Letters From Exile

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

Fri, Mar 31 2006

More Adventures In Pest Control

The mini-rainy season appears to be over. The cold, rainy and windy weather of the last several days ended this morning around ten, and almost like someone flipped a switch, the rain quit, the sun came out and the wind died down. By noon, the temperature, which never exceeded 74 all morning, was up to 80, where it stayed all afternoon. Overnight lows were 71 both days.

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit ambitious, so I got out the grinding disk I bought at the ferreteria the other day, and finally cut off the padlock on my tool box, so I can use my tools. Everything inside appeared to be in good order, just as I had packed it three years ago, and of course, nothing was missing. So I am out one padlock, but at least my tools are accessible now.

That left me inspired to go ahead and hang the two pictures that were sitting on the floor, the last items remaining from moving in all the stuff that had been in storage. I got out the drill and chucked up the little 3/16 masonry bit I bought at the ferreteria, too, and went to work. In minutes, I had drilled a two-inch deep hole in the wall and screwed in a drywall screw and hung up the picture. Looks nice hanging over the couch. I repeated the process in the bedroom for the last remaining picture, and now I am completely, totally, finally, moved in. Feels good to have all that behind me now.

Well, yesterday morning, I sat down at the computer bright and early, and noticed that my computer desk was crawling with those pesky little tiny ants that I have battled so endlessly around here. There were so many, I knew they had to be coming in from outside, and so I checked around the window frame and sure enough, that was the source. They were coming in from a gap between the somewhat warped window frame and the cinderblock wall in which the frame is set, and it appeared that they had built a colony in there. So with my trusty spray can of Baygon "Death Power" (it says in Spanish) insect spray, I sprayed into the gap as best I could, all along the gap, to kill the colony in there. After the spray had dried somewhat, I got out the calking gun and laid down a bead of silicone rubber along that gap, so the ants won't be able to get back in.

That spray is potent stuff. It'll knock down insects in seconds, just like it claims on the label. The concern I have is what it is doing to me. Every time I use much of it, I end up with a mild headache and slight nausea for a couple of days. So I am just hoping that the "death power" appellation doesn't refer to me. The ants are gone now, but I just hope I don't end up gone with them.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The George W Bush administration failed to enter into negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program in May 2003 because neo-conservatives who advocated destabilization and regime change were able to block any serious diplomatic engagement with Tehran, according to former administration officials. The same neo-conservative veto power also prevented the administration from adopting any official policy statement on Iran, those same officials said. Lawrence Wilkerson, then chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, said the failure to adopt a formal Iran policy in 2002-03 was the result of obstruction by a "secret cabal" of neo-conservatives in the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney. "The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran," Wilkerson wrote in an e-mail to Inter Press Service (IPS). The Iranian negotiating offer, transmitted to the State Department in early May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, acknowledged that Iran would have to address US concerns about its nuclear program, although it made no specific concession in advance of the talks, according to Flynt Leverett, then the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East Affairs. Iran's offer also raised the possibility of cutting off Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and converting Hezbollah into a purely socio-political organization, according to Leverett. That was an explicit response to Powell's demand in late March that Iran "end its support for terrorism". Realists, led by Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were inclined to respond positively to the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, within a few days of its receipt, the State Department had rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer. Exactly how the decision was made is not known. "As with many of these issues of national security decision-making, there are no fingerprints," Wilkerson told IPS. "But I would guess Dick Cheney with the blessing of George W Bush."

During Dick Cheney's infamous secretive Energy Policy Task Force meeting with oil executives early in the administration, apparently he turned over maps of Iraq's oil reserves and facilities to the oil company executives. Remember, this was well before there was public discussion of a war in Iraq, and even before the events of 9/11. Judicial Watch has obtained the documents from the Commerce Department, under a March 5, 2002 court order as a result of Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force. The documents contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." The documents are dated March 2001.

With the US trade deficit at a record high and global interest rates rising, East Asian economies need to be prepared for a possible sharp slump in the value of the dollar, the Asian Development Bank warned here. 'Any shock hitting the US economy or the global market may change investors' perceptions given the existing global current account imbalance,' Masahiro Kawai, the ADB's head of regional economic integration, told reporters on a trip here. The ADB's headquarters are in Manila. 'Our suggestion to Asian countries is: don't take this continuous financing of the US current account deficit as given. If something happens then East Asian economies have to be prepared,' he said. Because of the highly inter-dependent nature of the East Asian economies, if countries worked together to allow their currencies to collectively appreciate against a tumbling dollar then the cost of adjustment would be spread, he said.

The FBI is under attack in Puerto Rico for operations that critics say unfairly target pro-independence activists. Students masqueraded as rifle-toting federal agents, while others donned T-shirts with the face of a man they called Puerto Rico's "liberator." Near the angry shouts and political placards stood Elma Beatriz Rosado with a calm explanation for it all: "I want the FBI out of Puerto Rico. The time has come for them to leave, now." Rosado's husband - convicted bank robber, fugitive and pro-independence activist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos - was killed in an FBI shootout in September. In the months since, the FBI has catapulted onto the front pages here, accused of deliberately letting the founder of the radical Macheteros group bleed to death as well as stonewalling follow-up investigations. Last month, federal agents executing search warrants on the homes of independentistas were captured on video pepper-spraying journalists covering the story, with seemingly little or no provocation, further fueling anti-FBI sentiment. The Puerto Rico Department of Justice sued the FBI last week in federal court, saying the agency is obstructing local law enforcement investigations into the two incidents. Puerto Rico's Justice Secretary recently traveled to Washington to lobby Congress to pressure the FBI into releasing information about them.

Five federal judges gave a boost Tuesday to legislation that would bring court scrutiny to the Bush administration's domestic spying program. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., the judges reacted favorably to his proposal that would require the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct regular reviews of the four-year-old program. The existence of the warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency was revealed by The New York Times three months ago. The judges stressed that they were not offering their views on the NSA operation, which they said they knew nothing about. But they said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has operated capably for 28 years and is fully able to protect civil liberties and give the administration all the speed and flexibility it needs to execute the war on terror. The administration contends the president has inherent war powers under the Constitution to order eavesdropping without warrants. "I am very wary of inherent authority" claimed by presidents, testified U.S. Magistrate Judge Allan Kornblum. "It sounds very much like King George."

The Pentagon has stalled efforts for years to clean water supplies contaminated by a carcinogenic chemical despite evidence that it posed a significant health risk to millions of people, it was reported yesterday. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the solvent, trichloroethylene, extensively used on military bases, after significant quantities were found in water supplies. In its report, published in 2001, the EPA found it to be 40 times more likely to cause cancer than had been previously thought, and recommended tough safety standards to limit public exposure. There was also evidence the chemical played a role in birth defects. But the Los Angeles Times reported that the defence department, which owns 1,400 bases and other sites contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), fought the findings, challenging their scientific basis. Under pressure from the Pentagon, political appointees at the EPA overruled their own scientists, took them off the case and postponed action pending a further study by the National Academy of Sciences, which is due to report this summer. "The evidence is that there was some monkey business going on between the EPA and the Pentagon," said Gina Solomon, an expert on environmental medicine at the University of California, who was on the scientific board that reviewed the EPA report. "The 2001 report was an excellent piece of scientific work," Dr Solomon told the Guardian.

Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists. Now UAVs may be landing in the United States. A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring."We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory," Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee.

Former White House counsel John Dean, who helped push President Richard Nixon from office during the Watergate scandal three decades ago, heads to Capitol Hill on Friday to back an uphill attempt to censure President George W. Bush. "I think that there's absolutely no merit in it, and that the hearing will expose it because of the president's broad (constitutional) authority," Specter said. Republicans have dismissed the resolution as a political stunt, while many Democrats have distanced themselves from it as they jockey for position for the November congressional elections.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted on Friday the United States had probably made thousands of errors in Iraq but defended the overall strategy of removing Saddam Hussein. Local Muslims and anti-war activists told Rice to "Go Home" when British counterpart Jack Straw earlier led her on a tour of his home town of Blackburn in the industrial northwest, an area which rarely plays host to overseas politicians. "Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them," she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A new Arkansas small-business health-insurance plan has healthcare advocates concerned that its limited scale and scanty benefits are not worth its cost to the state's low-income residents. The plan is the latest implementation of a federal initiative allowing states to shift Medicaid money into new, public insurance programs. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee rolled out the program as an innovative way to help small businesses provide employee health insurance. Some healthcare advocates, on the other hand, wonder if the initiative is more about political bragging rights in Huckabee's possible bid for president in 2008 than about providing meaningful coverage to the state’s working poor. With enrollment expected to begin by January 2007, the Arkansas Safety Net Benefit Program will offer a bare bones insurance package to businesses that have 50 or fewer workers and have not provided employee health insurance for one year.

U.S. President George W. Bush warned at the end of a North American summit on Friday that an immigration plan being debated by the U.S. Congress must include a guest worker program for illegal immigrants. The so-called three amigos - Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper - wrapped up their talks by vowing to work together on border security, avian flu and energy issues. But deep differences remained. A U.S. plan that will require Canadians and Mexicans to carry a passport or passport-type document to cross the U.S. border was a cause of concern for Harper, a newly elected conservative whose appearance at this sun-soaked beach resort was one of his first forays on the international stage. "We're obviously concerned that if we don't move quickly and properly on this, that this could have effects on trade and movement of people, conventions, you name it, that is not helpful to our economy or to our relationship," Harper said.

Joshua Bolten, the incoming White House chief of staff, wants Treasury Secretary John Snow replaced with someone who can present the administration's message more forcefully, The New York Times reported Thursday. Bolten, who takes over the top staff job next month, wants President Bush to shake up his economic team and overhaul White House management, the Times said, quoting a prominent Republican who consults with the White House. Among the names being mentioned to replace Snow were Henry Paulson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs; John Mack, chief executive of Morgan Stanley, and Richard Parsons, chairman of Time Warner, the newspaper said.

In communities across the United States, times are tough for many, but the financial status of black Americans looks especially dire and continues to lag far behind that of whites, according to a new report released Wednesday. Themed "Opportunity Compact," the 2006 edition of an annual report by the liberal think tank National Urban League (NUL), relays mostly negative trends in disparity between blacks and whites. "The state of black America is in trouble," said NUL’s president, Marc Morial, in a statement accompanying the report. Published annually since 1976, "The State of Black America" assesses progress made in education, health, housing, jobs, social justice and discrimination. The 2006 report, released yesterday, found that in terms of equality there has been little improvement over the last few years, and even slippage in some areas.

An American civilian group will soon be on the lookout again for illegal migrants entering the United States from Canada along stretches of the border. Starting April 1, volunteers with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, angered with the ongoing entry of illegal migrants to the United States, will be watching from New York to New Hampshire at locations yet to be disclosed. Washington state volunteers are also to be on guard. "There's no real border security, and we feel there's a good chance terrorists could get in," said Peter Lanteri, a Long Island resident and head of the initiative in New York state. "What we're doing is a neighbourhood watch on our own border. We are another set of eyes, just as the government asked Americans to be after 9-11." Lanteri expects 36 volunteers to take part in New York state - most of them former military and law-enforcement officers concerned about both economic migrants, criminals and potential terrorists. The group claims 6,500 volunteers throughout the United States.

Americans polled by TIME magazine show strong support for a guest-worker program and a process for undocumented workers to become citizens, but they take a tough stance on securing the borders. And most do not want illegal immigrants to have access to health care, public education or driver's licenses. In the telephone survey of 1004 adults, conducted Wednesday and Thursday, 79% say they favor a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. for a fixed period of time - the main provision of the bill proposed by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy that is now under fierce debate in Congress. Only 47% of those polled say they support the tougher measure backed by some House conservatives, deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home countries. Although Americans want to give illegal immigrants the chance to work in the U.S. temporarily and even earn citizenship - 78% say illegal immigrants who learn English, have a job and pay taxes ought to have a chance at it - they also want better enforcement both at the border and inside the country. A large majority, 71%, favor major penalties for people who hire illegal immigrants; 62% want the U.S. to take "whatever steps are necessary" to secure the border with Mexico, including posting military forces; and 56% favor a 2,000-mile-long fence. That two-pronged approach to illegal immigration is the same one favored by President Bush, who wants both a guest worker program and tighter border security.

Washington, like about a dozen other states, does not permit people with felony convictions like DuBois to vote until they have completed their entire sentences, including paying all financial penalties. But on Tuesday, voting rights activists made a small dent in a system of state laws that disenfranchise citizens as a consequence of felony conviction. A state court struck down a requirement that felons pay all financial penalties before regaining their voting rights.

Supreme Court hearings could be shown on TV under a bill approved by a Senate committee Thursday but opposed by some high court justices. Two bills that, if they became law, would allow more federal court proceedings to be televised moved a step forward in the Judiciary Committee. One, which passed 12-6, would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all open sessions unless a majority of the justices decide that coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party before the court. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said the Supreme Court becomes a "super-legislature" when it decides far-reaching public policy questions, and should make its proceedings more accessible. "The public has a right to know what the Supreme Court is doing," Specter, R-Pa., said. "The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it's going to roll over my dead body," Justice David Souter told a congressional panel in 1996. Two sitting justices, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer, and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, left no doubt about their opposition to cameras in the high court during an American Bar Association event in November.

Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen, in a memo written for RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, warns that if members of Congress try to drive a wedge between themselves and Pres. Bush, it'd be akin to adding weight to an anchor. GOpers are "W Brand Republicans" whether they like it or not. And van Louhizen, who has polled (often secretly) for the Bush White House under the RNC aegis for years, is worried about low turnout. Time Magazine first reported on the memo this weekend.

Easy to say when you have two DUIs on your record: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney scored points as a stand-up comedian, telling a radio and television correspondents' gathering: "I'm a real party animal." Filling in for President George Bush, who was en route to a summit in Mexico, Cheney poked fun at himself and others at the 62nd annual Radio & Television Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington Wednesday night. Referring to the accidental shooting of a lawyer while quail hunting in Texas earlier this year, Cheney squinted into the bright lights. "The lighting could be better but I can still see the whites of your eyes," he said. He accompanied his routine with a slide show, and one picture showed him in a room crowded with revelers and Cheney in the center, sitting and poring over a stack of documents. "I know how to have fun," he said. "I'm a real party animal."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday reinstated a permit needed for the construction of a gold mine north of Juneau, but environmentalists plan to fight the decision to allow waste to flow into a natural alpine lake. In November, the Corps suspended a permit to allow Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. to dump ore waste from the Kensington gold mine into the lake after environmentalists said the discharge would kill fish in the remote wetland. The Kensington project is the first metal mine to take advantage of a federal rule loosening restrictions on mountaintop coal extraction. The rule now classifies discharge milled ore waste - known as tailings - as benign fill and not a pollutant. The Idaho-based mining company said it will resume full construction of the gold mine, expected to produce 100,000 ounces of gold annually starting in 2007. "We will now focus on moving forward with the full-scale construction of the mine," Couer d'Alene Mines Chief Executive Dennis Wheeler said in a statement.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor: House conservatives criticized President Bush, accused the Senate of fouling the air, said prisoners rather than illegal farm workers should pick America's crops and denounced the use of Mexican flags by protesters Thursday in a vehement attack on legislation to liberalize U.S. immigration laws. "I say let the prisoners pick the fruits," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of more than a dozen Republicans who took turns condemning a Senate bill that offers an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants an opportunity for citizenship. "Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter A," said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, referring to a guest worker provision in the Senate measure. Their news conference took place across the Capitol from the Senate, where supporters and critics of the legislation seemed determined to heed admonitions from both Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to conduct a dignified, civilized debate.

Halliburton Watch: Frustrated government auditors pleaded, cajoled and finally threatened Halliburton Co. executives who repeatedly failed to comply with government reporting requirements under a key Iraq contract with a $1.2-billion potential price tag, newly released documents show. The documents, along with a report, were issued Tuesday by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Government Reform. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) had requested the report on the contract, considered crucial to the restoration of oil production capacity in southern Iraq. The 15-page report cites findings by auditors that Halliburton overcharged - "apparently intentionally" - on the contract by using hidden calculations, and attempted in one instance to bill the government for $26 million in costs it did not incur. Auditors also challenged $45 million in other costs, labeling them as "unreasonable or unsupported," the report said. The report blamed the Department of Defense for awarding the contract despite warnings from auditors that Halliburton's cost estimating system had "significant deficiencies." Although federal officials have criticized the company and threatened to cancel its contracts, Halliburton remains the largest private contractor in Iraq.

Your Tax Dollars At Work: This is the Alaskan bush at its most remote. Here, tundra meets sea, and sea turns to ice for half the year. Scattered, almost hidden, in the terrain are some of the most isolated communities on American soil. People choose to live in outposts like Dillingham (pop. 2,400) for that reason: to be left alone. So eyebrows were raised in January when the first surveillance cameras went up on Main Street. Each camera is a shiny white metallic box with two lenses like eyes. The camera's shape and design resemble a robot's head. Workers on motorized lifts installed seven cameras in a 360-degree cluster on top of City Hall. They put up groups of six atop two light poles at the loading dock, and more at the fire hall and boat harbor. By mid-February, more than 60 cameras watched over the town, and the Dillingham Police Department plans to install 20 more - all purchased through a $202,000 Homeland Security grant meant primarily to defend against a terrorist attack. Now the residents of this far-flung village have become, in one sense, among the most watched people in the land, with - as former Mayor Freeman Roberts puts it - "one camera for every 30 residents." Some don't mind, but many others are furious and have banded together to force the city to take the cameras down. "You better smile. You're on camera," says Roberts, 64, a barge captain. Roberts himself isn't smiling as he points out a single camera on the side of a building. The camera is aimed toward an alley.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Transparent Government: Through an apparent loophole in agency rules the Food and Drug Administration has allowed its employees to receive more than $1.3 million in sponsored travel since 1999 from groups closely tied to pharmaceutical and medical device companies. FDA policy bars employees from taking trips paid for by the drug, medical device and other companies the agency regulates or by their trade groups. But the Center for Public Integrity has found nonprofit associations that draw their members, their boards and even some of their funding from medical and pharmaceutical-related companies paying for the travel of hundreds of FDA employees. The sponsor of the most trips was the Drug Information Association, which footed the bill for more than 600 trips taken by FDA employees. The nonprofit group made up of pharmaceutical and medical device employees, academics and government regulators boasts 13 members on its board of directors who work or have worked for the industry or its consulting groups. The FDA has come under heavy criticism since Vioxx and other widely prescribed drugs were recalled for safety reasons. Members of Congress and government watchdog groups have charged that the regulatory agency is too close to the industry it oversees to impartially and effectively police the roughly 10,000 drugs on the market.

Conservatives Believe In A Fair And Impartial Judiciary: A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday. Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it. "I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing," said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University. Smith snapped the photo of Scalia flicking his hand under his chin after a Herald reporter asked the conservative jurist his response to people who question his impartiality on matters of church and state.

Free Markets And Privatization Solve All Problems: The infamous Blackwater USA security firm has offered to provide forces for any counter-insurgency mission around the world. J. Cofer Black, vice chairman of Blackwater USA told the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (Sofex-2006), that his company could supply private soldiers to any country. Black, a former U.S. State Department counter-terrorism coordinator, said Blackwater has been marketing the concept of private armies for low-intensity conflicts. "About a year ago, we realized we could do it," Black said. Blackwater has been a leading private security firm in Iraq. The company provides thousands of foreign and Iraqi personnel for government and private security missions. In his presentation in Amman, Jordan, on March 27, Black said Blackwater could supply peace-keeping forces. He said the company was capable of providing a brigade-sized force on alert. One option, Black said, was for Blackwater to provide forces for Sudan's Darfour province. He said the company could bolster existing peace-keeping forces from the African Union.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: U.S. corporate profits have increased 21.3% in the past year and now account for the largest share of national income in 40 years, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Strong productivity gains and subdued wage growth boosted before-tax profits to 11.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2005, the biggest share since the summer of 1966. For all of 2005, before-tax profits totaled $1.35 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion in 2004 and just $767 billion in 2001. Meanwhile, the share of national income going to wage and salary workers has fallen to 56.9%. Except for a brief period in 1997, that's the lowest share for labor income since 1966. "It's a big puzzle," said Josh Bivens, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "If this is a knowledge economy, how come the brains aren't being compensated? Instead, the owners of physical capital are getting the rewards." Meanwhile, hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, continue to fall significantly, as announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Air temperatures above the entire frozen continent of Antarctica have risen three times faster than the rest of the world during the past 30 years. While it is well established that temperatures are increasing rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula, the land tongue that protrudes towards South America, the trend has been harder to confirm over the continent as a whole. Now analysis of weather balloon data by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that not only are the lower reaches of the Antarctic atmosphere warming, but that they are doing so at the fastest rate observed anywhere on Earth. Temperatures in the troposphere - the lowest 8km (5 miles) of the atmosphere - have increased by between 0.5C and 0.7 C (0.9F and 1.3F) per decade over the past 30 years. This signature of climate change is three times stronger than the average observed around the world, suggesting that global warming is having an uneven impact and that it could be greater for Antarctica.

A one-two punch of bleaching from record hot water followed by disease has killed ancient and delicate coral in the biggest loss of reefs scientists have ever seen in Caribbean waters. Researchers from around the globe are scrambling to figure out the extent of the loss. Early conservative estimates from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands find that about one-third of the coral in official monitoring sites has recently died. "It's an unprecedented die-off," said National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller, who last week checked 40 stations in the Virgin Islands. "The mortality that we're seeing now is of the extremely slow-growing reef-building corals. These are corals that are the foundation of the reef ... We're talking colonies that were here when Columbus came by have died in the past three to four months." Some of the devastated coral can never be replaced because it only grows the width of one dime a year, Miller said.

New England could be in for a big one. Meteorologists say conditions - including warmer temperatures in the Atlantic Basin and cooler temperatures in the Pacific Ocean - are ripe for the Northeast coast to be hit by a whopper of a hurricane this season. Ken Reeves, a senior meteorologist at the AccuWeather Center in State College, Pa., said that when the Pacific is cooler, it "essentially drives the storm track further to the east in the Atlantic Ocean basin." He predicts the East Coast north of the Mid-Atlantic states could see a Category 3 hurricane, a storm that could resemble the devastating systems that hit New England between the 1930s and 1950s. "There are some eerie similarities to the pattern of the 1938 hurricane," he said. A 1938 storm known as the "The Long Island Express" remains the region's worst hurricane. Its 121 mph winds gusted to 183 mph and caused massive flooding, power outages and wind damage throughout the region, leaving 600 people dead. During recent decades, New Englanders mostly have experienced only the remnants of storms that hit other parts of the country, such as Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Bob in 1991, which brought heavy rains, localized flooding and power outages.

News From Smirkey's Wars Call it desperation, but the United States has started to take measures in Iraq that would wreck its most cherished goal there: democracy. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is reportedly campaigning to either dump the United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, or force him to withdraw. Khalilzad has taken the drastic measure of appealing to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to that effect.

Parliament's largest bloc nominates the prime minister under Iraq's constitution, and last month Jaafari captured the nomination by one vote with the help of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. However, the 275-member parliament is now at an impasse in talks over forming a new government as the main Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs staunchly oppose a Jaafari premiership.

The steadily worsening situation in southern Afghanistan is not the work of some ineffable Al Qaeda nebula. It is the result of the real depredations of the corrupt and predatory government officials whom the United States ushered into power in 2001, supposedly to help fight Al Qaeda, and has assiduously maintained in power since, along with an "insurgency" manufactured whole cloth across the border in Pakistan--a U.S. ally. The evidence of this connection is abundant: Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan. This state of affairs is so bewildering that Kandaharis have reached an astonishing conclusion: The United States must be in league with the Taliban. They reason that America, with its power and riches, could bring an end to the "insurgency" in a month, if it so chose. They figure that America remains a close and munificent ally of Pakistan, the country that is sponsoring the "insurgency," and so the continuing violence must be a deliberate element of U.S. policy. The point is not whether there is any factual basis for this notion, it's that everyone here believes it. In other words, in a stunning irony, much of this city, the Taliban's former stronghold, is disgusted with the Americans not because of their Western culture, but because of their apparent complicity with Islamist extremists.

Soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear body armor other than the protective gear issued by the military, Army officials said Thursday, the latest twist in a running battle over the equipment the Pentagon gives its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials told The Associated Press that the order was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested commercial armor from private companies - including the popular Dragon Skin gear made by California-based Pinnacle Armor. "We're very concerned that people are spending their hard-earned money on something that doesn't provide the level of protection that the Army requires people to wear. So they're, frankly, wasting their money on substandard stuff," said Col. Thomas Spoehr, director of materiel for the Army. Murray Neal, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, said he hadn't seen the directive and wants to review it. Veterans groups immediately denounced the decision. Nathaniel R. Helms, editor of the Soldiers for the Truth online magazine Defense Watch, said he has already received a number of e-mails from soldiers complaining about the policy. "Outrageously we've seen that (soldiers) haven't been getting what they need in terms of equipment and body armor," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who wrote legislation to have troops reimbursed for equipment purchases. "That's totally unacceptable, and why this directive by the Pentagon needs to be scrutinized in much greater detail."

Forgetting that Saddam is behind bars, Smirkey said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador's meddling, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government. In his third speech this month to bolster public support for the war, Smirkey worked to counter critics who say the U.S. presence in the wartorn nation is fueling the insurgency. Smirkey said that Saddam was a tyrant and used violence to exacerbate sectarian divisions to keep himself in power, and that as a result, deep tensions persist to this day.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Consider the following scenario: It's Saturday, and you feel like going to the movies. You see the latest installment of The Chronicles of Narnia advertised in your local Examiner newspaper (part of a chain whose name has been trademarked in more than seventy cities). You decide to go to your local theater -- a Regal, Edwards, or United Artists. You sit through twenty minutes of advertising, followed by the film itself, which has been delivered from studio to theater by a fiber-optic line. The underlying theme? Every stage of your movie-going experience - from production to promotion to distribution to exhibition - was controlled by one man: sixty-six-year-old religious conservative Philip Anschutz. Named Fortune's "greediest executive" in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ' thirty-fourth richest American. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country's movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed. (Anschutz was accused of helping falsely inflate Qwest profit reports, then making millions by selling his own shares in the company -- a claim he ultimately settled by paying millions to charity.) A heavy contributor to the Republican Party for decades, Anschutz helped fund Amendment 2, a ballot initiative to overturn a state law protecting gay rights, and helped stop another initiative promoting medical marijuana. More recently, he helped fund the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank that mounted a public relations campaign and financed "research" into intelligent design. He has also supported the Media Research Council, the group that generated nearly all the indecency complaints with the FCC in 2003. To some, redirection might be an appropriate metaphor for Anschutz's entire enterprise, which they fear is all about bringing God and conservatism to Hollywood under a more secular and apolitical guise. Anschutz may better resemble another openly conservative Presbyterian, one who acquired his own vertically integrated empire of newspapers, film studios, and television stations years before anyone realized he would turn those media outlets into his personal political mouthpiece. That man was Rupert Murdoch.

Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine said yesterday that he will take a lead role in pushing for a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, at least in part to regain support from unhappy conservatives in his state. The Republican said he would co-sponsor the amendment that Senate GOP leaders have scheduled for a vote in June. Although the measure has more than 20 co-sponsors, supporters concede it is unlikely the Senate will approve it by the required two-thirds majority. But the amendment is symbolically important to social conservatives across Ohio, many of whom were disappointed in 2004 when DeWine did not support an Ohio constitutional amendment to define marriage as solely a union of one man and one woman. That issue sparked a huge turnout of conservative voters who helped President Bush win re-election. Although DeWine is expected to easily win the May Republican primary, he faces a stern challenge in November from Rep. Sherrod Brown, of Avon, the likely Democratic nominee for the Senate race. To prevail, DeWine will need a heavy turnout from conservatives, many of whom are unhappy with him on issues of same-sex marriage and curbing immigration.

Republican Rep. Tom DeLay said Tuesday that former and current Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg "don't get it" when they complain about conservative criticism of judges. "All wisdom doesn't reside in... people in black robes," DeLay said. In recent weeks, O'Connor has said the criticism has threatened judicial independence to deal with difficult issues such as gay marriage. Ginsburg said in a speech that a Web threat against her and O'Connor was apparently prompted by Republican proposals in Congress that tell judges to stop relying on foreign laws or court decisions. Ginsburg said such actions by Congress "fuel the irrational fringe." "Didn't you see the comments of Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Ginsburg over the last couple of weeks?" DeLay, R-Texas, asked reporters after a speech to a group of Christian conservatives. "There's still a problem, they don't get it. There are three branches of government. All wisdom doesn't reside in ... people in black robes." Earlier, the former House majority leader told activists he agreed with their premise that there is a "war on Christianity." "Our faith has always been in direct conflict with the values of the world," DeLay said. "We are, after all, a society that provides abortion on demand, has killed millions of innocent children, degrades the institution of marriage, and all but treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition."

Scandals Du Jour: A former top aide to Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay pleaded guilty in the widening Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal on Friday, the second former assistant to the powerful congressman to do so. Tony Rudy, the former deputy chief of staff to DeLay, entered the guilty plea to one count of conspiracy in federal court as part of a deal with Justice Department prosecutors. The indictment charged that Rudy accepted $86,000 from Abramoff while working as a staffer for DeLay, then the Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. In return, the indictment said Rudy asked lawmakers to vote against an Internet-gambling bill that would have harmed one of Abramoff's clients. Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of a scandal that has rattled top Republicans, has been cooperating in the federal investigation into whether Washington politicians gave his clients favorable treatment in exchange for campaign contributions, Super Bowl tickets and other illegal gifts. Rudy faced a maximum penalty of five years but under the agreement he was expected to serve between 2 and 2 1/2 years. He agreed to cooperate and provide "complete and truthful information" in the Justice Department investigation. Rudy's guilty plea spells more trouble for Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney, who took a golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff and Rudy in August 2002. According to the indictment, a congressman named Representative No. 1 "agreed to take favorable official action and render other assistance on behalf of the clients of Abramoff and defendant Rudy." The congressman was not named but according to records made public Ney fits that description.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: What's wrong with this picture? First, it was Republican Duke Cunningham, who was caught taking millions of dollars in bribes, and was forced to resign. So a special election was called. And who are the Republicans running to replace Cunningham? A man who has been caught in a bald-faced lie, not just once, but twice, in his sycophantic support for Smirkey's war in Iraq. Howard Kaloogian placed on his web site this photo, with the caption: "We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism." The problem? Well, it seems that some Internet sleuths have tracked down the intersection in the photo. It isn't in Baghdad. It isn't even in Iraq. Turns out it is in a suitably quiet and peaceful suburb of Istanbul, in Turkey. It was obvious something was wrong when none of the signs in the image were in Arabic. Update: Since the word got out, and started garnering national attention, Howie quickly changed the photo on his web site. Here's the new one. See for yourself how well it makes his point. It was taken from the window of an upper floor of the Rashid hotel safely tucked away in the Green Zone. And from the metadata extracted from the image file, we know that it was taken by a Minolta camera, cropped/edited with Photoshop Elements, and, most importantly, that the picture was taken on July 13, 2005. It's an old picture. Guess he was just too busy partying among those happy, contented Baghdadis to take legitimate pictures showing how peaceful the place is.

This time, claiming she doesn't even live here - as GOP hatemonger Ann Coulter has been doing on this spring's college speaking tour when she's questioned about her February election meltdown on Palm Beach - isn't going to cut it. Palm Beach County's elections supervisor has given the right wing's unofficial mouthpiece 30 days to explain why she voted in the wrong precinct. "We have to send the registered letter to her address in our records," explained Charmaine Kelly, elections chief deputy. "If it comes back unsigned, we'll deal with that." Or else? He could refer the case to State Attorney Barry Krischer for criminal charges, Anderson said. The letter, however, may be headed to the wrong house. The bestselling author, whose The New Ann Coulter comes out in June, owns a homestead on Seabreeze Avenue, near Worth Ave. Yet, the missive is being sent to the Indian Road home of Realtor Suzanne Frisbie. Coulter claimed in official elections documents to be living there, which Frisbie denied last month. In his official incident report released last week, poll worker Jim Whited wrote that Coulter tried to vote in the Feb. 7 town council election at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, the right place for a Seabreeze resident. Coulter left in a hurry when, Whited said, he asked her to correct the record. Later she cast her ballot at the St. Edward's precinct, where real Indian Road residents go. Coulter, a constitutional lawyer who relentlessly made fun of Palm Beach County voters after the botched 2000 presidential election, couldn't be reached for comment.

After the House ethics committee took limited action at the conclusion of a six-hour meeting Thursday, ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) issued a statement highly critical of the panel. Ethics members announced only the continuation of an investigative subcommittee probing Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), initially established in 2004, ROLL CALL reported late Thursday. McDermott has been ordered to pay $700,000 in damages and legal fees to now Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) after accepting a tape from a Florida couple that contained a recording of a phone conversation among GOP leaders in 1996 that discussed how to deal with ethics charges chasing then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

Nixon White House counselor John Dean, testifying in favor of a Democratic resolution to censure President Bush, asserted Friday that Bush's conduct in connection with domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss from power. Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record), R-Utah, fired back by telling Democrats: "Quit trying to score political points." The Senate, Dean said, should censure or officially scold Bush as proposed by Sen. Russell Feingold's resolution. But if that action carries too much political baggage, some senatorial warning is in order, Dean said. "The resolution should be amended, not defeated, because the president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," Dean said in prepared remarks. "He needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences." Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Feingold's resolution has no merit.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:35:56 PM

Wed, Mar 29 2006

Sold! Maybe...

The weather has been hugely miserable the last couple of days. Yesterday morning, I woke up to a steady rain that lasted all day, along with chilly temperatures that were more reminiscent of December than of March. Temperatures dropped to 67 yesterday morning, and only 74 in the afternoon, and today wasn't much better - 71 overnight, and only 75 this afternoon, with a hard, driving rain and blustery winds during much of the day. Weird weather for the dry season. My mango trees are in bloom, and this wet, chilly weather during the blooming season ensures I will not have a crop this year.

Yesterday, I had a couple of potential buyers drop by the house, one from each of two different real estate agencies. Well, that convinced me that I would do well to get the windows cleaned, which were horribly dirty, having not been washed since last year. So I got busy and got them all cleaned up, sparkling clear now, and offering delightful views out into the garden. I had to trim back the gardenia by my office window rather severely to get to the outside of that window. Hated to do it - the bush is just coming into bloom, with all the blossom buds at the tips of the branches, and I love the fragrant rose-like blossoms with their sweet perfume. They're all on the yard waste pile now.

But as it turns out, I need not have bothered. The first buyer that one of the realtors had brought by about a week ago, called the agent and told him of his intent to buy, so I am on pins and needles waiting for the actual offer to materialize. The agent said he will need to have me stay in the house for some time, but that is not a problem, as I need to stay here for awhile while I prepare to move anyway, so that will not be an issue. This is apparently the buyer that spent some time here, and looked the place over a second time about a week ago. I am waiting for the official offer to come through, with the deposit check. Since the buyer is back in the States at the moment, that may be a day or two, but we'll see.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Iraq's ruling parties demanded U.S. forces cede control of security on Monday as the government launched an inquiry into a raid on a Shi'ite mosque complex that ministers said saw "cold blooded" killings by U.S.-led troops. U.S. commanders rejected the charges and said their accusers faked evidence by moving bodies of gunmen killed fighting Iraqi troops in an office compound. It was not a mosque, they said. As Shi'ite militiamen fulminated over Sunday's deaths of at least 16 people in Baghdad, an al Qaeda-led group said it staged one of the bloodiest Sunni insurgent attacks in months. A suicide bomber killed 40 Iraqi army recruits in northern Iraq. The Iraqi Defense Ministry said a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt also wounded 30 at a base near Mosul. After 24 hours of limited communication, U.S. commanders mounted a media offensive to deny Shi'ite accounts of a mosque massacre and portray instead a bold and disciplined operation by U.S.-trained Iraqi special forces that killed 16 fighters and freed a hapless Iraqi hostage being held to ransom for $20,000. Three gunmen were wounded and 18 people detained, he added. "After the fact, someone went in and made the scene look different from what it was," Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli said of footage aired extensively on state television showing the bodies of apparently unarmed civilians in a mosque. "American forces and Iraqi Special Forces committed an odious crime when they attacked the Al-Mustapha Mosque in the Ur neighborhood," the Shiite bloc asserts in a communiqué. "It's an organized crime with serious political and security implications. It aims to incite a civil war," the Shiites insist. "To kill such a great number of the faithful of the family of the Prophet after handcuffing and torturing them is indefensible. It's an attack on the dignity of Iraqis that strips away any credibility from the slogans of freedom, democracy and pluralism flaunted by the American administration," the communiqué concludes.

Leading Democrats in Vermont plan to decide in April whether to urge state lawmakers to petition for Smirkey's impeachment using a little-known provision in the rules of the U.S. House. Democratic committees in at least half of the state's 14 counties have passed resolutions calling for impeachment, citing a rule in "Jefferson's Manual," a book of parliamentary guidelines written by Thomas Jefferson that supplements U.S. House rules. The anti-Bush movement is "genuinely bubbling up from the grass roots," said Jon Copans, the state party's executive director. The state Democratic committee is scheduled to decide the issue in a special meeting April 8. The resolutions accuse the Bush administration of lying about the case for war in Iraq and illegally engaging in electronic surveillance of Americans. They rely on "Jefferson's Manual," which says impeachment proceedings can begin "by charges transmitted from the legislature of a state." A message seeking comment from the White House press office was not immediately returned.

A national security expert "has a valid point" when he says that turning over large portions of battle space to Iraqi forces is meaningless if most of that land is desert, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said Friday. But Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the U.S. commander in charge of training Iraq forces, told Pentagon reporters he "stands by" the March 17 assessment of his colleague, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Baghdad. Chiarelli, who is commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said March 17 that the coalition’s goal is to turn over control of 75 percent of the country’s territory to the Iraqi security forces by summer’s end. But Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, believes the hand-over emphasis is "nonsense." With almost the entire western half of Iraq virtually empty desert, "the figures vastly overestimate the actual area of influence and are at least as meaningless as the worst reporting on pacification in Vietnam," Cordesman wrote in a March 22 paper for CSIS. "The Iraqi forces don’t control anything like these areas, ignoring what ‘control’ of empty desert means." Dempsey said Cordesman "has a valid point." "The battle space that has been handed over [to Iraqi forces thus far] is, to some degree, in those parts of the country that have achieved a level of security - both because of the capability of the security forces and also because there’s less threat," Dempsey said.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the United States against a proposed crackdown on illegal migrants, as Smirkey pushed for immigration reform at odds with tougher measures backed by some in his Republican Party. About 50,000 people marched through Detroit and tens of thousands of students walked out of high school classes in the Los Angeles region, where more than 500,000 people staged a rally at the weekend. In Washington, a key Senate panel endorsed a bill Monday that would allow illegal workers to obtain visas, sending the legislation to the full Senate for a likely heated debate in an election year. Earlier, Bush said there had to be a "civil" debate about planned changes to immigration laws, which have caused new divisions between the White House and the Republican Party. The struggling president renewed his call for a guest worker program that would allow some undocumented workers to reside legally in the United States, putting him at odds with some Republicans who want to punish employers hiring illegal entrants.

The port of Long Beach, Calif. - among the busiest in the nation - is a key line of homeland defense. Some 4.5 million shipping containers pass through each year. Big radiation portal monitors scan some - but not all - containers for traces of nuclear or radiological material as they leave the port. But, four-and-a-half years after 9/11, Senate investigators say only 39 percent of all containers entering the U.S. are screened for nuclear material. Many ports, including the third-largest, Miami, still have only handheld detection devices of little value. "We still have massive blind spots in our ability to prevent nuclear material from being smuggled into this country," says Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. Coleman says the Department of Homeland Security still is not moving nearly fast enough. A report by the Government Accountability Office concludes DHS is two years behind schedule in installing radiation monitors in ports and not likely to have them all done, even by 2009. DHS has made more progress installing detection equipment at the borders, but there investigators found another hole in the system. Coleman tells NBC News that undercover GAO investigators were able to bring enough radioactive material into the U.S. to make two dirty bombs - penetrating both the northern and southern borders. Monitors detected the radiological material, but undercover agents produced fake papers and got the material in. "They were able to use counterfeit documents they got off a basic program on a computer," Coleman says. DHS officials say they are now looking at how to plug that hole. But they insist significant progress has been made toward securing ports.

Glitches in new voting machines in Illinois' primary elections last week may foreshadow snafus in several states this year, as more than 30.6 million voters are expected to encounter new equipment when they go to the polls. "History show that it's the first election with new equipment when jurisdictions are most likely to experience problems," said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services (EDS), a political consulting firm that specializes in election administration and redistricting. By November, nearly 45 percent of all counties expect to have changed their voting equipment to meet new federal guidelines sparked by the disputes in the 2000 presidential election, according to EDS. But 20 percent of counties are still in the midst of preparing for this year's elections, the company found. Despite some states' initial rush to buy all-digital voting machines, more than half of the nation's counties still will be voting with something that requires paper, EDS found. While at least 29 states will use some form of touch-screen voting machine in the 2006 election, laws in 26 states require either a paper receipt from a digital voting device or a paper balloting system, according to Electionline.org, a nonprofit group that tracks state voting reforms. Another 13 states are considering bills to require a paper receipt or ballot, according to VerifiedVoting.org, a nonprofit advocacy group working to expand such laws. Plans to switch to paperless electronic machines were thrown into tumult after thousands of ATM-like touch-screen voting machines malfunctioned during California's March 2004 primary. Computer scientists and election officials questioned whether digital machines were vulnerable to tampering, and they complained of no paper trail to doublecheck results.

The U.S. Senate defeated today, by a vote of 67-30, an amendment by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to create an independent Office of Public Integrity to oversee lobbying disclosure. Leading the opposition were Senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. "Overall the Senate [Ethics] Committee has been doing what they were supposed to do," said Voinovich from the floor of the Senate. "The truth is, the Senate Ethics Committee operates effectively and in a bipartisan fashion," Johnson added. Unfortunately, such statements are not rooted in either facts or reality. According to Center for Public Integrity research, while under the oversight of the Senate Ethics Committee, lobbying disclosure has been glaringly un-enforced. * Nearly 14,000 lobbying documents that should have been filed periodically with the Senate Office of Public Records are missing; * Nearly 300 individuals and entities lobbied without registering; * 49 of the top 50 lobbying firms failed to file required forms; * Almost one in five companies have missing lobbying forms; and, * Almost 20 percent of all forms are filed late.

The lure of money is shaping the nation's 155 national forests: more advertising, more fees, more roads to draw timber sales and lumber mill jobs. The Bush administration also wants to sell more than 300,000 acres of national forests and other public land to help pay for rural schools in 41 states. The land sales, ranging from less than an acre to more than 1,000 acres, are expected to generate $800 million and would be the largest sale of forest land in decades. The Forest Service also hopes to raise money by allowing corporate advertisers to put up logos and banners at ski resorts, marinas or other buildings as well at events such as races, competitions and festivals held in national forests. The agency, part of the Agriculture Department, is also planning to conduct more frequent appraisals of 14,500 private cabins allowed in national forests the past 90 years, mainly in California, Oregon and Washington. Environmentalists are alarmed. "Vistas of our national forests may soon include giant inflatable beer bottles, banners for chewing tobacco and snack food kiosks," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Smirkey's proposed budget for next year would trim Forest Service spending from nearly $4.3 billion to just under $4.1 billion. The Forest Service says it has no estimates of how much money the increased commercial activity will provide but is intent on making government forests a bigger producer of jobs.

Last month, the Bush administration confirmed that it expected the government to waive about $7 billion in royalties over the next five years for oil drilling in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico, even though the industry incentive was expressly conceived of for times when energy prices were low. But that number could quadruple to more than $28 billion if a lawsuit filed last week challenging one of the program's remaining restrictions proves successful. "The big lie about this whole program is that it doesn't cost anything," said Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who tried to block its expansion last July. "Taxpayers are being asked to provide huge subsidies to oil companies to produce oil - it's like subsidizing a fish to swim." How did a supposedly cost-free incentive become a multibillion-dollar break to an industry making record profits? The answer is a familiar Washington story of special-interest politics at work: the people who pay the closest attention and make the fewest mistakes are those with the most profit at stake. Until last month, hardy anyone noticed - or even knew - the real costs. They were obscured in part by the long gap between the time incentives are offered and when new offshore wells start producing. But lawmakers shrouded the costs with rosy projections. And administration officials consistently declined to tally up the money they were forfeiting. "Failure to invest in the Gulf of Mexico is a lost opportunity for the U.S.," Mr. Johnston pleaded in a letter to other lawmakers when the subsidy was under consideration. "Those dollars will not move into other domestic development, they will move to Asia, South America, the Middle East or the former Soviet Union." Working closely with industry executives, he wrote legislation that would allow a company drilling in deep water to escape the standard 12 percent royalty on up to 87.5 million barrels of oil or its equivalent in natural gas. The coastal waters are mostly owned by the federal government, which leases tens of millions of acres in exchange for upfront fees and a share of sales, or royalties.

No safety concerns have arisen from tests for the cancer-causing chemical benzene in soft drinks, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday. Still, the agency is not ready to disclose its findings. The FDA started sampling soft drinks after a private study in November found small amounts of benzene in some beverages. In the vast majority of drinks sampled, benzene either was not found or was present at levels below the federal limit for drinking water. "Although the results to date are preliminary, they do not suggest a safety concern," Robert E. Brackett, director of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, wrote in a letter released Tuesday. The letter was a pointed retort to an environmental group that is calling for benzene warnings on soft drinks. The Environmental Working Group asked the FDA to warn the public about popular soft drinks containing two ingredients that can form benzene. The ingredients are ascorbic acid and benzoate preservatives, also known as Vitamin C and sodium or potassium benzoate. "Notably, they don't give us the data," said Richard Wiles, the group's senior vice president.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday after visiting the Pennsylvania site where a hijacked airliner crashed on September 11, 2001 that the United States deserves poor marks in how it has waged a "battle of ideas" with groups like al Qaeda. Rumsfeld addressed students at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, many of them officers who have commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The speech followed Rumsfeld's first visit to rural Shanksville where a hijacked airliner heading toward Washington crashed on September 11, 2001, after passengers confronted the al Qaeda hijackers. "If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a D or a D-plus as a country as to how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place in the world today. And I'm not going to suggest that it's easy, but we have not found the formula as a country," Rumsfeld said at the war college. Allegations that American Red Cross volunteers engaged in theft and fraud after Hurricane Katrina are being probed by Louisiana's attorney general.

Never satisfied with current ways to snoop on the American people, Fairfax County, VA, is taking part in an unusual White House drug study. Wastewater from communities throughout the Potomac River Basin is being tested for the urinary byproducts of cocaine. "Apparently, they're able to ascertain how many people may be using illicit drugs, in this case cocaine, with such studies," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly tells WTOP. Earlier this month, county workers collected five days worth of water samples at the pollution control plant in Lorton. The samples were sent to a lab in Rockville, Md., to be analyzed for the traces of the main urinary byproduct of cocaine. "It does not indicate that we have an unusual drug problem in Fairfax County," Connolly says. "I'll be interested, obviously, in the results. It's kind of an unusual study and an unusual request. Obviously, we're prepared to cooperate with any endeavor to try to make sure the use of illicit drugs is discouraged in our community." White House officials believe the wastewater testing will lead to a more accurate index of how many people use drugs than traditional survey research. Now, would someone please take some samples of the White House sewer effluent?

Allegations that American Red Cross volunteers engaged in theft and fraud after Hurricane Katrina are being probed by Louisiana's attorney general. The inquiry comes as the ARC, the largest recipient of donations after last year's hurricane, unveiled its own probe into claims of impropriety. Concerns include the improper diversion of relief supplies and the failure to follow Red Cross procedures. The ARC's charter could be revoked if it does not overhaul its operations. Attorney General Charles Foti has asked for the names and telephone numbers of those who participated in Louisiana relief efforts as well as copies of any other internal reports or investigations conducted by the American Red Cross. "This is not the first time we have heard reports of abuse involving some charitable agencies and unfortunately it may not be the last," he said in a statement. "I think the American Red Cross is a superb organization but if I find that some individuals committed crimes in our state and took advantage of our tragic situation, I will take the appropriate action."

On the March 23 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, in a segment examining a recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations proposal that would allow tax return preparers to sell information from returns to third parties, Washington correspondent Bob Orr characterized the proposal as spelling out a "loophole of sorts" that has "been around for more than 30 years." Orr described the proposal as an effort "to improve taxpayer protections" -- a description taken from the IRS' own characterization of it -- that he implied would be addressed by requiring taxpayers to sign a consent form. In fact, in permitting sales to third parties, the new proposal would allow tax preparers to do something they are not currently permitted to do; under current law, they can pass on such information only to affiliates.

Oh, no, not at all - the Lincoln Group does not do propaganda. Sure, the firm's been tarred by some in Congress, the media and the defense establishment for paying Iraqi newspapers to publish hundreds of "news" stories secretly written by U.S. troops. But Paige Craig, the West Point dropout and former Marine intelligence specialist who is the Lincoln Group's president, says the practice is not propaganda. The word carries such baggage, such suggestions of mind control. So in an industry in which euphemism thrives, a more elegant word is deployed. "We call it 'influence,' " says Craig, whose business has 12 U.S. government contracts totaling more than $130 million.

