snow, man.'' Young Jeezy's debut album, "Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101,'' made No. 2 on the Billboard charts in July. And they wonder why America has a drug and juvenile crime problem.

Update on the Sony scandal: Sony's little gambit to take control of the computers of their music CD buyers using virus-like software, as reported here yesterday, has not gone down well, after the concerns raised here yesterday were confirmed by Finnish firm F-Secure. F-Secure said it feared that virus writers would use the cloaking system to hide their own creations making them impossible to find. The Amazon page featuring the Van Zant album on which the malware was first discovered, has become a makeshift protest site. In a stopgap measure to calm fans' concerns, Sony has released a patch, but the patch released does not resolve the basic complaint - that the proprietary CD player installed by Sony's copy-protected CDs cannot be uninstalled. All it does is unhide the files and attempt to stop the player from loading on reboot. Analysing the patch, Mark Russinovich, the former Microsoft engineer who discovered the problem, said it did not do enough to allay user fears and he urged Sony to release a full uninstallation program. The patch leaves intact the hidden files and used a potentially unsafe method to stop the player loading. He added that there were still unresolved questions about whether Sony did enough to warn about what the copy protection system did to users' computers. By installing the player and the hidden files users were unwittingly giving up control over part of the computer and leaving themselves open to a number of risks, he said. "There's no way to ensure that you have up-to-date security patches for software you don't know you have and there's no way to remove, update or even identify hidden software that's crashing your computer," he wrote. Currently anyone wishing to actually uninstall the proprietary player must apply to Sony BMG via a website to receive the uninstaller. In effect, you must ask Sony for permission to regain control of your own computer. Mr. Russinovich has applied to Sony for the uninstaller and plans to post an analysis of that when it arrives. If it arrives. Good luck, Mark. My original recommendation stands: Don't buy Sony (or any other) copy-protected music CDs, and let Sony BMG and other music labels know why you are not buying them. If you have already installed Sony's proprietary player, sue Sony (for fraud) and complain to your state attorney general's office. If you are a member of a band shopping for a label, make sure that any deal you sign includes the requirement that any copy protection-related software included on your CDs include a EULA that fully discloses everything the software does and includes an uninstall program that removes all traces of the software installation.

Microsoft in trouble: It appears that Microsoft is quite prepared to gut its core business - operating systems and business application software - in order to remain competitive in the brave new world of on-line applications. Announcing Windows Live and Microsoft Office Live, it will be competing head-on with its core business of selling or leasing software to end users. Why is it doing this? Because the handwriting is on the wall - if it doesn't, it risks becoming irrelevant as many of its core applications' users shift to online services offered by competitors. If it doesn't act fast, it could see its core audience dwindling away to other platforms and other applications providers. So the dreadnaught of Microsoft is now vulnerable and knows it. Hello, Linux and OS-X, goodbye Microsoft's draconian user license agreements.

The power of the web is striking fear into companies in other ways too. Wal-Mart is watching Google closely - every day in fact. It is no secret that Google is looking to use its search technology to enable shoppers to check for the best local price on an item by "googling" that item using a web-enabled cell phone - and Wal-Mart realizes it may not always be the low-price leader. This strong downward pressure on pricing could have serious implications for many retail business, not just Wal-Mart. Google is now looking to bring to the web many of the benefits consumers were promised early on, but have not received until now.

More evidence that neo-conservatism is bad for business: Despite Cheney's shameless and constant shilling for Halliburton and Smirkey's shilling for the oil companies - the only segment of the economy in which he seems to take an interest - it is becoming apparent to businessmen around the world that Smirkey's promotion of neo-conservative economic imperialism is bad for business - American business - in a fundamental way. The naked, blatant empire-building is turning people off around the world, and not just to American brands, but to international business and globalization in general. And business, particularly American-focused multinationals, are paying the price. A recent survey survey of 8,000 international consumers recently released by the Seattle-based Global Market Insite (GMI) Inc. noted: One-third of all consumers in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom said that US foreign policy, particularly the "war on terror" and the occupation of Iraq, constituted their strongest impression of the United States ... "Unfortunately, current American foreign policy is viewed by international consumers as a significant negative, when it used to be a positive," comments Dr Mitchell Eggers, GMI's chief operating officer and chief pollster. Brands the survey identified as particularly at risk at the time included Marlboro cigarettes, America Online (AOL), McDonald's, American Airlines, ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, United Airlines, Budweiser, Chrysler, Barbie Doll, Starbucks and General Motors.

Will Judy inflict herself on an unsuspecting nation again? Anything but that! Rumor has it that Judith Miller, the White House media whore who was a "reporter" for the New York Times until her shilling for Smirkey's crowd forced her to jail in an effort to rehabilitate her reputation, is now threatening to return to work under her original contract with the Times. A condition of not returning to work is apparently a non-disparagement agreement and a right to reply to her critics on the op-ed page. As one blogger put it, for the staffers at the Times, it's kinda been like "Around the third or fourth week of any movie shoot, people start muttering 'who do I have to f**k to get off this picture?'"

Smirkey's poll numbers just go down with his political fortunes: A new ABC/Washington Post poll reveals that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans now question Smirkey's integrity. On almost every key measure of presidential character and performance, the survey found that Bush has never been less popular with the American people. Currently 39 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 60 percent disapprove of his performance in office -- the highest level of disapproval ever recorded for Bush in Post-ABC polls. The dissatisfaction with Bush flows in part out of broad concerns about the overall direction of the country. Nearly 7 in 10 -- 68 percent -- believe the country is seriously off course, while only 30 percent are optimistic, the lowest level in more than nine years. Only 3 in 10 express high levels of confidence in Bush, while half say they have little or no confidence in this administration. One just has to wonder what planet that three in ten are living on. Meanwhile, a new poll of likely voters by Zogby International has found that a majority of Americans support Congress considering the impeachment of President Bush if he “did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq,” RAW STORY has learned. The poll, to be released this afternoon, finds that 51 percent of likely voters want Congress to eye impeachment, while 45 percent do not. It was commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, a coalition of progressive groups seeking a Congressional investigation of the events leading up to war in Iraq.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would eliminate federally protected critical habitat for endangered species on 150 million acres of largely undeveloped public and private land. The Senate could act on the legislation by year's end. But even without legislative action, the Bush administration is eliminating critical-habitat designations around the country. Administration officials say that habitat protections cost landowners billions and that voluntary plans work better for landowners and wildlife. In numerous cases, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her top deputies, citing their own cost estimates, have agreed with builders and property owners that the financial burden of habit protections outweighed any benefit to species.

The Project Censored 2005 Awards are out, and of the ten winners for the most censored news stories of the last year, I am very proud to say that I have reported on all ten of them before the awards were even announced. Remember folks, you can read it here first - you certainly won't read about it in your local paper or see it on Fox News, that's for sure!

The highway bill seemed like such a good idea when it sailed through Congress this summer. But now Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer's remorse. The $286 billion legislation was stuffed with 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers' districts, including what critics denounce as a $223 million "Bridge to Nowhere" that would replace a 7-minute ferry ride in a sparsely populated area of Alaska. But with spiraling war and hurricane recovery costs, the pork-laden bill has become a political albatross for Republicans, who have been promising since President Bush took office to get rid of wasteful spending. Conservative groups, government watchdogs and ordinary folks around the country are so offended by the size of the legislation -- signed into law by Bush in early August -- that efforts are underway in the House and the Senate to rescind or reallocate a portion of its funds. Despite the obscene amount of pork in it, Bush had no complaints about the current package when he signed it on Aug. 10. "This bill upgrades our transportation infrastructure," he declared. "And it accomplishes goals in a fiscally responsible way."

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: A leading Republican senator said Sunday that the Bush administration is making "a terrible mistake" in opposing a congressional ban on torture and other inhuman treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Sen. Chuck Hagel, considered a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said many Republican senators support the ban proposed by Sen. John McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. The ban, strongly opposed by Vice President of Torture Dick Cheney, was approved by a 90-9 vote last month in the Senate and added to a defense spending bill. The White House has threatened a veto, but the fate of the proposal depends on House-Senate negotiations that will reconcile different versions of the spending measure. The House's version does not include the ban.

Trickle-Down Trickling On You: The numbers are in, and what was reported here earlier was largely correct - wages and salaries rose 2.3 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the smallest gain since at least 1981, according to last week's employment cost index. That increase lagged consumer prices' 3.9 percent rise in the third quarter - 4.7 percent in September, resulting in an actual decrease in real wages of 1.6 percent on an annualized basis - considerably more than was reported here previously. "Increasingly, and moving up the education ladder, workers' wages aren't keeping pace with the price of products," said Catherine Mann, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics.

More Reasons Why I Am Embarrassed To Show My Passport: Five U.S. marines have been detained in the Philippines, accused of raping a local woman. The woman, 22, was allegedly raped by troops who were in the Philippines for joint military exercises. Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said he was "deeply concerned" about the claims, and the US embassy in Manila said it took the report very seriously. Analysts say the incident could fuel local opposition to America's military presence in the Philippines. US troops often take part in counter-terrorism training in the country, together with Filipino soldiers.

Republicans Support Our Troops: A Department of Defense decision to renege on war-time promises to pay bonuses to more than a dozen re-enlisting Washington State National Guardsmen has sparked outrage from prominent elected officials and state National Guard officers working to rectify the situation. According to a state Guard spokesman, Maj. Phil Osterli, at least 15 Washington National Guardsmen and women signed re-enlistment forms promising them a tax-free $15,000 bonus in return. Many of them were stationed in Iraq at the time, he said.

Scandals Du Jour: An auditing board sponsored by the United Nations has recommended that the United States repay as much as $208 million to the Iraqi government for contracting work in 2003 and 2004 assigned to Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. The work was paid for with Iraqi oil proceeds, but the board said it was either carried out at inflated prices or done poorly. The board did not, however, give examples of poor work. Some of the work involved postwar fuel imports carried out by K.B.R. that previous audits had criticized as grossly overpriced. But this is the first time that an international auditing group has suggested that the United States repay some of that money to Iraq. The group, known as the International Advisory and Monitoring Board of the Development Fund for Iraq, compiled reports from an array of Pentagon, United States government and private auditors to carry out its analysis.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former head of the Public Broadcasting Service who worked hard to politicize that broadcaster before he was removed, and who is now the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, is the subject of an inquiry into accusations of misuse of federal money and the use of phantom or unqualified employees, officials involved in that examination said Friday. People involved in the inquiry said that investigators had interviewed a number of officials at the agency and that, if the accusations were substantiated, they could involve criminal violations. And now it emerges that none other than Karl Rove may have been involved - he is now being investigated as part of the scandal, though no wrong-doing has yet been demonstrated.