Smirkey expressed support on Monday for U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who is under pressure over his links with Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist at the heart of an enormous influence-peddling scandal. Speaking at a fund-raising event for Burns' re-election campaign at a Washington hotel, Bush praised the Montana lawmaker as a strong supporter on national security and tax relief. Burns, who faces a tough fight for re-election in November, became ensnared in the corruption investigation involving Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud in January and is cooperating with prosecutors. In December, Burns said he would return $150,000 he had received from Abramoff-related sources over the past several years. Insisting they were "legal and fully disclosed," he said they had undermined public confidence in the government. In Vanity Fair magazine's April edition, Abramoff said he worked closely with many top Republicans, despite their claims to the contrary. According to the article, Abramoff said Burns was especially cooperative.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has accused staffers at The Boston Herald of watching "too many episodes of the Sopranos." A reporter for the paper on Monday interpreted a hand gesture he made at a cathedral as "obscene." In a strongly-worded letter to the editor of the paper, Scalia said the gesture was merely "dismissive." The Herald reported the justice made "an obscene gesture, flicking his hand under his chin" in response to a question about whether lawyers might question his impartiality in matters of church and state. The incident occurred after he attended Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It said Scalia had also asked a photographer not to publish a picture. The account was cited by many publications and Web sites, including E&P. A Reuters account initially described the justice as giving the "finger." Scalia said he had explained the gesture's meaning to no avail to the reporter, whom he referred to as "an up-and-coming 'gotcha' star." In his letter he quoted from Luigi Barzini's book, "The Italians," in which he observed: "The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means 'I couldn't care less. It's no business of mine. Count me out."'

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Mexican President Vicente Fox paused for a long moment before answering a question on how long it would take Mexico to reach a stage where citizens no longer want to cross the U.S. border to seek work. "Generations," he finally said. "It's a long way to narrow the gap... between incomes in Mexico and on the other side of the border," he said in a recent interview with Reuters. That income gap is the principal reason why hundreds of thousands of Mexicans cross the border with the U.S. illegally to seek work -- yet it rarely figures in the heated and increasingly emotional debate over immigration now raging in the United States. Roughly half of Mexico's population lives on less than $5 a day, according to government figures. The U.S. minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Annual Mexican Gross Domestic Product per capita is just under $7,000. It is almost $44,000 in the United States. The gap is now wider than it was when Mexico, the United States and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992. The treaty took effect two years later and was supposed to generate more jobs in Mexico, raise incomes and, as a consequence, reduce the number of Mexicans crossing the 2,000-mile border with their superpower neighbor, legally or illegally. That has not happened and the number of Mexicans making the increasingly dangerous and expensive trek north has risen steadily over the past few years.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: While President Bush appears serenely confident about Iraq, the same cannot be said of the War Party propagandists who were plotting this conflict when Dubya was still a rookie governor of Texas. William Kristol of The Weekly Standard now demands the firing of Donald Rumsfeld. William F. Buckley, whose National Review branded the antiwar Right "unpatriotic conservatives" who "hate" America, now calls upon Bush for an "acknowledgement of defeat." Richard Perle says the administration "got the war right and the aftermath wrong." Self-described "humiliated pundit" Andrew Sullivan confesses to "a sense of shame and sorrow." Michael Ledeen says of Bush's war, "Wrong war, wrong time, wrong way, wrong place." Frank ("The End of History") Fukuyama concedes that "Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at." But it is a March 20 essay in The Wall Street Journal that suggests the neocons may be coming unhinged. Written by Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes, the piece urges Bush to begin the "rejuvenation of his presidency by shocking the media and political community with a sweeping overhaul of his administration." The purge Barnes recommends would have caused Stalin to recoil. Barnes calls on Bush to fire press secretary Scott McClellan, chief of staff Andy Card, political adviser Karl Rove, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary John Snow -- and Vice President Richard Cheney.

In a (perhaps) historic shift, more Americans now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, the Gallup organization revealed today. Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind. But Gallup says this widens a bit more "once the leanings of Independents are taken into account." Independents now make up 34% of the population. When asked if they lean in a certain direction, their answers pushed the Democrat numbers to 49% with Republicans at 42%. One year ago, the parties were dead even at 46% each. This shift indicates, Gallup says, why its polls show Democrats leading in this year's congressional races. The latest poll was taken from January to March 2006, with a national sample of about 1,000 adults.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Today the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in the most significant case to date on the limits of George W. Bush's authority in his "war on terror." In the first two cases it heard, the high court reined in Bush for his unprecedented assertion of executive power. It held in Rasul v. Bush that the Guantánamo prisoners could challenge their confinement in US federal courts. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Court said that "a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to rights of the Nation's citizens." Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's chauffeur, is facing trial in one of the military commissions that Bush created on November 13, 2001. The case pending in the high court will determine the legality of those military commissions, and will decide whether Hamdan and other Guantanamo detainees can challenge their detention in US federal courts. The importance of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld is evident from the sheer number of amicus briefs it has garnered. Of the 42 amici in this case, 37 - including one filed by 280 law professors, this writer among them - support Hamdan's position.

"It was 9:30 on a recent Friday night when Denise Grier saw blue lights in her rearview mirror," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution begins in Thursday editions. She pulled over on Chamblee-Tucker Road, unaware of her infraction. "The officer asked if I knew I had a lewd decal on my car and I thought, 'Oh gosh, what did my kids put on my car?' " As it turns out, the decal was an anti-Bush bumper sticker Grier slapped on her 2001 Chrysler Sebring last summer. The bumper sticker - "I'm Tired Of All The BUSHIT" - contains an expletive. The officer "said DeKalb had an ordinance about lewd decals and wrote me a ticket" for $100, said Grier, an oncology nurse at Emory University Hospital who lives in Athens. "This is all about free speech," Grier said in a telephone interview Monday. "The officer pulled me over because he didn't agree with my politics. That's what this is about, not whether I support Bush, not because of the war in Iraq, but about my right to free speech." Officer Herschel Grangent Jr., a spokesman for the DeKalb County Police Department, confirmed the incident Monday but said he couldn't "speculate on or discuss another officer's decision to write a citation."

A Virginia training manual used to help state employees recognize terrorists lists anti-government and property rights activists as terrorists and includes binoculars, video cameras, pads and notebooks in a compendium of terrorist tools. The manual, discovered by the Virginia News Source, is keen to emphasize that terrorists are not only Middle Eastern in scope and the main focus is afforded to domestic terrorism. Included with Hamas, Al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, the following groups are identified as terrorist organizations: In any anti-government and militia movements; Are property-rights activists; Are in any racist, separatist and hate groups; Are an environmental and animal rights activist; Are a religious extremist; Are in a street gang. Reading further into the manual, associations between domestic terrorists and the supporting the American Revolution are subtly made. In Alex Jones' 2001 documentary 9/11: The Road To Tyranny, FEMA officials give a seminar in which they identify George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers as terrorists. The manual encourages people to report any suspicious activity to an authority figure. Presumably, if property rights activism is deemed suspicious then anyone protesting or communicating about the recent eminent domain issue will be reported and investigated on grounds of terrorism.

The Bush administration agreed Tuesday to release dozens of disputed photographs and videos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, two weeks after Salon published an official Army criminal archive that included many, if not all, of the same images. The government's decision ends a nearly two-year legal battle with civil liberties advocates over whether the publication of the material would harm national security. In a filing to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, government lawyers cited Salon's recent publication of the disputed images as the reason for dropping their legal fight. (A judge still has to accept the government's proposal to drop the case.) A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that the military would now review Salon's Web site to see if there were any images or videos that were part of the court case that were not published. "Under the terms of the agreement, within seven days, we will identify the images recently published on a media website that were of issue in this appeal," said the spokesman, Lt. Col. John Skinner. "If any images at issue were not published on the website we will release those images with portions redacted."

The trial of two Austin, TX police officers accused of mistreating a suspect already in handcuffs got underway Monday. Christopher Gray has been suspended from the police department. William Heilman quit the police force. Both men are charged with official oppression. Prosecutors say the officers hit and tased suspect Ramón Hernandez once they already had him in cuffs. Video from a police patrol car shown in court shows the officers hitting and tasing Hernandez while he's face down in handcuffs. Defense attorneys say Hernandez continued to pose a threat and continued to struggle with officers, which is why the additional force was necessary. Austin Police Department policy prohibits tasing a suspect in handcuffs. Prosecutors say Hernandez was wrong to fight police, but they APD officers still had no right to punch and tase him once he was in handcuffs. A third officer, Joel Follmer, has also been charged but he will be tried separately.

Free Markets And Privatization Solve All Problems: More than half of New Orleans still doesn't have phone or Internet access. But that isn't stopping BellSouth from campaigning to shut down a free Wi-Fi service that has become a lifeline for thousands of residents, the city's top technology officer says. State laws ban municipalities from giving away broadband services. The city got around the ban because the governor declared a state of emergency after Hurricane Katrina. The state of emergency is expected to be lifted this year. When that happens, the broadband network would have to shut down. BellSouth has opposed proposed legislation that would allow New Orleans to keep its Wi-Fi network running. The carrier, which provides phone service in Louisiana, stands to lose phone and wireless customers if other cities follow New Orleans' lead. A BellSouth executive says his company hasn't tried to shut down the city's network. "We haven't challenged it. They are here (in New Orleans), and we are co-existing," says Bill Oliver, president of BellSouth's Louisiana operations. Greg Meffert, the city's chief information officer, says that's news to him. "That's not the way I interpreted what BellSouth told the city," he says. Meffert says he has no intention of pulling the plug on the city's Wi-Fi network. "A lot of businesses don't even have basic communications services right now," he says. "This is the only option we have." Within weeks, "BellSouth was in here asking us when we were going to wind it down," Meffert recalls. "We told them we couldn't do that."

News Of The 9/11 Coverup: Award winning actor, director, producer, and pioneering anti-Iraq war activist Ed Asner is scheduled to appear live on the CNN Headline News program Showbiz Tonight (6pm CST). Asner is reportedly going on to support Charlie Sheen's bold and brave stance calling for a real investigation of the events on September 11th, 2001 as well as to raise his own questions. Also on Showbiz Tonight on March 27, actress Sharon Stone defended Sheen and his First Amendment right to speak out saying that he is brave and that it is important to confront authority. Asner and Sheen are just two more of many celebrities who have already come forward to question the official story of what happened on 9/11. Actor James Woods began questioning the official fable in the first weeks right after 9/11. X-Files and Lone Gunmen star Dean Haglund has already gone public on the Alex Jones Show (December 18, 2004) questioning the official story. Ed Bagley, Jr. months ago hosted a 9/11 Truth Symposium in New York City. And we have recently confirmed that one of the world's most popular and beloved musicians is awake to the truth about 9/11 and in the very near future may be going public. Many more major stars who are considering going public have contacted us in recent days. The dam is literally breaking. Former Delta Force Commander Eric Hanney has spoken out in the press about the "War on Terrorism" being bogus and how there is no real threat to the United States. The 9/11 Truth Movement has reached critical mass and is now exploding. The perpetrators of 9/11 have got to be concerned as more and more people worldwide wake up to the 9/11 hoax.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: Fox News continued their efforts to make jackbooted tyranny seem as normal as drinking a cup of coffee yesterday when it aired a segment asking if Zacarias Moussaoui should have been tortured in order to prevent 9/11. Cavuto stand-in David Asman acted as devil's advocate while convicted criminal Oliver North played the 'good cop' in a completely framed debate. North argued that we shouldn't torture but should use 'harsh interrogation methods'. "For example, you say, "If you don't answer me, I'm going to take you out and shoot you." Click here to listen to the audio. Watch the video on Fox's website. It is important to clarify the context of even having a debate on this issue. Just asking the question itself gives the argument a legitimacy and normalizes it. It's like asking yourself, should I put my head into this meat grinder? The pretense is so bizarre that the debate is not necessary.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Hundreds of deserters from the US armed forces have crossed into Canada and are now seeking political refugee status there, arguing that violations of the rules of war in Iraq by the US entitle them to asylum. A decision on a test case involving two US servicemen is due shortly and is being watched with interest by fellow servicemen on both sides of the border. At least 20 others have already applied for asylum and there are an estimated 400 in Canada out of more than 9,000 who have deserted since the conflict started in 2003. Ryan Johnson, 22, from near Fresno in California, was due to be deployed with his unit to Iraq in January last year but crossed the Canadian border in June and is seeking asylum. "I had spoken to many soldiers who had been in Iraq and who told me about innocent civilians being killed and about bombing civilian neighborhoods," he told the UK Guardian newspaper. "It's been really great since I've been here. Generally, people have been really hospitable and understanding, although there have been a few who have been for the war." He is now unable to return to the US. "I don't have a problem with that. I'm in Canada and that's that." Mr Johnson said it was unclear exactly how many US soldiers were in Canada but he thought 400 was a "realistic figure". He had been on speaking tours across the country as part of a war resisters' movement and had come across other servicemen living underground.

Today Rep. Waxman released the first analysis of Halliburton's RIO 2 contract to restore Iraq's southern oil fields. The examination of previously undisclosed correspondence, evaluations, and audits reveals that government officials and investigators have harshly criticized Halliburton's performance under RIO 2. The documents disclose an "overwhelmingly negative" performance, including: * Intentional Overcharging; * Exorbitant Costs; * Inadequate Cost Reporting; * Schedule Delays; * Refusal to Cooperate.

On the eve of oral argument in a key Supreme Court case on the rights of alleged terrorists, a group of retired U.S. generals and admirals has asked Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself, arguing that his recent public comments on the subject make it impossible for him to appear impartial. In a letter delivered to the court late yesterday, a lawyer for the retired officers cited news reports of Scalia's March 8 remarks to an audience at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland. Scalia reportedly said it was "crazy" to suggest that combatants captured fighting the United States should receive a "full jury trial," and dismissed suggestions that the Geneva Conventions might apply to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Scalia's remarks "give rise to the unfortunate appearance that, even before briefing was complete, he had already made up his mind" about issues in the case, the lawyer, David H. Remes, wrote. Noting that Scalia reportedly had discussed the rights of accused terrorists in the context of his son Matthew's recent tour as an Army officer in Iraq, Remes wrote that this creates an appearance of "personal bias arising from his son's military service."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: When South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed HB 1215 into law it effectively banned all abortions in the state with the exception that it did allow saving the mother’s life. There were, however, no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. His actions, and the comments of State Senators like Bill Napoli of Rapid City, SD, set of a maelstrom of protests within the state. Napoli suggested that if it was a case of "simple rape," there should be no thoughts of ending a pregnancy. Letters by the hundreds appeared in local newspapers, mostly written by women, challenging Napoli’s description of rape as "simple." He has yet to explain satisfactorily what he meant by "simple rape." The President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, was incensed. A former nurse and healthcare giver, she was very angry that a state body made up mostly of white males, would make such a stupid law against women. "To me, it is now a question of sovereignty," she said to me last week. "I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction." A means of contributing to the project has been established.

State Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said she believes homosexual couples should not be allowed to adopt children. In fact, in addition to e-mail correspondence with a master's student at Vanderbilt publicized recently, in which she said as much, she has also said homosexual couples may molest the children they adopt. "We also have seen evidence that homosexual couples prey on young males and have, in some instances, adopted them in order to have unfretted access to subject them to a life of molestation and sexual abuse," she said. "In all cases to paint with a broad brush strokes is unfortunate," said adoptive parent Dr. Christopher Harris. Harris is a pediatrician by day and a single gay adoptive parent by night. "She brings such joy into my life," he said. "It's always said pediatrician doesn't finished his training till he or she has a kid." Harris fits every requirement for the state's definition of a good adoptive parent: loving, healthy and financially stable. He is also gay, and for Maggert, that means he's unqualified. "I have strong convictions. I just feel kids in our foster have been through enough. They need the optimum family unit, and that is a mother and a father," she said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: A top adviser to former House Whip Tom DeLay received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization the adviser created to promote a pro-family political agenda in Congress, according to the group's accounting records. DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay's employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group's $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show. The group's revenue was mostly drawn from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to its records. From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff's clients by DeLay's office.

Scandals Du Jour: It's OK for public officials not to disclose the value of checks given to them as gifts, the Texas state panel charged with enforcing good government practices has ruled in a private meeting. The ruling by the Texas Ethics Commission during a closed-door executive session and confirmed Friday by several observers close to the case involves a check for an undisclosed amount made last year to Bill Ceverha, a figure in the fundraising scandal surrounding U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. Houston home builder Bob Perry, the state's No. 1 individual campaign donor, gave Ceverha the check. Ceverha disclosed it in a personal finance report he filed in his capacity as a board member of the Employees Retirement System of Texas. He listed it as a gift, described only as "check," and did not disclose its amount.

There are intriguing signs of George Bush trying to distance himself from Dick Cheney as the investigation into who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame homes in on members of the vice-president's close circle. Leaking the name of a covert CIA officer is illegal under US law and an investigation has been going on for some time under Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into who was responsible. Karl Rove, the president's special adviser, reportedly "tipped off" Fitzgerald on the location of 250 emails that had mysteriously gone missing from the vice-president's office. Rove was initially thought to be one of those in the frame but according to the New York Times he is now "increasingly certain" that he will not be indicted, although that may not save his skin as Republican congressmen, desperate to improve the party's declining standing ahead of this year's mid-term elections, are equally desperate to give the administration an extreme makeover (their pressure has now led to the resignation of Bush's other close aide Andrew Card, his chief of staff). Now the US internet newspaper Raw Story is reporting that it was Rove who told Fitzgerald where to find the emails Cheney's office didn't want the special investigator to see.

It may seem as though it's been moving along at a snail's pace, but the second part of the federal investigation into the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is nearly complete, with attorneys and government officials who have remained close to the probe saying that a grand jury will likely return an indictment against one or two senior Bush administration officials. These sources work or worked at the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council. Some of these sources are attorneys close to the case. They requested anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the details of the investigation. In lengthy interviews over the weekend and on Monday, they said that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has started to prepare the paperwork to present to the grand jury seeking an indictment against White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove or National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Although the situation remains fluid, it's possible, these sources said, that Fitzgerald may seek to indict both Rove and Hadley, charging them with perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy related to their roles in the leak of Plame Wilson's identity and their effort to cover up their involvement following a Justice Department investigation. The sources said late Monday that it may take more than a month before Fitzgerald presents the paperwork outlining the government's case against one or both of the officials and asks the grand jury to return an indictment, because he is currently juggling quite a few high-profile criminal cases and will need to carve out time to write up the indictment and prepare the evidence.

Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a business partner were sentenced Wednesday to five years and 10 months in federal prison, the minimum they faced for fraud related to their 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet. Abramoff and Adam Kidan both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud, but they won't have to report to prison immediately. The judge postponed their reporting date for at least 90 days so the two can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida probe into the killing of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos Boulis. Both deny roles in the killing. Abramoff pleaded guilty in connection with the corruption probe but has yet to be sentenced. In court Wednesday, Abramoff said the fraud case was "incredibly painful" for himself, his family and his friends.

According to a biography of Jack Abramoff crafted by his lawyers in an appeal for leniency, "Hollywood politics" triumphed over his pious attempts to keep offensive language out of an action film he produced in the late eighties. But left unmentioned in the appeal is any hint that the film was shot in South African-occupied Namibia during apartheid, and may have even been partly funded by the South African military. In an article written in February for RAW STORY, Danny Schechter wrote that the "idea was to make anti-communist films that could denigrate the anti-apartheid movement." Schechter also wrote that while "for years, Abramoff publicly denied South African financing...the Mail & Guardian quoted one-time apartheid spy Craig Williamson as now admitting that the money came directly from the South African military."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:57:53 PM

Mon, Mar 27 2006

More Adventures In Pest Control - Part Gazillion

The weather turned today. The first tropical wave of the new dry season has come through, and Costa Rica is having some slightly cooler weather and nearly constant drizzle all day long. Yesterday was lovely, but quite windy - often a prelude to a change in the weather, and so I was not surprised to wake up this morning to light rain and much cooler temperatures. Overnight's low was 68, coldest in some time, and this afternoon, it only got up to 75, what with the heavy overcast all day keeping the sun from warming the ground.

This morning I heard something I hadn't heard in quite a while. It is a species of tropical cicada, which emits a constant, almost whistle-like tone, only slightly buzzy. The Ticos have a name for it, and I can't recall what it is, but they say that their appearance means that the rainy season is only three weeks away. Geez, and we just got rid of the rains! I sure hope that doesn't apply, but since this is a La Nina year, rains are supposed to be heavier than usual, so it wouldn't surprise me if the rainy season started early. I sure hope not. I was just getting into this dry-season thing.

At breakfast this morning, I discovered another trail of those pesky little tiny ants, the ones that are similar to Argentine ants, but much smaller and much faster. It was a busy trail, so I was able to readily follow it back to the nest - the trail disappeared at the top of the wall where a ceiling tile met the wall.

I wondered when I moved to this country why ceiling tiles are always calked around the edge of the ceiling, even when big gaps remain in the rest of the ceiling tiles. Well, now I know. The tiny little ants like to nest in the attic, and walk down the walls into the room. They're reluctant to walk very far upside down on a ceiling tile to get to the wall, so they look for gaps at the edge of the ceiling to come down through. This makes control rather simple - just calk around the edge of the ceiling. The ceilings in my house were calked when it was built, but that was 30 years ago, and the cracking caused by age and countless earthquakes since then has caused the calking to crack into gaps just barely big enough for the little blighters to make it down through. So I got out my calking gun, and with a tube of silicon rubber I bought some time back, I went to work. The ceiling around the dining area and the kitchen is now calked up, and hopefully, that will be the end of that. We'll see.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Associated Press reported last week that Hutchison Whampoa Ltd was given a no-bid contract by the US government to take over radiation detecting security just 65 miles away from Freeport in the Bahamas with no oversight. Hutchinson Whampoa is admittedly a holding of the Chinese navy and the People's Liberation Army. The US government has handed a no-bid contract directly to the Chinese military machine to handle key security infrastructure right as that country gears up for a future confrontation with America. From Newsmax, "According to a 1999 investigative report by the American Foreign Policy Council, "Hutchison Whampoa, through its Hutchison International Terminals [HIT] subsidiary or Panama Ports Company, has substantial links to the Chinese communist government and the People's Liberation Army. The Panama Ports Company is 10 percent owned by China Resources Enterprise [CRE], which is the commercial arm of China's Ministry of Trade and Economic Co-operation. In its investigation into China's attempts to influence the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee identified CRE as a conduit for ‘espionage - economic, political and military - for China. "Committee Chairman Senator Fred Thompson said that CRE has ‘geopolitical purposes. Kind of like a smiling tiger; it might look friendly, but it's very dangerous." Sen. Trent Lott has described the Hong Kong firm as "an arm of the People's Liberation Army." "The company is headed by a Li Ka-Shing, the chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Intelligence sources say he has deep connections with the Chinese Communist government."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed the idea that Guantanamo detainees have constitutional rights and called European concerns over the issue hypocritical, Newsweek magazine reported on Sunday. The comments, which Newsweek said were recorded at a private appearance by Scalia in Switzerland on March 8, emerge before a Supreme Court hearing this week on a legal challenge by a Guantanamo prisoner against U.S. military tribunals. "War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," Scalia said in the talk at the University of Freiburg, according to Newsweek. "Give me a break." Court officials were not immediately available for comment. Ethics experts said the impression that Scalia had already made up his mind before the hearing should mean that he will voluntarily drop out of the proceedings. However, Newsweek said he did not refer specifically to this week's case. "He should remove himself when there is a reasonable doubt of his impartiality," said Father Robert Drinan, a professor of law at Georgetown University and long-standing human rights campaigner, who teaches judicial ethics. "It should logically be a reason for his recusal but I don't think he'll do it ... he's so stubborn" said Drinan. Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy." Scalia was apparently referring to his son Matthew, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Scalia did say, though, that he was concerned "there may be no end to this war."

More evidence that the U.S. government is justifying surveillance of political dissidence under the guise of monitoring "terrorism" has recently come to light. Early this March an FBI agent's presentation at the University of Texas law school listed Indymedia, Food Not Bombs, the Communist Party of Texas and "Anarchists" as groups on the FBI's "Terrorist Watch List" for central Texas. On March 8, 2006, FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent G. Charles Rasner, delivered a guest lecture before Professor Ronald Sievert's U.S. Law and National Security class of approximately 100 students. Accompanying his lecture was an "unclassified" Power Point presentation titled "Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Texas." According to UT law student Elizabeth Wagoner's account of Rasner's lecture on Austin Indymedia: "On a list of approximately ten groups, Food Not Bombs was listed seventh. Indymedia was listed tenth, with a reference specifically to IndyConference 2005. The Communist Party of Texas also made the list. Rasner explained that these groups could have links to terrorist activity. He noted that peaceful-sounding group names could cover more violent extremist tactics." Wagoner has made a Freedom of Information Act request for Rasner's Power Point presentation. A self-described libertarian law student who also attended the class wrote on his blog that this list "got many in class riled up." Food Not Bombs is a moniker for volunteer-run groups that distribute unused vegetarian food from grocery stores and restaurants for free to the general population. Its name stems from a belief that excessive military spending could be redirected to provide food for the hungry. Indymedia is a decentralized grassroots online media outlet, which provides an alternative to the mainstream media coverage.

The New York Times reports that a secret memo from January 2003 reveals that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair agreed to invade Iraq even without U.N. backing. The article, written by Don Van Natta Jr., addresses the Jan. 31, 2003 memorandum which was leaked to a British author and referenced in February of this year. The New York Times was able to obtain a copy of the secret memo, and confirms most of the reports. "Two senior British officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to talk further about it, citing Britain's Official Secrets Act, which makes it illegal to divulge classified information," the Times reports. Van Natta's article contains many quotations from the memo that haven't been previously disclosed, and refers to it as "striking in its characterization of frank, almost casual, conversation by Bush and Blair about the most serious subjects."

Total Information Awareness Meets Old McDonald Had A Farm: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting a system that would have farm animal owners and livestock handlers attach microchips or other ID tags to their furry and feathered charges so they could be monitored throughout their lifetimes by a centralized computer network. The National Animal Identification System, as it's known, has been in development by the department since 2002, with help from an agribusiness industry group that represents bigwigs like Cargill and Monsanto. Sounds like Animal Farm meets Big Brother. Yet, while some small-scale farmers are outspoken in their criticism of the scheme, many in the agriculture community say it's high time the U.S. more carefully tracked livestock. The question is how best to do it -- and the devil, as always, is in the details. The vision, says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, is to create a comprehensive high-tech tracking system that would eventually know the whereabouts of every cow, llama, hog, catfish, ostrich, and other farm critter in the nation so that animal-borne diseases such as avian flu, mad cow, and foot-and-mouth disease could be easily and systematically kept in check. If an animal were discovered to be a carrier of a disease, this system could supposedly track every location it had been in through the course of its life and the other animals it may have come in contact with; those exposed could then be killed before the disease spread out of control.

Military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites would not destroy the Islamic republic's uranium enrichment activities, which could be easily moved and restarted, a senior Iranian official said on Monday. "You know very well... we can enrich uranium anywhere in the country, with a vast country of more than 1 million 600 square kilometers," said Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "Enrichment can be done anywhere in Iran," he told a panel discussion on the possible use of military force to destroy what the West fears is Iran's atomic bomb program. Soltaniyeh said that after Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear power plant at Osirak in 1981, then Iraqi-leader Saddam Hussein bombed Iran's Bushehr plant. The Security Council then passed a resolution condemning the attacks and making it illegal for countries to strike nuclear facilities. But Soltaniyeh said those U.N. documents were "just pieces of paper" today to the United States and Israel.

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say Smirkey's policies did little or nothing to help the environment in the past year. More than half (54%) feel American businesses did little or nothing to help. Three-quarters want to see Bush and others - Congress, American businesses and the American public - take action to help the environment in the year ahead. About one-third (35%) of Americans say that in the past year they have personally given a lot of thought to the impact they were having on the environment.

A federal judge in Oregon has refused to hand over for safekeeping to the FBI a classified document that may show that the NSA conducted warrantless electronic surveillance on an Ashland, Ore., charity that the government alleges had ties to Osama bin Laden. U.S. District Judge Garr King sided with charity attorney Steven Goldberg, who argued that the FBI is a defendant in the case and therefore not a neutral party that can be entrusted with the document. The judge instead has temporarily placed the document with federal prosecutors in Seattle until he can make a decision as to how the material should be handled. Thomas Nelson, who also represents the charity, al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., gave the document to the judge in February as part of a lawsuit he has filed against the Bush administration alleging that the NSA conducted illegal eavesdropping on conversations between charity codirector Suliman al-Buthe and his American attorneys, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor. The intelligence was later used to target the charity, Nelson's complaint alleges.

Every child left behind: Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it. Schools from Vermont to California are increasing - in some cases tripling - the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks. The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level. The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

Finally! Proof of Saddam's WMD's - Saddam Hussein planned to use "camels of mass destruction" as weapons to defend Iraq, loading them with bombs and directing them towards invading forces. Earlier this month, the Pentagon released copies in the original Arabic onto the internet in the hope that others would interpret them into English. Handwritten on official paper, one of the reports appears to be a road map for the insurgency, with detailed instructions for training what it calls suicide bombers. The papers have been translated by Arabic-speaking members of Free Republic, a conservative internet discussion forum that believes the documents will justify British and American claims that Saddam had made Iraq a haven for terrorists. That's right. People who can barely speak english have translated a Arabic document! I'm serious, this is real and it isn't The Onion. What do these documents prove? The Free Republic writes on its web site: "If the translation is correct, it suggests that many of the foreign fighters now attacking coalition forces and bombing Iraqi civilians were directly trained by the Saddam regime, although there are no known reports of camels being used in suicide attacks." Now, isn't that about the lamest excuse for war you could ever conceive of?

With thousands of superstores dotting the country, Wal-Mart has become the dominant name in American consumerism. Now, the retail giant is working to pump up its unrivaled commercial fortitude by setting up shop on the flipside of consumption: the banking sector. But the plans have run up against outcry from consumer advocates, community banking institutions and other groups that have long railed against the company’s business practices. They worry that Wal-Mart’s proposed banking venture will go the way of its retail regime: wiping out the competition with the same relentlessness that fuels its credo of "low prices." Wal-Mart has proposed to establish a type of bank known as an industrial loan corporation (ILC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Conceived around the turn of the last century to enable companies to help consumers finance purchases, ILC’s are free of many regulations binding conventional banks. Though bank-charter applications seldom generate much political noise, Wal-Mart’s proposal has drawn a groundswell of criticism from an array of constituencies. In the public comment process that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has convened, public interest groups, unions, legislators and managers of small banks have aligned in opposition. They argue that if the FDIC approves Wal-Mart’s proposal, there will be little stopping the retail giant from establishing the banking equivalent of a "big-box" superstore throughout American communities.

Despite the best efforts of the now whimpering attack poodles of the mainstream media, an online CNN poll shows that over four-fifths, or 82 per cent, agree with actor Charlie Sheen that the U.S. government covered up the real events of the 9/11 attacks. Every establishment media mouthpiece aside from CNN tried to hang Sheen on his own words but it simply didn't work because those same questions are firing the synapses in the heads of millions upon millions of other taxpaying American citizens. We are now in the majority and the cynics are beginning to feel the breeze of fear as they desperately cling to ignorant dogmas spoon fed to them by an empire in descent, while in the back of their mind and in their soul knowing that they have sided with the wrong team and the wrong side of history. Charlie Sheen has responded publicly for the first time since the media firestorm over his comments by challenging his detractors to debate him on the evidence of 9/11 and not issues relating to his personal life. "I am an American citizen that loves my country and as a citizen with my passion for this great country I demand that I be challenged on the facts not on immature behavior from twenty years ago," said Sheen. "If they continue to attack me personally it only gives credence to our side of the argument." Sheen elaborated on how developments during the course of the week had unfolded and his reaction to them. "All I can say is wow! Wow! this has been some kind of week, I can tell you."

Many worried Republicans on the ballot in November have been pushing away from the White House, not wanting to be dragged under by President Bush's sinking approval ratings and growing anxiety over Iraq. That doesn't mean they're fleeing his cash offerings, however. Despite approval ratings in the mid-to-upper 30s, Bush remains the nation's most successful fundraiser. Vice President Dick Cheney, whose poll numbers are even lower than Bush's, is not far behind. Both have raised tens of millions of dollars for GOP congressional and gubernatorial candidates running in this year's midterm elections. Even as some Republicans are becoming increasingly defiant on a range of issues, they're still lining up dutifully for the president's campaign dollars. It has resulted in some fancy GOP footwork as candidates in tight races step away from Bush and Cheney on divisive issues but dance toward them when the subject is money. Bush presided over a fundraiser Friday for Rep. Mike Sodrel of Indiana at The Murat Centre in Indianapolis, calling Sodrel "a strong supporter of the United States military" and citing "troubled times." Another one was scheduled for later Friday for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at a private residence in the Pittsburgh area. Bush and Santorum, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, are not scheduled to appear together publicly on Friday. Santorum, trailing Democrat Bob Casey in polls, broke with Bush on a plan to have an Arab company based in Dubai run terminals at some U.S. ports and has raised concerns about the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. When Bush went to Cleveland earlier in the week to make a major speech on Iraq, there was a noticeable absence of top Ohio Republicans, including Sen. Mike DeWine, who is locked in a tight re-election race. Cheney went to Newark, N.J., earlier in the week to help raise $400,000 for New Jersey GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. But Kean showed up 15 minutes after Cheney left. Kean said he got stuck in traffic, a claim critics questioned based on the route he took.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Today on CBS’s Early Show, Bay Buchanan - right-wing strategist and sister of Pat Buchanan - argued that the government can, and should, deport all the undocumented workers in the United States. BUCHANAN: Every guest worker program in the history of this country and any other country around the world has always turned into amnesty. He says it’s impossible to move these people out. It is certainly not impossible. It is very realistic. We should absolutely stand up to the law and let people come through legal channels, but in no way reward them for illegal behavior.

The U.S. government in 2002 wanted to release a Guantanamo inmate to Germany but the deal failed because the former German government blocked it. News magazine Der Spiegel reported that the fate of Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish national born and raised in the northern German port city of Bremen, and in Guantanamo since early 2002, has occupied Berlin and Washington for the past four years. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is in talks with Washington over the release of Kurnaz, but Washington offered Berlin the release of Kurnaz as early as 2002, Der Spiegel said. Kurnaz was interrogated by U.S. and German agents and found harmless. But Berlin at the time said it did not want Kurnaz to return to Germany; security officials believed he could be a security threat and turn into a media disaster, the news magazine wrote in a detailed report published in its latest issue, which hit the newsstands Monday.

America Is Loved And Respected Around The World: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will face protests against the Iraq war when British counterpart Jack Straw takes her on a tour of his northern English constituency on Saturday, organizers said. Rice, repaying an October visit by Straw to her home state of Alabama, will speak in the former cotton town of Blackburn before viewing an industrial site and meeting religious leaders, including representatives of the 20 percent Muslim population. A spokeswoman for the Stop the War Coalition, which has helped organize large anti-war protests in London, said Rice would also be greeted by protests in Liverpool on Friday. "Everywhere she goes during her trip, we will be there to protest," said a coalition spokeswoman said.

Has Latin America ever had such a unifying figure? At political rallies, his visage is held aloft as a beacon to regional independence and self-determination. He's helped forge new trade partnerships to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. And his leadership has fanned a gale-force electoral trend that's sweeping the hemisphere to topple one pro-Washington government after the next. Who is this grand inductor of Latin American leftism? Venezuelan fireball Hugo Chavez? Blue-collar Brazilian Lula Ignacio da Silva? Bolivia's coca-farmer-cum-president, Evo Morales? ¡Epa! It's George W. Bush, the accidental revolutionary! In the past five years, the swaggering Texan has inspired a leftward surge that is uniting Latin America and threatening to knock Che Guevara right off all those natty t-shirts. "The macroeconomic proposals of the Washington consensus have not been working," says Guillermo Delgado, professor of Latin American Studies at UC Santa Cruz. "That model was supposed to create prosperity and, after so many years, such prosperity has not been seen and class polarization has grown deeper." Sensing an opportunity, new social and political movements in the region began marshalling their forces. Then George W. Bush came along, combining Yankee hubris with a Che-worthy radicalizing touch. Che's vision of pan-Latin cooperation has already begun to materialize. Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina recently announced a $20 billion plan to build a trans-national gas pipeline through the Amazon. Chile has opened dialogue with landlocked Bolivia, easing a long-simmering feud over seaport access that stretches back more than a century. Cuba, that tropical bête noire of the White House, still uses doctor diplomacy and sends physicians all over the region - only now, it receives billions of dollars worth of Venezuelan oil in return. And Mercosur, a South American common market dominated by Brazil, has emerged as a rival to the faltering U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Mercosur member states blocked ratification of the FTAA at the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina. When Bush arrived to deliver a speech at the conference, he was greeted by mobs of angry street protestors who burned American flags, a Burger King, and unflattering effigies in his likeness. "Fascist Bush!" they chanted, "you are the terrorist!"

Anti CAFTA sentiment grows in Central America: Unidad Democratica Party of Honduras will contest in Honduras' Supreme Court the free trade agreement signed with the US. UD Legislator Doris Gutierrez said the means used to pass the CAFTA violate Honduran laws and will affect thousands of farmers unable to contend with the invasion of the local markets by US produces. The locals will be unable to compete with the negative effects on the small and median farmer production and the entire agribusiness. It will cause havoc for labor and microeconomic sectors as well as for small and median enterprises, she added. Unions, farmers and other sectors led last week anti-CAFTA demonstrations and said the agreement will deepen the US-Honduran economic gap and ruin the already deteriorated local financial picture.

Venezuela urged Friday that Latin American central banks make progress in analyzing creation of Banco del Sur, a financial institutional instrument for regional integration. Gaston Parra, president of Venezuelan Central Bank, said he made particular emphasis on this proposal in his speech on the first day of an international seminar for financial integration begun in Caracas Friday. Among other proposals, he also mentioned creation of a single currency, which is not an easy task, and establishment of a free trade zone, with common foreign tariffs, a common market for coordination of economic policies, and an international organization in this field.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: The National Security Agency could have legally monitored ordinarily confidential communications between doctors and patients or attorneys and their clients, the Justice Department said Friday of its controversial warrantless surveillance program. Responding to questions from Congress, the department also said that it sees no prohibition to using information collected under the NSA's program in court. "Because collecting foreign intelligence information without a warrant does not violate the Fourth Amendment and because the Terrorist Surveillance Program is lawful, there appears to be no legal barrier against introducing this evidence in a criminal prosecution," the department said in responses to questions from lawmakers released Friday evening. The department said that considerations, including whether classified information could be disclosed, must be weighed. In classified court filings, the Justice Department has responded to questions about whether information from the government's warrantless surveillance program was used to prosecute terror suspects. Defense attorneys are hoping to use that information to challenge the cases against their clients.

The United States Of America, A Third World Nation: North Carolina reportedly is not adequately protecting the state's residents from unsafe drinking water containing arsenic, bacteria or other contaminates. Jessica Miles, chief of the North Carolina Public Water Supply Section's 98 employees, says she has been overwhelmed trying to monitor safety tests required of nearly 7,000 public water systems, the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer reported Monday. She said thousands of small systems are not performing testing and the state has been unable to force compliance. North Carolina has more public water systems than any other Southern state and double the national average, the newspaper said, noting most are small mom-and-pop operations serving a few dozen to a few hundred people in rural areas. Miles says more than 40 percent of North Carolina's 6.5 million public water system customers drank water last year that had not been properly tested for various contaminants or, if the water was tested, it flunked.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: CBS' Baghdad Correspondent Lara Logan smacks down her own editors: From an Interview on CNN: CNN-KURTZ: "But critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there." CBS-LOGAN: "Well, who says things aren't falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn't see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces. What about all the American soldiers that died this week that you didn't see on our screens? I mean, we've reported on reconstruction stories over and over again - I mean, I really resent the fact that people say that we're not reflecting the true picture here. That's totally unfair and it's really unfounded. ...Our own editors back in New York are asking us the same things. They read the same comments. You know, are there positive stories? Can't you find them? You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack."

Sean Hannity has claimed that the current unemployment rate "is literally ... lower than the '70s, '80s, and '90s." But while the current official unemployment rate is, in fact, lower than the average unemployment rate for the 1990s it is higher than in 1998, 1999, and 2000 - the last three years before President George W. Bush took office. And those numbers do not take into consideration the fact that it has been revealed recently that the numbers are artificially suppressed by a clever manipulation of how they are calculated. It also does not take into account the fact that the quality of those jobs has declined alarmingly. Nor does it consider that the median real income of Americans, adjusted for inflation, is declining as the economy expands - a phenomenon without precedent in all of American history.

After the contentious exchange between long-time veteral Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas and President Bush during Bush's March 21 press conference, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and several other conservative commentators rushed to attack Thomas. O'Reilly accused her of "hat[ing] Bush and try[ing] to undermine everything he does," and even suggesting that if he were Bush, he "would have laid her out." Several other conservative media figures - including Jonah Goldberg, Fred Barnes, Glenn Beck, and Tucker Carlson - have followed suit, sometimes with highly personal attacks. After the contentious exchange between Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas, a veteran White House reporter, and President Bush during Bush's March 21 press conference, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and several other conservative commentators rushed to attack Thomas for asking Bush, since "[e]very reason given, publicly at least," to justify invading Iraq, "has turned out not to be true ... why did you really want to go to war?"

Diebold Watch: Among those who worry that hackers might sabotage election tallies, Ion Sancho is something of a hero. The maverick elections supervisor in Leon County, Fla., last year helped show that electronic voting machines from one of the major manufacturers are vulnerable, according to experts, and would allow election workers to alter vote counts without detection. Now, however, Sancho may be paying an unexpected price for his whistle-blowing: None of the state-approved companies here will sell him the voting machines the county needs. "I've essentially embarrassed the current companies for the way they do business, and now I believe I'm being singled out for punishment by the vendors," he said. There are three vendors approved to sell voting equipment in Florida, and each has indicated it cannot or will not fill Sancho's order for 160 voting machines for the disabled. Already, he has had to return a $564,000 federal grant to buy the machines because he has been unable to acquire the machines yet. "I'm very troubled by this, to be honest - I can't believe the way he's being treated," said David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley who sits on a California board that reviews voting machine security. "What kind of message is this sending to elections supervisors?"

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: Personal bankruptcies soared 30 percent to a record high last year, surpassing 2 million for the first time, as financially strained people rushed to file before new restrictions took effect Oct. 17. Bankruptcy petitions filed in federal courts totaled 2,039,214 in 2005, up from 1,563,145 in 2004, according to data released Friday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A new law, which brought the most comprehensive revision of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in a quarter-century, made it more difficult to erase credit card and other debts in bankruptcy. Prior to its enactment, the number of bankruptcy filings had been fairly stable. "It is ironic that, at least in the short term, a law Congress hoped would reduce bankruptcies instead caused the largest upward spike in history," said Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, an organization of bankruptcy judges, lawyers and other experts. By contrast, he said, personal bankruptcy filings have fallen sharply so far this year under the impetus of the more stringent law. The head of Michigan-based Delphi Corp. wants the United Auto Workers to accept proposed wage and benefit cuts by Friday.

Steve Miller says that if the UAW and Delphi don't have a negotiated deal by Friday, he will file a motion in bankruptcy court to eliminate union contracts, the Detroit Free Press reported. The company is believed to be offering approximately $17.50 per hour, down some 37 percent from a current average wage of $27 an hour, said David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, who based his estimate on the two-tier wage structure that the supplier and the UAW negotiated in 2003. UAW local presidents were to receive copies of Delphi's proposal Monday and then gather in Detroit for a meeting Tuesday.

Republicans Believe Businessmen Are Moral Models To Be Emulated: The discovery of huge hidden losses at General Motors' finance arm has raised fresh fears of bankruptcy at the world's biggest carmaker, sending tremors through the credit derivatives markets. The struggling group asked for a filing delay after admitting to an extra $2 billion (£1.1 billion) in accounting errors at its finance arm GMAC, raising total losses last year to $10.6 billion. The news triggered a sharp spike in the cost of default insurance on GMAC's bonds, rising 75 basis points overnight. Car-parts supplier Dana Corp. defaulted last week on $2.5 billion of debt, following Delphi and Tower Automotive last year. Concern that General Motors may now be sliding towards the brink -- linked to an estimated $200 billion in credit derivatives -- has renewed fears that the overheated credit swap market could seize up in a crisis. Global investors are already jittery after the crash of the Icelandic krona, which sparked flight from hot assets as far afield as Hungary, Turkey and New Zealand. There is concern that monetary tightening in Europe, Japan, and America in unison might drain much of the excess liquidity fuelling the global asset boom.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Politicians from Iraq's Shi'ite majority accused U.S. troops of massacring 20 worshippers at a Baghdad mosque on Sunday but police and residents said many died in clashes between Shi'ite militia fighters and Americans. U.S. military spokesmen declined comment on the accusations but issued a statement describing a raid by Iraqi special forces, with U.S. advisers, on a building that was not a mosque in roughly the same area. It said 16 insurgents were killed. Police said U.S. forces clashed with the Mehdi Army militia of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, killing 20 fighters. With Baghdad under night curfew it was impossible to pin down what happened. But unusually strident anti-U.S. coverage on government-run state television showed a fierce confrontation between the ruling Shi'ite Islamists and the U.S. administration. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the premier was "deeply concerned" and had called the U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who said there would be a full inquiry.

President Bush last week extolled Tall Afar as proof of the success of America's new strategy, "Clear, Hold and Build." Tall Afar had been subdued before, in 2004. But after U.S. troops moved on, insurgents moved right back and made over the city in Al Qaeda's image, with Iraqi police barricaded in their station under constant attack. Even the mayor then was an insurgent sympathizer. McMaster brought in a large force, alongside a new Iraqi Army brigade, and after two weeks of fierce fighting in September 2005, retook the town. Al Qaeda even acknowledged the defeat, taking revenge by setting off six suicide car bombs in a day in Baghdad. In Tall Afar last week, however, things weren't that clear-cut. U.S. troops were able to take a small group of American reporters on a foot patrol through several neighborhoods-rare these days in central and western Iraq, and unheard of in Baghdad. Iraqis along the way were full of praise for their liberators, many of whom they recognized by name. But just in case, two squads of heavily armed troops kept watch, front, rear and flanks, rifles at the ready, and wouldn't let the group linger more than a few minutes in any place; a helicopter gunship shadowed us overhead. In another part of town, police later reported that an insurgent mortar attack wounded six children. A second NEWSWEEK reporter, visiting Tall Afar independently, found other neighborhoods barricaded; Iraqi police warned that he might be killed by insurgents or their supporters if he went any farther.

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest. "The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Scandals Du Jour: Kathleen Harris, the ex-Florida Secretary of State who engineered the Florida vote fraud that brought Smirkey to office in 2000, is having an increasingly rough time of it in her campaign to win a Senate seat from Florida. She slogged through another political morass Saturday when she suggested that one of her most senior advisers, a media consultant, had fed embarrassing information to the press. Appearing at a gun show in Orlando, Harris said that Adam Goodman, her longtime media consultant, had told the St. Petersburg Times that he and chief strategist Ed Rollins were leaving the campaign. The story, Harris said, was wrong. "Ed is not leaving my campaign," the Longboat Key Republican said. "Ed Rollins is very committed to my campaign." The two-term congresswoman, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, then accused Goodman of spreading the story. "That article basically came from Adam," Harris said, "and it was not accurate." Asked whether Goodman was still with the campaign, she said: "He is, is, uh... heh... no comment."

When Wilma knocked out power across South Florida, tens of thousands of people wheeled generators out of home improvement centers and fired them up in their driveways. More than 20,000 local homes sent the bill to FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent nearly $20 million in the six weeks following Wilma to reimburse households from Fort Pierce to Boca Raton and west to Lake Okeechobee. About half of those in Palm Beach County were in areas with a median income of $60,000 or more. About half of those in Martin County, and 40 percent of those in St. Lucie County, were in areas with median incomes of more than $50,000. FEMA didn't just pay for generators. It paid for chain saws, wet-dry vacuums, dehumidifiers and air purifiers. The multimillion-dollar payout for the 2005 storm wasn't a first for FEMA: The agency also spent millions reimbursing Florida households in 2004 after four hurricanes struck the state. The program has come under fire because so many people who could easily afford a $700 to $900 generator took federal money from an agency that already was dealing with several disasters, including catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Critics question the propriety of the reimbursements and FEMA's policy of not applying an income test. "I'm troubled by the expectation where we bail everyone out," U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fort Pierce, said from Washington. "There are certain reasons FEMA exists. But it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous." Craig Fugate, Florida's director of emergency management, said, "It was more like, 'Hey, it's the lottery. We got hit by the hurricane. We won a generator.' " Residents in ZIP code 33428, west of Boca Raton, where the median household income is $62,727, got more reimbursements for generators than any other: 1,197. In Martin and St. Lucie counties, the top three ZIP codes in numbers of homes reimbursed were Port St. Lucie-area neighborhoods with median household incomes from $39,000 to $51,000.

News From Smirkey's Wars: An Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has appealed for asylum in another country, the United Nations said Monday. U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said the world body was working with the Afghan government to meet the request by Abdul Rahman, 41. "Mr. Rahman has asked for asylum outside Afghanistan," Edwards said. "We expect this will be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Expect the Talibaptists to oppose this one vigorously: Twenty-five years after the first AIDS cases jolted the world, scientists think they soon may have a pill that people could take to keep from getting the virus that causes the global killer. Two drugs already used to treat HIV infection have shown such promise at preventing it in monkeys that officials last week said they would expand early tests in healthy high-risk men and women around the world. "This is the first thing I've seen at this point that I think really could have a prevention impact," said Thomas Folks, a federal scientist since the earliest days of AIDS. "If it works, it could be distributed quickly and could blunt the epidemic."

Scandals Du Jour: Karl Rove, Deputy White House Chief of Staff and special adviser to President George W. Bush, has recently been providing information to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the ongoing CIA leak investigation, sources close to the investigation say. According to several Pentagon sources close to Rove and others familiar with the inquiry, Bush's senior adviser tipped off Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to information that led to the recent "discovery" of 250 pages of missing email from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. According to one source close to the case, Rove is providing information on deleted emails, erased hard drives and other types of obstruction by staff and other officials in the Vice President's office. Pentagon sources close to Rove confirmed this account.

FEMA has broken its promise to reopen four multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work, including three that federal auditors say wasted significant amounts of money. Officials said they awarded the four contracts last October to speed recovery efforts that might have been slowed by competitive bidding. Some critics, however, suggested they were rewards for politically connected firms. Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison pledged last fall to rebid the contracts, which were awarded to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Later, the agency acknowledged the rebidding wouldn’t happen until February.

Why would Democrats in Hawaii give money to a U.S. Senate candidate in Rhode Island? That question is creating a furor around Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown, who is running for the Senate. At issue is whether his campaign engaged in "donation swapping," a practice experts say is a common and legally dubious means of skirting the federal limits on political contributions. Late last year, Brown received $25,000 from the state Democratic parties in Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts. Shortly afterward, four of his top donors gave $30,000 to those parties. The donors had already given Brown the maximum allowed under federal law, $4,200. Critics accuse Brown's campaign of laundering illegal donations, and on Wednesday, the Hawaii Republican Party signed a complaint asking the Federal Elections Commission to investigate. Brown, who has been running on a clean-government platform, has said he did nothing illegal, but agreed to return the money because it created an "appearance problem."

When Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, was elected House majority leader on Feb. 2, he presented himself as a new kind of leader - someone who would rise above doing business as usual, a departure from the aggressive tactics and ethical tight-rope walking of his predecessor, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay. But the Center for Public Integrity's examination of Boehner's political financial activities during his 15 years on Capitol Hill indicates that the way he does business might not be so different from DeLay. The Center analysis found that Boehner: has taken dozens of trips on private jets owned by corporations that have legislative interests before Congress; has accepted scores of privately sponsored trips (often categorized as having fact-finding or educational purposes) to some of the world's premier golf spots and foreign locales; has hosted many high-end fund-raisers to wine and dine potential donors and Republican colleagues; has donated millions of dollars to election campaigns of fellow Republicans.

News Of The Weird: Police in Heredia, Costa Rica, encountered a man in the patio of his house while he was violating a Siberian Husky. The incident was reported to police by neigbours of the Mercedes Norte de Heredia, shortly following midnight Friday. Several neighbours made calls to police of a burglar in the area. However, when members of the Fuerza Pública showed up, the found the man in full coitis with the dog. The man, who was not identified by police, was taken to the local police station and questioned, he told police that he was "jodido" - really f***d up!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:27:58 PM

Sat, Mar 25 2006

A Lot Of Smoke, Not Much Fire

Finally a bit of rain. The lovely dry season weather has continued to the point that things were getting rather dry around here. So when I woke up this morning to rainy weather, it was actually quite welcome. Lack of rain for the past four or five days has meant that things were getting rather dry, and were in need of some serious rain. We've had the odd sprinkle now and again, but until this morning, there wasn't enough to do any real good. The rain came about nine this morning, and lasted for a couple of hours, varying from a light rain to a serious downpour. Almost thunderstorm-like, but not really a thunderstorm. But by noon, the clouds cleared off and it was back to the dry season. Nice warm temperatures, too, 80 this afternoon, and 71 overnight.

Good thing I burned yesterday. When the gardener was here, I discussed with him whether or not the yard waste pile, grown to rather considerable size over a year's worth of contributions, was dry enough to burn. He suggested that by early afternoon it would be, and suggested we wait until then. After he was done with his pruning and raking chores, and had it all gathered together, we decided to set a match to it. We moved the packing material from my stored goods out of the garage and onto the pile so I could be rid of all those boxes and packing paper.

There was probably 20 or 30 boxes, each full of packing paper, and the yard waste pile was probably 6 feet high and 15 feet across by itself, and so I figured this was going to be the mother of all bonfires. But it was not to be. In spite of a fairly stiff breeze, once it was lit, it burned with maybe 3-foot flames, no more. With all that cardboard and paper, I had expected much more. What was produced, however, was copious quantities of smoke. I don't think I have ever lit a bonfire that produced as much smoke as this one did. Large, billowing clouds of smoke rose up from this fire, in such quantity that I would have figured for sure it would draw the police and a stern lecture. There was so much smoke being generated that the gardener found an excuse to leave, and hurried through the last of his chores and got the heck out of there before the police showed up. But luck was with me. The breeze was out of the east, which blew the smoke down the canyon and out over the lake, in a direction where there were no houses and no potential complainers. It's a good thing, too, because the smoke was dense enough to drive folks out of the house more than a block away downwind. I was hoping and praying that the wind direction didn't change, and fortunately it didn't.

The pile burned and smoldered, and burned some more and smoldered some more, for three hours. Finally, by sundown, it had pretty much burned itself out, though it smoldered slowly till this morning. It was this morning's rain that finally put it out completely. All that smoldering reduced the pile to a third of its former size, and now begins the fun task of raking together the remainder, and allowing it to dry out, and lighting it afire again. But that is for another day. Maybe the gardener will stick around for that one.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: New special progams? What new special programs? Not that George W. Bush needs much encouragement, but Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a new target for the administration’s domestic operations - Fifth Columnists, supposedly disloyal Americans who sympathize and collaborate with the enemy. "The administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue Fifth Column movements," Graham, R-S.C., told Gonzales during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Feb. 6. "I stand by this President’s ability, inherent to being Commander in Chief, to find out about Fifth Column movements, and I don’t think you need a warrant to do that," Graham added, volunteering to work with the administration to draft guidelines for how best to neutralize this alleged threat. "Senator," a smiling Gonzales responded, "the President already said we’d be happy to listen to your ideas." Top U.S. officials have cited the need to challenge news that undercuts Bush’s actions as a key front in defeating the terrorists, who are aided by "news informers" in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Plus, there was that curious development in January when the Army Corps of Engineers awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a $385 million contract to construct detention centers somewhere in the United States, to deal with "an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs," KBR said. Less attention centered on the phrase "rapid development of new programs" and what kind of programs would require a major expansion of detention centers, each capable of holding 5,000 people. Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to elaborate on what these "new programs" might be. Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said, "Almost certainly this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters. They’ve already done this on a smaller scale, with the ‘special registration’ detentions of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo." There also was another little-noticed item posted at the U.S. Army Web site, about the Pentagon’s Civilian Inmate Labor Program. This program "provides Army policy and guidance for establishing civilian inmate labor programs and civilian prison camps on Army installations."

When Smirkey signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers. The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates. Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it "a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a "signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law. In the statement, Smirkey said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would "impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties." Smirkey wrote: "The executive branch shall construe the provisions... that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch... in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information... " The statement represented the latest in a string of high-profile instances in which Bush has cited his claimed constitutional authority to bypass the law.

Following a death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, death squads of the Badr Corps have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution, gay Iraqis say. But when they ask for help and protection from U.S. occupying authorities in the "Green Zone," gay Iraqis are met with indifference and derision. "The Badr Corps is committed to the ‘sexual cleansing’ of Iraq," says Ali Hili, a 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile in London who, with some 30 other gay Iraqis who have fled to the United Kingdom, five months ago founded the Abu Nawas Group there to support persecuted gay Iraqis, Said Hili, "We believe that the Badr Corps is receiving advice from Iran on how to target gay people." In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been carrying out a lethal anti-gay pogrom against Iranian gays, notably through entrapment by Internet -- and this tactic has recently begun to be used by the Badr Corps in Iraq to identify and hunt down Iraqi gays.

The Pentagon is moving strategic bombers to Guam and aircraft carriers and submarines to the Pacific as part of a new "hedge" strategy aimed at preparing for conflict with China, Pentagon officials said yesterday. Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, told a congressional commission that the response to the emerging military threat from China is part of the White House national security strategy made public yesterday. Although U.S. relations with China are good, "both sides understand very well that there is a potential for a conflict, particularly in the Taiwan Strait," Mr. Rodman said during a hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. China's arms buildup in recent years altered the U.S. "strategic calculus" for defending Taiwan from a mainland attack and shows that "a prudent hedging policy is essential," Mr. Rodman said.

Winning hearts and minds in the New Iraq: To the west of Baghdad, over 1,000 U.S. troops have surrounded a village near Abu Ghraib. After the town was cordoned off, U.S. soldiers conducted house-to-house searches and rounded up the entire adult male population of the town. Soldiers handcuffed and then interrogated every man in the village. After questioning, each man was marked with an X on the back of their necks. One U.S. colonel defended the operation saying "What we're doing is building a Michelin guide to the area."

Despite demands by the Netherlands and Belgium, the conclusions of a two-day EU summit in Brussels do not contain any reference to the US Guantanamo prison camp, but a press statement prepared by Vienna explicitly backs closure of the camp. Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot, supported by his Belgian counterpart Karel de Gucht, on Thursday (23 March) proposed adding wording about "concern" over alleged human rights abuses in Guantanamo into the final conclusion, but this was rejected by the Austrian presidency.

To Republicans, Clint Curtis is a traitor; a back-stabbing liar with an imagination that rivaled Jack Abramoff's influence over Congress. To liberal Democrats, Curtis is a hero; a stand up guy who blew the whistle on computer voting fraud, testifying before a group of U.S. House Committee Judiciary Democrats after the 2004 presidential election. And to the man himself, the Republican-turned-Democrat is nothing but a computer geek who purports to have found himself smack in the middle of a brazen political plot to tamper with elections in Florida, where fact can be stranger than fiction and politics as shady as swampy underbrush. After all, since the software programmer accused Florida Congressman Tom Feeney of asking him to create a computer program to steal an election, the plot has unraveled quirkier than a Carl Hiaasen novel. So far, a state investigator who had been looking into a contract held by Curtis' former employer was found dead in a cheap motel room and an illegal Chinese immigrant, a colleague of Curtis' who worked for a close friend of Feeney's, was allowed to remain in the United States and received a $100 fine for passing sophisticated missile technology to China. It's no wonder why Curtis keeps a loaded AK-47 behind his door. "When I first began reporting on espionage and Feeney's corruption, I received death threats," he asserts. Now Curtis is preparing to square off against Feeney for the state's 24th Congressional District this November, a solidly conservative area in central Florida carved out by Feeney himself.

A dean at Harvard University and a professor at the University of Chicago are coming under intense criticism for publishing an academic critique of the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington. The paper charges that the United States has willingly set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of Israel. In addition the study accuses the pro-Israeli lobby, particularly AIPAC - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - of manipulating the U.S. media, policing academia and silencing critics of Israel by labeling them as anti-Semitic. The study also examines the role played by pro-Israeli neo-conservatives in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of iraq. The authors of the study, Stephen Walt, a dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago are now themselves being accused of anti-Semitism.

Call it the scarlet letter for drunken drivers. A California lawmaker wants to force two-time offenders to attach red license plates with the letters DUI, for "driving under the influence," to their vehicles - a rolling advertisement of their crimes. Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, said he is proposing the plates, which would remain on offenders' vehicles for two years, to help tackle a disturbing rise in alcohol-related roadway deaths. "This notifies the public, 'Here is a guy who may be dangerous,' " Haynes said. "It also alerts cops. If you see a car with a red plate in front of a bar at midnight, maybe it's someone you want to watch. Finally, it frankly does make people think twice about wanting to drive around drunk." Of course, if the Vice President of the United States were to license a car in California, it would have a red license plate - he is a two-time DUI convictee.

In a new report on police treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a leading international human rights group yesterday indicted the United States law-enforcement system for facilitating discrimination and abuse based on sexual orientation in American communities. Amnesty International released the findings of an extensive investigation of interactions between law-enforcement officers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The group’s analysis reveals that, despite recent strides for LGBT rights through civil-rights legislation and some reforms in police practices, systemic barriers continue to stand between LGBT people and equal treatment before the law. While the report traces patterns of mistreatment that have plagued the LGBT community for generations, it takes a fresh angle on the issue of anti-queer police abuse, viewing it as a reflection of institutionalized heterosexism that runs far deeper than just encounters with "bad cops." The report noted that because of the powerful role of law enforcement in local communities, discrimination by police threatens the rights of LGBT people on two fronts: unresponsive police leave them more vulnerable to prejudicial crimes, and hostility from officers themselves condones and exacerbates abuse.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill on Wednesday authorizing security guards to shoot to kill to protect the state's lone nuclear power plant. "There's no doubt that nuclear facilities are a potential target for terrorists," said Sebelius in a press statement. "Kansas has one nuclear plant, Wolf Creek, and we must make sure it's properly protected. Allowing guards to use deadly force in certain circumstances increases the security of the plant, and of our state," said Sebelius. The law is called the "Nuclear Generating Facility Security Guard Act." Texas and Arizona have similar laws and the Kansas measure grew out of the legislature's joint committee on campus security, according to the Kansas governor's office.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the donation Barbara Bush made to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund was 'earmarked' for the educational software company Ignite! As some of you probably know that's the junk company owned by her ne'er-do-well son Neil Bush - you know, the Bush who cost the taxpayers billions in his Silverado Savings and Loan loan fraud disaster back in the Reagan era. Anyway, Ignite! has a unique business model, which works like this. Neil goes around the world finding international statesmen, bigwigs and business criminals who want to 'invest' in Ignite! as a way to curry favor with the brother in the White House. A couple years ago when I was at Salon I wrote about the craze for investment in Ignite! then taking hold among Red Sea oil magnates and progeny of the rulers of the People's Republic of China (See this article as well about the craze for investing in Ignite! in the United Arab Emirates and specifically in Dubai). Now, Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has awakened to the wonders of investing in Ignite!

A federal judge on Friday questioned the constitutionality of a law under which two former lobbyists with a pro-Israel group have been charged with espionage. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said the law, enacted by Congress during World War I, may be unconstitutionally broad and vague, especially given its potential impact on First Amendment rights. Ellis questioned prosecutors about the law during a pretrial hearing for Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who each face felony trials next month. Defense lawyers argued that the charges against their clients should be dismissed because of the law's defects. In particular, they say the law's prohibition on receiving and disclosing "national defense information," even information that is unclassified, is far too broad and vague.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman dropped his usual air of imperturbability during a drive-time radio appearance Wednesday, snapping at the host over a column criticizing the senator and backing his challenger, Ned Lamont. Six years ago, when Lieberman last ran for re-election, his comments would have had the shelf life of an ice-cream cone. But on Thursday, they only grew louder, amplified by Internet bloggers. "Wow," said one hostile review on a widely read liberal site, The Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com). "Two weeks into his contested primary, and Joe `How Dare Anyone Challenge Me' Lieberman literally lost it on the air." Whether the avuncular senator truly "lost it" is debatable, but Lieberman's jousting with radio host and columnist Colin McEnroe undeniably was high-test fuel for the blogs - and, apparently, money in the bank for Lamont.

For many months, Los Angeles city officials have complained that regional hospitals are dropping off their indigent patients in the city's tough Skid Row area. On Wednesday, officials at a homeless shelter released a videotape that allegedly catches one hospital in the act. The incident has become part of an ongoing investigation that could result in criminal or civil penalties. Security cameras outside the Union Rescue Mission, the city's largest homeless shelter, show a taxi pulling a U-turn in front of the building. Several seconds later, an elderly woman in a hospital gown shuffles into view. She appears to have only hospital socks on her feet, and walks in the street for a while before turning back to the mission entrance. Images here.

Ben Domenech's conservative blog Red America lasted all of three days at the Washington Post. He quit today after numerous examples of alleged plagiarism in his work surfaced. Yesterday, in a separate matter, he had apologized for calling Coretta Scott King a "Communist" the day after her recent funeral. The highly embarrassing episode for the Post culminated Friday afternoon when washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady published a notice on the Web site announcing that Domenech had "resigned." However, Domenech was then quoted in Human Events, the conservative magazine, as admitting he had been pushed out.

A former Pentagon official gunning to be the Republican nominee to run against Hillary Clinton claims that the New York junior Senator is using helicopters to spy on her, according to a story on the front page of Saturday's New York Post. Kathleen McFarland, a first time candidate for office, is reported to have "stunned a crowd of Suffolk County Republicans on Thursday" with her claims. "Hillary Clinton is really worried about me, and is so worried, in fact, that she had helicopters flying over my house in Southampton today taking pictures," said McFarland as related to the Post by "a prominent GOP activist who was at the events."

Habeas Corpus Death Watch: Bush administration lawyers are arguing that a new law forces the dismissal of more than 200 lawsuits filed in federal courts on behalf of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, urging a federal appellate court to instead adopt a far more limited process that still would give the prisoners access to judicial review. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will decide whether the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 retroactively stripped the court of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus cases challenging detentions at the military prison in Cuba. Lawyers representing the detainees argued that the new law does not apply to pending cases, while the government has maintained that all cases essentially should be wiped away.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: New-home sales recorded the steepest drop in nearly nine years during February, marking the fourth decline in six months and providing more evidence of a continuing slowdown in the housing market. The Commerce Department said Friday that sales of single-family homes decreased 10.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.080 million. The decrease was the biggest since an identical slide in April 1997. The level of demand was the lowest since May 2003's 1.078 million annual rate. January sales fell a revised 5.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.207 million; originally, January sales were seen at 1.233 million. Sales rose 3.1% in December, dropped 8.0% in November, climbed 7.7% in October and slipped 2.0% in September. The average price of a home increased to $296,700, up from a revised $287,200 in January. The median price fell to $230,400 from a revised $234,200. There were an estimated 548,000 homes for sale at the end of February -- a 6.3 months supply at the current sales rate and the highest inventory level since January 1996's 6.4 months supply. An estimated 525,000 homes were for sale this January, a 5.3 months' inventory.

Republicans Protect America's Food Supply: A Kansas meatpacker sued the government on Thursday for refusing to let the company test for mad cow disease in every animal it slaughters. Creekstone Farms Premium Beef says it has Japanese customers who want comprehensive testing. The Agriculture Department threatened criminal prosecution if Creekstone did the tests, according to the company's lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. "We're not in any way saying that U.S. beef isn't safe; we believe it's the safest beef supply in the world, but that's not the issue," chief executive John Stewart said at a news conference. "We're talking about consumers, and consumers want the product tested," Stewart said. Testing for mad cow disease in the United States is controlled by the department, which tests about 1% of the 35 million cattle, or about 350,000, that are slaughtered each year. The department is planning to reduce that level of testing. Stewart said he was surprised at the plan to scale back testing. "Given the concerns internationally, I'm not so sure that's the right thing to do."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A community activist was jailed Wednesday for 45 days by an Adams County judge for wearing a T-shirt in court with a photograph of executed killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams and the word "redemption." Shareef Aleem, 37, was found in contempt March 1 for wearing the shirt during his trial on charges he assaulted a police officer. Aleem apparently refused Judge Katherine Delgado's order to remove the shirt, citing his First Amendment rights. Williams was a former gang member convicted of homicide in California who was executed in December despite pleas from supporters who said he had reformed. "There are limits to the judge's powers concerning free speech," Aleem's attorney, Mark Burton, said. He promised an appeal and said Aleem planned a hunger strike while in jail. Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said he doesn't believe Aleem's shirt rises to the level of contempt. "It is an abuse of power to order someone to jail for 45 days because of a T-shirt that does not disrespect the integrity of the court," Silverstein said. "He probably has grounds for an appeal."

Scapegoats - Not Exactly An Endangered Species: In the days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, immigration policy was going to be President Bush's signature issue. Five years later, Mr. Bush has at last realized some momentum on immigration policy, but it is probably not the activity he once anticipated. He has lost control of his own party on the issue, as many Republicans object to his call for a temporary guest-worker program, insisting instead that the focus be on shutting down the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico. It is not clear how much help he will get from Democrats in an election year. The issue will come to the floor of the Senate next week, and the debate is shaping up as a free-for-all that will touch on economics, race and national identity. The discussion has intensified as Mr. Bush finds himself caught between two of his most important constituencies: business owners and managers on the one hand, conservatives on the other. Philosophically, the president, whose own sensibility on the issue was shaped by his experience as governor of Texas, says he is committed to a program that meets the needs of business: the creation of a pool of legal foreign workers for industries that have come to rely on low-wage labor. But politically, Mr. Bush must satisfy his most conservative supporters. Many of them view illegal immigration as a strain on schools, the health care system and the economy, and some have warned that in their opinion the nation's cultural identity could be washed away by a flood of low-income Spanish-speaking workers.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming, It Will Go Away: Dozens of the world’s cities, including London and New York, could be flooded by the end of the century, according to research which suggests that global warming will increase sea levels more rapidly than was previously thought. The first study to combine computer models of rising temperatures with records of the ancient climate has indicated that sea levels could rise by up to 20ft (6m) by 2100, placing millions of people at risk. The threat comes from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which scientists behind the research now believe are on track to release vast volumes of water significantly more quickly than older models have predicted. Their analysis of events between 129,000 and 116,000 years ago, when the Arctic last warmed to temperatures forecast for 2100, shows that there could be large rises in sea level.

A secret report, suppressed by US defense chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world. The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents. 'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.' The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

News Of The Talibaptist Jihad: Abortion-rights supporters launched a referendum drive on Friday to overturn a South Dakota abortion ban designed to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing the practice nationwide. A new coalition, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said it would try to collect thousands of signatures aimed at giving state voters a chance decide in November on what it called "the nation's most extreme abortion law." "This law clearly endangers the health of women in South Dakota and violates the right of women and families to make private, personal health-care decisions," the group said. With at least nine other states also considering strict abortion limits, the issue is expected to gain renewed national visibility in the November midterm elections, when Democrats are seeking to recapture both houses of Congress from Republicans. The issue could energize both parties, analysts said. "It is about South Dakota, but it ultimately is a national issue," said Ted G. Jelen, a DePaul University professor of political scientist. "This is the type of thing that... might pry open some checkbooks." South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, signed the law March 6. The measure bans nearly all abortions, even when pregnancies result from incest or rape, and says that if a woman's life is in jeopardy, doctors must try to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman. Doctors who perform an abortion could receive a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.

Scandals Du Jour: In one final indignity, Tom DeLay, the scandal-ridden former House Republican Majority Whip who is now under indictment in Texas for money laundering, has lost his Texas concealed-weapons permit. A Texas website, Brazosriver, was the first (to the knowledge of RAW STORY) to post a judge's order to suspend DeLay's license. Under Texas law, indicted felons are not allowed to carry concealed handguns. Attorneys for DeLay have appealed the order, and it will be heard by the Republican County Court at Law. There are no Democratic judges in the county, according to the site that revealed the documents.

Fallen super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his former business partner soon will be subpoenaed by defense attorneys to give sworn statements in the Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis murder case. The attorney for murder suspect Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello filed paperwork this week asking to question Abramoff and Long Island businessman Adam Kidan about the SunCruz Casino founder's gangland-style slaying. Broward Circuit Judge Michael Kaplan granted the request Thursday after prosecutors agreed to it. Prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said the Broward State Attorney's Office had been concerned about subpoenaing Kidan and Abramoff because it didn't want to give them any form of immunity. Kidan has not been eliminated as a suspect in the murder case, Cavanagh said.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:14:20 PM

Thu, Mar 23 2006

Is The House Sold? Do I Even Need To Sell?

The dry season continues, and the weather continues to warm up. Yesterday and today both were intensely sunny, dry and warm, with overnight lows only dropping to 71, and the highs both days rising to 82. Just about perfect. If the weather were always like this, I would figure I've pretty well found paradise. At least as far as the weather is concerned.

I was up fairly late today, and hadn't even gotten dressed when a real estate agent came by to show the house. I got dressed quickly and showed the couple around, and they seemed rather interested. Asked a lot of questions about the property, and what I had intended to do with the house. They spent a good deal of time, taking pictures and all, and talked a good deal of time about changing this and changing that. Sounding like they had mentally moved in. A really good thing.

Not long before sunset, they came back, sans real estate agent, and had another look around, taking even more time this time. More questions. More comments about changing this and that. In my experience, this is a really good sign. I think I may have a buyer.

In the meantime, this morning in the news I am reading that the Supreme Court here has issued its ruling on the tax plan that is such a worry to the gringos in this country, including me. It has ruled that the manner in which it was passed on the first reading was unconstitutional, and so it must now go back for another vote. Since all this ominous news about what is actually in the bill, including all the provisions that will be onerous to the caudillos (ruling families), I suspect that instead of getting the 2/3 majority it would need, it may not even get a majority. It will have far more support in the next session when the new diputados are seated, so I doubt it will be submitted for a new first reading then. And even then, the president-elect, Oscar Arias, who said during the campaign that he favored it, is now saying he has not decided whether he is going to push for it. Sure hope he doesn't - if he fully understood the impact it would have on the gringos, and how they would respond to it, I doubt that he would support it. If this tax act does not become law, there is a lot less reason for me to move to another country.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: You thought the DP World ports deal was bad for American national security? Wait till you get a load of this: In the aftermath of the Dubai ports dispute, the Bush administration is hiring a Hong Kong conglomerate, several of whose board members are related to or married to high officials in the People's Liberation Army of China, to help detect nuclear materials inside cargo passing through the Bahamas to the United States and elsewhere, without supervision by U.S. officials, or any guarantee that the cargo would be re-inspected on entry into the United States. The administration acknowledges the no-bid contract with Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. represents the first time a foreign company will be involved in running a sophisticated U.S. radiation detector at an overseas port without American customs agents present. Freeport in the Bahamas is 65 miles from the U.S. coast, where cargo would be likely to be inspected again. The contract is currently being finalized. The administration is negotiating a second no-bid contract for a Philippine company to install radiation detectors in its home country, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. At dozens of other overseas ports, foreign governments are primarily responsible for scanning cargo.

U.S. ports would have been safer with an Arab company running the terminals than they will be now that a political firestorm killed the deal, the chief of U.S. homeland security said on Thursday. Dubai Ports World of United Arab Emirates was about to take over terminals at six major U.S. ports but decided earlier this month to transfer those operations to a U.S. entity after bipartisan opposition from the U.S. Congress. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dismissed the security concerns raised by opponents of the deal all along and went a step further on Thursday in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The irony of this is, that had the deal gone forward, we would have had greater ability to impose a security regime worldwide on the company than we have now," Chertoff said. He did not explain the security measures he had in mind.

Smirkey shoots himself in the foot: Smirkey called the press conference yesterday to sell hope - give people a reason to keep on believing - but trampled his own objective. Instead, he deepened the public's fear - not of Muslim terrorists - but of his own leadership at war. Does this guy know what he's doing? He got us into this mess; does he know how to get us out? A fatal admission was revealed when Bush was asked whether he could envision a day when US troops were out of Iraq. The President shrugged, as though the question does not apply to him. "That'll be decided," Bush said, "by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." When I heard this, I thought, that's going to be tomorrow's headline. Sure enough, it was in the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper that always rallies to Bush's side. "Bush commits until 2009," the banner headline declared. His press conference blunder will stalk George Bush until he either makes a big change in policy or personnel or actually gets us out of Iraq. He can't just smirk and walk off the stage.

Republicans are losing ground in Georgia and Florida over Bush's handling of the Iraq war according to a new poll, which surveyed 4,000 in Southern states, and finds that Bush has higher disapproval ratings than approval ratings. Bush won both states in 2004. The final, comprehensive results of the poll weren't yet complete when this column was filed. Over 4,000 interviews have been conducted, however -- enough to render persuasively alarming news for the GOP. For example, in the populous states of Florida and Georgia, more respondents want the Democrats to control Congress next year than they do the Republicans. Smirkey won both states in 2004, and yet he now has higher disapproval ratings than approval ratings. In Georgia, his disapproval rate approaches 50 percent. In Florida, it's 55 percent.It gets worse for Republicans. Initial polling results seem to show that the disapproval of Washington Republicans is starting to translate into possible votes against GOP candidates this fall in statewide races back home. Most of these are races in which Republicans would expect to hold obvious upper hands.

A tough race for Georgia gov. Sonny Perdue could be even tougher with uber-Christian Ralph Reed at his side. Or so sayeth the pollster. On Monday, pollster Matt Towery raised Republican blood pressure with the news that President Bush's approval ratings in Georgia had dropped significantly. And that Gov. Sonny Perdue was no longer the shoo-in many thought he would be this November. On Tuesday, the head of Internet political news service Insider Advantage cut loose another set of worrisome numbers for the state's Republicans: Ralph Reed, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, at this point represents an 8-point drag on a Perdue-Reed ticket. For you geeks, the margin of error is 4 percent, and dates of the survey were March 14-17. The question asked of 500 likely Republican voters was simple: "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sonny Perdue as governor if Ralph Reed were the nominee for lieutenant governor?" No mention was made of Reed's Republican rival, state Sen. Casey Cagle of Gainesville. Nor was there any mention of Reed's troublesome ties to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

An interview with actor Charlie Sheen regarding his controversial views on 9/11 has started to garner some mainstream media attention, RAW STORY has found. On Monday, Sheen, star of the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men" and the multiple Oscar-winning film Platoon, talked with GCN Radio Network's "The Alex Jones Show," and explained why he had trouble believing the "official 9/11 story" advanced by the Bush Administration and the 9/11 Commission (link). "It's like they want to pigeonhole all of us into conspiracy nutbags when we're not debating things that are related to UFO's bringing down the towers or Building 7 or the Pentagon and so its feels like there's things in there that we’re not the conspiracy theorists on this particular issue," said Sheen. "It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 percent of their targets: that feels like a conspiracy theory." CNN's Showbiz Tonight played extended segments from the Sheen interview Wednesday night (Windows Media video link), then followed it up with an extended discussion on some of the "unanswered questions" with a producer of a National Geographic documentary on 9/11 and the Media Coordinator of 911Truth.org. "Despite a huge reaction amongst the alternative media to Charlie Sheen's comments on 9/11, in part due to a brief link on the Drudge Report which was mysteriously pulled after a few hours, newswires and entertainment outlets have actively sought to impose a blackout on the story," Jones and Paul Joseph Watson wrote at Prison Planet.

A raucus rally supporting leftist President Hugo Chavez stranded the U.S. ambassador and his delegation inside a social club for more than two hours Wednesday, officials said. About 200 chanting Chavez supporters burned an American flag, set tires ablaze and blocked the gates of the Italian-Venezuelan social club during the visit by Ambassador William Brownfield to San Juan de los Morros, about 50 miles southwest of Caracas, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Penn. "It was loud, hostile and somewhat threatening. There were burning tires, loud firecrackers and obscene chants," Penn said. "They weren't about to move and the police weren't about to move them, so we were stuck." Gov. Eduardo Manuitt, a Chavez supporter, told Union Radio that protesters were simply demonstrating against the ambassador's presence, "asking for him to leave Guarico state - that's all."

While the Christian Peacemakers Teams expressed joy at their colleagues' sudden rescue from captivity in Iraq today, the peace activists took the opportunity to also call for an end to the US-led occupation of Iraq. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said the captives were rescued in a joint US-British operation in a rural area north-west of Baghdad. British officials confirmed that Canadians James Loney, 41 of Toronto, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, formerly of Montreal, and Briton Norman Kember, 74, of London, had been freed. The body of their American colleague, Tom Fox, of Clearbrook, Virginia, was found on March 9.

New York's attorney general sued an internet company Thursday over the selling of e-mail addresses in what authorities say may be the biggest deliberate breach of internet privacy ever. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Gratis Internet of selling personal information obtained from millions of consumers despite a promise of confidentiality. The consumers thought they were simply registering to see a website offering free iPod music players or DVD movies and video games, Spitzer spokesman Brad Maione said. On sign-up pages, Gratis promised it "does not ... sell/rent e-mails." Instead of confidentiality, Spitzer said, Gratis sold access to their e-mail information to three independent e-mail marketers, and hundreds of millions of e-mail solicitations followed. Gratis, based in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The Veep wants his Fox News and demands a chilly atmosphere: The Smoking Gun has posted a copy of the document that Cheney's advance team circulates to hotels where Cheney will be bunking and lists how the Republican pol's "Downtime Suite" needs to be outfitted. While the vice president's requests are pretty modest (no extract-the-brown-M&M demands here), Cheney does like his suite at a chilly 68 degrees. And, of course, all the televisions need to be preset to the Fox News Channel (what, you thought he was a Lifetime devotee?). And he demands bottled water from that terrorist-appeasing, socialist country of... France! Gotta have Perrier or in a pinch, Calistoga.

The three positions with the most sway over Congress, it can be argued, are majority leader of the Senate, speaker of the House and maitre d' of the Palm. Almost as much political business gets done over double-cut lamb chops at the elite watering hole - and at similar establishments throughout the city - as under the Capitol dome. It's no wonder, then, that talk of making it illegal for lobbyists to pick up a lawmaker's tab has the local restaurant community all whipped up. So, in classic Washington style, restaurateurs have dispatched their lobbyists to lobby against efforts to control lobbying. When asked if the proposed meal ban would affect her business, Christianne Ricchi, chef and owner of I Ricchi, said: "Absolutely, yes. It's hard to put a number on it. There are ancillary deals and conversations happening all the time. But when Congress is out of town, business goes down, and Washington turns into this sleepy little town. It's very evident." The proposed meal provision is part of the Senate's response to embarrassing scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty this year to conspiring to bribe lawmakers, and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), who was recently sent to prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

With the new Chevrolet Tahoe selling briskly, General Motors Corp. told workers at three assembly plants that it will increase production of its family of new full-size SUVs by about 11,000 to 12,000 a year, a GM spokesman said Tuesday. Despite high gas prices, GM expects strong demand for its new large SUVs coming to market, including the new Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL. They are among the company's most profitable vehicles. GM will increase the number of large SUVs coming off the production lines at plants in Janesville, Wis., and Arlington, Texas, in June and at Silao, Mexico, in July, GM spokesman Dan Flores said. Earlier this month, GM said it pulled ahead production of the Suburban and Yukon XL by two to three weeks.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: After two days of meetings with Caribbean leaders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to have cooled some of their anger toward the United States but failed to persuade them to embrace the new government in Haiti, United States officials said Wednesday. One goal of her visit here was to persuade the other Caribbean nations to take forceful steps to help the new Haitian government stabilize the country and deal with its crushing problems. What she got was a commitment to readmit Haiti to the Caribbean Community of nations and a vague promise to help Haiti in the future. "Where do we go in the future?" asked Fred Mitchell, the Bahamian foreign minister and chairman of the Caribbean Community. "We remain engaged" with Haiti "and will continue to review the matter." Relations between the United States and the Caribbean Community, known as Caricom, have been strained and embittered for two years, in part because of opposition here to the war in Iraq but also because of the role of the United States in Haiti. The United States forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004.

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada said Tuesday he has been notified by an American court that U.S. authorities bugged his telephone conversations with an FBI analyst accused of revealing U.S. government secrets. The New Jersey court indicated it authorized the wiretapping as part of an investigation into Leandro Aragoncillo last year, Estrada said, adding that there was no suggestion he was under investigation. Estrada, who was toppled by a popular revolt in 2001, previously acknowledged receiving American government assessments of Philippine political events from Aragoncillo, a 21-year Marine veteran who became an FBI intelligence analyst in 2004. "The notice said that my telephone calls with Aragoncillo were wiretapped,"

An inquiry released today found that Lincoln Group, a US public relations firm, didn't violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles. Now, the Pentagon says they want to do a little tinkering to get their efforts out of the spotlight. "The Pentagon's propaganda machine still operates mostly eight hours a day, five days a week while the challenges it faces occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week." Donald Rumsfeld lamented. He then complained that the "vast media attention about U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq outweighed that given to the discovery of "Saddam Hussein's mass graves." The Pentagon and Bush expect for the images that they pay for and feed into their purchased press in Iraq to trickle into the mainstream media to be quoted and disseminated around the world as a counter to the realties expressed by the daily images of violence and despair coming from the occupied nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. That's what makes this finding irrelevant. The Army guidelines and law say that this type of activity is legitimate for the battlefield, but only outside of the US. Any of this found going on within our borders and we'd be looking at a major scandal. It's just a technicality, though, that keeps the propaganda program in Iraq legitimate.

Freedom Of The Internet Death Watch: FCC Chief Kevin Martin yesterday gave his support to AT&T and other telcos who want to be able to limit bandwidth to sites like Google, unless those sites pay extortion fees. Martin made it clear in a speech yesterday that he supports such a a "tiered" Internet. Martin told attendees at the TelecomNext show that telcos should be allowed to charge web sites whatever they want if those sites want adequate bandwidth. He threw in his lot with AT&T, Verizon, and the other telcos, who are no doubt salivating at the prospect at charging whatever the market can bear.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: The longtime chief correspondent for The Associated Press in Vermont has been forced out of his job, stunning the state's journalists and politicians, after he ran a column by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the wire, the New York Times reports Wednesday. Christopher Graff, 52, a writer who was in charge of The A.P.'s Vermont bureau in Montpelier, was told Monday he no longer had a job. The move came after he put a partisan column on the wire, and as the news agency is consolidating some of its bureaus across state lines. Mr. Graff, a 27-year A.P. employee and host of "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public Television for more than a decade, said he could not discuss the matter because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement. But speaking of news articles yesterday about his losing his job, he said, "It's a little like reading your obituary prematurely." Jack Stokes, a spokesman for The A.P. in New York, confirmed that Mr. Graff was "no longer with the company" and said The A.P. did not discuss personnel issues. Candace Page, a longtime reporter and former managing editor of The Burlington Free Press, said: "The phone lines were burning up around the state. He's certainly a solid journalist and I can't imagine why The A.P. would fire him."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A vocal Republican critic of the Bush administration's eavesdropping program will preside over Senate efforts to write the program into law, but he was pessimistic Wednesday that the White House wanted to listen. "They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it," Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong."

A Los Angeles screenwriter is claiming that the Department of Homeland Security has informed him that he may not use the agency's name "or any of the Department's official visual identities" in the script for his film, Lady Magdalene, despite the fact that the film presents a positive image of the DHS. The writer, J. Neil Schulman, said Tuesday that he had received a notice from Bobbie Faye Ferguson, director of the NHS's office of multimedia, informing him that his "project does not fit within the DHS mission and that it is not something we can participate in." In response, Schulman wrote to Ferguson that he had already received assistance from a special agent of the NHS's air marshal service while he was preparing his screenplay and that the agency's notice to him now represents a violation of his First Amendment rights. "Merely the claim that you have the power to restrict such official images is chilling to the process of writing and producing a movie -- and certainly to an independent film in pre-production with a start date for principal photography only six weeks away," Schulman wrote.

Republicans Believe In A Level Playing Field: Under the auspices of its faith-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews. An example is Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C. A decade ago, Heritage was a tiny organization with a deeply conservative social philosophy but not much muscle to promote it. An offshoot of an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center, Heritage promoted abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local U.S. Navy base. The budget was $51,288. By 2004, Heritage Community Services had become a major player in the booming abstinence education business. Its budget passed $3 million - much of it in federal grants distributed by Bush's Department of Health and Human Services - supporting programs to middle school and high school students in South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. Among other new beneficiaries of federal funding during the Bush years are groups run by Christian conservatives, including those in the black and Hispanic communities. Many of the leaders have been active Republicans and influential supporters of Bush's campaigns. Programs such as the Compassion Capital Fund, under the Department of Health and Human Services, are designed to support religiously based social services, a goal that inevitably funnels some of its money to organizations run by people who share Bush's conservative cultural agenda.

Republicans Believe Successful Business Leaders Are Models To Be Emulated: Former Enron executives lied to investors about its financial state because they knew the truth would destroy the company, a court has heard. Testifying at the trial of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, former Treasurer Ben Glisan Jr said his bosses were fully aware of the firm's growing debt. He said Mr Lay asked him about managing the firm's accounts in 2001 to avoid a cut in Enron's credit rating. Glisan Jr is the only former Enron executive currently in jail. "By the summer of 2001 we had mounting debt, our balance sheet was well levered, we had a great deal of debt to carry for the credit rating we had, we were not generating much cash flow," said Glisan. A credit downgrade would have been disastrous for Enron because it borrowed heavily to finance its energy trading operations and to pay for its failing operations, he said.

Republicans Believe In Building A Kinder, Gentler America: The recent killing of an unarmed Virginia doctor has raised concerns about what some say is an explosion in the use of military-style police Swat teams in the United States. Armed with assault rifles, stun grenades - even armoured personnel carriers - units once used only in highly volatile situations are increasingly being deployed on more routine police missions. Dr Salvatore Culosi Jr had come out of his townhouse to meet an undercover policeman when he was shot through the chest by a Special Weapons and Tactics force. It was about 2135 on a chilly January evening. The 37-year-old optometrist was unarmed, he had no history of violence and displayed no threatening behavior. But he had been under investigation for illegal gambling and in line with a local police policy on "organised crime" raids, the heavily armed team was there to serve a search warrant.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Afghanistan's judiciary will not bow to outside pressure over the fate of a man who faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity, a judge dealing with the case said on Thursday. Smirkey said he was deeply troubled by the case of Abdur Rahman, who an Afghan judge said this week had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face death if he refused to become a Muslim again. Death is one of the punishments stipulated by sharia, or Islamic law, for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law. "Afghanistan is an Islamic country and its judiciary will act independently and neutrally," Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada told Reuters. "No other policy will be accepted apart from Islamic orders and what our constitution says," Mawlavizada said, adding he was saddened by the international outcry.

Washington increased pressure on Afghanistan on Thursday to end the prosecution of a man facing possible execution for converting to Christianity after the case angered Smirkey's evangelical supporters. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told President Hamid Karzai by telephone the United States wanted Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are fighting anti-government Islamic extremists, to show it respects religious freedom by resolving the case quickly. Her call to the close U.S. ally came a day after Bush vowed to use U.S. leverage over Afghanistan to make sure Abdur Rahman's right to choose his religion was upheld. Under the pressure, which was reinforced by several U.S. allies supporting Afghanistan with aid and troops, Karzai has pledged Rahman would not be executed, according to the Canadian government, which was also in contact with the Afghan president.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A man who posted a parody of an ad promoting "ex-gay" program Exodus International has been served with a cease-and-desist order. The ACLU plans to intervene on the man's behalf. Justin Watt, a blogger from Santa Rosa, CA, says he was "deeply offended" by an Exodus billboard that read, "Gay? Unhappy? www.exodus.to." The ministry claims that it can cure people of homosexuality, thus giving them a happier life. Watt digitally altered an image of the billboard on his website (Justinsomnia.org) to read, "Straight? Unhappy? www.gay.com." Attorneys representing Exodus sent Watt a cease-and-desist letter earlier this month, claiming he had violated their intellectual property rights. The group threatened legal action if the parodies were not removed. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union was called to intervene. Ann Brick, an attorney with the ACLU, says that Watt's parody is protected First Amendment speech. "His point was to make a comment on a very important issue he has strongly held beliefs about: that Exodus's tactics are wrong, that there's nothing wrong with being gay, and that being gay doesn't make you unhappy."

South Dakota's extreme new law is making even Republicans squirm; now is the time for Democrats to reclaim the abortion debate. That's because the South Dakota law -- which criminalizes abortion except to save a woman's life -- has pulled the abortion issue back to a fundamental question: whether Roe should be overturned and abortion made illegal in large parts of the country. This is just the debate Republicans don't want to have. For years, they've used a strategy of chipping away at reproductive rights by finding side issues like parental consent, "partial-birth" and the newest, "fetal pain," on which they can obtain broad public support. take Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who, when asked on ABC's "This Week" if he would sign the South Dakota law, hemmed and hawed about exceptions for rape and incest, then said, "I'm opposed to abortion. I'm not the governor myself -- didn't have to vote on it but if I ever did have to vote on a situation like that, it would be around that feeling, opposition to abortion with those exceptions." Yes indeed, it would be "around that feeling." When pressed by George Stephanopoulos to explain whether he would or wouldn't sign the South Dakota law, Frist dodged again, saying, "Well, again, I'm not going to put myself in that situation. I can tell you what my feelings are, my beliefs are and my philosophy is about it, and that's how I would vote and vote accordingly." Not exactly a model of moral clarity. This ambiguity offers Democrats the opportunity to go on the offensive. Make every Republican answer this one, simple question: Yes or no, do you support overturning Roe v. Wade? "I believe in a culture of life" is not an answer. "I'm pro-life" is not an answer. "We need parental consent laws" is not an answer. Yes or no, do you support overturning Roe v. Wade? With each evasion -- as long as Democrats respond with, you're evading, now answer the damn question -- Republicans look more scared, more equivocal, more waffly, less willing to stand up for their beliefs, and less principled. Democrats could even make signs reading simply, "YES OR NO?" and hold them up at Republican rallies.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Miami would be a memory, Bangkok a soggy shadow of its former self and the Maldive Islands would vanish if melting polar ice keeps fueling a faster-than-expected rise in sea levels, scientists reported on Thursday. In an issue of the journal Science focusing on global warming, climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona reported that if global trends continue, Earth could ultimately see sea levels 20 feet higher than they are now. By the end of this century, Earth would be at least 4 degrees F (2.3 degrees C) warmer than now, or about as hot as it was nearly 130,000 years ago. Back then, significant portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melted, pushing the global sea levels to about 20 feet higher than current levels. A similarly dramatic, and in some cases catastrophic, rise in ocean levels could happen by the year 2500, Overpeck said in a telephone interview, but he noted it could come sooner. "We know when the sea level was that high in the past, and we know how much warming is necessary to get that amount of sea level rise from both Greenland and Antarctica," Overpeck said. The Earth will get that hot sometime early in the second half of this century, he said, and once it does, the big ice sheets will start melting "in a more dramatic manner" than they currently are. According to the studies, increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the next century could raise Arctic temperatures as much as 5 to 8 degrees. The warming could raise global sea levels by up to three feet this century through a combination of thermal expansion of the water and melting of polar ice, Overpeck and Otto-Bliesner said.

Scandals Du Jour: An uncle of President Bush is set to collect close to three million dollars from the sale of a company that profited from the war in Iraq, according to a story slated for Thursday's edition of the LA Times. A report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows that William H.T. Bush collected a little less than $1.9 million in cash plus stock valued at more than $800,000 as a result of the sale of Engineered Support Systems Inc. to DRS Technologies of New Jersey. The $1.7 billion deal closed Jan. 31. Both businesses have extensive military contracts. The elder Bush was a director of Engineered Support Systems. Recent SEC filings show he was paid cash and DRS stock in exchange for shares and options he obtained as a director. Missouri-based ESSI experienced record growth prior to its purchase by DRS through expanded U.S. military contracts -- many to supply current U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and an aggressive buyout strategy targeted at other defense contractors.

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) "paid his wife on commission for campaign fundraising, a highly unusual arrangement that means that the Sweeneys benefitted personally from every contribution," TPM Muckraker reports. Earlier this week, Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) was found to have a similar arrangement with his wife. "It's true that a number of Members have family on the payroll, but this is the only example that we could find, besides Doolittle, of a family member being paid on commission."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil. Since then, the Ignite Learning program has been given to eight area schools that took in substantial numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. "Mrs. Bush wanted to do something specifically for education and specifically for the thousands of students flooding into the Houston schools," said Jean Becker, former President Bush's chief of staff. "She knew that HISD was using this software program, and she's very excited about this program, so she wanted to make it possible for them to expand the use of this program."

Here's another strange tie between Mitchell Wade's MZM Inc. and the Bush White House. At least three men who have been identified as MZM employees worked as professional staff for the Robb-Silberman Commission, the White House panel which investigated the shortcomings of U.S. pre-war intelligence. Who were the men? First, retired Lt. Gen. James C. King, who joined MZM after leaving his post as chief of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 2001. The report by the panel -- officially known as The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction -- lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff. Then there's John J. Quattrocki, a former high-ranking FBI officer, who was identified by the Washington Post on Monday as an MZM employee. He is listed on the panel's staff as an Intelligence Professional in the report, also. Third, Kenneth M. Geide is identified on unclassified government documents we've obtained as an MZM "Senior National Security Advisor." The White House panel's report also lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff. Wade, of course, has pleaded guilty to several felony counts of bribery and corruption in connection with the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal. Among other recommendations, the Robb-Silberman Commission urged the adminstration to expand the powers of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activities office (CIFA), where MZM held multi-million dollar contracts. In fact, MZM's King consulted for the Pentagon in 2002 on the creation of CIFA.

The Rare Good News: The public backlash over gay marriage has receded since a controversial decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 to legalize those marriages stirred strong opposition, says a poll released Wednesday. Gay marriage remains a divisive issue, with 51 percent opposing it, the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. But almost two-thirds, 63 percent, opposed gay marriage in February 2004. "Most Americans still oppose gay marriage, but the levels of opposition are down and the number of strong opponents are down," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "This has some implications for the midterm elections if this trend is maintained. There are gay marriage ballot initiatives in numerous states."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:04:20 PM

Tue, Mar 21 2006

Cross-Cultural Novela Experience

The lovely dry season weather continues. Uninterrupted, this time. With cloudless skies, the overnight low yesterday and today was 67, and the high this afternoon was 83, with just enough of a trade wind breeze to keep the heat and bugs to a tolerable level. Couldn't have been nicer.

I went for a brief walk around the garden this afternoon, and mostly wanted to see how the bougainvillea starts along the fence are doing. Since we're in the dry season now, the ones that have managed to establish a root system are doing quite well and are in their first season of blooming. They're slowly getting established, and now some of them are just big enough to put on a nice display, so I can see what colors my gardener got for me. They range from blue to red, and through most of the shades of purple in between. Really quite a range, and they're already a very attractive border for the yard. Once they are filled in and doing well, I expect they will make a quite spectacular fence line. Too bad I won't be around to enjoy it.

This evening, I had an invitation from one of my Tico neighbors to go over to his house for coffee and tortas con queso, one of my favorite Tico foods. They're a thick home made tortilla, but the corn flour is mixed with crumbled Turrialba cheese and it is then patted into a hamburger-sized patty and fried. Really tasty.

I felt kinda sorry for the guy. Ticos are very sociable people, used to having lots and lots of family around, and being forced to be home alone is a bit of an imposition. His wife is working swing shift this week, and his kids are all away at school, so he was couped up all alone. He wanted company, and I was elected. We sat on his porch and chatted for awhile, he in his impossibly thick Nicoya-accented Spanish, and me with my thoroughly broken semi-generic Spanish, but we managed to communicate after a fashion. Soon, he looked at his watch. "Frijolito!" he said, excitedly. At first, I hadn't a clue - it means "little bean," but he went inside and turned on the television. It dawned on me that he meant one of the many novelas that are so popular with Tico audiences. Sure enough, it was a Mexican-made soap opera, starring an impossibly cute little boy that the whole village calls "little bean." It was a charming show, what I could understand of it. Made in Mexico, it included some Mariachi sequences, and the typical Mexican background music. And like all Latino soap operas, it included the requisite novela line of incredibly beautiful, sweet, innocent young women being cheated on by their rotten, good-for-nothing boyfriends and husbands. But the consistent thread running through the various subplots was the charming little boy, innocently getting everyone in trouble through no fault of his own, but getting lots of hugs anyway. Charming, and humorous at times, if a bit saccharine and melodramatic.