Impunity for the CIA: As reported here previously, the Central Intelligence Agency has been implicated in the death of at least four detainees, but the US government has so far brought charges against only one low-level contract employee, possibly because modified policies under Smirkey grant interrogators wide latitude, the New Yorker magazine writes. In the case of one Iraqi terrorist suspect, Manadel al-Jamadi, who died shortly after being taken into custody two years ago, the US Justice Department has yet to file charges against anyone even though the death was classified as a homicide.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A top Republican Hawaii state lawmaker said Monday he will resign from the Hawaii Legislature on Dec. 1 because he was convicted of fondling a woman on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Rep. Galen Fox, former House minority leader, said he had been living with the consequences of his arrest, which went unreported for more than 10 months, and believes the people of his district should be represented by someone "unclouded by a conviction such as the one I now carry."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:54:33 PM

Sat, Nov 05 2005

Trip To Town Bombs Out - But I Am Richer Than I Had Thought

The weather today was absolutely outstanding. Yesterday was cold and rainy most of the day, but today couldn't have been lovelier. It started out bright and sunny as soon as I was up, and stayed that way most of the day, with only a brief rain during the afternoon. For the rest of the day, however, bright, sunny weather made for a perfect Saturday. Sure enjoyed the brief respite.

I was up fairly late, having not slept well during the first part of the night last night, so I didn't take early advantage. But as soon as I was up and had breakfast, I headed into town to the grocery store, which had promised me yesterday to get in some Nappa cabbage, which I quite like in salads. Well, I was disappointed. They didn't get any in. And they didn't get much else of what they had asked for either, so there wasn't anything worth buying. That trip was a waste.

But that wasn't my only reason for the trip. I also wanted to visit a couple of businessmen in town, to propose that they might want to look into a Mailboxes, Etcetera franchise, which is available for Arenal. MBE is eager to open a franchise here, and I would love to see them come, so I don't have to travel to San Jose to get my mail from the States. The franchisor has asked me to look for some likely franchisees. I had two particular businesses in mind, and unfortunately, neither one's manager was in. So that was a bust, too. I bought a paper and headed out to see one of my ham radio friends so the trip wouldn't be a total bust, and check on the progress of the house being built on the lot of a gringo friend nearby. I drove up to the house, and had a look. It is nearing completion - the roof is on, and it is ready for the upper floor, and when that is done, it will be ready for doors and windows. All in all, coming along nicely. He's really going to enjoy the place - it has a heck of a view, and the little house he is building will have lots of charm. I checked on a small cashew tree we had planted there when he was last in town, and it is coming along nicely - looks like it struggled a bit to get established, but it is growing well now, and should be flourishing before long. He's planning to come for a visit soon, and when he gets here, he'll have lots of bananas to eat - I counted five bananos (banana bunches) on his various plants, one of which will be ready about the time he is here.

I stopped at my ham radio friend's place and had a nice visit with him and his wife, catching up on all the local gossip. While there, a real estate agent in town, a mutual acquaintance, happened by, and the subject of the price of local real estate came up. He suggested that I could probably get about two and a half times what I had paid for this place, and I told him that if he could get that much money, I would be delighted to sell. Apparently, the demand for real estate in Arenal is well outstripping supply, and so the price of local real estate has been bid up into nosebleed territory, so I am quite happy to take the money and run before the price breaks. I could put the money in a property somewhere else, not in demand as a gringo colony, where prices are more in line with the usual Tico values, and live in fabulous luxury. Very tempting indeed.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The elites' plans to exempt themselves from airport security checks that are being imposed on the rest of us is not going down well. A plan to allow travelers to bypass the most intrusive airport security provisions by paying a fee, providing fingerprints or other biological identification and submitting to background checks came under attack from civil liberties groups this week as Congress prepares to give the program final approval. Under the Transportation Security Administration’s Registered Traveler Program, participants’ information will be compiled and processed by a yet-to-be-named private company (betcha it will be Checkpoint Technologies, Smirkey's favorite database company), according to the TSA. In exchange for submitting to the pre-approval process, fliers will be permitted to skip out on random body searches and other airport security measures. The required fee has not been decided on, but of course it won't be cheap.

Sony goes way over the top with digital rights "management": Demonstrating that the greed and avarice of the entertainment industry drives them well past the bounds of reason and prudence, Sony's new "copy-protected" music CDs, available from music stores and Amazon among other online sellers, contain serious computer malware known as a "rootkit." When running a Sony copy-protected CD on a computer, ordinary audio CD player software will not play the CD, but the CD will offer to install a special player designed to play the CD on the computer's sound system (and allow up to three copies of the CD to be burned on the computer). It is when the user installs this software that the "rootkit" malware, written by a company called First 4 Internet, is installed, and no mention of this fact is made in the EULA, ("I Agree" license agreement window) nor is the fact that it cannot be uninstalled or disabled. A "rootkit" is a program that, contrary to Microsoft's design policies, is carefully engineered to hide itself from a user or system administrator, perform actions that the user is unaware of and cannot detect or stop, and does so by means of modifying the computer's operating system software and program registry to hide itself from attempts at detection or alteration. Many computer viruses, trojans, worms and the like, use rootkits to hide themselves from attempts by anti-virus software to detect and remove them. There is no mention on Sony's or First 4 Internet's website of either the malware or the files which are a part of it. Sony's rootkit software runs all the time, even when the CD player is not invoked, and monitors the computer's use scanning all software in use, eight times every two seconds. When the player is playing a CD while online, information regarding the CD being played is surreptitiously sent via coded IP packets through the Internet to Sony, even if you have a firewall intended to stop this from happening. Even if the Sony player is uninstalled, this rootkit remains on the system and will run anytime the system is rebooted, consuming between 1 and 3 percent of the CPU's processing time. If a savvy hacker manages to figure out what is going on, and tries to disable the program, it is designed to permanently disable the CDrom drive (using a specially designed hidden program appropriately called "Crater.sys"), and force the user to re-install Windows from scratch, losing all previously installed programs and data. Worse yet, it hides all system files marked "$SYS$" from maintenance utilities, opening up a serious security breach - a hacker or virus can easily utilize its file-hiding scheme to conveniently hide itself as well. Strong recommendation: If you have already installed the Sony player on your computer, contact your state Attorney General's office and complain about the spyware that Sony has illegally installed. Apparently some states' attorneys general are already looking into this with an eye to prosecution. Also, Sony is liable for damages and inconvenience this causes you, since they don't disclose it in their EULA, and therefore, you are entitled to sue them, which I would encourage you to do. More importantly, don't ever buy a music CD that states its content is copy protected, as the First 4 Internet outfit that apparently wrote the malware claims to have agreements with other music companies as well. Contact the record company (Sony owns several) and tell them precisely why you're not buying their product. Contact the artists, too, and tell them the same thing - in most cases they have no idea that Sony has screwed them this way. If buying CDs from Amazon or other online booksellers, check the page carefully to see if it mentions copy protection. If it does, don't buy the CD.

Smirkey's much hyped pandemic flu plan is doomed, simply because it puts the burden on the states, which cannot afford it. The nation's response to a flu pandemic could not succeed without a strong effort by state and local governments because the battle might have to be fought on "5,000 fronts," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt says. But democrats in the House and Senate, however, question whether the states have the financial resources to engage in such a fight. In particular, lawmakers take issue with the Bush administration's plans for the purchase of certain medicines. The plan says states would pay about $510 million for enough anti-flu drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which can reduce the severity of the illness, to treat 31 million people. As reported here previously, Donald Rumsfeld has a significant economic interest in the rights-holder for the Tamiflu drug.

In what is an unfortunately rare move to actually protect the American people from their government, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday to block the court-approved seizure of private property for use by developers. The bill, passed 376-38, would withhold federal money from state and local governments that use powers of eminent domain to force businesses and homeowners to give up their property for commercial uses. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in June, recognized the power of local governments to seize property needed for private development projects that generate tax revenue. The decision drew criticism from private property, civil rights, farm and religious groups that said it was an abuse of the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause." That language provides for the taking of private property, with fair compensation, for public use.

In evidence that a few of the members of the Senate are having some misgivings about Smirkey's Supreme Court nominees these days, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday scheduled hearings and a vote in January for the Alito nomination. "It simply wasn't possible to accommodate the schedule that the White House wanted: before Christmas. It just couldn't be done. We have to do it right. We can't do it fast," said Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, announcing the timetable alongside Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the panel.

Pay More Get Less: The United States lags behind several other nations when it comes to medical errors, high out-of-pocket health-care costs, and foregone health care as a result of those high costs, according to a new survey released Thursday. More U.S. respondents (34 percent) reported having experienced at least one of four types of errors: medication errors, incorrect test results, delays in receiving test results or a mistake in treatment or care. In Canada, 30 percent of respondents reported at least one of these errors, as did 27 percent of Australian respondents, 25 percent of those in New Zealand, 23 percent of those in Germany, and 22 percent of those in the U.K. Note that the Brits, with their "socialized" health care system, spend one fourth as much on health care per capita as do Americans.

Healthcare advocates say the current plan for addressing the needs of hurricane survivors falls far short, while some propose – and try – alternatives. The Bush administration’s plan for addressing the health needs of hurricane survivors is to adjust the Medicaid system, the federal healthcare program for the poor. But healthcare advocacy groups say such stopgap measures fail to remedy the short-term crisis or the longstanding problems amplified by the plight of Katrina’s poorest victims. Medicaid enrollment patterns in Louisiana’s hurricane-shelter population indicate that even in their native state, a large portion of people seeking assistance will be shut out of the system. A state-led outreach effort in shelters, which ended last month, found that nearly one in every five survivors who requested Medicaid was rejected during initial eligibility screenings because they did not fit Medicaid requirements. Tara Lachney, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, reported that of about 6,900 remaining households that progressed to the application process, nearly 60 percent were denied coverage, or had their applications shelved "in hopes that we would be able to cover them under a future program."

The big untold story is why is he denying it: A spokesman for Sen. John Kerry vehemently denied that the senator had told a popular liberal author and journalist that he believed the 2004 election was "stolen" in response to queries from RAW STORY. The author, New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller, told Democracy Now and Air America's "Morning Sedition" the senator had confided in him at a fundraiser Friday, saying he believed the election was stolen after Miller offered Kerry a copy of his new book. Miller said that he was invited to the event by Peggy Kerry, the senator's sister. Miller was shocked to hear of Kerry's denial. "I call that contemptible," Miller told RAW STORY. "That's completely false.

The American Taliban: Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has suggested that those who deface freeways with graffiti should have their thumbs cut off on television. Goodman, appearing Wednesday on the "Nevada Newsmakers" television show, said, "In the old days in France, they had beheading of people who commit heinous crimes. "You know, we have a beautiful highway landscaping redevelopment in our downtown. We have desert tortoises and beautiful paintings of flora and fauna. These punks come along and deface it. I'm saying maybe you put them on TV and cut off a thumb," the mayor added. "That may be the right thing to do." Goodman also suggested that whippings or canings should be brought back for children who get into trouble.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully Thursday to force the House to take up a measure condemning Republicans for "their refusal to conduct oversight" of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy and to order investigations into it. The House voted 220-191, mostly along party lines, to set aside a resolution offered by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "I think it brings shame to the House for this Congress to be engaged in a cover-up when it comes to revealing what's happening in Iraq," Pelosi said.

In spite of what the 14th Amendment to the constitution says about birthright citizenship, the GOP is going to attempt to end it by statute. "There is a general agreement about the fact that citizenship in this country should not be bestowed on people who are the children of folks who come into this country illegally," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, who is participating in the "unity dinners," the group of Republicans trying to find consensus on immigration (or more accurately, scapegoat immigrants). Birthright citizenship, or what critics call "anchor babies," means that any child born on U.S. soil is granted citizenship, with exceptions for foreign diplomats. That attracts illegal aliens, who have children in the United States; in theory, those children later can sponsor their parents for legal immigration, but in reality, this is very difficult to arrange.

Republicans Working To Strengthen Democracy: It appears that the grass-roots effort to clean up Ohio's electoral and political system is meeting stiff resistance - and just guess who is at the root of the effort to stop it. Sure enough, it is Smirkey's Ohio crony machine. There are three groups, calling themselves the Ohio First Voter Education Fund, Strategic Public Partners and Protect Your Vote. Who are behind them? Tom Whatman, former executive director of the Ohio Republican Party who is now a Washington consultant and a lobbyist whose lobbying firm has received $6 million in federal contracts as reward for his efforts on behalf of Smirkey's crony machine, Brandon Lynaugh, who is vice president of Strategic Partners, and Darrin Klinger, who is listed as vice president of Whatman Partners. A whole different non-profit, Citizens for Tax Reform, also includes Tom Whatman. Citizens for Tax Reform - whose honorary chairman is Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the engineer of the 2004 vote debacle - is seeking a vote on its proposed constitutional amendment in November.

Trickle-Down Trickling On You: The U.S. Labor Department said Thursday the number of jobs that have disappeared around the Gulf coast and Florida because of the recent spate of hurricanes has passed the half-million mark.The government said the first layoffs related to hurricane Wilma have now shown up in their weekly gathering of employment statistics. It said 1,400 jobless claims cited last week's storm. The Labor Department also said it received another 18,000 unemployment claims related to two earlier storms, hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So where are all the reconstruction jobs going? To illegals, as was reported in this space on Thursday. A total of 56,000 new jobs were created in the US in October, as the effects of a series of hurricanes started to wane. But the number of new jobs created was well below expectations. Before the results were published, the consensus estimate of Wall Street analysts had predicted about 100,000 new jobs. Though the average wage showed a 2.9% increase over last year in dollar terms, when adjusted for inflation, the average wage actually declined by about 1% in real terms, continuing the trend begun in 2000. And job gains in August weren't as robust as previously thought. Employers added 148,000 positions in August — 63,000 less than estimated a month ago.

The Operation Offset plan, discussed in detail here on Thursday, for gutting social programs to pay for tax cuts for the rich has passed the Senate. A somewhat different measure is now making its way through the house, and Smirkey has said enthusiastically that he will sign it. Of course he will - it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, and isn't that what compassionate conservatism is all about?

The US Senate has also voted down an attempt to ban oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Senators narrowly rejected a Democratic attempt to halt the plan. Also in the same package, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have capped federal payouts to farmers and closed loopholes used by factory farms to take in millions or more in subsidies every year. By a 53-46 vote, the Senate opted not to include the proposal, which was expected to save more than $1 billion over five years.

News Of The Hurricane Recovery: Screw 'em over and hand 'em the bill - flood-ravaged Louisiana can't pay the $3.7 billion that the U.S. government says is its share of hurricane relief, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Thursday. "You can't squeeze $3.7 billion out of this state to pay this bill. Period. That would be difficult for us on a good day," the spokeswoman, Denise Bottcher, told USA Today. Staffers for the governor "about fell over" Wednesday night when they received the Federal Emergency Management Agency's estimate of the state's costs for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Mark Merritt, a consultant working for Blanco. FEMA projects that it will spend a total of $41.4 billion in Louisiana, about $9,000 per resident. Federal law requires state and local governments to pay a portion of disaster relief costs. That share can be as much as 25%. The $3.7 billion estimate is roughly 9% of FEMA's projected costs in Louisiana.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Some animals are responding to climate change in ways which could threaten their survival, a new study finds. Scientists showed that migration and breeding of the great tit, puffin, red admiral and other creatures are moving out of step with food supplies. The researchers say the rapid pace of climate change, together with pressures on habitat, make it difficult for species to adapt.

The Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, along with co-sponsors Swiss Re and the United Nations Development Programme, today released a study showing that climate change will significantly affect the health of humans and ecosystems and these impacts will have economic consequences. The study, entitled "Climate Change Futures: Health, Ecological and Economic Dimensions," surveys existing and future costs associated with climate change and the growing potential for abrupt, widespread impacts. The study reports that the insurance industry will be at the center of this issue, absorbing risk and helping society and business to adapt and reduce new risks.

Scandals Du Jour: Interesting revelations from the Abramoff-Scanlon School of Sleaze: Wednesday's Senate hearings yielded more scandalous revelations about how the dynamic lobbying duo bilked American Indian tribes out of millions and used the money to win elections for their Republican clients. But just how sneeringly cynical these two were about the Republican clients they were happily using, as well as the religious right and the public, is evidenced by a memo sent by Scanlon to one of his tribal clients. It reads: "The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them."

Speaking of the Abramoff scandal, it now seems to have sucked in yet another Republican politician: The Justice Department delivered a subpoena to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) this week, requesting documents to aid in its ongoing investigation of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Ney disclosed Friday. Ney has not been informed that he is the subject of any investigation, according to his spokesman, and said he would cooperate with the probe. "As I have said repeatedly, we will cooperate fully with any inquiry. I voluntarily provided information to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year and I have offered to make myself available to meet with the House Ethics Committee," Ney said in a statement.

Attorneys for OxyContin addict Rush Limbaugh want the Palm Beach, Fla., state attorney's office to be held in contempt, alleging that the office violated a court order by leaking information about the radio commentator's medical records to the Daily Business Review. The motion, filed Oct. 7 by Miami attorney Roy Black, who represents the conservative talk show host, also asks the court to determine the source of the alleged leak and to return Limbaugh's medical records "to ensure that the state does not leak them to the press again." Limbaugh is being investigated for "doctor shopping" - a common practice by OxyContin addicts who go to more than one doctor to get multiple prescriptions for the highly addictive pain killer. Like most conservatives, his gut reation is to try to keep his addiction a secret. Sorry Rush, the whole world knows you're just an Oxy junkie with a microphone. That is why nobody listens to you anymore.

Judge number two out, judge number three in: A new judge was selected to preside over Rep. Tom DeLay's conspiracy and money laundering trial Thursday, after another judge became the second to step away from involvement in the case because of political contributions he has made. Administrative Judge B.B. Schraub, a Republican who was to have selected the judge for the case, withdrew after Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle filed a request to have him removed. Two days earlier, District Judge Bob Perkins was removed from the case at DeLay's request because of his contributions to Democrats.

The "objective" Fox News caught paying for DeLay's travel: Tom DeLay has filed a report with the Clerk of the House of Representatives indicating he received free travel valued at $13,998.55 from Fox News Sunday for 'officially connected travel' on October 1-2, 2005, from Sugarland, TX to Washington, D.C. and back to Sugarland, TX. Rep. DeLay appeared on Fox News Sunday on October 2, 2005, the weekend after his indictment on September 28, 2005. Officially connected? I don't think so.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach, CA) used his influence to open doors in Washington for a Hollywood producer pitching a television show after the producer paid him a $23,000 option on a screenplay, records and interviews show. Before the option deal in late 2003, Rohrabacher's script, "Baja," had kicked around Hollywood for so many years that its conservative protagonist had morphed from a Vietnam veteran to a soldier who had served in the Persian Gulf War. The action-adventure tale, penned by the conservative Orange County congressman almost 30 years ago, revolved around an archeological expedition to Mexico by the vet and his antagonist, a liberal graduate student. Following the sale of the script to Joseph Medawar, a little-known producer, Rohrabacher helped introduce Medawar to at least five Republican congressmen and staff members at the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee in 2004. At the time, Medawar was pitching his latest Hollywood project — a TV series about the Department of Homeland Security.

A congregation has lost faith in their pastor, after he sold their church without telling them, and scammed them out of more than half of a million dollars. A 'for sale' sign never went up in front of the First Congregational Church in Ripon. Local police say the pastor peddled it on the sly and was spending the proceeds on big ticket items. It's no doubt an understatement to say church members are shocked. "It came out of nowhere, we didn't have a clue", says Church Leader David Prater. Church members didn't have a clue that their church, which has stood on the corner of Main and Acacia streets in Ripon for over 50 years had been sold. Police say the church pastor sold the church and a small cottage next to it for $525,000 dollars and pocketed the money. Church Council president David Prater said the news left them stunned.