After it was over, a locally produced game show came on, and that was a bit more than I could take. By now, my host was hinting that it was time for me to leave anyway, so I put on my shoes and excused myself to come home. He gave me a small stack of tortas, wrapped in a napkin, to heat for breakfast and enjoy with coffee in the morning with breakfast. Enjoy them, I will indeed.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Iraqi My Lai Massacre? Iraqi police have accused American troops of executing 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, in the aftermath of a raid last Wednesday on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad. The villagers were killed after American troops herded them into a single room of the house, according to a police document obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers. The soldiers also burned three vehicles, killed the villagers' animals and blew up the house, the document said. A U.S. military spokesman, Major Tim Keefe, said that the U.S. military has no information to support the allegations and that he had not heard of them before a reporter brought them to his attention Sunday.

An FBI agent testified in the sentencing trial of September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui on Monday his superiors at the agency repeatedly blocked his efforts to warn of a possible terror attack. Harry Samit, the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui three weeks before the deadly airliner hijackings that killed 3,000 people, said he tried to tell his superiors that he thought a hijacking plan might be in the works. "You tried to move heaven and earth to get a search warrant to search this man's belongings. You were obstructed," defense attorney Edward MacMahon said as the trial resumed after a week's delay over improper witness coaching. "From a particular individual in the (FBI's) Radical Fundamentalist Unit, yes sir, I was obstructed," Samit said. Although he sent numerous e-mails and formal requests to various agents and to his superiors, Samit said he was unable to get authority to seek a warrant in order to search Moussaoui's belongings. MacMahon quoted from a report in which Samit accused people at FBI headquarters of "criminal negligence" and said they were just trying to protect their own careers.

The government of Dubai, which agreed this month to sell its interest in U.S. ports, said its $1.2 billion takeover of a U.K. company with U.S. plants that make military equipment is delayed while the authorities investigate security concerns. Dubai International Capital LLC, which is owned by the government of the Persian Gulf emirate, and Doncasters Group Ltd. agreed to delay the transaction by as many as two months from March 31 while government agencies review the purchase, Sameer Al Ansari, Dubai International's chief executive, said in an interview today. "After what happened with Dubai Ports, the government is looking at this deal more closely," Al Ansari said after a press conference in Dubai announcing an agreement with HSBC Holdings Plc.

Get off it. All the carping, belly-aching and complaining about George Bush's incompetence in Iraq, from both the Left and now the Right, is just dead wrong. On the third anniversary of the tanks rolling over Iraq's border, most of the 59 million Homer Simpsons who voted for Bush are beginning to doubt if his mission was accomplished. But don't kid yourself -- Bush and his co-conspirator, Dick Cheney, accomplished exactly what they set out to do. In case you've forgotten what their real mission was, let me remind you of White House spokesman Ari Fleisher's original announcement, three years ago, launching of what he called, "Operation Iraqi Liberation." O.I.L. How droll of them, how cute. Then, Karl Rove made the giggling boys in the White House change it to "OIF" -- Operation Iraqi Freedom. But the 101st Airborne wasn't sent to Basra to get its hands on Iraq's OIF. So what did the USA want Iraq to do with Iraq's oil? The answer will surprise many of you: and it is uglier, more twisted, devilish and devious than anything imagined by the most conspiracy-addicted blogger. The answer can be found in a 323-page plan for Iraq's oil secretly drafted by the State Department. The Greg Palast team got a hold of a copy; how, doesn't matter. The key thing is what's inside this thick Bush diktat: a directive to Iraqis to maintain a state oil company that will "enhance its relationship with OPEC." Specifically, the system ordered up by the Bush cabal would keep a lid on Iraq's oil production -- limiting Iraq's oil pumping to the tight quota set by Saudi Arabia and the OPEC cartel. There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil -- not to get more of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing too much of it. You must keep in mind who paid for George's ranch and Dick's bunker: Big Oil. And Big Oil -- and their buck-buddies, the Saudis -- don't make money from pumping more oil, but from pumping less of it. The lower the supply, the higher the price. As per Plan Bush, Bahr Al-Ulum became Iraq's occupation oil minister; the conquered nation "enhanced its relationship with OPEC;" and the price of oil, from Clinton peace-time to Bush war-time, shot up 317%. In other words, on the third anniversary of invasion, we can say the attack and occupation is, indeed, a Mission Accomplished. However, it wasn't America's mission, nor the Iraqis'. It was a Mission Accomplished for OPEC and Big Oil.

More downward pressure on the dollar: A number of Middle Eastern central banks said on Tuesday they would seek to switch reserves from the US greenback to euros. The United Arab Emirates said it was considering moving one-tenth of its dollar reserves to the euro. The head of the United Arab Emirates central bank, Sultan Nasser Al Suweidi, said the bank was considering converting 10 per cent of its reserves from dollars to euros. "They are contravening their own principles," said Al Suweidi. "Investors are going to take this (the DP World debacle) into consideration (and) will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars." The Commercial Bank of Syria has already switched the state’s foreign currency transactions from dollars to euros, Duraid Durgham head of the state-owned bank said. The decision by the bank of Syria follows the announcement by the White House calling on all US financial institutions to end correspondent accounts with Syria due to money-laundering concerns. Syria’s Finance Minister Mohammad Al Hussein said: "Syria affirms that this decision and its timing are fundamentally political."

Remember the great fanfare when the Afghan Constitution (the very one trumpeted on the White House website) was passed once we brought our New and Improved Freedom(TM) to the heathens? The one President Bush said would "recognize Afghanistan's Muslim identity, while protecting the rights of all citizens"? Remember when a few naysayers (left and right) noted that said constitution was less than promising in its protections of basic human rights? Well, freedom is on the march in Afghanistan, all right - straight toward the gallows. From the BBC World Service: "An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death after being charged with converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic shariah laws, a judge said on Sunday. The defendant, Abdul Rahman, 41, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, said Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam and his trial started last Thursday. During the one-day hearing, the defendant allegedly confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical-aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Mawlavezada said. The judge said in an interview: "We are not against any particular religion in the world. "But, in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam."

Smirkey dismissed calls for a White House shake-up and expressed confidence in his staff on Tuesday, despite a succession of troubles that have pushed his approval ratings to new lows. Bush gave no sign of imminent changes, though he did not rule out the possibility of naming a veteran Washington hand to deal with Congress, whose relations with the White House were damaged by the now-abandoned Dubai ports deal. But Bush flatly rejected any suggestion Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign, amid mounting criticism of the Iraq war and polls showing growing American opposition to it three years after a U.S.-led invasion. "I'm satisfied with the people I've surrounded myself with," Bush told a news conference. "We've been a remarkably stable administration and I think that's good for the country." A variety of critics, including members of Bush's own Republican Party, have called for him to bring in fresh faces to reinvigorate a White House team that has stumbled from setback to setback in his second term.

As attorney general, John Ashcroft was a model of moral rectitude to his conservative supporters. To his liberal detractors, he was overly self-righteous. Mr. Ashcroft sees himself simply as a man of integrity, and to him that is worth a lot. So in the era of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Mr. Ashcroft has become a Washington lobbyist, setting himself up as something of an anti-Abramoff and marketing his insider's knowledge of how Washington works. To do so, he has amassed a staff of Republican insiders and rented fancy offices. For corporations seeking contracts from the growing homeland security budget, Mr. Ashcroft promises to draw on his central role in the war on terror and in helping set up the Department of Homeland Security. For companies in trouble with regulators, he says his experience in cracking down on corporate corruption can provide valuable insights. "Clients would call in an individual who has a reputation for the highest level of integrity," he said in an interview in his office. "Those who have been in government should not be forbidden from helping people deal with government, which is what I see myself doing." In the hourlong interview, Mr. Ashcroft used the word "integrity" scores of times.

The Supreme Court turned back an appeal on Monday from a photographer who claimed a federal decency law violated her free-speech rights to post pictures of sadomasochistic sexual behavior on the Web. Justices affirmed a decision last year by a special three-judge federal panel upholding the 1996 law which makes it a crime to send obscenity over the Internet to children. The court could have used the case to set online obscenity standards. The subject of children and indecency has gotten more attention recently. Last week the government renewed its crackdown on indecent television by proposing nearly $4 million in fines for controversial broadcasts. The Supreme Court appeal was brought by photographer Barbara Nitke, whose work is featured in the book "Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism," and by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Material that is obscene is not protected by the First Amendment, but Nitke's lawyer contends her work is art that is not obscene.

The Supreme Court rejected a bid to give residents of the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico the right to vote in US presidential elections. The decision, made without comment, ends Puerto Rican attorney Gregorio Igartua de la Rosa's attempt to give his Caribbean island the right to vote for the US leader. An appeals court had ruled against Igartua de la Rosa in August, arguing that the US Constitution would have to be amended to allow Puerto Rico to vote or that the island should become the 51st US state. Puerto Ricans have voted in several referenda to keep their current status, most recently in 1998.

More jobs for the lucky few who can afford college: U.S. college graduates are facing the best job market since 2001, with business, computer, engineering, education and health care grads in highest demand, a report by an employment consulting firm showed on Monday. "We are approaching full employment and some employers are already dreaming up perks to attract the best talent," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In its annual outlook of entry-level jobs, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said strong job growth and falling unemployment makes this spring the hottest job market for America's 1.4 million college graduates since the dot-com collapse in 2001. The firm pointed to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers which showed employers plan to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates than a year ago. The survey also found higher starting salaries this year. Graduates with economic or finance degrees will see the biggest gain with starting salaries up 11 percent to $45,191, while accounting salaries are up 6.2 percent, business management salaries up 3.9 percent and pay for civil engineers 4.3 percent higher.

Saying she is finding inspiration from God, The Last of the Mohicans and The Lord of Rings, Katherine Harris told hundreds of conservative Christians Saturday that she is "a work in progress." Harris, who told a national television audience Wednesday that she would be spending $10 million to win Florida's U.S. Senate race, said she never would have entered politics if she did not believe that God wanted her to make public service part of her life. The former Secretary of State who engineered Smirkey's electoral-fraud victory in Florida in 2000, has seen her campaign for the senate go into a free fall, as the sleaze surrounding her campaign fundraising has caused even Republicans to distance themselves from her.. She has struggled to raise money, and nearly all her top campaign advisers have left. Several tried to persuade the 48-year-old Republican to quit the race, saying she had no chance of winning. But during an appearance on Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes, Harris said she will not end her campaign and will instead spend "my legacy from my father" and "everything I have." Great. I hope she spends every last dime, and then has to turn to making an honest living for a change.

After getting frustrated at the length of the Question and Answer session of his speech in Cleveland today, Bush blurted out, "Anybody work here in this town?" Bush inadvertantly hit upon a subject he otherwise ignored - unemployment in Cleveland. Economic conditions in the city have worsened considerably during Bush's presidency. Some facts: - Cleveland unemployment rate, Jan. 2006 - 5.8 percent; Cleveland unemployment rate, Jan. 2001 - 4.5 percent. Ohio unemployment rate, Jan. 2006 - 5.3 percent; Ohio unemployment rate, Jan. 2001 - 4.0 percent. Cleveland poverty rate, 2003 - 31.3 percent; Cleveland poverty rate, 2001 - 24.3 percent. So the answer, Mr. President, is that a lot of people in Cleveland don't work because they can't find jobs.

Vice President Dick Cheney, a lightning rod for criticism about administration policies, on Sunday rejected the notion of resigning and said he would serve out his term. "I made sure both in 2000 and 2004 that the president had other options. I mean, I didn't ask for this job. I didn't campaign for it. I got drafted," Cheney said on CBS television's "Face The Nation." Being part of the administration was a highlight of his career, Cheney said. "I've now been elected to a second term. I'll serve out my term," he said. Cheney has been criticized for the Iraq war and seeking to exempt the CIA from a torture ban, among other issues.

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative. At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals. The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding. But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings - the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings. A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

There have been a number of signs lately that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), eyeing 2008, is cozying up to the Republican establishment, but this just might be the surest one yet. The Washington Post reported yesterday that McCain had hired Terry Nelson to be a senior advisor to his political committee, the Straight Talk America PAC. Who is Terry Nelson? George W. Bush's national political director in 2004, for one. It's just the latest example of McCain's strategy of taking what he can of Bush's money infrastructure - as the Post reports, he's been busily recruiting Pioneers, Rangers and Super Rangers from '04. But there's one crucial, telling detail about Terry Nelson that the Post leaves out. And that's his role in the money laundering scheme for which Tom DeLay is being prosecuted down in Texas. He is also implicated in the scheme by Republican state committee members in New Hampshire to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote phones, a scheme for which they have been successfully prosecuted.

Former Vice President Al Gore said Monday he's not planning to run for president in 2008 but hasn't ruled out a future in politics. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing," Gore told an audience at Middle Tennessee State University, where he gave a lecture on global warming, one in a series. "I'm not planning to be a candidate again. I haven't reached a stage in my life where I'm willing to say I will never consider something like this," he said. "But I'm not saying that to be coy; I'm just saying that to be honest -- that I haven't reached that point."

The White House said it would discipline two government employees who impersonated journalists in advance of a trip by Smirkey to the Gulf Coast, The Washington Post said on Saturday. The Post quoted a Gautier, Mississippi couple whose home was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina as saying two men identified themselves as journalists during a visit to the couple's home. Elaine Akins told the newspaper she and her husband Jerry were initially told by the two men that they were Fox News journalists, but that they later identified themselves as Secret Service agents. Bush visited Gautier on March 8. "They just came up and said they were with the media, and then they said they were with Fox," Akins was quoted as saying. "They just talked to us and asked us about rebuilding our house. Then, after everything was over with, they approached us and they were laughing, and they said: 'You know, we really weren't with Fox. We're government, Secret Service men,"' she said. White House spokesman Ken Lisaius was quoted as saying, "This incident has been brought to our attention, and this is clearly not appropriate, nor is it part of our standard operating procedures. The individuals will be verbally reprimanded."

The FBI's office in New York is supposed to be on the front line of America's defences against terrorism, but it is so strapped for cash it cannot afford email accounts for its agents, according to a news report yesterday. "As ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dotgov accounts," Mark Mershon, the assistant director of the New York city office told the Daily News. Chuck Schumer, a Democratic New York senator, said: "FBI agents not having email or internet access is much too much a pre-9/11 mentality." The FBI's headquarters said the issue was not one of money but bureaucracy. A spokeswoman said email addresses were still being assigned and all New York agents should be online by the end of the year.

The US supreme court is due to hear arguments in a case today that could overturn thousands of controversial patents, after a lower court ruled that doctors could infringe a drug company's ownership rights "merely by thinking" about the relationship between two chemicals in the human body. The case concerns a patent granted in 1990 to scientists at the University of Colorado and Columbia in New York. They discovered that high levels of an amino acid, homocysteine, in the blood or urine tended to be associated with a deficiency of B vitamins. But their patent does not just relate to the test they invented. It asserts their ownership of the idea of correlating the two chemicals - leading to the charge that they have patented a law of nature, rather than a human invention. "Unfortunately for the public, the Metabolite case is only one example of a much broader patent problem in this country," the bestselling novelist Michael Crichton wrote in the New York Times at the weekend. "We grant patents at a level of abstraction that is unwise, and it's gotten us into trouble in the past."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Shortly after the January Canadian election, the US ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, reminded an academic forum on Canada-US relations of his country's position that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway. His comments brought a stern rebuke from Mr Harper, who is yet to be sworn in as Canada's new prime minister. "We have significant plans for national defence and for defence of our sovereignty, including Arctic sovereignty," he told reporters. "We believe we have the mandate ... from the Canadian people and we hope to have it as well from the House of Commons, but it is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the ambassador from the United States." The rebuke startled Mr Wilkins, who said he was simply repeating a long-held position that the US does not recognize Canada's sovereignty over Arctic waters. In response, Stephen Harper, the new Canadian Prime Minister, has promised to boost Canada's presence in the far north with three new, armed icebreakers, increased air surveillance and the development of a new military and civilian deep-water dock.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday lobbed a litany of insults at U.S. President George W. Bush ranging from "donkey" to "drunkard" in response to a White House report branding the left-wing leader a demagogue. Chavez is one of Bush's fiercest critics and has repeatedly accused the U.S. government of seeking to oust him from the presidency of Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and a supplier of around 15 percent of U.S. crude imports. "You are a donkey, Mr. Bush," said Chavez, speaking in English on his weekly Sunday broadcast. "You're an alcoholic Mr. Danger, or rather, you're a drunkard," Chavez said, referring to Bush by a nickname he frequently uses to describe the U.S. president. A White House report released last week on pre-emptive force in national security described Chavez as a "demagogue" who uses Venezuela's oil wealth to destabilize democracy in the region.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Repentance in the heartland: This month, the Indianapolis Star released poll findings that Bush's approval rating among Indiana voters stood at 37 percent - a drop of 18 points over the past year. The numbers echoed national polls, but were particularly shocking in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and where Democratic presidential contenders often do not bother to campaign. "A 37 percent approval rating in Indiana for a Republican president is unheard of," said Brian Howey, who runs a newsletter for Indiana state political insiders. "Those are Bill Clinton or John Kerry numbers in Indiana. So there is something seriously awry going on right now." All the talk lately about Bush and the problems with Iraq bemuses Susan Grimes, a waitress at the South Junction Café, a lonely outpost at the intersection of state roads 6 and 35. Grimes said listening to her customers complain has turned her off politics. "I hear all these people come in and say: 'That President Bush, we got to get that guy out of there.' But you ask them who they voted for, and they hush up because they were the ones who voted him in. He's their boy."

On Sunday's edition of Meet the Press with Tim Russert, Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) said that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign for misdecisions in the war in Iraq. Crooks and Liars has a video excerpt from the interview at this link.

Diebold Watch: Although Diebold officially banned political donations by top brass in 2004, Diebold executives have continued to feed money to Republican campaigns, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The story was earlier reported by blogger Michael Petrelis. After a Bush campaign fundraiser and controversial statements by CEO Walden O'Dell, Diebold barred its CEO, financial officer, and Election Systems VP from making political donations. However, that ban has not stopped other executives from giving to GOP campaigns. In all, Diebold executives contributed $1,400 to the campaigns of Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Ohio State Senator Kirk Schuring (R-Canton).

Brad Blog has hinted of late at upcoming legal actions, in several states, against the use of Diebold voting machines. The Brad Blog is now revealing that such a legal action will be filed tomorrow morning in San Francisco's Superior State Court in response to California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's recent re-certification of Diebold Electronic Voting Machines in the state. VoterAction.org is announcing their intention to file suit, on behalf of several plaintiffs, "aimed at halting the use or purchase of Diebold electronic voting systems" in the state. The same group recently carried out a similar action in the state of New Mexico, in regard to the use of Sequoia Touch-Screen voting machines there. That suit ultimately led to the ban of use of such machines, and a bill which was recently signed by Gov. Bill Richardson requiring a paper ballot with every vote cast in the state. Diebold's optical-scan and touch-screen systems were revealed last December to contain "interpreted code" which is banned by Federal Voting System Standards. It was that "interpreted code" which was exploited in the recent hack of a test election in Leon County, FL where the results of the election were completely flipped without a trace being left behind. Despite that startling revelation, California's Sec. of State Bruce McPherson certified the systems anyway in California, after they had previously been decertified in 2004 when Diebold admitted they had used untested and uncertified software patches on their machines in the state.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: White House lawyers argued for the right to conduct warrantless searches of terrorism suspects on U.S. soil after the 9/11 attacks based on the "same legal authority" as President Bush's controversial wiretapping program. A U.S. News & World Report article reveals that FBI Director Robert Mueller bitterly opposed warrantless physical searches "not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised." In the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department began meeting to debate a number of novel legal strategies to help prevent another attack. Soon after, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to begin conducting electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects in the United States, including American citizens, without court approval. "There was a fair amount of discussion at Justice on the warrantless physical search issue," says a former senior FBI official. "Discussions about--if [the searches] happened--where would the information go, and would it taint cases." At least one defense attorney representing a subject of a terrorism investigation believes he was the target of warrantless clandestine searches. On Sept. 23, 2005--nearly three months before the Times broke the NSA story--Thomas Nelson wrote to U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut in Oregon that in the previous nine months, "I and others have seen strong indications that my office and my home have been the target of clandestine searches."

Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has indeed monitored political groups solely on the basis that they opposed a U.S.-led war. According to a memo written in 2002, the FBI launched a classified investigation into the activities of Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center after becoming concerned that the group held "daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and [was] currently focused on its opposition to the potential war on Iraq." The memo aimed to summarize the investigation's results. It identifies the group as "a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism." The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests on behalf of over 150 organizations and individuals. The documents released as a result have revealed monitoring and infiltration of political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. "Something is seriously wrong in how our government determines who and what constitutes terrorism when peace activists find themselves targeted," remarked Jim Kleissler, Executive Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice.

Republicans Believe In Freedom Of Speech: A White House staff member was responsible for asking three people to leave President Bush's town-hall meeting in Denver a year ago, a U.S. Secret Service agent said during an internal investigation of the event. The Secret Service was investigating the complaints of the three people, who said they were ousted from the Bush event last March because their car's bumper sticker criticized his foreign policy. According to a Secret Service report obtained by the Denver Post under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agents present said it was "staff" who asked the individuals to leave, not them. When the trio - Les lie Weise, Alex Young and Karen Bauer - asked the agents why they had to leave, the agents said they had no control over the situation. A Secret Service agent told them "there was nothing they could do because the event was hosted by the staff and was a private event."

Dozens of U.S. anti-war protesters were arrested on Monday in demonstrations marking the third anniversary of the Iraq war, while others denounced Smirkey during an appearance in Cleveland. Pentagon Force Protection Agency police arrested 51 people on misdemeanor charges of failure to obey a lawful order during a demonstration outside the Pentagon, Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. The protesters were arrested after trying to get past a fence that had been set up to mark out an area for their demonstration, Irwin said. Those arrested were taken to a nearby building and given citations and court appearance dates before being released, Irwin said.

Free Markets Solve All Problems: For more than a decade, the idea that private companies would be able to bring water to the world's poor has been a mantra of development policies promoted by international lending agencies and many governments. It has not happened. In the past decade, according to a private water suppliers trade group, private companies have managed to extend water service to just 10 million people, less than 1 percent of those who need it. Some 1.1 billion people still lack access to clean water, the United Nations says. The reality behind those numbers is sinking in. At the fourth World Water Forum, a six-day conference here of industry, governments and nongovernmental organizations, there is little talk of privatization. Instead, many people here want to return to relying on the local public utilities that still supply 90 percent of the water to those households that have it. There is a "big-time shift" in tone, said David Boys, a water policy expert with the Public Services International labor federation. Mr. Boys is a member of an advisory panel appointed by United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, that presented its recommendations at the forum, beginning with a call to strengthen local public utilities."The companies have lost tons of dough and tons of respect," Mr. Boys said. "They are pulling out."

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: A key gauge of U.S. economic activity fell 0.2 percent in February, the New York-based Conference Board said on Monday in a report that suggested the economy may begin slowing later in the year. The drop in the U.S. leading indicators index followed a downwardly revised 0.5 percent rise in January. Wall Street economists had expected the index to decline 0.3 percent after the originally reported 1.1 percent gain in January. "This could be a signal that the economy will continue to expand this spring before slowing later in the year," said Conference Board labor economist Ken Goldstein. The leading index, which measures a basket of economic indicators ranging from unemployment benefit claims to building permits, is intended to forecast economic trends up to six months ahead.

Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics, a flurry of new scholarly studies warn, and it has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black women and other groups. Focusing more closely than ever on the life patterns of young black men, the new studies, by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions, show that the huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men. Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined. Although the problems afflicting poor black men have been known for decades, the new data paint a more extensive and sobering picture of the challenges they face. "There's something very different happening with young black men, and it's something we can no longer ignore," said Ronald B. Mincy, professor of social work at Columbia University and editor of "Black Males Left Behind" (Urban Institute Press, 2006).

Republicans Believe In Playing Fair: Two and a half years ago, Public Interest Watch, a self-described watchdog of nonprofit groups, wrote to the Internal Revenue Service urging the agency to audit Greenpeace and accusing the environmental group of money laundering and other crimes. Last September, the IRS began a months-long audit of the U.S. arm of Greenpeace, known for steering its boats in the way of whaling ships and oil tankers. This month, Greenpeace says, it received notice from the IRS that the group "continues to qualify for exemption from federal income tax" as a nonprofit entity. Greenpeace says an IRS auditor told it that the PIW letter triggered the audit. The IRS won't say how it decided to audit Greenpeace. What is clear is where PIW has gotten a lot of its funding: Exxon Mobil Corp., the giant oil company that has long been a target of Greenpeace protests. "I believe organizations should be scrutinized and audited, but I just don't believe you should get targeted because ... you're a critic of Exxon Mobil," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, the U.S. affiliate of Amsterdam-based Greenpeace International. Exxon Mobil confirmed that it has provided funds to PIW, but said that it wasn't aware of the IRS audit and that it played no role in initiating the audit. In an email, company spokesman Mark D. Boudreaux said: "PIW's stated mission of ensuring that charitable organizations spend donations in accordance with their charitable tax status is a laudable public policy goal."

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: NASA scientists have found that a major form of global air pollution involved in summertime "smog" has also played a significant role in warming the Arctic. Tropospheric ozone was responsible for one-third to half of the observed warming trend in the Arctic during winter and spring, according to the research at GISS. Ozone is transported from the industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere to the Arctic quite efficiently during these seasons. In a global assessment of the impact of ozone on climate warming, scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), New York, evaluated how ozone in the lowest part of the atmosphere changed temperatures over the past 100 years. Using the best available estimates of global emissions of gases that produce ozone, the GISS computer model study reveals how much this single air pollutant, and greenhouse gas, has contributed to warming in specific regions of the world. According to this new research, ozone was responsible for one-third to half of the observed warming trend in the Arctic during winter and spring. Ozone is transported from the industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere to the Arctic quite efficiently during these seasons. The findings have been accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

Rising temperatures may partly explain increasing cases of malaria in regions of Africa, new research suggests. Temperatures in East African highlands have risen by half a degree Celsius in the last 50 years, scientists found. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they say this small rise may have doubled the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Malaria has recently emerged in parts of the highlands, with climate change one possible explanation among many. The new research relies on a fresh analysis of temperature data for four highland locations in western Kenya, southwestern Uganda, southern Rwanda and northern Burundi. "Previous researchers had analysed the same sites and not found evidence for warming," said Mercedes Pascual from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US. "So we revisited it with a longer data set and longer analysis up to 2002," she told the BBC News website. "We found there has been a rise of about half a degree Celsius over 50 years, but we see it mainly from the end of the 1970s to the present."

Scientists have confirmed that climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, according to an article published in the Journal of Glaciology. Using radar altimeter data from ESA’s ERS-1 and ERS-2, Jay Zwally, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and his colleagues mapped the height of the ice sheets and found there was a net loss of ice from the combined sheets between 1992 and 2002 and a corresponding rise in sea level. Polar ice plays a crucial role in regulating global climate because it reflects about 80 percent of the incoming sunlight. If the ice caps over the polar ocean melt, the ocean water would absorb a large part of the radiation energy, which would lead to further melting of the ice and further warming of the climate. According to the NASA study, published in the March edition, 20 billion net tonnes of water are added to oceans each year as a result of Greenland’s ice sheet gaining some 11 billion tonnes of water annually, while Antarctica loses about 31 billion tonnes per year.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Tens of thousands of U.S. military vehicles, ships and aircraft are guzzling fuel every day around the world and with the bill rising the Pentagon is trying harder to conserve. The U.S. military consumed 144.8 million barrels of fuel in 2004, spending $6.7 billion, according to the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC). Last year, it consumed only 128.3 million barrels, but spent $8.8 billion, as the average price per barrel rose by almost 50 percent to more than $68. For 2006, DESC estimates the military will need 130.6 million barrels and pay more than $10 billion for it, at a price of more than $77 per barrel. "The US Army burned 12 times more fuel per soldier in Iraq than it did in France in 1944 -- nine gallons of fuel per soldier per day in 2004," said Carlton Meyer, a former Marine officer who runs G2mil Quarterly, a Web site on military issues. "Another problem is that truck fuel tankers are easy to identify and destroy by enemy guerrillas." As oil prices hit a record $70.85 per gallon last year and have hovered around $60 ever since, the Pentagon realized the only way to soften the blow would be to consume less.

As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room. In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations. The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away. Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.

If Iraq wasn't on the brink of civil war before last month's bombing of the previously gold-domed Askariya Mosque in Samarra, which is sacred to Shi'ite Muslims, it certainly is now. The attack turned what was a low-intensity sectarian conflict hot, with media reports saying that Baghdad's central morgue alone recorded 1,300 Iraqis dead in four days of reprisal killings after the attack. That increased violence between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites has persisted, and fears are growing that civil war could draw Iraq's neighbors further into the conflict, or even spark a wider war. That fear was recently expressed by US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who warned that if US troops pulled out, a regional conflict could result. Religious extremists could triumph, he said, and use Iraq as a base for expansion, while Persian Gulf oil supplies could be disrupted. Khalilzad is hardly a disinterested party, so his motives bear scrutiny. But his belated observation that the United States had opened a Pandora's box in Iraq echoed the concerns of those who wanted the Ba'athist lid kept on to begin with. With the lid nearly off, the incipient civil war is capsizing the failing Iraq project, complicating the formation of a government, turning the armed forces into just another militia, and transforming Iraq into a bigger, meaner version of the Lebanon of 1975-90.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: To refloat her foundering Senate campaign, Rep. Katherine Harris, the ex-Florida Secretary of State that engineered the famous Florida vote rigging in 2000, says she's investing $10 million of her own dough. The donation would be legal, unbundled and untainted -- a bold experiment for the Longboat Key Republican. Until recently, Harris wasn't particularly picky about where she got her money, or how suspicious it looked. One major booster recently pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to another GOP congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California. Defense contractor Mitchell Wade admitted buying off Cunningham, and also funneling thousands of dollars illegally to Harris. Harris says she didn't have a clue that the donations were dirty. Meaning she's either a dunce, or she's lying. In March 2004, Wade personally pressed into Harris' hot little hand 16 campaign checks for $2,000 each. The checks were signed by employees of Wade's company, MZM Inc., and their spouses. All were illegally reimbursed by Wade. If you believe Harris, she saw nothing weird about a boss hand-delivering so many spontaneous contributions from his workers. In total, she accepted $50,000 from Wade's operation. What a shock to learn that he wanted something big in return: a $10 million Navy counter-intelligence facility, to be built by MZM in Sarasota. According to documents from his bribery case, Wade took Harris to dinner in early 2005 to discuss the MZM project, and also the possibility of staging a fundraiser for her campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent. Her claim of naivete about the bundled checks might be more plausible if it were not a sleazy replay of what happened in 1994 during her state senate campaign. An insurance firm called Riscorp gave Harris $20,000 in ''straw contributions'' disguised as checks from private individuals.

A closer examination of documents released by the Pentagon which log all requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act shows that various individuals connected to the Republican party -- including at least five former staff members for the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- filed requests on Democratic congressmembers without identifying their employer. Democrats, on the other hand, were more likely to state their affiliation: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made eight requests of the Pentagon by name since 2000 as RAW STORY reported last week. Those familiar with "disguising" political Freedom of Information Act filings say that campaigns will sometimes have others sign off on the requests. Housemates or friends who are not employed by a political party at the time are sometimes called on to file. Such requestors often go on to become party officials.

Ohio State Rep. Chuck Blasdel, who hopes to win a congressional seat away from the Democrats this fall, just got caught with his proverbial hand in the cookie jar. Blasdel, a conservative GOPer who's helped to make Ohio the laughingstock of the political world is apparently a tax delinquent of the first order. This is from the Ohio Valley's online newspaper, and comes straight from DavidNYC at SwingStateProject: "The state says state Rep. Charles Blasdel, a Republican in the 6th Congressional District race, owes $20,986.23 or $54,915.87 in estimated delinquent taxes and fees on two defunct businesses he co-owned. The issue is a huge misunderstanding, and will be cleared up, said Jessica Towhey, Blasdel's campaign spokeswoman. The state attorney general's office on behalf of the Ohio Department of Taxation filed 13 tax judgments between Nov. 24, 1995, and Aug. 8, 2001, totaling $20,986.23 against Blasdel Cline Inc. and Executive Cigar Inc., according to records at Columbiana County Common Pleas Court. Based on its records, Mark Anthony, an Attorney General spokesman said the two companies owe $54,915.87 in estimated delinquent taxes and fees as of Friday."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: On the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the daily Christian radio show The Albert Mohler Program, defended 700 Club host Pat Robertson's recent claim that Muslims are "motivated by demonic power," and expanded on Robertson's comments, saying: "Well, I would have to say as a Christian that I believe any belief system, any world view, whether it's Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or dialectical materialism for that matter, Marxism, that keeps persons captive and keeps them from coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, is a demonstration of satanic power."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stepped into the controversy between religious fundamentalists and scientists by saying that he does not believe that creationism - the Bible-based account of the origins of the world - should be taught in schools. Giving his first, wide-ranging, interview at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop was emphatic in his criticism of creationism being taught in the classroom, as is happening in two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools. "I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it," he said.

Scandals Du Jour: According to a front page story set for Sunday's Washington Post, a number of top lobbyists express no worries over new restrictions on their dealings with lawmakers. The Post reports that lobbyists "have already found scores of new ways to buy the attention of lawmakers through fundraising, charitable activities and industry-sponsored seminars." An estimated $10 billion is spent annually to influence legislation and regulations, and that spending is not likely to be diminished by the proposed lobbying reform, these lobbyists contend. "I wouldn't classify those changes as major," said Dan Danner, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business. "Between charitable events and fundraising events, there will still be lots of ways to get in front of members (of Congress)."

During a recent federal court hearing, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he plans to focus on the week of July 7 to 14, 2003, in which Libby allegedly told several reporters that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA and was responsible for convincing the agency to send her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq sought 500 tons of uranium from the African country. "I'm not going to argue it was the most important issue consuming the Bush administration," Fitzgerald told US District Court Judge Reggie Walton during a February 24 federal court hearing, a transcript of which was obtained by this reporter. "I will argue during that week Mr. Libby was consumed with [Wilson] to an extent more than he should have been but he was and you can look at the time he spent with people," Fitzgerald added.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:58:44 PM

Sun, Mar 19 2006

New Software Tools

Consistently nice weather for a change. In spite of some gloom during the morning yesterday, and a somewhat underdeveloped thunderstorm during the afternoon, Arenal had some great weather yesterday, and today, was stellar. It dropped to 69 overnight, between highs yesterday of 81, and today 83. The highs continue to edge upward, signalling a return to more normal seasonal patterns.

Everyone was out burning weeds today, and the air was redolent with the smell. The yard-waste burning season is full on. I went out and looked mine over, but it's still a bit wet from the rains of Friday morning and yesterday afternoon. Maybe if there is no more rain for a few days, I can haul my packing material down to the yard-waste pile and light the mother of all bonfires.

I have been really quite tired the last few days and sleeping a lot, so I didn't get a whole lot done, other than to wash up a huge pile of laundry. So yesterday was principally occupied with that. Between laundry loads, I did get some software working on my computer again, a program that enables me to capture television on my computer and store it to disk, and burn it to a CDrom. The capture software is working brilliantly, and I used it to record CNN Presents yesterday, their episode on the growing energy crisis. But I could not burn it to CDrom. After ruining three disk blanks in the attempt, I have concluded that my CDrom burner is down for the count - didn't survive the three years in storage. So now, I am going to be looking for a CDrom burner - or maybe a DVDrom burner. Hafta check out some prices locally.

I also have a brand-spanking new software tool for doing my blog research. One of the principal methods I use is RSS - "really simple syndication," that little orange icon in the upper right of your browser window. By checking the RSS feeds of a large number of web sites, I can do the blog research in a matter of minutes, whereas it would take hours to do manually by checking sites for new items. Well, the new feed reader I use is from Sourceforge.net, an open-source community, and it works brilliantly. It reads many more feeds, more consistently, than the RSS reader that I had been using, which had also been very buggy. So now, I can hit the "refresh" button and in a few seconds have more than a hundred articles to peruse. Makes the research a snap. Now if I could just convince truthout.org and projectcensored.org and a few others to put up RSS feeds on their sites...

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: "Operation Swarming" fizzles out very publicly: Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer. Iraqi soldiers in newly painted humvees, green and red Iraqi flags stenciled on the tailgates, had just finished searching the farm populated by a half-dozen skinny cows and a woman kneading freshly risen dough and slapping it to the walls of a mud oven. The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence. With the Interior Ministry's Samarra commando battalion, the soldiers had found all of 300 individual pieces of weaponry like mortars, rockets and plastic explosives in six different locations inside the sparsely populated farming community of over 50 square miles and about 1,500 residents. The raids also uncovered high-powered cordless telephones used as detonators in homemade bombs, medical supplies and insurgent training manuals. Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they’d found all day.

Keeping those Canadian terrorists at bay: For the first time since 1817, U.S. Coast Guard vessels on the Great Lakes are being outfitted with weapons - machine-guns capable of firing 600 bullets a minute. Until now, coast guard officers have been armed with handguns and rifles, but the vessels themselves haven't been equipped with weapons. The War of 1812 saw violent battles on Lake Erie and Lake Huron between U.S. troops and British forces, which were largely composed of militias from Britain's colonies in what is now Canada. After the war, the United States and Britain - and later Canada - agreed to demilitarize the Great Lakes waters. A Canadian Foreign Affairs official said Ottawa has agreed to read the treaty in such a way that coast guard vessels may be mounted with guns by considering them weapons of law enforcement rather than war. Canada reserves the right to arm its own vessels as well, the official told CBC News.

Private equity firm The Carlyle Group, in which many administration officials own stock, has established a team to acquire public-purpose facilities including port facilities a day after DP World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates government, said it would transfer newly acquired operations at American ports to a U.S. organization. D.C.-based Carlyle Group announced an eight-person team would invest in public-purpose infrastructure projects such as ports, transportation and water facilities, airports, bridges and stadiums. The team will begin work March 13. The new infrastructure team had been planned for six months, but the Carlyle Group decided Thursday to launch it.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Tarnished by the war and a never-ending flow of domestic scandals, Bush is increasingly being seen as a liability to Republicans facing November's mid-term elections. Many of the party's senior members are distancing themselves from their President with a new willingness to disobey orders from the White House. The reason for the change is simple: disastrous polls. Four published last week put Bush's approval ratings at historically low levels. Gallup and NBC gave him 36 per cent, while CBS had him at 34 per cent and Pew on an anaemic 33 per cent. 'When the President is above 50 per cent then party unity follows. When you sink into the thirties it is every man and woman for themselves,' said Larry Haas, a political commentator and former staffer in the Bill Clinton White House. Jessica Simpson, a reality TV star, declined to appear next to the President at a charity event for fear of 'politicising' the cause of the disabled. It dismayed Republicans. 'It's never been a problem for Bono,' said Republican spokesman Carl Forti. But the message was clear: when even Jessica Simpson does not want to be seen with you, you know you are in trouble.

Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday dismissed suggestions that the Bush White House, hampered by a weak response to Hurricane Katrina and stumbles on policy questions, needs a shake-up. "I don't think we can pay any attention to that kind of thing," Cheney said on CBS "Face the Nation." "The president has got a job to do. ... He ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis." Bush's job approval in March was at 37 percent, which tied for his lowest rating in the AP-Ipsos poll. Senior Republicans and others have said the Bush team may need an infusion of fresh blood and ideas. Cheney, in a rare Sunday morning television interview, told CBS that he heard similar grumbling 30 years ago when he was chief of staff for President Ford.

Prominent leaders from the Christian right have warned Republicans they must do more to advance conservative values ahead of the US mid-term elections. Their message to Congress, controlled by Republicans, is "must do better." Support from about a quarter of Americans who describe themselves as evangelicals was a factor in President George W Bush's two election victories. The Republicans will need to keep them onboard if they are to retain control of Congress in November.

At a news conference in Washington, some of America's most influential conservative leaders said the current perception among evangelical Christians was that the Republican majority was not doing enough for them. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that apart from confirming two conservative judges to the Supreme Court, "core values voters" did not feel that Congress was advancing their interests.

Halliburton Watch: Scandal-plagued Halliburton, the oil services company once headed by Vice President Dick was secretly working with one of Iran’s top nuclear program officials on natural gas related projects and, allegedly, selling the officials' oil development company key components for a nuclear reactor, according to Halliburton sources with intimate knowledge into both companies’ business dealings. Just last week a National Security Council report said Iran was a decade away from acquiring a nuclear bomb. That time frame could arguably have been significantly longer if Halliburton, which just reported a 284 percent increase in its fourth quarter profits due to its Iraq reconstruction contracts, was not actively providing the Iranian government with the financial means to build a nuclear weapon. Now comes word that Halliburton, which has a long history of flouting U.S. law by conducting business with countries the Bush administration said has ties to terrorism, was working with Cyrus Nasseri, the vice chairman of the board of directors of Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran’s largest private oil companies, on oil development projects in Tehran. Nasseri is also a key member of Iran’s nuclear development team.

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: Trusting fellow, isn't he? The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern has said that he would prefer if the US were more transparent on the nature of their military flights through Shannon. Mr Ahern said it was one of the issues raised during his talks with President Bush at the White House. The Taoiseach claimed he accepts public concern that these flights may involve the transfer of prisoners for interrogation or what the CIA calls extraordinary rendition. "We have CIA flights that land - I 'm sure they're on totally legitimate business."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A Pentagon intelligence agency that kept files on American anti-war activists hired one of the contractors who bribed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., to help it collect data on houses of worship, schools, power plants and other locations in the United States. MZM Inc., headed by Mitchell Wade, also received three contracts totaling more than $250,000 to provide unspecified "intelligence services" to the White House, according to documents obtained by Knight Ridder. The White House didn't respond to an inquiry about what those intelligence services entailed. MZM's Pentagon and White House deals were part of tens of millions of dollars in federal government business that Wade's company attracted beginning in 2002. MZM and Wade, who pleaded guilty last month to bribing Cunningham and unnamed Defense Department officials to steer work to his firm, are the focus of ongoing probes by Pentagon and Department of Justice investigators.

A federal judge has ordered internet search engine Google to turn over some search data, including 50,000 web addresses, to the US government. However, Judge James Ware denied a request that Google hand over a list of people's search requests. The Justice Department had wanted access to search records to help prevent access to online pornography. The judge said privacy considerations led him to deny part of the department's request. "This concern, combined with the prevalence of internet searches for sexually explicit material, gives this court pause as to whether the search queries themselves may constitute potentially sensitive information," he said in his ruling. Google lawyer Nicole Wong said it was reassuring that the judge's decision had "sent a clear message about privacy." "What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte-blanche when demanding data from internet companies," she said.

Republicans Believe Businesspeople Are Models To Be Emulated: The amount of unpaid federal fines has risen sharply in the last decade according to a recent GAO report. Individuals and corporations regularly avoid large, highly publicized penalties for wrongdoing - sometimes through negotiations, sometimes because companies go bankrupt, sometimes due to officials' failure to keep close track of who owes what under a decentralized collection system. These are conclusions of an Associated Press examination of federal financial penalty enforcement across the nation, which also found: -The government is currently owed more than $35 billion in fines and other payments from criminals and in civil cases, according to Justice Department figures. This is almost five times the amount uncollected 10 years ago - and enough to cover the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security. A decade ago, Congress mandated that fines be imposed regardless of defendants' ability to pay, which has added tremendously to outstanding debt. -In 2004, federal authorities ordered $7.8 billion in 98,985 fines, penalties and restitution demands in criminal and civil cases, but collected less than half of that. -White-collar crime cases account for the largest amount of uncollected debt. In a study, Government Accountability Office investigators found that just 7 percent of restitution in such cases is paid.

Free Markets Solve All Problems: New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, can be harmful. The stakes are high because more than 75% of genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide are engineered to tolerate glyphosate, with Monsanto's Roundup brand holding the biggest market share. The use of Roundup has gone up especially in countries growing Roundup-tolerant GM crops engineered by Monsanto, who also produces the herbicide. It eliminates all other plants except the GM crops that are genetically engineered to be tolerant to it. Although the Roundup patent expired in September 2000, Monsanto is able to keep a captive and growing market for its weedkiller because the crops concerned are engineered to tolerate only Roundup. A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than that in agricultural use. The findings were published in a US journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, in March. An epidemiological study in the Ontario farming populations showed that glyphosate exposure nearly doubled the risk of late spontaneous abortions, and Seralini and his research team decided to find out more about the effects of the herbicide on cells from the human placenta. The French team used human placental cell lines, in which very weak doses of glyphosate showed toxic effects and, at still weaker concentrations, endocrinal disturbances. The study thus showed that glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells, killing a large proportion of them after 18 hours of exposure at concentrations below that in agricultural use. This, they suggest, could explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among women farmers in the US using glyphosate.

News From Smirkey's Wars: One thing is certain about the Iraq war: It has cost a lot more than advertised. In fact, the tab grows by at least $200 million each and every day. In the months leading up to the launch of the war three years ago, few Bush administration officials were willing to comment publicly on the potential costs to the United States. After all, no cost would have been too high if the United States faced an imminent threat from an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction, the war's stated justification. U.S. direct spending on the war in Iraq already has surpassed the upper bound of Lindsey's upper bound, and most economists attribute billions more in indirect costs to the war effort. Even if the U.S. exits Iraq within another three years, total direct and indirect costs to U.S. taxpayers will likely by more than $400 billion, and one estimate puts the total economic impact at up to $2 trillion. Back in 2002, the White House was quick to distance itself from Lindsey's view. Mitch Daniels, director of the White House budget office, quickly called the estimate "very, very high." Lindsey himself was dismissed in a shake-up of the White House economic team later that year, and in January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the budget office had come up with "a number that's something under $50 billion." He and other officials expressed optimism that Iraq itself would help shoulder the cost once the world market was reopened to its rich supply of oil.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday easily approved $91.9 billion that Smirkey sought for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for Gulf Coast hurricane relief, even as lawmakers voiced doubts about the efforts. The emergency spending bill also contained language barring a state-owned Arab company, Dubai Ports World, from managing American ports, although the company has pledged to pull out of the deal the administration initially approved. The House passed its bill by 348-71, although lawmakers fretted about the soaring costs of the Iraq war and Gulf Coast recovery. The Senate's version of the bill has not yet cleared its Appropriations Committee.

Scandals Du Jour: The Defense Department inspector general has opened a probe into allegations that US troops were provided contaminated water under a contract with Halliburton, a US lawmaker said. Senator Byron Dorgan, who had requested the probe, said he was informed that the inspector general will investigate the allegations against the company, which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. A Pentagon spokesman was unable to confirm whether an inspector general's investigation has been opened. The Pentagon typically does not comment on such investigations. Former Halliburton employees testified at a hearing last month that US troops at a camp in Ramadi were provided untreated water taken a few miles downstream from where raw sewage was discharged into the Euphrates River. The company has disputed the allegations. "This investigation is long overdue and I welcome it," Dorgan, a Democrat, said. "Based on what we now know from an internal report from Halliburton's own water quality expert, Halliburton's delivery of unhealthy water to US troops is completely unacceptable."

An analysis released by a Democratic senator found that Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton stock options have risen 3,281 percent in the last year. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asserts that Cheney's options - worth $241,498 a year ago - are now valued at more than $8 million. The former CEO of the oil and gas services juggernaut, Cheney has pledged to give proceeds to charity. "Halliburton has already raked in more than $10 billion from the Bush-Cheney Administration for work in Iraq, and they were awarded some of the first Katrina contracts," Lautenberg said in a statement. "It is unseemly for the Vice President to continue to benefit from this company at the same time his Administration funnels billions of dollars to it. The Vice President should sever his financial ties to Halliburton once and for all."

Scapegoats - Not On The Endangered Species List: A former top State Department official suspected of being the first person to discuss the identity of a CIA official with reporters is expected to testify in the perjury trial of ex-vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a court motion says. The filing by Libby's defense team late on Friday asks Judge Reggie Walton to force prosecutors to turn over material they have about likely witnesses including former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Others who are expected to testify include White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, former CIA director George Tenet and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the document says. It suggests Libby's team may try to pin blame on the State Department for the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to the public after her husband criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:10:52 PM

Fri, Mar 17 2006

Car Inspection Time

This weather is still in the trying-to-make-up-its-mind mode. Yesterday was classic dry season - hot, dry, little wind, and sun all day. Temperatures as high as 82, and lows only down to 70. I had the fan on during the night. Then today, I woke up to weather that was classic rainy season - chilly, windy, rainy and downright nasty. When my gardener arrived about ten in the morning, I gave him a hard time about his comment last week that the dry season was upon us. Well, before he was done, the weather had switched to the dry-season mode - wind died down, sun came out and it quickly got warm, getting up to 80.

Well, yesterday, with its fine weather, was a great day to get out, and since my car inspection was due at the end of the month, I figured it would be a good day to go to Canas and get the inspection done. I have a plan for avoiding long lines that seems to work fairly well in this country: show up in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the month. And even though it was Thursday, it was still the middle of the month, and I thought it would be worth seeing if my luck held and I could avoid a long line at the Riteve inspection station, even without an appointment.

By ten I was on the road, figuring it would take an hour to dodge the potholes to Tilaran, and another half hour to get from there to Canas and the inspection station. Boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise! Every single pothole between Arenal and Tilaran has been patched. Not just filled with gravel as they often do, but actually patched, with a proper asphalt layer and everything! And I don't mean just the big ones, it was every single one, no matter how small. Instead of ignoring the little ones so they would grow up to be big ones and keep the patching crews employed, this crew actually filled them all. I was amazed - I made it to Tilaran in only 35 minutes, a new record for me, as I never had to dodge a single pothole. It seemed like in no time, I was through Canas and out to the Riteve inspection station a couple of miles south of town.