News Of The Weird: Home Depot has been sued by a shopper who claims he got stuck to a restroom toilet seat because a prankster had smeared it with glue. Bob Dougherty, 57, accused employees of ignoring his cries for help for about 15 minutes because they thought he was kidding. "They left me there, going through all that stress," Dougherty told The (Boulder) Daily Camera. "They just let me rot." The lawsuit, filed Friday, said Dougherty was recovering from heart bypass surgery and thought he was having a heart attack when he got stuck at the Louisville store on the day before Halloween 2003. A store employee who heard him calling for help informed the head clerk by radio, but the head clerk "believed it to be a hoax," the lawsuit said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:11:20 PM

Thu, Nov 03 2005

Cow Grazing On My Grass

The weather has been awful the last two days, and today it is worse yet. The rainy season has returned with a vengeance, and it has rained all day, almost without letup. Needless to say, that has kept me inside, with chilly temperatures requiring a long-sleeved shirt and jeans instead of the usual t-shirt and shorts.

I was up fairly late, having not slept well last night, but as dark and cloudy as it was outside, there was not much incentive to roll out of the sack. Breakfast was late and I didn't even get to my email till about ten. And I spent a good deal of the day just editing this blog entry.

By mid afternoon, cabin fever had set in, and when the rain let up for awhile, I went out for a quick walk up and down the street, to catch some fresh air. I hadn't gotten far when I found a large black dairy cow grazing contentedly on the grass in front of my fence. I chased it across the street to where it could chew on the weeds for awhile, though I am sure it doesn't much care for them as much as the rather tall, sweet, succulent grass in front of my bougainvilleas. It was a young cow, one with immature horns, a cow I had not seen before.

Well, I went in and called the person who owns most of the dairy cows around here, and told her that there was a cow loose in the street. She asked what color it was. I replied that it was dark black, except for a white udder. "Black, black, black?" she asked. Yes, I replied. She thanked me for letting her know.

I wandered back out in the street to keep an eye on it till the owner showed up, to make sure it didn't munch on my landscaping. It wasn't long before I heard a motorcycle that I knew meant the owner of the cows was coming by. I stopped him and asked if he found the cow. "What cow?" he asked. I explained that there had been a young black dairy cow eating my grass in front of the fence and I had called his wife about it. He said it was not his. I begged his forgiveness, but he said that it is not uncommon for less-responsible owners to let them graze on street weeds, a practice that is legal, but not wise, and he said he has repented of. He didn't know who it belonged to. So, I guess I'll just have to check the front of the house once in a while until the owner comes to claim it.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: As if the saber rattling over Syria and Iran were not enough, the United States has apparently drawn up plans for an invasion of Saudi Arabia if a fundamentalist coup topples the government there. If the report in Middle East Newsline is to be believed, the response could include the deployment of three U.S. Army divisions backed by fighter-jets and airborne early-warning and alert aircraft. In all, the U.S.-led mission could include up to 300,000 troops. The House Armed Services Committee was apparently briefed on the prospect of a Saudi coup and U.S. response during a hearing on Oct. 26. The scenario was outlined by Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, who cited a Saudi coup as one of several threats to the United States. Saudi Arabia is one of the six countries targeted for regime change in the "Clean Break" document written in 1996 by the neocons currently running U.S. foreign policy for Smirkey. That document was written as guidance on foreign policy for the hard-line right-wing Likud government of incoming Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of senators and congressmen who are a blatant Robin-Hood-and-his-merry-men in reverse, have put together the budget priorities for paying for the largesse to campaign contributors and the other companies with which they are associated, while continuing and even adding to their tax cuts for the rich. In a project they are calling "Operation Offset," they are outlining how they intend to use the costs associated with Katrina and Rita as an excuse to essentially gut the few remaining social programs and economic competitiveness and sustainability initiatives. The "Budget Options" report makes for some incredibly grim reading, and offers some insights into the warped thinking of these people. The biggest single cut is to delay the Medicare prescription drug benefit for a year - they don't say how they expect the needy are supposed to get prescription drugs in the meantime. Some of the things they are calling "corporate welfare," for example, are the Research For Renewable Energy Sources program, the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, the Advanced Technology Program and the Foreign Market Development Program and the Export Enhancement Program. No cuts in the corporate welfare direct subsidies for the agricultural multinationals operating industrial-scale farms, such as Dole, Del Monte, Blue Diamond, Carghill or Archer-Daniels Midland. No raises in the user costs for Federal government-supplied irrigation water in California, being wastefully supplied to gigantic corporate farms at one tenth the actual cost to the taxpayers. No loophole closures in corporate welfare for energy companies, such as the oil depletion allowance. No cuts in the far-flung empire of military bases and deployments overseas (why do we still have tens of thousands of troops still stationed in Germany? Haven't they heard that the cold war is over?) Is there anywhere in the document that they recommend rescinding the tax cuts for the rich that got us into this budget mess in the first place? Well, no. And I am sure you are as surprised as I am. My thanks to a reader for this link.

Bedeviled by problems at home, Smirkey is confronting a new slate of troubles abroad this week on his first trip to Argentina, Brazil and Panama. He hasn't been able to achieve a Western Hemisphere trade agreement, thousands of anti-American demonstrators are planning street protests and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is waiting to take him on for the recently revealed "contingency" plans for an invasion. Several other Latin American leaders are angry at the "Washington consensus" forced on them by Ronald Reagan, that has stunted economic growth in the region for a generation and to which compliance is still demanded by Washington. Smirkey leaves today for the Summit of the Americas, where representatives of 34 nations are gathering in the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Chavez has indicated he plans to lead a "final burial" of Bush's plan for a giant "free trade" area that would include all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. Smirkey's popularity in Latin America is even lower than in the United States, and huge street demonstrations are promised. Brazilian president Lula Da Silva is leading an effort to revitalize Mercosur, a free-trade and regional integration bloc that does not include the United States, for the purpose of reducing American hegemony in the region. Smirkey would do well to remember what happened to Vice President Richard Nixon on a visit to Venezuela many years ago - he was pelted with eggs, and only quick thinking by his entourage drivers prevented him from being assaulted by a mob, and he skulked out of town the same day.

Smirkey's in trouble with the Europeans, too. The European Commission has said it will investigate reports that the CIA set up secret jails in Eastern Europe to torture and interrogate terrorist suspects. The governments of the European Union's 25 members nations will be informally questioned about the allegations, EU spokesman Friso Abbing said on Thursday. "We have to find out what is exactly happening. We have all heard about this, then we have to see if it is confirmed." He said such prisons could violate EU human rights laws and other European human rights conventions, and as the watchdog to ensure EU rules are properly adhered to the Commission would look into the issue.

John "Mr. Death Squad" Negroponte is going to get a grilling over not being bold enough about spying on Americans. He is to face lawmakers next week to answer concerns about whether his new office is meeting the goals Congress envisioned in a 2004 intelligence overhaul, congressional officials said on Monday. Among other issues, lawmakers are concerned that Negroponte and top aides have been too secretive in their decision making and that a newly announced national intelligence strategy was insufficiently bold, a House of Representatives intelligence committee official told a symposium in San Antonio. "We're just ... a little bit unconvinced that we have the kind of DNI with the focus that we had hoped to get. So, we are very concerned," committee staffer John Stopher said at the symposium, sponsored by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. He said House intelligence staffers were surprised and disappointed by the unclassified intelligence strategy that Negroponte announced last week. The strategy establishes the promotion of democracy as a top priority, behind fighting terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "I thought somebody was paid for that," said Stopher, Republican staff director for a House panel subcommittee that oversees technical and tactical intelligence issues. "We all sort of sat back and said, 'What is the DNI going to do? What is it that is going to make us safer?'"

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., Smirkey's latest Supreme Court nominee, apparently ruled in a 2002 case in favor of the Vanguard mutual fund company at a time when he owned more than $390,000 in Vanguard funds and later complained about an effort to remove him from the case, court records show - despite an earlier promise to recuse himself from cases involving the company. The case involved a Massachusetts woman, Shantee Maharaj, who has spent nearly a decade fighting to win back the assets of her late husband's individual retirement accounts, which had been frozen by Vanguard after a court judgment in favor of a former business partner of her husband. Her lawyer, John G. S. Flym, a retired Northeastern law professor, said in an interview yesterday that Alito's ''lack of integrity is so flagrant" in the case that he should be disqualified as a Supreme Court nominee.

The momentum for supporting the International Criminal Court in the Hague is building while U.S. ruling-class opposition grows: In a ceremony held today at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mexico deposited its instrument of ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), becoming the 100th State Party to the ICC. Mexico overcame a series of considerable political and constitutional hurdles to reach this day. The treaty deposit – which began with Mexico’s signature of the Rome Statute on 7 September 2000 – represents more than five years of concentrated work. Commenting on this momentous achievement and on what the future holds for Mexico, Maria Sirvent, Coordinator of the Mexican Coalition for the International Criminal Court, representing over sixty Mexican non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support the ICC, said, “Mexico's ratification of the Rome Statute represents an important advance in the fight against impunity.

Jeff Gannon is back. The phony "reporter" who was caught flacking for the White House in press conferences a few months back, and turned out to be the operator of a gay porn website and a gay "escort" service featuring himself, and who resurfaced recently, flacking for the White House in its pro-war march in response to the recent anti-war march in Washington, has resurfaced yet again. This time, he has appeared as an opinion writer for the Washington Blade, a Washington D.C. gay newspaper. Chris Crain, the editor of The Washington Blade and chief editorial boss of Window Media's other gay papers, says his Op-Ed page is simply offering fresh and challenging opinion when it decides to publish occasional columns by Jeff Gannon. "The job of any good opinion section is to challenge readers, not just preach to the choir," Crain wrote in a late September column. But many readers, it appears, felt not simply challenged, but outraged at the appearance of Gannon's columns. Crain now says there is a "steady stream of 'feedback/vitriol'" in response to Gannon's columns.

Joining a small but growing number of local governments seeking a solution to fast-rising prescription drug costs, legislators in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties approved a measure to allow county employees to buy lower-priced medication through Canadian or other foreign suppliers. Tuesday, the county council of Montgomery, Maryland passed the drug reimportation bill in a 6-2 vote, overcoming opposition from federal officials who had warned that the measure violates federal law. The federal ban on re-importation passed the U.S. congress in the wake of the pharmaceutical industry giving $17.6 million to political campaigns, two-thirds to Republicans and one-third to Democrats in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Michael Chertoff, the director of Homeland Security, has vowed to stop every single illegal immigrant entering the country, by recruiting 1,000 extra agents and increasing the use of unmanned drones. "Our goal is to gain control of our borders," said Chertoff. More than a million Mexicans are arrested every year as they try to enter the US to look for work. Experts said the migration trend would continue because of the huge wage gap between the US and Mexico. Meanwhile, members of Smirkey's party in congress are calling for the immediate construction of a two-layer reinforced fence with lighting and sensors the entire 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, along with a 100-yard border zone to the north of the barriers. The plan to build fence along entire 2,000-mile stretch would cost billions of dollars. Critics say it would do little to stop illegal immigration. Good luck, fellas, but you'd have a lot more success if you would work to help Mexico raise the wages of Mexican workers so they don't need to come to the States in the first place.

A new poll released by CBS News shows Smirkey's job approval ratings have dropped to an abysmal 35%. Bush's low job approval is far below that of some of his two-term predecessors at this point in their second terms. In November 1985, President Reagan had a 65 percent approval rating, and Bill Clinton's job approval in November 1997 was 57 percent. His approval ratings are better than only Nixon, who was embroiled in the Watergate scandal at this point in his presidency, and was on the verge of resignation due, as he said, to his inability to govern with such low acceptance of his authority. When they are popular, presidents are like celebrity gold dust sprinkled on the campaign trail of lesser candidates. George W Bush has been particularly magnanimous with his time. But with Smirkey so low in the polls, Republican candidates are beginning to avoid him. So consider then the decision of Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor in the state of Virginia. In a race that is too close to call he needs all the help he can get. Last Friday, the president gave a keynote speech to military personnel in Norfolk, Virginia. It was expected that Mr Kilgore would seize this opportunity to appear next to the commander-in-chief in front of a phalanx of cheering troops. The candidate declined, citing a prior campaign date with seniors. "I'm not ignoring the president," he told the Washington Post. But that was precisely the impression and it has been echoed by Republican hopefuls from Kentucky to Kansas.

Trickle-Down Economics Is Moving America Forward: The chiefs of bankrupt General Motors and the carmaker poised to become the world's number one as early as next year, Toyota, are reported to be meeting in Tokyo to discuss co-operation efforts. Neither company will confirm the meeting, but GM chairman Rick Wagoner, has been in Japan since Monday. Toyota is the world's most profitable car maker, while GM is losing billions of dollars. Toyota might help GM in order to avoid a public backlash against Japanese cars in the crucial US market.

Another demonstration of the results of Republican economic policies can be seen in the airline industry. Foreign investors could gain a greater say in how US airlines operate as part of Washington's efforts to bolster the aviation industry's fragile finances. The US is considering giving overseas firms more input into key decisions such as route selection and marketing to encourage them to invest capital.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: The Bush administration opposes a Republican proposal that oil companies voluntarily contribute some of their record profits to a federal fund that helps poor Americans pay winter heating bills, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley sent a letter to U.S. energy companies, urging them to donate 10 percent of their swelling profits to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), one of the programs recently cut by the Republicans in Congress. Asked by reporters if the administration supported the plan, Bodman responded: "No, sir. I wouldn't support it. It is similar to a tax." Now that's compassionate conservatism for you!

The Natives Are Getting Restless, Smirkey: Down south in the Latin American colonies, a potentially huge embarassment for Smirkey is brewing in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez, long the target of efforts for a regime change by Smirkey's crowd, is threatening to transfer some of his F-16 fighter jets to China or (gasp!) Cuba. Chavez accused the US of breaking a contract to supply spare parts for the jets it sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. He suggested that Washington would be less than pleased if military rivals gained access to the advanced planes. The F-16s were sold to previous Venezuelan governments that had better relations with the White House.

Smirkey has admitted that American plans for a 34-nation free trade zone in the Americas have stalled. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), planned for this year, would have covered 800 million people with an annual output of $14 trillion, but it has been scuttled by efforts by Latin American nations which see it as an effort to institutionalize American hegemony in Latin America.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming, It Will Go Away: A new computer model run by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories indicates that if humans continue to use fossil fuels in a business as usual manner for the next several centuries, the polar ice caps will be depleted, ocean sea levels will rise by seven meters and median air temperatures will soar by a dramatic 14.5 degrees warmer than current day, with temperatures in the high arctic as much as 20 degrees warmer. There will be a total loss of arctic tundra, to be replaced by boreal forest, right up to the edge of the Arctic Sea. By comparison, at the height of the ice age 18,000 years ago when Manhattan was buried under 2,000 feet of ice, the median air temperature was only 4.5 degrees colder than it is at present. Lawrence Livermore modeled carbon emissions and climate change from pre-industrial levels (1870) through 2300. This animation shows how the present (year 2000) global mean surface temperature change of 0.8°C increases to 7.8°C by 2300. Land areas warm more than the oceans. Arctic and Antarctic regions warm more than the tropics. Note the extreme warming of more than 20°C over the Arctic by 2300. These are the stunning results of new climate and carbon cycle model simulations conducted by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. By using a coupled climate and carbon cycle model to look at global climate and carbon cycle changes, the scientists found that the earth would warm by 8 degrees Celsius (14.5 degrees Fahrenheit) if humans use the entire planet's available fossil fuels by the year 2300.

California's iconic oak woodlands have endured many assaults over the years - they've been cut for fuel, cleared for vineyards and housing developments, and their seedlings face intense grazing pressure and competition from invasive grasses. But the future will bring a new threat - climate change - which could drastically reduce the areas in which oaks can grow. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have taken a close look at the implications of climate change for two familiar California oak species--blue oak and valley oak. Their findings will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will appear in the November 8 issue of the journal. The researchers found that the areas of the state where the climate is suitable for these species to grow will shift northward and could shrink to nearly half their current size as a result of global warming.

Scandals Du Jour: Lies, lies and more lies - White House officials are now denying that the fake Niger yellowcake documents came from Italian intelligence. "Prime Minister Berlusconi brought it up, and as they indicated, that there wasn‘t any documents that were provided to us on Niger and uranium," Scott McClellan, White House media pimp, said, following a White House meeting with Berlusconi and Smirkey. Smirkey cited British intelligence as the source of the information. But U.S. officials have said in the past that the information was "partly" traced back to Italian sources. They first surfaced when an Italian with links to the intelligence world had tried peddling them, unsuccessfully, to newspapers. Smirkey's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, denied on Wednesday that he or his staff received fake documents in 2002 that showed Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, a claim that formed part of the administration's case for going to war. After consulting with a member of his staff "to refresh my memory," Hadley told reporters that the documents were first obtained by the State Department and then shared with the CIA, and that he does not recall ever discussing the issue with Italian intelligence officials. Refresh his memory? I think "get the party line straight" is more likely.

Another smoking gun on the Ohio vote scandal: Precinct level 2004 Ohio exit poll data released publicly on June 6, 2005 show irrefutable evidence of vote miscount. In two Ohio precincts, even if all voters who did not respond to the exit polls had voted for Bush, the total Bush vote count would be less than the official reported vote counts. In a third precinct, all non-respondents would have had to vote for Bush to equal the official count. Thus, unless as much as 24% more Bush voters than Kerry voters lied on exit polls, or massive, implausible, and undetected exit poll error occurred, the Ohio election results are mathematically impossible.

Federal auditors say the prime contractor on a $1 billion technology contract to improve the nation's transportation security system overbilled taxpayers for as much as 171,000 hours' worth of labor and overtime by charging up to $131 an hour for employees who were paid less than half that amount. Three years ago, the Transportation Security Administration hired Unisys Corp. to create a state-of-the-art computer network linking thousands of federal employees at hundreds of airports to the TSA's high-tech security centers.The project is costing more than double the anticipated amount per month, and the network is far from complete -- nearly half of the nation's airports have yet to be upgraded.

As Michael "Brownie" Brown was botching the federal emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, the ousted FEMA director sent a series of embarrassing e-mails to colleagues discussing his appearance, the care of his dog, and, as the storm was making landfall, his desire to "quit" and "go home." Copies of Brown's e-mails were just provided by Department of Homeland Security officials to a congressional panel examining the government's disaster response. The emails can be found at thesmokinggun.com.

Big Brother Is Watching You: As reported here previously, the federal government, vastly extending the reach of an 11-year-old law, is requiring hundreds of universities, online communications companies and cities to overhaul their Internet computer networks to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to monitor e-mail and other online communications. The action, which the government says is intended to help catch terrorists and other criminals, has unleashed numerous protests and the threat of lawsuits from universities, which argue that it will cost them at least $7 billion while doing little to apprehend lawbreakers. The money is essentially an unfunded mandate - it is money that the federal government is demanding they spend without reimbursement or compensation. It is part of the Total Information Awareness data acquisition and mining initiative, begun under John Ashcroft, which was specifically outlawed by congress - a fact conveniently ignored by the administration.

News From The Various Wars On This And That: An ominous new development has appeared in the insurgency in Iraq: The use of children for "suicide" bombings. A child thought to be just ten years old, wearing an explosives belt, has died in a roadside explosion at the al-Quds intersection, near the oil rich city of Kirkuk. The 'suicide' attack occurred as a car carrying a senior Iraqi police official, Colonel Khatab, passed by. The official and his driver were wounded and are being treated in hospital. The report of such a young child being used for terror attacks comes as the US military issued a report showing how difficult it can be for its soldiers to prevent roadside bombs.

The reconstruction of Iraq is going badly and is about to grind to a halt. As the money runs out on the $30 billion American-financed reconstruction of Iraq, the officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished, according to a report to Congress released on Sunday. The report, by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, describes some progress but also an array of projects that have gone awry, sometimes astonishingly, like electrical substations that were built at great cost but never connected to the country's electrical grid. Only a bit more than half of the projects started have been completed.