I lucked out in Canas, too. My plan had worked, and I was the only customer there, so of course, I was hustled right in and got the most thorough check that my car has had since I have owned it. More thorough than the first inspection when I bought it, and before the taxi strikes that year forced them to back off and be a bit more lenient. Well, in spite of their best efforts, there was nothing they could fault the gringo for, other than a couple of minor warnings (loose battery holder and a leaking transfer case), and I got my sticker. In a few minutes, I was out of there and drove back to Canas.

First stop was for gas - I was about out, and the Canas gas gets turned over quicker than the gas at the station here, so it is a bit better quality, and less prone to ping. But when I asked for a fill, I ended up in shock - it cost 18,500 colones - the equivalent of $36 - to fill my tank. Gas is currently just about 90 cents per liter, though it fluctuates week to week, and my tank is a 45 liter tank. It's a regulated price, so there's no point in complaining and going elsewhere. If you're going to drive, that is the price you are going to pay. One good thing about a regulated price is that the gas stations have to compete on service, so I was quite happy to watch the attendant dip a plastic broom in a bucket of soapy water and then proceed to give my windows all a very good washing, and then hose down the car. It needed it.

After a stop at the grocery store in Canas for the week's groceries, mostly because they're cheaper there, and there is a better selection in that store, I then headed back home. Another pothole-free trip. On the entire 100 km. journey, the only pothole I had to dodge was one just out of Canas. Totally amazing. Maybe there is hope for the Costa Rican road system.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has indeed monitored political groups solely on the basis that they opposed a U.S.-led war. According to a memo written in 2002, the FBI launched a classified investigation into the activities of Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center after becoming concerned that the group held "daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and [was] currently focused on its opposition to the potential war on Iraq." The memo aimed to summarize the investigation's results. It identifies the group as "a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism." The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests on behalf of over 150 organizations and individuals. The documents released as a result have revealed monitoring and infiltration of political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. "Something is seriously wrong in how our government determines who and what constitutes terrorism when peace activists find themselves targeted," remarked Jim Kleissler, Executive Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice. The memo also notes that the Center organized an annual event at the local Islamic center to promote cross-cultural understanding. The author of the memo, a special agent whose name was blocked out by government censors, seems especially fixated on Muslim or Middle Eastern involvement in Center activities. The agent notes that the TMC’s director told the Pittsburg Tribune Review that several Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent regularly attend meetings at the Center. The author of the memo also describes how the FBI photographed people leafleting in Pittsburg and writes that the pictures "are being reviewed by Pittsburgh IT specialists." And, wrote the agent: "One female leaflet distributor, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, inquired if [the photographer] was an FBI agent. No other TMC participants appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent." Another document, titled "International Terrorism Matters," is a memo from the Pittsburg Division Joint Terrorism Task Force describing how the TMC advertised local and national anti-war demonstrations on its website. At the bottom of the document the author writes, "The above information is for your use and any action deemed appropriate."

The federal Terrorist Screening Center said Tuesday that it maintains a list of more than 200,000 people known or suspected to be terrorists. The encounters in traffic stops, applications for permits and other situations have resulted in "fewer than 60 arrests," said Donna Bucella of the Center. The list contains an additional 150,000 records that have only partial names, Bucella said. The vast majority of people on the list are not in this country, and many have only tenuous or inconclusive ties to terrorism, Bucella said at a briefing for reporters at FBI headquarters. When there is a possible match, the screening center verifies the information is accurate and advises what steps to take. In most of the more than 6,000 incidents Bucella described, officials collected additional information and let the person go. There have been about 28,000 matches worldwide, many of those from U.S. diplomatic outposts that screen applicants for visas to enter the United States, Bucella said.

President George W. Bush clung to his doctrine of using preemptive force against threats of weapons of mass destruction on Thursday despite his experience in Iraq, and said Iran may be America's biggest security challenge. A new White House national security strategy document said it was the strong U.S. preference to use international diplomacy to address weapons proliferation concerns. "If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document said.

A new poll finds that a plurality of Americans favor plans to censure President George W. Bush, while a surprising 42% favor moves to actually impeach the President. A poll taken March 15, 2006 by American Research Group found that among all adults, 46% favor Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) plan to censure President George W. Bush, while just 44% are opposed. Approval of the plan grows slightly when the sample is narrowed to voters, up to 48% in favor of the Senate censuring the sitting president. Even more shocking is that just 57% of Republicans are opposed to the move, with 14% still undecided and 29% actually in favor. Fully 70% of Democrats want to see Bush censured. More surprising still: The poll found fully 43% of voters in favor of actually impeaching the President, with just 50% of voters opposed. While only 18% of Republicans surveyed wanted to see Bush impeached, 61% of Democrats and 47% of Independents reported they wanted to see the House move ahead with the Conyers (D-MI) resolution. The poll, taken March 13-15, had a 3% margin of error.

State prosecutors seized four computers from a newsroom as part of a grand jury probe into whether a county coroner gave reporters his password to a secure law enforcement Web site, the newspaper said Wednesday. The Intelligencer Journal of Lancaster had offered to provide the information sought through less intrusive means or to search the computers in the newsroom, newspaper officials said. But prosecutors won a court battle to take the hard drives. Harold E. Miller Jr., the president and chief executive of parent Lancaster Newspapers Inc., said the ruling dismayed his reporters and could have a chilling effect on newsgathering. "You get to the point where sources have confidence that we'll do the right thing and that our industry's protected. They'll talk to us," Miller said. "Without that confidence, we lose our ability to do our job."

Seniors and disabled Americans enrolled in Medicare's new prescription-drug program face more coverage disruptions in two weeks, state officials, doctors and pharmacists warn. A special 90-day transition period, set by Medicare to prevent beneficiaries from losing any drug coverage, ends April 1. Private insurance plans can then stop covering drugs they don't usually pay for. Most of the 36 states that stepped in on an emergency basis to help low-income beneficiaries also will stop paying. State insurance counselors and health care advocates say the result could be a repeat of problems first encountered in January, when the program began. Thousands of beneficiaries were turned away from pharmacies when their records weren't found or their drugs weren't covered. "Some of these people are going to be in really difficult spots," said Jude Walsh, special assistant to Maine Gov. John Baldacci. "I think they're going to be going without medication again." The warnings came as President Bush promoted the drug plan's virtues Wednesday at an assisted living facility in suburban Maryland. While Bush said the plan can be "confusing," he told seniors to "take a look... I think you're going to like what you see."

A Native American group has renewed its push for equal treatment in the wake of a supportive ruling from the world’s highest human rights body. The decision, issued by a committee of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, sternly rebuked the US government for civil and human rights violations against the Western Shoshone Nation. The Western Shoshone, whose territory stretches across Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California, brought a complaint before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), charging that the United States is undertaking a systematic thievery of ancestral lands in violation of indigenous people's rights. The petitioners included the native-rights groups Western Shoshone Defense Project and Indian Law Resource Center, along with the humanitarian organization Oxfam America. In its ruling, CERD urged the US government to halt any plans to appropriate Western Shoshone territory for private development or environmentally destructive government projects. The 18-member panel also criticized government fees and restrictions levied on Western Shoshone people for using their own land, and urged the government to negotiate formally with tribal leaders on unresolved land-ownership issues. Although the Western Shoshone people's concept of land ownership is rooted in their cultural and spiritual heritage, in terms of United States law, their land claim was formally codified in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The treaty maps out Western Shoshone territory: the swath of land stretching from the Snake River Valley in Idaho to Salt Lake Valley in Utah, throughout eastern and central Nevada, and to the Mojave Desert in Southern California. Though the treaty enabled some exploitation of the land, legal advocates for the Western Shoshone say that it drew distinct limits. In its briefing paper for the March 2006 UN Human Rights Committee session, the Indian Law Resource Center stressed that the treaty "did not cede title to the lands, but merely gave to the US limited access and use for specified purposes."

The planned reconstruction of the site of New York's World Trade Center, destroyed in the 11 September 2001 attacks, has fallen into disarray. Talks between the property developer and state officials ended in acrimony. Port Authority officials have angrily accused developer Larry Silverstein of negotiating in bad faith. Neither side can agree on who will build on Ground Zero, how much rent will be paid, and how to divide money paid to Mr Silverstein after 9/11. Mr Silverstein, who signed a 99-year lease on the site before the attack, was awarded $4.6bn in insurance money after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Days before Israel's military assault on Jericho prison it warned Britain and America that it would seize Palestinians held there under an international agreement for killing an Israeli cabinet minister if the two countries withdrew their monitors. The US and Britain pulled out anyway, and the Israeli invasion of the jail resulted in its destruction and the loss of four lives and more than 30 injuries. Dov Weisglass, the most influential of the Israeli prime minister's advisers, told Britain and the US last week that it would be better for international supervision at the prison to continue. But he said that if they carried through a threat to pull out British and American monitors because of "security concerns" then Israel would act to bring the wanted men to justice. The last of 11 foreigners kidnapped by Palestinian groups in response to Israel's destruction of the prison with tanks, bulldozers and missiles were released yesterday as relative calm returned to the occupied territories. But there remained anger and suspicion among ordinary Palestinians and their leaders that Britain colluded in the Israeli attack to seize Ahmed Saadat, accused of masterminding the 2001 assassination of Israel's tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel, and five other Palestinians held in the Jericho jail under international supervision.

A new CBS poll finds that Americans are taking increasingly negative views of the war in Iraq, and still-low approval of the Commander-in-Chief. Just 15% of Americans reported to pollsters that they believe it is "very likely" that the U.S. will succeed in Iraq. Fully 54% believe that there will "never" be a stable democracy in Iraq--up from 31% in 2003. It goes on to find Bush's approval stuck at an all-time low of 34%, with two thirds reporting that they believe portrays an overly optimistic view of events to the public. Just 29% reported believing that the United States is actually winning the war. The poll seems to link increasingly negative views of the Iraq War with a decline in Bush's popularity. Bush seems to have lost his primary argument to the American people, his claim that a stable, democratic Iraq would bring greater safety to the American people. Fully 64% believe that a stable Iraq will make no difference to the safety of Americans, and another 5% say they think the United States will be less safe if Iraq is governed as a Democracy. Perhaps most shocking is that 71% reported that they believed a civil war was happening in Iraq "right now."

In the aftermath of the Dubai ports deal, Smirkey's approval rating has hit a new low and his image for honesty and effectiveness has been damaged. Yet the public uncharacteristically has good things to say about the role that Congress played in this high-profile Washington controversy. Most Americans (58%) believe Congress acted appropriately in strenuously opposing the deal, while just 24% say lawmakers made too much of the situation. While there is broad support for the way Congress handled the dispute, more Americans think Democratic leaders showed good judgment on the ports issue than say the same about GOP leaders (by 30%-20%). Bush's overall approval measure stands at 33%, the lowest rating of his presidency. Bush's job performance mark is now about the same as the ratings for Democratic and Republican congressional leaders (34% and 32%, respectively), which showed no improvement in spite of public approval of the congressional response to the ports deal.

No matter what message comes out in the state-sponsored media, the truth is that the war is expanding and public attention is being diverted away from the reality of an ever-expanding air war on Iraq. Bush is now, just this minute trying to sell Iraq first-strike by using Iran... His intentions are clear... the expanded air-war in Iraq is laying the groundwork for expansion of the war into Iran. This is the very point we were at in Vietnam when Nixon attempted to expand the war into Laos and Cambodia. From yesterday's Knight Ridder: "U.S. military airstrikes significantly increased in Iraq, by Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder Newspapers, March 14, 2006: BAGHDAD, Iraq - American forces have dramatically increased airstrikes in Iraq during the past five months, a change of tactics that may foreshadow how the United States plans to battle a still-strong insurgency while reducing the number of U.S. ground troops serving here. A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year. Knight Ridder's statistical findings were reviewed and confirmed by American Air Force officials in the region. The numbers also show that U.S. forces dropped bombs on more cities during the last five months than they did during the same period a year ago. Airstrikes hit at least nine cities between Oct. 1, 2004, and Feb. 28, 2005, but were mostly concentrated in and around the western city of Fallujah. A year later, U.S. warplanes struck at least 18 cities during the same months..."

Former US Secretary of State James Baker is to lead a bipartisan task force to examine the effectiveness of American policies in Iraq. Mr Baker, a Republican who served under President George W Bush's father, has promised an honest assessment of the situation facing US forces. The task force was set up at the request of the US Congress. It comes as the latest opinion polls show falling public support for both the war and the president. The creation of the panel certainly has the potential to embarrass the White House. However, the man who will lead the investigation, Mr Baker, is a long-standing political ally of President Bush. He not only served his father as secretary of state, he was also the man who helped ensure George W Bush's election victory in 2000.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday refused to drop legislative language barring a state-owned Arab company, Dubai Ports World, from managing American ports, even as the company released more details of its own pledge to unwind the deal. On a vote of 377-38, the House said it wanted to keep the wording blocking the controversial ports deal in an unrelated bill funding the Iraq war. A vote on the entire bill, including the ports language, was not expected until Thursday.

Smirkey on Wednesday rejected calls to extend a May 15 deadline for the elderly to sign up for a new prescription drugs plan despite complaints that it is too confusing. At a meeting with residents of a senior citizen community in Silver Spring, just outside Washington, Bush said families of older Americans, particularly adult children, should help them sort out their Medicare options. One woman, saying she was having trouble helping her 75-year-old mother make a choice, asked whether the deadline should be extended. "No, and the reason why is there's got to be a fixed time for people to sign up," the president said. The Republican-controlled Senate, meanwhile, narrowly defeated a measure that would have extended the deadline until the end of the year. Eligible people face a penalty if they seek drug benefits after May 15.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has alleged in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card that Smirkey signed a version of the Budget Reconciliation Act that, in effect, did not pass the House of Representatives. Further, Waxman says there is reason to believe that the Speaker of the House called President Bush before he signed the law, and alerted him that the version he was about to sign differed from the one that actually passed the House. If true, this would put the President in willful violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Environmental and civil rights groups petitioned the federal government yesterday to clean up contamination released when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged insufficiently secured chemical stockpiles, submerged fuel-filled cars and stirred-up urban waste. The organizations said the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a "legal and moral" obligation to clean up toxins in New Orleans. They cited analysis of government and independent testing in their case for immediate action. "It's been six months since Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, and the EPA has not lifted a finger to clean up the toxic mess that threatens the health of returning residents," Hillary Shelton of the NAACP said in a statement to the press yesterday. "This is a scandal of major proportions."

A New Jersey Assemblyman's Internet civility bill is on ice since opponents blasted it as an assault on free speech. Assemblyman Peter Biondi and his staff said they were trying to curb malicious exchanges on some local discussion boards when they introduced a bill requiring people to provide their real names and addresses before posting on public Web sites. The bill also stated that hosts could be sued for failing to disclose the identities of people disseminating false or defamatory information. Biondi's staff drafted the measure late last year. In was introduced in January. The bill hadn't even made it to committee before a small weekly newspaper published an article about it and Internet news providers began spreading the word. Then, callers from as far away as Canada deluged Biondi's office with complaints. "For a bill that's basically one of 45 just sitting there to be picked out - and for people in Portland, Oregon and Canadian broadcasters to be calling about it - it's a little bizarre," Biondi's Chief of Staff Scott Ross said during an interview. "For something that's not even on the radar screen in Trenton, it's incredible. It's definitely a first for us. It hit the Drudge Report and it was like 'Holy moly!"

An editor who chose to publish caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in the University of Illinois' student-run newspaper last month has been fired, the paper's publisher announced Tuesday. Acton H. Gorton was suspended, with pay, from The Daily Illini days after the Feb. 9 publication of the cartoons, which sparked Muslim protests around the world after they first appeared in a Danish newspaper. At the time, Daily Illini publishers said the action was taken against Gorton not for publishing the cartoons, but for failing to discuss it with others in the newsroom first. The Illini Media Co. board of directors, which comprises students and faculty, voted unanimously to fire the editor after a review "found that Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material," according to a statement.

The San Diego affiliate of Air America Radio has offered a job to Linda Laroca, a Vista, California woman who is suing her former employer after purportedly being fired for having the progressive talk radio station’s bumper sticker on her car. KLSD has offered her a job in the sales department with a guarantee that if she has a KLSD bumper sticker on her car, she won’t be fired, KLSD radio host Stacy Taylor has said. Taylor was uncertain whether Laroca would seek the job. Laroca could not be reached for comment. In a lawsuit filed Feb. 21, Laroca alleged that Beverly Fath, her former manager at Advantage Sales and Marketing, spotted the KLSD bumper sticker on Laroca’s car in a grocery store parking lot, where they had met to exchange some paperwork. According to Laroca’s suit, Fath called KLSD "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station," told Laroca that she could be a member of Al-Qaida, and fired her on the spot. Laroca’s suit seeks lost wages and damages for wrongful termination for violations of the state labor code as well as public policy. California is one of the few states which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on political beliefs. In addition, Laroca claims emotional distress and violations of the California constitution.

A second man featured on the Peoria, IL police Web site has been found not guilty of soliciting sex, but his mug shot will remain until August. "Why are they arresting people when they're not committing a crime?" asked Jason, who was found "not guilty" last week by a Peoria County jury. "I feel like I've been slandered," said the 26-year-old Pekin man, who requested his last name not be published. He is among 29 men featured since July on the Peoria Police Department's Web site, which includes the mug shots and personal information of those arrested on solicitation of sex charges, commonly called "johns." The information is posted for one year, regardless of how the cases are decided in court. "I am not guilty. I didn't do what they are cracking down on," Jason said. "I would never cheat on my wife."

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: A "pro-family" group wants the Bush administration to revoke its decision to allow HIV-positive foreigners to enter the country for the Gay Games in Chicago this summer. At the urging of Mayor Daley and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to a blanket waiver of a federal law that keeps HIV-infected people from visiting the United States without special permission, federal officials said. Similar waivers were given for the 1994 Gay Games in New York. Still, Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Glen Ellyn-based Illinois Family Institute, says the waivers for the Gay Games in Chicago will create a potential public health threat. He says he has enlisted the help of influential conservative groups in Washington, including Concerned Women of America, to get the president's ear. Specifically, LaBarbera says a gay bathhouse listed on the games' Web site as a sponsor promotes "reckless sexual behavior" that could "pave the way for spreading [HIV]." "The people of Chicago should know we have a ban on HIV travelers, it's there to protect citizens, and it's not a wise move to remove the ban," he said. "People on the pro-family side are not too pleased with it, and we're putting pressure on to reinstate the ban."

Mexico will begin extraditing drug lords wanted in the United States within weeks and expects a violent backlash from the powerful cartels, President Vicente Fox said on Wednesday. Fox told Reuters the legal process of handing over traffickers on the U.S. government's list had already begun. "I am confident and convinced that very soon, and I am talking about weeks, we will start the first extraditions of these leaders," Fox said. "I am sure that will provoke additional violence. ... They will try to retaliate," he said. "It could be judges, it could be government officials, but we will be ready." Fox, a close ally of the United States, did not say who would be extradited first, or how many, but stressed they were "the big bosses." He also said they would have to serve their sentences in U.S. prisons. That marks a major policy shift because until recently under Mexican law, drug traffickers had to serve out their prison sentences in Mexico before being put behind bars in the United States. The United States has been pressing for the extradition of drug kingpins for years but Mexican legislation made it difficult.

Habeas Corpus Death Watch: With the US military moving forward with the unprecedented trial of a prisoner captured at age 15, human rights lawyers are appealing to an international body for an injunction. American University attorneys will present testimony in Washington, DC today before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in an attempt to suspend the trial before military tribunal of Omar Khadr, a Canadian-born youth held for four years at Guantanamo. Khadr’s attorneys say the trial of their client would violate international treaties to which the US is a party. They accuse the US of denying Khadr’s rights by placing him in harsh facilities with adult detainees, denying him access to lawyers for over two years, and subjecting him to humiliation and torture. "Regardless of his status - whether he was a civilian, a combatant or an unlawful combatant - the US simply isn’t respecting the minimal guarantees of due process and protection of children that it owes him," said Sheku Sheikholeslami, an AU law-clinic student and member of Khadr’s defense team.

Liberal-Biased Media Watch: ThinkProgress has learned that NBC anchor Chris Matthews has received tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for delivering speeches to corporate interest groups. Matthews’s speaking engagements appear to be in direct violation of NBC’s policy prohibiting its employees from accepting such fees. Last week Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest documented Matthews’s speaking engagements, but was unable to confirm whether he was paid. In 2002, Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post: "I've been critical of journalistic buckraking since the mid-1990s, when I wrote about a $30,000 speech that Sam Donaldson had given to an insurance group - The issue began to fade as a number of news organizations, including ABC and NBC, banned the practice. Three trade associations independently confirmed to ThinkProgress that Matthews spoke for hefty fees on several occasions, as recently as last year: - The National Venture Capital Assocation (NVCA) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2005 Annual Meeting. NVCA told Think Progress that it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee of approximately $35,000. He received speaking fees from NCVA on at least two other occasions. - The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2001 Annual Meeting. NACDS said it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee for speaking. - The American Hospital Association (AHA) confirmed that Matthews spoke at its 2005 Annual Meeting. AHA said it booked Matthews through the Washington Speakers Bureau and that he received a fee for speaking.

With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies? While mainstream media outlets have pounced on the fact that Democrats blocked an effort by one of their own to censure President Bush over his warrantless wiretapping program, RAW STORY has found that Senate Democratic offices are fuming. The proposal to censure the President was introduced on a Sunday talk show by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). Though all say they believe the program warrants "more investigation," several Senate aides rebuked Feingold for proposing censure. They say that his move had the potential to derail Democratic efforts to strengthen the party's image on homeland security issues, noting that a large part of the country believes the eavesdropping program should continue. Bush has defended the program, calling it a "terrorist surveillance" program, and has used aides to defend its legality. Strikingly, some of the criticism came from liberal Senate offices. One longtime Senate aide was particularly scathing. "Feingold's grandstanding screwed the pooch and played into Bill Frist's hands," the aide said. "Thank God Dems punted this down the field. Frist was going to force Democrats to vote on a resolution Feingold had kept a big secret and he would've split the caucus on an issue that needed time to get the whole caucus to support. Russ Feingold had only one persons' interests in mind with his Sunday bombshell, and those were his own. He practically handed a victory to a Bush White House that desperately needs a win." Feingold responded: "I'm amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president's numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they'll say we'd better just focus on domestic issues. [Democrats shouldn't] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you're helping the terrorists."

Republicans Are Making America Safe From Terrorism: Imagine an explosion strong enough to blow a car's trunk apart, caused by a bomb inside a passenger plane. Government sources tell NBC News that federal investigators recently were able to carry materials needed to make a similar homemade bomb through security screening at 21 airports. In all 21 airports tested, no machine, no swab, no screener anywhere stopped the bomb materials from getting through. Even when investigators deliberately triggered extra screening of bags, no one discovered the materials. NBC News briefed former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, chairman of the 9/11 commission, on the results. "I'm appalled," he said. "I'm dismayed and, yes, to a degree, it does surprise me. Because I thought the Department of Homeland Security was making some progress on this, and evidently they're not." Investigators for the Government Accountability Office conducted the tests between October and January, at the request of Congress. The goal was to determine how vulnerable U.S. airlines are to a suicide bomber using cheap, readily available materials.

Republicans Believe In Honest, Transparent Government: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley quietly revised the guidelines for determining access to classified government information last year, increasing emphasis on allegiance to the United States and allowing the government broader latitude in rejecting candidates without a clearly articulated cause. In a December 2005 revision of the "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information," Hadley made semantic but substantial changes which seem to mirror a broader shift in Bush Administration policy. The document, found online, shows numerous variations from a previous copy of the guidelines published in 1997. Both are linked at the bottom of this article. Many of the changes were minor or involved updates to catch up with technological advances. For example, the guidelines expand on certain areas with regard to storing or transferring classified information in electronic form.

Republican Policies Are Good For America: The Senate voted Thursday to allow the national debt to swell to nearly $9 trillion, preventing a first-ever default on U.S. Treasury notes. The bill passed by a 52-48 vote. The increase to $9 trillion represents about $30,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature. The measure allows the government to pay for the war in Iraq and finance Medicare and other big federal programs without raising taxes. It passed hours before the House was expected to approve another $91 billion to fund the war in Iraq and provide more aid to hurricane victims. The partisan vote also came as the Senate continued debate on a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year that would produce a $359 billion deficit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

New claims for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly edged up by 5,000 last week to the highest level of the year, but a measure of longer-term unemployment fell to its lowest level in more than five years, the government said Thursday. The number of Americans filing initial claims for state unemployment aid rose to 309,000 in the week ended March 11, the highest since late December, from a revised 304,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. Economists had expected jobless claims to dip to 299,000 from the 303,000 originally reported for the week ended March 4. The increase pushed a four-week moving average of claims, which offers a better view of underlying trends, up by 2,750 to 296,500. While the average is at its highest level since mid-January, it still suggests a robust labor market.

US inflation slowed sharply last month, suggesting the Federal Reserve may now choose to end its recent round of interest rate hikes as the economy cools off. The closely watched Consumer Price Index rose only 0.1% in February, compared to January's 0.7% increase, said the Labor Department. Excluding the price-volatile food and energy sectors made no difference to the size of the rise. The Fed has raised US rates 14 times in a row to the current 4.5% level. As the US economy has gathered pace, the Fed has increased interest rates steadily, so as to remove any inflationary pressures. With the latest data suggesting that the Fed has been successful, chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues might have reason to refrain from any additional rises. Gary Thayer, chief economist at AG Edwards & Sons said US inflation now looked "relatively benign".

Republicans Believe In Equal Rights For All: The White House said yesterday that a revised policy on granting security clearances to gays and lesbians does not reflect a change in how the government will treat sexual orientation. "The Bush administration is waging a covert war on loyal federal employees who happen to be gay," said U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. The administration rewrote a 1997 regulation that had said sexual orientation 'may not be used as a basis" for denying clearances or determining whether individuals should be eligible to access classified information unless it could make them vulnerable to coercion or exploitation. President Bush's updated language says security clearances cannot be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual. "If sexual behavior is "strictly private, consensual, and discreet," that could lessen security concerns, according to the regulations that came as part of an update to clearance guidelines distributed in December. Gay rights activists said the change could open the door to added attention on sexual orientation - and discrimination.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Since the 1970s, ocean surface temperatures around the globe have been on the rise - from one half to one degree Fahrenheit, depending on the region. Last summer, two studies linked this temperature rise to stronger and more frequent hurricanes. Skeptics called other factors into account, such as natural variability, but a new statistical analysis shows that only this sea surface temperature increase explains this trend. Climate researcher Judith Curry and her colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology looked at the hurricane records for storms between 1970 and 2004 in all of the world's ocean basins, yielding a total sample of 210 seasons over the six regions. They subjected the records to a mathematical test derived from information theory--so-called mutual information, which measures the amount of information two variables share, so that if they do not overlap at all this measure would be zero. The researchers then looked at sea surface temperature, specific humidity, wind shear and wind variation over longitude to see what, if anything, these variables shared with the increasing number of strong storms the world over. According to the analysis appearing online today in Science, this trend only depends on sea surface temperature. "If you examine the intensification of a single storm, or even the statistics on intensification for a particular season, factors like wind shear can play an important role," Curry says. "However, there is no global trend in wind shear or the other factors over the 35-year period."

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Conservative activist Grover Norquist's non-profit organizations are the subject of an Internal Revenue Service complaint. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed the complaints against Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and Americans for Tax Reform Foundation (ATR Foundation). If found to be true and illegal, the actions alleged would to lead to revocation of their tax-exempt status. The group is claiming that Norquist used either or both ATR and ATR Foundation to launder donations from Indian casino clients of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The casinos are alleged to have made contributions to ATR, which then (after deducting a fee,) passed the money on to former Christian Coalition head and current Lt. Governor candidate Ralph Reed, as well as other anti-gambling activists. If the allegation is true, Norquist, Reed and Abramoff were attempting to disguise the fact that the money used to fund anti-gaming activities was generated through Indian gaming.

News Of The Weird: Raymond Martinot and his wife were the toast of the world cryonics movement. For years they were France's best preserved corpses, lying in a freezer in a chateau in the Loire valley, in the hope that modern science could one day bring them back to life. But the French couple's journey into the future ended prematurely when, 22 years after his mother's body was put into cold storage, their son discovered the freezer unit had broken down and they had started to thaw. Yesterday Rémy Martinot said he had no choice but to cremate his parents' bodies after the technical fault had seen their temperatures rise above the constant level required of -65C (-85F). "I realised in February that after a technical incident their temperature had risen to -20C probably for several days. The alert system [on the freezer] had not worked and I decided at that point that it was not reasonable to continue," he told Agence France Presse.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:56:47 PM

Wed, Mar 15 2006

Adventures In Computer Worms

Temperatures over the last couple of days have been downright summery. The high yesterday was a delightful 82, after a morning low of 71. I know that the dry season must be here - the cicadas are out, and are buzzing all evening, so that's a sure sign. Today, it tried to be rainy-season, but didn't make it. Strong winds all morning, cloudy afternoon, but the temperature still rose to a balmy 82 after a low last night of 69. We may still get a rainy day or two now and again, but I think that the dry season is finally here, a month late.

I was feeling pretty good yesterday, and got out into the garden a bit, and killed a zompopa (leafcutter ant) colony that had been growing near my yard waste pile. Normally the Azteca ants will keep them down, but the iguanas, which love hanging out in the leaf litter, seem to be eating all the Azteca ants. OK by me, those Azteca ants have a nasty sting to them, almost as bad as a honeybee.

Well, I had some time to play in the yard, as my computer was down and I was waiting for the afternoon to take it to a friend's place to work on it. It had a really bad worm in it, a worm that basically kept me from doing much of anything, and when online, exposed me to hacking. I know how I caught it. I had re-installed my email client to try to fix a persistent bug that had developed. Downloaded the file just fine, and I quit all my Windows programs, including the firewall, to install it. Once done, I went back online to try it. Well, I forgot to restart the firewall. After being online for only about three minutes, I noticed it, and restarted the firewall, but by then it was too late. As soon as I started the firewall, it began asking if certain programs I had never seen before had permission to access the Internet. Of course, I said no. But I figured I had better look at the access request log, and sure enough, a program called MSmedia.exe kept asking for access, about every two or three seconds. I checked the task list; there was no such program listed as running. That could only mean I had a virus. I checked the performance and noted that with nothing running, most of my CPU time was being eaten up by something, and it was also eating up memory. I shut the computer down and went online with my laptop to research this situation.

Turns out it was a virus called W32/tilebot-BG. A Google search turned up a web page on the Sophos antivirus web site, and I began to read about it. Spread by "unprotected network shares," it said. Sure enough, in tech-speak, that means having your computer naked to the Internet without any firewall protection. And that is exactly how I had gotten it. I found that it puts the MSmedia.exe file in the system directory, and that it was of a certain size, 54kb. When I checked, sure enough, there it was, and the predicted size, too. Sophos offered an 8 megabyte download file that, when run in "safe mode" at the command prompt would look for and kill virus files, even if they were running, and offer information on where to look for registry entries made by the virus. Unfortunately, it required that I download the program to another computer that is not infected, and my laptop cannot burn a CDrom, so I couldn't do it myself. I needed help.

A call to one of my ham radio friends here in town and a plea for help. He does a lot of computer work on the side, and he happened to have another Windows machine in the house that had a CDrom burner in it. I went over to his house and we downloaded the file, burned it onto a CDrom, and then put it in my computer, booted in Safe Mode and ran the file. It took a long time - it ran for about 20 minutes, checking each file individually, including password protected files. But by the end, it found three different viruses, and disinfected the computer from all three. None of them had altered the registry, so all I had to do was reboot. The computer was slow to reboot the first time, and it encountered a disk error that Windows was able to repair by itself. But once it was booted up, the computer looked to be running fine. A check of the performance showed that the CPU was not being burdened with processes not needing to run. I rebooted again, and this time, the reboot was remarkably fast, and again, a performance check showed nothing suspicious. My computer is working again, better than it has since the FBI screwed it up in their ill-fated surreptitious attempt to install spyware three years ago. It works like a new machine now!

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: More details about the gulag archipelago of concentration camps in the U.S., being prepared under contract to a Halliburton subsidiary, is the ominous specification that the Halliburton employees working on supervising the contracts must carry "Secret" classifications. This, combined with the recently revealed plans by the Army, as reported in this space earlier, for the supervision of forced labor, means that the real purpose of these camps is becoming clear, regardless of their stated intention to be there to respond to a flood of refugees from south of the border. Why people working as camp construction crews would require a "Secret" clearance has not been forthcoming.

Senior British diplomatic and military staff gave Tony Blair explicit warnings three years ago that the US was disastrously mishandling the occupation of Iraq, according to leaked memos. John Sawers, Mr Blair's envoy in Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion, sent a series of confidential memos to Downing Street in May and June 2003 cataloguing US failures. With unusual frankness, he described the US postwar administration, led by the retired general Jay Garner, as "an unbelievable mess" and said "Garner and his top team of 60-year-old retired generals" were "well-meaning but out of their depth". That assessment is reinforced by Major General Albert Whitley, the most senior British officer with the US land forces. Gen Whitley, in another memo later that summer, expressed alarm that the US-British coalition was in danger of losing the peace. "We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be 'yes'," he concluded. The memos were obtained by Michael Gordon, author, along with General Bernard Trainor, of Cobra II: the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, published to coincide with the third anniversary of the invasion.

An ex-marine was being held in a US military prison yesterday for deserting from the marines 38 years ago after being caught on the American-Canadian border amid a new drive to track down Vietnam-era deserters. Allen Abney, 56, who lives in British Columbia and who is now a Canadian citizen, had frequently crossed into the US without incident. His family was caught by surprise when he and his wife were stopped by immigration officials on Thursday on their way to a social event in Reno, Nevada. "They were crossing British Columbia-Idaho border, and they handed in their passports and they were told they would have to come inside," Jessica Abney, the couple's daughter told the Guardian. "I don't think he'd been worrying about it, because he'd been in the states hundreds of times since he deserted. I don't think he lived his life that way." Mr Abney is not the only ex-marine to have been tracked down for desertion recently. Since he took over the marine corps Absentee Collection Centre in 2004, chief warrant officer James Averhart has reopened cold cases and claims to have tracked down 33 deserters. "I have a different leadership style than the guys who have had this job. My job is to catch deserters. And that's what I do," he told Florida's St Petersburg Times.

The people of "these United States are going to stand up and take our country back," former Vice President Al Gore said Sunday at a Florida Democratic Party fund-raiser at the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion. "Let's start right here in Palm Beach County," said Gore, speaking to a crowd of about 450 in what became the epicenter of the hotly contested 2000 presidential election. Before he was introduced, Mayor Lois Frankel said, "I'm not one to hold a grudge . . . but this was the scene of a crime (in 2000). I haven't forgotten it, and you haven't forgotten it." Picking up on her sentiment, Gore urged Democrats to "not take anything for granted," because sometimes, "feeling the prospects of victory and success, you know that's a deadly error." Citing a Bible verse, "Where there is no vision, the people perish," Gore cited issues in which he believes the Bush administration has left the country far removed from the Founding Fathers' ideals. "How many times have we listened to the current administration and in (state and national Republican offices), and after a few years, we wake up and say that what they have been telling us is completely wrong," Gore said. "I'm not calling it a lie," but a "false impression."

Dubai Ports World announced Wednesday it will sell all its U.S. port operations within four to six months to an American buyer, providing new details about its sales plans that were forced by congressional concerns over terrorism security. Lawmakers who criticized the Bush administration for approving DP World's earlier plans to operate in the United States said they were satisfied. Still, the House voted 377-38 Wednesday to formally express its opposition to DP World running any port terminals in America. DP World, the world's third-largest ports company, said that until the sale is finalized its U.S. businesses will operate independently. The announcement was the first time it described its plans for the newly acquired U.S. operations as a "sale" to a single, unrelated American buyer and indicated it would retain no stake. Michael Seymour, the president of DP World's U.S. subsidiary, said there was "already significant interest in the sale from American buyers." Asked whether a foreign-owned company with its own U.S. subsidiary might qualify, Seymour said: "An American buyer is exactly what we say it is; it's an American buyer and we envisage it will be a wholly owned American organization."

Prosecutors pondered on Wednesday whether to abandon their quest for the death penalty in the U.S. government's only case connected to the September 11 hijackings, after a federal judge banned crucial testimony. Shortly after U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema delivered the sharp blow on Tuesday to the case against September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, prosecutors asked for a trial delay. "We don't know whether it is worth us proceeding at all, candidly ... and that's why we need to assess it, because without some relief, frankly I think that there's no point for us to go forward," prosecutor Robert Spencer said in a conference call on Tuesday evening with Brinkema and a defense lawyer. The call was transcribed and released as part of the court record. Brinkema agreed to delay the trial until Monday. Prosecutors were still discussing their options on Wednesday, Justice Department officials said.

President Bush nominated Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach today to serve as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, but a spat over the "morning-after" pill all but ensures that the nomination will go nowhere for months or even years. A Bush family friend, Dr. von Eschenbach has led the F.D.A. since September, when his predecessor abruptly resigned. He also leads the National Cancer Institute. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray have vowed to block any vote on Dr. von Eschenbach's nomination until the F.D.A. decides whether to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B, an emergency contraceptive known as the "morning-after" pill. The application has been pending for three years. Anti-abortion groups oppose the application; abortion advocates support it. "If they don't come to a decision on Plan B, the White House is going to need a Plan C on their nominee," said Ms. Murray, a Democrat from Washington State.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush's plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don't need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents, the WASHINGTON POST reports on Tuesday page ones. In a case that advocates fear is directly linked to Bush's announcement, the government has jailed two Iranians who traveled outside the country to attend what was billed as a series of workshops on human rights. Two others who attended were interrogated for three days. The workshops, conducted by groups based in the United States, were held last April, but Iranian investigators did not summon the participants until last month, about the time the Bush administration announced plans to spend $85 million "to support the cause of freedom in Iran this year." "We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush," human rights activist Emad Baghi said as he waited anxiously for his wife and daughter to emerge from interrogation last week. "When he says he wants to promote democracy in Iran, he gives money to these outside groups and we're in here suffering."

Brushing aside objections from the United States, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed creation of a revamped body to replace the current, discredited Human Rights Commission. By a vote of 170 in favor, four against -- the United States, Israel, Palau and Marshall Islands -- and three abstentions -- Iran, Venezuela and Belarus -- the assembly passed a resolution setting up a 47-member Human Rights Council. The new body is designed to be more effective and will replace the current, Geneva-based Commission, which has seen its credibility tarnished by the presence among its 53 members of notorious human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Ambitious plans to reform the United Nations in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the Iraq schism have yet to amount to much. But one issue on which world leaders attending last September's summit in New York did agree was the need to strengthen UN monitoring, protection and enforcement of universal standards of human rights. Now even that limited consensus is at risk as open diplomatic warfare between the Bush administration and a majority of member states threatens to sink proposals to create a new UN Human Rights Council. If a compromise deal backed by the General Assembly president, Jan Eliasson, is not agreed by Friday, the council may be shelved indefinitely. That could derail other internal reforms promoted by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general. It could reinforce perceptions, voiced by one UN official, that John Bolton, the US ambassador, is embarked on a "nihilist" slash and burn mission at the UN.

It Takes A Potemkin Village: Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is set to slash the conservative movement in his column Thursday, RAW STORY has learned. His column is titled 'Running Out of Steam.' "For a movement that is supposed to be winning the battle of ideas, conservatives are in a mess... There are a number of consequences. A lot of the energy that used to go into ideas is now devoted to defending Republican politicians. Many former conservative activists have become Republican lobbyists. (When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it's a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs.)... "Third, conservative media success means intellectual flabbiness. Conservatives used to live in a media world created by people who thought differently than they did... Now conservatives can be just as insular as liberals, retreating to their own media sources to be told how right they are... But, Brooks reserves his finest sword for the left: "And the final bit of good news for the right is the left. No matter how serious the conservative crisis is, liberals remain surpassingly effective at making themselves unelectable."

In his latest New York Times column set for Sunday's edition, Frank Rich charts a number of recent news stories which link the Bush Administration to 'propaganda' but concludes that none of it may be working as it once did. Rich points out that even though the economy appears to be 'going relatively well,' as reflected in a drop in gas prices, Bush's approval rating in this area is still low, which might be because Americans can no longer believe what they can see anymore.When a government substitutes propaganda for governing, the Potemkin village is all. Since we don't get honest information from this White House, we must instead, as the Soviets once did, decode our rulers' fictions to discern what's really happening. What we're seeing now is the wheels coming off: As the administration's stagecraft becomes more baroque, its credibility tanks further both at home and abroad. The propaganda techniques may be echt Goebbels, but they increasingly come off as pure Ali G.

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: The American Civil Liberties Union will file a lawsuit today against former CIA director George Tenet and three American contractors challenging the CIA’s abduction of a foreign national for detention and interrogation in a secret overseas prison. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, an German citizen later found innocent who was victimized by the CIA’s policy of "extraordinary rendition." The suit alleges that Tenet and other CIA officials violated U.S. and human rights laws when they authorized agents to kidnap El-Masri, and that his unlawful abduction and treatment were the direct result of an illegal CIA policy known as "extraordinary rendition."

In the wake of controversy over CIA "extraordinary rendition" policies and secret prisons, the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal court to reconsider its previous decision to uphold the CIA's refusal to admit even the existence of two key documents on interrogation techniques and detention facilities abroad. "As the Bush administration seeks to exempt the CIA from a proposed ban on torture, the American public has a right to know what interrogation techniques the CIA considers lawful and appropriate," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "President Bush himself has said, 'we do not torture.' If that's the case, why does the government continue to fight tooth and nail to withhold documents that would shed light on CIA interrogation techniques?"

The United States Of America, A Third-World Country: Tales of police officers corrupted by the mob are hardly unheard of in New York. But the case of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, whose long-awaited trial opened in Brooklyn yesterday, has stunned even seasoned investigators. The two former senior detectives stand accused not just of turning a blind eye to mafia activity - the usual charge - but of using their positions within the NYPD to commit crimes, for more than 10 years, on behalf of the Luchese family. Eddie Lino's murder - in which Mr Caracappa, now 64, is alleged to have pulled the trigger, earning the duo $75,000 (£45,000) from their mafia boss - is only one of eight in which they are implicated; apart from murder the list includes racketeering, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and money-laundering. After retiring in the early 1990s, they moved to Nevada and allegedly started dealing in methamphetamine. That activity came to a sudden halt when they were arrested at an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas in March last year. "It's just stunning," Roslynn Mauskopf, of the US Attorney's office in Brooklyn, said at the time of their indictment. "These corrupt former detectives betrayed their shields, their colleagues and the citizens they were sworn to protect." Gerald Shargel, a veteran New York defence lawyer, who has represented many mafia figures, told the Guardian yesterday that if the allegations were true, "it has to be the rawest breach of a police officer's duty perhaps in history."

Diebold Watch: The chief executive officer of electronic voting company Diebold who once famously declared that he would "deliver" Ohio for President Bush has resigned effective immediately. "The board of directors and Wally [O'Dell] mutually agreed that his decision to resign at this time for personal reasons was in the best interest of all parties," the company's new chairman said in a statement. O'Dell's resignation comes just days after reports from BradBlog.com that the company was facing imminent securities fraud litigation surrounding charges of insider trading. It also comes on the heels of a RAW STORY interview with a Diebold insider, who raised new allegations of technical woes inside the company, as well as concerns that Diebold may have mishandled elections in Georgia and Ohio. In a story last week, RAW STORY recounted allegations made by a Diebold insider who said he/she had become disillusioned after witnessing repeated efforts by the firm to evade meeting legal requirements or implementing appropriate security measures, and who alleged that Diebold had put corporate interests ahead of the interests of voters. "I’ve absolutely had it with the dishonesty," the insider said. Blasting Wally O’Dell, the current president of Diebold.

This comes as an Ohio law firm said it filed suit on Tuesday against Diebold Inc. alleging the voting-machine maker lacked sufficient internal controls, was unable to be confident in the quality of its voting machines and made misleading statements about its condition. The lawsuit was filed by Scott & Scott LLC in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and seeks class-action status.

Republicans Believe In Honesty And Transparency In Government: Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, a progressive legal watchdog group, sued the U.S. State Department this afternoon after it failed to turn over records surrounding the government's preparedness and response to Hurricane Katrina. On September 7, 2005, CREW sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of State, asking for records and communications regarding the federal government's preparedness and response to hurricane Katrina. Specifically, CREW asked the Department of State for details regarding the myriad offers to assist in relief efforts made by foreign governments during hurricane Katrina, including offers made by Venezuela, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to name a few. CREW further sought records relating to the U.S. government's response to those offers. Rather than providing the requested records as required by federal law, on October 6, 2005, the Department of State sent CREW a non-responsive form letter demanding that CREW further describe the records sought. The FOIA requests to DHS and FEMA are still pending.

Republicans Believe In Freedom Of Speech: A secret Department of Defense database obtained by NBC News reveals that the Pentagon kept close tabs on nearly 50 antiwar and counter-recruiting demonstrations from November of 2004 to May of 2005, and labeling them potential "threats" and "suspicious incidents." NBC's report (Is the Pentagon spying on Americans?) details a few of the monitored protests, including a meeting held at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida by the group Truth Project. An examination of the database by RAW STORY sheds new light on some of the other protest groups singled out, including a well-known gay and lesbian activist group. An anti-nuclear rally at Offut Airforce Base, Nebraska - home of the Strategic Nuclear and USA Military Space Commands - to mark the 59th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped in Nagasaki was considered a "credible" threat on August 9, 2004, and, in fact, resulted in the arrest of Des Moines Catholic Worker Elton Davis, for crossing the property line. Davis was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and later served a 90-day sentence at Leavenworth Detention Center.

Republicans Believe In Fair Trials For All Accused: The US government's attempt to impose the death penalty on Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the US for the September 11 attacks, looked close to collapse yesterday after a prosecution lawyer was found to have improperly coached witnesses. Leonie Brinkema, the judge at Moussaoui's sentencing trial, angrily suspended the hearing after it was found that seven government witnesses from the Federal Aviation Administration had been shown transcripts of the opening statements and other testimony before they testified, a blatant violation of a court order aimed at stopping witnesses coordinating testimony. "In all the years I've been on the bench, I have never seen such an egregious violation of a rule on witnesses," Judge Brinkema said, noting it was the second significant error by the prosecution. On Thursday, prosecutors asked an FBI witness a question that had already been ruled out of order. The judge called a hearing for today to question the seven witnesses before deciding on further action.

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: A Delta Air Lines Inc. lawyer told an arbitration panel Monday the nation's third-largest carrier needs a second round of deep long-term pay and benefit cuts from its pilots and should have the right to throw out their contract if they refuse. But, a union attorney said the Atlanta-based company is asking for too much, and he insisted the first round of cuts was not a "down payment." Delta lawyer Jack Gallagher asked the three arbitrators to throw out the collective bargaining agreement of the airline's 6,000 pilots so the airline can impose up to $325 million in long-term pay and benefit cuts. He also told the panel "it now looks more likely than not" that the pilots' defined benefit pension plan will be terminated.

Oil prices rose sharply Monday, led up by concern that gasoline supplies will run low in the peak demand summer driving season in the US and nagging fears over tensions in key producers Iran and Nigeria. At 4.46 pm, April-dated Brent contracts were up 67 cents at 61.50 usd, after closing down 23 cents at 60.83 usd on Friday. Meanwhile, April-dated US light crude futures were up 89 cents at 60.85 usd.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Physical changes - including rising air and seawater temperatures and decreasing seasonal ice cover - appear to be the cause of a series of biological changes in the northern Bering Sea ecosystem that could have long-range and irreversible effects on the animals that live there and on the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. The northern Bering Sea provides critical habitat for large populations of sea ducks, gray whales, bearded seals and walruses, all of which depend on small bottom-dwelling creatures for sustenance. These bottom-dwellers, in turn, are accustomed to colder water temperatures and long periods of extensive sea ice cover. However, "a change from arctic to sub-arctic conditions is under way in the northern Bering Sea," according to the researchers, and is causing a shift toward conditions favoring both water-column and bottom-feeding fish and other animals that until now have stayed in more southerly, warmer sea waters. As a result, the ranges of region's typical inhabitants can be expected to move northward and away from the small, isolated Native communities on the Bering Sea coast that subsist on the animals. "We're seeing that a change in the physical conditions is driving a change in the ecosystems," said Jackie Grebmeier, a researcher at the University of Tennessee and one of the paper's co-authors.

Studies have shown that over the last 40 years, a warming climate has been accompanied by fewer rain- and snow-producing storms in mid-latitudes around the world, but the storms that are happening are a little stronger with more precipitation. A new analysis of global satellite data suggests that these storm changes are affecting strongly the Earth’s water cycle and air temperatures and creating contrasting cooling and warming effects in the atmosphere. "There are consequences of having fewer but stronger storms in the middle latitudes both on the radiation and on the precipitation fields," George Tselioudis, a study co-author said. Using observations from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) and the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP), the study determined how the changes in intensity and frequency of storms are both cooling and warming the atmosphere around the world. Fewer and stronger storms in the mid-latitudes affect the radiation field, that is, the solar energy being absorbed and the heat radiation emitted by the Earth. There are two things happening with storms and energy. The first is that sunlight is reflected back into space from the tops of the clouds, creating a cooling effect at the Earth's surface. Conversely, clouds also act to trap heat radiation and prevent it from escaping into space, creating a warming on the Earth's atmosphere.