U.S. troops in Iraq are firing .50-caliber machine guns at such a high rate, the Army is scrambling to resupply them with ammunition - in some cases dusting off crates of World War II machine gun rounds and shipping them off to combat units. In the 1990s, fiddy-cals and crates of .50-caliber ammunition gathered dust as the Army struggled to shed its heavy image and become lighter, quicker and more high-tech. But in the conflict that has intensified in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, the gun that grunts call the "fiddy-cal" or "Ma Deuce," after its official designation, M-2, has become a ubiquitous sight mounted on armored Humvees and other heavy vehicles.

The Occupation is the problem, not the solution: Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa charged in an interview that Washington's refusal to offer a troop withdrawal timetable was threatening the stability of Iraq. "The United States don't believe this issue to be linked to reconciliation efforts while the Arab League argues that it is key," he told the state-owned Roz al-Yusef daily. Mussa has recently launched an Arab drive aimed at ironing out differences between Iraq's ethnic and religious communities over the political future of the war-torn country. "The end of foreign occupation is one of the pre-requisites if we are to witness any progress in our efforts to help Iraq go forward," Mussa said Sunday.

News From The Hurricane Recovery Efforts: As businesses reap huge profits from contracts to clean up and reconstruct the storm-devastated Gulf Coast, a hidden underclass doing much of the toiling is underpaid, defrauded and mistreated. Workers interviewed by The NewStandard and by rights advocates attempting to document and improve conditions have described toiling for long hours cleaning up toxic mold, sludge and other dangerous substances like asbestos for low pay and sometimes no pay at all. They also describe living in squalid conditions in makeshift dormitories, emergency relief shelters or on the streets. According to an increasing number of reports filtering out of the Gulf area, layers of contractors and subcontractors hired by huge companies and by the federal government have been operating with near-impunity in the chaotic reconstruction zones, bringing in crews of mostly undocumented workers to labor long hours for low pay and increasingly for no pay at all. Immigrant rights groups monitoring the situation on the ground say the contractors frequently violate minimum-wage and overtime laws, often failing to provide the workers housing or adequate safety equipment, failing to pay workers and then calling in immigration authorities when the workers complain.

Several of the levees that flooded New Orleans may have been built with shoddy materials or by contractors who took shortcuts to save money, an investigator told Congress Wednesday. About a dozen people, including engineers and contractors, made the allegations of poor workmanship in recent weeks to investigators probing the levee failures, said Raymond Seed, the head of a National Science Foundation team examining the levees. Seed would not identify the tipsters and he cautioned that the allegations may ultimately have nothing to do with the levee disaster that led to hundreds of deaths. But he said that investigators are taking the tips seriously and intend to turn them over to federal officials.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Ralph Reed, the baby-faced ex-leader of the Christian Coalition and one of Bill Clinton's chief accusers, now has yet another scandal of his own - seems that he took money from an Indian tribe for influence peddling on behalf of some of the tribe's gambling interests, and then sought to launder the money through a variety of entities before it made its way to his pocket. Reed directed that his compensation from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana be routed through "a variety of entities ... because of his concern about being publicly associated with gambling money," U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee opened its latest in a series of hearings into lobbying fees charged to tribes that own casinos. Dorgan said documents to be released later today will show that a $400,000 payment went from the Coushatta tribe to a tribal vendor to a foundation associated with Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and, finally, to Reed's Duluth-based consulting firm, Century Strategies.

A US Army chaplain was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison after pleading guilty at his court-martial to three counts of forcible sodomy against enlisted men. Capt Gregory Arflack, 44, a Roman Catholic priest serving as a chaplain with the 279th Base Support Battalion, also admitted three counts of committing an indecent acts, two of fraternization with enlisted service members, and one count of conduct unbecoming an officer.

News Of The Weird: A Utah judge asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to let him stay on the bench after a commission that oversees judges ordered him dismissed because he has three wives. Those pursuing the case against Judge Walter Steed say his plural marriage creates a conflict: After taking an oath to uphold the law, he shouldn't be breaking it. "You can't have it both ways," said Colin Winchester, the executive director of the state's Judicial Conduct Commission. The commission issued an order seeking Steed's removal from the bench in February, after a 14-month investigation determined Steed was a polygamist and as such had violated Utah's bigamy law. Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah punishable by up to five years in prison, but Steed's attorney, Rod Parker, said Utah's attorney general and the Washington County prosecutor have declined to prosecute his client.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:11:19 PM

Tue, Nov 01 2005

Roads Down South Still Not Open

No rain yesterday, but the rainy season has resumed, as we are having a temporary reprieve in the hurricane season out in the Caribbean. The weather onshore has therefore been more typical of the rainy season, with the usual morning sun followed by afternoon thunderstorms. Today it was rain, but not a hard rain, and with no thunderstorm activity. This year has seen far less thunder and lightening than last year. There hasn't been a thunderstorm here for two weeks now, and usually this time of the year is when they are the most intense, happening every afternoon. The trade winds have resumed, and we are actually getting winds out of the east again, for the first time in weeks.

The evening news tonight showed that the efforts to restore the road between Dominical and Quepos are still underway. In Cartago province, near Juco, the road around and through the huge landslide that cut off the town and buried part of it, has roadbase now in place, and it looked like it was about ready to be bladed and compacted to passability - it is remarkable, given the size of the landslide (7 million cubic feet) that no one was killed, but they saw it coming and had everyone evacuated before it occurred. The rest of the emergency road repairs out on the coast are apparently still works in progress, and may take some time to complete. The rains before and just after Stan were incredibly destructive - much more than they usually are this time of year. I have to wonder how the poor folks in Portalon and nearby communities are getting along. It has to be rough for them, being essentially cut off as they are. Sure hope this isn't going to become a habit every year at this time.

My neighbor's house construction seems to have resumed after about a two-week cessation in activity. Today, I heard a lot of sawing and hammering, so I am guessing that the doors and windows are finally going in, so the house can be painted on the inside. The primer is all up, but the final paint can't go on until the window and door frames are in place and animals can be kept out. I haven't been up there to have a look to see what is really going on.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The other Supreme Court shoe has dropped. Smirkey has nominated Federal Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito to replace Harriet "I-Love-Smirkey" Miers as the nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the US Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Alito's credentials as a conservative extremist are unexcelled by just about anyone on the Federal bench, where, among his colleagues, his extremist views have earned him the nickname "Scalito" for Antonin Scalia, the most extreme conservative currently sitting on the Supreme Court. For example, Alito wrote a dissent in which he upheld the provision of a Pennsylvania law that would have required a woman to notify her spouse before obtaining an abortion (a Supreme Court majority later disagreed with Alito.), writing, in effect, that a husband owns his wife's uterus, and that her rights and her vulnerabilities are therefore hardly worth protecting, and discounting the threat posed by abusive spouses as being so infrequent as to be of little concern. He has written decisions that weaken civil rights law, particularly in the areas of race and gender, the employee rights, including pension security, of workers in both government and industry. He is also notably hostile to immigrants seeking asylum, requiring an extraordinarily high bar they must surmount to be granted asylum - a standard even higher than either Thomas or Scalia on the Supreme Court has demanded in cases that have come before that court. In other cases, Alito insisted that the private possession of machine guns was not an economic activity, and there was no empirical evidence that private gun possession increased violent crime in a way that substantially affected commerce - therefore, Congress has no right to regulate it, and he wrote a majority opinion (later reversed by the Supreme Court) that claimed Congress could not require state employers to abide by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

All this suggests he might have a rather restrictive view of how far the federal government can go - say, with environmental laws or food adulteration laws - to protect its citizens, while it offers a blank check to corporations to do as they please, while endorsing repressive conservative domestic policies. This raises a little known issue that is of grave concern, about which he is almost certainly not going to be asked in his confirmation hearing. That is whether the Commerce Clause can even be used is the basis of federal regulation of corporations, and whether the Fourteenth Amendment can and should be applied to corporations to give them the same legal rights as human beings. It is known that three of the current members of the court believe that the Commerce Clause cannot be used to justify federal regulation of corporations at all, in any way whatsoever - meaning that if the new chief justice John Roberts as well as Alito agree with the other three - and there is plenty of evidence that they do - anything goes. Corporations would no longer be subject to any federal regulation whatsoever, and the ICC, the SEC, the FDA, the EPA, the FCC and the whole alphabet soup of federal regulatory agencies that restrict the behavior of corporations operating across state lines - would simply go away as far as corporations are concerned, because the constitutional basis for their existence would be eliminated. Welcome to a brave new world of indifferently or deliberately poisoned or contaminated food and fake drugs, unrestrained pollution, stock watering and accounting fraud, anti-competitive behavior, shaky and fraudulent banks, credit-card and mortgage shakedowns, unlimited overtime required of workers, even without pay and with no recourse, no workplace safety regulations, etc. - all perfectly legal, to the apparent satisfaction of Sam Alito. Welcome to the worst of third world governance, America.

There's another question that needs to be asked of the new Supreme-To-Be: Where were you in '72? Specifically, what were the circumstances of Sam Alito getting a coveted slot in the Army Reserves that year, while the Vietnam War was still raging? Could it be that clear back then, the Republicans were protecting their own young chickenhawks? Far be it from me to suggest such a thing...

The Associated Press is reporting that Saddam Hussein accepted an 11th-hour offer to flee into exile weeks ahead of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, but Arab League officials scuttled the proposal, officials in this Gulf state claimed. Why they did so remains unexplained. The exile initiative was spearheaded by the late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, at an emergency Arab summit held in Egypt in February 2003, Sheik Zayed's son said in an interview aired by Al-Arabiya TV during a documentary. The U.S.-led coalition invaded on March 19 that year. A top government official confirmed the offer on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Saddam allegedly accepted the offer to try halt the invasion and bring elections to Iraq within six months, claimed the official and Sheik Zayed's son. Saddam's plan to save his country didn't work, and the rest - all the spilled blood, lost treasure, ruined hopes and dreams - as they say, is now current history.

Yankee planning for Cuba's regime "transition" after the demise of Fidel Castro, who is now 79 years old and in declining health, has entered a new stage, with a new interagency office for "reconstruction" inside the US State Department preparing for the "day after", when Washington will try to back a "democratic" government in Havana, as reported in this space previously. But now other agencies are being brought in. The inter-agency effort, which also involves the Defense Department, assumes that the Cuba transition will not go peacefully down the path favored by Washington, and that the US may have to launch a "nation-building" exercise."The transition genie is out of the bottle," Caleb McCarry, the Cuba transition coordinator said, referring to opposition activities inside Cuba, and a "broad consensus" reached with the exiled community. "They are the ones to define a democratic future for Cuba." Officials say the US would not "accept" a handover of power from Mr Castro, to his brother Raul, aged 74. While it is not clear what the US position means, Mr McCarry stressed the US would not "impose" its help. Did we hear that in Haiti? Venezuela? Iraq? And since when should it be only the exiles that govern a post-Castro Cuba?

David Addington, counsel to Vice President Cheney, has been announced to succeed Scooter Libby as Cheney's chief of staff. But Addington's own role in the Plame matter is now emerging. Addington, as a legal counsel to the White House team, is the author of the infamous memo that claimed that the war on terrorism has rendered the Geneva Conventions "obsolete." He was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and congressional sources. His strongly fascist leanings suggest that Cheney is moving his office's focus away from political appearance-keeping and more towards repressive policy-making. Moreover, as a pivotal member of the vice president's office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe. On the morning of July 8, 2003, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, then-chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, had a two-hour meeting with New York Times "reporter" Judith Miller at which Libby gave information to Miller in an attempt to discredit former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. When Libby returned to the White House, he immediately sought out David Addington, the vice president's counsel, according to court records and interviews. During their breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel, Libby had promised Miller he would try to find out more about Wilson, and Wilson's wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame. As the former general counsel to the CIA and counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, Addington was the right man for Libby to see. Addington was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and congressional sources.

Honor and decency in the Oval Office: In the aftermath of the latest scandal to confront the White House, Bush's overall job approval rating has fallen to 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC Gallup polls. Barely a third of Americans -- 34 percent -- think Bush is doing a good job ensuring high ethics in government, which is actually lower than President Bill Clinton's standing on this issue when he left office. The survey also found that nearly seven in 10 Americans consider the charges against Libby to be serious. Funny, but we are not hearing any baying hounds demanding Smirkey's impeachment as we did at this point in Clinton's scandals. I wonder why.

China knocking on the door once again: US oil giant Exxon Mobil has dismissed a proposed bid to buy it from a little known Chinese firm for $450 billion. Last week Exxon posted a quarterly profit of $9.9 billion, the largest in US corporate history, on the back of record oil and gas prices. King Win Laurel has filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission offering to buy the firm in a dollars and yuan deal worth $70 a share. King Win Laurel, which said it was incorporated in New Zealand on 21 October, said the offer was subject to financing and included incentives for shareholders if the price of oil kept on rising. But Exxon said it had received no communications from China.

The Syrian saber-rattling moves to the Security Council: The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding Syria's full cooperation with a U.N. investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister and warning of possible "further action" if it doesn't. The United States, France and Britain pressed for the resolution following last week's report by a U.N. investigating commission, which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 20 others. The report also accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the inquiry. As reported here previously, is that it is now known that the report was seriously flawed by design - in fact, it appears to be heavily influenced by U.S. intelligence for the purpose of justifying U.S. intervention.

A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled up an old artillery shell. The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance. Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large, pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand. The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form. What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States. While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been suspected. The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.

Investing in Smirkey's campaigns is the best business there is: Thirty Ohioans who raised a combined $4.1 million for President Bush's re-election campaign have received more than $1.2 billion in public funds for their companies and clients. Since Bush took office in 2001, the federal government has given those companies more than $447 million in subsidies, contracts and other payments, according to records analyzed by The Toledo Blade. Ohio has awarded them about $800 million in the last six years, the paper reported Sunday. But not all of those campaign contributors won big: A coin dealer and major Republican donor at the center of a scandal in Ohio government was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on charges of illegally funneling $45,400 in contributions to Smirkey's re-election campaign.

Bill Clinton is finally taking on his smugly comfortable Democratic colleagues in Congress and elsewhere. Clinton attributed the Republican control of Congress to the inability or unwillingness of Democratic candidates to "stand up and be heard" on issues that matter to people. He specifically cited abortion. He says Democrats too often are unwilling to talk about the issue because they're afraid of hostile reactions from anti-abortion groups. The former president says Democrats also need to fight back against personal attacks from conservatives if they want to regain power. As he put it, "If you don't want to fight for the future and you can't figure out how to beat these people then find something else to do." What Bill doesn't understand is that these people have no convictions - they have long since sold out and look only to poll numbers for guidance.

The United Methodist Church's top court has ordered a lesbian minister defrocked, overturning a lower panel's ruling that had reversed the penalty, the church announced on Monday. Elizabeth Stroud "was accorded all fair and due process rights" and an appeals committee that reversed her removal from the ministry in April erred in saying church officials had failed to define what a "practicing homosexual" was in terms of church law, the ruling said.

If you're curious about Smirkey's sudden getting religion about the need to prepare for the flu pandemic, there is a reason: the prospect of a bird flu outbreak may be panicking people around the globe, but it's proving to be very good news for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other politically connected investors in Gilead Sciences, the California biotech company that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the influenza remedy that's now the most-sought after drug in the world. Rumsfeld served as Gilead (Research)'s chairman from 1997 until he joined Smirkey's administration in 2001, and he still holds a Gilead stake valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Rumsfeld. Smirkey is also interested in helping drum up support for his party's scheme, as reported here previously, to create a federal law that forces people to allow themselves to be injected with unsafe and unproven vaccines, and create impunity for the vaccine manufacurer or the government from any damages that result. This legislation would also be a wonderful balm for Gilead and other vaccine manufactuerers owned in part or whole by Republicans, who could reap billions from a flu vaccine every American were forced to take and pay for.

Room with a view: If you have a property with a nice view, you can expect your property taxes to go up accordingly. The latest fad among governments assessing taxes on property is to factor in the view. A property with a "million dollar view" can get taxed accordingly - and drive the owner into bankruptcy. This is leading the newly impoverished owners of million-dollar views to begin to organize tax protests, and has led several governments to modify their tax policies.

Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session Tuesday, questioning intelligence that led to the Iraq war and deriding a lack of congressional inquiry, and the Republicans' handling of that intelligence. "I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted," Democratic leader Harry Reid said. Taken by surprise, Republicans derided the move as a political stunt. Reid demanded the Senate go into closed session. The public was ordered out of the chamber, the lights were dimmed, and the doors were closed. No vote is required in such circumstances. Reid's move shone a spotlight on the continuing controversy over intelligence that President Bush cited in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Despite prewar claims, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and some Democrats have belatedly accused the administration of manipulating the information that was in their possession.

A battle over a policy requiring that ninth-graders in the rural community of Dover, PA, learn about "intelligent design" in biology class is being fought on two fronts - one political, one legal. In a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, 20 miles away, a judge is hearing arguments in the sixth week of a landmark trial over whether the concept can be introduced in public school. The non-jury trial is expected to conclude Nov. 4; it is unclear when the judge will issue a decision. At the polls in Dover, voters will render their decision Nov. 8 on whether to retain eight of the nine Dover Area School Board members — all Republicans — or replace them with a Democratic slate whose platform calls for removing intelligent design from the curriculum. Republican voters outnumber Democrats in the district nearly 8-5. But party affiliation may not matter in the election: While the challengers are running on the Democratic ticket, half of them are actually registered Republicans, according to a spokesman.

A car parked outside the State House in Montpelier, Vermont, bore a bumper sticker saying, ''Regime change begins at home." Inside, about 100 Vermonters gathered in the House chamber for the Vermont Independence Convention -- devoted to Vermont creating a regime of its own. If participants have their way, the state whose former governor was laughed out of the 2004 presidential race after the infamous Iowa scream is going to take what some call its wackiness and others call its sanity in a crazy world and go home. Go home to the 14 years in the late 18th century when Vermont was neither a British colony nor one of the original 13 states but was an independent republic. Texas gets more notice as a Lone Star State, but Vermont shares with it the distinction of having gone it alone for a while. Friday's event was steeped in that history, and an urge to try it again. But the convention wasn't all history. A lot of it was strategizing and sharing ideas on how Vermont independence might be achieved again, and why it should. This is a revolution with a website and a blog.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: There is fresh evidence that global warming, the Atlantic hurricane oscillation, and deforestation in the Amazon for large soybean farms and cattle ranches are all working in concert to bring drought to the Amazon basin, and there are hints that it may even lead to the desertification of the world's largest rain forest. The "lungs of the planet" is facing a major drought, and with it, huge wildfires that could tip the balance into a permanent deforestation of the region. Rivers and lakes nearly dry, hundreds of tons of dead fish, isolated villages supplied with food by helicopters, boats beached in the mud and people forced to walk kilometers to look for water are becoming a common sight in many parts of the southwest Brazilian Amazon. Already, 17 percent of the Amazon has been deforested, and scientists are suggesting that the tipping point to irreversibility could be as little as 20 percent, but not more than 30 percent, which at the current rate of deforestation, could be achieved in only a few years.

News Of The Hurricane Disasters: Two months after Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 1 million people, problems with federal housing aid threaten to spawn a new wave of homelessness. In Texas, thousands of evacuees who found shelter in apartments face eviction threats because rents are going unpaid. In Louisiana, some evacuees are beginning to show up in homeless shelters because they haven't received federal aid or don't know how to get it. Advocates for the poor say the situation will worsen this winter. “They are the poorest folks … and they are the ones who are going to be left with nothing,” says Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It's going to show up at homeless shelters this winter.”

Meanwhile, workers at the FEMA call centers, who are having to turn down requests for help, are having to endure incredibly high job-stress levels. Evelyn Simmons, one of the workers, tells of the agony. Some hurricane victims tearfully call her from motel rooms, out of money and hope, begging for any kind of help she can provide from the federal call center where she works. Some angrily demand quicker assistance and less bureaucracy. Some have even told Simmons' colleagues they're considering suicide. "They're helpless, and you can't get to them," she said. The hopelessness lingers for Simmons, 57, and her co-workers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency center long after the callers hang up.