For the second year in a row, the cloak of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean failed to grow to its normal winter expanse, scientists said yesterday. The finding led some climate experts to predict a record expansion of open water this summer. "We keep looking for the ice to recover, but it isn't," said Mark C. Serreze, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which monitors the region using satellites. "Unless conditions turn unusually cold this spring and summer, we may be looking at sea ice losses in 2006 that will rival what we saw in 2005." The ice retreat recorded last September was the biggest since satellites began routine monitoring in 1979 and was probably the biggest in 100 years, according to Dr. Serreze's research group and an independent University of Illinois team.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Iraqi authorities discovered at least 87 corpses - men shot to death execution-style - as Iraq edged closer to open civil warfare. Twenty-nine of the bodies, dressed only in underwear, were dug out of a single grave Tuesday in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad. The bloodshed appeared to be retaliation for a bomb and mortar attack in the Sadr City slum that killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 200 two days earlier. Iraq's Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, meanwhile, told The Associated Press security officials had foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of al-Qaida men at critical guard posts around Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies, as well as the Iraqi government. A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 al-Qaida fighters were recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The United States is pouring billions more dollars and fresh platoons of experts into its campaign to "defeat IEDs," the roadside bombs Smirkey describes as threat No. 1 to Iraq's future. The American military even plans to build special, more defensible highways here, in its frustrating standoff with the makeshift munitions - "improvised explosive devices" - that Iraqi insurgents field by the hundreds to hobble U.S. road movements in the 3-year-old conflict. Out on those risky roads, and back at the Pentagon, few believe that even the most advanced technology will eliminate the threat.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A government crackdown on indecent programming resulted in a proposed fine of $3.6 million against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates on Wednesday - a record penalty from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC said an episode of the CBS crime drama "Without a Trace" that aired in December 2004 was indecent. It cited the graphic depiction of "teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy." CBS said it strongly disagrees with the FCC's finding. The program "featured an important and socially relevant storyline warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children. The program was not unduly graphic or explicit," the network said in a statement. The network can appeal the decision to the FCC. The company has 30 days to ask for reconsideration and provide an explanation as to why the network should not be held liable. The proposed fine was among decisions from the agency stemming from more than 300,000 complaints it received concerning nearly 50 TV shows broadcast between 2002 and 2005.

Scandals Du Jour: A Texas state appeals court today threw out more than 30 subpoenas requested by Travis County prosecutors building a criminal case against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, saying the investigation should have stopped in December when a district judge halted proceedings in his court. District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been issuing the subpoenas ever since Senior District Judge Pat Priest dismissed all or part of three indictments against DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Earle appealed Priest's ruling, and the judge stayed the case pending a ruling by the Third Court of Appeals. Most of the subpoenas involved political fund-raising controversies that have involved DeLay, some dating back to 1996.

Enron Corp. whistle-blower Sherron Watkins recounted on Wednesday how she warned then-chief executive Ken Lay in August 2001 that financial fraud could destroy the company, but that his response was to launch a "bogus" investigation and try to have her fired. At the same time Watkins was trying to save the now-bankrupt company where she was vice president of corporate development, Lay was selling off millions of dollars of Enron stock to pay off loans, prosecutors said. Watkins, testifying in the fraud and conspiracy trial of Lay and fellow former Enron boss Jeffrey Skilling, said Lay appeared to take her seriously when she discussed with him off-the-books partnerships run by chief financial officer Andrew Fastow that were running up huge losses for Enron. In a now-famous August 16, 2001 memo, she wrote to Lay, "It sure looks to the layman on the street that we are hiding losses in related partnerships and will compensate that company with Enron stock in the future." "I am incredibly nervous we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals," she wrote. On Wednesday, Watkins testified, "This was not just aggressive accounting, it was fraudulent accounting. I couldn't believe we had done it."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:49:22 PM

Mon, Mar 13 2006

Soaking The Gringos Again?

Weather was in the dry-season mode today. Wonderfully warm, sunny and dry all day. Not much more than a breeze, and that allowed the temperature to rise to 82, after an overnight low of 70. It was ideal weather, and I took advantage of it.

I got out into the garden today, and looked things over a bit. The avocado tree I planted when I moved here is doing marvelously, with a huge growth flush that is nearly doubling its size. I just need to keep some fertilizer on it to keep that going. A nice growth flush on my cacao tree, too. There are several dry-season orchids in bloom, including one growing out of the base of the mango tree by the house, and it has small but attractive yellow blossoms on it. The heliconia that I rescued from the street in front of the house last year is now in bloom, and has interesting little yellow flowers poking out of the scales of in an inverted pine-cone-like affair. It is blooming rather prolifically, although the bright yellow blossoms are disappointingly small. Many of the bougainvilleas that I have been planting along the fence line are now established well enough that they are in bloom too, and they are starting to put on quite a show. In a year or two, they will be quite dramatic.

After some more details of the new tax proposal currently working its way through the legislative system have come out in this morning's press, it has become apparent to me that I am going to be hit rather hard, so rather than wait and see if it passes - both of the two major political parties support it, so it's pretty much a slam-dunk in the Assemblea - I have decided to go ahead and push for the sale of the house and get moved out of the country. I visited all the real estate agents in town, and told them of my decision, and have given them the new price. None seemed surprised. One said he is considering doing what I have committed to do, and pack up and leave. Another of them is married into one of the old-money families in the country, and he says he has discussed this with his in-laws, and their consensus is that it has no chance. But that is what they said about the immigration reform bill, too, and it is now law, and the more draconian provisions in that law were taken out only after some frantic last-minute lobbying by the residents' association. It will, if it passes, drive a lot of gringos out, and of course Panama and Nicaragua are licking their chops, hoping the gringos will move there. Costa Rica has a long and honorable tradition of shooting itself in the foot, so as Costa Rica's foot bleeds, I will be setting up shop in Nicaragua. Alongside a whole lot of other gringos.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Family Values Indeed: PRWire, a very reliable source of mainstream and sometimes alternative press-release news is reporting that "adult" movie starlet Mary Carey is scheduled to attend the United to Victory dinner with President George W. Bush in Washington D.C on March 15th - 16th. Carey, who was also a Republican candidate for governor of California, is going to Washington at the invitation of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). She will meet and interact with key Congressional leaders and Administration officials to discuss advancing powerful pro-business, pro-family agendas and meeting "positive" legislative goals. She will join Karl Rove, senior advisor to the President, for lunch on Wednesday the 15th, and President Bush for dinner on Thursday the 16th. Now wait a minute. This is the same Mary Carey who is the star of "R" rated 'Sapphire Girls' (2003), whose production company Mary Carey Productions in 2004 produced the X rated 'Run Mary Run' in which she played the lead role. "Run," described by leading movie database web site Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB.com) as "hardcore sex" is going to meet the President of the United States, George W. Bush. And she's going to be talking "pro-family" politics with Karl Rove, the same Karl Rove who Senator Hillary Clinton complained was "obsessing" about her? Wait, it gets worse. On returning to Washington, Ms. Carey said, "I'm really excited to be going back to Washington D.C. to see the president again. Everyone thinks that politicians are stuffy, but we all had a great time last year." "I'm always excited to learn more about what's going on in our nation's capital, since most people in the porn industry think an Iraqi pullout is a form of safe sex," Carey quipped. "Since I'm seriously considering running for governor of California again, I'm going to need a lot of support from Republican lawmakers nationwide - however I can get it." Ms. Carey, added, "Wait till they see that I have lost 20 pounds since the last time they saw me. Watch out Mr. President!"

A day after returning to the U.S., after another long term as bureau chief in Baghdad, John F. Burns of The New York Times said on Bill Maher's live Friday night HBO program that he now feels, for the first time, that the American effort in Iraq will likely "fail." Asked if a civil war was developing there, Burns said, "It's always been a civil war," adding that it's just a matter of extent. He said the current U.S. leaders there - military and diplomatic - were doing their best but sectarian differences would "probably" doom the enterprise. Burns said that he and others underestimated this problem, feeling for a long time that toppling Saddam Hussein would almost inevitably lead to something much better. He called the Abu Ghraib abuse the worst of many mistakes the U.S. made but said that even without so many mistakes the sectarian conflict would have gotten out of hand. He also pointed to a key period coming up, as the top American generals decide over the next two weeks whether to go ahead with the planned "draw down" of U.S. troops starting this spring which, as it turns out, coincides with deteriorating conditions on the ground. The problem is, he said, U.S. withdrawals could lead to chaos there, with the Iraqi military not ready to take over; but not bringing troops home would prove to be a political disaster for the White House here.

A group of lawmakers on Friday said an industrial bank owned by Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, could threaten the stability of the U.S. financial system and drive community banks out of business. In a highly critical letter to the acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., obtained by Reuters, a group of more than 30 Congress members asked the bank regulator to reject Wal-Mart's application to open a bank in Utah. "Wal-Mart's plan, to have its bank process hundreds of billions in transactions for its own stores, could threaten the stability of the nation's payments system," the lawmakers wrote. "Given Wal-Mart's massive scope and international dealings, it is not possible to rule out a financial crisis within the company that could damage the bank and severely disrupt the flow of payments throughout the financial system." The congressmen said the losses to the FDIC, which insures deposits at banks and thrift institutions, could be staggering if Wal-Mart begins to have financial troubles that bleed into its bank's business. "Consider the consequences if Enron or WorldCom had owned a bank," the group said. The group included Ohio Democrats Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Rep. Tim Ryan, Hawaii Democrat Rep. Neil Abercrombie and California Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez. A complete list of signatures was not immediately available.

Lapses by private port operators, shipping lines or truck drivers could allow terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States, according to a government review of security at American seaports. The $75 million, three-year study by the Homeland Security Department included inspections at a New Jersey cargo terminal involved in the dispute over a Dubai company's now-abandoned bid to take over significant operations at six major U.S. ports. The previously undisclosed results from the study found that cargo containers can be opened secretly during shipment to add or remove items without alerting U.S. authorities, according to government documents marked "sensitive security information" and obtained by The Associated Press. The study found serious lapses by private companies at foreign and American ports, aboard ships, and on trucks and trains "that would enable unmanifested materials or weapons of mass destruction to be introduced into the supply chain."

The US has asked the British government for advice in preparation for closing down the notorious prison camp at Guantanamo Bay by sending hundreds of alleged al Qaeda fighters back to their home countries. Senior Bush administration figures have asked British officials for advice on how to hand alleged terrorists over to regimes with a reputation for torture and extra-judicial killings, such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Pakistan. President Bush is under intense and growing international pressure to close down the notorious camp in Cuba, where more than 500 alleged Islamist terrorists and Taliban fighters are being held without trial. Legal sources in the US have confirmed that senior Bush officials want to send most of these men, including senior aides to Osama bin Laden and at least five British residents, to be imprisoned in their home countries - a process that could start within weeks.

Why is the federal government stocking so much Tamiflu when there are serious questions about its effectiveness? Because Donald Rumsfeld has made a killing out of bird flu. The US Defense Secretary has made more than $5 million in capital gains from selling shares in the biotechnology firm that discovered and developed Tamiflu, the drug being bought in massive amounts by Governments to treat a possible human pandemic of the disease. he drug was developed by a Californian biotech company, Gilead Sciences. It is now made and sold by the giant chemical company Roche, which pays it a royalty on every tablet sold, currently about a fifth of its price. Mr Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead from 1988 to 2001, and was its chairman from 1997. He then left to join the Bush administration, but retained a huge shareholding.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is investigating a possible case of mad cow disease after an animal tested positive for the illness, Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said in a statement today. The department is doing more detailed tests at its lab in Ames, Iowa, and should have results within the next week, Clifford said. The animal didn't enter the human or animal food chains, he said in the statement. The initial test result was "inconclusive" and doesn't mean a new case of the disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, has been found, Clifford said. Screenings are designed to be sensitive enough to detect any sample that may be positive, he said. It's certainly reassuring that these animals never seem to end up in the human food chain, isn't it?

More than 20 months before any real votes are cast, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist of Tennessee won a straw poll on Saturday of party activists choosing their early favorite in the 2008 White House race. Frist, who packed the home-state crowd with supporters wearing blue "Frist is my leader" buttons, won nearly 37 percent of the 1,427 votes cast by delegates to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was second with 14.4 percent, while Sen. George Allen of Virginia finished tied for third with President George W. Bush, whose name was added to the ballot by 10.3 percent of the delegates at the urging of Arizona Sen. John McCain. The poll results, while meaning little in the long run, could give the top two finishers, Frist and Romney, a boost in recognition heading into the 2008 campaign. The win for Frist followed a tough year in which he became the target of a federal probe of his stock sales and was criticized for his Senate leadership. Frist and Romney were among six possible presidential candidates who spoke to the gathering of nearly 2,000 activists from 26 states in what served as an unofficial kickoff to the 2008 race. All registered delegates were eligible to vote in the poll, sponsored by political tip sheet The Hotline.

It's bad enough that AT&T overcharges domestic customers but we have alternatives. The soldiers don't because, according to The Prepaid Press, AT&T has an EXCLUSIVE contract to put payphones in PXes in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, you ask, can't the soldiers get cheap calling cards to call the US? No! Because AT&T is using its position as monopoly supplier of payphones to block the 800 numbers necessary to use nonAT&T calling cards. This blocking is illegal in the US but, AT&T told our friend Gene Retske, editor of The Prepaid Press, the rules are different in Iraq. Right. The soldiers could probably call cheaper if they used Iraqi pay phones. But, assuming there are any working pay-phones on the streets of Iraq, it's still not a good idea for American soldiers to be standing on the corners talking on them. That's why there are phones in PXes. Too bad the soldiers have to pay 21 cents per minute to call home on them. The wholesale rate for calls to the US is less than one cent a minute. Skype charges about two euro cents RETAIL to call the US from anywhere in the world. You can buy prepaid cards almost anywhere in the world to call the US for less than two cents a minute. AT&T charges soldiers in Iraq twenty-one cents. How do they justify that?

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), speaking on ABC's "This Week," declared that he will introduce a censure motion against President George W. Bush over the President's warrantless wiretapping program. "He's going to introduce a censure motion tomorrow," Feingold spokesman Trevor Miller told RAW STORY Sunday. The video is now available here. Asked by George Stephanopoulos why he wasn't proposing impeachment, Feingold said he wanted to do "what's best for the country." Feingold says Congress needs to stand up to the President. He declared that martial law wasn't declared on Sept. 11, 2001. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a censure motion against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney earlier this year. The move received scant attention at the time.

Of all the reasons that President Bush is in trouble these days, not to be overlooked are inadequate REM cycles. Like chief of staff Card, many of the president's top aides have been by his side nonstop for more than five years, not including the first campaign, recount and transition. This is a White House, according to insiders, that is physically and emotionally exhausted, battered by scandal and drained by political setbacks. "By the time you get to year six, there's never a break... and you get tired," said Ed Rollins, who served five years in President Ronald Reagan's White House. "There's always a crisis. It wears you down. This has been a White House that hasn't really had much change at all. There is a fatigue factor that builds up. You sometimes don't see the crisis approaching. You're not as on guard as you once were."

Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont entered Connecticut's U.S. Senate race Monday to challenge U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman for the Democratic nomination. Lamont's challenge is the first Lieberman has faced from within his party during his 18 years in office. Lamont hopes to garner the support of Connecticut Democrats who've expressed dissatisfaction with Lieberman's pro-war stance in Iraq and his perceived closeness with President Bush's administration.

Like a completely refurbished "pre-owned vehicle," Al Gore seems to be positioning himself to Hillary Clinton's left and greener than John Kerry for a run at the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. His slogan might well read "reelect Al Gore," writes former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris in a syndicated column Monday. And Gore may be a man whose time has come in his party. It was he who warned of climate change and predicted its consequences. Hurricane Katrina was just a fulfillment of the prophesies Gore wrote about in his late-1980s book "Earth in the Balance." He has been an energy-conservation nut for years, and his obsessions with alternatives to oil will play better and better as we come to realize how our addiction to oil has led us to dependency on the dealers of this particular drug.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: A highly decorated soldier in the UK has refused to fight in Iraq and has left the Army over the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces. After three months in Baghdad, Ben Griffin told his commander that he was no longer prepared to fight alongside American forces. He said he had witnessed "dozens of illegal acts" by US troops, claiming they viewed all Iraqis as "untermenschen" - the Nazi term for races regarded as sub-human. The decision marks the first time an SAS soldier has refused to go into combat and quit the Army on moral grounds. It immediately brought to an end Mr Griffin's exemplary, eight-year career in which he also served with the Parachute Regiment, taking part in operations in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon will not stop force-feeding Guantanamo detainee hunger strikers despite criticism from some doctors that has mounted even as the number of strikers has fallen, officials said on Friday. A group of 263 doctors from seven countries called on the United States to end the force-feeding and use of restraint chairs for detainees fed through nasal tubes into their stomachs at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their letter, in the British medical journal The Lancet, also questioned how seriously the U.S. medical profession takes allegations of torture by its own members. "The policy of the department is unchanged, and it is to support the preservation of life by appropriate clinical means and to do that in a humane manner," said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman.

The Pakistan foreign office had paid tens of thousands of dollars to lobbyists in the US to get anti-Pakistan references dropped from the 9/11 inquiry commission report, The Friday Times has claimed. The Pakistani weekly said its story is based on disclosures made by foreign service officials to the Public Accounts Committee at a secret meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday. It claimed that some of the commission members were also bribed to prevent them from including damaging information about Pakistan. The magazine said the PAC grilled officials in the presence of foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan and special secretary Sher Afghan on the money paid to lobbyists. "The disclosure sheds doubt on the integrity and honesty of the members of the 9/11 inquiry commission and, above all, the authenticity of the information in their final report," it said.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A Pomona College professor of Latin American history said Friday that he was questioned about his Venezuela connections by two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies working for a federal task force and called the quizzing an intrusion on his academic freedom. The college's president weighed in as well, saying he feared the "chilling effect" such visits could have on academia. Professor Miguel Tinker-Salas said the deputies entered his office without an appointment Tuesday during hours normally set aside for student conferences. He said the deputies were there for about 25 minutes and asked him about the Venezuelan community and his relationship with it. They also told him he was not the subject of an investigation. "They cast the Venezuelan community as a threat," said Tinker-Salas, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Latin America who was born in Venezuela. "They asked me if the Venezuelan government had influenced me one way or another. I think they were fishing to see if I had any information they could use."

Washington Post will state in Monday editions of the paper that top military commanders approved the use of dogs at Guantanamo Bay. Although officials characterized the other detainees who appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs as common criminals and rioters, the orange-clad detainee seen cowering before the dog was different. Detainee No. 155148 was considered a high-value intelligence source suspected of having close ties to al-Qaida. According to interviews, sworn statements from soldiers and military documents obtained by The Washington Post, Ashraf Abdullah Ahsy was at the center of a military intelligence "special project" designed to break him down, and was considered important enough that his interrogation was mentioned in a briefing to high-ranking intelligence officials at the Pentagon.

Haliburton Watch:Halliburton's KBR subsidiary may have over-billed the Navy for labor costs during clean-up work in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, the Pentagon's inspector general reported March 3rd. The report said KBR's subcontractors had been billing for labor at rates "significantly higher" than the prevailing market rate. Hurricane Ivan came ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, on September 16, 2004 as a Category 3 storm. "The rates paid to some KBR subcontractors for labor were significantly higher than the prevailing Bureau of Labor Statistics rates for the area impacted by the hurricane (Pensacola, Florida)," the report said, adding that "additional review" is needed to make a final conclusion. The inspector general is conducting a follow-on audit.

Republicans Believe In Open, Transparent Government: Many federal agencies fall far short of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, repeatedly failing to meet reporting deadlines while citizens wait ever longer for documents, an Associated Press review has found. The analysis of about 250 annual FOIA reports submitted to the Justice Department between 1998 and 2005 found that: Backlogs are increasing at most agencies. Overall, the total number of requests pending at the 15 executive departments at the end of Fiscal Year 2004 was 147,810, a 24 percent increase over the previous year. Nine of the 15 federal departments reported an increase in their backlogs from Fiscal Year 2003 to Fiscal Year 2004. Many backlogs are lengthy. The most recent reports available from the 50 worst laggards show the median wait for a request to be handled ranges from about three months to more than four years, depending on the agency. The slowest federal agency is the National Archives, where officers explained most of their requests, pending for an average of 1,631 days, have to be reviewed by the originating agency for declassification before they can be released. Agencies involved with national security are clamping down on the amount of information they release to the public. The FBI, CIA and Defense departments, all agencies that have considerable investigative branches, again reduced the percentage of requested information released in full in 2005, continuing a trend dating back at least seven years. The Justice Department, however, showed a slight increase in the amount of information it released in full for the first time since the 2001 terror attacks. A full month after the Feb. 1 deadline, about 30 percent of federal agencies and departments required to submit annual FOIA reports to the Justice Department had failed to do so. Those with late reports included the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services which, all together, received about 88 percent of all FOIA requests in the country in 2004.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley quietly revised the guidelines for determining access to classified government information last year, increasing emphasis on allegiance to the United States and allowing the government broader latitude in rejecting candidates without a clearly articulated cause. In a December 2005 revision of the "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information," Hadley made semantic but substantial changes which seem to mirror a broader shift in Bush Administration policy. The document, found online, shows numerous variations from a previous copy of the guidelines published in 1997.

Two new polls gauging Americans' views on government openness found a majority believe the federal government leans more toward secrecy than openness, while eight in 10 are convinced that an open government is necessary for an effective democracy. One poll, by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University, found that 64 percent of respondents thought the federal government is somewhat or very secretive, while more than a third think their local and state governments lean more toward secrecy. Fifty-five percent said state and local governments were somewhat or very open. Forty-six percent said government records should be considered public and their release should only be blocked when it "would do harm"; 42 percent said the government should protect its information and only release it if there is a "sound legal case" for it to be public. A separate poll released Sunday found respondents were supportive of open government and access to public records - though solid majorities also said that government officials should keep records secret if "necessary", or to help in the war on terrorism. The poll by the AccessNorthwest research and outreach project at the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman found that 81 percent said democracy requires government to operate openly. Nearly seven in 10, or 69 percent, told researchers that open public records and meetings keep government honest. Nearly as many, 63 percent, said it was OK for government officials to keep records secret if they deem it necessary, and almost three-quarters, 73 percent, believe the president should "make some public records secret if it might help with the war on terrorism."

Republican Policies Build A Strong America: In February 2005 a group of Pentagon industry advisers warned that the "migration of critical microelectronics manufacturing" from the U.S. to other countries compromised national security. To ensure a steady supply of safe microchips, the Defense Science Board - which advises senior defense officials - recommended establishing "trusted foundries" to make critical hardware. But that is only part of the picture. According to the science board, any effort to improve the safety and supply of microchips would be of "limited utility" without a comparable focus on software--especially on what the Pentagon calls "foreign-influenced software." The Department of Defense once created its own software, but today only the most highly classified code is written in-house, at places such as the secretive National Security Agency. But a good deal of code for some of the military's most sophisticated weapons--fighter aircraft and missile defense systems, for example--is written in other countries.

Republicans Believe In Honestly Representing The Facts: Like anyone else, the White House has every right to engage in aggressive advocacy when defending itself as part of the NSA scandal or any other issue, and it is not the role of the media to take sides in political debates. But when the White House simply lies, it is the responsibility - the core purpose - of journalists to point that out. Here, according to an article from Reuters, is what Scott McClellan, White House media whore, said today in response to Sen. Feingold's censure resolution: "I think it does raise the question, how do you fight and win the war on terrorism?" McClellan said. "And if Democrats want to argue that we shouldn't be listening to al Qaeda communications, it's their right and we welcome the debate. We are a nation at war." This is not advocacy. This is just lying. No Democrats are advocating that we not listen to Al Qaeda communications, and Scott McClellan knows that. And no journalist ought to pass along this falsehood without pointing out that it is factually false. (video here.) Of course, the Republicans took up the lie and many repeated it endlessly, including Rush Limbaugh and Sen. Bill Frist.

Republicans Believe In A Fair And Honest Day In Court: An angry federal judge unexpectedly recessed the death penalty phase of the trial of confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to consider whether government violations of her rules against coaching witnesses should remove the death penalty as an option. On Monday, the FBI agent who arrested confessed Moussaoui - perhaps the key witness in Moussaoui's death-penalty trial - was to be the featured witness. Special Agent Harry Samit's testimony is equally important to prosecutors and the defense. Samit, who has already testified for the prosecution, faces cross-examination by the defense.

Maybe If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, It Will Go Away: Researchers have uncovered compelling evidence that indicates Earth's most vulnerable regions - the North and South Poles - are poised on the brink of a climatic disaster. The scientists, at an atmospheric monitoring station in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, have found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere near the North Pole are now rising at an unprecedented pace. In 1990 this key cause of global warming was rising at a rate of 1 part per million (ppm) per year. Recently, that rate reached 2 ppm per year. Now, scientists at the Mount Zeppelin monitoring station have discovered it is rising at between 2.5 and 3 ppm. 'The fact that our data now show acceleration in the rise of carbon dioxide level is really a source for concern,' said Professor Johan Strom, of Stockholm University's department of applied environmental science, which runs the Mount Zeppelin station. 'The increase is also seen at other stations, but our Zeppelin data show the strongest increase.' Scientists and campaigners are desperate for politicians to reach agreements that will prevent the 500 ppm 'tipping point' being breached in the next half-century. These new data suggest they may have a far shorter period of time in which to act.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Senior Iraqi officials Sunday confirmed for the first time that death squads composed of government employees had operated illegally from inside two government ministries. "The deaths squads that we have captured are in the defense and interior ministries," Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr said during a joint news conference with the Minister of Defense. "There are people who have infiltrated the army and the interior." Interior Minister Jabr said that investigations into death squads were still ongoing in the Defense Ministry. He said the Interior Ministry had arrested 22 people, and subsequently released 18 as innocent after interrogation, detaining four for further questioning. "Now we have sent them (the four) to the court because it hasn't been proven that all four were involved," Jabr said. "Although I did not have clear signs (of their guilt) I sent them to the justice ministry so that the law could be carried out."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: BlogAsheville, Scrutiny Hooligans, and Brainshrub have excellent coverage of an unhinged hate rally that was held in Asheville, NC over the weekend. A group of fundies took out an ad in the Asheville Citizen-Times to promote a rally "in SUPPORT of CHRISTIAN and CONSERVATIVE BUSINESSES and their RIGHT TO OPERATE according to FAMILY VALUES SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE (between one man and one woman) WHOLESOME WORK ENVIRONMENT (without oppression from the Sodomites & The Liberal Media)." [emphasis in original]

Scandals R Us: A company hired to examine Ohio state's unorthodox $50 million investment in rare coins doesn't have to make its files public because state law exempts work done by private businesses for the state. Auditor Betty Montgomery hired Chicago-based Crowe Chizek & Co. to audit the investment managed by coin dealer Tom Noe for the state insurance fund for injured workers. Noe is charged with dozens of state counts accusing him of stealing money from the funds, and the Feb. 22 audit found that $13.5 million in state money was misspent. Montgomery denied a request for the work papers attached to the audit by The Columbus Dispatch, saying state law prohibits their release. The newspaper had questions about possible discrepancies in the numbers reported in the audit, but Montgomery's office hasn't been able to answer those questions, in part because Crowe Chizek did the work. The firm has been told not to discuss the findings because it is part of the criminal investigation of Noe and others involved in investments at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, said company spokeswoman Suzanne Robinson.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:01:44 PM

Sat, Mar 11 2006

A Beautiful Bird That Deserves To Die

The weather is getting warmer. Slowly. Day by day, the temperatures are creeping up, and even though we are having our share of rainy weather, the sunny days are getting warmer and the night times are not so chilly. Yesterday was bright and sunny, and the temperature rose to 83, the warmest in quite some time. Overnight, the low dropped to 70, even as it has remained cloudy this morning. So the dry season weather is approaching, if it is not clearly here yet. I have never seen a rainy season as persistent as this one has been.

Well, this morning, I woke up early. In fact, for the last several mornings, I have been awoken early. Not that I had anything to say about it. There is a white-throated magpie jay (Calocitta formosa), a member of the crow family, that has been making a serious nuisance of itself early in the morning.

It is a spectacular bird. Sky blue, with a white face and chest, and a black line that marks the boundary between the blue and the white, and it has a head crest similar to a quail. Quite a sight, and fairly common, too. At least this time of the year.

The problem is that one of these birds has developed a bad habit. Seems that very early in the morning, it likes to land on a window grate and peck at its reflection in the window glass. Bang! Bang! Bang! At five thirty in the morning, that gets just a bit old, and really fast. The blighter has been doing this for about four days running now, always between 5 AM and 8 AM. I don't care how beautiful the bird is, at that hour of the morning, I just want sleep. So I am going to do with my bedroom and living room windows what I have already done with the dining room window - put some mesh over the grates, so the blighter can't peck at the window. I had a problem similar to this with a musical blackbird last year, and the mesh solved the problem nicely. I have some left over, too. So that is going to be today's project for sure.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: What a spectacle! The Republicans were filibustering the Bible bill! On a Tuesday afternoon in early February, Republican legislators in Alabama took to the crimson-carpeted floor of the state house to oppose legislation that would authorize an elective course on the Bible in the public high schools. The recommended curriculum for the course had been vouched for by Christian Right all-stars like Chuck Colson and Ted Haggard, but so far as Republicans were concerned, there was only one pertinent piece of information about the bill: It was sponsored by two Democrats. And now Republicans were prepared to do everything in their procedural power to stop it, even if that meant lining up to explain why they could not - could not! - stand for this attempt to bring a class about the Bible into the public schools. So what had the Republican knickers in a twist? Actually, it was about a fight over which party gets to claim the religious mantle. Nationally, and in states like Alabama, the GOP cannot afford to allow Democrats a victory on anything that might be perceived as benefiting people of faith. Republican political dominance depends on being able to manipulate religious supporters with fear, painting the Democratic Party as hostile to religion and in the thrall of secular humanists. That image would take quite a blow if the party of Nancy Pelosi was responsible for bringing back Bible classes - even constitutional ones - to public schools. Meet Randy Brinson, the advance guard of evangelicals leaving the GOP. Through partnerships with more than 30 Christian music acts and summer concerts like Creation East and Spirit Coast West (the Christian equivalents of Lilith Fair or Lollapalooza), Brinson's Redeem the Vote registered more voters than all of the efforts of the Christian Right heavyweights - Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, American Family Association, and the Family Research Council - combined. The immediate post-election conventional wisdom was that Democrats lost because they couldn't appeal to so-called "moral values" voters. Democrats immediately embarked on a crash course in religious outreach and sought out people who could teach them about evangelicals. Brinson, who had caught the attention of the Democratic youth-vote industry, seemed like an obvious choice. This is what gives Karl Rove and the other GOP headcounters heartburn. A third-party candidacy by Roy Moore would be troublesome, but conservative evangelicals are ultimately loyal to the Republican Party. And while it might irritate business supporters, the administration could probably toss moderate evangelicals a few crumbs on the environment or global poverty. But once that door is opened, it can't be shut again.

Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday that Israel definitely has a military option to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, and that this fact must be taken into consideration. Ya'alon, speaking at a semiar on the Iranian nuclear program at the Hudson Institute in Washington on Tuesday, said that a strike on Iran could delay its nuclear program by several years. The intervening years until Tehran got its program back on track could see a regime change in Iran, Ya'alon said. He said that such a strike would be difficult to carry out from a military perspective as Iran's nuclear facilities are spread out, but he believed that was nonetheless feasible. Ya'alon said that striking Iran would require more than one attack, as a single assault would not be sufficient, but that Israel could launch an attack on Iran in several different ways, not just from the air. But Ya'alon also warned that Iran would clearly hit back hard in the event of such an attack, and cited Tehran's long-range Shihab missiles, Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah has in its possession, and Qassam rockets that Palestinian militants habitually fire into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. He added that a rise in oil prices could be further fallout from such an assault.

When Smirkey and senior adviser Karl Rove mapped out plans for a political comeback in 2006, this was nowhere on the script. Suddenly, the collapse of a port-management deal neither even knew about a month ago has devastated the White House and raised questions about its ability to lead even fellow Republicans. The bipartisan uprising in Congress in the face of a veto threat represented a singular defeat for Smirkey, who when it came to national security grew accustomed during his first five years in office to leading as he chose and having loyal lawmakers fall in line. Now, with his poll numbers in a political ditch, the port debacle has contributed to a perception of weakness that has liberated Republicans who once would never have dared cross Smirkey. "He has no political capital," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "Slowly but surely it's been unraveling. There's been a direct correlation between the trajectory of his approval numbers and the - I don't want to call it disloyalty - the independence on the part of the Republicans in Congress." The missteps seem all the more striking for a White House once known for its discipline and political acuity. With Bush's approval rating ranging from 34 percent in a CBS News poll to 41 percent in the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey, some Republican candidates facing the voters in just eight months worry privately that, unlike in 2002 and 2004, he will be more albatross than advantage for GOP candidates in the fall campaign. Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq - the bloody hot spot upon which Smirkey has staked his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of the American people say the U.S. is on the wrong track, a 6-point jump since February. "Obviously, it's the winter of our discontent," said Rep. Tom Cole (news, bio, voting record), R-Okla.

Down in public opinion polls, Smirkey said on Friday he realizes he has made some unpopular decisions but that it "comes with the territory" and he will stand by his beliefs. "I know some would like me to change, but you can't be a good decision-maker if you're trying to please people. You've got to stand on what you believe, that's what you've got to do, if you're going to make decisions that are solid and sound," he said. During a question-and-answer session with a national newspaper group, Bush became his most animated when talking about the way he handles his job.

The White House asked Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to give up its management stake in U.S. ports, to save President Bush from the politically difficult position of vetoing a key piece of legislation, ABC News has learned. When the company announced Thursday that it would sell its management stake in six U.S. ports, it was a stunning defeat for Bush, who had put his political capital on the line to back the deal, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said. "Certainly, it's the most significant break with the Republican leadership in the Congress this term," he said.

The House approved a bill Wednesday night that would wipe out state laws on safety labeling of food, overriding tough rules passed by California voters two decades ago that require food producers to warn consumers about cancer-causing ingredients. The vote was a victory for the food industry, which has lobbied for years for national standards for food labeling and contributed millions of dollars to lawmakers' campaigns. But consumer groups and state regulators warned that the bill would undo more than 200 state laws, including California's landmark Proposition 65, that protect public health. "The purpose of this legislation is to keep the public from knowing about the harm they may be exposed to in food," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, a chief critic of the measure. A major target of the legislation is Prop. 65, which was approved by two-thirds of California voters in 1986 and requires labeling of substances that may cause cancer or birth defects. The law has inspired other states to follow suit with their own rules on food labeling that are more stringent than federal standards.

Senate legislation aimed at reducing health insurance expenses for small businesses carries with it what government watchdogs say is a poison pill for patients’ rights provisions passed by various states in recent years. Sponsored by Senator Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming), the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, permits small businesses and trade associations to pool resources with which to purchase employee health coverage. The bill would create a uniform national standard for group insurance purchasing. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would oversee the standards and coordinate state cooperation. In a statement last Friday, Enzi said the measure is necessary to "streamline the current hodgepodge of varying state regulation." Citing a commissioned market study released earlier this week, the Senator said the bill will lower costs to small businesses and decrease the number of uninsured workers. But consumer rights groups and some patient advocates say that the legislation may actually have a negative effect on people’s ability to access quality health care. In a statement released Wednesday, the progressive Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) called the Enzi bill "lowest-common-denominator legislation" that would undermine state regulations requiring insurance providers to give patients access to a variety of services that have been denied in the past due to cost concerns.

Supreme Court justices keep many opinions private, but Sandra Day O'Connor, now retired from the bench, no longer faces that obligation. Yesterday, the retired justice criticized Republicans who criticized the courts. She said they challenge the independence of judges and the freedoms of all Americans. In an unusually forceful and forthright speech at Georgetown University, O'Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O'Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it "really, really angry." But, she continued, if we don't make them mad some of the time we probably aren't doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation's founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O'Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don't protect judicial independence, people do.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched an unusual assault against the Democratic candidate seeking to succeed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) in the Senate. Frist has signaled he will retire after this session and is expected to run for president. The Republicans' website, FancyFord.com, paints Ford as a playboy. "Congressman Harold Ford Jr. likes to live the good life... perhaps a little too much. Lavish hotel stays. Fine dining. Couture suits. Parties with Playboy Playmates... all on his campaign contributor's dime."The site largely speaks for itself. Ford's office, reached by RAW STORY, said they had not issued a statement in response to the site. His press secretary, Rebecca Cutler, was out of the office Friday. Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, blasted the ad. "It’s hardly surprising that a week after Congressman Ford challenged the White House on its plan to turn our ports over to a country linked to Al Qaeda that the Republicans are resorting to character assassination," Singer said. "They’re doing the same thing to Republican Peter King who challenged the White House on the ports deal and suddenly found himself kicked off the plane that was going to take him on a Congressional delegation trip to Iraq."

Interior Secretary Gale Norton will resign today, the Associated Press has confirmed. Norton was fingered in deals with Native American tribes that fallen Republican uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff represented. Abramoff's tribal clients donated $50,000 to a conservative environmental group founded by Norton, hoping to win face time with the Secretary. They eventually did. Former DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy helped Abramoff arrange a meeting with Norton, and within months, the lobbyist's clients were making huge contributions to the environmental group Norton started, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has eliminated what U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont called a "cockamamie" plan to consider building a fence or wall along the U.S.-Canadian border. Leahy said Thursday the proposal to study such a barrier along the world's longest unguarded border was stripped from pending U.S. Homeland Security legislation by U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at the request of Leahy and others. Leahy said he is still working to stop another regulation that Vermont business people say will practically shut down commerce with Canada. At the end of next year, Homeland Security will require Americans and legal immigrants traveling by land to Canada to have a special ID card or a passport to get back into the U.S. The fence feasibility study was part of an immigration bill passed last year by the U.S. House and had been included in a similar version before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Leahy is the ranking Democrat...

More than half of Americans believe there are more violent extremists within Islam than in any other religion and that the faith encourages violence against non-Muslims, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll yesterday. Negative feelings towards Islam are much more pronounced now than in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 2001 terror attacks, the survey found. A majority, 58%, of those interviewed now believe that Islam has more violent followers than any other religion. The poll of 1,000 was conducted by phone last week and has a three-point error margin. Since January 2002 the proportion of those who believe mainstream Islam promotes violence against non-believers has risen from 14% to 32%.

More than 260 doctors from around the world have called on the US to stop force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay. They say international agreements prevent doctors from force-feeding if individuals have made an informed choice about their protest. The restraint chairs used to hold inmates while feeding tubes are inserted, which are reportedly used at the US military base in Cuba, are also banned, they say. A total of 263 doctors from Britain, Ireland, the US, Germany, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands signed a joint letter published in this week's edition of The Lancet medical journal. The signatories, including best-selling British author Oliver Sacks, say the doctors who are carrying out the actions at the camp should be disciplined by their professional bodies.

With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies? Take a look at this. The Pentagon has apologized for placing anti-war demonstrators in a terrorist database, but they haven't apologized for spying on anti-war demonstrators in the first place. The Department of Defense admitted in a letter obtained by NBC News on Thursday that it had wrongly added peaceful demonstrators to a database of possible domestic terrorist threats. The letter followed an NBC report focusing on the Defense Department’s Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, report. Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Roger W. Rogalski’s letter came in reply to a memo from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who had demanded answers about the process of identifying domestic protesters as suspicious and removing their names when they are wrongly listed. "The recent review of the TALON Reporting System ... identified a small number of reports that did not meet the TALON reporting criteria. Those reports dealt with domestic anti-military protests or demonstrations potentially impacting DoD facilities or personnel," Rogalski wrote on Wednesday.

The "Good Luck, You're Gonna Need It" Department: The U.S. military will rely primarily on Iraq's security forces to put down a civil war in that country if one breaks out, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told lawmakers yesterday. "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the . . . Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee when pressed to explain how the United States intended to respond should Iraq descend wholesale into internecine strife. If civil war becomes reality, "it's very clear that the Iraqi forces will handle it, but they'll handle it with our help," Abizaid said later when asked to elaborate on Rumsfeld's remark.

Diebold Watch: A House united. That seems to be the effect that Diebold has had on the state of Maryland where they had initially deployed their paperless touch-screen voting machines in 2002 as one of two "showcase" states along with Georgia. That "showcase" has turned into yet another public relations fiasco for Diebold of late. The Republican Governor there recently slammed Diebold's paperless system, called for paper ballots and announced he had lost confidence in the State Board of Election and its Diebold-supporting Director, Linda Lamone, to carry out a fair election. Then information surfaced that Lamone had allowed MD to use uncertified Diebold software in the 2002 and 2004 elections. Then revelations were made public of massive machine failures in 2004. And now this from MD's Democratic House... The state of Maryland stands poised to put its entire $90 million investment in Diebold Election Systems Inc. touch-screen e-voting systems on ice because they can't produce paper receipts. The state House of Delegates this week voted 137-0 to approve a bill prohibiting election officials from using AccuVote-TSx touch-screen systems in 2006 primary and general elections.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: There was good news for rich people yesterday, when an annual listing of the world's billionaires showed there were more of them than ever. The 793 billionaires making the 2006 list published by Forbes magazine is an increase of 102 on last year. And the rich keep getting richer, with their total net worth up 18%. The combined value of their billions is put at $2.6 trillion, a fraction less than the US federal government's entire budget proposal for next year. It was a good year for American billionaires. If you live in the US you are more likely to have a billionaire as a neighbour than anywhere else in the world. Of the almost 800 names on the list, 371 are from the US, an increase of 30 on last year.

Republicans Believe In Freedom Of Speech: Maj. Gen. M. Scott Mayes, the head of the North American air defense command, ordered the internal review that flagged a public hearing's transcript as "problematic" and led to its deletion from a government Web site. The public hearing was held Jan. 18 at the Airport Marriott in Dulles, Va., and was discussed in local news reports. Its purpose was to ask for public opinions about recent airspace security restrictions near the nation's capital, which have cost local businesses some $45 million a year in lost revenue and have even prompted some general aviation pilots to move elsewhere. One of the pilots who testified was Lt. Cmdr. Tom Bush, a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet pilot who also flies a small civilian plane and said he was speaking as a private individual. "Freedom and security are polar opposites, and I am not willing to give up my freedom for the sake of terrorists," Bush said during the hearing, according to a report at AviationNow.com. The report also said Bush suggested the airspace restrictions were irrational because a terrorist could pretend to fly through the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) to nearby Dulles airport, make a right-hand turn at the last minute, and be over downtown Washington, D.C., in four minutes. The ADIZ is a ring stretching almost 40 miles around Washington, D.C.

News From Smirkey's Wars: U.S. officials have revamped and expanded training programs for Iraqi police units amid mounting concern that their focus on fighting insurgents, and not protecting citizens, has created an unaccountable force plagued by corruption and rights abuses. The police units are under the Iraqi Interior Ministry, led by Bayan Jabr, a Shiite Muslim with ties to a sectarian militia. The predominantly Shiite force has become highly politicized and is accused of torture and death squad operations against Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. Those concerns were reinforced Wednesday by the State Department, which highlighted Iraq's "climate of extreme violence in which people were killed for political and other reasons" in its annual global human rights report."Reports increased of killings by the government or its agents that may have been politically motivated," the report says. "Members of sectarian militias dominated police units to varying degrees and in different parts of the country."

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Resisting calls by moderates from both sides, as well as public statements by Smirkey, South Dakota lawmakers have rejected the idea of allowing exemptions for cases of rape or incest to the state's abortion ban. One backer of the bill, State Senator Bill Napoli, argued on PBS's Newshour that if a victim had followed strict religious guidelines, her life would be endangered by the pregnancy. Under this scenario, she would be eligible for an abortion.

The Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities said Friday it would stop providing adoption services because state law allows gays and lesbians to adopt children. The social services arm of the Roman Catholic archdiocese has provided adoption services for the state for about two decades, and said it would discontinue once it completes its contract with the state. It said that the state law allowing gays to adopt runs counter to church teachings on homosexuality. "The world was very different when Charities began this ministry at the threshold of the 20th century," the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, and trustees chairman Jeffrey Kaneb said in a joint statement. "The world changed often and we adapted the ministry to meet changing times and needs. At all times we sought to place the welfare of children at the heart of our work. "But now, we have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve," they said.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Hey, Jimmy, whatever happened to "thou shalt not bear false witness"? In a message posted on his Focus on the Family website, Dr. James Dobson's group has denied lobbying outgoing Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton on behalf of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "There is no connection," Dobson's site says flatly. However, in already public e-mails and letters sent in early 2002 between former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and Abramoff, Reed insists that he has secured Dobson's support for Abramoff's gaming interest clients in Louisiana, in opposition of allowing competing tribes to expand the state's access to legal gambling. Just three days after Reed's guarantee, Dobson did indeed write a letter to Norton, urging her to intervene in blocking rival casinos. (Read the letter here.) Schlafly also penned a letter. The Dobson-helmed Focus on the Family website explains, "Those e-mails are examples of Mr. Abramoff bragging about events that did not happen." However, even a cursory examination of the documents reveals that it was not Mr. Abramoff, but in fact Dobson ally Ralph Reed, who claimed to have secured Dobson's involvement.

Former Bush domestic policy czar Claude Allen has been arrested in Maryland on charges of swindling at least $5000 out of Targets and Hecht's stores in a refund scam, the Washington Post reports this morning. When Allen was named by Smirkey as his White House domestic counselor a year ago, blogger Doug Ireland wrote a profile of Allen for the L.A. Weekly detailing how Allen was "a notorious homophobe, a ferocious enemy of abortion and an opponent of safe-sex education who for years has been one of the AIDS community’s principal enemies," and explaining why his appointment was was "a huge victory for the social reactionaries of the Christian right." This news may shed light on the mystery of Allen's resignation. According to the Montgomery County Police Department, Allen was arrested yesterday and charged in a felony theft and a felony theft scheme. According to a department press release, Allen conducted approximately 25 fraudulent "refunds" in Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland. On Jan. 2, a Target employee apprehended Allen after observing him receive a refund for merchandise he had not purchased. Target then contacted the Montgomery County Police. According to a source familiar with the case, Target and the police had been observing Allen since October 2005.

A Loveland, Colorado state lawmaker has been blasted by his colleagues for e-mailing an essay written by someone else that accused "welfare-pampered blacks" of waiting for the government to save them from Hurricane Katrina. Rep. Jim Welker, a Republican, said Thursday morning that he forwarded the article because of its message about society victimizing people by making them dependent on government programs. He said he didn't agree with everything in the essay. One passage says, "President Bush is not to blame for the rampant immorality of blacks." House lawmakers - black and white, Republican and Democrat - expressed outrage that Welker would forward such an essay. Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, who worked with Katrina evacuees when they came to Colorado, said she was "appalled and sickened." "These (were) poor people. Many of them were senior citizens and had no way to escape the hurricane," said Stafford, who is white. Rep. Terrence Carroll, D-Denver, called it "one one of the most irresponsible e-mails someone in this chamber has sent out." "It shows (Welker's) complete and utter disregard, at worst, and the misunderstanding, at best, of the lives of people of color," said Carroll, who is black.

Scandals Du Jour: The chief of an Indian tribe represented by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff was admitted to a meeting with President Bush in 2001 days after the tribe paid a prominent conservative lobbying group $25,000 at Mr. Abramoff's direction, according to documents and interviews. The payment was made to Americans for Tax Reform, a group run by Grover G. Norquist, one of the Republican Party's most influential policy strategists. Mr. Norquist was a friend and longtime associate of Mr. Abramoff. The meeting with Mr. Bush took place on May 9, 2001, at a reception organized by Mr. Norquist to marshal support for the president's 2001 tax cuts, which were pending before Congress. About two dozen state legislators attended the session in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds. The meeting was called to thank legislators for support of the tax-cut plan, an issue on which the tribal leader had no direct involvement. Mr. Norquist attended the meeting, along with Mr. Abramoff and the tribal leader, Raul Garza of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. It is not clear what role, if any, Mr. Norquist played in getting Chief Garza into the meeting, and there is no suggestion that the White House was aware of the $25,000 payment. When the money was rolling in, Jack Abramoff certainly knew how to spend it.

During his heyday as one of Washington's top lobbyists, Abramoff raked in millions of dollars and feted lawmakers and luminaries at his Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant. But one of his most conspicuous indulgences was his fully loaded 2002 BMW. Abramoff spent $19,995 for a "custom-built, 15.2-inch-wide screen and manual flip-down video monitor," an invoice says. "Monitor includes built-in cordless headphone transmitters," it says, adding, "Monitor is capable of displaying DVD, Game and Computer graphics/video signals." For $7,390, he added a hands-free cell phone system, with a special antenna amplifier to boost the signal, and a docking station for his laptop built into the back of the right front seat. Abramoff also paid $6,495 for seat-back tables.

A federal judge ordered the CIA on Friday to turn over highly classified intelligence briefings to Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide to use in the aide's defense against perjury charges. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton rejected CIA warnings that the nation's security would be imperiled if the presidential-level documents were disclosed to lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff. The judge said the CIA can either delete highly classified information from the briefing material and provide copies of what Libby received six days a week, often with Cheney. Or, Walton said, the CIA can produce "topic overviews" of the matters covered in the briefings. The judge also ordered the CIA to give Libby an index of the topics covered in follow-up questions that the former White House aide asked intelligence officers who conducted the briefings.

In the first action of its kind, a federal jury found Thursday that a private security company bilked the U.S.-led government in Iraq out of millions of dollars. Custer Battles, which has had offices in Virginia and Rhode Island, was found to have used shell companies, fake invoices and even stolen forklifts in an elaborate scheme to defraud the Coalition Provisional Authority that oversaw Iraq after the invasion. Though a handful of other contractors involved in the reconstruction face criminal charges, the ruling marks the first time that a federal jury has ordered a contractor in Iraq to pay back purloined funds to the government. After a three-week trial, the jury found Custer Battles responsible for 37 separate fraudulent acts, meaning that the firm could face payments and penalties totaling more than $10 million. "There is an orgy of greed among contractors in Iraq, and the Bush administration is for all practical purposes participating in it," said Alan Grayson, lawyer for the whistle-blowers who filed the case. "They have done nothing to get the taxpayers' money back. They've done nothing to punish the wrongdoers."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:13:34 AM

Thu, Mar 09 2006

Enjoying My Toys

The weather today was just plain downright rainy season. Chilly, gloomy, with bursts of wind and rain, the temperature never made it past 78 today, and dropped to 68 overnight. Yesterday, it was a bit better, with sun for much of the day, but hardly with the spring-like temperatures for which Arenal is supposed to be famous. The sun barely managed to raise the temperature to 80 yesterday.

Well, my health and the weather kept me pretty much inside, and so I have continued getting moved onto my main computer that had been in storage all this time. I finally got the email moved, after encountering some serious problems, not the least of which was caused by the fact that I had to back up mail from an old version of the mail client to a newer version. Had I realized what problems that was going to cause, I would have gone to the trouble of updating the laptop's mail client just for the sole purpose of moving over to the new computer. Well, its done, and even though there are a few odd glitches here and there, it basically works, and I can at least get my mail and blog research done without significant problems. This computer is much faster than the laptop, and the modem works much better as well, connecting at higher speed and doing throughput much faster, so the work gets done significantly quicker. It was worth all the hassle. I still have a few files to move over, and once that is done, I can format the hard drive and be ready to sell the computer. Not that I'll much miss it.

I've been enjoying having my stereo, too. I had forgotten how much I had missed my music. I have a lot of it, too, having collected compact discs since they were introduced in the early '80's. So I have a lot of music to listen to. There is not much worth listening to on my FM tuner, even with an outside antenna - there's only one station that comes in consistently well enough to be worth listening to, and that is the University of Costa Rica station. It's predominately classical, and that's great, but it is not in stereo, and there is some multipath distortion on the signal from time to time, so I don't listen all that much. And the transmitter is off the air frequently, too. But it is nice to have anyway. If I were going to stay in this house, I think I would get an XM or Sirius receiver and build a small dish so I could listen to radio from the States, as well as the BBC World Service, which is pretty much inaudible on shortwave in Costa Rica anymore. Don't need Howard Stern or that sort of thing, but Air America and National Public Radio would be nice, as would some of the other services they offer. Something to think about anyway.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: While Smirkey is beating the drums for war with Iran over nuclear weapons, North Korea is upping the ante: North Korea has test-fired two short-range missiles from a coastal site on the Sea of Japan, a move that is likely to exacerbate tensions over its nuclear ambitions, although analysts said it was probably routine. The White House responded by saying the tests, which took place on Wednesday, proved Pyongyang's nuclear programs posed a threat to the region. “We have consistently pointed out that North Korea's missile program is a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement to reporters. The missiles were fired from a launch site at Sabujin in North Hamkyong Province on North Korea's north-east coast. They probably dropped into sea about 100km away, said a South Korean government official. The direction of the launch could not be confirmed.

U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraq's authorities may be violating international law by arbitrarily detaining thousands of people, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report published Tuesday. The report, which studied the situation in Iraq over the last three months, said Iraq's prison system remains a major concern and lamented that an investigation into allegations of torture in Iraqi Interior Ministry jails had not yet been made public as promised. Annan's criticism of Multinational Forces and the Iraqi authorities in responding to violence was among the strongest he has made, although many of his claims were not new. He said the detainment of thousands of Iraqis "constitutes de facto arbitrary detention." "The extent of such practices is not consistent with provisions of international law governing internment on imperative reasons of security," the report said.

After a long battle with Congress that went down to the wire, President Bush signed a renewal of the USA Patriot Act on Thursday, a day before 16 major provisions of the old law expire. Bush said the Patriot Act is vital to win the war on terror and protect Americans. He recalled the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and said the country is still at war. Bush's signature came less than 48 hours after the House passed the legislation, ending several months of debate on Capitol Hill over how to balance Americans' right to privacy with a need to foil potential terrorist threats. Political battles over the legislation forced Congress to twice extend the expiration date of the Patriot Act.

Just $25 million of $2 billion in funding designated for states afflicted by Hurricane Katrina has been spent, a new report from the Center for Public Integrity will report late Wednesday afternoon. The shocking revelation that evacuees have been turned out while more than a billion dollars remains in relief aid comes as President Bush visits New Orleans today for the 10th time since Hurricane Katrina struck. Billions of dollars designated for hurricane relief have gone unused by state governments. Jenni Bergal, the reports' author will write, "Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Congress scrambled to pass an emergency bill that gave states access to $2 billion to help low-income hurricane victims scattered across the country" But more than five months after the bill was signed into law, only 12 states - including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - have taken Congress up on its offer.

In an uncharacteristically blunt piece, Roll Call today ripped into a network of former and current aides to Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), who have aided technology interests in advancing their interests while earning $20 million in lobbying fees. For nearly a decade, a group of former top aides to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) have successfully used personal and professional connections to Burns, Montana State University’s Burns Technology Center and other institutions associated with him to secure more than $20 million in lobbying fees for themselves, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research contracts, tax breaks and subsidies for their clients. Although it often can take decades for major policy or spending bills to move through the Senate, the $20 million-plus investment these companies have made in Burns’ former aides appears to have paid off. For instance, the satellite giant Intelsat has paid Scott and Brooke more than $1 million as part of its successful campaign to first become a private company in 2000 and then to stave off potentially crippling financial requirements that Congress had built into the original privatization bill that was championed in the Senate by Burns.

Resistance to foreign ownership of U.S. port operations spilled over into the aviation arena when a congressional committee told the Bush administration to postpone a plan to allow more foreign control of domestic airlines. The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution directing the Transportation Department to hold off for 120 days on its proposal to give foreign investors in U.S. airlines more latitude to influence management decisions. "The committee believes that the U.S. aviation industry is part of our critical infrastructure as are the ports," said the resolution, which passed by voice vote and doesn't have the force of law.

Richard Nixon lives: In Florida, Lee County's Democratic headquarters had its second break-in in almost as many years this week. Thieves ignored computer equipment and other valuables, and took the party's financial records and voter data, said Lyndia Bradley, Lee County's Democratic chairwoman. "This was a very targeted, purposeful break-in," she said Wednesday. "They were obviously interested in certain things, not things you sell on the street for money." Computers were vandalized, but there was no sign of forced entry. Bradley said the office is not staffed daily this time of year, and she and others were last in the office March 1. The theft was discovered Monday. The party's headquarters had a similar break-in shortly before the 2004 elections when the office was in a different location near the intersection of Fowler Street and Colonial Boulevard. Thieves vandalized the office and stole records and computers in that incident. And just before the November 2004 presidential election, vans used to carry voters to register to vote, and cast early ballots had their tires slashed outside Kerry-Edwards headquarters in Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers.

Immigration Reform, Republican-Style: Immigration advocates are scurrying to defeat a broadly focused bill that would not only further criminalize undocumented immigrants but also bar the efforts of people fighting on their behalf."The law is all the worst things that could happen," said Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of the Long Island, New York-based Workplace Project. "It would make a good amount of our work illegal."Marin-Molina's organization offers assistance to immigrant workers. The bill, sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and officially titled The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (HR 4437), would change having invalid immigration status from a civil violation into a criminal act. It would also expand the definition of "alien smuggling" to include anyone who knowingly helps an undocumented immigrant stay in the country. The bill passed the House of Representatives in mid-December by a 239--182 vote and is under consideration in the Senate. "If you are a church who gives out turkeys [to immigrants], you could be implicated," Marin-Molina predicted. In Washington, over 20,000 rallied outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to protest the proposed new anti-immigration law.

If You Don't Like The Message, Shoot The Messenger: Among the many programs the White House proposes to cut in 2007 is a survey that academics, policy analysts and lawmakers use to shape legislation or push for social program reforms. Under the Bush budget, the 20-year-old Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) would be shuttered by September and replaced with a data-collection system that has yet to be developed. According to the Census Bureau, SIPP is designed to measure US residents' economic well-being. The program tracks people's use of federal aid like income assistance, Medicaid and housing aid. It also gathers and analyzes tax, labor-force and income data. To do so, the program sets up panels of people that are tracked through self-report surveys for anywhere between two and four years. SIPP currently sets up "waves" of panels for continuous measurement and participants can be as young as fifteen.

Liberal-Biased Press Watch: A new report advanced to RAW STORY Thursday suggests that Chris Matthews, the star of the MSNBC's daily talk show Hardball, has accepted hefty speaking fees from an array of conservative trade associations. Matthews has given speeches to at least ten major conservative trade associations since 2001. The report's author, Dave Johnson, who blogs at Seeing The Forest and is also a fellow at the progressive Commonweal Institute, could find no records indicating that Matthews has spoken before any Democratic-leaning organizations. The report is not a product of the Commonweal Institute. "Why is Matthews speaking at so many events with Republican-associated trade organizations?" Johnson asks. "What is NBC policy on speaking engagements and why does NBC keep it hidden? Are these trade associations paying Matthews to purchase influence?"

Diebold Watch: Ion Sancho is fighting back. Sancho, the Election Supervisor of Leon County, Florida who exposed a number of security flaws in Electronic Voting Machines made by the Diebold corporation of North Canton, Ohio, today launched legal "breach of contract" proceedings against the company. The action has been filed on behalf of the Leon County Supervisor of Elections office. In a conversation moments ago with Sancho, he confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that "we filed a breach action this morning, pursuant to a contract which notifies Diebold we are pursuing all available options." The breach concerns Diebold's refusal to deliver their latest operating system for the optical scan voting systems which had previously been used in Leon County -- until Sancho discovered an alarming security flaw in the system at the end of last year. "According to our contract with Diebold," Sancho explained, "we have to give them 30 days notice. And so we are requiring them to answer by March 21, as to how they intend to repair the breach." The only two other Voting Machine Vendors, ES&S and Sequoia Voting Systems, have now officially refused to do business with Leon County and Sancho in the wake of a series of security evaluations held last year in the county on actual Diebold equipment. With the state threatening Sancho with legal action themselves if he is not able to implement a voting system which requires with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Sancho had been forced to attempt to do business again with Diebold.

Extraordinary Rendition Watch: A British minister admitted that CIA-chartered planes, suspected to have been used to render terror suspects from one country to another, usually where torture is used as an interrogation tool, landed in Britain several times, a leading British newspaper revealed on Tuesday, March 7. Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, said in a letter to the Liberal Democrats' newly elected leader Sir Menzies Campbell that the two planes landed 14 times between October 2003 and May 2004 at RAF Northholt, west London, and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, reported the Guardian. He did not, however, describe the purpose of the flights. One plane, a Boeing 737, was registered N313P, the other, a Gulfstream, was initially registered N379P and later as N8068V. Reports of clandestine CIA interrogation centers and transport flights for terror suspects emerged in November, along with suggestions of on-board torture sessions. In his letter last night, Mr Ingram did not say the aircraft were used by the CIA, but the government has never denied they were. Mr Ingram also did not describe the purpose of the flights. He insisted his disclosure was not "at odds with the foreign secretary's statements on the subject". Jack Straw has said that the government is "unaware" of any CIA flights landing in Britain or using UK airspace since 1998 and transporting terrorist suspects.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Senate Republicans blocked an investigation into President Bush's secret warrantless domestic spying program on Tuesday, but agreed to expand congressional oversight of the surveillance system in the future. At the same time, a group of four Senate Republicans began circulating legislation that would restrict the administration's ability to eavesdrop on U.S. residents without court approval. The legislation would require the administration to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on U.S. residents unless the attorney general certified to House and Senate intelligence subcommittees that seeking court approval would hurt intelligence gathering. The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Olympia Snowe of Maine, all Republicans. The legislation emerged as the Senate Intelligence Committee voted behind closed doors to block a Democratic demand for a full investigation into the program. The surveillance, which is carried out by the National Security Agency, tracks communications between al-Qaida suspects overseas and U.S. residents, according to the administration.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made clear Wednesday that the White House is not seeking congressional action to inscribe the National Security Agency's monitoring into U.S. law, even as members of Congress negotiate with the Bush administration about legislation. Gonzales maintained the program is legal the way it is. Gonzales said administration officials have gone a long way in reassuring lawmakers about the NSA's operations. Over four years, he said, the administration has met "with select congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle about the scope of this program - everything that we're doing related to this program." Meanwhile, The Justice Department official who oversaw national security matters from 2000 to 2003 e-mailed his former colleagues after revelation of the controversial warrantless wiretapping program in December 2005 that the Department's justifications for the program were "weak" and had a "slightly after-the-fact quality" to them, and surmised that this reflected "the VP's philosophy that the best defense is a good offense," according to documents released through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and joined by the ACLU and the National Security Archive. David Kris, the former associate deputy attorney general who now serves as chief ethics and compliance officer at Time Warner, e-mailed Justice Department official Courtney Elwood on 20 December 2005 his own analysis of the controversy, writing that "claims that FISA [the wiretapping statute] simply requires too much paperwork or the bothersome marshaling of arguments seem relatively weak justifications for resorting to Article II power in violation of the statute." The subject line of the e-mail was "If you can't show me yours."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation found apparent violations of its own wiretapping and other intelligence-gathering procedures more than 100 times in the last two years, and problems appear to have grown more frequent in some crucial respects, a Justice Department report released Wednesday said. While some of these instances were considered technical glitches, the report, from the department's inspector general, characterized others as "significant," including wiretaps that were much broader in scope than approved by a court and others that were allowed to continue for weeks or sometimes months longer than was authorized. In one instance, the F.B.I. received the full content of 181 telephone calls as part of an intelligence investigation, instead of merely the billing and toll records as authorized, the report found. In a handful of cases, it said, the bureau conducted physical searches that had not been properly authorized.

Two months after the New York Times revealed that the Bush Administration ordered the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless surveillance of American citizens, only three corporations - AT&T, Sprint and MCI - have been identified by the media as cooperating. Some companies, according to the same reports, have given the NSA a direct hookup to their huge databases of communications records. The NSA, using the same supercomputers that analyze foreign communications, sifts through this data for key words and phrases that could indicate communication to or from suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers and then tracks those individuals and their ever-widening circle of associates. So far, a handful of Democratic lawmakers--Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Senators Edward Kennedy and Russell Feingold--have attempted to obtain information from companies involved in the domestic surveillance program. But they've largely been rebuffed.

Republicans Believe In Workplace Safety: Both chambers of Congress held hearings on mine safety last week under differing atmospheres of partisanship but without reaching any significant conclusions. The hearings come amid news that nearly as many mine workers have died on the job so far this year as did during all of 2005. Last Wednesday, the head of the House Subcommittee on Education and the Workforce, Charles W. Norwood (R-Georgia), ended hearings half an hour early, before a second round of witness questioning, additionally snubbing a group of miners and family members who had come to speak. As reported earlier this year by The NewStandard, MSHA issued just 59 "high-dollar" fines, measuring $10,000 or more apiece, against mine operators in 2004, the last year for which complete information is available. The current penalty structure is 25 years old, according to MSHA.

Republicans Believe In Strict Separation Of Church And State: President Bush said Thursday his administration is making steady progress in steering more federal taxpayer dollars to religious charities. In the budget year that ended Sept. 30, religious charities received $2.15 billion in federal grants to administer a range of social service programs for the needy. That represented 10.9 percent of the total grants from the seven federal agencies such charities were eligible to apply to in fiscal 2005, according to a White House report. The Housing and Urban Development Department awarded the highest percentage of its competitive, discretionary funding to religious charities - 24 percent - while the Health and Human Services Department had the lowest at 7.4 percent. The 2005 amount is 7 percent higher than the year before, when $2 billion - or 10.3 percent of the total - was awarded to religious charities, the report said. President Bush ordered the Department of Homeland Security yesterday to create a center for faith-based and community initiatives within 45 days to eliminate regulatory, contracting and programmatic barriers to providing federal funds to religious groups to deliver social services, the White House announced last night. Pressed both by churches that have not received privately raised Hurricane Katrina relief funds as promised and by the outpouring of help of religious groups to Gulf Coast storm victims, Bush also called on the department by September "to identify all existing barriers . . . that unlawfully discriminate against, or otherwise discourage or disadvantage the participation" of such groups in federal programs.

Republicans Believe In Humane Treatment Of Prisoners: Prison officials regularly order the shackling of pregnant inmates - even while the prisoner is giving birth, according to a recently released report on state and federal corrections policies governing women inmates. The study, conducted by the United States arm of Amnesty International and released last Wednesday, also found that the state and federal prison systems lack proper procedures and laws to protect women inmates from sexual assault by jail staff. According to Amnesty’s survey, 41 states and the federal corrections system permit the use of restraints on pregnant women and 23 states, plus the Federal Bureau of Prisons, allow women to be restrained during labor. Eight states have no official written policy on the practice, Amnesty said, and just two states - Illinois and California - have specific laws limiting the restraint of pregnant women. Sunday, the New York Times reported that one Arkansas inmate who had her legs shackled during childbirth against her wishes, and against the wishes of attending medical staff, is suing the state over the practice. Her captors removed the restraints only during delivery, the paper reported. Several states are considering ending the practice of using restraints on pregnant and birthing women. According to the Associated Press, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Matt Frank directed his staff to put an end to the practice in January.

While President Bush has regularly claimed - as with reporters in Panama last November - that "we do not torture," Janis Karpinski, the U.S. Brigadier General whose 800th Military Police Brigade was in charge of 17 prison facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib back in 2003, begs to differ. She knows that we do torture and she believes that the President himself is most likely implicated in the decision to embed torture in basic war-on-terror policy. While testifying this January 21 in New York City at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, Karpinski told us: "General [Ricardo] Sanchez [commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq] himself signed the eight-page memorandum authorizing literally a laundry list of harsher techniques in interrogations to include specific use of dogs and muzzled dogs with his specific permission." All this, as she reminded us, came after Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been "specifically selected by the Secretary of Defense to go to Guantánamo Bay and run the interrogations operation," was dispatched to Iraq by the Bush administration to "work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them new and improved interrogation techniques."

Republicans Believe Business People Are Model Citizens: Smirkey's long-time friend, Ken Lay, a former chief executive of Enron Corp., repeatedly lied to investors about the company, portraying it as financially sound even as it spiraled toward bankruptcy in 2001, the company's former finance chief, Andrew Fastow, testified on Wednesday. Fastow, the government's key witness against Enron's two former CEOs, said Lay knew the Houston-based energy trading firm was drowning in debt and piling up undisclosed losses, but assured a financial world made nervous by the sudden resignation of Jeffrey Skilling as CEO in August 2001 that all was well. "It was what Mr. Lay was saying, what the company was saying. I was trying to keep up the deception as well," said Fastow in his second day of testimony in the fraud and conspiracy trial of Lay and Skilling. "It was a lie."

Republican Policies Are Good For America: America's trade deficit has been setting records with such frequency that it seems almost tiresome to hear it again: Another month, another $68.5 billion. But the gap between what America imports and what it exports is growing so rapidly and relentlessly that it is provoking new concern about how long the world's largest economy can play borrower and consumer to the world. The issue may take on new urgency in a congressional election year, stoked by news Thursday that the trade deficit hit a new high in January. The monthly record is attributed to a surge in goods from fast-rising China, a tide of imports affecting the beleaguered US auto industry, and an exodus of dollars going to pay for OPEC oil. The huge trade imbalance was top of mind with US lawmakers recently, when they quizzed incoming Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke about their economic concerns. The value of imports rose 3.5% to $182.9bn, eclipsing a 2.5% rise in US exports to $114.4bn.

Rats Deserting the U.S.S. Bush: Those who say Iraq is nothing like Vietnam have another guess coming, says retired Gen. William Odom. He lists striking similarities and asserts that only after it pulls out of Iraq can the U.S. hope for international support to deal with anti-Western forces. In an online commentary, he makes comparisons to Vietnam and shows the alarming similarities, and offers his expertise on why he thinks Iraq is likely to end up like Vietnam if a pullout does not occur soon.

More than 4 in 10 Americans strongly disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, according to the latest CNN/Gallup poll, the highest of any president except Nixon in the waning months of his presidency. Just 40 percent of Americans believe Bush can manage the country effectively; Bush registers a 38% approval rating with a 60% disapproval rating. When Americans were asked a follow-up of whether they strongly approve or disapprove of Bush, more than twice as many Americans say they strongly disapprove (44%) as say they strongly approve (20%) of Bush. The strong disapproval rating is the highest Gallup has measured for Bush by a percentage point, and is the highest for any president since Richard Nixon during the Watergate era. Nixon is the only other president to register strong disapproval ratings above 40% in Gallup Polls. Nixon had a 48% strong disapproval rating in February 1974, and a 46% rating days before he resigned from office in August 1974. Gallup first asked about strength of approval during the Lyndon Johnson administration, and has asked it periodically for every president since.

Scandals Du Jour: The Washington nonprofit whose president appeared before a Senate committee as a victim of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff's congressional bribery net wrote repeated articles that aligned with the positions of the lobbyist's clients, suggesting possible coordination between the lobbyist and the group in violation of federal law. In a series of editorials between 1999 and 2001, National Center for Public Policy Research president Amy Ridenour went to bat for the Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands, a small U.S. territory in the Pacific. Her releases bemoaned efforts to expand federal immigration laws to the island, defended the islands' meager wages and attacked Clinton Administration attempts to tighten labor laws. The National Center took to the national stage when it emerged that Abramoff - who was a member of the nonprofit's board from 1997 to 2004 - had laundered $2.5 million through the group to increase personal holdings and pay for congressional trips. The money underwrote overseas trips taken by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Ney (R-OH) and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

Vanity Fair is set to publish a tell-all interview with Jack Abramoff, noting that his plea-bargain sentence can be "substantially reduced" by co-operating with investigators. The piece makes much of many prominent Republicans' denials of having worked with Abramoff. Abramoff reminisces about jokes President Bush, who now claims not to remember him, made about his weight training program. Abramoff also recalls discussing the Bible, opera, and golf with Tom DeLay. Abramoff also alleges that RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman provided Abramoff political favors--including aiding in the removal of a State Department official. Abramoff also claims to have funneled $50,000 donated by clients to a charity he set up to pay for a golf trip for himself, Ohio Republican Bob Ney, and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed (currently seeking the office of Lt. Governor for the state of Georgia). Reed also once served as Abramoff's projects director. The article also notes that the photographs taken with President Bush, which are in Abramoff's possession, are the lobbyist's sole "potential source of funds." Abramoff says it would be "stupid" to send him to prison, saying he'd rather sweep floors at an Indian reservation. "Let me teach English, history, music," he quipped. "Or let me sweep floors at the reservation. Instead you’ll be paying to feed me to sit in a jail." Abramoff is accused of bilking several tribes of millions of dollars in consulting "fees."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:20:26 PM

Tue, Mar 07 2006

We Have A Winner

The weather is still trying to make up its mind here in Arenal. While most of the rest of the country has been enjoying a balmy, warm, and generally pleasant dry season, Arenal continues its on-again, off-again regime of sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy weather. Today was no exception. Today was almost dry-season-like, with hard rain only during the night, and occasional quick bursts of rain lasting for a few minutes during the day. About half the time, there was sun peeking through the clouds, and the rest of the time, it was like a typical rainy-season day. The temperatures were quite pleasant, dropping to 69 overnight, and rising to 79 during the afternoon.

Well, the elections tribunal today announced what everyone already knew: We have a winner in the presidential elections held a month ago. Oscar Arias Sanchez, known as Oscar Arias, will be the next president. Our next president, don Oscar, as he is affectionately known in Latino cultures, was declared the winner after his rival, Otton Solis dropped his challenges to the election results and announced last Thursday that he was conceding the race and offered his congratulations. After receiving official notice today, the tribunal officially declared don Oscar the winner.

So, what does this mean for Costa Rica? Well, even though Arias is widely believed by Americans to be left-of-center politically, it is my belief that he has quietly moved considerably to the right since he was last president, and will probably govern from a center-right position. While he has been extremely critical of the immigration bill, which has several harsh right-wing provisions in it, he is nevertheless in favor of the tax reform package making its way through the system, which has some remarkably right-wing features, such as a global income tax on anyone spending more than 183 days per year in the country, and even a provision that would require persons subject to income tax to file what amounts to a net-worth disclosure to the Ministerio de Hacienda, the Costa Rican equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service. Don Oscar is also in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (known here as the Trato Libro Commercial, or TLC), and worked for its passage in the last session of the Assemblea.

The tax plan, if passed as currently written, will have the effect of driving a lot of gringos out of Costa Rica, and with them, their money. Not an insignificant problem for Costa Rica - the Pensionados here bring in one fourth of this country's foreign exchange earnings, and provide directly one fifth of its jobs (and a lot more indirectly). Not many are going to take lightly to being taxed on pension incomes from outside the country (which may have already been taxed in their home countries), or being forced to reveal to Hacienda (and hence to the I.R.S.) all the details of the exact value of their assets outside of Costa Rica, and how and where they are invested. And I think that even the cafetaleros (old-money coffee barons) who have for decades maintained a good deal of their wealth outside of Costa Rica, are not going to take kindly to Hacienda wanting to know just how rich they are or where their money is stashed. If don Oscar thinks that this will make him popular with the movers and shakers of this country, he is in for a rude surprise. Don Oscar would do well to re-think his support for this tax plan. This won't be the first time that Costa Rica shoots itself in the foot; it has a long and venerable tradition of doing so.

Aside from that, I wish don Oscar well. I love and respect Costa Rica and Costa Ricans, and hope that they will see the quality of governance from the new administration that they deserve. If don Oscar's skills, as seen from his last presidency are any guide, Costa Rica should be well served. My congratulations to don Oscar, and my best wishes for his presidency.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Iran reiterated its warning on Sunday that it would begin making nuclear fuel on an industrial scale if the United Nations nuclear agency in its meeting Monday decided to send Iran's case to the Security Council. "If Iran's nuclear dossier is referred to the UN Security Council, uranium enrichment will be resumed," Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said at a press conference, referring to large-scale enrichment. "Nuclear research and development is part of Iran's national interests and sovereignty and we will not give it up. "We will not accept to suspend our research program but are willing to hold off on large-scale enrichment for a short period of time to remove concerns. This is our last proposal to end this standoff."

Iran vowed today to be a "killing field" for any attackers after the United States warned of "painful consequences" if it failed to curb its atomic plans. US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said yesterday his country had been "beefing up defensive measures" to thwart Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is a quest for atomic bombs, not just nuclear-generated electricity. Gholamali Rashid, deputy head of the armed forces, said the United States did not understand to operate in the Gulf region. "Iran's armed forces, through their experience of war ... will turn this land into a killing field for any enemy aggressors," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying. UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he was hopeful a deal to defuse the nuclear dispute could be reached soon. He was speaking in Vienna just before delivering a report on Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war, and half say the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey found that 80 percent believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third say such a conflict is "very likely" to occur. These expectations extend beyond party lines: More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents say they believe such a conflict is coming. In the face of continuing violence, half -- 52 percent -- of those surveyed said the United States should begin withdrawing forces. One in six favors immediate withdrawal of all troops, however, while about one-third prefer a more gradual return.

Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist whose son was killed in the Iraq war, was arrested with three other protesters in New York on Monday after a rally with women from Iraq. Sheehan became a central figure in the U.S. anti-war movement last summer after she camped outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch and has been arrested at least two other times at protests. On Monday, she had joined a delegation of women from Iraq at the rally at the United Nations, urging the United Nations to help prevent civil war in Iraq. About 20 protesters went to the U.S. mission to the United Nations to deliver a petition with 60,000 signatures seeking an end to the war. Nobody from the mission received them so Sheehan and three other American women sat down in front of the building, refused to leave, and were arrested. A police spokesman said they were expected to be released later on Monday. The Iraqi women plan to deliver a petition to the White House on Wednesday. Earlier they held a news conference at U.N. headquarters calling for the United States to withdraw its forces. Entisar Mohammad Ariabi, a pharmacist at Baghdad's Yarmook Teaching Hospital, wept as she told reporters of the hardships experienced by Iraqi women. "U.S. occupation has destroyed our country, made it into a prison," she said. "Schools are bombed, hospitals are bombed." "We thank you, Mr. Bush, for liberating our country from Saddam. But now, go out! Please go out!" she said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' written answers to questions about the Bush administration's eavesdropping program may require him to testify a second time before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel's Republican chairman said Monday. "There is a suggestion in his letter there are other classified intelligence programs that are currently under way," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters. The comments from the moderate Republican come as the Bush administration is trying to quell criticism of its surveillance operations and work with the Senate on legislation that would write the program into law. In a letter to Specter last week, Gonzales clarified his testimony in a half dozen areas covered in a daylong Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 6.

Republican Rep. Bill Thomas, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced Monday he will retire from Congress after serving for more than a quarter century. Thomas, 64, made the announcement in his hometown of Bakersfield, CA. His resignation was widely expected because, under House Republicans' self-imposed term limits for committee chairmen, Thomas can no longer serve after this year as head of the influential Ways and Means Committee. "Today I am announcing that I will not seek reelection to the United States Congress," he said. For the past five years, Thomas has played a key role in shepherding Smirkey's tax cuts and writing legislation on Medicare, Social Security and pensions.

Deaths from crashes involving large trucks on U.S. roads could hit a six-year high when the first figures for 2005 are released this spring, according to the Transportation Department's preliminary estimates. The agency projected in budget documents that deaths could rise by 116 from the previous year to 5,306. The last time deaths from truck crashes topped 5,300 was in 1999 at 5,380. Deaths from truck-related crashes went up for a second-straight year in 2004 even though the number of truck-related crashes per 100 million miles traveled, an important safety indicator, fell to a 30-year low. There were more than 4,800 large trucks, including tractor trailers, involved in fatal crashes in 2004, safety figures show. The overwhelming majority of victims in truck-related crashes are occupants of other vehicles.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Local authorities in Mexico City have fined a US-owned hotel, at the centre of a diplomatic row, $15,000. They said the branch of the Sheraton chain had discriminated against 16 Cuban officials by expelling them from its premises last month. The delegation was ordered out to comply with a US embargo against Cuba. A US law bans American companies from doing business with the island. The hotel denied discrimination and said it would appeal the decision. The Cuban delegation was due to meet a group of US businessmen opposed to the embargo at the Maria Isabel Sheraton hotel in Mexico City's central Cuauhtemoc district on 4 February. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., which owns the Sheraton chain, said the company was asked by the US Treasury Department to tell the Cubans to leave.

South Korea and the US have drifted so far apart on North Korea policy there is now speculation the longtime partners are getting close to divorce. Kurt Campbell, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific, reportedly likened the two to a king and queen who live separately but pretend to be happy before their subjects. The allies do not want to announce their divorce because it would have enormous consequences, he said at a seminar in Washington on February 27. It is believed US officials no longer trust their South Korean counterparts on North Korea policy. Fueling that speculation has been the recent friction between Seoul and Washington over how to deal with US allegations North Korea is counterfeiting US dollars. While Washington has stepped up financial pressure on Pyongyang in an effort to defend the US currency, Seoul appears to have opposed such a move.

The number of assaults against the homeless in the United States has risen dramatically since 2002, according to a recent report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. In 2005, 73 homeless people were assaulted countrywide and 13 died, the report said. Last August, a 40-year-old homeless man died in Boston after he was beaten. Two teenagers have been charged with manslaughter. A homeless man sleeping in a Boston park was attacked early yesterday by two men who kicked him in the stomach and then set him on fire, police said. No arrests were made and police gave no indication of what might have motivated the attack.

America, A Beacon Of Freedom, Liberty And Human Rights To The World: US and UK forces in Iraq have detained thousands of people without charge or trial for long periods and there is growing evidence of Iraqi security forces torturing detainees, Amnesty International said today. In a new report published today, the human rights group criticised the US-led multinational force for interning some 14,000 people. Around 3,800 people have been held for over a year, while another 200 have been detained for more than two years, the report - Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq - said. "It is a dangerous precedent for the world that the US and UK think it completely defensible to hold thousands of people without charge or trial," Amnesty spokesman Neil Durkin said.

Is Even Texas Ready For This? With a blizzard of one-liners, a campaign slogan of "Why the Hell Not?" and an eclectic blend of policy ideas from all sides of the ideological divide, the former frontman for the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys says he wants to "change the world one governor at a time." Friedman hopes to tap voter frustration with Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Democrats and politics in general to become the latest celebrity governor, following wrestler Jesse Ventura in Minnesota and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. "People are drooling for the truth, they are begging for a little honesty from officials and they aren't getting any," the black-clad, cigar-chomping Friedman told Reuters. "This is the moment in history if Texas can grab it."

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A senior US military officer at Guantánamo Bay told a detainee that he did not care about international law and that the Geneva conventions did not apply to proceedings at the military prison, according to thousands of Pentagon documents released over the weekend by the US government after a court action by the Associated Press news agency. The outburst by the air force colonel came during a hearing to determine the status of Feroz Abbasi, a Briton held for more than two years without charge or trial, and who was released last year. The officer was presiding over a tribunal convened to decide whether detainees were enemy combatants, as alleged by the Bush administration. Critics dismissed the hearings, called combatant status review tribunals, as kangaroo courts. During the hearing Mr Abbasi, originally from Croydon, south London, said he should be accorded prisoner of war status, and demanded his rights under international law and the Geneva conventions. The tribunal president, not named in the documents, says: "Once again, international law does not matter here. Geneva conventions do not matter here. What matters here ... [is] your actions while you were in Afghanistan."

Despite the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of public trials, nearly all records are being kept secret for more than 5,000 defendants who completed their journey through the federal courts over the last three years. Instances of such secrecy more than doubled from 2003 to 2005. At the request of the AP, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts conducted its first tally of secrecy in federal criminal cases. The nationwide data it provided the AP showed 5,116 defendants whose cases were completed in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but the bulk of their records remain secret. "The constitutional presumption is for openness in the courts, but we have to ask whether we are really honoring that," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "What are the reasons for so many cases remaining under seal?"

The National Center for Public Policy Research, the conservative nonprofit where fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff served as a director, has instructed rawstory.com to remove a fundraising letter the group sent in 2004. Noland MacKenzie Canter, III, a lawyer for the group, says the publication of the center’s fundraising letter violates their copyright. To many outside Washington, the center is known for being the group that Abramoff used to cover posh junkets for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). RAW STORY published the letter in January of 2005. The story it accompanied detailed the effort by the conservative nonprofit to raise money from senior citizens by disguising a solicitation for a political donation under the guise of a "Task Force" to save Social Security.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: AT&T Inc. expects to cut 10,000 jobs by 2009 following its $64.5 billion acquisition of BellSouth, in an effort to reduce costs and help it compete in the increasingly crowded telecoms sector. AT&T's purchase of BellSouth will bring their joint venture Cingular Wireless under one roof, giving the combined company a wider array of services to combat wireless rivals and cable television companies. AT&T, which traces its roots back to the invention of the telephone in the 19th century, hopes to improve its financial position with headcount savings, which it said would represent about 40 percent of a total $18 billion of cost reductions it expects to get from the deal. It also plans ad spending cuts.

Republicans Believe In Helping Those Who Can't Help Themselves: How do you pay for tax cuts for the rich? In Smirkey's view, by cutting programs that assist disabled children. The President's budget will eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for schoolchildren with disabilities, denying them "access to medical services they need to fully participate in school and learn to their greatest abilities." It cuts funding for medical equipment on buses, transportation to medical appointments, and the administrative costs of identifying children with special medical and learning needs. If schools are no longer able to seek reimbursement for these services, costs will shift to districts and states already grappling with fiscal constraints. But those who will be most affected are the children and students with disabilities who have already been hurt by January’s drastic Medicaid cuts.

Smirkey and the Republican-led Congress are facing growing anger on college campuses as students and their parents prepare to pay higher borrowing costs because of new changes to federal student loan programs. Congress narrowly passed a deficit-reduction bill last month that cut $12 billion from student loan programs, which was signed by the president. The new law will slash subsidies to lenders and raise interest rates on loans taken out by parents. Lawmakers already had approved a steep increase in interest rates for Stafford loans, used by nearly 10 million students each year. Both rate increases take effect July 1. Jessica Pierce, a senior at UC Santa Cruz who has Stafford loans, said she was outraged by the changes approved by Congress. "They're trying to balance the budget on the backs of students," said Pierce, who chairs the university's student union assembly.

Republicans Believe That Business Leaders Are Role Models: Andrew Fastow, Enron Corp's former financial chief and the architect of its most devious accounting schemes, will the take the stand this week as the star witness at the trial of his former bosses Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. The appearance of Fastow, 44, as early as Monday afternoon or Tuesday, comes midway through the prosecution's case. It will follow on the heels of several witnesses who testified that former CEOs Lay and Skilling knew of, and often directed, the financial shell game to hide billions of dollars in losses to create a rosy picture at the energy trader. "Andy Fastow knows where all the bodies are buried and he's going to connect the dots," said Jake Zamansky of Zamansky and Associates, a New York law firm that represents victims of securities fraud. Lay, 63, who was also Enron's chairman, is charged with seven counts of conspiracy and fraud, while Skilling faces 31 counts of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading linked to the demise of the company that was once the seven largest in the United States. Both men face decades in prison if convicted.

Republicans Believe In Sound Fiscal And Budget Policies: The U.S. Treasury today took steps to avoid slamming into the government's legal borrowing limit and to make sure the sale of a 10-year note goes ahead this week. Treasury Secretary John Snow authorized the government to use the $15 billion available in the exchange stabilization fund on March 3 and issued a "debt issuance suspension period" to temporarily stop investments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. The Treasury also redeemed some of the fund's current investments. Today's actions by the Treasury provide "only a few days of additional borrowing capacity, which we expect will be exhausted by mid-March," Snow said in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "Treasury has now taken all prudent and legal actions to avoid reaching the statutory debt limit." The moves were the second Treasury has taken in the last month to stay below the debt ceiling. They will ensure the Treasury can auction and settle the 10-year-notes scheduled to be sold this week and allow government operations to continue through mid-March. The Treasury said today it will auction $8 billion in 9 year-11 month 4 1/2 percent notes on March 9, and $18 billion in four-week bills at tomorrow's sale of the securities.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has reversed its opposition to the morning-after pill and agreed to sell it in 3,700 pharmacies. The decision follows a successful campaign against the retailer in Illinois and Massachusetts, which enacted laws requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive. Last week, the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, turned up the pressure when he said the state would no longer extend its insurance plan for its 188,000 employees to cover prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart unless the chain agreed to stock the pills. In a statement on the company's corporate website, Wal-Mart's vice-president, Ron Chomiuk, said it had had no choice but to yield to the pressure. "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," the statement said. "We feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it." It will go on sale at all Wal-Mart pharmacies from March 20. The company had already bowed to state laws in Illinois and Massachusets to sell it on prescription. However, Mr Chomiuk said Wal-Mart would continue to allow individual pharmacists who objected to refer customers elsewhere.

News From Smirkey's Wars: As Pentagon generals offered optimistic assessments that the sectarian violence in Iraq had dissipated this weekend, other military experts told ABC News that Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq already are engaged in a civil war, and that the Iraqi government and U.S. military had better accept that fact and adapt accordingly. "We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest. "It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq," added Nash, who is an ABC News consultant. Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC News, "If you talk to U.S. intelligence officers and military people privately, they'd say we've been involved in low level civil war with very slowly increasing intensity since the transfer of power in June 2004."

Scandals Du Jour: Already trying to avoid the media, Florida Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, former Florida secretary of state who was responsible for the illicit election of Smirkey, and now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is now canceling campaign stops in Southwest Florida as questions swirl about her ties to a Washington, D.C., defense contractor at the center of an ongoing national bribery scandal. Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate, abruptly canceled a stop in Charlotte County on Saturday, and four other events planned for Lee and Collier counties were removed from her campaign Web site. It's another sign that Harris' struggling campaign is now in full crisis mode. Political consultants say that shying away from the public right now is also a bad strategy. "She can't hide and expect this to go away," said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. "It looks like her campaign is circling the wagons."

Oh, how the mighty have fallen: Embattled Republican Tom DeLay faces US voters for the first time since his indictment last year, as primaries for 2006's mid-term polls are held in Texas. Mr DeLay, the former House leader who is accused in a campaign finance case, faces three rivals bidding to be the Republican candidate for his district. The Texas primaries, votes held to pick party candidates, are the first in any state ahead of the 7 November election. Attorney Tom Campbell, one of those bidding to face off against former Democratic congressman Nick Lampson in November, ran TV ads contending Mr DeLay was distracted by his legal troubles. "Mr DeLay is un-electable and Republicans in our district have a choice. They can either elect a conservative that doesn't carry the baggage Mr DeLay carries or one that Nick Lampson has the ability to beat," Campbell said.

We Republicans Are More Moral Than You: A Missouri Republican and her husband took a two-day, all expenses paid trip for the official purpose of sprucing up her spiritual life, according to today's Roll Call. Holier than a golf junket, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and her husband took an all-expenses paid trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., in January for the official business purpose of "spiritual self-reflection." The Michigan-based Fetzer Institute, the stated mission of which is to "foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness through research and education programs," paid $1,108.70 to send Emerson and her husband, Ronald Gladney, on the two-night excursion the weekend of Jan. 20. Emerson wrote in a recently filed travel disclosure form that the official purpose of the trip was: "A time for spiritual self-reflection and an open and honest dialogue." Under House ethics rules, in order for Members to accept a travel gift "the fundamental requirement ... is that the subject matter of the trip be related to the official duties of the participating Member."

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:17:21 PM

Sun, Mar 05 2006

Getting Ready For The Mother Of All Bonfires

The weather has continued to be warm and sunny, if still a bit muggy. This morning, when I got up, I was concerned that maybe another cold front was blowing in, as it was overcast, drizzly and rather windy, but it did not last long. By noon, the weather had cleared up and yesterday's high of 82 was succeeded by a high today of 79. I suspect that a weak cold front did come through, as it dropped the temperature about three degrees. But that was more likely just a tropical wave. Whatever it was, it was weak enough to not show up on the weather maps of the region.

The drizzle was light enough, and brief enough that it didn't slow down the early dry-season yard-waste burning that has been going on in the neighborhood. Mine is not yet dry enough to burn all that well, so I didn't bother. I have a ton of packing material left over from my move, and once the yard waste is dry, I have promised my neighbors that they're going to witness the mother of all bonfires. And I quite expect it to be truly spectacular.

I have all my packing undone, except for two boxes of my cowboy hats. That is all that remains, and all that packing material is ready to be hauled to the yard-waste pile and set alight. There are lots of plastic shopping bags that have accumulated, too, so when those are added to it and I set it alight, it will be a doozey. Stand way back.

The moving into my main computer is progressing, but more slowly than I would like. It will be some time before it is done, but it will be a pleasure when it is complete. The old computer is much faster than this laptop. Can't wait to be using it for blog editing as well as email.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Smirkey has indicated the US has dropped its staunch opposition to a proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. Mr Bush said on his visit to Pakistan he understood the need for natural gas in the region and that the US argument with Iran was over nuclear weapons. The $6bn project for the 2,600km (1,625 mile) pipeline will bring Iran production revenue, Pakistan transit fees and India energy. The nations hope to start construction in 2007, with key talks due this month. The US had previously stated it was "absolutely opposed" to the gas pipeline, even indicating Pakistan and India could face sanctions if the project got under way. Not anymore. Money soothes all political controversies.

Meanwhile, back at the Iranian nukes, Smirkey, who is also preparing to take Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week, is seeking a 30-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors or face severe diplomatic pressures, according to several senior U.S. and European officials. But the officials, who discussed the details of the diplomatic strategy on the condition of anonymity, said they expected tough negotiations among the Security Council's 15 members and said much hinges on Russia. Russian officials have spent the past several weeks trying to persuade the Islamic republic to freeze much of its nuclear infrastructure and transfer the most sensitive aspects to Russia. Iran has expressed interest in a joint uranium-enrichment venture with Moscow but also wants to enrich uranium at home, which it says would be used for an energy program. Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, reiterated that position to senior European officials Friday in Vienna.

Republicans representative of their permanent establishment have recently and quietly sent emissaries to President Bush, like diplomats to a foreign ruler isolated in his forbidden city, to probe whether he could be persuaded to become politically flexible. These ambassadors were not connected to the elder Bush or his closest associate, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who was purged last year from the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and scorned by the current president. Scowcroft privately tells friends who ask whether he could somehow help that Bush would never turn to him for advice. So, in one case, a Republican wise man, a prominent lawyer in Washington who had served in the Reagan White House, sought no appointments or favors and was thought to be unthreatening to Bush, gained an audience with him. In a gentle tone, he explained that many presidents had difficult second terms, but that by adapting their approaches they ended successfully, as President Reagan had. Bush instantly replied with a vehement blast. He would not change. He would stay the course. He would not follow the polls. The Republican wise man tried again. Oh, no, he didn't mean anything about polls. But Bush fortified his wall of self-defensiveness and let fly with another heated riposte that he would not change.

The former federal emergency director who resigned after the heavily criticized response to Hurricane Katrina admitted Friday that he should have been more forthcoming about problems with the government's response to the storm but faulted the performance of his former boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and called for his resignation. Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was well aware that his agency was overwhelmed during the immediate aftermath of the storm, he told CNN, but blamed a "beltway" mentality that believes that "the American public can't handle the truth" for not making his concerns about the response public. "I should have owned up to the public very early in this disaster -- probably on Monday and Tuesday -- that's how catastrophic it was, how serious it was, and that we were going to have problems," Brown said. "I think we need to get beyond that and just start being honest with the public and telling them exactly what is going on," he added.

Budget cuts and poor management may be jeopardizing the future of our eyes in orbit - America's fleet of environmental satellites, vital tools for forecasting hurricanes, protecting water supplies and predicting global warming. "The system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse," said Richard A. Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Every year that goes by without the system being addressed is a problem." Anthes chairs a National Academy of Sciences committee that advises the federal government on developing and operating environmental satellites. In a report issued last year, the committee warned that "the vitality of Earth science and application programs has been placed at substantial risk by a rapidly shrinking budget." Since that report came out, NASA has chosen to cancel or mothball at least three planned satellites in an effort to save money. Cost overruns have delayed a new generation of weather satellites until at least 2010 and probably 2012, leading a Government Accountability Office official to label the enterprise "a program in crisis." Scientists warn that the consequences of neglecting Earth-observing satellites could have more than academic consequences. It is possible that when a big volcano starts rumbling in the Pacific Northwest, a swarm of tornadoes sweeps through Oklahoma or a massive hurricane bears down on New Orleans, the people in harm's way - and those responsible for their safety - will have a lot less information than they'd like about the impending threat.

Get out your old Lilly Tomlin tapes: AT&T Inc. is buying BellSouth Corp. for $67 billion in stock in a bid that further consolidates the telecommunications industry and would give AT&T total control of their growing joint venture, Cingular Wireless LLC. The proposed purchase, announced Sunday, also goes a long way toward resurrecting the old Ma Bell telephone system, which was broken apart in 1984. The merged company would have 70 million local-line phone customers and nearly 10 million broadband subscribers in the 22 states where they now operate. The deal appears to be the largest yet among U.S. telecom players. In 1999, MCI WorldCom Inc. agreed to buy Sprint Corp. for an even larger sum, $115 billion, but that deal was blocked by federal regulators.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Iran faces "tangible and painful consequences" if it continues its nuclear activities and the United States will use "all tools at our disposal" to stop this threat, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Sunday, ahead of a crucial international meeting on Iran it is too soon for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran but other countries are talking about doing so and Washington is "beefing up defensive measures to cope with the Iranian nuclear threat." Monday’s meeting of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency governing board is expected to take stock of Iran’s continued defiance of U.S. and European demands to end sensitive weapons-related uranium enrichment activity and then hand the case over to the security council.

The world's Anglican leader is calling the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay an "extraordinary legal anomaly" that sets a precedent for dictators around the world. In an interview with BBC television in Sudan on Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the Guantanamo facility creates a new category of custody. He said the foreigners being held there without charges do not have legal guarantees of individual liberties considered important to the West. "Any message given, that any state can just override some of the basic habeas corpus-type provisions, is going to be very welcome to tyrants elsewhere in the world, now and in the future," he said. "What, in 10 years' time, are people going to be able to say about a system that tolerates this?" he asked.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: Although the House Intelligence Committee agreed Thursday to expand an inquiry into the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program, an Oakland Democrat's broader effort was killed on a party-line vote. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, denounced the defeat of her privileged resolution, which called on the administration to give Congress all information on the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance. "It is our duty as lawmakers to demand oversight and accountability in Washington," she said in a news release, adding Republicans' failure to demand more information up front "reflects their continuing disregard for conducting any meaningful oversight."

Return of the White House Plumbers: The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws. In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases. Numerous employees at the CIA, FBI, Justice Department and other agencies also have received letters from Justice prohibiting them from discussing even unclassified issues related to the NSA program, according to sources familiar with the notices. Some GOP lawmakers are also considering whether to approve tougher penalties for leaking. In a little-noticed case in California, FBI agents from Los Angeles have already contacted reporters at the Sacramento Bee about stories published in July that were based on sealed court documents related to a terrorism case in Lodi, according to the newspaper.

Republican Economic Policies Make America The Envy Of The World: China's economy is projected to grow so fast that it could outstrip all developed nations by 2050, a report by Pricewaterhouse says. The Asian giant's economy is set to double in size between 2005 and 2050, according to the report. As with other developing countries, a key driver for China's rapid growth is its younger, cheaper workforce, it argues. India, meanwhile, is expected to be the world's fastest-growing economy.

Republicans Believe In Freedom Of Religion: Some religious leaders on Friday blasted a proposed Missouri House resolution that supports prayer in schools and recognizes a "Christian God," saying legislators are pushing Christianity as a state religion. "It's an atrocity," said the Rev. Timothy L. Carson, senior minister at Webster Groves Christian Church. "Thomas Jefferson would be rolling in his grave. It's indicative of a movement within one segment of activist Christianity that wants to dominate the rest with their views." Some lawmakers blamed the backlash on a misunderstanding of the purpose of such resolutions. The proposed resolution states that "voluntary prayer in public schools, religious displays on public property, and the recognition of a Christian God are not a coalition of church and state." It was recently approved by the House Rules Committee along party lines - five Republicans backed it, three Democrats did not - and could come for a vote before the full House next week. It would also have to pass in the Senate.

Republicans Believe In The Bill Of Rights: For more than a year, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been the most invisible office in the White House. Created by Congress in December 2004 as a result of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the board has never hired a staff or even held a meeting. Next week, NEWSWEEK has learned, that is due to finally change when the board's five members are slated to be sworn in at the White House and convene their first session. Board members tell NEWSWEEK the panel intends to immediately tackle contentious issues like the president's domestic wiretapping program, the Patriot Act and Pentagon data mining. But critics are furious the process has taken this long - and question whether the White House intends to treat the panel as anything more than window dressing. The delay is "outrageous, considering how long its been since the bill [creating the board] was passed," said Thomas Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission. "The administration was never interested in this."