The engineers who designed the floodwalls that collapsed during Hurricane Katrina did not fully consider the porousness of the Louisiana soil or make other calculations that would have pointed to the need for stronger levees with deeper pilings and wider bases, researchers say. At least one key scenario was ignored in the design, say the researchers, who are scheduled to report their findings at a congressional hearing Wednesday: the possibility that canal water might seep into the dirt on the dry side of the levees, thereby weakening the embankment holding up the floodwalls. "I'd call it a design omission," said Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley civil engineering professor who took part in the study for the National Science Foundation. The research team found other problems in the city's flood-control system, including evidence of poor maintenance and confusion over jurisdiction. Bea also questioned the margin for error engineers used in their designs, saying the standards — which call for structures to be 30 percent stronger than the force they are meant to stop — date to the first half of the 1900s, when most levees were built to protect farmland, not major cities.

The Natives Are Getting Restless, Smirkey: For the last several days, the buzz on the Internet and a few uninformed journalists have been warning us that Bolivia is being threatened by “peacekeeping” forces made up of Chilean, Paraguayan, and Brazilian troops led by U.S. commanders and soldiers. It now appears, according to some analysts, that this is a disinformation campaign, being promoted by the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice." The intent appears to be to further destabilize the politics of Bolivia, in an attempt to distract and divide the opposition to the current neo-liberal regime being propped up by Washington. The central issues to Bolivia’s 21st century social agenda, provoked by Cochabamba’s “water war” in 2000 and the “gas war” in the city of El Alto in 2003, revolve around three central ideas: defense of natural resources; land redistribution; and the construction of a new state in the context of a mixed economy, enriched by the communal economic logic of reciprocity. This is more or less a reworked version of the tasks that faced Bolivia in 1952, but contextualized to the needs of the 21st century. All this depends on a further strengthening of democratic processes that represent the full spectrum of the Bolivian population. But destabilization of the democracy in Bolivia is being promoted by the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" to facilitate a grab, through forced privatization, of Bolivia's huge energy reserves.

Big Brother Is Watching You: In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court earlier this week, the federal government is seeking permission to serve a "John Doe" summons on PayPal, Inc. as part of an investigation into credit card holders who are exploiting bank secrecy laws in dozens of foreign countries. Federal investigators said in court documents that they are seeking records from PayPal because they have no other way to track down the suspected tax evaders who may be using the online payment service to transfer money illegally. But what else are they going to use the records for? Looking at the spending habits of dissidents? We don't know. And that is the problem.

A Houston, TX newborn was reunited with her family Monday night after the state took custody of the baby and her older brother after her urine tested positive for marijuana. Zelma Jackson gave birth to her second child on Oct. 19 at Northeast Hospital in Houston after she and her family fled Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. However, Child Protective Services took custody of the newborn girl and her 3-year-old brother after the hospital reported a positive test for marijuana based on an unconfirmed urine test. Hospital officials have not said how they legally retrieved a urine sample from the baby.

Big Brother Is Watching Out For You: The US Supreme Court is debating its first religious freedom case since the appointment of the new Chief Justice, John Roberts. The judges are deciding whether to let a small congregation in New Mexico worship with hallucinogenic tea. The hoasca tea is considered sacred to members of the group, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal. However, the administration of President George Bush argues that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. About 130 members of a Brazil-based church have been in long-running dispute with federal agents, who seized their tea in 1999.

Trickle-Down Trickling On You: Get out your checkbook, because the most sweeping reform of the American tax system ever proposed is about to come out of an American administration, and if you are a middle-income taxpayer, it has you in its gunsights. Smirkey's "bipartisan" tax commission is preparing to go to Congress with a radical tax reform package. But before it has even been published, the proposals of the President's tax reform commission are already stirring controversy. The commission - which is chaired by former Republican Senator Connie Mack, with former moderate Democrat John Breaux as vice-chair - will now publish its recommendations on 1 November, four months later than planned. It wants to simplify the number of different tax rates and reduce the lowest rate to 15%. But to pay for those changes, it will propose the virtual elimination of most of the tax breaks enjoyed by many middle-income Americans. These include mortgage tax relief, tax breaks to pay for private health insurance, and offsetting tax breaks for state and local taxes. Some would be replaced by tax credits, but with strict limits on the size of the deduction.

General Motors and Ford have again reported falling domestic sales, while those of their Japanese rivals continue to rise. Releasing their figures for October, both GM and Ford saw US sales drop 23%, particularly hit by falling interest in their sports utility vehicles (SUVs). Both firms have been over reliant upon thirsty SUVs, sales of which have dropped as gasoline prices have risen. Japan's Honda saw US sales rise 4.2% last month, while Toyota was up 5.2%.

U.S. consumer spending dropped for a second month in September when adjusted for inflation, the first back-to-back decline in 15 years and a sign that rising fuel costs left Americans with less money for other purchases. Personal spending adjusted for inflation, which strips away the rise in energy prices, fell 0.4 percent after falling 1 percent in August, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Before the adjustment, spending rose 0.5 percent last month after a 0.5 drop in August. Incomes rebounded from a plunge in August caused by uninsured losses from Hurricane Katrina.

Scandals Du Jour: Tommy goes judge-shopping - the judge in the money-laundering and conspiracy case against Tom DeLay has been removed at the US congressman's request. Lawyers for the former House majority leader told the Texas court that Bob Perkins had made contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. They said the donations called his impartiality into question. The judge hearing the request has not announced a new trial judge.

Jack Abramoff, the indicted uber-lobbyist closely tied to several high administration officials including Karl Rove, has apparently figured in a lobbying scandal involving the Mariana Islands, a U.S. trust territory in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Justice Department never acted on a post-Sept. 11 proposal, contested by Abramoff, calling for increased federal control over immigration to the Mariana Islands. The agency reassigned the two officials who produced a 34- page report that contained the proposal, and House members of both parties who oversee the Homeland Security and Justice departments said they were never told about it. The 2002 report warns that continued local control over the Marianas' borders will "seriously jeopardize the national security'' of the U.S. This is a problem, because restricting immigration could be a blow to the economy of the Marianas, which is located about three-quarters of the way to the Philippines from Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The Marianas have almost five times as many foreign workers as native workers and aren't subject to U.S. minimum-wage laws. That helps them produce and ship vast quantities of T-shirts, caps and pants cheaply to the U.S., all labeled "made in USA.''

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's decision not to indict deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove in the CIA leak case followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations between the prosecutor and Rove's defense lawyer, Robert Luskin. On Tuesday afternoon, Fitzgerald and the chief FBI agent on the case, Jack Eckenrode, visited the offices of the D.C. law firm where Luskin works to meet with the defense lawyer. Two sources close to Rove who asked not to be identified because the probe is ongoing said Luskin presented evidence that gave the prosecutor "pause." One small item was a July 11, 2003, e-mail Rove sent to former press aide Adam Levine saying Levine could come up to his office to discuss a personnel issue. The e-mail was at 11:17 a.m., minutes after Rove had gotten off the phone with Matt Cooper—the same conversation (in which White House critic Joe Wilson's wife's work for the CIA was discussed) that Rove originally failed to disclose to the grand jury. Two possibilities - the Levine conversation could have been irrelevant. Or the email may have been doctored - easy to do.

Always corporate self-interest, always: Wal-Mart and the deep-pocketed Walton family have emerged as big supporters of California "governator" Schwarzenegger, giving $1 million to causes he supports, as he vetoed some Wal-Mart "unfriendly" legislation over the past year, according to a published report Monday. USA Today has reported that one union-backed bill, which Schwarzenegger vetoed early in October, would have forced the state to disclose names of companies whose workers get government health services meant for poor residents. A second bill vetoed last year would have stopped employers from locking workers inside workplaces -- a policy Wal-Mart has when employees stock shelves and clean floors after closing hours, a practice opposed by health and safety officials, because employees can be trapped in a fire with no means of escape, the paper said. Because of all the bad publicity, Wal-Mart has put together a war room to watch the media and develop counter-strategies, based on political campaign methods.

At the Washington Post online yesterday, Jeff Morley raised the possibility that last year's Dan Rather/National Guard papers scandal may have prevented CBS's 60 Minutes from airing a story on the origins of the Niger forgeries. The account given by the Post may be incomplete, and substantially incorrect, however. CBS decided that it could not run a story about forged Niger memos while it was embroiled in a scandal about forged National Guard memos. Later, CBS announced it would not run the story because it was too soon before the November election. After the election was over, no plans were made to run the piece, either in the expurgated or complete form.

The Guantanamo abuse will remain hidden: Three United Nations human rights investigators said on Monday they could only accept a U.S. invitation to visit Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba if they are permitted to interview detainees. Nearly four years after the visits were first requested, Washington said on Friday the three envoys, including the U.N. rapporteur on torture, could visit foreign terrorism suspects because it had "nothing to hide." But although they could question U.S. military officials, the envoys would not be allowed to speak to any of the some 505 detainees, the Pentagon said. Well, if the Pentagon is not hiding anything, why not allow the U.N. to talk to the prisoners?

News From The Various Wars On This And That: The Bahraini Embassy in Washington has formally asked the U.S. government to launch an immediate investigation into torture, abuse and other brutal tactics used against a Bahraini prisoner held at its detention center in Guantanamo, Bay, Cuba. A Bahraini detainee held at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay has written a letter protesting his innocence and detailing appalling interrogation methods the U.S. guards use to break the detainees held there. Juma Mohammed Abdul Latif Al Dossary sent his letter to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights that reported his torture complaints. Washington claims that the Bahraini detainee is member of Al Qaeda network and that he was in Afghanistan, Tora Bora in late 2001, before illegally crossing the border into Pakistan where he was arrested by the Pakistani authorities.

News Of The Weird: Struck down in a baptism - a pastor was electrocuted during a baptism in Waco, Texas, after grabbing a microphone while partially submerged. Rev Kyle Lake, 33, was standing in a small pool used for baptisms at the University Baptist Church when he was electrocuted on Sunday morning. Rev Lake reached out to adjust a nearby microphone, which produced an electric shock, said church pastor Ben Dudley. Rev Lake, who had a wife and three children, had been at the church for nine years.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:55:00 AM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.