Republicans Believe In Fiscal Responsibility: Smirkey's budget would increase the federal deficit by $35 billion this year and by more than $1.2 trillion over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office reported on Friday. The nonpartisan budget office said that Mr. Bush's tax-cutting proposals would cost about $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years and that his proposals to partly privatize Social Security would cost about $312 billion during that period. The office also said Mr. Bush's proposals to save money on Medicare, Medicaid and most nonmilitary programs would offset about one-third of the cost of his other proposals. The report comes as Republican leaders in Congress prepare to settle on their own budget for next year, which could differ substantially from Smirkey's. They are already running into political and economic obstacles as they try to extend Smirkey's tax cuts, pay for the war in Iraq and squeeze spending on antipoverty programs, education and most other areas of nonmilitary spending. Senate Republicans, nervous about their prospects in this fall's midterm elections, are balking at Smirkey's proposal to trim $36 billion over five years from Medicare, the government health program for the elderly.

News From Smirkey's Wars: The US army is to launch a criminal investigation into the death of a former American football star who was killed in Afghanistan. Pat Tillman gave up his professional contract to join the army after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. It took some time for the US military to admit he had been killed by US fire, drawing criticism from his family. The US military has always said his shooting was accidental, but conceded that a criminal inquiry was warranted. "We are obligated to answer the family's questions, as we are with all grieving families," Colonel Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman said. He said the scope of the investigation had still to be determined. An unnamed army official quoted by Reuters said the inquiry would seek to determine whether one of the troops involved in the shooting committed negligent homicide or another crime. He said "no one soldier" was the subject of the investigation. Tillman was 27 when he was hit by gunfire on 22 April, 2004 on a road near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. At the time the army said blamed enemy fire. The truth did not come out until after his funeral.

A new watchdog project called Follow the Money will begin monitoring Iraq military expenditures from the outside. It's sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and led by Dina Rasor, an investigator who helped uncover the Pentagon procurement scandals of the 1980s. "Normal oversight systems have not been in place," Rasor says. "Troops are getting what they don't need but not getting what they do need. One soldier told us that although his unit could not get enough armor, it got a 60-in., $15,000 plasma TV to watch the daily brief, but the dust ruined it--just like it did the nine others they got to replace the first one." According to Senator Reed, Pentagon officials should also expect questions on the Hill about what is not being spent. Case in point: the Marine Corps, traditionally the most frugal of the services, has borne the brunt of the burden of fighting in Iraq, yet has seen billions pared from its funding. The Marines' new special-ops unit--a pet project of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's--wanted $65 million for such equipment as sophisticated nightscopes and computer-mapping systems, but the Administration refused the request. The Marines are still flying around Iraq in Vietnam-era helicopters--yet $1 billion was cut from the program for the choppers' only replacement aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. The Marines were able to establish the long-awaited first squadron last week but say they need more funding to replace aging aircraft. "It is unconscionable," says a military officer, "that the one new aircraft that could clearly help them in Iraq is getting cut."

The only extra US funding for Iraq next year will be for new prisons, officials have revealed, as America continues to cut federal money for reconstruction. State Department co-ordinator James Jeffrey said he would ask Congress for US$100 million ($151 million) extra for prisons, but it would be the only request for additional funds in 2006 and 2007 as the US winds down its US$20 billion ($30.2 billion) reconstruction scheme. "This is the one bit of construction we will be doing - US$100 million for additional bed capacity for the Iraqi legal system," he said. Early reconstruction programs put much focus on giant electricity and water projects. Many of those were later scaled back and funds diverted to training Iraq's security forces to tackle the insurgency.

The United States and Britain are planning to pull all their troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2007, two British newspapers reported in their Sunday editions, quoting unnamed senior defense ministry sources. The Sunday Telegraph said the planned pull-out followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was now a large obstacle to securing peace. "The British government is understood to be the driving force behind the withdrawal plan but all 24 coalition members are likely to welcome the move, given the growing international unpopularity of the war," the Telegraph said. Britain's Sunday Mirror newspaper also reported on the planned withdrawal saying it would happen within 12 months. The U.S. military in Iraq said on Sunday media reports that America and Britain planned to pull all troops out of Iraq by spring 2007 were "completely false," reiterating that there was no timetable for withdrawal. Two British newspapers reported on Sunday that the pull-out plan followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was now an obstacle to securing peace. But a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq reiterated previous statements by U.S. and Iraqi officials that foreign troops would be gradually withdrawn from the country once Iraqi security forces were capable of guaranteeing security.

News From The Talibaptist Jihad: A children's book about two male penguins that raise a baby penguin has been moved to the nonfiction section of two public library branches after parents complained it had homosexual undertones. The illustrated book, "And Tango Makes Three," is based on a true story of two male penguins, named Roy and Silo, who adopted an abandoned egg at New York City's Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s. The book, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, was moved from the children's section at two Rolling Hills' Consolidated Library's branches in Savannah and St. Joseph in northwest Missouri. Two parents had expressed concerns about the book last month. Barbara Read, the Rolling Hills' director, said experts report that adoptions aren't unusual in the penguin world. However, moving the book to the nonfiction section would decrease the chance that it would "blindside" readers, she said.

The decision by Massachusetts' Catholic bishops to seek to exclude gays and lesbians from adopting through Catholic social service agencies could imperil millions of dollars in donations from corporations and philanthropies that have their own nondiscrimination policies to abide by. "It's definitely a concern," said Jeff Bellows, a spokesman for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, which was the largest private donor to Catholic Charities of Boston last year with a gift of $1.2 million. "We have an antidiscrimination policy in accordance with the law and to protect the freedom of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable." If the bishops halt gay adoptions by Catholic Charities, the United Way board will seriously review continued funding, said Bellows. Like many of today's philanthropic groups, United Way requires affiliated agencies to sign pacts that they will be open to accepting everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, among other factors.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Thursday she did not knowingly do anything wrong in her associations with a defense contractor who prosecutors say illegally funneled thousands of dollars to her campaign in 2004. Questions about the donations have arisen as Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who oversaw the 2000 presidential election recount, tries to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The donations were described in a plea agreement last Friday, when Mitchell Wade, the former president of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to bribing U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in exchange for assistance in getting $150 million in Defense Department contracts for his company. He also admitted making illegal campaign contributions in the names of MZM employees and their spouses to Harris and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. Prosecutors said Harris got $32,000 from employees who were reimbursed by Wade. Harris said she recently donated the money to charity, and didn't know the donations would be reimbursed.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:23:19 PM

Fri, Mar 03 2006

Finally Moving In

Today was a spectacularly beautiful day. With an overnight low of 70, a high today of 83, and severe sunshine all day long, it was like the dry season. Refreshing change from yesterday. All day yesterday, it was chilly weather, never getting above 74, and that after an overnight low of 68. But worse, it was drizzly and rainy the whole day, and when it wasn't raining, the wind was blowing like mad.

The gardener got here early today, and spend a good deal of time getting the weeds pulled, the heliconias thinned and cleaning up a lot of dead leaves and branches. I knew it was payday - he always works harder on payday. So I was happy to watch all that getting done. He also dragged out some plastic and got a large pile of yard waste covered, so it can dry out and be burned. And of course, in the late afternoon sun, the first stirrings of the burning season were brought to my nose. Costa Rica has two seasons - the rainy season and the yard waste burning season. And apparently that season began today.

Not feeling all that energetic, once back from my weekly shopping trip, I went to work on getting moved in. Yeah, two years on, I am still doing that, mostly because of my stuff from storage that still needed to be put away. Well, today it was hook up the stereo day, and get the satellite receiver moved to the living room so I can watch satellite TV on a real television set rather than my computer. I had to get some stuff from the ferreteria, and once back home got the stereo and the satellite TV hooked up in the living room. Now there is no excuse. I have to go to work on getting my blog software and email archives moved over to the computer that has been in storage all this time. Big job. Not looking forward to it. But first thing in the morning, the laptop gets moved to the computer desk and I can finally get rid of the table I have been using for the last two years - half of a Dutch door, with four pieces of bamboo for legs. Not pretty, but it has sufficed. I'll sure enjoy having a real computer desk for a change.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The Commander in Chief has lost the support of the troops: A unique poll of active-duty troops in Iraq shows a huge disconnect between the commander in chief and the troops in battle. It is evident that the president views the war very differently than the troops on the ground. A poll by Le Moyne College and Zogby shows that if you want to support the troops, you should be calling for an end to the war. An overwhelming majority, 72 percent, of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year. Among reserves, 90 percent favor withdrawal, compared to 83 percent of the National Guard, 70 percent of the Army, and 58 percent of the Marines. Moreover, about three-quarters of National Guard and Reserve units favor withdrawal within six months. The Pentagon has dismissed the poll's finding. "It shouldn't surprise anybody that a deployed soldier would rather be at home than deployed, even when they believe what they are doing is important and vital work," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The Bush administration, stung by the public outcry over the Dubai port deal, has launched a national security investigation of another Dubai-owned company set to take over plants in Georgia and Connecticut that make precision components used in engines for military aircraft and tanks. The administration notified congressional committees this week that its secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is investigating the security implications of Dubai International Capital's $1.2 billion acquisition of London-based Doncasters Group Ltd., which has subsidiaries in the United States. It is also investigating an Israeli company's plans to buy the Maryland software security firm Sourcefire, which does business with Defense Department agencies.

Contrary to Smirkey's public assertions on many occasions, federal disaster officials warned Smirkey and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage. Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared." The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press - show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster. Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A group of Republican senators failed to reach an agreement Tuesday on legislation that would write the Bush administration's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program into law. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he formed the "informal working group" to craft legislation that will strengthen its legal basis. More than a half dozen senators left an hourlong meeting offering few details about progress. The negotiations put Republicans in a politically tricky spot. The White House has argued for more than two months that President Bush had all the authority he needed to order the surveillance of international communications of U.S. residents without first seeking a court's approval. The administration has said one party to the call had suspected ties to al-Qaida. One possible proposal, advanced by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, would allow the government to monitor any electronic communication - such as a telephone call or e-mail - that involves a member of a terrorist organization designated by the president. DeWine said the National Security Agency could listen for a period of time - perhaps 45 or 90 days - before having to go to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get a warrant. It's that court that critics of Bush's program have said he should have been using all along.

The Senate on Wednesday cleared the path for renewing the USA Patriot Act, swatting aside objections while adding new protections for people targeted by government investigations. The overwhelming votes virtually assured that Congress will renew President Bush's antiterror law before it expires March 10. The House was expected to pass the legislation Tuesday. The law's opponents, who insisted the new protections were cosmetic, conceded defeat. "The die has now been cast," acknowledged the law's chief opponent, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., after the Senate voted 84-15 to end his filibuster. "Obviously at this point, final passage of the reauthorization bill is now assured."

Some of the most notable missions on NASA's scientific agenda would be postponed indefinitely or canceled under the agency's new budget, despite its administrator's vow to Congress six months ago that not "one thin dime" would be taken from space science to pay for President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars. The cuts come to $3 billion over the next five years, even as NASA's overall spending grows by 3.2 percent this year, to $16.8 billion. They come against a backdrop of criticism over efforts by White House appointees to mute public statements by NASA's climate scientists.

Congress is headed toward approving a plan that would require employers to check every worker's Social Security number or immigration work permit against a new federal computer database. Critics see the move - aimed at stemming illegal immigration - as the beginning of a government information stockpile that could be used to track U.S. residents. "We're getting closer and closer to a national ID card," says Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. Lawmakers such as conservative House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., have signed on to the verification plan, which is included in some form in every immigration bill currently before Congress. The goal is to make sure everyone working in the USA is doing so legally. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration, begins drafting its version of the bill today. The House bill passed in December.

Farmers and environmentalists are suing federal agencies for allowing a bio-technology giant to market genetically modified alfalfa, allegedly without fully considering potential harm to the American food supply and environment. The lawsuit, filed in US district court against the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, argues that federal regulators illegally approved Monsanto’s application for commercial sale of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. "Our belief is that there seems to be an increasingly frequent systemic lack of objectivity in a lot of the regulatory decisions that are flowing from USDA," said co-plaintiff Pat Trask, whose family has run an alfalfa-seed business in South Dakota for nearly a century.

Last month, the leadership of the Family Research Council announced a political victory: They had mobilized members to write complaints to the Department of Health and Human Services over a webpage that promoted what they viewed as destructive behavior and "biased" viewpoints. Within two weeks, the material in question had silently vanished from the site. But the public reaction was not so quiet. A victory for the Family Research Council (FRC), which says non-heterosexual people pose a threat to Judeo-Christian family values, looked very different to advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The content that had riled the FRC was health information about substance abuse posted to a federal government webpage dedicated to LGBT individuals. Activists with the group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) say the real bias at play is not on the webpage, but in the FRC's drive to squelch it, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) apparent willingness to comply.

The U.S. Army quietly placed an order for $38 million in depleted uranium rounds last week, bringing the total order from a West-Virginia based company to $77 million for fiscal year 2006. The munition is highly controversial. While the Pentagon has been ambiguous about its health toll, leftover rounds from the first Gulf War are believed to have caused a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in Iraq. According to a detailed article by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2002, "Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans." The new $38 million order was placed with Alliant Techsystems for 120-mm ammunition. Once the new pact is completed the firm will have produced 35,000 rounds for the U.S. military.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Friday that all of its pharmacies would carry morning-after contraceptive pills, bowing to pressure from states seeking to force the world's biggest retailer to do so. In a statement posted on its Web site, Wal-Mart said all of its pharmacies would begin carrying "Plan B" contraceptives as of March 20, but added that workers who did not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription could refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company would not comment beyond the contents of the statement. "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," Ron Chomiuk, vice president of pharmacy for Wal-Mart, said. "Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it," he said. Illinois and Massachusetts already require Wal-Mart to sell the morning-after pill, which must be taken with 72 hours after sex to prevent pregnancy. Pressure to introduce similar mandates is building in Connecticut and New York.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: Cuban academics hoping to attend a gathering of Latin America experts in Puerto Rico were denied visas by the American government, marking the latest in the current U.S. administration's trend of shutting out Cubans. Some 55 philosophers, economists, and historians were told last week they'd be unable to travel to this month's Latin American Studies Association congress in San Juan. Visa requests for four academics were still pending, said Sheryl Lutjens, an American political science professor at Northern Arizona University. "These people represent strong scholars who think critically and who are often experts in their area where there are no others," said Lutjens, who co-chairs the association's Cuba section and is currently visiting the country. "This is alarming."

A Guantanamo detainee told the BBC today of the brutal beatings and torture he claims to have suffered during more than four years at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Fawzi al-Odah, a 29-year-old from Kuwait, said he had been force-fed by guards and that he had "given up" on life as a consequence of the treatment he had received. Mr Odah's version of life at the controversial prison camp at a US base in Cuba was relayed through his lawyer in reply to a series of written questions submitted by a BBC journalist.Mr Odah told the BBC: "They told me I would be punished if I continued my hunger strike. First they took my comfort items away one by one and I was put in isolation. Then an officer came in and gave me an order from General [Jay] Hood [the Guantanamo Bay commander]. "He said that if I continued then they would put me on the chair. These are metal chairs. You are strapped on and liquid food is forced into you. I told him that was torture. He replied that I could call it how I liked but that was the way it was going to be." "The guards [in Guantanamo Bay] beat you up quickly if you give any problem at all. They are young people. They think we are terrorists. They hate us. If anything happens anywhere in the world against the US, they immediately react and treat us badly, like animals. I was tortured when I first arrived in Guantanamo and was beaten up. Also when I first started on this last hunger strike they abused us badly. They pulled the tubes in and out of me. If I resisted or tried to take the tubes out they would strap me down, force my head back and cause me a lot more pain. It was useless to resist."

A group of Cuban migrants who reached a Florida Keys bridge only to be sent back to home, prepared Wednesday to legally travel to the United States after a U.S. judge ruled they could return. "Clearly there's a God up above," migrant Ernesto Hernandez told AP Television News at his home here. "I am so happy, I haven't eaten or slept." Though the Cuban government has not made any public statements on the ruling, the 15 men, women and children were hoping they will be allowed to leave the island. The migrants filled out applications for Cuban passports and had scheduled a meeting for Monday at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high. Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement. CBS News senior White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that now it turns out the Coast Guard had concerns about the ports deal, a disclosure that is no doubt troubling to a president who assured Americans there was no security risk from the deal. The troubling results for the Bush administration come amid reminders about the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and negative assessments of how the government and the president have handled it for six months. In a separate poll, two out of three Americans said they do not think President Bush has responded adequately to the needs of Katrina victims. Only 32 percent approve of the way President Bush is responding to those needs, a drop of 12 points from last September’s poll, taken just two weeks after the storm made landfall. Just 18 percent said they had a favorable view of the vice president, down from 23 percent in January. Americans were evenly split on whether or not Cheney's explanation of why there was a delay in reporting the accident was satisfactory.

President Bush, once the seemingly invincible vanguard of a new Republican majority, could be endangering his party's hold on power as the GOP heads into this year's midterm congressional elections. "The White House has been taking it on the chin lately, and the reverberations are being felt throughout the GOP," Republican blogger Bobby Eberle wrote this week. "From the Harriet Miers nomination to the Dubai Ports and more, the folks in charge of message strategy appear to be asleep at the wheel." Said Republican pollster Ed Goeas: "If this environment holds, you have to assume it's going to tip for the Democrats."

The first heading on the issues page of Rep. Mark Foley's Web site brags that he is "one of President Bush's strongest supporters in Congress." The Florida Republican voted for the president's legislation 90 percent of the time, according to the Web site, "the 3rd highest ranking among the Florida delegation." Now the Florida delegation's big Bush supporter is on the front lines of the Republican revolt against the president on the deal to turn over key operations at six U.S. ports to a United Arab Emirates company. Republicans who once marched in lock step behind their president on national security are increasingly willing to challenge him in an area considered his political strength. The signs of GOP discontent have been building in the past few months. Dissident Republicans in Congress forced Bush to sign a measure banning torture of detainees despite his initial veto threat, blocked renewal of the USA Patriot Act until their civil liberties concerns were addressed and pressured the White House into accepting legislation on its secret eavesdropping program. By the time the port deal came to light, the uprising was no longer limited to dissidents. "We simply want to participate and aren't going to be PR flacks when they need us," Foley said. "We all have roles. We have oversight. When you can't answer your constituents when they have legitimate questions... we can't simply do it on trust."

Cherie Booth, the lawyer wife of British prime minister Tony Blair, has taken a sideswipe at alleged US practices at its Guantanamo Bay detention camp in a speech on torture in London. Booth described torture as "the terrorism of the state, usually practised for the same reasons that terrorists use violence: to break the will of those they cannot persuade by lawful means. "Torture works, but not as we intend. Desperate people will say whatever the torturer wants them to say." Although the facility in Cuba was not mentioned by name, Booth's thinly-veiled reference went further than her husband's statements about the camp.

Trickle-Down Economics Trickling On You: US consumers dipped into their savings to fund a January shopping spree that saw retail spending rise nearly 1%. A Commerce Department report showed that personal incomes grew 0.7% for the month, but consumers spent even faster. The spending increase was the largest since last July, and it meant Americans tapped their savings to go shopping for the third month in a row. The personal savings rate - the proportion of money people save - has not been above zero since March 2005. Inflation also rose in January. The report said prices rose 0.2% after volatile energy and food costs were excluded. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates 14 times since June 2004 and is expected to push them up again later this month, in a bid to keep a tight lid on inflation.

Bill Of Rights Death Watch: A lawyer defending a Guantanamo Bay prisoner said Tuesday he has asked a federal judge to immediately ban the use of restraint chairs and other aggressive methods to force-feed hunger strikers at the detention center, alleging they violate a new U.S. ban on torture. Defense attorney Rick Murphy said his client, Muhammed Bawazir of Yemen, was subjected to a "daily ritual of pain and humiliation" to halt his participation in the hunger strike at the U.S. military base in eastern Cuba, where some 490 men suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban are held. In papers filed Monday in federal court in Washington, Murphy said the use of restraints, larger nasal feeding tubes and other practices at Guantanamo violates the McCain Amendment, which prohibits torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners. The law, adopted in December, was sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), who was a POW for almost five years in North Vietnam and was tortured.

Ridiculing the Federal Emergency Management Agency is high art in the Gulf Coast areas where Hurricane Katrina hit last year. Many parade floats in New Orleans' Mardi Gras were decorated in themes that skewered the relief agency. George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association, has been selling anti-FEMA T-shirts since last fall, a reflection of his frustration with the federal government's response to the storm that left him homeless and unemployed. But on Feb. 1, when he handed a shirt to a fellow Katrina victim as he was picking up canned goods at a charity's relief tent, Barisich found himself in trouble with the government. He was cited by a group of Homeland Security officials for selling a T-shirt on federal property - in this case, near a FEMA center in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Chalmette, La. Barisich, 49, says he didn't sell the shirt, which said: "Flooded by Katrina! Forgotten by FEMA! What's Next, Mr. Bush?" He says he gave it away. The government is sticking to its guns. "If we ignored this violation, you could have potentially 20 to 30 people standing out in front of the (FEMA) center, obstructing things," says Dean Boyd, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman. "We've got a duty and a job under the law." Boyd says the message on Barisich's shirt isn't the issue. Barisich says he intends to fight the $75 ticket in court.

Republicans Believe In Protecting Consumers: In this day of identity theft, you might be surprised what information the Ohio Secretary of State is making public. Visit Kenneth Blackwell's Web site, and you'll see the problem. His office is posting documents that contain the kind of sensitive, personal information that people are routinely advised to keep private. Many people worry that Blackwell is putting them at risk -- and your information could be targeted next. Shredding personal documents is common practice for east Toledoan Karen Adams. She told the problem solvers at Call 11 for Action, "I go to extreme lengths to protect my information." That's why Karen was stunned when we rattled off her husband's Social Security number. We got it from the Web site run by Ohio's Secretary of State. "I'd like to know why," Karen said. "What is the purpose behind them having to have the information?"

Republicans Believe In Keeping Workers Safe At Their Jobs: In its drive to foster a more cooperative relationship with mining companies, the Bush administration has decreased major fines for safety violations since 2001, and in nearly half the cases, it has not collected the fines, according to a data analysis by The New York Times. Federal records also show that in the last two years the federal mine safety agency has failed to hand over any delinquent cases to the Treasury Department for further collection efforts, as is supposed to occur after 180 days. With the deaths of 24 miners in accidents in 2006, the enforcement record of the Mine Safety and Health Administration has come under sharp scrutiny, and the agency is likely to face tough questions about its performance at a Senate oversight hearing on Thursday. "The Bush administration ushered in this desire to develop cooperative ties between regulators and the mining industry," said Tony Oppegard, a top official at the agency in the Clinton administration. "Safety has certainly suffered as a result."

Republican Policies Are Strengthening America: February auto sales reported on Mar. 1 drove Asian carmakers' share of the U.S. market higher - and did so on a day when Japanese brands were given a reputation boost they hardly needed from Consumer Reports. The influential magazine noted that, for the first time in its history, all of its top-10 recommended vehicles were from Japanese auto companies. General Motors and Ford, both reeling from money-losing automotive operations and sputtering corporate overhauls meant to stem their steady loss of market share, posted lower February sales. GM sales were down 3% overall, though its retail sales to consumers were up 1%, while sales to rental and corporate fleets were off 11%. The category leaders for Consumer Reports' Top Picks list, determined through rigorous testing by the magazine's staff, were, for the first time, all Japanese models, including: Honda's Civic, Accord, Odyssey minivan, and Ridgeline pickup; Acura TL; Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Forester; and the Toyota Prius hybrid and Highlander SUV hybrid. New entries on Consumer Reports' Good Bets list of used cars include the BMW Z3 and Z4; Ford Mustang (V8); Honda Civic Hybrid, Element, and Pilot; Infiniti FX35 (V6) and G35; Lexus GX470; Nissan Murano; Pontiac Vibe; Subaru Impreza WRX; and Toyota Matrix. The 11 new entries on the magazine's list of "Bad Bets" -- based on reader-survey results -- include: BMW X5 (V8); Chevrolet Venture; Kia Sedona; Lincoln LS; Mercedes-Benz E-Class (V8), Oldsmobile Alero and Silhouette; Pontiac Transport/Montana; and Volkswagen Cabrio and Passat Wagon.

The nation's dismal savings rate is the focus of a sharp debate: This can't go on forever, some economists say. We spend and borrow too much, we save too little, and in the long run, it spells trouble for individuals and the nation. Nonsense, others say. We might be dipping into our savings, but that's a deep well: Household assets - swollen by rising home equity - stand at $62 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Only a long economic downturn is likely to settle the debate about whether Americans are saving enough. But the low savings rate can't be entirely waved away. Americans can go on spending merrily until hard times come: a lost job, a recession, a health emergency. Then, assets and income will fall - and those without an emergency fund will be in danger. "We have a real savings shortfall," says David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's. "If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting," Ben Franklin advised. But now, saving seems to be the exception more than the rule.

If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: The global scientific body on climate change will report soon that only greenhouse gas emissions can explain freak weather patterns. Simultaneous changes in sea ice, glaciers, droughts, floods, ecosystems, ocean acidification and wildlife migration are taking place. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had previously said gases such as CO2 were "probably" to blame. Its latest draft report will be sent to world governments next month. A source told the BBC: "The measurements from the natural world on all parts of the globe have been anomalous over the past decade. "If a few were out of kilter we wouldn't be too worried, because the Earth changes naturally. But the fact that they are virtually all out of kilter makes us very concerned." He said the report would forecast that a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere would bring a temperature rise of 2-4.5C, or maybe higher. This is an increase on projections in the last IPCC report, which suggested that the rise could be as little as 1.5C.

A new space-based study of Antarctica shows its ice sheet is shrinking. Researchers used satellites to plot changes in the Earth's gravity in the Antarctic during the period 2002-2005. Writing in the journal Science, they conclude that the continent is losing 152 cubic km of ice each year, with most loss in the west. In recent years scientists have found other evidence that West Antarctic ice is melting, which could contribute to sea level rise. In his contribution to a recent report on climate change, the director of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, described the West Antarctic ice sheet as "a giant awakened".

Ground-based astronomy could be impossible in 40 years because of pollution from aircraft exhaust trails and climate change, an expert says. Aircraft condensation trails - known as contrails - can dissipate, becoming indistinguishable from other clouds. If trends in cheap air travel continue, says Professor Gerry Gilmore, the era of ground astronomy may come to an end much earlier than most had predicted. Aircraft along with climate change will contribute to increased cloud cover.

We Republicans Are More Moral Than You: The largest known giver to a controversial charity founded by U.S. Sen. Rick ("Sanctimonious") Santorum made its $25,000 donation as the senator was working to win as much as $8.5 million in federal aid for the donor's project in Delaware County, PA. Federal tax records show that Preferred Real Estate Inc., the developer of the Wharf at Rivertown project in Chester, wrote the check to Santorum's Operation Good Neighbor Foundation in 2002. On his campaign Web site, Santorum boasts of winning $8.5 million in federal aid for the riverfront redevelopment of an abandoned Peco Energy plant - an effort that culminated in the earmarking of $6 million in highway money last year. But good-government experts were troubled by the appearance of a developer giving money to the senator's charity at the same time it was lobbying for federal dollars. Unlike a campaign contribution, checks to a charity can be written by a corporation and are not subject to any limit.

News From Smirkey's Wars: Officials overseeing Baghdad's morgue have come under pressure not to investigate the soaring number of apparent cases of executions and torture in the country, the former U.N. human rights chief for Iraq said yesterday. John Pace, who left his post in Iraq earlier this month, spoke as Iraqi and U.S. officials offered widely varying numbers for the toll so far in the explosion of sectarian violence that followed last Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. Pace said the pressure had come from "both sides,"but declined to give further details. The statement appeared to refer to both the Shiite-led government and the Sunni insurgency fighting it. Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari said yesterday that the death toll provided to The Washington Post by Baghdad morgue workers -more than 1,300 dead since last Wednesday - was "inaccurate and exaggerated." Al-Jaafari said the toll was 379. Gen. Ali Shamarri of the Interior Ministry statistics department put the toll at 1,077. Faik Bakir, the director of the Baghdad morgue, has fled Iraq in fear of his life after reporting that more than 7,000 people have been killed by death squads in recent months, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Iraq has disclosed.

A spike in violence in Iraq that has heightened worries about civil war has the Pentagon discussing the wisdom of further cutting American forces there, defense officials said on Wednesday. Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, said Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, planned to make a recommendation this spring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush on future U.S. troop levels. "Spring starts this month. And clearly the commanders will be looking at that (future force levels) and whether or not they'll be recommending any force adjustments to the secretary and the president," Whitman said. The United States has 133,000 troops in Iraq, the Pentagon said, down from about 160,000 in December when they were helping secure Iraq's parliamentary elections. The Pentagon has cut U.S. combat brigades to 15 from 17.

It certainly was not part of Britain's plans to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq. But the Foreign Office has been apparently paying for an adult sex chatline in a Baghdad street for 17 months without knowing it. The Foreign Office has had to tell MPs that an investigation into how a diplomat lost two satellite phones in Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism but more to do with a budding entrepreneur and a telephone porn network. FO officials had already admitted that the lost phones had cost them £594,000 in unauthorised phone bills but it is now bracing itself for an extremely critical report from the Commons public accounts committee on how it came to pay phone bills, which at one stage hit £212,000 in one month, without asking questions.

The U.S. Air Force has begun quietly moving heavily armed AC-130 airplanes - the lethal "flying gunships" of the Vietnam War - to a base in Iraq as commanders search for new tools to counter the Iraqi resistance, The Associated Press has learned. An AP reporter saw the first of the turboprop-driven aircraft after it landed at the airfield this week. Four are expected. The Iraq-based special forces command controlling the AC-130s, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, said it would have no comment on the deployment. But the plan’s general outline was confirmed by other Air Force officers, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Scandals Du Jour: A stunning investigation of bribery and corruption in Congress has spread to the CIA, ABC News has learned. The CIA Inspector General has opened an investigation into the spy agency's executive director, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, and his connections to two defense contractors accused of bribing a member of Congress and Pentagon officials. The CIA released an official statement on the matter to ABC News, saying: "It is standard practice for CIA's Office of Inspector General - an aggressive, independent watchdog - to look into assertions that mention agency officers. That should in no way be seen as lending credibility to any allegation. "Mr. Foggo has overseen many contracts in his decades of public service. He reaffirms that they were properly awarded and administered." The CIA said Foggo, the number three official at the CIA, would have no further comment. He will remain in his post at the CIA during the investigation, according to officials. Two former CIA officials tell ABC News that Foggo oversaw contracts involving at least one of the companies accused of paying bribes to Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham.

A filing Thursday at U.S. District Court in the Plame/ CIA leak case suggests that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward may have tape recorded his fateful conversation with the so-called "second source" - besides Lewis "Scooter" Libby - that is now a key part of the case. Woodward suddenly revealed late last year that he had talked with Libby as well as another unnamed government official about CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Earlier, columnist Robert Novak had also said he had an unnamed second source. One paragraph in Thursday’s filing, NBC reported, indicates that the unnamed official spoke both with Woodward and Novak, and "Libby has been given a redacted transcript of the conversation between Woodward and [redacted] and Novak has published an account briefly describing the conversation with his first confidential source [redacted]." Does "transcript of the conversation" mean that there is an audio recording of the conversation between Woodward, Novak and the unnamed source? Or merely a detailed set of notes?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:21:21 PM

Wed, Mar 01 2006

Getting My Main Computer Up And Running

Back to the rainy season. The weather has continued to be chilly and rainy, with a bit of wind now and again, and sun briefly in the afternoon. The rain has kept the weather cool, with an overnight low of 69 and an afternoon high of only 75 for the last two days. The rainy weather has, for the most part, kept me inside, unpacking what remains of the stuff I had in storage, and getting a few things rearranged to fit my available storage space a bit better.

Last week, I fired up the computer I've had in storage all this time. It came to life remarkably well, with just a few glitches here and there, and has settled down and is running brilliantly now, though the CD read/write drive is a bit dodgy and I might have to replace it. When I went to Tilaran to pay my taxes, I also purchased a plug-in modem for that computer, and today, I finally got it plugged in and, after some effort, managed to get it working. I never did succeed in getting the driver installed from the disk, so I had to use the generic Microsoft drivers, which seem to work just fine with it. The big snag that I ran into was that it would not recognize ICE's rather strange dial tone, so I was forced to configure it to dial blind. Not that that should be a big deal - I can't ever recall getting a delayed dial tone here, so I don't think that should actually be a problem.

The new modem, in spite of being a cheap, $24 software modem, seemed to work brilliantly - I got a 50kbs. connect speed, faster than I usually get with my hardware modem on the RACSA network, and I am quite happy with that - downloading 11 megabytes of software ended up taking only about 30 minutes, and would have taken half again that using the old computer.

Now begins the long hard slog of getting the computer installed in the computer desk, getting all my software updated, reconfigured, data files moved over and getting moved out of the old laptop. Once that is done, I have a buyer who wants it, and I'll get rid of it. And then consider purchasing a new laptop for trips to Nicaragua. We'll see how all that goes. And if this weather doesn't improve, I should have plenty of time to work on it.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: On his triumphalist tour of India and Pakistan, where he hopes to wave imperiously at people he considers potential subjects, President Bush has an itinerary that's getting curiouser and curiouser. For Bush's March 2 pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian government tried very hard to have him address our parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was to have Bush address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, where the Indian prime minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we're into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort. Ironic, isn't it, that the only safe public space for a man who has recently been so enthusiastic about India's modernity should be a crumbling medieval fort? Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of "eminent persons." So what's going to happen to George W. Bush? Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the gibbons curl their lips? Will the brow-antlered deer sneer? Will the chimps make rude noises? Will the owls hoot? Will the lions yawn and the giraffes bat their beautiful eyelashes? Will the crocodiles recognize a kindred soul? Will the quail give thanks that Bush isn't traveling with Dick Cheney?

Tens of thousands of Indians waving black and white flags and chanting "Death to Bush!" rallied Wednesday in New Delhi to protest the visit by Smirkey. Surindra Singh Yadav, a senior police officer in charge of crowd control, said as many as 100,000 people, most of them Muslim, had gathered in a fairground in central New Delhi ordinarily used for political rallies. "Whether Hindu or Muslim, the people of India have gathered here to show our anger. We have only one message - killer Bush go home," one of the speakers, Hindu politician Raj Babbar, told the crowd.

Americans apparently know more about "The Simpsons" than they do about the First Amendment. Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey. The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms. Joe Madeira, director of exhibitions at the museum, said he was surprised by the results. "Part of the survey really shows there are misconceptions, and part of our mission is to clear up these misconceptions," said Madeira, whose museum will be dedicated to helping visitors understand the First Amendment when it opens in April. "It means we have our job cut out for us."

Governors of both parties have said that Smirkey's policies were stripping the National Guard of equipment and personnel needed to respond to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, forest fires and other emergencies. "We should be increasing the number of National Guard combat brigades, not reducing it," Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said. Tens of thousands of National Guard members have been sent to Iraq, along with much of the equipment needed to deal with natural disasters and terrorist threats in the United States, the governors said here at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. The National Guard, which traces its roots to the colonial militia, has a dual federal-state role. Governors normally command the Guard in their states, but Guard members deployed overseas in support of a federal mission are under the control of the president. The governors said they would present their concerns to President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday. In a preview of their message, all 50 governors signed a letter to the president opposing any cuts in the size of the National Guard. "Unfortunately," the letter said, "when our National Guard men and women return from being deployed in foreign theaters, much of their equipment remains behind." The governors said the White House must immediately re-equip Guard units "to carry out their homeland security and domestic disaster duties." Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican and chairman of the governors association, said: "The National Guard plays an incredibly valuable role in the states. What we are concerned about, as governors, is that when our troops are deployed for long periods of time, and their equipment goes with them but does not come back, the troops are very strained, and they no longer have the equipment they were trained to use."

The Supreme Court grappled Wednesday with whether taxpayers can challenge lucrative tax breaks their elected officials give to businesses as incentives to expand or move operations into certain cities or states. The high court's decision in the case brought by DaimlerChrysler Corp. could have a significant impact nationally because nearly every state uses billions of dollars in tax breaks to attract companies. Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be seeking a way to allow a lawsuit to proceed in federal court by taxpayers whose homes or businesses were taken by the city of Toledo to make way for a $1.2 billion Jeep assembly plant. Other members of the high court, including Justices Antonin Scalia and David Souter, were skeptical about taxpayers' claims that Ohio's investment tax credit discriminates against Ohio companies that do business outside the state. If a company decides not to take advantage of the credit and expands elsewhere, Souter said, "That's not discrimination. That's a free choice."

Faced with growing public attention on a dramatic fast undertaken by detainees at Guantánamo Bay and the possibility that some captives might actually starve themselves to death, prison officials used coercive measures to convince hunger strikers to eat. The tactics have given rise to charges that the much-celebrated torture ban signed into law late last year saw its first known violations within weeks of passage. Worried that deaths from an enduring hunger strike might provoke additional international outcry over Guantanamo, guards allegedly resorted to torture and humiliation in a coercion campaign attorneys for the detainees say clearly violated the untested torture amendment Congress passed late last year. Lawyers representing Guantanamo captive Mohammed Bawazir filed an emergency injunction in federal court Friday to stop what they termed the "torture" of their client "in a successful effort to force him to abandon his five-month-long hunger strike."

Federal program cuts, tax breaks for the wealthy and state budget crises are not the only forces squeezing the working poor. According to a study by a progressive think tank, low-income households are getting pinched yet again by state income-tax policies that turn what little they have into even less. Of the 42 states levying income taxes in 2005, nineteen taxed two-parent families of four living in poverty, and sixteen taxed impoverished single-parent families of three, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which has tracked state income-tax data since the early 1990s. Antipoverty groups say such tax policies add a perverse twist to an already tattered social safety net, and are demanding tax relief for the poor through redistributive fiscal policies. "This is an especially harsh time to be taxing families deeper into poverty," said Kimble Forrister, executive director of the low-income advocacy coalition Alabama Arise, noting that families in his state are still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Katrina and skyrocketing fuel costs.

Lou Dobbs reported today that "Dubai Ports World" officials have tried to silence him and get CNN to suppress his reports (video available at link). Mark Dennis, spokesman for Dubai Ports World: "CNN won't shut up Lou Dobbs." They are refusing to give any more interviews to CNN or allow them to video tape their operations overseas. To CNN's credit they have refused to comply with their demands.

Five labor, safety and public-interest organizations jointly laid the groundwork yesterday for a legal challenge to recently issued rules covering the number of hours truck drivers can operate their vehicles without a break. They contend the new rules, issued last summer, are essentially the same as those struck down by a court in 2004. Yesterday’s petition, filed with the District of Columbia US Court of Appeals, asked that the law be reviewed in light of a 2004 ruling by the same court. That previous ruling held that a 2003 revision of truck-driver regulations contained several "dubious" assumptions and failed to "even acknowledge, much less justify, that the rule dramatically increases the maximum permissible [time] drivers may work each week."

A bill purportedly designed to create a universal food-labeling standard would, according to consumer advocates, actually undercut laws already in place across the nation. The House of Representatives may vote on the measure as soon as Thursday. Introduced last October by Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005 bars state and local governments from establishing their own food-labeling requirements on products regulated under federal interstate-commerce laws. The law would allow exemptions for imminent public health hazards and permit states to seek specific exemptions from the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill is awaiting a floor vote after clearing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. In a statement announcing committee approval, Rogers said the bill is needed to "integrate" state laws into a national standard.

Karl obsessing over Hillary: Reacting to a new book quoting Karl Rove as saying she will be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that President Bush's chief political strategist "spends a lot of time obsessing about me." The former first lady also said she believed Rove, national GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman and other Republicans are using her to divert attention from Republican problems as the 2006 congressional elections approach. "Karl Rove is a brilliant strategist. So, if I were thinking about this," she told WROW-AM radio in Albany, "I'd say, why are they spending so much time talking about me?"

Today is KXXT's (Air America Phoenix) last day. Phoenix is getting its eighth AM Christian Station (it also has five Christian FM stations and three Christian TV channels), starting tomorrow. Air America is off the air in Phoenix. Air America Phoenix has now disappeared into the ether and Phoenix is left with multiple Christian formats, some in English and others in Spanish, several "brokered" time stations (you know - the radio stations selling you vitamins, good bowel movements and financial advice) a bagful of right wing "Conservative Talk stations" featuring Rush, Sean, Laura, Bill Bennett, Savage, Medved and all of their local imitators, three "Sports Talk" stations that live off the largess of their sister stations in the big corporate clusters that dominate the dial in Phoenix.

Why I Am Embarrassed To Present My Passport: The U.S. has been blocking the UN Human Rights Commission at every turn. Now, John Bolton wants to change its name and gut its limited power. Last week, the President of the United Nations General Assembly announced a new proposal to revamp the UN Human Rights Commission and rename it the UN Human Rights Council. The product of months of negotiations between the 53 member nations of the Commission, the proposal will be voted on by the General Assembly next month. The United States, however, immediately denounced the compromise. John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations, said it has too many "deficiencies" and should be renegotiated. The composition of the new Council will not likely differ significantly from the old Commission. "That reality," according to Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, "reflects the failure of the John Bolton-led US effort to impose an entirely new human rights infrastructure on the United Nations, one that would privilege those countries given a seal of approval by Washington to serve on the Council, with others, especially those in bad graces in Washington, prohibited from serving."

A federal judge in Miami has ruled the United States should not have deported 15 Cubans who in January reached a disused bridge in the Florida keys. However, Judge Federico Moreno said his ruling would have no effect on the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy. Under this rule, Cubans stopped at sea are usually sent back home, while those who reach dry land are allowed to stay. In this case, the group was deported because the damaged bridge was no longer attached to land. The Coast Guard had argued that the broken bridge did not count as US soil and therefore the Cubans could not seek residency. Judge Moreno, who was asked to rule on whether the bridge was US territory, found the Cubans had been removed illegally in January. But he insisted his ruling was limited to this particular case. It is not known whether President Fidel Castro will allow the group to leave Cuba.

The federal government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after 9/11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism. The settlement, filed in federal court late yesterday, is the first the government has made in a number of lawsuits charging that noncitizens were abused and their constitutional rights violated in detentions after the terror attacks.

On March 1, two months after the planned January implementation date for the trade deal, CAFTA goes into effect between the United States and El Salvador. Yet for the five other countries that are party to the treaty - Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic - a starting date remains undetermined. In past months, contentious debates about the implementation of the agreement have triggered new protests throughout Central America, calling into question what the trade pact will look like in practice. A new wave of dissent in Central America, however, is creating fresh difficulties for CAFTA defenders. As the experience of other Central American countries shows, controversy can reignite even after CAFTA is ratified. In Guatemala and El Salvador, the Bush Administration's advocacy on behalf of US special interests has sparked new disputes during the implementation phase of the treaty. There, US Trade Representative Rob Portman has tried to squeeze even more concessions out of the Central American partners before agreeing to certify their inclusion in the deal. Governments in Guatemala and El Salvador have cried foul, saying that the White House's current agenda for reforms goes beyond the terms of the agreement. Portman has pushed for changes to Guatemalan intellectual property law that would extend the life of patents on many name-brand pharmaceuticals. Already, the United States has compelled Guatemala to repeal a law designed to expand access to generic drugs. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have denounced CAFTA's impact on the Guatemalan AIDS epidemic, arguing that limits on generic antiretrovirals amount to a death sentence for many patients. The White House's demands only worsen the restrictions.

Liberal Biased Media Watch: Fox News host and commentator Sean Hannity may have been recently singled out, but he isn't the only News Corporation employee padding the re-election coffers of Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum (R-PA). A simple search of Federal Election Commission records reveals that many News Corp. employees, including chairman and chief executive officer Rupert Murdoch, have made direct, personal donations to the Senator's re-election campaign, as well as other mostly Republican candidates. Records indicate that in November, 2005, Murdoch personally donated $2,100 to Santorum's campaign. This wasn't he first monetary gift Murdoch made to Santorum; the right wing media mogul shelled out $1,000 to elect the Senator in 2000.

"Extraordinary Rendition" Watch: Europe has become a "happy hunting ground" for foreign intelligence agencies, according to the human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe. The council has been investigating claims of illegal detentions and transport of prisoners by the CIA. Council chairman Terry Davis, who presented the report, said safeguards were needed to prevent abuse. His report found no new evidence of secret prisons on European territory. The US says it has not broken any law. Mr Davis said a number of countries had systems for overseeing their own national security services - such as the UK. But "hardly any country in Europe has any legal provisions to ensure an effective oversight over the activities of foreign agencies on their territory," he said. He added that Hungary was an exception and "an outstanding example, where their parliamentary committee oversee both national and foreign security services".

Republicans Support The Troops: At least tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues could suffer delayed or even denied care in coming years to enable Smirkey to meet his promise of cutting the deficit in half - if the White House is serious about its proposed budget. After an increase for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter. In fact, the proposed cuts are so draconian that it seems to some that the White House is simply making them up to make its long-term deficit figures look better. More realistic numbers, however, would raise doubts as to whether Bush can keep his promise to wrestle the deficit under control by the time he leaves office. m"Either the administration is proposing gutting VA health care over the next five years or it is not serious about its own budget," said Rep. Chet Edwards (news, bio, voting record) of Texas, top Democrat on the panel overseeing the VA's budget. "If the proposals aren't serious, then that would undermine the administration's argument that they intend to reduce the deficit in half over the next several years."

Donald Rumsfeld has been leading an effort to "reform" the Defense Department’s personnel system. On June 4, 2003, he testified to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that the new system would preserve bargaining rights for Pentagon employees: "[T]he National Security Personnel System we are proposing - will not end collective bargaining. To the contrary, the right of defense employees to bargain collectively would be continued. What it would do is bring collective bargaining to the national level so that the Department could negotiate with national unions instead of dealing with more than 1,300 different union locals, a process that is inefficient." Unfortunately for Rumsfeld, the Homeland Security Department had already tried this scheme and been rejected. The judge in that case batted down the argument that government agencies can strip away bargaining rights in the interest of "flexibility" (read: desperation, causing employees to accept any wages or working conditions). Today, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan agreed with the reasoning in the Homeland Security Department case. He rejected the argument made by Rumsfeld in 2003, finding that the new Pentagon personnel system violates the law.

Republicans Believe In High Ethical Standards: Though Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., charged Sen. Rick Santorum with the task of spearheading Republican efforts to tighten rules on lawmakers' contact with lobbyists, Pennsylvania's junior senator is taking more of a backstage role as that legislation begins moving through the chamber this week. "What I was asked by the leader to do was to start a process to see if we could get a bipartisan bill," Mr. Santorum said yesterday after the Senate Rule Committee voted 17-0 to approve new restrictions on members. "I understand the game here; I understand that they [Democrats] don't want Santorum's name on anything that's going to pass. So I'm not worried about getting my name on a bill that's going to pass; I'm worried about making sure we do the right thing from an ethics point of view."

Halliburton Watch: In a letter to Chairman Davis, advanced to RAW STORY, Rep. Waxman (D-CA) outlines over $250 million in Halliburton charges refuted by Defense Department auditors. A New York Times cover story today revealed that a disputed no-bid contract in Iraq, which Pentagon auditors determined contained "excessive" charges, will be paid for almost in full by the Army. Rep. Waxman is asking the Committee on Government Reform to subpoena documents relating to the charges.

America Spreading Democracy In The Middle East: John Negroponte's death squads have been busy little bees - hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations' outgoing human rights chief in Iraq has revealed. John Pace, who left Baghdad two weeks ago, told The Independent on Sunday that up to three-quarters of the corpses stacked in the city's mortuary show evidence of gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Much of the killing, he said, was carried out by Shia Muslim groups under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.

Escalating insurgent violence in Afghanistan has placed the fledgling government there in greater peril than at any time since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, a senior American intelligence official testified Tuesday. The stark assessment comes as sectarian violence soars in Iraq, underscoring the daunting challenges the United States and its allies face years after invading the two countries. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said attacks in Afghanistan by remnants of the ousted Taliban government and other groups had surged 20% in the last year. "We judge insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001 and will be active this spring," Maples said in a statement submitted to the committee. The DIA is the Pentagon's main source for analysis of military threats around the world.

We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Prosecutors call it a corruption case with no parallel in the long history of the U.S. Congress. And it keeps getting worse. Convicted Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham actually priced the illegal services he provided. Prices came in the form of a "bribe menu" that detailed how much it would cost contractors to essentially order multimillion-dollar government contracts, according to documents submitted by federal prosecutors for Cunningham's sentencing hearing this Friday. "The length, breadth and depth of Cunningham's crimes," the sentencing memorandum states, "are unprecedented for a sitting member of Congress." Prosecutors will ask federal Judge Larry Burns to impose the statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The sentencing memorandum includes the California Republican's "bribery menu" on one of his congressional note cards, "starkly framed" under the seal of the United States Congress. The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000 and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.

Having already spent more than $1 million on attorney fees in the past 20 months, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is now dipping into his campaign war chest to pare down some of his mounting legal bills. Earlier this month, DeLay - who's facing a heated GOP primary next month and a tough general election campaign after that - sent $110,000 from his campaign treasury to the Washington, D.C., law firm that has been handling legal questions surrounding his association with ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In addition, that legal payment pushed DeLay’s cash balance in his campaign committee below $1.3 million, giving his likely general election opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas), his first-ever lead in cash on hand in his race against the former Majority Leader. Lampson closed out Feb. 15 - the day when both Texans had to file an FEC report in advance of the March 7 primary - with a little more than $1.4 million on hand.

Scandals Du Jour: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with Russian partners to establish a company that envisioned a high-risk plan to drill for oil in Israel, which he hoped would bring him riches and reshape the Middle East, according to documents and his former lobbying partners. The oil drilling plan, which has not been reported among Abramoff's many other schemes, casts new light on the scope of the disgraced lobbyist's dealings and the possible reach of the federal investigation into links between his clients, business partners, and members of Congress.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:36:18 PM
Copyright © 2003 - 2006, Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.